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Posts matching tags 'film'


Russia's rogue film translators have struck again: this time, a pirate version of the Margaret Thatcher hagiography The Iron Lady has Thatcher admiring Hitler and vowing to “crush the working class, crush the scum”:

In a scene from the original film, two Conservative advisers tell Thatcher that she needs to soften her image after they watch her being interviewed on television. In the Russian version, which has been dubbed to have her say that she would crush the working class, an adviser responds: "Of course you went a bit over the top ... One of them [the workers] could be literate and have a television and see everything and tell all the rest," he says, "and then rumours would spread that you are a pitiless, heartless bitch."
Creating a new script over pirated films is nothing new in Russia; one famous translator working under the pseudonym Goblin made his name by making entertaining versions that were sometimes better than the original. But this seems to be the first time that a mainstream film has been so radically changed to fit in with a political viewpoint, in which Thatcher and her ministers are shown as part of a world conspiracy, controlled by shadowy leaders. The script veers from the hysterical to the absurd – at one point Thatcher says she intends to deliberately start the Falklands war with the help of fellow fans of her favourite free market economist, Milton Friedman.
Which looks like a cross between the Russian tradition of détourning Western popular works (see also: Lord of the Rings from a Mordorian progressive/rationalist perspective) and the Downfall parody video. Apparently the pirated translation has fooled at least one film critic, who quoted the dialogue in a generally positive review.

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It emerges that the "Mahna Mahna" song, that (in)famous earworm from the Muppet Show, was originally from an Italian soft-porn exploitation film titled Sweden: Heaven and Hell:

In the tradition of the shocking, factually questionable Mondo Cane, Heaven and Hell was styled as a documentary about Scandinavian sexuality, which provided a thin veneer of respectability for its leering exploration of lesbian nightclubs and meter maids who moonlight as nude models.
The song, composed by Piero Umiliani, was released as a novelty single under the title “Mah Nà Mah Nà”, and made it to number 55 on the US charts, which presumably led to a bohemian hepcat and puppeteer named Jim Henson discovering it; and the rest, as they say, is history.

Mah Nà Mah Nà was by no means the only piece of worthwhile music to emerge from the seamy European cinematic underworld. Before video came along, a lot of pornographic and exploitation productions were seen as canvases for experimentation and artistic exploration in everything from cinematography to music, which has led to highly prized soundtrack recordings from films such as Vampyros Lesbos and Die Schulmädchen Report. (After the VCR commodified porn and cut into its margins, such exploration seems to have moved to the rising genre of music videos.)

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A few interesting links I've seen recently:

  • BBC Four recently aired a fascinating documentary titled The Joy Of Easy Listening, charting the history of easy-listening/light music from the 1950s onward. It's viewable on YouTube here.
  • Digital artist Joshua Nimoy worked on some of the visuals for Disney's Tron Legacy film, and describes how they were done, from the physics of fireworks simulations and the algorithms behind various clusters of digital-looking lines to authentic-looking UNIX command-line shots for a hacking scene. (The fact that we've gone from "UPLOAD VIRUS Y/N" screens and random equations/6502 machine code/cyber-Japanese glyphs to nmap(1) being seen as too much of a hacking-scene cliché suggests that computer literacy in the movie-viewing public has increased dramatically over the past few years.)
  • IBM's Executive Briefing Center in Rome looks like something out of a scifi film:
  • In epic feats of computing: the latest work by prolific technical genius Fabrice Bellard is a JavaScript-based PC emulator that's powerful enough to boot Linux. I repeat: it runs (a slightly cut-down, though fully native) Linux on a Pentium-class PC it simulates in your web browser, in JavaScript. Meanwhile, a high-school student named Jack Eisenman has designed and built his own 8-bit computer, including the CPU, from simple logic chips. The machine runs a machine code of Eisenman's own devising and can display graphics on a TV screen; Eisenman provides some games for it and full schematics, as well as a JavaScript-based emulator for those whose soldering skills aren't up to building their own.
  • Quite possibly the most awesomel wedding invitation in the history of wedding invitations would have to be Karen Sandler and Mike Tarantino's, a card which unfolds into a paper record player that plays a song recorded by the happy (and creative) couple. There are more details here.

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The Graun has a piece on post-punk photographer turned film director Anton Corbijn, whose second film, The American (a film entirely unrelated to post-punk, rock music or that entire stream of monochromatic cool Corbijn is associated with) is coming out soon:

I didn't really know how to make a film when I made Control. I had to create my own language, just as I did when I started taking photographs. I never studied either one." But surely clueless film directors don't win prizes at Cannes? "True, but film-making is extreme for me. I can't use lights. I need others to help me to put shots together. Directing film is the hardest thing I have ever done." Even though you directed more than 100 rock videos? "I know just enough not to look stupid. Mostly that means I know who to ask."
He became a performer, emulating the great photographic artist Cindy Sherman. He got made up, put himself on the other side of the camera and shot himself in bleak Dutch settings disguised as a series of dead musicians – John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Sid Vicious, Elvis, Frank Zappa. The resulting book was a revealing document about his obsessions. "I guess I always wanted to be 'a somebody', and I only admitted this to myself in my 40s," he said. One of the happiest moments in his professional life, he says, was when Depeche Mode's drummer couldn't make it to the Top of the Pops studio so Corbijn (an amateur drummer) stepped in and was paid by the BBC for his performance.

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Movies that would have been ruined by Facebook (or, more specifically, whose premises fall apart if their characters are on Facebook):

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After making the documentaries Helvetica (about the aesthetics and politics of design in the 20th century seen through the ubiquitous sans-serif typeface; previously) and Objectified (about industrial design, and featuring luminaries such as Dieter Rams and Jonathan Ive), design-minded filmmaker Gary Hustwit's next project is a film about urban design and planning, titled Urbanized:

The third documentary in this trilogy is about the design of cities. Urbanized looks at the issues and strategies behind urban design, featuring some of the world's foremost architects, planners, policymakers, builders, and thinkers. Over half the world's population now lives in an urban area, and 75% will call a city home by 2050. But while some cities are experiencing explosive growth, others are shrinking. The challenges of balancing housing, mobility, public space, civic engagement, economic development, and environmental policy are fast becoming universal concerns. Yet much of the dialogue on these issues is disconnected from the public domain.
Urbanized is due out in 2011.

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Plastic Bag, a poignant short film recounting the story of a discarded plastic bag (voiced by Werner Herzog) adrift around the empty world in search of the woman who first took it from the supermarket, before settling down to an eternity in the patch of plastic garbage in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

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Iran: possibly the only place where twee pop is a dangerously subversive underground movement:

Their ambition for next year, once they find a drummer, is to get on to the bill at Glastonbury or Reading. The difference is that Take It Easy Hospital originally formed in Iran, where rock music is banned. When the local music industry is non-existent, gigs and recording studios are regularly raided by police and even MySpace is monitored, simply finding someone who shares your love of guitars and plaintive vocals is fraught with difficulties.
If they'd grown up in England, Take It Easy Hospital's wan, organ-driven indie-pop, topped with earnest observations about the "human jungle", might stand accused of being a little bit twee. But once you learn how hard Ash and Negar have had to fight just to get their songs heard, they take on a whole new complexion. And despite their ugly experiences in Iran, they are determined not to make rebel rock. "Me, I don't care about politics," says Negar. "The value of art is a lot more than politics. Politics is something that passes, but art stays for years."
Take It Easy Hospital's story is recounted in the film No One Knows About Persian Cats, opening soon.

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The latest fashion in mainstream Hollywood filmmaking seems to be colour-grading films to a uniform palette of teal and orange:

The orange and teal look is an artefact of technological possibility and creative laziness. About a decade ago, filmmakers started digitising film and electronically manipulating it, which gave them the ability to adjust colours for the whole film as easily as tweaking an image in Photoshop. While some of the more visionary filmmakers have used this as a creative tool (the Coens made use of it in Oh Brother Where Art Thou to give the film a sepia look, and Peter Jackson made extensive use of colour grading in the Lord Of The Rings films), those churning out action films, who typically have no time for such hoity-toity concerns as artistic vision, needed a quick and easy formula for how to make their films look more awesome. And they got one in complementary colour theory; human skin tones (especially when oversaturated for extra awesomeness) look orange, and stand out most strongly against bluish-green hues. Thus, grading films to an orange-on-teal palette is a cinematic equivalent of compressing the dynamic range of recorded music for extra kick-ass loudness; both add extra zing, producing a product that's superficially exciting, at the cost of subtlety. Though who goes to see Transformers for subtlety, right?

As artificial as it looks, it'll look quaint once they figure out how to shoot entire films in HDR.

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Another Wes Anderson pastiche: first there was Nicholas Gurewitch's soundtrack for the imaginary film The Cloud Photographers, and now there's an impression of a Wes Anderson Spider-Man film. Which seems to be mostly made of The Royal Tenenbaums.

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South Australia has led the fight in keeping Australia a censorious society; the wowser-state's Attorney-General's veto has been the main stumbling block to legalising video games unsuitable for children. Now, state laws have come into effect requiring R-rated films to be displayed in plain packaging, with nothing more than the title:

Adults aged over 18 seeking to buy or borrow a copy of Mad Max, the acclaimed desert war drama Three Kings, starring George Clooney, the Brad Pitt classic Fight Club or the 2009 Blu Ray release of Sasha Baron Cohen's fashion parody Bruno will now find them in plain packaging displaying nothing more than the film's title.
Under changes to the state's classification act, which came into effect on Sunday, businesses will face fines of up to $5000 for displaying a "poster, pamphlet or other printed material" for films classified R18+.
The law was announced by the office of South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson, whose conservative campaigning is well known to the film industry.

(via M+N) australia censorship culture war film wowsers 1


Welsh rock musician Gruff Rhys' latest project is a travelogue around the Welsh-speaking colonies of Patagonia:

The film follows Rhys through South America performing solo concerts, tracing the Welsh community's movements, and searching for Jones's great grandson, a 1970s Argentine pop star called René Griffiths, who would arrive on stage on a horse and sing in Welsh.
This is only the backdrop to the personal journey at the heart of Separado!, which balances its weightier moments with a lurid visual style and a childlike playfulness. A dance sequence on a Welsh beach represents Michael D Jones's promise of a utopia; while a colour-saturated shot of Rhys jumping over a fence to escape an angry armadillo follows a recap of the excesses of the 1976 Argentinean coup d'etat. At one point, he performs for the elderly locals of Gaiman, Patagonia's most Welsh village, at their community hall. In this kitsch world of teahouses, chapels and daffodils in the middle of the desert, Rhys's experimental set is met with some understandable confusion.
"It's remarkable that I can play a gig of Welsh language songs in South America and they understand what I'm singing about, even if they find the music a bit suspect," says Rhys, failing to mention that he performed much of it in a red spaceman's helmet while singing into an orange plastic cup. "There are Welsh road signs in Gaiman. Even an Italian restaurant will have a Welsh menu. It's fantastical, but the fact that I was there at all felt fantastical – the film needed to reflect that separation from reality."

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The Graun has turned what was meant to be a review of the latest Hollywood romantic comedy into a critique of this culture's emphasis on romantic love:

Romcoms don't merely provide an evening's harmless escapism. They help underpin one of the most potent doctrines of our culture: the sanctity of romantic love. It's a doctrine in which many find relief from the materialism, apathy and banality of a society no longer hallowed by religious transcendence. Yet it comes at a price.
The involuntary cognitive state that Jennifer Aniston finds herself depicting so frequently is real enough, but not particularly mystical. Brain scans show it to be generated by the frisky interaction of chemicals like norepinephrine and dopamine. If this hubbub's triggered by recognition of genetic quality, as now seems to be assumed, that would explain why Aniston and her ilk have to be so annoyingly good-looking.
What we call love induces some of the worst behaviour that we're likely to encounter. Yet when this occurs, it usually invites no censure, let alone punishment. Romantic love is a get-out-of-jail-free card that legitimises actions which would otherwise be thought contemptible. Home-wreckers steal something cherished far more deeply than money or possessions. Nonetheless, they go on to build their happiness on the misery of others without having to endure the slightest disapproval. After all, they had no choice but to do what they did: they were in love.
In other cultures, romantic love enjoys no comparable status. Our own ancestors might find our veneration of it as puzzling as we find their worship of pagan gods. In our otherwise disrespectful age, the persistence of its dominion is rather remarkable. Would it have proved so enduring without the big screen's relentless promotion of its supposedly limitless benefits?
I have been wondering whether the emphasis on romantic love in popular culture (a significant proportion of mainstream pop songs seem to be about the transitions into and out of the state of being in love, for example) and the sexualisation of the media are not two sides of the same coin, namely a focus on relations between people as being a marketplace of potential partners, rather than less glamorous and less dynamic forms of relations. Could this be a sort of social Reaganism/Thatcherism, the ideological assertion that "everything is a market" translated into the realm of interpersonal relations?

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Maestro of super-stylish violence Quentin Tarantino has announced that he wants to make a sequel to the Kill Bill films, with Uma Thurman dispatching more baddies in ultra-cool ways. Of course, with both the titular Bill and the actor (David Carradine) who played him being dead, there is some speculation over what form such a sequel would take:

Option #1 - Bride on the Run. Remember in the first Kill Bill, where Uma Thurman murdered Vivica A Fox's character in front of her four-year-old daughter? The most obvious plotline for Kill Bill 3 would centre on the daughter's efforts to track down and kill Thurman in retaliation. She'd be 15 by 2014, so that would really tap into the key Hannah Montana demographic. In fact, why not go even further and make it a musical? Everyone could learn valuable life lessons about the importance of friendship and the littlest Jonas brother could play the love interest. Perfect.
Option #4 - The Death Proof Option. Kill Bill 3 opens with Thurman setting out to kill Bill, before realising that she's already killed Bill. So instead, she spends two and a half hours waffling aimlessly about nothing in an indulgent faux-hip way to the sound of the same tired old surf guitar records that everyone started getting sick of a decade ago. Something marginally exciting might happen at the end, but nobody notices because they've fallen asleep or left the cinema. This is the option most likely to reach fruition.
Myself, I am partial to this idea.
In one sequence Tarantino called "distinctly Tarantino-esque," Slim delivers an unexpectedly poetic monologue on cheeseburgers while dancing to an Ennio Morricone instrumental with a drug-addled Uma Thurman. And in the film's stunning climax, Slim remembers his training with a martial arts expert in China and then exacts revenge on the film's antagonists: a Nazi colonel, a Hollywood stuntman, and a Los Angeles syndicate of 88 yakuza warriors.

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Vice Magazine is somewhat of a mixed bag, often throwing in an interesting article or two next to a lot of sophomoric cleverness, hipster self-indulgence and deliberate 'ditchtwat offensiveness. However, the most recent issue, which is film-themed, is a treasure trove of interesting articles. Such as, for example, interviews with Werner Herzog, Dario Argento, Terry Gilliam, David Lynch and Spike Jonze, an article on how the BBC's Play For Today changed British cinema in the 1960s, pieces about spectacularly goodbad Nigerian religious thrillers and low-budget Mexican crime/exploitation films and photographer Ryan McGinley's list of top 10 art films.

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Cinematic genius and convicted child-rapist Roman Polanski has been detained in Switzerland on the grounds of his outstanding US arrest warrant for rape, when he went to the Zurich film festival to pick up a lifetime achievement award. Switzerland has an extradition treaty with the US. Anyway, it appears to be over for him; unless he manages to somehow get off this hook, he will now most probably die in a US prison.

For those feeling sorry for Mr. Polanski and hoping that this can be resolved quickly without this great man seeing the inside of a US prison, I refer you to a transcript of his victim's testimony (obviously NSFW). Be warned: it is uncomfortable reading.

Update: Zurich Film Festival Offers Award to Osama bin Laden.

In a statement released by the film festival, organizers said that they were recognizing Mr. bin Laden for his "body of work," referring to the chilling terror tapes that the al-Qaeda kingpin has released over the past ten years.
Meanwhile, notes from Associated Press's reporters theorise that the Swiss authorities' sudden decision to arrest Polanski has something to do with US pressure over the UBS bank.

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The latest project from Nicholas Gurewitch, the author and artist behind the Perry Bible Fellowship comic, is the soundtrack to an imaginary Wes Anderson film, titled The Cloud Photographers.

And, as you'd expect from Gurewitch, a master of picking out and imitating the salient characteristics of artists' styles (as evident here, for example), he has taken off Anderson's aesthetic and auteurial obsessions remarkably well, with a bare minimum of detail, providing a few sentences stabbing at the plot of the imaginary film in broad strokes, leaving the reader to fill in the details, and an evocative soundtrack album (i.e., a mix of songs in a MP3 and some cover artwork).

The soundtrack is spot-on, with a very Andersonesque combination of 1960s rock, folk-pop, bespoke chamber pieces and somewhat askew covers (a Beatles medley played on traditional Indian instruments, for example), and a few relatively recent pieces (Belle & Sebastian and Sigur Rós both feature), all bathed in a golden glow of wistful, slightly fey nostalgia for some imagined, indeterminate past.

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An article in the Graun looks at how changes in telephone technology have affected the plots of novels, plays and films:

Victoria Wood's Talent, first staged in 1978 and now showing at the Old Laundry theatre in Bowness-on-Windermere, includes a scene in which an important call is made from a coin-operated phonebox. Wood, who is directing, had to explain to young members of the cast how the strange apparatus worked: listen for an answer, then push in your sometimes-resistant 10p pieces. It sounded like science fiction to the young actors. So, while the play's first audiences will have regarded this scene as social realism (perhaps reflecting on their own experiences of trying to finding an unvandalised phone that didn't spit your silver out), the same sequence, within three decades, has become social history.
In Pedro Almodóvar's latest movie, Broken Embraces, which cuts from the present to the 1980s, the director uses mobiles as a visual clue to where we are. The older sequences are signalled by the wielding of brick-like instruments, while present-day characters effortlessly palm their thin, flippable devices.
Wood, in Talent, rings comic embarrassment from the fact that a character's mother has an extension in her bedroom. But the detail is revealing in other ways: in the 1970s, multiple receivers in the home distinguished the upper-middle classes from the plebs who had a single instrument in the hallway. In a later TV play by Wood, it matters that a character has a "kitchen extension". Indeed, in Dial M for Murder, the "perfect murder plot" turns on luring a woman to the living room to answer the phone. Within 20 years, Knott's plot had been rendered a period piece by multi-phone homes; after a further 30, mobiles had made the plot absurd.
But, although mobiles have provided writers with rich new storylines, they have also worryingly closed off many traditional developments. This is of most concern to authors of horrors, thrillers and mysteries, in which a regular premise is the protagonist's total isolation. If there had been a Nokia in Janet Leigh's handbag, Hitchcock's Psycho would have been a short film with a happy ending. The avoidance of this problem has already created a new movie cliche: the closeup showing the "no signal" warning on the star's phone.

