Monthly Archives: September, 2013

Trailer for your Weekend: Thor: The Dark World

thor the dark world poster

I quite liked Kenneth Branagh’s take on Thor. Sure not everything worked, but it was a pretty distinct comic book vision at the very least. I’m not sure why, but I hadn’t really given much thought to the looming sequel Thor: The Dark World. Marvel fatigue perhaps? But the last couple of films I have caught at the cinema have played this second trailer for the film beforehand and I have to say I think it looks like a whole lot of fun. I especially like the look of the interactions between Thor and Loki. I didn’t feel he was a big enough deal to be the main Avengers villain, but it looks like the relationship between him and his broseph could be a nice focus for this film.

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Live Tweet Poll: The Questionable Mr Price

Price

I love Vincent Price… who doesn’t? But there is no doubting that the great man’s cinematic output was patchy to say the least. I also feel that his cinematic output is ripe for a bit of live tweet review treatment.

So, here are four choices from Price’s filmography for you to choose one for me to tackle. I have included a poster and the snappy taglines from the DVD covers of the copies I have. Dunno anything about these films? Base your choice solely on the poster and tagline, the more votes the better.  Of course if you do have thoughts on these films, share them in the comments below.

I will be looking to do the live tweet either next Friday night or Saturday. So be sure to follow me on twitter and keep an eye out.

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) – “Betrayal cuts both ways”

pitpend

The Tomb of Ligeia (1965) – “His first wife is dead… but still a little catty”

tomb-of-ligeia-1965-vg-fn

The Haunted Palace (1963) – “Accursed mutants… evil possession… will anyone escape The Haunted Palace?”

haunted_palace_poster_01

The Tower of London (1963) – “He turned a nation into a chamber of horrors”

tower of london

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Shadows

Director John Cassavetes is one of the most iconic names in American independent cinema. After watching the incredible Shadows (1959) I have to agree that such a reputation is warranted.

The great John Cassavetes

The great John Cassavetes

Set in New York, the film loosely follows three siblings living together in the late 1950s. The eldest brother is clearly African American, whilst his younger brother and baby sister are more pale skinned and at times throughout the film pass for white. This fact gives the film its major highpoint in terms of narrative conflict. Lelia, the female of the family, starts a passionate and loving relationship with Tony. Although it is only early in their relationship, not to mention the fact there have been tribulations up to this point, the couple seems to be headed in the direction of some sort of lasting bond. But just as Tony is leaving one day he happens across Hugh, Lelia’s eldest brother. Seeing Hugh, the fact that Lelia is in fact African American dawns on Tony and he reacts appallingly. Cassavetes is too clever a filmmaker to make this an over the top response though. But Tony is horrified that he has been sleeping with a woman of a different race and the excellent performance from Anthony Ray conveys to everyone the gravity of his shameful reaction. The performance of Ray and the way this entire scene is handled is one of many examples of the film refusing to portray simplistic interracial interactions at any level.

shadows cast

Some people reduce the whole point of the film to this singular moment. Whilst there is no doubting that it is both the most dramatic narrative event and moist pointed social commentary (Tony is not some redneck, rather a bohemian literary type) in the film, there is much more going on. Throughout the course of the film’s taut 82 minutes, Cassavetes crafts really satisfying character arcs for all three of the siblings. He shifts attention from one to the next, but never by completely abandoning attention on the others. I would say the focus of the film is actually on all three, rather than just on Lelia. The fourth main character the film focuses on is the very specific New York of the film which is populated by beatniks, literary types and guys looking to booze & fight. There is an openness also to various taboo subjects such as sex, specifically the physical and emotional pain of losing one’s virginity, and interracial relationships that helps to flesh out this world. In terms of shooting, the film is shot in a way that makes it look not cheap, but definitely grimy and a little underground. Obviously in part this probably reflects the budget that Cassavetes was saddled with, but it also reflects the world the characters live in, on the fringes. And it looks great.

