Monthly Archives: September, 2011

Worth Watching September 2011

Worth Watching:

  • Easy A (2010), Will Gluck – A high school set, reflexive sorta-adapation of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. A teenage girl is emboldened by her decision to lie about having sex with people. The main character is a little uneven. At times sweet, at times uber-bitch & the tone is occasionally a little cringe worthy. But the incredible cast gets it over the line. Emma Stone is excellent in the main role; plus Amanda Bynes, Lisa Kudrow, Thomas Hayden Church and of course the great Stanley Tucci.
  • Kokoda Front Line (1942), Ken G. Hall – Short Aussie wartime doco that won our first Oscar. Documents the militiamen fighting along Kokoda. A piece of propaganda ramming home the reality of how close the war was to Australia. Great historical document with some awesome footage. But the overt racism of the time does jar badly today. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the whole film in decent quality, so here is the first half:

  • Griff the Invisible (2010), Leon Ford – An Aussie superhero flick with a difference, riffing on Hitchcock, “The Invisible Man” and the burgeoning superhero genre. A shy, bullied guy hides behind a spandex costume to rid the city of crime. Finds his equal in a woman who tries to walk through walls. This is a really nice, unconventional love story served well by Ryan Kwanteen and Maeve Dermody who are both excellent.
  • True Grit (2010), Joel & Ethan Coen – This remake runs a little closer to the book, and features a lot of clever, subtle updates from the original film. Matt ‘I’m a Texas Ranger’ Damon is clearly having a lot of fun here. I don’t think Jeff Bridges is any John Wayne, but in any case it’s Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie who carries the film. She is utterly fantastic, giving one of the performances of the year in an exciting Western.
  • The Green Lantern (2011), Martin Campbell – This was one of the year’s more maligned releases, and I’m not exactly sure why. It is quite the visual spectacle, and features a lot of sci-fi, elements rather than standard comic book fare. It is overlong, but Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively manage not to get on my nerves. Here’s hoping a sequel means we see a whole lot more of the always awesome Mark Strong.
  • The Guard (2011), John Michael McDonagh – Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle in a buddy cop comedy. Says it all really. Great action and a ton of interesting characters. Foul mouthed and funny, manna from heaven after all the shit, unfunny comedy films I’ve watched this year. Actually so far this is the year’s funniest, and one of its best.
  • Paul (2011), Greg Mottola – This wavered at the start for me with Pegg & Frost’s witty banter being a little annoying. However the injection of Jason Bateman as a government agent and the awesomely special effect rendered Paul (voiced by Seth Rogan) ups the pace and the enjoyment. Turns into an odd couple (foursome?) road trip across the States. Shame the ‘Thou shalt not be a Christian’ hammerfists get a bit heavy at the end.
  • Pina (2011), Wim Wenders – The first essential experience of this 3D generation is part dance performance, part performance film, part doco and part requiem. The 3D greatly enhances the experience and spectacle of this film, instead of detracting from it like it usually does. A must see.
  • The Reef (2010), Andrew Traucki – Cracking little Aussie cast deliver a taut shark thriller. The masterstroke is using footage of real sharks which combines with the ocean’s vastness to heighten the realism and tension to, at times, barely tolerable levels. This is fierce and intense, at times brilliantly filmed (the initial capsize springs to mind) thriller. Catch it in the comfort of your own home.
  • Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010), Werner Herzog – The burgeoning ‘New German Cinema directed 3D documentary’ subgenre continues its surge unabated. The images of the incredible rock art of the Chauvet Cave in France are awe inspiring, and enhanced by the 3D which perfectly shows the contours of the cave. Like all the best of Herzog’s non-fiction this is half meditation, half ramble. Capped off by a wonderful postscript about albino crocodiles which I loved (but you may hate). One gripe – the 3D was a little dicky in my screening especially in talking head scenes where the background seemed out of focus. Not sure if anyone else has had this issue, may have just been the cinema I saw it in.
  • Tears of the Black Tiger (2000), Wisit Sasanatieng – A schlocky Pad Thai western, in fact an over the top hyperwestern. Horribly hammy acting and lurid colours all add to the effect. Unfortunately the intensity can’t be maintained, with the flashbacks lagging. Ultimately though the schlock, and a nicely melodramatic love story make this a pretty original way to spend a couple of hours.
  • Burke & Hare (2010), John Landis – John Landis! He of American Werewolf fame is back behind the camera. This is about as dark as a comedy gets. Dark as in humour in body disposal, mutilation, grave robbing and mass murder. Landis for his part brings fun sound design and period visuals. Pegg is good, but Andy Serkis stars as a desperately broke but entrepreneurial guy. Fun.

Not Worth Watching:

  • The Beautiful Washing Machine (2004), James Lee – A strange, strange film. A man decides to buy an old trade in washing machine rather than a new model. This is a very slow recounting of what appears to be the female spirit that emerges from the machine. She is a manifestation of the deepest desires of those who see her. This ends up resulting in her endless exploitation, reaching its nadir in one of the most distasteful rape scenes I’ve had to endure. So nauseatingly slow and nonsensical that it is difficult to care about anything going on here.
  • The Change-Up (2011), David Dobkin – This film features baby poo, a close-up of a baby’s arse farting & a man getting his mouth shat in. And that’s just the first scene. One of the crasser releases of recent times which trots out the incredibly tired ‘body swap’ storyline. In this film all it facilitates is men treating women like shit, treating kids like shit and carrying out what is apparently every man’s dream – to commit adultery. All the while being wholly unfunny.
  • Sepet (2004), Yasmin Ahmad – This is a Malaysian romance with seemingly pretty low production values. The early relationship is awkward melodrama. Eyes first meet, gazes lock and the music suddenly stops, that kind of awkward melodrama. Too many attempted comments on race and colonisation detract from the central love story, and an obvious ending does not help matters either.