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McSweeney's Internet Tendency has a detailed interview with underground comics author Daniel Clowes, in which he sheds light on his early career with Cracked! magazine (which he describes as being like methadone for MAD Magazine addicts, and reels off a comprehensive list of various MAD clones and their nebbish mascots), the genesis of Ghost World and its making into a film, the art of writing/drawing comics, and numerous other things:

I used to tell people I was a "comic-book artist," but they'd look at me as if I'd just stepped in dog shit and walked across their Oriental rug. I never knew what to call myself, but I was always opposed to the whole "graphic novelist" label. To me, it just seemed like a scam. I always felt that people would say, "Wait a minute! This is just a comic book!" But now, I've given up. Call me whatever you want.
Whenever a musician isn't happy with the quality of an early record and records it again with a "better" band, it's never better. It's like when Paul McCartney re-recorded "Eleanor Rigby" in the [1984] movie Give My Regards to Broad Street. Did "Eleanor Rigby" need to be re-recorded? The original work is connected to a specific moment of time; it's never going to become "better." Even when I do a new cover for one of my old books, it always seems sort of condescending to the material.

You just mentioned a movie I'm not familiar with: Scarlet Street. What is it about?

It's a strange movie. People always think of film noir as a genre of violent action. To me, noir is more about a state of anxiety and profound loneliness − an awareness of the quotidian grimness of the postwar world. Scarlet Street is about a poor, ugly loser [Edward G. Robinson] who gets hoodwinked by a horrible woman and her pimp, almost willingly so, since even this cheap thrill is preferable to his emasculated existence with his harridan wife.

The original version, directed by Jean Renoir, is even better. The [1931] movie is called La Chienne, which translates to "the bitch." I'm not even sure "the bitch," in this case, refers to the prostitute as much as life itself.

I never really considered Ghost World to be a teen film. To me, it was more about these two specific characters working through something −l something very personal to me. I wasn't necessarily trying to communicate with teenagers, and I never really imagined they would be as much of our audience as they have.

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It has been a long time coming (I was still living in Melbourne when it was announced, more than five years ago), but Melbourne post-punk cult film Dogs In Space is finally seeing a DVD release. The 2-disc edition, with extensive commentaries, videos and a fly-on-the-wall making-of documentary made at the same time, ships on 28 August. JB HiFi have a pre-order page here.

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A study at Edinburgh's Heriot Watt University has claimed that watching romantic comedies can damage relationships, by inculcating unrealistic expectations:

They found fans of films such as Runaway Bride and Notting Hill often fail to communicate with their partner. Many held the view if someone is meant to be with you, then they should know what you want without you telling them.
Kimberly Johnson, who also worked on the study, said: "Films do capture the excitement of new relationships but they also wrongly suggest that trust and committed love exist from the moment people meet, whereas these are qualities that normally take years to develop."

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The Graun has an article outlining how to write a Hollywood disaster movie:

A lot of the best disasters – asteroids, aliens, earthquakes, tsunamis – have already been taken, sometimes twice, as in the embarrassing simultaneous releases of Armageddon/Deep Impact and Volcano/Dante's Peak. So you'll have to be a bit creative. Pick something unusual: what if gravity started going sideways instead of straight down, say?
In a cave underneath Mount Rushmore, the president should introduce the scientist to a crack team dedicated to fixing the problem – which should turn out to include his attractive ex-wife as well as a droll Englishman. The three of them should come up with a plan to stop the disaster – the more unrealistic the better. A good one in this case would be to have someone jump off the Empire State Building like a diving board in order to activate a nuclear weapon that would destroy the moon and thus reset earth's gravity; anything like that, really. Watching a cable news channel as they discuss who could carry out this dangerous mission, the team sees a report from the devastated New York, where the cat burglar is leaping across sideways skyscrapers to save an old grandmother's life. "By Jove," says the Englishman, "I think we've found our man!"
The cat burglar dives. The scene cuts to outer space as the moon is destroyed. The sun tilts back on its axis, and back on earth gravity swings gradually back to its normal direction. Buildings right themselves and stand up straight again. Foreigners in turbans or Eskimo furs cheer and hug in far-off locations. The scientist reaches out for the hand of his ex-wife. And the little orphan boy runs up to his cat burglar dad for a dramatic hug, the Empire State Building back to normal behind them. He didn't die after all!

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Speaking at the Visit London Awards, Sir Michael Caine revealed what happens after the end of The Italian Job:

"I crawl up, switch on the engine and stay there for four hours until all the petrol runs out," he said.
"The van bounces back up so we can all get out, but then the gold goes over."
"There are a load of Corsican Mafia at the bottom watching the whole thing with binoculars. They grab the gold, and then the sequel is us chasing it."

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Theory of the day: the political tone of a time is reflected in the theme of its undead-themed horror films; to be more precise, conservative periods include zombie movies, whereas progressive periods feature vampire movies:

One answer: These gore-flecked flicks are really competing parables about class warfare. “Democrats, who want to redistribute wealth to 'Main Street,' fear the Wall Street vampires who bleed the nation dry,” Newitz argued, noting that Dracula and his ilk arose from the aristocracy. “Republicans fear a revolt of the poor and disenfranchised, dressed in rags and coming to the White House to eat their brains.”
Whilst that could be reading much into it, zombie films can be equated with leftist critiques of conservative societies: George Romero's original films are widely regarded as critiques of post-war American consumerism, meanwhile other films make the connection even more explicit (the British zombie film Dead Creatures, for example, is essentially a Ken Loach film with zombies). Not sure what Shaun Of The Dead would be, though; Blairism, perhaps?

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Melbourne new-wave/post-punk cult movie Dogs In Space has been out of print for a number of years. A DVD (with a few hours of bonus material, including a making-of documentary shot at the time) was meant to come out some four years ago, but there is still no sign of it. However, some enterprising soul has cut it into 12 fragments and posted them to YouTube. At last, you can view Dogs In Space in worse quality than the standard well-worn VHS tape.

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According to a recent mailout from Chris Morris fan list Cook'd And Bomb'd, Morris' latest project, a comedy about Islamist jihadists in Britain, has been cancelled by Channel Four. The good news is that Warp Films, the independent arthouse film branch of the IDM/electronica label Warp, has picked it up, provided it attracts independent funding. To wit, Morris is asking people to pledge to donate £25, which might give them a chance to be an extra in the film:

Following rumours in the press and online Warp Films can confirm that Chris Morris' comedy about british jihadis is being made by Warp Films as an independently funded cinema feature. The script has been written by Chris in collaboration with Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain and is now ready to shoot. Production will begin as soon as we are fully funded. To that end we are running a number of investment schemes including donations which give you the chance to be in the film.

mail enquiries to:
Please pass this on to ten people"

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Wired has a guide on how to turn anything into a screenplay, which is to say, into a screenplay marketable to Hollywood:

  1. Create a protagonist
  2. Establish what the protagonist wants
  3. Be sure to have an antagonist.
  4. Decide what the antagonist wants
  5. You need a conflict to drive the plot
  6. Don't forget a beginning, a middle, and an end

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I just watched the film Helvetica, a documentary about the eponymous typeface. In reality, it was more than just a film about a typeface, but rather one about visual design, aesthetics and ideology in the past half-century, seen through one element so ubiquitous that it is virtually a mirror. (Helvetica's ubiquity is the key; I imagine that one could as easily have made a film titled, say, "Water", ostensibly about the subject of its title, and had it encompass anything and everything.)

The film describes the typeface Helvetica and its origins in the Haas type foundry in Switzerland, as a cleaned-up version of German sans-serifs like Akzidenz Grotesk, and the way that, either by being in the zeitgeist or happening to embody an objectively optimal design, it caught the moment, being seen as fresh and clean compared to the mess of 1950s-vintage graphic design (which would now be considered "retro" and "groovy") and was propelled to ubiquity, becoming considered boring and/or corporate, mutilated by the grunge typographers of the 1990s, and rediscovered by a new generation of designers reclaiming modernism. The film puts forward multiple points of view (Helvetica was in the right place at the right time; Helvetica stumbled onto a timeless optimum; Helvetica carries with it the core values of the modern mindset; Helvetica is ideologically oppressive/corporate/right-wing (Paula Scher asserted that it was linked to the Vietnam War); Helvetica is beautiful; Helvetica is ugly), in the form of interviews with various key designers and figures, both young and old (these have included Matthew Carter, Neville Brody, David Carson, Hoefler and Frere-Jones and so on). (Other than shedding light—from various angles and of various colours—on the legacy of Helvetica, the interviewees tell us other interesting things; for one, I found Matthew Carter's description of his typeface design strategy quite informative.) All this is intercut with extensive stills and footage of Helvetica in the modern world, which drive home the full extent of its ubiquity. The soundtrack, containing the sort of tastefully minimal post-rock (Sam Prekop, El Ten Eleven and The Album Leaf) that one would associate with neo-modernist graphic design. Alas, there does not appear to be a soundtrack album available for this film.

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Last night, I had occasion to watch a Japanese film titled "After Life".

The film (whose Japanese title was the kana transliteration of "Wonderful Life") is set in a sort of limbo, where the recently deceased are given a week to choose one memory from their lives which they wish to keep; the memory is then reconstructed by a team of counsellors and technicians (who themselves once lived and died) as a short film and shown to the deceased, who will then remain in that moment, and that moment alone, for all eternity. The film took place over one week, with one cohort of the recently deceased (among them, a middle-aged woman reliving an exciting affair, an elderly man wishing he had made some mark on the world and a young hipster who refuses to choose a memory on purpose). The film itself has the feel of a documentary; it starts somewhat drily, though gradually, the characters' past lives and all too vivid memories and regrets are revealed.

I found this film poignant and beautiful; the feel of it reminded me a little of another (though somewhat different) favourite film of mine, the Icelandic film Angels of the Universe.

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They're now making a sequel to early-1980s hacker film Wargames. The Russkies have, predictably, been replaced with Middle Eastern terrorists, though the plausibility doesn't seem to have improved much:

In this updated version, WOPR (the uppity NORAD supercomputer) is replaced by Ripley (a sexy artificial intelligence that tempts terrorists out of the woodwork -- while defending Newt in her downtime). When the 21st-century equivalent to Matthew Broderick (Matt Lanter) ticks Ripley off, she decides to hijack a Predator drone armed with nukes (I knew they were around somewhere). The race is on to stop Ripley or see American cities wiped from the map.

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After the recent wave of films reprising 1980s films. such as Indiana Jones and Rambo, some speculation on other sequel possibilities we may soon see:

"Back to the Future IV"

The sequel: Teenage Marty McFly Jr.* (Michael Cera) and best friend/secret crush Madison Tannen (Evan Rachel Wood) discover Doc Brown's DeLorean hidden in a storage shed and take it for a joy ride, accidentally landing in 1985.

In this only-loosely-tied-to-the-originals “reboot,” the two nerdsters attempt to fit in by adopting the styles and lingo of the day. (Madison: “Seriously, 'Gag me with a spoon?' People actually said that?”) They try on various period clothing in a mall-set montage and crash a raucous high school dance featuring Huey Lewis and the News.

"40 Candles"
The sequel: “The Big Chill” as envisioned by Judd Apatow. Screwball antics ensue when the original cast reunites at the funeral of Jake Ryan, tragically killed in a car crash. (In real life Schoeffling now makes furniture in Pennsylvania, so his character only appears in flashbacks.) Divorcée Sam has a teen daughter of her own and the father is—wait for it!—Farmer Ted.

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The Graun takes Woody Allen to task for being not as good as everyone has been led to believe.

To those of us who have watched Allen's two-decade decline into that cataleptic Eric Claptonesque state where an artist is revered as a god, but not by anyone who originally worshipped in his church, Allen's Grand Tour of Europe is baffling. I have seen Match Point three times now and simply cannot keep a straight face during Allen's perplexing and in many ways offensive attempt to make a Mike Leigh movie. The film is ostensibly about class: a penniless Irish ex-tennis star (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is determined to rise above his station by reading Dostoyevsky, attending La Traviata and Damien Hirst exhibits and marrying Emily Mortimer.
Unfortunately, Allen gets it all wrong: when you shoot a Mike Leigh movie, you aren't supposed to make Mummy and Papa and their grouse-shooting twit progeny the heroes. And when you repeatedly show Mummy and Papa and Twitty and Tweedledum at Covent Garden going into raptures over Verdi, you can't then have Mortimer salivating at the prospect of attending Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Woman in White. It makes you look like an idiot. Here, as in so many other Allen films, art, music and literature serve a phony, ornamental function; you never really believe that any of his characters actually enjoy abstract art or have read Aristophanes. It's just an excuse for the college drop-out Allen to show off. "Look, Mom! I know who Modigliani is! See, I can pronounce the word 'Proust'." Match Point is like a dozen other Woody Allen movies: Low-Fat High Culture, Bergman for Beginners.
The article (by an American commentator, who points out that the perpetuation of Allen's career is one thing Europe, not America, must take the blame for) points to Allen's habit of casting himself alongside attractive young actresses (though, to his credit, he has given up on putting himself in love scenes with them) and, noting that Allen seems to have moved on from London to Barcelona after his last two London flicks (the most recent being a gangster/geezer criminalogue titled Cassandra's Dream; no, I haven't heard of it either) flopped, speculates on where he'll go after he wears out his welcome with the Spanish:
I can see a Zagreb-based Woody Allen film where the director plays a washed-up Serb stand-up comic whose career is suddenly revived by meeting a perky Bosnian-American exchange student played by Thandie Newton. I can see a Polish Woody Allen film about a washed-up klezmer player whose career is revived by a chance encounter with a Santa Cruz forensic scientist (Tina Fey) investigating Chopin's suspicious death. I can see a Macedonian film about a social-climbing rag merchant who keeps getting visits from a ghost who claims to be Alexander the Great, but is actually a delusional Second Avenue deli counter man named Herbie Schlegel.
I can see movies with names like Fulvio's Inamorata, Anne-Laure et Ses Tantes Amusantes, The Caper Was in Copenhagen, the Kapers in Kiev and Trust Me, Mahmoud, I Can Get It for You Wholesale! I can see the sultry, maladroit, pointless Johansson cast as Mata Hari, Marlene Dietrich, the Empress Dowager, Helen of Troy, Judy Garland and Boudica's long-lost twin sister, Vicki. I can see Allen casting himself opposite Angelina Jolie, Anne Hathaway, Audrey Tautou and three dozen as-yet unborn children.

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What the Star Wars movie titles would look like had they been designed by legendary 1950s/60s title designer Saul Bass (best known for his groovy animated titles). Awesome.

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Apparently the next Coen Brothers film is going to be an adaptation of Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union, an intriguing-sounding book which recasts Alaska as a latter-day Birobidzhan:

The movie is set to be a noir thriller in the vein of Miller's Crossing. However, this is also an Alaska with a twist, as in the original book the state has been turned into a homeland for Jewish refugees displaced after the second world war, following the collapse of Israel. Decades later, the US government is considering displacing the Jewish settlers to return the land to Alaskan natives.

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This afternoon, I was walking through Notting Hill when I noticed that the fronts of various shops had changed. Jack Wills, the "geezer" couturier on the corner of Portobello Road and Talbot Road (near Rough Trade) had become "Fowler and Green Hardware", and had racks of old boxes out the front. Meanwhile, the café diagonally across the road had been transformed into an old radio shop, its windows full of black-and-white TVs and such. The First Floor bar was in the process of being done up to look like a no-nonsense old pub.

It turned out that they were filming some scenes from a film titled "Hippy Hippy Shake", which is set in London in the early 1960s. I'm not sure whether they were using Portobello Road to stand in for a generic street in early-60s London (which would presumably have been quite expensive), or whether they were actually filming a scene set in Portobello Road, and in which case, whether the shops they had reconstructed had actually once existed there. (Then again, there was someone carrying a Blenheim Crescent street sign, which presumably had been temporarily taken down, so perhaps they were actually reconstructing the intersection two blocks down circa 1962 or something?)

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Tonight I saw Control, Anton Corbijn's Ian Curtis biopic.

It was quite well done, I thought. As you'd expect from Corbijn, it had its starkly atmospheric shots (entirely in black and white), echoing some of the famous photos he took of Joy Division. The aesthetic of the film was quite sparse, with long shots of rooms and council estates, much said with no words but only expressions, and an equally sparse soundtrack, with the most sparing use of incidental music. (Parts of it had a German expressionist quality; it could have almost been a Fritz Lang film from the 1930s.)

The danger with this film was that it could have easily been just another exercise in style over substance, in capturing the legend of a mythical band in a time-capsule of stylised cool. However, thankfully, it wasn't; it seemed reasonably faithful (albeit from Deborah Curtis' point of view, leavened with an imagined view from Ian's perspective). Watching it, I got the feeling of Ian's predicament, the trap he was drawing into, the terrible forces tearing him (and those around him) apart. He wasn't some darkly romantic, tortured hero, just a lad from Macclesfield ill-equipped for what fate threw at him. And the film really carried across how young and unprepared he was.

The music was pretty good too; the actors playing Joy Division played all the music on stage, and did a bang-up job of it, pulling off intense performances. (I can imagine that the actual gigs would have been just like that.)

Having said that, the Killers' cover of Shadowplay in the closing credits was entirely unnecessary. Who signed off on that one?

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Wired has an interview with Ridley Scott about the soon to be released final cut of Blade Runner:

It's the same as trying to do a monster movie. You know, Alien is a C film elevated to an A film, honestly, by a great monster. In this instance, my special effect was the world. That's why I put together people like [industrial designer] Syd Mead who were actually serious futurists. The big test is saying, Draw me a car in 30 years' time, without it looking like bad science fiction. Or, Draw me an electric iron that will be pressing shirts in 20 years without it looking silly. I wanted the world to be futuristic and yet feel — not familiar, because it won't be — but feel authentic. One of the hardest sets to design was the kitchen. It's easy to fantasize about Tyrell's giant neo-Egyptianesque boardroom, but imagining a bathroom and kitchen in those times, that's tricky. Nevertheless, fascinating. I love the problem.
The piece also includes pullquotes from various luminaries about Blade Runner:
J. Craig Venter, Geneticist:
"The movie has an underlying assumption that I just don't relate to: that people want a slave class. As I imagine the potential of engineering the human genome, I think, wouldn't it be nice if we could have 10 times the cognitive capabilities we do have? But people ask me whether I could engineer a stupid person to work as a servant. I've gotten letters from guys in prison asking me to engineer women they could keep in their cell. I don't see us, as a society, doing that."
Ray Kurzweil, Futurist
"The scenario of humans hunting cyborgs doesn't wash because those entities won't be separate. Today, we treat Parkinson's with a pea-sized brain implant. Increase that device's capability by a billion and decrease its size by a hundred thousand, and you get some idea of what will be feasible in 25 years. It won't be, 'OK, cyborgs on the left, humans on the right.' The two will be all mixed up."

