Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Week in Review

I'm a bit late this week; I try to get my week in review posts up on a Sunday. As me mate Ned would say, "such is life". Feel free to add any comments.

  • Juno (Jason Reitman, USA, 2007)
  • Delivery (Nikos Panayotopoulos, Greece, 2004)
  • Omiros (Hostage, Constantine Giannaris, Greece, 2005)

  • Curb Your Enthusiasm - 5th Season (Various, USA, 2005)
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm - 1st Season (Various, USA, 2000)
I was highly sceptical of the rave reviews this film has been getting, and for good reason. Like most 'quirky' comedies (god, I hate that label - it's almost a guarantee I won't like it), it was way too clever, too self-conscious of its cleverness and highly derivative.

There are so many elements that remind one of other films. In particular, the boyfriend is reminiscent of Napoleon Dynamite, and Ellen Page plays virtually the same smarmy character in my equal worst film of all time, Hard Candy (the other equal worst being Baise-moi).

The performances themselves were OK. I actually found Page's performance quite good; it was the writing itself that I didn't like. The lines Page had to speak were just ridiculous. I didn't have a problem with her intellect or her in-depth knowledge of alternative pop culture, but rather her mannerisms, the way she spoke and the way it was received. I mean, for f**k's sake, everyone knows that 16 year old girls act like they're 30, but no-one accepts that they are indeed 30. I've always found Jennifer Garner's acting fairly wooden and I think her TV background really shows. Allison Janney is usually quite good but her role as Juno's step-mom was fairly tokenistic and she gets some embarrassingly bad lines when she takes offence at the comments of an ultrasound operator. Australians may not appreciate how bad these lines were - Janney's over-the-top reaction was deliberately designed to upset the faux niceties of American culture.

The start of the film is the worst, with all the cleverest dialogue and gradually (as the smart-arse lines thin out) it gradually picks up. The last few minutes show a hint of emotional development, but it's way too little, way too late. The self-conscious hip soundtrack might appeal to some, but I found it... well, too self-consciously hip. I can see that others would like this film, and I enjoyed moments of it, but not overall. I completely agree with Jake Wilson, who says in his much more considered and intelligent review in The Age, "the weighty subject of under-age pregnancy is treated in the breeziest terms imaginable here".

This is the second film I've seen at ACMI's Focus on the Greek Diaspora, and I found it even more compelling than the excellent Hostage. It is not, however, a populist film. It is full of ambiguity and is almost a guided tour of the worst that Athens has to offer: pimps, prostitutes, thieves, the impoverished, the sick, the homeless, the mentally ill and others. Think of Lilja 4-Ever or L'enfant (The Child) or the films of local film-maker Alkinos Tsilimidos (such as Tom White and Em 4 Jay).

The film follows our 'hero' played by Thanos Samaras, a Romain Duris look-alike who may be an Albanian immigrant (and thus despised by the Greeks). It's hard to know for sure, because he hardly speaks a word. There may also be some mental health issues, but like other aspects, this is not spelt out. Life is difficult for our hero, as he drifts through different stages of homelessness. He helps another destitute man sell bottles of water in the street in exchange for a cardboard bed in an abandoned basement without water or electricity. Life looks up when he gets a job as a pizza delivery boy, but there's an all-pervading sense of struggle and bleakness. There's a beautiful aesthetic to the portrayal of urban decay, and the director's capture of the human spirit was entirely moving. I regret not having seen more of the films from this season at ACMI.

It always pays to check your ticket when you buy it. I bought tickets for the 4pm session on Saturday, asking for the 4pm Greek Diaspora session. I was duly handed tickets for Hostage, which I saw the previous weekend, thinking I was seeing Marseilles, A Greek Profile (Masalia, makrini korio). I had offered my partner Zoe to see Hostage, which I had highly recommended but she was happy to see something neither of us had seen. Well, the lights went off and I realised the mistake I'd made, but we decided to stay put. It was great seeing this again, and picking up many subtle details I'd missed the first time. Like the gay woman's longing for her lover who was been pushed around by the first woman's father and brother. Or the daughter of the priest who defied his pleas. The final scene with the mother was just a joy to behold. I loved every minute of this film and could watch it a third time easy.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Week in Review

  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Tim Burton, USA, 2007)
  • Going Down (Haydn Keenan, Australia, 1983)
  • Omiros (Hostage, Constantine Giannaris, Greece, 2005)
  • Nocturna (Adrià García & Victor Maldonado, Spain, 2007)
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm - 4th Season (Various, USA, 2003)
Sweeney Todd
I really like Tim Burton's films, every one I've seen. He employs a dark bent to fairytale-like stories. Sweeney Todd initially reminds me of the look and feel of Sleepy Hollow, but is more grotesque and ghastly, with a look strongly reminiscent of early German expressionism.

I must say that I was a little sceptical about a horror story musical. (I'm not generally fond of musicals, though I did like Once quite a lot. While some will argue that Once is not really a musical, I think it is, albeit an unconventional one). Burton really cracked me up with this one, the humour was really black and yet parodic. Can you imagine Depp and Bonham-Carter singing away these stereotypical (superficially at least) sounding musical songs, but the story and visuals are so macabre (I won't, of course, go into details at this stage).

I've got an aversion to gratuitous violence. This film has it by the bucketloads, yet it works brilliantly. I was simultaneously horrified by what was on screen (and physically affected), yet laughing myself silly and in awe of the magnificent visuals simultaneously. Burton has once again inventively excelled and the film deserves all the awards it receives.

Going Down
This independent Australian film has some redeeming humorous moments, but the drug and alcohol themes did little for me.

Hostage is screening as a part of ACMI's Focus on the Greek Diaspora, and has awoken me to a quality of cinema I'm not accustomed to seeing from Greece. Not that we see a lot of Greek cinema in this country, but what I have seen is often plagued with the failings of many Australian films - drawn towards soap opera and dumb humour. Not so with this serious and subtle multi-layered film that tackles universal themes like immigration, xenophobia, social dislocation, official corruption and more.

