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AICN-Downunder #200!

I like these calm little moments before the storm. It reminds me of Beethoven.


My 200th column! There's a bittersweetness to that. When I look at the word counts of all my columns, I wonder what would have happened if I'd used that energy to, I don't know, write a book instead. I mean, the book would probably just be box office stats and repetitive reviews, but at least I'd be getting a royalty cheque. Arbitrary round number acknowledged? Good. Let's move on.

In one week, Australia heads to the polls in what might be the most uninspiring election in our country's history. From an arts point of view, very little has been pledged on either of the major parties' sides, so it doesn't appear that we have a UK situation going on. (Every time I see the UK Film Council logo before a film now, I let out a little whimper of sorrow.)

The absence of AICN-Downunder last fortnight was due to my extensive coverage of the Melbourne International Film Festival. For those who somehow missed my sleep-deprived, error-ridden coverage of seventy films over the course of two-and-a-half weeks, you can read part one here, part two herehere, part three here, part four here, and part five here. Amongst the films seen include what will no doubt count as the absolute best and absolute worst of 2010, so take a moment to check them out.


With the long-anticipated TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN movie about to come out, and over four hundred books in the series to mine material from (margin of error: four hundred), thoughts have naturally turned to a franchise. In an interview with Encore, executive producer Christopher Mapp has indicated that the best case scenario for the series include two further films and a possible TV series. If any Australian film is going to draw in that coveted teen demographic, it's this one, so expect some high numbers on this. I'm yet to make it to a screening of the film, but check out this review from David Longo on Damn Good Cup.

I have to admit, I hadn't heard of rock journalist Lillian Roxon before the documentary about her, MOTHER OF ROCK: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF LILLIAN ROXON premiered at MIFF this year. I didn't see it, but I wish I had. Australia is now proving that it can do dueling projects as well as Hollywood, with Decade Films developing a drama about Roxon also called MOTHER OF ROCK. Based primarily on Robert Milliken's biography of Roxon, the film will be written by scribe John Alsop. Read more about the project (after joining the site) at ScreenHub.

The Indonesian ban on Robert Connolly's BALIBO has been maintained by Judge Andri Mosepa, who claimed that the film "could incite political sensitivities in relations between nations". Uh-huh. Guess they're not going to love STRANGE BIRDS IN PARADISE, then. The race is on to uncover more Indonesian human rights violations for 2011 cinema!

I don't usually post spoof trailers, but they're not usually this good. I'm not sure what the correct nomenclature is for him -- media personality? -- but Australian comic Dan Ilic has done an excellent parody of this teaser trailer for David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin's THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Take a look at Ilic's version here.

AICN-Downunder's Follow Friday: (Drop me a line if there are any Australian or New Zealand films not mentioned here.) Read about the fascinating journeys Anti-podean films take from production through post-production and into release! Click to follow controversial Uighur documentary 10 CONDITIONS OF LOVE, crime epic ANIMAL KINGDOM, science fiction-slash-horror THE DARK LURKING, reality television/terrorism satire ELIMINATED, superhero movie GRIFF THE INVISIBLE, self-described "womantic comedy" JUCY, intriguing-looking horror film THE LOVED ONES, the John Hurt/Emily Barclay-starring LOU, the James Nesbit-starring MATCHING JACK, self-described "graphic novel-style bushranger adventure film" MOONLITE, star-studded romantic drama SUMMER CODA, giant shark movie THE REEF, giant squid movie $QUID, long-awaited teen book adaptation TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN, Cannes's closing night film THE TREE, the crowdsourcing horror film THE TUNNEL, and Claire McCarthy's THE WAITING CITY. And for those still reading, this here is me.


2010 Australian Film Institute Awards

The AFI has announced the films up for contention for this year's awards, and CEO Damian Trewhella was quick to point out that eight of the seventeen eligible films were directed by women. It's an impressive figure when you consider that Hollywood's figure of 9% female directors hadn't changed between 1998 and 2008. Amongst the nineteen eligible films are ANIMAL KINGDOM, BENEATH HILL 60 and THE BOYS ARE BACK. THE LOVED ONES and BLAME were originally included in that list, but are no longer eligible, with THE LOVED ONES's release date moved from September 30 to October 28, and BLAME also moved from September to October. The cut-off for the AFIs is October 6, so they should be up for gongs in 2011 -- in the case of THE LOVED ONES, over two years since it premiered at the 2009 Melbourne International Film Festival!

11th Inside Film Awards

Meanwhile, the other big Australian film awards ceremony is open for voting. To throw in your two cents (or $9.99, if that's the film you wish to vote for), go to and influence the vote! Voting closes on September 17, and the ceremony will be held in mid-November.

