Nothing has been able to get me out of the house this week, away from madly watching films preparing for the Blue Mountains Film Festival. Not even a couple of my most anticipated films of the year have been able to pry me out of the house and into the cinema. Nothing would break my resolve.
Nothing that is, except that the Arc Cinema at the National Film and Sound Archive brought To The Wonder (2012) to the big screen here in Canberra. I have no real idea why Terrence Malick’s latest film was given essentially no cinematic release here in Australia. But given I consider Tree of Life (2011) one of my top 5 favourite films of all time, this was worth heading out of the house for.
There are plenty of critics of To the Wonder who would suggest that this was not time well spent. I am not amongst them. Mark me down in the minority who love this film and who believe it is an honourable entry into one of screen history’s more remarkable bodies of work. I actually think that the narrative of this film is more straightforward than most of Malick’s work. It is a love story, the peaks and troughs of love and passion. Furthermore this narrative is brought to life relatively simply, so that it is easy to follow. Don’t get me wrong, the presentation is slow (some would say laborious) and unorthodox (except for Malick), but the telling, the central thread, is simple enough. Characters played by Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko (Neil and Marina the credits tell us, but I don’t recall that coming up in the actual film) fall in and out of love. That is it. In some ways much of the film is incredibly schmaltzy, but told in the unschmaltziest way imaginable. In the end it strikes the nuance that occurs in real life. Feelings are not just torn in two. There is not just love or just hate between two people. But the two feelings fighting and scratching against each other.
If you have ever watched and enjoyed a Terrence Malick film, you know the kind of visual splendour you are in for with this film. However here he brings some decidedly different images. It is not a simple examination of natural or rural environs. The incredible imagery covers a lot of ground – cities, towns, ranches and a focus on mining. These images are used to examine the effect that all of these aspects of society have on the environment around them. In a way, just as frightening as the snarling mining equipment is the house that Neil and Marina live in, right on the edge of the urban sprawl. A lone outpost of suburbia, the interim space between the rural and the urban. But soon to be joined by innumerable other ‘little boxes all the same’. One last note on the visual side of things, I was lucky enough that the Arc cinema has 4K digital projection and it was the sharpest I can recall a film looking. Stunning projection.
In terms of performances, it is Olga Kurylenko who carries the film. Affleck is there, and he is good. But his is a secondary role, not submissive but kept intentionally quiet and distant. Kurylenko though is very good in the difficult role of a woman struggling to find her place in a relationship, let alone the world. Thematically the film covers a lot of ground. At its heart it is about the transformative power of someone new in your life. Even if the initial jolt of change that person brings cannot be entirely sustained, it does not mean you have not been changed forever. At heart, no matter where the film goes, I think the opening reveals Malick to be a real romantic. Above all, he is a believer in the redemptive power of love. Perhaps the most ponderous aspect of the film is the role of the local priest played by Javier Bardem and that of faith more broadly. His is a character that almost exists on the fringes of the film. He visits the poorer parts of the local community, attempting to minister his good word. He does not appear very successful. It is apt that he is on the fringes of sorts, as the overwhelming sense you get from the character is that he is ultimately a very lonely one. He never entirely integrates into the narrative just as he has never fully integrated anyone else into his confidence. The role that this character plays in the film is one of the aspects of it that I will be most keen to take another look at when I next check the film out. To the Wonder is a film that you do have to actively watch, but not in a way that makes it a chore. You just have to be on guard, as oftentimes fleeting scenes and images are some of the most important or emotive of the whole film.
Like all Terrence Malick films, To the Wonder will require repeat viewings to garner all of its meaning. But the first viewing for me was an extremely enjoyable one, and like all of the great director’s films, for me it was an almost transcendent one. Malick has the power to make me deeply think like no one else working today. All the while putting some of the most awe-inspiring images that you will ever see in a cinema right there in front of me.
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
I’m a sucker for anything starring George Clooney and Matt Damon. Oh except if the title starts with the word Oceans. The Monuments Men, a war period piece looks like it could be pretty fantastic, especially with the awesome cast that has been assembled. With the focus on ‘monuments’ as well, it could possibly be a different approach to dealing with the War then that usually taken. I will definitely be keeping my eye out for this one.
