Monday 29 February 2016

Busan IFF Update - An letter from the Festival Directors to Supporters around the world

Dear Friends of BIFF,

First of all, we would like to say that we are very grateful for your huge supports for us and it has been an enormous help for us during this crisis.

As the situations are rapidly changing now, so we would like to update you the current developments and explain our plans, aims, and stands with this letter.

On Feb 18th, Busan city Mayor had an emergency press conference and made an announcement that he would step down as a chairman of the festival committee and hand over his position to a non-government person. In his announcement, he also said that he promised the festival the guaranty of its autonomy and independence. But we are not sure if his promise will be kept until it is officially confirmed by revising the festival’s articles of association since he didn’t mention any specific details about how he would do it.

We came to conclusion that our fight should be more focused on revising the articles of association than requesting the reappointment because without changing the current articles of association which is favorable to the city government than to the festival itself, we are not able to win our independence back even if the reappointment is made.

On Feb 25th, the general assembly where important matters such as annual budget get approved for the preparation of the festival of that year took place. At the general assembly, a special general meeting for the revision of articles was requested by the majority of assembly members (106 out of 152). According to BIFF’s regulations, the special assembly must be called within 27 days form the day it was requested. The city mayor who is also a chairman of the assembly refused the request saying it needs more time than a month to be revised. As the members disputed about his refusal, he hurriedly ended the session and walked out.

Now, we are even unsure if he will keep his words. We are beginning to suspect that he made a public announcement of his own resignation just to eliminate the festival director (Lee Yong-kwan), not to guarantee the festival’s autonomy and independence as he promised. No matter what it is, we won’t stop until we get what we are fighting for so there will be no outside interference for any political reasons damaging freedom of expression again. We will find a way to win our rights so we can move on.

We strongly believe that is how we repay out debts to the supporters like you. We want you to keep your eyes on this situation continuously because the fight isn’t over. It is just a beginning.

Once again, thank you very much and we will keep you posted on this matter.


Oscar highlights paraphrased

'Mad Max Fury Road'

'Mad Max Fury Road'

'Mad Max Fury Road'

'Mad Max Fury Road'

'Mad Max Fury Road'

'Mad Max Fury Road'

...and one of the recipients was excited enough to say: Fucking Mad Maxers! on network television

Chris Rock: The people who made Winter on Fire are going to hate Amy Winehouse songs.

Sasha Baron Cohen: The hard-working yellow people with little dongs do not receive proper recognition.

Sasha Baron Cohen: I’m here to represent the actors of colour not nominated at this year’s Oscars like Will Smith, Idris Elbow and of course the amazing black bloke from Star Wars – Darth Vader.

Surprised by Best Film - as was everyone else. When Freeman said “Spotlight”, the next 1-2 seconds were priceless. You could hear inside everyone’s heads in the room “Spotlight?”.

Loved the punters outside the Compton cinema: “Did you see Spotlight?” “No, what the hell is that?” “Do you feel that Trumbo should have been a bigger hit?” “Whaaat?” “Brooklyn?” “No, I did not see Brooklyn” “How about the Big Short?” “I did not” “How about Bridge of Spies? “Where are you getting these movies from? You’re making some up. You’re messing with me right?”. “No. that’s a real movie” “No it’s not. I come to the movies a real lot, never heard of it”.

The Current Cinema - Shaun Heenan reviews Room, Deadpool, Hail, Caesar! and the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Serious Young Cinephile Shaun Heenan currently lives at South West Rocks in northern New South Wales. This is his fourteenth set of reviews and reports discovering cinema old and new. His other posts can be found by clicking the posts on the side or using the search engine. More to come....

Room (Lenny Abrahamson, Canada/Ireland/UK, 2015) was the last of this year’s Best Picture nominees I hadn’t seen, and now I can say that I really liked every single movie on that list. The film is the story of Joy (Brie Larson), a young woman who has been locked in a shed in a rapist’s backyard for seven years, after being captured as a teenager. The other perspective we get is that of Joy’s five-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay), born of her abuse, who has never been outside, and whose knowledge of the world is confined to the shed he knows as ‘Room’. I’ll err on the side of caution, and avoid revealing any more of the plot.

This wonderful film focuses tightly upon these two characters and their bond. It deeply examines the differing effect the imprisonment has on Joy, who had her world taken from her, and on Jack, who has never known anything else. We see the irreparable damage the situation has caused, and we despair for these fully-realised characters, but we also take some solace in the way they guide each other through the experience. Room caused a stronger emotional reaction in me than any other movie I’ve seen for at least a year, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. At the time of writing, Brie Larson has not yet won the Academy Award for Best Actress, but she almost certainly will have by the time you read this. Know that it is well-deserved.

