When Compliance (2012) first began screening in festivals such as Sundance, it was extremely divisive. Some people hailed its presentation and courage whilst others lamented what was onscreen, walking out shouting ‘What is this shit’ and haranguing the director during Q and A’s. Now experiencing an extremely limited cinematic run here in Australia, people can make up there own minds.
After all the hype I had heard about the film, I was really quite apprehensive walking into it and it pretty much lived up to that. Despite not being particularly explicit, Compliance is one of the most unsettling viewing experiences I have had for a very long time. The first thing that the film tells you is that it is based on a true story. Actually it doesn’t just tell you, it screams the news at you, with a huge “INSPIRED BY TRUE EVENTS” plastered onscreen at the very start. I think this is important actually, because I have heard the criticism made of the film that it entirely hinges on you not being able to believe that this could actually have happened. A criticism I find to be utterly absurd, because the film tells you straight up it did happen, leaving no suspense in that regard. The film takes place on a typical night at a typical (yet fictional) fast food outlet. I have to say, one thing the film does nail is the utter fuckin banality of working at a fast food joint. I been there. The story sees a young employee of the store called Becky accused of theft by a phone caller purporting to be a police officer. Throughout the course of the film, he manages to get the manager of the store, and others, to strip search her, punish her and much more. This stringing along of the workers in the store gets increasingly disturbing and does expose some pretty large plot holes (albeit ones that may have there basis in fact).
The performance out of Compliance that has been getting the most plaudits is from Ann Dowd as Sandra the manager of the takeaway joint. I think that by far the best performance though is from Dreama Walker, as Becky the victim of the story, who is phenomenal in a really difficult role. I had not seen Walker in anything before, but I think she has been in some American TV shows previously. The manner in which she conveys the silent, terrified vulnerability of a teenager plunged into an utterly crazy, sexually manipulative situation is really quite effecting. I actually thought that Ann Dowd as Sandra was quite poor in the early parts of the film, but there is no denying she improves as it goes along. But Dreama Walker was still the clear standout for me. The film should be applauded for its pacing, not being afraid to take its time in telling the story. Some of the effect of this pacing is actually quite incredible, at times it made me actually feel pretty physically wretched, with the methodical way it shows horrific abuse. It also manages to nail the rhythm of phone calls, which so often does not work on screen. Here the back and forth is perfect, with people occasionally even talking over each other, just as they do in real life.
Thematically I think in some ways the film is an interesting counterpoint to another film I reviewed not so long ago, Serpico (1973), in that both films are concerned with how we view people in positions of power. This film is more about the nature of authority and how people wield it. The prank caller continually re-states the fact that “I’m the police officer”. By flashing his badge so to speak, he is able to make people bow to his will, despite the fact that surely many if not all of them, recognise in isolation just how wrong what they are doing is. Titles get you so far in our contemporary world. This man is just able to demand that people call him sir and officer. Simply by managing to do that, he is able to utterly placate them (most of them anyway). I feel the film also explores a second main theme and that is the way that minimum wage employees are treated in countries like America and Australia. I know that the sexual assault of an employee is an extreme example, but it does happen, and moreover is representative of many of the other abuses wrought on people in these jobs. I think that the reaction of the store manager Sandra, is actually pretty believable. Many people in these roles think the worst of those who work under them and give them absolutely no credit. And in large part, this hierarchical status system is what causes Sandra to act this way to a young employee in her care.
Compliance is one of those difficult films to recommend because it is so hard to watch and in this case also definitely has its flaws. The goings on are utterly absurd in many ways, despite the fact that they really did happen. Therein is probably the major strength of the film. Bringing the dark undercurrents, which we wish did not exist, that plague our society to the surface.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
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Cactus (2008) suffered the fate of many (actually probably most) contemporary Australian films. It received a bit of press at the time of release, reviews in most quarters, a quick cinematic release and then disappeared from view relatively quickly. At least that is how I recall it going down.