Shadows DVD coverInitially, some of the results from the film’s budget limitations can be a little distracting. The poor dubbing of the characters voices, which means they are pretty out of sync I found especially noticeable. Before long though, the film’s rhythm takes over and that is no longer a consideration. The film really does have a rhythm too. Most obviously from the wonderful jazz soundtrack courtesy of Charles Mingus that plays almost continuously through the film, but also from the cigarettes, dive bars, sex and street smart dialogue that the film is soaked in. Indeed it was the dialogue that really gave me a way into the film. It is at least semi unscripted, but excepting a rare occurrence early in the film that jars, this approach to narrative flows and makes the film feel realistic. The dialogue is helped by the fact that the performances, from the predominantly non-professional cast, are all really good. Especially from Lelia Goldoni as Lelia who brings to life a strong, individualist woman who is the perfect combination of naiveté and world-awareness.  She is a figure of both gender and racial empowerment who cannot be handled by any of the men in her life, except her brothers who love her in the right way.

I really loved Shadows. It had that effect that some great films do that I just want to race out and get my paws on everything that Cassavetes ever made. To witness a quite different kind of master director at work, I can’t recommend this film enough. It is a wonderful snapshot, both of an original approach to the filmmaking process and of a time and place that Hollywood would never have bothered to spend a little time in.

Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter

Progress: 91/1001

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Asterix and Obelix in Britain

Asterix_in_Britain_(front_cover_-_English_edition)Like numerous other kids around the world, I was a big reader of the Asterix series of comic books growing up. I have vague recollections of an animated TV show, but Asterix and Obelix in Britain (2012) was the first of the live action films that I had checked out.

The first thing that becomes apparent is that this film has been lovingly designed to invoke the sort of hyper-real medieval universe that the comic books played out in. The second thing that becomes apparent is that this is a deeply silly film. Delightfully silly though, rather than annoyingly silly. The plot tracks Asterix and Obelix as they trek from Gaul to Britain to deliver a barrel of magic potion to the Brits, currently under siege by the Romans. Hijinks ensue, generally involving the swatting away of the aforementioned Romans in increasingly ridiculous ways. At least in my circle of friends, Obelix was always everyone’s favourite character from the comic books. Nothing is different in this film as the character, brought to life by Gerard Depardieu and some hefty padding, is clearly the star of the show. For much of the film Depardieu’s charismatic performance actually threatens to outshine his co-stars, especially Edouard Baer as Asterix who at times seems rather pedestrian in comparison. It doesn’t hurt that the script grants Obelix probably the tenderest emotional core in the film as well as a vast majority of the best lines. Not to mention a pair of the most spectacular pants in film history. Probably the only performance that comes close to matching Depardieu’s is that from Fabrice Luchini as Caesar, who also benefits from the best of the script, but conveys it with a delicious smarminess.

asterix banner

Asterix and Obelix in Britain manages to nail an off-kilter, absurdist tone that is actually very difficult to pull off. Whilst it may appear on the surface to be an unhinged, on the run approach, for a film of this tone to be a success, it must in fact be a tightly controlled operation. Unlike most other films that aim for this level of silliness, basically everything that the film tries work. The stuffy stereotypical Brits, with their penchant for dropping everything in the arvo for a cup of hot water and a continued insistence on incorporating contemporary songs into a theoretically medieval world for example would both most likely irritate in many other films. This theoretically medieval place is really thoughtfully designed though, especially the sets which are fantastic, bringing the iconography of the time to life through a light hearted, almost Willy Wonka-esque lens. Kudos also should go to the script, which is chuckle-inducing funny on a really consistent basis, as well as also being nicely self-referential. The film is a little long though, due to the fact that the main storyline gets forgotten for the most part. But even this lack of focus is in a way all part of the charm of the film.

backsterix

If you can’t handle films that revel in their extreme silliness, it is probably best to steer clear of Asterix and Obelix in Britain. On the other hand if you have an appetite for the stupid, especially if you were or are an Asterix fan, you will have some fun with this.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

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The Tower

slick_37932I have this distinct childhood memory of being at a friend’s house late one night because my parents had been away somewhere and would be picking me up. After all the other kids had gone to bed, I stayed up to wait for my olds, whilst the adults watched The Towering Inferno (1974). That film scared the shit out of me. I have the most vivid memory of going home with my parents when they finally arrived, convinced that we were all going to die as our towering one story house was sure to be engulfed in some form of inferno. And even more vividly, I recall that my parents bought me back a gift from wherever it was they had been, and it was a pair of pyjamas. I can tell you nothing about these pyjamas, except that on the tag in big red letters were the words “Fire Retardant”. After double checking with mum that didn’t mean they were prone to spontaneous combustion, I was able to rest easy in the knowledge that my brand spanking new pyjamas would protect me from the looming and inevitable inferno.

