Australian Cinema: Me, A Choc-Top & An Empty Theatre
- Written by Matthew Toomey
I must start this week’s issue by saying another well done to Spencer Howson and his crew at 612ABC. The latest radio ratings were announced today and they’re on top once again – narrow victors over Nova 106.9 in the morning time slot. Should I disclose that you can hear me on Spencer’s program at 6:50am every Thursday morning? No, I don’t think I will.
Into The Shadows
On Saturday night, I went to see Into The Shadows at the Palace Barracks Cinemas. The film is a new documentary which looks at a lot of the problems with the Australian film industry. It talks about how difficult it is to obtain funding. It looks at how many Australian films which do get made are “gloomy” and unmarketable. It discusses how the major chains (Hoyts, Greater Union) stifle competition and make life difficult for independent cinema.
A key point it does make is how the public doesn’t support Australian cinema. I think it was the 2007 year (from memory) where the box-office takings for Aussie films made up just 4% of our domestic box-office. We spent more than 70% of our money watching American films.
It was an interesting doco but the irony comes in the fact that I was the only one sitting in the cinema. That’s right – it was just me, a butterscotch choc-top and an empty cinema. I can tell you now that this film will make next-to-nothing. It’s a shame but that’s reality.
I’m not going to get into a long-winded debate about the current merits of the Australian film industry. It’s a topic I’ve covered before and I do my best to promote great local product. This year has been an exceptionally good year. I know Margaret and David on At The Movies (without a doubt our most well known critics) also flog any Aussie film they can.
Unfortunately, our culture is heavily influenced by the Americans. We watch their television shows, we buy their music and yes, we watch their films. Don’t get me wrong – there is some good stuff that has come from the United States. However, I am POSITIVE that they aren’t the “be all and end all” of creativity. There are other countries who have equally gifted artists. Yet for whatever reason, we get sucked in by the great American marketing machines and spend our dollars watching Transformers and Harry Potter.
I don’t have an answer but I do encourage everyone to expand their horizons – and not just watching something because Entertainment Tonight tells you to.
Last week, the nominations were revealed for the 2009 Australian Film Institute (AFI) Awards. I was very disappointed this year by the change in voting. Non-industry AFI members (such as myself) are now no longer able to vote for the best picture category. This is something I have done for over 10 years and it has always given me pleasure. There is a new audience award category but it’s just not the same.
Anyway, I must point out my disgust to see that Baz Lurhmann’s Australia was overlooked for a best picture nomination. The film has made $37m here in Australia – the second highest grossing local production of all time (behind Crocodile Dundee). To put that into perspective, only 5 other Aussie films have made more than $10m locally in the past decade. I know that not everyone was a fan of the film but that massive box-office shows how popular it was and I think the majority of people did find it entertaining.
Instead, the 6 films nominated for best film this year are Balibo, Beautiful Kate, Blessed, Mao’s Last Dancer, Mary & Max and Samson & Delilah. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Samson & Delilah will win and it’s a worthy choice. That said, I’m miffed at how some of the other nominees (without naming names) snuck in at the expense of Australia.
Another problem with the awards is that you see the same films nominated again and again throughout all the categories. It’s the same as the Oscars too.
Look, that’s enough of my ranting in that regard. The award winners will be revealed in December and you can view the full list of nominees here.
Matt’s Best Of The Decade – Thrillers
Now it’s time for part 3 of my best of the decade series. We’re looking at a more familiar genre this week – thrillers.
I need to point out that there a lot of films which cross genres. Many thrillers could just as easily be classed as a drama. I had my trouble myself trying to split my own short-list of films between thrillers and dramas. It gets even harder when you start looking at the romantic or comedy genres.
Anyway, it was a tough choice once again but the two films which I’ve settled upon this week are…
Donnie Darko (released in 2002) – full review is here.
The Talented Mr. Ripley (released in 2000) - full review is here.
Donnie Darko is a heck of a motion picture. It’s got some really stylish stuff. I loved the montage at the start of the film to “Head Over Heels” by Tears For Fears. Just as amazing was the final sequence set to “Mad World” by Gary Jules. The story is complex and you’ve got to keep on your toes. I’ve seen it several times and not even I am convinced I fully understand it. The film also boasts one of the best individual scenes in a movie – the part where Jake Gyllenhaal confronts Patrick Swayze at an open forum. I went through this scene a few weeks ago in my blog and I laughed so hard when I saw it for the first time.
The Talented Mr. Ripley is in my opinion, the best film from the late director Anthony Minghella. Minghella will be more remembered though for The English Patient, which swept the Oscars in 1996. I’ve read the novel on which The Talented Mr. Ripley is based and this is one of those rare instances where the full essence of the book (and maybe even more) comes through on screen. It’s always been a benchmark for me on how to adapt a great novel. Matt Damon’s character is incredibly complex – he is insecure but incredibly cunning at the same time. He shares some wonderful sequences with Philip Seymour Hoffman (my favourite actor of the last decade). It also has a great film score from Gabriel Yared (the soundtrack is in my collection) and ends on a perfect note.