The film jumps straight into the action, filling in absolutely no backstory. And it works too with the opening sequence being one of the film’s most successful. We see a man enter into another’s house, beat him up, drug him and bundle him into the boot of an old car. This is all done essentially in silence, save for the odd grunt of effort. The car is started, we see an extreme close-up of the odometer ticking over, and we are away. The entire thing tears you out of your seat and plonks you straight in the world of the film. The car makes its way out through the city, through the ever-changing Australian countryside, from lush valleys into eventually into what is essentially desert. Much of these early travelling shots are shot quite nicely from a ‘first person’ point of view. Eventually, as the film travels along, we learn more about what is taking place. More, but never near everything. The kidnapper is a man hard up for cash, trying to save his family with this big money, out of character job. His victim is in trouble with the two men that he is being taken to. Who these men are and the nature of the trouble are never revealed, though it is heavily hinted to be gambling related. The film is uniquely Australian. Much of the Ford vs Holden shtick throughout would probably be lost on overseas viewers, whilst the film adoringly takes in much of the countryside that makes Australia so unique. The central story though and its sorta road movie delivery, is definitely more universal.
The ending of the film I think is distinctly flawed, taking on a somewhat strange, ‘pulpy’ revenge bent that is hard to buy given what has taken place over the preceding 80 or so minutes. It is almost a curse when a film builds up so much anticipation of just how the story is going to be tied up, that it is really difficult to satisfactorily conclude what has occurred. Part of the issue is that it was always going to be necessary to expand on the taut, minimalist world that the film had created. It would be a bold film indeed to follow just two pretty silent blokes in a car right to the end. Aside from the two main characters, the supporting roles are very minor. It is a little bit of a shame really because they are populated with really good actors who manage to engage a lot in the short time they are onscreen. Bryan Brown, Shane Jacobsen and Daniel Krige all excel in bringing their barely written characters to life. I think in the end it does hurt the film a little when one of them (or two, or even three depending on how you want to look at it) come back to play quite a large role in the film’s ending. It would have been richer had there been more depth and time onscreen to explore these three characters. Plus it just would have been nice to see more of the fantastic country cop that the legendary Bryan Brown crafts in his very short screentime.
The two lead performances are very good though. Travis McMahon as John, a silent, ‘man with no name’ type (anti)hero is excellent. You can see the mental strain his job is taking on him, not helped by his victim continually trying (and often succeeding to get inside his head). John definitely gains a measure of revenge at one point though, when in a quite hilarious scene, he employs torture by Wiggles tunes (for those that don’t know, The Wiggles are an iconic, bright skivvy clad, Australian children’s music group). Probably the best performance of the film does come from his victim Eli though. David Lyons is really good in the role, as a smooth talking and cerebral bloke, smug and overly proud of what he has achieved in life, the money he has cheated his way into and the women he has bed along the way. It’s not all bluster though, because in his character’s lower moments, Lyons is able to convey the sheer shittiness of his situation and the fear of the unknown that he is hurtling towards. These two, thanks to the script as well as their very good performances, build up a really quite cool psychological relationship with plenty of back and forth and a power dynamic that continues to shift til the very end.
Despite my misgivings, Cactus is a cool, highly original film that I would definitely recommend checking out. It never reaches dizzying heights, but thanks to its impressive cast, dry sense of humour and pretty countryside it does manage to be worth your time.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
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The Wizard of Oz (1939) is one of those films that I recall adoring as a child, but don’t recall seeing since the countless runs our battered VHS copy received (one of the few actually bought rather than just taped off the TV VHS I recall us owning). As such, re-watching it on stunning blu-ray transfer was a delightful mix of the familiar and surprise turns that I had obviously forgotten. There were all these parts that I thought I knew what was going to take place, only for it to go somewhere else entirely.