If you only have time to watch one Pina 3D

Avoid at all costs The Change-Up

 

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Brando Goes West

Marlon Brando is one of film history’s most iconic stars. When you think of him you may think of his iconic early work in films such as in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Julius Caesar (1953), On the Waterfront (1954), or as Superman’s old man, or most likely as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972). You probably do not envisage him as a gunslinger in a Western. But that is exactly what he is in One Eyed Jacks (1961). Not only that, he also directs, taking over from Stanley Kubrick who was originally slated for the gig.

The film opens with Brando’s Rio involved in a bank heist with his partner Dad Longworth in Mexico. Dad betrays the Kid which leads to Brando’s character spending five long years in a Mexican jail before escaping. Once he does so, the Kid only has one thing on his mind – revenge. This whole early Mexico-set section is extremely exhilarating, with a lot of gunslinging style action. Of course once Rio tracks Longworth down, things get a little complicated. Firstly by the fact that Longworth is now the local sheriff in Monterey California and Rio and his new mates have their hopes set on robbing the local bank. Secondly, and more importantly, because Longworth now has a gorgeous stepdaughter who Brando’s character has an immediate connection with. The murder of a beloved stepfather is generally not the way to a lady’s heart. The setup is brilliant, and the film’s rather lengthy running time (two hours and twenty minutes) allows time to explore all the possible narrative ramifications fully.

Thematically this film is extremely dense for a genre piece such as a Western. The film is all about justice; how it should be administered, miscarriages of it and how to respond when you do not get it. There is an early explicit reference to the scales of justice which make this clear. This exploration of justice morphs into something much more. Whilst the notion of a hero having to choose between the girl and an act of violent vengeance is not an original one, this handles it really interestingly. Rio has mulled over getting back at Longworth for five long years. Not only that, the Sheriff gives him many a reason throughout the film to deserve a good slapping. And underpinning all of this is the broadest of themes, one that underpins most films and certainly a vast majority of genre film – good vs. evil and the many shades of grey in between. This all feeds into one pertinent phrase of the Rio’s as he justifies what he intends to do to Longworth: “It ain’t murder, that’s just standing up”.

Brando’s central performance in this film is incredible, illustrating why he is considered one of the greatest film actors of all. If there is an actor with better delivery than him, I have not seen them. He makes you feel every word and every emotion, from seething to heartfelt. The dialogue in the film is excellent, none of the cringeworthiness often associated with the genre. There is plenty of ‘tough talk’ between the cowboys, which is where the cringe usually comes in, but here it is both well written and especially well delivered. The audience is made to feel that these are some truly tough blokes who would have no qualms about taking the course of action they threaten. Brando is not alone in delivering a fine performance though and he is especially well supported by Karl Malden as Dad Longworth. The first meeting between the two after Rio escapes from jail is extremely tense, and the two fine actors keep the audience right on edge about how events are going to play out. Malden’s Longworth also grows into quite the arch villain by the end of the film. For much of the film it is difficult to read the character’s intentions, but when he goes full tilt bad guy, it is great to watch and offers the perfect foil for Brando’s brooding Rio. Also massive credit to Pina Pellicer as Rio’s love interest Louisa. The love story subplot is well handled and offers a big shot of emotion to a film that could have been too rough and tumble without it. With a poorer actress than Pellicer filling the role, this part of the film would not have been as engaging and would have brought the whole film down with it.

Not only does this film show off Brando’s well known acting skills, it also proves that he was a very fine and very clever director. There are a number of sequences which show this starkly. The first of these comes early on in a big set piece on a mountain where Rio and Dad battle the Federales. It would have been hard for a novice director not to get carried away, but the epic scenery of the desert hills are balanced well with the close in shooting and fighting. In fact the whole film shows that Brando is adept at shooting fight scenes, with some good hand to hand combat in the necessary barroom brawls. The other big set piece that shows Brando’s skill behind the camera sees his Rio being publicly whipped painfully and embarrassingly. The camera starts head on to Brando which makes the whipping look incredibly realistic and painful. The shot is then alternated with close-ups of both Rio’s face, and Dad’s who is doling out the punishment. This allows the gamut of emotions to be shown from Rio’s pain and embarrassment to the the joy and release that Dad is getting from the turn of events. Based on the evidence on display here it is disappointing that Brando would never direct another film after this one.

This is an unforgiving and dare I say it masculine film which is right up there with my absolute favourite Westerns. I’m talking Stagecoach (1939) and Shane (1953) level quality. This is widely available so if you are looking for a cracking Western, or even just an incredible Marlon Brando performance you have not seen, you cannot go past this.

Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter

Progress: 40/1001

Luckily, as with many great films of yesteryear, this can be watched in decent quality, for free on Youtube. Check it out here:

The Road to Rio #3: A Thousand Mile Journey…

As the far too oft repeated Lao Tzu proverb states “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. Well the Socceroos have just taken the first two major steps along the road to Rio. Let’s check out how they did.

Australia’s first qualifier came at home against Thailand in Brisbane on 6 September. In short the Socceroos turned in a woeful performance. In my longwinded review of the squad (here: bit.ly/qSBile) I expressed concern that the Aussies would be too tempted by the presence of Josh Kennedy to resist the temptation of the long ball. I also expressed confidence that the team, under the guidance of Osieck were too clever to do such a thing. I was wrong. Whether through poor tactical direction, or the players not listening, Socceroos fans were treated to a miserable exhibition of cross it to the tall dude at all costs football. I only caught the first half of the game (listened to most of the second on radio) so here are my thoughts on what I did see.

