Monthly Archives: February, 2013

Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fans Hope

The pretty fantastic poster for Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope poster for

The pretty fantastic poster for Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope poster for

Morgan Spurlock burst on to the scene with Super Size Me (2004), but his profile has faded somewhat since then, despite working pretty regularly. Most of his feature efforts, including Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fans Hope (2011) have gone straight to DVD, here in Australia at least.

Some of the famous geeks who are interviewed in the film

Some of the famous geeks who are interviewed in the film

That is a shame though, because I think Spurlock is one of the more interesting documentary makers going round, both in terms of his choice of subjects and the way he brings them to the screen. Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fans Hope sheds a little light on the cultural phenomenon that is Comic-Con. It does so by telling the individual tales of a number of attendees. From those wishing to get their artwork noticed, grizzled vets who have been attending since the early days, a dude that wants to propose to his girlfriend at the event and a bunch more. Sprinkled throughout this are interviews with some Comic-Con geeks that have gone onto massive things, led by Joss Whedon and Kevin Smith. It is an interesting structure and for the most part works well. Though occasionally some of the subjects do seem to go missing for longer then would have been ideal. The film is excellent at really making you feel like you are right there at the Con. It is also interesting to hear much of the cynicism emanating from those that have been attending for many years, directed at the perceived ‘selling out’ of Comic-Con that has occurred as its popularity has skyrocketed. The film gets stronger as it goes along. There are a couple of fantastic high points in the second half and Spurlock manages to create some tension out of these really high stakes times, the culmination of dreams.

An example of some of the fantastic comic inspired graphics in the film

An example of some of the fantastic comic inspired graphics in the film

My criticisms of the film, if any, are that the people it presents are so interesting, that I wanted to know more about them. I couldn’t get enough of each of their stories in this 80 minute format. Perhaps a TV series, where 30 or 60 minutes could be devoted to each of them may have been a more satisfying way to really tell their stories rather than just present a sketch of these people. The film does a good job of overcoming the inherent awkwardness of many of the subjects and manages to get the audience invested in their various hopes and dreams though. It also shows the obsession of some people involved in geek culture and manages to do so in an interesting way. Not afraid to show that sometimes this obsession can verge too far and become unhealthy with people losing sight of the reason they got into this stuff in the first place. Like all of Spurlock’s work, this is well shot. It has some cool little touches too like the comic style intertitles when each subject is introduced and labelling on screen. The film as a whole also benefits from the sterling choice of talking head interviews and the punters that are being showcased who bring their passion to the film.

As an examination of geek culture through its most famous manifestation, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fans Hope is pretty successful. If you have absolutely no interest in geek culture whatsoever, then there probably is not a whole lot for you here. But if you have even the slightest curiosity about what happens at Comic-Con, then this is definitely recommended.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

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Tomorrow When the War Began

tomorrowposter

Tomorrow When the War Began (2010) is an adaptation of the first novel in the most popular Australian Young Adult series of my generation, written by John Marsden. Highly anticipated, the film was moderately successful, albeit I do not think it reached studio expectations. Intended as the start of a series of at least three films (and possibly a TV series subsequent to that), work on a sequel seems to have stalled of late, though as far as I can tell one is still planned.

I watched this film at the cinema and whilst I guess I liked it, the flaws really bothered me. Re-watching it, my opinion has definitely changed because I think it is a pretty fantastic piece of entertainment. The very Red Dawn (1984) esque plot sees a group of teens go away camping in the bush for a weekend. They return to find that Australia has been invaded, their home town completely taken over. Eventually they decide to fight back and form a troupe of very inexperienced guerrilla warriors. The second half of the film tracks their first major assault on the enemy. One of the notable aspects of the book is that it never identified who it was that invaded. A film adaptation does not have this choice as it has to show the enemy armies. So in this iteration of the story, it is an unknown Asian country that has invaded Australia because of its vast swathes of underpopulated land and its resources. This is actually a pretty standard xenophobic fear in Australia. That one day hordes from the north (generally in this xenophobic worldview it is the Indonesians that will do it) will invade Australia for our land. I don’t think that the film is intentionally playing on this fear. I just think it is unfortunate that the nature of film forces the identity of the invaders to be, at least somewhat, revealed.

