AICN-Downunder: TOY STORY 3, I AM LOVE, GET HIM TO THE GREEK, and much more!
Published at: June 19, 2010, 4:31 p.m. CST by quint
There's a snake in my boots!
June is turning out to be a pretty excellent month for films.
ANIMAL KINGDOM has been a big hit at Sundance and has certainly impressed the vast majority of critics (yours truly very much included), but it was always a big gamble as to whether it would draw crowds, especially as it was opening amongst flashier fare such as SEX AND THE CITY 2, THE LOSERS and PRINCE OF PERSIA. Happily, ANIMAL KINGDOM burst out of the gates with an impressive first week, so impressive that it did the impossible and had to expand to more screens in its second! Critics so often despair when audiences flock to horrible movies, and audiences are so often frustrated at critics lauding some obscure crime film they have no desire to see. This is one of those rare and wonderful confluences where everybody seems to be on the same page.
If that wasn't enough, this past Tuesday saw two media screenings held for films that stand shoulder-to-shoulder with ANIMAL KINGDOM as my clear favourites of the year. You'll have to scroll down to see which of the four films reviewed were so brilliant (and which one was so terrible), but rest assured there is a lot of greatness to be released in the coming weeks.
As a big fan of BLACK WATER, I'm really looking forward to Andrew Traucki's follow-up THE REEF. And I'm still really looking forward to it even after this comically American-voiced teaser appeared. Not sure that trailer would win me over if I was an undecided, but with a great cast and a proven director, I was already sold. Maybe going after people who respond to these sorts of trailers isn't such a bad idea, but then, if I knew anything about marketing, I'd probably be doing it.
I was not a fan of the Australian drama THE BLACK BALLOON, but I was impressed with model-turned-actress Gemma Ward, who gave an exceptionally grounded performance. Ward has now been cast in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES as a mermaid who will, we assume, seduce Captain Jack Sparrow at some point. Fellow anti-podean Geoffrey Rush will also return as Barbossa.
Here's one you might not have heard of: BIG MAMMA'S BOY recently wrapped production in Melbourne. The film is directed by Franco di Chiera, who has directed documentaries, short films, TV, and the film TRE PER SEMPRE. It's written by Matteo Bruno and Frank Lolito, and features Lolito as a man struggling to choose between "the love of his life, Katie, and his doting, over-protective Italian mother". The film also stars Holly Valance (TAKEN), Cassandra Magrath (WOLF CREEK), and Steve Mouzakis (WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE), and should be released in early 2011.
Okay, you've got my attention: filmmakers Julian Harvey and Enzo Tedeschi have begun a "135k project" to fund their film THE TUNNEL. For one dollar, you can buy a frame of film; once 1 135 000 frames have been sold, the equalling ninety minute movie will be placed online for free. It's a fascinating business model, possibly the first that removes the box office from the equation. THE TUNNEL will be set in Sydney and shot in a "found footage" style that has proved so popular with BLAIR WITCH, REC and CLOVERFIELD. THE TUNNEL will be directed by newcomer Carlo Ledesma. A thousand frames were bought up on its first day, and it looks like these guys might actually pull this off. I know I'll be purchasing a frame or several. If you want to do similar, head to the website and follow the prompts. IF YOU DARE.
Australian Jeremy Saunders is one of the most interesting poster designers working today, and GRIFF THE INVISIBLE is one of my most highly-anticipated upcoming Australian films. (You'll never guess where I'm going with this.) Click on the link to check out the GRIFF poster designed by Saunders, which was used to sell the film at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
Speaking of posters and films I'm highly-anticipating, the SUMMER CODA one has gone live on its website right here. The Mildura-set romantic film is the directorial debut of Richard Gray, and features Rachael Taylor, Alex Dimitriades, Susie Porter, Nathan Phillips, Cassandra Magrath, Angus Sampson and Jacki Weaver. The website also features an interesting production log from various members of the case and crew. (Disclosure: my partner is the Publicity Manager at Sharmill Films, the company that is distributing SUMMER CODA.)
I always have time for a war movie that does something different, finds a different angle. JOURNEY OF A STORY is doing that, by focusing on post-WWII years for Australian and New Zealand families dealing with the aftermath of the war. The production has begun filming test footage, some of which can be seen here. Looking forward to seeing how this project develops.
