In Conversation with… Sabian Wilde

Marketing Lecturer. Writer. Music Bod. Claims to have coined 'Perthonality'

Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Introducing CoolShite West Sai-ede

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Hi everyone, it’s time to reveal the reason why In Conversation With… has been a little quiet lately.

I’ve been working on assembling a team of West Coast movie reviewers to join the brilliant folk at (Cool) Shite on the Tube.

After gruelling months of trying to snatch pebbles from my hand, the CoolShite West Sai-ede team consists of West Coast comedian John Robertson, community radio’s Funky Films presenter Lewis Sutton, uber-film nazi and walking imdb Travis Johnson and of course, myself…. I was obviously best at catching pebbles from my own hand. Mind you, I had to get the pebbles from ur-Shiter Bruce Moyle, and that was no easy feat.

Our first casts are up as follows…

Movie Poster - Daybreakers


…and the remake of…


Now, get to it…

Also on (Cool) Shite on the Tube, welcome Good Game’s Hex as she takes a look at the new not-quite-a-superhero-flick, Kick-Ass.



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Up In The Air – Movie Review [for CoolShite On The Tube]

  • Dir: Jason Reitman
  • Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman

Adapted from a novel by Walter Kim (who also wrote the novel Thumbsucker), Up In The Air could easily be another charming rom-com starring Clooney, but in the hands of Jason Reitman, audiences are in for more than they bargained for – and odds are they will be grateful.

Jason Reitman is a director that should be on everybody’s watch-list by now – he’s got a satirical style that is gentler (but no less sharp) than the Coen Brothers and a knack for dialogue and writers that has produced some of the best mainstream/fringe films of the last decade. With Up In The Air, Reitman blends the rom-com genre with a non-preachy interpretation of the human impact of the GFC.

Reminding us that one of the supposedly great things about America is that there’s always money to be made, Up In The Air follows the travels of Ryan Bingham, a redundancy consultant hired by firms who need to cut staff but are unwilling to deal with the soon-to-be-unemployed.  Unsurprisingly, business is good – Bingham flies around the country constantly, confidently removing the incomes and security of untold lives while chasing his real prize – frequent flyer miles.

Bingham’s whole life is in transit; he even lectures on the empowerment of a life with no attachments, family or possessions – unaware that he is in fact burdened with arbitrary goals and his love of high status, insincere uniformity. When he meets the beautiful and equally self-assured Alex Goran (Farmiga) in a transit lounge, he believes he has found a fellow traveler in his no-holds-barred/no-strings-attached lifestyle.

However, this lifestyle is threatened by the introduction of ambitious graduate Natalie Keener (Kendrick), who plans to digitally revolutionise the redundancy industry, and reduce overheads by removing the face-to-face component – and thus, Bingham’s jet-setting lifestyle.

Clooney isn’t exactly stretching himself with this one; once again he’s a confident, charming, emotionally distant sexual predator of ruthless efficiency both on the job and ‘on the job’… but in the role of Ryan Bingham, a status-obsessed high-flying ‘transitioning consultant’, this stereotype is removed from the gaming halls of Las Vegas and rubs caustically against the lives of real people in a time of economic decline.

Reitman takes this premise a step further than one might expect by splicing interviews with real people who have been ‘let go’ among set pieces from character actors (including the always awesome J.K Simmons) in montages of redundancy interviews used to establish Bingham’s role – interestingly, Clooney doesn’t even appear in some of these interviews, which heightens the sense of distance that is central to Bingham’s success.

Apart from the clever commentary, this film is also superbly lifted above the usual rom-com fare by a strong supporting cast of women in strong roles – Farmiga is to be roundly applauded for bringing  35+ strength and sexiness back to the screen, easily holding her own against Clooney’s indisputable charisma.

Beyond that, the women in this film demonstrate quite clearly the value in the life choices that Bingham believes is beneath him; the dignity of his grounded homemaker sister Kara (Amy Morton), the naive faith and warmth of younger sister Julie (Melanie Lynskey) and the bravado and bluff romantic nature of young careerist Natalie.

All told, Up In The Air will bring Reitman a broader audience, thanks to the Clooney-factor, but it is easy to sense that this is just the latest installment in a growing body of work that appears to seamlessly blend familiar forms and genres with the issues and idiosyncracies of our times.

