AICN-Downunder: DUE DATE, THE LAST EXORCISM, RARE EXPORTS, BLUE VALENTINE And More!
Published at: Nov. 26, 2010, 1:51 p.m. CST by mrbeaks
You better check yourself before you wreck yourself.
I love the end-of-year madness when the screenings ramp up. For some reason, November and December brings the best and the worst of cinema: the awful "holiday" films and the Oscar-baiting weighty tomes. It's a fun and bizarre mix, and it's getting me excited about my eventual Best of 2010 list, not to mention concerned about my Worst of 2010 list.
I've heard a lot of differing opinions from people within the industry as to what changes must be made to the Location Offset tax rebate to attract more foreign productions, but everyone seems to agree that some change is needed. We've lost a lot of international productions that were very close to shooting here, like GREEN LANTERN and JOHN CARTER OF MARS. I'm usually the first to scoff at online petitions, but this one's getting some traction, and may well be put in front of someone in a position to do something. Take two seconds out of your day to sign the petition on this link and get some much-needed work back for Australian crewpersons.
Jeremy Saunders has become something of a celebrity poster designer. Hardly surprising given his sublime ANTICHRIST art, his Caravaggio-inspired ANIMAL KINGDOM poster, and his already-iconic BALIBO design. Now he's briging out a book called DEPARTURES, which is a collection of photographs he took around the world, from Australia to America to Europe. It's a hardback book, 120 pages, and, if his other work is anything to go by, one of the best art books you'll pick up. Even better is that Saunders is donating all profits from the book to Médicins Sans Frontières. So, basically, that's your Christmas shopping taken care of. Click here to check it out.
There's something incredibly charming about this ultra-indie, hand-made trailer for a horror film called MALEFICIUM. It's from a brother/sister team out of Brisbane, Matt and Angela Moss. They're currently prepping their next film, described as "an ultra-violent werewolf action thriller". Meanwhile, MALEFICIUM is currently being sent around to places, so keep an eye on your local underground film festival...
Not to be left out, the other big industry magazine has announced its inaugural awards to be held early next week in Sydney. Rather than focusing on individual films or people, the awards celebrate screen industry companies. Categories include Production Company of the Year - Film, Production Company of the year - TV, Distributor of the Year, and TV Network of the Year. To see the nominations, click here.
2nd Made In Melbourne Film Festival
The second annual MIMFF kicks off on December 1. The festival features short films made in -- wait for it -- Melbourne, and screens over two nights. Night one is in Federation Square; night two is at Loop Bar. The festival shows a diverse range of short films from what is objectively the Greatest City on the Planet, and with proceeds from the opening night's ticket sales going to SecondBite, a charity that "sources nutritious food for the homeless and disadvantaged". Check out the festival info on the website.
9th Beijing Film Academy's International Student Film and Video Fest
Ariel Kleiman has been getting a lot of attention for his short film DEEPER THAN YESTERDAY, and he recently picked up yet another award. The film beat back over one hundred competing entries to pick up the Golden Award in Beijing last week.
International Film Festival South Africa
Aussie indie film CARMILLA HYDE just picked up the Best International Feature award in South Africa. Meanwhile, DoP Maxx Corkindale picked up the Silver Award in the Feature Film Category at the Australian Cinematography Society SA & WA Annual Awards. And writer/diretor Dave de Vries won the Arts Prize in the Advantage South Australia Regional Awards. This brings HYDE's international award tally up to all of them.
The little English kid's film topped the box office, which is lovely for them. Hope this means it'll get a sequel of some description. In other news, all the linked film titles takes you directly to the AICN-Downunder review. Trivia fact: you don't need any other review.
