Monday, 30 August 2010
I’ve mentioned it in other reviews, but Will Ferrell is on my list of funny men I simply don’t find funny. No surprises then that I failed to enjoy his latest comedy, The Other Guys, though admittedly, the longer the 107 minute (is that all?) film ran the more my defences were worn down; I may have even laughed once or twice. Which means if you’re a fan of Ferrell, then you’ll probably find this buddy cop, action-comedy a veritable laugh fest.
Ferrell is Allen Gamble, a forensic accountant with the NYPD assigned to a desk and a hot headed partner, Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg), who’s been saddled with desk duties following his shooting of baseball star Derek Jeter (no, I don't know who he is either). Hoitz is the kind of guy who is quick to suspect drug barons behind every misdemeanour and even quicker to lose his temper. Writer-director Adam McKay, a frequent Ferrell collaborator, says he wanted to exaggerate the detective Wahlberg played in Martin Scorcese’s The Departed (2006), making the actor’s Oscar nomination for that role even more laughable.
So The Other Guys is essentially an odd couple film with the very two different policemen forced to work together to solve a case, something involving investment fraud or some such which is being perpetrated by Wall Street banker David Ershon, played by Brit comedian, Steve Coogan, who effortlessly steals every scene he’s in, which is appropriate given he’s also stolen $32 billion and the Chechnians, Nigerians and Anne Heche want it back. So ensues a barrage of car chases, shoot-outs, absurdist humour and enough crudity to keep teenage boys of all ages amused.
It’s a relatively wit-free zone, despite some good sportsmanship by the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Michael Keaton and Eva Mendes as Ferrell’s ‘plain looking’ wife.
But to its credit, The Other Guys manages to produce more anger and finger pointing at Wall Street shenanigans and government myopia than Oliver Stone’s forthcoming Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps; the closing credits featuring animated sequences outlining how pyramid schemes work and the difference in salary between a CEO or banker and your average beat cop. Sobering facts to mull over as you wipe the laugh tears from your eyes (or not).
It seems today that it is all too easy to become a hero, or at least be labelled as one. Apparently Dr Chris Brown, the Bondi Vet, is an ‘Aussie Hero’, according to Channel 10 promos anyway. So for those with a bit more ambition and who wish to stand out from the mediocre crowd, becoming a villain, or better, a super villain, presents more of a challenge and probably much more credibility.
But in a post-9/11 world, it takes a lot to be considered truly evil and Gru (voiced by Steve Carell with an East European accent), wants badly to be the baddest of them all, if only to gain the approval of his hard to please mother (an atypical Julie Andrews). When one of the pyramids of Giza is stolen the stakes are upped, so Gru hits on a much bigger scheme: to steal the moon. All it requires is a shrink ray and loan from the Bank of Evil.
But Gru has a rival for baddest badass, Vector (Jason Segel), who having stolen the pyramid also gets his hands on said shrink ray, stealing it from Gru only moments after he himself has stolen it. To get it back, Gru hits on the idea of adopting three orphan girls whose cookie-selling front will allow him to break into Vector’s not-so-secret hideout (observe the stolen pyramid with painted on skyline in the backyard), steal the shrink ray and carry out his lunar looting escapade.
I found the structure of Despicable Me to be a bit chaotic in the early stages before it settled down somewhat in the second half. That’s when Gru inevitably begins to view the three girls he’s taken in as more than a means to an end. Success, whether in the pursuit of good or evil, would appear to be hollow without someone to share it with and Gru’s heart of ice is slowly melted.
Thankfully the filmmakers don’t lay the schmaltz on too thick. On the other hand, I could have done without the antics of Gru’s minions, diminutive yellow mutant blobs who speak in gibberish and are there, under the guise of doing Gru’s dirty work (did somebody say ‘slave labour’?), to provide comic pratfalls. Unnecessary, too, is the 3D but then 3D is unnecessary almost all of the time. See it in 2D and stick it to the despicable powers-that-be.
Middle class guilt isn’t a subject given much attention in films, certainly not mainstream ones lest they be Woody Allen’s. Guilt isn’t sexy nor is it funny, at least not on paper. But some directors, like Allen, know where the joke lies. Writer-director Nicole Holofcener may not be going for the funny bone outright with her new film, Please Give, but she’s well aware of the inherent humour in the anxieties of the well-to-do, anxious for doing well.
