Monday 31 December 2018

Cine Latino Film Festival 2018 - Barrie Pattison contemplates what's on show from Colombia and Cuba

Editor's Note: This is the second instalment of a long report by Sydney's supercinephile Barrie Pattison about what was on show at the recent Cine Latino Film Festival in Sydney. The first post on the films from Argentina can be found  if you click on this link 

Films from other sources were on view. How many Colombian movies have you seen - more particularly, ones that were not about shooting it out with drug cartels? That alone made Andrés Burgos’ slight, engaging Amalia la secretaria a curiosity.

Here things are not going well at the office where dumpy Marcela Benjumea is first to arrive as the shutter is rolled up in the morning. The staff excursion has been cancelled in favor of “reflective pauses” which turn out to be yoga work outs conducted by boss Diego León Hoyos’ flashy red head daughter. An aggressive staff member wants his urgent file
attended to in front of the others and she lets him take a candy that she has already licked from the glass bowl on her table.  Hoyos is going off early and Benjumea finds a revolver on his desk which she discreetly unloads. 

Things aren’t that much better at the suburban home Benjumea commutes to on the red bus. Her silent, aged mum is in the hands of a carer to whom she talks a blue streak when her daughter isn’t around and the high point of family social interaction is Benjumea digging out diseased plants in their walled in garden.

Things pick up with the appearance of hired-in maintenance man, bald and disorganised Enrique Carriazo, for whom she cuts office wiring. They get on a treat. 

He finally invites her out, with Benjumea scissoring out cardboard footprints and doing the recorded learn-to-dance routine to her mother’s scorn. That nosedives when her dance instructor takes the class to the Bohemia night club where she sees Carriazo dancing with a younger woman. She sends him on his way about the time Hoyos calls her into the office and says the company is going under. When she suggests a reorganisation selling assets to meet debts, he instead asks her to help fiddle the books. She won’t be in it and he pours her a whisky and fires her.

Her plan to visit her grown daughter in the US is scuppered because she now has no certificate of employment so she turns over the ticket to the carer, giving her the clothes she has made for the girl, and sets out for the club.

This one is predictable. We know mum is going to speak and it’s not hard to guess that perpetually scowling Benjumea is finally going to smile - rather winningly. The payoff is too slight. 

The windowless interiors and no sky exteriors do complete the gloom and the characters become endearing even if the piece goes on too long for a deliberately one note exercise. 

Interesting performers. It would be nice to see director Burgos’ Carmen Maura movie. 

A small Cuban retrospective revived that once familiar concept - Third World Cinema.  Jorge Luis Sánchez & Abrahán Rodríguez  El Benny was a patchy biography of mambo star musician Benny Moré sketchily covering his 'Banda Gigante', affairs, antagonisms, alcoholism and witch man religion. There’s been some money spent on it and the cast are
a striking looking set of people - one passably raunchy sex scene. 

Set in troubled times (“The Cubans could have cut you to pieces with their machetes”) and offering a mix to colour from B&W, it takes us into the tribulations of Moré with his wife on about “Your nights and your mistresses.” He gets off-loaded from Ulyk Anello’s Duany Radio Progresso broadcast (“They’ve just kicked me out of the best orchestra in in Cuba”) after having turned up in a rapidly assembled outfit including the shoes of the taxi driver who he then takes on as manager. 

Moré tries Mexico, earning gangster Carlos Massola’s enmity when he spends time with the heavy’s voluptuous Caracas mistress and Moré spots the cabbie’s attractive teenage niece while rehearsing in the out of doors back yard shed, causing more friction.

There’s a green looking flashback seven years to our penniless hero being taken up by the middle aged cafe woman with rolls of notes and reefer cigarettes changing hands but alienating her when he pairs with his wife to be.

A colleague wants him to play at election rallies in his rural cinema and post-coup Batista troops take out student rioters and activists throwing leaflets off roof tops. They are followed by Castro speeches on TV and guys in beards and fatigues. 

Our hero’s success and popularity is contrasted with conservatorium trained Mario Guerra’s decline after Moré fires him from the band and the two meet again when Guerra has become a bad smelling drunk to whom El Benny gives money to get himself in shape for the piano player vacancy at a cabaret. Guerra says he will use it to go to the States instead. 

