Monthly Archives: December, 2013

Hunter: For the Record

Hunter poster

It is nice for me that my final review for 2013, a year I intended to focus more on Aussie film, is indeed an Australian film. It is even nicer because Hunter: For the Record (2012) is a low budget independent music documentary that hopefully I can do a little to publicise.

However to simply refer to the film as a music doco is to do it a fair disservice. It is that, the film focuses on Robert Hunter, a pioneer of the pre-Triple J hip-hop scene in Australia and more specifically in Perth. I would consider myself to be a fairly big fan of Australian hip-hop, and I learnt a lot from the early parts of this film about the scene back in the early to mid 90s that I never knew about. After about half an hour of the film though, Hunter reveals that he has been diagnosed with cancer, and that is where the film really begins. It remains a portrait of hip-hop culture, but more importantly becomes a portrait of a man suffering from cancer. The film shows the physical and mental evolution of someone who is dying and who is well aware of that fact, at least for the most part.  It is a massive credit to the filmmakers and all those who agreed to participate in the film that they never attempt to gloss over the man that Hunter truly was.  It is refreshing to see a portrait of an artist who is not utterly perfect and gifted. Neither does the film stretch to manufacture him into some kind of tortured soul artist as is so often the case.  Hunter was an artist like no other really. I have never seem someone who is such an incredible mix of bogan and refined artist.  This is a guy who can write fantastic hip-hop songs about being a proud dole bludger, but also the most heart wrenching love song (in hip-hop form) to his father, that will bring a tear to your eye. I think that this tribute to Hunter from a couple of his crew, sums up a lot of him beautifully:

The filmmakers were blessed with a bevy of great material from the video diaries that Hunter began to make for himself and his young son after his cancer diagnosis. Beyond that though Hunter: For the Record has been really well put together  by first time director Sam Bodhi Field. Some of the visual touches are nice, especially when a couple of tracks play with the lyrics popping up on the screen graphically. There is something distinctly poetic about the film. Not just from the rhymes of the music, but the film moves and ebbs in a way that for me is reminiscent of poetry. I think that Hunter imbues the film with so much of that as well. As well made as it is and as good as the interview participants involved are, without Robert Hunter telling so much of his story so beautifully, this is not half the film that it ends up being. There is a poetry that emerges from this complicated dude confronting his cancer diagnosis head on as he does and being so open in sharing his struggles.  As Hunter’s life winds down, he comes to a place of very insightful awareness of his failings as a man and as a father.  Not only that, he also evolves as an artist right to the end, seeing a growing refinement to his work especially lyrically, as his health declined.

Hunter-for-the-Record-Film-Still-1

I really can’t recommend this film to you enough. Not just for hip-hop fans, the film is a real portrait of life and what it is all about. Not an easy watch, I wept a number of times during this, my second viewing. But despite what it depicts, the life affirming nature of how Robert Hunter lived his last 12 months does give the film a hint of the uplifting.

Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter

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If you are keen to get your hands on the film, you can do so (DVD, Blu-ray & digital download) through the official website here.

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Trailer for your Weekend: Transcendence

Transcendence poster

Could it be? Could Johnny Depp actually deliver a performance where he doesn’t just play Johnny Depp? This first trailer for Transcendence gives us some hope I think. I’m not sure if others have been tracking this film for a while, but I only really became aware of it the other day when I caught the trailer. And I’ve got to say it looks pretty badarse. Here is hoping for some intelligent but not too confusing sci-fi goodness. With a Johnny Depp in fine form challenging himself rather than just playing a caricature of himself. You guys psyched at all for this?

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My Christmas Viewing Plans

ACC poster

A very Merry Christmas to all of you out there. I hope that whatever the season means to you and yours, it is filled with family, companionship and most importantly beer.

I am travelling interstate over the period (have been doing so for the best part of a couple of weeks actually) and will be spending the festive season in Victoria. Firstly in Beechworth with my fiancée’s family and then in Melbourne with (most) of my family.

