Wednesday, September 26, 2012


One thing that I really enjoy about watching foreign film trailers without subtitles is that you can get a feel for a movie without having all of its surprises totally ruined for you.  Recently I saw the trailer for “Thale” online, and was instantly intrigued by the image of the naked woman with a cow-like tail.  It was beautiful and bizarre in equal measure and I knew that I wanted to see the film.  However, sadly, this Norwegian film turned out to be quite the disappointment.

It turns out that “Thale” is based on a mythological creature from Nordic folklore called the “Huldra”, which is what the girl in the trailer is.  The film starts with a couple of guys who work as cleaners specializing in the cleaning up of crime scenes for the police.  This time they are at a particularly nasty and bloody scene and Elvis is having a hard time keeping has lunch down, in fact he is totally unsuccessful.  His partner Leo, on the other hand, seems to have no problem with it at all, but we soon realize that this is just how Leo is.  He appears to take things with a grain of salt, nothing surprises or disturbs him, he just deals with whatever comes his way.  Meanwhile, Elvis appears to be terrified and stressed about everything and is incredibly uptight.  The two cleaners continue to clean the scene when Elvis finds a hidden door and against Leo’s better judgment, the two explore their find.  When the door leads downstairs and through another set of doors, Leo decides he better let the police know what they have found.  While alone, Elvis continues to rummage and finds a basement full of weird stuff including a tape recorder.  He plays the tape and listens to the bizarre rants on it, when suddenly out of the blue, a figure rises from the bath in the room with some velocity.  It turns out to be a naked girl, who appears to be quite disorientated by where she is for the moment.  In fear, the girl (whose name turns out to be Thale) grabs Elvis by the throat when Leo walks in.  As usual he is unfazed by what is going on, and gets the girl something to put over herself.  For the majority of the film after this, Elvis and Leo silently gain the weird girl’s trust as she is able to impart some of her history on the guys via telepathy through touch.  The boys continue to wait for their employers, but Thale’s sudden reappearance has alerted other strange creatures within the forest of her presence and they come for her, while hunters of the human kind also attempt to catch this mythical creature known as “Huldra”.

As I mentioned above, “Thale” sadly is very disappointing, mainly due to the fact that for a film with such a short running time (77 minutes), very little happens in it.  The characters are hardly developed and we only know about them on a surface level, with the exception of one (admittedly good) scene when the two men confide in each other about their lives, that Elvis has an illegitimate child and that Leo is dying of lung cancer.  However that is it, other than that we know nothing about these guys at all, and Thale never utters a word in the film.

Director Aleksander Nordaas struggles to build a palpable atmosphere throughout the film and you never actually feel that the characters are in any danger.  Suddenly they are just under attack, and it feels very random and unconvincing, and the main bad guy is a total cliché, cardboard cut-out character.  Even when it comes to the other mythical creatures in the forest, the CGI is really quite poor and they never feel a part of their environment at all.  Especially when the creatures move, they look so fake almost as if gravity does not have an effect on them.  While I did like the character of Thale, she is quite beautiful, but nothing interesting is done with her at all.  The flashes of her past intrigue but once they are over, you get a feeling of “so what?” with them.  That said, I thought Silje Reinamo portrayed the mythical creature very well indeed really selling her feeling of confusion and fear at the beginning, and then of wanting to be understood as the film progressed.  Likewise the actors who portrayed Elvis and Leo, Erland Nervold and Jon Sigve Skard respectively, were also convincing and had a good chemistry together.

Visually speaking “Thale” did nothing for me because the cellar-like room where the majority of the film is set (and where Thale is found) is bathed in the garish green colour so prominent in the “Saw” films.  It has become such a cliché these days and actually makes a film appear cheap, I guess due to lack of any imagination, and it is so ugly to look at.  Something that I did like though was Thale’s hidden bedroom which could only be entered through a small door you need to bend to get under.  It was like something from “Alice In Wonderland” and was the only real touch that this could be a fairytale (or folklore) world.