One of the first joys when I picked it up to put in was the running time on the case – only an hour and forty minutes long. I just assumed for a film of this scope, that well over two hours would have been needed. A modern filmmaker would definitely need that long anyway (Peter Jackson would need about eight three hour films). The film is an example of where economy in storytelling can still yield ‘epic’ results. I did not recall the opening black and white Kansas sequence being quite this long. But I absolutely loved this part of the film. And my adult eyes (admittedly with an assist from my girlfriend’s gorgeous eyes) noticed that all the same actors from this sequence reappear in the Oz-set part of the narrative, which is a fantastic way of linking the two worlds. I will talk more about the shift in a little bit, but that stylistic conceit of having the Kansas part of the film be shot in black and white, with Oz in stunning technicolour, is a simple one that works so well and brings a hell of a lot to the story.
This opening section is so important to the film as a whole because it makes you care deeply about not only Dorothy, but also Toto and their strong bond. That scene where the ghastly old woman takes Toto away from Dorothy is really quite full on. Eventually, though not intentionally, Dorothy escapes from Kansas when her house is swept up in a tornado, which is a quite amazing piece of special effects work. It looks fantastic and sounds the same, with the whistling of the raging wind really increasing the atmosphere. What follows Dorothy’s tornado ride of course is one of cinema’s most famous sequences as she is forced to travel down the yellow brick road to meet the powerful Oz in the hope of making it back home. This all starts with a shot that deserves to be one of the absolutely most famous in all of cinema. Dorothy, opens the door of her black and white cottage out onto the incredible technicolour world of Oz. The camera is positioned behind her, so you see this new world at the same time that Dorothy does. Even today, this scene looks astonishingly good on blu-ray. It must have absolutely knocked the socks off people when they saw it in the late 1930s or early 40s.
The characters that Dorothy meets along the yellow brick road are some of the most iconic in film history. It is incredible how in each character’s introduction and first song, the audience manages to learn all they need to know about their history and their yearnings. Again, this is the fantastic economy of the tale, so little exposition is required to convey everything that is necessary. The Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Lion all help to showcase the wonderful design of the film, in particular through their costumes that succeed in convincing the audience of the veracity of the fantastical land that they have been transported too. All three performances are wonderful too, especially at conveying the emotional journey that they go through. The characters work as fantastic ciphers, because in the end we are all missing something that we are on a journey to find, just as these characters are. Judy Garland is fantastic as Dorothy, the core of the film, nailing the emotions of a young girl thrust into a miraculous place and making her way through quite an ordeal. Garland manages to simultaneously be vulnerable yet strong, not an easy balance to maintain throughout the story. She also manages to show off some excellent comedic timing in the film. Her acting chops are matched by her singing ones, which showcase her range from the deeper, almost sultry “Somewhere over the Rainbow” through to the jauntiness of the opening song in Oz. Her offsider Toto is equally fantastic, earning his way into the pantheon of great film dogs (up there with Luke the Dog as my favourite). All of these characters mentioned don’t even mention the iconic villain, the Wicked Witch of the West, who to put it bluntly, is scary as fuck.
The script of The Wizard of Oz is a masterful dilution of Frank Baum’s rather helter skelter, delightfully anarchic novel into a heartfelt adventure tale about a journey home. It manages to remain true to the novel whilst changing just enough to make it succeed on screen too. Not all of the delightful randomness is gone though, that’s for sure – the greetings of the Lollypop Guild and the Lullaby League when Dorothy reaches Oz are just one example. The design that I have already mentioned manages to create the world of Oz. It is not just the wonderful costumes, but the hair, make-up and production design work that has gone into each and every setting.
The Wizard of Oz is every bit as good as I recall from my childhood days and then some. The film looks so sharp that it could have been shot today, the performances are great as is the script and the songs are fantastic too. If you can find a copy of this on blu-ray, grab it and prepare to be transported.
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
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Magician movies (I’m not so sure that is a legit genre) can be pretty hit and miss. Now You See Me is a forthcoming entry into the sorta-genre that I remain a little unsure about. It has some cool heist elements to it, but could also be a little too all over the shop. It also looks like it will be yet another film labouring the OWS/99% themes which is a pet gripe of mine (not saying I am anti either of those things, they are just generally dealt with extremely superficially on screen).
