Those people were fighting for something; for a cause. To them out there, this is just entertainment.
I usually try to avoid pimping out my non-AICN work on AICN, but the following is some coolness I thought you might be interested in. Over a year ago, I spent some time on the set of ANIMAL KINGDOM, watching Guy Pearce and James Frecheville film a scene together. It was pretty interesting stuff, though nothing I saw on set fully prepared me for what I would eventually see on screen. (See my review below for my thoughts on the film.)
That set visit, including interviews with Guy Pearce, writer/director David Michod and producer Liz Watts, is the cover story of this month's issue of Inside Film, available in what I hope will be most Australian newsagencies. The magazine is aimed at industry folk, but is pretty accessible, and, biased I may be, but I'd recommend picking it up.
Meanwhile, ANIMAL KINGDOM is continuing to gain momentum. The film is only weeks away from its Australian release, with the US in sights: America will get the film on August 13. If your appetite is not already whetted, read on...
The big Local Boys Made Good story of the week is that of the Spierig Brothers, the Aussie twins who made UNDEAD and DAYBREAKERS. Whilst I was hoping they'd follow up zombies and vampires with werewolves, somehwat-creepy animatronic puppets will do me fine. The brothers will direct THE POWER OF THE DARK CRYSTAL, the sequel to that seminal childhood-shaping Jim Henson film THE DARK CRYSTAL. Which I first watched on Laserdisc. True. Originally, GABRIEL director Shane Abbess (also a local) was going to direct, but that was back in 2008. The film is written by yet another Aussie, Craig Pearce (MOULIN ROUGE, ROMEO + JULIET), and will blend traditional puppetry with traditional CGI.
As Australian actor Josh Lawson makes in-roads in the US, American actor Josh Lucas is now coming to Australia. Lucas, who has starred in films such as HULK and AMERICAN PSYCHO will star in a film about "a charismatic kelpie who united a mining community in the 1970s and 80s while roaming the Australian outback in search of his long lost master". Hokey? Maybe not. It's base on a book by Louis De Bernieres, who wrote "Captain Corelli's Mandolin". Also starring will be Rachael Taylor, Noah Taylor, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Luke Ford, Rohan Nichol, and Arthur Angel. The screenplay was written by Daniel Tapiltz, who penned the Ryan Reynolds/Emily Mortimer film CHAOS THEORY and the Jamie Foxx/Gabrielle Union film BREAKIN' ALL THE RULES, none of which I can confess to having heard of before looking him up on IMDb. What will get my backside in the cinema, however, will be director Kriv Stenders, who made the excellent BOXING DAY and the very good LUCKY COUNTRY.
About seven columns back, we told you that Irish director Gary McKendry would be directing Jason Statham in THE KILLER ELITE, to film in Australia. Based on the book "The Feather Men" by Ranulph Fiennes (and not a remake of Sam Peckinpah film THE KILLER ELITE, which was based on Robert Rostand's "Monkey in the Middle"), the film has just signed Clive Owen to star opposite Statham. Owen recently filmed THE BOYS ARE BACK in Australia for director Scott Hicks, so he clearly likes the place. The film follows a group of ex-SAS members who... well, actually, I'm not sure, but it involved a lot of killing. And given it stars Owen and Statham, I don't really need to know anything more beyond the release date. THE KILLER ELITE begins filming in Melbourne this coming Wednesday, so everybody act cool.
Bruce Beresford, whose most recent film MAO'S LAST DANCER completely divided the Australian critical community (into, er, people who hated it and me), will next direct the comedy-drama... uh, dramedy... no, comada... PEACE, LOVE AND MISUNDERSTANDING in America. Beresford described the plot to Inside Film as being "a sort-of family [comedy-drama[ with three generations of women". At least two of the generations will be played by Jane Fonda and Catherine Keener.
