Now Playing at the Row Three Rep: So Bad They’re Profound

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[Row Three programming if we owned a rep cinema]

So Bad They’re Profound (alternatively titled “When 90s Blockbusters Go Wrong, or: How I Learnt to Stop Worrying and Love Overanalyzing Sh*tty Movies”)

Batman & Robin (Schumacher, 1997) – 8:30pm

Showgirls (Verhoeven, 1995) – 11pm

Two of the biggest critical failures of the nineteen nineties, Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin and Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls have become synonymous with movie making gone wrong, and are frequently listed amongst the worst films of all time. Both scripts contain some of the most superb howlers in cinema history. Visually, one resembles an Ed Wood picture shot in a toy factory for fifty million dollars and the other a soft-core porno crossed with a student film version of All About Eve. As for the performances…well, let’s just say you don’t see Elizabeth Hurley headlining too many movies these days. All in all, there really is very little redeemable about either one of these misguided, mishandled pimples on the otherwise rosy buttocks of cinema.

On the other hand…

It’s difficult to say what it is about some movies that make them so bad they’re good; what combination of elements seperates the awful from the awfully funny, the crap-tastic from the just plain crap. Whatever the formula, Batman & Robin and Showgirls fit squarely into the category of movies far more entertaining that the label “Worst movie of all time” seems to suggest. What’s more, when viewed through the lens of time (and with a fair amount of generosity), both Schumacher’s ode to the art of the toy-line tie in and Verhoeven’s experiment in eroticism gone wrong are revealed to be rather…wait for it…profound. No, you didn’t misread that – I believe that both of these films reflect many of the most interesting parts of nineties social and cinematic culture, and those who dismiss them are not only missing out on two of the most unintentionally funny movies ever made, but also two movies with genuinely interesting things to say (even if they only say them while cart wheeling backwards off the edge of the cliff). So for one night only, leave your American indies and Swedish arthouse DVDs at homes and come join us at the Row Three Rep for a celebration of two of the nineties’ most underappreciated films.
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Review: I Love You Phillip Morris

Gay. Gay, gay, gay, gay, gay. That’s how Jim Carrey’s character Steven Russell describes himself in I Love You Phillip Morris, the long delayed romantic dramedy from Bad Santa writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. Based on the real life story of Steven Russell, a Georgia born conman and multiple prison escapee, the film tracks the unlikely romance between Russell and his cellmate Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), the man who Russell would eventually break out of prison no less than four times in attempts to be reunited with. A rare American film not afraid to offer a frank depiction of a homosexual relationship, the movie had a difficult post production that included significant re-editing and trouble finding wide distribution. The belief that the film, featuring two big Hollywood stars, might be “too gay” for mainstream audiences kept it from reaching Australian cinemas for almost two years, but now that the movie has finally arrived it proves itself well worth the wait. Both a sensational comedy and a surprisingly affecting love story, I Love You Phillip Morris is an unmissable film that will entertain and move viewers gay and straight alike.

With plenty of great laughs for those with dark or dirty senses of humour, the first act of the film whisks breezily over Stevens’ childhood, marriage, self-outing and early days as a conman and then a prison inmate. A devout Christian until a near fatal car accident causes him to re-assess his life, the film uses Steven to make fun of both middle-American conservatism and liberal gay culture, without ever being mean or judgmental towards either side. Most of the films more explicit gay content is played for comedy, but never in a way that is homophobic (a la the more successful I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, amongst many others). I Love You Phillip Morris also reminds us of the natural comedic talents of the much maligned Jim Carrey. His performance is by no means a revelation – people who hate his normal goofy-faced shtick won’t be won over by this film – but this is some of the best material Carrey has worked with in over a decade, and his work in the film reflects it. Lesley Mann is also hilarious in her small role as Russell’s ex-wife, supportive of her former husband’s new lifestyle in spite of her Christian beliefs.
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MTV developing reality show based on “Catfish”

Over the past six months, Row Three has been home to one of the webs most extensive and quite frankly astounding discussions about the authenticity of the film Catfish. Since Mike Rot posted his article in October entitled “Catfish: Why the Hoax is Probably Fake”, the debate has gone back and forth between Row Three writers and a group of dedicated readers, racking up nearly seventy thousand words worth of research and discussion in the comments section (the equivalent, according to one reader, of about four to five hours worth of reading material). With that in mind, I thought the following piece of news would be of particular interest.