Last year's MIFF was a slightly bittersweet experience for me: I saw nearly seventy films, but did so aware of the fact that I probably wouldn't be able to devote that amount of time to it in future years. Still, the anticipation for my favourite film festival is growing, especially with news starting to trickle out. The opening night film has been announced as THE WEDDING PARTY, starring Josh Lawson, Isabel Lucas, Steve Bisley, Nadine Garner, and Bill Hunter. Previously titled KIN, there's been some very good word-of-mouth about this film since well before it was announced as the MIFF opener.
Sydney Film Festival
SFF was, by all reports, a largely successful affair, with critics in Sydney live-tweeting the festival and making the rest of us incredible jealous. Xavier Dolan's French-Canadian film HEARTBEATS won both the festival award and the audience award, with Aleksei Popogrebsky's fascinating-looking HOW I ENDED THIS SUMMER and Ben C Lucas's WASTED ON THE YOUNG both picking up honourable mentions from the festival jury.
Film Festival of Australasia - Barossa
Who's to say who can or cannot hold an international film festival? Filmmaker Dave de Vries has been negotiating to begin the annual festival which would begin in October 2011 in the Barossa Valley in South Australia. The International Film Festival of Australasia would have a different focus from the Adelaide International Film Festival, with an emphasis on first time filmmakers, underground cinema, and genre films. Here's hoping it gets off the ground!
It's very odd the way GET HIM TO THE GREEK managed to get on this list given it came out after this list was published, but then the whole practice of "previews" is a strange one. Meanwhile, I'm wondering if there's anyone left in New Zealand that hasn't seen BOY given it's surely only days away from being granted a permanent spot on the box office list.
The first of a twenty-six-part action series comes out, this is a spice I am unfamiliar with, this is a phrase frequently uttered in financial institutions lately, we always Hurt the films we love, Michael Gambon cross-dresses, Jean-Pierre Jeunet misses a prime marketing opportunity with a certain fast food chain, this film should have starred Ruth Cracknell and Garry McDonald, this was originally called ARUGULA CREATIONISM in the States, and I can't believe they've ruined a franchise I never liked to begin with.
Australian release: June 24 // New Zealand release: July 1
There are so few instances of a specific movie signaling the beginning of a film movement. Usually, any movie that is popularly attributed with kicking off a movement is not, in fact, its inceptor, and there will be at least one less-notable predecessor standing in the wings. And yet, TOY STORY clearly stands at the beginning of a huge wave, a wave that -- and I'm not an expert in tidal sciences, so this may turn out to be a mixed or just plain incorrect metaphor -- splits off into two completely different waves. The bigger wave was, sadly, the advent of the computer generated feature film. TOY STORY's popularity was frustratingly attributed to its CGI visuals, and studios began churning them out by the fistful with a seemingly minor regard for content. The smaller but more significant wave was one that was followed through by, 95% of the time, Pixar itself, and that was the storytelling. TOY STORY felt like something new and a return to the fundamentals all at once. Story and character were key, the humour was genuinely funny, and it was appealing to children and adults all at once, instead of the usual one-for-the-kids, one-for-the-grown-ups style of vacillating that leaves someone bored for at least 50% of the time.
TOY STORY 3 feels like we're coming full circle. I don't expect that Pixar will stop making great films, but there's something deeply satisfying about seeing them take everything they've learned over the past fifteen years and apply it to what I suspect will be the final chapter of the story they first told. The easy at-a-glance way to discover where TOY STORY 3 ranks is for me to compare it to the first two films. See, I thought it would be impossible to top the first TOY STORY, yet TOY STORY 2 managed it. Where TOY STORY 3 sits is something I am yet to figure out, and as with all great art, its placement is permeable. But the more important thing is that I cannot rule out that the third film might be the best of the lot.
The story is exceptionally clever: it deals with a kid moving on from his toys, but does so in a very different way from TOY STORY 2. This feels like the second act of Steven Sondheim's "Into The Woods", told after the happily ever after, when we know for a fact that there is no going back to The Way Things Were. It's subtly heavy stuff for what remains a kids' movie, and it's terrific to see them not pulling any punches. It's also terrific to see how they're able to give us those homaging moments without simply repeating everything that came beforehand. This is a new film that stands on its own feet, not something that can be said of many sequels in this genre.
