Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Week in Review - 27/12/09

  • The Lovely Bones (Peter Jackson, USA/UK/New Zealand, 2009)
  • Sherlock Holmes (Guy Ritchie, UK/Australia/USA, 2009)

  • Network (Sidney Lumet, USA, 1976)
  • L'argent (Robert Bresson, France/Switzerland, 1983)
  • Breaker Morant (Bruce Beresford, Australia, 1979)
The Lovely Bones
I found this film OK, if not a little disappointing. With Wahlberg in it, it could almost be The Happening in terms of look and feel. I actually didn't mind Wahlberg in The Happening but his acting seems a bit weak here. Weisz and Sarandon don't really do much so it's left to the young actress Saiorse Ronan and Stanley Tucci, who seems to be channeling Bruce Willis (esp. á la The Jackal). Actually Tucci's is the surprise performance in the film and is very creepy.

I do like the metaphysical element and the way it's enmeshed with a slight horror element (much more maturely than most contemporary horror) and yet somehow the film doesn't seem to have the impact that it could. Perhaps it's because the film aims a little low, trying to please the masses with an otherwise difficult subject. It's actually quite conventional with some pretty blatant contrivances.

Heavenly Creatures remains my favourite Jackson film, and there's one scene that makes a nod to a particular scene in that film. The Lovely Bones is worth seeing as part of Jackson's work, but don't expect anything major.

Sherlock Holmes
I had no intention of seeing this film, but taking the kid for a bike ride and ending up at the local cinema, it was either Sherlock Holmes or a two-hour wait. The kid was about as impressed as I was - not very much. I think the film suffers from two major things: firstly there's Ritchie's kinetic style. Some love it, I don't. It appears sporadically, enough to remind you it's a Ritchie film, but not enough to spoil it completely if you're tired of his devices.

Secondly, the film tries to be too many things without focusing on what Sherlock Holmes was always about. It's got a bit of Harry Potter, a bit of Batman and Robin, Starsky and Hutch and so on. In the end, it's just another generic action film with little to distinguish it from all the other bland action films and certainly little that defines it as Sherlock Holmes.

People have raved about the production design. I'd say it's just OK, nothing special you haven't seen before. Mostly, it disguises its flaws by keeping it dark and grimy. A bit more colour would have been nice. And what's become of Robert Downey Jr, that he has to stoop to such bland roles? He may be a good actor, but here he's just playing a generic Robert Downey Jr character, the same as all the other bland comic ones. If you're a fan of his, I suppose you'd swoon to see more of the same, but for me it's all a bit tired and formulaic. Jude Law would have made a better Holmes, rather than the smart-arse Dr. Watson sidekick he plays.

Ultimately, I found the film quite laboured and it was a struggle to stay awake. I nodded off at least four times - and this is an action film! The action is itself completely run-of-the-mill, the humour is bland and the characterisations are bland. Lord Blackwood seems to be modelled on Valdemort, and the the twists surrounding him are predictable. What should distinguish the film from a zillion others like it, is the Holmes character and methodology, which has been mutilated beyond recognition and we're left with mediocrity. I can't recommend this to anyone.

I'd seen clips of Network over the years, it always looked good, and of course it is. I love satire, and this is so understated on one level (ie, the humour) and overstated on another. The anger is what fuels the narrative, whether it's Howard Beale, Maureen Dowd (the female, black communist - what a joke), the Ecumenical Liberation Army or Faye Dunaway's over-the-top television producer character.

Everyone's "mad as hell". You've got the network owner in his mad rant who is actually telling it as it is. Democracy and countries are an illusion. The Russians weren't sitting around a table discussing Marx - they were plotting business the same as the Chinese and the Americans.

Actually, there is so much insight in this film with its analysis of society, politics, money and yes, television networks, that I find it amazing that all this can make it into a mainstream film. I suppose like Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon, it shows how backward we've become (in terms of what can get made in the mainstream). The film pre-empts reality television by two decades, perhaps like the books 1984 and Brave New World, extrapolating into the future and actually being spot on. Where the networks were going all those decades ago was despicable, and yet we have descended much lower into the bowels of television hell. Man, if only we could make raw films for the mainstream like this today.

I've only seen a couple of Bresson's films, and they're decades apart. Wow, what an aesthetic! It'd be very hard to get away with this today. There is so little embellishment with fixed cameras and sparse dialogue, and the acting is so raw - at times quite clunky. I had no idea where this film was going, so when it went to where it did, it was a bit of a shock. It seems to have a social message, a critique of the social system and how an innocent person wronged can have disastrous effects. But it's also a meditation on money and its corrupting influence. The camera certainly dwells on the physical transactions of money.

I imagine Bresson is not everyone's cup of tea, but this affected me considerably. I've been discussing Cassavetes recently, and while the two directors' styles are very different, both have some commonality with their raw aesthetics. Cassavetes' films are usually quite volatile and emotional, Bresson the opposite. There is an emotional detachment, underscored by the frequent shots of people's legs as they walk past, devoid of dialogue. I feel I need to work through more of Bresson's work - L'argent was his final film.

Breaker Morant
Yes, it must be Xmas time, because I've watched 3 DVDs so far this week, about as many as I've watched in some years. Anyway, it's a good opportunity to whittle down the number of unseen DVDs in my collection, and I must be one of the last people to see this one. And wow, what a film, for it's day and even for today. A veritable who's who of the Australian film industry, it showcases many who have probably never done finer work since (Bryan Brown anyone? Or even Bud Tingwell perhaps).

This is, of course, an impressive local film and I remember when I was in the US in the 80s, whenever anyone found out I was Australian, they would always say "Oh, I loved Breaker Morant" (and Crocodile Dundee, but we won't go there). It really has a mature aesthetic, not unlike European art cinema, with a strong Australian flavour. I don't know how historically accurate it is, but it really has a lot to say about politics and political expediency, even in the context of current events such as the war in Iraq. It seems this guy Morant and Hancock got badly done by, even if they were scumbags. They were poorly done by by both their superiors and the British and Australian governments.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Week in Review - 20/12/09

  • Precious (Lee Daniels, USA, 2009)
  • Sayat Nova (The Colour of Pomegranates, Sergei Paradjanov, USSR, 1968)
  • Avatar (James Cameron, USA, 2009)
  • Bright Star (Jane Campion, UK/Australia/France, 2009)
  • Planet 51 (Jorge Blanco/Javier Abad/Marcos Martínez, Spain/UK/USA, 2009)
  • The Killers (Robert Siodmak, USA, 1946)


I'm a bit hesitant to write about this film because it's a worthy film, well-made and deserves to be seen. I, however, found it very disturbing and came out of the cinema feeling unwell. For me, it does for bleak social drama what torture porn does for horror. It subjects its audience to increasing levels of depravity, testing one's endurance.

While films like Antichrist and Irreversible challenge with their depictions of physical violence, this one is more about the sexual, emotional and psychological abuse endured by its protagonist, Precious, in an impressive screen debut by Gabourey Sidibe. Mo'Nique also impresses as Precious' obnoxious and foul-mouth mother, and the film features various raw and naturalistic cameos by singers Mariah Carey (as a social worker) and Lenny Kravitz (as a nurse).

All in all, this is a gutsy film, that others seemed to appreciate more than I - most of the audience at the screening I attended were Amnesty International members. Again, I hope it finds an audience, and its recent nominations for various awards may help. But it's not something I'll see again.

The Colour of Pomegranates
This film screened with Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev which, with a running time of 165 minutes, made it impossible for me to stay. My pneumonia earlier in the year has meant I have to overlook such late nights as I focus on staying well. And that's a pity, because that meant my closing Melbourne Cinémathèque film of the year was a disappointment.

The film is without dialogue and seems largely theatrical, and fringe at that. I had trouble staying awake and found it boring as hell. I suppose that makes me a cultural philistine. So be it.

I saw Avatar the first time in 3D and indulged my curiosity by seeing it in 2D. It was a fascinating experience.

