AICN-Downunder: TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN, THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE, HUMAN CENTIPEDE, THE CLINIC and more!
I'd sort-of planned to do a big election theme in this space. For those who don't know, the Australian federal election was held last Saturday, and a week on we still have no idea which party is going to be running things. Neither of the major parties gained enough seats for a decisive majority, and both are in the process of wooing the independents to come form a government with them. Given both sides seem to have inspired apathy in the public, the most exciting part of the campaign turns out to have taken place after the voting. Three independents are in control of our country's future, and have joined forces to write a set of demands. Whomever can best convince these three rogues of their ability to meet those demands will get to run Australia. Am I the only one thinking what a great movie this would make? Can somebody get Peter Morgan on the phone? I'm sure Michael Sheen could do a convincing Rob Oakeshott.
More interestingly, the Melbourne Writers Festival had a Q&A with Joss Whedon, there live in the flesh, which was more than a bit thrilling for those of us with an unhealthy obsession with the man. He was witty, charming, informative and inspiring, which are all things he does in his sleep. Whedonites, I'm sorry to say, completely failed to live down to their reputation: there wasn't a whiff of body odour in the room (at least, not where I was sitting), and none of the questions were particularly embarrassing or misguided. For shame, Whedonites. Didn't you know you're the 21st century Trekkies?
We've been treated to some pretty incredible guests in Melbourne this year, with the likes of Whedon, Stephen Fry, Bret Easton Ellis, Joe Dante and Irvine Welsh brought out to our trendy backwater city. If any of those guys cares to form a government, they're more than welcome.
Stephan Elliot, who hit it big with PRISCILLA and most recently made the underseen EASY VIRTUE, is returning to Australia to film the comedy A FEW BEST MEN. The film is about an English groom who travels to the Australian outback to marry his Aussie fiancée, and is described as "an Australian HANGOVER". The film, written by Dean Craig (DEATH AT A FUNERAL), will aim to be ready for Cannes next May. No word yet on the cast.
I absolutely adored the Aussie western RED HILL, and it's only a matter of time before it become the next break-out local hit internationally. The new trailer has been spreading across the web like a violent escaped criminal. Ultimately, the purpose of the trailer is to make you want to go see it, so if you don't decide to watch it, allow me to do its job for it: go see the film. Meanwhile, the ubiquitous Simon de Bruyn over at Twitch has not only shown us the new poster for the film, but has reported that writer/director Patrick Hughes is planning a trilogy of RED HILL films! This is pretty great news in my book. RED HILL comes out in the US on November 5, and in Australia on December 2. Congrats to Simon for the scoop.
With filmmakers and studios obsessed with film piracy, you'd think basic copy protection would be placed on DVDs. This is the feeling of Australian producer Jane Scott, who is suing Village Roadshow and Hopscotch for unpaid royalties. According to Scott, the DVDs for MAO'S LAST DANCER were initially printed without copy protection despite earlier promises that they would be. When Village and Hopscotch agreed to replace the DVDs, part of the recall cost was charged to the investors' royalties. The film is currently in US cinemas, but has been available on DVD in Australia for some time. Although I don't usually report on legal action between producers and distributors, the copy protection angle is what's got me interested: with all the money that could be made in the US, why was copy protection not a priority for the distributors?
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, Nadia Tass's kids-with-leukemia romp 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.
AWARDS, FESTIVALS AND SCREENINGS
35th Toronto International Film Festival
More Australian films have been announced as part of the lineup at this year's Toronto Film festival! In addition to MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! and MOTHER OF ROCK: LILLIAN ROXON are GRIFF THE INVISIBLE, BLAME, WASTED ON THE YOUNG, JUCY and THE KING'S SPEECH (which is an Australian co-production).
59th Melbourne International Film Festival
With festival director Richard Moore moving on to northern pastures, there was much speculation as to who would take over. It's been announced that the new artistic director is Michelle Carey. Carey is a familiar face to MIFF patrons; she's been with the festival since 2007, and has been Head of Programming since 2009. Her first year in the job will also mark the 60th anniversary of MIFF. Meanwhile, the audience awards have finally been announced! Best documentary went to BILL CUNNINGHAM: NEW YORK, with THE INVENTION OF DR NAKAMATS a close second. Meanwhile, in the feature film category, Taika Watititi's BOY won out. The complete list of audience-loving features was: 1. BOY, 2. DESERT FLOWER, 3. CERTIFIED COPY, 4. FOUR LIONS, 5. SUMMER WARS, 6. THE WEDDING PARTY, 7. I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS, 8. WOMEN WITHOUT MEN, 9. THE BALLAD OF DES AND MO, and 10. SUMMER CODA.
