Friday, November 26, 2010

DVDs for sale

I'm saving for new things and letting old things go, including my DVD collection. I have some absolute gems, including many that are brand new and still shrink-wrapped. If you'd like to bid for any of these, they're going for a steal on eBay, which you can view here.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Welcome back

It is apparent at times in all our lives that we come to a cross-road. Often times we just indicate and continue, and yet at other times we stall in trepidation or confusion. My absence of late is due to this phenomenon and so to update and return I say:

My personal transformation and point of launch comes to me now like a rock off the overpass. While laying here in pain from being hit so hard, I am reminded of the works that I have studied to date within this new-found perception, like Louise Hay's You Can Heal Your Life, Dan Millman's The Way of the Peaceful Warrior and others.

Millman's book is supposedly a fictionalised version of his real-life experience with an urban mystic he calls Socrates. How much truth there is in his story I do not know, but I now know for sure that such people do indeed walk this earth. I have found such a person, a Spiritual Life Coach named Grant Watson, who is helping me beyond my wildest dreams, in much the same way that Socrates assisted Millman.

In essence, I am finding my own truth, my core self, and understanding how my life experiences have veiled me to that truth. I realise now how deluded and clouded much of my personality has been, including my writing in this medium. My writing will now have a greater personal integrity and be aligned to the Spiritual content and values of whatever I place here whether it be critiquing a movie or chatting to you about the events of my life as this blogger.

Stay tuned - my mentor says actions will speak louder.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Animal Kingdom winners

Congratulations to the winners of Animal Kingdom double passes:
Greg C, David M, Catherine M, Chris K & Melissa G

Once you've seen it, please share your thoughts of the film at my original post.

Animal Kingdom give-away

As I posted previously, I consider Animal Kingdom one of the finest Australian films of the last two decades. It's now open in cinemas and I have double passes to give away to the first five readers to email me with "Animal Kingdom" in the subject field and your name and address in the body of the email (you'll find the email link near the 'About Me' section).


Sunday, May 02, 2010

Waleed Aly: a coherent voice of reason

As I previously posted, this weekend saw Williamstown Town Hall host the Williamstown Literary Festival. Yesterday, I attended a number of events, bookend by my favourites: a screening of Paul Cox's The First Wife in the evening capped off a day that began with a discussion about current social issues between former Victorian Premier, Steve Bracks, and Waleed Aly. Aly is my favourite social commentator on the topics on which he speaks. I have great respect for both his intellect and - in particular - his amazing ability to take complex historical, social and political events and concepts and explain them with great clarity and coherence. In a sense, he's our very own Noam Chomsky, the only other person I can compare him with. In particular, since the events of 911, he has been a sane voice of reason in this country.

I've never really openly discussed my admiration for both Steve Bracks - possibly Victoria's most popular Premier ever - and Waleed Aly. Because it's been a largely private thing, it was perhaps a little bit of a surprise to discover that I wasn't the only one. I suppose it really shouldn't have been, and it was nice to be able to share the appreciation amongst like-minded people.

I recorded the event with the video capability of my compact digital camera. It's not something I normally do and I didn't plan to. If I was more prepared, I'd have had a spare battery - unfortunately the power ran out just before the 20 or so minutes of Q&A. I also lost about a minute changing the memory card - fortunately I carry a spare one.

The subject of the talk pertained mostly to Waleed Aly's book People Like Us. He covered a diversity of subjects, mostly around the so-called divide between Islam and the West. From the book's cover:
People Like Us confronts the themes that define this chasm [Islam and the West] head on: women, jihad, secularism, terrorism, Reformation and modernity. Its piercing examination of these subjects reveals our thoughtless and destructive tendency to assume that the world's problems could be solved if only everyone became more like us. The result is deep mutual ignorance and animosity, reinforced by both Muslim and Western commentators.
The talk was absolutely enthralling and if possible, I'm sure both speakers and audience could have stayed for several hours (it went for over ten minutes over the alotted hour). Perhaps most interesting was how Aly explained the differences in perspectives between Islam and the West and the difficulty in defining what is Islam and what is the West.

I asked a question about the stoning of women in places like Iran (I'd just seen The Stoning of Soraya M. the previous day) and how this sits within Islam. I can't relate the answer accurately but to try, Aly mentioned that Iran is an aberration within the Muslim world and, unlike other Islamic nations, Iran is a theocracy. Since the Revolution, Khomeini modelled the country's political structures much like Marxism. I feel inadequate to do his answer more justice, and unfortunately I didn't record this part of the proceedings.

