Sunday, July 2, 2017

Band Baaja Baaraat

Band Baaja Baaraat contains all of the usual romcom cliches including a last minute run to win a lover's affection. That said all of them are played with ridiculous energy and fervor; as if they were being invented for the first time. Anushka Sharma's hilarious mugging in the first performance of Ainvayi Ainvayi is emblematic but performances aside there's also a riot of dutch angles, jump cuts and zooms. Some of its style is rigorously consistent (like the film's bright colour palate) but some of it comes and goes as needed: there's just one scene involving characters speaking directly into the camera. All of it feels every bit as delightfully kitschy as the heroes' wedding designs. Also whether serendipitous or not the film's through-line of first timers breaking through aligns nicely with its previously unknown male lead and debut director.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Brief History of Gay Zombie Porn and Australian Film Criticism

In 2010 the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) attempted to screen L.A. Zombie, the latest work by avant garde filmmaker/art pornographer Bruce LaBruce.* It didn't work out. The Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) (now the Australian Classification Board) stepped in and refused it classification, effectively banning it from being screened in Australia.**

Predictably enough the Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF) (no really, that's its acronym) rode to the rescue of sickos everywhere and scheduled an illegal screening. Despite being widely advertised (with the location omitted, presumably the details were e-mailed to ticket buyers) the screening went ahead without interference.**** However the organiser's house was later raided by police and charges were laid.***

For me it's in the immediate aftermath of the screening that the real story lies. Luke Buckmaster - quite possibly Australia's most middlebrow film critic - attended and was unsurprisingly outraged. Somewhat disingenuously he supported the OLFC's decision to "...ban the film from screening in general cinemas."**** Strictly speaking that is indeed what the OFLC had done. Of course in practice the film was never going to screen outside of MIFF (with the possible exception of the Sydney Underground Film Festival) and was always going to be shown as an unrated film for 18+ attendees. However Buckmaster is not one to probe technicalities.

The Young Turks of Screen Machine, then Australia's premier journal of smarty pants film criticism, were incensed at what they saw as shameful wowserism and philistinism. The stage was set and on 13 September 2010 the curtain lifted on what I believe to be simultaneously the greatest and pettiest stoush in the history of Australian film criticism.

Ladies and gentlemen, courtesy of the Internet Wayback Machine I present to you Luke Buckmaster vs Emma Jane and Brad Nguyen. Be sure to read the comments:


Saturday, October 22, 2016

Shin Godzilla

Shin Godzilla is pretty good albeit in an odd duck way. It's only peripherally a disaster movie. That's not to say it doesn't utilise Godzilla as a metaphor for nuclear destruction. There's a moment of grand tragedy that is utterly heartbreaking and its ending is quietly chilling. However such moments merely establish stakes; the meat of the film is, of all things, an unabashed celebration of bureaucracy.

Granted it celebrates a particular kind of bureaucracy. Before the heroes can work their magic we churn through a forest of deadwood; old men installed at the top of the hierarchy but too scared of their tentative grasp on power to venture opinions of real substance lest they be shamed. Once they're dealt with the effective bureaucracy can get to work: a mix of Young Turks (including a lone women who is disappointingly token in number but reassuringly not in narrative impact) and old men dismissed as crackpots working together in a comparatively flat organisational structure.

Their teamwork is celebrated in an unusual way. There are no Sorkin-esque walk and talks here and very little striding through hallways in general. Instead <i>Shin Godzilla</i> gets its energy from aggressively edited, oddly framed stills with something subtly off-kilter about the way their subjects are blocked. Adding to the effect are an overwhelming barrage of chyrons (mostly job titles) that are gone as fast as the audience can read them and a musical score that is a hodge podge of original composition and rearranged pieces from previous Godzilla films and, of all things, Neon Genesis Evangalion.

When individuals do emerge from the group it only serves to heighten the film's praise of self-sacrificing teams as they merge their egos with the desire to serve their nation. At one point an ambitious young man explains himself by way of reflecting that, "There needs to be a Japan in ten years if I am to be the Prime Minister of it."

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Compounding My Mifftake

Being 17: Andre Techine makes a respectable return to the material that animated his best known film (Wild Reeds). It's not as complex as that earlier, better work - the tangled knots of love triangles and fluid sexualities are reduced to two boys who learn that fighting is no substitute for fucking - but it does gain the fluid, tracking camera of The Girl on the Train which lends it a measure of anxious energy. It also speaks well of the film that its nods to contemporary hot button topics feel more like parts of characters' daily lives than talking points. Despite this the territory it covers feels over-familiar; perhaps it's time for the coming-of-age genre to grow up.