There is nothing wrong with crossing the ball in attack obviously. The issue is quality. The Socceroos, in the parts of the game I saw, did not care about where they crossed the ball from, just as long as they did cross it. Crosses were flying in from halfway, from players under pressure, just from wherever the Aussies could pull them. No player, no matter how good they are at heading the ball (and Kennedy and Cahill are bloody good) can score from woeful delivery. What was even more worrying was how the Aussies were not able to adapt when their Plan A was clearly failing miserably. There was endless bombing of the ball to the front two, when the ball needs to be worked into quality position before delivering the cross. Kennedy toiled hard, but just could not work with what he was given. Timmy Cahill was strangely out of sort with his heading game for some reason.

The Thais took the lead in the first half with a goal that game from a deadly counter attack. However the goal was heavily aided from a poor turnover and some shit marking from Lucas Neill. From what I heard of the second half, the Socceroos play picked up somewhat, but not entirely. Matt McKay got more involved from the left back position. The decision from Osieck to start McKay at left back was a strange one I feel. The game got extremely tense as the Aussies searched hard for a second goal that was a very important one, even at this early stage of the qualification campaign. It eventually came when Alex Brosque slotted home a scrambling effort. As far as individual performances go, it is hard to identify anyone who really showered themselves with glory in the match. Matthew Spiranovic who got the start ahead of Sasa Ognenovski did well. Neil Kilkenny got a start as well, but unfortunately was a bit of a non-entity in the game. I really do not think that the holding midfield one suits him. It does not allow him to impose his passing game on the other team because he is too overburdened with defensive responsibility. Even worse was Brett Holman. This was the bad ol’ Holman; the one that everyone thought should not be in the team. His performance was exceptionally poor, especially his distribution which was frankly rubbish.

This game was simply a case of the Socceroos getting out of jail. It happened a few times in the previous campaign, and in itself one horrid performance is not something to panic about. It would all be about how the team rebounded in the next game.

It is not easy getting out of bed at 3:25am on a work day to watch a game when the previous performance was so miserable. I would hazard a guess that the team may have been feeling similar actually. The journey between games involved something like 5 flights, and with precious few days separating the matches the fatigue would have been high merely through the travel. Add to this the fact that it was about 40 degrees when the game kicked off in Dammam and you could be forgiven for being a little sceptical about how the Socceroos would fare.

Osieck tweaked the line-up somewhat. Brett Holman moved forward to partner Josh Kennedy in attack with Tim Cahill relegated to the bench. Sasa Ognenovski got the start in central defence with Spiranovic moving to the bench. But probably tyhe morst significant change was the choice to bring Michael Zullo into the starting line-up at left back. Firstly because it allowed Matt McKay to move further up the park into left midfield where he was able to be much more involved and was one of the Aussies top three players. And secondly because Zullo himself was for me, the man of the match. Aside from giving away the penalty which was admittedly a little clumsy, but not too bad, he was exceptional. Especially at the start of the second half when he tore the Saudis apart with his forays forward. For me, this performance secured his spot in the Socceroos first choice XI.

The difference in performance was extremely stark. There were not the endless crosses from horrible spots. Indeed there were very few if any crosses at all until the forty minute mark. Then Luke Wilkshere floats the ball in beautifully, and importantly from a quality position and Kennedy shows just what he can do with decent ball with a phenomenal header into the bottom left corner. Josh Kennedy is a finisher, and the Aussies need to work out how best to utilise him so we can keep him in the side. Whilst his second goal was largely due to some fantastic hard-running work from Brett Holman in the stifling heat, and some atrocious goalkeeping, the assured finish from Kennedy was nothing short of world class. Speaking of Holman, he looked a whole lot better than in the Thailand game. He was fast, dangerous and importantly passing well. A Socceroos midfield featuring himself and Matty McKay on song is an improved one. Was great to see McKay and Zullo linking up well down the left. They both ran all day and Zullo’s defence shredding runs almost set up a couple of Aussie goals as the Saudis could not handle his pace. A nice piece of play by Saudis and Zullo a little clumsily clipping the Saudi attacker led to a Saudi penalty. It was extra unfortunate because in reality Schwarzer was about to mop up the loose ball. Unfortunately Schwarzer’s initial save rebounded straight back to the penalty taker who slotted home the crumbs. The 3-1 scoreline was rounded out a little later when the Aussies won a penalty of their own and it was converted by the perfect penalty from Wilkshire. Absolutely unstoppable.

So the upshot of all of this? One of the Socceroos worst performances of recent times, and one of their most impressive. Perhaps more importantly, Australia stands atop the standings with six points, three ahead already of second place Thailand. From a sheer results perspective, things could not be looking any better. As Pim Verbeek should be able to tell you though, results aren’t everything. Here’s hoping they turn in another performance like they put on the Saudis when they face Oman at home on 11 October, in a game I will hopefully be attending.

Guns, girls and explosions … big explosions!

After spending much of the last week writing an essay on wanky academic theories and their relation to the aesthetics and ideology of a short, digital Malaysian documentary, I was definitely in need of a chance of place. So I turned to the action film. They flood cinemas every year bringing a tide of teenage boys and generally a lack of favourable critical opinion. But a well made action film can be filmmaking at its most exhilarating. So here I check out three which feature in the 1001, suggesting they rise above the average masses.

Beverly Hills Cop (1984) is brought to you by Jerry Bruckheimer, the producing purveyor of seemingly endless piles of crap such as Black Hawk Down (2001), Pearl Harbour (2001), Prince of Persia (2010) and much more. It also stars Eddie Murphy who, if you’ve only been into movies the last 5 or 10 years, is generally not the bearer of good tidings. To round out the seemingly all bad tidings, this is an ‘action-comedy’. When was the last time you saw one of those that you enjoyed. Recent ‘stellar’ examples of the subgenre include Rush Hour (1998) and Cop Out (2010), the latter not even managing to secure a cinema release at least in Australia.

