Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Week in Review

Christmas holidays are here, so what better way to spend time during these hot days than in a cool cinema. Nothing really stands out for me this week.

  • The Darjeeling Limited (Wes Anderson, USA, 2007)
  • The Golden Compass (Chris Weitz, USA, 2007)
  • Coeurs (Private Fears in Public Places, Alain Resnais, France, 2006)
  • Crackers (David Swann, Australia, 1998)
  • Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, USA, 1942)
  • The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, USA, 1941)
  • Duel (Steven Spielberg, USA, 1971)
  • Paris, je t'aime (Various, Leichentstein, 2006)

The Darjeeling Limited
It seems some people love Wes Anderson's style and some hate it. I tend more towards the former camp, though I've only seen The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Of the two films, I prefer The Darjeeling Limited, which could be viewed as a family drama with comedic elements or a comedy with dramatic elements. In actuality, it is highly comedic, but there is also much dry and understated humour and much drama with strong threads based in reality that we can grab onto.

The characters are great, better than I expected after seeing the shorts many times. Having established the family dynamics between the three brothers, it was quietly amusing to see the understated way Anderson introduced another family member. You'll know what I mean when you see the film. The Indian characters are terrific, especially the Chief Steward. Bill Murray gets an obligatory cameo, and Natalie Portman's small role is sweet.

Much has been said about Anderson's use of colour (highly stylised in The Life Aquatic). India makes a great natural backdrop for The Darjeeling Limited, where colour is a natural element of the social and cultural life. I found the depictions of the country mostly authentic (except for one amorous scene on the train, but which most Western audiences would not pick up on).

Anderson's use of colour, his eccentric characters, the story arc and his creative use of camera angles makes for an enjoyable experience. Many films have come out of the US in recent years that I call 'quirky', which could almost be considered a separate genre. In my opinion, most of them don't work, because the quirkiness is too self-conscious, too contrived. For me, Wes Anderson joins Hal Hartley as someone for whom quirkiness works.

The Golden Compass
There's a novel device that differentiates this film from other children's films of a similar genre - in this parallel universe, people's soul's live outside the body in the form of an animal. Other than that, it's basically a CGI extravaganza of the order of say the Harry Potter franchise or Narnia. None of these films particularly impresses me. I find them too formulaic and predictable, with some hero figure, a victim to be saved and some

The film has an open-ending; it is obviously to be continued. This leaves a slight frustration, though thankfully the film ends around the 90 minute mark. The performances are OK, especially by the young Dakota Richards. Nicole Kidman seems a little it like a fish out of water, but does her best with a fairly weak role while Daniel Craig seems more credible in a smaller role. I found Ian McKellen's easily recognisable voiceover for one of the CGI characters a bit distracting - he has a good voice, but it was hard not to picture the actor, so a less recognisable voice would have been better.

The film is entertaining enough for children (my seven year old enjoyed it), but not recommended otherwise. Personally, I'd like to see more children's cinema like John Sayle's The Secret of Roan Inish (1994) where characters are more nuanced, there's a little more naturalism and less CGI. Or even Tim Burton's fairytale-like stories, that play on stereotype, but usually have some bent twists.

Oh, what a dreary, boring film, and I endured all 120 minutes! This film was one cliché after another, terribly staged (as if were were watching a third-rate live theatrical performance) with stereotypical characters that seemed straight out of The Bold and the Beautiful. People did not respond as people do. The writing was puerile, so there wasn't much the actors could do with the material.

So many devices annoyed me, including:
- the soft camera lenses on 60+ year old women to attempt to make them look gorgeous
- the intrusive and manipulative music
- the sets and setups
- the snow-fall fading in and out at the end of each scene as if it were a stage curtain
- the acting that was like a third-rate stage play (and the sets reinforced that)

Melodrama doesn't have to be stupid. This film lacks any subtlety, is very stupid and is currently on target to just make it onto my worst 10 films of the year (along with 5 other French films!).

Hey, it's Christmas-time, so what an appropriate film for ACMI to screen as part of its Australian Perspectives program. The dysfunctional family get-together at year's end. In many respects, this is a fairly stereotypical Australian comedy, at least on paper. Yet it has an edge and an underlying authenticity that extracted much laughter from the small audience at the single ACMI screening I attended with my family (and my seven year old loved it).

