Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Just Don't Think About It.

Children Of Men is a film that I really, really wanted to see when it was out in cinemas. It had good reviews, I love the director, I love Julianne Moore, it looked interesting, the word of mouth I heard was great. Even though I've never been a huge Clive Owen fan, I wanted to see it, and it's always remained high on my list, though for some reason I never got around to seeing it.

Interestingly, director Alfonso Cuarón is also my primary reason for, one day, wanting to watch the Harry Potter series. But that's for another time (probably when I've actually sat down and done it, all for his third installment.) All that needs to be noted here is that I remember liking how Great Expectations played out more than I ultimately liked the movie as a whole, and that Y Tu Mamá También is one of my favourite movies of all time (and caused the future husband ranking of Gael García Bernal.)

Children Of Men is a truly different beast to También, however. It's almost post-apocalyptic, or, if you count the sudden infertility of all of the world's women as an apocalypse, which I guess it would be, though not in the traditional sense, it is probably the best post-apocalyptic film I've ever seen. It completely avoids the trappings of most films that would fit this ilk - that is, it looks like today. Only with a hell of a lot of despair.

Owen plays Theo Faron. Just a man. Working a job he hates in a world he hates, with only two people around him he doesn't hate: Jasper (Michael Caine) and his very ill wife. He was, however, married once to a woman named Julian (Moore), who is now a radical leader living as a refugee on the loose in Britain after the country closed its borders to all foreigners (she is American.) When Julian gets back in touch after twenty years, shortly after the death of the world's youngest person (who was eighteen at the time), Theo finds himself trying to deliver the young, miraculously pregnant Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) to a mysterious organisation called The Human Project - presumably these people want to work out why Kee is pregnant and how they can then cure the infertility problem.

It's a political allegory for a large part. It talks of the problems of closed borders in desperate times (really, what use does it have here?), of discrimination, of secrecy... of all of those things the world at large doesn't really like. Bombs go off in cafes in apparent terrorist attacks (but do we sympathise with them? I think we might...) much like today, and the film is not that far in the future - 18 years, if my memory serves me, as the youngest person alive, who as mentioned dies, was born in 2009, again memory permitting.

Something about those Mexican directors and the way they direct with handheld cameras - I don't think anyone can do it as well as they can. And Cuarón is one of the best. And then eliciting those performances. Owen is superbly gruff and hostile (and that's from a non-fan, remember), Moore is right on key with her matter-of-fact determination, Caine (someone else I'm not normally a huge fan of) plays the stoner geezer very well, while Ashitey puts in a star-making turn as the young woman on the run from any number of organisations. Support from such as my beloved Charlie Hunnam (looking virtually unrecognisable) and the fabulously unknown Jacek Koman (he's pretty well-known in Australia, but I don't imagine much outside of it) round it out. It's a truly terrific assemblage of quality actors putting in fantastic performances.

Lensing by the criminally underrated Emmanuel Lubezki (who has done, among others, The New World and Ali) is astonishing, creating an obvious UK and, particularly, London we all know and love, but one so hideously grimy and blighted by the effects of the tumultuous time these people are living in. In a just world his name would be as well known in living rooms as any of the best-known cinematographers out there. (I do know that the vast majority of people in this world would have no idea as to the name of a single cinematographer, but you get my point.)

Score is great. Design is Everything comes together. It's terrific. It's 5 stars again. Wow, doling my stars out like candy at the moment!

War Is A Drug.

Glad I got Borat out of the way, now I can move onto something I really liked.

I'd heard nothing, absolutely nothing about The Hurt Locker on its initial theatrical release. Not a word. Then it started popping up at In Contention as an awards contender. Then the US critics awards started coming through, and it was every.where. Literally. LA, NYC, NBR, dozens of other wins and nominations. Everywhere. Three Golden Globe nods. Truly. If critics awards meant anything to Oscar (which they don't - re: The Dark Knight) then The Hurt Locker would be the one to beat. It's definitely a lock in the 10 film Best Picture category (and would also be in the old five film system) but I think Avatar is looking to be the whirlwind at the moment. Precious is gone.

Anyway, this isn't an Oscar entry. This is all about The Hurt Locker.

Kathryn Bigelow is an interesting director, in that she is a female director making, for all intents and purposes, male films. War movies. Action pictures. Surfing films. I can't think of another woman like her. But, what I love about women directors, and what comes through in The Hurt Locker, is that she isn't a man. She doesn't follow that testosterone-only format. Within the brutality and staunch masculinity of war (and remember, this is her portrayal here. Yes, a man wrote the film, but she is showing an army of men - it may not be 100% accurate to reality, there are females on the frontline, but that's what is on our screens) there is a gentleness and masculinity that most male directors don't care to explore. The guys are out there on their own day after day shooting at people and witnessing death and destruction - they're going to get fucked up by it somehow. If they don't, well, they were fucked up to begin with. Male directors have a tendency to clog it up with emotion during limited episodes within the broader film (Saving Private Ryan) or just put in bigger and better explosions to mask emotion or provide for an outlet for revenge (I don't have to feel bad anymore because look at how big that explosion is! We got them good!) What Bigelow does is much more subtle. Without once ever compromising the military masculinity of her characters, she allows them their moments of weakness. Without needing them to burst into tears and cry for their mothers, she lets us look inside and see that, beneath the bravado, they are afraid. And this is what makes this film so damn powerful.

Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) is a bomb technician, sent into Irag to join a division who have recently lost their leader (played briefly but brilliant by Guy Pearce). James is all gung-ho and live for the moment, outwardly afraid of nothing, seemingly invincible - or incredibly lucky. Coming across a huge bomb in the back of a car, he takes off his protective suit (which has been shown to do nothing at much further distances anyway), saying if he's going to die, he's going to be comfortable. At the beginning, this doesn't sit well with Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), who is below him in the unit. Sanborn wants to get out alive, and he wants everyone he is with to get out alive, and James' reckless behaviour from the moment he joins the unit imperils that. Sanborn is counting down the days until he gets to go home - James is counting up the bombs he has disposed of.

Their relationship (which is the core of the film) changes, however, and quickly, as the film goes on. Sanborn discovers a box under James' bed, filled with bits and pieces of bomb equipment - this is the 'hurt locker' of the title. James is collecting bits and pieces of bombs. The locker is full of things that could have killed him. And then, when the unit stumbles across an undercover unit in the desert (lead by Ralph Fiennes) they are forced to fight for their lives under a hot sun, exposed, wounded and scared. James proves himself a damn good leader, a compassionate soldier, extremely good under the pressure dealt to them. The delicacy of collecting bomb parts and the simplicity of passing juice boxes under the hot desert sun combine with so many other nods and nuances to create this extremely well rounded character, played to absolute perfection by the hitherto little-known Renner.

Supports are excellent, primarily from Mackie, his second in the last three films I have watched (with Half Nelson the other day.) It's never made as simple as Sanborn hating James - Sanborn has to follow James as his superior, and respects James for his obvious talents and bravery. And Mackie has to deliver these conflicting emotions under the cover of respect for command, not stepping out of line, and not going too far when hair is allowed to be let down. It is, again, the little flashes, the moments, that are pitch-perfect and, in a split second, tell you so much. Here's hoping people start to sit up and realise that he holds his own against the formidable lead performance.

As for the rest of it, it's all pretty much perfect. I can't think of a thing to fault. The cinematography by Barry Ackroyd (who's responsible for a hell of a lot of Ken Loach work) is sublime. It's not showy, it doesn't do anything it doesn't need to do, but when it does show you something it shows you everything you need to now. Like the performances, it is subtle, but the flashes are instants of immediate clarity. And the script, well, after all else that has been said if you need me to praise the script you need your head read. Mark Boal has done extraordinary things here to create a tight script without any real sense of artifice or superfluity. Score? Check. Editing? Double-check. Design? Check check check. All of it terrific.

Really, why don't films like this come along more often? And when they do come along, why don't they create more of a wave? It's the second film relating to war (though this one is directly about war, rather than the impacts at home) after Stop-Loss that I have liked and has been directed by a woman. Maybe this is what is missing here. More women talking about war.

5 stars. Excellent. Very highly recommended. The more I think about it, the more I'm liking it.

Is It Nice? Really?

I just didn't dig it. I'm sorry. I know. But I didn't like it.

Maybe if I'd seen Borat when it came out, but even then... I don't think that would have done it for me. Sure, there were some funny moments, but honestly, I think they were only occasional. It was really just 80 minutes of sex jokes and racism in all directions. I can see that maybe he was trying to show racism and bigotry being dealt out by those in the States, and there are a couple of points where I think he genuinely did (and I'm sure that if you dig hard enough in any country you will get exactly the same levels of racism), but I don't see what you're proving when you shit in a bag, take it to the dining room, invite around a prostitute and then get kicked out of the house. No one is going to be happy when you do that, no matter what country you're from. Ultimately it was offending the preacher or whoever was initially at the table anyway. It's exacting religious bigotry. Christ, Borat, you started it! Don't be such a hypocrite!

That's what I was feeling the whole way through. I watched the entire film thinking it was really immature. It was like an extended, hour and a half schoolboy prank, the kind that would get you in detention.

