New York Stories – I’m So Excited / Byzantium / 20 Feet from Stardom


By Glenn Dunks
July 2, 2013

There’s a wide world of cinema out there, and Quickflix’s Glenn Dunks is on the ground in New York City bringing you the titles that will soon be seen in Australian cinemas, and eventually available on home entertainment.

The Manhattan Report: So many movies, so little time. New retrospectives pop up every week in this city. Recently I’ve caught films from seasons dedicated to the likes of Karen Black, Jackie Chan, Allan Dwan, and cinematographer Harris Savides (whose final effort, Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, opened recently and it is fantastic). The four are separated by time, craft, and country, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Just this week, a David Bowie retrospective was announced, and even a series devoted to screen cars. Naturally, there are only so many hours in a day, which makes viewing them all (most screened in 35mm, by the way) a statistical impossibility. Still, it’s nice knowing if I ever have a hankering for almost literally any given country or era, there’s somewhere to go for it.


I’m So Excited: At least writer/director Pedro Almodóvar is excited by a return to his hedonistic side with his 20th feature, I’m So Excited. Sadly for audiences, one of the greatest working directors has offered up what feels like reheated leftovers. It’s a flat, extremely unfunny take on the wacky sex comedies of the ‘70s and ‘80s that barely manages anything more than a few polite chuckles in its thankfully short runtime. Not even a friskily choreographed musical sequence set to The Pointer Sisters’ titular tune can get blood flowing to Almodóvar’s groin-focused, cameo-studded farce.

With a roster of names familiar to the auteur’s filmography doing what they can – Javier Camara (Bad Education), Lola Dueñas (Broken Embraces), Cecilia Roth (All About My Mother) included – sadly,  I’m So Excited ends as little more than failed camp. (In Australian cinemas September 19. It opens the Melbourne International Film Festival July 25.)



Byzantium: Neil Jordan’s latest foray into the realm of the undead is far from Interview with the Vampire. Rather, it’s an intimate tale of mothers and daughters – who just happen to be vampires – enacting revenge upon the men who treat them badly. Byzantium is a rather bloodless affair – figuratively more so than literally; there are waterfalls of blood here – that is nonetheless a handsomely crafted piece of filmmaking. It’s a shame the baroque style in aid of something so decidedly average.

Adapted from a play by Moira Buffini, Byzantium unfolds over centuries, following prostitute mother Clara (Gemma Arterton) and her teenage daughter Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) as they traverse the British countryside avoiding the wrath of an ancient vampire organisation out for their heads. Jordan nudges at issues like the inherent sexism in patriarchal societies and teen angst’s barely changing face through the years, but it never goes far enough. Ronan’s performance – eager to spill the beans to her outcast boyfriend – is suitably effective, but Gemma Arterton surprises. She gives this so-so effort more life (pardon the pun) than anybody else. (Skipping cinemas; arriving on DVD late 2013.)



20 Feet from Stardom: Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler, and Mick Jagger are just some of the big names that feature in Morgan Neville’s music documentary 20 Feet from Stardom. The film is not about them, though. It’s about the back-up singers who have helped make so many classic songs that much greater. The names may not be familiar – although Darlene Love, the unofficial voice of Christmas in my world, has certainly made a name for herself – but their contributions are unmistakable. Filled to the brim with entertaining anecdotes from “back in the day” and pure-voiced performances from back-up singers both old and new, Neville’s picture is tailor-made for feel good status as the underdogs finally get their time to shine.

Similar in subject to Oscar-winning 1990 doco In the Shadow of the Stars, it’s not too hard to imagine a similar fate for this kind-hearted effort. It doesn’t probe all that deeply, but like last year’s Searching for Sugar Man, it works simply by planting a spotlight on an unheralded slice of greatness. Unlike that film, there aren’t any twists and turns in the tale of these singers; they were both exploited and treated with kindness, depending on who you speak to. Their story is tinged with melancholy, however, with the advent of new technologies threatening to erase their craft altogether. 20 Feet from Stardom is a beacon of admiration for these incredible performers. (No release date at this time.)


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