My elderly mother still dreams of getting another caravan and going away on a holiday, perhaps with one or more of her adult children. The start of this film drives home for me why I absolutely refuse to have any part of it. Hell on wheels, that's what I remember it as, and that's how the film depicts it.

Crackers is not a particularly consistent film. There's various flat spots at times, a few stereotypes and weaknesses in the direction. It does, however, have a good heart and some good humour that makes it stand out in the genre. My favourite bit was when the dog gets burnt over the barbeque. My son couldn't control his laughter at that bit.

In spite of some predictability, the film does have some redeeming features, like not using clichés like referring to men as blokes or Aussies. You know, that mythological "Strine" that just doesn't exist anymore (at least, not as films depict it). I much prefer a modest little film like this, with a good heart and some good writing than a big budget poorly written film. Kudos to ACMI for unearthing little gems like this for the Australian Perspectives program.

Humphrey Bogart double at the Astor
I don't think there's anything I can say to add to these two classics: Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon. I preferred the former, and the number of famous lines was awesome. But I enjoyed them both.

I saw this DVD on special somewhere and thought I'd give it a go. I think it was Tarantino's Death Proof that got me thinking about it. On occasions, I've revisited 70's films that impressed me on original release, only to be disappointed at how much they've dated. That happened, for example with Tommy (Ken Russell, 1975). Sure, I still like the music, but the film is cringe-worthy.

Duel was originally made for TV in the US, but was distributed elsewhere as a feature movie - director Steven Spielberg's first - by adding a few scenes to bring it up to 90 minutes length (I believe it was originally 74 minutes). As I recollect, it screened here as the opener to a movie double, and was the minor feature. I saw it at a drive-in theatre, something my family (with four children) found economical. I don't remember the main feature, but Duel always stuck with me. Even though it has dated in some respects, I think it has withstood the test of time and is just as enjoyable now as I remember it then.

Basically, a travelling salesman finds himself the victim of a malevolent truck driver who tries to eradicate him on a lonely desert road. The film consists of a cat-and-mouse chase with various twists. I can't say I'm a big fan of Spielberg, but this film really shows his talent at an early age (he was in his early to mid 20s at the time). What is basically a one-man show holds its own for the whole duration, a real edge of your seat thriller. The camera angles are great, the truck looks genuinely menacing and the twists are believable. The finale is excellent. I got my money's worth with this one.

Paris, je t'aime
Revisiting this after six months or more was an interesting exercise. I think I liked this compilation of short films more than most, for reasons detailed in my original post. Watching the interviews and other DVD extras perhaps enhanced my appreciation, and I liked the film even more this time round. The injured Nigerian immigrant, the grieving mother, the lonely driver, the boy by the Seine - all these stories affected me at least as much as the first time. Even the stories that had a lesser affect (like Christopher Doyle's Chinatown segment) seemed to improve over time.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Calendar updated for Jan/Feb

The Calendar of Film Events (in the sidebar) has been updated with known events (mostly release dates) for January and February.

The Coen brothers' No Country For Old Men opens this Boxing Day - don't miss it!

I'm looking out for American Gangster (Ridley Scott, opens 10 Jan), Lust, Caution (Ang Lee, 17 Jan) and There Will Be Blood (PT Anderson, 7 Feb). Melbourne Cinémathèque's 2008 season opens on 13 Feb - the opening night films have not yet been confirmed. I'll post the rest of the CTEQ calendar soon.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Week in Review

What a week of contrasts: Monday I saw what I consider the year's best mainstream release (by the Coens brothers), to date at least. Yes, even better than Cronenberg's Eastern Promises. And Friday gave me one of the year's worst: Tell No One. My Alliance Française classes are over for 2007 (I've completed 3 terms), so it was good to get three French films in during the week.

