Saturday, August 30, 2008

Ready to Wall-E

Image via Imdb

I'm finally going to see Wall-E tomorrow morning as part of a charity screening for Camp Quality. They reckon laughter is the best medicine for helping kids with cancer, so I think they've picked the perfect film.

In anticipation, here are a couple of fabulous vignettes from Wall-E's YouTube page.







Wall-E
opens in Australia on September 18.

Gearing Up

Image via BBC

Everything I know about cars, I learnt from TopGear. I can tell my Aston Martins from my Maseratis, my Lotuses from my Lamborghinis (most of the time). I pronounce Porsche correctly*, I understand that you're not a true petrol-head until you've owned an Alfa-Romeo, and I appreciate the transcendent beauty of the Bugatti.

Bugatti Veyron - Image via Bugatti

I also get that the bigger number after the V equals a faster, noisier car, though I don't quite know what horses have to do with it. And I don't own a car, can't change a tire....or drive a manual.

So why on earth do I watch TopGear?

It all started in England, with the Sunday evening ritual of slobbing in front of the TV. TopGear was on at 6:30pm, one of my flatmates was male, and for his sins he put up with a lot of Trinny & Susannah. It didn't take long to get hooked on the laughs, enthusiasm and general buffoonery that goes into each TopGear episode. The petrol-head presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May spend most of the time taking the piss out of each other (which is always fun), and getting up to ridiculous hijinks that usually involve pitting a fabulous car against something ludicrous - like BMX riders, heli-skiers, planes, trains and water (really).

The boys in action - image via TopGear

Then you've got the Stig, the resident, tame racing driver who test-drives all the cars, and puts the visiting celebs through their paces in 'stars in a reasonably priced car'. Fanning the flames of intrigue surrounding the Stig's identity is Jeremy and his introductions:

Some say he naturally faces magnetic North and that all of his legs are hydraulic... all we know is, he's called the Stig.

Some say he lives in a tree and that his sweat can be used to clean precious metals... all we know is, he's called the Stig.

Some say he's terrified of ducks, and that there's an airport in Russia named after him... all we know is, he's called the Stig.

Some say his skin has the texture of a dolphin's, and that wherever you are in the world, if you tune your radio to 88.4, you can actually hear his thoughts... all we know is, he's called the Stig.


Some say he has no understanding of clouds, and that his earwax tastes like Turkish delight... all we know is, he's called the Stig.

Some say his tears are adhesive, and that if he caught fire, he'd burn for a thousand days... all we know is, he's called the Stig.**

The Stig - image via TopGear

Given such zany dialogue, it may come as a surprise that TopGear won an Emmy for Best Non-Scripted Entertainment. Bless the Yanks.

So I like the quirky hosts, the random stunts and shiny fast things zipping around the track. Most of all, I love the production value. You'd think there would only be a handful of ways to shoot a car, but these guys know how to impress. Firstly, they take the cars to impossibly beautiful locations and capture them from all manner of impossible angles. As the series have progressed, the stunts have become sillier, and the editing, snappier. Our SBS may be broadcasting Series 2, but the Pom, ahem, acquired Series 11, so we've been able to enjoy the evolution of the show first hand.

And speaking of evolution (or devolution, depending on your point of view), TopGear Australia will be coming to SBS on Monday September 29 at 7:30pm. Now I personally think the success of the original is everything to do with the personalities of the presenters, but I'm happy to give the local boys a shot. Charlie Cox, Warren Brown and Steve Pizzati have some large - or rather small in Hammond's case - shoes to fill, but as a motorsport commentator, cartoonist/motoring colomnist, and jounalist/Porsche race driver respectively, I think they fit the bill. And then of course there's an Aussie Stig. Who will it be? At least Mark Webber already has the shirt.

Brown, Cox & Pizzati - Image via TopGear

But if the homegrown version fails to impress, head on over to TopGear's new channel on YouTube to delight in the feats of daring-do (and downright stupidity) that the BBC boys have geared up over the years.