11th Melbourne Underground Film Festival

When the OFLC would not permit Bruce LaBruce's gay zombie porn film LA ZOMBIE to play at the Melbourne International Film Festival, it was only a matter of time before enfant terrible Richard Wolstencroft stepped into the breach with his trademarked brand of uncivil disobedience. So, appropriately, LA ZOMBIE will go from MIFF to MUFF, with a presumably-illegal screening of the film taking place at an as-yet undisclosed location on August 29. The festival itself runs from August 20-28, and tickets can be booked via the website.

35th Toronto International Film Festival

Australian documentaries MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! and MOTHER OF ROCK: LILLIAN ROXON will screen at Toronto this year. MOTHER OF ROCK, about (as said above) the Australian rock journalist Roxon mixing with stars in New York, is directed by Paul Clarke, and MACHETE MAIDENS, about the cinematic invasion of the Philippines, is directed by NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD's Mark Hartley.

Australian films in the US

ANIMAL KINGDOM, a real contender for my favourite film of the year, opens this week in the USA, and the Stateside reviews seem to be as glowing as the ones in Australia. Warwick Thorton's SAMSON AND DELILAH (my second favourite film of 2009) is also soon to open in America, with a limited release in New York, Los Angeles and Washington DC on October 15. Now, if we can just get wide releases for BALIBO, RED HILL and SUMMER CODA, we'll convince those Yankees we're all filmmaking geniuses!


An intelligent, high-budget original film at the top of the box office? Oh, fellow Anti-podeans, how proud I am of you right now! If we can get SCOTT PILGRIM up there, and then FOUR LIONS when it comes out, then I will sleep with all of you. As punishment. For KILLERS being so high on the list. Yeah, you should look ashamed. Don't forget: clicking on the linked films takes you directly to the AICN-Downunder (and therefore ultimate) review.



New Zealand

10. SKIN


I'd have seen this Danish film if Naomie Harris had said its title in a Jamaican accent, this film is only a tenth as good as "Millenium", I'm not sure why they didn't just call this SAW X, New Zealand is punished with a cinema release of Neil LaBute's remake, I'd have seen this Swedish/Finnish film is Naomie Harris had said its title in (let's say) a Creole accent, aging testosterone has never looked so meh, based on its original French release date the first day of the rest of my life was in 2008, I can't believe they didn't bring back Nicolas Cage, "The Girl" accidentally burns off her dragon tattoo, Ben Stiller plays what I only assume is a German town, Marion Cotillard continues her "La Vie En Rose" obsession, the subtitle of this should have been CLARENCE'S REVENGE, I'm starting to think "theatrical release" is the Kiwi version of "straight to video", Robert Lucketic waits a full fortnight before remaking KNIGHT AND DAY, Kristin Scott Thomas continues to show off her French, I have no idea what this film is about, Orson thinks it would be fun to run a high school musical, an Australian film slips past me undetected, another Australian film slips past me undetected, a New Zealand film comes running at me with a blunt instrument, Edgar Wright masters epic epicness, another film emerges from Kiwiland, Sophie Okonedo is unable to assimilate into society despite her mother being the Borg Queen, "Hey, there's a lighthouse" proves insufficient material to fill two hours, Michael Sheen plays against type, did you guys know this was from director John M Chu?, and the real competition for THE EXPENDABLES gives Sly a run for his money.




Australian release: July 29 // New Zealand release: TBA

I'm writing this on the 19th of July, aware that it will be nearly a month before you're reading it. In fact, CENTURION has come out, and you've probably seen it, so this is all a bit redundant. More redundant than usual, I mean. But it's probably still occupying a few screens, and you might still be debating whether to bother or not.

Even if that is the case, I'm not entirely sure I can help you. With the hour it takes me to drive into the city (not to mention back again), seeing a single film without combining a city trip with other errands or appointments is a rare thing for me. I mention this because it means devoting half a day to a single film, and very few films qualify for such treatment in my books. Hell, PREDATORS didn't. So my grading curve is a very personal and specific one. Is CENTURION worth half a day and two hours of driving?

I took the time because THE DESCENT remains one of my favourite horror films of the 21st century, and Neill Marshall's name on CENTURION brought me immediately back to that visceral assault I loved so much all those years ago. CENTURION, of course, is a very different beast. It's not a horror film. In fact, I think the genre itself was not a consideration of Marshall when he sat down to write the script. You can see his inspiration right there on the screen: Roman Centurions in Britain! Helmets and armour! Shots of ancient English villages! Let the rest take care of itself later.

