"Art is not a thing; it is a way."

Elbert Hubbard

Friday, April 30, 2010

WHO'S LAUGHING?

There's a fine line between comedy being laugh-out-loud funny and groan-out-load awful. Comedies face that dilemma for the whole of their running time. Whilst dramatic films can, for the most part, sweep people along with an underlying tug of the heart-strings it has always seemed to be much more difficult for comedic films to sustain a feature-film running time. Sure, there may be moments of brilliance within a comedy but one slight slip-up and it seems to set an audience's opinion of the film back ten steps rather than just one. Why is this? No idea but it is apparent that comedies seem to cop it far more harshly when watched by this viewer also.

Take Brüno for example. Sacha Baron Cohen's follow-up to his massively successful Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan, which garnered him an Oscar nomination - yep, Borat was an Oscar nominee, is about an overtly flamboyant Austrian fashion guru who simply wants to be famous.

Trouncing every stereotyped way of attaining fame, Brüno makes his way to America to hit it big time. This rehash of the Borat formula is, like that film, a potential gold mine of humour. However, where Cohen goes wrong again is a tendency to fall on the wrong side of victimising his subjects. The humour falls from being funny to downright mean at times which in effect lessens the power of what it is he is trying to say. Sure, it would seem appropriate to show the absolute horror of misguided show-business hungry parents, however, on closer inspection these are sick people and Cohen does nothing to suggest that perhaps help might benefit their children. He just points his D&G-garbed finger right in their face and laughs hoping the audience will do the same.

And at times it's impossible not to as he has a significant comedic point of view and an on-point delivery ability that holds him up as potentially one of the comedic greats, it's just that every good thing he does is undermined by an explicable turn into the world of silly. It's neither as confronting as Borat, though homophobes would probably disagree, but it does like its predecessor raise interesting questions. When Cohen can reign in his urge to go for the cheap laugh he may just have a masterpiece.

The Hangover, directed by Todd Phillipps, on the other hand makes no suggestion whatsoever that anyone was trying to veer anywhere close to comedic masterpiece. In what amounts to a one-trick-pony, this tale of drunken woe was a significant money-earner at the box-office and a surprising critical success. Beyond that there is little to talk about as this Golden Globe winner for Best Musical or Comedy fails to connect the dots and amount to more than a punchline for a not particularly funny joke.

Following the aftermath of a bucks night in Las Vegas three hungover louts - Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) - attempt to piece the jigsaw back together to find their now missing mate and buck, Doug (Justin Bartha), before the big wedding. Following encounters with a trashed Las Vegas megasuite, a loose tiger, an unidentified baby, a missing antique ring, a bizarrely present Mike Tyson, a weirdly non-present Heather Graham and a creepy little Asian Mr. Big in Mr. Chow, this mess of a movie makes the fatal mistake of forgetting to let the audience in on the joke. Trying to be too clever and merely explaining the endgame away as a run-in with a Mafia-like entourage with a case of mistaken identity means that what has been gradually built piece by piece is felled in one big swoop by that oft-loose block called, Cheat!

Apart from an hilariously on-point Galifianakis, whose timing is so genuinely and interestingly off-centre, there is little to recommend in this mega-hit. It's neither mega-funny or mega-interesting. Pretty much like a hangover you regret having wasted the time getting to this state and pretty much wish it was already over. It's far from anywhere near the hype.


Clearly avoiding any hype is the David Frankel adaptation of the John Grogan book, Marley & Me. An exploration into the world of Rom-Com, this Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson vehicle is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser but a completely underwhelming experience in the end. As a recollection of a family's beginnings through its times of struggle to its inevitable farewell to a significant family member, it fails to convince that it is anything more than a colour-by-number experience lacking an sense of depth or true familial grit. The problems are no more problematic than forgetting a shopping list on a trip to the supermarket and the humour is no more funny than realising you've got a disruptive pet on your hands who likes to cause pain beyond just leaving a big fat turd on the welcome mat.

Many will find comfort in the veneer presented here but for a film that is based around a premise so close to many hearts one wonders how playing a few violins and presenting that gut-wrenching decision isn't seen by more to be simply nothing other than a manipulation of that oft shoved-away realisation that inevitably there is an end for us all. The comic relief isn't very comical and offers as much as a headache placebo and considerable talent in the likes of Aniston, Alan Arkin and Kathleen Turner is shamefully wasted.