Tomorrow shot

Tomorrow When the War Began is the kind of film not often generated out of Australia. An ambitious budget spent on populist and fun pure entertainment. Thankfully, despite its unashamed mainstream intentions, the movie pulls no punches. Unafraid to make interesting statements about militarism and depict cowardice, it’s high action galore, unabashedly showing the reality of modern warfare and at times (though only when necessary) doing so with explicit violence. There’s no doubting that some of the set up of the plot and characters is clumsy, but it is never uncharming. My major issue with the film the first time I watched it was the script. Upon this viewing though, whilst some lines jarred for me, I actually think I was too harsh on that aspect of the film first time around. I think much of the dialogue that I perhaps had issues with previously is just written to be spoken by teenage characters. On that front, it predominately works. In fact the film captures what I recall of being a teenager quite well. There is an undercurrent of teen angst in the film, without it being an actual focus of the movie which is refreshing. The notion of discovering or making one’s way in the world as well as the, at times crippling, unstable sense of self-worth is really well done.

As is so often the case with films aimed at teens, the quality of acting is what really elevates or sinks the film. Thankfully the cast of Tomorrow When the War Began, mostly young veterans of Australian soaps, are really great. It is also a testament to the script that even though there are 8 main characters, the characterisation of all of them is lean and successful. Leading the way is former Ramsay Street resident Caitlin Stasey as main protagonist Ellie. She is effectively and believably able to convey what it must be like to be in such a horrific situation. Moreover, her character is a fantastically cool, all action heroine. She is the leader of the pack, the one who (whilst not entirely on her own) drives the group forward in all that they do. Hopefully more films do come to pass, because hers is a strong female character arc desperately needed. Another character who goes on a great ‘journey’ throughout this film is the ultra-religious Robyn, played by Phoebe Tonkin (most recently seen being utterly awesome as Dot in the ABC series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries). She is fantastic in the role and is able to really embody someone going through a great moral and spiritual torment as well as all the other horrors that are swirling around her. Of the male leads, it is Deniz Akdeniz as Homer who is the undoubted pick of the bunch. His character has a really interesting, though refreshingly totally platonic, relationship with Ellie and Akdeniz is able to bring the spirit of this popular and loveable renegade to the forefront of his performance. Unfortunately, the only letdown in the acting stakes was Lincoln Lewis as the smarmy Kevin. He simply does not convince and this is the second film, after Bait 3D (2012), where I have felt that way about him.

Overflowing with interesting characters and loads of action, Tomorrow When the War Began definitely did not disappoint for me this time around. There are so many interesting places to take this series, so here’s hoping that the rest of John Marsden’s brilliant books can find their way onto the screen sooner rather than later.

Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny

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Trailer for your Weekend: Room 237

room-237-poster

I’m not featuring this trailer for the movie so much (though I am very keen to see it), but rather the bold and artistic trailer. So great to see people take a really different approach to a trailer and this one really grabbed me. Simple, but very clever and effective. Great music, a great shot and a great payoff in under 2 minutes. What do you guys think of it?

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Dracula (1931)

Bram Stoker’s brilliant classic of English literature Dracula, first published in 1897, has produced numerous film adaptations – from the sublime, like Nosferatu in both its 1922 and 1979 iterations; to the garbage, Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) for example. Though I acknowledge my views on the latter are not universal.

Dracula. Lurking.

Dracula. Lurking.