A young man boards a bus from his town in Greece and proceeds to hijack it. Loosely based on a factual incident that occurred in northern Greece in 1999, the reasons behind the hijacking are gradually revealled through flashbacks. At first I didn't think I would overly like the film; I often find the use of hand-held camera distances me from a film's story. As the narrative developed, and the nuances of the various relationships between the bus' occupants were depicted, the strength of the writing shone through and left me spellbound.

The hijacker is an Albanian immigrant who has been wronged and yet is no hero. He is a kind of anti-hero, and ultimately the film is a tragedy, a point brought home in a final scene when his mother pleads with him to surrender. The imagery and emotional depth at this point was breath-taking. At the Q&A afterwards, the director, Constantine Giannaris acknowledged his use of classic tragedy as a device here.

Hostage had only a small audience at the screening I attended, but has been very warmly received. I loved it and highly recommend the second screening that has been announced for this coming Saturday 26 January at 4pm. Go see it.

This is an animated Spanish film but in English (perhaps there are multiple versions). And it's a children's film that caters well to the accompanying adults. My son and I were able to discuss some of the themes afterwards, which for me is a good indicator. A boy, Tim, is afraid of the dark, and the dark is causing the stars to disappear. Somehow, Tim has to remedy the situation.

Curb Your Enthusiasm
I love it.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Week in Review

  • Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále (I Served the King of England, Jirí Menzel, Czech Republic/Slovakia, 2006)
  • Se, jie (Lust, Caution, Ang Lee, USA/China/Taiwan/Hong Kong, 2007)
  • A Night at the Opera (Sam Wood, USA, 1935)
  • Australian animated short documentaries at ACMI

I Served the King of England
This film is frustrating. Like many Australian films, it has many elements in place that could have resulted in something better. It ends up a case of the sum of the whole being less than the sum of the parts. The good elements include some interesting characters, an original story and good cinematography.

Some elements are a little predictable and repetitive, like the nudity, sex and a theme with money. The film's major flaw is the screenplay, something that became really obvious after reading Lynden Barber's recent writing about 'Where Australian scripts fall down'. Check out my link to the various articles.

The problem with the script is that it lacks dramatic punch or some kind of friction. There is no real conflict that allows for dramatic development. The main protagonist is too passive, merely experiencing circumstances and being dragged along by them. In spite of his fortune changing, there is no internal transformation, and consequently, the film feels flat and unengaging. I found myself looking at my watch at the ninety minute mark, always a bad sign (and it goes for another thirty minutes).

The film is marketed as a crowd-pleaser, and that it may be. But it has little substance and is suitable only as a light evening's entertainment.

Lust, Caution
Ang Lee tackles an impressively diverse range of films: Taiwanese drama (Eat Drink Man Woman, 1994), 1960's American drama (The Ice Storm, 1997), American Civil War drama (Ride With the Devil, 1999), Asian epic drama/fantasy/martial arts (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2000), Marvel comic book translation to screen (Hulk, 2003), Gay relationship drama (Brokeback Mountain, 2005) and now a 1930's period drama/thriller set in Japanese occupied China.

Obviously, some of Lee's films are more successful than others, and I'm not talking about awards. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was my favourite film of 2000 while Hulk was for me pretty much just another comic book film. But I'll see anything by the guy. I find him a competent director who can really tell a story with feeling. He gets into his characters and makes them accessible to his audience.

I also find he has an amazing eye for detail. Many of his films are set in specific periods and he captures little details that don't draw attention to themselves but add a level of authenticity to his stories. Like the transparent umbrellas in The Ice Storm. He is better at encapsulating American culture than most American directors (he is Taiwanese).

I don't expect that Lust, Caution is going to get the same level of recognition that Brokeback Mountain or Crouching Tiger received, but is an excellent film nonetheless. Again, the period reproduction reeks with authenticity and the characters are excellent. The cinematography is magnificent and combined with other aspects of the film, reminds me slightly of Wong Kar-Wai's 2046. That may be partly because both films strongly feature Tony Leung (who convincingly plays a collaborator in Lee's film).

The aesthetic and narrative of the film have much in common with film noir. It's a story about a group of students who wish to do their bit for the Chinese underground resistance and where it all leads. The film runs in at two and a half hours, though I didn't find myself looking at my watch at all. There was a slight flat spot early in the film, but as the story progresses, the slow-boil suspense gradually builds and I had my heart in my mouth all the way to the end. I came out of the cinema feeling affected.

There is some fairly graphic sex and nudity in the film, and it'll be interesting to read about Lee's intention with that. While it could have been erotic, I found it quite grotesque, because of the context. I think the sex occupies a little more screen time than was necessary, but this is not really a complaint. The end will doubtlessly be debated by some, but I don't want to discuss that now as the film has yet to get it's general release.

There's a common aesthetic in Ang Lee's films, and I admire them both individually and collectively. If you like his earlier films, then you'll definitely like this one.
The film packs a punch and I liked it a lot.

A Night at the Opera
If you attended this session at the Astor this evening, that kid laughing the loudest was mine. Alexander was talking about this all the way home in the car, recounting all the funniest scenes. They just don't make 'em like this any more, do they? I hadn't seen a Marx brothers film for thirty years or more. They used to screen regularly on Sunday afternoon TV. It was terrific to seem them again on the big screen (and what a grand screen it is at the Astor!).

Australian animated short documentaries
Copied straight from the ACMI website, more as a personal reminder.

Confessions of an Animation (Steve Baker, 4 mins, 2004)
Life can be a little different through the eyes of an animation.