First, the visuals are nowhere near as strong. They're relatively flat - and I don't just mean because they're not in 3D. The colours seem somewhat drained of their brightness we see in 3D. It seems that the film was made specifically for 3D and perhaps it's been further processed for 2D to try to get it to look acceptable. It is acceptable, but if this was your only experience of the film, you'd be wondering what all they fuss about this film was about. Yet, I prefer the 2D experience, because there's nothing between me and the screen. As I've written previously, the 3D technology is a distraction.

Secondly, the story stands up quite well on second viewing. In fact, some of the points that slightly bothered me the first time (like the environmental and terror messages) seemed insignificant this time. Perhaps it's because I knew they were coming and when they did they had less impact. It was like this for me with The Matrix also. The first time, the love bit at the end was a bit silly, but on repeat viewings it seemed perfect.

While the story is still nothing special, it is solid and has enough meat on its bones to engage an audience. Bear in mind that I'm not the target audience and I'm seeing it for the second time. At the point where Jake Sully turns up as Taruk-something or other, it even brought tears to my eyes. I love that scene.

Watching it in 2D, I was more conscious of the film being mostly CGI, much like Lord of the Rings, but it wasn't a problem.

As I memtnioned, if you watched this film only in 2D, you'd be wondering what all the fuss was about. If you see it in 3D, you'll know. And I do think it's worth seeing again in 2D. I may even see it again in 3D, just to take more note of the technical aspects.

Bright Star
This is certainly a beautiful looking film, one of the finest for the year, perhaps even more so than The Piano. The music ain't bad either. The narrative is a bit flat for me, certainly no The Piano. But, to its credit, its more emotionally engaging than most period films, especially by the Brits. The French do period much better than the Brits, and this seemed more in that vein and will, I imagine, be well-received in Europe.

Cornish does take centre-stage and rises to the challenge. I was impressed by both her performance and her accent. At times, from certain angles, she looked eerily like a young pre-Botox Nicole Kidman.

All in all, the film is low-key and artistically credible. Some of those outdoors shots are magnificent, and so are the indoors ones. FWIW, the missus loves it as much as The Piano, and I'm thinking maybe it's more of a chick flick than The Piano.

Planet 51
It is amazing to realise that this is a Spanish film, because it looks, sounds and feels like a Hollywood middle-of-the-road kids holiday flick. It's OK, but I wouldn't recommend it unless you're taking kids to a holiday flick. For that, it's enjoyable enough, but otherwise I'd give it a miss.

The Killers
I saw this at the discount shop by the Kino cinema and at $5 I knew I couldn't go wrong. Immensely entertaining, funny, suspenseful and a class film noir. Burt Lancaster gets top billing but his role plays out in the shadows of Edmond O'Brien who seems to be channeling Humphrey Bogart, as an insurance investigator who is attempting to discover why a gas attendant was a target for two hit-men.

The film uses every cliche, but looks fantastic in black and white, using long shadows and tough-guy speak. It's no challenge, just fun.

Monday, December 14, 2009

It was 3 years ago today

It was three years ago today that I had an unexpected knock at the door, just prior to 8am as I was about to leave for work. It was a couple of local police officers who had the unenviable task of informing us that Abhi, my 17 year old son, had in the early hours of that morning taken his life. As I write this, I feel reasonably calm but I have at times been in dread for the last week thinking of this cruel anniversary, and how it might affect me.

I myself have confronted death twice this year, once in a motorcycle accident at the start of the year and again with pneumonia mid-year. I wasn't afraid on either occasion, at least not obviously so. And while I miss Abhi terribly, I feel confident that, as I felt for myself, death is not the end. There are six billion people in this world, and every one of them will die. Billions have come before us and every one of them have also died. It seems the most natural thing in the world, and I think that our fear of death is both natural and yet largely unfounded. Unfounded, because we fear the unknown.

As I lay on the footpath in a crumpled heap earlier in the year, I knew there was immense pain, and yet I felt divorced from it. As I closed my eyes to meditate, thinking that I may be leaving my body, I accepted that this may be the end. I felt thankful that I had kissed my partner and younger son good-bye. But Death spared me another day.

What I'm trying to say is that while we may miss a loved one who has left us - and that leaving could be moving interstate or overseas, and not just by death - I do firmly believe that if it is meant to be, we will be together again. The difference between death and someone moving is that the former is final, complete, irreversible. But we must all be separated at some time.

Still, I carry the grief of a parent who has lost a child, and I don't know if that will ever go away. There's a place in my heart, it seems, that is empty. I loved Abhi and I love him still. I talk to him sometimes, but I don't think he hears me. Wherever he is, I'm sure he has moved on, to fulfill his destiny, whatever that may be. And now we are left to fulfill ours.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Week in Review - 13/12/09

  • The Intruder (Roger Corman, USA, 1962)
  • The March (James Blue, 30 mins, USA, 1964)
  • Istoriya Asi Klyachinoy, kotoraya lyubila, da ne vyshla zamuzh (Asya's Happiness, Andrei Konchalovsky, USSR, 1966)
  • Katok i skripka (The Steamroller & the Violin, Andrei Tarkovsky, USSR, 1961)
  • Avatar (James Cameron, USA, 2009)
  • American Dreamer (L.M. Kit Carson, Lawrence Schiller, USA, 1971)
  • The Last Movie (Dennis Hopper, USA, 1971)

The Intruder
I'm not familiar with the work of Roger Corman, who I'm told was a prolific B-grade film maker. This piece is pretty much also a B-grade film, but one with a message - one of racial tolerance that highlights the hatefulness of those who opposed racial integration in America in the early 1960s. It's a blast to see a young William Shatner in an early role as a political antagonist, who arrives in a town to fan the flames of racial hatred. The film doesn't feel significant artistically, but fascinating for both the subject, the context within the Hopper season at ACMI, and the casting of Shatner.

The March
This film is notable for including, in its entirety, Martin Luther King's famous "I had a dream" speech outside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC in 1968. It is not an exceptional documentary in any way, concerning itself largely with the small details of ordinary people making their way to the Freedom March. It is, however, an excellent companion piece to The Intruder - both films are concerned with charismatic speakers on opposing sides of the race issue. It's also very relevant as part of the Hopper season to setting the scene in terms of the social and political climate at the time of "the New Hollywood". Apparently Hopper also partook in the Freedom March and took many photographs at that time.

Asya's Happiness
Screening as part of the Melbourne Cinémathèque season on dissenting Soviet cinema from the 1960s, this film doesn't seem overly subversive at all. In fact, it pretty much just depicts bleak rural life as it was, and perhaps that is why it was banned for over twenty years. Perhaps anything that depicted the proletariat as anything but happy and satisfied was a threat to the former regime. The film has an almost documentary look and feel, perhaps partly because of the largely non-professional cast.

The Steamroller & the Violin
I don't have much to say about this early Tarkovsky film, other than to say it was of most interest to me to see another piece by this famed director.

This film will do very well, no doubt about it, though it is over-hyped of course. Here's my initial random thoughts, just to get them down in words.

I'll preface my comments by saying that I don't like 3D and watching Avatar confirmed to me that the technology is a distraction. But this is also the best example of 3D that I've seen. The glasses are the lightest and the effects are easily the best. I decided pretty early in the film that I didn't want to focus too closely on the 3D effect, because it kept distracting me. At first it reminded me of the stereoscope glasses we had in our childhood, where something in the foreground appears to be in front of something in the background, much like a cut-out story book. This is especially so for the live action, which probably constitutes 10% or less of the film, which is mostly CGI animation.

All up, I'm glad I saw the film in 3D and it's quite a marvel to see how far it has come, especially with the animation which is of a very high quality. The film obviously toys with the cross-over between live action, animation and gaming. The creation of fantasy creatures is very inventive (though some stereotypes/cliches are obviously there, but I didn't have a problem with it as it comes with the territory). The visuals are both flawed and yet better than I expected. This is a film that needs to be seen on the giant screen at Melbourne Central or similar. I've never been to I-max, but that could be an amazing experience.

The film's blend of action, fantasy and yes, romance, gives it fairly wide appeal. Some of the issues it addresses are a bit overt - like environmentalism, alternative energy and the war on terror - but I didn't want to nitpick over that.

