Monday, November 29, 2004
I could only bring myself to sporadically watch this trainwreck of a film.
There's an early scene where Halle finds out about the extent of her powers when she attacks a neighbour whose party is too loud. She beats the crap out of him, shorts out the speakers with one of those soda guns, and then says portentously: "You hear that? Silence. It's all I wanted."
Then there's the showdown between Sharon Stone and Halle. They're beating the crap out of each other. And Sharon mocks: "after years, years! of using these facial products, my skin is unbreakable like marble!"
Yeah. I have no words. I knew it was bad. But seriously . . . bad.
In other news, Washington DC is rainy, and a bit cold.
Thursday, November 25, 2004
I'm headed to Ecuador and Cuba via Washington DC for a month, starting Saturday.
When I'm hanging out on a beach with a cocktail and Fidel Castro, I doubt updating will be much of a priority. Still, I imagine there's internet cafes and all. I'll try and check in in a week or so to let you know how good it is NOT BEING AT WORK.
Monday, November 22, 2004
Sorry everyone - just a post to get onto my friend Beth who is currently overseas - her website has gone down and emails to her account are bouncing. Don't know what's up with that, but here's hoping she still occasionally surfs the net. (And a general observation: since email / mobile phones became en vogue, I'm amazed at how quickly I get irritated when I can't get on to someone, like, right now. Remember when we had to rely on the postal services sometimes, and it would take whole days? Yeah, me either.)
[And - success! Beth contact has been made. Edited to remove my grovelling request that she email me. Those who wish to get in touch with Beth - she's made a few comments to this post, including her spiffy new email address.]
Saturday, November 20, 2004
A dreamy horror film which puts the scary back in the beach
Where are we?
I don’t know. Somewhere bad.
A story my mother never talks about involves a family trip to the beach when she was quite young. It was my mother, her sister and my grandparents; together with another couple who were friends of the family, and honorary aunt and uncle to my mother. I’m not sure which beach, I don’t know anything about the weather or how crowded it was, whether there were lifeguards. But there was a rip. The uncle who I think was a strong swimmer, was pulled out to sea and died there, probably within sight of the shore.
How does my mother feel when she’s on a beach? Is this the reason, or one of the reasons, we never went to the beach much when I was a kid? It’s hard to realise exactly how landscapes, memories, experiences become coded in your head. Our understandings of places, people and things is so malleable, so subtly affected by memory, that it's often hard to tell why your impression of a place suddenly turns from cheerful to something more sinister.
What’s brought on this train of thought, of course, is the film Lost Things, in which two girls and two boys go on an ill-fated trip to the beach. Director Martin Murphy and writer Stephan Sewell never resort to the tired question of what lurks in the dark of the water. In one of the early sequences, we see one of the girls standing motionless on a beautiful, isolated windy beach gazing at the surf. She looks down – already her feet are covered by the shifting grains. So easy, the film suggests, for things to be buried here. And already, you’re wondering what lies beneath . . . or lurks behind . . . these dunes.
The most important thing in this film is mood, and the film is a complete success at times in nailing an atmosphere that just sends chills up your spine. There’s not much blood, guts or action in this film – just a creeping sense of dread. God I love it when films get this right. And how sad is it that this is four, five times scarier, more effective, generally better than either Anacondas or AvP, and yet, I’d bet that most of the crew of Lost Things got paid peanuts for the shoot.
Don’t walk into this film expecting a masterpiece. It’s not entirely successful, and there are story elements that I think could have been pared out, as well as a few things that seem not so much enigmatic as not-thought-out. But this film has a hold on you, an eerie resonance that will linger after the last frame as you walk home. Preferably in the dark.
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
1. Go see Lost Things* - new Australian horror film set on a beach. It's great, very moody - my review probably arriving tomorrow, where I applaud it for being four to five times better than Anacondas and AvP combined. Margaret and David liked it! You can see it at your local Hoyts! And if we don't start supporting badly advertised local films, all the directors are going to move to Europe to smoke pot in Amersterdam.