No kidding: we've been talking about THE CUP for so long, I honestly thought it had been finished and released. Quite a while ago, in fact. But I might have been thinking of HORSEPLAY, which, in itself, would be a first. THE CUP, which has indeed been discussed for quite some time, will film in a matter of weeks. The film stars Stephen Curry as famous Australian jockey Damien Oliver, whose brother died days before the 2002 Melbourne Cup, where Oliver... actually, it may be a matter of record, but I'll be damned if I'll spoil it for those who don't know.
With BENEATH HILL 60 blowing up the Australian box office from underneath, it seems Gallipoli is back in vogue. Peter Andrikidis ("Underbelly", THE WOG BOY 2) will direct SIMPSON, a film about a stretcher bearer in World War One. The film is written by Sam Meikle, and is currently -- and this is true -- casting for the right donkey. Yes, donkey. And I wish I could see the looks on the faces of anyone who doesn't know their Australian history. (Click here, guys.)
Despite all the Australian war heroes filling up films such as SIMPSON and BENEATH HILL 60 and GALLIPOLI, a new mini-series about the Chinese-Australian sharpshooter Billy Sing, "The Legend of Billy Sing", has erupted into a fair bit of controversy lately. Why? Director Geoff Davis cast his caucasian son Josh in the lead role, and Chinese advocacy groups are not happy. Click here to read more.
Aside from two short films (both of which we are, of course, terribly proud of), it looked like Australia would not make any appearance at Cannes. Well, if there's one thing we do well, it's overcompensation: THE TREE will be the closing night film at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. Never heard of it? Well, I hadn't heard much either, aside from my regular pimping of its Twitter page in the AICN-D news feed. The film is directed by Julie Bertucelli (SINCE OMAR LEFT), and is based on the book "Our Father Who Art In a Tree" by Australian Julie Pascoe. (Trivia fact: Pascoe was in Circus Oz and played "Camille" in an episode of "Red Dwarf"!) The film stars Charlotte Gainsbourg (THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP, ANTICHRIST) and New Zealander Marton Csokas (LORD OF THE RINGS, THE BOURNE SUPREMACY).
57th Sydney Film Festival
The Sydney Film Festival has announced its impressive lineup for this year. Opening the June festival will be Shirley Barret's SOUTH SOLITARY, featuring father-and-daughter Barry Otto and Miranda Otto. Closing out the festival will be THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, with Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, and Australian actress Mia Wasikowska. Sandwiched in-between the two will be the above-mentioned THE TREE, THE WAITING CITY, RED HILL, and THE LOVED ONES, all Australian. International films include THE KILLER INSIDE ME, LOLA, WOMEN WITHOUT MEN, HOW I ENDED THIS SUMMER, THE RUNAWAYS, Roman Polanski's THE GHOST, and Chris Morris's FOUR LIONS. The great Chris Morris will be in attendance as a guest of the festival, as will Jonah Hill with his film CYRUS. An undeniably cool lineup. Sydney folks: enjoy!
If Australia and New Zealand must have Hollywood fare topping its charts, I'm more than happy with it being fare of IRON MAN 2 quality. But the more impressive showings are the following: in Australia, the very good Aussie World War One film BENEATH HILL 60 cracked the top five; in New Zealand, record-breaking local film BOY continued its impressive run, whilst another New Zealand film took out number three. Do those Kiwis dig their local output or what? As always, click on the links to read the AICN-Downunder reviews.
111.7 CENTIMETRE CHEST gets an empirical title change, all the competing WIZARD OF OZ projects are beaten to the post by a Jewish author, Sandra Bullock adopts a black child in the spirit of cross-promotion, Colin Friels loses his sight and becomes incorporated, Gyllenhaal and Maguire star in a hard-hitting drama about competing soup chefs, Jesus ruins yet another perfectly good apocalypse, Disney considers remaking this as a CGI adventure with real animals, Melanie Laurent presumably burns the concert hall down at the end, Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser play two men who are really good at measuring things, I had no idea this was even coming out, New York gets a love letter slightly less subtle than classic Woody Allen, Lucas Black and Tyrese Gibson star in this supernatural film that I pray turns out to be a FAST AND THE FURIOUS sequel, I now have "Cheer Up, Charlie" stuck in my head, Colin Firth pines for Mr Right, a Turkish director makes a German film about a Greek man whose girlfriend moves to China, and DEAD CALM meets FINAL DESTINATION.