tower party 2I tell that longwinded and potentially meaningless anecdote to give you all a glimpse into my psyche as I checked out The Tower (2012), a South Korean flick that claims to meld the aforementioned Towering Inferno with Die Hard (1988). The second half of that claim appears to hinge 100% on the fact that the action takes place on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, The Tower chooses to make you wait a little for your skyscraper set carnage. First of all, it goes through about a half hour of telemovie standard motions. All of the various characters, who will no doubt find themselves 100 stories up later in the film, are introduced in a stock standard way. There is the dude who has just moved into the apartment block, the guy who tells his kid to come see him after school (bad move buddy), the lady at work he has a crush on and of course the rookie fire-fighter. Basically cliché after cliché. It’s all stock music, hammy acting and a script that lends itself to such performances.

But that is all fine, because if you are sucked in by the DVD cover of this film (as I was), then all you really care about is the carnage. And after the tepid first half hour, this film brings it in a satisfactory manner. It might catch you a little off-guard though. I for one was shocked when something went wrong in the scene where there are frickin helicopters flying around in between frickin skyscrapers with frickin fireworks goin off. No potential for carnage here I said to myself. How wrong I was. The meeting of helicopter and skyscraper in an extended scene is highly satisfying. There is massive carnage and a huge amount of fire that looks really stark on screen. Helping the fire to spread is the fact, as already established by the film in its telemovie exposition phase, that the sprinkler system in the building is busted. From here on out, the film does what the DVD cover had promised and it does it pretty darn well.

still_37242Overall, the film is not too intense. With one or two exceptions, you basically know who is going to live and who will perish. These initial sequences immediately following the helicopter incident, are the film’s most intense however. Especially effecting are the really quite realistic scenes of the panicked masses trying to evacuate. The scene where a bunch of people are literally cooked alive in an elevator is also pretty tough to stomach. Like all good films of the skyscraper ablaze subgenre, there are some cracking little set-pieces. I only have to mention that one involves a ‘gondola’ on the exterior of the building, and the other a sky-bridge between two huge skyscrapers, and you know the kind of awesomeness that will be involved. The film is very assuredly made. It is really well shot and especially early on there is some quite clever stuff done with slow-mo, surely the most tired of all visual techniques. Another favourite aspect of the visual side of the film for me was the repeated external shot of the building ablaze. This shot was a reoccurring one and it was a very cool way for the viewer to be able to track the level of destruction being wrought on the building and the change in circumstances of the people inside.

If you can manage to sit through the decidedly average first half hour of this, you will be rewarded with the tasty morsel of some really well realised skyscraper destruction. Essentially, if the idea of a well made film about a skyscraper ablaze appeals to you, then The Tower is well worth your time. If you are not keen for a film fitting that description, then I am deeply disappointed in you.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

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Trailer for your Weekend: Generation Iron

PIron

Apparently Generation Iron is from the producers of Pumping Iron, probably the only bodybuilding flick a mainstream audience has ever cared about. This trailer does look at the culture from an interesting angle, aiming to present the athletes on display as thoughtful professionals rather than meat-heads on roids. Frankly I’m skeptical that a bodybuilding film can be worth my while without Arnie saying “it is like caaaahming” at least a few times. Prove me wrong Generation Iron, prove me wrong.

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Insidious

insidious posterGiven the presence of director James Wan, I am claiming this review of Insidious (2010) as part of my focus on Australian film. Wan and creative partner Leigh Whannell famously had to head abroad in order to get the necessary financing for their film Saw (2004). It has worked well for them too, with both of them carving out nice little careers in America.

I have been enjoying horror films more over the last year or two, after realising that whilst atmospheric and at their best highly tense to watch, they were not going to leave me all that scared, unable to sleep for days like I feared. Whilst it didn’t keep me up for days, Insidious is one of the scarier horror flicks I have seen. The first half is a near perfect Haunted House jaunt that is seriously tense and creepy. It sees a married couple, played by Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson, have their son fall into a coma. Soon after, numerous creepy happenings start taking place. One of the best aspects of this section of the film was that it felt like a pretty realistic presentation of how a couple would react to such an intense situation, as fractures begin to emerge in their relationship. The second half, whilst perhaps not purely as successful as the first, successfully takes the story into some interesting and delightfully creepy places. It also leads to a conclusion of the film that is satisfying, and I for one loved the setup for the sequel at the end.