Giovani Ribisi, quite an OK actor in his native tongue, really irritates me in his English language roles, perhaps because he always plays a sleaze as he does in this film. In terms of actors, he is the weakest link. The colonel is an obvious stereotype and you can see where his role is going to go from the start, but it's all in a spirit of fun I suppose.

The film is quite a bit more violent than what I expected and while my 9yo enjoyed it (3.5 stars from him - and I expected he'd give it 4-5), it would be distressing for kids under 6 or 7.

Mostly, what I think the film achieves - nothing in narrative, of course - is that it has pushed the envelope in terms of technology. It's trying something different and deserves accolades and needs to be seen for that. Not that it has achieved the levels the hype leads us to believe. Maybe it will get credit in time to come as the turning point when it all started, but it's just not there yet.

I'm reading a series of books at the moment, the Books of Pellinor by Alison Croggon, who is the person that got me started at blogging. They're fantasy and very much in the vein of The Lord of the Rings. These books and Avatar have much in common thematically, as does The Matrix.

I might see the film again, but in 2D to see how it compares. Some impressive effects won't be there, but I'd like to just enjoy the film without the distraction.
4 stars from me.

American Dreamer
The American Dreamer highlights how out of it Hopper was at the time of making The Last Movie and it was just as incoherent as he was. It's only value for me was to demonstrate where Hopper was at and where the fringe of society was at, at that time. That's not insignificant, given that it helps to set the scene for the Hopper season of films. But as a film, it's pretty shit, at best.

The Last Movie
Not must-see, that's for sure, though the latter has more to engage one. Apparently Hopper made a cut for the studio for release then Jodorowsky got into his ear and Hopper made a wild director's cut, which is what screened today. I'd like to see the commercial cut, which was hardly distributed anyway, because the director's cut has interesting moments but is incoherent. It could be more watchable if it were put into a less jump cut version.

I have/had a friend who I recently lost to drugs. I say lost, not that he died, but that he's lost in a haze and that haze filters all his interactions and we can no longer relate because I don't take drugs. For me, the devastating effects of substance abuse are obvious, though my friend can't see it at all. Hopper was deep in such a haze when making The Last Movie and seems to have been suffering various delusions of grandeur and had intended profound meanings in the film that aren't obvious to the audience. To me, it's just lost, like Hopper once was.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Week in Review - 6/12/09

  • Vengeance (Johnnie To, Hong Kong/France, 2009)
  • Proshchanie/The Parting/Farewell (to Matiora) (Elem Klimov, Soviet Union, 1983)
  • Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze, USA, 2009)
I basically just stumbled on this film by chance when I couldn't find anything worth seeing and starting browsing through yourMovies. I was a bit gobsmacked to find that a new Johnnie To film was screening and that I'd heard nothing about it. Hoyts Melbourne Central regularly screens Asian films, which seem to cater to the large Asian student market, and it was here that I recently saw the Korean film, Haeundae.

We had a To season at Melbourne Cinémathèque last year and I really enjoyed the style of Exiled. Vengeance shares a lot in common with that film - it's a Hong Kong crime action thriller. To does for this genre what Sergio Leone did for the Western, and his clever use of music at key moments (ie, showdowns) conjures up a sense of the spaghetti Western.

I was surprised to find the film opening with French actress Sylvie Testud, and it is Johnny Hallyday who is the main protagonist as her father who arrives from France to wreak vengeance on those who killed the members of his family. Now Johnny Hallyday is not really actor, even though he did OK with Patrice Leconte's L'homme du train (The Man on the Train). But, like that film, it doesn't really matter. He just has to look cool, spout a few lines and let the director take control of the story and the action.

This is, after all, a Hong Kong action flick - not something you take too seriously. There's the usual bunch of crims, who we get attached to. The smart guy, the fat guy and another guy. There's the double crossing and the twists and the impossible escapes. There's a reasonable amount of blood but it never looks real. The humour is just right and all in all it's good entertainment in a genre that generally we don't see enough of. So, if you can, take the opportunity to see this film by a very credible but under-valued film-maker.

The Parting
Asya's Happiness didn't turn up on time at Melbourne Cinémathèque, so this film was selected to replace it at short notice. Hopefully we'll screen Asya's Happiness next week. I didn't know one from the other, but was pretty excited to learn that we were going to see a film by the great Elem Klimov, the director of what is perhaps the most powerful film I've ever seen, and certainly my favourite war film - Come and See - which was made after The Parting.

The Parting was written by Klimov's wife, Larissa Shepitko (The Ascent), and was also to be directed by her. Tragically, she died in a car accident on the first day of shooting and Klimov later took up the project as a tribute to his wife.

I was amazed at how much Klimov's style had developed in the short time between making The Parting and Come and See. I don't think one would appreciate the earlier film quite so much if they hadn't seen the later one. In short, Klimov perfected in Come and See, techniques that he was clearly attempting in The Parting. The most obvious similarity was a forest scene where the camera stalks an elderly member of the village Matiora, whose days are numbered. The village, on an island is to be deserted and flooded to make way for a hydro-electric project.

There's two more weeks of the 60s Soviet Cinema screening before the year's end, and I'd like to catch as many of these as I can. Next week, the first film is not yet confirmed (apparently the print of Heat is not up to scratch), which will be followed by Tarkovsky's The Steamroller and the Violin, followed by Shepitko's Wings.

Where the Wild Things Are
Spike Jonze has always had a wild imagination, having directed such notable films as Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. This latest effort doesn't have the benefit of Charlie Kaufman's writing that those films did, but it doesn't really matter as Jonze (with Dave Eggers as co-writer have found their own voice.

Where the Wild Things Are
is an inventive translation of Maurice Sendak's famous book, which I and all my children have grown up on. The book is mostly visual with very little dialogue; Jonze has done similarly, but fleshed out the story with more of Max and his family, and more adventures with The Wild Things. The story has been altered, particularly Max's home life and the nature of his arrival and return from the land of The Wild Things. While I was looking forward to seeing how Jonze depicted Max's leaving home, I wasn't disappointed by the re-interpretation. It all flowed consistent with the source material's sensibilities.

The most fascinating aspect for me is the re-creation of The Wild Things using Jim Henson's Creature Factory. These animatronics/giant puppets are just amazing, a kind of cross between some of Henson's Muppets and the Banana Splits characters (from the 1970s), but on a grand scale. Their detailed reproduction is unmistakably authentic and their facial details, including eye and mouth movements are truly impressive. There's a real charm to this kind of old-fashioned special effects that leaves CGI for dead. I mean, we know these are just puppets, but the physicality, the reality of their existence is very endearing. We know that this action is not taking place in front of a green screen, it's mostly all real.

The variety of scenery (mostly filmed in Victoria) is splendid, adding wonderfully to the visuals. I loved the music, much of which was children singing, giving a sense of playground laughter and frolicking. As a film, Where the Wild Things Are has a real air of originality, a freshness and playfulness that should appeal widely to both children and adults in equal measure.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Cteq and ADG

I just got back from seeing Elem Klimov's Proshchanie (The Parting, aka Farewell, aka Farewell to Matiora, 1983). It was written by Klimov's wife, Larisa Shepitko (The Ascent), who was also going to direct it but was tragically killed in a car accident on the first day of shooting. A grief-stricken Klimov took over the project as a tribute to his wife. I was particularly keen to see it (though it screened as a last-minute replacement for Asya's Happiness, which didn't arrive in time), on the strength of Klimov's Come and See, perhaps the most powerful and certainly one of the most amazing films I have seen.

The Parting is about a village, Matiora, which is being vacated by the authorities so it can be flooded for a hydro-electric plant. While not in the same league as Come and See, it was meaningful to see the parallels with the later work.

On a completely different subject, when I got home there was an email from the Australian Director's Guild asking me to post information about the following that may be of interest. I cut and paste it as follows:
ADG/AFI Meet the Director

When: 11am-12.30pm Saturday 12 December

Where: Kino Cinema
Collins Place
45 Collins St

Meet Australia's Best Directors
a discussion with the Samsung Mobile 2009 AFI Award
Best Director Nominees

Meet Warwick Thornton (Sampson and Delilah), Robert Connolly (Balibo) and Rachel Ward (Beautiful Kate) in this exclusive discussion and screening event.