Kate (ever-reliable Catherine Keener and star of each of Holofcener’s films) runs a New York antique furniture store with her husband, Alex (Oliver Platt). They procure their stock from deceased estates, usually snapping up items for a bargain and selling them on for a song. The pair live in a nice apartment but have bought the one next door, planning to expand once the occupant departs, literally.
That neighbour is a crotchety old woman named Andra (Anne Morgan Guilbert, unrecognisable from her most famous role, that of Granma Yetta on TV’s The Nanny), whose only real connection to the outside world (not surprisingly she’s driven everyone else away - or to their grave) are her granddaughters, Mary (Amanda Peet) and Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), the latter devoting much of her time to Andra’s welfare; Mary is the self obsessed sister who could care less if the grandmother who raised her dies.
The sisters’ and Kate and Alex’s lives become uncomfortably entwined following a dinner the couple host to celebrate Andra’s birthday, with Holofcener broadening her focus to reveal more about Mary and Alex having focussed primarily on Rebecca and Kate up to this point. But they remain central: Rebecca as she juggles the demands of her grandmother with her own job and the beginnings of a new romance, and Kate as she struggles with the guilt she feels for the comfortable life her business has afforded her. Kate wants to do more than write a cheque but doesn't have the emotional fortitude to do so.
That may not sound like much of a dilemma or a driving force for either drama or comedy, and admittedly it's slight though enjoyable. But Holofcener gets strong performances from her cast, especially Keener and Hall.
Sunday, 22 August 2010
This latest romantic comedy comes as a pleasant surprise and mostly because, unlike most rom-coms of late, there's no gunfire or car chases to keep our lovers preoccupied; the tyranny of distance is the only evil threatening to keep the couple apart. There's also a lot more rom in this com, no doubt due to real life on-again-off-again couple, Drew Barrymore and Justin Long, playing the leads.
Garrett (Long) and Erin (Barrymore) meet-cute in a New York bar where he's kind of mourning the end of another relationship (apparently it happens to him a lot), and she (Barrymore), an intern at the New York Sentinel newspaper, is bummed by her inability to impress her editor. There's an instant spark and a one night stand ensues.
But at breakfast the next morning, the two decide there may be more going on and agree to see each other over the next six weeks but on a casual basis: that's when Erin's internship ends and she heads home to San Francisco. By the time that date rolls around, the two are pretty much in love and so agree to try a long distance relationship.
Director Nanette Burstein, who comes from a documentary background (she made the excellent American Teen), effectively depicts the ebb and flow of a new romance, helped invariably by the chemistry between her two leads. There's also an honesty to the dialogue between the two and the concerns they have about their relationship. Honest, too, are the conversations between Erin and her sister, Corinne (Christina Applegate), which run the gamut of heartfelt to blue.
Not so believable is the dialgoue between Garrett and his two buddies, Dan (Charlie Day) and Box (Jason Sudeikis), which smacks more of the Apatow style of man-child comedy. Do guys really talk like this? There's also one glaring concession to easy laughs: a scene at a tanning salon is both unnecessary and unfunny given that it's pretty much all in the trailer and not funny then either.
My heckles were also being raised when, about three quarters in, it looked as though the film was suggesting that if sacrifices were to be made it would be she and not he who would have to make them. Thankfully those fears were allayed and the denouement is, surprisingly for a Hollywood rom com, more realistically satisfying than happily ever after.
All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. And all gay families are just like every other family. That is perhaps the most radical notion posited by director Lisa Cholodenko in her new comedy (co-penned with Stuart Blumberg), The Kids Are All Right.
Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) have been together some twenty years and raised two children, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson), both the result of the same anonymous sperm donor. The Californian couple are small 'l' liberals and easy going, or so they believe. When the kids decide they want to meet 'dad', all manner of cracks begin to appear in the family unit.
That 'dad' is Paul (Mark Ruffalo), an aging hippie who grows his own produce to supply his restaurant. He hadn't given much thought to meeting any offspring his seed (donated during his college days when he needed the money) may have produced, but with an instant family – and a lesbian couple to boot (“I love lesbians” he tells Joni during their telephone introduction) – he's up for getting in touch with his inner father.
