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AICN-Downunder: THE AMERICAN, GASLAND, MONSTERS and Censorship Madness

Of course... You're American. You think you can escape history. You live for the present.


The saga of LA ZOMBIE is one too absurd to be true. The film got huge publicity when the OFLC refused classification, citing Bruce LaBruce's "gay zombie porn film" as being too extreme to screen. (Now that's a phrase that's fun to say out loud!) It was not permitted to screen as the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), and so Australia's film festival enfant terrible Richard Wolstencroft naturally went about securing a copy to play at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF).

It was a screening I was planning to attend (having to cancel at the last moment for a mundane personal reason), and I'll admit the biggest attraction was the possibility that police might raid. The screening itself was obviously a political statement. LA ZOMBIE had been a film I'd glanced at in the MIFF Guide, deciding it wasn't something I was interested in seeing, but then found my interest piqued by the banning. The MUFF screening reportedly went off without a hitch, but that was months ago. All this is, of course, old news.

It's being brought up again because early Thursday morning, three detective from the Melbourne Criminal Investigation Unit turned up on Wolstencroft's doorstep with a warrant to search his house for copies of the film. According to an article in The Age, they considered confiscating all of Wolstencroft's DVDs and his computers, but were dissuaded when Wolstencroft assured them he'd destroyed his copy of LA ZOMBIE following the screening. Wolstencroft will, however, have to appear in court over the screening.

Although Wolstencroft knowingly broke the law and the police are acting perfectly within their remit by going after him, this whole thing is pure insanity. The OFLC continues to act under a veil of secrecy, where double standards are the norm: LA ZOMBIE contains real sex, but so does 9 SONGS, which it passed. LA ZOMBIE apparently mixes sex with violence, but so does THE KILLER INSIDE ME, IRREVERSIBLE, and any number of films that have also been cleared. Is LA ZOMBIE given different consideration because it contains gay sex, or because the OFLC finds the zombie thing distasteful? Unfortunately, we don't know, because the details of their decisions are not made public.

This is yet more evidence that the classification and rating system in Australia needs a massive overhaul. The banning of films should not simply be one of many options there on the table. It should be a last resort, and when it happens, the reasons should be made clear and made public. Anything less makes a mockery of free society.


When I hear the words "Directed by Peter Weir", I immediately buy a ticket, regardless of what it is. Marketing people, take note: this is the best way to take advantage of me. Weir, arguably Australia's best director, has a trailer up for his new film THE WAY BACK. Trailer looks good, and I suspect the film will be incredible. Take a look.

The trailer for Melbourne comedy BIG MAMA'S BOY has also gone live and can be seen here . The film stars its writer, Frank Lolito, as an Italian man in his mid-30s trying to break away from his domineering mother. It also stars Holly Valance, Cassandra Magrath and George Kapiniaris, and should be out in 2011. (I haven't verified that, but it's November, so I feel it's a safe guess. Journalistic ethics rule!)

I pretty much never cover TV here, but this exchange between Senator Scott Ludlam and ABC Director Mark Scott at a Communications Estimates special hearing on October 27is a fascinating one. The contentious issue? That the ABC decided not to screen the Israel/Palestine conflict documentary HOPE IN A SLINGSHOT because of the ABC's policy on viewpoint plurality. But has the ABC broken this remit with other documentaries? The conversation, uploaded by Encore Magazine, is really worth the read.

If you're living overseas and can't get enough of Australian films (especially as we've recently decided to start making lots of brilliant ones), then I have some good news for you. With the American Film Market in full swing, overseas sales deals have been all the rage: BENEATH HILL 60 has been sold to sixteen countries, including Brazil and China; West Australian horror film NEEDLE has been sold to the UK, South Africa, Germany, India, Indonesia, Brazil and the Middle East, and is expected to finalise its Australian distribution soon; following its screening at the International Rome Film Festival, LITTLE SPARROWS has locked in a distribution deal for the US and Canada with company Film Movement; TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN and the upcoming THE KILLER ELITE will be released in Canada in 2011; Jon Hewitt's erotic thriller X has been sold to Canada, Germany and the UK, with more territories expected to be announced soon.

AICN-Downunder's Follow Friday: (Drop me a line if there are any upcoming 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, reality television/terrorism satire ELIMINATED, the self-explanatory GHOST SHARK 2: URBAN JAWS, superhero movie GRIFF THE INVISIBLE, self-described "womantic comedy" JUCY, intriguing-looking horror film THE LOVED ONES, self-described "graphic novel-style bushranger adventure film" MOONLITE, giant shark movie THE REEF, the Joel Edgerton-starring SAY NOTHING, star-studded romantic drama SUMMER CODA, 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.


