A long time ago, in a faraway galaxy, a world possessed exactly the same pronunciation snobbery as ours…
For those who live on another planet, and especially for those who wish they did, the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy based on the works of Tolkien has been recently complemented by a ‘prequel’ called The Hobbit. Most see the Lord of the Rings as a highlight in the sci-fi and fantasy genres of film and there are many reasons to agree.
One thing that might attract us to the genres resides in their unnerving contradiction. The more fantastical a movie attempts to be; the more accurately it portrays the social relations of our world. The converse also applies. Gritty TV dramas attempting to portray reality are often quite fantastical. If you want to understand America of the 1950s, watch The Forbidden Planet before you see Mr Ed the Talking Horse.
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Forget worthiness. The Oscars are as much about politics, payback and persuasion than talent and if there’s one town where money it talks, it’s Hollywood. So it’s worth looking at what the money has been saying in the last few weeks about the 84th Annual Academy Awards.
A controversial category as two of the contenders – A Cat in Paris and Chico & Rita - never managed major releases while Spielberg’s Adventures of Tin Tin featured eye-popping animation and didn’t win a nomination. I would have chosen Puss In Boots but the dark and highly referential Rango is the raging hot favourite. Great visuals but this animated version of Chinatown meets Clint Eastwood lacks any originality.
Ah Hollywood, you’ve blown it again. Winner: Rango.
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It’s a jungle in there -the cinema, I mean. If only going to the movie of your refined choice involved nothing more than buying a ticket, taking your chair and letting the good times roll.
No, the cinema is a volatile habitat where all kinds of wildlife are on the prowl to make your big-screen experience seem all the smaller.
We’ve all read the headlines: “A disastrous weekend at the box office as Australian films fail dismally”.
The idea we don’t like our own movies has become so prevalent it was the subject of a panel discussion at the recent Mumbrella360 conference.
Despite being an advertising nerd who’s never marketed a film in my life, I found myself sitting beside film-makers, an executive from Screen Australia, and a distributor, discussing the topic “What needs to be done to persuade Australian filmgoers to watch Australian films?”
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Imagine if the construction workers union, the CFMEU, issued a statement calling for Maoris and Islanders to be banned from working in the building industry. Or if the white-collar Australian Services Union demanded an end to all those pesky Indians stealing our jobs in IT.
They would be howled down as racist protectionists, accused of taking the nation back to the dark days of the White Australia Policy, offending the principles of inclusion and diversity by denying people from other countries a chance to settle and work here.
It might be 2011 but the actors and journalists’ union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, has this week launched a campaign which is the artistic equivalent of legislating to keep the kanaks off the canefields in the early 20th century.
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The great Australian actor Bill Hunter has died in a Melbourne hospice, aged 71. Hunter had inoperable cancer. Film studies teacher Richard Smith celebrates his life work and legacy.
A friend and I once had a joke about Bill Hunter: that he was the Gerard Depardieu of Australian Cinema. This meant that he was in everything and that he could do anything.
He did not seem to change much from one appearance to the next, but he seemed to be so naturally right for the roles: Think of the difference between his role in the BHP ads and his role as Bill Heslop in Muriel’s Wedding, one the voice of The Big Australian, the other the patriarch of little Australia.
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The queue of mature cinema-goers that snaked its way on Saturday night from the local art house cinema, and halfway out of the shopping complex that houses it, looked more like something you would expect at a summer rock festival than in the leafy private school belt.
(Here’s a cinema interview that the 40 plus types will like)
But people will queue - because in the 40+ market, the cinema seems to have triumphed. This particular venue has refined its product to the point where the mirrors in the bathroom don’t show anything below the bosom, and the lights Photoshop you in a flattering 40w - which is ideal for any middle-aged viewer as she mulls over what to select at the candy bar.
Not so long ago, the potential supremacy of the cinema as a leisure activity was undermined by the absence of alcohol. But this hurdle has now been overcome - with the double-edged result that you can experience the tension in your bladder rise in tandem with the tension in the plot.
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It’s not hard to become a serial offender. It’s much harder to avoid becoming one. It’s hardest of all when your offence – serial, nearly serial, or otherwise – is Movie Rage.
This is a seriously under-studied syndrome suffered by usually polite and self-effacing people who go to the movies to see a film.
