Wednesday, 24 September 2014
While the bond between siblings is a strong yet complicated one -- often as competitive and antagonistic as loving and supportive -- the connection between twins is believed to be even stronger and more keenly felt. That may explain why Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig) decide to take their own lives on the same day.
Estranged for ten years and living on opposite sides of the country -- Milo in L.A. where he headed with dreams of becoming a famous actor; Maggie in the outer suburbs of New York and close the home where they grew up -- Maggie gets the call that her brother Milo slipped into the bath and then slit his wrists just as she's contemplating swallowing a handful of pills.
It's a less than hilarious opening to writer-director Craig Johnson's The Skeleton Twins (co-written with Mark Heyman) which is a comedy. Make that a dramedy, for there are a closet full of secrets, revelations and pent-up emotions which prevent the laughs from coming thick and fast. It also allows the former Saturday Night Live alums to exercise their dramatic chops while not necessarily moving too far out of their comfort zones.
Milo returns to New York with Maggie, where she works as a dental hygienist and lives with her husband, Lance (Luke Wilson), a good guy with a positive attitude which grates as much as it endears. That endearing quality hasn't yet convinced Maggie that she and Lance should have children, even though they are trying (well, Lance is; Maggie's popping birth controls pills on the sly).
This fear of a deeper commitment sees Maggie taking up a new challenge every few months -- currently scuba diving -- and hooking-up with fellow classmates; this time round the hunky Aussie scuba instructor (Boyd Holbrook) fits the bill. Milo, on the other hand, sees his return to his home town as a means of reconnecting with his former high school English teacher (Ty Burrell), whose interest in his pupil are revealed to have been less than scholarly.
Predictably all of these secrets and lies will be brought out into the light, calling for more than one emotion-charged showdown between the siblings. But it's not all gloom: the twins sharing the occasional light-hearted moment, whether induced by nitrous oxide or the power ballad strains of Starship.
And Hader and Wiig work well together. They may not possess a familial appearance but their chemistry is one of a shared history; of intimacies earned, long held and deeply felt. The reason for their estrangement is eventually revealed, proving once again that we often hurt those we love the most even when we think we're acting in their best interests, or not thinking at all.
There's also a not-too-subtle suggestion in the screenplay that children are the collateral damage of their parents; left shell-shocked or completely obliterated by their upbringing and the examples set. Of course, at a certain point you have to stop blaming others and take responsibility for your own life. Sometimes that means sucking it up, rolling with the punches and moving forward; other times that may mean checking out early.
The Skeleton Twins doesn't judge Maggie or Milo for their choices but in choosing life, it ends on a hopeful note.
Thursday, 18 September 2014
There is nothing to fear but fear itself. And nothing quite maintains the status quo or allows those in power -- or trying to achieve it -- from maintaining their rule then by exploiting that fear.
Fear is the weapon used by Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) as a means to achieving his aim of rising through the social ranks to gain a white hat and seat at Lord Portly-Rind's table of town elders. How? By demonizing the subterranean-dwelling Boxtrolls; positing the peaceful creatures as baby-eating monsters and himself as the only man capable of ridding the town of every single one of them.
The Boxtrolls of course have no interest in human flesh, infant or adult: they climb from the sewers at night only to collect the junk the humans have cast away. But many years ago they did indeed steal away a human boy. They didn't eat the lad -- dubbed Eggs for the label on the box he wears (all Boxtrolls wear a box for even non-God-fearing creatures like trolls must hide their shame) -- but raised him as one of their own.
Snatcher has been pedaling this misinformation about the abduction of the 'Trumpshore Baby' for years, keeping the townsfolk living in fear. But it's when Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright, a.k.a Bran from TV's Game of Thrones), while on a junk-collecting night run, meets Portly-Rind's daughter, Winnie (Elle Fanning), a young girl boasting a macabre fascination with the cannibalistic ways of the Boxtrolls, that the truth will finally out and the evil plan of Archibald Snatcher (Kingsley does great villain voice work) will be unveiled.