According to Variety:

“MTV and RelativityReal are developing a reality show based on the docu “Catfish”…[the] pilot is still in its early stages, but would likely focus on social network users who purposely misidentify themselves and the repercussions that occur. The creative team from “Catfish” would be involved in the project.”

For those of you who don’t know, Catfish follows a New York photographer named Nev Schulman who enters into an online relationship with a girl from Michigan, only to find out that the girl has been less than truthful about certain elements of her life. The film was sold as a documentary, but since its release has faced consistent questions as to its authenticity (despite the fact the filmmakers have maintained that the events the film depicts are all true). In addition to provoking one of Row Three’s longest ongoing comment threads, the movie appeared on several of our end of year top ten lists (it would have made mine too, had I seen it before those lists were published).

As for this reality show; I’m not a fan of reality TV at the best of times, so I was never going to look on this news in a particularly positive light. Given how much I liked the film, and considering that the above quote makes it seem like the similarities between the two projects are tangential at best, I sort of wish they weren’t associating Catfish with the program at all. With that said, I’ll throw any further commentary over to the real expects.

Well Aquaman? Ms Curious? How do you feel about this latest development? Are you looking forward to the opportunity for additional debate, or do you find yourself wishing this news was just a hoax?

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it: The Hangover Part II gets a trailer

I won’t even bother going over the premise or back story of Todd Phillips’ 2009 smash hit comedy The Hangover, because:

a) you’ve almost certainly already familiar with it, and

b) because the trailer for the upcoming sequel, from the bachelor party spun out of control, the search for a missing friend, all the way down to the exotic animal that Alan (Zach Galifianakis), Stu (Ed Helms) and Phil (Bradley Cooper) gets stuck with makes it look as though the follow up will follow the exact same path as the original film.

Not that that is necessarily a bad thing – I’m sure they’ll milk the “oh no not again!” angle for all the comedy they can. Still, it’s rather astounding just how similar this sequel looks.

Despite (or perhaps because) of the remarkable similarity to the first film, I do think the trailer does a good job of selling the sequel, with plenty of the wild situations and Zach Galifianakis/Ken Jeong shtick that made the original so entertaining. I also have a slightly more personal interest in the film, having spent a year of my childhood living in Bangkok. So at the very least I’ll be interested in seeing how Phillips utilizes Thailand as a setting for the wolf-packs’ debauched antics. My guess: not particularly realistically.

The Hangover Part II will be in theatres worldwide from May 26th.

What say you? Can lightning strike twice, or would you have prefered not to see these characters returning to the big screen?

Review: Battle: Los Angeles

Although the bad guys are from the far reaches of space, Jonathan Liebesman’s Battle: Los Angeles, is, in essence, a war film. More accurately, it is a not particularly good war film. Following a group of US marines in Los Angeles on the morning of an extraterrestrial assault, the film takes the plot of a million alien invasion movies and attempts to combine it with the gritty, on-the-ground aesthetic of films like The Hurt Locker and Black Hawk Down. The intensity of the filmmaking from Oscar winning directors Kathryn Bigelow and Ridley Scott, respectively, ensures that the sometimes weak characterizations in those films never seriously detract from the visceral experience of war they create. Sadly, Liebesman has nowhere near the same levels of directorial expertise, and the competently directed action sequences in his film have no chance of masking the atrocious dialogue, paper thin characters and confused political ideology that make Battle: Los Angeles impossible to recommend.

The movie begins by throwing us into the middle of a firefight, not unlike Gareth Edwards’ low budget alien allegory Monsters from earlier in the year. With a night vision lens and wild, frenetic camera movement, Liebesman’s handling of scenes like this – and there are several – is far and away the best part of the film, as he skillfully depicts the chaos of urban warfare. Unfortunately the film then flashes back to before the invasion, in what can only be described as one of the most half-arsed, disingenuous attempts to establish characters that I have ever witnessed. Although on screen text lets us know each of their name, the soldiers can more readily be identified by the single tired war movie stereotype that they embody; the rookie, the veteran, the incompetent officer, the token African America, etc, etc. The acting is not necessarily bad, but even the normally excellent Aaron Eckhart fails to bring an ounce of originality to his performance, sometimes I blame more on Liebesman’s direction than on any of the no-name cast.
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Invaders in MGMs “Red Dawn” remake to be digitally altered from Chinese to North Korean