Darra Dogs (Dennis Tupicoff, 10 mins, 1993)
The filmmaker's reflections of childhood in an outer suburb, featuring the dogs which still haunt him to this day.

His Mother's Voice (Dennis Tupicoff, 15 mins, 1997)
A stunning motion capture short about a radio interview with a teenager's mother after a shooting incident.

It's Like That! (Southern Ladies Animation Group, 8 mins, 2003)
A deeply moving and innocent look at life behind the walls of an immigration detention centre.

Pleasure Domes (Maggie Fooke, 8 mins, 1987)
Animated watercolour drawings and handcoloured photographs shape this introspective reflection on the nature of landscape and the human response to it.

Revolving Door (Alexandra & David Beesley, 18 mins, 2006)
The world of prostitution in Melbourne from a range of different angles. Winner, Southern Panoramas' Contemporary Investigations acquisition award, Videobrasil, 2007.

A Saucer of Water for the Birds (Ann Shenfield, 9 mins, 1993)
As a woman and her grandmother sit at a kitchen table playing cards, their personal histories are revealed through shifts between the past and the present.

Two songs by Dougie Young (Michael Buckley, 7 mins, 1979)
An original recording of Aboriginal singer Dougie Young is used as the basis of this animated film that attempts to draw the attention of whites to contemporary Indigenous issues.

CTEQ calendar updated

The Melbourne Cinémathèque calendar has been updated. The opening night films have been announced (Dracula, 1958 and Night of the Eagle, 1961) and there have been a couple of minor programming changes. The Cinémathèque website was due to go live today but I believe it may be another week before it's up and running.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Focus on Gus Van Sant

I mentioned late last year that ACMI will be screening a Focus on Gus Van Sant. Today I received further details, posted below. While I saw (and liked immensely) and To Die For and Good Will Hunting, it was after seeing Elephant that I really took notice of this guy's work. I was in the US at the time, and had received no information about the film at all. I sat there in the cinema watching these kids being filmed from different perspectives, intrigued at what the story could be drawing towards. I had no idea that this was a story based on the Columbine school shootings, and as the plot began to become clear, my partner and I started to sink into our seats first with dread, and then horror. I found the film beautifully filmed, with terrific performances from mostly non-professionals. The impact was amazing. It was a graphic example of how much better a film's impact is when seen without any pre-empting. It was my favourite film of 2003 (though it was released in Australia in 2004).

I next saw Gerry, which from memory screened in Melbourne only at the Lumiere, whose demise has meant we rarely get to see films of this calibre. It has a raw austerity about its narrative that makes it difficult to watch for the conventional movie-goer. I missed Last Days on its theatrical release, which I think was quite brief, so I saw it on DVD. Again, this film challenges some audiences, but rewards the patient.

I'm hoping to catch as many of the other titles screening as I can, especially and Drugstore Cowboy, Mala Noche and My Own Private Idaho as well as the Australian premiere of Van Sant's latest film, Paranoid Park.

The Focus on Gus Van Sant screens at ACMI from Thu 21 - Fri 29 February, then tours nationally as follows:
  • Sydney: 29 February - 4 March
  • Brisbane: 6 - 9 March
  • Canberra: 7 - 12 March
Paranoid Park is distributed by Madman Cinema and opens in cinemas on 6 March in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and 13 March in Canberra. Its Australian premiere is at ACMI on 21 February.

Following is program information of the retrospective as well as film synopses provided by ACMI (or check out the Calendar of Film Events in the sidebar):

Thu 21 Feb 7 pm (Australian premiere) Sat 23 Feb 9.30pm
Paranoid Park
Gus Van Sant, 91 mins, USA/France, 2007, 35mm.
Van Sant’s latest film, which garnered the Anniversary Prize at the 60th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in 2007, is set in Portland, Van Sant’s adopted ‘hometown’ and frequent setting for his films. Alex (Gabe Nevins) is a slow-burn teen whose uneventful life takes a dramatic turn after a visit to a local skate park. Van Sant’s stylistic preoccupation with layered sound and visual design finds full expression in a film that is artfully constructed and whose emotional impact is precisely calibrated. “Despite its formal experimentation and its melancholy tone, this is also an emotionally direct, frequently very funny exploration of the effects of a single unimaginable disaster upon a single ordinary life” Edinburgh Film Festival

Thu 21 Feb 9 pm, Mon 25 Feb 9 pm
Gus Van Sant, 105 mins, USA, 1998, 35mm.
When Van Sant announced he was set to remake Alfred Hitchcock’s venerable Psycho (1960), the kindest response anyone could elicit was that his intention was “heroic and suicidal”. Aided by his mercurial director of photography, Christopher Doyle – most closely associated, up to that point, with the brilliant colour spectrums he devised and shot for Wong Kar-Wai – Van Sant’s Warhol-worthy shot-for-shot appropriation incorporated formal experiments with lighting and rear projection, re-workings of Bernard Hermann’s score and Saul Bass’ titles, with a trademark subliminal insert here and there for Van Sant purists. Anne Heche and Vince Vaughn play it straight to great effect. “Norman Bates is alive and well, and just a tad kinkier than you remember” San Francisco Chronicle

Fri 22 Feb 7 pm, Sun 24 Feb 3.30 pm
Mala Noche
Gus Van Sant, 87 mins, USA, 1985, 35mm (new print)
Based on a story by Portland-based writer Walt Curtis, Van Sant’s debut feature is direct, unsentimental and lingers hauntingly for its lack of guile. The director imbues the narrative with themes – longing, the burden of unrequited love (Walt philosophizes on “the impossibilities of love” with a straight Mexican ‘alien’ who has no interest in him) and both the metaphorical and more literal ‘homelessness’ of characters on the fringes of society – that will reverberate through later films, most poetically in My Own Private Idaho. Originally shot (in black and white) on 16mm, Mala Noche will be presented in a new 35mm print with digitally restored sound.