The life of excess catches up with Moré and the witch man and voodoo nurse magic him. He’s told he can’t ever touch alcohol but this restraint founders and he succumbs at 43, vomiting blood. There’s a news reel obituary playing in his friend’s movie house.

The staging of the numbers ranges from a juke box accompaniment to the elaborate TV program with lines of dancing girls. Occasionally the cascading musical items build up impetus. 

Lots of wannabe-sounding dialogue “A genius does what he can. A talent does what he wants.” “Some people want to kill him with joy. Now you want to kill him with sadness.” Whatever the message may be it’s lost on an audience who don’t know the background. 

Fernando Pérez' 1990 Hello Hemingway comes from Castro’s Cuba, its content as predictable as the poverty stricken family running out of rice and beans while living near the Papa Hemingway hacienda in 1950s La Vigía district. 

Young Laura De la Uz  in the first film of a long career (later Irene inEl Benny) is the girl who wants to fulfill the dreams her literature teacher fires up in her, with a scholarship to the U.S. of the movie stars whose pictures line the green painted timber walls of her room. Reading a second hand copy of “The Old Man and the Sea”, another tale of frustration, underlines this. At one point the presence of glimpsed Hemingway looks like it will represent her salvation but he goes off to Africa, hunting lions like the ones in the old man’s visions.

Our heroine struggles to meet the qualifications for the scholarship (baptism, confirmation, reference from a teacher, new dress) because she comes from a poor public school while the other candidates are drawn from more prestigious institutions. The girl having been given up by her birth mother weighs in here. Meanwhile her putative boyfriend is on about her drawing posters for the militant student union. 

The support characters are indistinct though the three generation family is supposed to be warm hearted and nourishing. The production values are tele novella (particularly the monotonous small instrumentation score) but there is impact in the final scenes of the sympathetic teacher being thrown into the police van along with her students when she tries to protect them and  when our heroine is found when the smart dressed scholarship administrator stops on seeing her at Xmas serving behind the counter in the cheap coffee bar which has become the alternative to her dream. Their exchange is “Do you want a coffee?” 

The final image of De la Uz on the beach with the old fisherman is a try to bring the elements together.

El Traductor/ A Translator
The event also provided Rodrigo & Sebastián Barriuso’s new El Traductor/A Translator, an earnest account of 1989 Havana professor of Russian literature Rodrigo Santoro (Westworld) who finds his course cancelled and himself shuffled off to translate for Chernobyl victim children for which Cuba’s believed exemplary health system has been offered.

The predictable arc is his resentment at the disruption of his ordered academic life being replaced by sympathy for the pale, shaven headed kids.  The film does get the expected moments of pathos out of the situation and works up some suspense from the power failure where he and Argentinian nurse Maricel Álvarez (Biutiful) who has a clearer view of situation, have to break the quarantine seal to deal the power failure shutting off equipment sustaining young Nikita Semenov.

Surprisingly however the film’s emphasis is not on this but on the strain his new work patterns put on Santoro’s marriage to an art dealer who is appalled when their unattended child wanders off and leaves open her home full of valuable works. This gives the film a curious imbalance until the final title reveals that it is made by the now grown sons of the family -  which oddly make the point of view recognisable.

Cuban films made thirty years apart recognisably field the same vision of a world with screwed priorities which the Castro era tried to address and a film industry that was aware of the bad reputation of propaganda works. Not much Cuban product from any period is shown so I guess we should be grateful but I had the same reaction to both these movies - that the needs of the narrative and the message hadn’t been effectively merged, despite the attention both received.

And like the man on the TV says, there is more. 