But there is a reason this film is so iconic. That reason is Eddie Murphy’s lead performance as fish out of water Detroit cop Axel Foley, who travels to Beverly Hills to try and find out the truth about his best mates death. He brings a motormouth energy to his performance, that delivered by any other actor would have been downright annoying. But he is in top form in this film, basically carrying the entire picture. The enigmatic Axel obviously clashes with the police establishment in straight laced Beverly Hills, and it is these clashes that deliver many of the film’s comedic highlights. Murphy is ably assisted by basically every other aspect of the production. The dialogue is snappy throughout, there is one fantastic chase sequence involving a truck, the supporting cast headed by Judge Reinhold is engaging and the pop stylings of the soundtrack are well judged. The film does occasionally show its age, such as in some of they poorly staged close-up fight scenes, but generally you will be too busy enjoying Murphy’s dynamite performance to particularly care about any of the shortcomings.

According to the 1001 book, Sylvester Stallone was initially considered for the role Murphy ended up playing. We can all be thankful for the change in casting. If the comedy aspects of the film were attempted by Sly, this would have been cringeworthy while stripping those comedic elements away would have left a pretty stock standard police film. Luckily though, Murphy got the gig, and audiences got an 80s classic.

Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny

If any film is the archetype of the mainstream American action flick, it is surely the Bruce Willis vehicle Die Hard (1988). Just like Beverly Hills Cop, this film features at its centre a tyro of a lead performance. As out of town cop John McClane, Willis is a ball of unrestrained masculinity, a one man wrecking machine who singlehandedly takes on hordes of foreign terrorists when they take over the skyscraper containing his ex-wife on Christmas Eve. The winning back of the ex adds a nice little extra layer to a decidedly thin storyline. But hell, when you have Bruce Willis, who needs a proper narrative. Without Willis, the film would not work anywhere near as well. He is that rare breed of actor who looks good in a singlet, and also doesn’t look utterly stupid when muttering the multitude of pithy one-liners this film calls for.

One of the other things this film has got going for it is the setting. A skyscraper is the kind of ‘closed-room’ setting that Agatha Christie would have had a field day with. The sense of claustrophobia and lack of options for escape is really well conveyed and this enhances the sense that the only option for Willis is to be a one man army. Willis’ laidback magnetism is assisted by a number of good performances in supporting roles. He builds a really nice relationship with Reginald Veljohnson who is the cop assisting him on the ground. Despite never meeting in person in the film the two of them manage to create a believable and engaging rapport that the audience can buy into. As the sneering villain, Alan Rickman is clearly enjoying himself commanding a crew of criminals who all look strangely like Fabio. He pushes the character right to the edge of believability, but by managing to rein himself in just enough he makes the character delightfully menacing. And it is so nice to see a villain being a heinous bastard solely for the money – the scene where Rickman scoffs at the suggestion that he is promoting some sort of cause is an excellent one.

Despite eventually turning into a succession of meaningless (but visually impressive) explosions toward the end, as far as stock standard action films go, this is a very good one. Like the first film in this piece, so much of the appeal here is down to the lead actor. It is easy to fathom the that had the same script, director etc. been put to work with a different actor, this film could have been straight to video fare, rather than the classic it is now considered. This film won’t make you think much, nor will it change the way you feel about cinema. But you will probably get sucked in and enjoy yourself despite the stupidity.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

For my final film for this action piece, I headed east so to speak and checked out Five Deadly Venoms (1978). The Shaw Brothers are behind this film. They are generally considered founding fathers of the Hong Kong film scene, especially trading in this kind of film. This is exactly the sort of film you would expect to run into late on a Friday night on SBS. While it starts a little too kitsch it does really gets going and the second half is utterly killer. The story is a cool, simple ‘quest’ arc. A martial arts student has to track down five of his master’s former students, and essentially separate the goodies from the baddies. Later on, the film turns into a wonderfully warped whodunit which adds a different element to the Kung-Fu flick standards unfolding. But as with all good action films, the narrative is essentially besides the point anyway.

The whole thing is beautifully rendered, especially through some snappy editing with stylish fades abounding. There are training montages, but in a good way. The best of these is one used to introduce the main characters and their fighting style. The film has a cool, somewhat schlocky aesthetic which is used to good effect. The blood that frequently spills is the most insanely brilliant red. In addition to this, the sound effects are gleefully over the top, with the distinct ‘boings’ and the like seemingly coming straight from the pages of a 50s comic book or your favourite Super NES fighting game.

What really makes this film is the fight scenes. I think this film has the most interesting fight scenes I have seen in any movie. Strangely, it takes an age for the first one to actually go down. The lead in to the first is seemingly interminable. But it is worth the wait. The main characters each have a different fighting style, or venom. And these are not just tokenistic, throwaway notions. The different styles actually manifest themselves in the fight scenes. It is wonderful to watch, beautifully and cerebrally constructed. The Furious Five of Kung Fu Panda (2008) and its sequel are based on this film, and specifically the varying styles of the fighters. In this film, there are no fights involving the same old punches, until one for some miraculous reason knocks the other guy out. These fight scenes are quite extended, and feature each man attempting to uncover the weakness in the other’s preferred fighting technique.

Whilst featuring next to no guns, girls or explosions this is a fantastic and extremely innovative action film. If you find yourself a little bored early on, be sure to hang with it until at least the first fight scene. If you like seeing joyful fight scenes on film, this is the movie for you. And if I still haven’t convinced you to take a look, the film features something called “The Red Stomacher”. Surely you want to find out what that is.

Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny

Progress: 39/1001

 

Worth Watching August 2011

Worth Watching:

  • Howl (2010), Ron Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman – James Franco is one of my top 2 most interesting actors at the moment. In this he contributes to a brilliantly creative invocation of time and place. A place where Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” was ultra controversial. The film utilises a bold, three part structure and some insane visually exhilarating animation – two big gambles that definitely pay off. A reflexive examination of the creative process as well as an engaging period piece. Definitely one of the most original new releases you will see this year.
  • 10 Years Before Merdeka (2007), Fahmi Reza – Indie Malaysian doco featuring an incredible British punk soundtrack. Captures the “general feeling of liberation in the air” that prevailed in the years leading up to Malaysian independence. Eisenstein influenced kinetic editing, combined with the aforementioned soundtrack lend the film an intensely fast pace which works strangely well.
  • To Be and to Have (2002), Nicolas Philibert – French ‘fly on the wall’ documentary highlighting the value of a great and caring teacher. The kind of person I was lucky enough to encounter in my education, but who are ultimately far too rare (I only encountered one). Reminiscent of Apted’s Up series this manages to be extremely funny, but equally enlightening.
  • Touching the Void (2003), Kevin Macdonald – This is a deeply psychological film. A glimpse into the psyche that possesses one to seek out immense adventure, to cut the supporting rope on another and to survive against all odds. The film is driven excellently by very honest participants and re-enactments that manage not to grate.
  • The Beaver (2011), Jodie Foster – Given the concept, this was going to either be sheer brilliance, or a train wreck. I think it is the former. Depression is dealt with intelligently and with much thought. A man uses a beaver puppet to disassociate himself from his disease. The husband and wife relationship evolves with real nuance, and just when I thought it had painted itself into a corner, it swerves brilliantly to a satisfying ending. A subplot involving teen romance would have ruined the film in lesser hands, but here it enhances it greatly.
  • Don’t Look Back (1967), D.A. Pennebaker – Classic Dylan doco reads like a beat film, in part a beatnik hunt for the elusive Donovan. Captures the hysteria that surrounded this greatest of recording artists during the 60s and the press desire to mould him into a message toting messianic figure. Closes on this brilliant scene:

  • Persuasion (1995), Roger Michell – Wasn’t sure if Austen’s family drama and study of classism would transfer to the screen. But the language translates beautifully and the Cinderella character of Anne Elliot gives a classic narrative thread. Also there are occasional flashes of real style in the shooting of this which was a pleasant surprise. A toning down of the classism in the source novel and an excellent performance from Ciaran Hinds as Capt Wentworth help this to overcome a final third which perhaps shears too much narrative detail.
  • Hot Fuzz (2007), Edgar Wright – Yarp, this is very funny. Many mates had hyped this right up for me, but it meets expectations. Pleasingly features an abundance of the silliness I have been lamenting as lacking in contemporary film. Pegg and Frost are a good double act, and it is always nice to see Timothy Dalton on screen. All in all, a delightfully bloody Brit comedy.
  • Captain America (2011), Joe Johnston – I loved the shit our of this film. Making it a period piece was a bold call which really paid off. Featuring Tony Stark’s dad is some Marvel crossover which was not wholly annoying (quite the opposite). The wartime action is helped along by an engaging protagonist, quality wartime action and a great supporting cast featuring Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving and Hayley Atwell as the sassy broad.
  • Cowboys and Aliens (2011), Jon Favreau – At its heart, this is a really good, well made Western and the aliens are for the most part interestingly incorporated. There are fantastic, perfectly unsubtle performances all round, from the likes of Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde, Harrison Ford and Sam Rockwell. Helps to ensure this overcomes the odd cringeworthy plot twist, and the bloody horrific portrayal of Native Americans.
  • Red Dog (2011), Kriv Stenders – This Aussie flick is based on a novel, sorta based on a true story. The love story running through it is a little lacklustre, due to a frankly poor performance by Rachael Taylor. But this delivers two of the most brutal emotional punches to the gut you will see this year (just ask my girlfriend who spent most of the film blubbering). Atmosphere of outback Australia is brilliantly drawn through scenery, cracking soundtrack and some really nice performances from a great supporting cast.
  • His Mother’s Voice (1997), Dennis Tupicoff – This animated doco short is simple, yet crushing. The voiceover comes from a mother whose son was shot and killed. She relates the night it occurred, whilst highly stylised comic book and noir influenced animations are onscreen. Once her tale finishes, the exact story is told again, but with ‘life drawing’ style animations onscreen. This is a harrowing film, but it is really important to watch. The intense emotion is invoked not by the filmmaker being manipulative, but by the simple expression of the most basic human emotions. The use of animation forces the viewer to focus on the voice and the tale it is relating, whilst repeating the same story reminds one of the impact a single event can have. Unfortunately I cannot find a link to the whole film online. But if you go to http://www.dennistupicoff.com then click films, His Mother’s Voice then you can play some clips. If you ever get the chance to watch the whole thing, make sure you do.
  • Monrak Transistor (2001), Pen-Ek Ratanaruang – Engaging Thai film which cycles through genres – starts out as a teen coming of age comedy, then elements of the musical, a heart rending drama and finally thriller. The performances throughout mean this shifting of tone is enjoyable rather than off-putting. Whilst the central romance and story of love lost occasionally gets obscured, when it is focused on the film succeeds.
  • Waltz with Bashir (2008), Ari Folman – Generally considered the first feature length animated doco, this is more an exploration of the nature of memory than an examination of a specific war. The visual aesthetic is incredible, and the dynamic filming style enhances the animation. The film ends with the mostly silent showing of live action stills, showing the stark horrors of war that have already been animated for the audience. This is widely available and both interesting and powerful. Here’s the trailer:

