Archive for the Reviews Category

Hi! How Are You? Daniel Johnston in Edinburgh

Posted in Reviews with tags , on February 28, 2010 by babydylan

In the weeks leading up to seeing Daniel Johnston perform at Queens Hall, I’d been kidding myself into believing that the show might be one of those ‘too good to be true fantasy gigs’ where your hoping/wishing/praying that it’s just going to be you and the artist and no one in between. The man who sold me the ticket muttered that only a very very small handful of people were excited about seeing “this guy” perform and that I was obviously one of them. It was at least two months before the show, and the second day I had been in Edinburgh and word of his forthcoming performance had obviously not caught on, judging by the giant stack of tickets behind the counter.

However something obviously changed, when we showed up we were confronted with a queue longer than any I had seen for a show – it stretched from the entrance of Queens Hall far down the street – full of hipsters wearing plaid, skinny jeans and the token ‘Hi How Are You? T’shirts and asking each other questions such as “Do I look like a Daniel Johnston fan” and “How long have you been a fan? I loved him before ’The Devil and Daniel Johnston’ came out”. Surely tonight wouldn’t become a competition of who has the most indy cred, the hipsters version of a pissing contest.

Thankfully the bravado died down once everyone was inside and seated, it was a sit down gig, and as the support act The Wave Pictures came out everyone settled down in a nervous anticipation. My game of ‘Spot the person not wearing the black framed glasses’ ceased, at least momentarily.

Lead vocalist David Tattersall sounded as though he’d swallowed Jeff Buckley and Lou Reed for breakfast, his pure smooth vocals delivered lines that bounced around the walls of the auditorium to finally hit you in the stomach (without of course causing any pain). Instead of the impatience that one can feel during a support act, most were left wanting more and if not that, at least The Wave Pictures cd.

In contrast, 2nd support act Laura Marling spent too long giggling and laughing about how ‘hopeless’ and ‘silly’ she was on stage, and of how she needed to ‘brush up on her stage banter’. Once past that however, she delivered strong ballads that although haunting, did little to win over those who hadn’t heard of her before that night (going by the response of myself and some guys I overheard in the toilets).

Daniel Johnston’s entrance onto the stage was a contrast to the hyper, overstated way he’s approached his music and art, as chronicled in The Devil and Daniel Johnston (the doco mentioned before that was probably a large contributor to the amount of people there). His strolled on with his guitar, some sheets of music and a bottle of water. A giant, greying grizzly bear of a man who reminds you of your adorable uncle who still lives in your grandparents basement. It took all my willpower to not run up and hug him. He waited for the applause to die down (it takes awhile), he arranged his music, he picked up his guitar and sang.

Later that night, me and a friend would tentatively describe the show as being one of the best worst live gigs we’ve ever been too. His guitar playing was harsh and violent, chords were frequently miss played and his voice cracked on more than one occasion, but that’s just being critical. However the mood was amazing, respect just seemed to radiate from the crowd, and as our applause grew after each song so to did the power of his voice. I had the feeling of, ‘oh mercy I must treasure every moment of this’ because I wasn’t sure If I would ever see him live again. Its as though everything came together, imperfections included, to create something awesome.

And this was just when he was by himself, after five or six songs he was joined by a guitarist, and then after another handful of tracks by The Wave Pictures, who stayed with him for the remainder of the set. It was with their support that Johnston belted out his infamous Beatles covers, tracks that worked surprisingly well in winning over the audience and doing justice to the original songs. Come Together was as highlight, as the chorus picked up his voice became smoother, proving that the trademark ‘tremor’ of his voice could become stronger once Johnston was joined by a good light show, great sound and an appreciative audience.

A few days after the show I learnt from a friend that Johnston was headlining at Melbourne’s laneway festival in late January. Ironic I thought, considering that I’d grabbed the ticket to the Edinburgh show because I was convinced I’d never have the opportunity to see him live again, and that after the show I left in a feverish excitement, convinced that no show could match the ’once in a lifetime’ quality of this one. At the time I thought it was implausible that he would travel across the pond and come to Aus. Obviously I was wrong. And If I chose to read too much into it (which I will do, because I am Eugene) and if hypothetically the exchange and everything else hadn’t happened and I was still back home, I would have been able to see him perform anyway. Too an obsessed little fan boy, this is a comforting thought,

Postscript: It took me ages to write this, so much so that since starting it Johnston has played his shows in Melbourne. What was everyone else’s take on it? those who went.

