Friday, July 31, 2009

The Case for FilmFest Catchups

Right, have been very remiss in my reviewing the last wee while. JudgeNot the NotKate has managed to pronounce her judgements on all the movies we saw together before I was able to put digit to keyboard, and her judgements are as usual very well thought out and erudite decisions.


However, the first film on my review list is one that JudgeNot did not attend. The “blast from the past” Ocker shocker Wake in Fright was a 1970s film beautifully remastered into an incredibly clear and sharp print that sometimes had me forgetting the actual age of the movie.

The film is beautifully bleak, the Outback of Australia represented as both a dry and deserted part of hell, and, in the bigger towns, it comes across as a hard drinking, hard betting, hard living and hard hitting suburban part of hell. Into this hellish landscape comes a Sydney city boy forced to work as a teacher in the Outback as part of his bond, who gets sidetracked on his way back to Sydney for the Christmas holidays.

The movie revels in the “true blue” Aussie experience, but presents both the positive and negative side of that blokey culture. The mining town locals are shown as charming, open alcoholics but also erratic and slightly insane. The main character, John, is at first mortified by their antics, but warms to their openness and “quaint ways” only to be sucked in to the more unsavoury parts of that lifestyle – the kangaroo hunt has to be seen to be believed, and I can think of no circumstances where such a scene would ever be shot in a modern film, not even by Quentin Tarantino.

So the film is not easy to watch, even as it captures a “real” part of the Australian psyche. It shows the friendliness of small town Australia juxtaposed against the harshness of out Outback mining experience in the oppressive heat and lacking anything to do but drink and shoot things. It is a “classic” and slice of real Australian life in the way Once Were Warriors is a reflection of New Zealand, something powerful and revealing, yet shocking and depressing.

Verdict: The Fisherman recommended seeing Wake in Fright, and I am glad he did. Bold, brash, borderline and occasionally bad taste, it was a great chance to see an amazingly restored print of a defining Australian film, and to witness a kangaroo hunt in all its shocking, disturbing yet hypnotic glory. 6 kangaroos out of 10.


The fourth of my festival films this year became a must see purely by merit of its setting. Adventureland was touted as a 1980s movie, and considering how well films such as Dazed and Confused have captured other past eras, I was kind of hoping Adventureland would do the same.

It didn’t: the story was fairly generic and could be located anywhere in the time / space continuum, though of course the 80s setting gave the film makers the excuse to put together a really amazing sound track. But, while my preconceptions were shattered very early on in the film, I got into the story and the slow, jovial pace of the film and started to enjoy Adventureland for what it was.

Plotwise, it was boy meets girl in a summer job with a few ups and downs along the way. See, fairly generic. But it was done very well, with some fairly witty attempts at humour early on in the movie, though these tended to disappear as more characters came on board. I got the impression with certain unexplored story arcs (the Dad’s alcohol in the car, for example), that Adventureland was trying to make itself into a male-focussed Juno, wanting to be a bit deeper and a bit more meaningful than it actually was. The angst that was central to the main characters was well handled by the cast, but storywise they were sometimes dealt with in a way so quick and efficient way that they seemed to flare up and vanish for no real reason (the whole “I am not dating you because you are Jewish” issue seemed to be generated purely to give people a chance to shout at others for a few minutes).

But the characters were all very human, all flawed, the romance believable even if some of the situations the two leads found themselves in were a bit contrived.

Adventureland was preceded by a short film so completely out of kilter with the main feature, one had to wonder how that particular combination had ever been thrown together. A family falling apart on the death of the mother through alcoholism and depression is not really a “good” lead in to a romantic comedy, but luckily Adventureland overcame that handicap to leave me with a warm 80s glow for the rest of my Saturday.

Verdict: Nothing new, but done well and with a nice and occasionally quite sharp sense of humour. Adventureland was not so much a roller coaster ride as a relaxed, pleasant tram ride through 80s town. 7 tickets out of 10.


Okay, now this one was not a festival film, but rather a borrowed DVD viewed before going out to the cinema. I had seen On Golden Pond many, many moons ago, but took the chance to rewatch it when it was loaned to me by someone aware of my appreciation of Katharine Hepburn.

I have always been a big fan of strongly-written women on screen. It is rare to see a male “hero” lead given flaws or shown as weak, whereas characters such as Ellen Ripley (Aliens) and Laura Roslin (Battlestar Galactica) are written as fiercely intelligent, tough, powerful individuals still allowed to have emotions and to suffer from self doubt. And Katharine Hepburn’s career is built on such roles, reflecting the fierce independence of spirit she appeared to have in real life.

Such strength and charisma is evident in her portrayal as Ethel Thayer, acting alongside Henry and Jane from the Fonda acting dynasty. It’s an incredible cast, with some amazing performances that lifts a fairly predictable and oft-told story. Hepburn was evidently suffering from Parkinson’s disease at the time of filming the movie, adding to the respect I hold for her for putting such a great performance together. If both she and Henry Fonda only earned best supporting role Academy Awards, I would love to know who won the lead actor awards – and who the lead actor in On Golden Pond was meant to be,

Verdict: I don’t really know how I can be unbiased in this review, but I like On Golden Pond, the beautiful cinematography, the fact it stars two people above retirement age, and the fact it is awesome. Still, I will try and add some modicum of impartiality and rate it down a wee bit for a fairly common story. 8 Golds out of 10.


The NotKate and FilmSvend have already written very eloquently about We Live in Public, a documentary about Josh Harris, an internet visionary blind to humanity. He pioneered internet chatrooms, internet television, 24 hour Big Brother experiments both on groups and on more intimate scales, all the while appreciating the spectacle and the voyeurism of the act rather than actually being able to empathise in any way with what was happening to those who were his subjects, or even his lover.

After the documentary screened, the director took questions about the film clarifying why the torturously long scenes in the giant underground Quiet cage seemed to go on forever (the footage used was itself culled from a 2 hour documentary on the actual experiment that she had made but not released), and that certain scenes showing Harris dressed up in quasi-drag as “Luvvie” were shown to try and balance his more normal persona, as she admitted that his normal persona was actually quiet a bit of an @rsehole and hoped that showing this sign of him softened that dislike somewhat (not really).

While the film carried a warning that the internet is a Big Brother constantly watching you and then subtley directing you to what the Powers behind the scenes – normally corporations – want you to see and buy, and that there are some unscrupulous people out there willing to use people for their own nefarious ends, I was more interested in the fact that there were people who went into some of those decidedly dodgy situations with their eyes fully open. The Quiet experiment in particular, filled with self-indulgent extroverts (New York artists, including one “Interrogation Artist”, and believe me, I really wanted to ask what the hell that was, had I actually any guts whatsoever), spun out of control as the people inside did what they wanted until they did what the quasi-fascist guards told them to do, lost any inhibitions (one assumes) they might have had, and basically revelled and partied and accepted the blatant favouritism shown by Harris to his chosen.

That Harris got bored with Quiet is probably not that surprising considering his incredible narcissism. I am sure more people than just me slapped their head when he justified the breakup of his relationship to his incredibly intelligent, pretty and lovely girlfriend, with whom he lived in front of the cameras for months on end, to the fact it was all a fiction, rather than admit (as she did) that the pressure to perform for others got in the way of their relationship. He became suicidal when viewers flagged once his girlfriend ditched him, not really with the ditching itself.

Seeing this level of egocentrism, tinged with the paranoia that, through the internet, one can actually measure how “loved” one might be, was fascinating to behold. Should self worth come through the number of friends one has on Facebook, or the quality of those relationships? These days, quantity seems to matter more.

The film was really interesting in the questions it raised, in what it showed about ourselves and our society, even if focussed through an extreme and highly irritating lens. While the internet can be and is a powerful tool, it also has the ability to abuse and be abused by those who take things very, very seriously. It can be an attention grabbing tool, but it is just another medium to reach other people rather than a measure of self worth in and of itself. The internet can be a lot of things, and what we choose to make of it… well, its up to the pioneers to decide, I suppose.

Verdict: We Live in Public is a really interesting film, well told, if a bit slow and hard to watch at times. A film by extroverts for extroverts, with little in the way of impartial explanation as to what we were witnessing – but then, one is not really drawn to the lead character nor his vision anyway. Worthwhile, but hard going. 7 windows updates out of 10.

1 comment:

Not Kate said...

I agree! Adventureland was nice, but not life-changing. I wasn't disappointed by it - but I won't remember much about it in a few months time.

There is a teacher I'm friends with on Facebook (ex-teacher, actually) who has some ex-students as 'friends' on there. Every now and then I'll catch sight of them on her profile and click on them.... and they've all got hundreds of friends. Like, 300 seems to be fairly standard.

I wonder if there's some kind of equation you could make up to measure popularity. It seems to be that these younger people are friends with almost everyone they went to school with (as you would be) - so there's 80-150 right there (if you're only keeping in contact with a bunch of your seventh form friends). Throw in some kids from other year groups, kids you went to primary with from other schools.... a few cousins...

It would be interesting to do a scientific breakdown of it, anyhow (I'm sure someone is already onto that). But it's obviously that the generation down from us, the early-20s kids already have masses more 'friends' because they're including most of their high-school, then their new uni/gap-year crowd.

There must be a lot of pressure there, for the kids still at school. I'm glad we didn't have such a definitive measure of popularity in our day. Imagine the social pressure of keeping up - you'd have to accept any invitation to be 'friends' (in order to keep your numbers up, and avoid consequences the next day at school)....