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.


Bruce said...

I can see why you disliked this film, although I found the elements on the right side of the balance so personally enjoyed it. I also liked Jake Wilson's review, although I do disagree with his implication that you can't have a film about teen pregnancy going full term without playing into the pro-choice movements' political agenda. This was also an element in some reviews of Knocked Up. I mean, some pregnancies get aborted, some don't. There are going to be films about both kinds of stories without necessarily being card carrying members of the pro-life or pro-choice brigade. I know you weren't making that kind of point, but I thought I'd vent about it anyway. Forgive the digression!

Anonymous said...

bruce, I agree with you there. Why Jake Wilson and other reviewers resort to labelling the film some sort of pro-life film like they did with Knocked up is anyone's guess. Seems more like pushing their own political agendas at the expense of reviewing the film on its merits.

Paul Martin said...

Thanks for your comments, Bruce and Anonymous. I think Jake Wilson was making the observation that both Juno and Reitman's previous film, Thank You For Smoking, were anti-PC.

For the record, I am anti-abortion but pro-choice. Meaning that I don't as a rule support abortion, but accept that it may be the best or most appropriate choice in some circumstances. I also think that many women who don't want children should do what Juno did, which would relieve much unmet demand by women who cannot conceive.

I generally don't mind any kind of rant or digression on here. Tangential conversations are great, and I see film as a trigger for just that. You may notice that the films that interest me most (or sometimes hate the most) are those that raise controversial social and other issues.

BTW, I haven't seen Knocked Up.