AICN Downunder: RED, THE MESSENGER, CARMILLA HYDE, MARRIAGE OF FIGARO And HOBBIT Stuff!
Published at: Oct. 29, 2010, 12:06 p.m. CST by mrbeaks
It could be worse. It could be Christmas.
By now you've heard: THE HOBBIT will film in New Zealand, and all is well with the world. Well, not all. There is still a lot of wound-licking going on, and despite many commentators declaring one side to be all good and the other all bad, I'm not convinced anybody came out of this with a spotless finish. Still, many Kiwis will be employed, and the films are going to look the way they should look, so I'd say this counts as a majority win. Speaking of majority wins, I was over the moon with the casting of Martin Freeman as Bilbo, possibly the only casting in the world that would quash my "Bring Ian Holm back!" sentiments. My only concern was that it would prevent Freeman from appearing in further episodes of "Sherlock", the superb adaptation by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, which features, I would argue, Freeman's best work to date.
According to to Freeman's co-star Benedict Cumberbatch (who was equally brilliant as Sherlock Holmes), Freeman had initially turned down THE HOBBIT because it would conflict with shooting of further episodes. According to Mark Gatiss, the schedules have all been worked out, and Freeman will be able to do both roles, which certainly makes me punch the air like Judd Nelson. Remember, Peter Jackson, a big "Doctor Who" fan, recently co-directed TINTIN alongside Spielberg from a script by "Sherlock" and "Doctor Who" showrunner, Steven Moffat. Just wait, the connection continues...
The second-biggest casting behind Freeman (to my fannish mind, anyway) has barely been reported, which I find surprising. According to Sylvester McCoy, he has been cast as Radagast the Brown, a piece of casting which clearly came from Peter Jackson musing: "What would make this Latauro's favourite film of all time?" Sylvester McCoy shot to fame as the (brilliant) Seventh Doctor in "Doctor Who", and was reportedly on the shortlist for Bilbo in LORD OF THE RINGS. Getting dizzy yet? Good, 'cos a few years ago I went along to see a production of "King Lear" with Ian McKellen in the title role, and had my jaw drop open when Sylvester McCoy appeared on stage in the role of the Fool. Having been a fan of McCoy all my life, I was delighted to see that he had the chops to do Shakespeare every bit as well as McKellen, and the two of them clearly shared a great chemistry. (I've seen other productions of "Lear", and have never seen a relationship between Lear and the Fool as electric as it was in that one.) Undoubtedly, that chemistry must have played some role in securing McCoy the part alongside McKellen.
Forgetting the behind-the-scenes troubles, and arguments over equity and pay, just for the briefest of brief moments, if you're not excited by two HOBBIT films we'll be seeing in 2012 and 2013, then some pulse-checking may be in order.
News came out this week that thriller THE HUNTER has recently begun filming down in Tasmania. The film, based on a novel by Julia Leigh, is directed by Daniel Nettheim (a prolific director of television in Australia), and stars Willem Dafoe, Sam Neil, Frances O'Connor, Callan Mulvey ("Rush"), John Brumpton (RED HILL), Sullivan Stapleton (ANIMAL KINGDOM), Jacek Koman (AUSTRALIA), Dan Wyllie (ANIMAL KINGDOM), Morgana Davies (THE TREE) and Finn Woodlock (short films THE FATHER and PINION). The legendary Andrew Lesnie is cinematographer, and the film will shoot until mid-December. The story follows a hunter, known only as "M", hired to track down the elusive Tasmanian Tiger. (Spoiler alert: they're extinct.)
One thing missing from a good portion of articles about Darren Aronofsky directing MACHINE MAN is that the film is Australian! Or, at least, the author is. Aussie Max Berry initially published his novel online one page at a time between March and December of 2009. The print edition will be released later next year, and Aronofsky will be tackling once he's wrapped up WOLVERINE 2. I can't believe I just wrote that sentence, but then the reality of filmmaking is usually more bizarre than the most outrageous fan speculation.
