Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Week in Review

During the past week, France makes another appearance via Michel Gondry's latest as well as my first exposure to Jean-Luc Godard. Unfortunately I had no time to get to any further screenings at the Festival of German Films, but intend to rectify that on Wednesday (being the Anzac Day holiday) and next weekend. ACMI's Focus on Guillermo del Toro finished today, and I caught two more films from that during the week.

  • La science des rêves (The Science of Sleep, Michel Gondry, 2006)
  • Sunshine (Danny Boyle, 2007)
  • Manhunter (Michael Mann, 1986)
  • Mimic (Guillermo del Toro, 1997)
  • Italianetz (The Italian, Andrei Kravchuk, 2005)
  • The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
  • Scénario du film 'Passion' (53min, Jean-Luc Godard, 1982)
  • Almodovóvar on Almodovóvar (Revised edition, 2006, Frédéric Strauss)

Scénario du film 'Passion'
Showing as part of the Centre Pompidou Video Art 1965-2005, on exhibition at ACMI until 27 May. Not having seen any Godard films yet, I don't have contextual appreciation of this documentary, but am keen to catch them when possible. The following is from the ACMI website:

Scénario du Film Passion (1982)
Videotape, colour, sound, 53:24 min
Retraces the writing and production of Godard's controversial 1982 film Passion.

Jean-Luc Godard produced Scénario du film Passion as a commentary on the creative process behind his 1982 film Passion. As he retraces the writing and production process, viewers are offered a fascinating glimpse into the world of one of cinema's most innovative artists.

Jean-Luc Godard is renowned as one of the key members of the Nouvelle Vague (New Wave), the influential group of French filmmakers, theorists and critics in the late 1950s and 1960s. Although widely known for his feature films, Godard is also the author of approximately thirty videos, many of which were produced specifically for television.

The Science of Sleep
Michel Gondry, himself a native of France has both written and directed his first feature film set in France using French, Spanish and English languages. While he has produced some fantastic music videos, and his previous Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was a big success here (The Nova Cinema had a phenomenal six-month run with it), I don't find The Science of Sleep up to the standard of his previous film.

Gael García Bernal is a tremendously talented actor and I've loved every performance I've seen from him in films such as Amores perros, Y tu mamá también, El crimen del padre Amaro, Diarios de motocicleta, La mala educación, Babel and especially The King (which I ranked my second favourite film of 2006). His performance is fine in The Science of Sleep, but I think that the film is adversely affected by Gondry's writing. He is not as good a writer as he is a director. And comparing the film to Eternal Sunshine is perhaps not fair as the earlier film had the brilliant Charlie Kaufman as writer (as did the earlier Human Nature). After all, it's rare that a film is celebrated for its writer (as is anything by Kaufman) rather than its director.

Bernal's character as a Mexican in France (who speaks little French) just doesn't seem quite right. It feels almost like the director likes the actor and wants to include him in the film, even if he isn't the best choice. The casting would have worked better in an English-language film.

The story in The Science of Sleep shows a style similar to Eternal Sunshine - a weird and quirky convergence of thoughts and reality which often collide, but there is a thread of coherence lacking in the current film.

Still, there are many positives in the film - the casting generally is good and the concept is inventive and bizarre. The cinematography is appealling, though some might find the animation too similar to the style of music videos. It will appeal to some and not others - I don't think it was completely successful. The film is overall quite entertaining but not as engaging as it could have been. I found it worth-seeing, at least for its originality.

I haven't really thought much of a Danny Boyle film since his sublime Trainspotting, so I didn't go into this with high expectations. I was prepared to suspend many of my critical faculties, but still the film disappointed. It starts off with promise, though the heavy-handed use of sound and music, as well as the hip-look and 'over-abundance of manliness' of the space travellers were distracting. The lack of the lack of gravity I was also prepared to overlook. I could even overlook the gold-coloured space-suits (gold is heat-absorbing, whereas silver is heat-reflecting). These weren't the main problems, unfortunately.

