Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Punter's Guide to MIFF

Or... what I saw at the Melbourne International Film Festival, 2013.


Rates:  *  *

The 62nd MIFF opened with the latest from acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Aldomovar, which marked a return to the raunchy, uninhibited comedies that put him on the map. It's a shame then that this film mostly fails to titillate or shock, and so compares unfavourably with the director's earlier work. There are some laughs to be had - as the crew of a stricken airliner try to distract each other from their plight with drunken craziness - but the film misfires too often for these antics to ever rise above the mediocre. One of the world's finest directors spinning his wheels.


Rates:  *  * 

A large fishing trawler ploughs the North Atlantic; the crew unspool nets, haul them back in and then dismember their catch in the most brutal way imaginable, leaving a trail of blood and fish bits in the boat's wake. This German documentary takes a cinema verite approach to working life at sea, focusing on the purely aural and visual elements of men at large in a vast, wild domain. But despite some eye popping moments, this hypnotic film largely fails to enthrall, as too much screen time is given over to... not very much. A real time sequence of a crew member falling asleep watching TV says plenty about the reaction the film is likely to engender.


Rates:  *  *  *  *

Kate (Olivia Wilde) is like the poster child for a savvy generation; she has a cool job - marketing for a micro brewery - hip clothes, an upbeat attitude and a sharp line in witty comebacks with her equally up to date co-workers. The only dull spot in her busy life is her plodding boyfriend Chris (Ron Livingstone), who's so earnest he seems to move in slow motion, and to who she is obviously not well suited. Flirtation and distraction come in the form of one of her colleagues, the energetic Luke (Jake Johnson), whose eye wanders from his own girlfriend when Kate and Chris split up. Director Joe Swanberg starts with some obvious romantic comedy tropes, but then deftly diverts them in unexpected ways, en route to a refreshingly mature conclusion. The director has a wonderful grasp of his characters and their lives, and is greatly aided by a series of charismatic performances from his cast. An absolute winner.


Rates:  *  *  * 

Following the death of her father, sullen teenager India (Mia Wasikowska) retreats further into her layered inner world; indifferent to both her tormentors at school and her neurotic mother Eve (Nicole Kidman). Her closeted existence is disturbed by the arrival of her uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), a handsome and beguiling presence she is both repelled by and attracted to. There's style to burn in this flamboyantly presented but otherwise unsatisfying melodrama, the first English language film from Korean director Chan-wook Park ('Oldboy'). India and Charlie's relationship is intriguing up to a point, and the story features several twists, but the characters are one note, and the thin plot always feels secondary to the film's look. . 


Rates:  *  *  *  1/2

Three war deserters in 16th century England become unlikely comrades when they abandon the fighting and set off in search of a pint. They are soon waylaid and forced into the service of O'Neill (Michael Smiley), a well armed Irish occultist searching for a magical treasure he is convinced is buried nearby. British director Ben Wheatley has become something of a MIFF favourite ('Kill List,' 'Sightseers') and his latest is a batty, surreal period piece that is equally funny and inscrutable. The dialogue, acting and cinematography are all first rate, but the ultimate object of the exercise, like the buried item the lads are searching for, remains elusive. 


Rates:  *  *  *  *  1/2

In 1964 a nuclear war has devastated the Northern Hemisphere and destroyed most of civilisation as we know it. Anything not annihilated in the initial flash is subject to creeping death, as radioactive fallout slowly spreads across the globe. Melbourne, the world's most southern major city, is the last known pocket of human existence, and the inhabitants nervously busy themselves as they wait for the inevitable. Stanley Kramer's bleak end of the world story has lost none of it's edge, even after fifty years, and presents a devastating portrait of a series of lives caught in a terrible circumstance. As well as providing a fine showcase for some of the leading Hollywood talent of the day - Anthony Perkins, Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire are particularly fine - and despite a typically inert, plank of wood effort from Gregory Peck, On the Beach works equally well as both a piece of social commentary and a heartbreaking human drama. A bona fide classic.


