AICN-Downunder: KNIGHT AND DAY, CREATION, THE WAITING CITY, and much more!
Published at: July 2, 2010, 10:15 a.m. CST by merrick
Tell me about Jenny.
Okay, so something a bit crazy happened the other day in Australia. There were rumblings that something was going on with the Prime Minister, and then fourteen hours later we had a new one. What was the earth-shattering scandal that broke him? Well, there wasn't really none. Depending on who you ask, it was the coal industry exercising its muscles, factions within the Labour Party taking revenge, or polling data suggesting the next election would be lost with Kevin Rudd at the helm. Basically, if anyone's shocked that this is how politics is done in Australia, rest assured that most of Australia is pretty shocked at this turn of events as well.
It's turned out to be pretty good marketing for I AM LOVE. Our new Prime Minister is Julia Gillard, the first woman to hold the highest elected office in the land (and she was sworn in by our first female Governor-General, too!). Ms Gillard has frequently been compared to Tilda Swinton, and should a film of this scandal be made, Ms Swinton will surely be asked to practice her Australian accent. But who would play Mr Rudd? There have been many suggestions, but if the Muppets' Professor Honeydew isn't available, then I'd go with my friend Paul's suggestion that Christian Clemenson gets the job. Hey, fantasy casting may be a timewaster, but it's a handy way to distract yourself whilst your country implodes a little bit.
Speaking of Paul -- who was introduced into this editorial deliberately for this segue -- after months of planning, he and I have launched a new movie podcast, "Hell Is For Hyphenates". We decided to ignore the glut of podcasts already flooding the market, and spent a while figuring out a format that would be new and interesting. When we couldn't, we just did the first thing that came into our heads. Paul is the human equivalent of IMDb, except he loads faster and is easier to update. The podcast is monthly, and you can download it directly from the website, or subscribe via iTunes. Every edition features a different guest host joining us, be they a film critic, filmmaker, or an obsessed cinephile we think the world needs to hear.
And hey, while I'm on a self-promotion groove, check out my interview with Guy Pearce at Onya Magazine. Guess which cult filmmaker he adores? If you didn't love Pearce already, discovering his film geeky side will win you over immediately.
The Review of the New Zealand Film Commission by Peter Jackson and David Court has come in, and it's not terrific news. the NZFC is seen as distant and unapproachable, with a perceived "us and them" attitude. The report does point out that the NZFC is an essential body, but one that needs a drastic restructuring. Interpretations of the report can be found at Inside Film and Encore Magazine, and the report itself can be read here.
"Why don't we make great genre films anymore?" is the common complaint in Australia, and one that's about to celebrate its 20th anniversary! A more pertinent question should be "Why is it that when we make great genre films, nobody sees them?". In the case of BLACK WATER, it's because it's been near-impossible to even find the damned film. Thankfully, it has been released via iTunes. Go to the iTunes store, click on "Movies" and do a search for BLACK WATER. Then replace the first two questions with "How long before we get to see Andrew Traucki's next film?". (Don't worry, it's not far off now.)
A month or so back, Encore Magazine published its list of the fifty most powerful people in the Australian film industry, and has now put the list online. In case you're wondering, if you're reading this column then you're probably not on it. Taking out the top spot is Omnilab Managing Director Christopher Mapp, followed by Dr George Miller and Screen Australia CEO Ruth Harley. Click here to see the rest of the list.
This year's MIAFF has come and gone, and quite a number of awards were given out. The biggest ones were Estonia's IN THE AIR (dir: Martinus Klemet) which took out Best of the Fest, and INK (dir: Justine Wallace), which won Best Australian film. Commendations for the latter award were given to THE COCKEREL'S EGG (dir: Peter Allen) and HEIRLOOMS (dir: Susan Danta & Wendy Chandler).
Selective vision is very useful. For instance, I can look at the Australian box office tally and be utterly delighted that my three favourite films of the year thus far occupy spots one, seven and ten, and ignore the remaining films which I either (a) didn't see, usually deliberately, or (b) loathed. Oh, speaking of great films, the word of mouth on CITY ISLAND has been amazing, and I finally caught up with it the other night. It's one of those situations where the word of mouth was dead-on. CITY ISLAND is absolutely brilliant, and one you'll kick yourself for missing at the cinema when you catch it on DVD. So see it now! (And, as always, clicking on the links takes you to the AICN-Downunder review of said film.)
