Saturday, August 19, 2006

Travelogue Day 27


The President's Last Bang (2005, Sang-soo Im)
Slow to start, but pretty good once it hits its pace. Based upon the actual assassination of the South Korean president in 1979.

The defense minister, tired of the way things were being run and desiring real democracy rather than its imitation under what amounts to a military dictator, rallies his men in the K.C.I.A. and kills the president. The only problem is that all of the cabinet don't welcome the absence of the president in the way he expected. The coup d'etat fails and the conspirators are killed.

The film questions whether their actions, though perhaps necessary, were honourable. It also shows how disorganized such an event most likely always is.

Ahlaam (2005, Mohamed Al-Daradji)
Filmed during the active fighting of the U.S. invasion of Baghdad and its aftermath. Many elements feel as if the actors were inserted amongst them rather than being created for the film (i.e. at times it seems like the cast and crew sought out places where people were looting or there was gunfire in the streets and got the cameras out to film a scene).

We are introduced to the characters on the eve of America's "shock and awe" campaign in Baghdad, then shown how they got where they are in the mental hospital. Ali was a reluctant soldier in the Iraqi army who was sent to the asylum with his ear cut off for desertion though he was only trying to carry a friend to medics while shell shocked. Dr. Mehdi is dedicated and only wants to be a doctor to help people. Ahlaam has her fiance stolen away by Saddam's secret police on their wedding day and is hit in the head with a rifle butt, leading to her being placed in the asylum because of delusions.

A U.S. bomb breaches the asylum and the patients escape as the looters plunder. The madness from within the hospital seems to seep out into the surrounding area as we see Dr. Mehdi and Ali, who the doctor realizes isn't actually crazy, try to round up all the patients and return them to the hospital. Ahlaam searches for her fiance and is victimized by a group of looters before Ali finds her.

A sniper opens fire on the crowded street and Ahlaam flees into an abandoned building just as her parents and Dr. Mehdi catch sight of her. The Americans arrive on the scene and form up in front of the only visible entrance to the building Ahlaam went inside. Neither the Americans nor Ahlaam's family have interpreters, so they cannot explain the situation and are prevented from entering the building by the soldiers who know nothing of the customs of the country and take the family's behaviour as threatening.

Everyone recognized as good and bad. Lack of communication, and therefore understanding, is one of the biggest problems for the U.S. forces. The scenes with Ahlaam wandering in the dark are much more frightening and unnerving than what many other movies accomplish when they have bigger budgets and that is their whole point.

Frozen Days (2006, Danny Lerner)
This is the director's debut feature and was shot for $25,000. It was made because he wanted to prove that a quality film can be made on a tiny budget and because he likes psychological dramas. No one was paid, cast or crew, it was everyone's first feature, and they just liked the script. After the film won the Haifa(sp?) award, and its cash prize, everyone actually got paid.

It's a little bit of Jacob's Ladder. A girl who lives in vacant apartments and sells narcotics to get by meets a man she's been chatting with on the internet only to have him, presumably, lost in a suicide bombing at the nightclub where they were to meet. She takes over his life in the interim and finds that everyone takes her to be the him though he is in the hospital in a coma and covered head-to-toe in bandages. Only at the very end does she realize that things aren't the way she thought they were.

Some of the cinematography was good, and the actress was quite good (aside from her being exceptionally beautiful).

I met with Debs to finalize my travel plans today.

On my walk back from the films today, I ran into Mark and Pascal. They invited me out for a beer at the Broadway Cafe, which led to many meetings. Jerry, who was behind the bar this evening, told me about the play she was working on writing (I think she titled it The Animals, but I'm not entirely certain). After Mark and Pascal left, I went with a number of the Broadway staff members to the Lansdowne for even more meeting people. Surprisingly, I seem to remember most of everyone's names despite a glut of drink.

Travelogue Day 26


I finally did laundry, but I didn't drop in to see Debbie and finalize my travel plans. I'll send an email later. I missed the to-do with the Australia-Brazil game. I shamefully fell asleep on the couch while waiting for the time to go out. Perhaps I'll be in town for the match vs. Croatia.

A Perfect Day (2005, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige)
A day in the life of Malek. He is still asleep as his mother tries to get him to postpone an appointment, but when he wakes, he insists on keeping it. The appointment is with a lawyer to have his father, who disappeared 15 years earlier during the war, declared dead.

while his mother reaches out to him in her anguish, he ignores her telephone calls because he is too occupied with trying to reignite the passion with his ex-girlfriend. He keeps after her until, after he follows her into a nightclub and his narcolepsy overtakes him, they kiss and leave the club for a romantic interlude. Before the interlude, she realizes it won't be any different from any other time and flees the car.