In Conversation With… Capitalism

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First published in X-Press Magazine


Alternate promo poster for Capitalism: A Love Story

Directed by Michael Moore
Starring: You, Me… Everybody, Everybody.

Few people could say there’s no need for a hard-hitting documentary providing insight into the people, institutions and circumstances that combined in what is now known as the GFC.  Capitalism: A Love Story has already grossed over US$13.6M at the box office, and that doco still needs to be made.

It’s been said before, but in light of the latest promotional chutzpah Moore has been spraying through Australian media channels in the last week, perhaps once more is appropriate; Michael Moore is the Johnny Knoxville of socialist (or humanist) film-making.

Moore has said he ‘tricked’ his studio backers by saying he was making a sequel to Fahrenheit 9/11, then using their  money to make his story on the GFC.  Well, it wasn’t much of a trick – Moore’s shockumentary tactics are now so well-established that future films may well use roman numerals for titles.

Importantly, given that the GFC has been the subject of more media scrutiny, financial analysis, vox pops, international policy etc – than any other event or phenomenon since 9/11, the truth is that there is very little or new or surprising in Capitalism… it’s Michael Moore weighing in with his two cents.

As a documentary film, Capitalism isn’t exactly a taut, well-executed  argument. There are sympathetic vignettes about the real struggles faced by various communities; inspirational stories of solidarity; alternate business models that empower all participants – but nothing much that hangs them together other than Moore himself.

The first half of the film is designed to connect with audiences the important idea that the economy is not an abstract entity, but the sum of the endeavour of the majority, under the control of a select few.  The failure of the system – incrementally, over decades – has a social cost, and Moore succeeds in putting ‘human faces’ to the flood of red numbers on Wall St stock tickers.

The second half of the film is, in theory, Moore’s attempt to explain the global financial crisis, and some of the self-interested parties that either (a) caused it and/or (b) found a way to profit at the public’s expense from the collapse of the free market – or ‘life as we know it’, if you’re one of those evil Republicans or their Wall St cronies/overlords (depending on how you look at it).

Moore’s attempt to explain the sub-prime market is no attempt at all — just a pretext to rail against the complexity of a scam that has been perpetrated on the American people (and countries like Australia that invest in their financial instruments and institutions) – incidentally, there’s an interesting take on it that most people can understand here:

Moore requires the bad guys to be bad, so he can be the white knight storming the gates. He names names, points the finger and then films himself being refused entry to a number of buildings. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Where Moore does succeed,  is in his look back on recent US history – in reminding the audience of Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ and the proposed Second Bill of Rights, of the importance of the collective will to improve life for all – in short, the promise which America made to itself, and then sold… and then hope, again, with Obama.

In Michael Moore’s latest film, we learn ‘Greed is Bad’, OK? Sure Oliver Stone made the phrase ‘Greed is good’ famous 21 years ago in Wall Street, but apparently the ironic overtones were lost on some people and now we all have to pay.

There’s a saying that goes like this: In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

In the world of American film-making, it is all too easy to imagine Michael Moore and Oliver Stone beating each other to death over who gets to have the eye. Come to think of it, that would make for pretty entertaining television. Perhaps Simon Cowell can get on that.

But until that happy day, we will get to live in a world where certain American film-makers feel that it is their duty to explain America to itself, knowing that a significant percentage of the ticket and DVD sales will come from other territories eager to hate the U.S. a little more for being… well… so gosh-darn arrogant and smug about everything, despite aggravated terrorism and a few armed conflicts around the world.

Well screw that. That is a job for film reviewers.

Written by Xab

Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 8:00 am

Interview with the writers of Mao’s Last Dancer

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I recently had the privilege of speaking to Li Cunxin, writer of Mao’s Last Dancer and Jan Sardi, the Australian screenwriter who adapted it for the screen.

It was the kind of interview that you need to have once in a while, to remind you why you do what you do.

The interview was conducted on behalf of (Cool) Shite on the Tube, courtesy of the very good folk who represent Roadshow in WA.

This is a great, primarily Australian production (directed by Bruce Beresford, produced by Jane Scott and written by Sardi) that places Australia’s artistic and technical talent as the foundation of a compellingly told international story.

Please visit (Cool) Shite on the Tube to download the podcast.