Rates:  *  *  *  *

Kathleen Hanna is a punk. A feminist. An activist. An artist. An energetic person with high ideals and an uncompromising attitude to espousing them. This 'Kickstarter' funded bio pic gives air to many different facets of Hanna's life and features wonderful footage of her shouting spoken word at college alongside clips of her manic performances fronting band Bikini Kill. While the presentation is straight forward, this documentary succeeds because of the quality of the assembled footage, the pulsating soundtrack it's set to and by allowing us to spend extensive time with the subject herself, rather than just a parade of lauded talking heads. You can clearly see why someone would want to make a documentary about Kathleen Hanna, and the audience is richer because someone did. 


Rates:  *  *  *  *

Omar is an average young man on the verge of adulthood; he works a menial job, hangs out with his friends, lives with his family and daydreams about marrying his sweetheart, Nadia. But Omar lives in the occupied West Bank, and so this ordinary existence stands in stark contrast to his surroundings; where soldiers and automatic weapons form part of the scenery. The clash between hope and violent reality drives this wrenching drama, as our likable protagonist is faced with a series of impossible choices, balancing survival against his conscience. Filmed on location, the urban wasteland of contemporary Palestine lends an immediacy to this gripping film, depicting the struggle for survival in one of the world's most hostile places.


Rates:  *  *  *  *  1/2

At a certain point in most people's lives they have questions about themselves; their roots, their history, the lives of their parents. Canadian director - and sometime actor - Sarah Polley's probing of these basic questions provides the foundation of this documentary, but her gentle investigation soon takes a number of turns away from the expected as hidden family secrets are exposed (criminal to be revealed here). Utilising interviews with her extended family and their friends, and minimalistic re-enactments, Polley creates a family portrait remarkable for its depth and candour, and distinguished by the range of emotions on display. Joy, pain, sorrow and love all have their place in this story and it's a testament to the skills of the film maker that the audience can truly feel that they have shared in these moments. An outstanding, heartfelt movie.


Rates:  *  *  *  * 

China is the world's most populous country and its economic miracle child; three decades of modernisation has transformed a rural, isolated backwater into a global powerhouse. But these rapid changes have not come without cost. A Touch of Sin shows life in contemporary China through four loosely linked stories, each depicting a central character struggling to cope with the pressures of their daily lives. Each day is a fist fight; for food, for money, shelter, survival. In such a harsh, unforgiving environment, the violence the characters resort to (taken from real life events) seems entirely understandable and eventually becomes just another element of the background noise of a hyperactive society. A powerful, thought provoking film, full of remarkable performances and indelible imagery. Sure to be one of the year's most talked about movies.


Rates:  *  *  *

Reserved Alvin (Paul Rudd) and slacker Lance (Emile Hirsch) have been thrown together for the summer, working as a two man crew repairing roads damaged in a bushfire in Texas. They spend their days painting lane markings and hammering reflector poles, and their nights irritating each other over a campfire. After one minute of this, you can guess that by the end of another ninety minutes they'll be firm friends. Director David Gordon Green's lackadaisical odd-couple comedy has a few chuckles and an engagingly offbeat tone, but never strays far enough from it's well worn path to catch fire. The two leads are in top form, but don't have enough to work with. 


Rates:  *  *  *  1/2

Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) returns to France from abroad to finalise a long overdue divorce from his wife Marie (Berenice Bejo), who is now living with the melancholy Samir (Tahar Rahim) and his young son. Over the course of a few days, memories and melodrama collide as the characters sort through their lives and try and untangle the mess they have made of their emotions. Director Asghar Farhadi created a sensation two years ago with the Oscar winning A Separation and this, his follow up, mines similar territory to mostly successful effect. Although, after a stunning first half the film does become mired in a needlessly didactic examination of certain plot points (who sent those crucial emails!). This narrative works best when the characters are left to explore their feelings, which the actors convey with effortless, subtle brilliance.