Deadpool (Tim Miller, USA, 2016) is even duller and more formulaic than the average Marvel comic book superhero movie, but it contains bloody violence and nudity, and the characters all swear, so it comes with an age restriction. This minor detail has made the film inexplicably popular, and it did better opening-weekend box-office than any of the X-Men films, of which it is a spin-off, more or less. The film opens with a credit sequence making fun of the tropes which appear in every comic book movie, and then repeats every single one of them, despite pretending that it knows better. Even worse, the film opens mid-fight, but then spends at least half of its running time on flashbacks, giving us yet another superhero origin story.

Humour is supposed to be the differentiating factor for Deadpool. The character often speaks to the audience directly, acknowledging things like lead actor Ryan Reynolds’ history in other comic book movies, and the audience’s hatred of the character’s first appearance in the X-Men films. This film is wall-to-wall jokes, but the humour is one-note, and it’s a really ugly note. I counted four (possibly five) separate jokes in this movie about child molestation, and the remainder of the script is largely comprised of gay jokes. My audience cackled like idiots throughout.

Hail, Caesar! (Joel & Ethan Coen, USA, 2016) is the first unmissable movie of 2016. If it is not one of the Coen brothers’ very best films, that is only because they have crafted a career from nothing but solid gold. The film is set in Hollywood in the final days of the studio system, using real-life MGM executives as characters, but placing them at the fictional Capitol Studios. The film jumps freely between genres as we visit different sets. There’s a great Gene Kelly style dance number featuring Channing Tatum as a sailor, an impressively-choreographed water ballet with Scarlett Johansson serving as a stand-in for Esther Williams and the fantastically-overwrought Ben-Hur knock-off Hail, Caesar: A Tale of the Christ, from which we see several scenes.

These gags are perhaps too brief, and these characters underdeveloped, entertaining in their own right while serving as simple distractions from the actual plot. The through line follows studio fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), and his crisis of faith about the frivolous nature of his job. As in real life, Mannix’s job is to keep the stars out of the papers, unless he wants them there. I believe many of his scenes are based on actual events from early Hollywood, where the studios firmly controlled the entirely fictitious public lives of the stars. Hail, Caesar! also touches on the Communist panic of this era, though it uses the concept for comedy, rather than having anything in particular to say about, for example, the Blacklist. The payoff to that thread is one of the funniest scenes in the movie, and even more so for being played completely straight. The Coens have delivered the goods once again.

Netflix has done something very interesting this week, releasing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (Yuen Woo-Ping, USA/China, 2016), a sequel to the Best-Picture-nominated Ang Lee martial arts film from 2000. It seems like an odd license to revisit after sixteen years, but this isn’t the pointless knock-off many of us will have been expecting. Michelle Yeoh returns as Yu Shu Lien (the only returning character, as far as I can tell), who is once again tasked with protecting the mythical sword known as the Green Destiny, lest it be stolen and used by an evil warlord. The film is based on a Chinese novel, and it retains many of the cultural values and stylings of the original film, though it has bafflingly been made in the English language.

Director Yuen Woo-Ping is best known as a fight choreographer, famous for his work on the original Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as well as American films like The Matrix. It is fitting, then, that the fight scenes in this sequel are impressively creative and well-shot. These fights employ the same wire-assisted style as the original film, allowing the warriors to appear to fly, feeling like something straight out of myth. Sword of Destiny is lacking the quiet beauty which elevated the original film above the typical constraints of its genre, though there are scenes here which attempt to recapture that feeling. This is a quality martial arts film, though those looking for something more may leave disappointed.

Sunday 28 February 2016

Film Critics Circle of Australia - Annual Awards The Official Word and a mystery photo