This was obviously a passion project for Aleksander Nordaas because he did almost everything himself in this film; he wrote, directed, produced, was the cinematographer, set decorator and editor on “Thale”, so you have got to respect the guy for everything he put into the film, it is just sadly that the film never goes anywhere narratively interesting and the main attraction of the film, the “Huldra”, is severely underused.  For a film that is about a creature that lures men into the woods by humming a beautiful song causing the men to never be seen again, I guess I was hoping for it to be more entertaining than what I got. 

2 Stars.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


When the casting announcement of Robert Pattinson as the lead character in David Cronenberg’s new film “Cosmopolis” was made public, I have to admit that I was stunned.  I have never been a fan of Pattinson’s thespian abilities and just could not see him fitting into a film made by a world-class director like Cronenberg.  I was initially very worried about the project, but also intrigued because I consider Cronenberg to be an incredibly smart man, so he had to have seen something in a guy whose previous work had left me completely underwhelmed.  He is not a director who would cast someone just for their name value and let the project suffer because of it.  Having never read Don Di Lillo’s book that the film is an adaptation of, I was totally unaware what the film was about except that it was about a man travelling through Manhattan in an attempt to get a haircut.  It certainly doesn’t sound very entertaining, but when a brief thirty second teaser came out for the film prior to its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, it just blew me away.  It looked mental and exactly like the films of Cronenberg past particularly my personal favourite “eXistenZ”.  I was suddenly pumped for “Cosmopolis” and thankfully it saw a quick release here in Australia, just two and a half months after it premiered at Cannes.  So what was the final product like?

Let me just say right up front that the original teaser for the film was very well made for drumming up interest in Cronenberg fans but the truth of the matter is that it is not at all representative of the finished film and its tone.  As I mentioned, the “plot” of the film is about a man, Eric Packer (Pattinson), travelling in his stretch limousine through Manhattan in an attempt to get a haircut.  Along the journey things hold him up, like a public funeral for a rap star to anarchic demonstrations protesting the future and capitalism, causing a relatively simple journey to take the whole day.  While that could be conceived as the plot of the film, “Cosmopolis” is really about a whole lot more than that as it looks at the financial world and situation that exists today due to the decisions made by these billionaire currency traders like Packer who attempt to make themselves that much richer whilst, in the process, making life that much harder for the everyman.  The day we follow Packer on his journey happens to be a big one for him because it is on this day that his financial empire crumbles around him, basically losing it all, after making a terrible gamble on the Chinese Yuan.  For a man losing everything, it appears to barely affect him as he continues taking meetings and having sexual encounters (as well as his daily medical check-up) all in the back of his limo, whilst stopping for meal breaks with his rich wife of twenty two days.

“Cosmopolis” is an incredibly dense film and is entirely dialogue driven.  The words come thick and fast throughout the film, particularly in the first half, and I must admit that I had a hard time staying with it all.  Discussions about the future and physiological discussions about capitalism, money, wealth and life are the norm in the vehicle, and knowing Cronenberg’s intelligence I am sure not a word is wasted and it all has meaning, but I must admit I found it a hard slog.  To be honest, I actually did not enjoy the beginning of “Cosmopolis” at all and for a number of reasons.  Firstly, the dialogue is all delivered in such a strange, cold, matter-of-fact way that it is actually jarring.  I’m sure that it is representative of the kind of person Eric Packer is, but it rubbed me the wrong way entirely.  Secondly, I have noticed that I have strong negative reactions towards very selfish characters in cinema, obviously this is a personal thing and no fault of the film itself, but Packer is the epitome of selfishness.  His whole life and lifestyle is a hollow one as everything he does is ultimately for himself.  Making money is all that matters and because of this the man is incredibly lonely.  One of the things I found interesting was the way these billionaires buy things just because they can, which is evident in the scene when Packer is attempting to buy a chapel.  There is no pleasure in a purchase because he can afford anything, and when you have those means at your disposal, you find yourself buying things just because you can and to say you own something.  Also the kind of lifestyle Packer leads is a farce because he doesn’t live in the present at all.  His whole business revolves around the future and currency trends of that future, so he never slows down and actually exists in the moment; he is too busy looking ahead.