After the brilliantly original Pixar short DAY & NIGHT, we are plunged immediately into one of the greatest opening sequences Pixar has ever committed to film. It's a huge step up from even the second film, the logical extension of that Buzz Lightyear fantasy sequence, and doesn't miss a step when it heads straight into the main story. I won't dwell on the story itself, but it does ramp up to an extraordinary finale. The film builds a climax, then builds a bigger climax to top it, and works in one of the most emotionally-devastating visual moments I think I've ever seen in a film like this. It's this climax I came out of the film wanting to talk to all and sundry about it, but I won't discuss it here for obvious reasons. All I'll say is that the level of humour, emotion, and pure visceral spectacle on display here is so far beyond the usual blockbuster fare that aims for this exact thing, it's insane.
As perfect as the film is, it's not flawless: I have one very specific problem, and I'll be curious to see if others feel the same, or if the makers have in-depth reasons for doing the following: Bo Peep is cut from the film. I know Bo Peep is nobody's favourite character, and you could lift her out of the first two films without disrupting the plot too much. But Bo Peep was the emotional grounding for Woody. She was what he was coming back to, and the moment she turns her back on him in film one is the final nail in Woody's outcasting. She is an essential component to the group of toys, but that's not why her exclusion is so worrying. The TOY STORY films are essentially about rejection, and the lack of value we place in things we hold (or held) a sentimental connection to. Given that message is stronger in TOY STORY 3 than its previous entries, there is something quite distasteful at the way Bo Peep is discarded with only a brief mention in the beginning. Sure, her absence is played to complement the film's themes, but that feels like an afterthought to what is an unnaturally cynical move for Pixar.
That one blip is the only problem I have with TOY STORY 3, or with the trilogy as a whole. There are few things in cinema rarer than the perfect trilogy, but Pixar has managed to cap this series with the most brilliant, perfect, logical ending for these cinematic classics.
I AM LOVE
Australian release: June 24 // New Zealand release: TBA
Further down this column, in a DVD review, I make reference to my long-standing belief that anyone who refers to themselves as "edgy" is, in reality, anything but. So many filmmakers seem to believe that they are pushing the medium simply by including lots of sex, violence, drugs, and the sort of extreme taboos that come when those are combined. The lesson these filmmakers miss from literature is that the actual story content of the story rarely if ever pushes the medium forward: it is the manner in which that story is imparted that is key. Writers like James Joyce and Hunter S Thompson changed literature forever not because the stories they told were particularly extreme, but because the manner in which they were imparted was extraordinary. It wasn't style over substance: the style was the substance.
Director and co-writer Luca Guadagino understands this, whether consciously or innately. I AM LOVE is an astonishingly beautiful, elegiac piece of prose that pushes cinema in a way that so many other filmmakers can only dream of. Its content is hardly shocking: disaffection, ennui, extra-marital affairs... but it's the way in which these moments are shown to us that breaks the mould.
Although I AM LOVE is a work of startling originality, I feel compelled to use a cinephiliac shorthand to describe what Guadagino achieves: it's the dreamlike memory-state of Michael Winterbottom's GENOVA and the restrained elegance of Luchino Visconti's THE LEOPARD and the intense tactility of Hayao Miyazaki's SPIRITED AWAY. The assured, almost-distancing way that Guadagino moves the camera feels most like Aleksandr Sokurov, who in RUSSIAN ARK and THE SUN highlighted the characters' journeys by focusing on the seemingly mundane and inconsequential detail. There is a tangible gut-punch every time he points us at something we would never even glance at in a wider shot, and it's that visual sensuality that feels more dangerous than any other recent film I can think of.
Most dangerously of all, Guadagino challenges his own style when main character Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton) impulsively follows someone down a street. You can see on her face that she feels exhilarated and embarrassed all at once. She is suddenly in her own personal film, and the music bravely reflects this. It becomes a self-consciously Movie Moment, echoed moments later by a subtle but unmistakable homage to Hitchcock's VERTIGO. A scene like this holds the danger of derailing the entire film, but it sits perfectly within Emma's head and complements the surrounding scenes flawlessly.