  • No Country For Old Men (Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, USA, 2007)
  • The Wild One (Lásló Benedek , USA, 1953)
  • The Big Red One (Samuel Fuller, USA, 1980)
  • Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One, Guillaume Canet, France, 2006)
  • 2 Days in Paris (Julie Delpy, France, 2007)
  • Ensemble, c'est tout (Hunting and Gathering, Claude Berri, France, 2007)

No Country For Old Men
"The best Coen brothers film since Fargo" is the general buzz by Melbourne critics about No Country For Old Men. Utter crap! This film absolutely leaves Fargo way behind and is easily the best film Ethan and Joel Coen have made (at least among the ones I've seen, which admittedly is about half of them). Impatient audiences may prefer Fargo's pace, but this is a much more confident, masterful and mature offering.

The character development is excellent, with some actors playing against type and some with. The film messes with expectations, but in a natural, fluid manner. Like many Coen brothers films, it's about violent crime, and how things often go to plan. And, as someone pointed out to me, the lengths people will go to over money. Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is an everyman who stumbles upon $2 million of drug money and a bunch of dead guys. He makes a choice which leads him down a dangerous path.

The film is kind of like a cross between both of Cronenberg's latest two films, and Eastern Promises and A History of Violence, as well as Tommy Lee Jones' The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. The film is shot in similar country to the latter, and Jones puts in a similarly performance. Those lines in his face just keep getting deeper and he really portrays a weary lawman with conviction. One reviewer compared him to a character in a Sam Peckinpah movie.

The action in the film is thrilling, the violence chilling, but more than that, the suspense is excellent (many comparing it to the expertise of Hitchcock). The dialogue is great, but the confidence the Coens show by restraint, often using just the visuals is a joy to watch. I'm a big fan of Cronenberg, but this film is easily better than Eastern Promises (which I liked a lot), and I consider No Country For Old Men the best mainstream release of the year (thus far). I'm going to see it again when it gets its Boxing Day release.

The Wild One
There's not much I can say about this classic other than I enjoyed it a lot. Screening as part of the Lee Marvin season at Melbourne Cinémathèque, it was great to see Marvin in such a screwball role (a beatnik biker gang leader). How society has changed! This film was banned in several countries in its day for its subversion. Marvin pairs off against rival gang leader, famously played by Marlon Brando, in one of the roles that has made him a legend. Marvin has the best role, though.

The Big Red One
The Big Red One was a personal project for Sam Fuller, who had fought in all the major campaigns depicted in the film as part of the US First Infantry. Armed with this piece of information gave me a heightened appreciation of the heart that went into the film's making. There's a underlying sense of futility of war, and the film's connecting theme at the start and finish is quite poignant. I don't think the film is the masterpiece that some find it, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Tell No One
125 painful minutes. That's what I endured, though it seemed much longer. I didn't have high expectations, but as the film's farce (unintended, I assure you) unfolded, the film pushes suspension of disbelief to a ridiculous level. Basically, it's an English who-dunnit crossed with a very mediocre Hollywood thriller, with a French flavour. The soundtrack is all English-speaking (including Jeff Buckley and U2), so presumably the film was made for either an international audience (think Palace cinemas, and the oft-mediocre French films screened) or the mainstream French audiences who like Hollywood films.

There are so many things to fault in this film that I couldn't even begin to try to list them, but some do stand out. The convoluted layer upon layer of unbelievable plot development and hackneyed characters, the gratuitous nudity, the childhood lovers (at 9, kissing like adults) who have a 15 year age difference in middle-age (he 45, her 30), the stereotypical bad guys, the convenient plot setups, the bad dialogue... should I go on? Nah, just suffice to say that after about 20 minutes I was looking at my watch, and at 45 minutes I was thinking it must be coming to an end (only to be disappointed to see how little time had passed). It just goes on and on and bored me shitless. But, it did have a great car crash sequence on a highway that looked magnificent.

2 Days in Paris
Set in Paris, with a French-born (but now US-based) director/actress and French-produced, 2 Days in Paris is really a US-style romantic comedy, but not puerile like most that genre produces. Delpy has adopted or absorbed some of the Linklater style used with Delpy in both Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, in much the same way that Hal Hartley's influence on Adrienne Shelly can be seen in her directorial effort with Waitress. Yet, with both actress/directors, they have put their own mark on their respective films.