Not Worth Watching:

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011), David Yates – The most cynical moneymaking exercise in film history funnily enough feels like half a film. Visually uninspired, bad dialogue, deeply average (with plenty of dashes of bad) acting and bland battle scenes to top it all off. What’s the point of having magic if it brings no nuance or excitement? I was hoping for quality, big budget spectacle film. All I got was the budget.
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), Rupert Wyatt – I could tell this was attempting to make statements regarding the animal testing and the like but they’re not made very well. There are a couple of terrible caricature characters including Draco Malfoy as ‘pure evil’ in an abysmally acted role, and the head of the big pharma company. The relationship of the main couple is woefully underdrawn as well. On the plus side the effects are utterly incredible, some of the best ever seen. But effects don’t make a film.
  • 15 (2003), Roystan Tan – A Singaporean gangster film which focuses on the homoeroticism of gang culture. Shame what is such an intensely interesting idea gets drowned out in the excessive, distracting ‘MTV’ style and an early desperation for a hip aesthetic. Episodic narrative is at times confronting with its suicide themes, and occasionally interesting, but more often than not cannot overcome the weight of the shitty acting and sledgehammer subtle political commentary.
  • The Lincoln Lawyer (2011), Brad Furman – I generally try and treat films and their literary sources as entirely separate entities. But when you take Michael Connelly’s cracking thriller of a novel and turn it into something as tepid as this, it heightens my disappointment. McConaughey brings none of the novel’s Micky Haller’s life and humour to the screen and Ryan Phillipe’s attempts at sinister fall woefully flat. Finds its feet in the last half an hour, but too late.
  • Limitless (2011), Neil Burger – Wow, what a disappointment. This ‘thriller’ is utterly listless and not at all gripping. The story arc feels all out of whack. Too much time devoted to unnecessary exposition and not enough to establishing the protagonists romance with the Abby Cornish character. Symptomatic of an overall lack of heart. And it closes on an ill-advised coda which wraps things up way too easily.

If you only have time to watch one His Mother’s Voice

Avoid at all costs Limitless

 

The Road to Rio #2: The first squad

The Socceroos kick off their World Cup qualifying campaign tomorrow night when they tackle Thailand in Brisvegas. So I decided to run my eye over the squad selected by Holger Osieck for this very important game. This squad will also travel to Saudi Arabia to play the second qualifier four days later. The squad (in alphabetical order) is:

Alex Brosque (Scott McDonald originally named, but ruled out with injury)
Tim Cahill
Nathan Coe
Luke DeVere
Brett Emerton
Adam Federici
Brett Holman
Mile Jedinak
Josh Kennedy
Neil Kilkenny
Robbie Kruse
Matt McKay
Mark Milligan
Lucas Neill
Sasa Ognenovski
Adam Sarota
Mark Schwarzer
Matthew Spiranovic
James Troisi
Carl Valeri
Luke Wilkshire
Rhys Williams
Michael Zullo

There are really no surprises in the squad. Some mention has been made of the fact that there was no place for Vince Grella or Marco Bresciano. I was unsure if they were retired or no longer putting their hands up for selection. However media reports this week have stated that they are both now back in the mix, with Osieck suggesting they may be called up for the next batch of games. At least in the case of Grella, I think his time has come and gone as a Socceroo anyway. He was a force through one of our golden ages, but let’s face it, it was apparent to anyone that he was behind the pace and a liability during South Africa 2010.

So the real interest will surround not the omissions from the squad, but rather who actually plays. Here are my thoughts on what may happen (bear in mind this is what I think will occur, not necessarily my own personal views).

I’m willing to go out on a limb here and say Mark Schwarzer will start in goals. The kid has talent. In all seriousness though, I don’t think there is any doubt that Schwarzer is our number one guy. He has been a stalwart in goals for a long time now, and is currently locked in a back and forth battle with Brett Emerton for the honour of being the Socceroos second most capped player. He is not perfect – he has been guilty of misjudging crosses perhaps more often then he should. But no keeper is perfect. And Schwarzer’s record of keeping the Aussies in big games is phenomenal. The backups for the #1 shirt selected for this qualifier are Adam Federici and Nathan Coe. The Aussie production line of keepers continues unabated, and every fan has their opinion on who should be the next in line (Mitch Langerak and Brad Jones are two other names often mentioned). For me personally, Federici is the guy. He is first choice at his club, playing at a pretty high level overseas. He is assured, young and has all the physical tools to play many games for the Socceroos. I am not sure of the pecking order between the two backup keepers in Osieck’s mind, and I daresay that neither will be needed. I should make the disclaimer here that I have seen very little of Nathan Coe, so am not entirely sure of what he brings to the table.

Many of the doubts and issues surrounding the Socceroos squad centre on our back four. Probably all those in the mix have had doubts raised concerning their tactical nous, fitness or just ability. Luke Wilkshere will be the starting right back. After bursting onto the scene around the time of the 2006 World Cup, he has established himself as one of the first players picked. He runs hard, gets forward a lot and is able to put in crosses which often show a lot of class. Wilkshere has had a couple of quieter games of late. I don’t think that there is any suggestion his spot is in imminent danger but he perhaps needs to re-establish his stranglehold on the spot. This is especially because on the bench is a young bloke by the name of Rhys Williams, who looks to be the future of the Socceroos (the excellent Four Four Two Australia magazine recently predicted he will one day captain his country). In my opinion, it is only a matter of time before Williams demands selection in the starting side. I think he will start from the bench for the time being, providing fantastic utility value. One of the positions Williams excels at is right back, so it may be the case that Wilkshere eventually gives way. But given the fact he is still a very valuable player, coupled with the fact Williams plays in the centre of defence, central midfield and right midfield, he may well establish his place elsewhere across the park.