(To be continued)

Sunday 30 December 2018

Defending Cinephilia 2018 (11) - David Hare runs through his highlights

My tribute to cinephilia this year is basically a madwoman's breakfast. 
Paul Schrader
A few more movies I liked very much in 2018, aside from the previously mentioned (and reviewed if you hit the links) First Reformed, Buster Scruggs and Cuaron's Roma.
There's the new Sophie Fiennes Bloodlight and Bami, a portrait of Grace Jones from someone who's doing the best imaginable documentary portraiture in the movies now, after her two great Slavoj Zizek movies. Watch a video if you click here
Sophie Fiennes and Grace Jones
Also the latest series of David Lynch's Twin Peaks, all of it disarming, provocative, moving, original, funny and compelling, and with an Episode (number 8) that must be the most stunning work of abstraction in American Cinema.
Claire Denis' addictively funny and wise Un Beau Soleil Intérieur  (Click here for my reviewwhich introduces Alex Descas (left), her favorite male actor, to save the day and rescue the male species from a parade of inexcusably awful men. Denis then ends the movie, with credits rolling, while on the biggest louse of them all, Depardieu, who plays her "psychic therapist" reading to her and us the audience a litany of equally compelling total bullshit that even takes the wind out of Xavier Beauvois' odious banker with his craft whiskies and his vegan olives. 
Jean Gremillon
And a multitude of rediscoveries too long to list, largely prompted by mostly incredibly beautiful new 4K restorations. Just a few: Chikamatsu Monogatari, The Apartment and Some Like It Hot, new French discs from new 4K's of Gremillon's masterpiece Gueule d'Amour and Bresson's sublime treatment of Cocteau, Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne, both from TF1 (without English subs). The long awaited Criterion boxset of the Dietrich-Sternberg pictures. Sony’s dazzling new 4K for A Matter of Life and Death, finally after ten years of very compromised video releases. From Gaumont in France three late 30s Ophuls in lovely new 2Ks, all of them derived from OCN's or fine grain nitrates, YoshiwaraDe Mayerling à Sarajevo and Sans Lendemain. Again none of these are English subbed. 
Max Ophuls
Finally, even though I did not make the pilgrimage to Bologna this year, something even better came along. Geoff Gardner's brainchild and the product of very much sweat, love and passion from a small but dedicated band, Sydney's first Cinema Reborn season last May. That enterprise was hugely successful on every level, not least the personal, I think for everyone involved. but especially for Geoff who finally got to introduce his most beloved film in the history of Cinema, Renoir's great Le Crime de Monsieur Lange. The event went beyond the collegiate in the totally convivial way it pulled together associates, presenters, and audience into one larger entity, something which has been missing from Sydney for decades: a truly cinephilic occasion by and for people who can bring that back into the life of the city. 
Here's to next year!
The Crime of Monsieur Lange

Defending Cinephilia 2018 (10) - The Legendary Sydney Cinephile Tina Kaufman muses about her year at the cinema