Marley is a naughty dog with some character. It's a mistake on the part of the filmmakers that they thought that would be enough to make a good film for even Cesar Millan would have trouble taming this big ol' dog.




In no need of any Millan intervention is the teen comedy, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, a somewhat successful romp through the night of a potentially just-right couple. Directed by Peter Sollett, this adaptation of another novel, this time by Rachel Cohn, follows both Nick (Michael Cera) and Norah (Kat Dennings) as they follow the drunken ramblings of Norah's friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) and a series of cryptic clues to a gig of a much-loved band, Where's Fluffy?

What works in Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist is the understanding of and attention to detail in the nuances of teenage-dom. There's little judgement in the self-obsession or anxiety-laden existences of these characters and the fact that no explanation is given for the presence of Nick in a Queercore band even though he's straight is reason enough to suggest that this is a film not bowing its head to anyone in a gesture of acknowledgement. It's a film of heart and humour with just the right amount of honesty thrown in to overcome the slight sense of pretension amidst its music-fan storyline.

Cera dials in a very Cera-like performance as Nick, which is made to look all the more ordinary due to the fine turn from Dennings and the inspired comedic presence of Graynor. Both women outshine perhaps even the material as they present a really interesting contradiction of what it means to be young, secure and female in the noughties.

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist isn't a masterpiece, not even within its genre, but it is a film that will convince you that the players knew and understood what was going on in this story of teenage romance. There's enough to suggest that perhaps the parts of the sum may in fact have more to give.


BRÜNO

2009

DIRECTOR:

Larry Charles

CAST:

Sacha Baron Cohen

Gustaf Hammarsten

81 min

USA


THE HANGOVER

2009

DIRECTOR:

Todd Phillips

CAST:

Bradley Cooper

Ed Helms

Zach Galifianakis

Justin Bartha

Heather Graham

Sasha Barrese

Jeffrey Tambor

Ken Jeong

Rachael Harris

Mike Tyson

100 min

USA ׀ Germany


MARLEY & ME

2008

DIRECTOR:

David Frankel

CAST:

Owen Wilson

Jennifer Aniston

Eric Dane

Kathleen Turner

Alan Arkin

Nathan Gamble

Haley Bennett

115 min

USA


NICK & NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST

2008

DIRECTOR:

Peter Sollett

CAST:

Michael Cera

Kat Dennings

Aaron Yoo

Rafi Gavron

Ari Graynor

Alexis Dziena

Jonathan Bradford Wright

Zachary Booth

Jay Baruchel

Justin Rice

90 min

USA

Saturday, April 10, 2010

FUNNY PEOPLE (Judd Apatow)












2009

DIRECTOR:

Judd Apatow

CAST:

Adam Sandler

Seth Rogen

Leslie Mann

Eric Bana

Jonah Hill

Jason Scwartzman

Aubrey Plaza

Maude Apatow

Iris Apatow

RZA

146 min

USA

Judd Apatow has emerged over the past few years as the director of the slacker. Whether it be about a slacker or simply to have a slacker tone to the piece, his work tends to have this laid back quality to it that promotes a sense of warmth and believability. The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Pineapple Express, You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Fun With Dick And Jane and even the television show Freaks And Geeks all had Apatow somehow involved, whether it was through direction, writing or in a producer role. All of the films scream Apatow. There is a sensibility about his work that just shouts lack of pretension. Those films vary when placed along the spectrum of quality; however, there is a distinct sense that that matters little to Apatow. For Funny People is another example of him putting that sense of fun and lack of pretension to the mainstream viewer hoping that they embrace it wholeheartedly like they did so many times before.









Funny People tells the story of George Simmons, Adam Sandler, a hugely successful comedian who lives the life until a scare from his doctor identifies that he is going to die from an incurable case of Leukaemia. Re-evaluating his life, which has seen him abandon his family and many of his former friends he quickly realises how badly he has treated many of those close to him and plans to make amends. With the help of a struggling comedian Ira, Seth Rogen, he makes contact with the relevant people and tries to fix what he so disastrously broke. Amongst those with whom he tries to make contact with is Laura, played by Leslie Mann, who is his ex-fiancée. But here lies a problem as she is now married with two children and a husband, Eric Bana, who does cheat but whom she bizarrely still loves.








