Friday, July 20, 2012

Top 10 20/07/2012

Eraserhead: Forever is forever.

The Haunting: Shown this to a few people lately who had not seen it before who were suitably impressed by its energy and economy of affect. Simple, elegant power. Creepy and heart rending.

2001 A Space Odyssey: I don't admire Kubrick's work across the board but there is something about every one of them that can stop me in my tracks. This one does that for its entire length. Every good thing said of Mr K applies to this.

Kairo/Pulse: Apocalypse by loneliness. My favourite description of this is The Omega Man as directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.

The Innocents: Like The Haunting this one from a few years before remains a powerful ghost tale including the possession of children. The question of the appearance of the ghosts is solved simply through the notion of figures appearing where they shouldn't be. One shot goes straight through me, no matter how many times I see it.

Peeping Tom: Michael Powell masterpiece that nearly annihilated his career as it was savaged by an outraged press as amoral. World War II codebreaker Leo Marks came up with the story of a man whose compulsion for violent murder is literally the stuff of cinema verite, having come from a family life that was indistinguishable from a biology lab. Extraordinary piece is both retro and timeless. Clever can be powerful.

Newsfront: 70s epic of Australian news gatherers moves at a clip and fuelled by good dialogue and substantial characters. Helmsman Phil Noyce went on to make other, similarly impressive things before moving o'er the Pacific and getting less and less signature the more his career progressed (never terrible, apart from The Bone Collector but increasingly unremarkable, see also Peter Weir).

Wake in Fright: The ugly Australian as seen by a Canadian. Anyone from the city who's been out bush will recognise a lot of this don't-count-your-chickens fable and be further compelled by the force of the culture shock. Great old and changing guard Australian talent create an outback that Hieronymous Bosch might have imagined. Recently resurrected from obscurity in a great new package. Get the blu-ray if you can.

Stalker: I wonder if I've just naturalised Tarkovsky so completely that his work has not appeared in any of these so far. I don't dislike a frame of any of his otherworldly epics. As he himself pointed out in a lecture that while most filmmakers put a controlled version of the world on the screen he brings one of his own imagining there. That wasn't arrogance of him to say that, it was simple description. Stalker is a wish tale and is mostly a group of middle aged men in strolling through the countryside talking. But you know the countryside is potentially lethal or even worse and what they have come to do will be concussively serious. The final images of a wish come true are absorbing and terrible. Context is EVERYTHING.

Mouchette: I came home late one night about ten years ago, tanked and ready only for the sleep of oblivion when I flicked the teev on and watched a few minutes of this on SBS and then sat down, watched the rest in increasing sobriety. I had never seen a film like this before and very few as powerful since. It's rustic, verite and highly mannered all at once and none of those elements ever obscures another. Incredible ending seems scarcely believable in the same way that seeing real life violence or tragedy does. Bresson was included by Tarkovsky in his talk about the worlds of filmmakers as being on the same side. he was right.

Friday, July 13, 2012

2012 MIFF picks


Wow! New titles from Sion Sonno and Takeshi Miike (who has 3 in this year! He must be up to one a fortnight by now) and a lot of stuff that sounds intriguing. As usual, I've kept to things I bet I'll like at the cinema and things that just have intriguing copy in the program. For me it's a holiday and I don't like my holidays too predictable.

Well, them folks at MIFF have certainly lifted their game this year by making the program viewable to all (but only actionable by members: well, they gotta get something for their membership). So it's been a lot easier to plan. Here, then are my sessions for the upcoming...

1006 Headshot Friday 3rd - Forum 1.30

1013 Robot and Frank Saturday 4th - Forum 11am

1031 Dark Horse Monday 6th - Forum 4pm

1047 Beasts of the Southern Wild  Wednesday 8th - Forum 9pm

6050 The Mirror Never Lies Thursday 9th - Acmi 11am

1061 Sightseers  Friday 10th - Forum 9.00

9067 Hara-Kiri Saturday 11th - Hoyts 4.00

1088 Pure Tuesday 14th - Forum 1.30

3091 Himizu Tuesday 14th - Russell 9.00

1097 No   Wednesday 15th - Forum 6.30
6102 Alois Nebel  Thursday 16th - ACMI 1.30

1111 For Love's Sake Friday 17th - Forum 6.30

1119 Sound of My Voice  Saturday 18th - Forum 6.30


But reeeeeally want to see a movie with meeeeee?

Just lemme know. I've kept most of the nights free as it's a holiday for me and going to the cinema during the day accentuates the stolen flavour of it. So if you think there's something I'd like that you're going to, lemme know. Always happy to book a few extras in there.

