Global Warming is not a core interest of mine. I have no doubt that it is happening and that it is cause by us shitty old humans. But for whatever reason, I have never felt particularly moved to either read or watch much about it.
However I recently watched the fantastic documentary Chasing Ice (2012) on the subject which may lead me to explore the topic a little more. The film takes quite a different approach to the issue compared to most. The focus of the film is photographer James Balog who begins an epic effort to set up time-lapse cameras pointed on various glaciers throughout the northern hemisphere. Balog, at one time a climate change denier, is a scientist by trade who ended up devoting his life to photography. His interest has always been the interaction between humans and nature and climate change is perhaps the ultimate manifestation of that. The reason he never really pursued science is due to its obsession (in his view) with statistics and computer modelling. This is also something that plagues discourse around global warming to a degree (no doubt with some understandable reasons underpinning that) which is part of the reason why I am not generally too fussed watching or reading about it. Photographing the change in glacier conditions is a great way to put in perspective what is really going on with our planet. There is interesting interrogations of the science as well though. But even that is a little different to the norm. This is about the concept of ‘air change’ and what ice cores can tell us about climate change over the centuries, which was all new to me.
Chasing Ice is only 75 minutes long but manages to cram a hell of a lot into the lean running time. It gets into the nitty gritty of Balog assembling his team and the high tech equipment that he needed. It also follows the expedition to set up the cameras in a number of countries (4 or 5 from memory). This part of the film almost needs to be a whole film in itself. It is so interesting and it is a perfect setup for a longer focus. That is almost my only criticism of the film. It could be longer or even a TV series with each episode focusing on a different aspect of the story – the global warming background, the kernel of the idea, the planning, initial expedition to put the cameras out, maintenance through the years and the final results. Having said that, all of those aspects are touched on satisfyingly, if briefly, throughout the film. And my, as you may imagine, this is a really pretty film. The imagery is incredible and varied too. Often with docos such as this, the imagery is a little repetitive. But as Balog touches on, there are seemingly infinite variations to the look of glacial ice and many of them make an appearance here. I wish I was lucky enough to see this on the big screen actually. The film closes off with the fruits of Balog’s labour. His time-lapse images are stark in the extreme. A sobering lesson that something is very wrong with our world.
It is not often that I give full marks to a film that I think is definitely imperfect. But when my issue is that the film is too short, then the film has done its job really well. Not content just to rest on the laurels of its interesting subjects, Chasing Ice tells this story really well and even better than that, it does it in a really engaging way. If you are after a global warming doco that is not all graphs, doomsday projections (though it is blunt about the future) and arguing between factions, give this a shot.
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
I thought this focus on horror cinema was a good chance to wrap up some of the horror flicks that have been released this year. Here are five that fit the bill, nicely capturing a fair range of horror tropes – vampires, monsters, horror-comedy, alien abduction, home invasions. In order to keep your reading time somewhat manageable, I have tried to restrict myself to 300 words per film which is pretty short for a rambler like me. Speaking of rambling, I went on a fair rant earlier in the fortnight in terms of the state of distribution here in Australia when I was sharing the Patrick (2013) trailer with you. Well here is some more evidence for you about how rubbish the system has become here. Three of these films (including the two which blew me away and got top marks) did not even get a cinema release. Another film I considered reviewing as well was The Evil Dead (2013) which only managed to play in a single cinema in the entire country. Anyways enough ranting, onto the reviews!
Let’s get the bad out of the way first of all shall we? The Guillermo Del Toro produced Mama (2013) is all kinds of bad. The film starts promisingly enough, with an atmospheric opening and the really high production values shining through (however it does feel a little too glossy). I was a big fan of the first appearance from the titular Mama as well and quite like the change-up when films reveal the monster early, like in The Host (2006) for example. The premise is classical, but not without promise – two young children are found after surviving a number of years in the forest, watched over by a spirit of some description.