Once a year, the AICN Overgeeklords allow me to roam free on the site, shaking free the constraints of AICN-Downunder to review as I please. This year, I was allowed out for IRON MAN 2, and if you missed my review you can click here to read it.
Australian release: June 3 // New Zealand release: TBA
I saw ANIMAL KINGDOM back in mid-February, and have been, thus far, unable to satisfactorily review it. I've made a few attempts, but the film is too big. Not too big for itself, but too big for my review. I am suddenly distinctly aware of the role I play in the process, no matter how small it may be, and I face the following conundrum: if I tell you honestly how good ANIMAL KINGDOM is, I may well raise your expectations to impossible levels. (This, of course, depends on how much stock you place in my opinion. For the purposes of this argument, I'm assuming that you, like me, agree with everything I write.)
Of course, that's an obtuse roundabout way of telling you exactly what I thought of it, but you should still know that I'm making a concerted effort at restraint in this review, lest the enthusiasm I felt for the film in February -- enthusiasm that has not, nearly three months later, abated -- get the better of me.
ANIMAL KINGDOM is the Australian crime film that won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Despite the notorious underworld gangland that exists in Melbourne (and has been the subject of the wildly successful "Underbelly" TV series), ANIMAL KINGDOM is a work of fiction. This is reason number one why it works so well. Clearly using specific newspaper-featuring families as inspiration, the film's fictitiousness means it is not taking liberties with the lives of real people (a pet hate of mine), nor it is constrained by events that may prove necessarily undramatic or unsatisfying. It's the perfect mix of real world believability and epic crime film.
The film follows J, a teenager whose mother dies of a drug overdose. J goes to live with the grandmother he doesn't know very well, and discovers the family business is a nefarious one. What happens from that point on I shall not say, as the film's intricate series of twists and turns means that any further plot recounting would spoil too much. Which is a shame, because you come out of the film desperately wanting to talk to everyone you meet about everything that happens, specifically that ending... Waiting for this film to come out in general release so my friends can all see it has been one of the most difficult cinematic waits of my recent history.
The cast... oh boy, the cast. To start, there's newcomer James Frecheville, who plays the lead, and for whom ANIMAL KINGDOM is his first gig. Hell of a way to start. Frecheville is one of the cleverest pieces of casting I've seen: he plays a relatively dull teenager, but does so without giving a dull performance. I'm not surprised he stood out in auditions. It's left field casting, but it really works. Sullivan Stapleton, Luke Ford, and Joel Edgerton give some of the best supporting work you'll see all year. All three manage to balance out the family by bringing different qualities to the table, but without slipping into the two-dimensional cliché of "He's the funny one, he's the unhinged one, he's the quiet one..." etc. A lot of care has been taken with how these characters are written, and the performances do justice to them. Guy Pearce is the sturdy centre of the film, grounding the proceedings and basically making you feel tremendously at ease whenever he's on screen. He plays Detective Leckie, the cop who first approaches J, and gives one of the strongest performances in the pieces.
The best work, however, is done by Ben Mendelsohn and Jacki Weaver. Mendelsohn has been one of Australia's most reliable character actors ever since his breakout role in John Duigan's brilliant THE YEAR MY VOICE BROKE in 1987. But even going into this film as a big fan of his work, I was not prepared for what he did as "Pope", the dangerous, largely-unseen member of the family. He plays Pope almost as a functioning autistic, a man uncomfortable in his own skin, almost as if he is scared by his own presence. He plays Pope as a dangerous man with shifty eyes, someone who seems to need a reason not to kill you. Mendelsohn steals the screen every time he's on it, and yet the performance to savour is Jacki Weaver's.