Underground Cinema

It's almost unnecessary for me to bother mentioning these guys, as their tickets seem to sell out as soon as they go on sale, but if you've not yet checked out Underground Cinema, it might be time to. I did a video on them for the ABC website earlier this year about these guys, and basically fell in love. The idea is that they take a film -- it could be a classic, or it could be unreleased -- and play it in a location appropriate to its themes. A couple of weeks ago, for instance, I attended a screening of THE CROW held in a large Church hall. You don't know which film you're seeing until it's introduced (although they certainly give lots of hints away in the weeks leading up to it), and only find out the location itself days beforehand. Sets are dressed and actors perform in character as either people from the film or people who would be in such a film. In a week or two, I'll be attending the 1920s Prohibition-themed screening, and I have a few guesses as to what the film might be. The screenings are becoming more and more regular, so bookmark the website and check back regularly.

Savannah Film Festival

Australian World War One action drama BENEATH HILL 60 took out Best Film at the Savannah Film Festival held in the state of Georgia, USA. This brings the award tally for the film up to An Awful Lot.

British Horror Film Festival

Australian horror film NEEDLE did very well at the British Horror Film Festival, taking out Best Supporting Actress for Jessica Marais (TWO FISTS, ONE HEART), Best Cinematography for Stephen F Windon ("The Pacific"), and Best Special Effects for FX companies Cutting Edge and MEG. The film also recently won the Golden Skull at Los Angeles's Screamfest. The trailer for the film can be seen here.

10th Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival

Claire McCarthy's Australians-in-India drama THE WAITING CITY, starring Joel Edgerton, Radha Mitchell and Isabel Lucas, has its New York premiere only a few hours ago at this year's MIACC. New York-based time travellers should consider going.

Minneapolis Underground Film Festival

Apparently, CARMILLA HYDE's modus operandi is to appear at every festival acronymed "MUFF". Following its appearance at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival, the film will play this December in Minneapolis, so all of my Minnesotan readers, go check it out.


I'm not the first to suggest this, but it can't be said enough: if you didn't go and see THE LOVED ONES, then you have no right to complain about Australia not making good genre films. THE LOVED ONES, whose ads adorned the sides of buses and the like across the country, made less than the not-at-all-advertised Indian film GOLMAAL 3, which was apparently on fewer screens. I'm sure GOLMAAL 3 is terrific, but I can safely say the LOVED ONES is far better than the likes of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 and SAW VII. It's definitely better than LIFE AS WE KNOW IT and EAT PRAY LOVE. Dammit, Australia, why do you do this? Why?!? (Feel free to answer, but instead, click on the film's links to read the AICN-Downunder review.)


3. RED

New Zealand

2. RED


George Clooney is typecast, Vincent Lindon refuses to stop stealing our hearts, another Australian film manages to sneak quietly past someone who promotes this exact thing for a living!, Andy Garcia tries his hand at acting, casting Charlotte Gainsbourg as her own mother would have been a stunt worthy of CHAPLIN, Roman Polanski spies a wr-wr-wr-writer, I can no longer trust Casey Affleck and assume this film is a hoax as well, the trilogy's narrative is wrapped up in a satisfying manner, Australia counters PARIS JE T'AIME and NEW YORK I LOVE YOU with I GUESS THIS IS SET IN MELBOURNE, guess which film you're going to be pissed you missed in theatres?, children's film director Robert Rodriguez graduates to movies for grown-ups, Woody Harrelson gives the performance of his career, I assume the title is misspelled and this film is about people skiing, looking forward to this New Zealand documentary, a great director and cast cannot offset an awful and unfunny film, this is sadly not the rumoured porn film starring Shelley Winters, the Chinese continue to remake American films, and there's something about the teaming of Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver that just feels so damn right.




Australian release: November 11 // New Zealand release: November 25

One of the strangest trends to me is the usage of the word "American" as an all-purpose titular adjective. Look at AMERICAN BEAUTY, AMERICAN PIE, AMERICAN PSYCHO, AMERICAN HISTORY X, AMERICAN GANGSTER, AMERICAN SPLENDOR, AMERICAN GRAFFITI, and so on. In some cases, the title is relevant, in others there is source material that backs it up (see: Don McLean, Bret Easton Ellis, et al), but in so many cases it seems like a way of making a boring, generic title sound grand and familiar and comforting.

THE AMERICAN would seem, on face value, to be the epitome of this trend, but it has a deep relevance. In fact, it's more akin both in title and style to Antonioni's THE PASSENGER, with a definite article turning the mundane into a deliberately specific defining trait.

George Clooney is the American in question, and his exact identity is something of a mystery. He begins in Sweden, living in a remote cabin with his partner. When he is set upon by mysterious gunmen, he embarks on a journey that takes him to a remote part of Italy; from this point on, the more we learn about him only leaves his persona all the more ambiguous.