But the overall experience of Mama is one that does not entirely flow. The creepy-arse kids give good performances but I did not love their characters. Unfortunately Jessica Chastain, one of my favourite actors, is not very good in this at all. I am all for breaking down typecasting and exploring new genres, but here as a tattooed rocker chick, she does not seem to be feeling the role which results in one of her lesser performances. Not only is the performance bad, her character is entirely unsympathetic too. Narratively the film is both derivative (the ol’ long shut-down nearby mental asylum plays a major role here) and on more than one occasion pretty nonsensical too. Not only that, but for long stretches of the film, nothing at all really happens.
Mama was a flat experience for me that only managed to provoke annoyance rather than anything approaching a satisfying horror experience. Poor casting and a tepid, confusing narrative round out a ride that is nothing but a disappointment.
Verdict: Schooner of Tooheys New
From the terrible to the really good and more importantly in this case the absurdly fun Grabbers (2012), which went straight to DVD/blu-ray out here. Horror-comedy films are so hit and miss. When they are good, they are exceptional, when they are bad they are truly terrible.
Most of the best horror-comedies in my experience tend to focus on the horror aspect more than the comedy. Grabbers is an exception to this rule though, as it is really quite hilarious, in an Irish kind of way. Much of that Irish kind of way is down to booze. Hilariously, one (scientifically proven) way to survive the terror that is afflicting all these folk, is to lock themselves inside the pub and get pissed all night. But it is underpinned by the horror elements and the fact it is a seriously well made film. It is beautifully shot, the performances are all good and when it wants to, the film creates tension of the highest order. The two lead performances, from the hilarious Richard Coyle who I know best from the TV show Coupling and Ruth Bradley as his sassy cop offsider are really wonderful. And one of the best aspects of all are the effects. For what I assume is a pretty low budget outing, the creatures look amazing. Everyone loves a good creature feature, and the sea monster/alien hybrids that are the focus of Grabbers look amazing and act really logically too.
I cannot emphasise enough how fun this film is. A hilarious script with leads who have wonderful comedic chemistry and effective monsters wreaking havoc on a sleepy coastal town are a great start. Any film that manages to successfully combine the adventure, comedy, crime, horror and love story genres as well as this is more than alright in my book. Destined for cult classicdom, so jump on the bandwagon early.
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
I can’t really remember the last alien abduction style flick I saw, so checking out Dark Skies (2013) was an interesting experience for me. Particularly because against expectations, this film scared the utter shit out of me more than any other film in this wrap-up and actually more than any other film this fortnight.
The story is set in arch suburbia where a young family begins to be plagued by increasingly strange goings on. Every night, something happens in their house, ranging from the playful to the sinister. The early going sets up the rhythm of the film – blandly scripted and poorly acted (with one exception) daytime scenes and really moody, chilling and original night time scenes. I am rarely scared by horror films, but the night time set half of this scared the pants off me. I was watching it late one night, sitting up by myself, and I actually had to turn it off and regroup the next arvo. And the conclusion wrecked me, the director wisely holding most (but not all) of his cards close to his chest for a really frightening, alien filled finale. I’m getting flashbacks to those creepy silhouettes now. It is a shame then that the rest of the film, the characterisation and progression of the family narrative, is so weak in comparison. Mad props must go to Keri Russell who plays the mother though. She is a really good actress and stands out in comparison to those around her.
I liked Dark Skies, but the overwhelming feeling I am left with is that there is almost unlimited wasted potential here. The real meat of a horror film, the scares, are so exceptionally done here. But everything else is midday movie standard… and not even good midday movie standard at that.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
One of the most beloved horror releases of the year, along with The Conjuring (2013), is the home invasion slasher You’re Next (2011). It even managed to get a release in cinemas out here, though I am not sure how much the casting of Aussie actress Sharni Vinson helped with that.