FCCA awards were held at Paddington RSL, Oxford Street, Paddington NSW on Tuesday 23 February
The Film Critics Circle of Australia is the original national body of professional film critics and film writers. The FCCA's Annual Awards for Australian film have been held for over 30 years.
The FCCA Awards for 2015 was extremely lively and well attended. The house was full. The evening started in a special event with an "In conversation with Oscar Winner and FCCA patron Adam Elliot. In Conversation was hosted  by ABC Radio's CJ Johnson  Rod Quinn hosted the awards presentation and his yearly Film Trivia Quiz was a highlight of the evening.
Nominees and their representatives attending, included Sue Maslin, Jocelyn Moorhouse, Jeremy Sims, young actors Ed Oxenbould and Coco Jack Gilles, Leeanna Walseman,  Australian actor Damon Herriman, who has been doing extremely well in America,  and Kate Fitzpatrick. .
Cast and crew from many of the nominated films were also in attendance making g the audience one of the biggest turnouts in recent years. .
For the second year, a number of Awards were sponsored with naming rights.
Although the FCCA has only recently introduced the award for Production Design, this year the vote was the tightest of all categories. As a consequence there was a tied award.
Awards were presented in 16 categories.
All members of the national body vote in all categories, except the Feature Documentary Award for which a special panel of Critics is convened, along with guest member Nick Torrens, last year's winner for documentary. This year the award was presented by Michael Loebenstein CEO of the NFSA, The Best Feature Documentary is presented in partnership with the National Film and Sound Archive.
Full information will be on the FCCA website from Wednesday morning.
Any further information email: or call the Awards Manager Adrienne McKibbins 0425214950
Winners designated in Red
Listed Alphabetically

The Dressmaker                                           Producer: Sue Maslin
Holding the Man                                          Producer: Kylie Du Fresnel
Last Cab To Darwin                                     Producers: Lisa Duff, Greg Duffy, Jeremy Sims
Mad Max: Fury Road                                   Producers: Doug Mitchell, George Miller,                                                                        P.J.Voeten
Paper Planes                                                Producers: Robert Connolly, Liz Kearney,                                                                      Maggie Miles
Tanna                                                            Producers: Martin Butler, Bentley Dean,          Carolyn Johnson

Blinky Bill, The Movie                                 Producers: Barbara Stephen, Hans Bourlon, Jim Ballantine.
Oddball                                                          Producers: Sheila Hanahan, Stephen Kearney, Richard Keddie
Paper Planes                                                Producer: Robert Connolly, Liz Kearney,                                                                        Maggie Miles

Neil Armfield                                                 Holding the Man
George Miller                                                Mad Max: Fury Road
Jocelyn Moorhouse                                     The Dressmaker
Jeremy Sims                                                 Last Cab To Darwin

Nicole Kidman                                              Strangerland
Charlize Theron                                           Mad Max: Fury Road
Leeanna Walsman                                      Manny Lewis
Kate Winslet                                                 The Dressmaker

Patrick Brammall                                          Ruben Guthrie
Michael Caton                                              Last Cab To Darwin
Ryan Corr                                                      Holding the Man
Sullivan Stapleton                                       Cut Snake

Judy Davis                                                    The Dressmaker
Emma Hamilton                                           Last Cab To Darwin
Ningali Lawford-Wolf                                  Last Cab To Darwin
Sarah Snook                                                            The Dressmaker

Mark Coles Smith                                        Last Cab To Darwin
Alex Dimitriades                                           Ruben Guthrie
Anthony LaPaglia                                        Holding the Man
Hugo Weaving                                             The Dressmaker
Hugo Weaving                                             Strangerland

Jeremy Chabriel                                           Partisan
Coco Jack Gillies                                         Oddball - Female
Ed Oxenbould                                              Paper Planes- Male

Steve Arnold ACS                                       Last Cab To Darwin
Simon Chapman ACS                                Cut Snake
Bentley Dean                                               Tanna
Donald McAlpine ACS ASC                      The Dressmaker
John Seale AM ACS ASC                         Mad Max: Fury Road          

Putuparri and the Rainmakers                                          Director: Nicole Ma
                                                                                                Producers: Nicole Ma, John                                                                                              Moore
Sherpa                                                                                   Director: Jennifer Peedom
                                                                                                Producers: Bridget Ikin, John                                                                                            Smithson
Snow Monkey                                                                      Director: George Gittoes
                                                                                                Producers George Gitteos &                                                                                              Lizzette Atkins
Tyke Elephant Outlaw                                                        Directors: Susan Lambert,                                                                                                  Stefan Moore
                                                                                                Producers: Susan Lambert,                                                                                               Stefan Moore
Women He's Undressed                                                    Director: Gillian Armstrong
                                                                                                Producers: Damien Parer,                                                                                                  Gillian Armstrong

Blake Ayshford                                                         Cut Snake
Robert Connolly, Steve Worland                          Paper Planes
George Miller, Brendan McCarthy           
Nico Lathouris                                                          Mad Max: Fury Road
Tommy Murphy                                                        Holding the Man
Jeremy Sims, Reg Cribb                                         Last Cab To Darwin