Made in 1984 during the closing years of the Cold War, John Milius Red Dawn tells the story of a group of American high-school students engaged in geurilla warfare against an invading Soviet army. Two and a half decades later, Hollywood decided it was time for a remake, only this time with contemporary Chinese forces as the outside aggressor. Filmed in 2009, the completed movie has been in limbo for some time due to MGMs financial difficulties, with a release date tentatively scheduled for some point in late 2011. However, before any of us get to see the film, it seems like there’s a little bit more tweaking to be done. Specifically, after concerns arose that depicting a hostile China would damage the movies box office take in that highly profitable market, MGM have decided to digitally alter the film in order to change the invading forces from Chinese to North Korean.

Financially and politically, this does seem like quite a smart move. In the time since the Red Dawn remake was conceived, China has become an increasingly important market for American films – in 2010 China was Hollywood’s fifth biggest non-domestic market, earning over $1.5 billion in revenue despite government restrictions that limit the number of non-Chinese releases to a mere twenty films. The Red Dawn remake has already received negative attention in China following script leaks, which lead the Chinese press to accuse the film of “demonizing” China. By comparison, North Korea is a closed economy that already has a radically anti-Western stance, and as such MGM has much less to lose by depicting them as an enemy.

According to the Los Angeles Times, changes to the film will mostly include digitally altering Chinese flags and insignias to those of the North Korean military, as well as alterations to some dialogue and reshooting the opening scene.

I’ve got to say, this doesn’t strike me as a particularly good indicator of the quality of the film. If the villains are so interchangeable, one can hardly imagine that the movie has any kind of political insight or serious depth. Not that we should have been expecting that anyway; let’s not forget that at the time of the originals release, the Guinness Book of World Records called it the most violent film ever made.

The remake stars Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Isabel Lucas and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and was directed by Dan Bradley (who previously worked as a stunt coordinator on the Spider-Man and Bourne films).

Michael Bay is insightful

While speaking to Empire Magazine, Michael Bay said the following of his film Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen:

“We made some mistakes. The real fault with [Transformers 2] is that it ran into a mystical world. When I look back at it, that was crap. The writers’ strike was coming hard and fast. It was just terrible to do a movie where you’ve got to have a story in three weeks. I was prepping a movie for months where I only had 14 pages of some idea of what the movie was. It’s a BS way to make a movie, do you know what I’m saying?”

When he says “the real fault” in that second sentence, I can only assume he meant “one of the many, many, MANY real faults”. Transformers 2 might honestly be one of the most god awful steaming piles ever made. I look back on my excitement for the movie – based on the admittedly excellent trailer – will shame and a tinge of self loathing.

Speaking of excellent trailers, did you see the Superbowl spots for Transformers 3? That thing looks awesome! I guess Bay’s learnt his lesson, right guys?

Guys?

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Quentin Tarantino to write & direct a Spaghetti Western?

Following several unconfirmed reports, Quentin Tarantino announced this week at The Weinstein Company’s Oscar afterparty that his next directorial effort will be a Western that reunites him with the breakout star of Inglourious Basterds, Academy Award winning Austrian actor Christoph Waltz. Tarantino told reporters from Deadline New York that the script was completed and will be delivered to the Weinsteins within the next two months, and that the movie could start shooting before the year is out.

Although this genre is ostensibly something new for the director, both Kill Bill: Volume 2 and Inglourious Basterds were clearly influenced by the Westerns of Sergio Leone and John Ford, amongst others. Tarantino is a director who loves to pay homage to (or as some would put it, blatantly steal from) other filmmakers; Italian actor Franco Nero, who claims to be attached to the film, told reporters that the movie would be called The Angel, The Bad and The Wise as a tribute to Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, although this title has (thankfully) been debunked.

Of course Tarantino is also notorious for talking up future projects that never come to fruition (movies supposedly in the works include a Kill Bill sequel, Resevoir Dogs/Pulp Fiction spinoff, a 30’s gangster movie and a KKK revenge film). But if the script really is completed, then perhaps we actually will get to see the directors attempt at a full blown Spaghetti Western; the combined version of Kill Bill, entitled Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair is also getting a US theatrical release at the end of the month after being talked about for years: perhaps Tarantino is turning over a new leaf, where he actually follows through on half the things he says?