Arguably no film adaptation of the novel has produced a more iconic interpretation of the novel’s central character though than Tod Browning’s Bela Lugosi starring Dracula (1931). Browning’s is a Dracula tale full of towering castles crawling with terrifying life forms (including somewhat absurdly an armadillo), an incredible orchestral score, those iconic Universal Horror sets (which intriguingly hosted the shooting of a Spanish Language version of Dracula at night at the same time this film was being shot) and plenty more that brings the atmosphere. The film is just so wonderfully staged. Apparently it is based heavily on a play based on the book and that sort of shows in the construction of the film as a whole, especially the way in which characters are introduced and plotlines set up. In comparison to most adaptations of Stoker’s novel, Dracula spends very little time in Transylvania, rather getting rather more quickly into the London set part of the story. The Transylvania set part still contains some of the most fun parts of the film. The scene where Dracula first sees his houseguest’s blood is pretty fantastic, with a dynamic camera zooming in to emphasise Dracula’s bloodlust. Before Lugosi comes out with the zinger “I never drink… wine”. It is undeniable that this 80 odd year old film does clunk at times. There seems to be a particular obsession with close-ups of Lugosi’s face shrouded in darkness, with only a strip of light over his eyes.

Dwight Frye who is so good as Renfield

Dwight Frye who is so good as Renfield

It is impossible to talk about this film without discussing in depth Lugosi’s turn as Dracula. Indeed when most people think of Dracula, the image they have is not Stoker’s Dracula, it is Lugosi as Dracula. Look no further than last year’s fun animation Hotel Transylvania (2012), a film where Dracula as voiced by Adam Sandler looked a whole lot like Lugosi. Initially when watching the film this time around (I had seen it about 10 years ago), I was wondering if Lugosi’s performance was so iconic because of the actual performance itself, or just because of how his character looks. But it is immediately clear that Lugosi’s actual performance is really ace too. He has this shtick which he works throughout the film that just makes him seem to truly inhabit the role of Count Dracula. His Dracula is the bogeyman, both literally and figuratively, the dark force lurking in the shadows outside of a woman’s house in the darkness of night. It is easy to see why when so many people think Dracula, they think Lugosi. There is somewhat of a paradox at work here though. Because whilst Lugosi’s performance is stellar, he is not given the chance to show off his chops too much. Indeed Browning seems content to predominately focus on his (admittedly awesome) iconic look. Lugosi has some excellent support from other actors in the film too. In particular Dwight Frye as Renfield is really something else. Initially he hams it up wonderfully as the stranger in Transylvania who finds himself the houseguest of Dracula. Once he is sent mad by whatever occurs in that castle though, Frye’s performance becomes even better, as he is transformed into a Peter Lorre-esque force of nature. His performance is probably the most horrifying aspect of the film, at least it was for me.

Dracula is a very clever version of this ubiquitous tale that has stood the test of time and definitely deserves to be watched. It has to be seen to witness what is the most famous interpretation of the character of Dracula. But rest assured there is plenty else here to hold your interest as well.

Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny

Progress: 75/1001

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It May be a Little Quiet Around These Parts

Hey wow, this LOL bunny is actually slightly relevant.

Hey wow, this LOL bunny is actually slightly relevant.

Yo Folks. I hope this post finds you all happy, healthy and well. The small number of you who have been reading my blog for a while will know that my output has greatly increased since mid last year. That is basically because after I graduated from uni, I put that spare time into writing. However, now I have foolishly enrolled myself back for more study pain. This blog is definitely going to continue. Tis just with full time work, part time study, sport, martial arts, hanging with the lady etc etc ec and now uni, time will be a little tighter.

I hope you will keep swinging by and reading what I do manage to post. I really do appreciate every single time someone reads what I have to say. I am thinking that I should still be able to hit you guys with a trailer and at least one other post per week going forward.

Peace to you all.