I don't really want to say much more about it, because as I sit here and think about it it's making me angrier and angrier. I don't know why it is, but there you go. Again, maybe I'm missing something, but I don't think so.

I started this thinking I'd give it 2 stars, but I think it's going to have to be happy with 1.5 because I just. Want. To. Break. It.

So yes. 1 star.

The Interrupting Cow.

Right, I'm going to try and race through a few reviews here to catch up on the backlog I have in front of me (we're talking about seven films here: this one, Borat, The Hurt Locker, Children of Men, Goodfellas, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, Me And You And Everyone We Know, Inglourious Basterds,Sweet Sixteen and Shattered Glass.) So they may not be quite so detailed or eloquent. I'm just going to get down some impressions. Of course, they each still deserve their own post, so I shall give them that dignity.

I've also been updating where I'm at on my list of films to watch, which I published ages ago. I deleted A History Of Violence as I remember I watched it a while ago, and it doesn't rate on my list of films to watch again (like a number of the titles I did leave on, such as Amores Perros, Hunger, City Of God and Memento.) So I think that list now totals 58 rather than the elsewhere quoted (possibly in my head) 59.

Moving right along.

My only real previous exposure to Ryan Gosling, as far as I can tell, was in The Notebook. That was a film that I didn't really fancy seeing, and then my mother (I must have been visiting for the weekend or something, because there's no way I could have still been living at home when it was out - interesting sidenote to no one, not even me) rented the DVD. I think I was doing something else in the room, probably on the computer, just barely paying attention to it when it started, and by the end of it I was glued to my seat, probably crying (I know I wasn't actually crying, because I remember all films I shed real, human tears in, but it would have been close), enthralled by the film. I really, really like The Notebook. And I loved both Gosling and Rachel McAdams in it.

But other than The Notebook, I don't think I've ever seen anything else with Gosling in it, up until the other day (last week, let's be honest.) I'd heard a lot about Half Nelson, mostly regarding Gosling's Oscar-nominated turn in the lead role. And it is a strong performance. He plays a drug-addicted teacher who enters into a friendship with an insightful young student (and never is there the hint of it becoming sexual or predatory, I never felt that, which is something to definitely give writer/director Ryan Fleck and co-writer Anna Boden credit for), basically stumbling through life trying to work out what the fuck is going on and never wanting the party to look like it has died, even though he knows that it is well and truly over and the only person he is fooling is himself.

It's strong, because it's not overly self-pitying. He plays his character (Dan Dunne, for the record) simply and elegantly, never reaching for the histrionics, simply showing us this man who is completely, completely lost, despite the fact that he is intelligent, he can be inspiring, and he is, most of the time, a nice guy.

There are strong supporting performances (Shareeka Epps and Anthony Mackie stand out) and the film ultimately works well. I'd hesitate to call it a performance vehicle, but it does veer in that direction - Gosling stands out in an otherwise fine film. Where I think it stands apart from this is that his performance doesn't overpower the film. I didn't come out of Half Nelson thinking 'yeah, the film was all right but hot damn! that performance was amazing' as I have in other films. I came out thinking that the film was good and Gosling's performance fitted it like a glove. And that is where the true glory of his accomplishment comes out. He didn't deserve to win it, but he did definitely deserve to be in contention.

The film itself? 3.5 stars. I want to see the Fleck/Boden follow-up Sugar now.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

The Best?

Hidden (or Caché) has been popping up on Best Of the '00s lists since they first started appearing a couple of months back - it topped the UK Times list, as you may remember.

Do I think it's the best film of the last ten years? No. Don't get me wrong, it is a damn good film. But I don't even think it's Michael Haneke's best film of the '00s (that would be The Piano Teacher, or La Pianiste - and how obstreperous can I be? That's three posts in a row where I've disagreed with a widely held view as to a director's best film. Geez, get a grip. All this railing against the mainstream mould ain't gonna get you nowhere.)

Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche star (and much love is sent from me to both their fabulous souls) in another very grown-up thriller, each of them offering up riveting portrayals of their own half of a couple beset by fear of... what, exactly, we're not entirely sure. Auteuil plays Georges Laurent, a television presenter, with Binoche playing his wife Anne. They begin to receive strange videos, left on their doorstep, showing simply them. The first, for example, is a shot of the outside of their house, filmed for a couple of hours, showing nothing much more than the activity on the street, and the Laurent's leaving the house to go to work. That's it.

Gradually, however, the videos start probing in Georges' life. Into his past. They go to the police, but the police say they can't do anything until this person actually tries to do something to them, physically. So the two (and their grumpy teenage son) are left struggling to come to terms with a stalker who may or may not be dangerous, with no idea how to make it stop. Georges ends up stumbling on a theory after one of the videos, but his explorations of the possibility ends in tragedy, in one of the most powerful scenes I've seen in a while. The films ends, but leaves you wondering if it really has.

Hidden is a truly gripping film. It holds you in its beautiful framing and perfect tension without issue. The two magnetic and very talented stars keep you fearful and caring. Nary a foot is put wrong. And I don't really want to talk much more about it, because I don't want to start giving things away - I already fear I have let on too much. 4.5 stars.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Nothing Is Simple.

Hmm, second film in a row where I'm going to say very similar things about an acclaimed director.

I'm a fan of Pedro Almodóvar, though some of his films and his artifice I've been known to find frustrating. Probably his most acclaimed film is from this decade, but it is, once again, as with In The Mood For Love, not my favourite film of his (that would be Bad Education.) I'd rate All About My Mother over this film, in fact, putting it at best as my third favourite of his films.

The film I am talking of is, of course, Talk To Her, or Hable Con Ella. Marco (Darío Grandinetti) is a journalist who decides to do an in depth piece on acclaimed female bullfighter Lydia (Rosario Flores), with the two of them ultimately falling in love. Lydia, however, is mauled and put into a coma. In the hospital Marco meets Benigno, a full time carer for another girl in a coma, ballet dancer Alicia. Marco and Benigno strike up a friendship as they care for the women in their lives, but each of them is ultimately ripped away from their care by two different events - one landing in jail.

It is in many ways a simple film, much less complex and multi-faceted as Almodóvar works tend to be. Gone are the flashy exuberances so prevalent in is earlier work (with the exception of the shot of a man shrinking and crawling inside a vagina... though this, in context, strangely doesn't seem anywhere near as gratuitous as it may seem when written), replaced by gentle and normal character arcs. The film is about these two men and, to start with, their relationships with the two central women, but ultimately becomes about their relationship with each other. It's a nice, straight story, with nary a drag queen in sight.

My issue with it is that it just feels a little too straight. What I like about Almodóvar is his flashy exuberance, his drag queens, his gung-ho attitude to character, his predilection to throw in something extreme to throw the audience off-centre. Talk To Her doesn't have any of this (and while I'm here, neither, I feel, did Volver, which is why I don't rate that film particularly highly. Though I think my thoughts on Volver are affected by the fact that I'm male - most every male I know feels my same apathy towards the film, while most every female loves it and thinks it's a fantastic film. Interesting, no?) and that left me feeling a bit empty. I wanted something more from it. I wanted it to blast off and really show me fireworks, and it didn't. It achieved exactly what it wanted to achieve, and it achieved it very well. It is my own personal desire for pyrotechnics that sets up my disappointment, and that's entirely my fault. But it doesn't make me like the film any more than the 'yeah, it was good' that I feel for it. 3.5 stars.

You Notice Things If You Pay Attention.

Right, I'm well behind on my writing up. I've been sick, so just watching the films has taken a whole lot energy. I have to do Talk To Her, Hidden, Half Nelson, Borat, The Hurt Locker, Children of Men and this film, right now, to write up. Crikey, been slack.

I'm a big Wong Kar Wei fan. Well, I was a big Wong Kar Wei fan up until the early-to-mid noughties, when I think he started to retreat a little in my esteem. In The Mood For Love (or Fa Yeung Nin Wa) is often considered WKW's best work - it's not my favourite of his (that would be Happy Together) and I actually think I like a lot of his 90s films more, but it is a very good film nonetheless.

Tony Leung (who I love) plays Chow (I'm going to just refer to him as Chow, and should any reference come up for his wife, she will be Mrs Chow - this is how they're referred to in the movie), who find himself moving into a new apartment on the same day as his neighbour, Chan (ditto re: namings - Chan is played by the fabulous and beautiful Maggie Cheung.) Their significant others (Mrs and Mr respectively) are never seen other than from behind or down low, so we never see their faces, and seem to quite often be on business trips abroad - often at the same time. Seeing what might be going on here?

Chow and Chan slowly develop a friendship, and soon discover that they both have suspicions that their spouses are cheating on them - with each other. And it seems to be going down the road that Chow and Chan will exact a revenge of sorts by doing exactly the same thing. But would WKW ever be that obvious? Of course not. It is alluded to, it is suggested, but it is never specifically stated, and that is where much of the beauty of this film lies.

In The Mood For Love is a film of quiet, of slow. It doesn't rush, it doesn't feel the need to bring you drama, it just tells a beautiful story with a couple of nice, slightly depressed adults quite happily coming to terms with their place in the world. And I don't use the word beautiful lightly. It is beautiful in many ways. The story, in its simplicity, is incredibly calming. The photography (by my cinematographical god Christopher Doyle) is stunning. The performances are perfectly understated. The production design is a stunning mix of reds. Everything in the film is so gentle, but so powerful. It's true adult drama, in the sense that the themes are probably too subtle to entertain the young, but so global as to touch anyone who has lived.

