Sunday, February 24, 2008

Yet more about the calendar

There's never enough hours in the day, nor days in the week, nor room on a blog to fit a bloody Google calendar. Well, I've added my Calendar of Film Events to the bottom of the page where it has the whole width of the blog, in Month view. For now, I'm leaving the Agenda view in the sidebar. The best view will always be by having your own Google calendar, and subscribing to mine. Any feedback is appreciated.

By the way, does anyone know if it's possible to synchronise an Outlook calendar with the calendar in an iPod Touch? I just purchased my first iPod and it'd be good to take advantage of some of the many features it has.

[Edit] Ignore that last question, I've worked it out. Wow, I'm impressed with my new iPod. I bought one for my son, Abhi, not long before he died. It was for his 17th birthday and it was the first time in his life that when I asked him what he wanted he didn't shrug his shoulders and say "I don't care". He was very sure of himself and said an iPod, and it gave me much pleasure to take him on the back of my motor bike to the Apple store in Elizabeth St. The store had just closed, and we stood there vacantly looking at the sign on the door when a staff member came out and charitably let us in to make a quick sale.

Anyway, digression aside, the iPod synchronises with Outlook automatically and it's fantastic. I've been playing around with the calendar in Outlook and worked out some tricks to make it even easier to synchronise with my Google Calendar (accessible via this blog). As a result, I've uploaded all my film events up to the end of this calendar year.

The Week in Review

FILM:
  • Dance of the Vampires (Roman Polanski, USA, 1967)
  • La graine et le mulet (The Secret of the Grain, Abdellatif Kechiche, France, 2007)
  • Chacun son cinéma (To Each His Own Cinema, Various, France, 2007)
  • Mala Noche (Gus Van Sant, USA, 1985)
  • My Own Private Idaho (Gus Van Sant, USA, 1991)
  • Drugstore Cowboy (Gus Van Sant, USA, 1989)
  • Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant, France, 2007)
DVD:
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm - 6th Season (Various, USA, 2007)
This week seems to have made up for a couple of quiet weeks. As I've mentioned previously, we're coming into a busy season for films, and this is the start of it.

The media preview of the French Film Festival was excellent, featuring films of a higher calibre than last year's. I already had the DVD of Chacun son cinéma, which I purchased online from Amazon France last year. It was great to see it on the big screen and it always brings a tear or two to my eyes. Apparently Madman are distributing it on DVD only, so the French Film Festival will be the only opportunity to see this on the big screen. The Secret of the Grain was an thrilling experience, and it deserves a fuller write-up than I can afford right now. More later.

This week also featured four films from ACMI's Focus on Gus Van Sant, and I'll also have more to write on this in the coming days. I saw Paranoid Park for the second time and found my enjoyment increased. This is a brilliant film that is well-constructed with some fascinating devices such as music and sound, cinematography and frame speed, and fractured narrative. I've written a short review for The Big Issue that should get published shortly, but I intend giving it a more comprehensive treatment on Melbourne Film Blog.

Dance of the Vampires
From a historical perspective, it's fascinating to see the breadth of a director's work displayed in a retrospective or mini-season like the three week Polanski season at Melbourne Cinémathèque. Dance of the Vampires (aka The Fearless Vampire Killers or: Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck) is not a major work by any stretch of the imagination, a fact that is divulged by the alternative title. Polanski not only wrote and directed the film, but also plays a leading role as a vampire hunter's assistant.

The film screened with Rosemary's Baby and the Polanski season continues this week with Macbeth (my first Polanski film, which I saw in the mid '70s as part of our English readings of Shakespeare) and his much-lauded first film, Knife in the Water. The season continues the following week with three shorts and Tess.

Curb Your Enthusiasm - 6th Season
I detected a distinct change from the start of this season, but it wasn't until I'd seen all ten episodes and watched the DVD extras that I learnt why this was so. Larry David wrote all the first five series, but in the sixth he brought on board some producers who worked with him on Seinfeld, and they have contributed to the writing. I found the first two episodes a bit flat compared to the earlier series. As the series progresses, the story arc travels in new directions with the introduction of some new characters and this works well. The series builds momentum and there's a few unexpected surprises, especially the hilarious finale. All-in-all, not my favourite series, but excellent nonetheless.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Pong designer at ACMI

I just received a bulletin about a non-film event at ACMI that interests me; maybe it will interest you also. As a teenager, I loved pinball machines, which is of course how any self-respecting juvenile delinquent wasted his (and it was almost always his) time pre-internet. Then along came Pong, a table-based video game that was the beginning of the end of pinball machines. Mind you, I still like pinball machines. There was a great one in a video store in Albert Park when I lived there several years ago - Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. There's another one worse for wear at Polyester Records in Brunswick St, and I've been known to spend a couple of dollars there from time to time.