This is perhaps the greatest performance yet from Tilda Swinton; she gives the sort of warm, vulnerable performance we're just not used to from her. Swinton is undoubtedly one of the best and most interesting actors working today, and seeing consumed so entirely by this reluctant matriarch character is an astonishing thing to behold.
This is exactly the sort of film that we go to film festivals to see. It's unlike anything else out there, and you file out of the cinema dazed by what's just hit you. I've invoked a little bit of theory and academia in this review, but those things are only useful in trying to describe the effect of the film. That effect is intangible and emotive and shocking in ways you don't fully understand at the time. Luca Guadagino is clearly one of the most interesting directors in the world today, and I AM LOVE is one of the best films we're likely to see for a very long time.
Australian release: June 17 (Sydney), June 24 (Melbourne) // New Zealand release: TBA
There is an important fact about ROCKET SCIENCE that's worth getting out of the way early: it came out in the US in 2007. All the jokes and complaints about Australia getting delayed film releases have slowly become moot with globalisation making us all acutely aware of what is coming out when. Still, ROCKET SCIENCE is three years old, and this is important when you're wondering why Anna Kendrick looks slightly but noticeably younger, or whether that admittedly-funny Jonah Hill cameo is meant to be as distracting as it is.
So, with that out of the way, ROCKET SCIENCE is going to be one of those divisive films. It's one of those rare times I noticed the good and the bad films at the same time: at its best, it is a charming, original, inventive comedy with interesting characters and a personality all its own; at its worst, it is a forcibly quirky bore that is trying to ride the wave of oddball indie comedy-dramas. The first film I described was one I enjoyed greatly; the second is one that really got up my nose.
The film is about a high school student with a speech impediment -- the film must be the first to occupy that sub-sub-genre Stuttercore, an offshoot of Mumblecore -- who is convinced by a girl to join the high school debating team. The characters are well-drawn, and the performances by all involved are, without exception, excellent. Writer/director Jeffrey Blitz (maker of the fantastic documentary SPELLBOUND) really knows how to move the camera, and the energy of the direction pushes the film at a pace that most writer/directors of the genre, usually eager to simply have their words clearly up on screen, ignore.
The film's problems are few, but they are significant. The first is the sporadic narration. It feels like it is lifted directly out of THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, with Dan Cashman's narration sounding almost exactly like Alec Baldwin's. That narration oscillates between unexpected augmentations of the story we've just seen, to the flat-out describing what has just happened. It's the best and worst of narration rolled into one, but its sparing use makes it palatable. The second problem is the first thing the narration tells us: that the expert debating voice of Ben Wekselbaum (Nicholas D'Agosto) makes its way over to our main character Hal Hefner (Reece Daniel Thompson), yet there is nothing in the film to suggest this actually happened. In fact, the film makes a lot more sense if you remove this setup. It feels like a piece of narration left over from an earlier draft, or maybe just a desperate way to connect the two events right out of the gate, because nothing that happens in the film bears this out. The third and biggest problem stems directly from this: everybody seems to have faith that Hal will step up to the plate when it's needed and innate debating skills will come to the fore, yet absolutely nothing occurs at any point in the movie to convince us that he will, or convince the characters that he will. It is a conceit we are given simply because it is the premise of the film, but it's one the film never even tries to sell us on. Although there are really only three things wrong with the film, usually good news in any review, in this case they are fundamentally important elements that completely shape the rest of the film.
And that's a shame, because there are no other problems left. The dialogue is genuinely funny, the characters and performances are (I'll say again) brilliant, the direction is (I'll say again) superb, and all in all it's a very enjoyable film. How much you enjoy it will depend largely on how much you care that plot of the film remains completely and annoyingly unbelievable from start to finish.
GET HIM TO THE GREEK
Australian /New Zealand release: June 17
The Apatow Brand is becoming a polarising one. To many, he's the King Midas of comedy, a shrewd producer whose comedic instincts led to an instant canonisation of his name. To others, he's simply a name that's being slapped on a series of middlebrow comedies that embody the law of diminishing returns.
