Monthly Archives: July, 2013

High Noon

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If 24 was a classic Western – and it really should be – it would most likely be High Noon (1952). The clock rules in High Noon, slowly ticking down to an archetypal Western showdown between the law and the baddies.

couple noon 2The film is all set in one day, which happens to be the wedding day of local Marshal Will Kane and Amy Fowler, played by Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly respectively. The Marshal is retiring from his job into a more peaceful new life with his Quaker missus. Their happy day is ruined by the return of the fiendish Frank Miller, who Will had put in jail some time earlier but has just been pardoned. After abandoning an attempt to flee, to the disgust of his wife, Will returns to town in order to confront his nemesis when he gets off the train. The rest of the film is devoted to an almost real-time countdown for the train to arrive, as Will tries to get a crew together to support him in standing up to the thugs, wading through a sea of small town politicking to do so. Unfortunately though he seems desperately low on support from the townspeople. The film is an interesting mix of classical and innovative approaches to the genre. The final showdown between the foes is pretty standard in the realm of iconic Western. The tense but slow-burn build up, which in many ways is extended bouts of diplomacy is not so standard. A different psychology is at play to most Westerns I have seen with much less of a focus on action. Similarly the scenery consists of predominately agricultural land and the town rather than the open, sweeping John Ford style American plains and valleys.

Running down the list of the cast of this film, it would have to be close to the greatest cast ever put together for a Western – Grace Kelly, Lon Chaney Jr., Lee Van Cleef and Gary Cooper. They are all in good form here as well, especially Kelly and Cooper as the (un)happy newlyweds. Both of them are helped by the fact that there are some really interesting elements to their characters. Kelly’s Amy has a fervent belief in her religion and the pacifism that it entails which is examined on a number of occasions in the film. On the other hand, Cooper’s Will is not just a whitewashed, perfect hero. He loses his cool, hits people, doesn’t seem to have all that many friends in town and could most certainly treat his new wife a whole lot better. Directed by Fred Zinnemann the film is astutely shot. Much of the action takes place either indoors or in the confines of the town, so it is shot much tighter than most Westerns. It is opened up a little by the use of some funky camera angles, such as a close-up of a wagon wheel as the wagon bounces along at great speed.

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I really enjoyed High Noon, it manages to blend the iconography of the Western with a pretty original approach to the storytelling. It is not one of my absolute favourite Westerns, but if you have any interest in the genre, then this is one you probably want to tick off.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

Progress: 89/1001

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Sanctum

One of the first films that James Cameron turned his attention to after Avatar (2009), was the Aussie genre film Sanctum (2011) which Cameron produced. That fact, as well as the fact it was (I believe) the first Australian film to utilise 3D, got the film a relatively large amount of hype, at least here.

sanctum diver

Whilst the film was relatively panned by critics and did not go so well at the box office, I think it deserves a bit of a reappraisal. Definitely imperfect, Sanctum is an atmospheric and refreshingly dark thriller. You know what is good for creating atmosphere? Frickin caves. You know what the only thing scarier than caves is? Frickin cave diving. Sanctum makes the best of these indisputable facts as it traps an eclectic bunch of divers deep within a cave system in Papua New Guinea. With their path to the surface blocked, their only option is to journey through the previously unexplored cave system to find the ocean. The film is beautifully shot. Some of the establishing shots of the PNG countryside are jaw-dropping and the budget clearly extended to some really excellent aerial photography. Without overdoing things, the photography also ramps up the suffocating claustrophobia that cave diving brings. The kind of claustrophobia that can, and does, seriously affect one’s mental state. The narrative is a little silly. It reminded me of that terrible film Vertical Limit (2000) where a whole bunch of people die in a mountain rescue, but you still feel happy because the right one lives. But as an exercise in tension, it works pretty well, managing to overcome dafter moments such as a base jump into the cave. This was my second viewing of the film and I did notice this time that it is quite a difficult watch.  There is a brutal edge to many of the proceedings and it is rather harrowing to sit through things right til the end. Sitting through it will reward though, because there is heaps to like about the film.