Image via YouTube

*Though that has more to do with my love of all things Deutsch.
** Stig introductions from Bebo

Sorkin's Scripting Zuckerberg

Image via Variety

The word is out. Aaron Sorkin has joined Facebook in preparation for penning the story of Mark Zuckerberg. Variety reports that Sorkin has teamed up with producer Scott Rudin and Columbia Pictures for this biopic, which looks set to trace the meteoric rise to fame and fortune of the Harvard sophomore and (one assumes) his fellow geeky friends.

Sorkin's no small-screen wonder, having brought us A Few Good Men (which started life as a stage play), The American President and most recently Charlie Wilson's War. His latest effort The Trial of the Chicago 7 is stalling in pre-production for want of a director, perhaps freeing up Sorkin's time to navigate the new Facebook and make some friends.

So Sorkin is apparently attracted to real life, American stories that come with a political bent. One wonders about the politics behind the Facebook start-up, and what of the wrestling between Microsoft and Google to get a stake in the company? It all seems to be good fodder for Sorkin's unique talents.

He can be a bit of a softy when it comes to character, though. His protagonists are often flawed men trying to do good, and he writes them with a certain romance, or empathy. How much access will Zuckerberg allow Sorkin to script him? And how will his character be translated to the silver screen?

Sorkin + Facebook sounds like a great mix.

Tell your friends.

Image via Customize Facebook

To listen to a very entertaining chat with Aaron Sorkin about who, how and why, check out this Creative Screenwriting Magazine Podcast.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

August Rush

Image via impawards

August Rush is a lovely, whimsical little film. It's how I would imagine Annie in the 21st Century, not as a boy (obviously), but in tone and scope. August (played by the wide-eyed Freddie Highmore) shares Annie's naive, infectious, and at times cloying enthusiasm, as well as a gift for music. Both are taken into the heart of high society (Juilliard for August and the stately home of Oliver Warbucks for Annie) only to be wrenched back into reality, before reassuming their rightful place. Cue: happy ending.

Director Kirsten Sheridan seems to encourage this fanciful, fairytale quality of the film. It is told from August's perspective, with all the promise of a full-mooned sky. Any plot holes in the story are skipped over by Highmore's softly-spoken narration, reminding us that this is indeed August's fairytale.

That's not to say fairytales are all sweetness and light. The performances by Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Meyers are wonderful, and ground this fable with real emotion. I thought Terrence Howard was a little wasted as the caring child services officer Richard Jeffries, but he supported two great scenes with Russell and Highmore. The first interview Jeffries has with earnest August is absolutely remarkable. Highmore is an amazing talent. His understated performance is in direct contrast to the bombastic Robin Williams as busker and father figure Wizard.

It's not drawing too long a bow to suggest that Wizard is a reimagining of Annie's Miss Hannigan. Both run orphanages (of sorts) and are overrun not only by the children, but by their own eccentricities. Not to mention both try to adopt Annie and August for their own selfish gains. However, while Miss Hannigan is more of a caricature who takes to her gin, Wizard is a complex and sympathetic character. His attempts to harness August's prodigious talent and rescue him from the strictures of Julliard are given enough berth to not come across as entirely nutsy.

Fortunately August Rush departs from Annie and her show tunes. The music is much more instrumental (in both senses of the term), leading August to Manhattan to find his musician parents. The soundtrack is a lovely mix of classical music, indie ballads and August's own unique soundscape.

I believe in music, the way some people believe in fairytales.

August Rush is for people who believe in both.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Excerpts from the Spanish Diary

Image via Vivirlatino

As published in the The New York Times
August 20, 2008
By Woody Allen

JAN 2

Received offer to write and direct film in Barcelona. Must be cautious. Spain is sunny, and I freckle. Money not great either, but agent did manage to get me a 10th of 1 percent of anything the picture does over $400 million after break even.

Have no idea for Barcelona unless the story of the two Hackensack Jews who start a mail-order embalming firm could be switched.

MARCH 5

Met with Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz. She’s ravishing and more sexual than I had imagined. During interview my pants caught fire. Bardem is one of those brooding geniuses who clearly will need a firm hand from me.