1. Orson Welles.  No, not The Other Side of the Wind, which I still haven't watched, not sure why - but I will, soon.  This is Mark Cousins' documentary (love letter), The Eyes of Orson Welles, inspired by the access he's been given (by Beatrice Welles) to an amazing archive of her father's drawings and paintings and cards and notebooks and scripts with scribbles and doodles and notes. Cousins has an intriguing analysis of how this all fits in with the work, both the finished and the unfinished, combining a fresh look at Welles' early life with a sort of dialogue with him about both his life and of course his work - particularly the unfinished Don Quixote, the early Shakespeare of Macbeth and Othello, and of course Chimes at Midnight - it's a rich and invigorating excursion that I immediately wanted to see again (and of course still do). I saw it at the Antenna Doco Festival, and asked Festival Director David Rokash what would happen next to the film; he'd talked to Madman about picking it up, but they said they didn't have much luck with films about filmmakers! 
2. Cinema Reborn.  I'll just add my voice to those who have already claimed this event as a highlight of the year, not only for the films, but also for the conviviality and just plain enjoyment of the occasion.  The program was nicely spaced out, with time for food, and chat, it was great to see friends from Melbourne, and even though I find getting to AFTRS a bit of a chore, it all worked out pretty well. The films were of course great, but it was particularly good to not only see Between Wars after so many years, but to realise that it stood up much better than I'd expected, and to hear Michael Thornhill talking about it and its making so eloquently.  The highlight for me, however, was Corinne Cantrill's wonderful In This Life's Body, which I hadn't expected to ever see again (and I'm still astounded that Geoff managed to get it).   I'm already excited about the next event.   
Terror Nullius
3. Festivals, festivals.  The French Film Fest offered the confusing but always engrossing Ismael's Ghosts, the quixotic Let the Sunshine In, and the weirdly funny  Mrs Hyde, while my favourites out of a good year at SFF were the very touching Indonesian film, The Seen and The UnseenTransit,Wajib,PigEx Libris, the very clever Terror Nullius, the wonderful and wordless The Ancient WoodsWik vs Queensland, That Summer, Shoplifters and The Wild Pear Tree.
4. People on the screen. I loved having Lunch with the Dames, finding out so much more about Hedy Lamar in Bombshell, and Ian McKellen in McKellen while  Hannah Gadsby in Nannette was wonderful and confronting . I'm really enjoying Jodie Whittaker as the first female Dr Who!  But I was very sad to say goodbye to Saga in the final series of The Bridge. One of my favourite TV presences over the years has been Anthony Bourdain, who died earlier this year, but at least he left a great trove of programs which I'm still discovering on the various streaming services, many of which I haven't seen before (or will happily see again)..
5. Asian films. I saw and enjoyed Detective Dee and the Four Heavenly Kings, Detective K and the Secret of the Living Dead, and Project Gutenberg, but for me the highlights were the Korean 1987 When the Day Comes, Zhang Yimou's beautiful and mysterious Shadow, and of course, Shoplifters (and I saw Our Little Sister for the fourth time this year and loved it even more)
Japanese poster, Shoplifters
6 . Pleasures.  Sweet Country, Three Billboards, The Florida Project, Ladybird, They Shall Not Grow Old, Searching, Gurrumul, Don't Worry He Won't Get Far on Foot, Isle of Dogs, The Gospel According to Andre, The Shape of Water, and Antman and the Wasp,  Gloria, The Swimmer and All About Eve were wonderful to see again, as was West Side Story on the lovely big screen at the Randwick Ritz.  On TV, Mystery Road, and Killing Eve were real highlights.          
Killing Eve
7. Guilty Pleasures:Wellington Paranormal, from those Flight of the Conchord people,  Fucking Adelaide, and the wonderful Kates on Get Krackin'.

Saturday 29 December 2018

Cine Latino Film Festival 2018 - Supercinephile Barrie Pattison puts in a mammoth effort to cover a quality program - Part One - Argentina

They ran this event at the same time as the Japanese Film Festival,  a pain in the butt. There were films in both I’d have liked to watch. I had to content myself with a couple of passably entertaining Japanese items.

I tend to prioritise Latin material in these national film events and the 2018 Cine Latino Film Festival looked like a winner. I let their more prestigious items go, the Alfonso Cuaron Roma and Birds of Passage/Pajaros de verano from the Embrace of the Serpent lot figuring they’d make their way to me at popular prices and - sure enough - the imposing Roma has had a half-hearted city run related to Netflix’s grand design for it as an exclusive attraction. 

That one is predictably an exceptional piece which will be widely discussed and at length. I only add that the trailer does it no service pulling out the spectacular vista shots that are there to space the film’s intimate story, taking away their impact. The enigmatic name refers to a suburb where the privileged live, incidentally.

Diego Peretti
My interest was concentrated on a six film Argentinian stream. This looked particularly promising offering two of the films of long faced Diego Peretti who came to my attention with his great turn in Damián Szifron’s 2005 Tiempo de valences.  When a Chinese DVD store overstocked that one in a nice English sub-titled disc, after I looked at it I bought all their reduced-to-sell stock and used it for Xmas presents.

Sure enough the best value here was Peretti in Gabriel Nesci’s 
Casi Leyendas/Almost Legends,a putting the band back together comedy on the lines of The Blues Brothers.

Here producer and Spanish gross-out comic Santiago Segura (an SBS favorite - Tensión sexual no result and the Torrente series) is a night time electronics maintenance man who hears a broadcast calling for ‘phone votes on nineties bands to come out of retirement for a celebration concert. He eyes his company’s banks of computers. We can see Segura’s taste in this film, being introduced to the attractive woman in the wheel chair, he immediately asks if her vagina is all right. Santiago doesn’t hog the spotlight however, sharing with teacher-who-bores-his-classes Peretti, whose son idolises the school gym instructor rather than his own dad. Shady lawyer Diego Torres’ corporate misdeeds are catching up with him but he also rejoins their old band “Autoreverse”. 