2. I just read this stupid article. Tom Hanks has landed the lead in the upcoming film of The Da Vinci Code. (I haven't read the book because I veto anything which references the Holy Grail, because, god, enough already.) It's another Howard/Goldsmith film, their first film together being A Beautiful Mind. Is that right? Feel free to mock me if I'm wrong, I haven't looked that up.
Anyway, there's this quote from Ron Howard on Hanks playing the lead character, a professor who unravels some mystery about the Holy Grail: "We probably don't need his status from a box office standpoint, but he gives Langdon instant legitimacy."
Why? Because everyone looks at Hanks and thinks "medieval scholar?" Holy meaningless soundbite, batman.
*just realised that the film is not "Buried Things" as I originally posted, but "Lost Things"; and have edited accordingly. Way to effectively promote the film there, Lyn.
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Hanging out with David Stratton
. . . oh, and talking about McCarthyism
So it was me, David, and about a hundred other people – the event was a course titled “The Blacklist” run by the centre of continuing education through the University of Sydney. It was a day long film course run by David, consisting of three full length films, a number of short excerpts, commentary, and lunch, coffee and cakes at appropriate intervals. Perfect.
“The Blacklist” refers to the McCarthyist era in the US, a time during the Cold War when a number of anti-communists freaks in the US administration got way too much power and public influence, and used it to stage a witch hunt. They were after people in Hollywood: directors, actors and writers who had “communist” links and were using their power to influence the direction of films or television (and thus polluting the mind of the innocent populace). There's a good general essay about the main players and movements of the time here.
People whose names came up were asked to cooperate with the committee – and cooperating involved blackening the names of friends or acquaintances as potential communists. Many refused. Many acquiesced. It’s easy to applaud the former as heroes (which they were), hard to know how to see the latter (there but for the grace of god, etc). Elia Kazan’s name came up – he was one of the first people named by the committee, and he ended up offering them several names including the actor Zero Mostel. Controversy over Kazan’s conduct re-emerged a few years ago when he was given a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars. A standing ovation is standard for such an accolade, but a fair portion of the room remained seated.
But hey, I knew a lot of this stuff already. What did this day actually teach me? I think there were three main points David was making in his lecture and in the chosen excerpts and films.
First, how films have dealt with the actual historical subject matter. There are a bunch of films (some quite good) which use the blacklist as subject, directly dealing with the events, the personalities and the outcomes of that era. Some of the ones we saw excerpts from are listed here.
Second, the effect that the blacklist had on the talent directly involved. Blacklisted directors, writers and actors were a talented bunch of people who were suddenly forced out of work. Some went to England, others never worked again. It’s like a kind of politically charged brain drain – an immense loss of potential that the US industry really suffered from at the time. The exodus to London also created a really interesting (almost American flavoured) film renaissance over in the UK in the 1970s.
Third, if you look at the work of those directors and writers who did work again, you can pick up persistent themes of persecution, paranoia, redemption, and betrayal which take on layers of meaning once you know their background.
I don’t want to go into David’s extended lecture much more than that – after all, it was probably only fun if you were there. But I will give you a brief rundown of the three films we saw in full, all of which were excellent:
The Front (1976)
A brilliant film starring Woody Allen. The basic plot involves Woody (a loser bartender) starting a new career as a “front” – a name for blacklisted writers to use as an alias so that they could still earn a living. This film is widely regarded as the best of those films "about" the blacklist; its edge is probably because the writer, director, and some of the actors (including Zero Mostel) were actually blacklisted themselves a decade or two earlier. Hilarious, black, and really gives you an idea of the desperation and paranoia of the time. A pivotal line involves the word “fuck”, and is apparently one of the reasons this film never got decent television airplay (which is possibly also why it’s not too well known today).
