Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day One - "I mean, I'm wearing Star Wars underpants, for God's sake..."

Featured review of the day: Opening Night Gala - The Illusionist

The People Vs George Lucas

Documentary exploring the betrayal felt by Star Wars fans at the combined atrocities of the re-edited versions, the prequels and Jar-Jar Binks.

Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe, The People Vs George Lucas explores the betrayal felt by Star Wars fans at the combined atrocities of the re-edited versions of the original trilogy and the crushing disappointment of the three prequels, to say nothing of Jar-Jar Binks. The film is split into four chapters: Just A Nerf Herder from Modesto takes a look at Lucas's early beginnings and explores the phenomenal success of the original Star Wars films,examining the deep and lasting effect they've had on Star Wars fans everywhere; The Great Tinkerer discusses Lucas's obsession with re-editing the original trilogy (at one point going so far as to say the original version would no longer be available), examines the many issues fans had with the re-mastered versions (e.g. Greedo shooting first, the re-insertion of a poorly animated Jabba the Hutt) and explaining Why It Matters (someone points out that if Da Vinci turned up in a time machine and tried to change the Mona Lisa there'd be an uproar); Revenge of the Geeks lists the crimes of the three prequels (step forward, Jar-Jar Binks) while generously acknowledging that kids still like them; and A New Hope? looks at the ways in which fans have continued to make their own versions, re-editing the existing films themselves and creating their own spin-offs, tributes and re-enactments. Philippe has assembled a wealth of terrific material that includes fan-made films (the bits where people use their pets as Ewoks or wookies are guaranteed to elicit "Aaahs"), archive footage, film clips, comedy clips (Jon Stewart berating a bemused Lucas on The Daily Show) and home movies as well as interviews with dozens of fans both young and old – a clip of a young girl looking to her father for approval when she says she likes Jar-Jar is just one of several highlights. Philippe has also rounded up an eclectic selection of talking heads, including Lucas's biographer (Dale Pollock), several film critics (Glenn Kenny, Chris Gore and Todd Hanson among them), film historians, cultural commentators, writers (Neil Gaiman), comedians (Simon Pegg, Jared Christmas), artists and film-makers, as well as interviewing the creators of several of the best fan-made films (including Chris Strompolos, whose full-length Raiders of the Lost Ark: the Adaptation I saw a few months back). The editing is excellent, particularly in the stitching together of some of the fan material. In addition, there are some very funny lines (Jared Christmas's handjob analogy is priceless) and the film deserves a lot of credit for giving Lucas his due, most notably in pointing out that he actively embraces the fan film culture, even going so far as to make sound effects available for free online.
This is a hugely enjoyable, frequently funny documentary that explores some intriguing cultural issues and provides a fascinating insight into the passionate nature of Star Wars fandom. Highly recommended. Four stars.

Pelican Blood

British drama starring Harry or Luke Treadaway as an obsessive bird-watcher whose desire to kill himself after his 500th rare bird isn't diminished by the sudden reappearance of his old girlfriend (Emma Booth).

Directed by Karl Golden, Pelican Blood stars Harry or Luke Treadaway (okay, it's Harry, but seriously, who can tell them apart?) as Nikko, an obsessive bird-watcher (or Twitcher) who has recently been released from a mental hospital after being sectioned by his well-meaning but exasperated sister, following a failed suicide attempt. Unbeknownst to his two best friends (Doctor Who's Arthur Darvill as Cameron and Ali Craig as Bish), Nikko intends to kill himself after spotting his 500th rare bird and he's already up to bird number 498. When his ex-girlfriend Stevie (Emma Booth, from The Boys Are Back) reappears on the scene, his friends and family are horrified, blaming her for Nikko's suicide attempt, but the truth is a little more complicated. The performances are fine (particularly Craig and Darvill who add much-needed comic relief) and I'm never going to object too strongly to a film with nudity this gratuitous (Booth walks around topless just to wind up Nikko's sister and uptight brother-in-law) but this didn't really work for me overall. For one thing it struggles to link its two strands - on the one hand it's a romantic comedy about obsessive bird-watchers and on the other it's a dark, angst-ridden drama about suicidal self-harmers rekindling a potentially destructive relationship. Worse, it side-lines the more interesting elements of the story (e.g. Nikko's friends and family panicking when Stevie reappears) and instead goes off on a weird tangent involving an illegal egg collector. On top of that, characters behave inconsistently from scene to scene and the ending will make Shakespeare students everywhere squirm with embarrassment. Oh, one other thing that annoyed me - the introduction of Stevie (where you don't realise that they already know each other) is too clever-clever for its own good and adds nothing to the story other than early annoyance at the film-makers. It does have a good score though. Two stars.