The other question is, naturally: how excited are you for this film? As I said earlier, Tarantino has already made several films with Western elements; are you glad he’s finally dropping all pretenses, or would you rather he tackled one of his many other projects? Personally, while I might be more intrigued by, say, the 30’s gangster film he spoke about, pretty much any forward moving Tarantino news is enough to get me very, very excited.

“The Cove” DVD sent to homes in Japanese fishing community

Winner of the 2009 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, The Cove is a bold, inflammatory and gripping real life story about a group of activists trying to expose the slaughter of thousands of dolphins that occurs each year in the Japanese fishing village of Taiji. Despite the attention the film received around the globe however, director Louis Psihoyos, who also founded the Oceanic Preservation Society, believes that many residents in Taiji are yet to see the film. So, with the help of anonymous activists within Taiji, Psihoyos will this week have DVD copies of the movie mailed to each home in the town of 3500 people, in a further attempt to spread the film’s message.

Regardless of some concerns I had about the documentary’s clear one sidedness, The Cove was one of my favourite films of 2009 (you can read my review here). One of the most interesting aspects of the movie was how it attempted to dispel the supposed myth that dolphin hunting is a cultural practice within Japan, and how it purported that most everyday Japanese citizens were unaware of the slaughters that occur annually in fishing towns such Taiji. The film did have a limited release in Japanese theatres last year, but screenings were often disrupted by angry right wing protestors.

Following the films win at the Academy Awards, some reports surfaced that the number of dolphins being killed in Taiji had been significantly reduced, but their validity was soon thrown into question. Clearly, this news story shows that Psihoyos and OPS have not given up the fight to bring an end to the dolphin slaughter and captivity industry in Japan. If you haven’t already seen The Cove, I’d highly recommend you do so; I’ve included the films trailer after the jump. In the mean time, share your thoughts on the film, and on Psihoyos’ latest stunt, in the comments section below.

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Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot McNairy to star opposite Brad Pitt in “Cogan’s Trade”

Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot McNairy are two actors who really only came to my attention in the past year. An Australian actor (represent!), Ben Mendelsohn has acted in numerous local films and television programs as well as the occasional bit part in Hollywood movies including Australia and Knowing. International cinephiles however would most likely know him from his recent turn as the mentally unstable criminal Andrew “Pope” Cody in David Michod’s critically acclaimed Animal Kingdom.

McNairy, meanwhile, having previously been restricted to bit parts and TV roles, recently starred in the low budget sci-fi parable Monsters, a film that, in light of its surprising lack of special effects, relied largely on the strong performances of its leads.

Ben Mendelsohn (right) in Animal Kingdom

Scoot McNairy in Monsters

In light of the impressive work both men turned in last year, it comes as welcome news that they have both been cast opposite Brad Pitt in Andrew Dominik’s upcoming crime film Cogan’s Trade According to Variety, McNairy and Mendelsohn will play “two young junkies who perpetrate a heist that takes place during a high-stakes poker game held under the protection of the mob.”

Brad Pitt will play a mob enforcer who is investigating the robbery. The film will also mark the second time that Pitt and director Andrew Dominik have worked together, having previously collaborated on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Mendelsohn also recently finished shooting Trespass with Nicholas Cage, and The Killer Elite with Robert DeNiro, while McNairy is reportedly in talks to take parts in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi film Prometheus and Timur Bekmambetov’s presidential…um…biopic, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. All in all, it looks like we’re going to be seeing a lot more of these two guys in the next couple for years. Are you as excited as I am?

Intense, hyper-violent trailer for Korean revenge film “I Saw the Devil”

Beautifully scored, stylishly edited and unflinchingly violent, if this recent red-band trailer is anything to go by, I Saw the Devil looks to be the latest addition to the list of excellent Korean films making their way to the West. Directed by Kim Ji-woon (The Good, The Bad and The Weird, A Bittersweet Life), the film tells the story of a secret agent (Lee Byung-hun, The Good, The Bad and the Weird) who sets out on a quest of bloody vengeance against a brutal serial killer (Choi Min-sik, Oldboy) who murdered his fiancé.

The movie scored strong reviews coming out of TIFF and Sundance (including this largely positive one from our own Kurt Halfyard), and is set to go into limited release in the United States on March 4th. Click here to see if it’s playing near you.