Otherwise might well see youse in a queue or o'er a cold 'un at the Fest Club.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

5 Films I Dislike and How I Think They Should Be Remade

Kill Yr Idols: Almost directionless documentary about an interesting subject: the No Wave scene in New York in the late 70s that opposed most of the music around at the time including punk. Some fascinating moments given real insights from a range of compelling participants and witnesses like Michael Gira, Jim Thirlwell and Lydia Lunch but after this the problems begin. Not content to simply document a potent moment of music culture from the past the filmmakers seem to have surprised by the jumpy little opportunity to rag the current crop of new bands playing in the same place. These bands like A.R.E. Weapons and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are deserving of ridicule as they are solely derivative but eager to accept the mantle of the No Wave tradition which was almost entirely original. The interviews with current figures like Karen O. are clearly edited to make them come across as cretins. It's just too easy.

Remake with Errol Morris and a single anchoring thread to stop it wandering into sychophancy.

You will pay for my pool extension. You will pay for my pool extension.
The Men Who Stare at Goats: From a book that provided an entertaining and intriguing look at the collision of esoterica with the military mind a film was made that began promisingly but soon threw its hands in the air in surrender and gave in to an urge to turn everything into a laddish buddy comedy. If they'd rewatched M.A.S.H. they might have seen how anachronistic this approach now looks.

Remake as a stoney-faced quasi sci-fi helmed by Stephen Soderberg.

I'd say you'll be in a real Kubrick film some day....
A.I.: Great emulation of Kubrick by Spielberg but as soon as that wears off and the creepy Speilberg closeted misanthropy enters (the smash 'em up scene where the rednecks' go all warm 'n' fuzzy at a show of cuteness is chilling the more you think about it) it just deteriorates into trowel world where the significance of the real boy motif would kill a diabetic at the back of the cinema.

Get Kubrick out of cryo and give him anything he asks for. Alternatively, interest David Cronenberg.

I only said the script needs cutting.
Event Horizon: I don't mind that this is just a popcorn Solaris as I think that could make for a really good movie. I mind that it throws all of its interesting concepts out as soon as they become too hard and goes into autogothic mode right up to the utterly pointless ending. A waste of good art direction.

Remake anywhere with Duncan Jones in the chair. And don't ever cast Sam Neill again in anything.

So, Corporal, what should we do now?
Saving Private Ryan: Outstanding opening sequence degenerates into preposterously democratic workshopping of the mission. "Earn this." Really? Hasn't he already earned it? How about this. Go through the formation of the team in parallel to the preparations for D-Day. Show the Normany landing at the end and then, after the great senseless slaughter show the big looming landscape which somewhere hides the object of the mission, somewhere in the slaughter yet to come. Roll credits and keep the flag and sad trumpets at home. Want to make a point about war? Show that it never ends.

Remake like that with Kyoshi Kurosawa. Now!

Monday, July 9, 2012

10 significant films I've never seen ... or finished

 Last Saturday I heard an interview with Richard Hammond, former child actor now screenwriter and Australian resident who had been in The Sound of Music, among other high profile films. It occured to me that I still hadn't seen the movie. There are many reasons this is so, from anitpathy to force of cirsumstance. So, here's a list of that and others.


The Sound of Music: Not once, only clips. Don't know why as I quite like musicals.

Gone With the Wind: It's from a favourite era of Hollywood and the cast is stellar and it's about a part of American history that interests me but I keep missing it.

Every Star Wars film after the first (ie A New Hope when it was just called Star Wars back in the 70s): Just bits of most (but not all) of these This is not just missing out. I hated the first one when it was new and nothing I've seen of any of the subsequent ones has made me want to see the rest. Just can't get into it.

Any James Bond after Sean Connery: This is not from any loyalty to Connery. Roger Moore had long been Bond when I was still young enough to get into this. I think I just missed out on it. By the time he was replaced the only thing I still liked about James Bond movies was the music. Tried to watch the new one but couldn't get into it.

Lawrence of Arabia: Looks great. Every clip I've seen is terrific. For some reason the idea of seeing the whole thing just turns me off. I've watched plenty of blergy movies about World War I (my favourite world war) just not this.

Dr Zhivago: The subject matter concerns my ancestry and it's made by the great David Lean (like Lawrence) but I've never got around to it.

When We Were Kings: I know it's about much more than a boxing match and is a study of the media circus, the personalities, fame and its effects etc etc but I just have to struggle too hard to keep interested in anything to do with sport. It may as well be sewage systems or long division, I just glaze over. I even missed out on cultivating a relationship with a girl radiant with inner and outer beauty because I was the one who couldn't get into AFL. So, this one decked me in the first round.