Not my favourite, but very good regardless. The follow-up 2046, whilst good, is nowhere near as powerful as this. I haven't seen My Blueberry Nights, but if it's what I've heard it is, WKW needs to go back to doing what he always did best. Simple, beautiful, adult stories. 4 stars.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Make Me A Dirt-Mattress.

Gus Van Sant's Death Trilogy is, with von Trier's Golden Heart Trilogy, probably my favourite film trilogy ever. Probably. I think it helps that neither of these are trilogies in the sense that they are a single story told in three parts, instead being a thematic trilogy exploring aspects of humanity and life. Until now, however, I'd never seen the first installment in Van Sant's trilogy, Gerry. Someone, a long time ago, told me it was a pile of crap, not worth looking at. Oh how wrong I have found them to be.

Two best friends, both named Gerry (played by Matt Damon and Casey Affleck, so from hereon in, if I refer to a Gerry I will in fact be referring to them by actor name - Damon or Affleck. Please try and remember that this is Casey, not Ben, though. As no one really wants to think of Ben unless they absolutely have to) decide to go for a walk. They are in a huge wilderness reserve, and very quickly get lost whilst on their way to the 'thing', the big thing, whatever it is, that makes going to this park worthwhile. They in fact decide this thing is not even worth seeing, but by then they are hopelessly, hopelessly lost. The sleep a few nights rough, they climb hills and mountains to try and find some semblance of civilisation, they trek in search of water (they have none, and find none) and food (they have none, and find none.) They do this across desert dunes, salt flats, dry rolling hills, shale deposits - every barren and hostile environment you can imagine. And do they find anything to aid them? No. They do not. They walk and they walk, for the most part silently, and they never find anything.

I must say, this sounds on the surface like one of the most unequivocally boring films ever in the history of the world. Two grown men go into the desert, get lost, and walk around for a bunch of days without really saying or doing a great deal. Woohoo! Quick, get me two tickets to every remaining session! I must carve the title into my forearm to declare my anticipation to the world!

The film is far, far more than that. It is an incredible and moving insight into the minds of these two men, the depths of their friendship. This is something that is very rarely seen on film. The two Gerrys have obviously known each other for a long, long time. They almost have their own language - it's discernable for us, but primarily in context. If you said 'dirt-mattress' to me out of the blue, I would have no idea what you were talking about. Ditto 'rock-marooned', or 'shirt basket.' Damon and Affleck have been through much together, and they have created their own way of understanding each other.

Their ability to be silent together, but to still let you know how they are feeling, is another astonishing aspect of the depth of their friendship - because not once during the film do you get the feeling that they are playing for the camera, but simply that they are playing for each other. Their silences speak so much. Some of the shots of them just walking, slow tracking shots through nothingness, are so powerful. So much is spoken between them, you can feel them emanating emotion at each other. It's astonishing.

And, like I said, this kind of male-friendship film is very rarely seen. It is entirely non-sexual, it is not a buddy road movie, it is just a couple of really good friends, going for a walk, and having to deal with the unexpected serious consequences. It is a true insight into the minds of men, without any bells and whistles. When the shit hit the fan, they just went about getting stuff done, and put to one side any real feelings of animosity or blame, because that's what friends like this do, right? When you're stuck in the desert with no food or water and no way out, who cares whether it was Gerry's fault? You just care about getting the hell out.

Harris Savides lensed Gerry (as he did Elephant and Last Days, the other two parts of the trilogy, as well as Milk), and he did a stunning job, languidly following the two guys as they... walked. He never hurried them, he never changed them, he let them lead the way, and then did beautiful things with the frames they fell within. In a diverse desert there are of course plenty of opportunities to create some stunning images, and Savides doesn't disappoint. It is an incredible looking film.

There isn't a great deal else to the film. There is very little music, the sound all works (and I assume a significant portion of it was post-added, as it would have been exceptionally difficult to capture much of it), and the editing (by the two stars and the director) is perfect.

In short, this film is amazing, and it really made me want to go away and watch the other two parts of the trilogy again. I think I will. I still think Elephant is my favourite overall, but Gerry... well, it's given it a run for its money. 4.5 stars. Everything was pretty much perfect, but there was a tiny bit of magic missing somewhere to really leave me gasping. Though I'm still thinking about it, so maybe that magic will come later. It's definitely a film, I think, whose images will stick with me for a long time.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


I've recently become a fan of The Thick Of It, a BBC political comedy. It is quite entertaining, and by far the funniest character is that of Malcolm Tucker, a government spin doctor with one of the most creative and foulest mouths I've ever seen. His swearing couldn't possibly be offensive because it is so darned funny. It would appear that the show has been happening every two years since 2005, making this the third season.

This year, however, there was a feature film from the same people, entitled In The Loop. From what I can tell from what I have seen of the show, many of the actors seem to be same, though not necessarily playing the same characters (something I found marginally discombobulating to start with when watching the film...) Lucky for us, however, Peter Capaldi returns as Malcolm.

I've got to say, it felt like an extended episode of The Thick Of It. I kept expecting it to end. It seemed to go on for much longer than it did. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it, and maybe that's simply due to the fact that I think I had literally watched the latest episode the day before.

The film concerns a British cabinet minister heading over to the States with spin doctor and communications officer in tow, joining conversations regarding war after his slip-up in which he said it was 'unforeseeable', followed by a baffling media address that didn't answer any questions but did provide catch-phrases for his governmental opposites in Washington, D.C. The ministers as portrayed in The Thick Of It (and repeated here) always seem to be tremendously incapable of doing anything right, and Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) is no exception. He does, however, find himself asked to join the secret War Committee, which, due to incompetence again from the British side, quickly become common knowledge, therefore not a secret.

It's kind of hard to describe the film or the series. It is a series of running gags. The intelligence hidden within the comedy brings to mind a series such as The West Wing but with much more blasphemy and disrespect for, well, everyone. There is a cohesive story somewhere hidden underneath the crude surface, having something to do with spin and the inner workings of politics, I'm sure. Capaldi is great in the film, truly irrepressible, Hollander does well, Gina McKee is solid as British communication worker Judy, James Gandolfini seems a little bored playing Lt. Gen. George Miller, and Chris Addison as Toby reprises a very similar character (though not the same one! Oh no!) as he does in the series. Anna Chlumsky is another highlight (she was the little girl in My Girl! Oh how cute) as Toby's American equivalent, working underneath Mimi Kennedy's Karen Clarke, someone who is half-under-secretary-twice-removed to some US cabinet department (I have no idea how any of that works, so I can't hope to get it right.)

All in all, though, it dragged a little for me. I just wanted Capaldi on screen to come out with an impressive piece of vitriol that would inspire me to better my insults and become, all in all, a better person. It all seemed a little middling to me, nothing too great, nothing too bad, just quite comfortable to tread along softly and hope for the best. I definitely think the concept works better as a half-hour serial once a week. 2.5 stars.

Innit Sweethearts?

Mike Leigh is a love or hate director. Truly. I think he is that polarising. I remember when Happy-Go-Lucky opened the Sydney Film Festival last year, I knew people who tried to watch it, knowing they hated his films, and got through fifteen minutes before leaving. Then, I know people who love his films, who will gladly watch anything he puts out. I fall into the latter camp, but I can totally see why people would hate him. His films are very demanding on the viewer.

I won’t go too much into how Leigh makes his films, as it’s pretty well documented. He favours a heavily rehearsed and improvised approach, where secrets and plot points are revealed to the actors as they go along. I guess this is why his performers are often so incredible - they really have to inhabit the characters in order that they can maintain the continuity over months of development and shooting, without knowing what is really happening around them. Much like life, really. But yes, he’s sent Brenda Blethyn to an Oscar nom for Secrets and Lies, Imelda Staunton to one for Vera Drake and Sally Hawkins to one for Happy-Go-Lucky. Oh, wait, that last one isn’t true. AND WHAT A SCANDAL THAT IS.

But moving on.

Leigh’s major breakout film across the pond was Secrets and Lies, his '96 film launching Brenda Blethyn onto the world with her turn as Cynthia, along the way receiving five Oscar noms and that pretty leaf from Cannes, the Palme d’Or, among many others including the Best British Film BAFTA. An aging single mother to Roxanne, Cynthia has a strained relationship with her sister-in-law Monica (Phyllis Logan), meaning she doesn’t get to see her brother Maurice (Timothy Spall), a successful photographer, anywhere near as often as she’s like. Roxanne has recently started to see a new man, leaving Cynthia virtually alone.

All of this changes with a phone call from Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste in another Oscar nominated turn), bringing an unsettling revelation and reminder of the past. Hortense fills the lonely void in Cynthia’s life, bringing her much happiness, but it’s a dangerous lying game they’re playing, one certain to come dramatically to an end at Roxanne’s 21st birthday party, held at Maurice’s house.