Jacki Weaver's something of a living legend in Australian acting, from her parts in ALVIN PURPLE (sic) to PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK and THE REMOVALISTS. Those films, however, were all in the 70s. Throughout the 80s and 90s, she was largely and curiously absent from the screen, appearing in only the odd film or television series. If her role as the matriarch of the family in ANIMAL KINGDOM can be described as a comeback, then it's one of the best and strongest comebacks ever witnessed: if Jacki Weaver does not win every award she is eligible for, then either something has gone very wrong, or someone has managed to give a better performance this year. I doubt it will be the latter. Weaver is truly remarkable as Janine Cody, J's grandmother, and has not one gesture, not one note that ever rings false.
Writer/director David Michod does not miss a single beat with ANIMAL KINGDOM. Months after seeing the film, when so many others have faded into obscurity in my mind, ANIMAL KINGDOM remains at the forefront, almost hauntingly so. It's a self-assured work that raises the bar in so many different ways. We are not halfway through the year, yet I doubt we will see a better film in 2010.
Australian release: May 25 // New Zealand release: July 15
The poster proclaims this to be the UK's answer to GRAN TORINO, but as someone who found the script -- and, ultimately, the film -- of GRAN TORINO to be half-baked and somewhat underwhelming, this faint praise hardly had me psyched up for HARRY BROWN, the film in which Michael Caine returns to his vigilante ways.
The vigilante revenge film has in recent times -- and by "recent times", I mean the last few decades -- flattened out to the point where they all seem to be a variation on a theme. The theme is usually DEATH WISH; the variation is usually the lead actor. And so, with nearly every film in the genre playing out in a somewhat-identical manner, we look for departures that justify the retread. Which element of this particular man-pushed-to-the-edge-and-pushes-back film, we ask, will make the journey worthwhile?
Superficially, the idea of Michael Caine in the lead role is an appealing one. It immediately recalls one of his most legendary performances in GET CARTER; additionally, seeing a septuagenarian wreaking bloody vengeance does tickle somewhat.
The toughest part of a vigilante film is convincing us that the central character could, indeed, be pushed to the very edge. Director Daniel Barber and screenwriter Gary Young work up to it with a self-confidentally reasoned pace. Harry Brown is being pushed on many different levels, and this is displayed on every level: we are told about these pressures, we are shown other pressures, past miseries are hinted at, and visual metaphor is subtly engaged to suggest a more intense burn going on underneath the surface. No matter which level you watch the film on, the pressure is growing. So, when Harry Brown picks up the gun we see in the poster, the framework has been quite believably and powerfully built so that we believe this man would do the unthinkable. Not a bad effort given our first glimpses of Brown show a sad old man eating breakfast alone.
The biggest problem a vigilante film faces is convincing someone like me that the main character is justified in their actions. Unless the film serves as an indictment of the character's actions, we are expected in most cases to cheer our gun-toting lead along. We want to see punishment dolled out to those who deserve it, and we want to enjoy it when it happens. This is a very hard sell for me, given my dislike of nearly every form of vigilantism, and very few films manage to win me over to their way of thinking. But endorsing a character's actions in a film does not mean endorsing a similar situation in real life; our ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality allows us to enjoy extremes that we would never wish to experience or witness in our own lives, and so if a film does its job well enough, we may find ourselves supporting actions we never otherwise would. It's a hard sell, but a necessary one, and unlike many other vigilante films, HARRY BROWN takes its time to convince us.
The most difficult and possibly divisive element of the film is the depiction of the "bad guys". The youths on the council estate are largely depicted as moral-free drug dealers with zero dimensions and no room for sympathy. It's a tough call, and I can't pretend I didn't notice. The depiction of one of the gang comes close to suggesting that the root of the problem may be deeper than first appearances suggest, but this is not examined in any great detail. In fact, it's outright ignored when Harry opines on their motives for mindless violence.