What do you guys think?
I really do not get into the film awards season. The Golden Globes and Oscars hold next to no interest for me, for a couple of reasons. For starters, being in Australia, I have often not had the chance to see the films nominated. Secondly, and more importantly, rarely if ever do these awards ever reflect thought on the part of those responsible for deciding upon them. Generally, a few films are decided upon, and they get nominated for everything, which frustrates me enormously. An average film can have elements that are awards worthy. Phenomenal performances show up in films that are perhaps not ‘best picture’ worthy. But these situations are never recognised. If I take an interest in any international awards, it is the various guild awards, and even then I only really take note of the awards given in that guild’s profession.
Last year, the Australian industry awards went through a pretty extensive rebranding, with the former AFI awards becoming the AACTA awards. I thought it was a bold move and the powers that be are clearly aiming for a BAFTA type reputation to slowly build. But more than that, what really impressed me was that there appeared to be thought into who actually won. Kriv Stenders Red Dog (2011) was a worthy winner of Best Picture. Yet it did not win any other awards, which I think makes sense. The performances were ok, but not at the core of the film. None of the elements were hugely standout, but the voters recognised that the film was deserving of the top gong. The nominees for this year’s awards suggest that the thought has continued, which is fantastic to see (having made all of those criticisms, I think one film is worthy of the ‘top’ 3 awards this year).
So, here is my preview for the 2nd annual AACTA awards, taking place on the 30th of January. Please note I have focused solely on the feature film awards, not the short, doco or TV categories. I have not seen all of the films, but have seen enough to feel I can give my opinion on I think will win, and who I think should win.
Best Supporting Actress
Nominees: Essie Davis in Burning Man, Rebecca Gibney in Mental, Deborah Mailman in Mental, Jessica Mauboy in The Sapphires
Who will win: Jessica Mauboy in The Sapphires
Who should win: Jessica Mauboy in The Sapphires
Former Australian Idol contestant (winner maybe?) Jessica Mauboy really impressed me with her turn in the Aussie Aboriginal soul group in Vietnam pic The Sapphires. Her acting was believable and impressive, whilst her voice knocked it out of the park in the songs. I am pretty confident she will get the nod for this one too.
Best Supporting Actor
Nominees: Ryan Corr in Not Suitable for Children, Liev Schreiber in Mental, Anthony Starr for Wish You Were Here and Gary Waddell for The King is Dead!
Who will win: Anthony Starr in Wish You Were Here
Who should win: Ryan Corr in Not Suitable for Children
It is great to see Gary Waddell get a nod for The King is Dead!, a pretty original if not 100% successful film. His was an excellent performance and his nomination shows that again, those behind the AACTAs are really thinking about the nominees. Ryan Corr though was side-splittingly hilarious in the Ryan Kwanteen starring Not Suitable for Children. I really hope he wins, but acting awards rarely go to comedy performances. As such, Starr’s more serious turn, itself a pretty good performance, will get the nod here I think.
Best Lead Actress
Nominees: Toni Collette in Mental, Deborah Mailman in The Sapphires, Felicity Price in Wish You Were Here and Sarah Snook in Not Suitable for Children
Who will win: Deborah Mailman in The Sapphires
Who should win: Sarah Snook in Not Suitable for Children
I am pretty sure that Deborah Mailman will take this one out, and it is definitely deserved because she was fantastic in The Sapphires. But seeing these nominations reminds me just how fantastic the acting was in Not Suitable for Children and Sarah Snook was a massive part of that. But like I have already said, comedy performances rarely get the nod in acting awards. And Mailman is a very popular vet of the Aussie scene, so would be a deserving winner if she gets it.