APRIL 2

Offered role to Scarlett Johansson. Said before she could accept, script must be approved by her agent, then by her mother, with whom she’s close. Following that it must be approved by her agent’s mother. In middle of negotiation she changed agents — then changed mothers. She’s gifted but can be a handful.

JUNE 1

Arrived Barcelona. Accommodations first class. Hotel has been promised half star next year provided they install running water.

JUNE 5

Shooting got off to a shaky start. Rebecca Hall, though young and in her first major role, is a bit more temperamental than I thought and had me barred from the set. I explained the director must be present to direct the film. Try as I may, I could not convince her and had to disguise as man delivering lunch to sneak back on the set.

JUNE 15

Work finally under way. Shot a torrid love scene today between Scarlett and Javier. If this were a scant few years ago, I would have played Javier’s part. When I mentioned that to Scarlett, she said, “Uh-huh,” with an enigmatic intonation. Scarlett came late to the set. I lectured her rather sternly, explaining I do not tolerate tardiness from my cast. She listened respectfully, although as I spoke I thought I noticed her turning up her iPod.

JUNE 20

Barcelona is a marvelous city. Crowds turn out in the streets to watch us work. Mercifully they realize I’ve no time to give autographs, and so they ask only the cast members. Later I handed out some 8-by-10 photos of myself shaking hands with Spiro Agnew and offered to sign them, but by then the crowd had dispersed.

JUNE 26

Filmed at La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s masterpiece. Was thinking I have much in common with the great Spanish architect. We both defy convention, he with his breathtaking designs and me by wearing a lobster bib in the shower.

JUNE 30

Dailies are looking good, and while Javier’s idea to add a massive Martian invasion scene complete with a thousand costumed extras and elaborate flying saucers is not a very good one, I will shoot it to make him happy and cut it in the editing room.

JULY 3

Scarlett came to me today with one of those questions actors ask, “What’s my motivation?” I shot back, “Your salary.” She said fine but that she needed a lot more motivation to continue. About triple. Otherwise she threatened to walk. I called her bluff and walked first. Then she walked. Now we were rather far apart and had to yell to be heard. Then she threatened to hop. I hopped too, and soon we were at an impasse. At the impasse I ran into friends, and we all drank, and of course I got stuck with the check.

JULY 15

Once again I had to help Javier with the lovemaking scenes. The sequence requires him to grab Penélope Cruz, tear off her clothes and ravish her in the bedroom. Oscar winner that he is, the man still needs me to show him how to play passion. I grabbed Penélope and with one motion tore her clothes off. As fate would have it she had not yet changed into costume, so it was her own expensive dress I mutilated. Undaunted I flung her down before the fireplace and dove on top of her. Minx that she is, she rolled away a split second before I landed causing me to fracture certain key teeth on the tile floor. Fine day’s work, and I should be able to eat solids by August.

JULY 30

Dailies looking rather brilliant. Probably too early to start planning Academy campaign. Still, a few notes for an acceptance speech might just save me some time later.

AUG. 3

I suppose it comes with the territory. As director one is part teacher, part shrink, part father figure, guru. Is it any wonder then that as the weeks have passed, Scarlett and Penélope have both developed crushes on me? The fragile female heart. I notice poor Javier looking on enviously as the actresses bed me with their eyes, but I’ve explained to the boy that unbridled feminine desire for a cinema icon, particularly one who wears a sneer of cold command, is to be expected. Meanwhile when I approach the set each morning bathed and freshly scented, between Scarlett and Penélope there is a virtual feeding frenzy. I never like mixing business with pleasure, but I may have to slake the lust of each one in turn to get the film completed. Perhaps I can give Penélope Wednesdays and Fridays, satisfying Scarlett Tuesdays and Thursdays. Like alternate-side parking. That would leave Monday free for Rebecca, whom I stopped just in time from tattooing my name on her thigh. I’ll have a drink with the ladies in the cast after filming and set some ground rules. Maybe the old system of ration coupons could work.