The Ball at the Anjo House: A part of me suspects that this film's fame in its day and its comparative contemporary obscurity speaks to its now dated now-ness: at every opportunity it hammers home its theme of the aristocracy's fading star. That said it is far from the stodgy work it first appears to be. The Ball slowly ramps up as the evening progresses climaxing in anguished outbursts, suicide attempts and a riot of dutch angles. Unfortunately the actors don't quite sell the melodrama. Setsuko Hara anchors the film in what is apparently a typical dutiful, wise daughter role (I confess I've only seen four films in which she appears) and Masayuki Mori is suitably louche as the dissolute older brother but others over-egg their performances and turn anguish into camp.

Certain Women: A common theme of secure, well-off individuals failing their more needy, precarious acquaintances unites three otherwise disparate stories of small town America. As usual Reichardt achieves sympathetic performances and nuanced interactions. It's a pity then that so much of Certain Women seems to climax in a shrug. This is no more true than of the middle story in which the initial ending of a younger woman's uneasy relationship with an elderly man ending uneasily is in no way complicated by the (already foreshadowed) ultimate success of her material project.

Cosmos: There's a great deal of pleasure to be had at first. I delighted in Genet masticating his dialogue as though every syllable was a piece of gristle, Libereau pulling off a delightful Chaplin impression and the assigning of peculiar ways of speaking to every character. Unfortunately the quirks are repeated ad nauseam until they shred the nerves and the rapid paced verbal gymnastics never let up for a breather. Ultimately the effect is akin to a piece of music played at an unvarying fortissimo for two long hours.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

I Sure Hope This Post Isn't a Horrible MIFFtake

By popular demand (okay no one demanded this) I present a short selection of (mostly) unedited, parenthesis ridden, barely coherent thoughts about most of the films I’ve seen so far at this years’ Melbourne International Film Festival. Oh and they're adapted from Twitter. Happy reading.

(I ran out of steam before writing about Happy Hour which – for the record – is an immaculately blocked take on female friendship that is soured slightly by a late, almost inconsequential development. ...I just wrote about it, didn't I?)

The Eyes of My Mother: This movie toys with the audience’s empathy like a puppet-master and juxtaposes beauty with horror as though digital black and white was worth a damn (maybe it is?) but its overly familiar take on childhood trauma and murderous psychopaths hamstrings it.

Paths of the Soul: Any given frame of this would serve as a Windows wallpaper which is either high praise or devastating criticism depending on your aesthetic bent. (I’m somewhere in the middle. It’s a little uncomfortable here.) That said no Windows wallpaper has ever contained this much arduous religious devotion and the combination of staggering human effort and beautiful scenery is almost as unnerving as the similar contrast in The Eyes of My Mother.

That said it’s all presented in such a way as to make it completely murky as to whether it’s a documentary project or a fiction film. If it’s more the former then these people are near superhuman; if it's more the latter then this film has made ordinary people into myths.

Blood of My Blood: A Dreyer-esque moment of Grace makes this ungainly but beguiling mash-up of witchcraft trial and gentle vampire movie worth more than the sum of its Frankensteined (that's word now) parts.

A New Leaf: So blackly hilarious that its grudging charm almost goes unnoticed. (By me anyway – I wouldn’t presume to speak for you. Even though I just did. Pretend it didn’t happen.)

No Home Movie: If you’ve lost a relative recently this film will make you relive that experience. That said it has its own particulars: In this case the dying relative is a holocaust survivor and as one scene makes painfully clear her loss is also the loss of a living history.

However the film is uncomfortable for less positive reasons: there were times when the filming felt like an non-consensual violation of privacy. The rough and yes, home movie-like aesthetics didn’t make this sit any easier. Uncomfortable intimacy is the watch-phrase.

Toni Erdmann: No hyperbole is too much; no bold text can be sufficiently bold. This may be the single greatest film I have ever seen. (And I’ve seen Beau Travail.) Somehow it manages to take on corporate culture, globalisation and the personal, lonely grind of being human without seeming as direct or as grandiose as that might imply. It does so with a mood that swings between hilarity and misery and sometimes includes both. I was crying and laughing at the same time during a scene in this move and the next scene went and topped it.

Three: I imagine the process of making this went something like this:
"It’s going to be set in a hospital."
"But it's going to be a really artificial set."
"Eh... Hospitals are already kind of artificial?"
"It's going to be the most artificial hospital ever."
"Also this is going to be a ethical drama about professionals."
"But any semblance of ethical, professional behaviour will vanish 10 seconds in."
"Also get me a thimble for a pot."
“This is going to boil over.”

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Ex Machina

Ex Machina is the kind of science fiction movie that hammers home Solaris' point: Any attempt to study or imagine the in- or post-human is doomed to collapse into yet more navel gazing.