It is a credit to Cholodenko, Blumberg and the cast that the point of the film is not the gay status of the family but the state of the family generally. Bening and Moore perfectly capture every nuance of a longterm marriage: Nic, the uptight breadwinner, and Jules, the flighty stay-at-home mother; the stealth-like alcoholic and the dreamer with no follow-through.
Many are suggesting this could be the film to end both actresses losing streaks at the Oscars, although both are believed to be set to campaign for Lead which I think would halve their votes. There is a well of support for Bening to win Best Actress (having lost out twice, both times to Hilary Swank), though I'd suggest Moore has more screen time (not that that's always relevant; Moore also had more screen time than Nicole Kidman in The Hours but went Supporting to Kidman's prosthetic proboscis).
Either way, don't be at all surprised to find The Kids Are All Right as one of the 10 Best Picture nominees. A comedy but not of the laugh-a-minute variety, though there will be moments where you laugh out loud, most of the humour arises from the reality of the situations. But there's pain there, too, as the film gets at some deeper relationship truths, not just for gay couples but for everyone.
It would perhaps be unfair, although entirely apt, to dub the big screen adaptation Tomorrow When The War Began, from the bestselling series of books by Australian author John Marsden, Neighbours Goes To War, or Tour of Duty: Summer Bay. The casting of two pretty young things from either Aussie drama certainly does little to dissuade the notion. But while the acting ranges from TV soap to solid, the overall result is impressive nonetheless.
Debuting director Stuart Beattie, best known as a screenwriter of such films as Australia and the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, has certainly been given a huge budget (by Oz standards) to bring the popular book to the big screen; impressive action sequences and cinematography obviously taking up the bulk of Paramount's investment.
The premise of TWTWB is not entirely new: teenagers taking on an invading enemy. The 1984 film Red Dawn (which has been remade and releases late 2010) saw US high schoolers defeat a force of marauding Russians. Here, a group of teenagers from country town Australia head off into the bush for a carefree camping weekend before returning to school for their final year, only to come home and discover their town, and indeed the nation, has been overtaken by an undisclosed Asian invasion force. What to do? Why, fight back of course.
There has been some suggestion that by making the invaders Asian (and generic at that) that the filmmakers are somehow feeding into Australia's xenophobia and racism. But logically, if anyone was to invade Australia it is more likely to be our Asian neighbours rather than those across the Tasman. Perhaps singling out one particular nation (Indonesia, anyone?) was considered too political.
The remake of Red Dawn positions China as the invading force – Cold War foes the Russians are no longer deemed a threat, and a Middle Eastern enemy perhaps a far too sensitive choice – and so far I've not heard any debate about American anti-Sino sentiment.
More troubling, I'd suggest, is the whole 'kids with guns' and a patriotic call to arms of Australia's youth, timely given recent suggestions that Australia should introduce compulsory military training for all 18 year olds, similar to that in other countries.
I'm not sure if Beattie was intending to be political with his first feature (and never having read Marsden's books, I can't say what tone the source material adopts) although one instance is both cheeky and telling: a character catches sight of a town mural depicting a meeting between early Europeans and the indigenous locals, reminding us it's not the first time Australia has been invaded. That the invasion takes place as the town celebrates Australia Day is also rather pointed, as if to suggest you reap what you sew, or to put it more bluntly, karma's a bitch!
But forget all of this political discourse. Tomorrow When The War Began is best enjoyed as both action film and teen drama. Fans of the books can decide just how faithfully Beattie has adapted Marsden's vision but here's hoping Aussie audiences take to it in greater numbers than said forthcoming Red Dawn. Wait a minute, is that my opinion or a result of subconscious patriotic brainwashing?
If I were a quote whore and eager to see my name on a print advertisement for a movie, I might say that Piranha 3D is “the best man-eating fish film you'll see in 3D this year!” Quote or no quote, and for better or worse, that's no exaggeration.
In an attempt to resurrect the Piranha franchise from the late 1970s-early '80s, as well as the good ol' creature feature, the producers of Piranha 3D have upped the ante; there's more blood, gore and titties per frame in this brisk 90-minute boat ride than your average teen boy can handle – and all in 3D! (They're gonna need more tissues.)
In the film's opening scene, a lone fisherman (Jaws' Richard Dreyfuss, in a visual gag that could easily backfire; it's never good to remind people of another, better killer fish film) becomes the first victim of a school of carnivorous carp when a small earthquake releases them from their once isolated prehistoric lake beneath the lake.