Mao's Last Dancer

Mao's Last Dancer

Written by Xab

Wednesday, October 7, 2009 at 10:20 am

The Limits of Control – Lights, Camera, Inaction.

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Opening next Thursday, July 23, alt-icon director Jim Jarmusch’s new film, The Limits Of Control, has been described as an “anti-action action movie.”

X-Press Magazine Cover - Limits of Control

X-Press Magazine Cover - Limits of Control

Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Starring Isaach De Bankolé, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Gael García Bernal, Paz de la Huerta, John Hurt

There are very few auteur directors that have the kind of pan-indie/rock/arthouse credibility held by Jim Jarmusch. With his improbable white hair and effortless rock sensibility, it is easy to imagine how he has convinced artists such as Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Joe Strummer or Screamin’ Jay Hawkins to enlist as actors in his films: coffee, cigarettes and ‘cool’.

There are many cinema fans who feel as if they’ve been waiting far too long for a new feature from Jarmusch, as up until this point, the noughties had only revealed one wholly original feature (Broken Flowers) and Coffee And Cigarettes, a composite of conversational short films going back to 1986.

Perhaps it is a testament to his bone-dry wit and love of extremely awkward pauses that watching The Limits Of Control will leave them feeling exactly the same way.

The Limits Of Control follows an inscrutable and fastidious assassin (De Bankolé) as he is commissioned for an unspecified job in Spain and told to wait further instructions. A series of cryptic encounters follows in which characters appear, offering awkward and often absurdist monologues to the assassin as a ‘cover’, while slipping him coded messages, the meaning of which are never revealed to the audience.

The premise of an assassin comfortably alone in a country where he doesn’t understand the language provides a context in which many of Jarmusch’s readily identifiable themes are played out: chance encounters, protracted pauses, dissociative characters and a cinematic style that is broad and static – the visuals are there for you to observe, discover and interpret (if you can), and the camera rarely directs your attention to specific details.

Jarmusch has said that he tends to work backwards with regard to narrative, discovering characters first, situations and conversations next and then ‘joining the dots’ to create a plot. In this sense, The Limits Of Control is a highly consistent addition to Jarmusch’s canon of work, but disappointingly, it is not one that is likely to inspire new audiences to seek out the films upon which his career has been built.

During the ’90s Jarmusch was at his iconic best, releasing his meandering and funny film conversations such as Mystery Train (three stories in a hotel – a theme that would later be borrowed by Tarantino for Four Rooms), Night On Earth (five stories in taxis across the world in one night) and the wholly ethereal Dead Man starring Johnny Depp and introducing nausea-inducing ‘wobbly-cam’ years before the Blair Witch Project.

Having said that, The Limits Of Control does offer an impressive cast, obviously keen to work with Jarmusch if and as often as they can. Tilda Swinton is, of course, naturally brilliant and abstract and John Hurt is always a pleasure to watch. Because of Jarmusch’s emphasis on character over plot – although character-driven is not the appropriate term – it is easy to see why actors would be eager to take the opportunity to take roles in his films, no matter how small the part.

Despite his minimalist approach, Jarmusch ensures that every character in his films is the star of their own story – which he feels no obligation to tell.

One interesting feature of The Limits Of Control is the use of Spanish architecture – particularly the assassin’s hotel room, all curves and features; clearly a building that was intended to be a statement of intent and individuality when it was built, but not having aged particularly well. Sadly, it’s sort of an inadvertent metaphor for this latest collection of Jarmusch’s themes and memes.

As a series of disconnected conversation/monologues, Jarmusch does offer a vague continuity in The Limits Of Control with recurring phrases (not quite gags), and the nature of these individual conversations is eventually provided a context near the film’s conclusion… although it never climaxes.

In some ways, it’s one of the longest and pointless ‘shaggy dog’ stories ever told.

Such is Jarmusch’s reputation that viewers and critics alike may find themselves in an ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ scenario, and phrases such as ‘post-modern’, ‘contemplative’, ‘meditative’ and ‘cerebral’ may be offered instead of taking the risk and saying ‘needlessly slow, indulgent and only vaguely amusing’.

