Sunday, July 30, 2006

A Scanner Darkly

Society (in southern California) is being destroyed by a drug called D (not to be confused with P). Authorities are using intensive surveillance using hidden cameras and secret agents to track users and suppliers and a big corporation is running the only successful rehabilitation clinic, but drug use is still on the rise. The story is about a secret agent (Keanu Reeves), his work and his friends and flatmates (Robert Downey Jt, Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder). Everyone from the drug users to the authorities are paranoid and both are victims of the real enemy.

Visually this film varies from being obviously drawn (animation) to being almost indistinguishable from photography (due to the way they have done the Rotoscoping). I found this disconcerting. The amusement comes from the paranoid but laid back, mind altered story telling and in the humour (especially the Robert Downey Jr character) rather than the plot.

Ian’s Rating: 3.5/5

The White Planet

I went to the White Planet at the Embassy this morning while Ian headed off to Brooklyn to see Kirikou and the Sorceress. The White Planet documents a year in the arctic and shows the scenic, metereological, biological and zoological highlights of each season. People who have pay TV might wonder why you'd go to the cinema to see a nature documentary since there are whole channels devoted to this kind of stuff, but we don't have pay TV and I think that if you're going to see a film that features an amazing landscape you should see it on as big a screen as you can manage. I saw March of the Penguins on a tiny screen on a plane, and that clearly wasn't how it should be seen.

The White Planet is a really rewarding watch. The scenic stuff was great - particularly the northern lights and the full moon rising over the ice.The animal footage was better than anything I'd ever seen - you're in the little burrow with the lemming while the arctic fox is overhead, and under the ice with the little seal while the polar bear prowls on top. You can see the seal's nostrils flaring and hear its breathing accelerate. And you hear the polar bear grunt in disgust after it get wet but the seal gets away. There were shots of a pod of beluga whales taken from underneath so you could see all their abdominal muscles flexing, and a pod of humpbacks swimming up a fjord taken from above. There were narwhals, phosporescent jelly fish, guillemots, artic owls, reindeer, bison. I learned that mosquitos make summer a torment for reindeer and that new-born polar bears are about as big as their mother's nose. I felt for baby seals trying to feed - a difficult task when their mother is shaped like a barrel and her nipples are tiny. Baby reindeer have to learn to trot within 2 hours of being born, which is also a challenge.

The soundtrack is mostly music - there's a bit of voice-over which is in French, and sometimes the subtitles don't show up well against the snow. At the end, the narrator reminds you that the Artic is disappearing due to global warming, which makes the whole show more poignant.

Anne's rating:4/5

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Last Train to Freo

We went to two films on Thursday night and managed to eat dinner, so it was a successful night. Last Train to Freo was the second of the two , but since I liked it so much I thought I'd write about it first.

This is a film based on a play of the same name, made by the writer and director of the play. It is set on the midnight train from Perth to Fremantle, and revolves around two thugs, recently released from jail, who harrass the other 3 passengers in the carriage - a beautiful female law student, a balding thirty-ish male and a woman in her fifties. The chief thug, (Steve) and star of the show is a larger-than-life character who is unusually tall, has phenomenal biceps and the longest arms you've ever seen (which stretched out along the back of the seats are a truly amazing sight) , a huge mouth with a huge vocabulary to match and a vast general knowledge. His sidekick Trev generally plays the fool, but is menacing at times. The film is eighty-five minutes long and (apparently) roughly in real time - the real journey takes slightly over an hour, and in the film there is a break in the journey when the train stops for a while for no apparent reason.

Watching this film is like going on an emotional journey as well as on a physical one - the tension rises and falls, humour and menace come and go, and gradually connections form between the characters and it all unfolds so seamlessly. Some of these connections struck me as a bit unlikely but I decided I didn't care and just enjoyed the ride. This film is very, very well acted and completely absorbing and the dialogue is a work of art in its own right. This film reinforces my opinion that Australians make great movies

The writer and director were at the showing and talked afterwards, which was a bonus. They said that only 3 minutes were filmed on a moving train, but it was impossible to tell - the shots out the windows and doors were completely convincing.

Anne's rating: 5/5, Ian's rating: 4/5

The Passenger

Since I don't go to work on Wednesdays, and Ian has the fortnight off (did I mention that already?) we had the novel opportunity to go a movie together at 10.45am on a weekday. This meant we got to hold hands in posh leather seats at the Embassy at a time of day when I normally be wondering if there was time to fit in coffee between patients, but it was a pity that this wasn't a better film.