One of the family traditions we have in my family is a movie or two on Christmas night. I have wrested control of the film choices away from my mother this year. I love my mother dearly, but she has a chequered history in terms of Christmas movie choices. Trailers for my two choices which I have specially bought brand spanking new blu-rays of are below. The first is, I think, universally regarded as a Chrissy classic. The second is in my opinion probably the most underrated adaptation of Dickens’ iconic A Christmas Carol.

Do you and yours have any Christmas movie traditions?

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Now You See Me

Now you see me poster

The practice of stage magic is undeniably cool and has always aroused suspicion as well – what criminal means could shady magicians put their befuddling skills to? There is a great movie in that. A pity then that Now You See Me (2013), with an absurdly good cast, is definitely not that great movie.

NYSM FrancoIt all goes pretty badly right from the start, with the film only ever slightly improving from its terrible and tacky start. The plot sees a band of top class magicians recruited by a shadowy unknown figure to pull of a number of (supposedly) spectacular heists that target the ‘one percent’. A cop, played by Mark Ruffalo, attempts to take them down, and the whole thing culminates in a craptacular twist that you will have either seen coming from way off, or you will just not particularly have cared enough to even think about. Oh and there is an absolutely terrible love story subplot that will convince no one. One of the major disappointments for me was the presentation of the actual magic tricks. Hearing that the entire cast had undergone extensive magic training I was psyched for some good old school trickery. Unfortunately they opted for the new school trickery of CGI, which simply does not work in this setting. If the story could not be told through tricks that could be performed practically, then the story should have been changed.

NYSM magivians

I am not really sure how, but the makers of this film managed to attract quite an incredible ensemble cast to what is a pretty miserable script. Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Dave Franco, Michael Caine, Common, Melanie Laurent and Morgan Freeman all feature. They all do at the very least reasonable work here, with material that rarely rises to the level of reasonable and I don’t think ever beyond. Eisenberg is perhaps the best of the lot. He manages to create a really fleshed out character, at various times neurotic, eccentric, controlling and seemingly a master magician. Brother of James, Dave Franco continues to show that he is a pretty gnarly dude and brings a real presence to his role here. Freeman and Caine are of course good, but their characters are two of the weakest. Freeman’s especially, which if it had of been well written, would have been a really intriguing window into the world of magic, is really disappointing. Utter rubbish such as this is much more enjoyable when performed by actors of this quality. Given how little I enjoyed the end product though speaks a lot to just how poor the material they were working with actually is. The direction and technical aspects of the film are totally bland and even worse, just by the numbers stuff which cannot elevate the film at all, whilst decisions such as those around the use of CGI actually leave the film a fair bit poorer.

NYSM fuzz

One of the silliest films I have seen for quite some time, Now You See Me did pretty much nothing for me. There were some moderately intriguing plot points and a really good cast. But the bad definitely outweighed the good on this one. The film surprisingly went great guns at the box office and as such director Louis Leterrier will have the chance to improve on this tepid effort when a sequel shoots in 2014.

Verdict: Schooner of Carlton Draught

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Trailer for your Weekend: Interstellar

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Here is this week’s trailer. Albeit a little later than usual, so apologies for that. Also the ongoing neglect of everyone else’s blogs as I travel and fight crappy internet connections.

I am not all that familiar with Christopher Nolan’s non-Dark Knight work. But this trailer has me pretty excited. It looks like Terrence Malick has made a sci-fi flick. And if the end product turns out anything like that, this will be one hell of a film. Not to mention it has Matthew McConaughey who has managed to go from laughing stock to one of the most reliable actors in the world in remarkable time. What do you guys think of this one?

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The Tunnel

I have been having a lot of issues with my internet of late, plus I have also been away a lot (and am heading off again tomorrow), so I have been a little quiet with my writing and reading of other folks work, so sorry about that. Seem to have found a small window of slooooow internet though, so thought I would chuck this review up.

tunnel poster

Australian horror flick The Tunnel (2011) got a lot of attention both here and internationally during its conception. Whilst it may not appear so innovative now only a few years removed, some of the tactics adopted by the producers of the film to get it off the ground and get it seen by as many people as possible, were pretty groundbreaking. Before crowd-sourcing was really a thing, they attempted to essentially crowd-source this film by selling of each frame of the film for a dollar. Whilst they did not end up selling all the frames they required, this approach got them enough notice to ensure sufficient funding was forthcoming to complete the film. Outside of that, the distribution model that was taken, and that continues to get the film out there, has ensured that the film has been seen by far more people than would have otherwise been the case. The film can be downloaded legally for free through a number of file sharing services, the film’s official website, watched on a number of VOD platforms, or purchased on DVD or Blu-ray (I personally took the Blu-ray option). I think these kind of left of centre approaches are becoming more common, which I think is great to see. I also think that as these approaches are used more and more they will become more refined and hopefully help smaller filmmakers cover the costs of their film and turn enough of a profit to ensure they can make their next one.

