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.


Jurguens said...

For me Chris Marker's best is Sans Soleil, I've seen it a few times, and keep going back to it. Fascinating in every sense.

I'll have to see The Box.

It's great to have you back.

David O'Connell said...

I've seen and reviewed a couple of the German films screening at ACMI too Paul, and thought they were both brilliant. I honestly wasn't expecting much from them but they turned out to be exceptional, especially Naked Among Wolves which is a very potent human drama and tale of courage in extreme circumstances, concealing the presence of a child from the SS. It's all true too. It was really interesting to see Armin Mueller-Stahl in an early role as well.

The Murderers are Among Us turned out to be a dazzling film noir with a very impressive visual style. I'd recommend both of them to anyone.

Paul Martin said...

Juergen, I'm back but I'm not firing on all cylinders. Not that I went anywhere - just not posting much. Unfortunately I missed that Marker film, but I saw all 4 before it. Such is life. I'll be interested to see what you think of The Box. I think others may not accept its premise as readily as I, but we'll see.

David, I've only seen the one so far and wanted to see both the ones you've mentioned. I also wasn't expecting much but have been impressed so far. I'm hoping to catch at least one or two more this weekend.