Author: Alex Doenau

Babel Promo Blitz!

I saw a trailer for Babel today, when I saw Borat for a third time. Borat is funny, but Australians are philistines: all three times, I’m the only one who laughed at “well, this is another fine mess you’ve gotten me into.”
How can you not know that, Australia! You laugh at the following joke only because it involves mention of Hitler! To describe myself as “disappointed” doesn’t even cover it.

Anyway: Babel. This movie is a hard sell, but the trailer made an earnest effort of making it appear as if it focuses on the story of Richard and Sarah. The problem with this idea is that it has to pay lip service to the other three stories, and we have to wonder what relation they could possibly have (with the exception of the Moroccan story, of course; there’s little room for misinterpretation there).

It also commits the other duty of trailers in this modern age: explaining the title. (This is something that I wished The Pursuit of Happyness had done, because that title angers me something fierce). I think that the story of the tower of Babel is becoming increasingly obscure to people who … don’t play video games or watch anime.

Still, if I wasn’t me, who just goes into a cinema and says “amaze me” – shaking my fist in disappointment at the directors that fail me – then I don’t think I would want to see Babel.
The promo blitz appears to have started in earnest, though: this was obviously a new print of Borat, designed both to suggest that the little fake Kazakhi who could has staying power and that … people should go and see Babel; on the side of things that does not involve going to a film to learn about films, the Sydney Morning Herald published its review yesterday and the feature article of its Spectrum section today is on the film.

Even Dendy Opera Quays has taken hold. It appears that, in this day and age, Dendy is showing more “mainstream” independent films – the sort that will play on George Street. If you’re playing on George Street, I wouldn’t think that you would have to play at the Quays, but this is apparently not the case (also, Dendy Newtown is showing Borat! For shame! Put back on What the bleep do we know?! at once, blackguards!).
The lounge area downstairs at Opera Quays* now has an interesting montage of promo shots from Babel filling one of its walls. I’d almost go and see the movie there, if I hadn’t already been to George Street (also, George Street has better access to restaurants and what not; my enjoyment of Babel was greatly enhanced by the Korean BBQ that I enjoyed on Liverpool street afterwards**).

I’ve read, through vaguely incomplete sentences on Wikipedia, that Babel has been far from a financial smash. What do you expect of such a hard sell? I loved it, but I’ve warned all of my coworkers who hate subtitles to stay away – three quarters of the film is in “foreign”.

Natural biases against reading will prevent many from seeing Babel, but come on: Brad Pitt! Cate Blanchett! Gael Garcia Bernal! And, for some reason, Koji Yakusho as a saleable figure!
Just go see it, people! If there are any ads on TV promoting it, I’ll keep note. Movies that actually receive advertising where it counts are always going to be the ones that survive … maybe Babel is supposed to be a mixture of media and viral influence.

*I realise that the majority of my audience is a small group of Americans, and therefore my descriptions of places in Sydney are largely irrelevant. Read them and weep.
**Weep, I say!

12 Months of Movies 2006: January

I have kept most of my movie tickets for the year. If there are any I haven’t, I’ll look up the movie release dates and see if I can fit them somewhere in the timeline.
Keep in mind also that this is an Australian list: some of the films may technically be 2005 releases, but they were not released here until 2006. Therefore they make my list.

So, without further ado, let’s kick off 2006 with its first month: a month of cowboys, geisha, Nazis, terrorists and reds under the bed! This is a personal list, organised chronologically. It’s by no means encyclopaedic, but it puts the year into some sort of perspective.

Oblivion: Confessions of an Axolot

Did you ever notice that the game Olivion has so much of everything (including bugs) that it feels like just as much of nothing (except bugs)? I’ve been playing for 94 hours and, with each minute spent, I feel more of a hollow individual.

Still, I was playing the game and I found a most interesting journal contained within. It was titled “Confessions of an Axolot”, and appears to chronicle the adventures of a cynical Breton long past bored.
Enjoy it here without having to put up with the game’s annoying “handwriting” font and without having to search for a document that patently doesn’t exist.

Trailers: Threat Level Gamma

It’s been a while since I last saw fit to comment on any of the trailers I’ve seen, although I should probably point out that the Eragon trailers that I have been seeing for the last few months have uniformly bored me. Well, when I say uniform, I’ve only actually seen one. But I’ve seen it multiple times.

Anyway, A Scanner Darkly was particularly notable for the treasure trove of trailers that accompanied it. It kind of made me think that I hadn’t seen anything even slightly independent for a while – at least the sort of stuff that is preceded by trailers.

The pick of the bunch gets awarded with an embedded version of its trailer.