I’ve heard criticism of Blethyn as too hysterical. I can see where that’s coming from, but, really, no one does hysterical like she does it, and here, she does it perfectly. She carries such loneliness and emotional baggage on her shoulders for the entire film (and it’s not a short one) flawlessly. You truly feel for her every time she sheds a tear. Here she is, she has tried to do everything to help her daughter and create a family, and it’s all coming to nought. The one shot at happiness that she has, that brought by Hortense, is not only fringed with danger, it is positively plated in it. This happiness can only last so long - but while it does last, you feel so, so good for Cynthia. The difference is remarkable.

The supporting cast are similarly excellent. Spall plays the younger brother very well. He tries to be supportive, though as the younger and more successful sibling this is always difficult, but is nevertheless somewhat curtailed by his wife’s lack of enthusiasm for a relationship with his family - from her posh heights, they must seem like an appalling bunch of deadbeats. But she also has her secrets, and its exposure, amongst the rest of the revelations in the climactic scene, is equally explosive. Jean-Baptiste is wonderfully stoic in the face of this family meltdown of which she isn’t really a part, but is there for and forced to experience - and a lot of it is seen to be her fault, an unfair laying of blame, but in the circumstances, who else are they going to blame?

I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed this film. That’s three hits from three for me and Mike Leigh. It’s an excellent socio-realist study of family, backed up by astonishingly real performances and a terrific, oft-improvised script. 4.5 stars, and I can’t wait for the next offering from this master of British cinema.

Sooner Or Later Everything Turns To Shit.

I’ve never been much of a Woody Allen fan, traditionally, but I think a lot of that comes down to the fact that I started really discovering cinema during the late 90s and early 00s, during Allen’s ‘lesser’ filmmaking. I didn’t know his films when he was churning them out at a rate of knots and clocking up Oscar nom after Oscar nom (21 by my count, mostly as writer, with three wins), and he was yet to have that little renaissance he’s been earning lately with films like Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona (both films I generally enjoyed, definitely the latter - Penelope Cruz was fantastic.)

So I thought I’d start trying to see some of his earlier works, the works that made him who is he is now, an auteur of note, if as much for the number of films he makes as to the repeated quality of them.

Husbands And Wives is where I’m kicking off. Allen plays Gabe, a college professor married to Judy (Mia Farrow.) They have married friends Sally (Judy Davis) and Jack (Sydney Pollack) over for dinner, and Sally and Jack announce that they are splitting up, quite amicably. This starts Gabe and Judy looking at their own relationship and what they want, with Jack and Sally going through the trauma and torment of starting new lives in the single world, trying not to get too upset when the other starts to see someone else (though they don’t try particularly hard.)

It’s an interesting film. I’m not a huge fan of Allen performing (from the few Allen titles I’ve seen, I tend to like those in which he does not appear more than those in which he does), but don’t mind him too much here. Mia Farrow (again, I think she has a very interesting presence, but I’ve just never really loved a performance of hers) is fine as his wife, if a little pathetic, but my highlights were Davis and Pollack. Judy Davis has to be one of the best actresses working, right? I don’t think I’ve seen her in anything where I didn’t at least love her. I remember falling for her in Swimming Upstream, and even her small role in Marie Antoinette was a highlight. I’ve never seen someone curtsey repeatedly with such disdain, yet at the same time showing a requisite amount of respect.

She’s terrific in this role, as an often hysterical, cerebral spurned wife. She balances crazy just right, deserving of her Oscar nom for this film (why hasn’t she been nominated more? Why? Seriously. She’s so terrific. All the time.) Pollack pulls through with bravura and marginalised masculinity, making the most of his scene intruding on Sally’s date with new man Michael (Liam Neeson.)

Still, there’s something a little too… self-indulgent about Allen films, I think. Especially when he’s in them. They seem very smug-clever. Very holier than thou. And I find that a little frustrating. One day I’ll understand the appeal, but not today. 2.5 stars.


I'm very much looking forward to Animal Kingdom, premiering at Sundance in the New Year. They've just launched their website with a teaser included. Great cast, it looks hot.

I must declare an interest, in that I know David Michôd, the writer/director. I used to work with him, and I worked on his most recent short Netherland Dwarf. But that just makes the anticipation greater - I've been hearing about the film for years.

If it's anything like his previous shorts, I think I'll like it. Crossbow, I thought, was fantastic. Netherland Dwarf was also very good. Plus, he co-wrote the excellent scripts for Spider (with director Nash Edgerton) and I Love Sarah Jane (with director Spencer Susser), the latter being one of my favourite shorts from... what year did I see it? It must have been last year.

Speaking of Spencer Susser, Michôd penned the screenplay for his first feature, Hesher, also opening at Sundance next year. Finally, all of that hogging of the work printer getting scripts ready for assessment pays off...

Monday, 14 December 2009


Oh, and in other news, I desperately want the suit that Max wears in Where The Wild Things Are. Desperately. In adult size. I will wear it, too. I think it's awesome. And it's Christmas coming up, so...

I'm about 6'1".

Electricity Wires Are Down.

So, I have a throat infection, meaning I'm feeling roughly like an enormous pile of crap with a fever. So, I actually have three writeups outstanding - Husbands & Wives, Secrets & Lies and In The Loop - but I'm probably not going to get onto them until tomorrow, if I feel any better. I probably will have added another (I'm thinking Gerry) to my list by then, depending on how the night goes...

Meanwhile, I've been thinking about Boy Lilikoi (here and here), considering I've been listening to it virtually non-stop on repeat since I picked it up last week. (Seriously, I think my iTunes play count for the song is going to be somewhere up near 100 plays in, what, six days?)

I'm thinking this is probably the song with the most likelihood of being a radio-friendly hit that Jónsi's voice has ever been heard of (by me at least.) Obviously, the is the first solo outing of his, but I'm going to go with Sigur Rós as his back catalogue for the sake of actually being able to make an argument. Cool? Cool.

The last Sigur Rós release Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust from last year was easily their 'poppiest' record to date, not necessarily meaning that they were empty throwaway Britney dance tracks (not that there's anything wrong with that...), as they had a bit of a rockier and momentous feel, not only more than Britney, but more than their previous work. Yes, they retained the pretty highlights really brought to the fore in Takk... ('pretty' is the only word that I think appropriately describes this - ever since the 05 release, I've associated it with pretty), but they shortened many of the running times (with Gobbledigook clocking in at just over 3 minutes, Inní mér syngur vitleysingur coming in a minute longer, and Við spilum endalaust right in between), whereas the vast majority of their previous songs across all albums are of epic length (excluding intro tracks on Ágætis Byrjun and Takk..., and interstitial moments on a few of the albums, the only song I could see of a similarly radio-friendly play length (4 minutes) was Avalon off their second record, which could really be regarded as an extended outro anyway, especially taken within the context of the album as a whole.)

In addition to merely shortening the tracks (will I should note still feel entirely complete), the first two tracks off off Með suð (Gobbledigook and Inní mér syngur vitleysingur) have a much, much more upbeat feel to them. They both have ripping percussion tracks, repetitive song structures (like pop songs! Verse, chorus, verse!) of a sort (less so the latter track, I guess... I could argue it, but I won't) and more accessible melodic sounds in the vocals. Gone are the long drawn out vowels, replaced with shorter narrative poetry.

Boy Lilikoi, however, I think goes one step further. Yes, it is longer (though at 4.5 minutes, a more radio friendly edit could quite easily be achieved), and the orchestral arrangements are much more on show, I think, than Gobbledigook and IMSV (that one's too hard to type out each time), but there is one key difference, and it does sound a little pathetic.

That difference? It's in English. I love the sound of Sigur Rós with their use of Icelandic, a touch of English (in All Alright, with influences on the next language) and Hopelandic. I really love it. It makes the experience, for me, so much more internal. For the most part I have no idea what they're saying. I can't sing along, just make sounds that approximate what hit my eardrums. And maybe if I could understand the language I would feel differently about the pop aspect of their previous releases, as I think a major element of pop music (please note that I'm using 'pop' very broadly as 'popular' so including all manner of indie, rock, hell, metal if you want) is its ability to get stuck in your head, and that's very hard when you don't know the words. I had Paparazzi and Poker Face stuck in my head a lot in Iceland pre-Lilikoi download, and they are two of the biggest pop songs of the last twelve months, right?

The percussion behind Lilikoi is epic. It just keeps coming through, backing up every aspect of the foregrounded musical aspects. The flute (I'm sure it's not a flute, I've never been able to tell those instruments apart - someone will correct me I'm sure) recreates that prettiness I spoke of, but is backed up by the rollicking percussive movements. Jónsi combines his trademark falsetto with standard range to give us something more akin to IMSV, but... I don't know... it just feels like it could break into the mainstream, though probably on an 'indie breakthrough' scale. Not that they need the help. Without radio friendly tracks, the last two Sigur Rós records both went top 20 in Australia, and I recall hearing that Með suð was a in the top five of the European charts after release. They have an incredibly loyal following that seems to get bigger with every album (a mammoth celebrity fanbase probably doesn't hurt - Brad Pitt, anyone? Tom Cruise?) so I imagine Go, as Jónsi's debut album shall be known come release late March 2010, will have a similar initial response. The difference is, if it can break through, those already strong figures could make Jónsi individually and Sigur Rós as an entity a major player on a global scale.