Rates:  *  *  *  1/2

A military coup in Indonesia in the 1960's triggered an era of vengeance and oppression as opponents of the new order were branded Communists and sentenced to death. This bloody work was carried out by the country's criminal element; gangsters and petty thieves who were armed, legitimised and given free reign to achieve the new  Government's ends. Joshua Oppenheimer's documentary examines a few of these killers in the present day and finds them unabashed about their bloody past and, astonishingly, lionised by their communities as national heroes of a sort. The surreal atmosphere of the film is taken to an extreme when the men are encouraged to re-enact their crimes and commence making a film of their own, recounting the days when they were 'killing happily.' An undoubtedly striking and unique film, with many moments that are simply jaw dropping, the overall impact is diluted somewhat by the monolithic length and the toll spending this much time with such vile people takes.


Rates:  *  1/2

After the suicide of a close friend, sea captain Marco (a sturdy Vincent Lindon) quits his job and returns to the city to watch over the remnants of the man's family. He finds the dead man's widow and daughter in dire straights and soon traces the root of their problems to local business tycoon Edouard (Michel Supor), a slimey sexual pervert on whom Marco vows revenge. Director Claire Denis delivers this lurid melodrama in her familiar fragmented style and while this remains as captivating as ever, beneath the dash of the presentation is a ponderous, plodding narrative. The characters are all thoroughly unlikable and their desultory interactions meander slowly toward a disappointingly straight forward conclusion. Fundamentally; people are awful and do terrible things to each other for the most selfish of reasons, a common enough movie theme that you've seen given much more interesting treatment.


Rates:  *  *  *  *  1/2

The Thief may have conceived the perfect crime; he poisons his victims with a parasitic worm that induces a catatonic state, leaving them vulnerable to outside manipulation. He then politely asks them to hand over all of their money and departs with this in a suitcase, leaving the helpless sucker to deal with the resulting psychological trauma, but no memory of his presence. Independent American director Shane Carruth returns with his second feature, nine years after cult favourite Primer, the sort of film for which a concise summary is almost impossible. After a moderately straight forward first act, still full of more ideas than most feature films can encompass, the movie then embarks on an ambitious, complex examination of relationships, reality and patterns of behaviour. And... pigs. Many, many pigs. A bold, at times outlandish, film that is in equal parts disturbing, funny, tender and tragic, but is never less than fascinating. The director also contributes a neat acting turn as Jeff. 


Rates:  *  *  * 

Bob (Casey Affleck) and Ruth (Rooney Mara) are a low rent, likable outlaw couple in rural Texas. When they are cornered by the law, Bob shoulders the blame for their crimes and goes to jail, leaving Ruth to reinvent herself as a straight laced mother to their young child. Several years pass before Bob breaks out of prison, and joins a long line of escaped movie convicts heading for a home that no longer exists, except in his mind. A well rendered slow burn featuring fine performances from Affleck and Ben Foster (as a well intentioned deputy) and luminous cinematography, Saints mixes some effective moments with an uninspired story to middling effect.


Rates:  *  *  *  *

In the wake of a massive, civilisation ending catastrophe (implied to be a meteor impact in the Northern hemisphere), residents of Perth, Western Australia face up to the end with varying degrees of stoicism. Perennial fuck up James (Nathan Phillips) wants to spend the day partying with his friends, but a chance encounter with a distressed young girl (brilliantly played by Angourie Rice), provides him with one last opportunity to show his previously hidden good qualities. This terrific, low budget Australian film serves as showcase for talent on both sides of the camera, and provides moments of excitement and tension along with less expected elements of pathos. Echoing On the Beach but with a contemporary mentality, Hours provides a particularly fine example of the sort of local film we don't see often enough. Winner of The Age critics award for best local feature.


Rates:  *  *  *  1/2

George Burrarwanga was a rock star; handsome, charismatic, energetic, difficult, temperamental and frequently drunk. George's story is at the heart of this documentary, which charts the successes and failures of his primary musical outlet: Warumpi Band. Formed in 1980 and playing a stomping mix of country and classic rock, Warumpi Band struck a small blow for Indigenous Rights when they became the first band to get an Inidgenous language song onto the charts. Given a straightforward presentation, this film is brought to life by thrilling footage from various Warumpi gigs, and by the intriguing dynamic that existed between George and his fellow band co-founder Neil Murray, men who could scarcely be less alike but who forged an enduring bond with their music.