Although I've never seen an episode of "True Blood" (nor, for that matter, "Home and Away"), I got big respect for Ryan Kwanten. He seemed to immediately parlay his vampire-show success into the Australian film industry, with his superb lead role in Patrick Hughes's RED HILL and his titular role in the upcoming (and highly-anticipated by yours truly) GRIFF THE INVISIBLE. But you can't begrudge the man some Stateside cinematic success: Kwanted will soon appear as the notorious Charles Manson in THE FAMILY. The film will follow the murders committed by Manson's cult and will either be directed by THE MACHINIST's Brad Anderson, or be the directorial debut of MACHINIST screenwriter Scott Kosar, depending on who you're reading. No doubt a forthcoming press release will clear that up soon.
If a film critic's job is to reflect the feelings of the audience, then I am in no way qualified. LIFE AS WE KNOW IT made it to number two on the Australian box office and number three on the New Zealand one, and I couldn't even make it through the trailer for the damned thing. Whatever convinced people to actually pay money for it, I remain unaffected. If you, too, feel perplexed by the insanity, don't forget that clicking on any linked movie title in AICN-Downunder takes you to this very column's review of said film. And I can guarantee you won't find a review anywhere else that more accurately reflects my own feelings.
1. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2
2. LIFE AS WE KNOW IT
3. THE TOWN
4. EAT PRAY LOVE
5. RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE
6. LES MISERABLES 25TH ANNIVERSARY
7. DESPICABLE ME
8. LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA'HOOLE
9. LET ME IN
10. THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE
The ballet shows magic owls how colonic subtitles are supposed to work, terrorism finally comes to New Zealand, strange Scandanavians wrap up their trilogy, Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel make me hate life as they know it, Sally Hawkins remains the best, the least scary horror in living memory naturally gets sequelised, I'm disappointed Krzystof Kieslowski isn't available to make the sequels to this, Paul WS Anderson is kept well away from any important franchises he may choose to ruin, DUEL meets FINAL DESTINATION in this Aussie thriller, I lost track of this franchise somewhere towards the end of the first film, my favourite writer and one of my favourite directors unsurprisingly make one of my favourite movies, Richard Gray controversially makes remote Australian cities look like appealing places you'd actually want to visit, Jennifer Aniston drinks from Jason Bateman's milkshake, and the remote mountains of America become a prime casting location for X-MEN movies.
At its best, the postmodern action/comic book movie dissects itself in an interesting way, taking the mores and standards of the films we're used to and inverting them in such a way as to make them new again. At its worst, the postmodern action/comic book movie simply assumes that we are used to these tropes, and lays little, if any, groundwork to convince us that these extraordinary setups are possible. I've used the following phrase before, and will continue to use it where relevant: "You guys have seen action movies before, right? Good, this is one of those."
Being thrust into the deep end of a film like this can often be a good thing, and I can certainly see how this sort of setup would have worked in the original comic, but here it's an annoyingly flat opening. Bruce Willis's character isn't nearly as interesting as the film hopes, and the single-man-takes-out-trained-gunman really only makes sense if you read the synopsis before you went in. There's no revelatory moment where Bruce's identity is revealed, and the way it's presented to Mary Louise Parker's unwitting love interest is done in such a way that implies we the audience already knew this.
The film lifts its game as it goes along, particularly with the introduction of one of the most impressive casts I've seen in a while. It is thus: Bruce Willis, Mary Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Karl Urban, Brian Cox, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ernest Borgnine, James Remar, Richard Dreyfuss, and Julian McMahon. The cast is excellent, with Mary Louise Parker a particular standout, and Malkovich having more fun that I think I've ever seen him have. The best performance of the bunch is from Karl Urban, which is remarkable given he's lumbered with what must have looked on paper to be the least interesting character.