Never on Sunday (1960)
A film by a blacklisted director set in Greece, which is such an absolute breeze of a film to watch – the cinematic equivalent of being on a really fun holiday. Sunny, light as a soufflé, hilarious, endearing and just such a laugh. David talked about how obvious it was that the crew was having a ball making it – and it’s so true. A description of the plot does not make the film sound as good as it is – but essentially, it’s about a Greek island, the local prostitute who loves her job, and the American tourist who decides it’s his responsibility to educate her out of her life of misery. The central performance of Melina Mercouri as the prostitute is incredible: she’s funny, adorable, dynamic, sexy and she just owns the film.
The Servant (1963)
Another film by a blacklisted director (written by Harold Pinter!), The Servant is incredibly hard to watch – not because it’s bad, but because few films force you to be this uncomfortable, this claustrophobic with the characters for so long. A creepy depiction of British class system and undercurrents of tension and power between a young gentleman and his manservant. There are only four characters, and the film is almost entirely filmed inside a single house. By the end of the film, I wanted to get outside so badly I could almost taste it. Apparently the director and Pinter teamed up on at least one other film project. I want to see it because it will be brilliant, but I also don't want to see it at all. Maybe when I'm already in a horrible mood.
In other news, I was easily the youngest person in the room, with the exception of one girl who had come along with her mother. Dude! where's my demographic?
Thursday, November 04, 2004
(comment on pre-production spin)
I've been meaning to snark about this casting news for a while - Nicole Kidman is apparently on board for the Russell Crowe / Geoffrey Rush adaptation of Eucalyptus, the Murray Bail novel. Eucalyptus is notable for three reasons: it's a haunting, oddly funny, romantic Australian novel; it won a lot of awards; and it's one of the two books I've accidently left on the bus. (I had to re-read from page 125 all over again by the time I got around to buying a second copy. Very annoying. And I think Beth spoiled some of the end before I'd read it because she'd assumed I'd finished, which but for the bus incident, I would have . . . man, all that angst just comes flooding back . . .)
So, Nicole Kidman. I love your work most of the time, and I love that you do edgy arthouse projects, but I'm not sure how you can believably portray a character who is meant to be in her early 20s. You're an actress, I dig that, but no amount of acting can make you believably ten years younger, no matter what Luke Perry says.
On the plus side though, I remember writing something recently (possibly this site? possibly Fametracker) where I said words to the effect of "some stars will probably never make another Australian film - like Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, and probably Cate Blanchett." To be proven wrong on all three counts is pretty awesome, really.
Ah, who knows. Maybe I'm being too close-minded about this. NK will probably rock in this film, and the acting triumvirite of Kidman / Crowe / Rush does have a bit of a thrill, doesn't it? Also, if they cast someone the right age, like Abbie Cornish, the love scenes with Russ would feel a bit jail-baity.
Tuesday, November 02, 2004
When Return of the King won the largest number of awards ever won by a single film in last year’s Oscar awards, Australian reviews largely concentrated on how terrible the year of film had been that a single film had such dominance. “Oh god”, said all the commentary on the Oscars with perilous voices of doom, “the sweep is indicative of the weakness of this year’s films and the trouble with the industry as a whole.”
Except . . . not. Australian reviewers didn’t do that, because at stage we all loved Peter Jackson and secretly think of his success as kind-of, sort-of like Australia winning, because as John Clarke always says, New Zealand is part of Australia when we’re tallying the success of the entertainment industry. No, Return of the King’s dominance was the jewel on the crown, the just deserts, a sign that Hollywood had finally realised the triumph that is the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the genius that is Peter Jackson. The tone: adulation, the conclusion: finally those tricky Oscar voters have got it right.