That's Lake Victoria, Arizona where America's undergrad population has descended for Spring break (funny, I always thought everyone went to Florida?), hence the high titty quotient. In no time at all it's a feeding frenzy as the piranha take advantage of the unwise mix of alcohol and watersports, notching one up for their fallen sushi brethren.
We get to witness all manner of carnage, with body parts all over the place – ew, an eye; OMG a penis! - and not just from the fish. A jock in speedboat does his fair share of damage in a scene that had my companion and I watching through spread fingers and 3D glasses, which is no mean feat.
Make no mistake: Piranha 3D is a B film and has no pretensions otherwise. Elisabeth Shue, Ving Rhames, Christopher Lloyd and a sleazy Jerry O'Connell (in speedos no less) could just be cashing cheques but they give as good as they've been given. The end result is a guilty pleasure of bloody proportions.
There is a twist in The Father of My Children that should not be revealed prior to seeing it but which changes the direction of the story dramatically. It’s not a twist in the Shutter Island, Inception et al of cinematic twists 2010 but it’s one that takes you away from the film you thought you were watching and leads you into another one entirely.
That director Mia Hanson-Løve, in her late 20s and making just her third feature, would attempt such a bold move, as well as dealing with such mature and complex emotional terrain in the process, is testament to her own confidence and maturity.
Without giving too much away, the basic story concerns film producer Gregoire (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), who has a catalogue of critically acclaimed if not financially successful films and has several projects on the go; one is a Korean production to be shot in Paris, the other a location shoot in Sweden with a notoriously difficult Scandinavian auteur. But like any business in the current economic climate, the banks are knocking on the door.
Gregoire also has a wife and three daughters who adore him very much and vice versa. We witness them in their home life and on a weekend away, doing the normal things that normal families do. But then that twist occurs and the focus of the film shifts.
For some, The Father of My Children may appear as one of those films where nothing seems to be happening. Of course, a lot is happening and not all of it on the surface; Hansen-Løve isn’t necessarily concerned with plot so much as people and life. For some it may prove elusive, even frustrating, while for others it will break hearts. It’s a film that requires patience and rewards those who are.
Icon Film Distribution
As an exercise in style, Michael Winterbottom's The Killer Inside Me could be considered a success. An adaptation of Jim Thompson's pulp novel of the same name (from a screenplay by John Curran), the Brit director has nailed the noirish elements: the sparse, hardboiled dialogue, the murky morals and motives, the manly men and their blatant misogyny. But it is this last trait that has become a sticking point for audiences.
There are two scenes of unflinchingly brutal violence, the only real acts of violence shown on camera, and both are committed against women. The first (and worst) of these scenes sees Jessica Alba's face beaten to a pulp; the second has Kate Hudson kicked repeatedly before we watch her life slowly ebb away.
Both of these horrific acts are committed by Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) who views his involvement with Alba's prostitute as a means of settling some old scores (she happens to be the mistress to the son of the town's Mr. Big), and his engagement to Hudson's Amy Stanton as a concession to convention until she, too, becomes a means to an end.
Affleck does insouciant evil perfectly, as witnessed in his breakthrough role in The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007). His Deputy Ford talks in a whispered drawl, concealing the well of rage and hate buried deep down but which is slowly making its way to the surface and erupting at inopportune times for the women in his life.
I don't necessarily believe this depiction of violence against women makes Winterbottom a misogynist, but one has to question the inclusion of such brutal acts, especially given that almost all other violence in the film, directed at men, for the most part occurs off screen. It is these two acts which ultimately renders Winterbottom's intent muddied or, rather, bloodied.
Tuesday, 17 August 2010
Matthew Vaughn's KICK-ASS (Universal Pictures) is arguably the coolest film of the year (although Scott Pilgrim fans may beg to differ). In a world in need of heroes, high schooler Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) dons a scuba suit and takes to the streets to clean them up. He's promptly used to sweep those streets but he bounces back, stronger than ever and teams up with fellow vigilantes, Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), the 'f' and 'c' bomb dropping 11 year-old who really does kick ass. Some took exception to Hit Girl, and more for the language than the bloodletting (go figure), but Kick-Ass is no kids' film: it's violent. It's also clever, and funny and, yes, way cool.
