Monthly Archives: July 2008

Worth Your Attention

Just a quick morning post for two things that have caught my interest – totally unrelated to each other, but both worth a look.

The first is this post by Benjamin Wright over at his blog Aspect Ratio, which talks about the role of Imax in popular cinema, and the importance of The Dark Knight in particular. I touched on this in my review but Wright goes into a lot more detail, including screenshots that give a sense of the difference in composition between the Imax and general release versions. Twenty years from now, once the – justified – hype over Ledger has subsided, the film’s pioneering use of Imax might be what it is best remembered for.

Also, I just wanted to point readers to an Australian film blog of which I have only just become aware: Glenn Dunks’ Stale Popcorn. Dunks is offering a very entertaining mix of proper film connoisseurship and more lighthearted posts, and its well worth a look. So I’ll add Stale Popcorn to my list of really good online local reads, which includes InFilm, Hoopla, Melbourne Film Blog, Last Night With Riviera, Cinephilia, and Urban CineFile (which I must admit lost me when it went subscription and never got me back). Are there any others out there that, like Stale Popcorn, have thus far escaped my attention (or which I’ve forgotten here)?

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My MIFF

I’m aware that my previous coverage of MIFF hasn’t been very helpful, since I frequently don’t end up writing about films until after they’ve had all their screenings – last year the whole festival was over before I wrote up a lot of the films I saw. Once again, I’d recommend Paul Martin’s blog for information that’s actually useful, like his list of films that are likely to get a commercial release anyway, and his monitoring of what is about to get sold out.

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Batman Continues

The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)

I was not one of those who flipped for Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins: as I said in a brief write-up at the time, I thought it was poorly shot and thematically muddled. But the more serious problem was just that it was too not fun. That, of course, was supposed to be the point: Nolan was taking us back to a dark version of the Batman character after the more comic bookish 80s and 90s movie version (although I can remember when Burton’s 1989 take was considered the return to a dark take on the character). However, while I applaud the concept of taking a genre project seriously, part of doing a serious superhero film is that you have to make the superhero side of the equation work also. In Batman Begins, Nolan and his co-screenwriter David S. Goyer dropped that ball through their determination to make Batman plausible as something other than a genre conceit. There was a feeling that they were ticking off explanations for things the audiences would have taken for granted: look – it kind of makes sense that he has all these gadgets, because the Wayne foundation has this big R&D branch! Look – here’s an explanation of how he can use his cape to fly! Look – here he is putting together his damn suit! We didn’t need to see that stuff, and by seeming simultaneously apologetic about Batman’s ridiculousness, while at the same time trying to make the most earnest Batman movie ever, I think Nolan came across as a little foolish. A Batman film can explore serious themes, sure, but at the end of the day it is still, as Jaime Weinman put it, about “a rich kid with no powers who decides to avenge his parents by fighting crime in a bat suit.” The best way to sell that kind of idea is to relax and have fun with it, and on that score I don’t think Batman Begins worked very well at all.

By now you have probably heard that Nolan’s sequel The Dark Knight is the ultimate descent into hell for Batman, and you are probably thinking that I would feel it suffered the same problem. It is after all, a very grim film indeed, in which Heath Ledger’s psychotic Joker wreaks widespread havoc and inflicts real and lasting harm to several major characters. Yet, oddly, despite all the carnage that unfolds, The Dark Knight is much more fun than its predecessor. And it’s the nifty trick of making such a dark film so enjoyable that makes it something really worthwhile.

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Touch of Evil! Touch of Evil! Touch of Evil!

Hot on the heels (at least in the order I found out about them) of the restored Metropolis comes the news that Touch of Evil will get a new DVD release carrying three versions of the film. The current DVD features only a highly speculative “restoration,” which even the people who made it felt should not have replaced the earlier versions, as noted by Jonathan Rosenbaum:

I was a consultant on the third version–a re-edit by Walter Murch based on a memo written by Welles to Universal in the 50s–and it was never the intention of Murch, me, or our producer Rick Schmidlin to replace the film’s original release version or the longer preview version that supplanted it in the 70s. We were hoping that all three could be released in a DVD box set.

Well, now we have that set, correcting one of the worst bits of DVD butchery we’ve seen for a while. That’s sensational news. Click the image below to order it.

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The Coolest Movie News Since… Ever?

You’ve probably seen this already, since it’s one of those rare pieces of news about film restoration that was so earth-shattering it made the mainstream media: a near-complete version of Metropolis has turned up. Ain’t It Cool have images here.

I love Metropolis: I’m a fan of city movies, and silent movies, and big epic special effects movies, and science fiction movies, so it really does have everything for me. Everything except, of course, about a quarter of its footage: the previous best-available version used intertitles to give a sense of what was missing. That DVD was released by Kino overseas, and seems to be the basis of the version released by Madman in Australia. Kino were already planning a re-release (with a Blu-Ray version) in 2009; that has been hastily revised to include the rediscovered footage. Obviously the new footage is likely to be in poor shape, visually, but its historical importance is extraordinary.

What could possibly be next: the ten hour version of Greed?

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Can’t Wait for the Sequel: Kung Pow Chicken

Kung Fu Panda (Mark Osborne & John Stevenson, 2008)

Sometimes a title is its own review. Certainly Kung Fu Panda is about what you’d expect. There’s a panda. He likes kung fu. Everyone doubts the panda can do kung fu. The panda triumphs by doing kung fu. And at the end, they play “kung fu fighting” over pictures of pandas. So if you like kung fu, and like pandas, there’s a fair bit going on here for you.


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The Melbourne 2030 Audit and the Urgency of Debate

Planning News July 2008Originally published as an editorial under a joint by line with Tim Westcott and Gida Di Vincenzo in Planning News 34, no. 6 (July 2008): 4.

It is a busy time in planning. The government’s announcement last month of new “Development Assessment Committees” (DACs) to make planning decisions in Melbourne 2030’s Principal Activity Centres (and other – as yet unspecified – sites of metropolitan significance) is just one aspect of a fast-changing planning environment. It occurs alongside the potentially game-changing review of the residential zones; the introduction of the Urban Growth Zone; the fallout from the Eddington Report; and with the still-mysterious review of the Act looming on the horizon.

In this context, it’s a shame that the kerfuffle over the proposed DACs largely overshadowed one of the most important recent attempts to pause and take stock. The report of the Melbourne 2030 Audit Expert Group (AEG) was released simultaneously with the government’s response to it, and it was overshadowed by the story of the DACs and their implicit threat to the role of local government. This is unfortunate, as the AEG report is a solid, well-considered stock take of where we now stand. It mounts a spirited defence of the core ideas of Melbourne 2030, but is also admirably clear in spelling out how its implementation has fallen short.

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