Not to have lunch, morning or afternoon tea. To see a film.
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If the nastiness of this election is getting you down, perhaps it’s time to take a break. If you want to forget that Mark Latham even exists, it’s probably time to open your brain to the full-frontal lobe sensory assault that is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
It’s hyperreality stretched to the limit, an ADHD teen-nerd rom-com packed with Atari-style graphics, manga and anime. And you’ll either love it or want to chew your own eyes out.
The plot, adapted from a comic book series, is ludicrous: Scott Pilgrim – played by quintessential geek Michael Cera – meets the girl of his dreams, but in order to date her, he must first defeat her seven evil exes in battles that make The Matrix look like Raging Bull.
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Rove sidekick Peter Helliar’s debut film is out today and whoever cut the trailer has seriously let the side down.
Actually scratch that… there are two possibilities here. Whoever cut the trailer either A) didn’t know what they were doing or B) didn’t have much to work with.
Helliar’s film, I Love You Too, is an Australian-set romantic comedy templated on glossy US romantic comedies. All the moving parts are there: the goofball best friend (Helliar), the unobtainable beauty (Megan Gale) and a novel challenge for the central couple to overcome – he can’t say ‘I love you’.
If you don’t want to be ripped off this weekend, don’t watch Clash of the Titans or Alice in Wonderland in 3D.
Both films were shot ‘flat’ – two-dimensionally – and converted to 3D after the fact, an unsatisfactory process known as ‘up-conversion’ or ‘dimensionalising’.
If you’ve already watched Alice or Titans in 3D – and paid the premium 3D ticket price for the experience, thank you very much – you’ll know what I’m talking about.
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There is movement at the police station, for the word has passed around, that there won’t be any piss on Australia Day.
While we’re hardly about to dip our toes back into the dry waters of prohibition on Fair Dinkum Day, the NSW police appear to be flying in the face of our deep seated tradition of inebriation, seeking to ban take-away sales of any beer worth bottling and proposing some sort of two can limit, as if the boundary at the SCG now stretched past Broken Hill.
And while one of our many national shames is indeed the battle of the binge, for me the only thing worse than our inability to keep our elbows from bending is our inability to make a film that looks like it hasn’t just fallen from a blue cattle dog’s bumhole.
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There’s a very good reason why James Cameron’s Avatar, also known as The Most Expensive Movie Ever Made, stars a couple of computer-generated blue humanoid aliens.
Simply put, the mega-budget 3D sci-fi spectacle has been designed with a sort of ‘calculated universality’ and its 10-foot, cat-eyed protagonists are a central part of that strategy.
Film production is a tight business and risk-averse Hollywood isn’t about to throw big money at a production unlikely to make big returns.
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The 1950s was an extraordinary decade. It produced John Howard’s values, Tony Abbott’s existence and Marty McFly’s parents.
It was an age in which men were men and women were women and Supreme Court judges were white. People knew who they were back then and if they didn’t people were friendly enough that you could ask somebody and they’d tell you. Back then you could take all the drugs you wanted, as long as you were a housewife and had a prescription. You do that these days and people say you’ve got a problem.
Yet into this staid world exploded a force with such style, dark good looks and raw sexual energy that the cultural landscape of the entire western world was to be changed forever. I speak of course of the DeLorean DMC 12, a sports car whose fame is only eclipsed by its poor on-road performance and sudden withdrawal from production.*
Every now and again a film comes along that defies your expectations, raises the bar for all film-makers working in the genre, and leaves you feeling much much better than when you went in. When that happens you feel blessed; films that hit the mark like that come along so rarely they deserve your respect, your money and, dare I say it, your love.
I am an unashamed fan of disaster movies; they capture the essence of what is important about humanity and remind us that we people are one with nature and not apart from nature. The first genuine disaster movie was Deluge, made in 1933 in which a paper model of NYC, and most especially the Statue of Liberty, is destroyed by a tsunami (Roland Emmerich referenced this in The Day After Tomorrow). Like all such films to follow it concerned the struggle of a good, honest working man, trying to protect his loved ones in the face of almost insurmountable odds.
