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.”