43rd Australian Writers Guild Awards
The 2010 AWGIES took place a week ago, and the big winners were two of my favourite films from the past two years: the Feature Film - Adaptation award went to David Williamson and Rob Connelly for BALIBO, whilst Feature Film - Original went to David Michod for ANIMAL KINGDOM. Can't complain about that. The complete list of winners can be viewed on the AWG website here.
2010 Strasbourg Film Festival
Aussie film CARMILLA HYDE has just been selected to play in Strasbourg. It's the latest in a long line of successes for the film: it just won Best First Film at the Heart of England Film Festival, picked up Best Guerilla Film at last year's Melbourne Underground Film Festival, Best Feature at the South Australian Screen Awards, and Best International Feature at the Swansea Bay Film Festival. Really looking forward to checking this one out!
Three of my favourite films of the year occupy the top ten of both Australia and New Zealand, which means you all have good taste, except some films I don't like are in there as well, which means you don't. And your goal should be to please me via ticket receipts. (As ever, click on the linked titles to take you to the AICN-D review of said film.)
RELEASED THIS PAST FORTNIGHT
It's a countdown to mediocrity, James Cameron plugs his tail into a few extra minutes of new footage, the diggers tunnel all the way to New Zealand, Taika Watititi tunnels all the way to Australia, Patricia Clarkson seduces Dr Bashir, a gritty UK thriller looks more promising than any SAW sequel, I adore a good Løve story, Chris Morris makes the comedy of the year, Michael Caine shoots young people, three poor acts are sewn together by a deranged madman, Casey Affleck gets under everybody's skin -- literally, this film actually works better if you pretend it's a sequel to KANGAROO JACK, I'm just glad that 3D piranhas don't exist in real life, a New Zealand film I'm desperate to see comes out in (what are the odds?) New Zealand, Angelina Jolie gets all Na up in her Cl, Vincenzo Natali brings us the Carey Mulligan origin story, an Australian film manages to slip under the radar of someone who writes about Australian films for a living, and never has an intransitive verb been so aptly associated with a film.
: SPECIAL EDITION (AUS/NZ)
BENEATH HILL 60
CAIRO TIME (AUS)
FATHER OF MY CHILDREN (AUS)
THE KILLER INSIDE ME
PIRANHA 3D (AUS/NZ)
VAMPIRES SUCK (AUS)
TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN
Australian/New Zealand release: September 2
The UK has "Harry Potter", the US has "Twilight", and Australia has "Tomorrow When the War Began", a series of novels by John Marsden that was required reading of any teenager in the 1990s. The novels were a fascinating blend of teen angst and epic storytelling: a group of teens go camping in the bush, and return to their small home town to discover a nameless foreign force has invaded the country. It's a hell of a setup, and Marsden's ability to focus simultaneously on interpersonal relationships and the bigger picture without sacrificing one for the other was the reason the books were -- and are -- so popular.
The film adaptation was never inevitable -- I don't think anyone in the Australian film industry has ever used the word "property" unless they were contemplating a career change to real estate -- and news of Stuart Beattie's adaptation caught many of us by surprise. How would this work? How would you get the money needed to do justice to the idea?
Beattie is to be applauded. He's updated the material for mass appeal without losing what made it interesting in the first place. It seemed an impossible task, but he's pulled it off. The characters are distinct and interesting, and the spectacle never feels cheap or rushed.
One of the biggest achievements is in the casting: lead Caitlin Stasey looks like a fashion model, but is completely convincing as a country girl who goes camping and works on the farm. Her charm shines through in the smaller moments, and she carries the film extraordinarily well. The supporting cast (many of whom are from soaps and kids' shows I've never seen) are all equally well-cast. The toughest casting probably comes in the form of the invaders: in the books (the ones I've read, anyway), they are never named. It is suggested that they are from somewhere in Asia, either Indonesia or China, and in the book you can get away with this type of ambiguity. Aside from a few giveaway close-ups, they manage to keep this as vague as possible.
As good as the film is, there are some misfires. Writing for teens is probably the second hardest thing to get right, as nailing teenspeak slang is difficult enough in a printed script even before you have to make it sound natural coming out of the actors' mouths. The only thing harder than that is writing dialogue for Australians. British and American accents lend themselves naturally to construct and pretense, but the inherently casual manner of Australian accents means that anything that doesn't ring even mildly true stands out like a sore thumb. Australian teenagers are, possibly, the hardest group to write for anywhere in the world. It's not all terrible, but there are more than a few moments that jar in the ear. When things pick up and both danger and urgency infuse the script, these problems slowly dissipate.
The film looks incredible, and overall it's about ten times better than it had any right to be. Although some may be put off by the largely-unresolved ending, it is still a satisfying film in its own right, and it's not the semi-cliffhanger that leaves you looking forward to a sequel, but the high quality of the film itself.
THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE
Australian release: September 9 // New Zealand: September 16
I make fun of Jerry Bruckheimer as much as anybody (more than anybody, the Guinness World Record people tell me, if I keep this pace up), but he does know how to do blockbusters. I'm not saying he necessarily knows how to do them well, as the eclectic, oscillating quality of his films can attest to, but I usually go in with a modicum more hope when I see his name on something.
THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE is not a particularly bad film, but it is a forgettable one: I'm writing this less than twelve hours after seeing it, and I'm struggling to remember anything about the film. It's like trying to remember which kernel of popcorn was the notable one. Urgh, a popcorn simile, I never do those! You see what this film has done to me? Most of my hope came from the fact that I thought this film was a stupid idea. See, if I hear of a film's genesis and can't imagine how it could possibly make for a good film, my interest is immediately piqued. I assume that the filmmakers know something I don't. That rarely turns out to be the case, but that's the reaction I have each time. How could a live-action modern-day film based on a segment from Disney's greatest achievement starring Nicolas Cage possibly work?
To the film's credit, it is better than the worst case scenario, which also happens to be the mean average case scenario. There is a sense of fun and spectacle to the proceedings, even if the script thinks "fun" means "terrible jokes" and director Jon Turteltaub thinks "spectacle" means lots of running about and things exploding. Truth be told, if you can get through the pretentious, poorly-judged opening sequence -- which explains the entire backstory, even though Cage manages to repeat it in a condensed thirty second speech later in the film -- then you'll be fine for the rest of the largely-inconsequential film.
I used to distinguish between the awesome Nicolas Cage that made films like WILD AT HEART, RAISING ARIZONA, LEAVING LAS VEGAS, ADAPTATION and CON AIR, and the terrible Nicolas Cage that made films like GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS, THE FAMILY MAN, GHOST RIDER, KNOWING and CON AIR, but the truth is that they're the same guy. Cage puts everything he has into his roles, and that's admirable, especially when the material isn't there to support him. Jay Baruschel, playing the titular apprentice, is also giving his all. It's also impressive that they've managed to cast someone geeky looking as a geek, rather than just sticking some glasses and a pocket protector on Channing Tatum. Seeing Baruschel in this only makes me want to seek out a role that may showcase his talents in a more impressive manner. (I'm still kicking myself for missing THE TROTSKY at MIFF.) Alfred Molina is, as ever, fun as the villain. Other people apparently also star.
The film's most promising scene comes from a recreation of the original cartoon's most famous moment. This is when the film genuinely starts to get fun, but it's underplayed and done away with a bit too quickly. Neither particularly good or particularly bad, THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE manages to be inoffensively there, a handy way to consume any hour and forty-five minutes of your life you have no real desire to relive in the future.
THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE: FIRST SEQUENCE
Australian release: August 27 // New Zealand release: September 2
Unlikable characters. Terrible acting. Awful dialogue. Worse ad-libbing. HUMAN CENTIPEDE is, if nothing else, extremely confident in its position as a bad horror movie.
Its subject matter is what's propelled it to such notoriety -- a mad scientist sews three people together arse-to-mouth -- yet this is a case in which the premise is exactly the same as the plot. It drags along, satisfied with its central idea, which, to be honest, should be the standard level of horrific concept for horror movies. Why more horror directors don't employ such terrifying ideas, instead of just relying on slightly more explicit depictions of the same old kills, I'll never know. HUMAN CENTIPEDE is complacent in its single idea, and shame on us for being in on it.
At MIFF this year, I saw a film called RUBBER about a psychic killer car tyre on the loose. A lot of people I know loathed it for its single-noteness, and under normal circumstances I would have too. But RUBBER was more than just a single idea: love it or hate it, it was a very deliberate piece of performance art that was perfectly aware of its inertia.
HUMAN CENTIPEDE does not have an added layer of meaning, nor a single layer of meaning. It is one decent idea spread as thinly as possible, and is not nearly as shocking as it thinks it is: when you hear the film's setup, your mind instantly jumps to all the logical places the film would have to go, and you spend its running time simply waiting for it to tick them off.
Watching HUMAN CENTIPEDE gives you the same visceral thrill as reading a twenty-five word logline of the plot. Overhyped and under-made, it's only worth watching in the vicinity of friends and consciousness-altering substances. And that's not a recommendation.
Australian release: August 6 // New Zealand release: TBA
I can't say I had terribly high expectations for this Australian horror film. Either there's been no buzz about it, or I've completely missed the buzz -- and I say that as someone whose role is to help create buzz. As it turned out, having expectations that ranged somewhere between low and non-existent was perfect: it allowed this terrific film to creep up on me and, quite appropriately, surprise the hell out of me.
I won't bother with a setup -- most of the joy comes in the surprise of the unfurling plot -- but it begins with a man and his pregnant wife driving through the outback. If the outback setting is beginning to wear thin, horror films seem exempt. To most Australians, the outback is like another world, and as the seminal WAKE IN FRIGHT proved, it can be the perfect external representation of an internal descent into madness.