This could all be wishful thinking coming from my love for the band and Jónsi. Like, serious love. They can do no wrong in my eyes. They could strangle kittens, drink their blood and turn the furs into snowshoes, and as long as they continued to make beautiful music, I'd maintain my altar to them in my house. But I think there is some, slight basis in fact here. I do. Slight.

Also, please excuse this for being rambling, overlong and probably very unclear. I have a fever. Don't like it, fuck off.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Let The Wild Rumpus Start.

This is easily my most anticipated film of this year. Easily. I've been waiting for this film, literally, for years. I think the last time I was so desperate to see a film was Brokeback Mountain, which I'd similarly been following for years. Yesterday, I dragged myself to see Where The Wild Things Are, trying to damp down my expectations, because they were so sky-high that anything other than a cinematic masterwork may have left me shivering in a corner, crying that it was so cold, begging for my mother to hold me as I tried to keep my hands away from that oh-so-sharp razorblade begging me to use it.

That being said, I now don't know where to start with a review of the film. After viewing it, I deliberately held back from immediately posting on it because I knew that I had to let the film settle, after suffering from such anticipation (and I don't use the word 'suffering' lightly - I view the last year as an ordeal, waiting for the film.)

For those who don't know the book (which seems to be the entire UK - how? Every single Australian I know, pretty much, grew up with the book. How did the UK not? We're not so different that NO ONE in this country knows it), it's a children's book consisting of something like nine sentences, seventeen lines. And it's a 100 minute film. An impressive adaption, to say the least. And it does hold up to the book. It is quite obviously an adaptation. To bring Brokeback back into the conversation, that was another film adapted from a much smaller book. Brokeback was almost word for word in its adaptation (it was also a novella, rather than a really, really, really short story), but WTWTA follows the same lines, taking the mood and tone and idea and turning that into the film.

Max (Max Records) is a kid whose parents have split (the mother is played by Catherine Keener - we never see the father.) He has an older sister in her late-ish teens, and his mother has started seeing someone else (very briefly, Mark Ruffalo.) Max is struggling with the separation, and with the introduction of this new male figure, particularly with the lack of attention being showered on him at a time when he needs it the most. As such, he runs away to this invented world of the Wild Things, giant, furry, man-eating monsters. He is raised as their king, and proceeds to try and make everything good and real - good and real as a child would see it.

It's a pretty scary film, for kids. I would argue it is more of an adult film than a kids film, especially with its themes of abandonment and perceived neglect. Max's idea of ruling is precisely that of a child - he doesn't realise the politics of leading, nor the complex emotions of adults. In leading the wild things, he is leading a bunch of fully-formed, adult monsters, and they have similar intellectual makeups of humans. Like humans, they like to play around and act like children when given the opportunity and the blessing of their ruler, but like human adults, they have inter-personal relationships that come into play, something Max doesn't understand. As such, Max's overly simplistic plans for the world seem good at the outset, but are impossible to implement along those lines. The wild things suffer and grow disillusioned with him, rebel, and ultimately Max realises that his home is where he belongs, not running a kingdom he doesn't understand.

Records is incredible as Max. There is a brief moment at the end where, in an otherwise silent shot, he briefly raises eyebrows to convey his emotion, and it speaks depth far belying his age. Keener is stunning as the mother, all to briefly on screen, in the 'real-world' scenes. In fact, the 'real-world' scenes and storyline is pretty much faultless. It is so emotive and beautifully portrayed.

The 'monster-world' looks incredible. The vocal work from the likes of James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, Paul Dano, Catherine O'Hara, Forest Whitaker and Chris Cooper is terrific. The CGI is, quite simply, stunning. Their faces are so, so real, as real as you could hope. Impeccable work. The sets look terrific, the songs complementing the visuals (by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) have a childish simplicity mixed with the complexity you need for adult drama that truly pays off, and the cinematography pushes the drama without overpowering it, something that quite easily could have happened considering the splenour of some of the locations.

Where it falls over is in its reliance on childish naivety, and the tendency to rest happily on sentiment. Scenes of young playfulness are perfect to watch, but the lulls in between without really any drama to fuel the movement between these scenes hit hard. It becomes a little repetitive in the notion that Max doesn't understand what makes the real world (as opposed to the 'real-world') tick. We get that - give me another story-arc or else I'm going to think it should have been a fifty-minute feature. Maybe nine sentences is too little to bank on for a feature film. Maybe it's going a little too far.

Maybe a more experienced screenwriter might have helped this along. Dave Eggers was largely responsible for the script. His novel A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius (aside: incredible title for a book) suffered, I think, from this same problem. By about two thirds of the way through, I got that his life was hard and kept throwing up obstacles, and I just wanted another narrative arc to come into play. Times are tough, yes, but there are only so many times I can hear about before I get bored with it. Same goes here.

I wasn't bored, though, to clarify. But I was ultimately disappointed. I think it could have been an incredible piece of cinema, I really do. I think expectations were built up by the stories about the troubled production (and I should mention here Spike Jonze, who directed it, and did a very good job under the circumstances - I think he's an amazing director, but I'm pining to see him make a film consisting of the 'real-world' elements on display here), and it didn't live up to them. I don't think it ever had ambition to live up to them, either. It was meant to be a simple story, modestly told, that was over-hyped by budgets, studios and a hugely long production timeline, and that means it was almost doomed to not live up to those lofty heights.

It's a good film, I'll give it that. It's not a great film, and that's what hurts. 3.5 stars. As much for the excellent individual elements. Without any one of them, it would be 3.

Everyone's Against Me.

I don't know what my feelings are towards Wes Anderson. I like the idea of him and his films more, I think, than I necessarily like his films. I remember enjoying The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou more than I thought I would, but I didn't think I'd really like it going in (though, when you use a Sigur Rós track over your climactic scene, I really don't think you can go wrong...) I like his casting, I like his ideas, but... it all seems a little too navel-gazing.

The Royal Tenenbaums is a film I've been putting off seeing (due to a half-hearted Gwyneth Paltrow boycott since the Elizabeth fiasco), but one that people kept telling me I'd love, and that I should just get over it, and besides, I'd like Gwyneth in this more than most other films. What I wasn't expecting was for her to be pretty much my favourite part of the film (with the exception of Anjelica Huston, who I want to marry - add her to the list.)

Start at the beginning. The Royal Tenenbaums is about the Tenenbaum family: patriarch Royal (Gene Hackman); matriarch Ethel (Huston); children Chas (Ben Stiller), Margot (Paltrow) and Richie (Luke Wilson); and a family friend Eli (Owen Wilson.) Throw in Ethel's new love interest Henry (Danny Glover) and Margot's husband Raleigh (Bill Murray), and you've got a pretty freaking decent cast.

The family is horrendously over-achieving in their early years, but now horribly fragmented due feuds, separation and lawsuits. Richie is a pro tennis player who freaks out during a big match; Margot is a chronically depressed pathological secret-keeper; Chas has massive issues with his father relating to his upbringing. Royal has had very little contact with his family since he and Ethel split up, and Ethel herself seems to be very content to ignore the fact that anything is wrong, or at the very least doesn't realise the gravity of the situation.

The story plays on in many different ways from there. I'm not going to try and go into it, because I think it would spoil the film a little, and there are just so many narrative strands, and I don't know if I have the energy. These many strands do, however, weave themselves together into a strong story (implausible superficially, but somehow it all works.) The dialogue is witty, the performances are solid from all (with Hackman, Huston and Paltrow being highlights), and there really aren't too many negative points, I don't think. My issue primarily lies in the fact that, while it's an impressive list of names, there are so many actors in here that I just don't really like. I'm not a huge fan of Owen Wilson, Luke I can take or leave, Murray, despite his obvious global love and respect, always seems to be Bill Murray to me, and Ben Stiller, same deal. These are personal issues that I should be able to look past, but I think it's just too many all together for me to do that. The majority of them strike me as always insincere, and I have trouble looking past them and into the depth of their performances. I do like to think that if their performances did, in fact, have the depth, it would shine through (like Paltrow's), but they didn't here.

It's admirable, I suppose, but I wouldn't voluntarily watch it again. Sure, I wouldn't turn it off on a lazy day with my DVDs in another house, or if someone else really wanted to see it, and I also wouldn't say to people it was a bad film. It's a personal thing.

That being said, because I can't really fault it technically, I'm going to run with 2.5 stars for it.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Together We Will Live Forever.

Darren Aronofsky had a bit of a bad time with his third film, The Fountain. Initially, he had a US$75mil budget and Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in the lead roles, but when Pitt left the project shortly before principal photography was due to begin, the project was scrapped for a couple of years. US$20mil or so had already been spent creating sets and props in Queensland, and many of these were auctioned off. The film was then reimagined with less than half the budget and with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz taking on the leads.

The films takes place over a thousand years, ultimately about the search for eternal life, specifically the Tree of Life from the bible, hidden away after Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden. Tom Creo (Jackman) occurs in three different eras - back in the days of the Spanish Inquisition, sent on a search for the tree at the behest of the Queen (chronogically, Weisz's first character also); in 2005, part of a research team to try and slow the development of brain tumours (with Weisz as his wife); and far in the future, as the protector of the tree of life, drifting through space to a dying star in order to save it.