This title should have been reserved for a Dario Argento gore-fest, George Clooney becomes his country's definite article, Isabelle Huppert sells timeshares in awesome, John C Reilly encounters mumblecore, I thought this film was about Alice Cooper losing his religion, I manage to avoid any "stillborn" reference, not once did Valerie Plame ever play any games at a fair, Josh Fox forces Adam Sandler to change the name of his in-development script, this could have done with another LEGENDS OF THE GUARDIANS-style subtitle, I think this title means "LAST" as in "MOST RECENT", I think this title means "ME" as in the musical note, this film makes Matariki look like Waitangi Day (am I right, Kiwis?), everyone involved in the making of CLOVERFIELD just went "Ohhhh...", my beloved sub-genre of Aussie westerns gets another great entry, and a reportedly-great doco gets a reportedly-great re-release.
If you missed my HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART ONE review -- in which most of the word count is consumed by having to repeat the title -- because it appeared separately on the AICN main page instead of in the AICN-D column, you can click here to read it!
Australian/New Zealand release: November 25
Loaded expectations are a dangerous thing. They almost derailed my enjoyment of THE SOCIAL NETWORK, as I was expecting a perfect movie; had the film not, in fact, been perfect, I might have felt disappointed. I should have felt blown back in my seat, but so go expectations. The flip side of that is the trailer for DUE DATE, which contained nothing funny at all. I'll say it again: Nothing. Funny. At. All. Because comedy trailers are in the habit of putting their best jokes in the previews, I was horrified at the thought that there might be something worse in the film. Could it actually be less funny that its previews suggested?
So my expectations worked a treat, because I was expecting a cancerous tumour of a film that would cause some sort of explosive vomiting in me. What I got was a pretty bad film, but balanced against my anticipation, I enjoyed it more than I would. It's not good by any stretch, but I'm happy to report that most of the worst jokes were put in the trailer. I mean, "You'd better check yourself before you wreck yourself"? Really? That's the sort of painfully semi-ironic pop culture quote fest I was expecting, but they kept it to a minimum. Although, that line doesn't actually work at all in context, either.
It should work in context, because DUE DATE yearns to be a character piece. As you've guessed, it's PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES updated just enough so nobody needs to pay remake rights, and the entire film is focused on Robert Downey Jnr's uptight father-to-be and Zack Gallifiganis's wannabe actor. I'm not sure what adjectives to use on Gallifiganis, because his character is surprisingly inconsistent. He's set up as being this sort of away-with-the-fairies well-meaning stoner, who misses everything that's said to him, but when it's suddenly convenient to the plot for him to pick up on some signals that Downey Jnr is missing, his character changes completely. If it's meant to be some sort of intentional unexpected flip, it's not sold at all.
It's that sort of poor character work that stops us from caring. There are some really good moments, and it's telling that Gaf's character is only really sympathetic during the heavy dramatic moments, but when the comedic moments in a comedy don't work, something is seriously wrong.
The problem comes mostly down to cruelty. So many of the "jokes" in the film derive from base acts of cruelty, be it general meanness towards one another, unprompted insults, animal cruelty, a car accident that looks far more horrific than it does hilarious, and Downey Jnr punching a child in the stomach. You can feel the desperation as they try to push for edgy, create those "I can't believe they got away with that!" moments, but they fall disastrously flat. Some of them did get laughs from our ready-to-laugh-at-anything audience, but even they went completely silent for many of the harsher scenes. I've got no problem with cinema that goes as extreme as is possible, but if you're going to do it for a comedy, you've got to make it funny. Otherwise, it's just disturbing.
Honestly, I did laugh in some bits. Downey Jnr and Galif both do a good job with the material they have, and although I can't remember any of the jokes I laughed at, I do recall there being some chuckling on my part. Just not memorable chuckling. And a disproportionately small amount of it, too.
It's not the worst comedy I've seen this year (take a bow, THE OTHER GUYS), but it isn't particularly good. From the painfully-obvious sign-posting of the ending in the opening moments through to the unintentionally hilarious final moments -- where the unfunniness of the film is juxtaposed against what is arguably the worst sitcom on television -- it's pretty dire stuff. But it doesn't make you vomit.