The group suffers all manner of indignities, having to rehearse in the community center where they share space with children’s dance classes and lady oil colour painters. The idea of doing their number as they levitate gets them trapped in defective stage machinery while their rivals, the middle aged boy band jeer. But Santiago manages to snatch victory from defeat for a nice ending.

Appealing performances carry the piece with the aid of OK bright colour production. Agreeable film.

In the second Peretti movie, Mama se fue de viaje/Ten Days Without Mum he is front and center, though not all that much at home doing Robin Williams and the film never recovers the promise of the opening where he addresses the camera, while walking in the middle of smoking chaos on a beach - “The rabbit’s burning and drowning!”

Diego is just hanging on at the HomeRabbit Hypermarket where he’s been in charge of human relations for fifteen years and is struggling to get his promotion away from the younger, more charismatic rival executive. At home dad Diego finds that dissatisfied wife Carla Peterson, who gave up her law career to raise the family, has booked herself on holiday at Machu Picchu leaving him in charge of the bratty teenagers and destructive tinies. 

Things immediately go pear shaped when he runs over the family dog and, appalled, backs into the limping housekeeper. There’s a bit of Daddy Day Care at kindie and the discovery that the kids’ school is closed for a training day, something he learns about from the raddled teacher, who claims she looked like a runway model before she started. He finds he’s brought the wrong boy home from soccer practice and can’t understand the baby who keeps painting on the wall. 

Relief does arrive in the form of super-competent hired help Pilar Gamboa but she turns out to be a girl he fired while trying to look authoritative.  Seeing Carla’s books, she thinks he’s a lawyer and asks for help her sue Home Rabbit and its personnel manager. Picking up on this, daughter Agustina Cabo warns Diego “If you fire Julia, I will learn to drive and run you over.” Gamboa is revealed as a rural single mother who has been sacked from a string of jobs and comments “I’ve gotten tired of no future.” The financial crisis is never mentioned but, as with much Argentinian film, it lies under the surface of this picture of suburban prosperity. 

He is up against his rival in the company’s Family Day games and when Diego manages to persuade the kids to accompany him he falls behind on the sack race. His only hope is the high points event involving getting inside the giant see through ball and rolling down the hill into the inflatable bowling pins. Disaster follows. Turns out Gamboa plotted that with the family - quite Michael Haneke.

You could think of this as an Argentinian Mr. Mum though the cycle goes back at least as far as 1925 and Clive Brook in The Home Maker. Class performers are not really served by a predictable script even with its nice line in sadistic humor that keeps the awful situations coming, repeatedly cutting to emergency service vehicles on the way.  The film gives the impression of having been reduced from a more extended version with elements disappearing - like the gerbil last seen in the glass jug. Nice Nahuel Moreno toon titles and bright colour filming. 

Also from Argentina Alejandro Maci’s Los que aman odian/In Love & Hate  was a promising thriller set in a detailed 1940s. 

Brilliantined homeopath Guiliano Francella takes the train to the isolated hotel run by his sister in the treeless Bosque de Mar dunes only to find that femme fatale Luisana Lopilato and her entourage are already in residence. She accuses old flame Dr. Francella of stalking her. “I came here to forget you” he protests. 

There’s a flashback to their meeting in his study lined with Spanish editions of McCoy (Horace?), Goodis and Hammett, which suggests a noir structure, but the heavy handed perversity works closer to Agatha Christie, underlined by the succession of close ups of the characters they want us to think of as suspects in the coming murder.

Despite a night giving her great body to the doctor, he catches Lopilato pashing with her sister’s fiancé Juan Minujín.  Lopilato gets on with ruining all the men on hand including the isolated teenage nephew. Despite nailing the windows closed, the sand seeps in building up below stairs (“Sand storms are fatal”) and her sister’s piano recital ends when the the reception room doors blow open sending the guests into the night with torches. 