Trailer for your Weekend: Jack the Giant Slayer

Jack

Jack the Giant Slayer looks utterly idiotic. The kind of idiotic that could be incredible fun at the cinema if it is executed with a semblance of charm. The effects look pretty spectacular, whilst a cast featuring Ewan McGregor and Nicholas Hoult, has promise. Who knows which way this will go, but fingers crossed it turns out to be worth our time. This one is slightly different to the one I saw in the theatre the other day. That one didn’t have the hideous voiceover at the end and the horrid song at the start, but ah well.

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Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present (2012) is a documentary about one of the world’s pre-eminent performance artists. If that sounds truly boring, never fear, because the film is much more than that.

Marina

When I saw the film, I was expecting something pretty dry, despite the film getting uniformly positive reviews everywhere I read. The delightful thing about the film is that yes it is about performance art, but it is also about so much more. It is about the notion of legacy, boundaries, the psychology of art, physical limits, the monetisation of creativity and best of all, it is one of the most awesomely strange love stories I have seen for quite some time. The reflections on her working and personal relationship with her longtime partner Ulay are some of the most intriguing parts of the film. We are talking about a relationship that culminated in an artwork that saw them walking toward one another from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China, an act that so changed them that it was the end of their relationship. There’s was a real love, ultimately combustible, but incredibly reflective. It is not often that you get to see the parties involved reflect on something that has burnt out in such a way and it is riveting stuff.

Marinaulay

At the centre of everything wonderful the film is about is Marina Abramovic, an engaging and complicated artist. She is clearly a rather large deal in the contemporary art world, but you cannot help get the sense that she has a bit of a chip on her shoulder that this acknowledgement eluded her for so long. As well as chronicling her past, the film also shows the preparation and performance of Marina’s latest and most ambitious piece. At MOMA in New York, all day, every day for 3 months, Marina will sit in a chair and allow members of the public to sit and look at her from close up, their eyes meeting – a piece entitle ‘The Artist is Present’. It is an incredible feat of commitment, passion and physical strength, as you witness the toll that this has on her body. The most stunning aspect of the performance are the rabid crowds who come to see her perform and to sit in her presence. It is incredible to see the array of people who are moved to tears by the performance and there is something undeniably profound about what takes place. It was also incredible to see the level of preparation that goes into her piece. Detractors would scoff that anyone could just sit in a chair in an art gallery and that does not make it art. But not everyone (and perhaps no one else) could do the 6 months of preparation required to perfect such a piece and ensure that it has such an incredible effect on so many people. The entire performance is an incredible journey by Marina, there are definitely times that you feel she has bitten off more than she can chew, and it is great to see such an incredibly high quality artist deal with that fear. She refers to the performance as “her cross” and beautifully articulates the artistry and skill involved, stating “the hardest thing to do is close to nothing.”

Definitely not what I was expecting, Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present, is well worth checking out. Give it a shot even if the premise sounds about as enticing on nails on a chalkboard, I’d be willing to guarantee that the film surprises you in some way. Rare is the film that sees you actually engaging with an artwork, but I think that is one of the many things that this film achieves.

Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny

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A Few Best Men

Last year’s Australian comedy A Few Best Men (2011) was notable in that it featured a rare onscreen role for Olivia Newton John. It also featured Rebel Wilson at the start of her real breakout year in the States. Unfortunately though, the film is not particularly notable for any other reason.

The Lads

The Lads

David (Xavier Samuel) meets Mia (Laura Brent) on a beach in Tuvalu. The two fall passionately in love almost immediately, so before they part, David proposes. The film picks up with David and his three best mates flying in from London to Australia for the wedding. Who would guess it, hijinks ensue. Unfortunately though, I just found the hijinks to be criminally unfunny. The first few jokes fall remarkably flat. Not just, well that was a little unamusing flat, but embarrassing for all involved flat. Further to that, there is no real investigation of whether or not these holiday lovebirds are actually suited to a life together. Indeed, the love story of what should be a ‘romantic comedy’ is essentially a subplot and the ‘I do’ part of proceedings goes off with barely a hitch, which removes any suspense in that regard. Instead, it is just a cavalcade of the lads getting into more and more madcap trouble. All of which is straight from The Hangover (2009) or a hundred other films, most of which has been done better in at least a few of those films. Though the standard, incredibly flat falling and awkward best man speech is actually one of the film’s better moments.