Rates:  *  *  *  *

Oscar Grant is an average young man from the Bay Area of San Francisco; he lives with his girlfriend and their daughter (who he dotes on), frets about money, hangs out with his friends and his extended, tight knit family. But Oscar is also a man with a temper and a past, elements of which trigger a truly shocking tragedy on New Years Eve 2009, when he is shot and killed by transit police. This simple, powerful film - a true story - starts with the crime and then flashes back and so every scene is infused with a sense of impending doom. Some of Oscar's shortcomings as a person may be glossed over, but his final day reveals much about the workings of contemporary American society, and his demise indicates that there is still an enormous of work required towards true racial equality in that country. The parallels for an Australian audience are obvious.


Rates:  *  *  *  * 1/2

Heading for home after an extended stretch at sea, the listless crew of a Norwegian cargo ship have their tedious routine shattered when they are hijacked by Somali pirates. Escalating events on the ship are compounded by the drama at corporate headquarters, where a controlling CEO (Soren Malling) takes personal charge of the negotiations and quickly finds himself out of his depth. This taught, tightly directed thriller starts slowly and then ratchets up the tension in the second half, particularly when focusing on the plight of the ship's easy going cook Mikkel (a superb Johan Phillip Asbaek). The film achieves a level of realism that is completely absorbing and gives a gripping depiction of different personality types cracking under pressure. A top shelf, if harrowing, movie experience.


Rates:  *  *  *  1/2

A computer chess tournament in the early 80's draws a small but intense crowd of misfits, oddballs and programmers to a regional hotel for a weekend of nerdy competition, with as much going on in the rooms after hours as on the chess boards. American mumblecore favourite Andrew Bujalski's latest low-fi comedy is little more than a series of vignettes; many of them hilarious, a number just inexplicable. The cast go a long way to putting this movie over with a series of engaging performances, although Myles Paige is a particular standout as the antagonistic Michael Papageorge. A treat if you're attuned to it sensibility, a baffling exercise if not.


Rates:  *  *  1/2

A lone sailor in the Southern Indian ocean strikes disaster when his small vessel collides with a stray cargo container, fatally breaching its hull. From this point on, nearly every moment is taken up with his struggle to survive, battling storms, fatigue and a series of indifferent cargo ship captains. Hollywood legend Robert Redford is the whole show in this curious man against nature film - which provided MIFF's closing night - and his now craggy good looks neatly complement the rugged grandeur of the untamed wilderness around him. But despite some good scenes and some radiant backdrops, the movie is only partly successful. The little we know about Redford's character, the man is not even named, is not enough to make us really care about his fate, which lends proceedings an aimlessness, despite all the dangers he has to face. An interesting idea for a movie that doesn't quite work.


Rates:  *  *  *  1/2

Homeless Dwight (Macon Blair) seems to have settled at the bottom of the heap; he sleeps in a junked car, rifles through garbage bags for food and periodically breaks and enters. But there is more to Dwight than first appears, and he is shortly shaken out of his torpor when he is notified of the release of the man convicted of murdering his parents twenty years before. Dwight's thirst for vengeance triggers a tense cycle of tit-for-tat violence with the man's family, that soon spirals wildly out of control. This stylish, intelligent, gripping thriller boasts a terrific first half and a wonderful central performance from the expressive Blair, although the second half is more predictable and so less compelling. Up and coming director Jeremy Saulnier has crafted a tough minded film with many surprises and a welcome streak of jet black comedy and looks a talent to watch out for in the future.