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Last night, I went to see the film Hallam Foe. I quite enjoyed it.

The film concerns its eponymous protagonist, a teenaged boy in rural Scotland, who spends most of his time in a treehouse watching people through binoculars, can pick locks and is convinced that his stepmother murdered his beloved mother (who drowned in the loch some time earlier). After an argument, he leaves for Edinburgh, where he becomes fascinated with a woman who looks like his mother, follows her and gets a job at the hotel she works at; much of the film concerns the complicated relationship between Hallam and her. The main characters of this film were interestingly complex and the character development and plotting avoided the usual Hollywood clichés that weaken so many films; despite one or two improbable events, the film seemed like a plausibly realistic. One could call it a "modern-day fairytale", I suppose; or perhaps the offspring of Amélie and one of the Belle & Sebastian songs with a vaguely sinister subtext beneath its surface?

By the end, it was a bittersweet sort of film; optimistic though not saccharine. It was also beautifully shot (they made good use of the Scottish landscape and the central parts of Edinburgh where it is set), the soundtrack was superb, and the titles by David Shrigley (in all his eccentric glory) were a nice touch.

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Belle and Sebastian are now working on a musical. Actually, it's not going to play in the West End alongside We Will Rock You, Mamma Mia and the numerous lesser much-loved-band-canon musicals, but is going to take the form of a feature film, apparently in the style of The Beatles' ventures in the genre.

Stuart, who recently turned up on the red carpet as a guest at Hallam Foe's launch in Edinburgh, said: "We're making a record because that's what we do. But when the time and mood are right, the record will become a film."
The title will be "God Help The Girl" (which sounds rather like a Belle & Sebastian song title) and it'll be set in a city not unlike Glasgow, only with "the canals were a bit grimier, the high-rise buildings taller, the streets emptier when you needed them to be, and the beat clubs busier than the ones around here". One of the songs from it will be titled "The Psychiatrist Is In".
During summer, a girl who plays in a ladies football team (Gregory's Girl, anyone?) meets a boy who works at the local swimming pool. After getting the bedsit next door, they meet another girl and decide to make music together.
Stuart said: "The boy was kind of flexible as nobody had shown much interest in him for awhile. So he went along, prepared to teach girl two all he knew about the steel-strung acoustic guitar that he cradled.
They are now looking for performers (actors/singers) to star in the film. If you feel you'd fit the part (and, presumably, live somewhere near Glasgow), there are more details here.

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Momus' latest blog post is a critique of the recent film Pan's Labyrinth. Other than being an exercise in the goring of sacred cows (an often useful exercise), it makes some good points:

The film bore all the hallmarks of COG screenwriting. COG screenwriting is the opposite of personal vision, the opposite of imagination. It's screenwriting as taught by "experts" in screenwriting class, a kind of brutal, plot-advancing writing style based around a Centre of Goodness (COG) who wins the audience's sympathy (usually by pure genetic superiority -- ie a very good-looking actor is cast -- but also by a series of sufferings overcome throughout the narrative). It takes no prisoners -- and no risks. COG screenwriting is the filmic equivalent of modern managerial techniques. It's brutally efficient -- yes, it can and will make you laugh and make you cry -- but the difference between a film made by a COG director like Guillermo del Toro and an artist like Jodorowsky or Arrabal is like the difference between a house designed by a Project Manager and one designed by an architect. I will not let del Toro pass for an artist. I'm sorry, critics. He is a cinematic Project Manager.
Complete absence of sensuality, the incidental, the non-programmatic. Appeal is made to our adrenal glands, but no sexual organs (del Toro has the nerve to talk about Pan, but read the antics of the original Greek Pan here then compare them to the sexless, boring Pan character in this movie). Shock and surprise and mawkish empathy dominate, but there's no moment in which a character senses the breeze blowing in from the woods, just for its own sake. No, everything is fire and death and danger and hatred and forward motion. No indirection allowed. Improbable chases, with a deus ex machina to save the COG and a fatal comeuppance for the COB.
This is a Mexican-US co-production. But its values are American -- it has the shiny blue lighting, the flashy special effects, and all the conventions, of a US blockbuster (and the director apparently turned down both Harry Potter and the Narnia film to make it). This, then, is "global" film-making as a kind of outsourced American filmmaking. We do not leave the technical nor the moral universe of the Americans. Nothing is imported, in the sense of a "foreign" worldview. The film has learned American ways, but American audiences will not learn anything they don't already know from it, either texturally or morally.

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Control, Anton Corbijn's biographical drama about Ian Curtis and Joy Division, has just premièred at Cannes, and received critical acclaim.

The film is shot in black and white, and has a characteristically 1980s Corbijn look; the production stills look promisingly stark. I'm eagerly awaiting the release of this one.

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It has emerged that the version of the recent James Bond film Casino Royale shown on British Airways flights has been edited to remove references to rival airline Virgin Atlantic:

British Airways has removed a shot of Virgin Atlantic boss Sir Richard Branson from the in-flight version of the James Bond movie Casino Royale.
The British Airways edit also obscures the tail fin of a Virgin plane that was seen in the original.
As a BA spokesman points out, the airline edits many films to render them fit for in-flight viewing, and what exactly that entails is its own business. (I suspect that neither Fight Club nor Snakes On A Plane made it to the backs of airliner seats, for example.) I wonder how many other similar instances of product displacement have occurred on flights.

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I just watched Sticky Carpet, a recent (2006) documentary on the Melbourne music scene. It was quite interesting, interviewing musicians and scene figures about various aspects of it, such as the interplay between the mainstream and the alternative (most of them were very anti-mainstream), art and commercialism (the consensus was that when money becomes a consideration, the range of allowable creative decisions narrows severely), Melbourne's profusion of band venues and community radio stations, and even the theory that Melbourne's preeminence in the Australian music scene has to do with the cold winter days encouraging musicians to go indoors and rehearse.

Sticky Carpet's main flaw was its fairly heavy rockist bias, though, which it didn't seem to question. The majority of the music presented in it was either primal 3-chord blues-rock or heavier versions of such (metal, hardcore, punk). The concession to non-rock music consisted of extreme experimental music (a metalworker who makes his own instruments, a bloke playing a theremin and breaking sheets of glass over his head, atonal "sound art" with laser displays). In short, trading one form of machismo (that of primal rock) for another (that of strenuous experimentalism). This ignored a lot of other (usually less testosterone-charged) genres of music just as prevalent in Melbourne: virtually the entire spectrum of indie-pop was omitted (this was a world where the Lucksmiths, Chapter Music, Library Records and such never existed, it seems), or indeed the Country'n'Preston scene, or local hip-hop or electronica, and so on. (This was, in a sense, the opposite of a documentary on the Melbourne indie scene aired the Swedish TV programme Musikbyrån last year, which focussed on Architecture In Helsinki, New Buffalo, The Avalanches and Cut Copy, and didn't show anyone wielding a guitar; if one were to view both side by side, there would be little evidence of them referring to the same city.)

I was surprised to find that the frontman of Eddy Current Suppression Ring wasn't wearing a blue singlet or sporting a rat's tail mullet. I sort of placed them as part of a Bodgie revival.

Another interesting thing that was said in the documentary: Tony Biggs (who presents the talk-radio segment on 3RRR) made the claim that the fact that 99% of commercial music consists of love songs might contribute to depression and mental illness, as such songs instill unreasonably optimistic expectations in listeners.

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I have just read Hallgrímur Helgason's 101 Reykjavík, of which I found a copy (in English) recently. This novel is probably best known for having been adapted into a film (one of the best-known Icelandic films of recent years in the English-speaking world, partly undoubtedly due to Damon Albarn having done part of the score).

101 Reykjavík is the story of Hlynur, a thirtysomething slacker who lives with his exceedingly indulgent mother in the central postal district the title is taken from. However, beyond that, the book and the film are quite different; the film is much lighter, fluffier, more stylised and cooler, almost like a tourist ad for hip young people, whereas the book goes into darker territory; where the movie is Human Traffic, the book is Trainspotting.

The movie Hlynur is a lovable hipster doofus, a comical flightless bird, an adorably bumbling geek-chic Everyman plucked out of a Jarvis Cocker impersonation contest at Kaffibarinn. The book's Hlynur, however, is a much darker figure; a pathetic, sociopathic nihilist, destructive and self-destructive. In both, he ends up possibly fathering his mother's lesbian lover Lolla's child, and angsting considerably about it and his relationship to the lover and the child. In the book, he does a number of un-cuddly things like sexually molesting the mother of a girl he picked up, stealing one of his sister's birth control pills (and causing her to fall pregnant), and deliberately attempting to contract AIDS in a fit of self-pity, in between the numerous somewhat unflattering observations in his narration. The narrative voice of the book goes into long, poetic monologues (perhaps this is typical of Icelandic literature?) expounding jaded views of the human condition and contemporary Icelandic society, and (with one exception) betraying no empathy with any person other than the narrator. The Hlynur in the book is not a likeable or sympathetic character.

The book also doesn't have the redemptory ending of the movie; the tragic narrator of the novel does not magically find his feet, experience personal growth and come out a better person like the once cynical hero of an American romantic comedy, but continues much as he has ever done. A number of other elements (Hlynur's Hungarian penpal, a trip to Amsterdam and Paris, and the whacked-out barfly mystic who follows the teachings of white limousine-riding guru "Waldorf") were inevitably cut along the way from book to movie. And, in case you were wondering, making Lolla Spanish (so that she could be played by Victoria Abril) was the filmmaker's invention.

The book is interesting, though those who have been to Reykjavík, or are familiar with Icelandic society, would probably get the most out of it. (If a trip to Iceland is out of the question, at least read The Xenophobe's Guide to the Icelanders).

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Last night, I visited the local video library a rather good one in Stoke Newington Church St., which has a lot of art-house/foreign films) and rented a copy of C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America.

This is a mockumentary, presenting an alternate history in which the slave-holding South, rather than the abolitionist North, won the American Civil War, and formed what we know as America. It presents this history from the Civil War (in which the South managed to get British and French support for its cause, in the interest of "private property rights"), through the reconstruction (in which the values of the slave-holders are imposed on the North, successfully, and all non-whites become slaves), wars of conquest across South America (forming a "tropical empire", of the sort envisioned by Confederate leaders, governed under a policy of racial "apartness"), through to the present day CSA. The documentary is framed as an imported British documentary being presented on a CSA TV channel; it is preceded by a disclaimer as to its "controversial nature" and interspersed with ads, which shed some light on life in an early-21st-century Confederate America; these include advertisements for cable-TV slave-shopping programmes and electronic tracking bracelets, Cops-style TV programmes about federal agents hunting down runaway slaves, and public-service announcements urging citizens to beware of the disease of homosexuality and report suspected racially-impure people passing as white to the government.

What does the C.S.A. circa 2004 look like? Well, people with any non-white blood are, by law, slaves, Christianity is the state religion (generously, and narrowly, allowing Catholicism to be considered Christian), women are not allowed to vote, Jews are confined to Long Island, and there is a cold war with "Red Canada", which harbours abolitionist "terrorists" and is the home of rock'n'roll and "race music". (Canada is not alone; virtually everyone but South Africa has imposed sanctions on the C.S.A.) Those are the obvious and spectacular differences; on a more subtle level, the C.S.A. is a much more conformistic and authoritarian culture. The mindset which allows ordinary people, who see themselves as good and decent, to tolerate and participate in slavery is one in which society is organised along strong chains of authority and hierarchy, which are seen as part of the order of nature. (One example of this is in an ad early in the film, for an insurance company, which mentions that the father is "master of the house".) With acceptance of arbitrary authority comes the acceptance of beliefs on the basis of faith in authority, and unsurprisingly, the values of the religious right are dominant in the C.S.A. (in one scene, there is a shot of the front page of "CSA Today", which includes a story about scientists disproving evolution). Not surprisingly, this mindset and the focus on "purity" creates a stagnant, homogeneous culture, one seeming in some ways quaintly archaic (one example is music and entertainment programming on its television stations, where, of course, all black influences are banned). Quoting from a friend, it is Pleasantville meets Triumph Of The Will.

C.S.A. has its lighter moments as well; artistic licence is employed to ensure that the history doesn't diverge too wildly from the world we know, but instead parallels it, mirroring and counterpointing. For example, the C.S.A. enters World War 2 after launching a surprise attack on a Japanese naval base; John F. Kennedy is assassinated, right on cue, for having suspected abolitionist sympathies, and the Clinton sex scandal is echoed, quote for quote, in the investigation into a politician's racial make-up.

All in all, C.S.A. was quite an interesting and thought-provoking film, and is worth a look.

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This looks like a potentially interesting film:

"Heartbroken by a break-up with his girlfriend Desiree, twentysomething Zia (Almost Famous' Patrick Fugit) kills himself - only to wake up in the afterlife: a purgatory populated exclusively by other suicides, where the jukeboxes only play Joy Division and Nirvana, all the colours seem desaturated, and life is more or less the same as back in the real world - 'just a little worse'. Learning that his beloved ex has also taken her life, he hooks up with a Russian misfit (whose final moments, seen in flashback, provide one of the film's funniest scenes), and a moody Goth hitchhiker (Shannyn Sossamon), and sets off in a battered station wagon to find her; the resulting road-trip - including a scene-stealing cameo by Tom Waits - forms the basis of this ruefully funny road movie."
And there's an IMDB entry here.

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This evening, I went to see Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. I found it quite amusing, despite having read about most of the highlights in advance. There was enough there that the online chatter doesn't quite prepare you for.

The basic concept involves, as you've undoubtedly heard, Sacha Baron-Cohen (with the assistance of a team of "producers") gulling various Americans into believing that he is, in fact, a somewhat out-of-touch Kazakh journalist making a documentary for Kazakh consumption only, asking them a few basic questions about life in America, easing them into more and more absurd territory, and then keeping just the last bits (having made sure that they signed a release form well in advance) and editing them into a road movie recounting a journey from New York to Los Angeles. Already he's possibly being sued by a group of fratboys who claim that they were induced to make arses of themselves under false pretenses (good luck with that one!) and the residents of a dirt-poor Romanian village that stood in for Borat's hometown, who didn't like being paid £3 each and then described as rapists, not to mention former unintentional internet celebrity Mahir Cagri who's pissed off that Cohen took his shtick and made it profitable.

Fact: Borat's "Kazakh" greetings are in fact Polish ("Jagshemash" = "jak sie masz", or "how do you do"), though the longer dialogue is in Hebrew, Yiddish and Armenian.

I'm still not sure how much of the scene at the end with Pamela Anderson was staged.

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Last night, I went to see A Scanner Darkly, Richard Linklater's rotoscoped/animated adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel. I was impressed.

The bizarre psychological dystopias of Philip K. Dick have, in recent years, provided ample fodder for Hollywood. Unfortunately, though, the usual treatment accorded to them involved dumbing them down, cutting out the thought-provoking elements that might annoy the average viewer who just came to see fights and explosions and stuff, "rationalising" the characters into a set that follow the Hollywood scripting rules, grafting in the usual action clichés, adding a romantic subplot so the action fans don't feel bad about bringing their girlfriends (extra revenue, you see), and hanging the whole garment on the shoulders of a larger-than-life star. Thankfully, though, Richard Linklater got to A Scanner Darkly before someone could make it into a Tom Cruise vehicle about a future dystopia run by evil psychiatrists or something, and he did a fine job with it, keeping it disorientingly true to the spirit of the book.

One of Linklater's previous films was Waking Life, a small art-house film consisting of people talking about the nature of dreams and consciousness. It was shot on video and then traced over by animators, resulting in a realistic yet stylised animation. Linklater ended up using the same effect for A Scanner Darkly, and it worked rather well. The story is darker, with its pervasive paranoia (some induced by highly addictive hallucinogenic drugs, and some by an intense war on drugs), and involves a government agent masquerading as a drug dealer (and user), who is then assigned to spy on himself (his supervisor doesn't know who he is, as all the agents wear "scramble suits" which disguise their appearances), and is soon wondering who exactly he is, and whether his confusion is a result of the institutional paranoia of the drug war or drug-induced psychosis.

The animation was of a higher quality than in Waking Life, which in some ways seemed like a rough sketch for this, and works rather well in the context of the film. Whilst some commentators doubt the point of animation that incorporates live-action detail rather than simplifying and caricaturing, it works rather well here (though one could argue that, much of the time, it isn't so much animation as a rather labour-intensive image-processing effect). The use of Thom Yorke's music in the closing credits was also an inspired move; Yorke's left-of-the-Guardian visions of a Blairite/corporatist hell aren't too far away from PKD's Orange County dystopias. And who would have guessed that it is possible for Keanu Reeves to not be annoying, at least when he's traced over by animators and furthermore placed in a scramble suit?

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Filming has commenced on Control, Anton Corbijn's film about Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis:

Control deals with Curtis' romantic conflicts with his wife, Deborah, and his mistress, Annik Honore, his increasingly debilitating epileptic seizures, and his performances with Joy Division. Filming will take place in the English towns of Nottingham and Macclesfield (where Curtis lived and is now buried). The film will be released in the UK by Momentum Pictures sometime in 2007.
Sam Riley, who played Mark E. Smith in 24 Hour Party People, stars as Curtis, Academy Award-nominated actress Samantha Morton plays Deborah Curtis, Alexandra Maria Lara is Honore, James Anthony Pearson is Joy Division/New Order guitarist Bernard Sumner, Joe Anderson is bassist Peter Hook, Harry Treadaway is drummer Stephen Morris, Toby Kebbell is Factory Records partner and Joy Division manager Rob Gretton, and Craig Parkinson is Wilson.
Not a bad cast, though Sam Riley will have a hard act to follow in the chap who played Curtis in 24 Hour Party People.