AUG. 10

Directed Javier in emotional scene today. Had to give him line readings. As long as he imitates me he’s fine. The minute he tries his own acting choices he’s lost. Then he weeps and wonders how he’ll survive when I’m no longer his director. I explained politely but firmly that he must do the best he can without me and to try to remember the tips I’ve given him. I know he was cheered because when I left his trailer, he and his friends were howling with laughter.

AUG. 20

Made love with Scarlett and Penélope simultaneously in an effort to keep them happy. Ménage gave me great idea for the climax of the movie. Rebecca kept pounding on the door, and I finally let her in, but those Spanish beds are too small to handle four, and when she joined, I kept getting bounced to the floor.

AUG. 25

End production today. Wrap party as usual a little sad. Slow danced with Scarlett. Broke her toe. Not my fault. When she dipped me back, I stepped on it.

Penélope and Javier anxious to work with me again. Said if I ever come up with another screenplay to try and find them. Goodbye drink with Rebecca. Sentimental moment. Everyone in cast and crew chipped in and bought me a ballpoint pen. Have decided to call film “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” Studio heads have seen all the dailies. Apparently they love every frame, and there is talk of opening it at a leper colony. It’s lonely at the top.

Image via Imdb

.....The mind reels.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is set for an Australian release on December 26.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Brothers Bloom


Rian Johnson's much anticipated follow-up to Brick is on its way as crime caper The Brothers Bloom. It appears said brothers will woo an eccentric heiress into an elaborate con to swindle her out of her money.

Now, we know Johnson can do crime - Brick was a wonderfully written, intriguingly directed high-school film noir - but can he do caper? I'm going to hazard a guess and say yes, mostly because of the kitchen scenes in Brick with King Pin and his mum. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you must go and see this film!

At first look, however, brothers plus Adrien Brody makes me think of Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited. I loved this film, but I hope Johnson doesn't borrow too much from the king of indie quirk, or perhaps that he doesn't suffer too much from the comparison.

Rachel Weisz is a long time girl crush of mine, and I think she'll play wide-eyed heiress really well. Mark Ruffalo and Brody together will be an interesting - if taciturn - mix. And it seems Rinko Kikuchi, who was just amazing in Babel, may be getting mute again as The Muscle:

Image via indieWIRE

A.K.A Bang Bang. Need I say more?!

Check out the trailer and let me know what you think:




The Brothers Bloom is slated for US release October 28th. I haven't been able to track down an Australian release date.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

RocknRolla

Image via RocknRolla

The trailer is out.

Don't worry, he can't defend himself. He's got no head.

Guy Ritchie is back.



We're going to forget Swept Away ever happened.

Australian release date: 27 November 2008

Not Quite Hollywood

Image via Madman

So Quentin Tarantino is a massive fan of Australian Cinema...who'd have thunk it?! Turns out that at the Australian Premier of Kill Bill: Vol. 1. Tarantino dedicated the film to Brian Trenchard-Smith, who some may know from the glorious BMX Bandits, but who is perhaps more infamously known as the director of wild and bloody action films like Turkey Shoot, Dead-End Drive In and The Man From Hong Kong.

Our Bandit Nic
Images via Not Quite Hollywood


Not Quite Hollywood chronicles the 'wild, untold story of Ozploitation', introducing us to this creative and colourful(!) section of the Australian film industry that existed alongside the more celebrated arthouse genre of Picnic at Hanging Rock and My Brilliant Career fame. Now unfortunately I'm fairly hopeless when it comes to violent or scary movies, so I'm not a much of a horror or exploitation film fan. That said, it was still amazing to learn about the motivations and personalities behind these genre classics.

Writer/Director Mark Hartley balances a lot of talking heads with some great film and behind the scenes footage. Interviewees include Mr. Australian Cinema himself Phillip Adams, Barry Humphries, Dr. George Miller, Russell Boyd (who really bridged the gap, as cinematographer for Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Man from Hong Kong in the same year), Sigrid Thornton, Dennis Hopper and of course the effervescent Tarantino.