Ex Machina is a decent film about a very particular masculine delusion. Namely the god complex as it manifests in youthful technology professionals. Call it Frankenstein 2.0. Unfortunately it fails utterly when attempting to depict an artificial intelligence: the best it can imagine is something yearning and learning to be human, first by explanation, then by physical experience. There's no thought as to what comes after it understands and embodies humanity or any thought that AIs might not be as interested in us as we are in ourselves. In that sense Ex Machina replicates the very delusion it describes.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Four Directors I've Loved

Four favourite directors is one of those "post four pictures" memes going around on twitter. As always I've lived in fear of not being chosen (no one thinks I'm a cool cinephile) and of being chosen (everyone will know what a shitty cinephile I am). Thanks to @jdrrr the former worry is alleviated and I need only grapple with the latter.

In all honesty there's no way I can pick out four directors I currently love because I'm not sufficiently versed in enough directors' oeuvres. There's more than a few of whom I can say that I love every work of theirs that I've seen but "every single work that I've seen" is often 1/3 or less of their output. So I've decided to cheat a little and go with four directors whose work I have been in love with at some point or another.

1. Hirokazu Kore-eda: Baby's First Cinematic Love
 Films seen: All his fiction features with the exceptions of Hana and Our Little Sister
Maborosi (1995)
I  saw my very first film by Kore-eda at my very first film festival. I hadn't seen a film that portrayed a foreign nation with a very different material and social culture before and it blew my very suburban, very white mind to see other cultural practices not just as theoretical differences but as lived, taken-for-granted experiences. The film in question was Still Walking so it also blew my mind to see such a low key and yet deeply moving film. Seeing as I was studying at the time I was able to source most of his films through my university's library and I promptly did so. I especially fell in love with After Life which I watched from a VCD (remember those?) on a laptop. Its portrayal of the afterlife as both stiffly bureaucratic and unabashedly romantic has stayed with me more than anything else Kore-eda's done. I also read more than a few interviews with him and in doing so learned a little about the history of Japanese film: Interviewers almost always quizzed him about Ozu and he almost always responded by acknowledging a debt to Naruse.


2. Carl Theodor Dreyer: Baby's First Religiously Attended Retro
Films seen: Everything, shorts included, except for The Parson's Widow.

Day of Wrath (1943)

As a terrible cinephile it's only natural that I viewed silent films somewhat suspiciously - sight unseen - for the usual nonsensical reasons (too silly, "bad" acting, too simple and so on). However when a full Dreyer retro came to town I had no choice but to attend. For one thing there would be live accompaniment, for another everyone insisted that The Passion of Joan of Arc was one of the greatest films ever, no qualifications necessary. So yes, I went and yes, I fell in love. The films I most enjoyed were his passionate dramas about religion and/or morality like Joan of Arc, The President, Ordet and Day of Wrath. Perversely it was these films that finally gave me the courage, after at least two years of disbelief, to finally tell my religious parents that I was an atheist and would no longer be attending church or leading youth group.  


3. Andrei Tarkovsky: Baby's First Use of Film to Fill a Hole in His Life
Films seen: Ivan's Childhood, Andrei Rublev, Solaris, Stalker, Nostalgia.

Solaris (1972)
Seeing as I was no longer attending church and - being an asocial hermit crab - had nothing much else to do I started watching films on Sunday mornings. For the first few months I ended up diving into Tarkovsky. It was more by accident than by design but I quickly realised just how appropriate his films were. In particular Solaris - in which humans go out among the stars ostensibly to search for something different to or bigger than themselves but in fact to find yet another mirror -  struck a chord with me.


4. Claire Denis: Baby's First Director Loved From Afar
Films seen: Her fiction features with the exception of I Can't Sleep, plus US Go Home and The Hoop Skirt.
Nenette and Boni (1996)
I was theoretically studying history and social science at uni but that didn't stop me from reading film studies books when I was supposed to be researching Zapatistas. It was when reading a book of director interviews that I first came across Claire Denis and learned of her radical take on Billy Budd. For some time Beau Travail - and her films in general - were my cinematic white whale. I nearly rent my garments when I realised that I had turned down the chance to see a Denis film at a festival because it (35 Shots of Rum) had been programmed in the YA section. Fortunately I soon got a chance to see one of hers when White Material played in my city and I caught up with others on SBS or through DVD. However I didn't fall in love until I caught attended a near complete retro of her work while completing a teaching prac. I would stagger into the art gallery every vendredi soir, dead on my feat but eager to prop my eyes open in order to catch Denis' seductive, sensual films. Fittingly none of her films proved to be more alluring than Beau Travail which, despite five years of being an unattainable object of desire, did not disappoint.