Archive for review

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.


Clean and Music

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 12, 2009 by babydylan

Clean is the film, music is what it’s about, that’s why I love it.

One of my favourite articles is a piece written by the French filmmaker Olivier Assayas for The Village Voice, a New York based newspaper. In it he talks about his personal, almost idiosyncratic relationship with music, and how it is music, more than films, that inspire him creatively. As Assayas himself puts it, ‘music more than cinema gives me the most intense artistic emotions.’ When he makes films he tries to direct with the same energy as a musician creating music, willing his love of music to be obvious. He wants his films to be a “homage to what music meant to (him) during his adolescence.”



I love Assayas as a director because I admire him as a person, admittedly I’ve only seen three of his films – although I know I’ll appreciate every film of his that I do see because I respect him so much, unless he directs something seriously offensive – but within each of the films I could see his love of music. Irma Vep, a film about remaking the silent classic The Vampires, has a thumping soundtrack that matches the frenetic energy of the film set in the picture. Demonlover, about an internet conspiracy, has an improvised soundtrack by Sonic Youth, with contributions by Assayas himself (he played guitar).

Clean, premiered at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, is a film about music, it is also about addiction, regret and forgiveness. When her husband Lee Hauser, a faded has-been rock star from the eighties dies of an overdose, his wife Emily – already vilified for ruining Lee’s career, think of her as being one part Yoko and another Courtney* – takes blame for his death and spends six months in prison. In short, she gave him the heroin he overdosed on and is thusly blamed.

Emily is released into a world which is cold and distant, she is held accountable for Lee’s death by the public, most of her previous friends, her father and mother-in-law and her son Jay. To mend her fractured relationships, she must rebuild her life and become Clean.

Beached as...

Beached as...

Assayas has himself stated in interviews that the film isn’t about drugs, it is about music, he has selected a contemporary story and then matched with a form of art that he feels has world-wide appeal, one that he connects the most with. This connection is apparent with his attention to detail, the energy behind Metric’s performance at the start of the film is beautifully captured, the hand held cameras that are just metres from the stage give us the feeling that we are there, as do the reactions from the crowd and the close-ups of the band members performing. The fashion also, is spot on. It is obvious that Emily, Lee and their friends are all musicians, and the residence that Emily shares with a friend is perfectly suited to their lifestyle. All the characters in the film are fans of music, even the secondary ones are seen listening to tunes, and some of the actors also are played by real life musicians. Metric are a band heavily inspired by Lee’s music, they give a performance at the start, and then talk backstage about his relationship with Emily and their son Jay. Tricky plays a long-time friend of Lee’s, and another person who blames Emily for his death, and David Roback of Mazzy Star plays a music producer at the end that cuts a demo with Emily and a friend of hers.

Assayas has also captured the mood behind music, the way it can inspire you and make you feel, this is hard considering the elements that go into making a film. After she arrives in Paris, Emily catches up with a friend (almost the only friend that still talks to her) and gives her some demo tapes to listen to that she made whilst in prison. They begin to play a game of pool while her friend listens to Emily’s demo, and as they sink their balls, and lean against a wall, and drink while waiting for their turn, and then lean forward to take another shot – this is one, almost continuous take – the music is the only thing we hear. It’s one of my favourite shots, I’m always talking about this shot, or that scene, but this one is officially the shiznat, because Assayas has captured something that’s totally real. How many times do we go walkies, or buy something, or do anything with music blaring in our ears and not really think about it. Assayas has done well to get that on film.

Maggie Cheung as Emily

Maggie Cheung as Emily

Those who dislike the film could accuse it of being too stylised, perhaps too ‘Greenwich village’ and maybe a self indulgent wank on Assayas’s part (“look at me, look how incredibly immersed I am in the Paris music scene. I can call Tricky and have him do a part in my film”). Its true that for a poor, recently released prisoner Emily does have a pretty awesome wardrobe, and her scooter is amazing too, it wouldn’t be ‘rock n’ roll’ enough for her to be riding a BMX or a unicycle and the house she is ‘forced’ to share with a friend is an amazing, Parisian villa, as opposed to being commission house or a crappy unit. Yet it is these little excessive details that make the film what it is, a living breathing testament to music. I know the film is flawed but I love it for this reason (Assayas should have spent more time on the screenplay, so as scenes didn’t appear so random) but with the picture Assayas has satisfied his own tastes……and mine.