Laika, the animation studio responsible for Coraline (2009) and ParaNorman (2012), have again created a wonderfully inventive and comic work of stop-motion (and CGI? Surely it can't all be done by hand?) magic. Each of their films is ostensibly dark and macabre but with moral lessons delivered without a hammer.
In The Boxtrolls it is the demonizing and scapegoating of minorities for personal and political gain; a message that couldn't be any more pertinent than today, and sadly, even more so in Australia. The film also touches on class envy (it's what drives Archibald Snatcher), and the hubris of the 1 per centers. But there's comedy and grotesquery aplenty to avoid being bogged down in politics and to keep everyone entertained.
And if The Boxtrolls is not quite on the same level as ParaNorman, in terms of a cohesive whole between story, humour and execution, there's still much to be admired and to delight in.
Wednesday, 17 September 2014
Walt Disney Studios Films/Buena Vista
Who knew a documentary about a film that never was could be so entertaining? Even more so, the visionary director with such ambition and passion? That director is Chilean Alejandro Jodorowsky and his passion project that would never be was a big screen adaptation of the Frank Herbert sci-fi tome, Dune.
A surrealist who began his career in the theatre, Jodorowsky enjoyed critical and commercial success as a filmmaker with two films, El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973). This brought him to the attention of French producer Michel Seydoux, who offered to make a movie -- any movie - with the director. Jodorowsky's choice? Dune, the infamous 'almost-making of' which is detailed in Frank Pavich's doco.
Jodorowsky's not exactly sure why he chose Dune since he, and most everyone who became involved in the project, had not read Herbert's seminal novel. But after Stanley Kubrick's 2001, and before George Lucas's Star Wars, Jodorowsky planned (or rather dreamt) of making a film that would expand the audience's mind; producing the effect of an LSD trip sans acid.
Scouring the world for his creative team of "spiritual warriors", Jodorowsky convinced artists and designers like Moebius, Dan O'Bannon, Chris Foss and H.R. Giger to pack up and move to Paris to work on his dream project. He also courted some impressive and diverse names for his cast: David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali, and Orson Welles; the director going to great lengths to secure the latter two.
Most of this is recounted by Jodorowsky himself who, at age 85, is as energetic and enthusiastic as a man more than half his age. There are also talking head interviews with those involved, including Seydoux, Foss and Giger, and glimpses of the storyboards and animation -- beautiful, brilliant, bizarre -- which were the blueprint for the filmmaker's vision.
After a couple of years and with everything ready to go, Jodorowsky and Seydoux took their project to Hollywood; shopping the project -- in a bound book of sketches and panels, from first frame to last -- to every studio. And although met with positive responses, each studio baulked at greenlighting Dune. There is some contention as to whether this was because the budget for such an ambitious film would be too high (by 1970s standards), or that studio heads felt Jodorowsky was too much of a risk. But that's where that film, if not the dream, died.
Dune was eventually made in 1984. Directed by David Lynch and featuring a cast that didn't boast any of Jodorowsky's eclectic choices, it was made on a budget of $40 million and grossed $30m in the States. The film wasn't a huge success -- but has gained cult status in the intervening decades -- and Jodorowsky expresses his delight in witnessing just how terrible the film is.
Of course, there is no admission from anyone interviewed in the doco that the film as envisioned by Jodorowsky would have fared much better. (All signs point to Jodorowsky's Dune being a big fat turkey.) On a positive, some of the creative team would go on to be heavily involved in another seminal sci-fi film, Ridley Scott's Alien.
The greatest film never made? Probably not. But we could do with a few more visionaries like Alejandro Jodorowsky in cinema: filmmakers with passion and "spirit" who dare to dream big. Of course, like an author needs a good editor, a producer with a supportive yet firm hand is required to ensure the dream eventually becomes a reality.
Monday, 15 September 2014
Love isn't perfect. And it never will be, no matter how much you plan or how hard you try. And try. And try. And try. It's a lesson that's learnt too late by the protagonist of The Infinite Man, writer-director Hugh Sullivan's trippy, time travel debut feature.