Back to ACMI and Pong. I post in full ACMI's announcement that as part of Game On, its latest exhibition on the history of video games (opening 6 March), the creator of Pong is giving two lunch-time talks. They're on Thurdays 6 and Friday 7 March. I'll be going out of my way to get to one of these.

Al Alcorn, original designer of PONG, coming to Melbourne for Game On opening

The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) is delighted to announce that Allan Alcorn (USA), original designer of Pong, will make the trip out to Australia to attend the opening of the Game On exhibition.

Released in 1972, Pong was the very first arcade game to achieve widespread popularity, its success ushering in the ‘golden age’ of arcade games, with hugely successful hits such as Space invaders, Donkey Kong and Pac-Man.

“Allan’s work in designing Pong has made him one of the most influential figures in the development of videogames,” says Conrad Bodman, co-curator of Game On and ACMI’s Head of Exhibitions. “Pong was the first arcade game hit which was massively popular with the public and led to the development of a brand new form of entertainment which flourished in the arcades in the 70s and 80s. Allan has made an enormous contribution to and we are happy to welcome him to ACMI.’

Based in San Francisco, Alcorn has been working at the heart of the videogame / IT industry for over 30 years.

Alcorn was a young electrical engineer working at pioneering video company Ampex, when he first met Nolan Bushnell, a fellow employee who ended up leaving to start his own company, Syzygy – later renamed Atari.

In 1972 Alcorn joined the Atari as the company’s second employee (the first being the 17 year old receptionist, hired to give the impression to callers that the company was much bigger than it appeared). At the time the company had already produced the world’s first coin-operated videogame Computer Space, which, although a historical milestone was a commercial failure due to its complicated instructions.

Bushnell therefore decided Atari’s next game should be as simple as possible – something ‘people already knew how to play, something so simple that any drunk in any bar could play". He decided to train up his rookie programmer by asking him to design an electronic table tennis game, which was named Pong, after the sound the balls made when hitting the paddles.

Once completed, the original Pong prototype was given a test run at Andy Capps, a bar near the Atari office. It had only two instructions: “Deposit Quarter” and “Avoid missing ball for high score”.

Indications of the games forthcoming popularity were evident almost immediately. The day after Pong was installed, Andy Capp’s owner arrived to open up the premises and discovered people were lined up outside, waiting for the bar to open, so that they could play the game. Then, a couple of weeks later, Atari received a phone call the bar, telling them their game was broken. When Alcorn came to make repairs, he discovered the machine had short-circuited due to the huge amount of quarters jammed in its coin box.

In 1975, after the massive success of the arcade game (which, in turned, spawned an avalanche of Pong imitations), Alcorn designed a new home version of Pong which could be played on Atari’s early home consoles - entertainment units that plugged into the TV and enabled the user to play videogames in their own lounge room. The home console version of Pong was so wildly successful (at Christmas time, several shops had people queuing up just to put their name on a list to order it) it established Atari as the market leader in the early home videogame market, with a turnover of over $40 million in its first 3 years of operation.

After leaving Atari in 1981, Alcorn became a Fellow at Apple Computer where he did early work that led to the MPEG standard and QuickTime. In the mid ‘90s Alcorn established the company Silicon Gaming, which was driving force behind the advance of manual casino slot machines to the computer-based systems that are now standard in all casinos. He was also VP of Engineering at Digital FX, consulted at Interval Research and is currently Chief Technology Office at Integrated Media Measurement Incorporated (immi.com).

Among the many staff Alcorn hired during his tenure at Atari was a young college drop-out called Steve Jobs who would go on to found Apple computers and Pixar Animation.

This will be Alcorn’s first visit to Melbourne.

Game On, the world’s largest and most comprehensive exhibition dedicated to the history and future of games and gaming, will be presented exclusively in Australia at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and opens on Thursday 6 March, 2008.

A playable big screen version of Pong, an original Pong arcade game and an early Pong home console will be exhibited as part of Game On (ACMI Screen Gallery, March 6 – July 13, 2008). Alcorn will be giving two free lunchtime talks at ACMI in Melbourne on Thursday 6 March and Friday 7 March. For more information and tickets details for Game On, Alcorn’s talks and many other Game On activities, please go to the ACMI website: www.acmi.net.au

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Upcoming events

Tomorrow is the start of ACMI's Focus on Gus Van Sant, opening with his new film Paranoid Park (at 7pm). I'm planning to see this for the second time. I didn't write about it the first time, but I highly recommend it. There's something poetic about Van Sant's film-making that I really connect with. Maybe it's the recurring themes like disturbed youths, or the naturalistic performances (often by non-professionals).

