Thursday, 23 August 2007

Anchorman - GG

The TV shows imported from the US are all finishing their series, the movies that are on and worth watching we have all seen before and then we are taunted with the multi-channel option on Fox Sports (see p17 – Rabelwatch, you need to see this and turn green in the process) where up to four English Premier League games are played live simultaenously where you can “stuff yourself silly at the Premier League smorgasbord.”
I have no doubt that Anchorman : The Legend of Ron Burgundy (7 Sun 830P) is a B-grade comedy, it does star Will Ferrell and Christina Applegate, but it was a blockbuster B-grade comedy and so there may well be some laughs to be had.
The lesser known Scorsese film from 1999, Bringing out the Dead (7 Sun midnight) might be interesting although it does star Nic Cage and Patricia Arquette. The film follows Frank, “a paramedic whose journeys take him into the abyss of human misery.” Ebert says, “Scorsese is never on autopilot, never panders, never sells out, always goes for broke; to watch his films is to see a man risking his talent, not simply exercising it. He makes movies as well as they can be made, and I agree with an observation on the Harry Knowles Web site: You can enjoy a Scorsese film with the sound off, or with the sound on and the picture off.”

Friday, 17 August 2007

The Invasion

A(nother) remake of The Body Snatchers, titled The Invasion, has just been released in the US and stars my Nic (and some others like Daniel Craig … James who ?). Here is the most piercing comment of a review I just read:
Fans of Nicole Kidman's acting will be disappointed. Despite a lot of screen time, she doesn't do much. She's mainly on hand to look good while playing the damsel-in-distress turned mother-protector. The role is physical but not challenging.

Oh dear.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Black Sheep and Closing - MIFF

Black Sheep was the last of my MIFF screenings for this year. A New Zealand comedy/horror aided by Peter Jackson’s/Lord of the Rings’ Weta workshop (animatronics, special effects, models) is a long way from the mountains peaks and fast flowing rivers of Middle Earth. Set on a rural New Zealand sheep farm, this film takes off when sheep-phobic Henry returns to the family home to collect a settlement cheque for his half of the property, left to him and his “evil”, agri-science brother Angus. Angus has been performing experiments on sheep and when a genetically mutated sheep foetus, designated for the destruction pit, is robbed by an environmentalist protestor and his girlfriend, is duly liberated, and eviscerates said protestor, the story line is ‘on’ in earnest. The assistance of Weta cannot be underestimated in the making of this picture. Appropriately gory zombie sheep and their human victims keep fans of this genre (that would be the blood-splatter flick genre) enjoying the jokes and the set-ups and not sidetracked through laughing at poor effects. This is very similar in tone and style to Jackson’s Braindead (a mentioned early influence on debut director Jonathon King). What might otherwise be considered scary or gruesome is clearly not – they’re sheep for heaven’s sake. People eating sheep, sure, but still silly, lovable, mostly stupid sheep. An absolute must see when it makes its commercial release.

The Festival as a whole was very enjoyable. I was (understandably) exhausted after my long weekend (8 screenings across the three nights) and was glad to be commuting from Hawthorn during that weekend, somewhat closer to the city. Teeth and Black Sheep were enjoyable, perverse comedies. The Australian dramas were thin on the ground in the program and I supplemented my local diet with two documentaries, In the Company of Actors (with Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving) and Bob Ellis’ Run, Rabbit, Run on SA Premier Mike Rann’s re-election of 2006. Both docos were competent and even interesting but they weren’t dramas which I prefer. I will try not to overload my schedule with docos next year. The Ballad of Narayama was excellent and the free lecture on the work of Imamura I attended prior to it was worthwhile. My favourite screening of the Festival however was another Japanese drama, Hana. The story line was ostensibly about a young samurai on a mission to avenge his father’s death. The supporting cast may have been a little wide with the necessary resolutions to each of their storylines pushing the finish time out as a result. However the ‘real’ story was about a young man finding his true calling in life (as a teacher, not a fighter) and becoming a true role model as a father and husband. Perhaps in a comment on Japanese culture, this film, filled with samurai, does not have one sword fight and no blood is spilt. A wonderfully mature drama.
Many sessions were sold out but the theatres can easily accommodate the number. Often I arrived at start time, joined the very end of the queue and enjoyed the feature from the back of the cinema. My wait time was minimised and my seating almost always excellent. Only the second row at ACMI (Fed Square) was the least comfortable experience. The electronic scanning of tickets is efficient and deals with the long queues quickly. The hardest part of the Festival is finding the spare time in my regular life to see the films I want to see. This year I was able to take breaks from my work during the day, watch one film, and then come back to finish the day – all with my employer’s consent mind you, and that worked very well. Watching screenings back to back was likewise an efficient use of my time but exceptionally tiring beyond two films.
Roll on 2008 !