There is much to admire about Apatow’s take on the oft-told tale of impending death, not least of which is Sandler, who really brings nuance to a role he truly seems to understand. Between his George here, his Charlie Fineman in Reign Over Me and his stellar Barry Egan in Punch-Drunk Love, he has some real grounds to be considered a top-notch but misused actor. His work here isn’t the only worthy of mention either with Leslie Mann backing up her fine work in Knocked Up with another really funny but grounded portrayal of a woman in an unhappy marriage. Also hitting the mark is Jason Schwartzman once again playing the obnoxious to perfection as a sitcom star and bit players in Aubrey Plaza as a Daria-like straight-talker and RZA as Ira’s work colleague, Chuck. Other players in Rogen, Bana and Hill are adequate in roles that could have potentially been more than to what they amount.








Overlong at nearly two-and-a-half hours, the film could have done with some trimming, however, in the end Sandler’s work here keeps you glued. It’s a fine piece of entertainment with far more depth than perhaps one may have given it credit. Funny People is another example of what Apatow can do without trick or fancy.

BEAUTIFUL KATE (Rachel Ward)












2009

DIRECTOR:

Rachel Ward

CAST:

Rachel Griffiths

Bryan Brown

Ben Mendelsohn

Sophie Lowe

Maeve Dermody

Scott O’Donnell

Robbie Clissold

Josh McFarlane

90 min

Australia

Ward and her iconic Australian husband, Bryan Brown, have been a significant part of the Australian film industry for over twenty-five years now. Since the days of The Thorn Birds, which won a boatload of Emmys and Golden Globes, they’ve tried to establish a film festival in Noosa, made a television series, made countless feature and short films, and helped promote the industry world-wide. Brown is the more recognisable of the two as he is regularly called on to play that stereotypical Aussie bloke – Cactus, Dean Spanley and Australia in ’07-’08 – but it is she, Ward, who is beginning to make waves of her own. Her feature debut, Beautiful Kate, opened to wondrous critical reception, saw her receive an Australian Directors’ Guild nomination, garnered 10 Australian Film Institute Award nominations and 3 IF Award nominations. It’s little wonder then that Ward is the name being mentioned a little more these days.








Based upon Newton Thornburg’s novel, Beautiful Kate is a continuing trend in Australian film with foreign novels being relocated to Australian shores. Jindabyne was an adaptation of the Raymond Carver short story, So Much Water So Close To Home; $9.99, the stop-motion animated feature film by Tatia Rosenthal was an adaptation of Etgar Keret’s Israeli short stories; and Being Dead by Jim Crace, which is currently stalled in production to be made by Ray Lawrence, are all examples of this burgeoning trend to look for stories that tell tales of humanity rather than specific location and place. Australian filmmakers are looking beyond for inspiration and it would appear Ward found some in this sad tale of a family suffering irreparably from a guilt-laden secret.








Returning home to see his dying father at the request of his sister is Ned, played by Ben Mendelsohn. He arrives to their outback home with his current girlfriend, the much younger Toni, Maeve Dermody, and so falls into place a series of arguments and recollections that will help reveal what has caused this family to all but completely fall apart. Central to the story is the role that Sally, Rachel Griffiths, plays as the youngest member of the family. She’s a worker in an Indigenous community during the day and a basic nurse for her father, Bryan Brown, when she comes home. Ned’s arrival is seen as a means for her to have a break and without imposed guilt she merely says it how it is and leaves Ned to cope with the fact that he and his father have not got on since an unidentified event occurred.

Told through a series of flashbacks brought to view by Ned’s recollections as he attempts to write his next book, we bear witness to the relationships between a younger Ned and Sally and their now absent siblings, Kate (Sophie Lowe) and Cliff (Josh McFarlane), and how the four cope with living in an isolated location. This is not a comfortable film and there are significant moments of confrontation as this family’s disintegration is revealed through a series of violent, both physical and emotional, revelations.







Central to the success of the story not becoming mawkish and obscene are the performances from the whole of the cast. Griffiths and Brown have never been better with Griffiths in particular bringing a real gravitas to her performance that suggests a real understanding of being an observer to a series of horrendous events. Mendelsohn is also exceptionally strong in the lead and the younger performances bring a fresh if not a perfect performance level throughout the film. The other significant factor is Ward’s real ability to get to the core of the matter. She’s far from a showy director and it’s apparent here that there is a real earthiness to her stylistic choices. Using the skills of cinematographer Andrew Commis and a spare and quite beautiful score by Gregory ‘Tex’ Perkins she creates a real sense of the dislocated.