Like Linklater, Delpy has written a story in which there is much dialogue, and much of it is quite sharp and intelligent. The characters in 2 Days are not dissimilar to Linklater's characters, but the rest of the film is otherwise quite different. I was particularly impressed with Delpy's not exploiting her own asset of beauty and looked mostly un-made up for most of the film. It enabled us to absorb her character without that distraction and gave the film a more authentic and naturalistic feel.

The film is a kind of 'meeting-the-parents', as the two lovers finish off a European trip with a 2 day stopover in Paris before returning home in New York. Delpy captures the dynamics of the cultural and language difference quite nicely. Delpy's real life parents (both veteran actors) put in excellent turns as her stage parents. Her father portrays an art gallery owner, and his actual art is seen in the film.

This film is not high art by any stretch of the imagination, but in a genre which typically aims for the lowest common denominator, both in the US and France, 2 Days in Paris is quite a refreshing change. It is quite an accomplishment by Delpy who not only wrote, directed and starred in the film, but also edited and composed the music (we hear her vocals over the final credits).

I found the hand-held camera a bit distracting at times. For the life of me, I can't understand the OFLC's MA classification. The only part that could have been considered offensive in any way was some of the art was sexual in nature. This is puritanism gone stupid.

Hunting and Gathering
I didn't really know anything about this film but went because it is French (and want to practice my listening skills) and because I like Audrey Tatou. Yes, I'm one of those that liked Amélie, and liked it a lot. Perhaps more so because I saw it several months before its release and knew nothing about it. It was so heavily marketed that I think it would have spoiled the magic for me had I seen it later.

I've liked Audrey Tatou in just about everything I've seen her in, and while her performance is OK in this film, I just couldn't get into the film at all. It's the kind of middle-of-the-road French romantic drama that does really well at the French film festival or a release at the Como. It's about young people looking for sex and love, and finding it in unlikely places. Hunting and Gathering goes through all the hackneyed motions, without offering anything new. It's the kind of film the occasional film-goer can go to on a Saturday evening with a lover or with friends as a social event, have a good time and forget before the night is over. The ending looked like it might improve, but then turned feel-good for everyone. That totally spoiled it for me.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Week in Review

  • September (Peter Carstairs, Australia, 2007)
  • Point Blank (John Boorman, USA, 1967)
  • The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford, USA, 1962)
  • I'm Not There (Todd Haynes, USA, 2007)

I had heard good things about September, so in spite of doubts, I gave it a go. Unfortunately, it was what I had perceived from the shorts. It just doesn't ring true. The relationship between the two boys just didn't seem plausible, and the aboriginal boy sounded well-educated. The film was OK, but doesn't stand out in any way. In fact, with the crop of local films this year, it kind of blends in to the point of invisibility. I had trouble staying awake for the duration of the film.

Point Blank
Sure, this film has dated, and yes, it's full of cliches. But it's done with such irresistible style and reminds me of the films of Jean-Pierre Melville.

The absence at times of explanations is a strength, and the flashes of memory with minimal device is effective. There's a large number of recognisable faces. If only Hollywood could still make 'em like this.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
I'm not a big fan of the Western genre, and the print at Cinémathèque wasn't the best (16mm, I believe), though acceptable. Yet, I found this film really compelling. There's a great line-up of actors: Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Lee Marvin and others who make up a good ensemble without anyone overly dominating. It would have been easy for any of the above-mentioned actors to fall into cliches, but with good writing and direction, this was avoided. This had me on the edge of my seat - very entertaining stuff!

I'm Not There
I like Todd Haynes as a film-maker. His off-the-beaten-track stories have been good partnerships with Christine Vachon's Killer Films, which produces largely offbeat films with potential for mainstream appeal (like Savage Grace, The Notorious Bettie Page, Far From Heaven and Boys Don't Cry).

I'm Not There is quite a different film to anything else I've seen by Haynes. It is not a coherent story, per se, like say Poison, Safe or Far From Heaven. Rather it is a collage, or a pastiche. Six actors portrays different aspects of Dylan, though none of them uses his name (or his original name, Robert Zimmerman). Indeed, one version is an eleven year old black American and another is an aging Billy the Kid (played by Richard Gere).