Usually, this would spell disaster in all kinds of ways, but it sort-of works. Marshall knows exactly what type of film he wants to make, and I think he succeeds with flying colours. Whether you like the film or not may well depend on whether you like what it is he's trying to achieve.

The cast is an eclectic mix of some terrific actors: Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko, Noel Clarke, David Morrissey and Imogen Poots all get exactly what sort of film they're in and what's expect of them. It's another example of a film knowing exactly where to sit on that line between super-seriousness and super-silliness.

I'm not sure whether it qualifies for my unique half-day/two-hour-car-trip standards, but it's a lot of fun, and will certainly satisfy the section of the audience looking for a terrific surface-level historical action film.

Australian release: August 19 // New Zealand release: TBA

Nearly a month later, I'm sitting down to review, a film made by CENTURION's Noel Clarke. Clarke has been nearly as prolific behind the camera as in front of it, writing the teen drama KIDULTHOOD and both writing and directing its sequel ADULTHOOD. He wrote the script for and co-directed it with Mark Davis, and although I hadn't seen his earlier work, I did have a certain degree of anticipation for it. That anticipation dissipated within minutes -- antdissipation, if you like -- due largely to the horrible, self-conscious dialogue that managed to overwhelm every other element. is about four teenaged girls in London who go off on separate journeys, with occasionally-intersecting moments. The idea of parallel narratives is a good (though familiar) one, and standing back from the film, looking at it a full day after the screening, I feel myself softening on it. What stands out in the memory above all else are those intersecting strands, the same three days told from four different points of view. It's easy to forget that the dialogue remained cloyingly painful throughout, that none of the characters are particularly likable or sympathetic (I'm sure Harry Brown was moments away from shooting them all), and that the plot is ludicrous. Plots involving diamond heists are not ludicrous within themselves, but the best ones take place within a world in which such a thing is believable. The social realism attempted in the rest of the film does not sit well with gangsters, diamond heists, or Michelle Ryan.

The cameos are a bit distracting (Kevin Smith?!? Mandy Patinkin?!?), although distracting wasn't necessarily a bad thing: Clarke is best known for his role in "Doctor Who", and as a massive "Doctor Who" nut myself, I did find the game of picking all the obscure "DW" cameos to be an agreeable diversion.

The plot has potential, but the broad elements (dialogue, performances, the execution of the plot) fall flat. What drags the film down, though, are the details. A multi-million dollar panic room is introduced for a moment of convenience. The "funny" news ticker at the bottom of a news report reminds us that nobody was really taking any of this seriously. ("Osama Bin Laden to run in Iraq elections"? Oh, hahahaha! How do they do it?). Noel Clarke, who appears in the film, gives himself a big "and Noel Clarke" credit in the end credits after all the big name cameos, as if signing a big name such as himself was a notable selling point. That credit doesn't actually derail the film, but it was too funny not to mention, especially coupled with the fact that Clarke's script has Emma Roberts describing Clarke's character as being "really cute".

I haven't even mentioned the worst part yet, and that's the fakeout ending. It's possibly the worst idea for a twist since somebody said, "Hey, what if it's all just a dream?". It's so poorly judged, and I can't believe nobody in the process thought to mention it. It's a twist that only works if you assume your audience is comprised of complete idiots. Avoid.


FIVE MINUTES OF HEAVEN (July 14, Region 4)

The film: This film by Olivier Hirschbiegel is an Irish film about two men meeting each other for the first time in decades. Liam Neeson plays a man who, when he was a teen, killed James Nesbitt's brother in front of him. The conceit is that it's for a TV interview, these two men meeting face to face, and look away now if you don't want to be spoiled: it doesn't happen. Most of the film feels like it's too drawn out as it is, trying to fill the time because the eventual meeting will only take forty odd minutes, but when the meeting itself doesn't happen, it feels like we've been cheated out of the very premise of the film. Clearly, that wasn't the film the makers had in mind, but the direction they go in is so distinct and interesting, that when they don't go there, it feels very frustrating. The story they tell is moderately interesting, although it's a bit of a two-note character piece that feels a bit rushed. Still, it's a decent film that may possibly improve upon a repeat viewing. It's certainly short enough to justify a second spin.

The extras: Twenty-three minutes of cast and crew interviews with the likes of Hirschbiegel, Neeson, Nesbitt, writer Guy Hibbert, and producer Eoin O'Callaghan. There's also the film's theatrical trailer.

Should you buy it: I wouldn't rush out and get it, but I wouldn't refuse it if it landed in your lap.

