Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Week in Review - 21/9/08

The Cinema 1968: The Whole World is Watching season at Melbourne Cinémathèque this week and is running for five weeks, possibly longer than any other season, I believe. Actually, last week's La mama et la putain introduces is thematically connected, so it could be considered a six-week season. Michael Koller, co-programmer says the length is needed to do justice to films from around the world, including Czechoslovakia, the UK and USA. If... is a knockout. The other standout (and surprising so) was The Naked Bunyip. This one impressed me so much that I wrote a separate post on it today, 2000-odd words, the longest single post in a long time. Apologies if you find any typos or lack of coherence. I don't have time to edit it.
  • If… (Lindsay Anderson, UK, 1968)
  • Witchfinder General (Michael Reeves, UK, 1968)
  • Wall*E (Andrew Stanton, USA, 2008)
  • Salvation (Paul Cox, Australia, 2008)
  • The Naked Bunyip (John B. Murray, Australia, 1970) + Q&A
  • Leave Her to Heaven (John M. Stahl, USA, 1945)

If... is a fantastically subversive and wickedly funny satire from 1968. Apparently it was Malcolm McDowell's screen debut, and his performance was strong. Little wonder he was cast in Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, a role that has parallels to this. His character's name is Travis and I wonder if Scorsese was referencing him with De Niro's character (Travis Bickle) in Taxi Driver. These characters also have much in common.

The sexual undertones, the exaggerated brutality of the boys' public school system, the sometimes bizarre humour all made this film one helluva ride and thoroughly enjoyable.
It would make a good companion piece to David Fincher's Fight Club.

Witchfinder General
I always liked Vincent Price when he was popular in the 1970s and his understated performance in The Witchfinder General is darkly charismatic. I like the themes the film explores - official corruption, mob mentality, demonisation of individuals - but the film feels insubstantial. It is unintentionally funny at times and the wandering towards melodrama did little for me.


After all the buzz about Wall*E, I feel let down. I don't think it's Pixar's best film by any stretch of the imagination. Why? The writing is pretty ordinary. And the visuals which everyone has been raving about - the bar is pretty high with what Pixar have created - quite honestly, it's nothing special.

Each Pixar film usually has some visual aspect that they focus on. For example, in Ratatouille it was the minute details like the body hairs. In this one, it's the beauty of rust and decay. I found the colours were too mute for too much of the time. Dusty, misty colouration brought the aesthetics down.

The film, as usual, is a Disney co-production, so you know what kind of film you're getting. You don't expect challenging story-lines, but they don't need to be as tired and unchallenging as this. There's some cute pop cultural cross-references, like the retro music and videos, computer games, HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey (and the classical music like The Blue Danube, etc). They're all moderately amusing. I found the score from the start overly kitsch.

It's still an enjoyable film and a good one to take kids too without being too bored (though I found it very flat around the 45-60 minute mark), but nothing to get too worked up about. Perhaps my greatest disappointment is that Pixar is churning out a mediocre story that does little for children's imaginations: just more of the same cliches.

There is an environmental/consumeristic theme, but I don't feel it's an issue the film-makers take too seriously or sincerely. Rather, it's just topical and they're capitalising on that. My 7-year old son loved it. This film should do well internationally as there is very little dialogue. The first sparse words occur 20 minutes into the film. Strangely, the film goes downhill as the dialogue increases.

Somehow or other, I've never managed to get a Paul Cox film in before, and I didn't like this one. I'm also told that it's quite typical for a Cox film. The dialogue seemed over-theatrical or tele-movie style right from the start and the characters seemed to lack any believability, for me at least. Basically, it's the story of a tele-evangelist and her husband who are drifting in different directions. The tele-evangelist has godly feelings with her assistant (played perfectly straight and understated by Kim Gyngell) and the husband falls in love with a Russian prostitute.

I could have walked out at any time, but did my duty for the AFI screenings and stayed. The thing I liked most about the film was recognising many of the locations, as I've lived both sides of Hobsons Bay for the last 22 years and it was fun doing the location-spotting thing.

Leave Her to Heaven
I'm not big on melodrama at all, yet somehow I enjoyed this technicolor feast for the eyes. Perhaps it was the fusion with noir (another genre I've not had much exposure to) that added to the appeal, I'm not sure. The film made no pretensions of being anything other than pulp fiction and it worked a treat. The film screened under the ACMI banner of First Look; I assume it's a brand new restored print, and it looks fantastic.

It was great to see a young Vincent Price, the third film I've seen him in this week (the others being Witchfinder General and the missus was watching Edward Scissorhands last night). He always has a strong and charismatic screen presence; his long courtroom tirades were impressive in spite of their complete ridiculousness (it just couldn't happen in real life, but that's not the point, as this is the fantasy of melodrama). All-in-all, good fun.


Kamikaze Camel said...

I'm surprised you felt so negative towards Wall-E since, as animation goes, it's quite a radical departure from the norm such as Andrew Stanton's own Finding Nemo (no dialogue for 40 minutes outside the words "Eve" and "Walle" a few times) and I thought it was quite negative towards humans. I didn't see it so much as an environment-themed pic, but moreso as a film about the growing obesity epidemic and what people will become if we don't stop. The words "global warming" or any such words are never mentioned. In fact, many believe Wall-E's slightly disappointing box office is because the core audience of suburban families were offended by the quite grotesque rendering of themselves and gave it poor word-of-mouth, something that even Cars got despite being less than critically adored like Wall-E was.

Visually, I thought Cars and Ratatouille were better, storywise it's hard to go past the Toy Story flicks, but I really enjoyed it and there were some truly lovely moments between the two robots. I agree though that it goes somewhat downhill once they leave Earth, but really picks up again towards the end.

Pixar have always been connected to Disney btw.

Paul Martin said...

Glenn, I wouldn't describe my reaction as "so negative" as much as indifferent or unimpressed.

The director is on the record as saying he didn't want the film to have an "issue" such as global warming, yet the film does superficially tackle obesity, consumerism and the environment. I'd have preferred it if it either tackled an issue more seriously or not at all. The film was nice on earth, in space it sucked (pun not intended).

The humans were terrible. I think they were intentionally exaggerated, caricatures to contrast against the sweetness of Wall*E's character. It's an animation, and it's aimed at children, but there's no excuse for not respecting a child's intellect and capacity to discern shades of grey, so to speak. I think that's what families might intuitively be objecting to.

I agree with you about the earlier Pixar films, and I know they're all connected with Disney.