Monday, August 27, 2007

Lorna Doone

. . . is a period BBC miniseries made in 2000 based on a British novel, which combines the melodrama of Walter Scott with vague attempts at historical commentary and social realism. In the opening, a boy sees his father by bandits from the Doone family. Naturally, the next time we see him he's older and has sworn to hate the Doones forever. But then! He falls in love with this chick called Lorna! Unbelievably, she turns out to be a Doone. It's already minute thirty, and I'm sure you have no idea where all this is headed.

. . . is not just a BBC miniseries. Go here, and you'll see that this ridiculous story has been made more than ten times, starting way back as a silent film in 1910. There's a prior version from the 90s starring Clive Owen as John Ridd. There's a version from the 70s where Patrick Troughton (the second Doctor!) plays evil Mr Doone. There are more versions of Lorna Doone, than there are of Pride and Prejudice. (That kind of blows my mind.)

. . . is pretty awesome: in 140 minutes you get plots against the king, orphans who turn out to be heiressess, abrupt (and wholly undeserved) grants of knighthood, someone getting shot whilst being married at the altar, and a fabulous final scene where the villian sinks to his death in the bog (pouting his way down to the very end as he refuses the gallant hero's offer of rescue).

. . . is an unlikely Jesse Spencer vehicle! Yes, Chase from House turns up in a smallish part with a bad British accent and a wig - and fops his way around as a second tier villain, until he gets shot whilst trying to stab someone in the back.

. . . is an equally unlikely James McAcoy vehicle! You loved him in Last King of Scotland! watch him in about three scenes (an even smaller part than Spencer), as a pale, freckled military dude. So scrawny and unremarkable looking, that I only realised he was in the film during the closing credits. Either the charisma is all acting, or he's come a long way.

. . . and yes, by "awesome", I mean "hilariously bad". Still. Death by bog!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Trouble With Elvis

I ordered one Elvis DVD at least a year ago off Amazon. It's the western Flaming Star - the only "good" Elvis film, anachronistic in the Elvis canon for many reasons.* Clearly, interest in this film does not mean interest in the entire back catalogue of films in which Elvis chases / is chased by girls, and eventually picks one.

But since buying Flaming Star, Amazon has been emailing me non-stop with Elvis recommendations. My log-in page has become wall to wall Elvis, from The Trouble With Girls to Stay Away, Joe to Clambake. (Clambake?)

I feel misjudged. I feel implicated. As someone said to me once, "it's like, you f*ck one goat . . ."

* Here's a few:
1) There are only two songs in the entire film, and they're played over the opening credits and in the first five minutes of the film (apparently, having songs at all was a studio imposition).

2) Elvis's role is a straight dramatic one, and he shows that if he hadn't been one of the most astoundingly successful singers of all time, he probably could have made it as a fine actor (and thereby avoided starring in films called Girls! Girls! Girls!.)

3) It's a Western (were there any other Elvis westerns? I don't think so. I also refuse to look this up because = lazy.)

4) It's really good.

5) It's probably the only film Elvis has been in where Marlon Brando was the alternate casting suggestion.

6) After making this, Elvis swore he'd never do another film where [redacted for spoiler, but it's an easy guess], because it made his momma cry. And apparently, avoiding this kind of ending became a condition of his involvement in future projects.
AFI Festival - The Shorts

It's that time of year: free screenings of Australian features / documentaries / short films up for AFI awards. Screenings are open to all AFI members (who if my screenings are anything to go by, largely wear cardigans and BYO thermos. Which is to say - I fit right in.) Today's programme included the shorts: 4 animated, 4 live action.

I usually find short films a pretty unsatisfying experience - either there's not much there and I feel it's not worth my attention, or there's too much and I wish it was a feature. Rare exceptions stand out. I still remember how much I loved Green Bush, a short from two years ago about a night at an indigenous radio station (by writer/director Warwick Thornton). I thought after seeing it that Thornton would have queues at his door begging him to do a feature film - but whilst his IMDB page shows he's been working steadily in short subject TV, no other developments as yet.

(Which begs the question: why do shorts? even when your short is fricking genius it seems that it doesn't necessarily get you that break. And a further question: who finances these shorts? given that there is absolutely NO chance of any kind of significant return from exploitation?)

But back to today's films. None of them was earth shattering. Australia has had a great record of getting AFI winning shorts into the Oscars (just from the last three years: Harvie Krumpet won the animated short Oscar, The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello was nominated as an animated short, and that one about the Mormon door knocking guy was nominated in live action). Not to sound too negative, but it's pretty clear none of this year's bunch really has a shot.

Live action:
Boy's Own Story: Bizarre. Highly stylised account of a kid talking of key childhood incidents, leading up to fairly horrific outcomes in his adulthood. Blackly funny, but mostly just plain weird - US accents all round (I wonder why?)
Dugong: probably my pick as the strongest short overall, just because it was so understated and felt real. A long lost brother turns up for a wedding. The great moments are in the details - a scene in a bathroom feels incredibly intimate until the door swings open and people crowd in (bringing with them a blast from the music playing outside) - just really well done. Each scene suggesting acres of backstory without making you feel shortchanged by the brevity.
Spike Up - The longest "short", clocking in at thirty minutes. A few familiar faces in this one - the lead (played by Roy Billing) was instantly recognisable, and I spent most of the short trying to figure out why (answer = he played the mayor in The Dish). A police officer deals with a run of events between the station and his less-than-happy home. Main flaw is that there's enough going on here for a feature - and doesn't really satisfy as a short film.
Swing - A young (Vietnamese?) girl goes to work for a blind vet. A relationship piece, done well - but perhaps a bit long given how little it ends up really giving you.

An Imaginary Life: the Tropfest winner about what happens to imaginary friends when kids stop believing in them. Whilst neat and well put together, it's just not at all surprising. Unfolds exactly as you'd expect. Best touch is the use of family footage interspersed with the animation. But not even close to the quality of Tropfest winners of previous years (remember The Wave - about two homeless guys reminiscing about an amazing moment at the beach? - now there's a short film worth seeing).
The Girl Who Swallowed Bees: Paul McDermott's latest short (his earlier one was The Scree, with a similar narration / animation combination). It's well done, but then, so was The Scree: I mean, how many fairy tale-but-twisted animations will McDermott do before he moves on? Anyway, despite my bitching, this is beautifully done and given the slim field, it's probably my pick.
The Goat That Ate Time - suffered from being very similar in structure to "The Girl Who Swallowed Bees" but with less cool animation. But if "best title" was a category, it would win easily.
The Bat and the Butterfly (Dust Echoes) - an indigenous story. The claymation style animation was pretty cool, but just not all that much there.

Robbed of a nomination?: The Australian contender from the SFF that I'm surprised isn't here is Spider - Nash Edgerton's nasty (but good) little film about a prank gone wrong (and wrong, then wrong some more). Sure, it's a one note film - but it succeeds entirely in mastering that note.

Which is I guess all you're really after in a short film. Who knows? Not me: as soon as I got home, I cleansed myself by watching a 160 minute feature. (Michael Mann's Heat. Ahhhh.)

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