Human contact for Packer is also minimal which is also due to his money and lifestyle because, as a result of his wealth, he feels himself to be of more importance than he actually is, thus the reason he cocoons himself in this limousine while having constant security following his every move, it creates a sense of worth for himself while destroying any chance of connecting properly with anyone else in the world.  Packer has people do things for him constantly and thus there is never any danger in his life, however when his financial ruin begins, he starts to slowly shed this lifestyle in an attempt to be reborn and feel again.

Once Packer starts to let humanity back into his soul, I found “Cosmopolis” much more enjoyable and I started to empathize with this man, as ultimately he is a victim of his own success.  I particularly liked it when the film opened up and left the claustrophobic confines of the limousine and we (and Packer himself) finally got to feel the textures and sounds of the real world outside.  Visually the film becomes more interesting once we leave the smooth and sterile silver and blue surfaces of the vehicle.  I should probably mention the limousine at this point because it certainly is a character of this film, in fact, it basically symbolizes Packer’s world entirely.  That is exactly what it is, his world, as Packer is forever having meetings within it, always appears to be moving forward and yet is going nowhere.  The fact also that he has shut himself within it and we cannot hear anything to do with the outside world is indicative of Packer himself who lives in a vacuum, shut off from the world, inaccessible to it and yet his influence in its currency defines it.  It is a cold, artificial world in the limo, which sums up Eric Packer to a “T”.

The next sentence I am about to write is one that I never thought I would: Robert Pattinson is amazing as Eric Packer, without a doubt it is his best work he has ever done, and he understands the character perfectly.  From the start of the film to the end, Eric has quite the journey of rediscovery of his humanity and Pattinson nails every moment of it.  He perfectly encapsulates him as the arsehole Eric is at the beginning of the film, and throughout the film we watch as he starts to feel things again, let’s people in his life again, and rushes to a scene of his childhood in an attempt to find some way to restart his life (even if it means ending it).  At the beginning of the film, Packer is almost like a robot but by the end he is definitely human, admittedly he is extremely disturbed, but at least he is existing once more.  Pattinson shows us this beautifully as we suddenly are witness to a man who is unsure of anything in the world when moments earlier he felt he knew it all and because of that could exploit it in his favour.  Also the way Pattinson handles Cronenberg’s intense and layered dialogue is brilliant and is something I never thought he had in him.  Each line has subtext simmering below the surface and it is obvious that this is not missed by Pattinson.

The film is told in quite a strange and episodic nature as characters enter the limousine, have a theological discussion or business meeting with Packer (or the odd sexual encounter or anal probe) and then they are gone and we never see or (barely) hear from them again.  The only reoccurring characters are Packer’s wife, Elise (played by Sarah Gadon), who importantly never meets with Eric in the limousine and likewise Torval, Packer’s security who we only ever see from outside the vehicle: from the outside looking in.  They are part of his life but not of his world.  In fact the scenes between Eric and his wife are probably the best in the film and hold much of its humour.  Once again though we learn that the only reason the couple are married is to increase their own wealth and love never played a part.  In fact in the third meeting between the couple, Elise explains that she is divorcing Eric although would support him financially.

The actors that enter these brief one off scenes are all excellent, from Juliette Binoche to Samantha Morton, but the standout is (as usual) Paul Giamatti who plays a man intent on killing Packer, who used to be his boss.  His scene is rich with symbolism and subtext and is the scene that ends the film which almost becomes an inevitable conclusion.  It is actually great watching Pattinson and Giamatti go toe to toe with each other but not in the traditional way you would think enemies would go against one other.

