Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Week in Review

I recently started a new short-term role at a very large Australian corporate. I'm working as part of a small team that is automating the production of monthly financial reports to the company board (we're talking figures here in the billions of dollars).

Unknown to us, our manager had promised the assistant CFO certain deliverables that he has now ascertained are not likely to be met at the current rate. He called us together during the week and requested that we put in extra hours for which we will be remunerated for on a pro rata basis (which is not common in the corporate world).

The short of it is that for the next two weeks, I'll have even less time for film, writing and sleep than I do now, so something has to give. I think my film-going will slow down a little for the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, this week has been on the busy side, so this might be my biggest post for a short while.

  • Ma mère (My Mother, Christophe Honoré, 2004)
  • Fong juk (Exiled, Johnny To, 2006)
  • Lucky Miles (Michael James Rowland, 2006)
  • Prête-moi ta main (I Do: How to Get Married and Stay Single, Eric Latigau, 2006)
  • Clubland (Cherie Nowlan, 2007)
  • Syrinx (Ryan Larkin, 3 mins, 1965)
  • Cityscape (Ryan Larkin, 2 mins, 1966)
  • Walking (Ryan Larkin, 5 mins, 1968)
  • Street Musique (Ryan Larkin, 8 mins, 1972)
  • Ryan (Chris Landreth, 14 mins, 2004)

Why this film never got a wide theatrical release is a wonder (in Melbourne, it screened only at the Chinatown Cinema). Surely the primary demographic that the cinemaplexes are trying to woo would flock to see a cool flick like this. Gangsters, shooting, double-crosses, revenge – this is Hong Kong action cinema at its best. Quentin Tarantino, with all his cinematic excess, has done much to bring Hong Kong action cinema into the mainstream and I don’t think subtitles are a barrier today to a film like this having wide appeal.

While I’m generally not a big fan of the genre, Johnnie To has injected an enormous amount of style in Exiled. Long takes, terrific camera angles, stand-offs between characters without dialogue, lush cinematography – the screen frame is used effectively and the film is full of visual appeal.

There is an air of intrigue as the film takes its time for the story to unwind and we gradually make sense of why these guys with guns are waiting for our exile to return home. The intrigue is maintained throughout the film as not everything is spelt out to us. So, while it’s an action flick, it's not mindless.

While I didn’t pick it up straight away, half way into the film, when the plot moves to a quarry, To makes it clear he is paying homage to Westerns. We hear banjo music, and the protagonists look like cowboys walking through a canyon.

Though I have yet to see The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, from the clips I have seen of it, Exiled seemed reminisicent of that type of film-making. Then today I read from the Melbourne Cinémathèque notes that describe it as To’s tribute to Sergio Leone. While a lesser director may have made this a parody, To pulls off this audacious shift with clever effect and nuanced tongue-in-cheek humour.

There are a number of twists with typical Hong Kong excess that I found very enjoyable. However, towards the end the film starts to overstay its welcome a little. It may have benefited from cutting ten or so minutes of its screen time. Having said that, and while I’m no expert in the genre, it’s the best Hong Kong action flick I’ve seen yet.

Lucky Miles
Michael Winterbottom has done a good job of raising refugee issues through his films. This film is like a cross between say, In This World and Little Miss Sunshine with a definite Australian flavour. While there is little of Winterbottom's gritty social realism, and while it is full of humour (much of it intelligent and understated), it does have a subtle humanitarian undercurrent with a lot more going for it than that turgid American crowd-pleaser with Toni Collette.

The film pays homage to real life events as a group of hapless refugess are left on a beach in the far north of Western Australia and get lost in the desert. The film concerns itself with the dynamics between the various characters, the difficulties they encounter, the shenanigans they get up to, and the attempts to round them up by the authorities.

While it's not quite my kind of film, it is for most parts a better than average film that has the potential to be a crowd pleaser and is a worthy effort for first-time director Michael James Rowland. He found various means to engage the audience, and I was surprised to see how well he pulled off one unlikely stunt involving a car that should not be able to start.

While it is a bit of a feel-good film (even though that description doesn't do it justice), it did take risks by using middle-eastern and Asian characters (who looked good on screen) and didn't go down the route of using hackneyed dumb-arse Ockerisms. The Australian characters were quite good without being exceptional, and though the film does stretch incredulity on occasions, it does manage to pull it off for an audience that is prepared to suspend disbelief. So, if you''re prepared to leave your critical faculties at the door and open for a bit entertainment, it's worth seeing, and it's also a good one for the kids.

Link: interview with Rodney Afif

Ryan Larkin
The above-mentioned short films by the very brilliant Ryan Larkin screened as part of this week's Melbourne Cinémathèque screenings. I was gob-smacked at their sheer brilliance and visual inventiveness, with little or no dialogue. His work was highly influential, and one can see its impact on the psychedelic animations of the time (like the Beatles' Yellow Submarine).