Around half way through the film, it goes off on a tangent from a 2001-wannabe (and borrows heavily from that great film) to an Alien-wannabe. Not only did this stretch credibility beyond the tolerable, but the film then employs the MTV school of editing technique where cross-cutting becomes almost epilepsy-inducing and fails to disguise the poor plot. I found the film a waste of time.

Until now, The Insider is the only Mann film I'd liked - I found Heat ridiculously over-the-top and Collateral ridiculously contrived and visually unappealing. I didn't see Miami Vice because it held no appeal (especially after Heat and Collateral) and I didn't see Ali because (1) I'm not a big fan of so-called biopics, and (2) I remember what Mohammed Ali looked like and it was nothing like Will Smith.

So I went to Melbourne Cinémathèque with fairly low expectations but was pleasantly surprised. I didn't know that this was the film that was virtually remade as Silence of the Lambs, which I liked a lot. Manhunter has dated more than that film, particularly the music and clothing. However, I found it very chilling, and some of the characterisations more interesting than the remake. Brian Cox's Lektor and William Petersen's Will Graham were both excellent. Hopkins' characterisation seems almost cartoonish in comparison to Cox, though the journalist's role was a bit cartoonish in Mann's film. There were a few contrivances (like Graham jumping through the window) that I could easily overlook because the film was so effective in keeping me on the edge of my seat. The film could also have benefited from a bit of tighter editing as the end seemed a little drawn out, but that's a small criticism. I found the film edgier than Mann's more recent work and compelling viewing.

I wasn't planning to see this, but changed my mind after a strong recommendation. I was one of only six people in ACMI's larger cinema 2. I love empty cinemas (mind you, I love full ones too, but that's a different experience). And the film wasn't too bad at all... for a Hollywood horror film.

Mimic was the next film del Toro made after Cronos, and he used various themes in common with that film. A grandfather and his grandchild, warm orange tones, religious icons, objects wrapped in plastic bags and insects (including one that attacks a protangist's hand). In fact, some of these seem to appear in later films also (remember the insects in Pan's Labyrinth?). As does his meticulous attention to detail. I found the film genuinely scary, and there were times I felt like leaving the cinema. I do get emotionally involved in the cinematic experience, and maybe that's why I'm not a big fan of the genre.

Mind you, there's always exceptions. What is interesting about Mimic is that it is made by a serious director of that genre who has made his own mark right from the start. Seen in that context, even though this specific film is clearly a studio film, it retains del Toro's style and vision. Seeing it has definitely enhanced my appreciation of del Toro, though I still stand by my criticisms of Pan's Labyrinth, his most celebrated film to date.

Perusing online, I couldn't have worded better what David Greven writes at 24LiesASecond: "
Examined individually, each of his films seems deeply flawed and even failed. Yet when taken together—arranged and assembled as a vast quilt of images—they achieve a nightmarish splendor that demands recognition."

The Italian
After Jump Street Films previous The King (which made it into my top 10 films of 2006) and A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, I was expecting to like this film more than I did, particularly as it has reputedly won more than 30 awards to date.

It's the tale of a six year old boy left in an orphanage who decides to try to find his birth mother. The film looked good and the characters were generally quite good, especially the young boy. A couple of characters seemed a little caricatured, and maybe the target audience in the film is quite young. My six-year old boy liked the film a lot, though I covered his eyes for a violent scene at the end.

The film didn't engage me greatly, and I found the plausibility stretched with what the boy was able to achieve.

The Night of the Hunter
This is the last of the three films selected by Guillermo del Toro as films that have influenced him for the ACMI season ending today. It was great seeing Robert Mitchum playing such a role of pure evil and terror in the form of a preacher. Check out the tattoos on his fingers.