What amounts is a troubled world full of pain and grief. This is a tough film and a film not without its punches. Ward doesn’t pull any of them either and for some that might be a little too much to lay witness, however, it does signify another talent worth keeping an eye on, for Beautiful Kate is one of the stronger Australian films in a year that produced a dozen good-to-great ones.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

LAURA MARLING (The Zoo)













She was the best thing to emerge from the year that was 2008. She produced one of the best albums of that year, one of the best songs of that year and one of the most haunting music videos. Laura Marling was it when it came to '08. Why then are there still so many people who don't know who she is? With her second album just released and a series of gigs bridging the gap between albums number one and two, Marling ventured Downunder late January to whet the appetites of potential fans and to satiate those who'd fallen under her charms after listening to Alas I Cannot Swim.

Recorded at the age of seventeen, her debut album exhibited an artist well beyond her years. The folk stylings of her work far outweighed any faux-folk being released within the mainstream market and she cut to the truth of the matter, which was quite plain and simply that she could write, play and sing some darned great songs. Just shy of her twentieth birthday her performance at Brisbane's The Zoo, captured both that gentile persona and undeniable talent so evident in her recorded work. For she is an artist of considerable heft.


















With some substantial stagemates in Marcus Mumford on drums, support from the boys of Boy & Bear and regular band mates, she still stands front and centre and commands every little bit of attention given stage-way. It's a quiet confidence undermined slightly by her seeming lack of assurance, however, as an artist battling intense heat and humidity in a difficult venue to play she managed to emerge mostly unscathed.

Focusing largely on songs from the new album, I Speak Because I Can, Marling spent most of her down time quietly introducing each of the new tracks or commenting quietly on the fact that the heat was incredibly affecting to a crowd obviously in love with her and her work. She could have sat down on the edge of the stage with the fan blowing strongly in her face and the crowd would inevitably have walked away satisfied such was the support. And she commented on that fact when, suffering a mindblank, she forgot the chords whilst singing from Alas... to the encouraging and cheering crowd. Sweat-laden forehead, heat-rouged cheeks and that slight slip-up aside there was nothing much about Marling's performance that would have detracted from a strong set.













She's an incredible voice and beauty on stage that simply washes over an audience. Add in the impeccable songs and you've got a fantastic gig well worth the $50-odd dollar ticket price. And just like that ring in 'My Manic And I' her voice fell from her mouth like a gift to the audience. Laura Marling is a gem and a young one at that that her fans should be holding very close to their chests before they let her go to the big wide world of superstardom that may very well capture her if she continues to produce and perform some of the best music being made anywhere in the world.

PONYO (Hayao Miyazaki)












2008

DIRECTOR:

Hayao Miyazaki

CAST:

Cate Blanchett

Noah Cyrus

Matt Damon

Tina Fey

Frankie Jonas

Kurt Knutsson

Cloris Leachman

Liam Neeson

Jennessa Rose

Lily Tomlin

Betty White

101 min

Japan

Miyazaki broke it West world big time in 2001 with the release of his Academy Award-winning Spirited Away. Whilst he was a significant force within the world of animation for years before, his devout bunch of followers suddenly grew tenfold when Chihiro hit the big screen in an attempt to bring her parents back from the bizarre world of the spirits. Focusing on a truly inspired heroine, Miyazaki turned Alice In Wonderland on its head with striking images, beautiful characters, intriguing plot developments and a truly interesting insight into the world of Japanese culture. Audiences ate it up and Spirited Away became a significant link between the animation world and adult cinema goers that perhaps only Pixar had managed to establish.









Whilst Princess Mononoke, Porco Rosso and My Neighbor Totoro had all been successes, particularly in Japan, it wasn’t until Spirited Away that the majority of filmgoers found Miyazaki’s catalogue and it would prove a huge step in gaining him a regular audience and Western release schedule for his subsequent films. Howl’s Moving Castle was released in 2004 and while it didn’t achieve the success of Spirited Away it maintained the following Miyazaki had gained. It too went on to be nominated for an Oscar for best animated film eventually losing to Wallace & Gromit In The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit.