The arc of Vinson’s heroine is probably the most interesting aspect of the film actually. The new girlfriend who appears to be a highly trained expert in handling any horror film situations, preferably in slow-mo. This is a really well told story, the setup of Vinson’s Erin as an outsider to the well-off family is succinctly and well handled. Actually a good sense of character is quickly established for all the main players in the film. You’re Next does not waste too much time though and ramps up both the blood and the action relatively quickly as the family members are picked off one by one. Whilst there is a hell of a lot to like about this film, the big twist was a fairly big letdown for me. Not only that, but I feel like it sucked a lot of the tension and fraught atmosphere out of the goings on. Sometimes simpler is better and I think this is an example of that. Plus, knowing who was behind those freakyarse masks made them less horrifying. Having said that though, the very end of the film is I think handled very strongly and makes up for the lag.
Managing to be both really original and to incorporate elements of numerous classic slasher films, it is easy to see why You’re Next has so many fans. And despite my issues, I definitely count myself amongst them. A brilliant Home Alone (1990) reference and a very black sense of humour help.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
I so wish I had more than 300 words to profess my love of Neil Jordan’s Byzantium (2013) to you. This is a surreally good film, a classic vampire narrative that reminds you just how artistic and adult a truly great horror film can be.
To put it in exceedingly simple terms, Byzantium deals with the eternal limbo of vampires. It is a very classical notion and it is brought to life by some classically beautiful photography. Gemma Arteton and Saorise Ronan play the mother and daughter vampires respectively. Ronan’s character is the focus and so much of the film’s success is down to the fact that she gives a stunning performance. I was actually quite taken aback by how good she was, because I have actually not been a fan of hers in anything else I have watched. If, like me, you are always disgruntled at the manner in which vampire mythology is treated in horror films, you will love this one. It examines, interprets and showcases so many classical ideas but manages to mix them with the contemporary as well. The manner in which the two of them feed is just one really good example of this. As well as doing all of these things, the film manages to throw in a teenage love story that actually enhances the whole film. This subplot gives us the third really excellent performance of the film from Caleb Landry Jones, who I have not come across before.
Bloodthirsty, pretty, classical, intense, contemporary, adult, frightening, romantic, chilling, rich intelligent, moody, atmospheric, dark, weighty and steadfastly refusing to deal with events or people in black and white terms, Byzantium is seriously a great film. One of the best I have seen in all of 2013.
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
Reel Anime is an annual travelling anime festival that travels around Australia around this time each year. I have been lucky enough to see three of the films in this year’s fest, so I though that this week focusing on Japanese film was the ideal time to take a look at them.
A Letter to Momo (2011) is about as close to Studio Ghibli as a film can get, without actually being made by Ghibli. This is not meant to be a criticism, it is just the film pretty openly wears influences such as Spirited Away (2001) on its sleeve.
Like all three of these films, the animation in this one is incredibly beautiful. In A Letter to Momo it is the use of colour that most stands out, feeling like as much care has gone into the choice and use of colour as all the other aspects of the visual approach. The simple concept is a wonderful one that allows the filmmaker to gradually incorporate a more fantastical world into proceedings. Momo is a young girl who misses her recently deceased father. Her grief, and resultant emotional distance from those around her, is exacerbated by the fact that she had argued harshly with her father the last time that she saw him. One of her prized possessions is a letter he had begun to write to her following this which simply reads “Dear Momo”. Momo spends a lot of time holding this letter, looking at it hoping for a flash of insight as to what her father would have written next. Into this world come a number of spiritual beings or monsters that only Momo can see.
Some of this has been done before. Momo has been moved to a new town and her struggles to fit in are heavily reminiscent of The Karate Kid (1984) and a myriad of other films. Likewise the idea that there are monsters visible only to a child did not initially grab me. But as the film progresses, and the really fun personalities of Momo’s new spiritual companions (or light-hearted tormenters) come to the fore, there is a lot of fun here and also an original sensibility that at least in part stops the film from simply becoming ‘Ghibli-lite’. The interaction between Momo and these charismatic beings us quite charming I think and ranges from the extremely cheerful to flashes of if not malice, than at least the generation of some strong negative emotion. Also as the film progresses, the emotional relationships Momo has with her mum and grandad are explored more and more. I wish there was more of both these characters because the exploration of how Momo’s relationship with them is influenced by the grief of all three parties works extremely well.