Disaster films tend to introduce a new kind of special effect to the audience. The Poseidon Adventure gave us the first realistic depiction of a capsised boat (though if you watch the capsising scene frame-by-frame you can actually see the actors pulling the table-cloths off the tables as they run past them). The Towering Inferno was the first to show fire in reasonable proportion to the building (watch old episodes of The Thunderbirds to see the opposite of this, where flames and water give away the scale of the models to humourous affect.) Earthquake in 1974 introduced Sensurround to the jaded masses and The Swarm in 1978 (I saw it with my Mum) gave us some pretty convincing bee-clouds.
The Blues Brothers, 1980. Spoiler alert: Marriages don’t always work out.
There is something about The Blues Brothers that is at once reassuringly wholesome and wildly decadent. It’s a bit like having a home cooked meal and then having sex with your cousin.
It begins as all good movies – and Hildebrand family stories – do, with somebody getting out of jail.* The person in question is of course Jake Blues, who exits a prison in suburban Chicago to be picked up by his brother Elwood Blues. It is at this point that some credit should be given to the parents of these two gentlemen, as had they not both had the surname “Blues” it is unlikely this movie would ever have been made.
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Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, 1991 Spoiler alert: Tenuous links between Kevin Costner, Joe’s mum, and the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival
In 1991 Bryan Adams had a good old fashioned tug at the world’s heartstrings with the smash hit ballad “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”. The song was the theme to the classic motion picture Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and was written to express the way Robin Hood felt about Maid Marian. It also, by an uncanny coincidence, describes exactly how my mother feels about me.
This was never more clear than when I went home to Melbourne for the weekend on a racing junket and thought I would pop by the old family homestead afterwards. I won’t delve too much into a description of said homestead except to say that it is the sort of house which does not so much have rooms as it does narrow pathways cut through piles of old newspapers.
Knight Rider, 1982. Spoiler alert: David Hasselhoff walks into a bar.
Civilisations are built on the backs of great men, and, where possible, great Pontiacs. In 1982, when humankind was still reeling from the release of the Toyota Camry and crying out for a hero, such a man and such a Pontiac answered the call.
His name was Michael Knight and he was to go on to change the face of crime-fighting for a generation, as well as deliver the 2000 Sydney Olympics on time and on budget.
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Schwarzenegger, by request: Commando, 1985. Spoiler alert: The commando is no racist.
With the possible exception of Kevin Rudd’s stimulus package, no force on earth has done more for world peace, sexual emancipation and fiscal rectitude than Arnold Schwarzenegger. Across four decades Schwarzenegger has loomed large in the global psyche as an omnipotent moral guardian, as well as a cautionary example of the dangers of dental steroids.
What is most impressive about Schwarzenegger is that he overcame poverty, hardship and a strong family background in Nazism to become the very embodiment of the American dream.*
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Today is the 64th anniversary of the mass publication in America of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a book considered one of the most influential of all time.
What a pity I’ve actually never read it.
And this is despite the fact that I’ve owned a copy since I was 17, when everyone else I knew read it. Or did they?
With only four months left until we leave the awkward-to-say noughties behind, why is no-one yet talking about the annointment of the “best film of the decade”?
Despite terabytes of movie blog and opinion sites, all hungry for content, there’s precious little undercurrent for this film or that: no “camps” of bloggers waving the flag for Adaptation, There Will Be Blood, Ratatouille or even the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Quentin Tarantino this week listed his top 20 favourite flicks since 1992 (the year Reservoir Dogs was released) and even that didn’t spur a response narrowing things down to the decade.
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Special Edition: First Blood, 1982; Rambo: First Blood Part II, 1985; Rambo III, 1988; Rambo, 2008. Spoiler alert: Rambo has difficulty re-adjusting to civilian life.
Centuries from now visiting aliens will come across humankind’s 2008 film catalogue and think that the most powerful warriors among us were chosen by the length of their ear-hair.
They will have discovered The Age of the Late Sequel – an era of elderly Indiana Joneses, Rocky Balboas and John Rambos – and they will pity earthlings for it.
“No wonder they didn’t see that meteor coming,” they will say.
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Is it playing up to stereotypes to put Bruno’s failure at the Australian box office down to the same more-than-lingering homophobia that doomed it in the US?
The numbers would suggest so, with ticket sales in both countries following the depressing downward curve set aside for movies that cop a flat ‘don’t see it’ around the watercooler.