Australia declares war on New Zealand for getting this film in cinemas when we're only getting it DTV, Billy Boyd acts in a film, this seems like a less-inviting French film than WELCOME, Brendan Fraser's career is proving to be a more elaborate practical joke than ISHTAR at this point, Adam Sandler squanders all the good will he earned by not being in a lot of films, Tilda Swinton rocks my world, I hear that in THE KUNG FU KID they actually just do tai chi, this make the GARFIELD movie look like a masterpiece, Zac Efron somehow appears in an Orson Welles movie, Henry Kissinger named this film (true), sadly it isn't, the fourth part of this franchise is as dodgy as the nonsense that came before, the third part of this franchise is as good as the brilliance that came before, and the third part of this franchise is so bad it ruins the previous two franchises through simple alphabetical proximity.
CEMETERY JUNCTION (NZ)
EVERY JACK HAS A JILL (AUS)
FURRY VENGEANCE (AUS)
GROWN UPS (AUS) I AM LOVE (AUS)
THE KARATE KID (AUS)
ME AND ORSON WELLES (NZ)
THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA (AUS) ROCKET SCIENCE (AUS)
SHREK FOREVER AFTER (NZ) TOY STORY 3 (AUS/NZ)
THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE (AUS/NZ)
KNIGHT AND DAY
Australian/New Zealand release: July 15
I saw a critic say a while back that no review should be written until the reviewer has had about twenty-four hours or so to contemplate the film they will be critiquing. In many cases, this is a good rule of thumb. It falls down, however, with films such as KNIGHT AND DAY. Much like PRINCE OF PERSIA, there's very little in KNIGHT AND DAY that has any impact or sticks in your memory. It's a film designed to fade from your memory before it's even over, and it's taking a Herculean effort to remember really anything that happened.
The film features one of the most stunningly odd films I've ever seen for a film of this scale. Writer Patrick O'Neill, an actor-turned writer for whom KNIGHT AND DAY is his first produced feature credit, clearly has a very fun film in mind, but something happened in transit. There are several scenes where you know for a fact that O'Neill knows what's going on, he's just not concerned with ensuring the audience is as up-to-date as he. It's not deliberate obfuscation: the difference between purposefully withholding information and a basic lack of clarity is an obvious one, and KNIGHT AND DAY does not fall on the complimentary side of that line. Similarly, the desire to move us from country to country, from continent to continent, elicits very little in the way of awe. It's a very difficult thing to get wrong, as even the most basic of action films can sell us on the scale of the events when we move from, say, South America to Austria. Here, the change of continents has about as much impact as changing the painted backdrop in a studio.
I'm at loathe to blame O'Neill too much, as the film reeks of studio notes. Also, that last point is probably not O'Neill's fault. The film is directed with an astonishing flatness by James Mangold. "Flat" is the word I want to use a lot, because both the cinematography and the action limps along with a pedestrian energy. Much as I remember loving COP LAND and vaguely remember liking GIRL, INTERRUPTED, his subsequent films -- KATE AND LEOPOLD, IDENTITY, WALK THE LINE and 3:10 TO YUMA -- ranged from "okay" to "annoyingly lifeless". Scenes that need a quick pace to them linger beyond their welcome. Sequences that could have benefited from more time flash on screen for a moment in sub-atomic speed.
I'll be honest: this film feels like Tom Cruise wrote down a bunch of action scenes he really wanted to be in and handed them to Patrick O'Neill, and O'Neill's job was to write "FADE IN" and "FADE OUT" and then staple the notes together. I can imagine Cruise wanted to do a more fun MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE where he got to be funny and silly and get the girl and all. And, basically, I have no problem with this. It's an unpopular opinion to hold, but I really like Tom Cruise. He's got a genuine and rare star quality, he's displayed an extraordinary acting ability on many occasions, and he picks films very well. Cruise is the reason I was able to enjoy KNIGHT AND DAY. His charm and presence carries the film.
Cameron Diaz, oddly enough, looks incredibly bored for the first two-thirds of the film, the first time I've ever seen her like this. She usually throws herself into even the dullest of parts with aplomb, but there's something oddly unsettling about every close-up and scene she gets to herself. It doesn't help that she's lumbered with all the worst lines and every expositionary external monologue. She does perk up in time for the third act, doing so right in the middle of an embarrassing drugged-by-the-bad-guys-wackiness-ensues scene. It's really cloying stuff.