A couple of weeks ago I delved into the deep dark world of late career M. Nigh Shyamalan with a live tweet of The Happening (2008). Oh my it was painful. A pain you can re-live here.
I have to admit that when I first saw the trailer for the Aussie comedy Save Your Legs (2012) my expectations were pretty low. The tale of an amateur cricket team on tour in India had cliché and cringefest written all over it.
The end result is a fair bit better than my pre-judged opinion. Sure there is a bunch of cliché and the odd cringe. But the whole thing is charming enough, thanks mainly to the cast, that I was able to forgive those sins, chill out and just enjoy this pretty mild comedy. The film follows the Abbotsford Anglers, a hack D grade cricket side, who talk themselves into a fully sponsored tour of India. It focuses on the entire team, but especially the trials of three of the players. Teddy played by Stephen Curry is a cricket obsessive. One of those weekend battlers in all sports who take the game far too seriously and absolutely live for the game. Alongside him are his best mates, Rick played by Brendan Cowell (also on screenwriting duties here) and Stavros played by Damon Gameau, both of whom are not quite so cricket obsessed and have other things on their mind. Buying peach suits, preparing for impending nuptials and getting absolutely stoned out of their mind chief amongst them.
You can see where the conflict will come from in the film as this band of misfits bungle their way around the cricket fields of India. Teddy takes things far too seriously, whilst Rick and Stavros generally dick around and have a great time whilst taking things nowhere near seriously enough. Along the way, the film does dip into the clichés that I feared it would, with ‘Delhi-belly’ jokes and numerous weed based shenanigans. But the whole thing overall is just so fine and easy to watch that I didn’t particularly mind. The film is very much helped by the fact that it was shot in India. Like The Waiting City (2009), another Australian film shot in India, this choice is an easy way to give the film a real jolt of atmosphere and sense of place. Many of the cast will be familiar to Aussie viewers, not so much people from outside Australia. Stephen Curry, still most famous for his role in the iconic Aussie comedy The Castle (1997) seems a good dude and comes across as very genuine onscreen. Brendan Cowell continues to craft out a niche as the laconic ‘best mate’, something he does very well and brings the laughs. The rest of the cast is strong as well, Damon Gameau is good as Cowell’s partner in crime, while David Lyons who was so good in Cactus (2008) is unfortunately given far too little screen time.
Save Your Legs will most likely not top your year end list, even if you restricted yourself to just Aussie or comedy films. But it is a decent slice of fun. The cast are really excellent and the locations are pretty spectacular as well. Just so nice and easy to watch.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
Tom Hanks is an easy guy to hate on, but I really don’t mind him. He has been in some pretty rubbish films, but I think they are rarely his fault. So personally I am interested to see him in Captain Phillips, especially given the based on fact narrative and that Paul Greengrass is directing. Greengrass is not particularly prolific but is one of the most interesting filmmakers working today. I definitely think that Greengrass has the potential to elevate what could be somewhat average material with his approach. Check out the second trailer for Captain Phillips below.
High Plains Drifter (1973) is the second film in Clint Eastwood’s rather auspicious filmography as a director. This is the first to explore the genre of the Western, where Eastwood made his name, after the contemporary surrounds of his first directorial effort Play Misty for Me (1971).
The film starts really promisingly as a lone rider emerges from a haze of heat on a wide open plain. It is beautiful and iconic image to kick things off. The lone rider is The Stranger, played by Eastwood, who rhythmically rides into town with the eyes of all the townsfolk transfixed on him. It does not take him long to make an impression on the place either. He guns down three heavies who are bugging him in the barbershop before raping a woman in a really troubling scene. I was a big fan of proceedings up until the rape scene. Eastwood with his hat pulled very low and a beard is an iconic image of the West. The scene where he shoots the three men is a cold, brutal one. He gets the first of them right between the eyes. The rape scene jarred a lot though. It comes somewhat out of nowhere and whilst it is addressed somewhat later on, it just didn’t sit right with me. The notion of rape as a form of revenge was troubling to me, but I don’t think the film made it out to be particularly troubling, if that makes sense.