This unique opportunity to have the directors on the same stage will allow you to gain insight into the directors craft, hear inside stories about filmmaking and catch a glimpse of the films that earned these directors their nominations, only hours before the award winners are announced!

TICKETS: Full $12, Concession (students, pensioners, unemployed, members of MEAA, ACMI & screen guilds) $10, ADG & AFI Members $9. (Plus booking fee)

Tickets available through Moshtix now:, 1300 GET TIX (438 849), on your mobile and all moshtix outlets including Polyester Records and Greville Records. If purchasing concession or member tickets please bring proof of eligibility on the day.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Week in Review - 29/11/09

Yeah, yeah, time flies and I still don't have my new PC set up right. Maybe if my contract isn't extended at the end of the year I'll have time for some catch up. It should be a dream desktop when I'm finished.

Meanwhile, it's been a fascinating week of film and I just had to post a little on what I've seen.

  • Prime Mover (David Caesar, Australia, 2009)
  • Moonrise (Frank Borzage, USA, 1948)
  • Until They Get Me (Frank Borzage, USA, 1917)
  • Antichrist (Lars von Trier, Denmark/Germany/France/Sweden/Italy/Poland, 2009)
  • Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, USA, 1969)
Prime Mover
I saw this with reasonably low expectations, and well, I got what I expected. David Caesar ain't a bad film-maker; he's competent enough, but his films never really get beyond mildly entertaining. I actually like Mullet more than most, but this one feels like it's just going through the motions, and has that traditional flatness that most of our films of the last five years or so have suffered.

I've always found Ben Mendelsohn irritating, and I'm not sure what it is. Maybe his acting is too theatrical, but it never convinces. His role in this is pretty silly but it's really the writing of the film that lets it down. It never fully commits to full-on genre or full-on small-scale drama, trying to have a bit both ways. Speaking of which, Sarah Watts was on board as producer, and her influence with the animation is overtly reminiscent of Look Both Ways. In short, OK as a time-filler.

I can't say I've seen a lot of film noir, but this I really liked. It's unconventional (part-melodrama), looks great and has some pretty wild characterisations.

Until They Get Me
Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, my experience of silent era film was limited to Charlie Chaplin and the Keystone Kops. This Borzage film displays much more complexity and drama, with themes similar to Moonrise, which screened prior. Both are about men who have killed, and are pursued by the law. The endings also have much in common, seemingly conventional, but with happiness in adversity. They make good companion pieces and demonstrate some of the breadth of Borzage's work.

This is a difficult film for me to write about, and a difficult film to watch. I can understand anyone hating this film or finding it offensive. I can also understand criticisms of the film being deliberately provocative. It certainly is the latter (and offensive, too, for that matter), but gratuitously? I don't know. It's not a film one enjoys and it really is horror, almost torture porn. I neither like nor dislike the film. I respect the effort and I also respect the so-called anti-female message, particularly for being anti-politically correct. But I dispute that that makes von Trier misogynistic.

For me, it's a film to be experienced but I don't think it will have much of a lasting impression. It's as disturbing as Gaspar Noe's Irreversible, which I think leaves a stronger impression than Antichrist. The hand-held camera is distracting at times but otherwise the visuals are mostly quite stunning. I love the opening and closing black and white. I also love the symbolism of the animals and the women, though I understand neither. Maybe others know or have researched the meaning. I don't care if I don't know, because the mystery is alluring. One senses there is meaning, even if one doesn't get it.

Easy Rider
Having really dug the Hopper exhibition at ACMI (do go see it if you haven't), I'm really looking forward to the Focus on Hopper's America. Getting into the groove, I checked out his seminal and ground-breaking Easy Rider, which has been newly restored and is getting a long play at ACMI. I have very fond memories of seeing this at the Clayton drive-in in the early 70s, and it left me with a lasting impression. Of course, at that time, I knew nothing of Hopper, who both stars in the film and directs it.

The film is credited as heralding in a new - but short-lived - golden era of Hollywood, the first of a number of independent films that were distributed by the big studios, and allowed for the rise of luminaries like Francis Ford Coppola and others. Looking at it now, on one level it doesn't seem like a 'great' film, and yet it was so revolutionary, so confronting and so encapsulated an era. I've often been critical of contemporary films that paint the 60s and 70s - the hippy era - as stylised, hip, flower power as if it was some kind of commercial fad. The rawness of this Hopper film shows it as I remember it, rough, crude and unsophisticated.

The characterisations by Hopper, Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson are just terrific. There's an experimental element to the film that I'd forgotten, that might be considered a bit crude now, but reflect emerging styles of the period. The film is a blast and I've really got to see it on ACMI's big screen when it opens for two weeks from Boxing Day. And the Focus on Hopper's America starts this week (3 - 13 December).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dennis Hopper & the New Hollywood

Yeah, I've been absent from the blogosphere longer than intended. I'm still having problems getting my PC set-up and life also intrudes on occasions. Health-wise, I'm getting back on track. I commuted by bicycle twice this week, more than I have since July, and both days were in mid-30s weather, which I've never done before. I'm feeling pretty good about that.

Another thing I'm feeling pretty good about is attending a preview of ACMI's latest exhibition, Dennis Hopper and the New Hollywood. Hopper is a person I've always found intriguing. From his early ground-breaking film, Easy Rider (which I saw on the big screen as a teenager) to his memorable performance as Frank Booth, the ultimate psychopath in David Lynch's Blue Velvet, Hopper has always stood out.

In the last year, ACMI has screened a couple of films that I made a point of seeing because of Hopper's involvement: Mad Dog Morgan and Night Tide, and I thoroughly enjoyed both (and they both feature in ACMI's exhibition).

What I never realised is how voluminous and varied Hopper's career has been. Not only has he acted, directed and written for the screen but, for some five decades he's been photographing, creating art, sculpture, and collaborating with others. Selections of his work, curated by the French Cinémathèque's Matthieu Orleán are on show, along with pieces by other artists from Hopper's private collection.

I was surprised at the depth and breadth of Hopper's work. It's so varied in scale, style and media. There's a huge sculpture, an over-sized bomb-release. There's massive realist painting, smaller works, abstract, collage, photography of celebrities, friends and the seemingly mundane. There's information posted that puts Hopper's work in context with what was happening at the time, and in context to his life's work.

What stands out is that Hopper is an individualst, an outsider who has always carved his own path and seems not to be particularly motivated by fame or fortune, but rather by the creative process, surrounding himself with like-minded people, and collaborating with them.

The exhibition includes numerous clips and short films, and ACMI's screenings of Easy Rider and the Focus on Hopper's America should really enhance this exhibition. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Week in Review - 25/10/09

Ah, my first week in review in a while. I still don't find I have the time to write as much as I'd like. And, for what it's worth, I installed Windows 7 today, so you can be sure that everything in my world will change for the better.

  • The Box (Richard Kelly, USA, 2009)
  • ... A Valparaíso (Joris Ivens, France, 1962)
  • Les statues meurent assi (Statues Also Die, Chris Marker & Alain Resnais, France, 1953)
  • La jetée (Chris Marker, France, 1962)
  • Dimanche à Pekin (Sunday in Peking, Chris Marker, France, 1956)
  • The Boys Are Back (Scott Hicks, Australia, 2009)
  • Sonnensucher (Sun Seekers, Konrad Wolf, East Germany, 1958)
The Box
All of Richard Kelly's films have been ambitious. Donnie Darko was pretty much flawless for me. Southland Tales was admirable for its ambitiousness and I really enjoyed the quirkiness though it obviously wasn't as well received as Kelly's previous film. The Box puts Kelly back on track and is sure to be better received than Southland Tales, though it's also sure to confound some critics and audiences.

Think Donnie Darko, Southland Tales, X-Files, The Invaders and others I can't think of, all rolled into one, and you get an idea of what The Box is about. It's a blend of science fiction, thriller and fantasy, in many respects like Donnie Darko, ramped up with suspense, strange but not quirky like Southland Tales. The use of music is excellent and the score keeps the tension just right throught. It's 110 minutes long but it's engaging every step of the way.