Honourable mentions this week (which will get a certificate of commendation from me in the mail) go to Mulholland Drive (which will be mentioned again very soon), Hidden, Memento, The Pledge, Insomnia, The Mothman Prophecies, 28 Days Later, Mystic River, Notes On A Scandal, The Others, Collateral, The Bourne Supremacy, Wolf Creek, Let The Right One In, Duplicity and State Of Play.
Next week, we’ll look at the action/adventure genre. I’ll also sneakily mention my favourite musicals.
Killed By Hype... As Opposed To A Vampire
- Written by Matthew Toomey
No storm can stop this week’s blog. I drove through torrential rain tonight out to Indooroopilly to see an advance screening of the new Scott Hicks film, The Boys Are Back (out Nov 12). You could hear the thunder during the movie and the lights even flickered briefly during one moment – must have been a power surge.
Killed By Hype
I am officially “over” the Twilight movie series. I actually liked the first film. It was a nice surprise – something a little different and it was great to see it do so well at the box-office.
However, since that time, I haven’t been able to get away from all the hype and over publicity for this next film (which I’m yet to see). It may be a good film but I’m sick of hearing about it.
Tickets have been on sale for weeks and there are special midnight screenings when it comes out on November 19. Radio stations have been taking it up – giving away tickets to premieres and talking about any gossip they can in relation to stars Robert Pattinson (who has zero credits to his name outside of the Twilight saga) and Kirsten Stewart. Let’s not forget about the trashy magazines either. Every time I’m queuing up in a supermarket, I see their two faces looking back at me with some crazy, sensationalistic headline.
I’ve learned from experience that the more you hype up a film, the more likely it is to disappoint. I’m sure that just all the Twilight devotees will love it anyway – no matter how good or bad it is. Other more discerning moviegoers may not feel as passionate. It’s kind of like the Harry Potter series.
This won’t mean anything to the big studios that will be rolling in money when New Moon is released. This film is going to make sooooooo much money that it’s not funny. I wish I owned a share in it. I should have written that vampire script after all.
Let me finish my rant by saying that I’m more looking forward to the Coen Brothers film which is being released on that same day (A Serious Man) as opposed to New Moon.
Matt’s Best Of The Decade – Animated Films
Last week, I started my look at the best films of the decade. This week’s focus is on another area of cinema which has grown exponentially over the last decade – animation.
Back in the mid 1990s, it was Disney who dominated the animation game. They’d release one big blockbuster every year. Things changed in 1995 with the arrival of Toy Story – the first computer-generated full length film ever made. You can forget how quickly times have changed. Animation is everywhere today.
In 2001, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences introduced a new category at the Oscars – best animated feature. It’s a category which has been very competitive since its inception. Shrek took the honours in 2001 and WALL-E won last year.
It wasn’t easy coming up with my two top animated films for the decade and the two that I’ve decided on may catch people off guard – because they’re both in a foreign language. They are…
Spirited Away (released in 2002) – full review is here.
Persepolis (released in 2008) – full review is here.
What’s also a little strange about my two choices is that they’re both simple, hand-drawn animation. It’s cool seeing a computer animated film which is rich in detail (like anything coming out of Pixar lately) but it’s the story which is important above all things.
Spirited Away is from acclaimed Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki and won the Oscar in 2002 for best animated film. It’s pretty “out there” but that’s what I loved about it. Miyazaki has such a vivid imagination, a creativity which cannot be matched. It has a permanent space in my DVD collection and I never get tired of seeing it. A beautiful tale.
Persepolis blew me away at last year’s Brisbane International Film Festival. It’s actually a rarity too in that it’s black and white animation. It’s a darker story (not necessarily suited for young children) and left me feeling uneasy at times. It proved that you don’t need to have real actors to convey raw emotions.
I have plenty of honourable mentions this week and they include Chicken Run, Shrek, The Incredibles, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, Ratatouille, Kung Fun Panda, WALL-E, Cars, Up and Coraline.
You can bet there’ll be a lot more animation in the years to come – especially of the 3D variety.
Next week, I’ll look at my favourite thrillers of the decade.
Matt's Best Of The Decade: Let's Start The Ball Rolling
- Written by Matthew Toomey
As I mentioned last week, another decade is about to come to a close. Over the weekend, I put my thinking cap on to determine how I can sum up these 10 action packed years of cinema.
With roughly 10 weeks remaining this year, I’ve decided to do my wrap up over this period. Each week, I’m going to focus on a different genre and name my 2 best films from each. I was only going to name one film initially in each genre but just found it too hard. The buffer gives me a chance to expand a little further.
Just because a film featured prominently in my top 10 list for a certain year didn’t guarantee it a spot in my decade wrap. Some films do age better than others and have had the chance to see some of the films a second, third, fourth… time has helped me develop a better appreciation for just how great it is.