father n son sanctumThe performances in Sanctum are a bit of a mixed bag. Richard Roxburgh is the most effective as the grizzled veteran diver Frank McGuire who has never been able to build much of a relationship with his son, preferring instead to focus on his career as a cave diver. As his son Josh, Rhys Wakefield is serviceable and makes you believe in the angsty relationship that he shares with his old man. I thought Ioan Gruffudd was a better actor than this though. He is utterly abysmal in this film. Much of this is due to the accent he attempts to put on. I think it is meant to be American, but it is truly hideous and really distracting. It definitely takes a certain breed of person to invest your life in caving and especially cave diving. Not exactly my cup of tea. But the film brings to life this misfit gang and taps into some of the psychology behind why they choose to spend their time deep underground in scuba gear, living on the precipice of death. You can definitely get a sense of the attraction of being able to see something that no human being has ever been privileged enough to see before.

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Sanctum looks incredible – both above and below ground this is a really well shot film. As a coherent well-acted narrative the returns are a little variable, but as far as tense, claustrophobic thrillers go, you can do a whole lot worse.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

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Live Tweet Poll: Rubbish Shyamalan

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The career of M. Night Shyamalan can be easily divided into two parts, with perhaps a little grey area in between. First is his golden, early career that famously led to him being labelled the ‘next Spielberg’. This period runs up to at least Unbreakable (2000) and includes the almost universally acclaimed The Sixth Sense (1999) that was probably the critical and commercial highpoint of Shyamalan’s output. Just as stark is the period of rubbish Shyamalan, which runs from Lady in the Water (2006) to his most recent abysmal effort After Earth (2013). This period has seen Shyamalan release some of the most maligned flicks of the last decade, attracting the kind of vitriol generally reserved for the likes of Uwe Boll and Michael Bay. Signs (2002) and The Village (2004) occupy a little bit of  a grey area in between the two periods with mixed opinions. What do you guys think of those two?

In any case, I have actually seen very little of Shyamalan’s work hence this little live tweet poll. This Saturday night coming around 9:30 ot 10 my time, I will be live-tweeting one of M. Night’s rather crappier efforts. Let me know in the comments below which of these three films you would like me to unleash my live-tweet on.

Lady in the Water (2006)

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The Happening (2008)

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The Last Airbender (2010)

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Trailer for your Weekend: R.I.P.D.

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A little late with this, but better late then never I guess. R.I.P.D is apparently already out in the states, though it mustn’t be making many waves because I have not really seen any reviews doing the rounds. The trailer looks like it could be a pretty clever ride and it has some pretty interesting people involved – Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds and the awesome Mary Louise Parker. It does also look like it has a tone that could definitely go either way.  Has anyone seen this already and care to share their thoughts?

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Chico and Rita

Chico coverThe Spanish film Chico and Rita (2010) was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature before losing out to Rango (2011). It is always nice to see a film made by someone outside of the Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks trinity get some kind of recognition at the big award ceremonies, so I thought I would take a look.

A vast majority of the film takes place as an extended flashback, beginning in Cuba in 1948. Chico is a muso in his prime, who comes to know and love Rita. Theirs is a topsy turvy relationship that spans a fair bit of time and space, travelling to the States, Paris and more. They both make mistakes and it is nice that their love is not too neat and tidy nor ‘hollywood’ in its presentation. Because in real life, love is rarely that way. There are a couple of surreally well realised moments in this romance. When Chico and Rita make music the morning after they first make love is one such moment which definitely springs to mind. Aside from the dominant love story, music (especially Cuban), is the predominant focus of the film. Music is used both in the background and the foreground of the action onscreen. In its establishment, the narrative, and film more broadly goes for a very old fashioned filmmaking aesthetic. The comedic chops and characterisations hark back to a 30s musical or melodrama. In addition to this, the film also takes the quite interesting approach of mingling fact and fiction by incorporating real life people and events into the film.

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The film looks absolutely amazing, with a really unique visual approach. The animation has really noticeable, black outlines which boldly evoke classical animation and also a sense of the time where the events are set. This style is a really fantastic way to approximate life, more so than 3D animation and perhaps even the more traditional cell shaded approach. Whilst the animation looked incredible, when it came to the motion of the animation there were some issues. The faces were not always adept enough at conveying all important emotions while some of the movement of the characters was a little clunky. But overall, the visual splendour of the film is its chief selling point.