The performance from Laura Brent, pictured here with Olivia Newton John, is the best thing about the film.

The performance from Laura Brent, pictured here with Olivia Newton John, is the best thing about the film.

There are a couple of saving graces for the film coming from a couple of really good performances. Unfortunately though, neither of these characters occupies nearly enough screen time. First of all there is Rebel Wilson, as Mia’s ‘Black Sheep’ younger sister. Wilson is doing her laconic thing here, but she does it well and with obvious devotion to her craft, which I think is evident in all of her roles. The second performance that stood out is Laura Brent’s Mia. It is a little inexplicable that she sees so little time onscreen, given that this is her wedding we are talking about. But whenever she is onscreen, she really lights proceedings up with a charm and genuineness that seems to be sorely lacking from the rest of the film. The male performers are uniformly bland, with the exception of Kris Marshall, here playing the same role he plays in basically all his films, but doing his rambunctious thing pretty nicely. The film is well put together as well, with the direction from Stephan Elliot being assured and the stunning scenery of The Blue Mountains west of Sydney a big star. But all of this cannot overcome the weak script that plagues the film.

It is unfortunate that despite some nice performances there is very little to recommend A Few Best Men. Lacking in charm and being burdened with a deeply unfunny script are two pretty large obstacles for a comedy to overcome. Unfortunately, rather forgettable all in all.

Verdict: Schooner of Carlton Draught

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Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher (2012), which from now on will be referred to as Werner Herzog as Villain, is the adaptation of the sixth book in Lee Child’s wildly successful series of thriller novels. I feel much the same way about Werner Herzog as Villain as Homer Simpson does about the film Man Getting hit by Football in one of my favourite ever Simpsons episodes. Other films may have more heart, action and better scripts than Werner Herzog as Villain, but Werner Herzog as Villain has Werner Herzog as villain.

Unfortunately, having Werner Herzog as villain was not quite enough to save Werner as Villain for me. Nope, not even the most inspired piece of casting I can recall saves this film from its flaws. Things start relatively promisingly too, with a brutal opening featuring an indiscriminate sniper attack. Also, Richard Jenkins shows up and I do love me some Richard Jenkins. But before too long the really shitty script begins to make itself known and takes things over. Tom Cruise shows up too, bringing very little with him to be honest. He is meant to be a total badass, but he just couldn’t pull it off. He just has this really smarmy presence, which is weird because I thought that Reacher was meant to be more of a salt of the earth, ‘everyman’ type of guy (that was definitely the impression I got from the only Reacher novel I read). The only couple of good moments were included in the trailer, leaving essentially the only reason to watch the movie the fact that Werner Herzog is the villain. The film is just so bloody long too. Seriously, a film like this really only needs to be 90 minutes or so, but this just keeps stretching out far over the 2 hour mark.

Herzog, bein creepy

Herzog, bein creepy

Just to be clear though, the fact that this Werner Herzog as Villain has Werner Herzog playing the bad guy is as incredible in practice as it is in theory. His Herzogian voice just makes for such an iconic character and he brings something decidedly disconcerting to the role. Herzog has a cracking villain face as well and his character works well. Because if anyone can play a character who ate his own fingers and make it seem believable, it is Werner Herzog (we’re talking about a man who once ate his own frickin shoe). Herzog genuinely brings an intensity to proceedings that is sorely lacking from the rest of the film. If only Tom Cruise in the titular role brought anywhere near that level of presence. Indeed, the only other actor who is on Herzog’s level in this film is the charismatic young Aussie Jai Courtney as his main henchman. This is the first role I have seen Courtney in, but let’s just say I was very impressed, and it gives me a lot of hope for his upcoming turn as John McClane’s son in A Good Day to Die Hard (2013).

Courtney and Cruise about to throw down

Courtney and Cruise about to throw down

If you are a huge Werner Herzog fan like me, Werner Herzog as Villain is probably worth your while. Even then, just wait for it on Blu-ray and in all seriousness you could just fast forward through any scenes not featuring Herzog and you would not miss much. For everyone else though, don’t even bother at all. The woeful script and general averageness of the rest of it does not really make it worth the effort.

Verdict: Schooner of Carlton Draught

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The Searchers

John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) has an almost unparalleled reputation, hailed as the greatest Western of all time and receiving Sight and Sound accolades. Personally, I simultaneously like the film, but also struggle to see why it enjoys such enduring acclaim.

searchers poster

The first shot of the film is an iconic and fantastic one. Initially showing a woman’s silhouette in a doorway, then moving out to show one of the arid vistas that John Ford’s Western’s were so associated with. The plot sees Ethan, played by John Wayne, returning to his extended family after a long time away at war. Soon after, the dreaded Comanche launch a ‘murder raid’ on the family farm, after luring Ethan and some of the other men away from the homestead. Ethan and the others realise that two of the young women have been spared and captured by the Comanche. So they ride out after them. I think the narrative is why the film does not work 100% for me. For starters, I do not entirely feel that Ethan and his comrades are that enthused by the chase. They seem to just be going through the motions. Aside from Ethan’s racism, it is hard to see why they persist in hunting for the Comanche year after year (Ethan does not seem to express that much affection for the girls who have been taken). I guess I just do not see the emotional connection to the girl that they are so intent on reclaiming. The other issue I have is that the film struggles to convey the passage of time through the film. The hunt takes place over the best part of a decade, but it does not feel anywhere near that long.

searchers 1

I do quite like this film. It is one of John Wayne’s better performances and a number of the peripheral characters undertake really quite interesting journeys throughout. But unfortunately it is somewhat inevitable that a review of an all time classic that I just do not quite get to the same degree as the consensus will slant a little negative. So apologies for that. I just do not enjoy it as much as a number of other Westerns – Shane (1953), Stagecoach (1939) and One Eyed Jacks (1961) all spring to mind. I think that whilst the real core of those films is made quite plain by the filmmakers, with The Searchers, you really have to dig for it. I think that the most interesting aspect of the film is the character of Ethan. His return from war, then his almost immediate leaving to go out on another ‘war’ of sorts, suggests that he is damaged goods. A man that cannot live without the thrill and focus that a war to fight brings. He needs violence and the ability to inflict violence to get by. This is not just evidenced by his endless pursuit of the Comanche, but also in his interactions with his peers.

The film is quite dark, pulling no punches in setting up the story. Indeed this dark vein never really leaves the film (nor is it really lightened by comedic relief at all, despite some pretty poor comedic relief characters trying their best) – see the moment that Ethan shoots out the eyes of a slain Comanche so that, according to Comanche belief, he will wander purgatory for all of eternity. I have heard differing views concerning the depiction of Native Americans in the film. Personally, I did not think it was at all forward thinking. For much of it, they are two dimensional, wicked villains, with no examination of the motivations of their actions. The Comanche are portrayed as simple minded and backward and overall I just found it all a little degrading. I think the film does improve in the second half. Rather than overplaying the grizzled old man persona to excess, here Wayne seems to loosen up a little and some of that delightfully typical John Wayne humour starts to shine through. And there are some highpoints to the narrative throughout this second half as well, both in terms of emotion and action.

comanche

The bottom line is that you should definitely try and see The Searchers, because many a wiser film student than I considers it an all time classic. And I really enjoy it, albeit to a level that does not match its considerable reputation. But if you are willing to dig into the nuance and depth of John Wayne’s character, there is a bit to be found here.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

Progress: 74/1001

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