THE LAST EXORCISM
Australian/New Zealand release: November 25
Mockumentaries are owed a lot by the "found footage" type of film made so recently popular. Although there is a gnat's wing of academic different between them, the difference is enough to relieve me, as I am someone getting truly sick of the over- and poorly-used found footage gimmick. THE LAST EXORCISM is a mockumentary that follows a preacher who is, you guessed it, off to perform an exorcism on a girl. The preacher readily acknowledges that exorcisms are hokum, but with so many of them resulting in the deaths of those they are supposed to be saving, the preacher's position is that a bit of special effects fakery is probably a lot safer than an accidental death.
Despite being a direct cross between THE EXORCIST and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, there is enough originality in this film to keep you interested. The execution is terrific, with some really naturalistic performances all around and a somewhat compelling reason for the camera to continue rolling at times you would assume it wouldn't.
Most refreshingly, it looks at exorcisms through the prism of Protestantism rather than Catholicism. Catholicism is understandably the more tempting option; its gothic sensibilities and strict ritual give it a supernatural bent that makes it the perfect counterpoint to mystical evil forces. Seeing it through the eyes of a Protestant Reverend is a nice chance, and certainly fits in well with the Louisiana feel.
There are some excellent scares in this film, including a terrific sequence about two thirds of the way through the film that should leave even the most hardened horror buffs ripping the fabric from the armrests. It's worth repeating that the quality of the performances are terrific, and they're what really sell the film. Unbelievable performances in a mockumentary are a deathknell.
Appropriate to the theme of exorcisms, THE LAST EXORCISM is a very good film that clearly has a great film inside of it desperate to get out. It falls apart slightly by having an ultimate climax that doesn't quite hit the buttons the way it wants to, and is overshadowed by the penultimate climax. The twist could have been handled better, as it's a fantastic idea, but it seems to lose steam within the last two minutes.
THE LAST EXORCISM won't rewrite the horror history books, but it is a decent entry, and one worth checking out.
Australian/New Zealand release: December 2
It's funny that I should describe THE LAST EXORCISM as a very good film with a great film inside it, wanting to get out, because that's pretty much exactly the feeling I get from RARE EXPORTS as well. RARE EXPORTS is more of a success, but doesn't quite hit the heights it's aiming for. But that's because it aims very high.
RARE EXPORTS is a Scandanavian film in which Santa Claus is a very evil being trapped inside a large mountain. I've long been a fan of the ancient Santa Claus myths and their extremely dark nature, and it's about time someone made a film of it. The film they did make takes a surprisingly long time to get going, with a first half that's more quiet than it is tense. But when it kicks into gear, it really kicks into gear.
Europe's always had fewer taboos than America, and it's surprising just how far they're willing to push things. This is a dark, dark tale, and the depiction of the mythical beings are genuinely scary. Almost gloriously so: there are moments in which I wanted to burst out laughing at just how satisfying it all was, just how right it all feels. From about the halfway point of the film, where the myth stops being speculative and becomes very real, the creepy factor is upped to the levels you're hoping for going in.
And yet, there is a certain something missing, only noticeable because the film gets so damn much so damn right. The mythology could be explored more, and the motivations a little clearer. There's also the expectation of a certain payoff that unfortunately never transpires, and it's that taste of disappointment that remains in your mouth.
For that reason, as well as a genuinely truly twisted ending, RARE EXPORTS is calling out for a sequel, and based on how much this film actually does succeed, I'll be first in line to see it.
Australian release: December 26 // New Zealand release: TBA
I find straight-out dramatic films to be the toughest sells. With no other genre tropes to fall back on, they must rely purely on the reality of the human drama to tell a compelling story. If every other film genre is also charged with the task of a compelling human drama on top of their other genre-specific tasks, then the drama has less to work with, and logically a tougher time to get it right.
BLUE VALENTINE is the story of a married couple (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams) and their possibly in-a-rut marriage. To tell the plot would be pointless, as it is nothing without the human details to colour it; to tell those human details would ruin the film. What I will say is this: the film employs a very clever and unexpected narrative trick to keep the story fresh, and it's so deftly employed that you may not realise what the film is doing until well after it did it. It's a dangerous trick to pull, but it's done to perfection.