Perhaps not as enchanting as it could have been, Chico and Rita is still worth spending the time on. The film looks phenomenal and is better at evoking a real sense of time and place than most any other animated flick I can recall.In fact unfortunately, taking away the visual approach, I perhaps wanted to like the film a little more than I actually did in the end. Having said that, the ending of the film is a cracking one, actually bringing a conclusion to the proceedings that is a little more satisfying than the overall feel of what has come beforehand.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

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Trailer for your Weekend: The Canyons

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A bit of stunt casting for this one – the porn star and the fallen star of Lindsay Lohan. Plus it is based on a work by Bret Easton Ellis, the controversial writer. I have read (and been challenged by) some of his work in the past and I am intrigued to see this, despite the authors rather unlikable public profile. This trailer is decent, I especially like the opening little part about films. Plus the fact that Paul Schrader directs the film, makes me pretty keen to check this one out.

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Before Midnight

Opening tomorrow here in Australia, Before Midnight (2013) is the third entry in the Before… series of films from director Richard Linklater and stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. I have only recently watched (and loved) the first two films: Before Sunrise (1995) which is fantastic, and Before Sunset (2004) which is something of a minor modern classic in my view.

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As such, expectations were pretty high for this third entry. If you have not seen either of the first two films, they are essentially romance films, that on the surface should be too schmaltzy to handle. But somehow they work really well, the improvised dialogue and realistic feel coming through. However where the first two films are a couple falling in love and rediscovering each other, Before Midnight is two people having a stupid fight. Imagine if you met my fiancée and I for the first time, and we just had an absurd, meaningless argument that just jumps from point to point for an hour and a half. An argument where the parties involved lose all perspective of why the hell they were even arguing in the first place. How would you feel about us? That is what this film is like. The snappy dialogue and rapport between Hawke and Delpy that is channelled in such interesting directions in the first two films is just mired in the blandness of everyday life here.

elle-before-midnight-deI respect the direction that the film is taken, but it is not what I go to the cinema for. I want the whimsical idealism of the love story between these two characters, Celine and Jesse. I was just not prepared for this very domestic drama. Before Midnight tries a fair few different things to the first two films. For starters, it introduces more outside characters, they are on a holiday with a number of other people when the film starts. It also has a bit more of a rambunctious, obvious sense of humour, which actually manages to merge pretty well with the vibe of the rest of the film. I’m not so sure that the external intrusions of the additional characters work so well though, they distract from what made the first two films so iconic, i.e. the singular focus on Delpy and Hawke. The additional characters help to make much of the film a comedy rather than a love story. Indeed, the film is part comedy and part relationship drama. None of the wondrous romance of the first two films. Overall, despite the two lead actors being once again fantastic in their roles, the film was too grounded in reality for my liking when I was just looking for a continuation of the grand love story. Before Midnight unfortunately takes these two really endearing, even if slightly pretentious characters and makes them just utterly unlikeable.

This film has worked for a lot of people, but it did not work for me. I was not ready to accept ‘real life’ from the characters of Celine and Jesse. I want a love story for the ages, not a daft argument which makes me dislike them both. There is just not enough joy in this film for me.

Verdict: Schooner of Carlton Draught

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The Masque of the Red Death

Roger Corman is undoubtedly the king of B movies, renowned for films featuring cheap dialogue, titillating female characters and huge monsters. The cycle of eight Edgar Allan Poe adaptations that he directed from 1960 to 1965 in tandem with star Vincent Price masque posterwere the closest that Corman ever came to physical acclaim.

The Masque of the Red Death (1964) is the penultimate film in that series and the only film of Corman’s that features on the 1001. It is not surprising that he was able to create a film of such atmosphere and quality, because even when bringing to the screen his silliest visions, there was no doubting the quality of his craft. He also had an incredible eye for talent, helping to launch the careers of a whole range of film icons, Martin Scorsese and Jack Nicholson to name just two. Indeed Nicholas Roeg, who would go on to direct films such as Walkabout (1971) and Don’t Look Now (1973), was the cinematographer on this film. The Masque of the Red Death is an adaptation of the Poe story of the same name. One of the most notable achievements of the film is that it is able to stay true to the spirit of what is a very short story, whilst making the necessary expansions to get it up to feature length. The film sees a plague sweeping across the land which forces Price’s prince to hole up in his castle with a bawdy bunch of friends for some partyin and Satan worship… as you do. Once there of course, many moody and atmospherically creepy happenings begin to take place.