David Hirschfelder                                                   The Dressmaker
Tom Holkenborg aka Junkie XL                            Mad Max: Fury Road
Daniel Lopatin                                                          Partisan
Antony Partos                                                           Tanna
Nigel Westlake                                                         Paper Planes

Colin Gibson                                                            Mad Max: Fury Road
Josephine Ford                                                        Cut Snake
Josephine Ford                                                        Holding the Man
Roger Ford                                                                The Dressmaker

Jill Bilcock                                                                 The Dressmaker
Andy Canny                                                             Cut Snake
Dany Cooper                                                             Holding the Man
Tania Nehme                                                            Tanna
Margaret Sixel                                                          Mad Max: Fury Road

The FCCA Annual Awards were sponsored by

Peter Kemp, Quentin Turnour, Lizzette Atkins, Moi (at back), Steve Walter and (Oscar winner) Adam Elliott

Saturday 27 February 2016

Discovering Kristin Chenoweth.. Belatedly

Until yesterday I’ve never heard of her.... So...the inevitable Google search promptly sends you straight to Wikipedia’s page on Kristin Chenoweth  where you are informed among much else that she joined the cast of The West Wing for Season Six.  Unfortunately  that didn’t help as I’ve just got to Season Two. It will be awhile before she looms into sight playing a character named Annabel Schott.

Having been born in 1968, over the last couple of decades she has starred on Broadway, has won Tonys and Emmys and appeared in some movies I haven’t seen. Bereft but...there you are. This is late I know. 

Kristin Chenoweth in The Music Man
I’m not sure why a version of The Music Man movie rose to the top of the DVD pile at a time when there are many other priorities, but there you are, again. It did. This version was shot in Canada by some team of unknowns working for Disney and it was always intended for TV. It went to air on ABC (America) on 16 February 2003. It stars Matthew Broderick, no longer a name to pull a crowd. Almost instantly you can tell the sweet faced boy/man whose life and career is forever stalled at Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (John Hughes, USA, 1986) is not going to insinuate himself into the slick talking Professor Harold Hill so immortalised by Robert Preston in Morton Da Costa’s 1962 big budget widescreen version. But there you have it.  Forty plus years after the original movie with Preston and Shirley Jones Disney seems to have got hold of the rights, or someone who did took it to Disney, for a TV remake. It was shot in Academy ratio with much steadicam filming, terrible choices of camera angle straight out of the Baz Luhrman anything goes school, much incoherent editing  and significant attempts to hide the fact that no matter how much Matthew Broderick may be steeped in Broadway and movie musical lore, he can hardly dance and doesn’t sing with any character either. His character has a spectacular dance somersault at one stage but I'm betting he was doubled for that moment. There you are, yet again.

But.... twenty two minutes or so into this very modest  achievement, the till now unknown Kristin Chenoweth,  lets out with a belter of a version of “Goodnight my Someone”.  It’s on audio here.  The show then lumbers along, sticking assiduously to the original with some marginal opening out. But one more pearl remains . It is the moment when Chenoweth’s  librarian Marian finally bursts forth into the show’s big romantic hit ‘Till There was You'.  You can find it here on Youtube. Watching the scene and its final one line joke about Hector Berlioz (that name replacing Rudolf Friml used in the 1962 version), it’s one of the few moments when the remake does a little better than the original version which you can compare    Then one of the disc extras is this version of the song sung somewhere else by the same Kristin Chenoweth. Flattened  me all over again.

Now its onwards toward The West Wing Season Six but in the meantime there’s this moment already posted and absorbed from the set. My goodness. 

Friday 26 February 2016

The Duvivier Dossier (45) - Barrie Pattison reports on the director's wartime years in Hollywood

In four previous entries critic and historian Barrie Pattison has reported on Julien Duvivier's films from the silents to the end of the thirties. You can find the earlier pieces if you click these links. The Thirties Part ThreeThe Thirties Part TwoThe Thirties Part One and The Silents.

Now read on....

Lydia 1941
It was logical that Duvivier would hook up with fellow cosmopolitan ex-pat Alexander Korda in War Time Hollywood and their collaboration became a lushly romantic homage to Merle Oberon, the then current Mrs. Korda.  Submerged in all this was a reworking of Un Carnet de bal.

Lydia gets through the old plot in the opening flashback. Famous Boston charity worker, make-up-aged Oberon, recalls her youthful first ball as mirrors, formal outfits and serried white harps, while old flame Joseph Cotten (the film’s surest performance) recalls “an ordinary ball room”, the visualization of which is still much more lush than the French film. Cotten organizes a re-union of  Merle’s one time beaus, which takes us into more flashbacks delineating her romantic history and giving the piece the form of a sketch film.

We see her fail to make it with college boy football star George (TV Superman) Reeves when he wants to anticipate the rights and flowers. Dr. Cotten sails for Cuba and, turning to good works, Merle transforms the life of  blind boy Billy Roy (Passage to Marseille sic.) taking him from studio slum to the elaborate room after room institute, where musician Hans Jaray/ Yaray (Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney) plays pop for the kids but breaks out in Beethoven when left alone. Her other suitors are obliterated when sea man Allan Marshall shows up in the water lapped cabin. “I’m not going to kiss you. I’m going to read you a poem.” Turns out that Merle didn’t make the same impression on Allan who arrives at the crepe hair re-union.

This none too convincing structure is broken up by appearances of matriarch Edna Mae Oliver (“Your modern ways are wrong ways and you’ll pay for them!” We can all but see the censor beaming at that one) and by stylish set pieces like the football match in the rain, the dance in the empty room and the horse race with moving camera in snow. Great images - particularly the glamour two shots favoring Merle - and she gets the ripe presumably Ben Hecht narration (“the sea and the wind are in you but they’re warm”), one of the film's most effective features.

Korda has gathered quality elements. Several of the personnel are recruited from Gone With the Wind and are added to old collaborators including Miklos Rosza scoring, William Hornbeck in the cutting room and design by brother Vincent. Andre de Toth is along uncredited. It would be interesting to know if Duvivier felt encouraged by the presence of all this class talent - or outnumbered.

The viewer leaves Lydia in awe of its craft skills and disappointed that they were not harnessed to something less of a frothy vanity project.

Tales of Manhattan 1942
The pick of the US Duviviers is another sketch film, a great display of virtuosity. A tail coat passes from hand to hand working its way down the social ladder in a series of episodes each different to the others in a spectrum from sophisticated menace to full on musical.

Actor Charles Boyer is romancing the glamorous Rita Hayworth despite her husband Thomas Mitchell - telling moment when the flick of a light switch reveals the setting  as Mitchell’s antlers and dome trophy room. Boyer’s new tails collect a bullet hole and pass via gentlemen’s gentlemen Eugene Palette and Roland Young to hung over Cesar Romero. A mash note from Cesar’s floozie falls into the hands of fiancée Ginger Rogers, meaning best friend Henry Fonda has to alibi. Sent to the hock shop, the coat has Elsa Lanchester getting up destitute musician Charles Laughton in it for the concert where it splits at the back causing embarrassment until conductor Victor Francen (Marcel Dalio is in there too) removes his own jacket to lead the all shirt sleeves performance. Then disbarred lawyer Edward G. Robinson tries to regain some status at a reception with snide George Sanders. Keen movie goers will recognize this as a variation of the story that turns up as Autant-lara’s  “L’orgueil” section of Les Sept péchés capiteaux. Is this the Ferenc Molnar contribution? The coat passes (via a B movie gangster segment with J. Carroll Naish replacing a deleted W.C. Fields story which Duvivier did not direct)  to Paul Robeson, Ethel Waters and the Hall Johnson Choir as studio setting singing share croppers.

The effortless shifts along the spectrum of mood are a wonder to behold and the film is flawlessly entertaining without significantly exploiting any fraction of the great talent that has been amassed.

Flesh and Fantasy 1943
Another Duvivier US episode film, three (remaining) stories with a hint of the macabre, linked by redundant discussion with Robert Benchley and David Hoffman and by characters from one part walking past the start of the in-coming narrative.

During New Orleans Mardi Gras, Betty Field in a beauty mask encounters Bob
Cummings. Palm reader Thomas Mitchell predicts that Edward G. Robinson will commit murder and high wire walker Charles Boyer has dreams of falling that become involved with Barbara Stanwyck.

While the film gives the impression of feet off the pedals, all the episodes are OK and each has striking moments - the costumed crowd in the Betty Field ep where the skeleton man lifts his death’s head hood to show the face of a bank clerk, Robinson’s interior monologue and Boyer’s dreams. This doesn’t mean that the film is free of bathos like Field’s unmasking.

The ingredients are superior - camera by Paul Ivano and Stanley Cortez, score by
Alexander Tansman (of  the 1932 Poil de carotte) and editor Athur Hilton’s striking use of wipes and part wipes included.

Destiny 1944 (credited to Reginald le Borg)
An episode deleted from Flesh and Fantasy risibly extended to short feature, with Le Borg’s new shooting instantly recognisable as inferior to the Duvivier material.

Felons Alan Curtis and Frank Fenton fleeing cycle cops, drop a bag from the bank we discover Fenton knocked over.

Escaping police fire, introduces a just about plausible flashback set in the world we
recognise from noir efforts like Detour, where Alan picks up the torchy club cutie singer. She sets him up with Fenton, whom he discovers has involved him in a factory robbery.

Alan’s arrested, does his time, without fingering Fenton, and gets the speech from Warden Selmer Jackson. “I’m afraid you’ve learned too many things, Cliff.” However after Alan takes a factory job, Fenton meets him at the end of the shift and gets a lift into town with him, stopping off to go into the bank and cash a cheque - shots and hasty drive off with police pursuit.

Back in the present, the car radio announces a thousand dollar reward for Curtis, so he moves on to Marie’s Cocktails and Roadhouse where Raddled Minna Gombell is packing up for the night. ”I’m no cop lover.” “I think you’re regular Marie.” Bad guess.

Alan has to swipe a coat (which matches the pre-existing footage) and take off again. There is a abrupt change in the lighting, Curtis’ performance and particularly the music and our noir hero shows up at the farm where all the little animals perch on singing blind girl Gloria Jean’s shoulder. She gives a nice performance and Frank Craven’s turn as her folksy father works quite well. Curtis learns how much they make out of honey and sheep and wants to hang around. There’s a sinister dream.

Next morning, they wind things up fast with Craven needing to be taken to hospital by Alan who knows the cops will spot him in town. However Fenton confesses all, dismissing our hero as “that chump.”  Happy end.

The conventional hard boiled stuff carries the piece for a while but the scissors and paste structure becomes too obvious. Duvivier’s footage has some authority and might have improved Flesh and Fantasy. Gloria Jean could have developed in a sustained career.

The Impostor / Strange Confession  1944
Another Duvivier Hollywood do over, this time it’s  La Bandera.  The comparison doesn’t flatter the American film. One of Gabin’s two Hollywood movies this is very much uniform in the edition of WW2 product and not a major work but the skill of the participants does manage to sell a lot of its dodgier elements.

The map identifies the French town of Tours and the smallish group where priest Fritz Leiber wakes condemned man Gabin with the news that they are about to give him the guillotine. However enemy bombers hit the jail and Jean escapes - disturbingly like Errol Flynn in Uncertain Glory.  

Cars jam the road, mix to our hero hitching near the sign indicating that Grenoble is down the way. He’s picked up by a truck of retreating soldiers “I can still see the big parade go down the Champs Elysees.” (spot Milburn Stone).  This is hit in another bombing raid and Gabin takes the papers and uniform of dead soldier Dennis Moore.

At the port, troops are embarking for North Africa still in the hands of the Free French. Gabin has a smoke with poilu Qualen, in one of his biggest parts, and, seeing that the soldiers are getting advance pay, lines up with young anti Axis Peter Van Eyk and Eddie Quillan, getting recruited as adjutant by Lt. Richard Whorf (“You know officers. They like to give orders.”)

At De Gaulleville (somewhere near Brazzaville!), Gabin is making a deal with shady John Philliber for civilian clothes. However constructing an air field in the convincing studio jungle (where no one sweats)  proves a bonding experience, complete with unit Xmas.

Jean distinguishes himself in off screen combat. He’s up for a decoration but it proves to be for the dead sergeant’s earlier heroics - guilty inner monologue voice over.

Ellen Drew, his false identity’s fiancée drives up to provide implausible female interest (she just about gets away with that) - another resemblance, this time to Michael Redgrave in The Captive Heart

Stone, who they won’t let into the officer’s club, appears and figures it out. Jean goes on trial, is condemned for stealing the dead man’s glory (passable plot element) paraded round the square formation of his one-time comrades, his insignia ripped off and, on Whorf’s recommendation, rather that shoot him they send him as a private 2nd class to the front where he staggers up to take out the German machine gun with a grenade (which appears to fall short), redeeming himself in battle.

Gabin’s performance is the major point of interest and he manages to be the center of a Hollywood production plausibly enough, though it looks like he re-voiced a lot of his dialogue. The simple minded script is distorted by WW2 propaganda but production values are excellent, with an intrusive, recognizable Tiomkin score a mixed blessing. It’s designer Lourié who covers himself with glory - the menacing guillotine in the courtyard, on the tread mill passing the burning car in front of the destroyed building BP plate, the cobbled (!) highway and the convincing jungle headquarters - the last of the director’s African subjects.

Gabin wasn’t about for the expert French dub so they used Robert Dalban.

Thursday 25 February 2016

The Stephen Sondheim John Ford Quiz

On a drive to the South Coast we listened to this CD. As well I read the liner notes which provided a mine of information about Stephen Sondheim's work for the movies (and TV). Among the many nuggets was the interesting information that when he was a very young man Sondheim had auditioned to appear on the quiz show $64,000 Question. The show was later found to have been corrupted by the network. Sondheim's prep question was to name 18 of the 20 feature films directed by John Ford between Stagecoach (1939) and The Searchers (1956). He got the answer right but never got the call to go on the show. 

Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)
The Grapes of Wrath (1939)
The Long Voyage Home (1940)
Tobacco Road (1941)
How Green Was My Valley (1941)
They Were Expendable (1945)
My Darling Clementine (1946)
The Fugitive (1947)
Fort Apache (1948)
3 Godfathers (1948))
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)
When Willie Comes Marching Home (1950)
Wagon Master (1950)
Rio Grande (1950)
The Quiet Man (1952)
What Price Glory? (1952)
The Sun Shines Bright (1953)
Mogambo (1953)
The Long Gray Line (1955)
Mr Roberts (1956)

The Current Cinema and more - Shaun Heenan on the old, the esoteric and a new Oz movie

Serious Young Cinephile Shaun Heenan currently lives at South West Rocks in northern New South Wales. This limits his choice of new movies but produces random discoveries.

As usual, this was a week with cinematic highs and lows. I discovered a new director, whose work I’ll be exploring further, and I was impressed with a new film from an old favourite, but I was also seriously unimpressed by a new Australian release. Let’s begin on a high note.

Martin Donovan & Adrienne Shelley in Trust
I’d never seen a Hal Hartley movie before, though I’d heard the name mentioned amongst film fans and strewn throughout lists of great films. If Trust (Hal Hartley, USA, 1990) is any indication, he may quickly become a favourite of mine. This is a version of the oft-repeated story about two misfits so disenchanted with the world that they can’t help falling in love with one another. She is Maria (Adrienne Shelley), a pregnant high-school dropout whose boyfriend immediately dumps her and whose father dies upon hearing the news, causing her mother to kick her out of the house. He is Matthew (Martin Donovan), a technically-minded depressive who refuses to hold a job if he can’t be proud of his work and fights bitterly with his father about it. These are characters I loved from the start. They’re the kind of people we want to root for, as we see how close they are to the possibility of happiness, if they can only accept one another completely. Their conversations take place in a rapid back-and-forth monotone, filled with impressive wit. This is a very sad, very funny movie. The film’s unusual score perfectly underlines the melancholy tone of the writing and makes me wish I knew how to write about music. I’m really excited to watch more from this director.

I missed Straight Outta Compton (F. Gary Gray, USA, 2015) during its brief local theatrical run and caught up with it this week on VOD. This is a music biopic of the rap group N.W.A., produced by members of that group and named after their wildly successful debut album. The group found fame by rapping about the violence and racism they faced in their home town as teens, and especially by lashing out at a police force that oppressed them at every opportunity. The first half of the film is exciting, dealing with the group’s rise to fame as they record and tour their first album. This is a very long film, however. The director’s cut runs for almost three hours, and the second half is largely concerned with contract disputes. Yes, these are sometimes violent contract disputes, including weapons and beatings, but they are still contract disputes, and they go on for too long. Still, for the most part this is a well-crafted film, and a better-than-average biopic. I like the band, and I like the film.

I took a brief detour into the land of television to watch some more of Alfred Hitchcock’s work. Incident at a Corner (Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1960) was an episode of the TV series Startime, which remains otherwise unknown to me. It tells the story of a school crossing guard, fired after he is falsely accused of being a pedophile. The episode gives us a good look at the incident which may have caused this allegation, showing it three times from three perspectives, before delving into the hunt for evidence. I suppose this was a shocking subject for American TV to examine at the time, and though there is skill in the telling, the gravity of the situation is largely ignored. The episode focuses on the mystery behind the identity and motivations of the accuser, ending happily once the answer is found. But do you think this man would be given back his job once that rumour had started, whether or not it had been proven false?

The involvement of animator Tomm Moore (The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea) led me to watch The Prophet (Roger Allers and guest directors,Canada/France/Ireland/ Lebanon/Qatar/United States, 2014). The film is based on a work by the Lebanese-American philosophical poet Kahlil Gibran, and it blends his poetry with the story of the political activist Mustafa (voice of Liam Neeson) imprisoned for his teachings, who is finally allowed to leave house arrest after many years of confinement. The story is seen mostly from the viewpoint of a young girl named Almitra, who refuses to speak. Mustafa has no problem speaking, and he does so vaguely and at great length about whatever seems to be on his mind whenever someone gives him the chance, as poetry is quoted directly from the book. The visuals for these sections are drawn by a collection of guest animators from around the world, who each illustrate the poems in their own unique styles. There is great visual beauty in these moments, but I found the writing empty and dull. The film is mercifully short at 84 minutes.

For the first and probably last time in my life I took a look at the Hellraiser series, watching both Hellraiser (Clive Barker, UK, 1987) and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (Tony Randel, UK/USA, 1988). These gruesome horror films show people returning from Hell after being tortured, through the application of blood to their place of death. There’s a truly horrifying special effect in the first film, showing someone’s bones returning to life, and muscles and organs slowly returning to the body. The resulting creature then spends most of the movie walking around with no skin. It takes a lot for a film to make me queasy, but that sequence is especially nasty.The first film deals mostly with earthly events, as a woman discovers a skinless man in her new house and then brings victims to him, so he can use parts of their bodies to restore his own. The second film is largely set in Hell, where we see some creative visuals and special effects, but the plot becomes almost impossible to follow, buried in the surrealism. The famous villain of this series is the demon Pinhead, who shows up occasionally to talk about the combination of pleasure and pain in a deep voice, while sending hooks into people’s skin. Two of these was enough for me, but all nine of them are on US Netflix, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle, USA, 2015) is the kind of biopic we always hope for but rarely get. It’s a piece of art about a person, rather than a literal life story. The screenplay comes from Aaron Sorkin (writer of The West Wing and The Social Network), and it takes a bold form. The film is split into thirds, each section set backstage at a press event where Steve Jobs (played perfectly by Michael Fassbender) is preparing to unveil a new product, starting with the original Macintosh in 1984 and ending with the iMac in 1998. As is the norm for Sorkin, the film is full of quick, complicated and witty dialogue, which pours out of characters non-stop. The film accepts that Jobs was a tech genius and a superb frontman for Apple, but it questions his qualities as a human being. Before each event, Jobs argues with his employees and more importantly with his ex-girlfriend Chrisann (Katherine Waterston). The film focuses on Jobs’ refusal to acknowledge his fatherhood of Chrisann’s daughter Lisa, and the effect this had on the girl. This thread brings real emotional heft with it, and forms the heart of the story. The convergence of the same set of characters at each of these product launches is a fascinating piece of artistic license, allowing the film to serve as a scrapbook, displaying the important aspects of Jobs’ life while the structure lends urgency to each situation with a countdown to the presentations. It’s a real gamble, and it absolutely pays off. This is an excellent film.

Richard Roxburgh, Radha Mitchell & Odessa Young in Looking for Grace
Last and certainly least, I headed to the cinema to see the new Australian film Looking for Grace (Sue Brooks, Australia, 2016). The film tells the story of a teenage girl called Grace (Odessa Young), who has stolen a lot of money from her father and run away, apparently to see a band playing several days’ drive away. The film’s structure is jarring at first, as we discover the story will be separately told from the perspectives of each character. It opens promisingly with ‘Grace’s Story’, which would work as a good short film on its own, showing her scenes in order but without context, before moving on to several other characters, starting over and filling in more blanks each time. The longest sections are those for Grace’s mother (Radha Mitchell) and father (Richard Roxburgh), and these are where the film becomes uneven.There’s a serious story here, and small sections of it are well-told, but the film’s tone frequently veers off into awkward, completely unsuccessful comedy. The film’s bouncy, irritating piano score only serves to frustrate further. None of the pieces here fit together in any sensible way. Odessa Young gives the best performance in the film, but she is sidelined by the structure, and the film suffers without her. She’s even better in Simon Stone’s great film The Daughter, which opens locally next month. As for Looking for Grace, I sat in stunned silence, watching numbly as scene after scene after scene was sabotaged by misjudged attempts at comedy. The film adds insult to injury with a baffling, arbitrarily tragic ending, which then begs for our sympathy. I couldn’t get out of the cinema quickly enough.