Archive for April, 2009

Elegy

Posted in Reviews with tags , , on April 28, 2009 by babydylan

One night, a long time ago, I began watching My Life Without Me, a Canadian film by director Isabel Coixet. I didn’t know anything about it at the time; I had turned on the telly and was struck straight away by the opening image of a young woman standing in pouring rain, talking about her life with the feeling of being lost. I learnt that the young woman was a cleaner, living a simple life with her husband in a caravan. She finds out she is dying and decides to write a list of all that she wants to do before she dies.I couldn’t finish the rest of the film, because I knew that I would just lose it by the end. The first act had moved me greatly, and we were only half an hour in. I just wasn’t in the mood to watch a film which I knew would have such a moving effect on me. You know how sometimes you’re in the mood to watch a comedy, or a horror, or anything else and then sometimes your not? It was one of those moments.

Hence I was a little apprehensive about watching Coixet’s sixth feature, Elegy, a film which is as visually assured and accomplished as My Life Without Me (Yes, I did end up getting it out and watching it, and Yes…it is amazing and Yes! I did cry! Alex says ‘Awww!’ about this.)
The picture involves David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley) a literature professor in his early sixties who, as a way of capturing his lost youth, moves through random affairs with his adoring students.

What them eyes, Benny boy!

I am in a state of emancipated manhood.
David meets Consuela (Penelope Cruz), a stunningly beautiful and intelligent student, who starts off as another of David’s ‘conquests’ yet ends up, much to his chagrin, as an object of his obsession. His voiceover tells us this much, as do the revealing conversations between David and his best friend George (wonderfully played by Dennis Hopper). He falls in love with her although he doesn’t realise it at first, but his inability to commit and his fear of rejection (or perhaps needing someone) drives her away, before he realises that she loves him too.

The Greatest Surprise in a mans life is old age.
To give away the films message is to give away its ending, I can only say that I was reminded that falling in love, and admitting that you love someone, doesn’t get any easier as you get older. We know David by the end of this film – sometimes uncomfortably so – because of his beautifully written and revealing voice over. In some scenes I found myself nodding my head in agreement to what he just said, and in others – most notably in the climatic scene with Consuelo – I knew exactly what he was thinking. Regret too, at not being better prepared for old age, was also understood.

Elegy effortlessly combined humour and drama, and many scenes throughout this film had me doing that little colicky thing with my tongue. You know how when something’s beautiful, and you notice it straight away, you sought of click your tongue and lean back and say “oh man” to yourself. One scene in particular (it involves Consuelo and a camera, you’ll know it when you see it) is so poignant and beautiful I was almost moved to tears (not almost…I did cry. A lot)

"And then what did Almodóvar do? Really? The dirty dog!"

The films I like most are the ones that are real, with characters and situations that remind you of real life. It’s remarkable that considering all it takes to make a film, such as writing a screenplay, filming it, editing etc., a picture can come along that is realistic as this. Watching these characters go through their transition was like watching your own friends fall in love, you care about them that much.

This is a love story in its purest form; it reminds you of how much courage it takes to fall in love, because you’re giving up on everything.
Dare I say it, this has become one of my favourite films.

Knowing Me, Knowing You

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , on April 21, 2009 by babydylan

An ever present pout, a lush head of (possibly fake) hair, a fair bit of bitching and moaning. One could be mistaken for thinking it was another chapter in the Lindsay Lohan saga, instead it is the latest offering by everyone’s favourite Coppola, Nicolas Cage. Alex Proyas’ The Knowing not only highlights Cage’s perky weave, it manages to straddle the line between the spine-tingly and outright ridiculous.

I have put up with a lot from Nic Cage. I have tried to keep things positive, but there are times when even I can’t see the good side. After one of my favourite performances with Cage playing both Charlie and Donald Kaufman in Adaptation (2002) I am willing to forgive most things. Yet since that viewing I have been sorely tested with Con Air (1997) which I admit I got a cheap thrill from, Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000), and what seemed like eight hours of my life that I will never get back from watching City of Angels (1998). I could look past the ludicrous plot of National Treasure (2004) and semi-believe Diane Kruger would fall in love with his brainy but ultimately dull character (meanwhile we all know in the real world she would have had it off with Riley played by Justin Bartha. Anyone remember TV show Teachers? Sigh). Yet all Cage’s good work was subsequently crushed with Ghost Rider (2007) and the unnecessary National Treasure sequel, tag-line: ‘Taking perfectly interesting historical events to new stages of fucking ridiculous’.

Cage says: Hellloooo ladies!

Cage says: "Hellloooo ladies!"

Thus walking into The Knowing I was filled with two parts apprehension, one part fear. I’d heard positive things about the film, as one usually hears when film companies are trying to spruik their latest billion dollar folly. I think every person in Melbourne knew someone who had either worked on the film, been in the film or walked past a film-set being a bloody nuisance around town. This was further enticement for me, to see how they disguise my familiar and well-loved Melbourne. Changing it to Boston, Massachusetts where the sun is getting ready to flash and MIT professors and their genius sons live in decrepit and and isolated shacks. I am curious as to how American audiences received the films location. To Melbournian eyes, no matter how hard you try to make the intensely orange leaves look like a Boston Autumn, it will always be Melbourne Universities south lawn. Apocalyptic scenes might be happening all over New York, but they are clearly running about on the steps of Parliament at the top of Bourke Street. And I doubt any school child could fail to forget a certain whale skeleton at the Melbourne Museum. If you look carefully you can even see Victorian number plates as Cage zips about town. The fact that the city is so blatantly changed is exciting, heightening my viewing experience giving a serious case of I-See-What-You-Did-There.