UN PROPHETE (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) was nominated for this year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and deservedly so. Tracing the rise of young Malik (Tahar Rahim), who, having been sent to prison, becomes the gopher for the ruling Corsican gang whilst simultaneously strengthening ties with the prison's Arab community. Malik receives an education of a different kind and while director Jacques Audiard may not render his journey too unattractive, a journey which sees him rise to the top of the prison hierarchy, he doesn't skimp of the harsh realities of prison life; one particular scene involving a razor blade is one of the most tension riddled I've ever seen. Even at two and a half hours, Un Prophete is not too long a viewing sentence.
Tuesday, 10 August 2010
When Paul Greengrass released United 93 in 2006 (my favourite film of that year and easily one of this decade's best), just five years after the events of September 11, many thought it was too soon. Now, five years after the London bombings of July 2005, comes Four Lions, a tale of would-be suicide bombers in said city. Some may again suggest it is too soon and, as a comedy, certainly too soon to make light of.
But Four Lions isn't a recreation of those events in July '05 but a fly-on-the-wall look at how such an event may come about and the people behind it – if those people happened to be Grade-A idiots. For the terrorists in Chris Morris's film have the combined brainpower which struggles to blow-up a balloon let alone the London underground. But while their efforts are not as “successful” as planned, the results are no less disturbing.
Same goes for the film. For every laugh – and you may be surprised just how often you do laugh – there's an underlying seriousness. While the men here are, for the most part, more a danger to themselves than greater London, the flipside is just how dangerous they are regardless and just how much more effective they could be with a little more thought and discipline.
Morris, a noted political and media satirist in the UK, and his writers, Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, have connections to Armando Iannucci who was responsible for this year's earlier political comedy, In The Loop. Four Lions shares much in common with that film – from the handheld camerawork to the delicate subject matter (In The Loop was concerned with the Iraq war) – and while it's not as uproariously funny as the earlier film, it hits just as many targets as it misses, so to speak.
Ruba Nadda’s new film could best be described as a love poem. Make that two love poems: one to the Egyptian capital which it effectively captures so evocatively you’ll be tempted to book a flight; the second to Patricia Clarkson, the velvet-y voiced actress who you’ll recognise from countless supporting roles but who gets a rare leading role here and shines.
Clarkson plays Juliette, a magazine editor who, having just seen the last of her children flee the nest, arrives in Cairo for a vacation with her husband. He works for the UN and trouble in Gaza has him delayed but Juliette is spared the hazards of navigating Cairo’s busy streets, and the attentions of its menfolk, by Tareq (Alexander Siddig), a former employee of her husband’s who now runs a local coffee house.
Tareq escorts Juliette throughout the city, visiting the gardens, attending a wedding and taking a boat ride on the Nile. But not to the pyramids which seem visible from every part of the city; she’s saving them for her husband. And that’s pretty much the film: Juliette and Tareq, walking and talking, talking and walking; an attraction between the two becoming increasingly evident. But will they or won’t they? Think Before Sunrise/Sunset for the post-40s.
Cairo Time is very much a small film and there’s nothing wrong with that. There is far less agreeable company to spend 100 minutes with than Patricia Clarkson. (Side note: How lucky is the child who gets to hear that voice read them bedtime stories?) Alexander Siddig also makes for a more than agreeable host, while the sights and sounds of Cairo will tantalise you. The film’s soundtrack may be the next best thing for those who can’t afford a plane ticket but you may also need to purchase a hookah (I said, hoo-kah!) to complete the experience.
Who is Salt? That’s the question the advertising posters about town have been posing for weeks now, and as of this Thursday, you’ll find out. Or not. One of the pleasures of Phillip Noyce’s action thriller, Salt, is that for at least the first half of its brisk 100 minute running time, you’re second guessing whether or not Salt (Angelina Jolie) is indeed one of the good guys.
When Salt, Evelyn Salt, a CIA operative is accused of being a Russian sleeper agent with a mission to kill the visiting Russian president, she goes on the run, presumably in an attempt to uncover the truth. But then events (including flashbacks) lead you to believe that she may indeed be a Russian assassin. But then . . .
The key to enjoying these twists and turns is to not think too much about them, otherwise you’ll arrive at the plot twists before Jolie does. It’s best to suspend disbelief, as it is with any films of this ilk (Bond, Bourne), and just enjoy the ride.