The Passenger was made in 1975 and (to quote the film festival programme) "mysteriously withheld from circulation by its owner and star Jack Nicholson." I think he withheld it from circulation because it isn't very riveting. It's a thriller about a reporter who swaps identities with an arms dealer he meets in Africa who dies suddenly, and so for the purposes of the story the Jack Nicholson character has faked his own death. There's great potentential for this film to explore the ins and out of pretending to be dead and pretending to be an arms dealer, all of which could be tricky and dangerous. It fails to do either of these things and meanders along plotlessly, apart from the main character meeting up with a beautiful teenager played by Maria Schneider, (every man's wet dream, Ian said helpfully ["going on a road trip with a sexually available beautiful teenager is a middle aged man's wet dream" is what I actually said]) who he takes along for the ride as he trips around Europe. Meantime his wife gets suspicious and attempts to track him down, which again provided a good opportunity for drama which the film failed to exploit

The redeeming features are the beautiful scenery (the Sahara, and parts of Spain) and the beautiful people - Jack Nicholson was pretty sexy and so was his co-star. They weren't enough to keep me gripped for 125 minutes, though.

Anne's rating: 2/5, Ian's rating: 2/5

2006 Film Festival Explained

In case you haven't worked this out yet, the current flurry of blogging is because its film festival time again. This year the festival runs from July 21st to August 6th, so right now we're a week in. Ian is realising a long-held ambition to take the film festival fortnight off work, so he is going to more films than I am and has more time to blog, but we are going to a dozen or so together and the blog is still a joint effort.

For anyone who is new to this blog, or has forgotten, the explanation of the ratings system appears in the archives for July 2005.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Sri Lanka looks stunning standing in for an exotic, sweaty, hot, wet 1930’s India. This is a film about Hindu widows set in 1938. Widows shunned by family and society, not allowed to work or remarry or go to school. Chuyia an 8 year old child widow is an effective explanatory and message delivery device – "Where are the man widows?" is one of her many questions. She is also the only widow to not accept the situation.

Change comes through a law student who has been listening to too much Ghandi and who spots a particularly luscious and coy young widow, though one with a secret to the economy of widowhood.

As a feminist, political film it might have been more powerful if set in today’s India. But the romantic glory of the thirties makes this a stunningly beautiful film.

Ian’s Rating 4/5


Shortbus might become a cult film. It has the ingredients: odd, perhaps unique, riveting and flawed. The story was developed with the cast and given the amount and type of sex involved I think this was the easiest way to make the film. It also means there is a lack of overall plot or message. There are four parallel and slightly interrelated stories of sexual angst some of which get resolved at the end -- rather too quickly and neatly for credibility’s sake. Perhaps the producer rang a bell while everyone was having fun and called out ‘Time please boys and girls, you have 5 minutes to wrap this up, we have to have a climax here’. But I don’t think you are here for the stories. You are here for the sex and there is plenty of that: mostly guy on guy (on guy), but also some exhaustingly fast girl-boy, a variety of solo efforts, a dash of S&M, and general background orgies -- in fact the extras seem to be having more sex (and certainly more fun) than the protagonists at times!

Ian’s Rating 3/5 Anne's rating 3/5

Avenge but one of my two eyes

The story of Masada seems important to Israel. The Jewish revolt and military operations against Roman occupation is used as a historical precedent for a Jewish military tradition. The despair of the garrison under siege is an inspiration for Jews to never allow such a situation to be repeated. And the suicide of the garrison also requires special explanation with respect to Jewish anti-suicide theology.

The story of Samson is an even older story of Jewish strength followed by defeat, then despair and finally revenge through suicide. Samson killed more people with his suicide than he did while alive. This great Jewish hero is also remembered in Israel today through the education system, through pilgrimages and as political inspiration.

This is a documentary tells these two stories punctuated with fragments of a long rambling phone call between the film maker and an almost suicidal Palestinian friend, scenes of interactions between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian coming home from school, plough fields, going to hospital etc.

The film maker goes no further than that though he certainly isn’t pulling his punches.

Ian’s Rating 4/5 Anne's rating:4/5

The Valet

Every film festival has a French farce. This year it is ‘The Valet’ by the director of ‘The Dinner Game’ and ‘The Closet’. As you would expect from a director of this pedigree there are plenty of laughs and no false notes. A CEO (Daniel Auteuil of course) is photographed in the street with his mistress (the stunning bubbly blonde Alice Taglioni) scared of his stock owning wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) he tries to pass off the supermodel as the girlfriend of the passer by in the photo, a car parking valet (Gad Elmaleh). This far fetched plan doesn’t fool the wife who soon turns the tables and the screws on her husband, as does the increasingly disenchanted mistress. On the flip side of the story the hapless car parking attendant finds it difficult to explain his sudden, new ‘live-in girlfriend’ to his flatmate, boss, parents and his childhood sweetheart (the cute local GP’s daughter who doesn’t want to marry him but still has a sweet spot for him).