Together they weave the tale of a cultural explosion that came about after censorship laws were relaxed, government funding introduced and the all important R-rating established in 1971. While the history books focus more on the Weir and Armstrong darlings of Australian cinema, there was a huge and hugely successful genre movement, featuring a lot of sex, cars, violence and more sex. Go and check out some of the old trailers on the official site and see what you think of the randy Alvin Purple and racy Fantasm (though be warned about the erm...confronting full frontal shot). My word!

Suitably blue: Alvin Purple

The documentary soon segues from the breasts to the beasts with horror genre films like Razorback, Thirst and the most horrific beast of all - a guy in a coma - Patrick. Evidently Uma's sleepy turn in Kill Bill: Vol.1 is a homage to Richard Franklin's terrifying creation.

And then come the automobiles. According to Tarantino, "Nobody shoots a car the way Aussies do. They manage to shoot cars with this fetishistic lens that just makes you want to jerk off!"

Ahem.

Our crazy car culture is certainly fetishised in Mad Max, but Miller's celebrated film is preceded by other insane action films like Stone and The Man From Hong Kong - which, among other things features a fight scene atop Ayers Rock!

The not so popular Jimmy Wang Yu
as the Man from Hong Kong


By uncovering this forgotten history of Australian genre cinema, Hartley locates films like Wolf Creek, Rogue and the Saw franchise in the wider context of an Australian genre renaissance. Indeed the writer/directors Greg Mclean, James Wan and Leigh Whannell reveal the influences these 1970s and 1980s genre films have had on their terrifying projects. May I one day, in a very bright room, work up the courage to see them.

Image via KillerMovies

I can recommend Not Quite Hollywood if you want to hear a cracking tale about Australian cinema, or if you fancy getting an eye-full! It's an entertaining look at our industry's saucy history, told by some nostalgic insiders, a few fazed Americans and one obsessive fan: Tarantino.



Not Quite Hollywood opens 28 August, and Hartley will be at Dendy Newtown for a Q&A Opening Night Screening.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Meet Joe Wright

Image via Moviejerk

If you dismissed Pride & Prejudice and Atonement due to Keira Knightley's million-dollar pout, then you'll have missed out on a truly fabulous directorial discovery.

Meet Joe Wright.

The man has taken on Jane Austen and Ian McEwan, two beloved authors, and their most beloved works. No easy task to be sure, and yet Wright has the uncanny ability to translate these spectacular literary works into such beautiful cinematic experiences.

And indeed Wright is a cinematic director; the luscious mise-en-scène and luminous cinematography illustrating his unique vision. Wright isn't about cinéma vérité, rather the stylised and romantic lens of old Hollywood.

Image via Variety

I was delighted to see a few interesting traits from Pride & Prejudice elaborated upon in Atonement. Firstly the music themes: the wonderful opening piano melody from Pride & Prejudice weaves its way through the entire film. It expands and evolves through scenes, but always returns to the first, simple opening strains. This is repeated to great effect in Atonement, with the staccato typewriter and develops into another piano piece that roams through the film. The percussive 'clacks' of the typewriter set the heightened tone of the film and introduce us to Briony's dramatic world. The ingenious Dario Marianelli is behind the music for both films, and it comes as no surprise that he was nominated for Pride & Prejudice and won the Oscar for Atonement.

Wright's interest in dramatic music syncs well with his use of dramatic skies. The atmospheric light of dawn features in both films: it is the climactic scene for Lizzie and Darcy, as they walk towards each other in the pink and misty morning light. And in Atonement we witness Robbie's dawn retreat through France; though the sky holds no such romance in this scene as Robbie reveals his gaping chest wound.

Dreamy dawn & Darcy - Image via Imdb

From macrocosm to microcosm, Wright also focuses on hands. In Pride & Prejudice we get a couple of close ups on Darcy's hands as they betray the stirring emotions of our stoic antagonist. Wright seems to cut to a shot of a flexing or clenching hand as one would feature a reaction shot. I love the idea that your hands might give away what your face does not. Such shots are used to similar effect in Atonement, with Robbie's hand shown gripping both the broken handle of the vase, and later his letter to Cecilia. Wright has quite the deft touch indeed!