My new friend crush

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , on November 26, 2009 by babydylan
Many of you might know, but I have a bit of an obsession I like to call a ‘friend crush’.

It pretty much means when you see someone in your class at uni, at your workplace, on the train, in the coffee line, complaing about all those goddamn skateboarders and are amused or intrigued by something they say, you develop a bit of a crush. Not a romantic crush, but more of an intellectual one. It’s less of a ‘I-want-to-take-you-somewhere-and-devour-you-crush’ and more of a ‘you-seem-extremely-facinating-and-I-forsee-us-getting-on-famously-so-let’s-bypass-the-getting-to-know-you-awkward-bullshit-and-hang-every-day-crush’.

And if there is one filmmaker I am desperately friend crushing on at the moment, it has to be Rian Johnson.

My new best friend

It all started last year when I finally got my hands on a copy of Brick, Johnson’s 2005 film. Originally I was intrigued by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, definitely a crushcrush and known for his roles in tv show 3rd Rock From The Sun, teen masterpiece 10 Things I Hate About You, Greg Araki’s unsettling Mysterious Skin and most recently non-rom-com (500) Days Of Summer. Yet on viewing the film I realised that Levitt was only one aspect of its appeal.

Levitt plays Brendan Frye, student at a southern Californian high school who receives a call from his ex-girlfriend asking for help and then finds her two days later lying dead in a sewage tunnel. Set in the world of a teen flick but with the tone of film noir, Frye is a modern-day Bogart trying to decipher the mysterious death. Sucking the audience into a world where students speak their own language, vice principals are kept in the dark by their pupils while drug-lords and their customers sometimes share glasses of milk with unsuspecting parents.

My very favourite moment from 'Brick'

Inspired by the hard-boiled writing style of Dashiell Hammet and influenced by noir films from his youth such as The Maltese Falcon and The Glass Key, Johnson wrote the script in 1997 pitching it around Hollywood for ten years before being greenlit. A deeply personal film whose visual style is reminiscent of spaghetti westerns while following a plot similar to Chinatown, the mix of genres and styles makes for a unique film going experience. Sometimes high school feels like you tackle issues that are so much bigger than adults give you credit for and it is personified in this piece. School politics, social groups and general hierarchy are all given the weight they deserves without mocking youth, while the shots are elegant and simple – inspiring for those getting into film and for those who feel awash with seemingly trivial responsibility.

Which brings me to Rian Johnson’s latest offering, and reason I ‘want to go to there’, The Brothers Bloom. If Brick gave the audience a snapshot into Johnson’s somewhat lonely but intriguing adolescence, The Brothers Bloom is a fascinating look at the quirky, unique and oh-so-fun man he has become.  

Rian tells the cast to buckle up

Centred around two brothers (Mark Ruffalo as the elder Stephen and Adrian Brody as the most likely unintentional but nevertheless extremely good-looking younger) who are shuffled around from different foster homes as children in an adorable montage of quick-witted humour and delightful child acting. The boys develop skills as con-artists and spend their lives living out the fantasies older Bloom writes. Younger Bloom however, wants an ‘unscripted life’ yet is roped into one last con on gazillionaire Penelope played by Rachel Weisz, in yet another role with an annoying fake accent.

The characters are wonderfully loveable; zany Penelope who collects hobbies, calm and controlled Stephen who is cocky but never annoying, hang-dog Bloom who can’t seem to find happiness even in the simplest of things and best of all Bang-Bang played by Rinko Kikuchi who manages to steal the show while only uttering three words throughout. The set of exotic locations, the swoon-worthy costumes, and the timeless setting make for an intoxicating romp. The plot has more twists than Agatha Cristie smashed at an open bar, but as the film winds up, the plot doesn’t really seem to matter as you genuinely like all the characters. There are no bad guys, there’s only misguided steps and the best intentions.

The Brothers looking mighty fine

Although The Brothers Bloom doesn’t pack the same emotional punch as Brick, it still thoroughly charmed me, making me fall for Rian Johnson even harder. Apparently his next film is about time travelling hitmen set in Kansas and I am putting it out there, I can feel it will be mind-blowingly awesome.