In the centre of defence, I would be very surprised if Lucas Neill and Sasa Ognenevoski do not start in Brisbane. Neill is the captain, and in my opinion ‘The Ogre’ is our most important player. He was a towering force at the Asian Cup – I think he was our best player throughout the tournament. The late bloomer, Sasa, is continuing to excel at an exceedingly high level in Asia and has quickly become an integral part of the Socceroos setup. On the other hand, Neill is becoming an increasingly divisive player amongst fans of the game in Australia. Heading into the 2006 World Cup, he was a player with only a moderate profile. His performances throughout that tournament though were exceptional, and established him as one of the Socceroos top players. It has to be said though that he has been exposed at times over the last couple of years. Neill has a tendency to dive in and make rash challenges, especially inside the box. This is obviously a liability in important, one off matches. Another massive personal gripe of mine is his tendency to stand there, belligerently waving his arms around when an opposition player springs the offside trap. By stopping and yelling at the assistant in these cases, Neill allows the opposition attack to build, or even worse for a shot to occur. The final reason that Neill is ‘on the nose’ with some amongst the Australian football community is his actions following the end of his last few contracts. There is a perception that Neill is all about money (he is often cruelly referred to online as Luca$h Neil. From the outset let me make it plain that I don’t think there is anything wrong with sportsmen changing clubs for money. At the end of the day, this is their job and they need to provide for their family. There is this strange discrepancy in society where a player changing clubs just for money is a scumbag. But if I changed jobs in my working life and got a whopping pay rise, all my mates would congratulate me. Where is the difference? I do have some issue with Neill’s conduct in these transfer sagas, based on being a massive Socceroos fan. My concern is that the relatively long absences he has spent not playing, in order to get a better payday, have impacted on his ability to perform at his best for the Socceroos. Also, his decision to sign for Al-Jazira and play in the UAE Pro-League means that Neill will now be playing week in week out in a substandard competition. Substandard in the sense that Neill could, without a doubt, still be playing in a reasonable European league. But I am thankful that Neill is back playing, and hopefully can approach his best form. One major positive to come out of recent games for the Roos has been the form of Matthew Spiranovic. This youngster has long been touted as the next big thing as far as central defenders go for Australia. And of late, he has started to live up to the hype he has carried for a number of years. Look for Spiranovic to get some game time if there are any injury issues to our main two, or if Osieck looks to ease their load somewhat with two games in quick succession.

Without a doubt the one position that has given Socceroo coaches the most headaches over reason years is that of left back. Scott Chipperfield was all class in that role, but is no longer on the scene. David Carney has been the man for quite some time, but many people myself included, have never felt that he is the solution. Yes he can score the odd belter of a left foot goal, but being a left back is about much more than that. Football is a team sport, but it is an unfortunate fact that much of the blame for the loss in the Asian Cup final can be attributed to a horrible piece of defending by Carney. As a cross came in, Carney inexplicably left his man and headed to the goalmouth, seemingly to act as a postman (this idiotic ploy has been seen too often in Socceroos games, most commonly by Lucas Neil). At any rate, Carney is currently returning from injury and clubless so will not be appearing. So it looks as though Michael Zullo will be the man against the Thais. This is an exciting prospect for Socceroos fans. Zullo set the A-League alight as a young player, and it is excellent to see him making a fist of the early part of his overseas career. Zullo is an exhilarating attacking player, and can play higher up the park as well as across the back four. But he also has promise as a classic, overlapping wing back. He shows the ability to get forward and support the left midfielder, whilst also the nous to track back and defend well in one on one situations. Along with the aforementioned Rhys Williams, additional cover across the back four will come from Luke DeVere and Mark Milligan. The latter is seemingly back in favour after a pretty horrific 2007 Asian Cup and club issues put his international career on hold. Look for DeVere to get some game time over the two games to get his maiden international cap.

It is always harder to guess how the midfield will set up. I suspect Osieck will play two up front, meaning a four man midfield. The tradition of late has been to play two screening midfielders in the form of Carl Valeri and Mile Jedinek. It is possible that we will see just one of these players deployed in Brisbane, given that we are at home against an opponent ranked far below us. These two players are regarded very similarly, so it would be difficult to know who drops out. I would suggest that based on recent form, especially the Asian Cup, that Mile Jedinek would retain his spot. He is a very solid screening type player, who probably shades Valeri in the areas of getting forward and distribution. Valeri is perhaps slightly more adept at the defensive aspects of the game, and never stops, appearing to be one of the fitter Aussie guys. Unfortunately both players have a tendency to foul too much, and unnecessarily, a facet of their games that can hopefully be weeded out.

Assuming that Osieck elects to play just the one holding midfielder, then I think the starting midfield will also consist of Brett Emerton, Brett Holman and Matt McKay. Holman can be expected to start centrally, in the hole so to speak but also tracking back with his work ethic being one of his major strengths. Holman has overcome a lot of negativity from fans regarding his place in the side. Some, admittedly myself included, long felt that he was undeserving of his place, having the ability to run around a whole lot, but very little else. However his inspirational performances at South Africa 2010 proved that at the moment, he is one of our most important players. Whilst his distribution is occasionally lacking, his ability to spot and execute runs, brings a dynamism to the Roos midfield that they otherwise do not possess. And even Holman’s most ardent critic could not have any issue with the effort and heart he puts into his performances in the green and gold.