Fri 22 Feb 9 pm, Tue 26 Feb 9 pm
My Own Private Idaho
Gus Van Sant, 102 mins, USA, 1991, 35mm
“If I had a normal family and a good upbringing then I would have been a well adjusted person” Mike (River Phoenix) plaintively tells Scott (Keanu Reeves) in a rare exchange of awkwardly articulated truths between the two street hustlers. Scott is the son of Portland’s mayor and his Midnight Cowboy ‘phase’ no more than a calculated rebellion before he takes up the mantle of social prestige he assumes as his birthright. Mike’s path is less clear; a sensitive narcoleptic nursing a deep sense of maternal abandonment, Mike’s ‘fortunes’ rely far more precariously on the kindness – or otherwise – of all too random strangers. “An essential testament to the beauty and [acting] chops of the late River Phoenix” Rolling Stone

Sat 23 Feb 5 pm, Mon 25 Feb 7 pm
To Die For
Gus Van Sant, 106 mins, USA, 1995, 35mm
Nicole Kidman actively courted Van Sant for the role of Suzanne Stone, the cravenly ambitious and celebrity-obsessed wannabe TV ‘personality’ whose devious machinations propel the storyline in this jagged black comedy. (Kidman was rewarded with a Golden Globe for her bravura turn.) Matt Dillon, Dan Hedaya and Illeana Douglas contribute spikily nuanced supporting roles, with Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck and Alison Folland note perfect as the disaffected teens cynically recruited by Suzanne for her Teens Speak Out video project. David Cronenberg appears in an intriguing cameo. “Sparked by a volcanically sexy and richly comic performance by Kidman...prime social satire and outrageous fun” Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

Sat 23 Feb 7.30 pm, Tue 26 Feb 7 pm
Drugstore Cowboy
Gus Van Sant, 100 mins, USA, 1989, 35mm
Set in Portland and the Pacific Northwest in 1971, Matt Dillon, (in a career-defining role) plays Bob, a “shameless, full-time dope fiend” who’d rather hit a drugstore than cosy up to his (dissatisfied) wife (Kelly Lynch). When he and his on-the-lam ‘crew’ (James LeGros and Heather Graham) check into a motel hosting a sheriffs’ convention, Bob reads the signs and decides it might be time to turn over a new ‘leaf’. Key Van Sant motifs – dryly self-aware yet spiritually exiled first person narrators, time lapse photography, trippy point of view shots, Super 8 ‘inserts’ – are all on show in this, the director’s break-out indie hit. A brilliantly caustic William Burroughs appears as a philosophising priest with patently unsanctioned views on the role of narcotics in society.

Sun 24 Feb 5.30pm, Thur 28 Feb 7 pm
Gus Van Sant, 98 mins, USA, 2002, 35mm
Van Sant’s existential ‘buddy’ movie begins with a bravura opening sequence that is audaciously Beckett-like in its deliberate lack of narrative exposition. It sets the tone for the film to come. The two Gerrys (Matt Damon and Casey Affleck) make cryptic references to “the thing” they are striving towards on a wilderness trail, then change their minds and lose their way in an increasingly sparse and foreboding landscape. Van Sant ‘regulars’ Harris Savidis (cinematography) and Leslie Shatz (sound design) add immeasurably to the texture of the film, particularly as the characters’ perceptions begin to give way to hallucinatory abstractions. “Could well be Van Sant’s masterpiece” San Francisco Examiner

Sun 24 Feb 7.30pm, Fri 29 Feb 7pm
Gus Van Sant, 81 mins, USA, 2003, 35mm
Van Sant drew inspiration for key protagonists in Elephant from the real-life Columbine tragedy, but his highly stylised, consummately crafted evocation of a day in the life of a ‘normal’ American high school conveys a surface ordinariness that in its very universality, disturbingly taps into a pervasive undercurrent of unease beyond the specifics of that notorious event. Long, rhythmic takes and tracking shots of students going about their day in the corridors, cafeteria and sports ground of a generic high school almost subliminally map a topography of the school in the viewer’s mind that is later chillingly revisited by the student killers. “Gripping and superbly made. An outstanding film” The Guardian

Thu 28 Feb 9 pm
Last Days
Gus Van Sant, 97 mins, USA, 2005, 35mm
Michael Pitt (The Dreamers, Delirious) cuts a hauntingly familiar figure in Van Sant’s meditation on the final days in the life of a famed musician retreating from the clamour of the world and its myriad, insistent demands. (The film is dedicated to Kurt Cobain.) “Success is subjective” a kindly Yellow Pages rep tells Blake, before inviting him to consider how a directory listing may best serve his “business needs”. Blake prefers to wander the woods on his sprawling estate, build himself a campfire and ironically sing Home on the Range to no one in particular. “An opaque masterpiece” Dennis Lim, The Village Voice

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Week in Review


  • Atonement (Joe Wright, USA, 2007)
  • No Country for Old Men (Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, USA, 2007)
  • The Party (Blake Edwards, USA, 1968)
  • The Pink Panther (Blake Edwards, UK, 1963)

  • Curb Your Enthusiasm - 2nd Season (Various directors, written by Larry David, USA, 2001)
The more I thought about this film, the more I hated it. It had components that were technically well put together (the scene at Dunkirk in particular) but just don't work as a whole. It uses various devices that are too clever, too self-conscious, too manipulative and have been used many times before but to much better effect. I could go on and on and bag it, but I'd rather provide a link to the ABC's At The Movies Message Board where I've expressed myself quite at some length, along with other people's thoughts.

No Country For Old Men
Seeing this for the second time, I liked it just as much, but picked up various nuances and small details that eluded me the first. My earlier comments are here. I could easily go see it again, particularly as there's a vacuum of decent films, as there usually is this time of year. It's a pity ACMI doesn't have something decent on, like the Kubrick retrospective they held this time two years ago.