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Robin Guthrie, the guitar-pedal wizard from the Cocteau Twins and pioneer of all things swirly and æthereal, has now had a hand at filmmaking. You may not be surprised to find that his first film appears to be the visual equivalent of his music:

It has been exhaustively assembled with the same craft which Robin has used in the sonic world for years, an interweaving and layering of images, creating distinct moods which are reflected by the music being played - "improvised within the framework; dictated by the visuals", relying on layers of treated guitars, textures and sumptuously cyclic melodies"
From what I hear, Lumière is basically swirling, dissolving blurs of coloured light. And it comes with Guthrie playing a live soundtrack on guitar.

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The latest cinematic art movement in Paris is the "pocket film" movement, which involves footage shot spontaneously on mobile phones and edited into short films, of which there was a festival last year:

Pocket movies are often intimate and engaging, and because mobile phones can go anywhere the camera gets a licence to roam. You can film on a bike, or shoot the rush-hour crush; one director has even filmed herself voting.
Film director Jean-Claude Taki says: "These days the process is more after the fact. By that I mean that we don't make out a storyboard and organise the filming beforehand, but we start with the filming which is something which becomes part of your life that you do whenever you want, then we edit. And all the time you can film stuff for the edit and that's how the film is constructed."
The web site of last year's Pocket Films festival is here; there is a selection of films here (in streaming Flash). They vary from raw phone footage, some with overdubbed sound or music, to more elaborately edited works which use footage shot on mobile phones. Some of them tell simple stories, and some of them look not a world away from the sorts of things shot by artists with 8MM cameras in decades past, which one can find screened at film nights in inner-city bars.

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The Top Ten Sci-Fi Films That Never Existed takes apart what went wrong with various sci-fi films which did exist:

There was a movie that perfectly captured the Douglas Adams experience, the combination of bitter sarcasm and sharp imagination, the droll British wit and whale-exploding slapstick that infused his novels. And that movie was Shaun of the Dead. That movie was not, unfortunately, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a movie that floated around Hollywood for about 20 years before it finally appeared in theaters as a flat, lifeless, americanized lump that was mostly hated by people who liked the book and loathed by people who hated the book.
Everyone remembers the exact moment when they realized that their Phanom Menace sandwich was filled with shit. For me, it was the scene on Tatooine where Qui-Gon is talking and Jar Jar is snatching fruit from the bowl with his tongue, eating like an insect. Annoyed, Qui-Gon reaches out and snatches his tongue out of the air and holds it in his fist while he talks. That was when I realized I was watching a cartoon.
So what happened? The Chicago Cubs, that's what. The Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908. Why? Because Cub fans sell out Wrigley Field every game, regardless of how bad the team is. Management makes money regardless of whether or not the team is winning, so why bother? Likewise, studios think video game fans will pile into the theater on opening weekend regardless of whether or not any effort was put into the film. Will that change? Come ask me after I've seen the Peter Jackson-produced Halo.
I have a theory. There are two eras for the Hacker Movie genre. Pre-Matrix, hacker movies were always horrible and always box office poison (see Hackers and Johnny Mnemonic) that only appealed to a tiny segment of geeks. After The Matrix in 1999, every hacker movie was unfairly compared to The Matrix (incuding that film's own sequels, but we'll get to that in a moment). In neither era could you get the money to make a movie like Snow Crash. If you want your $150 million monster to get made, it'd had better be something with such universal appeal that even grandmothers will go see it. No hacker movie will have that and Snow Crash least of all:

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I finally got around to watching the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie.

For the most part, I enjoyed it. The new parts of the script, in many places did seem rather Douglas Adamsesque. The visual design and effects also worked rather nicely, giving the whole film a slightly cartoonish, Monty Pythonesque look. For the most part, the obvious concessions to the Hollywood story (the vogons becoming the main bad guys, as a film needs a villain, for example) were relatively unobstrusive, and the casting was quite apt. Except for two glaring flaws.

Firstly, the character of Trillian. In the books and other material, she was somewhat intelligent and rounded as a character. In the film, she is a vacuous bimbo; a shiny American-TV-show female character who looks and behaves as if she should have canned laughter after each of her one-liners, and, in actual personality, is little more than a plot device.

Which brings me to the second flaw: the way that Arthur's history with Trillian was fleshed out into a standard Hollywood romcom plotline, complete with schmaltzy dialogue (the scene about "the real answer" was cringeworthy), undoubtedly at the behest of some studio bean-counter insistent on following proven formulas to maximise audience appeal. I think the DVD should have come with an option to view a cut with the studio hacks' commercially-driven additions edited out (much like the Criterion box set of Brazil).

All in all, if one cauterises those memories from one's brain Zaphod-fashion, the film is quite enjoyable. I enjoyed it more than Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the other (and weaker) cool-stylised-pictures film of this year.

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The grim story of the next Superman film, which has remained in development hell for 10 years, while armies of hacks, egomaniacs and philistinic studio types battled over the details, is an eye-opening example of the horrible things that happen to a property once a Hollywood studio buys the rights to it. Read about the dozen or so different scripts, tacked-on merchandising opportunities, plot elements shamelessly lifted from the most recent blockbuster, the many forms of Lex Luthor (rogue CIA agent, mutated shoe salesman, member of the Illuminati), Tim Burton's darker, gothic Superman, and even the studio's plans to cast Justin Timberlake and Beyonce Knowles as Superman and Lois Lane. Read it, laugh uncomfortably, and then pray to whatever gods you have that the studios never get their hands on your favourite stories.

Peters then told Smith to have Brainiac fight polar bears at the Fortress of Solitude, demanding that the film be wall-to-wall action. Smith thought it was a stupid idea, so Peters said, "Then have Brainiac fight Supermans bodyguards!" Smith responded, "Why the hell would Superman need bodyguards?" Peters wouldnt let up, so Smith caved in and had Brainiac fight the polar bears. Then Peters demanded that Brainiac give Luthor a hostile space dog as a gift, arguing that the movie needed a cuddly Chewbacca character that could be turned into a toy. Then, after watching Chasing Amy, Peters liked the gay black character in the film so much that he ordered Smith to make Brainiacs robot servant L-Ron gay, asserting that the film needed a gay R2-D2 with attitude. Then Peters demanded that Superman fight a huge spider at the end of the film, which Smith refused to dohe used a "Thanagarian Snare Beast" instead. (However, Peters did manage to recycle his spider idea and use it in Wild Wild West.)
1. Krypton doesnt explode. Instead its a Naboo rip-off overrun by robot soldiers, walking war machines, and civil war (can you say, Star Wars: Episode I?). Jor-El is literally the king of Krypton and leader of the Kryptonian Senate (thus Superman is a prince), and he and Lara send Kal-El to Earth because he is "the One" whom a prophecy states will save Krypton from destruction (rip-off of The Matrix). The villains, Jor-El's evil brother and nephew Kata-Zor and Ty-Zor, take Jor-El prisoner and send probe pods out to find and kill the baby Kal-El. 14 years later, Lara and her shell-less turtle servant Taga (shades of Jar Jar Binks) are found by Ty-Zor, and Lara gets tortured to death.
5. An aerial kung-fu fight between Superman and Ty-Zor results in Superman being lured into a trap: Lois is drowning in a tank filled with kryptonite. (This begs the question of how there can be kryptonite when Krypton didnt even explode, but.) Superman is given a choice: save her and die from radiation poisoning in the act, or stand by and watch her drown. So he goes in, saves her, and dies. Jor-El magically senses Supermans death from across the galaxy, commits hara-kiri with a rock he sharpens in his prison cell, goes to Heaven, and talks Superman into coming back to life so he can fulfill the prophecy of saving Krypton from its civil war. So Supermans soul returns to his body, and he proceeds to trash Ty-Zor and his cronies. And at the end of the film, Superman flies off in a rocket to save Krypton (which is where the second film is planned to take place).

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The latest instalment in the drawn-out death of film photography: veteran German photographic film company Agfa has declared bankruptcy, and is expected to stop operating by the end of the year.

Agfa has its origins in Germany in 1867 marketing its first colour film in 1936. Until Fuji became a market force, Agfa was the alternative to the dominant player, Kodak. Unlike Ilford, which has reacted to the change in photographic technology by using its paper-making expertise to move into the production of superior inkjet papers, Agfa appears to have misjudged the size and permanence of the digital tidal wave.
In other words, someone at Agfa decided that digital photography was just a passing fad or a niche interest. Oops!

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In an attempt to cash in on the lucrative Christian-fundamentalist market, Murdoch's 20th Century Fox studio has announced a film adaptation of Milton's Paradise Lost. It's not going to be in Aramaic, but for most audiences, 17th-century English in iambic pentameter would undoubtedly be as much of a a party-killer.

The whole project raises some interesting questions. Are they going to aim it squarely at cultural-separatist Christians in the US red states, or put Mason Serif on the posters and try to sell it to goths and Neil Gaiman fans and such? If the former, would they keep Milton's representation of Lucifer or edit it to make it less sympathetic? And what other decisions would be taken to encompass the moral and aesthetic values of contemporary American Christian-conservative culture. I imagine the production design could end up looking very Franklin Mint.

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An article in The Times takes apart the genre of Feel-Good Brit Flicks:

The Germans have given us the paranoid depths of Expressionism, the Italians created Neo-Realism, the French have perfected brooding Melodramatic Existentialism, while the British bask in the bathetic glow of a plucky little yokel, a couple of nude scenes and a happy-clappy sing-song finale.
It's no wonder, then, that the FGBF is terrified by modern realities. It tentatively flirts with difficult issues such as race, gender roles and sexuality, yet it does so merely for narrative frisson and is quick to reassert the power of tradition and to subsume all unresolved conflicts into the high-spirits finale. Thus the miners' strike in Billy Elliot is forgotten in the face of Billy's closing Swan Lake stage dive. In The Full Monty the strippers are still unemployed even as their thongs fly through the air. And at the end of Kinky Boots, conflicted transvestite Lola/Simon (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is no less enlightened about his identity crisis, but he gets to perform some infectious show tunes. In each case cinemagoers leave with smiles on their faces and the entirely erroneous belief that they've just witnessed a film about modern British life.

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It looks like the Wicker Man remake is going to be rubbish:

...In the original, Woodward's character was a virgin, making him ideal for sacrifice. That element has been ditched from the remake, because it was thought that while audiences would accept the idea of an American community that practised human sacrifice, the idea of a grown-up virgin was just too farfetched.
Other than doing away with the lead's virginity (because nobody would respect a 40-year-old virgin as anything other than a comical schmuck, and certainly not a worthy hero for a thriller) and ripping the story out of its meticulously-researched setting amidst British folklore and Scottish religious weirdness and moving it to America because America Does It Better, the director has made Lord Summerisle a woman (to keep up with the times, presumably) and brought in killer bees. (I wonder if the director had to fight to make it killer bees rather than dinosaurs or something cool and exciting like that.)

Anyway, it looks like the Wicker Man remake will take its rightful place next to the Sylvester Stallone Get Carter (with its all-American message of redemption) and the Californian-set Italian Job. It'll probably eclipse the original more than in the previous cases, though, because of the poor quality of the surviving prints of the original.

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Guerilla Drive-Ins are a cross between a drive-in cinema revival, illegal raves and Make-style improvisational techno-larrikinism. Some people in Santa Cruz are reviving the mid-20th-century American custom of drive-in movies, only this time reclaiming public space using a car fitted with a video projector, a FM transmitter and a movie; those in the know are notified in advance by email.

Films scheduled include cult classics (Dawn Of The Dead, Harold and Maude, Delicatessen) and worthy documentaries and dramas (The Take, The Yes Men, City Of God). It's an interesting idea, though, IMHO, it would have been more ideologically sound if they used bicycles instead of cars.

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The 9/11 films are coming; Oliver Stone (best known for the steaming turd that was Alexander) is working on one, and now there's one about Flight 93. It's going to be a Working Title film, so perhaps they'll have Hugh Grant doing a cameo as Tony Blair or something. No word on whether either Jerry Bruckheimer or the Independence Day guy is going to do a 9/11-themed gung-ho patriotic thriller.

There should be 9/11 movie drinking game. Drink one shot for each scene with a US flag. Drain the bottle for footage of an eagle soaring against a blue sky.

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A look at English subtitles on a Chinese pirate version of Revenge of the Sith. Curiously enough, the subtitles seem to have been translated from the Chinese translation by someone with All-Your-Base-level English-language proficiency, who somehow didn't think of checking them against the spoken dialogue. Which is how we end up with "Revenge of the Sith" becoming "Backstroke of the West", a fighter pilot saying "He is in my behind", characters using the word "fuck" randomly, and, best of all, "Jedi Council" translating as "Presbyterian Church".

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Bloody hell; they're remaking The Wicker Man. They are, of course, relocating it to the US (as all today's stories happen in America); though for some reason, they're setting it off the coast of Maine (presumably because the climate is like Scotland's). IMHO, a US-set Wicker Man would have worked better somewhere around the Old Testament heartland of the south, where people take fire and brimstone absolutism in with their mother's milk, good Christian folk believe that Satan is real and walking among them, black-clad teenage outcasts believe that Satan is way cool and drinking blood will give them super powers; they could have made Lord Summerisle into a David Koresh-like figure, a mullet-haired leader of a devout Christian community that's really a weird pagan cult. Moving it to Maine, in contrast, sounds somewhat unimaginative.

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I went to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on Friday night. It had some good elements, though ultimately left something to be desired.

The look was very stylised; it seemed to be set in a Northern English city which somehow had seceded from Britain and joined the US at some time in the past, and thus had Wallace & Gromit-style row houses along with US Postal Service mailboxes and New York-style fire hydrants, and the mostly British population drove on the right and used US dollars. At one side of the city was the eponymous chocolate factory. The rooms inside the factory were one of the best parts of it, and were very stylised, often harking back to 1960s high-modernism. They were full of machines, though these, more often than not, looked a bit obviously computer-generated. Also good were the Oompa-Loompa song-and-dance routines, which combined Roald Dahl's lyrics, Danny Elfman's command of kitsch and a Bollywood-influenced sense of colourful excess.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film was a bit disappointing. Beneath Burton's magpie-like cultural appropriations, it seemed like the same movie Hollywood makes every time, with the same, mechanistically predictable, character development archetypes. In particular, there was the whole angle of Willy Wonka redeeming his relationship with his father, which seemed to be tacked on because those are the rules. Though I get the feeling that Burton sensed and acknowledged this; the hasty and deliberately wooden way he executed the moment of redemption seemed perhaps somewhat sarcastic. All in all, this was not, IMHO, a great auteurial coup or memorable work, but just another Hollywood formula flick, albeit with some skilled artisans involved in the process.

The trailers before the film were obviously calculated to appeal to the audience, and included the next Harry Potter film (which got cheers from the audience), Tim Burton's upcoming piece of animated goth-candy The Corpse Bride (which, I notice, already has collectible figurines in the shops), and the upcoming feature-length Wallace & Gromit film (which appears to reference Hammer horror films extensively).

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The various reviews of Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory look encouraging; it looks like he has neither Americanised it (as, common sense has it, is essential for a story to be universal and sell well) nor turned it into a Gloom Cookie-esque steaming pile of gothsy clichés (the aesthetic, thankfully, seems to owe more to Carnaby Street circa 1967 than Camden High Street circa 2005). It also features Noah "young Adolf Hitler/Nick Cave lookalike" Taylor as Charlie's dad, and they used real squirrels in the filming. Hmmm...

Another thing I didn't know until today: that the Childcatcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was created by Roald Dahl, who worked on the script for that film.

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You've probably heard anecdotes about the writers of blurbs for posters, DVD covers and other promotional material egregiously twisting unfavourable reviews to produce glowing praise (apparently, as long as the words in the blurb appear in the review in the same order, anything goes). Now here's proof of this practice, with a selection of blurbs and the reviews they came from. They really are shameless:

The Girl in the Café (HBO)
Oregonian: "An endearing romantic comedy."
Actual line: "This new offering from HBO Films is at its heart a bit of political propaganda wrapped into an endearing romantic comedy that starts losing its laughs when it gets to Reykjavik and decides its teachable moment has arrived."
People Are Living There
New York Times: "Exquisite! Very rewarding performances by the four actors."
Actual line: "Things do pick up, however, in the play's second half, when Milly decides that the way to show up her boyfriend is to celebrate. What follows is the worst birthday party of all time, and Suzanne Shepherd, the director, stages it with exquisite patience, including a long, silent stretch of eating that will leave any dietitians in the audience appalled and everyone else laughing. ... Apparently it's no fun turning 50 whether you live in South Africa or in Elizabeth, N.J. That may be the main insight to be gleaned from the Specific Theater Company's revisiting of 'People Are Living There,' an unrewarding Athol Fugard play that benefits from some very rewarding performances by the four actors."

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I went to see Mysterious Skin tonight. It's a recent American art-house film about two boys who had been sexually molested by a baseball coach in a small town; ten years on, one boy is a somewhat callous, promiscuous gay hustler (who looks a bit like a hipster Mr. Spock), while the other blocked out details of the experience, believing instead that he had been abducted by aliens, and is trying to figure out what really happened during those lost hours.

The posters on the Tube advertised it as "slinky-hipped and sleazy-poetic", which makes it sound like the next album from The Killers or something, though the impression is misleading; this is a thoughtful and often beautifully shot film, at times explicit and harrowing, though not gratuitously so. The soundtrack really added to it; it was by Robin Guthrie (from the Cocteau Twins) and Harold Budd, and also featured songs by Slowdive, Curve and Sigur Rós, and not an overhyped NME New Wave Revival band in earshot.

I wonder whether there was any connection between the Slowdive songs in the soundtrack and the other UFO contactee being named Avalyn.

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It looks like they're now making a romantic comedy about Friendster (remember that? It was a somewhat dating-centric social-networking click-toy; everyone gave up on it after hitting the limit of their social group who have time for these things). What next: a Heathers-esque comedy about LiveJournal (Subtitle: "OMG the drama!")

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I finally got around to seeing Jean-Pierre Jeunet's A Very Long Engagement, at one of the few cinemas still screening it. It's a beautiful film; in some ways, it's not unlike Amélie, only with all the cuteness taken out, and set against the grim backdrop of trench warfare during World War 1; Audrey Tautou's character in both films could well be the same person born at different times, though where in Amélie she whimsically bimbles across Montmartre, here, she desperately searches for the fate of her fiancé, who was sentenced to death in the trenches and believed by all to have been killed, clutching onto hope by trying to divine the truth looking for "omens". Along the way in her Quixotic quest, more of what happened is uncovered.