Dark Star (aka I Know You’re Flawed But I Still Love You)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , on June 11, 2009 by babydylan

When I was a youngster I watched a series of docos on SBS that taught me a lot about film. I knew that I was into it, but I also knew that I knew nothing. I had just watched Fargo and decided that it was the greatest thing ever made, but I knew that I was just beginning to scratch the surface of what films had to offer, so I decided to make a conscious effort and learn more about it.

My first steps involved hiring out different books from the library, and getting my parents and their friends to write down lists of films that they really liked. Also, there was a series of docos advertised on SBS about different filmmakers, which I made a point of watching. The weird guy who used to introduce films on SBS (the one with the lopsided mouth that made him look like he had a stroke) used to introduce an hour long doco on a director, and then two of their films which would play after.

The first I think was on John Waters (try and imagine the effect he had on me, I was ten. I remember seeing Divine Trash eating a dog turd off the ground and a lady with crazy pink hair keeping someone prisoner is their basement, things that stay with a boy for life. But I learnt soon after that the turd was a metaphor for like….violence or rubbish in the media so I tried to view it from that perspective, but it still puzzled me). The second I think was on Mario Bava and the third was on Dario Argento (again this had an unsettling effect, I was beginning to regret my decision on trying to learn about new filmmakers) the other two I can’t remember but the last, the lucky last….was on John Carpenter.

Dark Star - note the buttons, actually ice cube tray. Rocking the budget.

Dark Star - note the buttons, actually ice cube tray. Rocking the budget.

He really struck a cord with me because he wrote the music for all of his films, and he seemed to be the most normal of the filmmakers that had been interviewed so far. Because I was young I was still naïve enough to think that all films were made for entertainment, yet these doco’s were teaching me that films were also a form of expression. Some directors were using that medium to create art, or as John Water’s put it, to ‘shock, tease and excite the viewers’. Because Carpenter and his work seemed to be the least challenging at the time, I decided that he was the director who I was going to be obsessed with, so I wrote down the names of all of his films and tried to watch them as soon as I could.

The doco on Carpenter was followed by two of his most ‘important’ pictures, Halloween and Dark Star. Both had been discussed quite a lot in the doco, Halloween because it set the precedent for films like Scream and I Know What You did Last Summer (and pretty much every slasher film after) and was incredibly popular upon its release, and the later because it was Carpenter’s first feature and was made over a few years on a ridiculously small budget.

That barely begins to touch the surface of why Dark Star is so amazingly awesome, and so perfectly perfect. It began as a short film about four astronauts who are far away from home, they have been stuck together for too long and are slowly going insane….

Amazingly awesome cover

Amazingly awesome cover

Carpenter completed the film whilst at film school and after it was finished, he could see its potential to be a full length feature film. He drafted a longer screenplay with his collaborator Dan O’Bannon, who also stars in the film (yes the same Dan O’Bannon who wrote the screenplay for Alien, my heart truly weeps at the amount of talent in this film). They wrote an extended story based on the footage already shot, and then they began to build the props and sets for the film using simple house-hold items.

This is the films shining light, the stupidly quirky and quaint props that look authentic and real, but at the same time incredibly out of place. The dials and knobs in the shuttle are actually beer cans sawed in half and cup cake trays spray painted and stuck on the wall, the space suit is an old Halloween costume with a painted vacuum cleaner stuck on the back, and the alien, the token monster in the film who is onboard their space ship, is a painted beach ball with two rakes as its feet. To use a shameless ‘Clueless’ quote, the film is a Monet. If you view it from far away, with your eyes dimmed, you’d think it was a big budget sci-fi film with top notch special effects, but when up close you realise how low budget and old school it is, like the sets are made from sticky tape and optimism. Personally, this is why I love it. Its like a three legged dog or a toddler with a mono-brow, you just want to give it a hug as soon as you see it because its so special and cute and it tries so hard…..

The monster = scariest beach ball ever.

The monster = scariest beach ball ever.