I'm not sure where exactly we're supposed to draw the line on the Apatow Brand (go back far enough and you'll find his name on THE CABLE GUY and CELTIC PRIDE), but the latest crop have been hit and miss in equal parts. For every ANCHORMAN, there's a YEAR ONE. For every SUPERBAD, a DRILLBIT TAYLOR. What I find surprising about this sub-genre of comedies is not that the jokes don't work: it's how few jokes are in there.
I said "middlebrow" before, and it's because these films are not lowbrow. There's a genuine effort made, it just feels as if that effort is used to reach the exact centre of the road. Sean Combs isn't running around, waving his arms about and pulling faces, but he has punchlines that revolve around the seemingly-hilarious fact that he enjoys watching "The Biggest Loser". The record executives aren't farting loudly in the middle of meetings, but they are pretentiously bopping their heads in a "humourous" manner to some awful hip-hop track. Not every one of Jonah Hill's gags revolves around a bodily function, but he does vomit at least four times during the film. None of these things count as Crimes Against Comedy the way, say, the SCARY MOVIE sequels do, but it's nothing we haven't seen before. Again. And again. And again.
Enjoyment of the film will be based largely on the appeal of the two leads. I've seen Jonah Hill in a lot, and I'm yet to figure out what I think of him. I know I don't hate him, I know I don't love him: he's just sort of there. As the affable lead, he fulfill his role affably. I really enjoy Russell Brand's deceptively clever style of comedy, so often disguised as bawdiness. He appears to be quite constrained here (much like that muted feeling whenever you see a Monty Python member in an American studio comedy), so it's really just his charm that sustained me for the film. There's welcome supporting work from Elisabeth Moss and a nearly-unrecognisable Rose Byrne, and even with very little to do, it's hard not to like an appearance by Colm Meany.
The most surreal part of the film comes when it attempts to get Emotional. If you ever want to know why Studio Comedies fail, check your interest level at the moment when the music swells and it's time for everybody to Learn a Lesson. "You don't have to go out there!" insists Jonah Hill to Russell Brand in the film's climax. Uhhhh... what? Where exactly does this come from? The journey that Brand's character is on is a straightforward one: the drugs and drink and sex is to make for an inner loneliness. Hill's journey is completely muddy. What, is he trying to assert himself and be his own man? Is he showing that rock stars shouldn't be exploited? Is he learning to let go and relax? What the hell is his journey? I'm asking because the film expects us to know. The final scenes suggest we should feel something at Hill's ultimate moments, but we can't because it's completely unclear what it is he's done. He's walking through the crowd with a very self-satisfied expression on his face, and I have no idea why. And, clearly, neither does the film.
The moment is there because it's very strictly adhering to the structure of films such as this one. This is what a film featuring characters that love and learn looks like, and this is where the rebellious scene comes, and this is where the happy scene comes, and this is the coda to show how well everything worked out. We're supposed to feel drama because there's a close up and the film slows down, and the soundtrack fades into the background. Nothing in the text of the film is there to earn this moment, it's all just emotion by rote. It explains why there's an absence of jokes throughout: the comedy scenes are constructed in a "funny" way so we know that something funny is happening and we know how to react.
The crowd ate it up, and comedy is subjective, and you probably shouldn't listen to me because I think I might be in the minority. But I do feel like these comedies are like Kool-Aid, and everybody's drinking it because Python got old and Peter Sellers died and Ivan Reitman made MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND and Tina Fey is in DATE NIGHT and we've just accepted that funny movies are not funny any more, so anything mildly diverting will do.
HER MOTHER'S PROFESSION (May 19, Region 4)
The film: I seem to be in a bit of an unintentional melodrama retrospective at the moment. After discovering the genius of Douglas Sirk, I am again introduced to Kenji Mizoguchi, who with every passing films appears to have been the master of Japanese melodrama. HER MOTHER'S PROFESSION revolves around a daughter deeply ashamed by the geisha house her mother runs, feelings not helped by the fact that they are both in love with the same man. Although some of the story's morals are a bit dubious -- unavoidable for a 1954 film about self-sufficient women involved in prostitution -- it is a very brave piece, never shying away from difficult emotions and always taking the unexpected route, all the way to its powerfully understated ending. It's a superb film, and further cements Mizoguchi as one of the great unsung masters of the 20th century.