Once again, this is not a cute or whimsical film; the trench warfare sequences show the war in an authentically brutal light. Nonetheless, Jeunet's usual signatures (creative use of colour-grading, from the golden Breton countryside to the watercoloured-sepia-photograph effect in other shots, flashbacks, and the occasional mechanical/time-and-motion sequence reminiscent of Delicatessen or The City of Lost Children). The reconstructions of Paris in 1920 were quite impressive; I got the feeling that, in some ways, Amélie and its digitally-cleaned-up Montmartre was a rehearsal for the making of this film. I hope that when the DVD comes out, it will come with a feature describing exactly how the film was made.

The ending was quite strong too, though I won't say any more about that. Anyway, I strongly recommend this film.

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Towards a Unified Understanding of the Human Condition, a fairly elegant model of all human endeavours and concepts:

All of life, you see, exists somewhere within the space delineated by the movies Reservoir Dogs, Being John Malkovich, and The Princess Bride. Each of these three movies represents the extreme outer limit of one aspect of the human condition. All of humanity--all religion, all philosophy, all creation, all expression, all experience--falls somewhere within the space marked off by these three movies.

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The biography of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, Touching From A Distance, is being made into a film, with Anton Corbijn (the Dutch photographer who directed videos for Depeche Mode, and (I think) made the video of Atmosphere as well) directing and Tony Wilson and Curtis' widow (and author of the biography) Deborah as executive producers.

It's good to hear that it has beaten this highly-marketable piece of shite to the punch.

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Some H.P. Lovecraft aficionados are making a silent film of The Call of Cthulhu, executed in authentic 1920s/30s silent movie fashion. There's a trailer online, which looks promising.

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I just got around to watching Shaun of the Dead, the latest zombie flick to have come out of Britain in the last few years. It was entertaining enough, in a lighthearted way; a cross between a smugly feel-good britcom (it is, after all, from Working Title, who are responsible for most of the British films with mass appeal over the past decade or so) and an early Peter Jackson splatter film; blood, guts, middle-class relationship-issue angst and huge dollops quintessential Englishness. As one would expect from Working Title, it's a stylish package, with meticulous attention to detail (even the cheapness of the zombie effects was undoubtedly art-directed to the last detail, footnoted with references to John Romero and the like), and packed with elements to appeal to as many segments of the audience as possible. It's set in a reasonably leafy, suburban part of North London, considerably more middle-class and pleasant than the high-rises of 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle's edgier brit-zombie flick), and doubly more so than the Ken Loach-esque kitchen-sink grimness of Dead Creatures (the best of the recent wave of British zombie films, in my opinion), and also is a much lighter affair (don't expect meditations on the dark side of human nature or the plight of those who fall between the cracks; this is essentially a feelgood flick; having said that, the film's take on the lasting influences of the zombie phenomenon, with the undead being pressed into service-industry jobs and TV game shows, were amusing, and possibly worthy of expansion).

The cast featured some familiar faces to watchers of recent British TV comedy; one I noticed (from the credit) was Look Around You's Peter Serafinowicz as the barman; Black Books' Dylan Moran also made an entry as an irritatingly smug prig of a housemate.

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According to the French film industry's rules, Oliver Stone's action film Alexander qualifies as a French film (because Stone has a French mother and did the postproduction in Paris), but Jean-Pierre Jeunet's latest film isn't (because Warner funded part of it).

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The US religious right is up in arms about a recent film about sexologist Alfred Kinsey, because it does not demonise the man enough:

"Alfred Kinsey is responsible in part for my generation being forced to deal face-to-face with the devastating consequences of sexually transmitted diseases, pornography and abortion," said Brandi Swindell, head of a college-oriented group called Generation Life that plans to picket theaters showing the film.
"Instead of being lionized, Kinsey's proper place is with Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele or your average Hollywood horror flick mad scientist," said Robert Knight, director of Concerned Women of America's Culture & Family Institute.

Meanwhile, according this article (via 1.0), many Evangelicals believe (a) that God personally put Bush in the Whitehouse to give America another chance, and (b) if bad things happen on Bush's watch, it's not his fault, but rather divine wrath for the excesses of liberalism (i.e., America not being a proper Talibanic theocracy). (Which paints a rather unflattering portrait of the God of the Bible Belt; either He is a sadistic bully and a psychopath, or else His creation is of no more serious concern to Him than a game of The Sims is to computer gamer. As flies to wanton boys, indeed.)

And those reading this in California, and in the confidence that they're well outside those barbarous Red States, don't be so sure. Apparently, according to former Democratic strategist, the Republicans stand a good chance of picking up California, and its 54 electoral college votes, in 2008; this could turn the US into a one-party state; or perhaps it could be just what the Libertarians or Greens need.

Voting patterns have been steadily moving California back to the midwest in recent years - a trend that is likely to continue. Democrats can rely on Los Angeles county and the San Francisco Bay area, but these concentrations are now surrounded by Republican territory.
The same cultural conservatism that is reshaping America is also alive and well in California. Sixties-era liberalism may still radiate from the Haight Ashbury district in San Francisco to the Bay area, but today's California is much more a capital for the Christian right than for the progressive left.

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Apparently Lisa Gerrard's most recent film score is for the British gangster flick Layer Cake. I find it hard to imagine Lisa "Dead Can Dance" Gerrard doing a score for a British gangster flick, unless it's not at all a post-Ritchie brash-cockney-wideboy film and more along the lines of Beat Takeshi or something.

In other news, it looks like Pete Waterman's (of Stock/Aitken/Waterman fame) latest gig is presenting a BBC TV series about the history of Britain's railways.

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The bad news: middle-mind schmaltzmeister Steven Spielberg is planning a remake of War Of The Worlds, set in a modern setting and apparently starring Will Smith Tom Hanks Tom Cruise.

The good news: an unknown British director has beaten Spielberg to the punch, having completed filming on a version of War Of The Worlds, set in Victorian England (filmed under the cover title "The Great Boer War"), and starring unknown actors.

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This afternoon, I saw the Film Festival screening of Dead Creatures. This is basically a British kitchen-sink social-realist zombie film; in it, zombies are just ordinary people like us, with two exceptions: they have an insatiable craving for human flesh and, over the course of a year or so, their bodies start to decay; their condition is the product of some contagious disease, spread by attacks from other zombies. Other than that, they are fully lucid and aware of their predicament, living for the moment, adjusting to killing to survive, and clutching onto futile hope until the end. The film follows a colony of zombiefied women, as well as a vigilante zombie hunter, and shows all stages of the process: a naïve newly-infected recruit adjusting to the realities of their new life, another late-stage victim, delirious and physically decaying, and between that, others rationalising their predatory habits, agonising about the loss of their futures and lives, and coping with the onset of decay. It borrows heavily from the British kitchen-sink tradition: it's set amidst the social decay of working-class London, and the system is oblivious and uncaring; even the vigilantes who hunt zombies do so for selfish reasons rather than out of idealism.

Dead Creatures was made in 2001, before Danny Boyle's more apocalyptic brit-zombie flick 28 Days Later, and, in some ways, is an excellent horror movie. It uses little in the way of special effects (some very convincing prosthetic makeup, latex models of dismembered limbs and the obligatory cool custom weapon, a zombie-killing bolt gun), but its strength is in capturing the despair and futility of those afflicted; of showing the inevitable end, the countless acts of murder committed in the interim to survive to reach it, and then the journey of one newly afflicted. The reality depicted is grim and affecting; one really empathises with the characters, in a way that goes beyond feeling the usual rollercoaster ride of tension and release, and comes out just about ready to donate to a charity to help ease the zombie plight. One could say that this is a horror film for Guardian readers.

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I went to a Film Festival screening today, seeing Skinhead Attitude, a documentary about the history of the skinhead movement. It outlined the origins of skinhead in the UK ska scene, the spread of it among sharp young working-class people who were in it for the music, the hijacking of the skinhead thing by the neo-Nazis (starting with Skrewdriver and going on to UK terrorist group Combat 18 and some rather scary American Nazis who probably have never heard of ska in their suburban compounds in Texas), the corresponding rise of the anti-racist skinhead movement (SHARP and such), and the increasing marginalisation from both sides of the "authentic" skinheads who are just in it for the music and the culture. The documentary, in French and English (with alternating subtitles), consisted of interviews with various people (old-school skinheads, band members, and some racists and anti-racists as well), footage of gigs, gatherings, incidents and of locations (a riot at a concert in Krakow, the killing of two anti-racists by neo-Nazis in Nevada, London from a train window, and so on). I found it rather interesting.

Before this, there was a short film; a photoessay on the French 1970s rocker/biker/neo-Nazi subcultures, with a narration over the top by the photographer, a young Jewish man who was a rocker and ended up hanging around with neo-Nazis and taking photos.

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I just saw Fahrenheit 9/11 (which was screening at (ironically enough) the George in St Kilda as a fundraiser for the Greens). I was impressed. In this film, Michael Moore basically goes from the 2000 US Presidential election (which he mentions briefly) to the present day, piecing together facts from many sources into a coherent whole, with a good deal of opinion and some humorous editing. Thankfully he keeps his trademark attention-grabbing clowning to a minimum, and focuses on presenting the story of these past four years as he sees it (and it's not a pretty picture: the current US administration, and much of the US economy, is in the pockets of untouchable Saudi interests, whom it is protecting from 9/11 investigations, instead using the aftermath of the incident to grab power and maximise its cronies' profits, whilst manipulating the American public into a constant Orwellian state of fear and screwing over the poor working stiffs sent to fight in its dubious war). It's not a happy story to watch (and some of the images of war casualties are graphic), though I'd say it is an important film to see.

It's telling that, when Fahrenheit 9/11 was released, Disney's hastily assembled riposte to it was a piece of neo-Norman Rockwell kitsch about "American values". The implicit message being "don't think, feel; asking questions causes trouble; go back to sleep, you'll feel better".

But yes, I think that Fahrenheit 9/11 has the potential to cost Bush the next election (notwithstanding wildcards such as trick voting machines, suspensions of elections, or Osama bin Laden's pre-election capture, of course). It won't sway the true believers in either camp, who are already decided, but it could electrify many of those who are currently uncertain, or who would otherwise not have voted.

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I finally got around to going to see that climate-change disaster-porn film that various US "liberals" were acclaiming as a progressive Passion of the Christ. It was much as I expected it to be.

In short, the visuals were spectacular (about half a dozen SFX firms were credited), with magnificent sets and computer graphics sequences. The characterisation and plot was pure Hollywood formula, with a very linear plot and characters having only the simplest of motivations, and, half the time, thinking in schmaltzy Hallmark-card truisms. Mind you, it being from Roland Emmerich (and the sub-Spielbergian sequence from Independence Day of the towheaded little boy and his dog watching Will Smith take off to battle the aliens still sticks in my mind), I wasn't expecting anything above the lowest common denominator in this respect, so I wasn't disappointed. (Some day, I'd like to see a visually spectacular film whose characters are more than focus-grouped, computer-plotted cardboard cutouts, but I digress.) The science, of course, was exaggerated by orders of magnitude to make it more spectacular (running afoul of the laws of physics in places, such as the instant temperature drop), and some of the details were a bit geographically ignorant (such as the scene with the whisky in the Scottish research station; someone there either assumed that Scotland was part of England or that most Americans wouldn't know otherwise; I wonder how well this film will do in, say, Glasgow or somewhere). Then again, none of that was a huge surprise; as I said, it's special-effects porn, and porn films of any variety aren't known for their plotting or characterisation.

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Little by little, classic Australian indie/art-house films are making their way onto the DVD format. The most recent example is The Cars That Ate Paris, Peter Weir's 1974 rural gothic exploration of Australian car culture and country-town conservatism. This film has now come out as a double feature with another Weir film, The Plumber, which is supposedly a psychological horror story or somesuch, though I haven't seen it yet.

And another eagerly anticipated title is slated for release on DVD later this year: Dogs In Space, Richard Lowenstein's semi-fictional look at the Melbourne post-punk "little band" scene in the late 1970s, which will come with more than an hour of extra features. (There was apparently a DVD of it in the UK and/or US a while ago, though the quality was reportedly very poor, as if it had been transferred from VHS tape.)

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Tonight I went to see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I really enjoyed it. The writing was by Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich), though he wasn't being as much of a clever-dick as he usually was (though the somewhat self-absorbedly neurotic voice-over at the start had me worried for a while). The direction was by Michel Gondry (who did a number of other films with Kaufman, as well as videos for Björk and French TV commercials), and makes the most of the visual idiom.

I'd classify the film as speculative fiction (one could have called it "science fiction", only this term has been hijacked to mean action movies with dark metallic corridors lit by strips of neon, 1-piece jumpsuits, futuristic gadgets and lots of blinking lights). Basically, the story is this: neurotic boy (Jim Carrey, who's not at all the buffoon he's best known as) meets psycho hairdye girl (Kate Winslet, looking like too many cute-but-insane punk/goth/raver chicks you've probably met), and they hook up; then, sometime later, their relationship falls apart, and she goes to a clinic to have all memories of him eradicated from her mind. He runs into her, she doesn't recognise him then goes to the same clinic to do the same. Only as it's happening, he suddenly has a change of heart and races around the landscape of his mind, trying to save the memories of her from the erasure technicians. There's more to the story, such as one of the technicians (played by Elijah "Frodo" Wood, only looking like a member of a nu-metal boy-band) hitting on a way of using attractive female patients' erased memories to hook up with them, and the issue of whether erasing all memories of a failed relationship would be mostly good or mostly bad.

The gist of the film seems to be that erasing a memory is not the same as preventing an event from recurring; in the film, characters whose memories of their relationships with each other have been erased hook up again and repeat their connections. If you're a sentimentalist or wish to consider the film as a romantic comedy, it could be about the power of destiny and true love and soulmates being brought together by powerful forces beyond their control, like the angels people talk about on American daytime TV talk shows or something. If you're more of a skeptic or a cynic, it's more about one being destined to repeat mistakes if one doesn't remember them. On a deeper level, I thought it was about how the dynamic workings of the human mind are composed not so much of things (such as memories of moments and people) as of processes; you can lose your memories, but if you're still the same person you were before (and if you have lost learnings since, you may be more likely to be), the internal processes of your mind will guide you into repeating what you have forgotten, or at least riffing off it. (Maybe if one was to start a real-life Lacuna Inc., one would combine aversion conditioning with memory erasure, to make the patients avoid their problem exes, but I digress.)

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Tonight I watched a rented DVD of Once Upon A Time in the Midlands, a British comedy concerning a small-time crim/deadbeat dad (played by Robert "Begbie" Carlyle) journeying down from Glasgow to somewhere in the British Midlands (it wasn't said exactly which city or suburb; perhaps the Midlands are an endless homogeneous suburban sprawl these days?) to win back his ex-girlfriend (the very pretty Shirley Henderson, who played Tony Wilson's first wife in 24 Hour Party People) from her dull-but-dependable suburbanite partner (Welsh actor Rhys Ifans), all the while pursued by a crew of Scottish bampots in an assortment of bizarre stolen vehicles (milk floats and the like). The plot's the usual comedy/drama; though the setting surprised me. I always thought that the Midlands would be presented a bit grimy, down-at-heel and somewhat rough, yet with an authentic character from amidst the shabbiness. (Mind you, my experience of the Midlands extends to Wolverhampton railway station and glimpses of brutalist Birmingham through a dirty train window.) The Midlands in the film was an endless suburbia of double-glazed dream homes, spotless, brightly-lit bingo halls and shiny new sedan cars, populated by well-fed, complacent suburbanites in shellsuits. It all seemed rather soulless and deracinated and much like any other dormitory suburb of McWorld, save for the accents and street signs; change those and add a few barbecues and it could just as easily have been Rowville or Mount Waverley or someplace.

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This evening, I rented and watched the following two DVDs:

  • Max: the 2002 Canadian/Hungarian/British production about a young Adolf Hitler's relationship with a (fictional) cosmopolitan Jewish art dealer in Munich, immediately after World War 1. Hitler was played by Noah Taylor, who looked like a leaner version of the housemate he played in He Died With A Felafel In His Hand, or possibly like the frontman of an Australian indie-rock band; he put in a decent performance, playing the young Hitler as a bitterly angry monomaniac torn between the world of art (in which he wasn't much of a success, partly due to his disdain for modern art trends and/or general crackedness; this was before outsider art came into vogue, of course) and fringe politics.
  • American Splendor: a film about underground comic writer Harvey Pekar; he is portrayed here as a pudgy, generally grubby-looking loser with a dead-end job, severely limited horizons and a generally shitty outlook on life, which has lasted him from childhood. Pekar starts writing a comicbook series based on the minutiae of his life, and gradually gets a cult following. I imagine that, were he doing this 25 years later, he'd probably have started a weblog instead.

The night before, I watched Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (which was amusing; it took the memoirs of a delusional former TV personality and used them as a vehicle for clever-dick scriptwriter Charlie Kaufman to play with the ways that being a 1960s game-show host and CIA assassin could interact).

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This evening, I watched a DVD of The Believer, a US independent film from a few years ago about a young Jewish man from New York who became a neo-Nazi skinhead. It was very interesting, and explored the main character and his motivations and contradictions in good detail, without copping out and relying on clichés. (For example, it appeared that to him, anti-Semitism was a sort of negative Judaism, much as Satanism is a negative Christianity; despite (or perhaps because of) his hatred for his rejected Jewish culture, he cannot let go of it entirely; meanwhile, in an ironic touch, his girlfriend, the fucked-up and masochistically submissive daughter of neo-Nazis, ended up getting deeply into Jewish religious rituals after learning them from him, ostensibly in a "know your enemy" context.) I found it intelligent and thought-provoking. (I picked up the DVD for $7.95 from my local Video Ezy; you may be able to find it at a similar price.)

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Videos/DVDs recently seen:

  • Adaptation. A slyly self-referential treatment of the process of adapting a not particularly filmable book into a film script. It does, at one point, descend deliberately into Hollywood cliché, in a transparently blatant way. Though I wonder whether Donald Kaufman actually existed, or whether he's just a representation of Charlie Kaufman's non-neurotic side.
  • Fargo. Perhaps my favourite Coen Brothers film so far, probably due to the cinematography (I like sparse white landscapes) and relative lack of folksy sentimentality. The Scandinavian character of Minnesota comes through; if one were to watch it with the sound off, one could (for most of it) believe oneself to be watching a film from Norway or somewhere.
  • Get Carter (the original one). A classic, though the obviously fake fight sequences do date a bit. Using angry-young-man author John Osbourne to play the pornographer was a nice touch.
  • Hotel Splendide. A pastiche of elements borrowed from Gormenghast, Edward Gorey and Jeunet & Caro (in particular, Delicatessen), set in a run-down hotel/Victorian health spa specialising in bizarre and outdated therapies on a remote British island. The sets and some of the costumes are fabulous. However, the film doesn't cohere well, and seems more like a bunch of appropriated elements lumped together, with little regard for plausibility. Also, Toni Colette's spunky, Australian-accented character seems a bit too irritatingly perfect, making it like a Mary Sue fan-fiction treatment of the setting.