Missing out on an Oscar nom this time round, in an incredibly tough year for animated films, with his latest, Ponyo, Miyazaki once again embarks upon the narrative retelling of a Japanese folktale. Ponyo is a goldfish who, in seeing the human world, leaves the restricted world of her father’s underwater castle and in doing so begins a potentially catastrophic turn of environmental events that could ruin the very human world, of which she wants be a part, irrevocably. Mending the wound sustained by a boy, Sōsuke, as he tries to help her, Ponyo is mistakenly assumed to have been kidnapped by the human world and her father begins the process of summoning the help of the wave spirits to bring Ponyo back to him. As Ponyo and her father argue over her desire to become human, Ponyo, in turn begins to develop into a young girl as a result of her licking the blood from Sōsuke’s wound and attempts to return to the human world with the use of some of her father’s stored magic. This causes great changes in the environment and the threat of tsunami rings large as Ponyo attempts to be reunited with Sōsuke and his mother, Lisa.







There are two significant things we learn from the English-dubbed version of Ponyo and that is that Miyazaki is a master storyteller and visualist and that when it comes to Miyazaki everyone in the world wants to be involved. The English-speaking cast is mammoth in talent and power and it’s a relief to point out that apart form the babblings of Leachman, Tomlin and White, which don’t always work, the casting is pretty spot-on. Fey is pitch-perfect here as Lisa and she had the most difficult role as it is Lisa who reacts so violently in her speech-patterns and line deliveries. Somehow Fey pulls it off and suggests that, yes, she is without doubt one of the most intelligent and capable talents going around at the moment. Blanchett is also suitably regal and Cyrus, with relief, not annoying as Ponyo.







In the end there is a slight sense of the illusive about the story and it’s not clear whether it’s a simple culture difference or a lack of something in the film’s telling, however, it remains irrelevant as by the film’s end Miyazaki has done it again. Ponyo is another fine entry to his small but masterpiece-like canon.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A SHORT NOTE (Oscars, Tropfest & A Few Thrown In)

The start of every year is rife with the onslaught of short films. Between the announcement of the Academy Award finalists, the annual Tropfest finalists presentation and the Queer Film Fest line-up, short films get more of a look-in than at any other time during the year. Even the Brisbane Film Fest was light on the short form last year - let's hope that is remedied this year - so it's with trepidation that as the numbers of shorts shown decrease that the expectation of quality is always metered.

Here's a look at what's been given an audience:

AWAKENING (Liam Newton)











Reminiscent of WALL-E, this sweet film is beautifully realised and animated by its director, Liam Newton. Focusing on a robot building a potential partner he sits mesmerised at the beauty of the finalised creation as his own battery power runs out. At five minutes it's the perfect length.

DUG'S SPECIAL MISSION (Ronaldo Del Carmen)












Directed by Ronaldo Del Carmen, this alternate viewpoint of an already present part of the film, Up, presents an interesresting prospect for film, however, it never goes anywhere and doesn't really add to the film as a whole either. As a short it fails to capture the audience and running at five minutes feels more like a deleted scene than a short film.

EVERY SECOND WEEKEND (Scott Holgate & Tony Nicholls)










This underappreciated little gem borders that line between advertisement and short film but manages to stay just the right side of it as a fathers' group meeting is edited together to show the pain and sheer anguish these men are feeling. It's an insightful short film that perhaps lacks the direction of a narrative but manages nonetheless to evoke a real sense of empathy.

FALLING BACKWARDS (Harrison Murray)











Directed by Harrison Murray, this tale of domestic trouble is told completely in reverse. Revealing new details with each new step, Murray's film is one of intrigue, however, it feels more gimmicky than anything else. The story is a simple one and it lacks the substance that a story of domestic unrest would normally contain primarily because the development of the characters and situation is hindered by the gimmick employed. Watchable without being memorable.

FISH LIPS (Duane Fogwell)











An absolute rip-off of the French film, Amélie, this frantically told and edited indictment of growing up different is technically perfect but void of originality. Everything screams a level of affectation that is confronting to the viewer and therefore hinders one's appreciation of it. It's a shame because a tale of the love of Yahtzee is in itself potentially hilarious and the film is funny but one wonders is it okay to copy another film so blatantly? It's an immensely watchable short that is well-made but there is even a communicating fish in it for heaven's sake. Did no one else see the similarities?