We see the world through her eyes during part of the drive, and when Malek puts her contacts in, he sees the world through her eyes too. These are two quite beautiful sequences of the headlights of passing cars, streetlights, and signs as balls of light moving about the screen. He falls asleep at the beach, again, then sprints along in stops and starts (like his breathing while asleep) (this part is accompanied by very nice shots of the beach area and a flock of birds in flight).

I liked it, though I'm still not entirely sure why yet.

Travelogue Day 25


River Queen (2005, Vincent Ward)
Reminds me a bit of Dances with Wolves.

An Irish (already a subjugated people) woman, Sarah, has a child with a Maori which is taken by its Maori grandfather when Sarah's father tries to clear a Maori sacred site. She searches for him in vain until a native tracker, the brother of her child's father and also spy for the other side, reintroduces her to him in return for her healing the chief of the native resistance. When she does this, the chief makes her (or at least calls her) a queen.

Her son will not go back to become a European, and, after much to do and the death of the character Private Doyle (who recognizes that the "Maori are just like the Irish" but with darker skin), she decides that it is more important to be a family with her boy and his uncle than be European alone. She melts in to the surrounding community with her family , and they survive and thrive through the rest of the Maori wars.

The visuals are great, the story is fairly familiar.

The director's Q&A was rather informative. In the Maori wars, the Maori were able to fight so long despite being out manned and out gunned because they were tenacious fighters, brilliant strategists, and had more advanced arms provided by American whalers.

the film's story is loosely inspired by a few real stories. A man's daughter was taken for his having put a road through sacred land, and, when she was later found, she had forgotten ever being European. A Red Cross nurse treated Maori on the other side and kept it secret for 20 years because it was a treasonous act. From the further commentary by the director, it seems much of the Maori chief's actions in the film were based on stories of the old chiefs.

Le Samourai (1967, Jean-Pierre Melville)
From what I hear, this isn't a bad introduction to Melville.

It definitely has a French New Wave feel to it with the handheld cameras at certain times. Alain Delon's virtually silent assassin is good, as is the entire film.

The assassin kills a man, is picked up by the police, but he has constructed a good alibi. His employers try to kill him as the police keep after him for the murder. He kills the head of the contracting organization, then sets himself up to be killed rather than fulfill his last contract.

This is supposedly the inspiration behind Ghost Dog and The Professional among others.

Travelogue Day 24


Burke & Wills (2005, Oliver Torr and Matthew Zeremis)
A portrait of two young men: Burke, who begins the film as a somewhat aloof but mostly ok guy, and wills, a layabout. Wills is forced to move out of his girlfriend's house by her mother and moves in with Burke.

Burke is quiet as Wills talks about his life, dreams, and ideas. He responds only in limited exchanges and does the same at his job. Wills finds a job (after a great interview scene) and starts to get himself together as he tries to reunite with his girlfriend.

Burke, who we can tell is schizophrenic if we know the signs, does well until his grandmother dies. This triggers the more severe symptoms and his consequent devolution that culminates in his rape of Wills' girlfriend and suicide. Wills finds him after these events are relayed to him by her, sees Burke bleeding, and leaves him to die.

The early parts of the film can be quite humourous, while the later bits are rather twisting. They did very well at showing that schizophrenics aren't always symptomatic and that those symptoms, once evident, can be pretty terrible; also that they can be set off by any significant stressor.

I saw the man who performed the music for the film perform at the Statement Lounge between films. He was alright, and some of the songs had rather clever lyrics.

No. 2 (2006, Toa Fraser)
A grandmother's desire to name a successor before her death leads to a party that reunites a family at odds.

After much turmoil, the party goes off. Rather than just her grandchildren, Nana Maria, gets a party with her children, grandchildren and their boy/girl friends, and great grandchildren. They manage, after much frustration and effort, to all come together and have a good time and feast just like the parties Nana Maria remembers from her youth.

Devon puts this in the category of "ethnic family coming together for significant event and dealing with various problems because of it" (think My Big Fat Greek Wedding). While I don't agree completely, it does quickly become clear where the movie is most likely going next.

Travelogue Day 23


Saw Debbie at Backpacker's world about my trip. I got information and will finalize my plans on Monday.

Perhaps Love (2005, Peter Ho-Sun Chan)
Love triangle set in a circus, very Moulin Rouge. I didn't really like that either. A little too clever with the film within a film idea. Memory likened to film and the film brings up ideas of rearranging memory like a film is rearranged in editing.

The film within the film is the main story, leading to confusion between what is reality in the film and what's film in the film that in another place might have been better, but here comes off as trying to be too clever. Some of the CG work was clever in a good way, but a bit overdone. The spectacle was definitely there, but it's perhaps just not my thing.

The director's Q&A afterward was much more rewarding. He talked mostly about the state of the film industry in China.