Rates:  *  1/2

Dedicated Sarah (Brit Marling) works as an undercover agent for a large, shadowy private security firm. Her latest assignment is to infiltrate the anarchist group 'The East,' who have been making a name for themselves by targeting a series of high profile corporations. Co-writer Marling and director Zal Batmanglij struck gold in 2011 with The Sound of My Voice - one of my favourite films of its year - but after a good start, this follow up is disappointing in almost every respect. Neither the anarchists nor their surprisingly lame 'jams' (pranks) provide much juice and Sarah's crisis - will she allow her new friends to be arrested? - is handled in the most perfunctory way imaginable. Obvious and heavy handed, this is a considerable waste of time and talent.

And that's where I left MIFF this year, having spent a considerable amount of time in the dark and having consumed about 40 000 Eclipse mints in the process. My favourite movies were Upstream Colour and Stories We Tell, both of which will get a wider release, while the major disappointments were the turgid Bastards and the insipid The East, both of which I wanted to be so much better. And, as always, there were far too many films that I just couldn't get to, most of which will hopefully find their way onto other screens in the months ahead.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

5 Books That Would Make Great Movies

I should be clear on this from the start; this is not a list of the best books that haven't been turned into films. This is a just a list of five of my favourite books that haven't been turned into films, along with some daydreaming about what a film version might look like. At least one of these titles would be fearsomely controversial if the adaption were faithful, but all of them would be challenging projects. It's an interesting point to reflect on; these titles are all lauded, acclaimed novels, yet have been deemed too difficult or otherwise unsuitable to translate into a movie, which must say something about the differences between the two industries.


By Cormac McCarthy

'Blood' is in the title for a reason; this revisionist Western is awash with it, as an unnamed kid joins a gang of Indian hunters during the Mexican-American war of the 1850s. McCarthy pulls no punches in his brutal depiction of a group of savage men at large in a lawless time, and then dazzles by setting these scenes directly alongside lyrical prose that conveys the wonder of the natural world around them. A truly remarkable book, rightly considered the authors seminal work and among the most audacious of the 20th century.

Fantasy Movie Time

The Pitch

A bleak, modern take on a classic Western scenario, equal parts Leone and Deadwood.



Paul Thomas Anderson has adapted books before and takes an uncompromising approach to his material. Terence Malik's films show a mix of ferocity and spirituality that would suit the story.


- The Kid: An unknown, precocious newcomer.
- Glanton: Mark Strong as the psychotic gang leader.
- The Judge: Daniel Day Lewis, channeling Bill the Butcher, as a philosophical outlaw with a sadistic streak.
- Sam Rockwell as The Ex-Preist, a lost soul who The Kid befriends.


By Douglas Coupland

Canadian author Coupland didn't coin the phrase of the title, but he helped lodge it permanently in the mainstream consciousness with this hip, flippant, hugely influential book. Dag, Claire and Andy have abandoned upwardly mobile lives in fashionable parts of America and relocated to the Coachella Valley to regroup. They fill their days with cocktails, anecdotes and pop culture ephemera and prop up this minimalist existence with McJobs in the service industry. Their goal is to try and figure out what comes next. These are lives adrift, but their stories are pointed and the narrators are people you'd like to share a lazy afternoon with.

Fantasy Movie Time

The Pitch

A sly, droll comedy-drama about finding your place.



Richard Linklater is a director who has depicted characters like these throughout his career. Ben Stiller has been one of these charcaters, at times anyway, and would choose a great 90's soundtrack.


- Andy: Benedict Cumberbatch as the melancholy, reflective everyman.
- Dag: Will Arnett as his compulsive, hyperactive bestie.
- Claire: Zooey Descehnal as their witty, intelligent neighbour.


By William Gibson

In the near future, a down and out computer hacker takes a job working for shadowy interests who want to crack the world's most advanced Artifical Intelligence system. What follows is a heady mixture of Phillip K. Dick and Raymond Chandler, imaginative sci-fi and gumshoe mystery, as our anti hero tours a bleak future world so vivid a new term had to be created to summarise it; cyber-punk..

Fantasy Movie Time

The Pitch

Like an updated version of 'Blade Runner'; cutting edge, cerebral sci-fi.



Guillermo del Toro if he felt like working on a smaller project. Darren Aranofsky if he felt like getting back to his roots.