The Party / The Pink Panther
This was a Peter Sellers/Blake Edwards double screening at the Astor. Sellers spoofs an Indian in one and a French in the other. Yet both roles were perhaps unsurprisingly similar - the bumbling buffoon that capitalises on people's amusement with ethnicity. They were both good fun, especially the first.

Curb Your Enthusiasm
I first encountered this brilliant series when I went to the US in 2003, at which time the third season was about to start and HBO was screening repeats of seasons 1 & 2. At first, the series seemed a bit raw and under-produced compared to Larry David's more widely-known Seinfeld. But after a few episodes, this series has really gotten into my blood. It's more risque than Seinfeld with a more of a reality look about it. David plays himself, or at least a version of it, which viewers can recognise as Seinfeld's George Costanza (a fact that is played upon in this series). I particularly like one character's foul-mouthed, heavy NY-accented description of David as a "fucking four-eyed fuck". Hilarious stuff, brilliantly written and well put together. I have five of the series on DVD (a sixth has been completed in the US, but not yet available on DVD), and I'm slowly working my way through them.

This is a description of the show, from the official website:

Each half-hour episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm features verité-style footage of David (playing himself) at home, at work and around town, as he gets into predicaments with fictional and real-life personalities. With cast regulars Jeff Garlin (as manager Jeff Greene) and Cheryl Hines (as wife Cheryl) reprising their roles, the series features appearances by guest celebrities playing themselves or character roles.

Candid, unsparing and self-deprecating, Curb Your Enthusiasm brings the off-kilter comic vision of Larry David--co-creator and co-executive producer of one of the most lauded comedy series in TV history, Seinfeld--to HBO. The series blurs the lines between reality and fiction, as David (playing himself) and a cast of real and fictional characters are followed around Los Angeles by a ubiquitous camera that chronicles the private, often banal world of a (relatively) public man.

Having evolved from the 1999 HBO special Larry David: Curb Your Enthusiasm, this series proves how seemingly trivial details of one's day-to-day life--a trip to the movies, a phone call, a visit from some trick-or-treaters--can precipitate a "Murphy's Law" chain of misfortune to hilarious effect. Like George Costanza in Seinfeld, the protagonist of Curb Your Enthusiasm has a knack for getting himself into uncomfortable situations that end up alienating him from peers and acquaintances.

To keep the narrative fresh and spontaneous, Curb Your Enthusiasm is shot without a script; the cast is given scene outlines and often improvise lines as they go. The result is an unpredictable format that's unlike anything else on TV.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Where Australian scripts fall down

Lynden Barber has written an insightful and investigative article for The Australian newspaper about the poor state of Australian script-writing. The subject continues in more detail on Lynden's terrific blog, Eyes Wired Open over two three four posts, including extensive quotes from industry insiders. It's quite a read, so give yourself some time to check it out. These four articles comprise some of the best film reading I've seen online, on the state of Australian cinema. It also has relevance beyond Australia.

Part 1 / Part 2/ Part 3

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

2007 - The Year in Review

2007 was my biggest year of cinema. I don't think numbers adequately tell the story, but I saw more films than any other year (283, compared to 201 in 2006). While US films were once over 50% of the films I'd see in a year, I have succeeded in increasing the proportion that films from elsewhere make up my viewing experience. In 2005, US films made up 53% of the films I saw, in 2006 it was 38% and in 2007 it was 28%. The number of countries that I've seen films from has increased from 12 in 2005 to 34 in 2006 to 41 in 2007. MIFF and the other film festivals have been of enormous help in bringing up that number, which I see as crucial to varying the cultural experience of cinema.

Having taken up French language classes at Alliance Française during the year, I've been making a point of going to as many French films as possible. I tried to weed out the middle-of-the-road comedies and family dramas during the French Film Festival (research has become an important aspect of attending any film festival), and the festival was consequently a great experience for me. The highlights were Private Property and Poison Friends.

It was soon after this that I took up French classes, and now I get free tickets to most of the cinema releases of French films. Even though I hate many of them, I find them good for practicing my listening skills. The downside is that French films unfairly occupy 6 out my 10 worst films of the year, when in reality they're probably no worse than the worst of Hollywood.

I saw 7 French films in 2005 (8% of all films seen that year), 27 (13%) in 2006 and 53 in 2007 (18%).

Interestingly, the films just outside of my worst 10 are not all bad, so I've been reasonably successful in weeding out bad films from my cinema-going. Films that didn't quite make my worst 10 include Perfume: the Story of a Murderer, Sunshine, Breaking and Entering, West and Stranger Than Fiction.

As far as local films, they increased from 20 to 24 over the last year, but 2006 was a much better year for quality. The only standout local for me this year was Kriv Stenders' Boxing Day, though Anna Broinowski's Forbidden Lie$ and Rolf de Heer's Dr. Plonk both were compelling in different ways. Australia produced quite a large number of competent films during 2007, but no others really stood out in particular. Noise had some fantastic aesthetics (namely, the camera work), but majorly flawed in other respects. Both and Home Song Stories and Romulus, My Father were worthy stories, and had strong elements, but neither really excelled as a whole. Maybe the immigrant coming-of-age thing is getting a bit overdone.

In general, new cinema releases were pretty poor this year. Either there's less and less quality making it here, or less being made, or I'm getting more particular. I've made up separate lists for my favourite new releases, festival screenings and retrospective screenings. The strongest list is the retrospectives, all five-star films for me. Festival screenings come next and new releases last.

Looking at my year in review for last year, I see that I achieved half of my goals or more for this year. I've seen roughly the same number of new cinema releases as in 2006, so the increase in films this year has been festival and retrospective screenings. I find myself becoming more and more indifferent to new releases, and more and more selective. As I generally write on anything I see, going to something mediocre is a double burden: first of all enduring something of little or no interest, and then writing about it. Consequently, I have found myself being quite particular about attending media screenings.