And while some may guffaw at the preposterousness of some of the stunts, and probably more so because it’s a woman performing them, Jolie is certainly one of the few actresses who could believably pull off the action heroics required of her rogue CIA operative: leap frogging from one vehicle to the next on a busy freeway; fashioning a bazooka, Macguyver style, from a few handy objects.
Salt was originally intended as a vehicle for Tom Cruise but he opted out, fearing it was too similar to his Mission: Impossible films (another of which he is currently working on). With only minor tweaking, Jolie was considered ideal for the role. Anything the guys an do she can do hotter! The only whiff of sexism is word that a scene involving the rescue of Salt’s husband was excised as it was feared it would be viewed as emasculating. Apparently Bond can rescue a damsel in distress but even in 2010, a woman can’t do the reverse. The fate eventually dealt Salt’s husband apparently considered far better for his (the male audience’s?) ego.
Sexual politics aside, Salt is one of the few popcorn tent pole films of 2010 that has managed to deliver ie it’s entertaining without being stupid. Sure there are plotholes and absurdity abounds, but Jolie, in the hands of her The Bone Collector director, Noyce, who knows a thing or two about action having helmed Harrison Ford vehicles Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, keep it moving fast enough for you not to notice or care. When the smoke clears, you’ll know who Salt is – she’s a blast!
20th Century Fox Films
This is an interview conducted with the film's director Nadia Tass and writer-producer David Parker. The interview also features in the August issue of Cafe Society magazine out this week.
A professional and marital partnership spanning more than a quarter century, Nadia Tass and David Parker know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. As a filmmaking team, responsible for two Australian classics, Malcolm (1986) and The Big Steal (1990), each has clearly defined roles: Tass as director and co-writer, Parker as producer, writer and cinematographer. But theirs is a truly collaborative effort and both agree that humour was the key ingredient for their latest film, Matching Jack.
When a mother (Jacinda Barrett) learns that her young son has Leukemia, she begins a quest to find a compatible bone marrow donor by tracking down the ex-lovers of her unfaithful husband (Richard Roxburgh) in the hopes they may have bore him a child. Matching Jack could well have collapsed under the weight of melodrama or emotional manipulation had Tass and Parker (working from a screenplay by Lynne Renew) not paid as much attention to the funny bone as the tear ducts.
“We read the original screenplay and then David started working on it, and he injected it with a whole lot of humour he knows I can direct,” explains Tass. “It becomes a Tass-Parker type of film, where we’re dealing with a very serious subject matter but it’s couched in humour, it’s delivered with entertainment.”
“We’re there primarily to entertain, and we’re working in a medium that has that ability to actually move people but you don’t want them coming out feeling dejected,” adds Parker. “We like the idea of taking them [the audience] on a journey but in the end you’re up.”
“What I hope is that the film resonates and there are many moments where people are thinking about certain sections of the film and reflecting on issues and, perhaps, it opens up a whole lot of conversation and thought,” Tass admits. “It’s [cancer] so much a part of our world today, we have to incorporate that into our entertainment world as well. Not that we’re going to sit there and laugh at cancer, we’re not doing that, but it exists so we put it into the mix as similar to what exists in real life.”
Matching Jack certainly has its heavy moments and doesn’t skimp on the emotional or physical demands of cancer treatment for all involved. But that humour keeps it from becoming mawkish. “I took the film to New York and Los Angeles and the screenings [with test audiences] were absolutely brilliant, the reaction was great,” Tass says. “We’ve had some test screenings in Melbourne and it’s good to see it with different audiences; there’s a laugh with a particular audience that wasn’t there with the previous audience.”
“It’s always surprising when you’re comparing the two audiences: there are some things that are hilarious to them [Americans] that weren’t even designed to be a joke,” says Parker. Those American audiences laughed in “80 per cent” of the same places as their Australian counterparts, which bodes well for Matching Jack, both here and abroad.
“God schmod, I want my monkey man!” screamed Bart Simpson when his teacher Mrs Krabappel denied his request for knowledge to assist in his playing God and creating a hybrid, no doubt for mischievous purposes. Genetic physicists, and couple, Elsa (Sarah Polley) and Clive (Adrien Brody), presumably had nobler intentions in mind when they spliced some human and animal DNA together, but the end result in Vincenzo Natali’s sci-fi thriller is no less demented.