Having planned the perfect anniversary away with his girlfriend right down to the last detail, Dean (John McConville) finds his well laid plans immediately thrown out the window: the motel he and Lana (Hannah Marshall) stayed at the previous year -- close to the beach but seemingly in the middle of nowhere -- is no longer in business.
And not before long, Hannah's ex, Terry (Alex Dimitriades), an ex-Olympic javelin thrower with questionable Greek heritage and an even more questionable grasp on reality, gatecrashes their getaway determined to win Hannah back. And somehow he succeeds? Worst. Anniversary. Ever.
But rather than grieve and move on, Dean refuses to leave the past behind: he's determined to revisit it - and fix it. Somehow Dean fashions a sort of time machine (Sullivan isn't big on explanations) and on the anniversary of that previous anniversary, he invites Hannah back to the rundown motel so they can travel back one year and right the wrongs. What could possibly go wrong?
As multiple Deans and Lanas -- and a Terry or two -- begin to arrive in the middle of nowhere, things become further complicated. Previous events and conversations are viewed from entirely different angles yet even with the advantage of hindsight (or is it foresight?), Dean still can't manage to have events go in his favour. Time is either linear or circular depending on your school of thought, but the human heart is unpredictable and human error almost always inevitable.
The second Australian film this year to play with time travel (after the recent mind-bender, Predestination), The Infinite Man does so more inventively and far more comically. But while the film will invite comparisons to both Groundhog Day and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it has neither the laughs of the former nor the emotional resonance of the latter.
Still all three performances in The Infinite Man are good, particularly McConville's, even if one finds it hard to root for a hero who is such a loser (and a tad creepy). Nor does Marshall's Lana give any real indication as to why two men would be so obsessed with her. But the heart wants what it wants, even if Hugh Sullivan's film is very much an intellectual rather than emotional exercise.
Tuesday, 2 September 2014
Richard Linklater would appear to be a filmmaker preoccupied with time. In his Before trilogy, he followed a couple -- Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) -- over the course of 20 years; revisiting them every nine years to see where they've been, where they are, and where they're headed.
That series culminated in 2013's Before Midnight -- and a tour de force performance by Delpy -- and was an extremely satisfying filmic journey and arguably one of the best trilogies in cinema.
And now in an even bolder cinema experiment, writer-director Linklater has set out to capture a life on film: following young Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from age six to 18, from boyhood to his first day of college. The ambitious conceit being that Mason isn't played by three different actors, as would happen in a typical coming of age film, but the one kid; captured on film every year for 12 years: Linklater and his cast gathering for a few days (39 in total) a year, every year over the time period.
Mason (and Coltrane, who has just turned 20) literally grows up before our eyes. There are no title cards to tell us what year it is (the film begins in 2000) or how old Mason is, but the ebb and flow of time is evident in the changing haircuts, his increasing height and his thinning out as Mason sheds his puppy fat and grows into a slim, long-limbed adolescent.
But it's not just Mason's journey we follow. His mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), who raises him and his older sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director's daughter), is integral to the story, not just as the primary caregiver (she's separated from their dad, Mason Snr., Ethan Hawke) but as a woman trying to better herself (returning to college) and in turn provide a better life for her kids.
That involves some less than perfect marriages, for even someone studying, and eventually teaching psychology can repeat the same mistakes, over and over. But to err is human, and Boyhood is as much a coming of age story as it is a testament to single motherhood.
Essentially about nothing and everything, the magic of Linklater's experiment is just how much we are invested in these peoples' lives. Not just Mason's but his mum's (Arquette is the film's MVP), his dad's (Hawke, effortlessly impressive), sister and friends. People come and go as Mason and his family move homes, towns, and eventually away from each other.
That's life, and its milestones, big and small, are captured in all their banality without any fanfare or concocted melodrama. It may not require its 165-minute run time but your patience will be rewarded: you won't begrudge a second spent in the company of this family and in this boy's life.