Problems with cinema attendance in China are due to price (seeing 10 movies per year is easily one month's wages in mainland China), poor quality films, and piracy (enabling people to watch good movies at home rather than pay excessive amounts of money to see bad ones). The choice to make Perhaps Love a musical, and therefore big, was an attempt to use spectacle to bring people into the cinemas.

The top five films in China can make 100 million <Chinese currency>, number six is lucky to get five million. This leads to conflicts within directors similar to the one faced by the film's director character: a lot of pressure to make very big movies to get people in cinema seats.

Pusher II: With Blood on my Hands (2004, Nicolas Winding Refn)
A worthy successor of Pusher. It follows Tonny as he gets out of prison after Frank beat him with a bat in the first film. He gets out owing money, and his dad won't give him any work in his criminal organization because Tonny is notoriously unreliable.

He does some jobs, some poorly (stealing a Ferari without an order), some well (stealing a showroom full of BMWs), finds out he has a kid, fails to kill his father's new wife, and runs off with his kid into the unknown.

More character development than Pusher and less violence. Rather good.

The Bet (2006, Mark Lee)
A fairly standard tale of the pitfalls of greed and gambling, and how rich, upperclass people are evil.

The actors were very good despite the material they had to work with, and Matthew Newton has a potential future in showbusiness if for nothing else than that he looks like a movie star.

The shots of the city were good, but overused. It seemed as if they had gotten money from the city of Sydney to finance the film and were required to put a certain number of shots of the city into the movie in return.

Travelogue Day 22


Little Miss Sunshine (2006, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris)
Family coming together, learning to embrace differences.

Alan Arkin's grandpa is the highlight of the film. Greg Kinnear's character is an aspiring self-help guru, but no one wants to buy his nine steps to being a winner. The son can't stand the antics of the family and takes a vow of silence until he enters the Air Force Academy. Steve Carell is uncle Frank, the foremost Proust scholar in America who tried to kill himself after his grad student lover ran off with his rival. Olive, the daughter obsessed with winning the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. Toni Collette is the mother trying to hold them all together.

Everything is great, but towards the end of the film, many of the jokes are easily foreseen. Despite this they pull it off

Footy Chicks (2006, Rebecca Barry)
Mediocre at best examination of the world of footy groupies. Most know what they're getting into, and all of them seem to dislike most of it but continue to keep themselves in that world.

The highlight of the film is Jane, an 80 year old footy fan who makes needle-point, tapestries, and poetry about the players. She particularly likes the players' muscular legs and bums. Her screen time is the only enjoyable aspect of the film.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Travelogue Day 21


Workingman's Death (2005, Michael Glawogger)
A fairly intimate portrait of manual laborers in five different places and professions (coal miners in the Ukraine, sulfur harvesters in Indonesia, abattoir workers in Nigeria, shipwreckers in Pakistan, and steel workers in China) that documents the death of very hard manual labor in the modern world.

We see how difficult coal mining used to be everywhere while following Ukrainian men into mines only tall enough to crawl through. The government abandoned the mines like these men, former government miners, and this is the only way they can survive. Seeing them eat their lunches in such confined quarters is interesting to say the least.

It is likewise hard for the sulfur harvesters in Indonesia. They brave volcanic gases on the mountainside to carry upwards of 115 kilograms of sulfur down the mountain to sell. On the way they walk through tourists and school groups who pose as sulfur harvesters for souvenir pictures. One harvester uses molten sulfur to make small sculptures he sells to the tourists on his way down the mountain.

The Nigerian abattoir is all out-door and highly specialized. There are the slaughterers, roasters (roasting whole animals, skin on and ungutted, something new to me), skinners, carvers, and those who carry the fresh skinned meat to waiting vehicles. A young boy even sells fresh water by the bottle to the workers. This landscape seems the most Hellish. Everything is blackened, often covered in gore, discarded animal parts, and enshrouded in acrid smoke.

The Pakistani shipmen work around the clock to cut apart old, large seafaring vessels. They cut them apart by hand, using a large winching system to pull these large sections onto the sore for further disassembly. The conditions are harsh, and workers face death many times daily (especially with their general lack of safety gear).

Chinese steel workers mention how things are changing. They still toil in harsh, dangerous conditions, but modernization is slowly changing that, new works are going up, and the older workers say they aren't likely to press their children into their line of work.

Every group of these workers express their happiness to have their jobs at the same time they lament the difficulty of the work. In the end, however, they ignore the hardships and carry on as does everyone else.

It is in the epilogue that the point the film wishes to make comes home. By showing a German steel plant that has been decommissioned and turned into a public park of sorts, the film seems to celebrate the march of modernity and its ability to eliminate the need for people to do such dangerous work by mechanizing it.

It seems to be a celebration, but should it be a lament?