The mockumentary opened here July 9 and is largely concerned with putting its title character, a flamboyantly gay Austrian TV presenter, in play opposite unsuspecting rednecks in order to get audiences laughing and/or squirming at flamboyantly gay behaviour.
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Tango and Cash, 1989. Spoiler alert: Tango and Cash start out hating one another but become friends.
The Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell film Tango & Cash was the last of the great ampersand films of 1989, following hot on the heels of Turner & Hooch and Milo & Otis.
For all of that landmark year filmmakers had been experimenting with various human/animal combinations in an effort to find out what audiences would most respond to. In Milo & Otis they tried using two animals, in Turner & Hooch they tried a human and an animal and in Tango & Cash they used a human and Sylvester Stallone.
Die Hard 2: Die Harder. Year: 1990 Spoiler alert: Bruce Willis gets back together with his ex-wife again but it won’t last.
I was something of a late bloomer in my early teens, which is really the only phase of one’s life in which it is important to bloom on time.
When I was 14 years old the most exciting thing to me was the newly constructed Capital Centre in Dandenong, the Melbourne suburb which produced both myself and the highest violent crime rate outside of Johannesburg. For the first time in my whole life Dandenong had a cinema - 10 cinemas in fact - and the possibilities for nightlife were suddenly endless.*
I just saw Public Enemies, the upcoming Johnny Depp-as-John Dillinger gangster flick, and boy oh boy did it get me thinking about ‘guy movies’. With its suite of expertly choreographed bank jobs and jailbreaks, smoothly criminal wardrobe and salty tough guy dialogue, it’s exactly the sort of muscular entertainment best enjoyed in the company of men.
And even though Depp-as-Dillinger does find time to romance a Depression-era beauty played by French Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose), she’s on hand mostly to get him philosophising about armed hold-up.
‘’I can hit any bank I want, any time. They got to be at every bank, all the time,’’ he tells her, dropping the first genuinely quotable line of dramatic Hollywood dialogue in many years.
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Transformers: The Movie. Year: 1986. Spoiler alert: Optimus Prime dies
Any young boy who saw the original animated movie version of the Transformers will tell you that it was one of the most harrowing, exhilarating and ultimately traumatic experience of his life. In terms of emotional impact it rates somewhere between losing your virginity and finding out you’re adopted.
Of course I saw the film when I was 11, some 20 years before I lost my virginity, but it resonates with me even today. I went and saw it at the Belgrave cinema east of Melbourne with my best friend at the time Mark Evans. We were best friends for almost all of Grade Six because we both liked cars and that was enough back then.
When I got to the cinema I was shocked to discover my cousin Dan was there. Dan was 18 months younger than me and therefore to be avoided at all costs. When you are at that age your coolness redoubles every month and younger relatives are a millstone of shame. The true wonder was that I had convinced Mark Evans I was cool in the first place, and that running in circles in an above ground pool while pretending to be a superhero called Fireboy was what all the kids were doing these days.
Gifted comic Sacha Baron Cohen has shown misplaced restraint by snipping an inoffensive Michael Jackson joke from his upcoming moneymaker Bruno.
[Bruno in the early days. Clip contains strong language]
So what do we deduce from this? A public figure’s ripe for a skewering as long as they’re alive, but become off-limits on death?
When can we start forwarding those corny text message jokes about Jacko’s plastic surgery and questionable private life? How soon is too soon?
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Directed by: Roland Emmerich. Spoiler alert: The Americans win.
The 1996 documentary Independence Day represents a watershed moment in low budget fly-on-the-wall film making.
How the crew managed to be simultaneously at a dozen different US landmarks at exactly the same time as the aliens blew them all up remains one of cinema verite’s great logistical accomplishments.
Here’s my guilty admission. I sat through Samson and Delilah and I wanted it to end.
The violence, the petrol-sniffing, the exploitation – white and black, and the indifference were all confronting.
But it wasn’t my squeamishness that had me longing for the closing credits. What did me in and left me feeling completely bombed was that for much of the movie you are placed in the shoes of Aboriginal young people who have seemingly little to live for.
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Director James Cameron, 1984, starring Michael Biehn. Spoiler alert: Michael Biehn dies.
The first time I saw The Terminator I think I was about 12. This strikes me as the correct age because I turned it on in the middle of the sex scene and I was annoyed yet sweaty at the same time.
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