The things that Jarmusch can do with an awkward silence should make Ricky Gervais weep with lust and envy – just watch the conversation between Tom Waits and Iggy Pop in Coffee And Cigarettes III. It is not necessarily the lack of plot that makes The Limits Of Control so infuriating, so much as the lack of humour and perhaps disappointment following the excitement of seeing Jarmusch’s latest work.

Jarmusch has pre-emptively defended himself from these criticisms by saying that he doesn’t make films to please critics – which would be fair enough if it wasn’t for the fact that he is in fact a favourite of critics around the globe. The question that remains unanswered: is he making this film for anyone but himself?


First published in X-Press Magazine, July 16, 2009 (Happy Birthday to me).


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WEAVING AT THE WHEEL – In Conversation with Hugo Weaving for Last Ride.

hugo - portraitFor fans of Australian cinema, the rise of Hugo Weaving has been bittersweet; of course we’re happy for his success, but by and large Hollywood doesn’t make the sort of films that he excels in, and he knows it.

Outside the multiplexes where he can be heard gleefully killing Optimus Prime, Weaving brings a totally different kind of evil to life in the Australian film, Last Ride, opening this week.

“I live here and I want to live here – and I want to work with people over here,” Weaving says quietly and passionately.

As a formidable actor more than a decade of experience before he played Agent Smith in the Matrix series, Weaving is a great catch for any first-time director, but he’s an actor who is driven by challenge, rather than the opportunities of his new-found status as a ‘star’.

“Sometimes you might be offered something for the wrong reason. I think you have to be mindful of that, that you’re being asked for the right reasons… that someone really wants to work with you because of what you’ve done, rather than what you might represent to the production,” he says.

“I try to choose material I think is challenging for me, that I respond to on a gut level and work with people I genuinely respect and admire and am interested by – those are my criteria.”

Superficially, Last Ride is the story of small-minded, small-time crook, Kev (Weaving), who takes his 10 year old son ‘Chook’ (Tom Russell) on an unscheduled trip to the Flinders Ranges, trying to avoid the consequences of his crimes.

As a lead character, Kev is almost beyond flawed, with virtually no redeeming features, other than a love of his son, but even that supposedly ‘natural’ human response is overwhelmed by poor impulse control and a violent temper.

Given that Weaving is a man of keen intelligence and sensitivity, Kev is in some sense the anti-Hugo.

“The whole idea of intelligence was a really interesting one for this film,” Weaving says. “What kind of intelligence does Kev have? He’s a survivor to some extent – but there’s something about him… He’s his own worst enemy and self-destructing – but there’s a certain intelligence in him, which I found fascinating. You have to kind of measure his brain in a completely different way.”

In preparing for the shoot, Ivin had conducted interviews with a variety of Australian ‘characters’, the sort that you’d normally find alone in a pub, channelling their rage into the bottom of a middy. Weaving says these tapes were enormously useful as tool for working his way into Kev, and reaching a point where his violence, cruelty and “different way” brain made sense internally.

“You spend time with someone like that and hopefully, those sounds and inflections come through by osmosis if you like… rather than a conscious or technical decisions,” Weaving says.

“I never want to be in a situation when I’m judging a character, because then I can’t understand them or empathise with them. But at the same time… he’s the sort of man that if I met, I would be scared of him and want to walk away. So I understand that he’s a scary character, but I always had sympathy for his plight and situation.”

While talking to Weaving, it’s clear that he’s a man who is serious about acting as a skill, one that he continues to develop at a time when he could easily just put on the pointy ears and the dress, pontificate in Middle Earth for a bit and wait for the cheque to clear. With Last Ride, it’s clear he relishes the opportunity to do contemplative and hard-driven character work of a kind not normally associated with the box-office ‘smashes’ he’s been doing lately.

“Well, that’s true, by and large… but not always,” he laughs gently. “The sort of work I’d do for Last Ride is much more complex, I suppose, and therefore more rewarding. It’s not always the way, but generally that’s true.”

At its heart, Last Ride is a father and son story that explores the kinds of cruelty that can only take place in a relationship that is bound by unconditional love. Weaving’s on-screen son ‘Chook’ is performed by Tom Russell – chosen by director Glendyn Ivin specifically for his natural and unaffected approach to acting.

“He’s delightful,” Weaving says. “Just spending time with him, because he’s a lovely kid. But it was challenging as well, because he is an actor, but on the other hand, he has a very different experience of what being an actor is, and what the process is.