ACMI has become a significant feature of my cinema experience. In 2005, I attended only two screenings there (just over 2% of films I saw that year). Last year it was 57 (28%) and this year it was 134 (45%). Melbourne Cinémathèque is only part of the reason. I've been very impressed by some of the seasons that have screened there: my favourites this year were the Focus on Land and Freedom and the Focus on Isabelle Huppert. Interestingly, neither of these were centred on a single director. One focuses on a theme, the other on an actor. Also, a special mention to the Focus seasons for Catherine Breillat (especially Sex is Comedy) and François Ozon. I also enjoyed the La Mirada screenings that ACMI hosted.

At Melbourne Cinémathèque, rediscovering Krzysztof Kieslowski was amazing. I saw the Colours trilogy when they were released in the early 1990s, but on second viewing at Cinémathèque, Blue became my second favourite film of all time, the first serious contender to Lost Highway. Blue's screening with Blind Chance probably equals last year's double of Lost Highway and Eraserhead as my all time favourite double screenings. I've since bought all the available Kieslowski films on DVD. The other highlight was the Czech New Wave season. Actually there were many highlights, but these were my favourite. And Come and See was also a very powerful experience, perhaps my favourite war film of all time.

Some of the cinema highlights for me in 2007 include:

  • Getting onto the media list of every distributor except 20th Century Fox. (While Fox's films often don't particularly interest me, I would like to get the release details without having to chase them.)
  • Gaining AFCA (Australian Film Critics Association) accreditation
  • Staying for the second film at Melbourne Cinémathèque screenings - that's an additional 40 films right there.
  • Taking two and half weeks off to attend MIFF with a full festival pass. I saw 40 films over 19 days. It was a great experience and I learnt a lot from it. I'm planning to do the same this year, but I'm going to vary the types of films I see. The highlights for me were: Mister Lonely, Inland Empire, The Man From London, Still Life, Shotgun Stories, Beaufort and Snow Angels. The Shohei Imamura retrospective impressed me (I saw all but one), especially A Man Vanishes, Intentions of Murder and Vengeance is Mine.
  • Meeting fellow bloggers, particularly during MIFF.
  • Interviewing Alkinos Tsilimidos, my favourite Australian director. We had two meetings; I've transcribed one but have yet to complete the other. Alkinos is a true auteur with vision, and it disappoints me that the type of films he makes (like Stenders' Boxing Day) don't get the recognition they deserve.
  • Getting to various Q&A sessions with directors, writers and actors.
  • Taking more time researching what to see at festivals
  • Being more selective with new cinema releases and with media screenings
I don't have any plans for 2008, other than to continue as I have during 2007. I just want to see as many films as practical, of as high a quality as possible and with the greatest diversity available. And to have some kind of balance in my life. Cinema is my favourite art form, but life must have balance. And I wish someone would come forward to fill the vacuum that the closure of the Lumiere has left. I'd fill it myself if someone would fund it.

Lastly, here are my lists for 2007.

Retrospective screenings
This is the strongest list, which is not unsurprising, given that these films span several decades. Other than Three Colours: Blue, the order of the list is fairly arbitrary.

  1. Trois couleurs: bleu (Three Colours: Blue, Krzysztof Kieslowski, France, 1993)
  2. La double vie de Véronique (The Double Life of Veronique, Krzysztof Kieslowski, France, 1991)
  3. Beau travail (Good Work, Claire Denis, France, 1999)
  4. Idi i smotri (Come and See, Elem Klimov, USSR, 1985)
  5. La séparation (The Separation, Christian Vincent, France, 1994)
  6. Le belle noiseuse (Jacques Rivette, France, 1991)
  7. Made in Britain (Alan Clarke, UK, 1982)
  8. Przypadek (Blind Chance, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland, 1981)
  9. Family Life (Ken Loach, UK, 1971)
  10. The Bellboy (Jerry Lewis, USA, 1960)

Scener ur ett äktenskap (Scenes from a Marriage, Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1973)
Soy Cuba (I Am Cuba, Mikheil Kalatozishvili, USSR, 1964)

Festival screenings

  1. Mister Lonely (Harmony Korine, UK, 2007)
  2. Nue propriété (Private Property, Joachim Lafosse, Belgium, 2006)
  3. The Man From London (Bela Tarr, Hungary, 2007)
  4. Sanxia haoren (Still Life, Jia Zhang-Ke, China, 2006)
  5. Shotgun Stories (Jeff Nichols, USA, 2007)
  6. Beaufort (Joseph Cedar, Israel, 2007)
  7. Ma mère (My Mother, Christophe Honoré, France, 2004)
  8. Snow Angels (David Gordon Green, Canada, 2007)
  9. El violin (The Violin, Francisco Vargas Quevedo, Mexico, 2005)
  10. Les amitiés maléfiques (Poison Friends, Emmanuel Bourdieu, France, 2006)

New cinema releases
Mungiu's film is my arthouse favourite of the year. I had to include Lynch's because I think it's such an important work, even if I didn't enjoy it anywhere near as much. No Country For Old Men is my favourite mainstream release and Boxing Day was the only Australian film that stood out.

  1. 4 luni, 3 săptămâni şi 2 zile (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Cristian Mungiu, Romania, 2007)
  2. Inland Empire (David Lynch, USA, 2006)
  3. No Country for Old Men (Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, USA, 2007)
  4. Boxing Day (Kriv Stenders, Australia, 2007)
  5. Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt, USA, 2006)
  6. The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky, USA, 2006)
  7. Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Germany, 2006)
  8. Paris, je t'aime (Various, Liechtenstein, 2006)
  9. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, UK, 2007)
  10. Zodiac (David Fincher, USA, 2007)

Top 15 films seen this year:
I find it virtually impossible to rank these in any particular order (other than Three Colours: Blue), so I have listed them in alphabetical order. These are all the films I saw this year that I think deserve 5 stars. A special mention also to Errol Morris' The Thin Blue Line, which I watched on DVD.

