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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sydfest: The End

I mentioned that I had a couple of Sydfest movies still to watch, so for the record here are my thoughts. The first was an interesting failure, the second a qualified success.

Neighbouring Sounds - The sounds are as important as the images in this study about the tensions in a middle-class neighbourhood in Brazil. The multiple storylines sprawl all over the place, with moments of apparently random imagery that only partially come together with the final revelation concerning the community's foundational sin.

Wuthering Heights - Andrea Arnold is an interesting director and her take on a well-known classic is predictably radical. The first shock is the style; 4:3 framing, handheld camera and a lack of music make it more kitchen sink than sweeping epic. The second shock is the casting of Heathcliff as black, which it turns out can easily be justified from the text. The first half of the film works well, but the actor who plays the older Heathcliff is rather wooden, and there is a hopelessly silly necrophilia scene.

I found Kaya Scodelario, playing the older Cathy, to be astoundingly beautiful.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

FilmFest 2012: the stories so far

The weather here in Sydney has been unutterably dreadful for the last couple of weeks. Fortunately, it is also a good time for watching football at ungodly times of the night, as well as this:

Hooray for Sydney Filmfest!

It's been a strange experience this year, because none of my usual film-going companions have been able to make it - they have a sense of responsibility towards their families, it turns out - so I have been flying solo. That's fine, I often go to the movies on my own anyhow, but it has been frustrating not being able to discuss some ambiguities post-movie.

If you've caught any of these, get in touch!

So, what have I seen?

Shut Up and Play the Hits (Co-curated with Vivid and thus covered elsewhere)

Lore - Cate Shortland's historical drama follows a family led by a teenage girl through Germany at the end of WW2. The scenario is familiar from numerous other films, but the twist is that this is a German family steeped in Nazi philosophy. Lore herself must have been around 3 years old when Hitler came to power, and her bewilderment at Germany's collapse is clear, particularly when the family meet a resourceful Jewish lad who helps them out.

It's a compelling film with a superb central performance, but it is slightly marred by some arthouse cliches. The camera weaves through long grass as sunlight dapples the scene, a girl dances in slo-mo, arms aloft.

Dreams of a Life - I had high hopes for this British documentary that were only partially realised. The central story tells of an attractive, smart young woman called Joyce Carol Vincent who died in her London flat but wasn't reported missing for 3 years. The bulk of the film consists of interviews with former friends and lovers (the family declined to take part), many of whom become interesting characters in themselves. It's a fascinating, terribly sad tale, but it probably would have been better off with 30 minutes less running time.

There is a tremendous moment from Joyce's unlikely ex, Martin (nice but not handsome and not so smart), who provides a heartbreaking linguistic slippage;

"I wish she had called, because I would have helped her, because I love you."

I, Anna - This thriller is consistently interesting throughout, but the final revelations are rather deflating. Worth seeing though, as you would expect from a cast headed up by Charlotte Rampling, Gabriel Byrne and Eddie Marsan. I was also impressed with the way the Barbican area of London was shot, I've never seen my home city looking quite like that.

Tabu -A black-and-white, European pastiche of old movies shot in 4:3 ratio? Somebody's after a Best Picture Oscar.

Actually, this overlong piece is far too clever for its own good, and not an iota as entertaining as The Artist. The first half shows the death of a lonely elderly woman in Lisbon and the second an extended flashback to her heyday in colonial Africa, to no great end.

Final Whistle - I always end up seeing an Iranian film at the SFF, and this is perhaps the least remarkable. It's OK I guess, but I ended up sympathising more with the selfish husband rather than the moral wife, which I'm sure wasn't the intention.

Hara-Kiri; Death of a Samurai - After all of this bleak stuff, I was hoping for some scimitar-wielding 3D mayhem from this. But no. The melodramatic central section in which all of the most sympathetic characters die was, I think, the point at which I gave up entirely.

Putting my own emotional state to one side, the interesting premise is fairly well sustained until the perfunctory finale, but (this is a theme of the festival) it is definitely too long. There is also an utterly baffling plot elision that made me think I missed something, but I have nobody to check with.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia - The best film I have seen this year.

A synopsis is inadequate to give an idea of this elusive and complex story. A group of officials accompany a pair of criminals through the hills of Anatolia at night, searching for the spot at which a murder victim was buried. It's a classic set-up but we gradually lose interest in the central plot and become far more engaged with the various men (this is a very male story) and their personal concerns.

This is the longest film I've seen, but it is perfectly judged and not a minute is wasted. It's a tragic tale, but it is extremely funny. And it is full of unexplained mysteries yet supremely satisfying.

2 films to go - I'll blog about them next week - but for now it's back to the sodden world outside.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

What I Do When I Think Nobody Is Watching

A rare day on my own. What to do?

Well, a trip to the cinema would appear to be obligatory, and I haven't caught up on the shiny looking Avengers movie yet.

Gosh, all of those people are beautiful. Some of the quips really are rather funny. That aircraft carrier business is daft. Looks like America is happy to make popcorn movies with direct references to 9/11 these days.

That was fun.

Time for a rest, so I curl up with a big fat Trollope. Why is such behaviour so unfashionable? Is it because of the inevitabilty of the wearisome pun with which I opened this paragraph?

Enough culture, back to Skyrim. I've been spending an awfully long time on this recently. I must give it a rest soon. Just one more level.

M has returned! Still no Bs though, so into the city for Les Liaisons Dangereuse. Superb play, fine cast, lots of laughter with cruel overtones. Splendid.

And home to bed.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Vivid dreams

We've recently had an outbreak of culture here in Sydney, largely thanks to the Vivid Festival. Vivid seems fairly well established by now, thanks to a canny mix of leftfield cultural events at the Opera House and a family-friendly lightshow projected over the whole area. The optical events this year were once again spectacular, but we were more interested in a couple of musical occasions.

Last weekend was a visit from the effervescent Janelle Monae. Working with a cracking band full of outrageous personalities, the show ranged from hip-hop to disco to showtunes with aplomb; cover versions included Nat King Cole, The Jackson Five, Prince and a medley of Bond themes. Despite the entertaining choreography and Monae's exciting dance moves, the star was her powerful and versatile voice.

Up with PJ Harvey as gig of the year so far.

(If you don't know Monae's music, check out this great performance).

Last night was a slightly odd affair, going to see a music documentary in the rather too grand SOH Concert Hall. Worthwhile, though, because the doco in question was Shut Up And Play The Hits, a document of the mighty LCD Soundystem's final gig at Madison Square Garden. It's not a perfect movie by any means, but the central interview and the live footage are fascinating and exhilirating respectively. We also had the bonus of a Q&A with the LCD drummer, who is also co-writer of my choice for the best song of the century so far:

SU&PTH was in fact a co-presentation with the Sydney Film Festival 2012, which starts on Wednesday, almost entirely overlapping with the overnight attractions of Euro 2012. June is going to be HUGE!