- Case: Ezra Miller as the inscrutable, brooding hacker.
- Molly: Elizabeth Olsen as Case's tough, resourceful ally/troubleshooter.
- Armitage: Nick Nolte as the burnt out former military man, the front for Case's employers.


By John Updike

Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom has come to a dead end; married to a woman he doesn't like, working a job he can't stand and lumbered with two kids that he barely notices. A former high school basketball star with an inflated self opinion, Rabbit has sailed through life paying little attention to where he's headed, until one day he realises this has bought him to a place he doesn't like. His premature mid life crisis encompasses an affair, a tragedy and much puzzled indecision and Updike's elegant, spare prose provides a devastating portrayal of a frustrated life.

Fantasy Movie Time

The Pitch

The cons of middle class, middle America.



Alexander Payne has built a career documenting the trials and triumphs of everyday life, and is an expert adapter of source material. The Coen Brothers would bring the comic elements of the book to life, and would have a field day with the novels rich cast of peripheral characters.


- Rabbit: Joseph Gordon Levitt is naturally likable and a good enough actor to get to Rabbit's dark side.
- Janice: Kelly McDonald as Rabbit's ditzy, yet resilient, wife.
- Ruth: Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Rabbit's fling, a hard headed girl who falls hard.
- Eccles: Ed Norton as the unconventional priest who lends Rabbit his ear.


By David Ireland

Sydney in the 70's; a group of mates hang around the Southern Cross Hotel, swapping yarns and downing schooners as the less constant elements of their life - jobs, women, money - come and go on the breeze. David Ireland's definitive picture of tribal, blokey, Australian life still rings true for anyone who's ever bent an arm at a bar, while also serving as a neat time capsule and reminder of all of the things around us that have changed. The sort of story we don't see told often enough, about ourselves.

Fantasy Movie Time

The Pitch

Kind of like a local version of 'Trainspotting,' with beer instead of heroin.



David Caesar hasn't done much for a while and would seem ideally suited to capturing regular blokes mucking about. Peter Weir if he could be tempted.


- Meat Man: Ben Mendelsohn is a dead lock to play the laconic, unflappable narrator.
- Mick: Joel Edgerton as the pub hard case.
- King: Adam Zwar as the pub smart arse.
- Sibley: Sean Micallef as an alcoholic wannabe intellectual doing a study on 'the drinking culture.'

Friday, July 12, 2013

5 Great Moments from 'Brazil'

Terry Gilliam's second non-Python feature is a perfect movie for misanthropes; the people above you in life's hierarchy are a nasty, mean spirited, hateful bunch... and the people below you are pretty much the same. Best to take your truck driving girlfriend and try and escape the lot of them then; aided by your only friend, the renegade heating engineer. This is the fate of Sam Lowry; a mild mannered public service drone who dreams only of donning a pair of mechanical wings and flying away. One of my very favourite movies, 'Brazil' screened last week in 35mm at The Astor.

5 of my favourite moments.

1. Receipts

‘Here is your receipt for your husband. And this is my receipt, for your receipt.’

(iPhone users, find the clip here)

Functionaries of totalitarian governments are normally portrayed in the darkest vein possible; large, jackbooted and malevolent, they swagger around clubbing heads and locking people into underground dungeons. But history shows that extreme governments attract quite a different sort of person, in equally large numbers: bureaucrats. 'The banality of evil,' famously ascribed to Adolf Eichmann, is on full display in 'Brazil,' where the wheels of government are kept turning by an army of utterly impersonal jerks. We've all had to deal with this type when trying to make an insurance claim, query a mobile phone bill or dispute a parking ticket and it's not much of a stretch to imagine the same pedantic mentality applied to a society where abductions and torture are commonplace.

2. Kurtzman

'Well perhaps we could lose it under a filing cabinet or something? Burn it? Eat it?’

