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.

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