The different aspects are brought together in a fairly sporadic manner, with the effect of conveying a sense of the diversity of the man's character, rather than simply aiming to be a biopic. This enables Haynes vast artistic license to explore ideas rather be limited by an interpretation of fact. Additionally, each of the different aspects/actors is filmed in a different style. The cinematography (some colour, some black and white) is gorgeous. The performances are not uniform (but not unsurprisingly), though generally good. I was particularly impressed by Cate Blanchett's rendition. She really seemed to inhabit the role with authenticity.

The music fuses with the narrative very well. Some of the tracks are well-known, others not. But they all blended nicely without being 'in your face'. I am a fan of Dylan's work; his Desire album (1976) had a big influence on me at the time of its release.

I think Haynes was quite ambitious in attempting this project. His film is original and the result is impressive. I thought the film was better than what my enjoyment of it was, because I had a slight problem with the sporadic nature of the narrative. I found it hard to emotionally connect. I also thought the film went a bit longer than needed. If you like the films of Todd Haynes, or the music of Bob Dylan, or films with originality, this one is worth seeing.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Missing Abhi

It's been a year today since my son, Abhi, took his own life. Time may heal, but we miss him and wish he was still with us. We pray that he has moved on to a happier place, and that one day we may meet again. We love you, Abhi.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Catch up time

It’s amazing how time passes. It’s been nearly seven weeks since I posted anything of substance. I’ve been trying to drag myself to writing articles but frankly, for a number of reasons, I’ve needed a break.

I’ve been battling a mystery condition – I think it may be Addison’s disease. Unfortunately, in many cases, traditional medicine can only diagnose a condition once it’s chronic, which is too late (it’s like gluing a vase once you’ve broken it, rather than moving it away from the edge). Fortunately, I have a friend of a friend who is a very switched-on naturopath, and with his help, I am on the road of improvement. My no. 1 priority has been exercise and getting my health, fitness and strength to where it should be (and I’m not there yet), as well as shedding a bit of unwanted fat. What to speak of earlier nights.

I think another factor that has obstructed my writing is grief. Having the time to grieve over the suicide of my son, Abhi, is a kind of luxury that one doesn’t always get. The last few weeks have included various anniversaries of good times we had together just before he left us, culminating in the first anniversary of his passing on this coming Friday. As I start a new job the day before, I’m just hoping I can hold it together OK.

But you know, life is not all doom and gloom. Life goes on, and I suppose I need to pull my finger out and get some writing up here. I’ve been seeing films pretty much as usual. I regret that I’ve not posted reviews of some really good stuff. I wanted to comment about Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, which is an excellent companion piece to his previous A History of Violence. Or Tarantino’s Death Proof, which I liked a whole lot more than many (I don’t think it’s his best work, but it is very entertaining).

I have been to various Australian Perspective screenings at ACMI that included Q&A with the directors/writers/producers. A Sting in the Tale had a very good reception and the conversation after just kept on going. It was particularly pertinent in the wake of the election (I was so relieved to see the end of John Howard. And the Libs lost Bennelong – how good is that?). The Independent is another rare Australian political film – not outstanding, but worthy, and we had a good Q&A with that. Pure Shit also had a screening with a Q&A, and some great dialogue came out of that. That film would make a great companion piece to my favourite film of last year, Alkinos Tsilimidos’ Em 4 Jay. Both films are concerned with drug addiction (yeah, I know, everyone’s favourite topic, right?) but unlike say, Candy or Little Fish, these films are overflowing with authenticity, especially the naturalistic dialogue. I’ve come to see that most Australian films lack authentic dialogue, drifting towards theatricality and caricature.

On the subject of Alkinos Tsilimidos, I have recently interviewed him for the second time. I have already transcribed and edited our original conversation, and have quite a bit of work to complete the second. I’m planning to submit a significant article to Senses of Cinema.