But is this a flawed central character giving these opinions, or is this the judgment of the film? Much as it would help my case to argue the former, it's obvious that the film has little sympathy for the so-called violent thugs who inhabit council estates. It's a pretty single-minded attitude, so why didn't it bother me? Usually, such one-eyed depictions would form the core of my argument against such a film!
For starters, the realism of HARRY BROWN is convincing and powerful. Aside from one over-arch moment in the film's final moments, there's little in this film that feels forced or artificial. Despite being completely unsympathetic characters, the antagonistic gang feels disturbingly authentic. They act and react the way I've seen many do in real life, and if they're realistic enough for reality, why shouldn't they be realistic enough for fantasy?
If the film works, it's because it works overtime to portray every moment as realistically and believably as possible. It's because Michael Caine feels like he belongs in this world, instead of being a Hollywood actor slumming it for awards season. I've said it before, but as good as Caine was in his youth, he's better in his senior years, and his work in HARRY BROWN confirms this.
It will absolutely divide people, and I'm going to be completely unable to argue against the many valid points the film's detractors will have, but for me this is a remarkable film that stands amongst the best of the vigilante genre.
KISSES (April 6, Region 4)
The film: If I were to be dismissively shorthand (yet still complimentary) about KISSES, I would call it the Irish version of SAMSON AND DELILAH. But despite the apt comparisons between the stories being told, it does sell both films short. KISSES has its own unique flavour: it's the story of two kids on the verge of teenagehood who run away to Dublin, and is told in a truly wonderful, understated manner by writer/director Lance Daly. The two young leads are a revelation; the cinematography is genius; the film is a complete success. And at 72 minutes, it sits very comfortably in its running time, never feeling too long or too short. Had I seen the film when it played at last year's MIFF, it would have placed in my top films of the year.
The extras: A beautiful fifteen-minute Making Of doco that endearingly introduces us to the casting process that found the two leads. A surprising amount of ground is covered in only fifteen minutes: a perfect example of how to do one of these docos. Also included is a brilliant trailer.
Should you buy it: As always, it depends entirely on your tastes, but it's hard for me to give anything other than an enthusiastic YES. I know I'll be revisiting this one many times in the future.
STILL WALKING (April 6, Region 4)
The film: Speaking of films I did or didn't see at MIFF last year, here's STILL WALKING. I actually studiously avoided the film when I was making my bookings. A two hour Japanese film about a family mourning their son? As great as it may have been, I didn't really want to subject myself to that. But the fates had other ideas, and I ended up attending... and ended up slapping myself about the head for doubting it. STILL WALKING is pure brilliance, and I was delighted to see it had secured a local video release. Far from depressing, the film is actually a delight and incredibly funny. Not a comedy, but a drama featuring funny people. It's beautiful and compelling in the way that the best dramas are, and is surprisingly rewatchable. Writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda has been compared to Ozu, and based on STILL WALKING, he is a director we must remember. He's certainly one whose filmography I will be plundering.
The extras: An odd theatrical trailer that mostly ignores the film's strong personality. Glad I didn't see it before I saw the film!
Should you buy it: If Kore-eda isn't already one of Japan's most important filmmakers, he soon will be. STILL WALKING was one of my favourites of 2009, and seeing it again on DVD just reminded me why. Pick it up.