Weisz as Issi, Tom's wife in the 2005 time period, has a brain tumour also, which is untreatable. This storyline is the primary narrative force, with Tom ignoring other progresses in his work (such as neurological regression, effectively reversing the aging process) in a desperate attempt to find a cure for his wife. It is a race against time, intercut with segments from the initial quest for the tree and the subsequent attempt to take it to the stars. However, the search for eternal life, as offered by the tree, is shown to be somewhat fruitless. Not in the sense that the tree doesn't hold those powers, but that in struggling so hard to discover these secrets, Tom actually misses so much of the life that he is meant to be living - pointed out abstractly by his superior at the research facility Dr Lillian Guzetti (Ellen Burstyn - how I love her.) He misses the opportunity to spend time with his dying wife (who is, incidentally, writing the story of the search for the tree and its raising to the heavens) because he is so focused on trying to cure her, and to make her live forever. Indeed, the Mayan/Spanish section of the story has a similar ending - the quest for eternal life in fact brings quite the opposite for so many.

It is a very, very bold undertaking from Aronofsky. Coming off Pi and Requiem for a Dream, he did away with so many elements that had hitherto defined him (though not quite managing to do away with the repeated short cuts and closeups! Not quite!) as he attempted to reimagine the sci-fi genre. It only succeeded to a limited degree, though definite props for the scope, vision and idea behind it.

Jackman... I just think he looks too young for a film where he has to carry emotion through centuries. His face doesn't have the ability to look wizened or craggy. At the end, he still looks young and innocent, and I felt like he should have been so, so much more tired. He does put in a valiant effort, though I think Pitt would have suited it better. Weisz (who I honestly think looks alternately like Kate Winslet and Keira Knightley in everything I see her in) does a very good job as the wife battling cancer who is resigned and content with her fate to die, and channels Natalie Portman in the Star Wars prequels (vomit) as the Spanish queen. The supporting cast is solid (did I mention that Ellen Burstyn is in it? And how I love her? I did? Well, you can't bring her up too often), the film does look a treat (though some of the Mayan sets seem a little false...) and Clint Mansell does another astonishing job with the score. It just didn't quite gel the way I think it was aiming. It's not a write-off, not by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm going to give it 3 stars.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Ho Ho Fucking Ho.

A Not So Silent Night is a concert, or variety show, or something, that takes place around this time every year somewhere in the world, put on ostensibly by Rufus Wainwright, with his sister Martha Wainwright, mother Kate McGarrigle and aunt Anna McGarrigle participating.

Firstly, is this one of the most incredibly musically talented families ever to exist, ever, in the history of forever? Kate and Loudon Wainwright III begat Rufus and Martha. Loudon has since begat Lucy Wainwright Roache. Anna begat Lily Lankin. Loudon’s sister is Sloan. And they’re all fantastic! All but Loudon were present last night. I think...

Onwards. The night was a show to support the Kate McGarrigle Foundation, set up post her cancer diagnosis a few years ago. They booked the Royal Albert Hall, pulled in a bunch of friends (from Boy George to the singer from Elbow to Ed Harcourt (names are from memory...)), and basically made you feel like you were in their enormous living room, watching them fumble through a performance for family and friends devised moments before after a couple of glasses of mulled wine more than strictly necessary.

It was a shambles, but I mean that entirely in a positive way. They’re introduced by Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, they all come on, sing a carol or song or what-have-you together, and then take turns coming up to the front to sing another, in various permutations. So many of them appear to be related somehow, and over the three hours of the show they’re all up there, singing, playing an instrument, dancing, whatever takes their fancy. Rufus and Martha are ducking back and forth to introduce performers when they remember, they’re up the back chatting amongst themselves devising entertaining (to them, and because they seem like such children, entertaining to us) ways of introducing new people. They share anecdotes about their friends on stage and their own christmases together, the sing some more songs… it was a rollicking great time. Really. It was actually like a variety show, but pretty much all music.

Everyone involved was a truly accomplished performer, and they really span the gamut of genres. The McGarrigles are renowned folk performers, Martha and Rufus have done rock, pop, whatever between them, there are opera singers, ballad performers, and never have I seen a banjo so many times on stage. There literally was never a dull moment. The entire audience seemed to be wholeheartedly enjoying and involved in the production. It had, obviously, been rehearsed, at least the musical numbers, and they all knew what they were doing once the notes were played, but the sight of a lone scrambling roadie attempting to set up for each and every song, requiring chairs for some performers, microphones adjusted, guitars on and off stage, it all lent an air of hectic improvisation.

It’s a really hard show to review. Technically, there were problems, but who cares? They were all having so much fun, that it just didn’t matter, because that feeling of fun oozed over to the audience and didn’t let up.

Something I will definitely be looking forward to. They did it last year in the States, so I’m assuming that next year it will probably return there. Could be a good excuse for a December holiday next year, though.

You Can’t Fight In The War Room.

Dr Strangelove, or: how I learnt to stop worrying and love the bomb is one of my favourite Kubrick films. There are a few I still haven’t seen (shame on me), and I do enjoy them all - other favs would include A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket and, yes, Eyes Wide Shut, but if I’m in the mood for something thought provoking but not as confrontational or psychologically disturbing as the other titles mentioned, Strangelove is it.

The film takes place during the Cold War. Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) goes a little cray-cray over the idea of the communists attempting to take over the world using the flouridation of water and instructs a bunch of bombers holding at fail-safe positions just outside of Russian radar cover to drop their atomic loads on their targets, of which they are all no more than two hours away. The idea of how he manages to pull this off is quite complex (considering the President (Peter Sellers) quite rightly mentions that he believed he was the only person with the authority to push the button on nuclear warfare) so I won’t go into it here, but he manages it and it is exceedingly difficult to recall them, especially when Ripper has cut himself off from all outside communication and instructed the men on the base to shoot to kill all who come within 200 yards.

Captain Mandrake (Sellers again), on loan from Britain’s Royal Air Force, provides a comical foil to Ripper’s character, and is ultimately responsible for the recoil of most of the planes - most of them. But it is within the War Room at the Pentagon that most of the narrative takes place, and provides for the majority of the comedy in this very dark film. Through the Russian Ambassador and phone calls to the Russian Premier (which are wildly entertaining - anyone who has seen the film will always remember the initial ‘Hello Dimitri’ conversation and subsequent ‘I’m as sorry as you are, Dimitri!’ interaction) the discovery of the Doomsday Machine (due to be announced on Monday) is found. The Doomsday Machine is automatically triggered upon the detonation of a nuclear weapon on Russian soil, and results in a mammoth amount of nuclear weaponry being unleashed, resulting in fallout that will render the earth’s surface unlivable for about a century.

Peter Sellers earns most of the laughs playing three roles: the President, Mandrake and the eponymous Dr Strangelove, a German advising the US on such things as the Doomsday Machine. His three performances are very funny, and perfectly rendered. And while the film itself is very funny, it is in equal parts quite disturbing. Particularly at the time, I imagine (1963), when the Cold War was in full swing and the threat of nuclear war was keeping people up at night, the possibility of something similar to the Doomsday Machine and the fact that it could be set off by a renegade officer with the right codes and a grudge must have hit very close to home.

It does, however, have a new relevance now, with increasing nuclear powers in such states as North Korea and Iran. Indeed, the invasion of Iraq being, in policy at least to begin with, about weapons of mass destruction, the film brings these same feelings up in the minds of the modern viewers. With the ‘civilised’ Western world holding a massive amount of nuclear arsenal in case of these nations developing their own, you do end up with a stand-off - if you use yours, we’ll use ours. No sane mind could really want to unleash nuclear war, but with diplomatic relations souring and sanctions imposed, do people really have that much to lose? Like all good wars (where religion plays a part), your own immediate safety is mitigated by the belief that you’re going to win. Unlike previous wars, we’re dealing with weapons capable of not only wiping out hundreds of thousands of people in an instant, but causing such environmental devastation as to truly destroy the world.

By housing this in a comedy, Kubrick has done exceptionally well, providing an in-point for everyone watching. The closing images of exploding nuclear warheads are almost beautiful, especially with the accompanying soundtrack - something that in itself is terrifying. (And is it just me, or do others think that the mushroom clouds of exploding atomic bombs is really aesthetically pleasing? I don’t like thinking it, but they’re kind of pretty, if you ignore their explicitly deadly nature, no?)

It’s probably the scariest comedy I’ve ever seen, and made scarier by the comedy. This is a serious issue, people! We shouldn’t be laughing about it! But when you’re not laughing, in a situation such as this, all that is left is to cry, and that’s not going to get us anywhere, is it?

5 stars. Sellers’ incarnations are sublime, the rest of the casting is spot on, and with lines like it has you just can’t go wrong.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Boy Oh Boy.

I just listened to Boy Lilikoi properly for the first time and, my word, I'm excited for Go next year. Seriously. Go here, subscribe, download it, click on the letters on the website for samples of other songs.

If I could be any more in love, I now am.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009


... to this, via here and thanks for it, comes this:

It's gratuitous posting of pretty people, but I'm not ashamed.

