Archive | September, 2009

FILM NEWS: “Tomorrow: When the War Began”

17 Sep

Before boy wizards and sparkly vampires dominated the best-seller list, in Australia there was a little series about a group of teenagers waging a guerilla war from ‘Hell’ that captivated  teens everywhere. Considering the unprecedented success of the film adaptations of the Potter series and the first Twlight film,  it seems fair to wonder; will Tomorrow: When the War Began be Australia’s first book-to-screen-series success story?

If you were an Aussie teen growing up in the 90s, you had to have encountered John Marsden’s iconic Tomorrow: When the War Began series. An engrossing story that spanned seven main novels (and a sequel series some years later), the Tomorrow books followed the exploits of a small group of rural-based teenagers, who attempt to fight back after an unspecified nation invades Australia.

These books were essential reading to teens everywhere, whether you waited until it finally became available at your school library, or hit up your nearest and dearest come birthday or Christmas time. And now, for better or worse – though, this cynic can’t help but feel it will be worse – the first Tomorrow book is set to become a feature picture. Beginning filming in late 2009, Ambience Entertainment and Screen Australia have pumped 20 million dollars into this ambitious venture, handing over both directional and screenwriting duties to Stuart Beattie.

The ‘creative mind’ (and I use that term exceedingly loosely) behind the cringe-inducing script for recent ham-fest G.I. Joe, it seems a shame that the screen adaptation of such a definitive novel is being left in the hands of Beattie. Also responsible for the ‘story’ (again, IMDB’s words, not mine) behind Pirates of the Caribbean and the screenplay for Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, it’s difficult to be optimistic about the creative vision that Beattie will bring to the film. Heading up a a cast that will most likely be populated by unknowns is former Neighbours star Caitlin Stasey (as heroine Ellie).

Whether Beattie’s Tomorrow is a horribly misguided mess of a book-to-screen adaptation or a surprising triumph,  perhaps some of the real and unavoidable disappointment arises from the very notion of an adaptation.

While film is a wonderful medium, and easily my favorite means of creative production (stay with me on this one) there is something to be said about reading a text that is so fantastically vivid you’re able to paint your own imagery in your mind. When the words make you imagine something so engaging that it will always outshine whatever you’re physically shown on screen.

Perhaps then, the better the book, the harder it is for the filmmaker? This would certainly seem the case on some of the worse ‘re-imaginings’ of past novels, for example, Nick Earls excellent novel ’48 Shades of Brown should have produced a film far better than the exceedingly shallow 48 Shades.

If this is indeed the case, come next year, it will be with fear and trepidation that I will edge into Beattie’s Tomorrow. And if it is as I expect (read: bad), I will perhaps have to make a note to only watch film adaptations of terrible books.

YOUR GUIDE TO: Bound (1996, dir. Wachowski Brothers)

15 Sep

Bound movie poster

“I had this image of you inside me.”

For those that loved:

Gilda, The Last Seduction, Prey for Rock and Roll, Sin City,

For those that are writing on:

Representation of femininity/sexuality, positions of spectatorship, film noir, neo-noir, femme fatale, images of women in the cinema, masculinity in crisis, crime cinema, violence in the cinema, symbols of femininity, lesbian identity, queer cinema

In a nutshell
Before they brought The Matrix to the masses (and then undid their good work with ‘those’ sequels), the Wachowski’s produced this slick neo-noir crime caper. Corky and Violet show Thelma and Louise how rebelling against the constraints of an oppressive patriarchal rule really works. Knowingly vampy Tilly and charismatic Gershon  also have twice as much fun and provide twice as much entertainment while they do it.

Plot

Sick of being trapped in an oppressive relationship with made man Ceaser (Joe Pantaliano), deceptively plucky mob moll Violet (Jennifer Tilly) hatches an escape plan with ex-con Corky (Gina Gershon). A daring scheme, involving the theft of 2 million dollars of mob money, inevitably things don’t quite go to plan.

Why should I watch?