(iPhone users find the clip here)

It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for Sam’s boss, Mr Kurtzman. I've worked in some crummy offices over the years and I often felt sorry for the bosses I had in them; only marginally better paid but working much longer hours and having to endure their own managers spouting at them about ‘facilitating results’. So you feel sorry for Kurtzman (wonderfully played by Ian Holm, who still looks about sixty even in 1985) while at the same time despising him as a living incarnation of everything that has gone wrong with the world. Kurtzman will do anything - lie, swindle, forge - to keep his shabby office in middle management, a characteristic he also shares with many of the managers I've had over the years.

3. Twenty Seven B  Stroke Six

'This whole apartment could be on fire and I couldn't so much as turn on a tap without a twenty seven b-stroke-six.'

(iPhone users find the clip here).

If any one thing, moment or symbol could best encapsulate the world of 'Brazil,' it's the 27 B/6, the notoriously complex form whose very mention induces a panic attack in one of the Government repairmen sent to Sam's flat. The 27 B/6 reveals the true nature of the totalitarian Government of the movie, and of all such Government's from history; Government's who are effectively at war with the people that they're meant to represent. Forms, stamps, queues and red tape are the first line of defence in such a battle, as they misdirect, obfuscate and generally retard any efforts people make to try and force the Government to serve their will. And for anyone who navigates or avoids these obstacles, there's always the balaclava-ed militia waiting in reserve.

4.  Credit

'All you're requested to do right now is to sign this form!'

(iPhone users find the clip here).

Running throughout the film is a constant riff on credit and credit ratings; the fundamental necessity of one and the dire consequences attached to damaging the other. This reaches a comic zenith after Sam is arrested for 'freelance subversion' and taken to a holding cell. He meets not with police or Government agents, but with a series of private credit representatives, all offering different ways for him to pay for the torture he's about to endure. And he gets some very sage advice from one of his guards: 'Don't fight it son. Confess, quickly.If you hold out too long you could jeopardize your credit rating.' Useful words to remember, when our government introduces this same policy in the years ahead.

5. Escape

'He's got away from us, Jack.'

(iPhone users find the clip here).

George Orwell's '1984' is an obvious inspiration for the film and Orwell has his own protagonist, Winston Smith, reflect on his dilemma this way:

Always the eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, working or eating, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or in bed. No escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your head. 

One of the horrors of Orwell's piece is the way Smith is disabused of this notion, once he realises that the Thought Police have truly infiltrated everything and everywhere. More happily, Sam Lowry still has this option available to him, once all other escape routes have been blocked. It's a measure of how well the nightmarish reality of 'Brazil' has been rendered that you're pleased to see that the lead character has gone insane. Insanity is undoubtedly preferable to the world Sam has found around him, once his eyes have been opened, something that the director of this film undoubtedly kept in mind once shooting was over and the battle over who had final cut began. But that's a story... for another time...

Friday, July 5, 2013

Top 5 Most Ridiculous Bits from Baz's 'Gatsby'


You can almost see Baz thinking about turning this book into a movie: 

'Yeah, it's not a bad story. Love, drama, great clothes, cocaine. But if we're going to turn it into a film, we'll have to frame it properly. Like... the insipid character, Gatsby's mate, maybe he could be an alcoholic... and he's had a breakdown... and he's in hospital! Yeah! And he's telling the story to his shrink - I love this! - and maybe he's a failed novelist too. I mean, all failed artists go nuts if they don't have success like I've had, right? So he's writing a book as well! And that's the story we're watching! The Great Gatsby... IS HIS BOOK!!! Now... who mentioned cocaine?'

Which is to say; the idea of having Nick Carroway committed to a sanitarium and simultaneously telling Gatsby's story to his shrink and (and?) writing  a book about it has got to be one of the daftest and most ludicrously unnecessary plot devices in the history of cinema. It adds nothing whatever to the main thrust of the narrative, while padding the already generous running time by another twenty minutes. And this is without even mentioning the dialogue from these scenes, which distinguishes itself from the witty, urbane language that has been directly translated from the book by demonstrating neither of these qualities. The silliness on display is well summed up at the end, when Carroway has finished his book and you see him putting the cover page down onto the rest. 'Gatsby', he's called it. Then he pauses, sucks his thumb, daydreams... Aha! He then adds, 'The Great,' to the title. Bingo!