I'm also back from Iceland, so I'm going to hit the ground running tomorrow with a few films over a few days, so we can ease off of random pictures of Brad Pitt half naked. Sad in some ways, happy in others.

Also, watch out for my word on A Not So Silent Night, which I'm seeing tomorrow here in ol' London. I have high hopes. Please don't disappoint me, Rufus.

Be Still...

Charlie Hunnam and Brad Pitt involving themselves in the same project? It's like a wet dream in 35mm.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Hot On The Heels...

Comes this little update from

jónsi’s debut solo album “go” will be released march 22nd 2010 in europe, march 23rd in usa. the album contains nine songs, most of which are sung in english, and was co-produced by jónsi, alex somers and peter katis (the national, interpol). jónsi will be embarking on an extensive world tour throughout 2010, of which more information will be annonced later.

“go” initally began as a low-key acoustic record, but, according to jónsi, “somewhere along the line it just sort of exploded”. the result is a joyful and dramatic album, featuring ecstatic string, brass and woodwind arrangements by composer nico muhly (antony & the johnsons, grizzly bear), as well as warmer, more melancholic moments.

This comes hot on the heels of his release of Riceboy Sleeps with Alex earlier this year, and amid rumour that the boys are recording for a new sigur rós album due for release next year.

How excited am I? About sixteen thousand exciteds out of ten. Check here.

When In Reykjavik...

There's something to be said for listening to a song in the country where the artist hails from. This, I think, is true of all music, but I find it particularly true of Sigur Rós.

I first came to Iceland in early July of 2006. One of the main reasons I decided to make the (at the time) very expensive addition to the end of a six month jaunt around (much cheaper) eastern Europe was because of my love for 1) Björk and 2) (probably more significantly) Sigur Rós. That would have been about a year after the release of Takk... if my memory serves me correctly.

The meaning of their music first came through for me when traveling along the south coast of Iceland in a bus over the course of a summer day (meaning about 23 hours of sunlight) from Reykjavik to a little place called Vagnsstaðir, nothing more than a hostel at the foot of a glacier just near the coast, right off the Ring Road. The trip (which did take the better part of a traditional day) carried me over lava fields, past waterfalls, alongside meadows, to rivers full of icebergs and across a virtually treeless landscape with glimpses of ice and the sun beating down the entire time. I was listening to all of Sigur Rós' albums - von, ágætis byrjun, () and takk...

Going through that landscape (which is really incredibly surreal - it is unlike anything I have ever seen, mushed together into one place) listening to that music it struck me that the music sounds how the country looks, it feels how the country feels. They are brothers in arms, they coexist peacefully but I couldn't imagine one without the other. They are the perfect complement to themselves. It is, in a word, right.

This trip has been somewhat more urban, and shorter. Ultimately here as friends from Oz are passing through, I have stuck fairly exclusively to Reykjavik, with the exception of the obligatory Blue Lagoon trip (and how fabulous that obligation is.) There is very little daylight at this time of year (only a few hours separate sunrise from sunset) so the day trips out are harder to squeeze in. Plus, I've seen a lot of it before and seeing the country is not my primary purpose - it is seeing these specific people, an important distinction to make. I have found myself listening again to their earlier albums, but of course they have also since released með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, something I feel is quite a departure from the majority of their back catalogue, especially within tracks such as gobbledigook and inní mér syngur vitleysingur. It is entirely more upbeat and lighthearted for the most part (not that I would classify their earlier recordings as at all depressing or down, simply that the latest leans more into a category that could be defined 'pop') and I think it fits better this urban setting that I have been in for these last few days. It lifts pervasive darkness and removes you from what could otherwise be a very cold, depressing existence. Last night, whilst standing by the water's edge in a freezing cold wind at midnight, the tinny sounds of the first two tracks of their latest record blaring from a friends iPhone got us all dancing around and singing, despite the stinging feeling in my fingers and growing numbness of my face.

Iceland is, to me, this band, and this band is Iceland. My only true regret is that I have not yet managed to find Jónsi and put him in my bag to take him home as my ultimate future husband.

Kiddie Porn.

How's that for an attention grabbing headline?

But seriously. Taylor Lautner. Being used as a major marketing hook for the most recent Twilight. Pushed out there in all his buff glory. He's a child. He's seventeen! I understand that the target market for this film may be teenage girls, but the rest of the world is watching as well. They're watching, they're perving, they're lusting, and he's seventeen. It's close to eighteen, he's almost legal, surely he's close enough, right?

It baffles me that this is all ok when people create such a do about fifteen year old models wearing clothes on catwalks. That a film like Ken Park can be banned in Australia for depicting underage sex (between actors who are, actually, of age) when, arguably, they are sexualised to a far lesser degree than Lautner is in this film. Why must he be built (he put on 30 pounds of muscle or something for the role), buff (his body is spectacular, when you move away from the fact that he is, in the eyes of the law, pretty much a child) and waxed to within an inch of his life. Why does he need to be so highly manicured and manipulated to be this idea of perfection? What does that add to the character? What does it add to the film, other than fangirl (and fanboy) hysteria pushing the film up by another $100mil? It's a bottom-line requirement, and doesn't that effectively make it akin to kiddie porn? Really? Sure, he's not 10, but there's not a great deal of room for distinction - it's a black and white world we live in.

I guess the argument could be made that the film is an allegory pertaining to abstinence, and that by making him such an attractive being in such a sexual way it is promoting quite the opposite of carnal knowledge. Yes, he's attractive, but we shouldn't fuck him because he's a werewolf and therefore we should abstain. At least until we're married (though isn't he too young to marry?) So his sexual power is just another temptation against which we must rail in order that we may create glory to... that big man in the sky.

I don't buy it. He's seventeen. End of story. Sure, craft Robert Pattinson into a sex symbol. He's at least 23, even if I don't get the attraction. But don't deliberately manufacture a symbol who is this young. It's exactly the same as walking a girl down a runway with a see-through blouse. Worse, I'd argue, because this film is going to be seen by a hell of a lot more people than snaps of the latest Prada collection, or whatever. Most people will only see that girl's photos when the news makes a big deal about it. Everyone, everyone will see Taylor Lautner with his shirt off at some stage. And everyone will feel a rustling in their loins. And everyone over the age of eighteen should be ashamed of that.

I'd post a picture to illustrate, but I think that would be the ultimate hypocrisy. If you google him you'll find the pictures in nanoseconds.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Who Likes Short Shorts?

Wham. So, The Cat Piano, by the terrific peeps at the People's Republic of Animation out of Adelaide, made the Short Animation Oscar shortlist a while back - well done kids.

Then, just announced, the Short Live Action Oscar shortlist, featuring not one, but two Australian shorts - The Ground Beneath by Rene Hernandez, and Luke Doolan's Miracle Fish. Surely, out of those three, one of them should at least get a nod. I mean, there are only ten on the live action shortlist, though there are fifteen on the animation shortlist. And The Cat Piano is well loved, I understand.

Throw into the mix the fact that a number of pundits are throwing Samson & Delilah into the mix for Foreign Language film (the shortlist hasn't yet been announced, I don't believe), and Bright Star is still out there hanging on by the skin of its teeth, and there could be a number of Oz productions, instead of just the standard slew of Oz talent working on overseas shoots (hello Dion Beebe - hot again for Nine I believe.) Actually, looking at the Cinematography race is interesting. Greig Fraser is in there for Bright Star, Beebe for Nine, and Andrew Lesnie could come through for The Lovely Bones, giving three Aussies a shot in that category - why is it that we're so freaking good at cinematography?

That is all.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Respect The Delicate Ecology Of Your Delusions.

What a great line.

I mentioned very recently that I am greatly affected by the length of films. That I have a short attention span and I can often struggle to sit through longer films. This was in relation to La Dolce Vita. I also mentioned that I had recently watched Angels In America, the five and a half hour HBO miniseries from 2003 (which I'm counting as two films for the purposes of my 365 day challenge. Bite me.) I brought that up because I actually watched the first five and a half hours in one sitting, only stopping because it was getting quite late, I was quite tired and I had to be awake early the next day to run errands and prepare for my imminent Icelandic departure. I didn't want to stop watching, and I almost kept going regardless, to hell with sensibility. But in the end logic prevailed.

Angels In America must have one of the best casts assembled for a television event in recent memory. Count 'em. Meryl Streep. Emma Thompson. Al Pacino. Patrick Wilson. Mary-Louise Parker. Justin Kirk. Jeffrey Wright. Ben Shenkman. James Cromwell. Michael Gambon. And directed by Mike Nichols (The Graudate, Silkwood, Closer - many others.)

Based on the play, Angels In America takes place in the early and deadliest days of the AIDS crisis in America, in the mid-1980s. Prior Walter (Kirk) has the most screen time, I guess making him the lead. In a relationship with Louis (Shenkman) for four and half years, he is now quickly dying of AIDS (well, AIDS-related illnesses, but let's keep it simple.) Louis can't handle it and abandons him, leaving him to his suffering and delusions - and possibly a visit from an angel (Emma Thompson, in one of her various roles in the production.)