Girl Shy (1924, Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor)
My first Harold Lloyd film is viewed (nearly) appropriately: in the picture palace that is the Sydney State Theatre and with live musical accompaniment (I say "nearly" because there are three musicians rather than a full orchestra).

The tale of a poor young man so afraid of girls he stutters uncontrollably whenever they're around who finds love with a rich young woman when he saves her dog from being left behind on the train one day.

Mishaps occur, as you would expect in a 1920s comedy. He is only able to talk to her about his book (a fictional tale of his exploits at love), and he wins her over. However, when he finds that he really won't be getting it published, he puts her off because he things he won't be good enough for her as only a poor tailor's assistant.

Luckily, he gets an advance cheque from the publisher (because they decided to go with his book) and finds out the man his girl is to marry is already married. This sets off a Grand Theft Auto style sequence (with Harold stealing cars, motorcycles, a horse and cart, and a streetcar) of Harold's rush to rescue his sweetheart, culminating in his theft of the bride and proposal.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Travelogue Day 20


La Moustache (2005, Emmanuel Carrère)
Time as Möbius strip?

Is he crazy or is everyone else? Perhaps he is trapped in an alternate past or future and has to find his way back? If time is a river, all the time spent on ferries to various places an attempt to find his way back to the river he knows? (Shaving off his moustache left him unanchored to his time and space. This drifting the reason why everything gets more different with increasing rapidity until he abandons his river/timeline to find another?)

I also attended a forum entitled "Where are the stories of Islamic people on our screens?" Thpanelel and audience managed to conclude (well, I concluded from their statements and comments) the following:
1. The lack of Islamic stories on screens is not due to an anti-Muslim/Arab attitude in the industry itself, but the audiences often fall victim to governmental anti-Muslim rhetoric.

2. There is a dearth of trained people within the Muslim communities. Also, industries like the media industries are often considered haram and, therefore, something to be avoided by observant Muslims.

3. Stories of Islamic people will continue to be placed in poor time slots, if they are seen at all, until they are told in a more engaging manner that can draw in the laymen as well as the already converted.

4. Islamic/Arabic filmmakers have trouble getting work for the same reasons other people have difficulty: those who fund films demand high return on their investment, so they are more likely to back established directors, known plot formulae, and are very risk averse.

The best comment of the evening came from a Muslim man in the audience who works in advertising (if I recall correctly) who said that the current productions, despite being good productions and doing their part, are like a webpage where the links lead to nowhere. They do not link back to the greater Australian or white Western culture, and without this, they have little chance of being seen by a greater audience on mainstream TV.

Travelogue Day 19


Pusher (1996, Nicolas Winding Refn)
Low budget crime film. Well done overall with no discernable "good guy." Frank pushes dope for Milo, trys to start something on the side, but every time something goes wrong. Radovan, Milo's enforcer, is sent to collect the money Frank owes Milo. Torture, escape, then Frank is offered a chance at redemption. Plenty of good times, blood, and drugs. It was also interesting to see Mads Mikkelson in a role quite different from Ivan in Adam's Apples.

House of Sand (2005, Andrucha Waddington)
The visuals are outstanding. The dunes, the sky, the sea, all are striking.

The story, however, was not so great for me. A group of people go into the dunes in Brazil to set up a settlement. The women in the group are very unhappy with the frontier and help along their own desertion and the death of Aurea's husband. They try to survive with the help of runaway slaves as she has a daughter and misses verious chances to go back to civilization until she finds happiness out there.

Why her daughter, Maria, is so intent on going to the city, I don't know. I suppose there is some sort of commentary here about the detrimental effects on women of being under the control of men (a man essentially forces them out there in the first place and it is a man's (in)actions that keep them there). But Aurea's mother likes it out in the dunes because, "No man can tell me what to do."

Starfish Hotel (2006, John Williams)
Seems to be heavily influenced by In the Mouth of Madness and David Lynch films.

A man, who is a fan of a certain author's mystery novels, has his wife go missing the day after he meets a man dressed as Mr. Trickster, a large and rather sickly/homicidal looking rabbit, who is promoting the author's new book. The man has dreams about places the author frequents and also, presumably, what is referred to in the novels as the "Darkland."

The man's tale seems to be narrated by the author as it sounds ever increasingly like the descriptions he is giving of his next to-be-published novel. Mr. Trickster makes further appearances to give omniscient knowledge to the man and perform the actions necessary to carry him to the end of the tale. Mr. Trickster, however, proves himself as tricky as his namesake.

The visuals in the dream sequences (Darkland?) reminiscent of Lynch and often in richer colour than the other sections. Despite its similarities to Western films and their style, there is something very Japanese about the film (especially in the bits to do with the other woman at the Starfish Hotel, but all pervasive).

It's days later, and I still don't have a full handle on it, which means it's probably quite good, my having liked it notwithstanding.