Over the next few days, I'll be previewing some films for the Alliance Française French Film Festival which starts less than a week after the Van Sant retrospective ends. In between these is the Latin American Film Festival at the Nova. I've had a quick look at the programme on Nova's website, and it looks quite impressive.

The Queer Film Festival runs concurrently with the French Film Festival. There's some 14 titles I'm hoping to see at the French Film Festival, which makes it all but impossible for me to get to the Queer Film Festival. Another problem I have with the Queer Film Festival is that I have in the past found myself at fairly trashy films that could be considered a gay equivalent of Melrose Place, which don't interest me. I know there's gems to be had, but I haven't the time to research what to see (unless someone else has done the legwork and can recommend some).

The day after the French Film Festival ends, the Astor Theatre is screening Grindhouse complete for a short 11 day season. This is the only chance Melbournians will have had to see both Tarantino's Death Proof and Rodriguez's Planet Terror, complete with fake ads as originally intended. The Kino Dendy cinema is screening Flickerfest over the weekend of March 29 - 30, and La Mirada is screening at ACMI a few days later. This latter festival had its debut last year and I really enjoyed it. I especially like the classics curated by Pedro Almodovar, and I look forward to seeing what his selections are for this year's festival.

A few days after La Mirada, the Festival of German Films will be upon us. I've expressed reservations about this festival in the past, but by being selective (the secret to getting the most out of any festival), I saw some real gems that surprised me last year. Next up is the Spanish Film Festival in May and before you know it, we'll be inundated with the Melbourne International Film Festival. All these events are in my Google calendar. If you have a Google account, it's real simple to sign up for a Google calendar. Then you can subscribe to my calendar and see everything that's happening film-wise in Melbourne.

Note that not all links I have provided are up-to-date. You may have to check back later for some of them.

The Focus on Gus Van Sant runs from 21 to 29 February at ACMI.
The Latin American Film Festival runs from 28 February to 5 March at the Cinema Nova.
The Queer Film Festival runs from 5 to 16 March at ACMI.
The French Film Festival runs from 6 to 19 March at Palace Como, Westgarth and Balwyn cinemas.
Grindhouse is screening at the Astor Theatre from 20 to 30 March.
La Mirada - Jewels of Spanish Cinema is screening from 3 to 13 April at ACMI.
The Festival of German Cinema is screening from 17 to 27 April at Palace Como and Brighton Bay cinemas.
The Spanish Film Festival runs from 14 to 25 May at Palace Como and Westgarth cinemas.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Week in Review

FILMS:
  • Dracula (Terence Fisher, UK, 1958)
  • Singin' in the Rain (Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly, USA, 1952)
Dracula
This was the first opening night film at Melbourne Cinémathèque, a brand new print from the BFI in the UK. The print was excellent, but I'm not a big fan of the horror genre, and this film is quite camp. The acting is quite staged. I found the film enjoyable enough, but forgettable.

I've been snowed under with my day job, so was too tired to stay for Night of the Eagle (Burn, Witch, Burn!, Sidney Hayers, UK, 1961). I'm told it was a better film, but c'est la vie.

Singin' in the Rain (Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly, USA, 1952)
I wanted to see this, knowing it's David Stratton's favourite film. I suppose some kinds of movie magic only happen once, and maybe DS is attached to the effect this had on him as a child (I don't know, I'm only hypothesising). For me it did nothing. In fact, I nodded off a couple of times. I'm not a big fan of musicals, and this is just a movie, a film to entertain the masses with its Hollywood stereotypes of love, conflict, struggle and success. To it's credit - and this is something I've always appreciated - this and similar films have stars who are genuinely talented, even if those talents are better suited for live performance on a stage. Their dancing and singing is infinitely better than the showbottle charlatans in Chicago, for example. I just don't take to the fairytale plots.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Buzz of the City

I love working in the city. I love exploring the little nooks and crannies and revisiting some of my favourite spots. I always carry a digital camera with me and capturing things of interest. Sometimes it's architecture or old signs or street art. Lately I've taken to taking short video clips, and this one below is a recent one of a well-known street art precint off Centre Place (between Collins St. and Flinders Lane). My work friend Matthew and I were wandering around and I spontaneously took this without any planning, to Matthew's obvious bemusement. The buskers provide the real-time score.

Thanks to Ali, my fellow Melbourne Cinémathèque committee member who suggested I post my clips online, from whom I worked out how to make a slow version using QuickTime Pro.