Meanwhile, Roy Cohn (Pacino) is a high-flying lawyer also dying of AIDS - or liver cancer as he'd prefer it to be known publicly. He is alone because he has nobody in his life - he has pushed everyone aside. He is a hard-arsed son of a bitch who has pissed off so many people - though he has managed to remain within the affections of closeted Mormon Joe (Wilson), whom Roy has taken under his wing, presumably hoping to get a little rumpy-pumpy out of it. Joe is naive, and struggling with a wife, Harper (Parker), who is addicted to valium and suffers from her own delusions. He takes long walks through Central Park, watching the men have sex in the trees but too afraid to participate - for now. Eventually, with Harper's mind and his marriage disintegrating, he enters into a relationship with the guilty and devastated Louis - his first gay encounter. (Following? There's more.)

Binding these stories together are Belize (Wright, reprising his award-winning turn in the original Broadway production), who is Prior's best friend and nurse to Roy. A strange, disgusted respect brews for Roy, while his anger for Louis shows through loud and proud - like everything else about him. He looks after Prior when Louis runs off, and is involved in the eventual hunting down of Joe by Prior - Belize knows Joe through Joe's visits to Roy in hospital whilst Belize is taking care. In addition, Joe's mother Hannah (Streep) has come to New York from Salt Lake City after Joe calls her at 4am, drunk and in Central Park, to come out to her. She is there to take care of Harper and Joe, despite the fact that Joe has run off to be with Louis, but ends up in a confrontation with Prior that sees her taking him to hospital and experiencing another of his visits from the Angel of America (that's Thompson, for those not keeping up.)

It's an extraordinarily interlinked and finely woven tapestry of screen production. I always find modern representations of the AIDS crisis important (especially ones so well received as this one) as I think current generations don't truly understand the gravity of the disease and how ravaging it really is. Like Holding The Man (the stage play and the book), it is an entertaining and thought-provoking look at what really happened back then, when people didn't really know what was going on, when there was so much fear about what the syndrome was all about, when the stigma attached to homosexuality was still so strong. Philadephia may have brought that out into the open a little more back in the mid-90s, but it is always well worth being reminded.

And reminded how. This is an incredible almost-six hours of television marvel. Streep, Wright, Thompson, Shenkman and Kirk all play multiple roles (apparently in much the same way as in the stage productions), and do it brilliantly. It is overly melodramatic. It is overly stylised. But it is all entirely perfect. Every detail included in the production fit, because for the most part we're not dealing with reality. We're dealing with visions and delusions and insanity a lot of the time. We're dealing with prophets and messengers. We're dealing with heaven and earth. We're crossing faiths, races, genders, sexualities. It is so finely twined, but perfectly understandably so. It's easy to understand (a lot easier than I'm sure my run-down above was) but never simplistic. It tackles issues that needs to be tackled head on. I can only imagine what the reception for the play was back in the early 90s, when the crisis was still going strong.

But the film doesn't really preach, in so many words. Its themes and morals are definitely worn on its sleeve, but it's more about the people and the stories and their arcs and what they go through individually and together. It is entirely human, even as it delves into the supernatural. Even the angels are flawed. Hope and salvation doesn't, here, come from above, but is reliant on the deeds of those on the ground - who are for the most part reluctant, wanting just to go on as they were without causing trouble.

It's beautiful and amazing. That's all I have to say. I could watch it again and again. I can't recommend it highly enough. See it. See it all. 5 stars.

I Swear I Didn't See Anything...

Is it just me, or is Peter Weir one of the greatest directors ever to walk the face of the earth, ever? The number of times I have gone into his films expecting to be disappointed only to be amazed. Similar to Jane Campion, I guess, though I think Peter Weir brings home the better bacon time and time again. The Truman Show - didn't think I'd really rate it, but did in a big way. Master And Commander - expected crap, but was noisily impressed.

He seems to pull in people you may not expect greatness from (Jim Carrey springs to mind, and I liked Russell Crowe much more than I think I ever have in his Weir turn) and then make them brilliant. And films that might otherwise sound a bit naff, he turns them around and creates cinematic masterpieces from. From Gallipoli (has a closing frame ever been so impacting?) to Dead Poets Society to Picnic At Hanging Rock to his latest, Master And Commander. He's a man of not too many films but quite a lot of brilliance.

Witness, interestingly, received much awards attention, but isn't by any means my favourite of his films. I don't know what would be my favourite (there are a few that come to mind, but I couldn't choose between them), but it definitely wouldn't be this one. And I don't really understand the praise heaped on Harrison Ford for his role as Detective John Book. He just looked like Harrison Ford doing pretty much what Harrison Ford does (can I say Harrison Ford again this post? Yes. Harrison Ford.)

Don't get me wrong, I don't think it was a bad film. I thought it was a good film. I just didn't think it was a great film.

The film centres around the murder of an undercover narcotics officer witnessed by a young Amish lad, Samuel (played by Lukas Haas - another child actor grown up good) whilst he is en route with his mother to visit his aunt. Harrison Ford (there we are again. Harrison Ford.) plays the aforementioned Det. Book, assigned to investigate the murder. It quickly turns out that this murder goes to the top, involved much corruption, and means that Samuel, his mother and Book are all in danger of losing their lives. Naturally, they retire to an Amish community to hide. Hilarity of course ensues as Book tries to fit in as Amish, despite the fact that the world he comes from is entirely different. The inevitable love story between Book and Samuel's mother Rachel (Kelly McGillis) swims along nicely despite all obstacles standing in their ways (like the fact that Book isn't, in fact Amish, carries a gun and swears a fair bit.) It all plays very nice and Hollywood.

I think that's my primary issue with this film when compared to Weir's other films. His others do conform to a lot of Hollywood necessities, but they always manage to go above and beyond them at the same time to create something a little different, a little special. Witness didn't really seem to achieve that. It played to me like a fish out of water romantic drama. Yes, it was acted well, even by Ford - roles like this fit him like a glove - and it looked nice, but it just didn't stand out. I feel that in five years time I'll remember that I've seen it but very little else.

It was fun to play 'spot Viggo Mortensen' in his first film role. And it was an otherwise enjoyable film. 3 stars. I'm looking forward to Weir's next film The Way Back, with Colin Farrell and Saoirse Ronan. Very interested to see it when it (hopefully) releases next year.


I’m going to put it out there at the beginning: I’ve never been a big Coen Brothers fan. Maybe I came to them at the wrong time - I don’t think I really saw one of their films until my late, late teens, and I started with their later films and worked backwards, so maybe there is a narrative arc I have missed. Either way, the only film of theirs that I recall truly liking from start to finish was Fargo. No Country For Old Men I thought was good for the most part, but I came out of it feeling patronised by it - I felt that the film thought it was better than the audience, regardless of who they were. This is a problem I have felt with most of their films that I have seen - it's like, by the time the end has come around, the films have become tricky for the sake of being tricky just to prove to those watching that they are one step ahead, and to be damned with connection.

Having said that, The Big Lebowski is such a big cult film. Everyone (other than me, until a few days ago) has seen it. Everyone seems to love it. Except me.

I was hoping for something grab my funny areas like Fargo did. I was hoping to laugh. Actually, I think that’s the killer. I wanted to laugh, and I don’t think I really did at all. Maybe I watched it too late. Maybe this kind of stoner movie has now been done to death (I will recognise this as better than most other stoner movies I’ve seen, though I should also note that I have seen very few) and if I’d seen it a decade ago I would have a different appreciation for it. But really, I had no sympathy for the Dude. I just wanted to slap him in the face and tell him to pull himself together.

I’m getting ahead of myself. The Big Lebowski centres around a case of mistaken identity. Jeff Bridges plays Dude Lebowski, whose real name (though no one addresses him by it) is Jeffrey. There is another Jeffrey Lebowski (the ‘Big’ Lebowski of the title), an apparent millionaire businessman whose wife has gotten herself into a fairly significant debt. Thugs and fraud ensue, and the Dude gets mixed up in it in an attempt to receive a pay off.

The Dude doesn’t have a job. He just bowls, and drinks white russians, and smokes pot. He wants this as an easy pay day. And I just. Don’t. Get. How that is funny. He cocks up again and again, and it doesn’t strike me as funny. It seems a little pathetic to me. Sure, he was admirably portrayed by Bridges, but when you don’t have a great deal of sympathy for the character it’s similarly hard to respect the performance.

The bright spot for me was Julianne Moore’s role as The Big Lebowski’s estranged daughter Maude. As in Fargo, where my favourite was Frances McDormand’s character, the supporting female role does seem the most interesting. Yes, she is heavily caricatured, but she has the most hysterical mannerisms and lines. Moore plays her perfectly. I love Julianne Moore. And it’s nice to see her play comic - I don’t think she does it enough.

The big killer for me with this film was the fact that I didn’t think it was funny, and it needed to ride off its laughs (it is a comedy, after all), so that, for me, is a massive failure. I may be the only person in the word who doesn’t particularly like it, but then again I didn’t like No Country or O Brother, Where Art Thou? either, and most people seem to like them.

Look, I didn’t find the film terrible. I watched it all, and I never felt like killing myself to get it over with. I wanted more, but I did get enough from it to not want to slander it endlessly. I’d even watch it again, though mostly to make sure I’m not missing something. Maybe if I were drunk it would hit me a little more. One day, maybe, I’ll revisit. In the meantime, I’m going to lay on a lonely 2 stars.