But I did not hate it. It's not a film that elicits any sort of powerful emotion like "love" or "hate" or "attentiveness". It's just sort-of there, a thing that passes the time for ninety minutes in the most forgettable way possible. Afterwards, I imagined everyone on the crew getting together before filming and yelling "Let's dial this thing down to six!" before low-fiving each other and going to lunch.
Right after the film, I went to finally see THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES, the Argentine film that beat A PROPHET and THE WHITE RIBBON for Best Foreign Language Film. I'd so much rather write about that instead, but I'll just say that even on a superficial thrill level, SECRET succeeds so much more than any scene in KNIGHT AND DAY.
Australian release: July 15 // New Zealand release: December 24 (2009)
It is impossible to leave your prejudices at the door. In fact, given the heated debate over evolution and Darwinism and so on, nearly everyone who sees it will be coming in with a set of expectations the film will be expected to meet. I can't pretend I didn't have my own agenda, albeit one I wasn't fully aware of until the film itself got going.
CREATION is purported to be the story of Charles Darwin and the writing of "On the Origin of the Species". Broadly, it is a passable film, a relatively standard biopic about a family haunted by the death of one of their children. I can understand why the filmmakers chose the human interest angle, but I cannot understand why it was handled so workmanlike. There is not much that is compelling about the story, and anyone who's watched really any BBC period drama series will recognise every single scene, piece of dialogue, and dramatic turn. These turns may be historically accurate, but biopic have a habit of picking out the dramatically-satisfying moments of a person's life that will best translate to screen, antithetically making every biopic look and sound exactly the same. It's why RAY and WALK THE LINE were largely indistinguishable, despite the massive contrasts between Ray Charles and Johnny Cash.
How these events conspire to make Darwin sit down and write his book is, for the most part, dramatically flaccid. That's the key: for the most part. There are scenes of absolute brilliance contained within the film, but they are notable for being islands in a sea of... well, I want to say mediocrity, but the film is actually much better than that. It's a solid six of a film, better than average, but not the film it years to be. Occasionally, we catch glimpses of the film it aims for: the scene between Darwin and Jenny the orangutan, or Darwin sitting in the church struggling with his own beliefs, are almost perfect. There is a depth and complexity to these and other scenes that you wish permeated the rest of the film.
For my own part, I kept wishing the film would properly put forward Darwin's case. Not in a propagandist way, or for the sake of furthering an agenda, but because that is the nub of the conflict within the film. Or, rather, it would have been had the entire story not been weighed heavily in the direction of his daughter's death. Given how distorted Darwin's legacy has become, an honest debate about the merits and flaws within both sides is something I think we're all yearning for, and such a debate would not remove the drama, but create and enhance it. The moments when the film touches on the arguments between Charles and his religious wife, or their priest friend, or the scientists pushing him to publish his work, are the film's best moments, and the promise of a far more interesting narrative. I don't discount the importance of his family -- young Martha West who plays Annie, his late daughter, absolutely steals every scene she's in -- but devoting such a large portion of the film to this and this alone is frustrating.
(Quick aside: the film may best be enjoyed in a double bill with Soderbergh's THE LIMEY. LIMEY is one of my all-time favourite films, and when Darwin's daughter want to hear more stories about the afore-mentioned orangutan, she says to her father, oh so sweetly, "Tell me about Jenny." Terence Stamp jumped immediately into my head, and it was all I could do to stop from laughing in the cinema. Aside over.)
CREATION may be impossible burdened with the expectations of people like me, but nor does it fully succeed on its own terms. I came away not with a greater understanding of Darwin the Writer or Darwin the Person, but with a relatively surface-level interpretation that, the odd tic or mannerism aside, feels like the same treatment given to every other popular figure who had their time before the widespread adoption or recording devices captured their being.