This is the second film from CONTROL's Anton Corbjin, and it's every bit the masterpiece his debut was. It's a harder sell, though: without the true-life framework to hang the proceedings on, the stoic, staid pace will frustrate many. It is a restraint that belies its true story; this is not Clooney starring in his own version of the BOURNE IDENTITY, nor is it simply a familiar tale of a spy-like character reaching the end of his career. No, THE AMERICAN digs deeper than that.

The film is, to my eyes, a metaphor for US foreign policy, making the title all the more potent. Clooney's character is a contradiction: he is isolationist, but doesn't shirk from bringing violence to those around him when he deems it necessary. The constant fears he has for those around him are at once justified and paranoid. Some of his fears turn out to be irrational, some turn out to be entirely justified. His friends, his enemies, the bystanders all seem to look alike, and he treats them all the same way. Viewing it from this angle, THE AMERICAN is a rewarding, contentious, and fascinating film that has much to say. These powerful metaphors are almost tempered by what many have felt is a clunky metaphor involving a butterfly, but is in actuality a complex clue as to who Clooney's character is. Much fuss was made over his baggage bringing so much to UP IN THE AIR, but THE AMERICAN benefits even more from it. He is both timid and aspirational, and that contradiction is the film's ultimate point.

Clooney's performance is perfect, more quiet than we've ever seen him before. The photography by cinematographer Martin Ruhe (also of CONTROL) is astonishing: when I first saw CONTROL, I felt that any single frame from the film could be, well, framed and stuck up on the wall. THE AMERICAN is no different.

On an aesthetic level, THE AMERICAN is the descendant of 20th Century European cinema, evoking certain elements of Italian Neo-Realism into its storytelling. It will reward the viewer hoping for a sober, intelligent riff on familiar themes.


Australian release: November 18 // New Zealand release: TBA

What is the role of the documentary? In some cases, like KING OF KONG, it's pure entertainment. In others, like NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD, it's an eye-openining introduction to an historical movement. With the likes of MY WINNIPEG orBEACHES OF AGNES, it's a highly personal (auto)biography. Then there's the Michael Moore style, where the film feels more like a call to arms, an alert to injustice. But whereas Moore has become irrelevant -- regardless of the quality of the individual films, he is so notorious that he can only sing to the choir -- other filmmakers like Josh Fox can creep up with a film that's like a punch in the back of the head. If this were fiction, you would not believe it.

I saw a clip of the film on "The Daily Show" months ago, and it's stuck with me: a man being interviewed by Fox about the gas in his water demonstrates the effect by holding a lighter to the running water. The resulting explosion threatens to take his arm off, or at least, it appears to. The story behind the gas in the water is astonishing, and anyone who isn't both aghast and furious by the film's end was not paying attention.

A lot of the film is taken up with facts and figures, and it feels a bit like ERIN BROCKOVICH in the manner with which we watch Fox gather evidence for a final case. He travels from place to place, and although many of the stories feel familiar, this is sort-of the point. The sheer number of people affected by natural gas drilling, and the rivers it infects, feels like an angry list used to counter the unabashed lies told by corporate representatives at the beginning and end of the film.

Fox narrates the film himself, and that narration a good decision. We're seeing it through his eyes, and his voice is very pleasant to listen to. His style of filmmaking creates the exact tone you want it to: it feels handmade and guerilla, but not amateurish.

The current instant polarising political climate will have many dismissing this film as propaganda before they've even watched it, but both sides are presented. They are not given equal time, but then, they are not equal. The conclusions are unavoidable, and rightly so. As is this one: everyone must see this film.


Australian release: November 25 // New Zealand release: December 2

All films are, of course, best viewed with no prior knowledge on the part of the viewer. Without knowing anything about MONSTERS, I found myself concerned: the title was a bit generic, and I dislike it when films need to use text on the screen to catch me up on what's going on. Then we cut to handicam footage, and suddenly it looks like the film is going to be that thing I'm fast becoming sick of: the "found footage" narrative. Ten seconds in, I was convinced the film was going to lose me

But that's not what MONSTERS is. It's actually a blisteringly clever film about a photographer trying to get his boss's daughter back home. There's more to it, of course, but I want to preserve the mystery.

Okay, I should tell you this: it's a film about aliens. Or rather, it's set in a world where Cthulu-esque alien beings now occupy the southern part of North America. Writer/director Gareth Edwards (who is also the production designer, cinematographer, and visual fx creator) gets everything absolutely right, from the tone to the visual style to the metaphors. Those metaphors aren't subtle, but they're not grating, either. At various points, we are clearly supposed to be reminded of the cost of war on non-combatants, the political results of a natural devastation (like Hurricane Katrina), and, most potently, the experience of refugees and the US government's reaction to them. The best monster movies have always been allegorical, and Edwards manages to pay homage to this tradition without employing the usual schlock of those wonderful (but outdated) 50s B movies.