Outside of all that though, does The Tunnel actually work as a horror film? I say most definitely.  The film starts slowly, struggling early on to get over the top of some of the more average performances and getting sucked into some of the trappings of its chosen mockumentary style. After this flat opening though, the action ramps up and the film turns into one of the more tense and frightening local horror films (or just horror films in general) that I have seen in recent times. The plot sees the NSW government planning to use the abandoned network of tunnels underneath Sydney for a water recycling plant. Suspicions are raised amongst the media however when for some reason, the Government simply drops the idea with no explanation whatsoever. Rumours abound as to the reasons why, including that homeless people who live in the tunnels for shelter have been disappearing at an alarming rate. To investigate, a news crew sets off below ground to investigate what the hell is taking place underneath the train network of Sydney.

tunnel screenshot

For starters, how bloody amazing is a network of abandoned tunnels as a setting for a horror film? Instant atmosphere right there. The film makes good use of it as well, without ever really being cheap about it. There are some spectacular scares in this film. It is best at creating tension, using atmosphere and action onscreen to have you freaking out a bit at what is to come next. Perhaps through the first half the film is a little better at creating this tension than actually delivering on it. But that changes throughout the latter part of the film, with the conclusion and last 15-20 minutes being especially satisfying. I was concerned that the action and tension would disappear when the true nature of the sinister force below the surface was revealed. The filmmakers though use this to their advantage and if anything make things tenser following the reveal. Whilst I have written before about how tired the mockumentary genre can get, The Tunnel does a pretty good job of keeping it fresh. It is helped by the fact that those taking the footage are a news crew, which is something a little different and it also gives those in the action a reason to comment on it, without having it feel too contrived. There are also interviews with a couple of those who were involved which helps to break up the shaky-cam (which actually isn’t too prevalent in any case). The performances are all good from the main cast members, however none of these performances is the real focus. Rather they are there to serve the creation of tension and fear, and they manage that. First time feature director Carlo Ledesma brings a lot to this film though. It is not a film that is entirely straightforward to marshal and convey, but Ledesma does a very good job.

Insanely tense with some awesome scares The Tunnel is highly recommended for aficionados of low-budget horror. It will perhaps not win over too many from outside that fan base, but as an example of what can be created when driven and innovative people put their mind to it, it is really excellent.

Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny

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Delicatessen

Delicatessen poster

I’ll get this out of the way early: Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Delicatessen (1991) is utterly bloody absurd. Any film that promotes vegetarian freedom fighters in the promotional material is more than fine by me. This film wanders and winds its way to that end. At times it is brilliant, at times far too oblique, but it is always pretty interesting to sit and watch.

Delicatessen vegoSet in a post-apocalyptic future of some sort Delicatessen takes place in a pretty miserable society where food is extremely rare. So rare that a butcher has resorted to knocking off people to maintain stock in his shop. The world that Jeunet has created is a strange, absurdist, failed industrialist one which manages to combine whimsy and grime in its makeup. There is not a whole lot of plot through the early running. It is more about establishing the tone, imagery and vibe of the whole situation. The plot that there is focuses on a new tenant in an apartment block above the butcher. He is the jack of all trades, and all is going relatively swimmingly. Especially when he begins a tender relationship with the butcher’s daughter. Trouble does appear on the horizon however with the cannibalistic father running low of meat for the butcher’s shop. That is where the vego freedom fighters come in. The film ends exceptionally well. It is a shame then that there is so much kerfuffle for a stretch beforehand that it is near impossible to establish what is going on.

