Monday, March 30, 2009

The Week in Review - 29/3/09

  • Elegy (Isabelle Coixet, USA, 2008)
  • Knowing (Alex Proyas, Australia, 2009)
  • The Combination (David Field, Australia, 2009)

I saw this at a MIFF member's preview screening. This is a good opportunity to plug MIFF membership, which I find excellent value. There's at least 8 preview screenings in a year, and as these entitle one to bring a guest, this pretty much covers the cost of membership alone. The missus is also a member, so when there's screenings of two films and one has to decide between one or the other, I get a double pass to one and she gets a double pass to the other. So that's over a dozen films a year for two. Just this week I won an online competition and received a DVD copy of The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, just released by Shock. On top of all this, and perhaps most importantly, MIFF members also get priority queuing at the festival. MIFF is just around the corner, so if you're thinking about it, now is a good time to sign up.

With Knowing, Proyas has aimed low in terms of conventional disaster constructs. You know, everything is stereotyped and you know not to be too critical, it's just a 'movie'. Still, there's some outstanding moments and sequences, such as the actual disasters. The visuals and sound are quite thrilling and, if you're going to see it, it's really worth seeing on a big screen like the one I did (Melbourne Central's cinema 11).

The run-time is a bit long and drawn out towards the end. I'm sick of Cage always playing a sad puppy, as he does in this one, though strangely it wasn't too distracting on this occasion. I really do think, though, that he needs to play a different role once in a while. He's also aging to a surprising degree. I don't know how much longer he can play a role like this one.

The premise of the film is interesting and tackles some topical themes. The problem is that it just doesn't do enough with them; intellectually, it doesn't aim very high. In that respect it's a little like Boyle's Sunshine, a film that plays out very differently, and shares some themes.

In recent times, I've become quite cynical about ulterior motives that fuel the whole born-again global warming movement. I believe that human intervention, as destructive as it is, is nothing compared to the effects of the sun. This film alludes to that, an aspect that I find current and thought-provoking.

As a Melbournian, it was interesting doing some location spotting. A kid at the start of the film is a friend of my son's and is was fun having my son recognise him and see his name in the credits. It was a blast seeing Southbank and Parliament House, the most recognisable scenes. There were also some scenes that were shot in my local area.

I found myself thinking about how certain effects were achieved, like all the cars being left-hand drive. I think they used reversed number plates, then reversed the print for the screen - a pretty cheap and simple trick to make it look like it was filmed in the US. However, I did recognise one Victorian number plate with the blue triangle shape.

Dark City remains Proyas' best film easily; everything else he has made since has been competent enough, but safe. Knowing is enjoyable enough, just make sure you go in with low expectations.

The Combination
The Combination is the directorial debut for David Field, a familiar local face on both the small and big screen. Field commonly plays a petty crim (Everynight, Everynight...) or low-life loser (Tom White, Silent Partner), so it's no surprise that he's picked up a few lessons from directors like Alkinos Tsilimidos (who directed each of the three afore-mentioned films). He's also taken advantage of highly experienced craftsmen like Ken Sallows (editor) and Toby Oliver (my favourite Australian cinematographer). The screenplay was written by George Basha, who also plays the lead role. John is a 'Lebo' in Sydney, just released from prison to find his younger brother Charlie following in his footsteps. John is determined not just to make a life for himself, but to ensure Charlie doesn't fall in with the wrong crowd.

The film looks very good and is certainly aided by the experienced crew. The themes are recognisable and while there's a sense that we've seen this sort of thing before, it mostly takes us with it. What the film does best is document the lives of very real people of an ethnic community from within. The clash of cultures is a theme that has a lot of resonance for me and parts of the film reminded me of this element in Ana Kokkinos' Head On, not that Field's film is quite as accomplished as that.

The film tackles some challenging themes: racism, Islam in contemporary society, inter-racial relationships, crime and family. Basha's screenplay is generally good but not uniformly successful. He mostly steers away from clichés, though it sometimes gets close. Things don't always pan out as expected, but the end seems a little too staged.

Exhibiting on only a small number of screens, I understand the film has done quite well for its scale. It's a film that deserves to be seen, but it's certainly not for the masses. Particularly with its references to the race riots in Sydney a few years ago, it's a film that can only grow in significance as an historical document over time.

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