AN ACTOR'S REVENGE (July 13, Region 4)

The film: Despite THE LOYAL 47 RONIN sitting enticingly on my shelf, this is my first encounter with the legendary Kon Ichikawa. With lauded films like this, you're usually aware that the film is objectively great, but need to discover whether you like it yourself. AN ACTOR'S REVENGE had an entirely different effect on me: I'm not sure if it's actually good, but I really love it. With a synopsis that can be summed up purely in the title and a pantomime (or, more accurately, a kabuki) aesthetic that should not work nearly as well as it does, AN ACTOR'S REVENGE is strange in all the right ways. It's an eclectic mix of styles that don't necessarily mesh, but not necessarily need to. The cinematography is utterly gorgeous, and the film itself is unlike anything I've seen from Japan, particularly from that period.

The extras: There's an original theatrical trailer, plus a terrific academic essay booklet by John Berra entitled "Vengeance Is Mine".

Should you buy it: If you have even a vague interest in 20th century Japanese cinema -- ie: if you have a pulse -- this is absolutely one to add to the collection.

HUMPDAY (July 13, Region 4)

The film: HUMPDAY is probably the best thing to happen to the dubious Mumblecore movement: a funny, endearing film with -- gasp! -- a plot, I described it in my original review as essentially being a Kevin Smith film with Owen Wilson and Ron Livingston. The film is actually by Lynn Shelton and star Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard, and all three do an outstanding job in this very, very funny film. Duplass and Leonard play old friends who challenge one another to enter an amateur porn competition with the following hook: their film will feature two straight men attempting to have sex. As rich as that concept is, the film delves deeper into the psyche of two formerly-carefree friends who can see middle age in their sights. One of the better comedies of 2009.

The extras: There's quite a lot in the region four edition, including two audio commentaries (one with Lynn Shelton and crew, the other with Duplass and Leonard), a behind-the-scene doco, deleted scenes, and a theatrical trailer.

Should you buy it: Hell yes.

LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL (July 13, Region 4)

The film: I first saw THE PROFESSIONAL on video when I was a teenager trying to consume as much cinema as possible, and even though I had a pretty good compass for what was good and what was bad, and even though I loved the film when I saw it, I'm not sure I fully appreciated just how great it is. In the following years, I've seen most of Luc Besson's other films, and coming full circle to this director's cut of the film (which has finally combined its two competing titles into a whole), it's a wonderful surprise to discover just how exceptional it is. Beyond the powerful and dangerous relationship between Jean Reno's Leon and Natalie Portman's Mathilda is a confidence from Besson that makes every moment ring all the more true. A more in-depth analysis than I have time for right now is needed, but this is surely one of the great films of the 1990s.

The extras: I reviewed the Blu-ray edition, and it looks stunning. As with Madman's other recent Besson release, THE BIG BLUE, both the theatrical cut and the director's cut are included, which is exactly the sort of thing that the film geek in me loves. There's a trailer, a documentary on Jean Reno, a documentary on Natalie Portman, and a ten year retrospective on the film. A pretty impressive package.

Should you buy it: Without hesitation.

PONYO (June 28, Region 4)

The film: Hayao Miyazaki returns to his roots a little -- not that he'd strayed that far from them -- with PONYO, a film that on an ideas level and an aesthetical level, feels like it has more in common with MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO than anything from the last fifteen years. His startling originality is a universe apart from animated films which begin with the merchandisable characters and then work backwards. He creates a world of grounded, believable characters, and the fantastic elements he mixes them with are truly surreal, truly otherworldly. He is one of the most singular voices in filmmaking today, and PONYO is another beautiful, heart-rending addition to his flawless canon.

The extras: This is the edition we were hoping Madman would initially release. It's a double dip, but it's worth going back. The Blu-ray I looked at was jaw-droppingly stunning, a benchmark transfer. There is the option to watch it in either English or Japanese (always Japanese!), and the extras are no slouch. I'm not even going to bother listing them, there are so many, but I will single out the best one: "A Converstion with Hayao Miyazaki and John Lasseter". The west's best animation mind chatting with the east's best animation mind. So little causes me to "geek out" these days, but this did the trick.

Should you buy it: I'm surprised you didn't stop reading this review halfway through to go out and get it. What are you doing? Go!


- Mel Gibson attempts career resurrection by signing onto a remake of THE JAZZ SINGER

- After nailing Batman in VELVET GOLDMINE and the Riddler in I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS, Ewan McGregor sets his sights on a Nancy Meyers romcom for him and Jack Nicholson

- Lesley Manville is forced to change her name after Leslie Mann refuses to live in her


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