Monday, March 25, 2013

Wake In Fright (1971)

A "lost" film that has recently been restored and reappraised.  An American/Australian co-production, shot on a low budget (which doesn't show, the film is shot with grace and invention and looks fantastic) and directed by the Canadian Ted Kotcheff (who'd go on to direct the swell Joshua Then and Now as well as...gulp, Weekend At Bernie's).

A young schoolteacher, stuck in a one room schoolhouse in the Australian outback, decides to escape to Sydney during the summer break.  En route to the city, he gets marooned in a small town after losing all his money gambling.  He soon is drinking heavily, flopping on stranger's beds, going on (real) kangaroo hunts, and engaging in the brutal side of cliche Australian male behavior.

That kangaroo hunt...that was hard to sit through.  If you are unable to watch innocent animals suffering, then you may not want to see this film.  The producer hired kangaroo hunters for this scene and after a few hours, the hunters (who were by then completely drunk) were missing their targets and just wounding the creatures.  The producer fainted on set after seeing a baby kangaroo limping with its entrails dragging behind it.  The director faked a power outage to get them to stop firing.  When this was re-screened at Cannes in 2009 (one of only two films in the festival's history to show twice, the other being Antonioni's L'Avventura) twelve people walked out during this scene.

I'm not sure what the point of all of this is.  This has the descent into corruption and debauchery that director Joseph Losey liked to portray in his films of the early fact, Losey tried to make this film years earlier but was unsuccessful in gathering up the funds.  This also has a Losey/Harold Pinter fascination with homosexuality (the film is permeated with ugly homoerotic undertones, and sometimes overtones).  I guess the point is irrelevant, it's just an uncomfortable film buzzing with flies, dripping with sweat, reeking of b.o. and vomit, and festooned with kangaroo intestines.  It's memorable, but you may not want to remember it.  Starring Gary Bond and the terrific Donald Pleasance.

This Is Not A Film (2012)

You got that right!  This is Iranian film director Jafar Panahi shuffling around his apartment, watching television, reading the newspaper, watering plants, etc.  Oh, and to spice things up, the cute college student stops by to collect his trash.  I'm guessing this is to illustrate a kind of "artistic castration", since he's awaiting the government to hand down a decision whether or not he will go to prison, or be banned from making films.  There are bigger tragedies, but the situation is shameful and ludicrous.  Unfortunately, this footage that sheds light on Panhari's fate (which was smuggled out of Iran in a birthday cake) is boring.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Wise Kids (2012)

Drama written and directed by Stephen Cone about three teens (Eric Hulsebos, Tyler Ross, and the unfortunately named Molly Kunz) who are about to leave their small Southern town for college in the big city.  All three, aside from the big leap they're making from childhood to adulthood,  are going through other major transformations:  One is terrified that her world and friends are slipping away, the other, a pastor's daughter, loses her faith, and the third is realizing that he is homosexual and is pretty much okay with it.  More instructional than college is the fact that most of the adults around them are mistaken...about how they live their own lives, mistaken about everything, really.  This comes through clear as a bell to these wise kids, and they're the most well adjusted and happy characters in the film.  The acting from the kids (a filmmaker hired actual teens for once) is faultless and beautifully simplistic, and the film overall has a nice gentility to it.  Also starring the director himself in a major role (he's quite good) and Matt DeCaro.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (2011)

A Turkish police drama directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylon that has a bunch of small-town policeman dragging two murder suspects around the Anatolian countryside looking for the spot where they buried a body.  It's obvious that the film was made with care and taste, but beautifully composed shots and ponderous dialogue do not a satisfying movie make.  Ceylon seems to be aiming for an Antonioni-style character study (deadly pacing, unanswered mysteries, a plot that disintegrates), but without Antonioni's  passion and wildly arty eye for design.  There are stunning moments (a sudden lightning strike that reveals a face in the darkness, a midnight dinner at a farm house, the chilling opening shot) but these moments seem arbitrarily placed in a film that is ultimately about isolation (again, Antonioni tackled this subject time and again with more invention and economy).   Instead of a mystery that lingers in the mind, the film evaporates before our eyes.

Chico & Rita (2012)

A Spanish animated film set in pre-Castro Havana about the love affair between a Cuban bandleader and his singer.  It's a romance with a standard rags-to-riches showbiz story...we've seen it before, just not in animated form.  The animation is pleasing to the eye and shows us glimpses of Havana's jet setting days, plus the music is okay.  I just don't quite understand why this story had to be told, especially in animated form.  I still cannot get the image of cartoon tits and beaver out of my head.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Pitch Perfect (2012)

Very, very corny comedy about college a cappella singing competitions.  The entire "teenage" cast is pushing thirty and the script is hard-sell and joke-filled.  Some of the jokes are actually funny (one girl with large areolas is nicknamed "bologna tits").  But the film tries to straddle the line between sincerity and snark, and comes up short on both.  Glee meets Bring It On, if that sounds like a winning combo to you, then be my guest.