I don’t think it is too hyperbolic to state that Brett Emerton is a Socceroo great. Whilst the performances of Matt McKay in the Asian Cup left him somewhat on the outer, I think Emmo still has a lot to contribute to the Socceroos cause, and should start a lot more games than he doesn’t. Emerton is probably the best crosser of the ball in the Aussie side. I keep saying this about players, but Emerton is one fit dude. Commentators love to talk about how big his engine is. For a long time he has been the Socceroos fittest player and he is still right up there. This gives him an excellent ability to track back and cover his man when need be. The fact that Emerton has a reasonable amount of experience playing in the back four also means that once he gets there, he is able to execute his tackles well and also intercept a lot of passes. Emerton will start on the right, in front of Luke Wilkshere, which will rekindle what has been a very successful partnership for the Socceroos. These two players have a real understanding of each other’s games, and when players can link as well as these two do, it is a major plus. Look for lots of nice interplay between the two of them. Emerton to find Wilkshere overlapping, Wilkshere looking to release Emerton further up the park and all that kind of jazz. The importance of partnerships such as this highlights the need to establish consistent selections through these positions, so that players can get to know each other’s styles intimately. Hopefully the Wilkshere/Emerton duo will see a lot of game time, and hopefully we can unearth a similar combination down the left.

The man who I think will play a major role in this desired left side combination is Matt McKay. Over the last 18 months, the performances and associated profile of McKay has skyrocketed. Osieck’s refreshing willingness to give A-League players a fair go has resulted in the Brisbane Roar captain (who will leave to take up a contract with Scottish champions Rangers after these qualifiers) to cement his place in the squad. Along with Ognenovski who I have already mentioned, McKay was one of our standout players at January’s Asian Cup. The nerve jangling quarter final against Iraq was sealed by a brilliant, early, floating cross delivered to perfection by McKay (and finished emphatically by Harry Kewell). His ability to burst into the box with impeccable timing is also a major boost, reminiscent of Tim Cahill in that way. The one major flaw I have seen in McKay’s game, both for the Socceroos and in the A-League, is his finishing. After making these excellent, bursting runs into the box, McKay just does not seem comfortable finishing the opportunities. More than any other aspect of the game, striking is a confidence thing (just ask Scott McDonald). Natural strikers have an inherent bravado and almost arrogance that makes them confident in their ability to score in any game. Obviously if McKay is not a natural striker than this cannot be forced. But he needs to practice it a hell of a lot, pick his favourite spots to put the ball and finish it. I make it sound so easy. But I don’t want to dwell on that. I think McKay will play a massive role throughout this qualifying campaign. He is still relatively inexperienced as far as Socceroo caps go, but I look forward to him building his confidence in the team surrounds. This can only be a good thing, because as evidenced by his ability to lead the Roar to the title last year, McKay is an excellent leader.

There is some real excitement amongst the backup midfielders in this Socceroos squad, and the players chosen give Osieck a lot of scope to change things up when all is not going to plan. I am a big fan of Neil Kilkenny, the Bristol City midfielder. He is an extremely gifted and intelligent footballer, who I think can be a big point of difference throughout this campaign. He is the best distributor of the ball in the squad, and coming on late will let him split the gaps in the defence which is what he is best at. Some of his Socceroo performances have been a little below his best. But I personally really want Osieck to persevere with him because we do not have another midfielder like him. Plus the more opportunity he has to play with the likes of Holman and McKay, the better he will get at reading their runs which will make the Socceroos midfield far more dangerous. The other options for Osieck off the bench come in the form of whippets James Troisi and Adam Sarota. These guys are quick, young, skilful and incomplete. I don’t think they are ready to play 90 minutes in a big, must-win qualifier. But late in games, these are the kind of players you want to bring on to terrorise tiring defenders. It is a nice mix the coach has gotten himself on the bench.

The other obvious contender for a place in midfield is a bloke called Tim Cahill. But given the fact that Scott McDonald has recently been ruled out (Alex Brosque comes in), I think that Cahill will start upfront. I much prefer Cahill as a midfielder. There is much hype in relation to him as an attacker given the fact that he scores a lot of goals from midfield for Everton. But the fact of the matter is that a lot of these goals are derived from the very fact that he does play in midfield. He is able to make blistering runs from deep to get on the end of crosses, and he possesses one of the deadlier headers in world football. Deep down, I think that Osieck would have started McDonald against Thailand. But with the Middlesbrough man out injured I think he will go with Cahill. And whilst I would prefer to see Cahill in midfield, given the sheer quality of guys that will line up through the centre, I am happy to see him starting further up the park. And I think that if you are going to play Cahill up front, the ideal is to have him playing alongside someone who he can run off. And that man is Jesus. For me personally, it is exciting to see Josh Kennedy back in the mix. The tall attacker is in exceptional form for Nagoya Grampus, scoring almost at will. I think Kennedy always should be the Socceroos first choice, starting striker assuming we are playing two up front. He has a very good scoring record for the Socceroos and poses a constant threat to opposition defences. The Socceroos are without a doubt a much better side with the big guy from Beechworth High leading the line. The fear with two such adept headers of the ball starting is that the instructions will be to hoick the ball long for them. Hopefully this will not be the case, and I think that Osieck is too smart a manager to fall into that particular trap. Kennedy’s feet are vastly underrated. And without suggesting that he is the same calibre of player as Mark Viduka, he can perform a similar role for the Socceroos. He can hold the ball up, and wait for reinforcements in the form of Cahill, and the overlapping midfielders to arrive. Look for the much improved, and ever improving Robbie Kruse to get a reasonable amount of game time in the two matches, with Brosque providing further backup.

So there are my thoughts on the squad for tomorrow night’s game. Sorry it ended up being far more longwinded than I had intended. Thanks if you read the whole thing. Make sure you get out and watch the game. Personally I am going to take my gorgeous girl out for a lovely Ethiopian meal, and then hit up the ever classy Tradies Club to watch the game. Enjoy it!