LOUISE BOURGEOIS: THE SPIDER, THE MISTRESS AND THE TANGERINE (April 21, Region 4)
The film: When LOUISE BOURGEOIS begins, it shows the promise of my favourite type of documentary: one in which I am introduced to an artist or significant figure without first knowing who they are. Last week's review of AMOS OZ, or two of my favourite documentaries of last year, THE BEACHES OF AGNES and CELIA THE QUEEN, all did this. (Although I have since learned much more about Amos Oz, Agnes Varda, and Celia Cruz to my own delight.) Louise Bourgeois, a feisty 80+ year old French artist living in New York, is a prickly, interesting figure, and is the ideal subject for this type of documentary. The film doesn't quite live up to its promise, though. As interesting as particular elements are, I did feel it held me at a bit of a distance, possibly because of my lack of expertise in sculpture art, although the best documentaries do transcend a pre-existing disinterest. Given the film doesn't appear to do anything wrong in my estimation, it's difficult to put my finger on why it doesn't fully work. It's got all the elements: her life is told in anecdotal form throughout the course of the film, and it's an interesting one; we are told why she does what she does and what it means to her; people around her tell us what she's like to be around. And yet, there's something a bit cliquey about it that keeps us from becoming fully engaged. Which is a shame, because Bourgeois appears to be someone I would enjoy getting to know properly.
The extras: A decent trailer that is simultaneously more focused than the film, and a pretty accurate reflection of the film's style.
Should you buy it: If you're an art fan, or know an art fan, then yes. If you hold no interest in the topic, this is not a film that will sway you.
SANSHO THE BAILIFF (April 21, Region 4)
The film: Madman's Director's Suite series has served as a sort of second film school for me, introducing me to important and brilliant filmmakers that I was otherwise unfamiliar with. Currently, we're being treated to the works of Kenji Mizoguchi, which is great news as someone for whom mid-20th Century Japanese cinema begins and ends with Akira Kurosawa. Watching Mizoguchi for the first time gives you a wonderfully bittersweet sensation of (a) discovering an extraordinary filmmaker, and (b) the shame of being a film buff for all this time without knowing his work. Luckily, the first, happier sensation is the more powerful one. SANSHO THE BAILIFF tells the story of a family in medieval Japan, separated when the patriarch -- a governor undone by his compassion for the lower classes -- is exiled. The children are soon kidnapped and sold into slavery, and what happens next is too extraordinary to repeat in a mere DVD review. Beautiful and elegant and epic, SANSHO hits every one of your senses: it is gorgeous to look at, it is brilliantly-scripted, and the moral quandaries it raises are as challenging as anything we get today. A glorious, amazing surprise that I cannot praise enough.
The extras: There's an informative and interesting commentary by Ross Gibson, a Professor of Contemporary Arts at the University of Sydney. It's a good listen, and Gibson is a welcome addition to the roster of academics that record commentaries on these classic releases. They've also got a neat reprint of the film's original Japanese poster.
Should you buy it: If you're enough of a film geek to read AICN, then you have no excuse not to pick this up. You'll be glad you did.
SIN NOMBRE (April 7, Region 4)
The film: Simultaneously wading hip-deep into gang culture and illegal emigration, SIN NOMBRE manages to play dozens of different strings at once without overloading itself. The Hondurus-based film is unrelenting without being a complete assault on the senses. Just as the pre-teen Smiley is initiated into a gang, a family begins the perilous train journey through Guatemala and Mexico to the US border. Fates, as they are wont to do, intersect, and every expectation I had about What This Sort Of Film Usually Does were quickly dashed. It's unpredictable without being improbable; brutal without being over-the-top. It's an astonishing film, and it's not hard to see why it picked up so many awards.
The extras: A commentary by writer/director Cary Fukunaga (which, at time of writing, I've not yet listened to).
Should you buy it: This is one of those breakthrough films we'll all be talking about when Cary Fukunaga is a household name -- I'd suggest getting in early.
- Following Scottish actor David Tennant's support of the Labour Party in the UK elections, Shane Meadows will direct him in the third installment of the bizarre series, BAD LEFT TENNANT
- Following the not-at-all-surprising revelations about Joaquin Phoenix, 50 Cent announces his acting career has also been a complete joke
- Sony greenlights a CGI sequel about surfing penguins competing in Feudal Japan in SERF'S UP