The murder arrives but the investigation is protracted, killing off whatever momentum all this the scene setting has provided. 

There’s some style to this one - restricted pallette (Digital Cinecolor), lots of forties detail - turbans, scarlet lipstick, celluloid frame glasses, thin mustaches and vintage cars prominent along with travelings in the hotel corridors and the sound of flies buzzing on the track. We get sinister imagery, like the polished coffin with its silver crucifix, a dim basement where they have strychnine to get rid of vermin or the uniformed officer shadowy in the background of the fat detective’s interrogation. 

Considerable curiosity value.

Santiago Esteves' La educación del Rey/Rey's Education is less flamboyant but rather better, a cut price Argentinian crime movie builds up expectations that it never quite fulfills.

Thrown out by his mother, teenager Matías Encinas is Shanghaied into joining his brother’s gang robbery that goes wrong when a guard dog and burglar alarm bring the cops.  While the brother and side kick are caught, the kid escapes with the loot. His escape drops him into the patio of family man ex security van armed guard Germán de Silva who makes him work for him on restoring the timber and plastic sheet green house he smashed in his flight. 

The older man shelters Encinas from his criminal associates and the crooked cops, taking him on shooting practice (“Never turn your back on a man with a gun”) on his friend’s pig farm. 

Urged by his brother, hospitalised after a beating, to turn over the loot to his criminal masters, Encinas takes the pistol De Silva has hidden among his trophies and goes to the meet where his suspicions are aroused. Rather than take his hand out of his hood jacket as ordered he braces his other palm against his leg in the yoga shooting pose he learned from his mentor. 

Finding that the nasties have his phone number De Silva cuts Encinas loose but the murderous gang get the kid and have already forced the brother’s location out of him by starting on Encina’s big toe with a bolt cutter. Their police contacts are getting nervous as the bad hats continue to blunder and De Silva, prizes their location out of a craven cop he locks in a car boot, and shows up blazing away.

Though promising elements are not explored - we don’t get to hear about why Encinas’ mum threw him out or De Silva’s back ground, which includes a spell in prison, and his skeptical son vanishes - murkey desaturated camerawork and unfamiliar players are not a disadvantage and the realistic setting, unsealed streets, suburban home and warehouses help conviction. The crime by night element adds a noirish flavour. This one is worth a look.

Recognisable items like Roma  did fill up while Diego Peretti, unknown here, played to single figure audiences. The festival audience did however follow current figurehead star of Hispanic film, the admirable Ricardo Darin.

Juan Vera’s El amor menos pensado/An Unexpected Love is what they used to call menopausal romance, which was pretty drear when it centred on Lana Turner and Susan Hayward and not all that much better with Richard Brooks fielding Jean Simmons in Happy Ending. 

Darin and wife of 25 years Mercedes Morán  (Neruda) see their grown son jet off to his University. They get his Skype messages, with his Thai girl roommate glimpsed. Darin calls her Miss Saigon only to find the young people have given up their courses to go work with the underprivileged.

Disoriented by seeing their ambitions simultaneously realised and dashed, the parents decide they can’t face another thirty years together. Separating, they start a variety of adventures with new partners. Synthetically symmetrical, both get a comical episode - Darin with the voracious blonde he ends rushing into the ICU and Morán with bare assed perfume salesman Juan Minujín (also in Los Que aman, Odian) which leaves her beaming as she strides through the street in her red dress. They work through more suitable mates which ends up convincing them they should resume their original pairing. 

It’s a measure of the conformism here that the marriage bond is still sacred in what the makers are proposing as daring and adult. Parallel sub-plots make things more cozy with Darin’s dad whose interest centers on good shepherd’s pie and Morán’s eighty year old mum who has just started a new romance .

The mature leads are showcased with best production values and this one has its audience clearly targeted.  A film that starts with a downwards track through a library backed by Darin’s reading of the opening of “Moby Dick” is not likely to have silly ass comics and musical numbers - though they do slip in the girl street musician with guitar.

”Moby Dick”, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche and breaking out in Jean Moreau doing theJules & Jim  theme on the track for no particular reason, this is one for the Palace Cinema chain audience, the very same people who walked out of the Tavernier history of French Cinema. It filled screenings to capacity and is opening for a season.