Much of the futuristic aspect of the film is conveyed through the really bold way in which it is shot. It is nothing too over the top, but everything just feels slightly different. There are plenty of angles you don’t often see and the shot length is similarly unique, a touch closer to your average. Actually this shooting and the design of the film was extremely reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) which is a good touch point for knowing what you will be getting yourself in for if you give this a shot. As the butcher’s daughter and protagonist’s love interest Julie, Marie-Laure Dougnac gives the pick of the performances. Perhaps partly as a result, hers is also the most interesting character, especially the breakdown of her relationship with her murderous father. However outside of her, the characters don’t really stand out as individuals. The script does not let the audience in to get to know them.

Delicatessen  head

There is no doubt that Delicatessen is a good film, but it is a little too scattershot to succeed entirely. Like any film such as this, there will be plenty of this you love, some that won’t move you as much. For me, the imagery was a real joy as was some of the absurdity. Would have just been nice if the narrative was a little clearer throughout.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

Progress: 96/1001

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Trailer for your Weekend: Godzilla

godzilla poster

As a massive fan of Monsters (2010), I think that if anyone is capable of making a decent Godzilla film in this day and age, it is director Gareth Edwards. When you think about it, the story is not an easy one to transfer to a contemporary sensibility. But here is hoping this is a really great big scary monster flick. I like this trailer, even though there is a fair bit of shared ground with the latest Captain America effort. It doesn’t ruin anything and gets me excited for the scope that Edwards is going to bring to the screen. Godzilla is definitely one of my most anticipated films for next year.

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Anchorman 2 is on a hiding to nothing

anchorman 2 poster

A strong argument can be made that Anchorman (2004) is the biggest cult classic of the last 20 years. A film so popular it can cannot be considered just a fringe cult classic anymore. But I think it definitely has to be considered a cult film though, because it fits in perfectly with two of the criteria for that vague term. Firstly, it was not particularly successful upon initial release. I can’t recall the exact numbers, but the box office was around $90 million. Not particularly dire, but pretty underwhelming, especially when you consider the place in pop-culture the film now holds. Secondly, people just don’t like Anchorman, they are obsessed with it. People watch it every time they have a hangover (ok that’s just me). But people have a seemingly insatiable ability to re-watch the film ad-nauseam.  I think that speaks to the brilliance inherent in the film. The mixture of script and ad-lib never gets old (if you liked it in the first place that is). As my film tastes continued to refine, as I began to study film, I kept assuming that I would grow out of my love for Anchorman. Nope, it still works exceedingly well for me. Many others too, as the Anchorman love is so vociferous that those who don’t like the film (and these people do exist) are almost scared, timidly decaling they just don’t get the hype.

applegate anchorman posterAll this adds up to what I see as an almost impossible task for Anchorman 2 (2013) which opens next week in many parts of the world. From the very beginning, an in-character announcement by Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy on the Conan show that the sequel had been green lit, the hype train has been a runaway one. This, coupled with existing expectations that could not possibly met, will most likely see a somewhat anticlimactic reception for the film. I am pretty confident in saying that Anchorman 2 will be a really well made film and probably a hilarious one too. It will most likely equal the first film in both of those aspects. Unfortunately though, that won’t be enough to win over critics (who didn’t particularly like the first one at the time) or indeed fans, who will opine that everything is better the first time.

It is not possible for a film to be as beloved as the original Anchorman straight away upon release. More than love, that film is an object of such endearment to too many people as it has slowly seeped into our lives. Anchorman 2 may do that eventually, but it will take years. I fear that people won’t be able to see the impossible expectations that have been put on the film, by themselves and by their mates who they have watched it dozens of times with. Hopefully we can see the film for what it is. No film is iconic instantly, so don’t expect Anchorman 2 to achieve that. Do expect it to be one of the better films of the year though and a hilarious, quotable ride.

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Badges of Fury

badges poster

The other night I thought it would be a good idea to live tweet a film. I thought it would be a good idea to live tweet Badges of Fury  (2013), a Jet Li buddy cop comedy. That second part was not a good idea, because the film was woeful. Hopefully this review is mildly better. I did end up going off topic and rambling about Limoncello and pondering decent Jet Li films a fair bit. Limoncello is awesome. This film is not.

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