Also, Carpenter didn’t need special effects or a bid budget to convey the boredom and insanity of the characters, which is the point of the film. The most poignant scene is towards the beginning of the picture, when the characters converge in a bedroom which looks like an abandoned bomb shelter (chances are it probably was one). One of the characters reads an old copy of Playboy, another puts on a novelty pair of glasses (not sure why, he just does), someone else plays that knife game with his hand (he stabs one of his fingers and doesn’t even notice) and someone else puts a rubber chicken in his coat and then surprises his friend with it. These characters are so bored, and we don’t need elaborate sets or props to understand that.

This is a film I can watch over and over again, it introduced me to the idea of ultra-low budget filmmaking, which prior to this film I never really knew existed (as sad as that is). I should write a second part to this piece talking about its amazingly awesome screenplay and Carpenter’s little tricks to make the film look more professional (he created different names for himself so it looked like more people were involved in the film than they were) but that would give too much away. Go find the film and watch it.

All Together Now – The Boat That Rocked

Posted in Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on May 3, 2009 by babydylan

I have always been a sucker for ensemble casts. For many years my idea of movie perfection came in the form of Empire Records. My cousin described it to me once as ‘a story where nothing happens’ but the plot seems irrelevant as it meanders towards a conclusion of sorts. It’s not what’s happening that matters, it’s the characters that blow your mind.

Orange!

Gina's choice is: 'Orange!'

And how could I possibly pick my favourite employee? Was it sensitive and sexy AJ (Johnny Whitworth) who is second only to Eugene (resident filthy grunge God) as self proclaimed creator and front-runner of the grunge movement and in love with Corey (Liv Tyler), destined for Harvard but resorts to secret pill-popping to cope with the pressures from Daddy. Or was is Mark (Ethan Embry), the goofy red-head whose infectious mannerisms make you want to hug him and slap him all at once. Then there’s Gina (Rene Zellweger) uber-slut with dreams of pop-stardom or Deb (Robin Tunney) suicidal skin-head who is desperate for some love and not necessarily from her boyfriend Berko (Coyote Shivers, who in some creepy trivia, was married to Bebe Buell at the time of filming making him Liv Tylers step-father). But the ultimate battle for characterisation supremacy must be played out between Lucas, the zen-like Yoda, dealing out nuggets of wisdom while throwing everyones life into chaos and Warren, rampant shoplifter whose name isn’t actually ‘FUCKING WARREN!’

As I left high school, my love for Empire Records was still as strong as ever but I discovered a slightly more mature ensemble love. This came in the form of Robert Altman’s masterpiece Gosford Park (2001), a sophisticated and classy whodunit/murder mystery (which incidentally is one of the perfect ways to fully utilise the ensemble cast. And if you’re after a laugh along with the severity of homicide, check out Tim Curry’s oft neglected but equally hilarious 1985 film Clue based on the board game with a cast to split your sides and three-endings to match).

What do you do?  Im the butler, sir. I buttle.

'What do you do?' 'I'm the butler, sir. I buttle."

But enough of that. In Gosford Park Altman has collected one of the finest casts that would cause any cinephile to salivate in their popcorn strewn seat. His goal was to show the acute difference between the ‘downstairs’ life of the servants, butlers, maids and footmen, to the snooty ‘upstairs’ aristocrats who depended on them. The audience never travels upstairs unless following one of the downstairs inhabitants, and what a staff to have.

Jennings the butler (Sir Alan Bates) who keeps the staff in check whilst guarding his own shameful past, Mrs. Wilson (Dame Helen Mirren) the housekeeper, backbone of the house, guarding everyones secrets including her own, Mrs. Croft the ill tempered cook with a particular loathing for Mrs. Wilson, Elsie (Emily Watson) head housemaid and one of Lord McCordles many lovers, George the footman (Richard E. Grant), sleazy and calculating with a love of the ladies, Robert Parks (Clive Owen), a valet with a special motive, newly appointed Mary Maceachran (Kelly Macdonald) learning the ropes and barely staying out of trouble along with ring-in Henry Denton (Ryan Phillipee) pretend servant and all round cad.

This would be impresive enough but the upstairs folk more than match their minders. Squee inducing actors such as Sir Michael Gambon as Sir William McCordle, a more unpleasant man I have yet to see, Dame Maggie Smith as his sister Constence who loves a bit of servant gossip, only if she isn’t involved, Kristin Scott Thomas as Lady Sylvia McCordle, her icy tone matching her husbands lack of charm perfectly, and when you think it can’t get any better, Stephen Fry decides to pop in for a bit as the incompitent Inspector Thomas. The joy of the film is seeing these huge stars interact with each other brilliantly. You hardly care if the mystery is solved, you just want to see what they will do next.