Overall, I must admit that I am still not sure how I feel about “Cosmopolis” and I am sure I need a few more viewings to do the film justice.  The initial half an hour of the film I absolutely hated, but then the film started to wash over me as Packer started to strip himself of the façade of his selfish life.  I really started to enjoy it when he realized that he just wanted to feel something again, to prove he existed which is shown in the taser scene and the scene when he shoots himself through the hand.  There is also a poignant moment within the film when we realize that the whole time his empire is crumbling he is trying to get to a place he remembers from his childhood, back to his innocence to try and start again.  “Cosmopolis” is a very intelligent and dense film and I am not sure I have got close to understanding all of its layers and as I said above I am still not even sure that I liked the film.  Still there is no doubt that, as usual for David Cronenberg, it is an immaculately put together film and it is at least worth one viewing (although I am sure it would work better after multiple viewings).  

3 Stars.

Friday, September 21, 2012


Sometimes it is just nice to switch your brain off, sit back and watch an entertaining movie.  This was my plan when watching the new Australian horror film, “Bait”, the latest in a long line of shark attack movies.  I knew little about “Bait” a few months ago but after seeing the trailer for the film, it didn’t look half bad.  Back in 2000, director Kimble Rendall made the very embarrassing supernatural slasher “Cut”, which was initially meant to be the first of a trilogy.  Due to the disappointment “Cut” turned out to be, the trilogy never happened and the series died, so too Kimble Rendall’s career it appeared, as since “Cut” he has only been credited with eight episodes of a television series, that is until “Bait”.  While the film isn’t award worthy in the slightest, I think it is safe to assume that Rendall’s career has been given the boost it needed by “Bait”.

The story of “Bait” is a simple, but effective one, as we follow the survivors of a tsunami that hits a local beach-side town, who are trapped in the wreckage of a supermarket where most worked or shopped at.  At first, the ten or so survivors consider themselves lucky to be alive, until they realize that they are trapped in a submerged environment along with a hungry great white shark.  Knowing that there is sure to be aftershocks and a chance of the supermarket’s complete collapse, the group try to escape to what is left outside, all the while trying not to become this shark’s latest dinner.

Make no mistakes about it, “Bait” is not in the slightest a good film, in fact for the most part, it is actually quite a bad film but even with all of its faults (and there are a lot), it surprisingly is very entertaining.  One of the major problems with the film is its terrible script which was written by John Kim and Russell Mulcahy (who originally planned to direct the film himself).  The dialogue and situations presented are bottom of the barrel type garbage which is sadly becoming the norm in horror films these days.  It is such a weak script that I am surprised that it garnered any interest from actors at all and that they would be willing to spout such drivel.  

That said the actors that they did end up securing for the film are terrible.  The levels of the performances in “Bait” are just deplorable.  With the exception of Xavier Samuels as our main hero, Josh, and Phoebe Tonkin as kleptomaniac Jaimie, the rest of the cast give some of the worst performances I have seen for a long, long time.  The worst culprit though has to be Cariba Heine’s work as Heather, she is just shocking.  The biggest problem though is her attempt at an American accent, in fact it is a problem with the majority of the cast especially the female members.  “Bait” was shot in Australia (in Coolangatta, Queensland) and I always assumed that it was set there too because no indication of the contrary is ever shown, but for some reason everyone seems to be putting on terribly unconvincing American accents that really become very distracting and take you out of the film.  On the male side of things, Julian McMahon is just a train-wreck.  It doesn’t help that the script does him no favours, as he is part of a ridiculous side-plot involving a robbery that goes nowhere, but again, his performance is cringe worthy.