THE CLINIC's story is wild and untamed, which will either delight you for its unpredictability or frustrate you for its lack of focus, depending on your mood. It has the inventive sensibilities of a no-budget film without ever looking cheap or undercooked. It has a few misfires -- a brilliant plot twist revealed in a pretty dull expository manner, an ill-conceived manchild character, a slightly odd ending -- but if horror films such as this one are all about being terrorised by an unpredictable person with questionable motives, then unpredictable films with questionable choices actually feel right: the mistakes are almost as good as the successes.
And the successes are many. This is a tight, taut, fantastic horror film that has an audience out there waiting for a film like this.
UNDEAD (August 11, Region 4)
The film: I was a big fan of this ambitious, Australian, low budget zombie horror when it first came out, and seven years has not changed this. I can see its flaws, sure, but they don't bother me in the slightest. The film is damned clever and so much fun, that it not only whitewashes its problems, but incorporates them so they're there to enjoy as well. It's a great film, and practically impossible not to enjoy.
The extras: This is a re-release that takes packs the disc full of extras, including two commentary tracks, an entertaining Making Of doco which will look very familiar to anyone who's ever worked on a low budget Australian production, the film's screening at the Toronto Film Festival and, well, too many other extras to even mention here. There is a lot.
Should you buy it: If you're a horror fan who isn't a stick-in-the-mud, this goes in your collection immediately.
WELCOME (August 11, Region 4)
The film: When I first reviewed WELCOME, I suggested that multiple viewing would be rewarding, and my prediction was proven correct. WELCOME gets better with every viewing, and given how amazing it was on the first viewing, this is no small feat. Directed by Philippe Lioret and starring the great Vincent London, this story about Iraqi refugees trying to cross the channel between France and England is one that makes strong points without ever hitting you over the head with them; it tells a broad human story without selling out the smaller human drama. It is, quite simply, one of the best of the year.
The extras: There's a nice segment from the "At the Movies" interview with Philippe Lioret, and the film's original theatrical trailer, which pretty much gives the whole plot away.
Should you buy it: Like I said, it's a serious contender for my top ten list of the year, so this is a bit of an obvious yes.
COCO CHANEL & IGOR STRAVINSKY (August 18, Region 4)
The film: The dour reviews of this film helped lower my expectations, but I'm not sure I'd have disliked it either way. It's a slow-moving melodrama about the affair between Chanel and Stravinsky, and it's told with admirable restraint. The film's main intent is to contrast these two artists and how they use people (particularly one another) to further their art. Although my appreciation is severely lopsided -- I love Stravinsky's music, but am not interested in fashion and perfumes -- the film does a good job at juxtaposing their creative processes. It's a surprisingly film, one that is unflinching in its deliberate portrayal of only specific characteristics of its leads.
The extras: There's a lot of good stuff on here, the best being an interview with director Jan Kounen, which is exclusive to the region four release. There are deleted scenes, the original theatrical trailer, and a making-of documentary.
Should you buy it: You've got to like slow-moving period melodramas, but I do.
GOOD HAIR (August 11, Region 4)
The film: Intrigued by the team-up of Chris Rock and Jeff Stilson, as well as a fair few positive reviews, I decided to check out this documentary about the relationship between African Americans and their hair. Kicked off by a question from Rock's young daughter about her hair, the film follows contestants in a massive annual hair styling competition, and interviews a fair few celebrities along the way. It's a good documentary, and it's at its best when it irises out to take a broader look at the whys and wherefores and the general philosophy that causes this common obsession, and when it travels to India in search of the source of hair extensions. The best anecdotes come from Maya Angelou and Reverend Al Sharpton, although the parade of the usual pop stars does produce the occasional interesting story amidst the babbling nonsense. My only problem with the film is a very subjective one, and it's one that many others may not have: it frequently slips into the minutae of hair care, assuming a basic knowledge of weaves and perms and products that many of us -- particularly those of us who review movies on websites -- don't have. Luckily for me, these diversions are sporadic and occupy a minority of the running time.
The extras: A commentary with Rock and producer Nelson George, and the film's theatrical trailer.
Should you buy it: It's a good doco, and manages to appeal to someone like me with zero previous interest in the subject matter. But I'd only suggest forking out for it if you already have an interest in the subject matter.
- Studios to bid for the cinematic rights to that screen that comes up on your iPhone when you're starting it up
- James Cameron promises to devote the rest of his career to AVATAR sequels and re-releases, after being inspired by the creatively-rich successes of STAR WARS and SPY KIDS
- Having run out of dramatic 1970s film icons to cram into broad comedic roles, Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller fight over the skeletal remains of John Cazale