It's career-best work for Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, which is high praise given I think they're amongst the best actors of their generation. They have a lot of different notes to play in this film, and it's a huge testament that they hit every note with total precision, and manage to play all these aspects without having to break the characters. There is a real consistency and complexity to their characters, and every scene is a revelation. I cannot praise them enough.
But a truck-load of that praise also needs to be saved for director Derek Cianfrance and writers Cianfrance, Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne. The skill it takes to tell a story that seems relatively simple on the surface, but has depth that will leave you discussing it for hours, days, weeks, is something to be lauded. Clues are planted throughout, suggesting motivations both textual and subtextual. Everything has meaning, and yet none of these meanings ever stand in the way of the text. It's really masterful stuff, and I look forward to reading essays from people cleverer than I, disseminating it and poking in every corner. It's a film that doesn't so much demand this level of scrutiny, but certainly inspires it.
BLUE VALENTINE never once goes for the mawkish, easy button-push, yet manages to elicit an extraordinary amount of laughter and, well, weeping (yes, I wept a bit). You relate to and understand every character, even when they are in direct opposition to one another. In short, BLUE VALENTINE is one of the best dramas you're likely to see.
GLORIOUS 39 (October 11, Region 4)
The film: Why this film didn't get a theatrical release is beyond me. GLORIOUS 39 is, to be completely predictable and boring, glorious. It's a political historical thriller set in 1939 when England is on the cusp of World War II. A daughter of a politician finds herself in the midst of what may or may not be political intrigue, intimidation and murder. It sounds pulpy, and perhaps it is, but there's so much more weight to Stephen Poliakoff's film than that. The cast includes Romola Garai, Bill Nighy, Julie Christie, David Tennant, Jeremy Northam, Charlie Cox and Christopher Lee. Despite the awkward but infrequent moments where Romola Garai's character speaks exposition to herself, this is a terrific film, and is probably the best straight-to-video release of the year.
The extras: There are some decent extras on this. A theatrical trailer, a commentary with Poliakoff and Garai, and a short documentary On the Edge of War, which is mostly just talking heads of the actors complimenting each other. Which, I have to admit, I rather liked.
Should you buy it: Did you like ATONEMENT? This will be right up your alley. Superb stuff.
SOUL KITCHEN (October 11, Region 4)
(Disclosure: my partner is the Publicity Manager at Sharmill Films, the company that distributed SOUL KITCHEN.)
The film: A somewhat meandering, stream-of-consciousness script actually works with the style of the film, and the journey of its lead character. It's a funny, crowd-pleasing film that follows a Greek man living in Germany who attempts to run a restaurant in a converted warehouse. It's one of those films that actually works better on DVD, and much as I liked it the first time, I enjoyed it a hell of a lot more the second time around. (Read my original review here.)
The extras: A Making Of doco and a trailer.
Should you buy it: That's a big yes from me.
LE DONK AND SCOR-ZAY-ZEE (October 11, Region 4)
The film: I adore the films of Shane Meadows, but was not prepared at all to see him do an uplifting, hilarious mockumentary. LE DONK is about a delusional music promoter who tries to get his client, an obese rapper with questionable talents, to the big time. What could have been a dour, depressing look at a man with no ability for self-perspective is actually a warm and optimistic movie that should have have a pretty wide appeal. Really great stuff. (Read my original review here.)
The extras: Deleted scenes plus a theatrical trailer.
Should you buy it: I think everybody should buy all of Meadows's film, but even if you don't like his stuff, this is definitely one to check out.
- Following Kirsty Swanson's announcement that she wants to reprise the role of Buffy in the new Whedon-less movie, Riff Regan has begun contacting producers
- Malin Ackerman confirmed to replace Lindsay Lohan in idle gossip
- Bronson Pinchot will reprise his TRUE ROMANCE role of Elliot Blitzer in Quentin Tarantino's film about a disgraced Governor of New York who goes on the lam with his hooker girlfriend