The film cuts to different scenarios that create a rich tapestry of events but strangeness permeates them all. Something is not quite right and you wonder where this is going. I don't want to give anything away, so will just finish by saying I found the film very enjoyable and satisfying. I noticed that the film was shot in digital, though others I spoke to afterwards didn't notice. It's one of the best-looking examples of digital that I've seen, in fact, probably the best. Richard Kelly is a man with ideas.

Chris Marker season at Melbourne Cinémathèque
I was surprised at how effected I was by these simple films that were written and/or directed by Chris Marker. ... A Valparaíso is an amazing document of a unique port town in Chile. Life there at the time was amazing and I wonder how it is faring today. On paper, Statues Also Die has little to say and yet is strangely compelling, largely because of the clever narration. Marker clearly has a warped sense of humour, entwining irony and sarcasm, particularly evident in Sunday in Peking. La jetée is, of course, the film that inspired Gilliam's 12 Monkeys. That the film consists almost entirely of still images is a fascinating testament to the power of Marker's story-telling abilities. The dystopian imagery is still borrowed by science fiction today.

The Boys Are Back
I have a soft spot for Scott Hicks and, for many years, Shine was one of my favourite Australian films (perhaps it still is; I don't know without seeing it again). There's no doubt that he makes fine looking films but there's something about this latest one, competent that it is, just doesn't quite work for me. Maybe it's a bit flat dramatically, or just a bit too cliched. In general it's quite OK but it never really soars or breaks free from the ceiling it boxes itself into.

I've never really been a fan of Clive Owen. I've always found his acting wooden and unconvincing. It worked well in Children of Men where this was required, much like Keanu Reeves' role as Neo in Matrix. But while Owen's character in The Boys are Back similarly requires an emotionally stunted male, I find my old prejudices returning and thus Owen unconvincing. Maybe it's because he's too much of a 'star', too well-known. Maybe this makes it a plus for others and will draw them to the film. Maybe they will like it more than me. It's definitely a cut or two above the mediocre suburban dramas we've all grown to hate and criticise in recent years, and should be well-received by audiences both here and abroad (most likely the UK, because of the English element, and the BBC co-produced it). It's also adds positively to what is an exceptional year in local cinema (from a broader perspective). But it doesn't particular affect me or drag me into its world.

Sun Seekers

This is quite an extraordinary film for both its time and place. While we normally associate the Iron Curtain and film with images of smiling proletariat and beneficent leaders, this film is gutsy even by Hollywood standards of the day. Wolf shows how life was, pretty much in a matter-of-fact way, and no wonder it was banned. The film is amazing for its honest depictions of social depravity, political shenanigans and the friction that existed between the Germans and the Russians. The print was excellent quality and I look forward to seeing more of these films screening as part of ACMI's Focus on East German Cinema.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Dennis Hopper at ACMI

After the screening of Sun Seekers this evening, I had a short chat with Peter Krausz, the chair of the Australian Film Critics Association - who gave an insightful introduction to the film - and James Nolan, who curated the Focus on East German Cinema. In passing, the subject of Dennis Hopper came up and James mentioned that tickets to the David Stratton in Conversation with Dennis Hopper session (on Friday 13 November, 7.30 - 9pm) are selling fast.

I've just secured my place by booking online and while I was at it, purchased a ticket for the following day's Masterclass with Dennis Hopper hosted by Matthieu Orléan from La cinémathèque française.

By the way, if you're a francophone, Matthieu Orléan will also be delivering a public lecture (in French) at Alliance Française next Thursday 29 October at 7pm, on the influence of the New Wave on modern French cinema. Check out the AF website.

The Dennis Hopper and the New Hollywood exhibition at ACMI runs from Thurday 12 November 2009 to Sunday 25th April 2010. I'm looking forward to catching up on Easy Rider, which I haven't seen since its inital release over 30 years ago. James mentioned that the Focus on Dennis Hopper will include not just Hopper films, but films that reflect 'the New Hollywood' of that era. That reminds me of the François Ozon season, in which films that influenced Ozon films were matched to those specific screenings. This should be interesting, to say the least.

And while I was on the ACMI website, I noted that following the very long Hopper exhibition, is another long exhibition: Tim Burton, running from 24 June to 10 October 2010. Tim Burton will also be appearing.

Hallo possums!

I just got back from seeing Sonnensucher (Sun Seekers), screening as part of ACMI's Focus on East German Cinema. It's an excellent film, that depicts the bleakness of life behind the Iron Curtain in a very matter-of-fact manner, leading to it's banning in East Germany for 12 years. It's so frank both politically and socially, in a manner that would be considered brave even in so-called free countries.

As I rolled up in my driveway, I saw what I thought was a large rat. It was, in fact, a young possum. In recent weeks, I've been taking my son to a local park and we've been feeding the critters, much to our entertainment. This little fella seemed quite unshy and was nibbling on my ginger lilies. I held out a little piece to him and to my surprise he jumped up my arm and onto my shoulders.

The missus took these shots (click to enlarge); I wasn't really able to capture much myself. He seemed keen to climb as high as he could but couldn't tackle the helmet. I think I was more afraid than he was, and put the visor down to make sure I don't have nasty possum claws clambering over my face. I otherwise felt quite safe with all my motorcycle gear on. He seemed quite content to stay put so I removed him and he didn't put up much of a struggle. I finally released him to a nearby tree.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Still Not Dead

Yes folks, I'm still alive. And healthy. You could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, and I appreciate the few emails I've received recently enquiring about my welfare. I believe that I still have pneumonia, confirmed by X-ray six weeks after the original diagnosis, but not that I'm particularly cognisant of it. The main symptom is fatigue, which I only experience if I lack sleep.

Ah, sleep - something I've deprived myself for all my adult life, and now it's catching up on me. We think we can train ourselves to live without it, but that's simply delusion.

Despite my absence from the blogosphere for the last six weeks or so, I've actually being seeing pretty much the same number of films, four or five each week. Except that I've not been staying late at Melbourne Cinematheque. Actually, I did last week for the first time, for the Migrant Experiences screenings of Australian films selected by Christos Tsiolkas and Spiro Economopoulos. These were simply sublime, obscure little gems, especially Winter's Harvest, film about the Italian migrant experience that captures a world long gone both here and in Italy. It's a film that should be sent to Martin Scorsese. I'm sure it would bring him to tears and have him restoring it and promoting it.

There's been so many films I've wanted to write about: Blessed, a film that profoundly moved me, in spite of its many faults; Mao's Last Dancer, a film that profoundly moved me in spite of its mainstream appeal, a film more complex and subtle than it appears on the surface; several films at Melbourne Cinematheque, and many others. Like Encounters at the End of the World, Whatever Works, Moon, Louise-Michel, Once Upon a Time in the West (this is a brand new restoration, screening at the Astor and is an absolute must-see on the big screen!), Astro Boy and The Girlfriend Experience. In fact, for most of the year, I've found little of interest among cinema releases, but there's been no shortage of late.

So, the film-viewing has been there but whatever spare time I've had has been spent migrating from my old PC to this new one. I've set up a wireless home network for the first time and now I can be typing this on my lap while with the family in the lounge room. It is nothing short of revolutionary for me, and I truly mean it. But I've fucked something up and I'm going to format this computer and start all over again. That's going to take up all my spare time for the next couple of weeks or so.

So, I just had to get this up to document where I'm at. I'm alive and well and watching films (and still learning French, though je dois plus pratiquer). But one day, sooner or later, the posts will stop and you'll left wondering... whatever happened to Paul???

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Life Imitating Art Imitating Life

Reading this article today in The Age reminded me of one of my favourite films at MIFF this year, Dogtooth. Like Jaycee Lee Dugard and her two daughters, the virtual prisoners in Dogtooth also had the opportunity to escape but didn't, but that doesn't lessen the severity of the crimes of the parents. I found Dogtooth a disturbing and impressive film, and the unfolding of recent true events underscores the poignancy of its story.

As I mentioned in my short MIFF review of the film:
We've read stories in the paper of parents who have locked their children up for years, decades even. How do they get away with it, we ask ourselves. This film explores that scenario...
Dogtooth is screening at the Greek Film Festival, which opens tomorrow. It's a surprisingly gritty film for the festival and I highly recommend it. It's two screenings (at the Como) are Friday 4 September 9pm and Thursday 10 September 9pm.