Best Lead Actor
Nominees: Joel Edgerton in Wish You Were Here, Matthew Goode in Burning Man, Chris O’Dowd in The Sapphires and Guy Pearce in 33 Postcards
Who will win: Joel Edgerton in Wish You Were Here
Who should win: Matthew Goode in Burning Man
O’Dowd was really good in The Sapphires, but for me his was too peripheral a role to take a best lead gong. That, and Matthew Goode, was utterly stunning in his portrayal of a grieving single father (just thinking about it, it is an absolute travesty that Bojana Novakovic did not get nominated for her role as his late wife, the best female performance of the year). If there is any justice than he will win. I think Edgerton takes it though. I don’t mean for this to sound disparaging in the least, but the Edgerton brothers are real darlings of the Aus scene. That, coupled with Joel’s really good performance (this is a really strong field, though I haven’t seen the Pearce film) will get him over the line I think.
Best Costume Design
Nominees: Lizzy Gardiner for Burning Man, Stefanie Baker for Lore, Tim Chappel for Mental and Tess Schofield for The Sapphires
Who will win: Tess Schofield for The Sapphires
Who should win: Tess Schofield for The Sapphires
Sassy soul group in Vietnam gives a costume designer a lot to work with. Tess Schofield really runs with it, nailing both the military and entertainment side of things.
Best Production Design
Nominees: Steven Jones APDG for Burning Man, Michelle McGahey for Killer Elite, Silke Fischer for Lore and Melinda Doring for The Sapphires
Who will win: Melinda Doring for The Sapphires
Who should win: Melinda Doring for The Sapphires
See above basically – sassy soul group in Vietnam. But it still takes a hell of a lot of fantastic work to make that seem real. And Doring definitely delivers.
Best Original Music Score
Nominees: Anthony Partos for 33 Postcards, Guy Gross for A Few Best Men, Michael Yezerski for Mental and Matteo Zingales & Jono Ma for Not Suitable for Children
Who will win: Matteo Zingales and Jono Ma for Not Suitable for Children
Who should win: Matteo Zingales and Jono Ma for Not Suitable for Children
Ok I’ll be honest, this is the only category where I have seen less than 2 of the nominated films. But I feel comfortable in putting Zingales and Ma forward as worthy winners. The party heavy narrative of Not Suitable for Children lends itself to a cracking score, and theirs makes you feel like you’re partying in the inner west of Sydney.
Nominees: David Lee, Andrew Plain and Gethin Creagh for Burning Man, Sam Petty, Michael Busch, Tobert Mackenzie, Antony Gray, Yulia Akerholt & Brooke Trezise for Lore, Andrew Plain, Bry Jones, Pete Smith, Ben Osmo & John Simpson for The Sapphires and Pete Smith, John Simpson, Martyn Zub & Des Kenneally for Swerve
Who will win: Andrew Plain, Bry Jones, Pete Smith, Ben Osmo & John Simpson for The Sapphires
Who should win: Andrew Plain, Bry Jones, Pete Smith, Ben Osmo, John Simpson for The Sapphires
Ok I’m starting to repeat myself here, but soul group in Vietnam anyone??? Their work is fantastic on this one, making the combat sequences and the soul sequences sound equally impressive.
Nominees: Martin Connor for Burning Man, Dany Cooper ASE for The Sapphires, Jason Ballantine for Wish You Were Here and Cindy Clarkson for X
Who will win: Martin Connor for Burning Man
Who should win: Martin Connor for Burning Man
Non-linear storylines always bring out the best in editors and the work of Connor for Burning Man and Ballantine for Wish You Were Here is of an incredibly high standard. The first half hour of my pick though is a phenomenal balance of giving the audience just enough of a narrative thread to get them by, as well as enabling the strands to be referred back to at the end and for that, it gets my pick. I think the AACTA folk will agree too.