It is a fun and well-paced film, but it's not nearly as funny as it seems to think it is, with some fairly terrible jokes followed by a pause in which the audience is clearly supposed to catch their breath from all the guffawing. It's not particularly funny, but it is light, and that lightness is appreciated.
I'm a bit harder on RED than I intended to be, but a lot of the negatives did stand out in the mind. Still, it's a fun film, and probably a cut above most of the other action films that have come out this year. I wouldn't rush to see it, but I wouldn't go out of my way to avoid it either.
Australian release: November 11 // New Zealand release: TBA
Who was it who once said that they could talk about any topic you'd care to name for a full hour, but ask them to talk about anything for five minutes, and they'd be stumped. Broadness is scary; specifics are not. The same is essentially true of films, particularly war movies. I am wary of any film that tries to encompass the overall experience of war, and although there are probably few films that actually do this, the more you iris in on a specific subject, the more chance you have at exploring every nuance and undulation it suggests.
Iris in on the topic of those soldiers charged with informing family members that their loved one has died overseas. As subjects go, it's as small as you can get, allowing for greater scope in the themes and emotions that go along with it. Woody Harrelson plays the veteran messenger, a recovering alcoholic who has been at this for a long time. Ben Foster is the new recruit, reluctant to take on this assignment as he recovers from injuries. Although typing out their relationship like that makes it feel awfully familiar, it doesn't feel that way in the film. Clichés are expertly averted, as the specifics of their pasts -- Harrelson's character is a veteran of Desert Storm, Foster's of Enduring Freedom, and the similarities between the two conflicts do nothing but highlight the few notable differences -- create a unique and surprisingly untapped source of drama.
From a distance, it seems like there is little that propels the story forward. The story is second place to the characters' journeys; they are tremendously damaged souls, and the message seems to be that nobody truly comes back. "Post-traumatic stress disorder", though never mentioned in the film, barely covers it. Every soldier who goes over there stays over there, and the irony of the returning shells of men becoming the messengers of doom is not lost. They are upright, unwavering, militaristic robots of men when they address the families, and that disparity is powerful each and every time you see it.
Harrelson and Foster give the performances of their careers, playing off each other with astonishing chemistry. In fact, all of the performances are great, from Steve Buscemi's grieving father to Jena Malone's guilt-ridden ex. There is a powerful cleverness in the casting that goes beyond the hiring of ultra-capable actors. Harrelson and Foster look remarkably like one another, and it feels like a very deliberate move. Similarly, Samantha Morton's grieving widow is suspiciously close to Merrit Wever's Lara. (When Morton first appeared on screen, I thought it was Wever, which was doubly surprising when Wever turned up later in the film!) The juxtaposition turns seemingly straightforward scenes into powerful comments on the intention of Foster's Will Montgomery. I've made this comparison in the past, but it's the sort of direct-yet-subconscious parallel that Gilliam did so expertly in THE FISHER KING, as Christian Clemenson's Edwin is specifically designed to evoke a fear of David Hyde Pierce's Lou. Casting similar-looking actors in similar roles can be a death-knell (see my review of LITTLE DEATHS below), but when handled well, it can bring a whole new layer of meaning to an already excellent film.
THE MESSENGER has so much more going on, and I haven't even touched upon the Brechtian sound design, in which far-off objects are given a heightened volume as, we presume, Montgomery senses them. It's a superb film, and director Oren Moverman (who co-wrote the film with Alessandro Camon) has followed up his superb screenplay for I'M NOT THERE with a truly excellent, clever film.
Australian/New Zealand release: TBA
Given every non-Baz Luhrmann film made in Australia can be considered "indie" by international standards, the term takes on a whole new meaning when you use it here. An Australian indie film is gritty and underground, made on a shoestring, and the hunger is there on screen for all to see.
