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???