Me, I prefer Darin doing his hard man asphyxiating Oscar Martínez’s heavies with a crop duster in Captain Kóblic  or channeling Humphrey Bogart in Fabián Belinsky’s El Aura.

Since the 1960s with Torres Nilsson, Lataro Marua and Graciela Borges, Argentina has given the impression of being the most consistently rewarding of the Hispanic film industries. This lot made me think that those days are behind us but there was a surprise in store. 

(To be continued)

Thursday 27 December 2018

Defending Cinephilia 2018 (9) - Asian film aficionado John Snadden reminds us of overlooked pleasures and more

There were a couple of genuine surprises in my Cinephilia journey this year. Not surprisingly, Hollywood's big guns disappointed with dull, lack lustre releases such as The Post, All the Money in the World, Chappaquiddick and Ready Player One. But I did thoroughly enjoy two major studio pics, and another which was nearly 80 years young.

Ryan Gosling, Blade Runner 2049
Blade Runner 2049
Although a 2017 release, I just saw it early this year. It's a major achievement for Canadian director Dennis Villeneuve (Arrival) and, IMO, a sequel which was better than the original. A visually stunning film which follows a Future Cop cum Blade Runner (Ryan Gosling) uncovering a series of inconvenient truths. Villeneuve paints a more than dystopian picture of a world not too far ahead of us. This film will look good on just about any platform – but does deserve at least one big screen viewing. 

Black Panther
The best Superhero flick since The Dark Knight. An intelligent and entertaining widescreen version of a 1960s Stan Lee comic book. The design of a benign dictatorship in the mythical land of Wakanda actually works well, until the outside world wants a piece of the action.

It was disappointing to see most of Black Panther's cast, literally, disappear into the ether in the film's semi-sequel, Avengers: Infinity War

Joan Fontaine, Rebecca
I watched this classic for the first time and on the big screen via the ongoing Alfred Hitchcock retrospective, which is still showing in some capital cities. Rebecca was Hitch's debut Hollywood feature and his second picture based on a Daphne Du Maurier novel. Much of the story takes place in the Cornwall mansion, Manderley, where the pain of loss and the corruption of innocence are played out by Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. And how could anyone forget the “woman in black” played superbly by Dame Judith Anderson.   

Asian Cinema
Monster Hunt 2
Asian cinema was again well represented in the multiplexes and Melbourne's Chinatown Theatre. Unfortunately, commercial Mainland film-making has hit a wall of late, and only two movies released during Chinese New Year are worthy of mention. Monster Hunt 2 and Operation Red Sea were excellent Mandarin language pics, although both were helmed by Hong Kong talent, Raman Hui and Dante Lam.

Incidentally, where is Wolf Warrior 3?

Operation Red Sea
Instead, it’s been South Korean cinema which has had a bumper 2018. Audiences in Oz have been lucky enough to see a first-rate selection of Korean genre cinema. Some titles received repeat screenings at the annual Korean Film Festival, now a well-attended staple on the local film festival calendar. 

The Spy Gone North
An espionage thriller The Spy Gone North and a crime drama Believer were clever and entertaining big screen dramas. In hindsight, Min Gyoo-dong's Herstory marked peak cinephilia for me this year. 

Kim Hee-ae, Herstory
Was a dramatization of the Gwan Bu trial which began in Japan in the early 1990s and ran for nearly a decade. This semi-documentary film follows the stories of a group of Korean survivors who during WW2 were imprisoned by invading Japanese troops and used as Comfort Women. It's both a sobering and heartfelt narrative, and where many viewers will find it impossible not to be outraged by the willful ignorance of the Japanese government, then and now. The closing scenes are genuinely cathartic and helped make Herstory the highpoint of my cinema year.

One scene this year – for some reason or other – did stick quite humorously in my mind. It was from Herman Yau's HK action-drama, Leakers. The scene unspools at night outside the highly secure Centre for Disease Control in Darwin, where we watch a dark clothed figure easily scale a wire fence and quickly pick the lock of the main entrance and disappear inside. Within a minute, the thief returns clutching a small metal container holding the deadliest bacteria known to man. Only in the movies....We hope!