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I just watched a DVD of Nine Queens, an Argentine heist film about two swindlers (one vaguely seedy veteran and one naïve but talented rookie he takes under his wing) trying to pull a high-stakes scam involving a sheet of ostensibly rare stamps and a collector, set against the backdrop of Buenos Aires. The film was fast-paced, and it seemed that each moment, some new detail or layer was unfolding (from crooked officials wanting their take to the scammers trying to psych each other out of their respective cuts, to things changing at the last minute, and the ever-present question of who is playing a deeper game and what is really happening). I found it quite gripping and enjoyable.

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Tonight I went to the ACMI's Latin American Film Festival screening of Santo y Blue Demon contra El Doctor Frankenstein, a 1974 Mexican film pitting two masked wrestlers against a mad scientist abducting women for use in brain-transplant experiments. Taken by itself, it would be just another bad film, only with subtitles. The plot is corny and riddled with holes and the production looks cheap. However, it makes a fascinating cultural artifact. It was one of 60 films made starring Santo ("The Saint"), a famous masked wrestler who became a national hero of sorts in Mexico; other films had him going up against zombies, mummies, Martians, vampires and the like. In some ways, the film is reminiscent of an episode of the old Batman TV series, only grounded in a Latin American culture, which places a premium on honour and chivalry. The sets included the usual sci-fi villain's-lair sets, replete with stylish furniture, sliding doors, shiny metal corridors and "computers" with panels of rhythmically flashing lights, which explode in showers of sparks when hit by a wrestler-thrown henchman. Oh, and the music was fairly typical '70s genre-film music, with theremins and dissonant vibraphones and kettle drums and such. Anyway, it was somewhat amusing in places, though some of that was probably due to the somewhat iffy translation of the subtitles, and much of the rest due to the cross-cultural thing ("look! it's a guy in a suit and a mask sitting in a restaurant!").

The film was introduced by an Australian bloke in a sequined Mexican wrestling mask, who gave a brief history of lucha libre, as the sport is called there, and of the phenomenon that was Santo, which was somewhat interesting.

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Life imitates Lucky Wander Boy: some outfit named Crystal Sky have bought the film rights to Pac-Man, with a view to making a "live-action fantasy adventure". Urk. (via wtf_inc)

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Recently I saw the first three films in the Cremaster cycle. They were interesting, rather odd, occasionally disturbing and possibly a bit too long. How could one describe the Cremaster films to someone who hasn't seen them? Well, if you took some David Lynch films, threw away everything but the weird bits, and multiplied the remaining bizarreness by itself, you'd have a fairly decent approximation, only perhaps without the ornate sets and costumes.

Cremaster 1, which I think was the second film made, was the simplest so far. A scantily-clad woman (or two identical women) under a table in one or both of two Goodyear blimps makes a hole in the table and uses it to grab grapes from above, which she arranges in patterns on the floor. The patterns are echoed by lines of dancing girls in the American football stadium below. The patterns are apparently meant to represent stages of development in the embryonic sex organs or somesuch. Anyway, it was an interesting concept, though could have probably been done in half the time. The image quality seemed a bit poor in places, as if it had been filmed on some sort of videotape. Also, the differences between live action and computer graphics were a bit obvious, though the audience probably didn't come in to pick them apart.

Cremaster 2 was described as a "Gothic Western", though that would be ascribing a bit too much in the way of plot to it. It ostensibly concerned Gary Gilmore, a murderer executed in Utah, and also had some sort of insectile symbolism and (for some reason) Houdini, played by Norman Mailer. I liked the part with the heavy metal band jamming along with a swarm of bees, and the petrol station with the two interlinked cars was also nicely atmospheric, in a Lynchian sort of way.

Cremaster 3, the most recently made one, started off with the story of the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland, and then had some hapless soul plucked from under the ground, and locked in a vintage car which was then crushed into a block of scrap in a demolition derby/Masonic ritual killing inside the Chrystler building. Masonic symbolism and Celtic folklore kept reappearing in it, culminating in a sequence like a game show with video-game music. Which all sounds interesting, except for the fact that it went on for 3 hours, which is a bit long for that sort of thing.

All in all, the Cremaster films look like the sort of fare that, in decades to come, will probably end up being projected on the walls of trendy bars/behind art-punk bands at gigs (unless impeded by sweeping paracopyright laws/DRM totalitarianism, of course).

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It looks like there have been some interesting films at this year's Sundance:

The provocative CSA: The Confederate States of America is an odd hybrid, a sci-fi mockumentary that poses as a BBC (renamed BBS) production from an alternate universe. Film-maker Kevin Willmott takes a simple, daring conceit and pushes it to the max.
The idea? The north lost the civil war, the south won - simple. Framed as television programming, with fictional commercials and newscasts alternating with the BBS history programme, CSA sucker-punches its audiences with poisonous hilarity. Take the shot of the first astronaut on the moon, for instance, planting the Confederate flag. Or the story of Abraham Lincoln trying to escape to Canada with the help of Harriet Tubman, founder of the underground railroad. Besides Willmott's brilliant history lessons, his film's pleasures also derive from the spot-on parodies of documentary form and television marketing. Slave-shopping network, anyone?

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I ended up seeing Dogville tonight; it was partly by accident, as we had missed out on tickets for The Spanish Apartment. It was much the sort of thing the press has said it was; Lars von Trier exploring the potential for evil in human nature, and putting his leading lady through hell. In this case, it concerns a young woman fleeing from gangsters and hiding in a small town in the Rocky Mountains; and the locals first being suspicious of her, then welcoming her, and then, one by one, ruthlessly taking advantage of her position of vulnerability, like the contemptible parasites human beings are, at least in von Trier's films.

The most unusual thing about the film was the sets; rather than recreating small-town America in Denmark or Sweden or Britain or somewhere, von Trier settled for a minimalistic stage representing a scale model of the town, with outlines for the houses and the odd façade here and there. It's a spartan and minimalistic approach, not unlike a stage play or perhaps a music video, though it is not in keeping with the Dogme95 Vow of Chastity (which, among other things, forbids artificial lighting, period films, and montage).

Anyway, this film had the feel of a Nick Cave ballad, or possibly one of those deeply disturbing dreams that leaves you feeling unsettled through half of the following day. I didn't like it as much as Goodbye Lenin!, though it was OK. I rather preferred Dancer in the Dark as far as von Trier films go, but that's probably because of Björk. Though I pity the people going to see it because they read in mX/the Herald-Sun that Our Nicole was the star.

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Last night I went to see Goodbye Lenin!, the German comedy about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, at the Cinema Nova; I really enjoyed it. It was intelligent and very funny, and managed to also be a very human film without drowning the audiences in Hollywood-style schmaltz. The way they used small details (like styles of clothing and furniture and drab, Communist-era consumer products) to highlight the differences between East and West was interesting. And the score by Yann Tiersen (who did Amélie) was also quite evocative.

Some have accused this film of being too soft on the Communist régime. It does have some scenes of Communist military police suppressing a demonstration (though, looking at the scenes, they don't seem any more brutal or totalitarian than, say, the S11 demonstrations in 2000, or the US "Miami model"). In my opinion, these complaints are unfounded. The film does not paint the old East as a lost utopia; there are allusions throughout it of the totalitarian nature of the DDR. The reason it doesn't beat the viewer about the head with gulags and Stasi torture chambers is because it's not that kind of film.

All in all, I enjoyed it much more than Lost In Translation. The main difference is that the latter seemed to belong to the Andy-Warhol-filming-someone-sleeping-for-6-hours school of arthouse cinema, where films are deliberately tedious to give discerning audience members a chance to differentiate themselves from the excitement-hungry multiplex-going masses, whereas the makers of Goodbye Lenin! actually set out to be entertaining, and did so without dumbing it down for the broadest possible audience.

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I saw The City of Lost Children at the Astor last night. One thing I've noticed is that the subtitles on the Australian theatrical release (which I've seen about thrice over the past decade) and those on the US (Sony) DVD release use different translations of the dialogue (for example, the first line of the clone's singsong in the US DVD is translated as "I am a gnome, a bag of bones", but appears in the theatrical release as "I am a midget, a flibbertigibbet"). Funnily enough, the translation used in the theatrical release appears to be American, or at least in American English (for instance, the clones address their stepmother as "Mom").

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Tonight, I went to see Lost In Translation; the new film from Sofia Coppola (who also did The Virgin Suicides). It was good, though not brilliant. The characters were like real people and not romantic-comedy templates or something, which was good, but the flow of the film was a bit prosaic and reality-TV-ish; I imagine that some Darren Aronofsky-style editing/visual language would have improved it a good deal.

Kevin Shields' incidental music was OK, though I wonder which parts were his; whether he just picked up the guitar and pedals and made some noise or whether he actually spent the past 12 years learning to write melodies and work with other instruments. (I'm of the opinion that Shields is rather overrated as a musician; mind you, I was one of those people who preferred Slowdive to MBV (as they actually had melodies and songs and such), and who agrees with these people on Loveless; then again, perhaps I'm just incapable of appreciating true genius.)

(I also noticed the Scientology self-help CD Scarlett Johansson's character was listening to in the film (the "Clearwater, FL" on the back of the disc is clearly visible); I wonder to what extent the Clams were involved in the production of this film (other than Giovanni Ribisi being one).)

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Tonight I went to the cinema to see Master and Commander, Peter Weir's film depicting naval battles between a heroic British crew and dastardly French privateers in the oceans around South America. Visually, it was quite spectacular, with impressive sets, locations and effects. The story was the usual boy's-own adventure on the high seas. Interestingly enough, the music was composed by one Iva Davies (the lead singer of 80s Australian-rock band Icehouse, and best known for not wearing underpants); it consisted mostly of chamberish pieces. There were also some sequences in the film with the captain (played by Russell Crowe) playing (and almost rocking out on) a violin; I wonder whether he'll incorporate his violin lessons into the next TOFOG album.

(Something else to think about: would Master and Commander, a film in which the British Navy are heroic and the French are snivelling villains (not all that far removed, morally, from the craven, effete redcoats in The Patriot), have been made before 9/11? Could it be the trade-off for films like Fight Club and Starship Troopers (not to mention the two Che Guevara biopics Hollywood had on the drawing board on 10/9/2001), which would not get the green light these days? My hypothesis is that, on September 10, Middle America saw the British Empire as evil colonial oppressors; after September 11, the British Empire became a projection of contemporary America/McWorld, a force for good through superior firepower; sort of the way that the Star Trek Federation was. Discuss.)

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I finally got around to seeing Kill Bill part 1 tonight. My thoughts:

  • It was spectacularly violent, as one would expect from Tarantino, The violence had an over-the-top quality about it, much like a Road Runner cartoon, only with blood everywhere. The blood flowed like water from a burst main, and I was expecting pretty much anybody who entered the screen to transition from person to blood-sack. The violence was quite stylishly done, often in the form of exquisitely choreographed martial-arts sequences, whose machinelike neatness would only be tempered by the spurting geysers of red, red krovvy that inevitably ensued.
  • It was also extremely stylised. The sets and costumes, the props (the Pussy Wagon, for example), the colours (the use of bright yellow, for example), the editing (there was a transition from colour to black and white in the middle which could only have been as a hip reference to a genre of martial-arts films), and of course Tarantino's trademarked banter.
  • Parts of it, of course, beggared plausibility; from Thurman's character having made a full recovery in the first place to the rather sporting one-at-a-time martial-arts sequences, where thugs would take turns to attack and be dispatched by our heroine, and would carry out elaborate little dances to themselves as they waited for their turn.
  • The incidental music was great; very atmospheric. I wonder how much of that was done by RZA and how much was borrowed from old film scores (as Tarantino admitted to doing).
  • The overall impression I got was of extreme coolness; not cool in the subjective this-is-good sense but coolness as an attitude, an objective stylistic feature: dry, wry, too-hip-to-care, and yet with layers of references and even more layers of callow, almost nihilistic ironic detachment.

All in all, I rather enjoyed it. Not the best film I'd ever seen, but a lot better than the overly long and laboured affair that was Jackie Brown.

(Talking point: Kill Bill is to hipsters what The Crow was to goths. Discuss.)

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Film critic Lawrie Zion on the malaise afflicting recent Australian film; in particular, about recent films sticking to the theme of true-blue-dinky-di-Aussie-battlers vs. the evil forces of change:

What makes the recent Australian crop distinctive, however, is the way that even relatively sophisticated fare such as The Bank resorts to a one-dimensional character when it brings on its American villain. Accordingly, Anthony La Paglia, who gave us such a refreshingly understated performance in Lantana (2001), is reduced to a cardboard cut-out portrayal of slimy greed in The Bank. By contrast, the key American character in The Dish, played by Patrick Warburton, is given a chance to establish himself as a fully developed character, which not only provides the film with a less blinkered view of national "types", but also allows its "culture clash" moment to become something more interesting than a showdown between good and evil.
More troubling, still, with films such as Take Away is the way that Australians themselves are portrayed on the screen as naive and dim survivors of a laconic but cloistered culture that simply can't deal with change (though some might argue that this is a very accurate description of Australia in 2003).

Underdog motif or not, I can't recall having seen a recent Australian film where the characters weren't one-dimensional caricatures. More often than not, the actors (some of whom are footballers, comedians or both) ham up their performance, exaggerating the characters. Sometimes you even see them mugging at the camera after letting loose what they think is a devastatingly witty one-liner, as if giving the drongos in the audience the cue to laugh. It seems like so many Australian films are the bastard offspring of Hey Dad and the 10BA tax dodge.

Even in films which do not descend to this nadir, the film is usually slathered in Miracle Ingredient A, using its Australianness to sell an otherwise conventional story and one-dimensional characterisation to audiences looking for an alternative, however shoddy, to the McWorld monoculture from Hollywood. (Which is not unlike the plot of a recent Australian comedy, in fact, but I digress.) They don't see the films for quality, except in the "see, our sets/cinematography/special effects can be every bit as technically slick as American movies" sense, but for Australianness.

Which makes me wonder why Australia doesn't produce filmmakers like Canada (which gave us Vincenzo "Cypher" Natali and David Cronenberg) or Britain (too many to name). Surely it can't be a lack of talent. Perhaps the local market just doesn't encourage such innovation at anything above the Tropfest level?

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This evening, I went to see Cypher, the recent film from Canadian director Vincenzo Natali (who also did Cube). The story was standard noir spy-thriller fare, with deceptions, double-crosses and deeper games, only set in the world of high-tech corporate espionage. The sets and visuals were starkly spectacular; while it was set across a much wider world than Cube, it had a similar feel. There were lots of greys, washed-out colours, and backlit sets, and a good number of sci-fi props for good measure. (Though some parts of it -- the helicopter, for one -- look a bit too obviously computer generated.) Parts of it (the conference sequence in particular, with its juxtaposition of the workaday and fantastic) recalled the work of another edgy Canadian director, David Cronenberg.

With the title and high-tech setting, there will be inevitable comparisons to the Matrix films. The key difference (other than the budget) is that Cypher is a more psychological film; whereas the Matrix' characters move like characters in a Greek drama, motivated to illustrate philosophical points and give the audience a high-tech thrill ride, the protagonist of Cypher seems to be more of a complete human being, though one apparently out of his depth in a claustrophobic nightmare world, which makes it more compelling.

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I just came back from seeing Interstella 5555, and it rocked. It's a collaboration between more-interesting-than-most French vocoder-house outfit Daft Punk and an anime studio, and is essentially an animated feature whose soundtrack is the entire last Daft Punk album, with a few minor edits. The story involves an ancient villain turned pop-music svengali abducting the Biggest Rock Band In The Galaxy from a concert on the Planet of the Smurfs and pressing them into work as a manufactured pop sensation on Earth. The imagery references a lot of classic anime (for example, the spaceship control room and spacesuit designs borrow from 1970s anime series Battle of the Planets, and that's not to mention the shape-shifting spaceship); most of the characters are drawn fairly naturalistically, except for the band's drummer who is a goofy, smurf-like munchkin. Anyway, hopefully this will end up on DVD; it certainly made me see Daft Punk in a new light.

(The feature which came before it was Kaidohmaru, another anime set in feudal Japan. It didn't really grab me; also, the video seemed very washed out. I'm not sure whether this was a technical problem or some anime idiom alien to me.)

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Tonight I went to see Pure, a film by Gillies MacKinnon (who also did Glaswegian tenement kitchen-sinker Small Faces and Kate Winslet art-house romp Hideous Kinky) about a 10-year-old boy in gritty East London and his heroin-addicted mother. The film was somewhere between Ken Loach's kitchen-sink social realism (particularly films like Kes) and Trainspotting; it had a touch of the pop-cultural sensibility of the latter (in a few visual effects), but was somewhat less light (though unlike many kitchen-sink films, it didn't offer a scathing indictment of capitalism/contemporary British society). The acting was excellent, especially from Canadian actress Molly Parker (she was the necrophiliac in Kissed some years back) who played the mother, struggling with heroin addiction. Meanwhile, Australian actor David Wenham (of The Boys) played the slimy wide-boy drug dealer/pimp, and up-and-coming actress Keira Knightley (she's in some Disney formula flick or something) played a teenaged prostitute. The musical score was by Nitin Sawhney, and alternated between traditional film-score territory (neo-classical synth-strings and pianos) and jungle/drum-&-bass-inspired beats. Well worth a look, if it gets local release (quite possible, because of the local-boy factor).

It was interesting to contrast the gritty, working-class East London in Pure, with its housing estates, drug addiction, teenage prostitutes and the mass ritual of the football match, with the almost Thatcherite upwardly-mobile neighbourhoods just a little further west in The Mother which I saw on the weekend.

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Focus groups at advance screenings of Gigli, a new gangster-themed Hollywood Romantic Comedy have demanded a new ending, in which both Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez die "in as brutal a manner as possible". Sounds good to me...

"The danger here is succumbing to what people in the business call 'option paralysis'--being caught with so many good ideas that you're not sure which one to use," Brest said. "Getting shot is fine, but what about an automobile fire in which Ben and Jennifer are shown perishing in a slow-motion montage, their newfound love discarded as they try desperately to claw their way past each other's melting bodies, while slowly roasting to death in their own fat? You'd be surprised at how many people came up with that one. Or having them crawl through a field of broken glass while a safely booted and gloved Christopher Walken casually advances on them with a spray bottle of acid and a pair of bolt-cutters? I must say, a part of me loves the idea of them chewing each other to death during a 14-minute dolly shot."