I've never posted to YouTube before, and here is the bulk of the event in four parts:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4*

* I missed about a minute between Parts 3 & 4 (changing the memory card) and about 20 minutes at the end, all of the Q&A (no spare battery).

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Accidents Happen

Accidents Happen (Andrew Lancaster, Australia, 2009)
This film is quite an achievement, a very clever dysfunctional family black comedy. Its succeeds on at least two fronts. If you didn't know otherwise, there is almost nothing to suggest the film was made in Australia. It's set in Connecticut (as is the novel it is based on, by American-born author now living in Australia, Brian Carbee) and, other than Geena Davis in the lead role, most of the remaining cast are Australians. While it is relatively easy to recreate the American mid-west (cars, flag-poles, etc), it's the seamless use of accents that I found most impressive.

The Australian kitchen-sink dramas (KSDs) of recent years have usually not failed, but not succeeded either. They kind of sit in this nether region where they look nice, have good performances and handle worthy subjects, but never really get off the ground dramatically. Another success of Accidents Happen is that it has taken a genre that has been done to death, and injected pizzazz or oomph. It's got that wow-factor that US quirky indie comedies (QICs) aspire for, but have done to death as much as we've done our KSDs to death, but with a freshness and darkness the QICs lack. You could say that Accidents Happen takes the best of both KSD and QIC genres and leaves out what's hackneyed, and come up with a really fresh oddball film that works.

Davis plays the mother of an accident-prone family. She's bitter, foul-mouthed with wit and is perfect for the role. I've mentioned recently that English-language films don't seem to offer interesting roles for women - most of the interesting roles have fairly limited appeal and are usually chick-flicks. This character is a joy to behold and a gift to Davis (and vice versa), who injects the film with humour, energy and ultimately, warmth.

While the support cast (including Harry Cook and Joel Tobeck) are strong, special mention also goes to Harrison Gilbertson as the youngest son who is most prominent in the film. He's perfect for his role as the good but damaged and guilt-ridden son who parents the mother and puts up with the taunts of his brother (Cook). There's a pathos to the character that is both endearing and moving.

Like most good comedy, the story works because it has a foundation in reality. It's stylised, but underneath we can believe the scenarios presented. I know I can - I've been in multiple serious accidents (god only knows how I survived) and lost a child. The depictions of a family coming to terms with its various misfortunes ring true and are simultaneously funny and tragic.

The film's recurring theme song is terrific; in fact the music throughout is very good - perhaps unsurprising given the director has a musical background. The visuals are also excellent, with some lovely slo-mo shots of various accidents in close-up. The film has a dreamy look about it with the use of lighting and atmospherics. The whole production design has a lovely feel to it.

I noticed David Stratton on At the Movies questioning why an Australian film, made in Australian with mostly Australian actors should depict an American story. I think this is unnecessarily picky. It's not the first local film to do it. Virtually all of the scenes set in America in Mao's Last Dancer were shot in Sydney, for example. It's also not evident that Happy Feet is an Australian production. The Machinist (starring Christian Bale) and Planet 51 both appear to be American films, but are produced in Spain. For me, Accidents Happen showcases what we are capable of in terms of taking on the Americans at their own game and in our ability to adapt and diversify. Hey, we're doing something different and let's celebrate that!

I think the direction the local film industry is taking is a good thing. I've often said that what the industry needs is a steady number of runs on the board, and with Beneath Hill 60 also currently screening, that's two strong local films that local audiences should have no trouble connecting with and feeling good about what we produce. We need films like this, that audiences will go to because they want some good entertainment, and not because they're feeling charitable and a need to support the local industry. If we can continue to do this over a period of time, perhaps we can do what Germany has achieved over the last decade or so: lifted the percentage of local film attendances from around 5% to the current 25%. It's do-able.

Out of interest, I thought I'd peruse the multiplexes to see how widely the film is being screened. I was more than a little surprised to find that neither Hoyts, Greater Union nor Reading were screening it and Village has it on one screen only - the Rivoli (where I saw it), in their smallest cinema, which only has six rows of seats! I just don't get that at all. This seems to be a clear bias against Australian films, even though the casual viewer would have no idea it's not American and even though it's better than most films of the genre from America. There's clearly shit going down here and I'm not impressed with the distinct disregard of the big muscle players.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Festival of German Films 2010 - 2

It's been a Fatih Akin blitz this week, having watched his new comedy and two older films - a music documentary and his dramatic feature debut. I've also revisited The White Ribbon, the must-see film of the festival (though it has a cinematic release just after). All up, there's six films reviewed.
  • Soul Kitchen (Fatih Akin, Germany, 2009)
  • Das Weiße Band - Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte (The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke, Austria, 2009)
  • Aimée & Jaguar (Max Färberböck, Germany, 1999)
  • Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul (Fatih Akin, Germany/Turkey, 2005)
  • Kurz und schmerzlos (Short Sharp Shock, Fatih Akin, Germany, 1998)
  • Die Päpstin (Pope Joan, Sönke Wortmann, Germany/UK/Italy/Spain, 2009)
Soul Kitchen
While Fatih Akin's latest film, a comedy called Soul Kitchen, is being described as very different to his earlier works, it has much in common with his first film, Short Sharp Shock in terms of place, characters and themes. In both films we see signs for Altona, a suburb of Hamburg that appears to crime-ridden and rundown. The restaurant in Soul Kitchen's title looks much like wharf warehouses we see in the earlier film. Adam Bousdoukos plays a petty crim in the earlier film, and the lead in Soul Kitchen, while Moritz Bleibtreu takes on a role similar to Bousdoukos' in the earlier film. And crime and trying to get ahead (honestly for some, by any means for others) are themes in common to both.

Bousdoukos' role in Short Sharp Shock provided welcome comic relief to a fairly dark story - in this film the comedy takes front row and he play a fairly boofhead sort of role that, despite the somewhat slapstick element, works quite well because of the authenticity of both his role and that of Bleibtreu, who plays his brother recently released from prison on day-release. Bleibtreu's performance is particularly effective, given that he has no Greek background yet channels the characteristics perfectly. I was a bit surprised at how well he resembled both in appearance and behaviour some of my in-laws.

Birol Ünel played an acclaimed role in Akin's Head On (which I have yet to see). In Soul Kitchen, he plays my favourite character - a chef, somewhat like the soup Nazi in Seinfeld - and we don't see enough of him. I like that despite making a light comedy, Akin uses heavy-weight actors like Ünel and Bleibtreu who play it largely straight, while the comedy is in how the story is constructed.

There's actually a lot going on in the story, which I won't detail here. It becomes quite convoluted and one doesn't have to be too astute to see some of the set-ups with the array of characters. The mood of the film is instantly upbeat from the start and never really lets up for its duration. Akin obviously has a fascination with music (his 2005 music documentary Crossing the Bridge is also screening at the festival) and I was impressed with how well a very diverse range of music styles is incorporated into the film.

As someone keen to see more of Akin's films (there's three at the festival and I've now seen them all), the film is definitely worth seeing. However, it's more of a curiosity and I much prefer his more dramatic work. I think the biggest mistake in the film is an overt sex scene which pretty much rules this film out as suitable for children - it's actually a little gratuitous and quite unnecessary. Otherwise, the comedic elements would have made it good for children. This film should appeal to a more mainstream arthouse audience (ie, Palace, etc), and it opens in cinemas on 6 May.

The White Ribbon
As I wrote in my FoGF preview, this was my favourite film at MIFF last year and, outside of the pressure cooker environment of MIFF, it was a joy to revisit it. This time I made more of an effort to follow which children belong to which families, to try to get a better handle on the intrigue. Haneke films frequently raise more questions than they answer, and he provides all the keys to unlock the mysteries he creates, but it's never simple at first glance.

While the film is relatively long (144 minutes) and even though there are long Haneke-signature static takes, it is always compelling. The camera's dwelling on a door while we hear what's on the other side of it is just a beautiful thing to behold. I noticed on this viewing how well constructed and edited the film is. Haneke quite cleverly and seamlessly blends one scene with children into another. It actually taxes the audience and one is forced to take mental count. I love a film that involves the audience, that doesn't hand things on a silver platter and make one work for it.

The film's elderly narrator in the present (one of the young characters in the story) makes a lovely comment at the start - what we are seeing cannot be entirely trusted because the truth is obscured over time. It adds uncertainty to a story which - even based on what we see - is already uncertain. At one stage, we see this character questioning another as to why he is engaged in risky behaviour. The answer to this question might offer insight into some of the mysteries that unfold, but the other's silence frustrates his pursuit of the truth. The whole film is like a 'whodunnit' where we try to solve these mysteries. And yet, that's not really what the film is about - it's really a parable about the nature of people, the causes of evil culminating in two world wars, and ultimately an examination of current world events - all without a mention of war. This is my kind of film - one of the three best to be released in theatres for the year so far (the others being A Prophet and Animal Kingdom, opening in June). The White Ribbon opens in cinemas on 6 May.

Aimée & Jaguar
This moving 1999 film is part of the festival's 'Berlin Based' stream and was followed by a Q&A with the author of the non-fiction book (Erica Fischer) that the film is based on. It's about a woman whose soldier husband is absent and who takes a lover that is not only a woman but a Jew. The story is so fantastic that, were it not true (and reportedly accurate), one might have trouble swallowing it.

I don't recall seeing any Holocaust depictions in Germany during the war. There have been many films from many countries depicting the subject and I always assumed that Jews were pretty much eliminated from Germany - or the cities at least - by the time the early stages of World War II had commenced. Certainly there was a nasty round-up of Jews well before that time in Germany. So it came as a surprise to me to see that Jews were still very much a part of a clandestine life in Berlin so late during the war (late 1944).

The cinematography is excellent, giving a strong feel for the period and the performances are mostly good. The story seems just a little melodramatic at times.

The author of the book, Erica Fischer, fielded questions after the screening. She mentioned that there were some elements of the story she wasn't entirely happy with but accepted the director's discretion in changing some details to make the story more cinematic. She said that the dialogue is very true to the book. She made up some of the dialogue in the book, but it's all based on interviews she did with the real-life Lilly Wust (d. 2006) and research she did on historical documents. The film is mostly concerned with the relationship between Wust and Felice Schragenheim, but the book contains much historic material such as photographs and documents.

Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul
I really enjoyed this Fatih Akin music documentary. Perhaps in tracing his own ethnic roots, Akin is exploring the soul of the city of Istanbul. Music is clearly important to him, and he treats the subject with much respect in this film. Many artists of various styles - traditional, modern and in-between - are depicted and interviewed. There is much crossover or fusion between styles and it's quite moving to see rap artists talk with respect about pop artists. Or the meaning and significance of their work. Rap in Turkey, for example, eschews the gansta elements of American rap and is more interested in contemporary social and political issues. The film is not particularly coherent in telling a story, but works as a sort of map of the different styles and influences in Istanbul.

Short Sharp Shock
This is Fatih Akin's feature debut and has a lot in common with the Australian film, Cedar Boys. Gabriel (of Turkish background) has just got out of prison and hooks up with his petty thieving mates Costa (Greek) and Bobby (Serbian). Bobby wants to go big-time and work for the Albanian mafia while Gabriel wants to go straight and maybe return to his homeland.

As mentioned above, Costa provides some light relief to what is fairly dark material - not surprising given it's a film by Fatih Akin, and this early piece shows all the hallmarks that he has mastered in his more recent films. Akin also has a cameo role as a drug dealer (that's him on the right in the photo), also as a bit of light relief.

Akin's films always seem to be on the go, with a lot of energy and music to match. This is quite an ambitious debut, grabbing quite a lot of dramatic elements - there are various dynamics with sisters and girlfriends complicating matters, parents and religion, and of course multiple ethnicities. The various ethnicities of the three mates were almost irrelevant in the sense that these guys bonded regardless, and is very reminiscent of major Australian cities (certainly mine, Melbourne).

Having seen Akin's more recent work first, I come to this film from a different perspective than someone who saw this one first. I still think that I would have liked it for its themes and it definitely signposted the talent that has further developed. It's a very worthwhile film.

Pope Joan
The audience seemed to be enjoying this film, laughing in all the right places, etc. It looks very nice as a period film (9th Century Europe) and has an impressive international cast (including David Wenham in a significant role). But it did nothing for me and I could tell pretty much from the start that I wasn't going to like it (but I tried, I swear!).

The biggest problems for me were a lack of subtlety, over-theatrics and plausibility. The story is about a woman who pretends to be a man and becomes the Pope. The director, who answered questions afterwards, said he believed the story may be based on truth, but now doubts it. I think it's highly implausible, and the way much of the story panned out required a pretty big stretch in suspending disbelief.

I really didn't like the way characters were almost caricatures. It betrays a distrust in an audience's ability to perceive the obvious, that everything has to be spelt out in huge letters, so to speak. A father isn't just unreasonable, he's not just brutal, but he's massively brutal. Bad guys looked like bad guys, really bad guys. And so it continued throughout the film, and it all felt so theatrical - actors performing on a stage. But that's me, and a mainstream audience will lap it up.

Looking at both this film and Visions, and seeing what a black history the Church has, one has to question why any sane person would want to be part of such an organisation. So much of its history has been founded on violence and treachery.

Cross-posted on Club Troppo

The Week in Review - 25/4/10

My Week in Review will be short this time around - most of the films I've seen this week are from the Festival of German Films and reviewed separately. I'm also more time poor than usual.

  • Beneath Hill 60 (Jeremy Sims, Australia, 2010)
  • Soul Kitchen (Fatih Akin, Germany, 2009)
  • Das Weiße Band - Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte (The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke, Austria, 2009)
  • Les parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Jacques Demy, France/West Germany, 1964)
  • La baie des anges (The Bay of Angels, Jacques Demy, France, 1963)
  • Aimée & Jaguar (Max Färberböck, Germany, 1999)
  • Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul (Fatih Akin, Germany/Turkey, 2005)
  • Kurz und schmerzlos (Short Sharp Shock, Fatih Akin, Germany, 1998)
  • The Twilight Zone (Series 1, 1959)
Beneath Hill 60
Director Jeremy Sims must have a thing about confined spaces. First it was Last Train to Freo, which took place almost entirely in a single railway carriage, and now it's Beneath Hill 60, largely confined to the tunnels and trenches of World War I. Based on the diaries of Oliver Woodward, it's about the true story of the Queensland mining engineers that were recruited specifically to dig beneath the enemy in Europe and blow up with explosives their strategic positions - in this case Hill 60 in Belgium.

The cinematography is very nice, and if the sets look real, it's because it was shot largely underground and in trenches. It must have been grueling for the actors who are often covered in mud. While the film has been criticised by some for cutting periodically to Woodward and his future wife in Queensland just prior to the war, I think it offers both a relief to the audience of the claustrophia of the tunnels and also offers a wider palette of drama to appeal to audiences. It may not be as gutsy a war film as some, but it's certainly a view of war from a perspective that we've not seen before and the most remarkable thing is that it's never been made into a film before. It seems that the hype and jingoism of Gallipoli has overshadowed other worthy stories.

The film has been criticised for the intrusive use of music. I agree, but fortunately it's only in two or three places. Unfortunately, they're key moments and I just wished they'd toned it down a little, even though it's not fatal. I also thought the friction between Woodward and his superior officer (Chris Haywood) was a little cliched.

The most pleasant surprise for me was how well Sims utilised Brendan Cowell. I recently applauded David Michôd's clever use of Ben Mendelsohn in Animal Kingdom, and similarly Cowell has been used against type. His laid-back Aussie bloke persona worked very well as social satire in television's Life Support but it seems that every role since has boxed him into the same character. In Beneath Hill 60 he plays it straight, with none of those cliched mannerisms.

I've often mentioned the homogeny of Australian films in recent years, and how 2009 may have been a turning point by injecting diversity into the films being made here. Beneath Hill 60 is also a welcome addition to the variety of films that Australian audiences can embrace, and international audiences, too, for that matter.

The Twilight Zone
I've been watching this first series intermittently over the last week or so. It's kinda kitsch, of course, but fascinating as well. It's got the film noir-type voiceover, it's got the cold-war/space invasion paranoia of the era, along with the trivialisation of new-age concepts we take for granted now. It's also highly moralistic - not all episodes, but many have a paternalistic attitude in upholding society's values, a somewhat last breath for the Hays code, perhaps. Anyway, as a forerunner to shows like The Invaders, Kolchak: The Night Stalker and X-Files, it's great viewing. I've bought the definitive set and plan to watch all six series.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Animal Kingdom premiere

I've already written about Animal Kingdom, the Sundance award-winning film that is one of the most exciting local productions in decades. It releases nationally on 3 June. For a chance to win a double pass to the film's 'red carpet' premiere (on 24 May in Melbourne or 25 May in Sydney) and attend the after-party, check out this site.

Williamstown Literary Festival

I wouldn't normally post about what is for me a local festival, but this one may be of interest to readers here because it includes film and film-related events. I believe the Williamstown Literary Festival has been a regular event since 2005, but it's never been on my radar until now. I normally find out about it after the fact but this year one of my local bookshops sent out an email promoting it.

Festival guests include film directors Ana Kokkinos and Paul Cox (whose My First Wife will be screening along with a Q&A), actor William McInnes, Danny Katz, Waleed Aly (one of my favourite social commentators, a very eloquent speaker), Steve Bracks, Thomas Caldwell (one of my favourite film critics and bloggers), Marieke Hardy, Catherine Deveny, children's author Andy Griffiths (Zombie Butts from Uranus!) and many others who I'm sure those more in tune with the literary world will be more familiar with. In short, it's a damn impressive line-up, taking place mostly over the weekend of 1 & 2 May at Williamstown Town Hall [map]. And events cost a mere $7 ($5 concession) with some events free.

I'm going to take my son to some of the free kids events (he's a voracious reader and an Andy Griffiths fan) and I also want to attend the Paul Cox screening, hear Ana Kokkinos speak (with a panel) about "place and culture in film and literature", Steve Bracks and Waleed Aly talk about "life, politics" and more, and a few other events.

Check out the full program online or download the PDF. Check out the festival website.