Category: Film

The Refuge

The Refuge gets the heavy stuff out of the way first: two drug addicts. One overdoses. The other one wakes up pregnant. No more drugs. Five minutes down, on with the movie!

The Refuge is an imperfect wisp of a movie, with charming atmosphere and pleasant characters but a few key misfires that stopped it from being more than a passably good film.

Heartbeats

Heartbeats was my first film of the 2010 Sydney Film Festival. If this is how it starts, I’m expecting good things. It’s also a competition film. I only saw one of those last year: Louis-Michel (hardly a competitor). This year, I’m seeing every competition entry.

Heartbeats is not for everyone, dividing along two primary gaps: sexuality (preferred by gays) and age (preferred by hip twenty somethings). That said, Roger Ebert himself is keen to see it, and I can’t say I blame him. Much is made of the fact that director Xavier Dolan is only 21, but everyone gets their start sometime.

Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom is out in Australian cinemas today.

Australia. It’s a tough country to nail down, because so many of us hate the image that we project. It’s called the “cultural cringe”. No one in Australia goes to see Australian films; if you talk about a movie and then say that it’s Australian, your audience quickly loses interest.

There is something utterly uncompelling about the promotion of our films that a lot of people don’t get through the door to find out if something is worth watching. Of course, it was not always like this. And it doesn’t always have to be like this.

Animal Kingdom is a magnetic movie. From its first trailer, featuring a home invasion set to Air Supply’s “All Out of Love”, I knew that I had to see it. A more conventional trailer only cemented that thought. The fact that it won at Sundance didn’t hurt, either.

Suddenly Animal Kingdom had done what Beneath Hill 60 with its appeal to jingoism and I Love You, Too, with its appeal to the Peter Dinklage fanbase, had resolutely failed to do: it got me excited to see an Australian movie.

In an industry where apathy is the killer, where it’s easier to go to Transformers than it is to make an informed decision, where they let Robin Hood open Cannes, to set off someone’s radar means something.

Through no fault of Animal Kingdom, I had come to expect it as some sort of Holy Grail of Australian cinema. It’s pretty good, but it’s not close to sacramental.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

It’s time that someone accepted it, but no one will: a video game movie doesn’t have to be bad. A video game movie doesn’t have to be like a video game. A video game movie can be lighthearted fun. A video game movie can really just be a “movie”, without the need to append “video game”.

One does not watch No Country For Old Men and call it a “book movie”.

Prince of Persia is a movie. It is not game-like in its presentation. It’s not entirely clear why it needed to be made but, unlike quite a few of the action adventure films I’ve seen in recent months, I do not regret its production. In fact, seeing it brightened my day a little.

The best way to put it is this: Prince of Persia is what Clash of the Titans might have been had Clash of the Titans been a competently made movie.

Mass Effect: The Road to Shepardition

Warning: Contains minor Mass Effect spoilers, no Mass Effect 2 spoilers.

You may have read that the Mass Effect movie has been reoptioned. This apparently is news, because I thought that around the time Mass Effect 2 came out there was talk of the movie. No matter.

Thing is, look at the Mass Effect boxes. Look at the guy with the shaved head, the guy with the gun, the guy who doesn’t care what you think of him. Who is that guy?

Some might argue that he is John Shepard. There is no John Shepard. Mass Effect is an infinite series of parallel Shepards, from LL Shepard, the genocide preventing beacon of light, to the bloodthirsty Sarah “Going Rogue” Shepard, hell bent on homicide and pitifully thin profit margins. There are gradations of Shepard, and each is particular to the player. Sarah Shepard may be physically identical to LL Shepard, but she has black lips to match her black heart.

One gets so attached to one’s first Shepard that any other Shepard seems somewhat wrong by comparison. When Sarah Shepard embarked upon her maiden voyage, I reflected upon the fact that LL would never be so pointlessly antagonistic to the entire galaxy. It jarred.

Then, as I got under Sarah’s skin, I realised that she was indeed her own person, and not simply LL with some dark make up on and a smart mouth: she was a genuinely anarchic space bitch and she didn’t care who knew it.

I don’t have stats on this but it seems that quite a lot of people play Shepard as a woman. The default Shepard – shaved marine John Shepard – seems too boring to even fathom. One of your options in these games is to play as a variant of a space wizard. You can also be a space hacker, a psychic computer genius super bug-empath, or quite a few combinations of all of the above … yet so many players choose to run through the universe as a dude with a gun.

I don’t have anything against “dudes with guns”, but it is hard to deny that in the current field they are a little overrepresented. If I want to play as a woman who can suck you into a vortex of pain with a gesture of her hand, then I will.

So what will we end up with in a projected movie of Mass Effect? We will end up with someone else’s Shepard: a Shepard set in stone, a Shepard that we, the audience, have no say in. To canonize Mass Effect is to weaken its brand.

Remember the uproar that went up when it was discovered that a Shepard created from scratch in Mass Effect 2 had wantonly murdered Wrex and doomed the Council to extinction? That Shepard was a jerk by default. That’s not anybody’s Shepard. That is Bioware’s idea of what a lot of peoples’ Shepards might have been.