Esther Eng
On a concluding note, congratulations go to Hong Kong academic and film-maker, Louisa Wei, who in early December was awarded the Best Documentary prize at the prestigious Festival of Chinese Cinema in Paris. Her film Golden Gate Girls examines the life and times of Esther Eng, the first Chinese-American film-maker who made ten feature length movies in an up until now forgotten career. Louisa was also a longtime colleague and trusted friend of the late Frank Bren.  

Best wishes to Geoff and the Film Alert crew for a Happy and Prosperous 2019.

Wednesday 26 December 2018

On DVD ( and CD) - Rod Bishop on "the best concert I’ve seen this century" - BOWIE GLASTONBURY 2000 - A magical box set that shows Bowie at his peak

Bowie Glastonbury 2000 (2xCD 1xDVD) 
BBC and Warner Music Group. Released 30 November 2018

Included in this box set is an atmospheric account from Caitlin Moran of David Bowie’s performance at Glastonbury on 25 June 2000. An excerpt:
For those first two numbers, the throat was coddled…It was – merely – a great performer, singing his greatest hits, carefully. And then…and then, it happened. The thing you go to gigs for, the thing you keep believing in, although you may not have seen it for months, years. Like a pivotal moment in a rom-com – where everything catches fire…and there it went: the unmistakable electric wave from the stage to the back of the field, that occurs when a moment begins to happen…simply, obviously, wonderfully, he is there to win, now. He piles on all his treasures – miles high – until others will be embarrassed to play this stage again…hearing this performance, you will let out a ragged sigh over the impossibility of someone so alive, so vital, just…ending. How could the universe conspire to make him disappear? On this night he seemed like an infinite material. The most unstoppable substance yet invented.”
Opinions will vary of course, but to this viewer, the DVD in this package amply shows everything Caitlin Moran writes to be true. 
I was never a big Bowie fan and although he was eighteen months older than I, his most fervent fans seemed at least 10 years younger. I liked some of the songs, I liked him in The Man Who Fell To Earth, I liked the androgyny and in 1983 I even braved the crowded dunnies at Waverley Park in Melbourne’s east where fans were brazenly shooting up before Bowie’s Serious Moonlight performance. What he delivered that night was second-rate compared with this consummate set from 2000.
So, where has this Glastonbury gig been? Why has it taken 18 years and Bowie’s death before it has surfaced? For starters, Bowie never wanted it filmed and that’s as big a first problem as you can get. 
In a piece for The Guardian newspaper “David Bowie: The day I pulled the plug on his Glastonbury comeback”, BBC producer Mark Cooper tells of the eventual compromise: the BBC could go live with the first four songs of the set and one or two from the encore. After the first two songs, Wild Is The Wind and China Girl, and probably about the time Caitlin Moran describes “the unmistakable electric wave from the stage to the back of the field”, Cooper tried to reopen discussions at the side of the stage and only managed to wrest the fifth song for the initial broadcast.
After that, he had to wait 90 minutes for the encores. With no other stage operating, Cooper was forced to cut from the BBC live broadcast to “a short film explaining the world of underground theatre at Glastonbury” to help fill his gap. He goes on to discuss his numerous attempts after Glastonbury to have the full concert released, only to be met with “…mutterings about the audio quality, some aspects of the performance…”
The Glastonbury 'pyramid' stage
As a filmed concert, it’s typical BBC: unobtrusive coverage with limited audience cutaways and making the most of a sound-and-light show clearly not designed for television. It matters not. Bowie and his crack band transcend everything, including the singer’s laryngitis to deliver the best concert I’ve seen this century. It’s magnificent.
A note on the box set: I strongly recommend the set containing the DVD of the complete two-hour concert. I found mine at JB HiFi for $38, but it wasn’t easy. Now, it no longer appears on their website. Instead, a 2CD with no DVD is available. Amazon AU seem to be offering the set containing the DVD for $AU38. Amazon UK and USA offer the package that includes the DVD at $AU60 plus freight and $AU34 plus freight, respectively. You also might be able to find it if you click here at a bargain price of $AU32.