In total, I’ve seen and reviewed 2,021 films between 2000 and 2009. There’s still two months to go of course so the final total is to be determined. I point this out because it wasn’t an easy assignment trying to pick my favourites. I started with a brainstorming session on a bit of paper and slowly narrowed the field. It was sad to leave certain films out but I might sneak them in for a quick mention along the way.
Matt’s Best Of The Decade – Foreign Language Films
Foreign language films have exploded in Australia over the past decade. With many new cinemas opening their doors, the demand for different types of movies has increased. At the start of the decade, one of your only chances to see foreign language films was at the Brisbane International Film Festival. Now, it seems there’s a foreign language film released each week.
On top of that, there’s a multitude of mini festivals shown in Palace and Dendy cinemas. There’s also Bollywood which has infiltrated Australia – there’s a new film shown at the Hoyts Regent here in the city each week.
Having sifted through them all, my two favourites were:
Y Tu Mama Tambien (released in 2002) – full review can be found here.
The Lives Of Others (released in 2007) – full review can be found here.
I remember seeing Y Tu Mama Tambien at the 2002 Brisbane International Film Festival. It started with a full-on sex scene and it finished with one of my all time favourite endings – Julio and Tenoch sitting in a café with a narrator describing events. Mexican director has since gone on and made Harry Potter & The Prisoner Of Azkaban (the third in the series) and Children Of Men. He’s creative and knows how to tell a story.
The Lives Of Others was my favourite film of 2007. It had won the Oscar for best foreign language film but even I wasn’t prepared for how good it was. It opened my eyes to a period of German history that I didn’t know much about. Many German films focus on the atrocities of World War II but this film was set in the 1980s – just prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. I have to say that I was saddened to learn of the passing of star Ulrich Muhe who died not long after the film was released. Her earned a posthumous BAFTA Award for best actor but lost to Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood.
Honourable mentions in the foreign language category go to films including The Spanish Apartment, The Motorcycle Diaries, Downfall, Turtles Can Fly, The Diving Bell & The Butterfly, The Counterfeiters, Summer Hours, No Man’s Land, The Man On The Train, Talk To Her and Kitchen Stories.
Next week, I’ll look at my favourite animated films of the decade.
Am I Getting Too Old? Or Are Movies Getting Too Violent?
- Written by Matthew Toomey
It’s mid October and we’re closing in on the end of another year but it’s just occurred to me that we’re closing in on the end of another decade. At some point in the next few weeks, I’ll have to do up a blog on my top 10 films of the past 10 years. It won’t be easy to choose but I’ll give it a crack. Some films that have appeared on my top 10 lists have definitely aged better than others.
I have just returned from a special preview screening of The Final Destination. It’s the fourth in the series which began back in 2000. I think all the actors from that first film are now living in a ditch somewhere. It was a film that brought death to the characters and unemployment to the actors. Well, maybe with the exception of Seann William Scott who is typecast now anyway.
You know you’re getting old when you think a film is too gruesome. It’s not that I couldn’t stomach the violence but I just can’t believe how far the boundaries have been pushed. There is no way that this could have been shown in a movie theatre 20 years ago. Maybe not even 5 years ago. How far can we go before we start a trend back in the other direction? Just like I’m waiting for political correctness to take a back seat.
I know this film will be popular so I won’t give away too many plot details. When I mean plot details, I mean death details. There’s no real story – it’s just people getting killed one after the other – just like in the Saw series.
But it’s disturbing to think that our society can find a film like this “entertaining”. One of the characters tries to kill himself before death gets to him first. He tries sleeping pills but throws them up. He tries to gas himself in the garage but it doesn’t work. He tries to hang himself from the ceiling but it doesn’t work. I can think of plenty of people who would find these scenes distressing. To cap it all off, two friends rescue him (from the hanging) and the magically realises the value of life and treats himself to a bottle of champagne. I didn’t realise depression was such an easy disease to cure.
I’m not sure which death scene was the worst. Each seemed to come with a lot of blood and a lot of body parts strewn all over the place. The way that the make-up artists and special effects crew have captured the look of a freshly extricated intestine is a sight to behold.
To each their own however. I think that if you want to see a film like this, you should be entitled to do so… within reason. If you want to be shocked and if you want to have guts flying at you in 3D, then this film is for you. Soak it up. Even I admit that it had its moments. Sometimes we need a film to get the blood pumping. I’d rather see this than a new Sandra Bullock movie.
Unfortunately, I have no idea how the Classification Board of Australia have deemed this an “MA” rated film as opposed to an “R” rated film. That means that any 15 year old can see this without parental supervision. It’s this ridiculous decision that raises my eyebrows. I know they will tell you otherwise but I think there are plenty of people in the 15-17 year age bracket who shouldn’t be exposed to this kind of violence and gruesomeness.
I then compare this rating with the R ratings dished out to films like Y Tu Mama Tambien, Candy and Zack & Miri Make A Porno. Did the fact that The Final Destination has a light-heartedness make a difference to those on the Classification Board? I still don’t know how it’s different from films like Halloween, Hostel, Wolf Creek and the last two Saw movies.
That’s my tirade for another week. I’m off to find something a little more conservative on the telly…