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Tonight I saw Warp: Film For Music, a collection of music videos and short films set to music from infamous glitch label Warp (home of Aphex Twin, Autechre and such). It was a mixed bag; Chris Cunningham's videos were quite good (including the Squarepusher one set in a Japanese children's mental hospital and Aphex Twin's Come To Daddy)' the Autechre Gantz Graf one was oddly compelling, but some of the others were a bit formless. The fact that some of the video seemed a bit blurry and degraded, detracting from the quality of the animations, didn't help; then again, perhaps that was intentional and I'm just not open-minded enough to appreciate it. (Though perhaps the way the sound kept cutting out through one track (by Plaid, I think) was intentional also; if so, it was, in my naïvely conservative opinion, a bad artistic judgment.) The set finished with Aphex Twin's ghetto-fabulous Windowlicker video.

I wonder whether Chris Cunningham is still planning to make a film of Neuromancer. True, the story would seem to the uninitiated like a poor ripoff of The Matrix, but I'm sure it'd work on the arthouse circuit.

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I just saw Nói Albinói, an Icelandic film about a teenaged boy growing up in a small town at the foot of a mountain in rural Iceland. The story is the usual one about growing up as an outsider in any other small town, with the typical anxieties and alienation enhanced by the stark surroundings; the cold daylight, long twilights of winter and omnipresent Icelandic wood panelling adding a palpable feeling of claustrophobia and impending doom. Nói is of above-average intelligence and bored with school, and has an alcoholic Elvis-worshipping father, a thing for the new girl in town and dreams of escaping to a tropical island far away, anywhere away from the town. The film ends with an unexpected and cataclysmic climax, and there is a rather appropriately bleak Jonathan Richman song in the closing credits. I liked it; though it's not an uplifting sort of film. You could almost get seasonal affective disorder in the 90 or so minutes that it runs. Though if you coped with the last few Radiohead albums, you should be fine.

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The final film I saw today was Morvern Callar. This film was stylistically in the tradition of recent drug-culture films like Trainspotting and Human Traffic, in that it was primarily focussed on the subjective experiences of its protagonist, a Scottish checkout chick whose oversensitive record-collector boyfriend kills himself, leaving behind a mix tape (containing Stereolab, Broadcast, Lee Hazlewood and the Velvet Underground), money for his funeral and the manuscript of his unpublished novel. She covers up his death, sends the manuscript to a publisher under her own name, and uses the funeral money to go on a holiday in Spain with her best friend (the very cute Kathleen McDermott) and, of course, the mix tape. It's not a very complex plot; though the point of the film is in the rollercoaster of emotions she experiences. It was OK, though it's probably the sort of thing you have to be in the mood to get into (read: watch this on DVD at home with certain substances).

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The second film I saw today was The Mother, a film about the busy lives and overcomplicated relationships of various loud, brash London yuppies, and their elderly parents and boisterous, squalling children. The script was by Hanif Kureishi, so unsurprisingly the theme was one of seduction and adultery; in particular, of a triangle between a woman in her 30s/40s, the married chancer who's her boyfriend, and her elderly, recently widowed mother. In contrast to the grey corridors and introspective stoicism of the previous film, the sets were all modern convenience and designer furniture, and the characters spent a fair bit of time shouting at each other. One got the feeling that, for them to be more neurotic, they'd have to be from New York.

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The first film I saw today was Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself, a Danish/Scottish co-production. This was a black comedy/drama of sorts about a chronically suicidal man who helps run a second-hand bookshop in Glasgow with his overly indulging brother. Oh, and various women (including a slightly dippy nurse at the hospital where he goes for counselling) find him irresistible. The film has a dry, deadpan humour about it, maintaining it among the grim circumstances (other than suicide attempts, the story includes terminal illness and tragic death), and yet while there is emotion, the film keeps on, with a combination of Scottish stoicism and the Scandinavian aesthetic; you can't help but feel that, were Hollywood money involved, it would have been smothered in shmaltzy sentimentality, hamfistedly grabbing for the audiences heartstrings to manipulate them to tears, though since there isn't, there's none of that there.

The visual side of things was quite beautiful, with good use of that cold Northern sunlight, and lots of blues and greys; the cinematographers made good use of the Glaswegian locale. The soundtrack (by Danish composer Joachim Holbek) was also quite good, reminiscent in places of Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson's score to Englar Alheimsins, a film with which Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself shared more than a few similarities. Hopefully Wilbur won't disappear without a trace as Englar did (despite Fat Cat releasing its soundtrack, probably due to the Sigur Rós songs on it) once its film festival run finishes, as it's really worth seeing.

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Tonight I saw Demonlover, a French film, starring Connie Nielsen and Chloe Sevigny and featuring a soundtrack by Sonic Youth, and found it disappointing. It is ostensibly a noir thriller about companies battling for control of the Internet porn industry; a formula which could lend itself to a strong film, though which was let down by this particular treatment, namely, the incoherency of the plot. I came away with the feeling that the filmmakers tried to cram so much in (hentai anime, illegal torture porn sites, blackmail, Tarantinoesque gunplay, car chases, not to mention pointless erotic trysts between characters that, were they in an American film, would have been made with has-been actors for the direct-to-video market) that they ended up literally losing the plot, coming out with a sequence of events happening with little in the way of causation. The final scene (in which a generic American teenager does his homework while his computer screen shows images of a woman about to be tortured for his entertainment far away) was a nice touch, though it was robbed of its power by the lack of coherency preceding it. Besides which, Cronenberg did the whole torture-for-gratification angle much better 20 years earlier with Videodrome.

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I saw Live Forever this afternoon. This is a recent documentary from the BBC about the rise and fall of the Britpop scene in the 1990s; it starts off with the bleak, homogenised days of Thatcherism, and the non-starter that was the Stone Roses' Spike Island gig, goes on to cover contributions from Blur, Oasis and Pulp, Tony Blair's attempt to appropriate Britpop (with some success; and no little irony, given that Britpop arose partly as a reaction to American cultural supremacy in McWorld), and dates Britpop's death at about the time Diana died, ushering everybody into the saccharine embrace of Robbie Williams and S Club 7. (And so, the cycle repeats itself.)

Live Forever features footage of gigs, fragments of music videos (some of which were quite clever), and a lot of interview footage. Damon Albarn (dressed in workman's overalls in a grungy pub) comes across as protesting a bit too much, Liam Gallagher comes across as an idiot, Noel Gallagher's somewhat more savvy though a bit egotistical, and Jarvis Cocker (in his glasses and velvet suit) seems like quite a clever guy. Then there's Louise Wener from Sleeper (who comes across as quite intelligent), Robert "3D" Del Naja of Massive Attack (interviewed at the beginning, middle and end of the movement of which they weren't a part, with their music dubbed over footage of driving at night), James Brown (of lad mag Loaded), Damien Hirst (filmed reclining on a Union Jack bedspread!), John Savage, and Wonderwall, the Oasis cover band, seen overdoing the laddism with pints and fags all round.

If you missed this documentary, it's playing again (I think it's next weekend). I strongly recommend seeing it.

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This evening, I saw Breath Control: the History of the Human Beatbox. This is a documentary about the art of beatboxing, i.e., using one's mouth to make sounds like those of a drum machine (or other instruments). Beatboxing was a key part of hip-hop culture in its early days on the streets of New York, when performers would add beats (to their or other rappers' vocals or between records played by a DJ), and was brought to the public's attention by old-skool artists such as the Fat Boys and Doug E. Fresh; then it went out of fashion as everybody got samplers and stopped relying on beatboxing. Beatboxing is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance, as a new generation of performers take it beyond the old paradigms of emulating a drum machine, simulating everything from turntables to video games to entire pieces of backing music (at one point in the documentary, one artist plays Salt & Pepa's Push It on a turntable, stops it, takes over the music with his mouth, and then seamlessly restarts it some 16 or so bars later).

It was a pretty interesting documentary: highlights included Congolese-born European artist Marie Dulne (of Zap Mama)'s explanation of the rhythmic characteristics of various languages, from French to African languages to American English, and a rather amusing scene with a music journalist/beatboxer type speaking in his room, with a wall full of vinyl records and an entire shelf of designer sneakers behind him, and of course lots of footage of performances, from street jams in the 1970s to the present day. And then there was the white guy who got into beatboxing from imitating the Smashing Pumpkins' drums, and not via the hip-hop scene; which is living proof that the technique transcends any one subculture. (In fact I'm surprised that it's considered so esoteric; you'd think that hashing out sounds vocally would be as common as singing in the shower.)

The image quality was iffy in places (some of the footage was obviously recorded on consumer-grade video equipment years ago, and looked quite blurry), but that was offset by some very impressive performances; at one stage, the audience broke out in applause for a second or so.

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The Melbourne International Film Festival is upon us yet again, and I'll be going to see rather a lot of films over the next few weeks. This evening I went to see Contraptions, a double session of short films, featuring the new Wallace & Gromit Cracking Contraptions shorts and Bruce Petty's ABC-funded Human Contraptions animations. The Bruce Petty shorts were a bit disappointing; it wasn't the content that was the problem (they had some insights about the world we live in), but the waffly, semi-incoherent way it was delivered, full of non-sequiturs, gross factual errors (probably made deliberately out of a spirit of irreverence or "larrikinism" or something) and annoyingly insipid technobabble (the gimmick was that everything from sex to politics was described as a vaguely Rube Goldbergesque machine; this consisted of tacking on the words "module" and "unit" to various things). I'm half wondering whether the vacuousness was required in the ABC's impartiality contract as a condition of giving Petty (a known Communist of the old school) this series and/or fending off reprisals from Senator Alston's Inquisition.

The Wallace & Gromit shorts were a lot better, IMHO. Alas, I missed the first few, as the queue at the ticket pick-up office didn't move for a very long time. I managed to get a free ticket to another film for my trouble though.

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German director Thomas Tykwer (of Run Lola Run fame) is apparently working on a film adaptation of The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov's magic-realist novel about the Devil visiting Leninist Russia, written at the height of the Stalinist purges. The Devil (aka Mr. Woland) will be played by Johnny Depp, and filming will take place in Prague (where else?). This should be interesting. (via Reenhead)

(Thankfully Hollywood didn't get it; with the way they massacred Lem's Solaris, it's obvious that the Hollywood script-doctor/focus-group/computer-aided-character-development methodology doesn't go well with serious eastern-European literature.)

(There have been other adaptations of this work; there was an Italian version, made in the 1970s, which gutted it and turned it into a fairly average sensual love story, and a Polish TV mini-series made sometime in the 1980s, which was apparently very faithful to the original and quite good. It'll be interesting what Tykwer makes of it.)

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I got around to seeing the new Matrix film tonight. Village City Centre has been showing it every day on the hour for the past few weeks in all their cinemas; the session I was in had about a dozen people.

So what did I think? The effects were very slick, in a TV-commercial sort of way (the sheer amount of work that doing all that must have involved is mind-boggling), and the philosophy wasn't completely gutted (as some commentators said it was). In places it seemed to go randomly from one impressive set/stunt sequence/effect to another, using the fact that it's-all-in-a-computer as a massive deus ex machina to get away with it, and parts of it seemed unclear, but it will hopefully be tied up neatly in film 3 (due out in a mere few months, undoubtedly to suit the MTV Generation's attention spans). The story also knocked down Keanu Reeves' messianic status a bit, which was a good thing (though his acting still has that plastic-action-figure quality about it). The soundtrack was mostly incidental music and the odd Juno Reactor psy-trance bit. The surfeit of extreme-sports-metal/fucked-up shit on the soundtrack had me worried for a while that they'd mook things up, but thankfully all that was pushed back to the closing credits.

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I've just heard that the ABC is showing In the Realm of the Hackers, a local documentary about two hackers/crackers from late-1980s Melbourne, their exploits and the law's pursuit of them, tomorrow (Thursday) night at 10PM. I saw this in the cinema earlier this year, and can recommend it.

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Tonight I went to see Spider, David Cronenberg's most recent film, about a mentally ill man recently released from decades in an asylum, finding himself near his childhood home and coming to terms with old memories, and whether or not his father murdered his mother. The main character, Ralph Fiennes, plays an almost silent role, mumbling incoherently to himself, scrawling illegibly in a notebook, skulking about and performing various seemingly irrational actions; soon the film shows him literally visiting the scenes of his childhood (as they are in his mind), invisibly lurking in the background as the dramas play themselves out; the film all falls together in the end, with his quirks all taking on new meanings. The film is set in the bleak working-class London of kitchen-sink films (the photography and sets emphasise the coldness and bleakness very well; the traditional English wallpaper is just one of the details), only rather than literal-minded socialist-realist homily we get a more internal, psychological film. This film is a break from Cronenberg's usual plastic sex-horror, having virtually no special effects in the traditional sense (unless one counts clever quirks of casting).

I'd recommend it. Probably not an ideal date movie, or the thing to see if you're suicidally depressed, but it's a very good portrayal of mental illness. (It'd probably be on my list of Best Schizophrenia Films of All Time, alongside Angels of the Universe.)

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This evening, I went to see The Pianist. It's a great film; starkly realistic and profoundly moving (the acts of bestial sadism committed by the Nazi troops, for one); it's one thing reading about these things, and another seeing them in front of you. The sets, effects and photography were also very good, and the acting was superb. Highly recommended.

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The Age has a piece about 24 Hour Party People, the film about Factory Records which opens next week. It's interesting to note that Morrissey was meant to be a character in it but declined permission to be represented in the film.

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While computer-generated actors have yet to be widely adopted in Hollywood, computer-generated characters are already the norm in many formula flicks, thanks to screenplay-writing software that designs stories and enforces tried-and-tested rules of character development.

Now, how about a new form? The box promises it will "find a story form that matches questions you've already answered." (Translation: a whole new screenplay at one click of a mouse.) I wind up with story form #25,192, in which all the characters have new goals, new motives - essentially new lives. According to #25,192, Joycelyn (Dodson, rest in peace) has a new flaw: hope. Whoa! Hope is a flaw?

(via Techdirt)

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Steven Spielberg, undisputed master of cloying, all-American sentimentalism, now plans to bring the major-label hip-hop aesthetic to filmmaking, with "film sampling". Spielberg's Dreamworks plan to create a film by taking bits of footage from older films and digitally inserting Mike Myers into it. Which sounds like it could be every bit as good as Puff Daddy's last few hits.

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I just saw Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine. (I had intended to see it whilst in London in November, but ran out of time.) It's an interesting film, looking at gun culture and violent crime in America; its thesis is an interesting one: that the problem is not so much a result of Americans having guns (Canada is full of guns but has a much lower murder rate) or a violent history (Germany, Japan, England, &c. do as well) but one of America living in a culture of fear, division and paranoia; with news reports constantly highlighting violent crime (because that's where the ratings are), a culture of mutual suspicion, and a near-criminalisation of poverty. (The differences between the US and Canada are particularly telling.) In short: guns don't kill people, memes do.

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An interesting piece from a materials journal about the weapons and armour in the Lord of the Rings film, and how they were made. The attention to detail sounds nothing short of stupendous. (via bOING bOING)

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They do things differently in the Netherlands; for instance, a Dutch public TV station recently produced a film about a dying teenager who has a webcam installed in her coffin after she dies.

When one of the teenagers dies, the survivors must decide whether to fulfill their high-tech pledge and if so, how. One stipulation moves the story into the gothic realm of Edgar Allan Poe. The coffin is to contain a heating element that will speed or reduce the body's rate of decomposition. The temperature will then be controlled by online visitors, who can adjust an interactive thermostat on the tell-tale Web site.

The film, titled Necrocam, can apparently be viewed on its web site. (via bOING bOING)

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Surprise, surprise: after September 11, a number of Hollywood films which had been made were shelved as unpatriotic. These films included those which projected negative images of the US military.

And then there were not one but two Che Guevara biopics planned, one starring Antonio Banderas. On September 10, 2001, with Communism having all but collapsed as a threat, it was safe to pander to baby-boomers' '60s radical nostalgia by rehabilitating one of the (now safely commodified) icons of their wild youth. Then the planes hit, and the projects got scrapped to make room for Jerry Bruckheimer patriotic thrillers and safely escapist fantasy flicks.

(The identity of heroes/villains in films can be telling; for example, there's Four Feathers, which glorifies the British Empire (which can be seen as a rather prestigious model to proponents of a a global American empire) and its doings in the Middle East, only a few years after pre-9/11 film The Patriot painted the British as the original Nazis (somewhat slanderously, apparently). I wonder whether we'll see any metaphorical films about straight-dealing, heroic apple-pie Romans (played by Ben Affleck or Brendan Fraser) doing battle with treacherous, Taliban-like Visigoths.)

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Aardman Animations have created 10 new Wallace & Gromit shorts, titled Cracking Contraptions. As you can imagine, expect zany inventions and general garden-shed/teacozy Englishness all round. And the first one, Soccamatic can be downloaded from the BBC. (It's Quicktime, and not some poxy DRM format either.)

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Tonight I went to the cinema to see Insomnia. It was quite good; perhaps not as innovative as Memento, but still quite interesting. Robin Williams, in his calm, cheerful demeanour, makes a chillingly plausible psychopath, and the script kept things uncertain until the end. And the cinematography and scenery was beautiful; lots of blues, greens and greys, sweeping landscapes and water/frost effects. It reminded me perhaps a little of early X Files episodes, perhaps because it was also filmed in British Columbia.

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I finally went to see Ghost World. I enjoyed it; it's a good film about outsiderhood and alienation in the (post)modern world. The main character, Enid, is sort of the anti-Amélie; an over-intellectual, sarcastic (almost to the point of misanthropy) 18-year-old girl, who has just graduated from high school, and hides her existential insecurity beneath an armour of defensive irony and sarcasm. Like Audrey Tautou's character, she is also a misfit, an outsider, not belonging with the people around her; though she's not particularly nice. The film had a subtly cartoonish air about it, populated with caricatures; the main characters, however, are quite realistic and complex; the portrayal of Enid, for example, balances irony and sincerity quite well.

(Oh yes, and they have the addition of Seymour the record collector, who wasn't in the graphic novel (or at least didn't have a name); fortunately, his interaction with Enid isn't the usual cloying romantic-comedy fare about kindred spirits finding each other and love conquering all and all that Working Title/Miramax schmaltz. They didn't make a High Fidelity out of it, thankfully.)