The jaw-dropping cast

The jaw-dropping cast

Thus, with my love of all things ensemble, there was no way I would leave The Boat That Rocked without a spring in my step. I can unasamedly admit that I am quite a sucker for Richard Curtis films, as I know secretly everyone is. Only a heart of stone could despise all his films, between Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Notting Hill (1999), Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) and Love Actually (2003) there is some aspect for everyone. Every female anyhow.

In The Boat That Rocked Curtis has moved away from the traditonal romance story plotlineto a story about an ecclectic bunch of men and their love of rock, and in so doing, highlighting Curtis zealous love for the music and the time period. The fictional story, as several critics seem to have forgotton, explores the hey-day of pirate radio between 1966 and 1967 where the BBC broadcast only two hours of pop music a day. Not content to take that kind of treatment, the pirates anchor themselves in the North Sea and broadcast 24 hours a day. As the pop/rock scene was exploding in the UK at the time, Radio Rock’s popularity is particularily high. The film thus tells the story of the many DJ’s packed onto the boat and general hilarity ensues.

Dancing to a bit of Bowie. Not exactly circa 1967, but do we care?

Dancing to a bit of Bowie. Not exactly circa 1967, but do we care?

The film appears to be somewhat plot-less, a series of events trudging on to no foreseeable conclusion. Where after all, can an anchored boat journey to? But, as I’m sure I have given away, the plot for me seems somewhat irrelevant as you see the talent that Curtis has yet again drawn together.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman in one of his rarer but no less welcome comedy roles, shines as The Count, the only yank on the station and as loud as one would expect. In terms of costume, Bill Nighy playing himself but disguised as Quentin the station owner wears his 1960s garb with such flair and can only be topped by Rhys Ifans as golden-tonsiled Gavin, most popular DJ in Britain making an unforgettable entrance to the film. Further cast enticement is Nick Frost (holding up well without other half Simon Pegg) as leery Dr. Dave, Tom Sturridge as Young Carl whose coming of age, find-me-a-father-search the plot is loosely structured around, Flight of the Conchords Rhys Darby as the ‘most annoying man on radio’ Kiwi Angus Knutsford, and Tom Wisdom as the butterfly-inducing handsome Midnight Mark. Not to mention IT Crowd favourites, Chris O’Dowd as adorable romantic Simon Strafford and Katherine Parkinson as Felicty the lesbian cook, thus allowed to inhabit the boat with the fine men folk.

Rhys Ifans - looking damn sharp

Rhys Ifans - looking damn sharp

The female cast members aren’t particularly displayed in a positive light, with Emma Thompson as Young Carl’s dismisive mother, Talulah Riley as the seemingly virginal yet ultimately sneaky Marianne and take-the-cake, out right wrong, January Jones as Elenore. You leave the film hating the female characters and feeling very in love with the boys club.

Ultimately I found the individually shallow male characters to make up the many faceted amalgamation of the father Young Carl is desperately searching for. Each character offers him some form of wisdom – he is the blank slate they all want to project their ideas and musical tastes on, he being the sponge eager to absorb. Even when the plot lulls, Curtis’ canny song choices propel the story along to one jolly, giggle inducing jaunt after the other. Toe-tappingly fun it always is. To end with a cliche, it ROCKED.

Elegy

Posted in Reviews with tags , , on April 28, 2009 by babydylan

One night, a long time ago, I began watching My Life Without Me, a Canadian film by director Isabel Coixet. I didn’t know anything about it at the time; I had turned on the telly and was struck straight away by the opening image of a young woman standing in pouring rain, talking about her life with the feeling of being lost. I learnt that the young woman was a cleaner, living a simple life with her husband in a caravan. She finds out she is dying and decides to write a list of all that she wants to do before she dies.I couldn’t finish the rest of the film, because I knew that I would just lose it by the end. The first act had moved me greatly, and we were only half an hour in. I just wasn’t in the mood to watch a film which I knew would have such a moving effect on me. You know how sometimes you’re in the mood to watch a comedy, or a horror, or anything else and then sometimes your not? It was one of those moments.