You would need a bowl of cocaine to enjoy dreck like this. A big one.

2. JACK 

Waddling about in the middle of the scenes that comprise item 1 on this list is Jack Thompson, venerable Australian actor and nice bloke, here doing some of the worst work of his career. To underline the fact that his part serves no useful purpose in what we're watching, Thompson serves up a shrill caricature, and sports an accent that may be kindly described as unidentifiable. Sample dialogue:

CARROWAY: And that's when I met him. 

THOMSPON: Argarb adj?

CARROWAY: Gatsby Doctor. Jay Gatbsy. 

THOMPSON: Hnk, grnngk granj?

CARROWAY: That's right doctor, the man from my novel. The man who changed everything.

This is probably not Thompson's fault entirely, given the sheer uselessness of his role, but his tired, silly performance doesn't help.


Baz directs 'Gatsby' at two speeds only; meandering and blitzkreig. One of the faults of the film is that the director has applied these speed limits the wrong way round, zipping over the important stuff and spending an eternity lingering over some pretty ephemera that you weary of in two minutes. Witness the never ending party scenes that make up the bulk of the first half of the film; dancers, musicians, champagne, noise, lights, chaos, fireworks, dancers, musicians, champagne, noise, lights, chaos, fireworks, dancers, musicians, champagne, noise, lights, chaos, fireworks... and on and on and on, until you start to feel a little sick from excess even though you're just sitting there in the dark. Then compare this to the treatment of the crucial moment where Gatbsy tells Carroway the truth about his past:

CARROWAY (voice over): Gatsby said he'd been born poor, on a farm in nowheresville... then he made friends with some rich guy in a boat... then he was, here.

And then the flashy stuff starts up again. It's obvious what parts of the novel attracted Baz to a film adaptation, and it wasn't the oft cited subtext that Gatsby represents 1920's malaise and the failings of the American Dream.


Since it's come up anyway, what about that missing subtext? 'The Great Gatsby' is held up as one of the great novels as the story works well as a tragic tale of doomed romance, while at the same time the characters serve as metaphors in a wider game of socio-political commentary. Gatsby is a handsome, lovestruck anti-hero, while his obsession with wealth and excess at the expense of values mirror these same qualities in American society. Carroway's calm, droll observer helps drive the story and gives us an objective viewpoint on events, while also commenting on America's isolationist mentaility and laissez faire economy. And so on. But Baz's Gatsby has none of this.

His metaphors are more like; Jay Gatsby is a handsome young man who likes a pretty girlie who doesn't really like him back. Then he dies suddenly. This is sad. Or, Nick Carroway is a handsome young man who can't find a girlie he likes and so goes crazy and ends up in a nuthouse. This is also sad. Handsome people are also sad, despite their nice clothes.You can't help  but feel that something has been lost here, or that Baz was just the wrong man to re-imagine the text.


Isla Fisher as a working class Noo Yawker who likes to party? Vince Colosimo as a bar tender in the sticks (admittedly my girlfriend's favourite moment)? Steve Bisley as a hardy old sea dog who says 'old sport' a lot? I guess Baz was trying to help out some of his mates in the industry, but the casting of these Aussies in an American period film was not a great idea. Although Bisley's one scene is so absurd that it is actually pretty funny, which was a welcome development by the time it came along.


Having listed the above points and neglected any number of other dud elements, it would be unfair not to note that some parts of the film work better than expected. The main cast all try hard and a good scene or two does emerge in the second half (possibly from when Baz was down the street, buying more Coke). And the clothes and set design are impressively rich (while never being much lingered on by Baz's hyperactive camera). My single favourite moment was probably the dramatic climax at the Plaza Hotel, where Gatsby and his nemesis Tom Buchanan finally tangle. Tom's rebuke: 'Don't call me old sport!!' made me chuckle when I read the book, exactly as it did in the movie, and exactly as it's supposed to in both. And so provided a solitary example of when all three of these elements lined up.