I usually only go to see films with other people; though this time I'm glad I saw Ghost World alone; this is the sort of film whose effect would be spoiled by seeing it in a group as part of a social activity.

I'll probably get this on DVD when it comes out.

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I finally got around to seeing Waking Life last night. It was quite interesting; it started off as a number of animated people talking about reality, free will, identity and the like, but evolved beyond that, going into lucid dreaming and false awakenings, and even the question of what happens after death. And the visuals were quite effective; the film was animated (apparently drawn over video footage), and the animation varied in styles quite effectively. I'll probably have to see it again (perhaps when it comes out on DVD).

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Well, tonight I saw 24 Hour Party People. It was quite good; perhaps a bit too cleverly self-referential for its own good in places (with all of "Tony Wilson"'s asides to the audience, for example, and the scene with the real Howard Devoto in the bathroom), though that's forgivable. Some good scenes there, though not as much Joy Division/New Order as I expected, and a bit too much focus on the Happy Mondays. Still, I'd recommend it to anyone who's into New Order or Joy Division, or who grew up listening to punk, new wave or Madchester baggycore. If that kind of thing means nothing to you, you probably won't get much out of this film though.

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I saw three films today. First up was an amusing English short titled Knit Your Own Karma. This would best be described as Wallace & Gromit meet Brazil, or perhaps something by Jeunet and Caro. It's set in a world of English terrace houses that will be familiar to Aardman fans, only with a slightly dystopian twist, and a good dose of fantasy. Then was an amusing German comedy titled Mein Bruder Der Vampir (aka "Getting My Brother Laid"), about a 30-year-old retarded man who falls in love with his brother's girlfriend (despite being completely inept in that area of human relations), and his 14-year-old sister who develops a crush on a gang leader. As you can imagine, lots of awkwardness ensues. The feel of this film was modern and slick, with sharp editing (and good use of split-screens and camera tracking through walls) and an electronic soundtrack.

After that I saw Peter Weir's 1974 classic The Cars That Ate Paris. For those who haven't seen it, it's about a young man who has a car accident and ends up in a NSW country town where everything seems to be connected to car accidents. The town has that sort of picturesquely rustic look of small Australian country towns, yet with a sense of being a little too isolated. Before long, it emerges that there's something oppressive and creepy going on (insert the usual clichés about the miasma of horror and decay lurking beneath the placid surface here). Bizarre medical experiments, gangs of young rural hooligans in gaudily painted cars and a somewhat creepy mayor all appear, as does a classic country-town ball scene, with some genuinely bad musical accompaniment. All in all, The Cars That Ate Paris is a classic, and should be classed alongside the works of Cronenberg and Lynch and perhaps Peter Jackson's early works.

Anyway, got to rush off now to see 24 Hour Party People.

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Film Festival: Tonight I went to see a Japanese film titled Suicide Club. It was quite bizarre; starting off with the surreal spectacle of 54 uniformed schoolgirls jumping in front of a train in an inexplicable mass suicide. Then it gets more bizarre; more suicides follow, some copycat attempts by impressionable teenagers, and some not. Along the way there are computer bulletin board poseurs, a gang of murderous teenage glam rockers, rolls of strips of human skin, and the phenomenon of a sugar-coated all-girl pop group, who can't possibly be connected to the mass suicides.. or can they?

(The director, a Japanese performance poet and former gay porn director, showed up at the screening and introduced the film, speaking through an interpreter. When it was released in Japan, he said, it came under close police scrutiny, presumably because of its dangerous subject matter.)

Anyway, I rather enjoyed it.

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Terry Gilliam's Unresolved Projects, part of Dreams: the Terry Gilliam fanzine. It looks like Good Omens is indefinitely on hold. And pity that he's not going to do the Fungus the Bogeyman film, as that would have rocked.

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Film Festival: This afternoon, I went along to the screening of a collection of animations by the Brothers Quay. The brothers, for those not in the know, are reclusive American-born identical twins based in England, and known for their surreal animations, which are rather inspired by eastern European animators (such as Jan Svankmajer). A lot of their material is done on commission (including music videos and a MTV station ID), but is no less bizarre for that.

The screening had a number of short films, mostly made with models, puppets and such. Two of the animations (starring a stuffed toy rabbit and a vaguely monstrous little-girl mannequin) were videos for His Name Is Alive; they certainly had the 4AD look down pat, looking like the cinematic equivalent of v23's cover artwork. One was set to a piece by Karlheinz Stockhausen (whose atonal music matched the incomprehensibilist aesthetics of the brothers), and was about a woman in a mental hospital writing letters, never delivered, to her husband (or so I discovered at the end). Another was an exploration of anamorphism in painting, and was surprisingly comprehensible.

Which brings me to a point. At the risk of sounding like an uncultured philistine, I must say that I didn't enjoy the animations as much as I was hoping, because I found much of the stories pointless and incomprehensible. (In one, a homunculus is wobbling a ladder inside a vaguely Escheresque wooden structure. It droops, its hands become detached and start zooming the ladder back and forth along the landscape. Not once is the ladder used for anything other than moving around; one gets the feeling that either escape from or exploration of the structure would be futile because everything is ultimately meaningless in the Quays' worlds.) Though, I suppose it's an acquired taste, and connoiseurship makes anything interesting. Perhaps I should have read up on them beforehand.

I also bought a ticket for the Jeunet and Caro shorts coming up later in the festival. They should be good.

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Last night, I went to the Melbourne International Film Festival screening of a rather strange film titled Every Day God Kisses Us On The Mouth. It's from Romania, shot in black and white and rather bleak. It's about a man coming home after many years in prison; then bad things happen, he travels around rootlessly, and ends up killing more people. I get the feeling that, had Nick Cave come from the Balkans, he could well have come up with stories like this.

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Blah. I seem to have come down with a bug of some sort; I spent much of the day lying in bed feeling like death warmed over. Not at all fun.

Anyway, seeing how I wasn't going anywhere, I dragged myself down to the local video library and rented Enigma. Not a bad film; it seemed rather faithful to the Bletchley Park story, and didn't butcher or simplify things for the sake of mass-market appeal; and the settings and incidental music were quite apt too.

(aside: Isn't there now a cryptographic museum at Bletchley Park? And how does one get there from London?)

The DVD came with a bunch of interviews and the like, which were the usual fare; interesting to note how many times Saffron Burrows (who was a committed Marxist) uses the word "class" in hers.

(Tangent: is it officially Sir Mick Jagger or Sir Michael Jagger? And I wonder who will be first to get a knighthood in a few decades' time: Damon Albarn or Liam or Noel Gallagher.)

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FALCO! British film production outfit FilmFour is being shut down. Having been responsible for films such as Trainspotting and My Beautiful Laundrette, FilmFour was the premier maker of edgy, intelligent British films. Now the British film industry looks likely to be mostly Working Title/Miramax feel-good pap, insipidly bourgeois Merchant/Ivory costume dramas and formulaic Hollywood blockbusters.

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Looks like there are plans for a Lemony Snicket movie. Paramount's kids' unit Nickelodeon are planning to make one, with Daniel "Lemony Snicket" Handler writing the script. Though the article suggests that the studio suits may force a happy ending onto it (you know, the standard Hollywood character development arc: characters are plunged into dire peril, find inner strength, and ultimately overcome); meanwhile, Handler is already planning merchandising tie-ins like unwinnable board games.

I hope they get Stephin Merritt to do the soundtrack, given how good a job he did with the book-on-tape version. Though they may just do the obvious thing and get Danny Elfman to do one of his spooky-fairytale scores. (via bOING bOING)

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The laughing stock of the cultural world: After Howard's morality police banned Baise-Moi, various agencies, from Melbourne's Lumiere cinema and the film's distributor to the premier of New South Wales, have announced their intention to challenge the ban. However, as the ban was the result of a final appeal, there is believed to be no legal means for overturning it, unless they decide to take it to the High Court or something like that, so it's exceedingly unlikely that the film will be legally seen in Australia for the next few decades; or until its anachronisms and quaintly two-dimensional format makes it a harmless curiosity piece.

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Protecting Our Values: After pressure from the paternalist Liberal Government, Australia's film censors have banned Baise-Moi, overturning the R rating previously granted. More than 50,000 people have seen the film while it was legal; the ban is believed to be the work of a board stacked with religious conservatives and political appointees, and advice is being taken on how to challenge it.

(Wonder what they'll do next; how about bringing back the ban on the importation of electric guitars, just like in the hallowed Menzies Era, in case this rock'n'roll thing corrupts the morals of our youth.)

I saw Baise-Moi last week. I'm still not sure whether it's a work raising serious questions or an adolescent tantrum of sensationalist violence (more likely, it's somewhere in between; the question is whether the crux of its difference from all the by-the-numbers post-Tarantino films is in its message or in the fact that they have actual sex in it). I don't think it should be banned though.

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Some things I'd like to see on DVD (though probably won't):

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Read: The curse of coffee-table cinema, or how thanks to Disney's Miramax unit, much of "art-house" cinema is now formulaic, content-free soft-focus schmaltz designed to flatter viewers' sense of culture in a mindless sort of way.

Miramax has given the world a host of cliches about European culture - naughty French priests, macho Greeks, hoity-toity Englishmen, zany Italians - and has reduced human complexity to a bunch of hopeless stereotypes bursting with sentiment.

(See also: Working Title, Merchant Ivory) (via FmH)

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The Sydney Morning Herald was giving away DVDs of the Tropfest competitors, with a coupon in today's edition. Unfortunately, the offer was open only to residents of NSW and ACT. AFAIK, there is no way for Melburnians to get a copy, short of bribing someone in Sydney; even though a Victorian filmmaker looks likely to win the grand prize.

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I went to the Tropfest short film festival on Sunday afternoon/evening; they had the Melbourne screening outdoors at Yarra Park, on a big portable video screen (with big chunky pixels). The main event was in Sydney, but there was a secondary event in Melbourne, via satellite; buth cities got their own compéres and live entertainment. (Melbourne had some live funk/groove/chill-out band I didn't see and a DJ who played upbeat reggae (in daylight) and house (after dark); all rather Chapel St., or south-of-the-Yarra at least.)

Ah yes; the films. 16 in total, and a bit of a mixed bag. Boomerang, I Can't Get Started and Wilfred were amusing, as was Lamb (in a bittersweet kind of way). (The last two ran back to back, which was thematically rather apt.) Late Night Shopper (of no relation to the Scottish slacker comedy) was a nicely tense piece of Tarantinoesque violence set in a supermarket; Murbah Swamp Beer was a lighthearted documentary about the consequences of a semitrailer full of beer crashing into a river on a long weekend, with plenty of interviews with the locals. The Thing in the Roof was competently suspenseful, a sort of minimalist horror piece, F.A., a mock public-service announcement on the addictive consequences of filmmaking, was quite amusing, and How Am I Driving was a stylishly shot critique of materialism. Oh yes, and the Tropfest trailer (done by last year's winner) was quite well done, even if it pushed the bootywhang angle a bit too hard.

On the down side, The Flying Nut did look like it had been done in a weekend in Flash (as it had been), and was (IMHO) rather feeble, both technically and conceptually. (It was meant to be a short humorous piece based on the wannabe terrorist who tried to set his shoe on fire onboard an airliner.) Matchbox (the one with the guy in a match suit looking for the girl in a matchbox suit only to find her having run off with a guy dressed as a cigarette lighter) seemed like Comedy Company-grade material, and Tragic Love also seemed a bit weak, relying on celebrity impressions as the main joke (though one thing I noticed about it was the dig at Australia's least favourite Scientologist; I wonder whether a film made somewhere where his ex-wife didn't come from would portray Tom Cruise in such an unflattering light).

Also, I wonder whether anyone from main sponsor Intel will have a stern word with the compére for thanking "the Mac operator" in the crew towards the end.

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Great comebacks of our time: German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, best known for her work on Nazi propaganda films in the 1930s, is ending a 48-year hiatus with the release of a new documentary, about underwater life. The film, Impressionen under Wasser, was filmed around Papua New Guinea, and features a score by eurodisco pioneer Giorgio Moroder (best known for all those fabulous Donna Summer songs).

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Was one of the actors in a recently acclaimed Iranian film about oppression in Afghanistan a fugitive assassin, wanted for murdering an Iranian dissident in 1980? US officials insist that he is.

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A documentary titled The American Nightmare looks at how 70s/80s cult and horror filmmakers were influenced by the upheavals of the era:

George A. Romero, it turns out, got the idea for 1968's ``Night of the Living Dead'' from the civil rights movement. Wes Craven (``Last House on the Left,'' 1972) and John Carpenter (``Halloween,'' 1978) were traumatized by the carnage they saw on TV of the Vietnam War, while Tom Savini, who worked as a makeup artist on many of these films, learned his trade as an actual army photographer in Vietnam. Tobe Hooper was shocked by the violence of consumer behavior in response to the oil shock, and came up with ``The Texas Chain Saw Massacre'' (1974) after experiencing an epiphany during a sale at Sears (``It was so crowded and I just had to get out, and suddenly I saw this chain saw''). David Cronenberg (``Shivers,'' 1975) and John Landis (``An American Werewolf in London,'' 1981) were spooked by the sexual revolution.

Judging by that, the morass the world is stumbling into should lead to some interestingly edgy cinema. So much for the prophesied New Norman Rockwell Era... (via a certain mailing list)

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Personal: Today I went down to Synæsthesia and picked up the Angels of the Universe soundtrack, by Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson and Sigur Rós, and have been listening to it. It is beautiful; very evocative and atmospheric. I'll probably write it up for RAN soonish. (I also picked up a copy of the Models' early recording compilation, Melbourne, which I won from 3RRR, who were giving it away. It's the first time I have won anything from 3RRR.)

I also went to Babble (the spoken-word night) again this evening; they had some kind of special night where they had people who weren't regulars speaking, and a lot of iffy pieces. There was the woman who read out a short greeting-card-grade poem about being loved (or something like that), prefacing it with a 2-minute, rambling autobiography, and then appending an autobiographical anecdote which had nothing to do with the poem as such. And the poem itself was pretty trite, with the most obvious and banal rhymes; though it wasn't quite as bad as the proud-to-die-for-my-country doggerel in the letters page of mX today; perhaps the author of the latter should be made a News Corp. poet in residence? (Rupert Murdoch as patron of the arts: now there's a scary thought.)

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Following on the success of Working Title romcom Bridget Jones' Diary, Disney's Miramax unit has bought the rights to Kate Reddy, an investment banker and mother created for a Daily Telegraph column. Can Not So Soft: the movie be that far away?

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Film Festival: Tonight I went to see a film named 101 Reykjavik; it was from Iceland (naturally), and about a shiftless, socially inept twentysomething slacker in Reykjavik who ends up getting his mother's lesbian lover (played by sultry Spanish actress Victoria Abril, who will be well known to Almodovar fans) pregnant. It was quite an enjoyable film; not quite as arty as Angels of the Universe, but quite amusing, and with some poetic moments and some breathtaking outdoor visuals (as may be expected in an Icelandic film). The dialogue was mostly in Icelandic (with subtitles) though partly in English, as Abril's character (being from Spain) didn't speak Icelandic (and, this film would suggest, many people in Iceland can understand and speak English). The music was by Damon Albarn and one of the former members of the Sugarcubes (that's the Ickle One's old band, of course), and featured some amusingly cheesy electronic takes on the Kinks' Lola.

After this, I saw Bells From The Deep, a Werner Herzog documentary about mysticism and the occult in a remote corner of Russia (near the Mongolian border). It included a lot of outré bits, including elderly people crawling around a sacred tree stump, tales of visions of hidden cathedrals and apparitions, and pilgrims crawling along thin ice to pay tribute to the fabled city of Kitezh, said to be hidden at the bottom of the lake (where the Mongol hordes couldn't sack it, of course), as well as footage of locals lining up to buy "consecrated water", a Jesus-lookalike in elaborately embroidered velvet robes spouting mystical mumbo-jumbo and blessing people, and Mongolian throat singing (including, very possibly, the same sample the KLF used on Chill Out, or maybe not).

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News from Cannes: Bolshy British kitchen-sink film director Ken Loach has spoken out against current British film, saying that it's too concerned with being Hollywoodish. He has a point; most of the films coming out of the UK are rather formulaic. I blame Working Title and the "Cool Britannia" thing. Meanwhile, critical reaction to Baz Luhrmann's latest opus, Moulin Rouge, has not been the nigh-universal acclaim the Australian press would have us believe, with some critics dismissing it as little more than a music video aimed at adolescents. I guess we'll have to wait to find out.

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Switzerland's long-held fairy-tale image has taken a beating in recent years; first they cop some flack for running off with Holocaust survivors' life savings and killing third-world babies to maximise profits, and now a new film has presented their national icon, the flaxen-haired orphan Heidi, as a blue-haired punk who steals fruit and dodges fares. As expected, the traditionalists are up in arms. (via Lev)

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Meanwhile in India, the censor's office is hiring detectives to make sure that unscrupulous cinema operators don't show films with banned sex scenes surreptitiously restored, exposing the unsuspecting public to horrific images of bootywhang.

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Australia's censors have given gruesome serial-killer movie Hannibal an MA rating, rather than a R. I suspect that the fact that it's full of violence and not sex may have had something to do with it. Though I wonder whether the Australian version hasn't had scenes silently removed, as has happened with a number of other films released here.

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A post-mortem at defunct Terry Gilliam project The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Pity that this film is dead in the water. (via Robot Wisdom)

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Who was Max Schreck? The actual identity of the Nosferatu actor whose name translates as "ultimate terror" is somewhat of a mystery, with some believing that he never existed, and the euphonious sobriquet was a pseudonym for another actor. Meanwhile, recent film Shadow of the Vampire capitalises on the mystery, suggesting that Schreck was an actual vampire.

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A roundup of films shown at Sundance. The Believer looks interesting, as does Enigma.

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A four-part interview with Terry Gilliam, in which he talks about his career, Monty Python and past, current and upcoming film projects (including Good Omens):

I think most shows now have so many people overseeing them that it's a problem. The whole process is much more aimed at making a "successful" show - whatever that is - and once you start thinking like that, you start limiting how you approach things.
I think America is one of the great conformist nations of the world - maybe the world leader when it comes to conformity. I still feel that.

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UK movie magazine Empire's web site are having a poll on what Alec Guinness' best film was. I was thinking: wouldn't it be cruel to forward this link to Slashdot, and watch as Star Wars wins with a 98% majority? But I'm not that much of a bastard, so I won't.

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Odd film concept: Michael Jackson to play Edgar Allan Poe in big-budget Hollywood film?

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