Hence I was a little apprehensive about watching Coixet’s sixth feature, Elegy, a film which is as visually assured and accomplished as My Life Without Me (Yes, I did end up getting it out and watching it, and Yes…it is amazing and Yes! I did cry! Alex says ‘Awww!’ about this.)
The picture involves David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley) a literature professor in his early sixties who, as a way of capturing his lost youth, moves through random affairs with his adoring students.

What them eyes, Benny boy!

I am in a state of emancipated manhood.
David meets Consuela (Penelope Cruz), a stunningly beautiful and intelligent student, who starts off as another of David’s ‘conquests’ yet ends up, much to his chagrin, as an object of his obsession. His voiceover tells us this much, as do the revealing conversations between David and his best friend George (wonderfully played by Dennis Hopper). He falls in love with her although he doesn’t realise it at first, but his inability to commit and his fear of rejection (or perhaps needing someone) drives her away, before he realises that she loves him too.

The Greatest Surprise in a mans life is old age.
To give away the films message is to give away its ending, I can only say that I was reminded that falling in love, and admitting that you love someone, doesn’t get any easier as you get older. We know David by the end of this film – sometimes uncomfortably so – because of his beautifully written and revealing voice over. In some scenes I found myself nodding my head in agreement to what he just said, and in others – most notably in the climatic scene with Consuelo – I knew exactly what he was thinking. Regret too, at not being better prepared for old age, was also understood.

Elegy effortlessly combined humour and drama, and many scenes throughout this film had me doing that little colicky thing with my tongue. You know how when something’s beautiful, and you notice it straight away, you sought of click your tongue and lean back and say “oh man” to yourself. One scene in particular (it involves Consuelo and a camera, you’ll know it when you see it) is so poignant and beautiful I was almost moved to tears (not almost…I did cry. A lot)

"And then what did Almodóvar do? Really? The dirty dog!"

The films I like most are the ones that are real, with characters and situations that remind you of real life. It’s remarkable that considering all it takes to make a film, such as writing a screenplay, filming it, editing etc., a picture can come along that is realistic as this. Watching these characters go through their transition was like watching your own friends fall in love, you care about them that much.

This is a love story in its purest form; it reminds you of how much courage it takes to fall in love, because you’re giving up on everything.
Dare I say it, this has become one of my favourite films.

Knowing Me, Knowing You

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , on April 21, 2009 by babydylan

An ever present pout, a lush head of (possibly fake) hair, a fair bit of bitching and moaning. One could be mistaken for thinking it was another chapter in the Lindsay Lohan saga, instead it is the latest offering by everyone’s favourite Coppola, Nicolas Cage. Alex Proyas’ The Knowing not only highlights Cage’s perky weave, it manages to straddle the line between the spine-tingly and outright ridiculous.

I have put up with a lot from Nic Cage. I have tried to keep things positive, but there are times when even I can’t see the good side. After one of my favourite performances with Cage playing both Charlie and Donald Kaufman in Adaptation (2002) I am willing to forgive most things. Yet since that viewing I have been sorely tested with Con Air (1997) which I admit I got a cheap thrill from, Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000), and what seemed like eight hours of my life that I will never get back from watching City of Angels (1998). I could look past the ludicrous plot of National Treasure (2004) and semi-believe Diane Kruger would fall in love with his brainy but ultimately dull character (meanwhile we all know in the real world she would have had it off with Riley played by Justin Bartha. Anyone remember TV show Teachers? Sigh). Yet all Cage’s good work was subsequently crushed with Ghost Rider (2007) and the unnecessary National Treasure sequel, tag-line: ‘Taking perfectly interesting historical events to new stages of fucking ridiculous’.

Cage says: Hellloooo ladies!

Cage says: "Hellloooo ladies!"