Here it is in half-time
video

And here it is in it's original real-time
video

Here's a clip of another precinct I've just discovered, Caledonian Lane, which runs between Lonsdale St. and Little Bourke St, adjacent to David Jones. The Centre Place clip was taken on Wednesday, this one, 9 minutes long was filmed on Friday (yesterday).

video

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Week in Review

It's been a busy week and I haven't had time to scratch myself. I've resumed my French classes at Alliance Française (B4), and not having studied during the summer break and missed the first class of the term, I'm struggling a little and have to work hard to catch up. I have been doing some additional conversational classes with Stéphanie on le week-end, so that redeems me a little in that department.

I only saw two films on the big screen during the week, but gee, what films they were! Both are Oscar contenders (best film) and I loved them both in spite of their flaws. I will have more to say about them when I find the time. They are both well worth seeing. I'm not big on the Oscars and predicting winners (my opinion is they largely reward mediocrity). But I do think that No Country For Old Men will comfortably win best film. No other film in contention comes close.

I have French classes tomorrow night and Melbourne Cinémathèque has opening night on Wednesday (come and see Dracula) so it's going to have to wait until the later part of the week.

Autumn is clearly here, the summer vacuum of films is behind us and my film calendar is starting to get exciting. The Focus on Gus Van Sant starts Thursday week (I still haven't written about Paranoid Park, but I loved it and will see it at least one more time). Before that ends, there's a Latin American Film Festival at the Nova, followed by the French Film Festival and the Queer Film Festival. It's a pity these last two screen at the same time. I give preference to the French Film Festival (I'm expecting to see 14 films there this year, and I'll post my selections when I get around to finalising my research).

FILMS:
  • Le scaphandre et le papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Julian Schnabel, France, 2007)
  • There Will Be Blood (PT Anderson, USA, 2007)

DVD:
  • Basquiat (Julian Schnabel, USA, 1996)

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A Question...

[Edit: images added below]

I have a question to ask. I regularly maintain a calendar of film events in Outlook. I keep track of festivals, film release schedules, miscellaneous screenings and film-related events that pertain to Melbourne. For some months, I've been uploading these to a custom Google calendar that I created and have embedded in the sidebar of this blog. What I'd like to know is if anyone reading this blog actually uses it. Is it of any value to anyone? If so, I'll continue to share the good oil and if not, I'll save myself the effort and just keep it to myself on my home machine.

I'm interested to know if any readers of Melbourne Film Blog subscribe to the calendar. So, if you have anything to say or suggest, now's your chance.

Edit here: If you have set up a Google Calendar account (it takes one minute), clicking on the button at the bottom of the Melbourne Film Blog calendar will subscribe you to the calendar. Then, whenever you go to Google Calendar, you'll see the events as in this image here (click to see full size).

By clicking on an item, you have the option to copy from my calendar to yours. For example, you could add the film events that interest you, then uncheck Melbourne Film Blog calendar so that you only see the films on your calendar that interest you.

To see the details of an individual event, you click on an item and select the option to see the details, which look like this image here (again, click on the image to see full size).

I suppose not too many people are aware of this Google product which really is quite ingenius. I acknowledge it's a little rough around the edges, particularly when viewed from a blog, but if you get your head around it (and it doesn't take long), it has all sorts of uses. You can search Google Calendars for other events and compile all sorts of things that can appear on your one calendar, and filter them by selecting or deselecting each calendar you've subscribed to.

Monday, February 04, 2008

My Favourite Scenes

I stumbled upon this clip on YouTube: my favourite scene from my favourite film, Lost Highway.
..
And my favourite sex scene.
..

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Week in Review

FILM:
  • Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant, France/USA, 2007)
  • Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, USA, 1977)
DVD:
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm - 1st Season (Various, USA, 2000)
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm - 3rd Season (Various, USA, 2002)
Paranoid Park
The more I think about this film, the more I like it. I can't wait to see it again. It is visually and emotionally haunting with devices in common with both Elephant and Last Days. I have more to say about Gus Van Sant's latest film, and will post a separate review in the next week or so.

The Australian premiere of Paranoid Park takes place at ACMI at 7pm on Thursday 21 March as part of ACMI's Focus on Gus Van Sant. ACMI will host a second screening at 9.30pm on Saturday 23 March before opening at the Cinema Nova on 6 March.

Killer of Sheep
This newly restored film screened at ACMI and the print was excellent. The film's black and white cinematography is just beautiful, depicting the urban and social decay in a black ghetto in Los Angeles. It has an almost documentary look and feel about it and captures a culture that Samuel L. Jackson's character vaguely reprised in Pulp Fiction.

Curb Your Enthusiasm
I've now seen the first five seasons of this ground-breaking sitcom written by and starring Larry David. I'm pretty hooked, and now I'm feeling disappointed that I have no more series to watch. Fortunately the sixth series, which screened in the US late last year, has just been released on DVD. I've ordered it on Amazon and should receive that within a couple of weeks.