THE WAITING CITY
Australian release: July 15 // New Zealand release: TBA
We all know someone who has made a life-changing trip to some quasi-exotic country. Frequently, a loud, self-absorbed person will take a trip to Malaysia or Turkey or Guatemala and come back exactly the same, except they won't stop talking about how much their trip changed them. These are the sorts of people who, if they're artistically inclined -- and, let's face it, they usually are -- will write songs or a book or a script about someone just like them who goes to an exotic country and finds themselves intrinsically changed by it. Of course, nothing in this song/book/script will reflect anything close to what actually happened to them, and so the resulting piece of art will usually contain the sort of accuracy you'd get if you looked wistfully at the pictures on a travel brochure.
This, I must admit, was my biggest fear when going into Claire McCarthy's THE WAITING CITY, a film about an Australian couple arriving in India to adopt a child. I would put money on McCarthy having had a life-changing Indian experience, but thankfully this does not overload the film as I'd feared. WAITING CITY does not rely purely on pretty images and poetic moments, but concentrates on the story that takes place within the location. Basically, this is not simply a travelogue with a score.
With the possible exception of MELINDA AND MELINDA, this is the first time I've seen anyone really know how to utilise Rhada Mitchell's considerable talents. Too often she's dumped into thankless supporting roles, and WAITING CITY should prove what a mistake this has been. Mitchell is not simply beautiful, but the sort of actor you cannot take your eyes off. When she's stoic, she's not simply staring at a faraway space because she was directed to: you can see the character thinking, weighing, feeling. It's a rare quality, and you don't even realise it's a rare quality until you see it in action. Mitchell's character has myriad modes to switch between, and she plays them all without once missing a beat.
Similarly, Edgerton continues the brilliant work he did in ANIMAL KINGDOM to give one of the most nuanced and deceptively vulnerable performances I've seen him give. He and Mitchell share great chemistry; not the usual chemistry of a couple fawning over one another, but the comfortable, familiar interactions you would expect after many years of marriage. The relationship is central to the film's story, and it is always believable.
The film walks a tightrope between cliche and originality. There are times when it is in danger of becoming the travelogue I mentioned earlier; it pulls back from the brink, but you feel it was straying dangerously close to begin with. Similarly, the driver played excellently by Samrat Chakrabarti is constantly on the verge of becoming the wise and benevolent Indian man, the modern equivalent of the noble savage, aware of his role as a supporting character there to help the central white people. I say he's constantly on the verge; only once or twice does he actually slip into that role. The rest of the time, he is a rounded character with problems and opinions of his own that have nothing to do with Mitchell or Edgerton's characters. In fact, they sometimes come in direct opposition. Despite these occasional transgressions into a lesser territory, he is a terrific, grounding character.
I never give a star or numerical ranking unless the publication I'm writing for demands it, and since AICN does not, there's no way I'm going to do it. I don't know what ranking I would give THE WAITING CITY if forced to, but its strengths and weaknesses feel divided into a respective ratio of 4-to-1: four out of five scenes with Chakrabarti are sensational; four out of five scenes in which Mitchell's character experiencing India slip into fantastical romanticism; for every four scenes of strong drama, there is one scene of dubious melodrama. It's not a bad hit rate by any means, but it is one worth mentioning.
Despite its flaws, Claire McCarthy's first feature film is an incredibly assured, confident work. McCarthy is clearly a director, and not just a writer unwilling to give up control in production. She displays a strong voice that I look forward to seeing her develop in future films. THE WAITING CITY is a stunningly beautiful film to look at, and one that is impossible to dismiss.
IN THE LOOP (June 6, Region 4)
The film: A spin-off of the blisteringly funny "The Thick of It", IN THE LOOP was easily the funniest film of 2009. It's basically YES, MINISTER, if Sir Humphrey Appleby swore angrily at everybody. It's a satirical look at UK and US politics, and feels disturbingly accurate in the way egos and agendas warp policy beyond recognition. Peter Capaldi steals the show as the verbally abusive Malcolm Tucker, but there's not a weak link amongst the cast. Armando Iannucci's film has that repeat-viewing quality that the best comedies demand, and the second viewing helped me notice all the gags I'd laughed loudly over the first time.
The extras: There's an audio commentary with Iannucci and the cast, interviews with the key players, webisodes, UK and US theatrical trailers, and deleted scenes that are as funny as anything in the film. They were presumably cut purely for time reasons, and are a very welcome addition to the set.
Should you buy it: You should buy many copies as give them out as gifts. Keep a dozen for yourself.