Where the film does excel at though is its terrific shark attack sequences.  Rendall actually builds up some real suspense during these scenes and the pay offs are usually well done.  I am also happy to report that animatronic sharks are used prominently in these scenes which really contribute to the authentic atmosphere.  While it is true that there are moments where a CGI shark is used, and these scenes are much less effective, it is just good to finally have something real that you can sense is in the scene with the actors.  As usual in a horror movie, “Bait” finds its characters doing stupid things which increases the chances that they might come in contact with the shark, but again, Rendall creates a great sense of realism (even during the absurd) and suspense in these scenes, that you find yourself going along for the ride.  A prime example of this is when a guy creates a “shark proof” body suit for himself which he wears while he goes underwater to turn off the electrical mains so everyone does not get electrocuted.  The situation created is ridiculous but you actually find yourself caring about what is about to happen and you start to feel the tension.  

Due to the fact that I am not a huge fan of 3-D , I chose to see “Bait” in its 2-D incarnation, so I am unable to talk about how effective the film is in this format, but just from my viewing it appeared that it wouldn’t have added much more to the experience.  Thankfully it appears that Rendall stayed away from hokey “in your face” type 3-D effects which in my opinion only cheapen the gimmick, however I must admit that I wasn’t particularly paying attention or looking out for them.  While I assume the tsunami may have benefitted from the 3-D, sadly this potentially brilliant scene was let down by poor CGI special effects, which if I had to guess was the result of a low budget.

Even when I was in the moment watching “Bait”, I was under no illusions that the film was any good, and yet due to Kimble Rendall’s assured direction during the suspense and action scenes, I found myself thoroughly entertained during the majority of the film.  Rendall’s decision to pace the film slowly at the beginning pays off because it creates anticipation however this strong start is almost destroyed by the terrible hold-up subplot.  Once we are introduced to our cardboard cut-out survivors the film lags in the middle but picks up significantly towards the end due to the shark carnage, thanks largely to the practical effects used.  “Bait” has some of the worst acting I have seen in a very long time, but I am almost embarrassed to say that I had a good time with it.  Just switch off your brain and enjoy, you could do a lot worse.

2.5 Stars.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Stop me if you have heard this one before: seven teenage friends take a trek across country to go to one of the girl’s auntie’s place to have a week away together.  When they arrive at the house, they soon realize that both the auntie and the house itself are not what they initially thought and the young girls end up dying one after the other in gruesome and imaginative ways.  I know what you are thinking, this sounds like the usual generic “haunted house” / “cabin in the woods” type scenario, but let me tell you, Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1977 feature debut “House” is unlike any other film you have ever seen….seriously.  It is often referred to as something similar to a Dario Argento film on acid, and I suppose that is an apt (if somewhat hyperbolic) statement.  There are scenes and events that happen in this movie that I can guarantee that you have never seen before (and likely to ever see again).

The genesis of “House” is an interesting story in itself as after the massive success of Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws”, Japanese film producers Toho wanted a smash hit of their own in a similar vein and went to untried television commercial director Obayashi to come up with an idea.  Understanding that adults can only think of things in terms of reality (and thus would only come up with a killer bear story, to replace the shark), he spoke to Chigumi, his young daughter at the time, for ideas on what she and her friends would find scary.  Knowing that children are that much more prone to the fantastic and magical, Obayashi knew he would get something unique speaking to his daughter and this is certainly the case, as the stuff Chigumi came up with, ended up being the basis of all of the deaths in the film and they are most absurd.  We are talking about deaths like a man-eating piano, death by futon, and death by lamp to name a few.

The influence of children on “House” is quite evident because the whole film has a sense of innocence throughout, even when all of this death and bloodletting occurs.  Due to the absurd nature of the deaths, it is hard to actually be scared during “House”, and in fact I hesitate to call the film a horror film.  For the first half an hour of the film, it is basically about giggling teenagers getting ready to go to their friend’s auntie’s place, joking about boys and the like, and then suddenly out of the blue, the girl’s start dying.  Also the comedy infused with the horror scenes actually works against the fear and suspense that is trying to be achieved.  A great example of this is when one of the girl’s severed head is found, which is a nice moment, however the head then proceeds to giggle and bite the girl who found her on the bum, which just ruins any kind of atmosphere achieved.