“I was obliged to swing with him, because he just wasn’t interested in talking ad nauseum the way I am, about the process, or the way I might do with an actor who’s had a similar experience as I had… so I just couldn’t go there,” he laughs.

“We did talk about the characters in a very minimal way – it was more to do with just hanging out with him – establishing a kind of easy and friendly relationship. That’s something that just sort of happened, so that side of it was pretty great.”

In another sense, Weaving’s co-star is the South Australian outback, as the father and son head into the bleak, unforgiving and yet sometimes stark beauty of the Flinders Ranges, which Weaving says reflects his character’s inner conflict.

“I think all films need to have a sense of identity, even if thematically, they speak to a broader audience or have universal themes – and I think Last Ride does – it could have been made anywhere in the world, really, but it’s in a very specific part of Australia, with very particular Australian types and characters, with specific and unique complexities,” he says.

“To me the film has a very strong sense of being ‘of’ this country – and yet, it does have broader resonances. I think that makes for a very powerful experience and certainly for people seeing it overseas. It’s actually what they’re interested in (from Australian film), seeing the difference between their culture and ours.

“For us, it’s a much better reflection of who we are…”

But is it really? The predominance of outback settings in Australian film is overwhelming, especially given that about 90% of Australians live in cities and hardly anyone lives in the areas that get the screen-time, because in modern terms they’re uninhabitable.

“It’s a vast country we live in, absolutely vast, and we are an urbanised society, living on the fringes of this continent. I think there’s a great mystery in that vastness, that sits in the heart of our physical environment. That’s somehow a great place for all sorts of things, whether it’s spirituality, fear or to do with loneliness… or a mixture of all of those things.”

First published in X-Press Magazine

Hugo - V

Written by Xab

Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Movie Review – The Uninvited

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THE UNINVITED – Scary Sister Act
Directed by The Guard Brothers
Starring Emily Browning, Arielle Kebbel, David Strathairn, Elizabeth Banks

[originally published in X-Press Magazine]

Genre films are like flavours; while it is possible to acquire new tastes, there’s probably little that can be done in this review to convince you to see a horror film if you aren’t already a fan of paying for the privilege of being scared in the safety of a cinema.

But if you are, The Uninvited has a few subtleties to make your taste buds, neck and scalp tingle. It’s always hard to adjust to a new step-parent, but it’s a bit harder for Anna (Browning), who has just been released from some quality time in a mental hospital after witnessing the surprise death of her terminally ill mother in an exploding boathouse.

Although glad to be reunited with her defiant and moody older sister Alex (Kebbel), the discovery that her father, Steven (Strathairn), is now openly involved with her mother’s young hospice nurse Rachael (Banks) soon has Anna searching for the truth behind her repressed memories of the night of the explosion.

Hysteria ensues.

Given the success of The Ring and The Grudge, it’s no surprise that the producers would turn again to the Orient for their next serve of supernatural thrills and chills with The Uninvited, a remake of the highest grossing Korean horror film of all time, Janghwa, Hongryeon (also known as A Tale of Two Sisters).

For those that like the bloody tang of horror-thrillers, there’s something especially tasty about these re-made Asian films, which are themselves cultural reinterpretations of the Hollywood horror genre.

To take the analogy a little further, it’s like the vaguely disturbing fashion for coffee beans pre-digested by a furry little animal (a civet), which naturally chooses the best beans, digests and excretes them, after which they get roasted and sold to the Western market for $50 a cup. Except watching The Uninvited will be much cheaper, and psychologically easier to consume.

In the role of Anna, Emily Browning may well have been cast for her ‘look’ (an Anglo interpretation of Asian beauty), but still gives a strong performance of a girl walking the knife’s edge of barely recovered sanity and supernatural heebie-jeebies.

Visually, the film is even-handed, psychologically taut and much more a thriller/suspense than a genuine horror… there’s more on-screen violence in a BBC nature documentary.

What really makes this film sing is the great sound-design – even security lights turning on sounds like the metallic ‘sching!’ from the Prodigy’s Firestarter. And the squelchy sounds? They’ll make your stomach turn as surely as if you found an eye in your burger. The Uninvited is served hot, and will make your blood run cold. Bon appetit.

__Sabian Wilde