With the threat of funding cuts, the pair secretly begin work on a cloning experiment using a mix of human and animal DNA. The results are more effective than they had hoped with the creation gestating at an alarming rate and once “born”, growing faster than the children on a daytime soap.
Within a week, Dren (it’s nerd backwards) resembles an adolescent girl although with some animal-like features and a bald pate; think a young Sinead O’Connor although when Dren turns things get decidedly more ugly than ripping up a polaroid of the Pope on national TV. Blood will out, as they say, and like all teenagers when they don’t get their own way, Dren’s animalistic nature kicks-in.
Natali’s film swings between serious sc-fi (Should man play God? Nature v nurture?) and schlocky horror, with a few effectively creepy moments and one scene, involving Clive and Dren, which is creepy for entirely non-horror reasons. But there’s fun to be had with Splice, and Polley and Brody, two typically non-Hollywood leads, have fun with it.
The first clue that the handsomely rewarding writing job which the ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) is being offered – to write the memoirs of recently retired and now disgraced UK Prime Minster, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) – may not be a straightforward writing gig? The body of his predecessor having just washed up dead on a beach near the American home of his intended subject. That revelation opens Roman Polanski’s film, based on the bestseller by Robert Harris, and I was hooked from then on.
As a writer needs to eat (trust me, we do!), the ghost (he is never given a name) accepts the job and flown to said house; a glass and steel structure sitting on the coast, constantly buffeted by wind and rain and occupied by Lang, his wife Ruth (Olivia Williams), Lang’s PA (Kim Cattrall), a housekeeper and some security staff. The ghost, while not exactly a prisoner, cannot venture far: the all-but completed manuscript must never leave the study.
McGregor gives one of his best performances in quite some time, as it slowly dawns on his character that not everything is as it seems and he may be in over his head. And Brosnan, continuing to flourish in his post-Bond career, gives an impressive turn as the charismatic former PM whose political career appears to have been more style than substance. His wife, an excellent Williams who plays the by turns frosty then friendly Mrs Lang, was obviously the brains behind the man.
Harris based the character of Lang on actual former UK PM, Tony Blair, but Brosnan plays him with a swagger that was never even suggested in Michael Sheen’s recent spot-on portrayals (in The Queen, The Special Relationship).
The Ghost Writer is a top notch thriller which relies on suspense rather than action to keep you riveted. Yes there are some guns and a chase scene or two, but Polanski opts to channel Alfred Hitchcock rather than subscribe to today’s fast edit, handy-cam school of thriller making.
Polanski effectively uses mood and score to suggest a constant threat of danger to the ghost and to keep you on the edge of your seat. But there’s a also a vein of dark humour running through the film, proof that Polanski is having as much fun as one suspects.
He is in full control of every element and working near the height of his filmmaking powers, making for what is easily one of the best films of 2010.
Bucking the cinematic trend of recent 1980s remakes, Sylvester Stallone, as director, co-writer and star of The Expendables, has made an "original" action film as though it was indeed sill the '80s. Akin to the violent actioners like Rambo and Commando which reflected the Republican Reagan-era politics of the time, it's as though the project was greenlit during the latter stages of the 2008 US presidential campaign and Sarah Palin (god forbid!) looked headed for the White House.
That latter nightmare scenario thankfully failed to eventuate but it didn't prevent The Expendables being completed - and released. Sly is Barney Ross, head of a team of mercenaries who go in where others fear to tread; the film opens in Somalia where pirates holding Westerners hostage are about to wish they'd traded movies for the high seas.
A rag tag bunch, Ross’s team comprises of one or two superannuated action stars (Sly and his Rocky IV nemesis Dolph Lundgren), some recognisable actors of today (the dad from TV's Everybody Hates Chris) and two not-so-old action stars in Jason Statham and Jet Li.
Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger also make brief cameos, and while Willis can still mix it with the big boys (though he doesn't here, perhaps saving himself for the rigours of shooting Die Hard 5), Schwarzenegger looks as though the Governorship of California has taken its toll.