There is a strange shift in tone and sensibility a little way through the film. The townsfolk are fearing the return of three convicts who have just been released from prison and who are presumably on their way back to town to gain revenge on those who put them away. Very High Noon (1952). The concerned residents, impressed by The Stranger’s skills in murdering the three men in the barbershop, decide to hire him to protect them. After some brief reluctance, he accepts, on the proviso that he can have whatever he wants in the town. From this point the tone lightness as he gets a merry band of men together and goes from shop to shop being a jerk and getting free stuff. He also promotes Mordecai, a local dwarf, to the dual role of mayor and sheriff. After such a strong, if imperfect, start which traded in the bleakness, grit and lawlessness of the West, this all feels like a bit of a jaunt. I don’t particularly like my Clint Eastwood quippy. James Bond makes quips, not Clint. It is just all a bit silly.
Then, just abruptly as the first shift, the film gets bleak again. Eastwood forces himself onto another woman (the treatment of women by the film was a little troubling overall) and then paints the town literally red and renames it hell so he can exact his revenge on the three men riding into town. Who it is revealed through the film have done something in their past to very much wrong The Stranger. It is no spoiler to say he has his revenge too. The hellacious image of The Stranger brutally whipping a man to death, surrounded by huge flickering flames is surely the film’s defining image. It is also one that does not really match up with so much that has preceded it though.
The uneven tone and questionable attitude to the treatment of women helped to make High Plains Drifter not that enjoyable for me. Which is a shame, because I like Eastwood as a director and the early parts of this set it up to be something far better.
Verdict: Schooner of Carlton Draught
One of the things that movies are great at doing every so often is proving the old adage that real life really is stranger than fiction. The Imposter (2012) is a documentary that achieves that goal better than any film I have seen for a fair while.
For those that don’t know, The Imposter is the story of Nicholas Barclay, a 13 year old boy who goes missing from his San Antonio home. Actually most of the story is about Frederic Bourdin, the person who impersonates him, fooling everyone from the police to Nick’s own family. I won’t go into too many specifics aside from that though, because this is a film it is best to experience with limited knowledge of what takes place. Alone the journey of presenting this amazing tale and the facts that underpin it, the film manages to provoke many trains of thought, or at least it did for me. It repeatedly makes you put yourself in the situation of those people in the film and what they must have gone through. Losing a 13 year old son/brother, finding him again and then having him torn away again for example. It also made me ponder the fact that it was possible that whoever did kidnap Nicholas was able to watch this film, which is a chilling thought indeed.
Stylistically The Imposter uses a lot of re-enactments to drive the action. Re-enactments are a bit of a dirty word when it comes to documentaries which is mainly attributable to the ham fisted ones that are a feature of so many TV docos. But the ones in this film are quite good and don’t take you out of the world of the film, as well as being stylishly done and originally incorporated into the rest of the film. Bourdin is the central focus of the film, helped in part by the fact that he was able to record lengthy interviews and participate in re-enactments. He is an incredible person, but not in a good way. There is at various times a sense of pride in the way he managed to deceive so many people with scant (no?) regard for the pain that he was causing in people’s lives. Clearly a sufferer of some form of mental illness, Bourdin is also a victim to some degree. But his unremitting narcissism makes it rather hard to empathise with him for any length of time.
For much of the film your empathy will fall with Nick’s family as they were completely sucked in by Boudin’s horrific impersonation and deception. The filmmakers also call this empathy into question though as the latter half of the film examines the possibility that Nick’s family were involved in his murder and disappearance. The lengthy interviews reveal just how exceptionally calculating Bourdin was in his approach to deception. He unveils the science behind making a succession of people, who really should have known better, believe that he was Nicholas. Frederic is pretty shameless about what he has done. He smiles often throughout the film, even when proudly recounting some of the more heinous deceptions that he spun. Making people believe that his was repeatedly raped by a military sex ring is just one example that he was willing to go to any length to maintain his position.
The Imposter is a deeply sad film. It is hard to know exactly what has taken place. But at the very least a young boy has disappeared and quite possibly died. The people who did it have not been captured. And his family has no closure. Unless they did it, which is not particularly reassuring. If you haven’t already seen it, check this film out. Very entertaining, thought provoking and another example if you needed one in your life that truth is far, far wackier than fiction.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
Thanks to Madman Entertainment, I have a copy of the film on DVD to give away. Comment below for two entries in the draw, retweet or share the details of this review on Twitter or Facebook for two entries and like the review here or on Facebook for one entry. Entries will remain open until midnight on Sunday my time. Open to all readers worldwide. Best of luck all.