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Vincent Price is a really great actor. Yeah his range might have been a touch limited compared to some, but Price did his thing very well. And as the tyrannical Prince Prospero, Price is chewing the scenery left right and centre with aplomb here. It is lovely scenery too, because the design is perhaps the best thing about the film bucking the usually rather cheap standard of Corman films. Apparently the very cool castle set was inherited from another production which may help to explain some of this though. The castles and set dressings are fantastic as are the costumes that adorn the Red Death and his associates. Especially for the time, there are some pretty interesting moral things going on in the film. From Prospero’s continual assertions that “God is dead” to various deals with the devil and an intense sequence where a man in an ape suit is calculatingly burnt alive.

As a fan of Poe’s work, it is a treat to see it interpreted in a manner that is both so original and yet so adept at bringing to life the spirit that is in his writing. The Masque of the Red Death is also a perfect chance for Corman and Price to show their real quality as director and actor respectively. If you are a fan of Edgar Allan Poe’s work, or of classic horror filmmaking, then you should definitely take a look at this one.

Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny

Progress: 88/1001

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Trailer for your Weekend: Frozen

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In my view, Disney have been doing some pretty interesting things of late. Whilst concerning many with their strategy surrounding Pixar, films like Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph from the house of mouse have been really quite good.

Check out the first teaser trailer for their upcoming film Frozen. It doesn’t tell you too much, but with a lot of the  Wreck-It Ralph crew involved, hopefully they can keep their good form going.

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Hail

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“My soul’s pretty damaged at the moment”

I never really start reviews with a quote and I am not going to make it a regular thing. However looking back over my notes for Hail (2011), the above line of dialogue from the film seems an apt way to start. Hopefully I can communicate why. Barely seen upon its release, Australian film Hail is an uncompromising drama completely grounded in real life. A real life suburbia the type of which is rarely featured onscreen.

The film begins with a close-up of a painting depicting demons and gods at war. It is a fitting starting point because the film is in many ways an examination of the waging of very individual wars, both internal and external. The film focuses on Dan, who has just been released from prison. There is hope, from him and those around him, that he will be able to get his life back on track. But it is not a fake, glib hope. It is a realistic one. The hope to scrounge enough in a legal manner to get by and maybe spoil the woman you love with a few drinks at the local club every so often.  Dan knows that people like him cannot really hope to rise much higher than that in contemporary Australian society. Having said all that, those are goals that you really hope and desire that Dan can achieve, to get his life back on track. The narrative is essentially linear, though not exactly what you would call straightforward. Especially early on, what takes place is more a succession of events and moments – sex, the tender moments afterward, having a drink, getting a job, smoking dope – before things gradually crystallise into a stronger narrative core.

The two incredible stars of Hail

The two incredible stars of Hail

I should warn you that Hail is an exceptionally difficult watch. There are shocking acts of violence. Some are shocking because they explode out of nowhere, others because of the truly heinous nature of what is being committed. Part of the reason behind that is the style in which it is shot. Which is actually a hard style to describe. In many ways, the grainy look and realism is similar to the style that made Snowtown (2011) such an ordeal. But having said that, many aspects of the film are actually shot in a really hyper-artistic, borderline avant-garde manner with images passing by and going in and out of focus. These sequences at times feel like a beautiful relief from the oppressing viewing of the film. Dan never shies away from his past. But as a man who is only just keeping it together, one crushing event brings him totally undone. And it is from this point that the clash of styles I have just mentioned is used to really quite devastating, disorientating effect. The performances are very naturalistic in their execution, the characters are predominately played by non-professionals and the events onscreen reflect in some ways those that these men and women have experienced in their real lives. Daniel P. Jones who plays Dan has a very intense presence onscreen that he channels into moments of both endearment and rage. Indeed, in a good way, he delivers more of a ‘presence’ rather than a traditional performance I think.

Hail is a searing film. A fantastic one, that I don’t think I ever want to see again. It shows one man’s journey through punishment, hope, retribution, all of it encased in layers of lost love and guilt. Watching Dan the character and Daniel P. Jones the actor approach his life, so “frightened of the unknown” is highly original, and highly effecting cinema.

Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny

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