Olympiad: You do have to overlook the obsessions of some of her mates but Leni Riefenstahl could film BIG and make it interesting. But ... sport.

Un Chien Andalou: It's the razor on the eyeball. I have read so much about it and know how it was done and I have seen far worse than it's reputed to be but I just can't bring myself to watch it.

Cannibal Holocaust: I like all sorts of gore and horror and the setup for this makes it a pioneer of the found footage approach but every time I read about it I get turned off. This is less for the gore than the increasing sense of sleaze in the making of it. And then there's the violence against animals. Maybe I should just see it and get it over with. But .... do I really want to?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Top 10 09/07/2012

The Parallax View: Great post-Watergate paranoia film from the 70s. Even after countless viewings it is impossible not to get emotionally involved in the psyche-test montage sequence. The idea that the perfect candidate watches impassively is both comforting and terrifying. Beatty's finest hour and a half.

Eraserhead: Always.

Groundhog Day: Feelgood doesn't have to be clever but this is and it's funny all the way through.

Freaks: Still weird and still compelling. Dvd version has a sentimental ending that had been left off for decades for the good reason that it subverts the rest of the film. If you think this film is exploitative (it isn't) be informed that it was broadcast in Brisbane as THE MONSTER MOVIE during the International Year of the Disabled. (One of the oldest trees in Brisbane not long after was chopped down and had its roots napalmed during the International Year of the Tree. Message translation problems?)
Deep Red: Big, intriguing giallo mystery brimming with atmosphere and some very funny moments where star David Hemmings goofs around with the male lead roles he has played and those already established in the genre. Some call Argento the Italian Hitchcock but I think of him as the Fellini of thrillers.

Videodrome: The point at which Cronenberg's comfort with actors caught up with his ideas. James Woods adds warmth to lift this extraordinary tale over the more passionless Scanners or Brood. Debbie Harry is a little stilted but ... SHE'S DEBBIE HARRY!

Amadeus: Want to express genius in a biopic without being bland and repetitious? Have it witnessed by a mediocrity who knows the difference between it and himself. F. Murray Abraham deserved his Oscar win for his performance as Salieri. Mozart and 18th century Vienna are given a creditable face but it is Mozart's punkiness which offers a kind of era-spanning anachronism allowing all that dressing up to breathe and party. People who complained about its lack of historical veracity somehow missed the point that the story was being narrated by a man driven to a morbid rage by his jealousy: his account is not meant to be objective, folks. Wrong kind of wigs or shoe buckles? Shut up and watch the movie.

Matador: Almodovar's early outing about a kind of spiritual and near literal necrophilia in Spanish culture in the decade after Franco's demise is a study in sustained anger. As his sex farces and melodramas have continued to show he is unafraid of bringing something unsettling to the table and however chirpy some of his endings can be, there is always a vigilant eye peering through.

Laura: To everyone their role whether it's Clifton Webb's acid wit, Vincent Price's flattering dependency, Dana Andrew's disturbed rationalist or Gene Tierney in the title role as the quietly incorruptible real person behind the worshipped image. A noir of manners in which the notion of possession pulses with a mounting creepiness.

Diary: Genre-warping team, the brothers Pang tell a tale twice: of a woman grieving for her lover; of a psychopath who cannot distinguish her homemade dolls from the objects of her jealousy. Takes the stretching reach that makes The Eye outdo its inspiration and just keeps stretching. Frequently disturbing Diary is finally something that only the best horror dares to be - heart rending.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Dislikes for Remakes: 02/07/2012

Well, I'll be in Melancholia one day.
Mona Lisa Smile: Teacher hero movies are effectively all the same as the Ur teacher hero movie, Blackboard Jungle. There are exceptions to this by quality as anyone who has seen To Sir With Love can attest. Mostly, they pale by comparison with the 50s one where Glenn Ford does the mind-meld boogie with the apprentice thugs and wins. This one from the early 2000s but set in the 50s and, like Dead Poets Society, adds the mysteries of privilege to the mix. But not even a stellar cast of established and rising female talent like Julia Stiles and Maggie Gyllenhaal can save this steadily softening core from blanding out into melted imitation vanilla sludge. The dislike is for disappointment.

Remake in Japan with Takeshi Miike in the chair. No genre needed.

Hmm ... nah too many bad habits as it is.

Bad Lieutenant: Along with almost everything I've seen by Abel Ferrara, this is clumsy and try-hard stuff. Harvey Keitel does what he can with the role and what he can do is a lot. But everything that surrounds it is laid on with a sledgetrowel, the corruption, the failed bets and the Catholicism. Even the big atrocity that leads to the REDEMPTION at the end feels like desperate writing. Harvey can't save what Abel is determined to ruin by overstatement. Go and watch Who's That Knocking at My Door, instead. Or ...

Remake in France with Gaspar Noe's direction. That will work.

Oh, not everything by Ferrara is bad. His film of Larry Cohen's remake, Bodysnatchers, is superb. Must have been Cohen.

Yeah but I'll still have a career after this movie.
Love and Death on Long Island: John Hurt as an irrascible old novelist inadvertently sees an oafish teen movie starring Jason Priestly and is struck with an infatuation he is astounded to discover is also erotic. He goes to the young star's home on Long Island and sets up a chance meeting, not knowing quite what he is going to do next. This is really good material for a warmedy with an edge but not even the great oak splinter himself, John Hurt, can save it from its director's determination to find the cute in everything. Gilbert Adair, a writer with a great line in sulphuric wit, wrote the source novel and was complicit in this dilution. Couldn't have been the money.

Remake in France as a stone cold stalker thriller. The jokes will come.

Jerry Lewis. Johnny Depp. Eskimo costumes. Halibut. We can't lose!
Arizona Dream: Emir Kusturica who made the indestructable While Father Was Away on Business debuted in English (he's Serbian) with this whimsical and interminable thing. An Inuit fisherman pursues a fish while Johnny Depp goes to Arizona to take up the family car sales business and is torn between one woman who plays accordion to lonely turtles and another who -- You really want to know? There is a lot of absurdism in this magical-realism flavoured piece that can never reconcile its comedy with its darker side. Every sight gag fails. No, it doesn't just fail, it punishes. It's like watching a five year old at Christmas lunch showing off; cute at first but soon an unendurable trial. I wouldn't even wish this on Wes Anderson.

Remake in Japan by Sion Sonno. It could be three hours long and I'd sit through it.

One shot at stardom and they blow it. Thank God it's only a movie
Garage Days: How he who brought us The Crow and Dark City could also have made this (afterwards!) is beyond me. It does work as a good shaggy dog joke but shaggy dog jokes take  strength from their digressions rather than get sapped by them. The guitarist's arc is the most interesting but the least examined. Mostly it's cliches and knockabout fun as forced as pork and fat into a salami skin. I still don't know why Alex Proyas did this but he never recovered.

Remake in Melbourne as a mockumentary and set it in the early 80s and concentrate on the guitarist's arc so the punchline of the joke at the end will be funnier. Richard Lowestein has learned since Dogs in Space that rock music and goofiness don't mix so he's in the chair on this one.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Top 10: 1/07/2012

Noriko's Dinner Table: The great and grating Sion Sonno wanted to extend the world of his magnificent Suicide Circle but didn't want to do a sequel. Solution? Make another film that moves in parallel. Not just that, but take the most difficult concept from the first film and make the paraquel all that. Sonno seems to be planet hopping with this epic of indentity. It's long and often confusing as characters assume new identities and roles but it's worth it. Watching it with an open mind (and a concentration span in robust health) feels like discovery.

Eraserhead: Natch.

Fellini's Roma: My favourite Fellini is not the canonical early work but the big brash wandering colour orgies of the 70s. Like this one.

Harold and Maude: Some films are all quirk and lose themselves in their own cuteness. Others never allow this to happen by keeping the central theme of the preciousness of life and the closeness of death centre stage in every scene. A masterpiece.

Baxter: Think of a talking animal movie. Now fancy that it was written by Jean Genet or Celine. Baxter is a bull terrier and only ever a dog but what a thing is a dog. If Baxter were human he'd be the old soldier at the bar with a Gauloise in his mouth and an astounding array of pickup lines. And beneath each, the darkness of the abyss of everyday life. Extraordinary film.

Seconds: Rock Hudson's genuine double life as a public A-list hunk and private gay man must have drawn him to this sobering tale derived from old three-wishes folktales. John Frankenheimer at full strength here, riding the wave that delivered not only this but The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May. Impresses everyone I show it to.

Rollerball: Maybe this is partly nostalgia but I remember the thrill of seeing the concept of a social commentary sci-fi  building on screen as it does here when the opposing teams of this ultra-brutal sport stand  for their corporate anthems before possibly dying violently in the arena. I don't get that as much anymore with even strong sci-fi but this is as much age and weariness as it is any comment on the paucity of good stuff  on the contemporary screen.

The Producers: Because it's still funny.

Jaws: This is the Stephen Spielberg film I like.

In the Company of Men: A scarifyingly candid look at male competition. Refined for the white collar world but only very slightly. The intensity of the social violence in this film is often repellent but never less than compelling. Writer/director Neil La Bute has never approached this level of power again. Pity, as it was his debut.