*Personally I don’t think that Yoko and Courtney had anything to do with ruining John or Kurt’s careers. John was in his peak – song writing wise – when he was killed. Him and Yoko used to tie each other up with twine and eat chocolate cake in a sack but that’s cool, and I once saw this footage of Yoko blindfolded and knitting a scarf, and that was pretty bizarre but….whatever. And In Utero is better than Nevermind (even though I’m the only person to think so). Also I read Who Killed Kurt Cobain? And I still think that Kurt killed himself and the Courtney had nothing to do with it, despite all the ‘evidence’ to the contrary. But then Kurts suicide did suck, it made some people think that the ’teen angst’ thing was everlasting and that it wouldn’t go away, despite all the money and fame. So if you makes you feel better to think that Kurt Cobain was murdered then that’s cool.

P.S. Grunge didn’t die when Kurt Cobain died……

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.


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.


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.

Fashion Victims

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

When one thinks of recent mainstream German films, titles such as ‘Run Lola Run’, ‘The Lives of Others’, ‘Goodbye Lenin’ and ‘Downfall’ spring to mind. Nazi’s, East/West division and unification, crazy running red-heads. Ingo Rasper’s 2007 film ‘Fashion Victims’ is refreshingly free of such well-trod storylines that we have come to expect of German Films in the past ten years and manages to be a convincing comedy with memorable characters. Did we hear you gasp? 

It also challenges the definition of what a queer film is. ‘Fashion Victims’ doesn’t follow many of the more typical queer-coming-of-age and coming-out films. Lead Karsten Zinker, played by the offensively handsome Forian Bartholomai (Germany’s answer to Zac Efron but less plastic) is 17 and although he hasn’t come out to his parents, he accepts the fact that he is gay in the same way one accepts they have size eleven feet. In an adorably simple scene between Karsten and his father Wolfgang his father asks, ‘How do you know you like men if you’ve never tried with a woman?’ to which Karsten inquires, ‘How do you know you know you like women if you’ve never tried with a man?’

Roman Knizka as Steven and Florian Bartholomäi as Karsten as the offensively handsome young lovers in 'Fashion Victims'

Roman Knizka as Steven and Florian Bartholomäi as Karsten as the offensively handsome young lovers in 'Fashion Victims'

A postmodern take on the ‘coming-out-of-the-closet’ queer genre where the entire plot does not centre around this, it merely slots it into the storyline along with other dramatic plot points.

The main focus of the story is not in fact Karsten but his father Wolfgang, an aging women’s clothing sales rep who is about to be usurped by a younger, sneakier model – who in an only-in-the-movies twist of events becomes Karsten’s lover. The impression the audience has of Wolfgang seamlessly merges from ‘worlds worst dad’ (forcing Karsten to cancel his Spanish holiday in favour of driving him around to various clothing outlets after he loses his license) to needing an enormous bear hug when he inadvertently bankrupts the family and partakes in epic life fail. Having his wife leave him, his son fall in love with his completion and crashing the one true love of his life, his shiny new Audi car, Wolfgang decides to take the reins in the hilarious climax of the film. This is where the true star of the film finally has her ‘let me shine’ moment. One of the supporting characters, Karsten’s mother’s sly best friend Brigitta, reveals her secret love for Mrs. Bartholomai and in the melodramatic showdown steals the show wielding a shot gun and intent to kill.

Although the ‘Fashion Victims’ plays it safe in some sections, opting for some clichéd scenes and plot points you will see lumbering up the hill in front of you, the pay off is substantial in the last twenty minutes of the film making you leave the cinema with a small grin on your face and a look at the way new queer cinema is heading in the next five years.