This is definitely not anime in the mind blowing, searing sense. But as a gentle emotional journey with plenty of fantastical lashings, A Letter to Momo definitely succeeds a lot more often than not.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
With a title like 009: Re Cyborg (2012), I was hoping for some balls out, full on huge robot fighting action. However this is possibly because I don’t really know what a cyborg is.
As the film begins, suicide bombers obeying “His Voice” are destroying cities worldwide. This leads to the bringing together of an Avengers style cyborg superteam to try and deal with matters. The animation style is super artistic, bringing to life the urban sensibility through a washed out approach. There are a number of thumping action sequences that have a very cool, street based sensibility to them as well, which is helped no end by a really good soundtrack.
Whilst there is no doubting that some of what went on went over my head a little, 009: Re Cyborg is an extremely interesting film. At times the film is awash with biblical references and the plot goes into some complicated territory. The latter one is a bit of an issue though. As the narrative spirals to include a U.S. government conspiracy… or something like that anyway, my mind began to wander and the film lost its grip on my focus. This is not helped by a tendency to get bogged down in religious, philosophical and psychological babble through the second half of the film. But the film on balance gets away with it all because it is so interesting. Even if you lose exactly what is happening there are still cool things to appreciate, allusions to classical private eye films and a strong thematic concern with the military industry and the disruption of peace for profit.
When 009: Re Cyborg is doing action, it is doing it awesomely. The long stretches of talking that fill in the gaps are less engaging. But if action anime is your thing, then you will probably be happy enough to sit through that for the good bits.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
At just 44 minutes long, The Garden of Words (2013) is either a long short film or a short feature. Whatever it is, it is my favourite of these Reel Anime films I have seen. It also does not really sit comfortably within the realm of any anime I have seen before.
The film is essentially a love story between a 15 year old boy and a 27 year old woman. Not a love story in the passionate erotic sense. But in the sense of a meeting of two people who need each other and complement each other so well that their connection extends beyond mere friendship. A young boy skipping school becomes intrigued by a woman who is sitting in the park one weekday morning drinking beer and eating chocolate… I get it. Who wouldn’t be intrigued. So begins the connection of these two characters in what is a really incredible character study. The filmmakers manage to jam more characterisation and interesting back-story into these 44 minutes than most filmmakers can manage in a film three times that length (six times that length if your name is Peter Jackson). One is an old fashioned soul who dreams of being a shoemaker. The other is a person who for whatever reason cannot bear to face her workplace. Together they manage to find in the other what they need, at least for a short period of time.
You often hear animators talk of the challenge that is animating water. Those behind The Garden of Words almost thumb their noses at this by opening the film with shots of an incredibly clear lake being broken by rain drops. Much of the film takes place in the pouring rain and it still manages to look sharp as anything. The animators also do incredible work of contrasting the urban and the natural. Shots of a park are cut against close-ups of a racing train wheel. Indeed this park, a natural oasis amongst the grime of the city, is where the two main characters spend most of their time. Technically the film is faultless. As a drama script, the writing is borderline perfect, not being afraid to write something thematically that is really quite adult in its intended audience. For my personal tastes, one scene toward the end did get a little too sentimental. But I am nitpicking and it did not affect my enjoyment of the film in any way. The film is ‘shot’ really creatively too, with montage, close-ups and shot composition all being used to make this a really fun and beautiful film to look at.
It has been a while since I can recall being so enamoured with a film. I just found my self so thoroughly bought in to the narrative on the screen and the two main players bringing it to life. Playing at times almost more like a hymn or a song, The Garden of Words is one to definitely check out.
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
This week thanks to Madman Entertainment, you have the chance to win a copy of Ace Attorney plus two other Japanese films on DVD. Head here for all the details on how to enter.