A Very Long Engagement - GG

For some reason I can’t quite fathom (there does not appear to be any cross-over promotional opportunity) Amelie (SBS Sat 930P) is followed by A Very Long Engagement (SBS Sun 930P), both directed by Frenchman Jean-Pierre Jeunet and starring Audrey Tatou. Perhaps we can put it down to lazy programming.
A Very Long Engagement is set during WW1 where a young woman refuses to believe that her fiance has died on the Western front. His back story and her quest to find out what happened to him lead us on a merry dance with eccentric characters, red herrings and unconventional story arcs. None of this should really surprise fans of Jeunet however (Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children). The palette of this film remains strong in its “period” colours of blue and green. Equally vivid is the overwhelming brightness of primary colours in Amelie. A Very Long Engagement is a mix between a mystery, a romance and a war movie with some images confronting in this context. A competantly made story with entertaining characters make this worth watching.
Not all care for Jeunet’s style however as I have discovered in recent times. After extolling the wonders and virtues of Amelie as one of my favourite romantic comedies of all time, a couple of workmates have struggled to get to the end and complained of being bored. Really ! Quelle horreur. Clearly they have no taste.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Eastern Rovers - final match report

Eastern Rovers final game against Footscray was a demonstration of a committed team fighting to the last to remain competitive and ‘steal’ a win. To that end, the score at 3/4 time saw a tight game with the Rovers trailing 7 goals to 5. Footscray asserted themselves more readily in the last quarter to run out winners by 6 goals.
The more fancied Footscray (2nd on ladder) were not expecting the pressure the Rovers applied which, in addition to the wet and muddy conditions, hindered their running game. The conditions rewarded the team prepared to kick long and make the most of limited opportunities. Not capitalising on their thrusts forward ultimately cost the Rovers an unlikely victory.
TV Tasty Knows played his first match for the year and took ‘mark of the day’ in the opening 5 minutes. Naturally your humble correspondant, watching from the sidelines with the zoom lens camera, did not capture the moment on film. Plenty of other moments did make it on film however. Can you spot TTK in the accompanying picture ?

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Incredible - GG

Probably the best offering for the week is The Incredibles (7 Sun 630P), another quality Pixar feature. This one about a superhero family living normal lives in suburbia until the inevitable rise and rise of uber-baddie Syndrome forces them out of retirement. Each family member has their own talent and they must all work together to save the world from destruction. Directed by Brad Bird (The Iron Giant), this is a little more dialogue driven and "mature" in its approach than your average animated feature. However, those with childers will already have seen this and own it on DVD so I don't expect anyone will watch it now !
Snatch (10 Sun 1040P) is Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels with a bigger budget, basically a heist movie where all the characters are London thugs, gangsters, thieves or hitmen. The pace is cracking, the language foul and sadly Guy Ritchie hasn't come close since.
I'm also intrigued by Arahan (Mon SBS midnight), a South Korean tribute to Hong Kong action films : "a shrewd hybrid of the updated kung-fu wire action extravaganza and a modern superhero comic adaptation, a mutation of Steve Chau's Shaolin Soccer by way of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man".

Eastern Rovers - final round

Eastern Rovers play their final game against second placed Footscray this Sunday afternoon at their Heathmont home. Goodridge has been named as "first emergency", largely because of poor health on his part and less on his relative football merit. At this stage, unlikely to play. TV Tasty Knows however will be making his debut and has been named in the forward pocket. Good luck young man - kick a bag full.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

MIFF musings

Dawn is only subliminally aware of the dangerous potential that resides within her body. An outspoken member of her school chastity group, Dawn has a sexual awakening like any number of teenage students with devastating consequences … for the male of the species. A living example of the vagina dentata myth, that is, a vulva with teeth, it will take a willing hero to conquer her and thus “slay the dragon.” Meanwhile however this modern day Gorgon or Medusa can wreak their revenge on the worst examples of male behaviour. And while some of the scenes are potentially confronting: the date rape boyfriend, the leering older man, the gynecologist who abuses his trust; all get their comeuppance when one appendage (or multiple digits) fall victim to this empowered woman. Played for laughs, this campy, American teen comedy is performed well by the apple-pie Jess Weixler (in the Reese Witherspoon mould). It was enjoyed by a full house of about 1,000 mostly younger film lovers at RMIT Capitol Theatre.

Likewise playing to a full house at the Capitol was the Australian premiere of Peter Carstair’s debut feature film, September, the first recipient of feature funding from John Polston’s Tropfest (an annual short film competition).
Ed (white) and Paddy (black) have grown up together on a remote West Australian wheat farm and been best mates. Set in 1967, Ed goes off to school each day while Paddy works on the farm helping his dad and the boss, Ed’s dad. The boys hear a travelling boxing troupe is coming to their town next month (in September) and so they rig up their own ring out in the paddocks. Also, a new family move onto the next property with a similarly aged daughter, Leena, with whom Ed becomes smitten. At that time in Australian history, the Government passed legislation that allowed the black man to earn the same wage as a white man. For many black families, this meant continued racism as the prevailing view was that if you were to pay a black man the same as a white man, then you would employ a white man instead. For Ed’s dad, he does not want to do the wrong thing, but does not want to do the right thing either. To pay two full time wages where previously he was paying none was something that his farm could not support (in balance however Paddy’s family had their rent waived and their food bought for them). Like it or lump it is his solution and this only builds resentment.
Ed and Paddy’s sparring takes on more personal physicality as these divisions unfold. This is mirrored in their friendship when both boys, at Ed’s insistence, go to pay a night visit to Leena. When they are discovered by Leena’s father, Paddy takes the beating as Ed escapes and runs home.
The film is primarily about friendship and the two boys reconcile amicably in a simple but touching way. Paddy tries his luck with the travelling boxing troupe and Ed stays on to help his father run the farm. I thought however that it failed to round out their fathers’ story and we are left hanging as to how the bigger picture of race relations played out.
Both boys (Xavier Samuel and Clarence Ryan) do a superb job in this otherwise quiet, focussed drama.

Dog Bite Dog
Hong Kong triad action movies are a dime a dozen and this one plays true to type. Pang is a Cambodian orphan, raised as a pit fighter and is little more than a fierce dog on two legs. His language is abrupt and manner non-existent. He is sent to murder a judge, which he does with no emotion and then the chase kicks in with zealous cop chasing the fearless Pang. The features of the genre are all played out here : the flashbacks; the one cop fighting against the rules and regulations; the ruthless baddie who can take on all comers. After about 90 minutes, Pang escapes with the girl in a motorised junk and that would have been 90 minutes well spent. Unfortunately the movie kicks on for another 20 minutes or so and this spells DANGER for the audience.
The montage of Pang and the girl falling in love is awkward, while “acting” replaces the hitherto vigorous action which is poor, to say the least. The titters in the audience turn to guffaws when “You are my Sunshine, my only Sunshine” starts to play over the top of Pang holding aloft his newborn son. And all the other characters ? They’re all dead of course.

The Phantom of the Opera
This 1925 cinematic classic of the silent era was shown at Melbourne’s grand Regent Theatre with a live accompaniment by David Johnston on the resident Wurlitzer Theatre Organ. And what an experience it was. The thunderous energy of the bass notes resounding from the organ reverberated through the Theatre and warned us of the evil lurking beneath the Paris Opera House.
The Phantom, played by Lon Chaney, is only seen shadow for the first third of the film. Brilliantly lit back shots show his spectral outline haunt walls in the pits of the Opera House while the ballerina’s on stage are the very contrast above. When we finally meet The Phantom he is wearing a mask that makes him seem almost normal and human. It is his love of Christine which makes him want to bring out the good within himself but it is her love of Raoul that may force him to return to his evil past.
When Christine unmasks The Phantom deep in his lair, we are met with a violent burst from the organ and we, the audience, regard his skeletal visage react in horror, before he turns and faces his love. She in turn recoils in revulsion and this sets him on his murderous rampage through the House. The mob however is never far away and they pursue our anti-hero into the Seine and to his death.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Ballad of Narayama - MIFF

The Ballad of Narayama (1983) is a view into Japanese village life “about 100 years ago” that is stark in its barbarity and accessible because of the human story it tells. It is also director Shohei Imamura’s vision of Japan, at contrast with how Japan sees itself.
Japanese people traditionally see themselves as refined, sophisticated, subtle people. Imamura redefines his society (in this film and in others) as brutal places, strongly aligned to nature with many characters identified with animals. The village itself, a snake; the thieves, a silver fox that sneaks into the hen house; and the wild and exuberant thrustings of the village folk, with writhing snakes, humping frogs and nesting birds.
The film itself commences in the dead of winter, follows the life cycle of a year to the following winter as it mirrors the life cycle of the village.
Village life does not conform to Western standards with regards to the value of a life. It is all the more shocking to us because it does not. I imagine it is just as shocking to a Japanese audience too. Unwanted sons are callously thrown into the rice paddy. Unwanted daughters sold into prostitution via the wandering salt seller. Those who break the village laws are dealt with harshly : thieves of other’s food are buried alive. Life and death is just a step from each other that to be indifferent to the numbers around your table leads to your own destruction.
The main character in the story is Orin, a sixty-nine year old grandmother who knows her time is nearly up. Her health remains robust but she is determined that her son, Tatsuhei, honor his commitment as dutiful, faithful and loving son by carrying her up the mountain, to Narayama, to die on her 70th birthday.
The women in Imamura’s films are capable and robust women played by stocky, plump actresses (not the usual movie star type) that are both sexy (“juicy” – Imamura) and maternal. Orin fully intends to go out at a time of her choosing and in a manner that is pleasing to her.
The arduous journey of son carrying mother on his back up impossible slopes over an incredible difference hints at the love and respect of one for the other. Speaking is forbidden on the mountain and the last quarter of the film is virtually dialogue free. When they arrive on Narayama, they are met by an enclave of bones and skulls. The audience gasps as a crow worms its way out from under a ribcage.
The mother sets out her mat and waits her end. She waves her son off, impatient for him to be gone. He cannot move. He hugs his mother until she has had enough. It is not out of cruelty of indifference. It is the way things are. Better to go now than to wait another year or two or three and either die in the village (and not be buried on the mountain) or not be able to face death square in the face. As the son walks down the mountain, it starts to snow. Tatsuhei runs back to his mother to see if she is cold. She is not and waves him away again. The Spirit of Narayama has settled on Orin and is a great blessing to her.

My emotional highlight of this film was this scene, not just because of its moving theme, but because the whole auditorium, of 500+ people, were still. For at least 10 minutes they were spellbound and captured by what they were witnessing on screen. No-one was moving, or rustling, or coughing. Still. A very humbling experience to be in the midst of so many people hardly aware of the world around them as they watched the son’s grief and mother’s honor.

Aviator - GG

The Aviator (9 Fri 830P) is the last of the long line of Scorsese pictures that never won him an Oscar (his next, The Departed, did) although our Cate did win Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Katharine Hepburn. In keeping with Scorsese's recent pics with grand scale and ambition (say, like Kundun or Gangs of New York, unlike The Departed's less epic scale), tells part of the story of eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, "who comes to Hollywood to make movies in 1927 and eventually confronts a vindictive Senate inquiry. Leo DiCaprio is too handsome for Hughes, but he delivers the obsessive desire that Scorsese turns into his subject's defining force."

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Time - MIFF

How much of what you look like determines who you really are? In Kim Ki-duk’s Time, Seh-hee has been dating Ji-woo for two years and she is worried that he is losing interest. “Do you get tired of the way I look?” she asked. A loaded question if ever there was and one that Ji-woo fails to answer satisfactorily.
And then she’s gone. For six months. Plastic surgery is an “everyday” procedure in this vision of modern-day Korea with a six month recovery time. The doctor cautions Seh-hee that he cannot make her more beautiful, she is beautiful enough. But no, she just wants to look different. Unrecognisable.
She “comes back” as See-hee (a subtle enough name change I didn’t pick at first, I thought they were the same name) and does indeed look different. It is a credit to both actresses that we accept without question they are the “same” person. They behave similarly despite looking differently. See-hee (the “new” girl) tries to woo Ji-woo (pardon the pun) however runs into difficulty when she realises that he is desperately lonely eschewing other women to pine his lost love (Seh-hee). Mind you, without ever revealing how exactly, Seh-hee/See-hee has been observing Ji-woo from a distance (stalking is the legal term) and warning off any would be suitors.
When See-hee appears wearing a Seh-hee face mask the mood is a mix of ridiculous and creepy. The truth comes crashing down on Ji-woo as he feels used and betrayed.
My take is that a person with poor self esteem (such as the one potrayed by Seh-hee) projects their self-loathing on to others and cannot or will not see themselves as others do. Ji-woo may have felt that his relationship with Seh-hee was getting stale but how she looked was not his issue. Her bitter and aggressive outbursts early in the film as Seh-hee are repeated later as See-hee. It is here perhaps that she realises it’s what’s inside that counts.
So, how does this resolve ? In a fit of pique, Ji-woo goes off to the plastic surgeon to change his looks. See-hee thinks that he might be doing this for her and their relationship and impatiently waits for him to reappear after six months. She accosts every man who is approximately the same size to find the man she loves but he doesn’t appear again.
Devastated, she troops back into the plastic surgeon again and comes out unrecognisable. Ji-woo won’t know what she looks like even if he does come looking.
In a slightly strange twist to the ending, time seems to have looped back in on itself like a mobius strip. While the ending does not influence the beginning as such, perhaps it is the director’s way of saying that the issues surrounding our identity and dramas we face in life do not just go away. They are just as present at the end as at the start. As old Uncle Remus used to say to Brer Rabbit, “you can’t run away from trouble. There ain’t no place that far.”