FRENCH ROAST (Fabrice Joubert)










This Oscar-nominated short film is a very French, very cynical and humorous look at the way circumstance and perception can truly affect one's view of humanity. Set in a cafe in France, the film follows a well-to-do patron who orders coffee and realises he doesn't have his wallet to pay for it. Instead of owning up to the matter he orders coffee after coffee trying to determine a means to an end. As a homeless man asks for money he is indifferent to him and shoos him on his way. His attention is then drawn to a sleeping nun at the table next to him. A back story of a series of robberies is introduced and it soon becomes evident that everything is far from what it seems. It's funny and looks delightful but it's slight and can't quite escape that punch-line quality to a one-trick-pony joke. A charmer if not a ground-breaker.

GRANNY O'GRIMM'S SLEEPING BEAUTY (Nicky Phelan)











In a stellar period for Irish film they hit their stride and got just desserts with three Academy Award nominations in 2010. After the success of Once, the Irish film industry has, like other smaller film industries, gone on to consolidate that success with funding and further development of that industry. With the success of the animated feature, Brendan And The Secret Of Kells, and the other nominated short, The Door, the industry has begun to find a way to get their films seen. Here, Phelan's delightfully dark and witty tribute to the ol' wans is pitch-perfect in its depiction of the typical Irish granny. Anyone with an Irish grandparent is likely to attest to the slightly black sense of humour and the willingness to be cheeky with one's grandchildren. Retelling a fairytale classic and wringing every ounce of darkness out of it with that knowledge of the Irish granny is a delicious base for a lovely little film. Funny and very Irish, this one is a wee bit of a winner.

HAPPENSTANCE (John Marsh)











This solid little short was a finalist at the 2010 Tropfest and walked away with a couple of awards for its lead actor Clarke Richards and the women in film award for its female lead, writer and co-producer, Katie May Johnson. The success of the film comes from its real understanding of depression and its ability to find the humour from within even the darkest of situations. Johnson is the real find here as her ability to construct a really strong story within such a small time frame and her nuanced performance are incredibly impressive. This was one of the sleepers of the finalists and probably should have figured in a few more awards than it actually did. A very good little film.

HOW GOD WORKS (Matilda Brown)











Matilda Brown, daughter of Rachel Ward and Bryan Brown, takes on multiple roles in this short film about warring sisters. Playing both lead characters, Brown also directs the film she wrote for 2010 Tropfest. It's an interesting dynamism present on screen as she eats up the camera presenting two very different women - one, an actress, completely involved with herself and oblivious to the goings on around her other than to complain about them; the other, a quiet, thoughtful and far more socially aware being. The beauty of this piece is Brown herself. She's a firecracker on screen and should have walked away with the female acting award but she delves deeper than that managing to establish a clear point of view and a keen eye behind the camera. If any film showed a woman with the potential to have the film world at her feet it was this one. With the pedigree she brings it isn't really any surprise.

THE LADY AND THE REAPER (Javier Recio Gracia)











This animated Spanish film made the Oscar shortlist this year and was a worthy candidate. A funny look at the battle between life and death, this tale of an older woman readying herself to once again be with her deceased lover is a fast-paced romp as Death takes part in an actual tug of war with an eager-beaver doctor. Gorgeously animated, it's a little slight on premise but it's a definite crowd-pleaser and a film that will cause at least a couple of giggles.

THE LAST ROLL OF THE DICE (Matthew Chuang)











Winner of two prizes at 2010 Tropfest, (3rd prize and Best Female Actor) this very short, short film is basically reliant on its punchline. Skating that very thin line between making fun of its characters and simply observing odd-ball people, Chuang's film follows the last-ditch effort by Kathy to find a partner as she makes an ad for an Internet dating service. It's not entirely successful in staying clear of belittling its lead protagonist and despite its awards was probably no greater than middle of the pack in the 16-wide field.

LOGORAMA (
François Alaux, Hervé de Crécy & Ludovic Houplain)










Winner of the Oscar for animated short, this near-twenty minute schlock fest is an entertaining, post-Pulp Fiction genre piece that cleverly uses over 2500 different logos and mascots to create a noir action piece. On the trail of a maniacal, Joker-like Ronald McDonald, Michelin Man cops embark on a cat and mouse chase that sees violence, verbal obscenities and a very adult sense of the aimated world come to life. It's an entertaining and clever piece of filmmaking that perhaps errs on the side of style over substance but in the end it does what it sets out to and that's to capture a significant audience's attention.