Image via Imdb

Not so simplistic are his amazing Steadicam shots. Pride & Prejudice has a couple of meandering Steadicam shots through the Bennett house, though the highlight is surely at the Netherfield ball. Here Wright weaves us through the splendour in a long and intricate shot, that picks up each member of the Bennett family (replete with their own expectations) before coming to rest with Lizzie as she escapes into the shadows with her thoughts for a moment.

This same idea is raised to an epic level in Atonement, with the stunning, 5-minute, 20-second Steadicam shot of the evacuation of Dunkirk. Wright and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey have outdone themselves with this beautifully choreographed and devastatingly apocalyptic scene*. Like Pride & Prejudice, we pick up the main characters in their greater context, this time brought about with 1000 extras. I love how the shot finishes, drifting further along the pier, away from Robbie and his men who have entered the pub. This extradiegetic level introduced by the roving Steadicam comes to such a tantalising conclusion.

Dunkirk - Image via FilminFocus

Wright is certainly a burgeoning auteur, developing his ideas and aesthetic in each production. He's now in post-production on his next film The Soloist, which is another literary adaptation of sorts: based on the book and series of columns by Los Angeles Times journalist Steve Lopez on the plight of schizophrenic musician Nathaniel Ayers. With Robert Downey Jr. as Lopez, Jaime Foxx as Ayers and both McGarvey and Marianelli returning to work with Wright in their respective roles, this project has certainly piqued my interest. I wonder how Wright will tell this American tale, and a biopic no less.

The Soloist - Image via LA Times

There is no doubt about Wright's gift for translating novels onto the silver screen in spectacular fashion. I eagerly await his future works (with and without Keira) and look forward to witnessing the evolution of his wonderfully cinematic vision.

*For an in depth discussion with McGarvey on the cinematography of Atonement, see this article in the American Society of Cinematographers Magazine.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Heaps Beached

Another offering from the ridiculously talented Jarod Green:




Beached Whale has caused quite the ruckus on YouTube, with the Kiwi community more than a little irate at this representation of their bros. Flight of the Conchords recently joined the party, although I'm assuming those boys get the joke.

Someone also told me that a producer of Lord of the Rings had seen this and found it hilarious, so it's good to hear some Kiwis have a sense of humour.

And for those of you wanting to get Beached As yourselves, you can check out the online store - I dig the BBQ apron.

The Other Boleyn Girl

Images via SonyPictures

The Other Boleyn Girl should have been a gripping political thriller and an epic love story. It should have matched and been a fitting prelude to Elizabeth and should have made Showtime's The Tudors look like the overstylised, made-for-tv lesser sibling. Instead, this poorly conceived and badly edited film left me feeling embarrassed for everyone involved.

I can see why this film pulled the big names, because Philippa Gregory's book is a cracking read. Sure, the bodices get a bit of wear and tear, but Gregory sets the stakes high, and you really get a feel for the manifest pressure on Henry, Katherine of Aragon and the Boleyn girls in the context of the English Court as well as on the broader European stage. Plus she champions the untold story of Mary Boleyn, drawing her out from historical obscurity and adding another dimension to the legend of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

Scarlett Johannson as Mary Boleyn

Now I love my history and particularly love discovering the stories of the women behind the men; the women who have undoubtedly shaped the course of history despite being relegated to the footnotes, or left off the page entirely. Anne Boleyn is no historical wallflower, but it's about time her story made it up onto the silver screen again, and the addition of Mary should have given us further insight into her motivations and machinations.

Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn

But there I go shoulding again. The actors, bless them, are giving it their all. Kristin Scott Thomas as Lady Elizabeth Boleyn and Ana Torrent as Katherine of Aragon are standouts in their respective roles. Unfortunately Johannson plays Mary as downcast and dour, while Portman has moments of brilliants in a mostly pursed or pouty lips performance. But worse still is Eric Bana, entirely wasted in the role of Henry VIII, he is relegated to brooding in the shadows.