Obayashi has stated that he wanted to do the opposite in every way possible to what would be the norm of Japanese cinema at the time (even to the point of giving the film an English title which was considered taboo) and he also wanted it to be obvious that this film was not meant to reflect reality and that this was fantasy cinema.  This is the reason behind some of the very obvious and silly special effects incorporated in “House”.  Obayashi actually had the services of Toho’s great special effects team at his disposal if he wanted them, but realized that their work was so good and realistic, he decided to do the effects themselves and all in camera.  In this regard, the plethora of film techniques used within “House” to achieve the insanity of the story is something I respect greatly.  Obayashi was not afraid to try anything to get the job done using matte paintings, fast zooms, animation, crazy angles, slow motion, rear view projection, video techniques; it didn’t matter, as long as it helped tell the story.  It is impressive at how adept Obayashi is in these techniques; I’m just not sure he needed to use them all, although I do respect his ability in doing so.

Just through the names of the characters themselves, it is obvious that Obayashi was creating caricatures rather than characters.  The names of the girls are Gorgeous (the pretty girl), Fantasy (the girl with her head in the clouds), Kung-Fu (the athletic girl), Mac (the fat girl), Prof (the intelligent girl), Melody (the musician), and Sweet (the innocent girl).  All of the girls are basically cardboard cut-outs and exhibit no real emotions.  With the exception of Gorgeous, who was played by Kimiko Ikegami, the rest of the girls were played by unprofessional actors and I think this adds to the giggly and silly nature of the film itself.  They appear to just be a group of girls just having fun and this is probably not far from the truth.  While the girls don’t really add up to much, the character of Kung-Fu just stands out from the crowd.  She is so cute and adorable, and has a groovy little theme that plays whenever she bounds into action.  It is actually a shame when she dies (especially the way she dies too).

The look of “House” is absolute insanity, but when the film does actually calm down and the tempo slows, there are some truly gorgeous shots within.  The scenes with Gorgeous walking into her auntie’s bedroom to brush her hair in front of the (demonic) mirror are all stunning and the production design of this room is top notch.  As I mentioned above, Obayashi extensively used matte-paintings to extend the sets he had built and I must say that they have been done amazingly well.  I understand that he deliberately wanted artifice to show through, however it is very easy not to notice the paintings they are that good.  The use of matte-paintings is sadly a lost art since the advent of CGI in cinema and it is always great to see them done so well when watching older films.

Surprisingly, “House” turned out to be a smash hit in Japan, especially amongst teenagers so Obayashi obviously knew what he was doing when talking to his daughter about the project.  However while it was popular with kids, due to the violence and nudity and strangeness of “House”, it was definitely unpopular with the parents of these kids.  Now that these kids have grown up and are making films themselves, “House” has been rediscovered as its influence on today’s filmmakers is showing, and they often talk about the film in the highest regards.  Interestingly, while young filmmakers today have embraced “House”, the director I most thought about whilst watching the film was actually Seijin Suzuki with certain shots looking very similar to his own crazy work.  Scenes that especially involved the character of the aunt looked very much like certain moments from Suzuki’s “Pistol Opera”.

Overall, while I respect the madness that is contained within “House” and the amount of technique used in making it, the film just didn’t resonate for me.  It was far too quirky and silly for me and as such I resisted a lot of its charms.  That said, “House” has a lot of fans, and at least I can now say that I have seen a film that includes a demonic cat, a guy who dies and turns into a bunch of bananas, killer pianos, futons and lamps, and a mirror whose reflection is deadly.  Did I mention the killer grandfather clock?  I can guarantee I will never see another film like “House” again in my lifetime, and it is a shame that I did not respond to it like I hoped I would.

2.5 Stars.