  • 4 luni, 3 săptămâni şi 2 zile (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Cristian Mungiu, Romania, 2007)
  • Beau travail (Claire Denis, France, 1999)
  • The Bellboy (Jerry Lewis, USA, 1960)
  • Le belle noiseuse (Jacques Rivette, France, 1991)
  • La double vie de Véronique (The Double Life of Veronique, Krzysztof Kieslowski, France, 1991)
  • Family Life (Ken Loach, UK, 1971)
  • Idi i smotri (Come and See, Elem Klimov, USSR, 1985)
  • Inland Empire (David Lynch, USA, 2006)
  • Made in Britain (Alan Clarke, UK, 1982)
  • Mister Lonely (Harmony Korine, UK, 2007)
  • Nue propriété (Private Property, Joachim Lafosse, Belgium, 2006)
  • Przypadek (Blind Chance, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland, 1981)
  • La séparation (The Separation, Christian Vincent, France, 1994)
  • Soy Cuba (I Am Cuba, Mikheil Kalatozishvili, USSR, 1964)
  • Trois couleurs: bleu (Three Colours: Blue, Krzysztof Kieslowski, France, 1993)

Worst 10 films
I've only included cinema releases here.

  1. Il mio miglior nemico (My Best Enemy, Carlo Verdone, Italy, 2006)
  2. Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One, Guillaume Canet, France, 2006)
  3. Dream Girls (Bill Condon, USA, 2006)
  4. Prête-moi ta main (I Do: How to Get Married and Stay Single, Eric Lartigau, France, 2006)
  5. Désaccord parfait (Twice Upon a Time, Antoine de Caunes, France, 2006)
  6. Breaking and Entering (Anthony Minghella, UK, 2006)
  7. Stranger Than Fiction (Marc Forster, USA, 2006)
  8. Fauteuils d'orchestre (Orchestra Seats, Danièle Thompson, France, 2006)
  9. Changement d'adresse (Change of Address, Emmanuel Mouret, France, 2006)
  10. Coeurs (Private Fears in Public Places, Alain Resnais, France, 2006)

Festival worst

Melbourne Cinémathèque 2008 Calendar

Below is the current program of films screenings at Melbourne Cinémathèque 2008. Check the Melbourne Cinémathèque website for further details (the 2008 site goes live on 12 Jan).

The 2008 program includes these seasons: Roman Polanski, François Truffaut, Andrzej Wajda, Hong Kong cinema, Carl Dreyer, Fritz Lang, Films of 1968, Arnaud Desplechin, Pedro Costa and Howard Hawks.

13 Feb

Opening Night: Classic Horror


Dracula (Terence Fisher, UK, 1958)


Night of the Eagle (Burn, Witch, Burn!, Sidney Hayers, UK, 1961)

20 Feb - 5 Mar – The Twisted Vision of Roman Polanski

20 Feb


The Fearless Vampire Killers (Roman Polanski, USA/UK, 1967)


Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, USA, 1968)

27 Feb


Macbeth (Roman Polanski, UK/USA, 1971)


Nóz w wodzie (Knife in the Water, Poland, 1962)

05 Mar


Shorts: Two Men & a Wardrobe (15 min, 1958), The Fat & the Lean (15 min, 1961), Mammals (11 min, 1963)


Tess (Roman Polanski, France/UK, 1979)

12 Mar

Women in Trouble


A Woman of Paris: A Drama of Fate (Charles Chaplin, USA, 1923)


The Godless Girl (Cecil B. DeMille, USA, 1929)

19 Mar

Eternal St Petersberg


Russkiy kovcheg (Russian Ark, Alexander Sokurov, Russia/Germany, 2002)


Konets Sankt-Peterburga (The End of St. Petersburg, Vsevolod Pudovkin, USSR, 1927)


Zakroyshchik iz Torzhka (The Tailor From Torzhok, Yakov Protazanov, USSR, 1925)

26 Mar

Jean-Luc Godard


Histoire(s) du cinéma (Jean-Luc Godard, France, 1988-98)

02 Apr

Frederick Wiseman


State Legislature (Frederick Wiseman, USA, 2007)

09 Apr

Experimental Landscapes


The Machine in the Garden (6 experimental shorts)


Landscape Suicide (James Benning, USA, 1986)


The Land of Nothing (Péter Forgács, Hungary, 1996)

16 - 30 Apr – François Truffaut, Child of the Cinema

16 Apr


La nuit américaine (Day for Night, François Truffaut, France/Italy, 1973)


La mariée était en noir (The Bride Wore Black, François Truffaut, France/Italy, 1968)

23 Apr


La sirène du Mississipi (Mississippi Mermaid, François Truffaut, Italy/France, 1969)


Jules et Jim (François Truffaut, France, 1961)

30 Apr


Les quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows, François Truffaut, France, 1959)


Les deux anglaises et le continent (François Truffaut, France, 1971)

7 - 21 May – Andrzej Wajda

07 May


Kanal (Andrzej Wajda, Poland, 1957)


Czlowiek z marmuru (Man of Marble, Andrzej Wajda, Poland, 1977)

14 May


Panny z Wilka (Les desmoiselles de wilko, Andrzej Wajda, Poland/France, 1979)


Wesele (The Wedding, Andrzej Wajda, Poland, 1973)

21 May


Popiól I diament (Ashes & Diamonds, Andrzej Wajda, Poland, 1958)


Krajobraz po bitwie (Landscape After Battle, Andrzej Wajda, Poland, 1970)

28 May - 11 Jun – Cathay: The Other Tiger

28 May


Man bo nu lang (Mambo Girl, Yi Wen, Hong Kong, 1957)