New Zealand coming-of-age comedy-drama from the director of Eagle vs Shark, about an 11 year-old boy who finds that his just-out-of-jail father doesn't quite live up to the mythologised image he'd built up around him in his absence.

The second best film of the day. I was a huge fan of Taika Waititi's Eagle vs Shark so I was very excited to see this and it didn't disappoint. A charming and funny coming-of-age tale, it's set in 1984 and stars James Rolleston as Boy, an 11 year-old boy who idolises Michael Jackson almost as much as he idolises his father, who's currently in prison. Boy spends his days hanging out with his friends (including two sisters named Dallas and Dynasty), keeping an eye on his younger brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu), looking after his pet goat and pining after pouty classmate Chardonnay (RickyLee Waipuka-Russell). While his grandmother is away at a funeral, Boy enjoys being the head of the household but then his father Alamein (Taika Waititi) gets out of jail and moves back in. ("This used to be my old room. You can still use it though.") Initially overjoyed, Boy gradually realises that his father might not be the heroic figure he'd imagined him to be. This is a treat from start to finish with likeable characters and a script that's both laugh-out-loud funny and genuinely moving. It's also brilliantly directed and edited throughout - the opening montage set to Boy's class presentation is a work of genius and could stand alone as a short. There are several wonderful scenes and moments but highlights include: Boy imagining his father's spoon-based escape from prison; Alamein's obsessions with 1980s TV (his Dukes of Hazzard car-entering style is hilarious); any scene involving Rocky and his "powers" of telekinesis; and Alamein's well-intentioned snippets of fatherly advice, such as telling Boy and Rocky, "Don't get into the Nazi stuff" just after proudly showing them the swastika he carved into their wall as a child. I'm already looking forward to seeing this again and not just because I started to feel sleepy (through no fault of the film) in the last 20 minutes or so. Highly recommended. Four stars.

Red Hill

Australian thriller starring Ryan Kwanten as a small-town cop who comes up against an escaped killer on his first day on the job.

Ryan Kwanten (aka True Blood's Jason Stackhouse) stars as Shane Cooper, an Australian city cop who's transferred to smalltown Red Hill because his heavily pregnant wife has been advised to keep her blood pressure down following a previous miscarriage. Just Cooper's luck then that on his first day he encounters escaped killer Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis), who's seemingly intent on gunning down every member of the police force. And as if that wasn't bad enough, there's also a ravenous wild animal on the loose. This is already the third or fourth film I've seen so far that starts brilliantly but then tails off halfway through and fails to deliver on its initial promise. The performances are excellent (Kwanten proves he can do likeable without resorting to Stackhouse-like dim-wittedness) and the characters are intriguing, particuarly the aptly-named Old Bill (Steve Bisley), the no-nonsense chief cop in charge of the manhunt. However, any tension involved in awaiting Conway's arrival is dispensed with almost immediately and the rest of the film is mostly a stalk-and-shoot affair, interspersed with the occasional ridiculous moment (the bit where the jungle cat appears is worse than the whole of Kimmeh vs The Mountain Lion in Season 2 of 24) and some increasingly awful lines - the final scene, for example, is peppered with unintentional laughs and features one of the worst last lines in recent memory. Shame, because for the first 25 minutes or so this was very promising. Two stars.


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