Thus walking into The Knowing I was filled with two parts apprehension, one part fear. I’d heard positive things about the film, as one usually hears when film companies are trying to spruik their latest billion dollar folly. I think every person in Melbourne knew someone who had either worked on the film, been in the film or walked past a film-set being a bloody nuisance around town. This was further enticement for me, to see how they disguise my familiar and well-loved Melbourne. Changing it to Boston, Massachusetts where the sun is getting ready to flash and MIT professors and their genius sons live in decrepit and and isolated shacks. I am curious as to how American audiences received the films location. To Melbournian eyes, no matter how hard you try to make the intensely orange leaves look like a Boston Autumn, it will always be Melbourne Universities south lawn. Apocalyptic scenes might be happening all over New York, but they are clearly running about on the steps of Parliament at the top of Bourke Street. And I doubt any school child could fail to forget a certain whale skeleton at the Melbourne Museum. If you look carefully you can even see Victorian number plates as Cage zips about town. The fact that the city is so blatantly changed is exciting, heightening my viewing experience giving a serious case of I-See-What-You-Did-There.

I-See-What-You-Did-There Cat sees what youre doing...

I-See-What-You-Did-There Cat sees what you're doing...

But back to the plot. The film seems to take a lot of time dithering with set up and back story. It’s 1959 and school children are putting a time capsule in the ground for future generations to dig up. 50 years in the future actually, how fortuitous! One girl however, Lucinda (Lara Robinson), seems to be a little on the queer side, writing some funky code instead of drawing pictures of flying goats or meals made in tiny pills or whatever 1959 children dreamed the future would be like. Lucky for us, John Koestler (Cage) and his son Caleb (Chandler Cantebury – what a name!) are the recipients of this pareidolia. As John goes on yet another bender due to the recent loss of his wife (here Cage dazzles us with some humours drunken staggering), he discovers the key to the code. I’m sure you’ve all seen in the trailer which tells us in urgent whispers the numbers have predicted every major disaster over the last 20 years, the day, date and year, the amount of people to die and the co-ordinates on the globe. Three dates are left on the list and they are looming large.

Cut to John tracking down Lucinda’s spawn, her granddaughter Abby (also Lara Robinson) and daughter Diana (Rose Byrne) who is fueled by the determination to fight the prophecy predicting her death – until it does. For most of the film Proyas follows a very Day After Tomorrow and The Day The Earth Stood Still path. The most breathtaking moments being the predicted disaster. Cage, somewhat luckily and somewhat foolishly, happens to be at both. The one-take plane crash is handled masterfully as we observe, horrified, the unfolding carnage. The plane cleans up several cars on the freeway bowling ball style and then crashes spectacularly into the ground. We follow Cage as he walks through the wreckage, watching survivors scream in agony as fire engulfs them. Cage tries to douse the flames, his shell-shocked manner more than apparent as he struggles to comprehend what he is seeing and how he might have prevented it. The scenes of death and mayhem are chillingly brought to the screen and although graphic and all too real, it is tastefully done.

Vinyl does nothing for my complexion, Alex!

'Vinyl does nothing for my complexion, Alex!'

Everything appears to be progressing scarily as mute white haired men continue to be send Caleb visions of fiery doom leading John to do what all Americans seem to do in these situations – get a gun! The soundtrack throughout is subtly foreboding and leads one to ask, “Why do all the scary things happen at night?’ You begin to realise, like many thrillers, that when the music seems to urge you to bite your fingernails, the crazy shit is going down.

I really wanted to love this film. It had Cage doing a fine job mooching in door frames, Rose Byrne looking quite fetching and ready to tear up at any moment, beautiful shots of Melbourne and horrifyingly real disaster scenes. Yet everything fell apart with the ending and I found myself asking, “Why ye cinema Gods, why?” The believability, the reason we hang around til the end, the whole crux of the film relies on why it is all happening and it is one massive let down. Think disappointments almost identical to ‘Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull’ and you might grasp the nature of this blow. As one friend said, “Walk out 20 minutes before the end and you’ll love it.”

Him and that NUMB3RS guy would be BFFs...

Him and that NUMB3RS guy would be BFFs...

Yet despite this tragedy, I enjoyed the film. Although many of Cage’s more serious moments inspired a few giggles (have you seen the way that man runs?) the overall ideabehind the film were intriguing and well represented. If anything see it for Melbourne alone, the thrill of having our city decimated is both scary and exciting. Much like Nicolas Cage’s hair.