But it’s a different story when it comes to Australia’s own sweeping film at the AFI awards last week. According to all of Australia’s newspapers, the story was not about the arrival of Cate Shortland (I mean, oh my god that was a first feature?). Nor was it the coming of age of Abbie Cornish, appropriately enough in a coming of age film (what a debut). Nor was it the leveller of a performance delievered by Sam Worthington (I’ve seen him in two other films and thought he was part of the furniture, and then he walked out in this one and holy crap, Sam, you can act!). No, the story was that the dominance of Somersault, demonstrates the general crapness of the state of the film industry. This despite the fact that it has received almost universally good reviews, and was selected for the Cannes film festival.
Here’s a smattering of stories which illustrate this journalist groupthink. The commentary only ranges in tone - some are snarky asides, others are more nuanced (Gary Maddox is the best of the bunch) but the overall message? Poor competition this year, and Somersault is undeserving. I read some identical stuff in the Daily Telegraph and The Canberra Times as well, but they aren't publishing online.
It’s not that all these people are wrong. Think it’s a bad year? obviously you’re entitled to your opinion. Not everyone likes Somersault [a wave in the direction of the peanut gallery, where some of you are waving placards saying “coming of age films are so 1982”]. But this doesn't feel like a collective majority to me, it feels like a default reached by lazy use of wire service releases. And that's just annoying.
I think Somersault is a great film. I also think that the clean sweep was almost certainly not a given, and on some races was probably extremely close run. Rachel Blake (Tom White) was probably only a few votes from Supporting Actress; likewise Colin Friels (Tom White) from Best Actor. I'd like to think the highly innovative director of The Finished People was in with a chance. The set design and feel of Love's Brother was great, and probably also ranked up there in the relevant technical categories. A Cold Summer should have been a strong contender in the acting categories (although its release was so small, probably not enough people saw it).
So if I was a journalist, what could the story be? I'm glad you asked.
Story #1: The AFI is ready to value newcomers, rather than wait for a track record to make it “safe”. Opening lines: “The AFI Awards delivered a clean sweep last night to Somersault, demonstrating that unlike the US or the UK, the Australian industry voters aren’t afraid to back new talent. This makes the AFI unlike pretty much any other awards organisation worldwide. As industry analyst Lyn commented, “Yay for us! – and you can quote me on that.”
Story #2: The AFI is apparently more willing than just about any other cinema awards group to award both direction and writing awards to women. Opening lines: “The clean sweep to Somersault was an almost unheard of feat by women in film: for the second year in a row, the directing and writing awards went to a female auteur. Last year it was Sue Brooks for Japanese Story; this year, it’s Cate Shortland who has won for writing and directing her feature debut. By contrast, the US Academy Awards are yet to honour a woman for direction, and even awards for writing are few and far between. Industry analyst Lyn was too busy getting off her face on champagne over how huge a deal that is to give us a quote.”
Story #3: - Hello, there’s been a renaissance in documentary making this year, if anyone hadn’t noticed.
Opening lines: “Forget the sweep to Somersault. The real story is that Australian documentary making is taking off, no doubt helped by the international success of Michael Moore. There were four high quality documentaries nominated for “best documentary” this year. The President v David Hicks, the genuinely heartbreaking tale of Terry Hicks’ search for the truth about his son. The Men Who Would Conquer China, a constantly surprising and intriguing take on businessmen trying their moves in the “new age” of China. Lonely Boy Richard, which tells the story of an indigenous family split by the alcoholism of one of its sons. And Helen’s War: Portrait of a Dissident – a take on activism US style and family. AFI voter Lyn who saw all four films, stated: "brilliant, all of them. Especially The Men who would conquer China. Who would have thought that all that shit about foreign investment would be so involving?"
Story #4 - And thank Christ that nothing went to One Perfect Day. "Lyn, a viewer who is still trying grow her eyes back after having scratched them out whilst watching this film, commented 'I admit this isn't a great idea for a story. But imagine if One Perfect Day had managed to get some technical award, like Best Sound. Then it could have put "AFI Award winning film" on its DVD cover. And that, friends, would have been criminal.' "