Plenty of people find Vince Vaughan insufferable. I actually don’t mind him, though he does choose to star in some garbage films. In this trailer for Delivery Man, he looks to be just working his same ol schtick, sans Owen Wilson in this case though. That is basically all you really need to know in order to decide if you can be fussed checking this one out. I probably will. Or maybe not. Isn’t really too much to get excited about. Hopefully Chris Pratt, who I am a fan of from Parks and Recreation gets a decent chance to involve himself in proceedings which may help liven things up a little.
Recently released in Aussie cinemas, and elsewhere around the world on VOD platforms is the helluva fun comedy-horror flick 100 Bloody Acres (2012). Hopefully this film can gain a decent audience around the parts, because it really deserves it. Plus it would be great to see those behind the film, such as the brotherly directorial team of Colin and Cameron Cairnes, get more chances to show off their stuff.
Set in rural Australia, the film follows the Morgan brothers, small business owners with a massive fertiliser contract to fill. Only trouble is that the phenomenal batch of fertilizer they previously supplied happened to contain a secret ingredient… human bodies. An ingredient in short supply. At the beginning of the film, the younger of the siblings Reg finds a body in the wreckage of a car accident. So he snaffles it and heads back to the farm. On his way there, he stumbles across three festival goers, hitchhiking their way to the gig. Reg, eager to impress his big brother, picks them up with a view to turning them into fertiliser. Only, the Morgans aren’t murderers. At least not yet. All the other bodies they included in their product were just found in car crashes.
Back at the Morgan Brothers farm is where the ‘fun’ really starts. It is also where the older brother Lindsay, played by Angus Sampson, makes his first appearance. Sampson will be known to overseas readers from his work in James Wan’s Insidious (2011) and to Aussie readers from a bunch of (predominately comedic) things. Including a bunch of star turns in the Aussie show Thank God You’re Here such as this one:
Whilst the entire cast is good, Sampson is definitely the star here. He plays somewhat against type, being really quite menacing and overbearing and also strikes up a really good chemistry with Damon Herriman who plays his onscreen younger brother. Speaking of Herriman, he provides a well-meaning, if a little dopey foil to Sampson’s unhinged menace. The plot of the film is a clever inversion of the paranoia around hitchhikers in the Aussie outback. All three of the actors who play the hitchhikers are really good, especially so is Anna McGahan as Sophie. She does really well in a role that had it been poorly brought to life could have cruelled the film and made some of the bolder moments in the film feel utterly absurd. Also, this film features by far the best John Jarrett cameo of the past 12 months. Take that Tarantino.
Whilst the mixing of comedy and horror has been done really well by quite a number of films, plenty more have failed miserably in trying to pull it off. Some forget to put any menace or suspense into the horror elements. Whilst others are just miserably unfunny and embarrassing in their attempts to do so. 100 Bloody Acres hits the spot. After a gentle, wry start, the gore picks up quite a lot and whilst the ending is perhaps never in doubt, there is still a decent amount of suspense around exactly how things are going to go down. As for the comedy, it is a definite success, with the laughs ranging from the subtle to the hilarious character of Reg and his interactions with Sophie and ‘Bex’. The other thing aside from humour that the script does really well is that it actually makes you care about the characters. So often in horror/slasher type films the attitude seems to be, we are going to kill them anyway, so why bother making these people interesting? 100 Bloody Acres, while not dwelling over minutely detailed back stories, gives enough interesting tidbits for each character and especially the relationships between them to make you invested in what happens to them. Whether you are cheering for them to end up ground to a bloody fertiliser pulp, or hoping they can avoid that fate altogether. The film also looks really sharp, the cinematography makes the rural settings pop and also picks up every last little bit of grime and gore.
It is really good to see an Aussie comedy-horror film such as 100 Bloody Acres getting a relatively wide release. Even without the comedic elements, this film would be a serviceable little horror flick. But the fact that the humour is well executed and the performances all round hit the spot, make this right up there with my favourite Aussie flicks of the year so far. Go check it out.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny