Thursday, 26 October 2006


Book Friday 1 December 2006 in your diaries NOW !


More details to follow.

Cold Mountain - GG

One of the main reasons to watch Cold Mountain (Fri 7 830P) is the cinematography of Aussie John Seale who has teamed up with writer/director Anthony Minghella before on The English Patient and The Talented Mr Ripley. Set during the Civil War in south east America, Cold Mountain has some confronting battle scenes that are populated by rural men and boys who weren’t professional fighters but ordinary farmers, husbands and sons. Both Seale and Minghella wanted to portray the men of the period as being of the earth and a number of scenes show an almost seamless blending of bodies to ground. Take for example an early scene where men lie dying and the blood seeps from their bodies, turning slowly from red to brown as it mixes in the mud. And later, a pile of corpses, apparently heaped at random, but if you take a second look, actually stacked in a complex criss-cross pattern.
Filmed in Romania, as a proxy for the wilds of Virginia or North Carolina, the scenery in and of itself is quite beautiful and then we have the film’s centre piece, Nicole Kidman, who, if truth be told, looks out of place. Set in the middle of the war, without the men to run the farms let alone produce sufficient food, there is our Nic., all rosy cheeks and glorious radiance, wearing the latest in Country Road fashion. About two-thirds of the way through, Nicole, flanked by the girls, walks up a hill like a Vision Splendid with light snow falling like tiny angels. She looks too good is the problem.
The story is a fairly straightforward one. Inman, played by Jude Law, goes off to war, is injured and then flees on foot, back to Cold Mountain and Ada, played by Nicole.
What motivates a man to cross the Appalachians on foot during winter, desert the army, be tracked by bounty hunters, face indignities, all the while nearly starving to death, to find one woman, whom he only spoke to once, over three years before ? I read one review that suggested that Ada must have been this ethereal figure, this Vision Splendid, in Inman’s imagination for him to do the things that he did.
Its unlikely. But that’s the set-up of the story. Things become so dour and depressive during the first hour (too many blues and greys) as both Inman and Ada mope around missing the other desperately, that it is a welcome breath of fresh air when Renee Zellweger steps onto the stage and dominates every scene she is in. She injects the story with energy and warmth and was no surprise to win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.
Throw in a local baddie played by Ray Winstone who does ‘evil’ as well as anyone, a girls own brigade at home led by Renee and Kathy Baker, and a superb supporting cast, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman and Aileen Atkins, and you have enough to enjoy in this two and a half hour epic.

Thursday, 19 October 2006

Around the World in a Week - GG

The Bourne Supremacy (Sun 10 830P) is a follow-up to last week’s Bourne Identity and unlike most sequels, does not disappoint. While at risk of dragging out the Cold-war paranoia, “who am I and why do they want to kill me ?” this film mostly sides on one action set-up after another as the one man fighting machine goes about his business better than everyone else. Matt Damon is successful in this role I think because he looks like Joe Everyman and does not draw attention to himself in the way that a James Bond or a Samuel L Jackson might. A show-off would kill the role. This film takes you from India to Europe, Washington to New York. Don’t try and scrutinize the plot line too closesly and you will enjoy this above average adventure.

Otherwise if you want an alternate “around the world in a week” cinema experience from your TV then check these out :

Jafar Panahi’s Crimson Gold (Mon SBS 1A) (Iran). Panahi was profiled at this year’s MIFF and all his films address issues that are pertinent to his homeland : intolerance toward women, freedom of movement and thought etc. Ironically and somewhat sadly, his films for the most part are forbidden to be shown in his homeland. Crimson Gold was made in 2003.

Michael Haneke’s Time of the Wolf (Wed SBS 10P) (France) starring Isabelle Huppert, may not work quite as well as The Piano Teacher or last year’s Hidden, it does however continue the director’s theme for fractured lives in a world that the protagonists don’t quite fit. This film is set in post-apocalyptic, rural France with the sole purpose of surviving the ensuing mayhem. Depressing ? Almost certainly. Compelling ? Most likely.

Sung-su Kim’s Musa (Thu SBS 1030P) (S Korea), the Korean action blockbuster of 2001 : a swords and horses historic epic set in 14th Century China. Of the names you do know, Zhang Ziyi is the Ming princess captured by the exiled Korean envoys who are seeking the return of their honour and good relations between the two countries. It has some of the brutality that marks a lot of modern Korean films with very realistic and impressive battle scenes. Beautifully shot with a matching score from a Japanese composer, Shiro Sagisu, this will be well worth watching.

Thursday, 12 October 2006

Bring Me A Bucket - Rant

What is with Countdown to the Most Inspiring Movie of All Time (Sun 7 830P) followed by an actual screening of One of the Most Inspiring Films of All Time (Sun 7 1120P) ? The Countdown too “includes commentary from many of Hollywood’s most celebrated actors and filmmakers, including …” wait for it, “Jessica Alba.” Jessica Alba ? Plucked from obscurity for her round breasts and blonde hair in Sin City, I would hardly put her quite alongside other Countdown alumni like Steven Spielberg, Jane Fonda or Ben Kingsley.
What lazy programming channel 7 (and 9) are feeding us these days. They have their brand new “20 to 1” equivalent nostalgia show, Good as Gold, commencing before the Countdown counts down (with the promise by the show’s executive producer that “we’re using moments that we haven’t seen for a while that we’d like to see again but with each show we’ve tried to find stuff that hasn’t been rehashed over and over again.” Oh goody.) Small production costs, no sets, one host and lots of air time filled up with pap from straight out of the archives.
And as to the Countdown ? I hate to break it to you (and if you really do want to watch then look away now) but this is a cut & paste from the CBS television event in June (at least it was this years). The AFI (American Film Institute) have been pumping out the best 100 whatever each year for 10 years and all we see is the same 100 films placed in slightly different orders (best comedies, best quotes, best ever yadda yadda) and the latest, the Most Inspiring. It’s A Wonderful Life topped the list, closely followed by To Kill A Mockingbird and Schindler’s List. Talk about nostalgic crap. There have been no movies worth getting more excited about since 1946 ? What are we, stoopid ? Thank God for 9/11 it seems. We can justify the “safe at home,” “happy memories in the past” homilies now that international terrorism is a reality in our lives. Most folks under the age of 40 aren’t going to put up with this crock and they will continue to laugh at their elderly relatives in exactly the same way that the generation before were brushed off as being out of touch. I suppose it is a surety that we will reach that intransigence in years to come too but hopefully not too soon. John Howard can’t be PM forever, can he ?

The Monsoon Identity - GG

Monsoon Wedding (Sat SBS 950P) has been on before but it is of such quality that you really must give it a go. Directed by talented Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay!, Vanity Fair) it follows one family preparing for the arranged marriage of their daughter. Unlike a typical Bollywood feature where the focus is on soapy-style plot lines, lots of jazzy music and impossibly good looking 20 somethings, Monsoon Wedding has a drama at the heart of it that threatens to derail the whole family. The film also gently pokes fun at itself regarding large families, unreliable tradesmen and an Indian culture that is obsessed by weddings.
Also, Mildred Pierce (Sat 9 1P) starring Joan Crawford and The Bourne Identity (Sun 10 9P) starring Matt Damon and Franka Potente. Incidentally I read the Robert Ludlum novel upon which this is based a month or two back and apart from the set up (a former assassin rescued from the Mediterranean with two bullets in his back and his memory gone), has nothing else in common. Oh sure there is the girl, the bad guys and the chase, but in my opinion the film just did it better. This film is unusual when compared to others of its ilk in that instead of our intrepid hero out to save the world (a la James Bond) he is just trying to save himself and work out who he is and where he has come from. The film then almost paradoxically becomes an action film with the focus of a character drama.