The extras: A terrific original theatrical trailer (which naturally gives away the whole film, but it's quaint, so I love it), and a commentary from Dr Barbara Hartley from the University of Tasmania. The commentary is a little stilted, but very informative, well-researched, and detailed. Which is exactly what I want from my academic commentaries, so full points there.
Should you buy it: Look, I know 1950s Japanese melodramas aren't going to be everybody's cup of tea, but this film is so damned good, I can't bring myself to give anything other than an impassioned YES.
STREET OF SHAME (May 19, Region 4)
The film: Mizoguchi's last film before his all-too-early death is 1956's STREET OF SHAME, which is aptly released on the same day as HER MOTHER'S PROFESSION as it, too, deals with the theme of prostitution. As the Japanese government votes to make prostitution illegal, the women of a geisha house struggle with finances, jealousy, shame, and misunderstanding from those around them. It's a powerful, subtle, mature drama that has its fingerprints over every quality drama that came afterwards. The themes and the way they are dealt with is the sort of thing you expect from the braveness of 1970s cinema: seeing it so honestly in a 1950s context simply adds to the power of this remarkable film.
The extras: As I said above, I love the academic examination of classic cinema, and the extras on this disc spoil me completely. Good academia enhances the viewing experience, which is exactly what the terrific commentary by Professor Ross Gibson and the 14 page essay by Dr Barbara Hartley, included as a booklet, achieve. Given this is Mizoguchi's last film, and that it's considered by some to be his best, it's an appropriate package and a glorious one to absorb yourself in.
Should you buy it: The final film from one of cinema's greatest filmmakers in a package this good? You should buy it twice.
SUICIDE CLUB (May 19, Region 4)
The film: I really couldn't tell you what this film is trying to be. The plot itself is incomprehensible, impenetrable gibberish, but its intent is even more muddied. Is it trying to be the sort of cultural zeitgeist that FIGHT CLUB was? Is it aiming for CLOCKWORK ORANGE-style social commentary? Is it simply the logical conclusion of the Japanese horror craze? Whatever it is, it's complete nonsense that is at best disposable crap, at worst morally reprehensible scum. A wave of suicides sweeps Japan, shown in unearned, unnecessary graphic detail, and police try futilely to investigate. I've often said that anyone who sets out to be "edgy" is usually anything but. I would therefore place money that the director has at some point insisted that this film is really edgy.
The extras: A theatrical trailer.
Should you buy it: You should really, really not.
OF TIME AND CITY (May 17, Region 4)
The film: Every city deserves to have its tale told via the biography of an interesting artist. Guy Maddin's MY WINNIPEG is a solid example of how great this can be. Terence Davies's OF TIME AND CITY, his love letter to Liverpool, is forcefully unique in its style, brilliantly and perfectly Its Own Thing, resistant of the generic smoothing over to make it feel like so much else. There is something incredibly familiar about Davies, even if you've never heard of him, the moment his narration begins you feel as if he is a voice from your childhood, someone your parents listened to but you didn't understand. His deep, English tones, eloquent and dramatic, narrate the story of Liverpool via the story of his life. It's not a straightforward narrative, but a 72 minute poem put to visuals. Footage of old football matches, interviews with people of the time, and audio clips from the brilliant radio programme "Round the Horne" help make this an essential, addictive, unlikely, unavoidable work of genius.
The extras: There's a nice theatrical trailer and a surprisingly personable interview with Davies from ABC's "At the Movies". Given the style of the film, a commentary would be redundant. Cleverly, instead of a commentary, there is a sixteen page booklet containing a very accessible essay by Dr Brian McFarlane that puts the film and Mr Davies in perfect context. A very clever and valuable extra.
Should you buy it: Even if you're unfamiliar with, or possess no nostalgia for, Liverpool, even if you don't know or care who Terence Davies is, I cannot imagine someone who would not find this a compelling and strangely rewatchable film. An impulse purchase you will not regret.
- Two competing disaster action films about oil spills head into production: ESSENTIAL OILS with Tommy Lee Jones and POSEIDON'S SPILLAGE with Pierce Brosnan
- After the failure of the proposed "24"/DIE HARD crossover movie, plans for the "Cashmere Mafia"/MIDNIGHT RUN mash-up are put on fast track
- Joel Silver announces plans to punch Terry Gilliam in the back of the head