Another good Q&A at ACMI followed Alex Frayne’s Modern Love, a local film that has been doing the rounds on the international festival circuit, but struggled to be seen in Australian cinemas. It’s an unusual film, made on the smell of an oily rag, and the passion of a small group of talented friends. It’s worth seeing if one gets the chance, and while it’s flawed, I suspect the film will create new opportunities for this young film-maker. I met Alex and the lead, Mark Constable, after the film and we had some interesting conversation in the ACMI Lounge. I learnt that Mark had a small role in Tsilimidos’ Tom White.

Unfortunately, I never got to write about Kriv Stender’s excellent Boxing Day before it finished it’s short stint at the Nova. I wanted to give it a plug while it was still on. In my opinion, it’s the only outstanding Australian film of 2007. It’s dialogue was so authentic, the story was so well written, and the acting was excellent. Films like this never seem to get the reception they deserve, though it has had very good critical reviews. This is a film that really should be seen if you get the chance. No other local film comes close. I felt while watching it that it was not just an excellent local film, but that it is a good contribution to world cinema.

A little news I learnt yesterday at an ACMI function is that there will be Focus Seasons in 2008 on Gus Van Sant and John Cassavetes. I’m looking forward to catching up on the Van Sant films I haven’t seen. As I’ve only seen Cassavete’s Opening Night, I there should be several gems for me to catch up on with that Focus.

Lastly, to document what I’ve seen since my last Week in Review, these are the films I’ve seen up to last Sunday. In bold are my highlights. I’m happy to discuss any of them, or anything mentioned above. Or anything, for that matter.



  • Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino, USA, 2007)
  • I Vitteloni (Federico Fellini, Italy, 1953)
  • Nel nome del padre (In the Name of the Father, Marco Bellochio, Italy, 1972)
  • Romance (Catherine Breillat, France, 1999)
  • Brève traversée (Brief Crossing, Catherine Breillat, France, 2001)
  • Sex is Comedy (Catherine Breillat, France, 2002)
  • För att inte tala om alla dessa kvinnor (Now About All These Women, Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1964)
  • Scener ur ett äktenskap (Scenes from a Marriage, Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1973)
  • Tapage nocturne (Nocturnal Uproar, Catherine Breillat, France, 1979)
  • 36 fillette (Catherine Breillat, France, 1988)
  • Away From Her (Sarah Polley, Canada, 2007)
  • Across the Universe (Julie Taymor, USA, 2007)
  • Bitter Springs (Ralph Smart, UK, 1950)
  • Dead Heart (Nick Parsons, Australia, 1996)
  • Modern Love (Alex Frayne, Australia, 2006)
  • Red Road (Andrea Arnold, UK, 2006)
  • Control (Anton Corbijn, UK, 2007)
  • Der Verlorene (The Lost Man, Peter Lorre, Germany, 1951)
  • Die Brücke (The Bridge, Bernhard Wicki, Germany, 1959)
  • The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, USA, 2007)
  • Pure Shit (Bert Deling, Australia, 1975)
  • Die mörder sind unter uns (The Murderers are Among Us, Wolfgang Staudte, East Germany, 1946)
  • Fanfaren der Liebe (Fanfares of Love, Kurt Hoffmann, Germany, 1951)
  • Rosen blühen auf dem Heidegrab (Roses Bloom on the Grave in the Meadow, Hans H. König, Germany, 1952)
  • Interview (Steve Buscemi, USA, 2007)
  • Boxing Day (Kriv Stenders, Australia, 2007)
  • Into the Wild (Sean Penn, USA, 2007)
  • A Sting in the Tale (Eugene Schlusser, Australia, 1989)
  • Bee Movie (Steve Hickner & Simon J. Smith, USA, 2007)
  • The Professionals (Richard Brooks, USA, 1966)
  • Désaccord parfait (Twice Upon a Time, Antoine de Caunes, France, 2006)
  • The Independent (Andrew O'Keefe & John Studley, Australia, 2007)
  • Suspiria (Dario Argento, Italy, 1977)
  • September (Peter Carstairs, Australia, 2007)


  • Dekalog: 3 (Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland, 1989)
  • Dekalog: 4 (Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland, 1989)
  • Dekalog: 5 (Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland, 1989)


  • Mr Electric (Stuart McDonald, 30 mins, Australia, 1993)