Tuesday, 10 October 2006

Jim Jarmusch

In response to the Jarmusch films shown on SBS recently, here are some observations and reflections on the American film maker. The films watched while compiling these thoughts : Permanent Vacation, Stranger than Paradise, Down By Law, Mystery Train, Night on Earth, Dead Man, Coffee and Cigarettes and Broken Flowers.

Its all about the journey. The quest to know yourself, discover your dreams, find your place in this world. Depending on how readily you buy into Jarmusch’s study of people and how he presents it on screen, depends on how willing you are to sit through his observations. When it works, it is captivating. You are in a heightened state of suspense waiting for the inevitable. When it doesn’t, it’s a long road.
Johnny Depp, as William Blake in Dead Man, is wrongly accused and takes to the hills. He has a bullet in his chest, near his heart that cannot be removed by his Indian “guide” and its slowly killing him. The further they travel, the more Blake becomes the outlaw gunman he was accused of being and the body count mounts up.
Broken Flowers, Jarmusch’s most recent production, has Bill Murray (as Don) searching for a son he never knew he had amongst his ex-girlfriends. It is hard to believe that Don was ever a lothario he clearly was judging by his almost catatonic disconnection. Did he ever find his son ? That’s not really the point of course. Remember, its all about the journey; what did Don learn from his journey ? William Blake found peace by the end of Dead Man. Don finds some new possibilities in an old world.
Tom Waits in Down By Law (also wrongly accused and convicted) escapes prison, begins his journey with two unlikely companions and walks with purpose toward an unknown future. He leaves behind a desperate, drug addled and demotivated life.
Mystery Train by contrast is three stories where each of the parties are inbetween; that is, they rest overnight at a run down hotel from the journey they have been on and the one they are about to take. A Japanese tourist couple are visiting Memphis on holiday; one woman is returning to Italy with a coffin by plane; one woman is running away from her husband; three men are on the run after getting very drunk and shooting a bottle shop owner.
Stranger Than Paradise is sort of about a trip of two New York Hungarian immigrants who take a holiday to Cleveland, collect their cousin and take off for Florida. These are people however who do not really travel anywhere. Not even red hot pokers it seems would shake them from their torpor unless it is a trip to the race track.
Night On Earth is five unconnected stories of taxi drivers in five cities and their passengers. They are all of course perpetually moving but it begs the question whether they are going anywhere.
In Permanent Vacation, Allie runs not only from home, but from life too. Sort of like a tourist on a permanent vacation. As he nears his departure from New York, he meets a French boy, about his age, running away from home in Paris, searching for a new life in New York, just as Allie hopes to do in Paris. Although as Brer Rabbit said in Song of the South, “you can’t run away from trouble, there ain’t no place that far.”

I am reminded of Gandalf’s quote in the Lord of the Rings, “A wizard is never late. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.” And so it is with a Jarmusch film. It unfolds at its own pace. Neither hurrying nor dragging its feet. Characters are given time to unfold on screen. There are no quick cuts or fast edits. Frequently they cross from the very right of screen and walk out of shot on the very left. Jarmusch stays with his main characters for long times. The camera will follow them as though by observing them we might come to know them and understand what they are thinking.
In Permanent Vacation, Jarmusch’s first film, all the signature shots are there : the long takes, the run down city. But when you are left with a character you don’t have much empathy for and one who doesn’t do very much, you are left with aching boredom (thankfully the running time was relatively short at only 70 minutes).
I note too the dilapitated buildings that frame each shot (except for Dead Man which is set in the Rockies). All buildings are in a state of disrepair, filthy beds you would not trust to sleep in, crumbling wrecks in the worst spots of New Orleans, New York, Los Angeles or Paris and often as not, tagged with graffiti. Does this refer to the run down state of our protagonists or is it just simply "more interesting" scenery than pristine and forgettable apartment blocks ?

Actors cross between different films making the whole collection pieces of the same puzzle. Tom Waits plays a failed radio DJ in one (Down By Law) and is heard on a radio as one of the many audio links during another (Mystery Train) or for providing the original soundtrack in Night On Earth. Screaming Jay Hawkins gives a wonderful turn as hotel manager in one (Mystery Train) and we listen to him sing “I’ve got a spell on you” on a tape deck in another (Stranger Than Paradise). Neil Young, the subject of Year of the Horse, provides the soundtrack to Dead Man and Roberto Benigni appears in front of the camera in both Down By Law and Night On Earth.

I enjoyed Jarmusch’s later films more than his earlier ones. That is always a pleasing sign because it suggests that the filmmaker is becoming better at driving his narrative, able to select higher profile and more adept actors to fill his screen and has established a vision of what he wants to accomplish.
My favourite was Dead Man (with Depp) but in that the cinematography by Robby Műller elevated the story to something elegiac with the (very conscious decision) to make the film look like a series of Ansell Adams pictures, a famous US pioneer photographer whose pictures of the American outback had an art-like quality and a conservationists message.
Broken Flowers is at number 2 because Bill Murray is so great and the supporting cast of all those women are fantastic : Julie Delpy, Sharon Stone, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton.

A more recent update on Ghost Dog : The Way of the Samurai, continues these themes.

Thursday, 5 October 2006

The Last Samurai, McDonalds & Starsky & Hutch - GG

How does an American, during Civil War times, become the hero in a Japanese samurai movie ? My question wasn’t really answered either after I watched The Last Samurai (Fri 9 830P) a year ago. Suffice to say that it is a competently choreographed action pic. that more or less succeeds at what it sets out to do; there is a sense of honour, the apologetic retrospection on colonialism is set up as the baddy and Tom Cruise survives.
Two years ago Morgan Spurlock made headlines with the latest doco. on the evils of McDonalds in Super Size Me (Sun 10 9P). By eating nothing but McDonalds food three times a day for one month he seriously compromised his health and captured all the effects in this film. McDonalds, never ones to miss capitalising on any publicity good or bad, have since introduced their “healthy options” menu items and McDonalds Australia were very quickly out, at the time, campaigning how they were different to their American parents by not offering super sizes to each of their product lines – I guess what plans they had to introduce that concept to Australian consumers has been shelved for a little while.
And if you were ever a fan of Starsky and Hutch in the 70s, then you will enjoy the modern remake with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson in the titular roles (Sun 7 830P). For mine, Snoop Dogg as their ‘too cool for school’ underground informant, Huggy Bear, steals every scene he is in and the cameos of the original S&H at the end a good laugh for the fans. This 2004 movie is followed by the 1975 Starsky & Hutch – The Original Movie (Sun 7 1030P) which is no doubt an extension of their 1 hour TV show.

Rabelwatch - Paraguay and Bahrain

With Australia now regarded as world class thanks to qualification to this year’s World Cup in Germany, Socceroos fans can expect to see a high calibre of competition play against their team both in Australia and elsewhere. Australia host Paraguay (Sat SBS 730P) in Brisbane in, what is quaintly termed, an “International Friendly.” Paraguay, a land locked South American country, also qualified for this year’s WC by dint of the fact that they won all of their home games in Asuncion, at altitude. They struggled away from home however despite a dour defence. The Socceroos will relish this chance to play at home in front of their home fans again and should win.
This friendly is ahead of their last Asian Cup qualifier against Bahrain in Sydney next Wednesday (SBS 730P). Aussie skipper Craig Moore missed the team’s plane trip to Brisbane (from Sydney) yesterday ahead of the Paraguay game and has been dropped for one match as a result under the FFA’s code of conduct. It is said that “Moore spent Tuesday night at Star City casino after an afternoon at Kembla Grange races.” Now why do you think he might have missed the plane north ?