It is because of this that the PC crowd had the huge Shepard Supermarket, wherein players could download the Shepard that most closely conformed to their ideal Shepard. Fortunately, Mass Effect 2’s story allowed for extensive plastic surgery at the beginning of the game to reshape a Shepard into the Shepard of one’s own dreams. It’s a degree of decadence just short of Tyrell Corporation, but it restores not just peace of mind to the player but to the universe they have been charged with the protection of.

What makes Shepard so great is that she is a legitimate character rather than the blank slate everyman that so many modern video games offer. The player is given a pre-formed character with whom they quickly familiarize themselves, and based on what they know about her they decide what action she is most likely to take.

Would Sarah Shepard show mercy and allow the Rachni to survive? No, she would give their queen an acid bath and laugh at the unheard screams of millions of children never to be born.

Would LL Shepard slaughter the citizens of Feros simply because it’s easier than trying to deprogram them? No, she would ensure that no one died on her watch – and she would do it efficiently and without complaint. That’s just the kind of Shepard LL is.

That every Shepard belongs to the player means that there is no single Mass Effect canon. Different Shepards created different universes, and to watch a movie that asserts that something you know in your heart is blatantly wrong is to bring pain upon oneself.  The movie removes power and agency from the hands of those most dedicated to the subject matter: the players.

Commander Shepard belongs to everybody. There is no single Commander Shepard. For some charlatan to foist the Commander Shepard of their own creation upon the world, and to claim him (and it will be him) as the Commander Shepard, to expect us to adopt him as our unquestioned messiah, is an act of intense hubris, and one that we must not stand for.

Whatever the Mass Effect movie turns out to be – and we don’t strictly need it, because the games are already there to be played, enjoyed and consumed in an almost cinematic fashion – it won’t be Mass Effect. It might have some cool ideas, it might have some cool characters, action, worlds and an epic story befitting the grandest of space operas, but it will ultimately be someone else’s vision.

Mass Effect is at its heart an expression of democracy: the player’s destination is universal, but their choices along the way act to create an individual Shepard – a Shepard they can call their own.

Credit is due to Bioware forums user OraVelnoria87 for their “FemShep” montage.

The Secret in Their Eyes

The Secret in Their Eyes won Best Foreign Language Film at the 2010 Academy Awards, upsetting favourites A Prophet and The White Ribbon. But was it any good?

The trailer bore an ill omen: it prominently features a train pulling away from a station as a woman tearfully runs towards it. I was surprised that a film is allowed to get away with such brazen actions in the modern age. The image is so iconic but it means that it’s difficult to take seriously.

However, there is a context to everything, and the train works on several levels within the film itself. A cinematic trope can be featured if you exploit or subvert it in some way, rather than present it without comment.

The Concert

Take your passion and make it happen!

The Concert is a movie that I have several issues with, but it’s also a certain kind of movie: one that works to such an explosive finale that practically all is forgiven.

That one has condescended to forgive the movie, however, does not mean that it its flaws can or should be overlooked.

Andrei Fillipov (Aleksei Guskov) used to be the Maestro, the finest conductor in the Bolshoi. Alas, he was named an enemy of the people and demoted to janitor. Thirty years later, he hijacks his boss’ fax machine and accepts an invitation to perform at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. Naturally, he has to get the orchestra back together … And to enlist the violinist Anne-Marie Jacquet (Inglourious Basterds’ Mélanie Laurent) to perform the all-important solo in his Tchaikovsky recital.

The trailer for The Concert didn’t quite strike the right note, trying too clumsily to balance the comedy and the drama of the film. I was still interested in seeing it, and I was rewarded to a degree.

Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass is going to cause a lot of controversy. It’s about vigilante justice. It’s about revenge. It’s about a twelve-year-old girl swearing and stabbing people and shooting them in the head and cutting off their limbs.

The strangest thing is that people are shocked most of all by the girl saying “the c word”, rather than the brutal murders she commits. The unstrange thing is that a lot of people – chiefly the denizens of this faceless morass we call the internet – are going to love it.

I didn’t quite love Kick-Ass, and part of that was the audience, and part of that was a not very subtle undertone of homophobia, but it’s a worthy enough movie that I hope achieves enough success for Matthew Vaughn to keep making movies.

Oscars 2010 Post-Mortem

When the Oscars are over for another year, it’s legitimately difficult to care about them, isn’t it?

Here’s my post mortem, though, for those playing at home.

Oscars ’10: Deadblog

Last year I “deadblogged” the Oscars in a notebook which I was too exhausted to transcribe. At a glance, the best note was the following:

“Who knows which [of these movies] are already on their journeys to next year’s Academy Awards?”

-The ones in the fourth quarter.

As always, the “Deadblog” is entirely optional, as it boils down to 2600 words of stream of consciousness typed in real time watching my recording of the Oscars (and a Youtube video). Think of it as a distilled, more inane version of my Twitter feed.

I will venture a more professional write up soon. Needless to say, the following contains Oscar spoilers.

Bit of an underwhelming year, but what can you do? It went almost exactly as expected, except for … I’m furrowing my brow here. But know my rage and read on.
As always, Mark’s legitimately live blog can be found here.