[UPDATE 2/9/09]: Another curious (pun not intended) connection between fact and fiction is the presence of cats. Compare the collection of cats by Dugard and her daughters in their squalid conditions, as reported by ABC News online, and the treatment of cats in Dogtooth, where they are believed to be dangerous creatures to be killed or avoided.

Links: Festival Website / Download Melbourne Program (PDF)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Week in Review - 30/9/09

  • Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, USA/Germany, 2009)
  • Viaggio in Italia (Voyage to Italy, Roberto Rossellini, Italy/France, 1953)
  • Gake no ue no Ponyo (Ponyo, Hayao Mizayaki, Japan, 2008)
  • Eli & Ben (Ori Ravid, Israel, 2008)

Inglourious Basterds
It's not often I see a film more than once, but after reading various articles and interviews with Tarantino, etc, I decided to give this one another go. Other Tarantino films I've seen more than once on the big screen are Pulp Fiction and Death Proof. I didn't enjoy the film more on second viewing, but I noticed and appreciated things more. Things that bothered me on first viewing either bothered me less or not at all. This is Hollywood film-making that we don't see enough of and will probably make it into my top-10 releases of the year. Tremendously entertaining!

Voyage to Italy
This is my second Rossellini film, so I have a long way to get through his oeuvre, but I'm liking what I'm seeing. I was surprised to find Voyage to Italy almost entirely in English. I was also surprised at how much like her mother Isabella Rossellini looks.

The film depicts a marriage in downward spiral. From the Senses of Cinema Annotations, I expected to find a heartless husband (George Sanders) and his long-suffering wife (Ingrid Bergman). Rossellini is clearly more enlightened a film-maker than I expected and there is a great deal of subtlety and balance than the annotations led me to believe.

The small Nova Cinema 7 was full, and it wasn't just children. I was surprised to see, in addition to the young families, teenagers, 20-somethings and older. All for a film that appears to be aimed at a domestic (Japanese) audience aged 4-9 years old. It's a tribute to the film-maker that he can create a world that appeals largely outside its target audience.

I really enjoyed Mizayaki's Spirited Away, though most of his films since seem to have been made with a Western audience in mind and have become increasingly formulaic. No so with Ponyo. If anything, it seems to be going backwards in time. Japan is famous for it's cultural ambiguity. It is one of the most technologically advanced societies on Earth and yet strangely bound to traditions that go back to the Middle Ages. Ponyo's style eschews all the advances in animation and more than ever displays an old-fashioned hand-painted look. Rather than detract from the film, it works well and differentiates the film from the competition (not that Mizayaki has any real contenders).

So, how does Ponyo stack up? Well, don't see the Hollywood dubbed version. I haven't seen it, but it would just destroy the very Japanese look and feel of the film. The magical world that Mizayaki conjures really is endearing. I'd have thought it was aimed at a pre-school to early primary school demographic, but my 8 year old loved it. I found it enjoyable, but I wouldn't go unless I was accompanying a child.

Eli & Ben
This film screened at the Israeli Film Festival, for which one must be over 18 years of age to legally gain entry. Yet, it seems to be aimed squarely at a teenage market. Basically, it's a telemovie (or appears to be), like an extended version of Neighbours, and I thought it was just stupid, stupid, stupid. I could tell this from the opening scene and it didn't get any better. I have nothing else I want to say about it.

The same dreary criticism

So now Michael Coulter, The Age's production editor (whatever that means) is an Andrew Bolt wannabe, criticising the state of Australian cinema. Criticism is not unwanted nor unneeded, but this dross in today's paper is just as tired a criticism as the type of films he's criticising. Coulter's solution, à la Bolt, is to remove public funding and have Australian films funded as per Hollywood. As far as I know, this only works in one country, namely America, and even then, most films coming out of that place are not big success stories.

In particular, these closing comments in the article lead me to not take Coulter seriously:

Personally, I'd be more than happy to see the Australian Film Commission's funding handed over to, say, MICA paramedics, who are at least delivering a demonstrable benefit to society.

Until then, I'll stick with the majority of Australians and vote with my feet - which will take me, likely as not, straight into the next session of Transformers.

Mind you, I agree that we don't need any more mediocre films made to the same old tired formula that we've been pumping out for the last few years. But does Coulter really think we should be producing films like Transformers? I'd rather spend that money on MICA paramedics. The world does not need more mindless trash movies.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

More, and More on Moore

It's been a bit quiet around here lately - pneumonia will do that to you. Mind you, I haven't been particularly unwell, but my energy levels have been a bit low and getting eight hours' sleep each night has been more important than posting every couple of days.

There's actually been a heap of things I've wanted to post about, including events that have come and gone (Russian Resurrection Film Festival), events that are happening now (Three Blind Mice, Israeli Film Festival, Melbourne Writers Festival, Anna May Wong on Film) and upcoming events (Greek Film Festival, Stone Bros.) and more.

Talking about more, via Lynden Barber's Eyes Wired Open, I found this Guardian article by Richard Moore on the Loach-MIFF controversy, which makes for a good read. I whole-heartedly support Richard Moore's position. In the article, he states:
Everyone has been given a royal dispensation from Loach to commit war crimes bar the Israelis. Far be it for me to act as an apologist for Israel but the logical extension of Loach's position is absurd. Aside from ignoring the fact that film festivals fulfil an important role in allowing filmmakers to circumvent national censors, is he saying we can continue to programme films from North Korea, from Iran, from China – but we must boycott Israel? On a moral relativity scale does that mean that Iran's treatment of women is acceptable? Should we keep quiet about how North Korea treats its citizens? Loach disagreed with George Bush's approach to foreign policy; so was it OK to programme American films during the Bush era?

Loach's demands were beyond the pale. As a supporter of independent film and filmmaking he should be ashamed of himself.

This argument is similar to one I posted myself and I agree that Loach should be ashamed. I also agree with Lynden Barber's description of Moore as "something of a hero in the fight to keep festivals free of censorship."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

It's not often I do a separate post on such a mainstream film, but I wanted to brain dump by initial thoughts and here they are:

I don't think Inglourious Basterds is Tarantino's finest work, but I love anything he turns his hands to, including this. It does have some of the structure of Kill Bill and, like it, its main weaknesses are the indulgences and lack of tight disciple of most of his other films.

The violence is the most explicit of any Tarantino film and I question how often we needed to see a head scalped. Especially the last one, the activity could have take place off-screen with just the sounds and it would have been more effective.

In my mind, Tarantino seemed more than ever to be attempting to subvert genres. The opening credits exemplify that with the western font and Morricone-like score. The credits then changed to a contemporary arthouse-style before changing once again to a 1970's style. Throughout the film, Tarantino would appear to follow one genre convention, but then mix it with another, usually from a different period. This was most obvious with the music choices, but there were other details, which elude me right now.

The music is generally very good, though one track towards the end - I'm not sure who it was, but it sounded a little like Nick Cave - seemed right out of place.

Like any Tarantino film, it's largely dialogue driven, and is always entertaining. I like the way he assembles the chapters, which adds different angles and scenarios to exploit cinematically. The start is quite subdued but effective, and the growing momentum creates quite a lot of excitement as time progresses. Unfortunately, he can't maintain the momentum, and this is where I think Tarantino's indulgences are slightly his undoing (but by no means fatally). I found the last half hour to be a little laborious, dragged on more than necessary, which shouldn't be the case, given the climax scenario.

The performances were strong throughout with some really imaginative characterisations created by Tarantino and well-executed by the respective cast. The multi-lingual aspect is a fresh infusion by Tarantino and works just fine. The details of three fingers is an interesting cultural element that recalls the early dialogue in Pulp Fiction about Le Big Mac.

The climactic ending underscores how much this film is a fantasy, given how much it defies the historical record. But it's a lovely indulgence and I thought the Jewish aspect was real cute, given that the Weinstein producers are obviously Jewish.