A MATTER OF LOAF AND DEATH (Nick Park)











Multiple Oscar winners already, Nick Park and his creations Wallace & Gromit, hit the screen again in this Oscar-nominated short film, A Matter Of Loaf And Death. What amounts to nothing more than a rehash of what has come before in the series is a huge disappointment in the scheme of things. Sure, it's not a bad film yet one might expect more and something fresh and new from this dynamic enterprise. The villain isn't quite dark enough to make the story work and Wallace's complete and utter daftness is becoming tiresome rather than endearing or funny. A disappointing but watchable short.

MIRACLE FISH (Luke Doolan)











This well-made Aussie short was amongst the finalists for this year's Academy Awards in the live-action short category and would have made a worthy winner. Alas, the slight gimmickry in its conclusion probably cost it. The performances, however, for the most part are uniformly very strong and there is a real sense of tension built in this school drama. Doolan knows how to frame a shot and his ability to elicit a stellar performance from his young lead is firmly on show. A very well-made short film not soon forgotten.

MY NEIGHBOURHOOD IS BEING OVERRUN BY BABOONS (Cameron Edser & Michael Richards)











This delightfully quirky stop-animation piece is essentially nothing more than a music video and for that it suffers slightly when looking for the narrative structure within, however, it's so energetic, frantic and odd that one can't help but have at least a mild fondness for it. Runner-up at the 2010 Tropfest it also took out the award for best original score.

NIC & SHAUNA (Alyssa McClelland)













Woeful doesn't begin to describe this Tropfest finalist featuring the former 'it' girl of Australian film. If it proves anything, McClelland's film says mockumentaries are done as a genre, making fun of characters isn't cool if there's no love for them there in the first place and it's wrong to make good actors look bad. Not much else can be said for this turkey.

NO DICE HOLLYWOOD (Paul Watters)











This was another of the middle-of-the-road Tropfest finalists that inexplicably picked up a couple of awards for cinematography and screenplay. The screenplay award seems particularly egregious in that everything about Watters' film screams try-hard. Bordering pretentious he throws in a musical number and makes the biggest mistake by actually referring to the Tropfest competition itself. The judging panel this year seem to have been swept up in the whole nepotism problem of the piece à la Eurovision. Oh well, everything loses its charm at some point.

ONE... (Gareth Davies & Damon Gameau)











Sweet, charming, beautifully made, exceptionally constructed and it walks away without a mention. Typical really that this lovely exercise in romance didn't strike the fancy of the Tropfest judging panel. To actually make an audience feel about inanimate objects such as dice in the way that Davies and Gameau are able to is astonishing and whilst the ending is predictable it's still a lovely little film that deserved better than it got. A gorgeous exericse in filmmaking.

PARTLY CLOUDY (Peter Sohn)











This subtly funny and sweet film about a baby-making cloud and its accompanying stork brings a smirk to the viewer. Beautifully animated, Partly Cloudy is a nice addition to the screening of Up. It's a little repetitive and whilst its message is a good one it's a tiny bit sentimental in its delivery. Still, massive points to that stork. He deserves as a big an audience as he can get.

SHOCK (Abe Forsythe)











Unfunny, silly and complete with a ridiculous self-assuredness, this Tropfest winner is everything that is wrong with the competition. Neither clever or particularly well made, this entry from Forsythe, a better actor than filmmaker, fails to convince on any level that the reason it won the competition had anything to do with merit. Better than only two other of the finalists it does nothing for the standing of Tropfest as a serious short film competition.

SMOKING WILL KILL YOU (Raphael Sammut)











Basically a filmed joke, this circle story is a funny one that in the long run, however, will find it hard to be remembered. Lacking the ingenuity of a real filmmaker, Sammut comes across as guy next door who had a good idea and decided to turn it into a movie. Whilst that charm works for it in a way, on the whole it doesn't quite stack up to some of the top-notch finalists of Tropfest.

STAKEOUT (Gene Alberts)











The downright clunker of the bunch, this turkey offers a form of humour appreciated by a very small audience. Using a ridiculous premise and supporting that premise with ridiculous characters making ridiculous Wookiee noises is enough to drive anyone sane, mental. Neither funny or particularly well-made, this sits firmly in the, 'the filmmaker thinks he is cleverer than he actually is' mould. There will be an audience for this breed of filmmaking. It's just not this viewer.