Shelley Winters was also convincing as the insecure middle-aged mother, similar to the character she depicted seven years later in Kubrick's Lolita. This was the only film directed by Charles Laughton. I find it both surprising and disappointing that nothing followed Hunter, which apparently was not successful at the box office.

The film is very theatrical and largely predictable, but that doesn't detract from the its enjoyment. If anything, it increases the dread. And it looks great in black and white.


delon melville said...

do I owe you $10.50 or $11 for the Sunshine ticket, plus petrol, plus a few hours of your life back?

On the spacesuits?

I thought their artistic industrial design was multi layered.

Gold = offerings to Sun Gods in the Americas before Columbus.

The Shape, front profile, looks like a Samurai warrior with the helmet and the chain mail. Well, the Samurai's version of matted uniform.

Samurai's perception of sacrifice and behaviour in the face of mortality.

Side profile: Caterpillar, or probably more similar to a witchetty grub. Caterpillars beget life for butterflies, they sporn life.

Well, perhaps I read too many metaphors into the spacesuits.

Paul Martin said...

Delon, every film is a risk, and that's part of the cinema exeperience - the anticipation, wondering... I don't regret seeing it as it's good to get a sense of a director's work. I think Boyle is an interesting director because he always tackles different projects (with the exception of the upcoming sequel to Trainspotting).

I thought the suits looked great, especially the silver one. I didn't have a big problem with the colour gold, but it was just one of many details that I faulted. There's a story - I don't know how true it is - of a Bond girl who died of heat-affliction on set when she was in the sun and covered with gold paint. I've always preferred silver because it's cooling, whereas gold is warming - that's also an Ayurvedic (traditional Inidan medicine) thing.

I'd say it has lots of elements to like, but I wasn't impressed with the film as a whole. I wasn't disappointed, because I've learnt not to be disappointed by Danny Boyle's films.

afraid said...

I'm sure a second viewing of Sunshine would disappoint me even more than the first, but I can't say I wasn't surprised by the immediate visceral impact. Those same things that annoyed you about the sound and visuals would probably annoy me too the second time around, but to be honest, I doubt I'll be seeing it a second time.

So I say it's worth a look, but I say that knowing my appreciation of it will continue to dim over time. In twenty years, it will be very much a kitsch curio of this particular decade.

Paul Martin said...

Barnaby, I started getting restless just after the half-way mark, which is always a bad sign. I couldn't sit through it a second time.

What to speak of passing the test of time, I doubt many people will be thinking of it by the end of the year. I think it's quite a forgettable film.

Noel Tanti said...

we really won't agree on sunshine as 1) i loved sunshine; 2) i think that space odyssey is pretentious in the boring sense; 3) so is trainspotting; 4) i love most of boyle since trainspotting, even the bad ones... but more on this as i post my thoughts about it...

interesting point regarding the gold suits...

Paul Martin said...

Thanks for dropping by, Noel. Sunshine seems to have polarised audiences.

I saw 2001 when it first came out as a high school student. It filled me with wonder then and it stuns me each time I see it (last time was less than a year ago). I think it leaves room for the imagination, but I can understand others finding it boring (I love a lot of films that 99% of people find boring).

I liked the way Trainspotting depicts drugs, and thought at the time that it should be essential viewing for teenagers. It's not all glam, it's sickness and death and violence. But boring? I thought it anything but.

Anonymous said...

And Paul, Danny Boyle often changes the tone of his films at the halfway point, a jarring effect perhaps with the aim of giving his films a self-referential quality. I guess it will annoy some, others will find it refreshing.


Paul Martin said...

That's an interesting observation, John, and I can't say I'd noted it in Boyle's previous films. I'll have to watch for that in future.

I don't have a problem with changing tone mid-way per se, but it depends on how it's done. I suppose I found it somewhat jarring.

Phillip said...

Ha! Paul, I don't think "Sunshine" has polarized most audiences, I just think it has polarized you from most everyone else. I too loved the film. I found the shift in genre towards the end strange, but it was handled well stylistically and thematically (though a bit simplistic).