Nominees: Garry Phillips ACS for Burning Man, Adam Arkapaw for Lore, Warwick Thornton for The Sapphires and Jules O’Loughlin ACS for Wish You Were Here
Who will win: Warwick Thornton for The Sapphires
Who should win: Jules O’Loughlin for Wish You Were Here
Director of my favourite Australian film of all time Samson and Delilah, Warwick Thornton did an exceptional job on the Vietnam set The Sapphires so will be a deserving winner if he takes it out. I actually did not particularly love Wish You Were Here, but there is no denying how stunning it looked, both in the Cambodia set sections, and the Sydney set ones, so I hope that Jules O’Loughlin gets the win for this one.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominees: Cate Shortland & Robin Mukherjee for Lore and Keith Thompson & Tony Briggs for The Sapphires
Who will win: Keith Thompson and Tony Briggs for The Sapphires
Who should win: Keith Thompson and Tony Briggs for The Sapphires
I lied before. I have only seen one nominee in this category too. Not to be rude, but I personally do not think that there should be a category with less than four nominees. If there are not four worthy nominees, then I think do not give an award in that category for that year. Having said that, The Sapphires is a worthy winner for this award, a cracking script that really brings to life a piece of Aussie sorta-history in a crowd pleasing way.
Best Original Screenplay
Nominees: Jonothan Teplitzky for Burning Man, PJ Hogan for Mental, Michael Lucas for Not Suitable for Children and Kieran Darcy-Smith for Wish You Were Here
Who will win: Kieran Darcy-Smith and Felicity Price for Wish You Were Here
Who should win: Jonathan Teplitzky for Burning Man
It is very hard to write a quality comedy screenplay, so I wouldn’t half mind seeing Lucas take this one out, because Not Suitable for Children featured an excellent script. But Teplitzky’s heart wrenching, autobiographical work, based on his real life experience of losing his wife, is an incredibly piece of writing. Both incredibly personal and universal at the same time it is a pretty clear standout for me.
Nominees: Jonathan Teplitzky for Burning Man, Cate Shortland for Lore, Wayne Blair for The Sapphires and Kieran Darcy-Smith for Wish You Were Here.
Who will win: Jonathan Teplitzky for Burning Man
Who should win: Jonathan Teplitzky for Burning Man
For me, Teplitzky is again the standout in this category. Unfortunately I have not seen Lore, but I think that both Blair and Darcy-Smith have very strong cases in the ‘will win’ view of things here. Ultimately though, I think Teplitzky will be awarded for his bravery in approaching what must have been a very difficult film to make. Not only would it have been difficult from a personal perspective, but it is not necessarily an easy film to shoot either. He controls it beautifully, choosing visual flair at times, whilst letting his fantastic cast carry the simple images at others. And I don’t think the voters will look past him for the award either, though Darcy-Smith’s effort as a first time director is pretty impressive and may well be awarded.
Nominees: Burning Man, Lore, The Sapphires and Wish You Were Here
Who will win: The Sapphires
Who should win: Burning Man
No surprises here. Just to put it in context, had I seen it in time, Burning Man would have been my number 2 film worldwide in 2011, behind only The Tree of Life which is in my top 5 of all time and ahead of Drive which I adore. It is a genuinely great film. Not an easy watch, but if you are into really fantastic works of drama, that make you feel a hell of a lot, then check out that film. Having said all that, I think that The Sapphires will take this out and I don’t particularly have an issue with that. The Academy showed their hand with a somewhat populist choice last year, and I think we will see the same again this year, though to be honest, I would not be surprised to see any one of the nominees win this award.
Sorry, this turned out to be far longer than expected, so thanks for reading all the way through. I hope it has been an interesting read and I encourage you to check out any of the nominated films and see some highly regarded Aussie cinema. According to me the big winners on the night (i.e. the ‘will win’s’) will be The Sapphires with 8 awards, Wish You Were Here with 3 and Burning Man with 2. As for who I think should be partying hardest, if in an ideal world these were the BMAACTAs (Beer Movie AACTAs), it would be The Sapphires with 6, my beloved Burning Man with 4 and Not Suitable for Children with 3.