A talented artist with quick success, it's tragic that Larkin burnt out on cocaine and alcohol early in his career, and went into a downward spiral that he never recovered from (he died in February this year). The animated documentary by Chris Lambeth depicts his reimagined images of Larkin against actual recordings of his words. It works very effectively.

Links: Ryan Larkin on Wikipedia \ IMDB

Below are a couple of Larkin's short films that can be found on YouTube.



Street Musique

Interview with Ryan Larkin

I Do

I avoided this film at the French Film Festival as I knew it had a theatrical release scheduled, and also because I'm not into light French comedies. I received free tickets as an AFI give-away, and went with the family. I saw it as an opportunity for some exposure to French-speaking that can only assist me with my learning French (I'm into week 8 of classes at Alliance Française).

At the risk of sounding repetitious, and trying to remain polite, this film is a middle-of-the-road crowd-pleaser, the sort of film one associates with Palace Cinemas. It has the intelligence of an Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell comedy. I don't know what Dendy is doing screening it (I saw it at the Kino). The whole film was a set-up. It had no verisimilitude whatsoever. It just felt like a bunch of actors sitting around playing roles and delivering the lines the script demands. I couldn't get into any of the characters at all. The funny bits were completely unfunny and I laughed at all the wrong times. The sad thing is that there is big market for this kind of film. With some of the key songs being in English and postcard-like Paris images, it felt this film was made with international distribution in mind.

With low expectations, I wasn't overly disappointed with this film, and found it enjoyable by suspending my critical faculties. The crowd obviously enjoyed it, laughing in unison at all the right places and applauding at the end.

It's a fairly typical Australian family drama/comedy, lifted by the presence of the effortlessly talented Brenda Blethyn. But then, this is territory she's covered before, most notably in Little Voice (Mark Herman, 1998) which was a superior film with many experienced actors.

This film should do well in the Australian market, and director Nowlan (who with Blethyn introduced the film) announced that the film has been signed up for European and US distribution by Warner. Unfortunately, there is a little sex and nudity which makes it slightly inappropriate for a primary school-age audience, though my six-year old son sat through it OK.

There were a number of contrivances that I could overlook, and it's not my kind of film, but for middle-of-the-road entertainment, it's OK.


Hugo said...

Paul, I don't think the comments are working. This a test.

Hugo said...

Oh, I see the comments are working. Just wanted to share that I used to pass Ryan on the street everyday last summer (here in Montreal) while he was panhandling. He was a very jolly man. Always up for a talk. He seemed lonely, but that's the way the wind blows for some. It's a shame he passed.

Paul Martin said...

Hi Hugo, yes it's a shame. But what I find more tragic is his fight with his demons for most of his life (not that I know a lot about him). It was pleasing to see on the interview with Larkin (YouTube clip posted above) that he felt better about himself towards the end of his life, and was getting back into working on animation. I read somewhere that he was collaborating on a project that is being completed posthumously.

Did you know it was Larkin on the street? Did you ever speak to him? Are you bilingual? You may know from the blog that I'm learning French.

Phillip said...

I'm very much looking forward to "Exiled"...I loved his similar effort "The Mission"...pretty much anything Johnny To touches turns into something unique and entertaining. Unfortunately "Exiled" doesn't hit LA until the end of August! But it is coming...I hope. Though it's hard to be certain when "Triad Election" never came this way, instead it went to San Francisco and NYC. When the movie capital of the world can't get a film something's amiss.

In this instance I haven't read your article about the film. I would never do such a thing. You're lucky to have gotten it so early. Thankfully my video outlet in Chinatown is ordering both "Exiled" and "Triad Election" for me. One week away from Hong Kong bliss!

Paul Martin said...

The only Johnnie To films I have seen are Exiled and Running Out of Time, both of which have screened as one-ofs at Melbourne Cinematheque. Election also screened last week after Exiled but I couldn't stay to see it.

The comments above are the only ones I've written about any To film, and they don't give anything away. I suppose there's different types of reviewing. Mostly when I write I assume a reader hasn't seen the film in question, and I pretty much write how I would like reviews to be written under that circumstance.

Of course, there's detailed analysis one can engage in when the participants have seen the film, and its aspects can be dissected. On this blog, that tends to take place in the comments.

Brickski said...

Funny to hear you say Lucky Miles is a cross between In This World and LMS. I have been describing it to friends as a cross between Rabbit Proof Fence and The Gods Must Be Crazy!

Paul Martin said...

Brickski, I haven't seen either of those films. Can you see why I used that description? I didn't want to give too much away in using the comparison.

Mansi said...

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