I felt the editing in the end was highly appropriate, for as they got nearer the sun, the idea of reality as we know it began to shift. This was explained much earlier in the film when it was mentioned that quantum mechanics would come into play, and even the expert scientist wouldn't know what would happen.

I will agree that the movie in it's first 15 minutes was annoying, it felt like many other sci-fi films, though good ones, but then as it continued it showed me things I've never seen in a sci-fi film or any film. It was mind-bogglingly self-sufficient. Then for whatever reason had the three monolith like structures in the snow at the end, of course ala, 2001.

Like everyone else I've written my own little review that focuses much more heavily on the theology in the film... Http:// ... you should just be able to click on my name though!

Paul Martin said...

Hi Phil

I'd say the verdict on Sunshine has been pretty much 50/50 on the blogs and forums I've read. This film more than most has had a polarising effect of either loving or hating it. Various devices either work or fail abysmally. For me it was the latter, as much as I want to love the film. It got to a point where I just couldn't suspend disbelief anymore.

I've just had a look at your review, and I'm always appreciative of reading that others could take away from a film things that I couldn't. There's a market for every film, but this film was not for me. The visuals were excellent, but insufficient to engage me. The 'reality TV'-like interactions (particularly at the start, but developed throughout) and the frenetic editing at the end just failed me.

Phillip said...

Hey Paul,

I tease a bit in my response to you, but 74 percent at Rotten Tomatoes is a little better than polarizing, and it seems that it was merely the last act that has polarized most. For me the "creature" as you call it was the least effective part of the script. Not so much the way it was filmed, but more so the very literal thematic device it represented. It was too heavy handed. For the first Icarus to have been destroyed because of him would have been enough to deal with that theme. It was the "thriller" aspect that I didn't appreciate as much; pandering to a wider audience perhaps. And maybe it was just in the way it was handled, because there is that moment when he realizes there's a 5th person on board that kind of sucks you in, it's what they decide to do with that "5th person" that isn't as intriguing. A misused opportunity perhaps. And the first fifteen minutes, while I wouldn't compare to reality TV, I would compare to about the first 15 minutes of every other sci film in existence. I would think at this point that if a smart writer and director (and I consider them both to be smart enough) would diligently find another way to introduce the characters. It was when the story actually set in that I liked the way they were treated; treating things scientifically rather than voting, stuff like that. The conundrum of taking a man's life to save the human race. I always find it disheartening when a film relies on genre elements to entangle an audience. I felt the same way about "Joshua", "Birth" and Tom Twyker's "The Princess and the Warrior". "Joshua" and "Birth" the thriller and ghost story elements respectively didn't pay off, and Twyker's sudden need to use a bank heist to further his story was weak (though I loved the rest of the film and saw it four or five times in the theatre.) It's not trusting the audience when it comes down to it, and that's unfortunate.

I;m going to head over and read the person's review you recommended, but it might say what I've already said.

Paul Martin said...

Phil, I agree that the ending is the most polarizing, and for me, the weakest part of the film. It was at this point that I gave up on the film. I think many people who gave the film a thumbs up overall, didn't like the end, but thought that the strengths of the film overshadowed the weaknesses.

I don't think Boyle was pandering to a wider audience as much as taking risks, trying to do something unexpected. Kudos to him for trying. I'd rather someone try and fail (or not be completely successful) than to just stick with safe territory. For me, the devices used didn't work.

I haven't seen Joshua; it's screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival, which opens next week. But it's not on my list of films to see. I don't see the connection to Birth or Tykwer's film, neither of which really impressed me. Just recently I saw Raúl Ruiz's Comedy of Innocence from which it appears Birth was derived. I think I understand the connection you're making. I think you cared more about everyone of these films (including Sunshine) than myself. I tend not to hold on to too much information about films that don't impress me.