Eric Bana, brooding as Henry VII

This film makes you appreciate the importance of good writing and direction. Justin Chadwick stems from BBC's TV adaptation of Bleak House, of which I've heard good things, but perhaps this explains the vignette style of the film and the clumsy fades to black, as though we're about to cut to commercial. And I expected much more from the writer of The Queen and The Last King of Scotland, Peter Morgan - he can obviously write historical political thrillers, so what went wrong here?!

I'm baffled and disappointed. I want a do over: same actors, same costumes, but let's make it more Memoirs of a Geisha and less Pearl Harbor this time.*

In the mean time, go and check out The Other Tudor Drama.

Image via Showtime


* Don't get where I'm coming from with Pearl Harbor? Think about the shocking love triangle and the butchering of history. Ohhh here's a thought, Jean-Marc Salomé should direct the remake!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Passenger

Image via /Passenger.

And speaking of talented friends, check out these two very different music videos from Mike Rosenberg's band, /Passenger.

Wicked Man's Rest



Walk You Home (aka. Night Vision Binoculars)



I imagine a lot of careful and creative thought goes into music videos in order to capture the right tone and weave the right visual narrative around the song. Mike's music is all about storytelling, which could lend itself well to a literal translation in the music videos, so it's been fascinating to see how each song has been reimagined on film. I love the atmospherics of Wicked Man's Rest and the opening shot of the carousel is beautiful. It struck me as a little Donnie Darko, but that may well be because that freaky rabbit left an impression.

Walk You Home is pitch perfectly cheeky as a single (stalky) steadycam shot. It captures the playful humour of the song as well as the plight of our protagonist. All credit to Mike for not stacking it dancing backwards!

And lest I forget the music video created by Mike himself. Lego has never looked so depressed.

Saturday Night TV



Some of my favourite directors have forayed into music videos: David Fincher, Spike Jonze and the ludicrously creative Michel Gondry. Ohhhh imagine what Gondry would do with a Passenger song!

Sunshine

I have some enviably talented friends who do things like write, act, direct, shoot, edit and score beautiful shorts like this over the course of a weekend:

Waitress

Images via Collider.com

Waitress isn't all sweet cherry pie. Adrienne Shelly's 2007 Sundance hit may have been marketed as 'this year's most delicious romantic comedy', but there's a distinctly bittersweet aftertaste. Shelly's screenplay navigates loneliness, unwanted pregnancy, adultery and domestic violence (couched as a loveless marriage). The film is also profoundly impacted by the tragic death of Shelly herself; she was murdered two months before the film premiered at Sundance.

Now imbued with a particular poignancy, Waitress is a testament to Shelly's writing and direction that she makes the most of such challenging ingredients to create a warm and uplifting film. Keri Russell is endearing as pie prodigy Jenna Hunterson; locked in an unhappy marriage, she escapes into her imagination and dreams up delicious recipes that represent everything she can't express: Pregnant Miserable Self Pitying Pie...lumpy oatmeal with fruitcake mashed in. Flambé of course.

Personally, I didn't get much from the romance between Jenna and the dreamy Dr. Pomatter (played by my favourite Nathan Fillion). I don't think Fillion was given enough to do with the character and the "I once had a crush on a girl who worked in a pie shop" backstory even came across a little creepy. Plus, I don't really dig adultery. That said, I ate up their awkward banter and think the relationship worked well as a vehicle for Jenna's reawakening.

The film, I believe, hits its stride in the more serious scenes. Rather than creating a one-dimensional overbearing husband role for easy laughs, Earl is given some depth and his manifest insecurity is portrayed remarkably well by Jeremy Sisto. This depth also brings more weight to bear on the representation of Jenna and Earl's marriage, which is emotionally and at times physically abusive. Shelly doesn't shy away from this, which is one of the reasons filmgoers looking for a saccharine rom-com will go away disappointed.