CARMILLA HYDE is an indie film, and it revels in its indie-ness. Taking its cues from the underground films of the 1970s, CARMILLA follows a shy young woman who, after undergoing hypnosis, transforms into an omni-sexual predator. It's an absurd premise, and maintains that level of absurdity throughout. And I use "absurd" in the best possible way: if you're watching a low-budget psycho-sexual thriller about a crazed, sexed-up Jekyll & Hyde woman, you don't want it to take itself too seriously. It's reminiscent of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, but the revenge thread is taken in an entirely different direction.
Written and directed by Dave de Vries, the film is full of all the sex and violence you'd expect. It goes on too long -- it's 105 minutes, and needs to be about fifteen minutes tighter -- and a fair few moments don't quite work, but that's part of the appeal. It's a fun film, and a big calling card for for de Vries, who is clearly having a hell of a lot of fun.
Australian release: November 4 // New Zealand release: TBA
Anthology movies feel more prone to be hit and miss than regular narrative films. Australian anthology LITTLE DEATHS is a series of comedic shorts about love in its various forms. It has a decidedly lo-fi feeling to it, which comes less from its diminished budget and more from its loose script.
Some of its ideas are good, and some of the execution does work, but it's sporadic. Unlike CARMILLA HYDE, which uses its extreme grunge to tell a story that revels in being so decidedly B, LITTLE DEATHS aims higher. High ambition is something I often praise, but here it is not an ambition of ideas but rather execution. A film like NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU, which strived for very similar goals, benefited from some fairly extraordinary cameos, a variety of interesting directors, and the budget to let them tell their stories with the production values required. LITTLE DEATHS does not have these resources, and many of the stories end up looking similar, told in "affordable" and ultimately identical locations -- a bedroom, the occasional bar, a bathroom -- and actors who all feel quite similar. In many films, big name cameos are distracting and best-avoided, but in an anthology in which you only have about five minutes with each set of characters, a physical shorthand is not just handy but necessary. Particularly when the characters aren't unique enough to really stand out on their own, having a known "star" to latch onto is actually does benefit the viewer.
The problems mostly stem from the script, which is admirably lighthearted, but annoyingly familiar. Many of the setups feel like they've been done to death (perhaps a foreshadowing in the film's title?), and every resolution is deeply predictable. Which in itself wouldn't be a problem if they weren't presented in a "clever" manner, an implied wink as each ending is revealed.
It is by no means a dire film, and some moments work. Despite the similarity of the characters, the actors seem to be giving it all they've got. I do find myself struggling to figure out who the audience for this film is. Anthology films can work, but to do so they need to be much better than this.
MARRIAGE OF FIGARO (November 10, Region 4)
The film: I hate using the word "charming", because it sounds like such a backhanded compliment, but sometimes you are genuinely charmed by a film and you mean it in the best possible way. MARRIAGE OF FIGARO, hailing from South Australia, is the story of a hairy bikie who works as a piano tuner. When his long-time partner and mother of his children insists on a wedding, he begins a series of misadventures trying to give his bride-to-be the wedding she wants. The film's biggest asset is the casting of Tony Hill in the title role, who manages to play the sort of beer-swilling bikie who doesn't seem out of place playing Mozart or Beethoven on a grand piano. He's an endearing and unusual lead, and the film succeeds by putting him in every scene. The script and direction by Chris Moon is terrific, if occasionally meandering, and the use of classical music throughout (in addition to Timothy Sexton's brilliant score) is inspired.
The extras: The theatrical trailer.
Should you buy it: Its quirkiness will turn some people off, but I enjoyed it a lot, and there's certainly an audience out there for it.
- Still unsure of what to do with the SUPERMAN franchise, Warner Bros. greenlights a comedy in which neat-freak General Zod is kicked out of his Phantom Zone by Ursa and has to move in with the brutish, messy Bizarro Superman, in THE ZOD COUPLE
- Liam Neeson to direct historical sequel APOCALYPTWO
- Peter Jackson confirms that after they've shot THE HOBBIT, the Blu-Ray release of LORD OF THE RINGS will see the flashback scenes with Ian Holm replaced with brand new scenes shot with Hayden Christiansen