THE BIG BLUE (June 2, Region 4)
The film: THE BIG BLUE is a film I'm still trying to wrap my head around. Being trained to recognise the conventions of a genre (the training, I should point out, comes purely from watching a lot of films) loads you with a certain set of expectations that aren't necessarily appropriate to what you're watching. Every time I thought "Oh, it's this sort of film", it would do something completely different, jutting off into a new and utterly unexpected direction. I can see why it launched Luc Besson: the cinematography is stunning, the story is unusual and compelling, and the director's cut itself moves along at a self-assured pace that, even at 168 minutes, doesn't outstay its welcome.
The extras: Brilliantly for completists like me, the Blu-ray I reviewed contains both the director's cut and the theatrical cut. There's also a Making Of documentary and the original theatrical trailer.
Should you buy it: This is a big yes from me. It's a stunning film, and one you're going to want to spin more than once.
LOL (June 6, Region 4)
The film: Hot on the heels of THE FRENCH KISSERS, we have another crowd-pleasing teen sex comedy presumably designed to narrow the gap between arthouse audiences and the masses. Or, if not narrow the gap, bridge it. The plot, essentially about teenagers dealing with love and sex and drugs and parents, is somehow more interesting when augmented through the French personality. Perhaps with less focus on trends and ticking demographic boxes, comedies like FRENCH KISSERS and LOL are able to tell a more honest and subsequently more interesting story. It's fearless at times and incredibly sweet at others; the film won't be for everybody, but if you have time for teen films, LOL is undoubtedly one of the better ones.
The extras: The original theatrical trailer, complete with comedy record scratch!
Should you buy it: If you don't have any time for films devoted to teenagers having problems, this won't change your mind; but if you do have time, LOL is a good one to have.
WHITE LIGHTNIN' (June 2, Region 4)
The film: There is no denying WHITE LIGHTNIN' is a well-made film. Well, there might be some denying, but you won't find it here. There is a clear and even voice to the script by shane Smith and Eddy Moretti and the direction by Dominic Murphy. The story of the a young hillbilly huffing propellants, being violent, and going crazy is not one that sustains an entire film, albeit an 89 minute one. The narration and episodic montage feeling the film has gives it the sensation of being one long introduction to a story we never get to see. There's a lot of revulsion and horror contained within, but it feels perpetually distancing. The performance of Edward Hogg is the film's strongest element. The same year he played a genteel, delicate English shut-in in THE BUNNY AND THE BULL, he played this aggressive, insane US hick, and the contrast between the two proves Hogg immediately as one of finest actors of his generation.
The extras: None.
Should you buy it: There's definitely an audience for this film, it just doesn't include me.
UNMADE BEDS (June 6, Region 4)
The film: UNMADE BEDS is one of those painfully hip, self-indulgent films for those people who like to think of themselves as modern day Bohemians. If you're one of those people, then UNMADE BEDS is the film you might need to validate your existence and further model your life upon. There's a vague story there about a Spanish kid looking for his English father, but it's paper thin. It's an excuse to show pretty people playing in bands and having threesomes and living in communal spaces and being Free Spirits. I'd say more, but there's really not much else to it.
The extras: A theatrical trailer, an interview with writer/director Alexis Dos Santos, and a commentary from Dos Santos in which he does his best to sound like the characters in his film.
Should you buy it: Nah, man, owning a film like this is so passe! You gotta find it under a tree in a park, then put it in the pocket of a jacket given to you by a mysterious busker from Tibet. Then you meet a beautiful French girl who loves books and suffers from terminal ennui, and the two of you just share a connection, you know? So you give her the jacket, because that one night you spent together is too perfect to ruin by seeing her again, but you want her to remember something of you, so you leave the jacket and she finds the DVD and watches it and feels something, right? And what she feels is you, but through the film. Meanwhile, you're off on your search to continue your search for a meaningful connection with another human being, one that transcends mainstream interactions like sex and talking and being in the same room, and if, during that search, you come across the film again, then so be it. But you shouldn't buy it.
- Close examination of the rushes from the new Meryl Streep Margaret Thatcher biopic show Michael Sheen in the back of crowd shots dressed as Tony Blair
- M Night Shyamalan, Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix offer their entire fortunes to Abigail Breslin if she promises to do a SIGNS sequel
- Sony announces that it will reboot the next SPIDER-MAN movie at around the 45 minute mark