But, it almost pulls its punches. Farcical opportunities are let slip, awkward situations are magically resolved off-screen and the presence of Kristin Scott Thomas (although playing her haughty role very well) suggests to me that possibly the film makers are aiming for a less demanding possibly non-French audience. Though there is a passing reference to ‘The Dinner Game’ for you to watch out for.

Ian’s Rating 4/5 Anne's rating 3/5

Iraq in Fragments

Given how many reporters and US civilians have been killed there it is amazing that James Longley managed to film this documentary about occupied Iraq. It is in three parts. Part one is about a ten year old Sunni boy in Bagdad. He works in an auto mechanic shop and lives with his grandmother and an uncle. Failing at school, to his boss’s concern, we hear about life in Bagdad from him, his boss and their customers. Part two is about Shiite politics in the south of Iraq, the story here is a lot less personal but more directly related to the war. Part three is about a Kurdish farming family in the north, again a personal story about the choices between work and school and thoughts on politics.

While the other stories are good, part one is by far the most engaging story and worth the price of admission by itself.

Ian’s Rating 3/5


An American high school film noir murder mystery. A girl makes a mysterious phone call to her loner ex-boyfriend who finds her dead 2 days later. He sets out to find out why ahead of the bulls (cops). Everyone is an extreme stereotype: "Brains" with his thick glasses who eats lunch alone to avoid being baited, a jock with his adoring fan club, two manipulative femmes fatales to act as the school's puppet masters and a hierarchy of drug pushers, the bullying assistant VP, the oblivious parents -- refreshingly there are no cheerleaders. More than most high school films the need to attend class never gets in the way of the protagonists and their out-of-class lives make them busy people.

The plot has as many twists and turns as you would expect for a film noir and ultimately exists as much to give atmosphere as it does to drive the story. A lot of violence gets handed out but our hero Brendan has more ‘come back’ in him than a country singer and he staggers on to the end. There are some great funny scenes especially when the film maker reminds us from time to time that these people are just school kids. The other vital ingredient that puts this film into the must see category is the dialog. Trying to understand the jargon and slang is as much part of the fun as trying to second guess the plot turns.

It is worth going out of your way to see this.

Ian’s Rating 5/5

Worldly Desires

This is the sort of film that puts ordinary people off film festivals. It looks like it was shot on a home video by someone who is unfamiliar with focus. It is made up of disconnected shots some looking like the camera was accidentally left on and edited together in an incomprehensible manner. There are shots of the making of a music video, shots of the film crew setting things up, putting them away, eating lunch and waiting about and some film of a couple running through the bush. There is no coherent dialog. A waste of $5.50.

Ian’s Rating 0/5

Heading South

A film about middle age white women going to Haiti to be pampered and serviced by young black men may sound titillating -- and it is. Nice male bodies, ambiguous situations, flirtatious dialog, verbal cat fights as the women compete for the most desirable men. The Haitian characters gradually move from the background to compete with the white middle aged female tourists for our attention, and the focus of the film moves from the personal concerns of the women to the juggling act of a life of their favorite hunk. Edges of darkness gradually permeate the film in the second half and the finale is like watching a slow train wreck. We can see the inevitable before all the players do.

Being Haiti the dialog is mostly in French and sub-titled. The sex is mostly described or off screen rather than seen. It is a film about people rather than pretty scenery and as one character says the difference between the black men in Alabama and those in Haiti are that the Haitian men are not wearing shirts – which some might say is a form of scenery worth paying to see!

Ian’s Rating 3/5

Ghost in the Shell

There are two ways to watch Ghost in the Shell. One is to follow the story, work out who is doing what to who and why, which ones are the good guys and which ones the bad. To do this it helps to understand that "ghost" is used to mean "soul" or "consciousness" rather than "scary dead thing". The heroine, Kusanagi, and her colleagues are a special semi-secret all powerful police division that is part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Most of these special agents have had body modifications, in some cases whole new bodies. Between operations Kusanagi worries whether, with all her body modifications, she is still human. The division’s top priority becomes the "Puppet Master" and via an escalatingly violent series of operation Kusanagi comes face to face with the "Puppet Master" and the metaphorical mirror image of her own situation and her worries are turned on their head by the "Puppet Master's" request.

The other way to watch this is to allow the experience to wash over you. It is a vision of ultimate high-tech domination of nature. Man totally manufacturing his own environment. But it is also tinged with paranoia and uncertainty. Twentieth century buildings are abandoned or are slums. Its a teenage boy’s dream world where the best secret cop is more curvaceous than a centrefold and her job requires her to eschew the flack jackets or long coats of her male counterparts in favour of getting naked during every ambush and fire fight! A world where technology is all powerful, is used to solve every problem and is concentrated in the hands of a few.

Ian’s Rating 4/5