If you are based in Australia, be sure to tune in to Channel 10 on 30 January at 9:30pm. Tis great to see the awards on a commercial station and hopefully the show gets the respect it deserves. Awesome to see our Russell Crowe has stepped up on short notice to host as well, after the original host had to pull out because of scheduling difficulties.
I recently started reading Rhino’s Horror. It is a really excellent blog, which I encourage you to read. But that is not really the point of this post. Reading Ryan’s blog got me thinking about this blog. Ryan’s blog is about horror. That’s what makes it unique and appealing, that he focuses on the one thing and puts his love of that aspect of cinema out there. I like horror films, but I’ve never really gotten right into ‘the scene’ of horror if you will, generally focusing on classic examples of the genre (which I find I love). However I find Ryan’s enthusiasm about these films quite infectious and it makes me want to check a lot of the films featured out.
So what is unique about my blog I thought. And the answer is probably nothing. I don’t really have a problem with that. I like the all over the shop quality of it, reviewing whatever I want, starting new projects willy nilly and then forgetting about them (I promise I’ll show you some more love soon The Bergman Files and Bondfest), so I am not going to go away from that. But one thing that is somewhat unique is that I live in Australia. Australia has a somewhat struggling, but really quite exceptional feature film industry. I love Australian films and in my opinion the only issue with Australian films is that not enough people get to see them. So, while carrying on with all my endless other rambling excursions in cinema, I am going to try and bring you guys a showcase of Australian movies, the good and the bad. In the process I hope you guys will get inspired and hunt down some of these films, which is becoming easier and easier in this age of VOD and DVD. This site is definitely not going to be solely or even predominately focused on Australian films going forward, but there will be much more emphasis on them.
Get involved, give me some pointers. Do you have any favourite Australian films? Any examples of genre films you would like me to explore (the main criticism of the Aus film industry by Australians is that we only make depressing dramas – a sentiment that is utter bullshit)? You want reviews of classics or newer films? You ask and I will do my best to bring it to you.
Amongst the bevy of awesome presents I was lucky enough to receive for Christmas, was the Universal Monsters blu-ray boxset. I always buy (or rent) films. I have neither the technical know how or desire to download films illegally. I know not everyone else feels the same way, but the incredible presentation of this boxset is a reminder why buying is always the best option (or maybe I’m just a 26 year old dinosaur whose house is full of vinyl, CDs and rows upon rows of DVDs, blu-ray and still some VHS). The boxset includes 8 films, an awesome booklet, killer postcards and a whole bunch of extras that accompany all of the movies. In addition to that, the transfer of the films to blu-ray looks absolutely stunning, the money has obviously been spent to do the hard work on this and the images really pop as a result. Best blu-ray transfer I have seen I think. In short, if you are at all interested in these films, then I would highly recommend forking out the coin to get your hands on one of these boxsets.
So I thought I should start working my way through reviewing the set, and thought I would kick it off with The Mummy (1932) which I had never seen before. I am sure that far smarter film analysts have discussed what separates these films from other monster films and why they are thought of so highly. For me, amongst other things, they are just so well shot. The camerawork is assured and interesting whereas other B movies (or B movies trying to be A movies) are clunky, boring and ineptly filmed, which makes enjoying them a lot tougher.
Narratively, The Mummy is pretty stock standard stuff. Poms in Egypt on an archaeological dig. In the interests of academic knowledge, they ignore the curse that is on a casket that they find. Such a bad move. Doing so releases Boris Karloff in all his bandage wrapped glory. Actually he is only in the bandages in the first scene, following that, he spends the rest of the film in some incredible makeup design. The opening of the casket is one of my favourite scenes in the film, toying with audience expectations that must have existed even when the film was first released. When it is opened, it is obviously tense, with the audience waiting for the inevitable terror to take place. But there is nothing but silence, as the archaeologist silently goes about his work. Director Karl Freund continually teases the mummy coming to life, but doesn’t give it to us. Just continues the silence. Then, when the big moment finally comes, it is not a big ‘jump’ scare as you might reason would be coming, rather the mummy slowly and naturalistically opens his eyes, extends his limbs like he is trying to shake a couple of thousand years of stiffness and then makes his move. The realism continues as the impetuous young archaeologist who had opened the casket goes mad in an instant when he realises what has been released.