Sweet Smell of Success

Posted in Reviews with tags , , on March 31, 2009 by babydylan

A man sits in a jail cell, shackled at both the arms and legs. He leans forward slightly and his nose protrudes into the light, taking up the entire frame. He sniffs once and his barely visible eyes glow briefly. We hear the sounds of approaching footsteps, the jangle of keys and the scarcely audible roar of an angry mob outside. Our protagonist Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is dragged to his feet to face the livid crowd chanting euphorically as his death sentence is read.

It is a foreboding introduction for Grenouille in Tom Tykwer’s 2006 film, “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer”. The audience is immediately thrust into a world full of hate for the lead, a sequence that contrasts vividly with the penultimate scene of the film, taking the definition of climax to new levels as Grenouille observes a giant orgy, a result of his phenomenal sense of smell.

Perfume reaches its climax in more ways than one

Perfume reaches its 'climax' in more ways than one

Set in 18th century France, Tykwer’s world is a visceral delight for the audience. The stench and muck of the fish markets where Grenouille is born is conveyed with fastidious detail. John Hurt’s seductive narration describes Grenouille’s birthplace as being “the most putrid spot in the whole kingdom”. Demonstrating this, the camera lingers on the decaying animal carcasses, fish heads, unwashed Parisians and the general filth of 18th century life. As Grenouille’s mother is accused and sentenced to death for the attempted murder of her son, he begins his life displaying both a penchant for surviving and a remarkable sense of smell, making his transition from lonesome orphan-boy to hackneyed tannery worker effortlessly.

Ben Whishaw’s portrayal of the angelically emancipated Grenouille is at times both chilling and fascinating. Given scarcely any dialogue yet the majority of screen time, Whishaw uses his emotive body to effectively portray the mind of a junkie, and an obsessive one at that. As Grenouille enters the streets of Paris for the first time Tyker allows the mise-en-scene to take over as the audience is bombarded with the super-saturated colours of copious amounts of flowers, handfuls of fresh coffee beans, darkly coloured spices, steaming vats of laundry, freshly cooked food and powdered wigs that leave trails of dust to tickle Grenouille’s sensitive nose.

Grenouille's obsession begins

Grenouille's obsession begins

He stumbles euphorically through the throng, eyes unnecessary as his nose directs his feet. It becomes evident that Grenouille can barely function as a human without being constantly distracted by the odours around him, leading ultimately to become a dispassionate murdering machine. His first scent of the red-headed ethereal Plum Girl taints his perception of the world and in his eagerness to posses her scent he murders her.

Thus Grenouille’s purpose in life becomes clear both to himself and the audience. To find a method of capturing scent, so as never to let such a tragedy befall him again. He and the audience take a crash course in the art of perfumery both on a small scale with the aging perfumer Giuseppe Baldini and on a much larger scale as the film progresses, ultimately honing his craft in the birthplace of perfume, Grasse. Grenouille has no desire to sexualise the women he kills, his desires are purely olfactory, wanting only to bottle their purity and virginity. Thus killing his victims is an effective means of capturing what he needs with minimal resistance.

Grenouille learns the ropes

Grenouille learns the ropes

As Grenouille leaves Paris to expand his knowledge, the tone of the film shifts dramatically. Whereas the death of The Plum Girl was an ardent accident, Grenouille now actively seeks out his victims, dispassionately obtaining their scents, watching his collection grow with the look of a loving zealot. It is here that the film fails to live up to expectations. Where in reality Grenouille’s mounting murders and emotionless existence are a horrifying prospect, it comes across as a kind of vaudevillian pastiche with the audience feeling little to no sympathy for the murderer or his victims. The “perfect” Laura certainly looks the part with her masses of Medusa-style red locks and impossibly blue eyes, yet the emphasis Grenouille places on her olfactory desirability falls short of the audience’s expectations. His perusal of her to complete his ultimate perfume thoroughly tests the audience’s suspension of belief with a beautiful yet unconvincing “smell-cam” shot.

Dealing with the oft forgotten sense of smell, the filmmakers are somewhat limited in portraying the sheer delights Grenouille encounters. Yet the beautiful use of colour and richly packed frame is enough to overshadow the fact that we cannot share the sensory experience. As the film delves deeper into the murderous side of Grenouille’s psyche, we can’t help but wish he had of stayed in Paris where although everything was rotten, it was delightfully so.