All in all, I found the film really satisfying and would be happy to see it again. However, I doubt it will stand up to the multiple viewings that most of Tarantino's other films do. It is definitely one of the most entertaining films of the year, a real 'movie', which is what QT does best. In fact, his films (including this one) are 'hyper-movies', the very best examples of how entertaining movies can be.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Week in Review - 16/8/09

Illness is often the prime motivator for me to watch DVDs, and so this week I watched two. It was a very strange week, in which one day I thought I might die, and the next I was almost back to normal. As I wrote, not dead yet.

  • Tyson (James Toback, USA, 2008)
  • Coraline (Henry Selick, USA, 2009)
  • Apache (Robert Aldrich, USA, 1954)
  • L'avventura (The Adventure, Michelangelo Antonioni, Italy/France, 1960)


Suffering post-MIFF film withdrawal, I had to see something on the big screen, but my need was not so bad that I would resort to most of the pulp screening at the moment. I figured I'd see this documentary that also screened at MIFF and it's not too bad at all. I'm not big on boxing by any stretch of the imagination but what makes this documentary so compelling is the honesty and introspectiveness of the film's subject.

Tyson is completely up-front about his inner world and what motivated him at different stages of his life. He fell into fighting out of fear of being attacked. He desired various things, the tokens of success. When he denies having raped the woman for whom he was convicted and jailed, he says it with the conviction of an innocent man. While I never admired the animalism of Tyson, I found him a character I could empathise with, which is quite an achievement by Toback.

Coraline 3D
The last time I saw a 3D movie, it was at the same Sun Theatre and it was again without knowing that the session was 3D. The initial response of myself and the missus was disappointment. Disappointment that it was costing $3 more per ticket and disappointment that we'd have to don those stupid bloody glasses. So how was the experience?

Well, you'd think that paying those extra dollars would get you a nice clean pair of glasses, perhaps sealed in a plastic bag. No such luck. These glasses are all greasy and sweaty, with smudges all over the lenses. It's DIY cleaning, a real downer, like turning up at the local cafe and finding you have to remove the previous customer's dirty plates and wipe the table yourself.

The glasses are quite bulky and as excellent as Coraline's 3D effects may be, one is always aware of the intrusion of the glasses on the cinema experience. It's both a gateway to the experience and a ball and chain that detracts from it. When all is said and done, there seems to be no net benefit.

Still, the 8yo kid loved the effects, which have certainly improved since we last saw Bolt. In that film, the 3D effects seemed to be concentrated at the start and end of the film, and pretty thin in-between. I don't know if it's because the technology has improved, or whether Coraline had a better budget, but there's no denying that the effects are impressive. But if the technology were to proliferate and become more common, I think one would bore of it. I think the appeal is wholly because it is uncommon.

Another problem with 3D is that it's not really 3D. Rather, the film-makers are very selective as to what to make appear in 3D, which gives the illusion of 3D, but it always feels inadequate. To really get absorbed into the 3D world, the whole image needs to be treated with the 3D effects. Until then, the 3D effects are a distraction from the story as one's consciousness is drawn to analysing what is 3D and what isn't.

In conclusion, even if the tickets were the same price, I'd prefer the regular cinema experience. The main reason is that I find that the glasses intrude on the experience, making me conscious of being in a cinema and preventing my absorption in the story. That I have to pay extra for the experience is a strong negative.

The film itself is very enjoyable and well-done. I haven't read the story, and after seeing the film, I asked my son if he'd like me to buy the book (which was selling in the bookshop across the road from the cinema). He liked the film but his answer was no, to my surprise.

The film is basically a horror story for kids. The idea of an alternate, happy world where everyone has button eyes, and your entering the world means relinquishing your own eyes certainly has the potential for nightmares. Alexander had no problems with that element, so maybe it's more of a problem for some young 'uns. The film's visuals are nice and the story satisfying for adults as much as children.

Westerns are a re-discovery for me. I pretty much grew up on a regular diet of 1950s westerns in my childhood; they screened and re-screened regularly on Sunday mornings on Channel 9 and consequently I grew not to take them seriously. I don't know much about Aldrich, nor much about American history. This film's use of caucasians with face-paint is both amusing and yet effective. I understand the cultural implications, and that native Americans would not have appealed to cinema audiences of the day.

The film has both an air of camp and seriousness and Aldrich seemed determined to depict the Apaches in a sympathetic light, something I imagine was quite rare for the day. I wonder how historically correct it is.

While I didn't like Antonioni's The Passenger, Zabriskie Point impressed me and so does this 1960 film. It's focus on the idle middle-class and their sexual shenanigans reminds me of Buñuel's obsessions with a similar demographic, though the mood is very different.

The mood is very dour, a type of mystery as a woman goes missing and her friends try to find her (if she is still alive). Antonioni is one of my favourite Italian film-makers, especially given that I'm not a big fan of that country's cinema. In fact, I generally don't like the dubbing of Italian films, something I barely noticed in this film. The characters are well-drawn, the narrative is beautifully elusive and the observational nature of the camera is very enticing. The visuals are stunning. I look forward to discovering more of this director's work.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Not Dead Yet

Over the last couple of days, I was again reminded of my (or rather the collective 'our') frailty when I was hit hard and hit swiftly by a bout of pneumonia. Not that I needed any reminders, as my accident earlier in the year is never far from my thoughts.

It all started mid-MIFF when, like Glenn at Stale Popcorn, I got knocked down by a virus. I figured I was run-down, typical MIFF-fatigue. I slowed down, cut back on films, got more rest and seemed to be OK before the festival was over. I returned to work on Monday but on Wednesday found I was getting the same shivers I had the week before. I left work early and crashed out that night, sleeping for the best part of 12 hours, sleep punctuated by fever and pains in the chest.

I took Thursday off work but by lunch-time the chest pain had escalated. My friend David is staying with me and promptly took me to the local hospital. Fortunately, the emergency ward was quiet and I received prompt attention. It seems I have a chest infection, hence the pain, and a chest X-ray confirmed I have a slight case of pneumonia. I was given a script for antibiotics and Panadeine Forte and told to take Friday off.

Thursday night was hell. I took the pain-killers. Panadeine Forte was more than enough after my motorcycle accident, but they did nothing for my chest pains. Movement was painful, breathing was painful, coughing all but impossible. The missus took the morning off work and took me back to hospital where they prescribed OxyNorm, a stronger morphine-based painkiller.

I took the tablets when I got home and rested, trying to catch up on the sleep I didn't get the previous night. The missus had gone to work, David had gone for his daily walk and I dozed off on the couch for an hour. When I woke, it seemed the painkillers had had no effect and the pain in my chest had escalated to the point that I found it difficult to breath at all. I wasn't exactly panicking, but I was a bit freaked out. It was a struggle just to get take each shallow breath, and I was trying to withstand the pain of taking deeper ones.

I phoned David, but struggled to talk. I just blurted out enough to get him panicking, and he ran back the three kilometres he was from home. I knew he would be freaked out, and unable to communicate effectively, I wrote this note for him:
It's hard to talk & breathe

I'm in a lot of pain

I just took another pain-killer

I'm trying to take deeper breaths which may alleviate the pain, but is itself painful

We may need to go to Footscray Hosp. at short notice - I'll let you know
My intention was to allay his fears, but he panicked anyway. He picked up the phone to call an ambulance but I told him not to. I was prepared to continue exercise my breathing but he wanted me to go straight to hospital. I agreed for him to take me, but told him not to panic. Twice on the way there, I had to tell him to slow down.

David dropped me at the door of Emergency and parked. When I entered, the triage nurse was dealing with a patient who seemed non-urgent so I interrupted and said "I'm having difficulty breathing". Another nurse came over and got me on oxygen which relieved the pain in my chest by reducing the need for deeper breaths. This was 3pm.

I didn't leave hospital until nearly 11pm, and I'm not going to bore you with everything that happened over those eight hours. It would bore me writing it. Anyone who has experienced a public hospital would understand.

My first hospital visit was at Williamstown, a quaint little institution that is a throwback to what life was like before Kennett and his massive hospital and school closures. I mentioned to a nurse that it's amazing this place still exists and her response was that it's probably the Bracks factor. Steve Bracks was, of course, the State Premier and it was probably his influence that kept it open. It's also ironic that the Federal Health Minister is also the local member of parliament.