Although much is made of the lesbian relationship between Corky and Violet, there is far more to Bound than two pretty neo-fatales kissing. While Bound achieves a genuine eroticism (no doubt aided by the enlisting of a ‘sex therapist’ to choreograph sex scenes between the leading ladies, and the sexually-charged chemistry between Gershon and Tilly), it is also a visually enticing and well crafted entry into the world of neo-noir.

While the male supports deliver capable caricatures of mob masculinity, it is Gershon and Tilly who shine here, both existing in the kind of grey space that makes characters worth watching. Both are somehow resourceful and resilient, yet fractured and vulnerable. The journey each characters undertakes throughout Bound serves to make the film’s conclusion both satisfying and believable.

Consider/Further study etc

  • Within film noir, the femme fatale is often shown to rely on her sexual prowess and manipulation of the men around her to achieve her goals. Do Corky and Violet reinforce or challenge this claim?
  • Do Corky and Violet reinforce or challenge the classical femme fatale archetype? Do they reinforce or challenge traditional understanding’s of femininity?
  • Considering the patriarchal structure of the Mafia, Corky and Violet’s transgression against Ceaser and his associates could be seen as a challenge to an oppressive patriarchal social order. In what other ways do Corky and Violet challenge traditional patriarchal expectations?
  • Does Bound reflect a continuation of or break from traditional film noir?
  • How does Ceaser (and the other Mafia men) initially view Violet? How does this differ to the way Corky sees Violet, or the way that Violet sees herself? Consider in particular the difference between Violet at the beginning of the film, to the way she appears at end.
  • Within Bound the hand is eroticised as a sexual organ. In a sense, sexual potency is reassigned from (implicitly masculine) phallic symbols to the hand. How does this affect the representation of both feminine and masculine sexuality within Bound?

Further Reading

  • Oliver, Kelly and Trigo, Benigo, 2003, Noir Anxiety, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press
  • Place, Janey, 1998, Women in Film Noir, ed E Ann Kaplan, London, BFI Publishing

JUST FOR FUN: “George Lucas in Love”

7 Sep

glil-poster

Star Wars via Shakespeare In Love. Not the most likely of pairings, however, the end result, ‘George Lucas in Love’, acts as both a loving homage and a knowing parody of the Star Wars universe.

Although GLIL is often mistakenly identified as a student film, director Joe Nussbaum and those associated with the 8 minute production were a few years out of The University of Southern California when they produced the impressive short. Released via the internet in October 1999, GLIL sketches over a young George Lucas’ days at USC in 1967, as he struggles to find inspiration for the script he is writing. Young Lucas encounters many characters that will be instantly recogniseable to anyone even vaguely familiar with Star Wars, as he tries to move beyond his initial premise, of a space farmer stuck with a bad crop of ‘space wheat’.

Beautifully shot and considerably well acted, GLIL is both genuinely humours and expertly crafted. Received well by critics, fans and Lucas himself (who responded personally and positively to the filmmakers after he was sent a copy), this short is an excellent and entertaining watch for even those uninterested in Lucas and Star Wars.

View George Lucas In Love

Related Links:

An interview with the creators

EVENTS AND PLACES: Melbourne’s best rental stores

1 Sep

As any film student that’s ‘accidentally missed’ a cinema screening or finds themselves inadvertently time-poor when penning a film assignment knows, for many art house and cinema studies films, the local Blockbuster simply won’t cut it. Or, alternatively, for those that are sick of being forced to choose between the latest blow-things-up epic, opposites-attract romcom or yet another Ron Howard-directed paint-by-numbers pap piece, here is a guide to the some of the best art house and alternative cinema rental stores in Melbourne.

If anybody has any other submissions please let me know!

The Movie Reel

Address: 69 – 71 High St, Northcote

Website: The Movie Reel

Containing a wide variety of art house, foreign, cult and other hard to find films, the Movie Reel also offers an impressive range of TV series. The sprawl of film paraphernalia that decorates the walls and benches confirms that this is a store for films lovers, and the use of directors to divide the films on offer into sections is a novel (and helpful) touch.