Willis' Mr Church enlists Sly's team to fly down to some South American isle where a rogue CIA agent (Eric Roberts, another '80s throwback) has set up a puppet dictatorship. The dictator's daughter leads the resistance and it is for her the team returns to the isle; Sly inspired by the words of former teammate now tattoo artist-cum-sage, Mickey Rourke.
From then on the film becomes a 'How To' guide - 1001 ways to kill a man - where knives, bullets, bombs and good old fashioned fisticuffs are deployed. Subtle and witty it's not. It's like Ocean's Eleven for neanderthals, a very poor man's Dirty Dozen. But the body count, and various ways in which that count is achieved, makes Quentin Tarantino's recent Dirty Dozen homage, Inglourious Basterds, resemble a Pixar film in comparison.
At a stretch you could probably call The Expendables a guilty pleasure but you would have to have been raised on a diet of '80s action flicks by Stallone, Arnie et al, and have a continuing soft spot for these ultra-masculine specimens now reduced to dinosaurs, to get any real enjoyment from it. Or maybe you're a Sarah Palin fan and The Expendables works well as both entertainment and a blueprint for foreign policy: America, fuck yeah!
Tuesday, 3 August 2010
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray
Solitary Man is an apt title for this film for it's all about one man and one performance. Ben Kalmen is a 60-year-old man with a shady past as a car salesman who fudged his records, but whose real crime was, when given news of a heart condition, abandoned his wife (Susan Sarandon) and daughter in pursuit of a hedonistic lifestyle. That meant mostly skirt, the younger the better. And there is probably no better choice for such a role than Michael Douglas.
In a vanity free performance, Douglas, resembling more his father, Kirk, with every passing year, wears Kalmen as comfortably as a suit. While eager to reclaim his position as the caryard king, Kalmen proves his own worst enemy by constantly letting down those who trust him and, in the case of current girlfriend, Jordan (Mary-Louise Parker), would financially back him. He blows that deal, and relationship, by shitting wear he eats, so to speak, and it's just the beginning of his downward spiral.
Douglas hasn't had a role this juicy or substantial since his wonderful turn in 2000's Wonder Boys, where he played a college professor struggling with writer's block and all manner of personal complications. That character was far more rumpled than Douglas gets to play here but despite the suits and air of confidence Kalmen projects, the cracks are much deeper and the pain far more real. And Douglas relishes every moment.
Unfortunately, that means his co-stars, which include Jesse Eisenberg and Danny DeVito, as well as Sarandon and Parker, aren't given as much to do although DeVito, as an old college buddy still in awe of his friend, and Sarandon, as the long suffering but not bitter ex-wife, are note perfect.
Douglas is garnering early Oscar buzz for his performance here but despite the warm reception by US critics, the little seen film (it arrives in Australia direct to DVD) will perhaps lack the profile to see a nomination eventuate. More prolific will be his reprisal of the Gordon Gekko role in next month's Wall Street sequel, Money Never Sleeps. Gekko earned Douglas his only acting Oscar and if that sequel allows him to plumb similar depths to those in Solitary Man, he could well be up for another.
If there is a benefit to the rise of reality TV (and that's a bloody big if), then it must surely be in the discovery of new young talent, both singing and dancing. Australian Idol, and its American forebear, have given us some talented vocalists and So You Think You Can Dance has unearthed some amazing dancers, simultaneously igniting a love of, and appreciation for dance.
Step Up 3 is a lot like So You Think You Can Dance; a succession of dance-offs between a group of young things battling it out to be the best in something called the World Jam. And the dancing is fantastic; it certainly doesn't require 3D to make it pop. .
The plot, which deals with loyalty, betrayal, chasing your dreams and warding off a heartless bank eager to foreclose, could do with an injection of SYTYCD tension (“Dance for your lives!”), for as it stands it's about as enervating as a stroke.
Moose (Adam G. Sevani) a guy who, despite his Fraggle-like voice and appearance, is beginning his first semester at NYU. He's studying engineering but his real love is dance and it's when he falls in with a like minded bunch of street dancers (they're BFAB – born from a boom box) that he becomes swept up in their pursuit of the World Jam title.
Of course, the end result is never in doubt but the dance sequences which pave the way to that denouement are undeniably thrilling; their first round Jam battle taking place in what resembles Thunderdome, another involves the accidental but imaginative use of water. Like great singing, great dancing is impressive to behold and that's the real reason to catch Step Up 3D.