Monday, September 29, 2008

The Week in Review - 28/9/08

With a 7-year old readaholic in the house, who loves Andy Griffiths books (The Day My Bum Went Psycho, Pencil of Doom, etc), when I heard good reviews of his theatre for kids, Just Macbeth, I knew I just had to take the family to see it. Shunning the $7.15 online booking fee, and seeing that the Playhouse Theatre accomodates up to 800 or so people, I naively thought I could turn up prior to the performance to purchase tickets. Big mistake - it was sold out. I bought tickets for a performance next Friday evening (it runs until 5 October) and went to the art gallery instead. We took out a family membership and checked out the Art Deco exhibition.

  • High School (Frederick Wiseman, USA, 1968)
  • Targets (Peter Bogdanovich, USA, 1968)
  • The Visitor (Thomas McCarthy, USA, 2007)
  • The Square (Nash Edgerton, Australia, 2008)
  • Lynch (blackANDwhite, USA/Denmark, 2007)

  • Half and Half (written by Daniel Keene, directed by Matt Scholten)

  • Art Deco 1910-1930, National Gallery of Victoria

High School
A great snapshot of an American high school, depicting teachers, students and parents interacting in various routine ways. With its verité style, we get a fly-on-the-wall look at the attitudes and fashions of the day.

This is a very impressive directorial debut by Bogdanovich, very impressive indeed. The film includes two parallel stories, an aging horror actor Byron Orlok (a thinly-disguised pseudonym of Boris Karloff, and played by the great screen legendhimself) who retires from acting, and a young seemingly all-American man who goes on a shooting spree.

The film's structure is highly staged, something that works for it very strongly (most of the time). A scene with Karloff merges with a scene with the psychopath and vice versa. Bogdanovich is clearly connecting dots here, but leaves it to the audience's imagination. There is scant use of music, other than within the film's plot, and the most suspenseful parts are devoid of any music at all, counter to common expectations. I found this very powerful.

It appears that Bogdanovich wanted to make an homage to both Karloff and Howard Hawks' The Criminal Code (in which Karloff stars, and which is Melbourne Cinémathèque's last screening of the year). In Targets, Karloff seems to play himself, bemoaning how he was typecast throughout his career and rarely got to play the serious roles he wanted. In casting Karloff, Bogdanovich gave the aging actor the opportunity to play just the type of serious role he wanted.

The film's main weakness is the climax when the two worlds collide - it's a little clumsy. Yet, the momentum and suspense has by this time been so overwhelmingly brought to a crescendo that it doesn't really matter. This is a seriously good film that captivates largely due to its working on multiple levels simultaneously, without spoon-feeding the audience.

The Visitor
Drab, uninspiring, disappointing. A message film, and I'm tired of message films, even though I agree with the message. Jenkins has little screen presence, though he's convincing as a boring academic.

The Square
Who says Australian cinema is dead? This is one kick-arse thriller, an impressive collaboration between the brothers Edgerton. Between them, they have co-written, directed, co-edited, co-produced, co-starred (as convincing nasties) and assembled a fine cast. The result? An edge-of-your-seat film that puts 99% of big budget Hollywood thrillers to shame.

Three Blind Mice gets my AFI vote for best Australian film of the year, but The Square is not far behind.

Who is this blackANDwhite? Rumour is it's Lynch himself, and I'm inclined to agree. I liked this so-called doco, which is more "a number of days in the life of..." than a documentary. It's not particularly insightful, but gives an idea of what they guy is like, as the camera follows him at work. The one pearl of wisdom that I gleaned was when Lynch vehemently disagreed that an artist should suffer for his art. Lynch's retort is that there is an ocean of creativity that one should hook into. Happiness is the secret, not misery. I loved that.

Half and Half
I felt quite inadequate watching this Keene performance, as it uses a language quite different to what I'm accustomed to. It's very theatrical but, hey, it's live performance. It's highly metaphorical, but metaphors of what? I'm perplexed.

Keene is a theatre person, famous in France where all his works have been translated and performed. My acquaintance with him stems from his involvement in the writing (in different capacities) of three of Alkinos Tsilimidos' four feature films. I've made no secret that Tsilimidos is my favourite Australian director, and his collaborations with Keene's writing on the dark side have produced great results.

Back to Half and Half, I just don't know what to say. It was experiential, and I'm sure I gleaned something intuitively. Something about brotherly bonds, bonds of love and hate. Metaphors about gardens and weeds, but it's all too obscure. Do I need more exposure to theatre? Am I too illiterate (theatre people tend to be better read than us poor cousin cinema types)? I dunno. I enjoyed the experience, but don't think I got as much from it as I could have.

Art Deco
I was person no. 3,003 to exit the exhibition and according to the security person who was tracking numbers on a counter, there was an estimated 1,000 people in the exhibition, and a large queue still waiting to get in there. What with the NGV, the Art Centre and the craft market crowds on the Yarra, no wonder St. Kilda road was a wall of people. As a regular attendee at places like ACMI and the Kino, these crowds are a bit of a novelty for me - not something I'm accustomed to.


dMk said...

I felt the exact same way about Targets.

It was def. worth watching though, and Bogdanovich was clearly a very great director.

Kamikaze Camel said...

I wanted to see Lynch a lot, but wasn't able to. Thankfully it's already out on DVD as a part of a 5-disc David Lynch set that includes Eraserhead, Dumbland, a collection of shorts and the Lynch (one) doco. I put it straight to the top of my Quickflix queue.

I really liked The Visitor too. Did you see Tom McCarthy's first film - The Station Agent?

Paul Martin said...

Glenn, I thought The Station Agent was a much more accomplished film. It looked nicer, the characters were more interesting and the story was more original. For me, The Visitor is "meh".

Lynden Barber said...

Totally agree re. The Visitor. It was fatally undramatic and just didnt ring true. Everyone was inexplicably nice to one another. One minute the professor is Mr Grumpy, refusing to accept a studenjt's late assignment , the next he's Mr Nice, perfectly prepared to allow intruders to share his house with him. Yeah, sure. Add it to Lars and the Real Girl as a tendency in US indie cinema - liberal message films in which everyone is ice to one another. Ugh!

The deprssing thing is this slop seems to be relatively popular at the box office. Maybe because it makes viewers feel they're being patted on the back for their pious good-citizen instincts.

Paul Martin said...

I appreciate the comment, Lynden. I had more I could have said about The Visitor, but time is an issue and the film left me totally nonplussed. I found the rejection of the student's paper very contrived and overly manipulative. I think it was "Ivan" who was the pseudo-landlord, who is never pursued and never turns up for his rent. I like your description "everyone was inexplicably nice to one another".

For what it's worth, the French film, "The Grocer's Son" suffers many of the same "slop" devices.