Flash forward 10 years and there is another archaeological team (with the son of one of the original party member’s involved) in the area. The mummy is still around, sans bandages, and searching for the reincarnation of the love of his life from a few millennia earlier (these monsters, just like us, are always on the lookout for love). And you can basically figure the rest out for yourself (especially if you have seen the Brendan Fraser starring remake). The film stars the most famous of Universal’s monster stars (just beats out Bela Lugosi due to the number of films he made) Boris Karloff. He plays it beautifully, but pretty Frankensteiny. That’s not to say his performance is wooden at all, he really is a very good actor especially in the occasional close-ups which are chillingly creepy. Perhaps that is another thing that sets these monster flicks apart from others, especially contemporary ones, a much higher standard of actor. Karloff’s makeup looks amazing though, and makes you yearn for the days where the default response to anything difficult was not just ‘we’ll do it in post-production with CGI’. The other really excellent performance in the film, perhaps even better than Karloff’s is from Zita Johann who plays his love interest Helen Grosvenor. It is a strange role because she plays someone in a trance for much of the film, which is definitely not easy to do, but she does it very well.
Showcasing the almost lost art of film makeup and a vintage Boris Karloff performance, The Mummy is a lot of fun. If you have an interest in classic filmmaking or monster films then definitely check this one out. Or if you are keen to see what all the fuss is about with Universal’s iconic monster films, then this is as good a place as any to start.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
My first thought for this post was to post a trailer for an upcoming Jack Black film. But turns out there are none. So, I thought I would watch and then share a bunch of trailers for Jack Black films that I have not yet seen. I have to admit, based on this evidence there are not too many Jack Black films that I haven’t seen that I am desperate to catch up on.
Anyways, rack up some competition entries by letting me know which of these five you have seen and what you thought of them. Who knows, there might be a Week at Bernie’s 2 in which case I will have to check some of these out.
The Holiday is a Jack Black film that I was never too enthused about seeing and have never gotten around to it. Fernando from Committed to Celluloid is quite the fan, so check out his thoughts. Please note, this is a slightly expanded version of an article Fernando first published on his site on December 26 2012.
I feel the same about The Holiday (2003) as I do about Love Actually (2003): this is one of my favorite romantic comedies or rather one of my favorite movies, and a must-watch every holiday season.
For the good points, first up, Kate Winslet. One of the most talented actresses working today, Kate can play any character and she excels in a more comedic role. Her chemistry with Eli Wallach (who’s also fantastic) is a joy to watch. Next, Jude Law. He’s charming as usual but gets to show his vulnerable side. Jack Black: wow. His best performance to date (I’ve yet to see Bernie). He’s restrained, very likeable and you root for him to end up with Kate Winslet. Not only that, but you feel he deserves to be with that amazing woman. Also, this being a Nancy Meyers film (love her to death), The Holiday features excellent music, fantastic dialog and yes, insanely beautiful houses.
As for the bad points, I feel kinda bad for putting her here, but Cameron Diaz was the weakest part of the cast. I think the woman is talented but an actress with a wider range could’ve done great things with her part. Also, John Krasinski and Edward Burns were on screen for far too little.
Things do occasionally get ugly. The scenes where Cameron Diaz was trying to cry were neither funny nor poignant. Again, this called for a better actress.
Favorite scene: a tie between the tribute to screenwriter Arthur Abbott (Wallach) and a 3-way call between Diaz, Winslet and Law
Favorite line: (Arthur [Wallach] to Iris [Winslet])
He let you go. This is not a hard one to figure out. Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you are behaving like the best friend.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny