Sunday 8 April 2018

The Current Cinema - Barrie Pattison trawls the outposts of cinephilia to keep up and starts with the soon to open in the multiplexes, LAST FLAG FLYING (Richard Linklater, USA, 2017)

You know it really is possible to get a wide range of movie viewing in Sydney. How many people take the trouble and what they are still missing are an open question of course.

Richard Linklater
Last week I managed to jam in Last Flag Flying at popular prices at the Young@Heart event - Richard Linklater’s film of Darryl Ponicsan’s sequel to his “The Last Detail.” It’s a surprise to see Ponicsan’s name on a movie again, for the first time after his “Random Hearts” was adapted for the 1999 Sidney Pollack movie nineteen years ago. Ponicsan has a special claim on our attention apart from his great movie scripts. (include Nutsand his Harold Becker films) His “Tom Mix Died for Your Sins” is one of the all-time most intriguing movie biographies.

The new film is meant to be a standalone rather than a follow up to the Hal AshbyThe Last Detailmovie though it constantly echoes it. Bearded widower Steve Carell seeks out his Vietnam war mates, bar operator Bryan Cranston and the Reverend Lawrence Fishburne, to help him bury his Marine son whose body has been brought back from Iraq. This one moves out of Gardens of Stoneterritory into a wider comment on foreign wars and the performances are stand out. It only loses traction when the group become separated from the Amtrak train carrying the coffin - not that those scenes are slapdash. Despite the poor overseas notices it is exceptional by any standard. 

Lucian Pintilie
Then the Art Gallery of New South Wales ran a nice copy of Lucian Pintilie’s 1968 Reconstituirea / Reconstruction. Considered a classic of the Romanian film and once banned on its home turf, the film is simultaneously boring and fascinating like a lot of the Soviet-era material.

A couple of drunken rowdies are taken back to the scene of their crime and asked to repeat their actions for an anti-liquor movie under the supervision of white suit prosecutor George Constantin.  Chaos ensues. Uneven crisp B&W and all location filming. Much allegory and sympathy for all the lost souls on screen. 

Pintile went on to do the 1994 Kristin Scott ThomasUn été inoubliable/An Unforgettable Summer and 2003‘s Niki and Flowhich is a much sharper comment on the Romanian society of its day. He’s someone who stays on the edge of our field of vision.

Lloyd Bacon
Then YouTube came good with in Mary Stevens MDwhich is a purest form Kay Francis weepy from just Pre-Code 1933. Lloyd Bacon pushes it along in a recognizably Warner’s manner but the ambulance racing to take Doctor Kay to face knife-wielding Harold Huber in a studio slum gives way to soapier developments as she comes on in a succession of lower cut higher fashions, is victim of  prejudice against woman doctors and  of a low life boyfriend in the person of Lyle Talbot, a cut price George Brent. It looks like Lyle has got both tootsie Kay and wife Thelma Todd pregnant at one stage, which doesn’t say much for Kay’s lady doctor skills. 

It’s one I’d never seen so it rates on nostalgia.

Thomas Kruithof
Not to be left out SBS’s graveyard shift contributed  Thomas Kruithof's La mécanique de l'ombre/The Eavesdropper/Scribe(2016) which fields superior cast headed by a hang dog François Cluzet and the ever admirable Alba Rohrwacher glammed up. 

François is a freaked-out accountant hired to transcribe secret tapes, which injects him into the murkier reaches of Presidential politics. The mystery build-up is quite tense but things descend into the routine, as frequently happens with these when the layers of cliché are revealed under the movie’s Kafka surface. 

Feng Xiaogang
To round things out I finally found time to load my DVD of Feng Xiaogang’s 2007Jijie hao/Assembly into the machine (good quality). This one goes over some of the ground we’ll see again in his recent Fang hua/Youth. The military bugle is a motif in both.

Hanyu Zhang is a Chinese Civil War Captain told to hold a position till the bugle call to retreat sounds and, deafened by a blast, has to rely on the other members of his unit all of whom perish. Not only that but all records of their sacrifice vanish in the confusion. Years later he finds that the now guilt-ridden officer used their resistance to get the bulk of the forces to safety. A monument is erected.

The aesthetic and the battle staging aren’t all that too far away from Saving Private Ryanbut Feng Xiaogang, already at the peak of his abilities, is telling us something about Chinese society which we can only absorb a bit at a time and which the authorities are apparently uneasy with. That makes this one more of an attention getter than its war movie and sentimental fable elements.

Not every one of that lot was great but the cross section does stop me from settling into a tame acceptance of what I'm offered - and they are all better than Red Sparrow.

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