insidious kid

Watching this film got me thinking how little respect or even attention Wan gets here in Australia. His films get decent releases, but there is not the same focus on him as ‘one of our own’ and how well he is doing in comparison to other actors and directors. Perhaps most of that is due to the fact that he is working in the horror genre which does not get the respect it deserves. Hopefully this will change eventually, because on the evidence of Insidious, Wan is one of our very best directors. The film looks incredible under Wan’s stewardship. Even in the scenes of relative normalcy, Wan is very good at using the camera to create tension in a really disconcerting way. He achieves this generally in a very simplistic, old school manner, by really thinking of the best place to place the camera in each scene. A level of thought that is seemingly not bothered with in so many films. I am not for a second suggesting Wan is the next Hitchcock (he isn’t), but the way he thought out his scenes and took the care to think about the spot that placing his camera would bring the most to each scene, reminded me a lot of the great Brit’s work.

ByrnewilsonThe Aussie flavour to the film leaks over to the cast as well. Rose Byrne, as the female lead, gives the best performance in the film. She is able to give a real sense of her character and the troubles that have plagued her life. Whannell partners up with Angus Sampson to fill a comedic relief slot. I liked the performances of those too, but was not so fond of the characters. Tonally the comedic stylings were just a little too light and not integrated with everything else that was going on. All the performances in Insidious were at the very least decent. Patrick Wilson, whilst in the shadow of his onscreen wife Byrne, is quite good. Lin Shaye as the employer of Whannell and Sampson, does really well to balance her role as part old kook who cannot be trusted, and the only hope for those involved. I also really liked the use of sound in Insidious. One of the major gripes I have with sound in many contemporary horror films is the fact that it is used cheaply to trick people into scares. In Insidious the sound is used to build atmosphere, but more importantly to boost the effect of scares that are already happening on screen.

I’m shamefully behind on catching up with Wan’s films (this is the first I have seen). But Insidious impressed the hell out of me, so I will be getting on to the others. A clever update on the classic haunted house flick that is genuinely scary, I can definitely recommend this film to anyone with the slightest interest in the genre. Or just if you want to see the work of one of the better young directors working today.

Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny

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Worth Watching August 2013

August was a dead quiet month for me. Well actually it was extremely busy. But my film watching focus was on films to consider for The Blue Mountains Film Festival, which I can’t really share my thoughts on here. But I thought I would still post this up quickly, just to share my thoughts on the couple of cracking things I did manage to check out.

Worth Watching:

  • Behind the Candelabra (2013), Steven Soderbergh – Apparently not deemed ‘too gay’ for Aussie cinemas which is fantastic. Soderbergh in top form. The film looks great and the performances are extraordinary. Damon is really good as always, but Michael Douglas just kills it as Liberace. One of those rare films that is essentially all just sitting around and talking, but which is never less than totally engaging.

BTC

  • Weeds Season 6 (2010), Jenji Kohan– Having the Botwin family on the run is a nice change-up for this series, which had grown ever so slightly stale (seriously, only ever so slightly). Rarely has a screen big or small seen a hero as flawed as family matriarch Nancy Botwin.  Whilst there is no core storyline as strong as many of the previous seasons, and also less of the peripheral characters that made the show so incredible, a fantastic last couple of episodes are the sweet icing on what is still an excellent season of telly.
  • Pacific Rim (2013), Guillermo Del Toro – Del Toro has done a hell of a job bringing this passion project to life. This is a film that is rambunctious fun, thanks to its playful tone. And Del Toro’s designs perfectly bring to life those childhood dream robot vs monster fights. Whilst I’m not entirely on the bandwagon with this film, it is still one hell of a ride in what I think has been a pretty decent blockbuster season.

pacific_rim_ver8_xlg

Not Worth Watching:

  • Absolutely nothing.

If you only have time to watch one Behind the Candelabra

If you only have time to watch two Pacific Rim

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Trailer for your Weekend: Monsters Dark Continent

Monsters-Dark-Continent

So it turns out Monsters (2010) is getting a sequel in the form of Monsters: Dark Continent. Who knew? Definitely not me until this news exploded across my computer screen earlier this week. I was a big fan of the first film, I ranked it number three in my Top five list for 2010. But it was a pretty divisive film, and I know there are plenty of people out there who did not dig it at all. For me though, I am absolutely psyched for this. That one image in this trailer of one of the huge creatures being carried in a big coal truck has absolutely sold me. Can’t wait!

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