The metaphor for US policy reminds me strongly of THE AMERICAN (see review above), and there's another connection: the seemingly generic titles both films have are as important as the messages contained within them. MONSTERS seemed like a boring title at first, but it is a multi-pronged misdirection. It's not the misdirection you may immediately suspect, either.

Aside from the occasional line of unnecessary exposition, MONSTERS is a remarkable film. Visceral and compelling, it manages to get every single moment right. CLOVERFIELD is put to shame, and even DISTRICT 9 (which I liked, but did not love) pales in comparison. Edwards is one to watch, as are stars Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy, who carry the film brilliantly. Able is a subtly-drawn character, and McNairy manages to play brave and douchey at the exact same time. Even with poor character work, this film might have worked, so the great writing and superb performances are something of a large bonus.

MONSTERS is one of the best debut films I've ever seen, and the best alien invasion film since Spielberg's underappreciated WAR OF THE WORLDS. See it.


ANIMAL KINGDOM (October 13, Region 4)

The film: Is there anything left to say about the greatness of ANIMAL KINGDOM? You could look back at my original review from the beginning of the year, or really just look at any of the hundreds of reviews that have sung this film's praises. David Michod's modern day crime film is one of the best movies ever made in Australia, and stands up with the best of this year. What more needs to be said?

The extras: Two audio commentaries (one with Michod, the other with the cast), a Making Of documentary, an interview with crime writer Tom Noble, Michod's short film CROSSBOW, the teaser trailer and the theatrical trailer. So, really, everything you'd want.

Should you buy it: Frankly, you should own it already, but if not, buy it immediately.

EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP (October 13, Region 4)

The film: I have a tremendous amount of respect for I'M STILL HERE, but the hoax of the year goes to EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP. Not only is the hoax itself more deft, but the point it's making is far clearer. Both films, however, focused on how the making of art gives way to fakery and insincerity, and how the art is usually swallowed whole by that. But above all this meta-text is a blisteringly-funny satire that jaw-droppingly entertaining throughout.

The extras: Some really great extras here. There's B MOVIE, a film about Banksy, some deleted scenes, and LIFE REMOTE CONTROL (lawyer's cut), which kicked off this whole feature.

Should you buy it: It's a milestone in documentaries with a real re-watchablity to it. Absolutely.

THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES (October 13, Region 4)

The film: This is one of those times where I feel the Best Foreign Language Oscar went to a deserving film. THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES veers towards the unbelievable in an airport novel sort of way, but for the most part it's an incredibly clever and powerful thriller that's infinitely more satisfying than most of its contemporaries.

The extras: Just a trailer.

Should you buy it: For sure. This is another one of those films you show to people who don't think they like foreign cinema. If this doesn't turn them around, nothing will.

DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID (October 13, Region 4)

The film: I am shamefully lacking in my knowledge of Luis Buñuel, having seen nothing outside of his collaboration with Salvador Dali, UN CHIEN ANDALOU. DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID is a fascinating piece, mostly due to the time it was made: in 1964, it feels completely disconnected from the style that infused French New Wave, but does not possess the elements that FNW was bucking so forcefully against. The film follows a Parisian chambermaid (Jeanne Moreau, seen recently in Orson Welles's THE IMMORTAL STORY) who takes up a position at a household in Normandy. The film is reminiscent of the South Korea's THE HOUSEMAID (both the 1960 original and the 2010 remake), but has a different spin again. Céléstine (Moreau) is our protagonist, but is perhaps the most enigmatic character of the lot. At first, the film appears to be a boiling pot of sociopaths with conflicting desires and needs. But then the film takes a sharp turn to the left, with a strong mystery and political subtext infusing the remainder of the film. It's amazing stuff, and Buñuel isn't afraid to completely shake up our expectations of story and character. And that ending.... wow.

The extras: An interesting academic commentary from Dr Adrian Martin with a surprisingly casual and welcome tone. There's the original theatrical trailer plus the original poster. The centrepiece? A half hour documentary called AN ANGEL IN THE MARSHES, which looks at Buñuel's career through the context of of DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID.

Should you buy it: I was honestly floored by this film. Buñuel is a master, and DIARY is essential. Yes.


- Christopher Nolan confirms that Prince will write several new songs for THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, and that Robert Wuhl will return to play Knox, the film's arch villain

- Tony Gilroy will take the helm of the next series of MEET THE PARENTS films, announcing that the THE FOCKER LEGACY won't actually feature Ben Stiller at all, but an entirely new character affected by the events of the first films

- Screenwriter charged with the task of redrafting the new RUBIK'S CUBE script caught peeling off different parts of the script and pasting them back in its correct order


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