The Queen

First off the block! The Queen: Helen Mirren’s adventure into looking like Elizabeth Windsor and getting the Hell away with it. It’s easy to forget, when all you’ve seen of the film is Helen Mirren, that this film is about the royal family’s reaction to the death of Princess Diana.
Now call me heartless, but I never much cared for the Queen of Hearts. Quite why Elizabeth Windsor should care that greatly for the death of a woman who brought a great deal of shame to the family is beyond me, but I’m not the British public.

To be honest, I don’t really remember the content of this trailer; all that I know is that I want to see The Queen. Even if I were to summon up YouTube and post the trailer for The Queen right here, I doubt that I’d remember it immediately thereafter.

Stranger Than Fiction

Hooray for metatextuality! Stranger than Fiction is further proof that the quality of Will Ferrell is reliant entirely on the quality of the movie that he’s in. The execrable Wedding Crashers was made even worse by his mercifully brief involvement, but Talladega Nights was wholly inoffensive. Stranger than Fiction is like a triangle of delight: Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman.

Basically Emma Thompson has to write a novel, and she chooses to write it about Will Ferrell, not realising that he is an actual person. Will Ferrell can hear her narration, and he realises that she is trying to kill him off. Through Dustin Hoffman, Ferrell has to find Emma Thompson and convince her to let him live.

The trailer makes it look like an excellent story about a wholly mundane man who realises that, when his life is threatened, he really, really is quite attached to living. The grim clinging to the reality that he has come to inhabit makes this look like a good film indeed.

Scoop

What’s that, Woody Allen? You say this screwball serial killer comedy starring Scarlett Johansson is your penance for having made me sit through your horrid, grey, misanthropic Match Point? Why, I do believe that I’ll take you up on this offer!
My hideous confession – and this is one of my more hideous – is that, barring Match Point, I have not actually seen a Woody Allen film.
Shortly after I watched that mind numbing, insultingly filmed, thoroughly uninviting tennis movie, I happened upon Woody Allen: Complete Prose. Read it? I devoured it. Allen had presented a collection of comedic curios so exquisite that I vomited with envy (also because books are not designed for internal consumption).

Scoop features Scarlett Johansson, a magician’s assistant and journalist, inveigling herself into a serial killing plot that she suspects is engineered by aristocratic Hugh Jackman. Allen himself is on hand to discourage Johansson from getting herself killed, but journalists refuse to listen to reason!
Also I just realised that, save for Woody Allen in place of Michael Caine, this is exactly the same movie as The Prestige. And I’ll tell you what? I can’t wait.

Post-script: “Hey, buddy,” you may say to me, in your no-doubt affected New York accent (substitute for Boston if I start talking about The Departed). “These movies – they’ve already been and gone! What the hell country do you think you’re living in that you’d be so far out of the loop that this stuff is new to you?”
Yeah, well: Australia. Sometimes we get stuff early, sometimes months past due. If I can live with it, so can you.

Babel

Listen.

This is the first movie I’ve seen in a long time where I went in not having any idea what it was about. In recruiting my friends to see it – and I did a good job, as I was accompanied by nine of my comrades for this excursion – they demanded to know what it was about. I extrapolated, from the title and the poster, that it was an archaeological adventure about discovering the remnants of the Tower of Babel in the Middle East. The scary thing was that I explained this theory so many times that I came to believe it myself.

Babel is anything but that, though. It’s one of those ensemble movies that have become wildly popular since the advent of Crash. Loosely related stories are tied together into one movie, as was the case for everyone’s favourite unbalanced movie about LA racism. Behind Love Actually, Babel is my favourite example of this genre (although this stance may change if I were to rewatch Magnolia).

Babel seems to me a hard sell – despite its stellar cast, its dialogue is spread across five languages; Japan is represented in a style so accurate that many people will simply be confused; a lot of time is spent trying to figure out the precise details of the connections between the stories – but it’s worth the effort. All of the Golden Globe nominations, and therefore perhaps Academy Award nominations, will certainly help it along. I certainly believe that this film deserves a larger audience than Syriana, at any rate.

Oh, wait. I’ve digressed wildly and I haven’t even started the review yet. I apologise for that! Let’s get down to business.

A Scanner Darkly

Come on in, it’s open.

You know what’s great about Phillip K. Dick? He loved to write paranoid mind fucks. Perhaps it wasn’t so much a matter as “loved” as “had to”, so that he could expose the Man.
Less great is Richard Linklater, who is largely responsible for what he puts on the screen. I don’t understand how it is that one year can see something as leaden as Fast Food Nation and something as dynamic and arresting as A Scanner Darkly. To get the most out of it, you have to like the sort of stories that Dick produced. My friends were bored, confused, or both. Fortunately Linklater used the rotoscoping technique that he employed for Wanking Life a few years back, so it managed to aesthetically intrigue and give them motion sickness at the same time.