Small Screen

Address: 420 Rathdowne St, Carlton

Website: Official Small Screen Facebook Page

Don’t be deceived by Small Screen’s small size; a ’boutique’ collection of over 3000 DVDs can be found inside this Carlton store. Specialising in foreign cinema and TV series, Small Screen offers DVDs (and more recently Blu-Ray discs) for both rent and sale.

Video Dogs

Address: 178 Farraday St, Carlton

Website: Video Dogs

Video Dogs promises customers 365-days-a-year access to not only the newest releases (which are somewhat snobbishly dubbed as generally mediocre) but a large collection of the greatest films ever made. The most impressive feature of Video Dogs is their comprehensive website, which offers both a full list of all films (and TV series) available instore, and an option to rent via a post-out service.

Picture Search Video

Address: 139 Swan St, Richmond

Phone: 03 94295639

Although Picture Search Video’s initial join up fee seems somewhat pricey in comparison to many other rental stores, this Richmond store offer thousands of hard-to-find films. If you can’t find it on DVD, chances are that there will be a VHS (remember those) copy ready for rental.

YOUR GUIDE TO: Hard Candy (2005, dir. David Slade)

1 Sep

hard candy

“Go on then. Worship me.” 

For those that loved:

Freeway, Kill Bill (part one), Halloween

For those that are writing on:

Representation of adolescent femininity/sexuality, positions of spectatorship, revenge cinema, images of women in the cinema, masculinity in crisis, relationships of power (especially in relation to representations of masculine and feminine sexuality)

In a nutshell

Far more brutal than a Mean Girl, and anything but Clueless, sharp-witted and ever-resourceful Hayley Stark is a teenage force to be reckoned with. This is ‘girl power’ in it’s truest, and most dangerous form. An understandably difficult but rewarding film.

Plot

When charming 32-year old photographer Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) strikes up a flirtatious online ‘friendship’ with seemingly naive 14-year-old-student Hayley Stark (Ellen Paige), the suggestion of a face-to-face meetings seems wrought with danger for Hayley. However, after going back to Jeff’s secluded suburban home, Hayley reveals a strength, intelligence and taste for revenge that throws them both into a tense cat-and-mouse struggle for power. As Hayley forces Jeff to confront his past indiscretions, the viewer is left to ponder the truth behind not only both characters actions, but both characters themselves.

Why should I watch?

Despite the R 18 rating, Hard Candy is not an explicitly violent nor explicitly sexual film, especially when compared to the numerous ‘gore porn’ features (Hostel or Saw anyone) that have found success within recent years, or even the slasher-pics of yore. However, the sensitive subject matter – adolescent sexuality and paedophilia –  at times make Hard Candy a difficult, albeit intriguing watch.

Slade masterfully maintains a tense and uneasy atmosphere throughout Hard Candy, and despite being hampered at times by an occasionally cheesy script, his artful direction and deft editing choices keep the film running at a cracking pace.

Playing out like a cinematic stage play, the relationship between Hayley and Jeff develops in a perhaps not entirely believable, but engrossing way, thanks to skillful performances from both leads. Wilson delivers a problematically charismatic performance, and when considered against the manipulative and almost monstrous Hayley, it is hard to know which side you are cheering for, if any at all. 

Consider/Further study etc

  • Initially Hayley can be seen to embody a fantasy image of adolescent femininity. How does Hayley subvert traditional characteristics of adolescent femininity? How dors she challenge the normative status of such characteristics?
  • How are women and women’s bodies represented throughout Hard Candy
  • Is the act of looking represented as an empowering or disempowering act? 
  • Consider (particularly in relation to Laura Mulvey’s theories of cinematic spectatorship) the spectatorial structures within Hard Candy. Does the film support or challenge Mulvey’s association of the gaze with masculine power and the act of being looked at with feminine submission?
  • Consider the roof scene, towards the end of the film. Here, Jeff’s ‘phallic’ weapon (his knife) is rendered useless. Are there any other instances within the film where a phallic symbol becomes disempowered?
  • Vision and voyeurism play an important role within Hard Candy. How does Jeff view women – ie does he worship them? Fear them? Hate them? What might this suggest about the representation of ‘traditional masculinity’ within Hard Candy?