Similarly, Jenna's ambivalence about her pregnancy is deftly handled. An interview with Fillion in the dvd extras reveals this to be an autobiographical aspect of Shelly's film. Motherhood is so often shown in terms of breathless excitement, so I credit Shelly for revealing the reluctance and doubt that are no doubt part of pregnancy as well.

My favourite part of the film though, is this voiceover:

Dear Baby, I hope someday somebody wants to hold you for 20 minutes straight and that's all they do. They don't pull away. They don't look at your face. They don't try to kiss you. All they do is wrap you in their arms and hold on tight, without an ounce of selfishness in it.

I think this is the true heart of the film, more than the romance or the comedy. Waitress may have its layer of whipped cream, but it's really quite a contemplative look at a woman's life of quiet desperation.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

National Imaginings: Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony

Image via Ninemsn

The Olympic Opening Ceremony is a fabulous history lesson. It fascinates me to see how the host country conveys at it's national story through music, dance and celebration. Last night's ceremony in Beijing was no different, as 15 thousand performers created a truly spectacular show of their nation's 5000 year history.

Conceived by Chinese film director Yimou Zhang, this ceremony was as beautiful and as epic as the films that have brought him fame: Raise the Red Lantern, Hero, House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower. In 50 minutes we were guided through these 5 millennia in stunning fashion, learning the Chinese invented gunpowder (magnificently symbolised by fireworks!), paper, movable type and the compass:

Images via SMH



We were treated to terracotta warriors, Confucius, judo masters, and dancers from the ancient dynasties. The Buddhist Tang Dynasty was featured with a superb ribbon dance atop a moving blanket. The costumes, as you'd expect from Yimou, were magestic:



Then, curiously, we segued from 907 to 2008 with the bullet train, rocketing past the Cultural Revolution and into space. From these lofty heights, the performance transitioned from national to global, seamlessly sewing together China's history with it's Olympic theme: One World, One Dream.

One-China, anyone?


Of course no mention was made of the stickier side of China's history, this was a celebration after all. We did the same in 2000, opting for corrugated iron and Kylie over terra nullius and White Australia.

When over 4 billion eyes of the world are upon you, how do you imagine your nation and celebrate your past? China put on a truly spectacular show, even if some historical omissions were a little conspicuous.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Australia

All images via AustraliaMovie.net

Australia is being put on the map by Baz Lurhmann, so expect us to look awesome!

Luhrmann's much anticipated follow up to Moulin Rouge!, is the WWII era story of English aristocrat Lady Sarah Ashley (our Nic) as she seeks to protect her newly inherited cattle station from a takeover by hiring rogue stockman (our Hugh) to dive her 2000 head of cattle overland. They arrive in Darwin only to be caught up in the Japanese bombings and the subsequent 'Adelaide River Stakes' southern exodus.

Oh yeah, it's going to be epic.

Check out these stunning photos from Annie Leibovitz's visit to set for Vogue:






It may interest some to know Australia is a remake of Harry Watt's 1946 moral boosting feature The Overlanders - and both are based on the true story of a 1942 wartime initative by the Australian government to vacate under the threat of Japanese invasion. I also believe the Don/Drover character is based on Nat Buchanan, who in the late 1800s drove 20,000 head of cattle overland from Queensland to Darwin in a feat unequalled in droving history. Upon seeing The Overlanders in film class a few years ago and with my love of all things historical, I'll admit that ever since I harboured the dream of writing a remake. So I think it's fair to say Baz Lurhmann stole my idea! Ja, right.

In any case, the official site features a page on Australian History which shares a bit more about the Darwin bombings, as well as the requisite caveat about the film not being purely factual. Not much mention is made of The Overlanders however, so I can recommend trying to track down a copy of this fabulous film prior to Australia's release on November 13.

It also appears the Tourism Australia has signed up our Baz for a $50 million advertising campaign to coincide with the film's release. If it's anything like his luscious Moulin Rouge! inspired ad for Chanel, it'll be a sight to see!

Australia may well be Gone with the Wind meets the Man From Snowy River, but just look at Hugh Jackman here and tell me you're not ridiculously excited!?


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