After my second visit to hospital, on the Friday morning, I was told that if my condition escalates, I should go to Footscray, because Williamstown doesn't have any overnight beds. We'd headed for Footscray, because a hospital stay seemed likely.

At Footscray, I was sitting in the waiting area of Emergency with an oxygen mask. Eventually the oxygen ran out but even though the triage nurse was told, nothing was done about it. I was breathing OK by then, so no point was made of it. It was about two hours before they took me into the Emergency Ward. Again I was put on oxygen and the cool gas was relieving.

The missus and the kid arrived and the kid cried when he saw me in pain. I had to reassure him and told him I was in pain but would be OK. Over the next few hours I did a lot of sitting and lying around, dozing when I could. A chest X-ray confirmed that I had only a mild case of pneumonia, which didn't seem explain the amount of pain I was in. I was given two or three morphine shots which relieved the pain markedly, but not completely. I had a CT scan of my chest to see if there was any lung clot, but that came back all clear.

Normally, hospitals are not a place one wants to spend any time unnecessarily. On this occasion, I felt safe being there - they have the oxygen and the painkillers, even if their procedural systems are inadequate. All my vital signs were OK, so I was discharged.

We got home around 11pm. I hadn't eaten for twelve hours, and didn't feel particularly inclined to, but had a bit of toast to keep up the blood-sugar levels. I braced myself for another tough night's sleep and took a dose of OxyNorm and Nurofen (anti-imflammatory). I had nine hours of unbroken sleep and am now breathing normally - there's just a slight hint of pain on a deep breath. What a difference twelve hours can make.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

What's on

Just a reminder that The Limits of Control is still on, having (unfortunately) opened the day before MIFF. I think it's better than anything I saw during the whole of MIFF, with perhaps only Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon equalling it. So now MIFF is over, you're all probably a bit fatigued and not rushing out to see anything. But, when you do, I highly recommend this beautiful film by Jim Jarmusch. I doubt you'll see a better looking film all year. Catch it while it's on the big screen.

"Courageous" Richard Moore

Love him or hate him as you please, but I was impressed by Richard Moore's handling of both Ken Loach's and the Chinese government's bully-boy tactics. The Age reports that Moore's handling of The 10 Conditions of Love has received world attention.
New Yorker magazine film writer Richard Brody, in a column entitled ''We are all Melburnian'', urged the world's leading film festivals, including Toronto, New York and Venice, to program the film to ''affirm their solidarity with the Melbourne Festival and with its courageous director, Richard Moore, against government pressure''.
I felt proud of Moore's stance and am pleased that he has received international recognition. Hopefully the film at the centre of the dispute will now get even more prominent attention.

MIFF 2009 - an Overview

So, how was your MIFF? I went to 35 sessions, one non-film session and saw two of the films outside of the festival. I didn't see many films that impressed me, which was disappointing. Whether that's a reflection of the films overall or my choices, I don't know.

Illness stunted my experience, but I looked after myself and got my health back as quickly as possible and consequently saw more films at the tail-end of the festival than I usually do.

I don't think much of this year's retrospectives. Anna Karina is a pretty face but the five films I saw in that stream all ended up in my "OK But Nothing Special" category. And I figure the Post Punk retrospective was a cost-cutting measure (films cheap to procure), and I saw none of them. They simply didn't interest me at all. On the plus side, I worked out what it is I don't like about Jean-Luc Godard's work, even if that makes me prone to being considered a film philistine. Godard fans seem to share his intolerance for convention, and his anger at people for not getting him and his ideas.

Some prominent names produced films that I enjoyed, even if they weren't showstoppers:
Manoel de Oliveira's Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl, Claire Denis' 35 Shots of Rum, Alkinos Tsilimidos' Blind Company (perhaps my biggest disappointment, as this was my most anticipated film), Catherine Breillat's Bluebeard and Hirokazu Kore-eda's Still Walking.

There seemed to be a lack of solid films that pack a powerful punch. Perhaps I needed more fun films for variety, like Zift. I even considered catching the second screening of Inglourious Basterds, but couldn't justify a 10:30PM start for a two and a half hour film that opens widely in a less than two weeks.

My favourite of the festival is Haneke's The White Ribbon and nothing came close. Not only is the film very much a Haneke film (and I love his work), but it's also very different to anything I've seen from him. It's complex, intelligent, visually arresting and has a lot to say, without saying it directly. And special mention to Dogtooth, the only other really solid film for me.

So, all up I saw 35 or 36 films (one on DVD while I was sick), compared to 41 I saw each of the previous two years. It was never about quantity and I was happy with the number I saw. I could have crammed another couple in this evening, but with work tomorrow, I knew I'd be sorry.

Next year I think I'll try to watch one or two sessions of shorts. I saw three documentaries this year, which is three more than my previous couple of years. That was a good move, but I don't know if I'd increase that next year. In past years, I found focusing too much on one region (eg Neighbourhood Watch) resulted in too many films that were too alike. I cut back on that stream this year, but there still seemed to be a lot of films that were just OK. Maybe I need to try some horror (ie, Night Shift). Maybe I should try more mainstream films, but I still feel no inclination to go out of my way for films I know are getting a release.

Putting things into perspective, I don't expect films at MIFF to be 'knock-outs'. It's all about the diversity, seeing films from places one normally wouldn't, or of a quality that just don't get released otherwise.

In the weeks leading up to and including MIFF, I received five to ten times my normal traffic to this site. I appreciate that others can take advantage of my efforts and I also appreciate the feedback and comments that others have posted. The intention of this blog is really to do my small bit to galvanise some sort of local film culture, some appreciation of film 'off the beaten track'. I'm hoping that one or two people, maybe more, will keep dropping by post-MIFF and add your 2c worth. There's a lot more film blogs around now than when I started nearly three years ago and hopefully we can see this part of the film culture/community grow.

I have a particular perspective on cinema (and I acknowledge that I need to post some kind of mission statement). It sometimes comes across in my posts, often not. There's limitations to the time and effort I can put into any given post. It is a voluntary (unpaid) labour of love. I am, however, open to criticism, other opinions, debate, enlightenment.

As I've posted elsewhere, numbers seemed to be up significantly this year. Sessions during business hours seemed much better attended than the last couple of years and at least 114 sessions sold out this year (compared to 37 last year). This last weekend, virtually every evening session was sold out.

MIFF scheduled an extra 15 minutes between sessions this year and I thought the results of this were profound. First, it often allowed a stretch of legs between films and it also gave an important buffer for films running late, often due to technical hitches. I never found myself having to race between venues with a couple of minutes to spare. The practical result for me was that there was only one occasion where a film I attended started late. And the festival now has a policy of holding up all films if one film runs late, so one doesn't have to leave a film early to catch the next one. The logistics of the festival from this perspective ran extremely smoothly as far as I am concerned, the best I've seen yet (kudos to those responsible).

Finally, below I've tried to group the films I saw at MIFF according to rough categorisations which are not necessarily accurate, but useful for me. So, how did you go? How was your MIFF experience in 2009?

Pick of the Festival
  • Dogtooth
  • White Ribbon, The
Good Viewing
  • Beaches of Agnès, The
  • Best of the MIFF Shorts
  • Eastern Plays
  • Hurt Locker, The
  • Lake, A
  • Tales from the Golden Age
Good Fun
  • Red Riding: 1974
  • Red Riding: 1980
  • Zift
Quietly Satisfying
  • 35 Shots of Rum
  • Blind Company
  • Bluebeard
  • Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl
  • Man Who Came With the Snow, The
  • Still Walking
  • Whispering of the Trees, The
OK But Nothing Special
  • Alphaville
  • Anna
  • Balibo
  • Chinese Roulette
  • Fish Tank
  • Katalin Varga
  • Maid, The
  • Morphia
  • Pierrot le fou
  • Sweet Rush
  • Tony Manero
  • Villa Amalia
  • Woman is a Woman, A
  • Away We Go
  • Double Take
  • Hansel and Gretel
  • Home
  • Red Riding: 1983
  • Who's Afraid of the Wolf?