Hu shan lang (Escorts Over Tiger Hills, Wang Xinglei, Hong Kong, 1969)

04 Jun


Si qian jin (Our Sister Hedy, Qin Tao, Hong Kong, 1957)


Chang tui jie jie (Sister Long Legs, Tang Huang, Hong Kong, 1960)

11 Jun


Di yi jian (The First Sword, Tu Guangqi, Hong Kong, 1967)


Lu ke yu dao ke (From the Highway, Zhang Zengze, Hong Kong, 1970)

18 Jun

Nigel Buesst


Come Out Fighting (Nigel Buesst, Australia, 1973)


Carlton + Godard = Cinema (Nigel Buesst, Australia, 2003)

25 Jun - 9 Jul – The Passion of Carl Dreyer

25 Jun


Vredens dag (Day of Wrath, Carl Dreyer, Denmark, 1943)


Ordet (Carl Dreyer, Denmark, 1955)

02 Jul


Gertrud (Carl Dreyer, Denmark, 1964)


Præsidenten (The President, Carl Dreyer, Denmark, 1919)

09 Jul


La passion de Jeanne d'Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc, Carl Dreyer, France, 1927)


Vampyr - Der Traum des Allan Grey (Carl Dreyer, France/Germany, 1927)


Der var engang (Once Upon a Time, Carl Dreyer, Denmark, 1922)

16 Jul



Keaton & Arbuckle shorts: The Hayseed (18 min, 1919), Backstage (18 min, 1919)


The Palm Beach Story (Preston Sturges, USA, 1942)


Remember the Night (Mitchell Leisen, USA, 1939)


20 Aug - 3 Sep – Fritz Lang’s Fatal Vision

20 Aug


Moonfleet (Fritz Lang, USA, 1955)


Fury (Fritz Lang, USA, 1936)


Die Vier um die Frau (Four Around a Woman, Germany, 1921)

27 Aug


You Only Live Once (Fritz Lang, USA, 1937)


Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler - Ein Bild der Zeit - pt.1 (Fritz Lang, Germany, 1922)

03 Sep


Scarlet Street (Fritz Lang, USA, 1945)


Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler - Ein Bild der Zeit - pt.2 (Fritz Lang, Germany, 1922)

10 Sep

Jean Eustache


La maman et la putain (The Mother & the Whore, Jean Eustache, France, 1973)

17 Sep - 8 Oct – Cinema ’68: The Whole World Is Watching

17 Sep


If... (Lindsay Anderson, UK, 1968)


Witchfinder General (Michael Reeves, UK, 1968)

24 Sep


Experiments in Time & Place shorts: Valentin de les Sierres (10 min, Bruce Baillie, 1968), T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G (12 min, Paul Sharits, 1968), Chinese Firedrill (24 min, Will Hindle, 1968)




Targets (Peter Bogdanovich, USA, 1968)

01 Oct


Medium Cool (Haskell Wexler, USA, 1969)


Petulia (Richard Lester, UK, 1968)

08 Oct


Nam '68 shorts: Interviews With My Lai Veterans (22 min, Joseph Strick, 1970), Hearts & Minds (22 min, Bruce Petty, 1968), The Lottery (18 min, Larry Yust, 1969)


No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger (Loeb Weiss, USA, 1968)


America is Hard to See (Emile de Antonio, USA, 1970)

15 Oct

Czech Cinema


Švankmajer shorts


Zert (The Joke, Jaromil Jires, Czechoslovakia, 1969)


Kladivo na carodejnice (Witches' Hammer, Otakar Vávra, Czechoslovakia, 1969)

22 Oct - 5 Nov – Bigger Than Life: The World of Arnaud Desplechin

22 Oct


En jouant ‘Dans la compagnie des hommes’ (Playing ‘In the Company of Men’, Arnaud Desplechin, France, 2003)


Rois et reine (Kings & Queens, Arnaud Desplechin, France, 2004)

29 Oct


La sentinelle (Arnaud Desplechin, France, 1992)


Esther Kahn (Arnaud Desplechin, France/UK, 2000)

05 Nov


Pedro Costa shorts: 6 Bagatelas (18 min, 2001), Ne change rien (11 min, 2005), Tarrafal (16 min, 2007), The Rabbit Hunters (23 min, 2007)


Comment je me suis disputé... (ma vie sexuelle) (My Sex Life... or How I Got into an Argument, Arnaud Desplechin, France, 1996)

12 - 26 Nov – A Dispossessed Brilliance: The Heartbreaking Cinema of Pedro Costa

12 Nov


O Sangue (The Blood, Pedro Costa, Portugal, 1989)


Juventude Em Marcha (Colossal Youth, Pedro Costa, France/Portugal/Switzerland, 2006)

19 Nov


Casa de Lava (Pedro Costa, Portugal/France/Germany, 1995)


Où gît votre sourire enfoui ? (Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie?, Pedro Costa, France/Portugal, 2001)

26 Nov


No Quarto da Vanda (In Vanda's Room, Pedro Costa, Portugal/Germany/Switzerland/Italy, 2000)


Ossos (Bones, Pedro Costa, Portugal/France/Denmark, 1997)

3 - 17 Dec – Action! Howard Hawks in the 1930s

03 Dec


Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks, USA, 1939)


Ceiling Zero (Howard Hawks, USA, 1936)

10 Dec


Tiger Shark (Howard Hawks, USA, 1932)


The Crowd Roars (Howard Hawks, USA, 1932)


Ein Verdammt gutes Leben - Howard Hawks (A Hell of a Good Life: Howard Hawks, Hans-Christoph Blumenberg, West Germany, 1978)

17 Dec


The Dawn Patrol (Howard Hawks, USA, 1930)


The Criminal Code (Howard Hawks, USA, 1931)