TESTICLE (Sheldon Leiberman & Igor Coric)











This winning animated short film at Tropfest 2010 is a juxtaposed film of picture to recorded voiceover of an actual conversation between the director, his wife and the nurse with regard to his baby son's testicles. The idea is an interesting one but the style of animation actually hinders the story gaining traction with the viewer. It was the least of the animated films amongst the finalists. This was another odd decision in the panel's judging considering an animated film placed second overall.

THERE HAD BETTER BE BLOOD (Charles Williams)











Williams' Tropfest finalist is an interesting short film that falls short and in the end doesn't really amount to much at all. Focusing on a sibling rivalry between two brothers, he investigates both the serious and humorous side of the aggression exerted towards each of the two boys. When the two boys's somehow get involved in a potentially huge problem due to their willingness to exaggerate the film turns silly. It's ending doesn't land the comedic punch it probably should have either.

UP (Pete Docter & Bob Peterson)


















2009

DIRECTOR:

Pete Docter & Bob Peterson

CAST:

Ed Asner

Christopher Plummer

Jordan Nagai

Bob Peterson

Delroy Lindo

96 min

USA

Ageing is a topic of film that very rarely makes it out unscathed when trying to evoke without sentiment. Sometimes sentiment works but for the most part it muddies the reality of growing old and the sadness that accompanies many aspects of the very process of life that is with us from day one to our inevitable end. It tends to work beautifully in literature as the accompanying soundtrack is for the most part omitted and at the hands of a good writer the setting left to the devices of the reader.







Colm Tóibín, for example, writes hauntingly of the ageing process in The Heather Blazing and recent prize-winners such as Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, Jim Crace’s Being Dead and Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex all tackle the grief associated with getting older. Within each of these novels there is a distinct focus on the relationships that exist within one’s life and how those relationships develop and cope with both loss and the impending realisation that at some point all relationships end.

In recent times, film has struggled to adequately capture those particular moments of relationships, particularly long-lasting ones. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that relationships between older people are not deemed to be financially viable up on the big screen, however, it would seem that in a bizarre situation, Disney, the very root of all things sentimental and wholesome, has turned around and given the biggest middle finger salute to the industry in a long time. For what lies at the heart of their latest release, Up, is a story of just that – getting older.







Ellie and Carl are a couple of misfit kids living and breathing the air that is the current childhood obsession when they first meet as budding adventurers. Through a montage that lasts about twenty minutes we then see them as their relationship develops through excruciating times of sadness and significant times of bewildering joy. This section of the film is reason enough to see Up. It’s the best filmmaking Disney/Pixar have ever produced and it shows just how animated films can be a relevant and adult form of entertainment without being kiddie or cloying. A lifetime is depicted here with such care and grace that by the time we find Carl as a seventy-eight-year old endeavouring to uphold a lifelong promise to complete that adventure, the audience could pretty much let Docter and his team do whatever they want and still be satisfied. Well, almost.








Because whilst there is a distinct reality to the early parts of Up, there is an inherent silliness and downright lack of credibility to its second half, which significantly damages the film as a whole. How so much care can be taken in developing a beautiful relationship in the film’s first quarter and then undermined by the creation of an obese tween, talking dogs, invented birds and a mad-hatter-like villain is slightly incomprehensible. It’s not that the film ends up being bad – it is easily one of the better releases of the year – it’s just that for a film that promised so much it falls dismally short of its initial projected finish.

The whimsy of Carl’s adventure could quite easily have been pulled off as in reality we did see that priest fly off on his chair, however, it’s as if the filmmakers realised that what was going to make them money was the presence of kids and they added in copious amounts of the sugar-sweet to ensure that that would happen. Sure the sweetness works in part – you only need to stay til the film’s conclusion to see what happens to the house to note that – but it’s particularly obvious due to it being preceded by such honest and brilliant filmmaking.








In the end it could be argued that Carl is a curmudgeonly old so-and-so and Russell an annoying brat, but that would be to forget all the good of the piece and there is a significant amount of all that present. As Ellie thanked Carl for the adventure and encouraged him to go and have one of his own, we have to thank her for inspiring him to. Up is lovely and tender but just shy of a masterpiece.