I-See-What-You-Did-There Cat sees what youre doing...

I-See-What-You-Did-There Cat sees what you're doing...

But back to the plot. The film seems to take a lot of time dithering with set up and back story. It’s 1959 and school children are putting a time capsule in the ground for future generations to dig up. 50 years in the future actually, how fortuitous! One girl however, Lucinda (Lara Robinson), seems to be a little on the queer side, writing some funky code instead of drawing pictures of flying goats or meals made in tiny pills or whatever 1959 children dreamed the future would be like. Lucky for us, John Koestler (Cage) and his son Caleb (Chandler Cantebury – what a name!) are the recipients of this pareidolia. As John goes on yet another bender due to the recent loss of his wife (here Cage dazzles us with some humours drunken staggering), he discovers the key to the code. I’m sure you’ve all seen in the trailer which tells us in urgent whispers the numbers have predicted every major disaster over the last 20 years, the day, date and year, the amount of people to die and the co-ordinates on the globe. Three dates are left on the list and they are looming large.

Cut to John tracking down Lucinda’s spawn, her granddaughter Abby (also Lara Robinson) and daughter Diana (Rose Byrne) who is fueled by the determination to fight the prophecy predicting her death – until it does. For most of the film Proyas follows a very Day After Tomorrow and The Day The Earth Stood Still path. The most breathtaking moments being the predicted disaster. Cage, somewhat luckily and somewhat foolishly, happens to be at both. The one-take plane crash is handled masterfully as we observe, horrified, the unfolding carnage. The plane cleans up several cars on the freeway bowling ball style and then crashes spectacularly into the ground. We follow Cage as he walks through the wreckage, watching survivors scream in agony as fire engulfs them. Cage tries to douse the flames, his shell-shocked manner more than apparent as he struggles to comprehend what he is seeing and how he might have prevented it. The scenes of death and mayhem are chillingly brought to the screen and although graphic and all too real, it is tastefully done.

Vinyl does nothing for my complexion, Alex!

'Vinyl does nothing for my complexion, Alex!'

Everything appears to be progressing scarily as mute white haired men continue to be send Caleb visions of fiery doom leading John to do what all Americans seem to do in these situations – get a gun! The soundtrack throughout is subtly foreboding and leads one to ask, “Why do all the scary things happen at night?’ You begin to realise, like many thrillers, that when the music seems to urge you to bite your fingernails, the crazy shit is going down.

I really wanted to love this film. It had Cage doing a fine job mooching in door frames, Rose Byrne looking quite fetching and ready to tear up at any moment, beautiful shots of Melbourne and horrifyingly real disaster scenes. Yet everything fell apart with the ending and I found myself asking, “Why ye cinema Gods, why?” The believability, the reason we hang around til the end, the whole crux of the film relies on why it is all happening and it is one massive let down. Think disappointments almost identical to ‘Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull’ and you might grasp the nature of this blow. As one friend said, “Walk out 20 minutes before the end and you’ll love it.”

Him and that NUMB3RS guy would be BFFs...

Him and that NUMB3RS guy would be BFFs...

Yet despite this tragedy, I enjoyed the film. Although many of Cage’s more serious moments inspired a few giggles (have you seen the way that man runs?) the overall ideabehind the film were intriguing and well represented. If anything see it for Melbourne alone, the thrill of having our city decimated is both scary and exciting. Much like Nicolas Cage’s hair.

Video Generation

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 13, 2009 by babydylan

The strongest relationship I have had in my life has been with my babysitter. Not in a ‘Kristy’s-best-idea’ Babysitters club type of wholesome setting, nor in the disturbing mind-fuck world of Robert Coover. It was much more innocent and ultimately boring. Like countless other 20-and-30-somethings I was babysat by the television and VCR for most of my childhood.

Watching me

Watching me

Those familar video tapes were my closest friends. The comforting sound they made as they slotted easily into the VCR, the tape making a satisfying crunch as it connected to the device and the play button was pressed. The writting scrawled over the label, the first words I ever learnt. I knew how to fast-forward and rewind before I knew how to speak or spell. 

Following here are two of the films that shaped and moulded me as a child. Films that I will never be able to look at objectively as they own permanent space in my brain as “best childhood memories”. They are friends who I can always turn to and have completely influenced my tastes in films to this day. More films will join this list as I re-watch and re-asses.

Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines (Dir. Ken Annakin, 1965)

I sent him to the company of a nice young girl to keep him occupied. Your daughter!

'I sent him to the company of a nice young girl to keep him occupied. Your daughter!'

For me, no other film has had such a lasting impression or such a subconscious one. Not the average film viewed by four year olds, but due to my grandfathers aeronautical past and my families desire to keeping me otherwise occupied, it was a staple of my kindergarten viewing.

The story of the first unassisted flight from London to Paris in 1910 is largely fictional, yet nevertheless intensely hilarious. Stereotypes and complete lack of political correctness abound throughout the film making for most of the comedic moments. There is the pompous Lord Rawsley (Robert Morely) who is organiser, financier and general arse kicker throughout the race, along with his uppity daughter Patricia (Sarah Miles) who comes off in a more or less positive light (not quite surprisingly as the director and writer was fiercely patriotic). Her two love interests are the dashing Richard Mays, British Air-force with exceptional good prospects and his nemesis, country hick, Orvil Newton (Stuart Whitman) whose knee-slappin’, tabacoo chewing offensive Americaness is too much for Patricia to resist.

However the film really shines with its supporting characters. French, German and Italian competitors are forced to share neighbouring hangers and all forms of sabotage and backstabbing ensue. The fact that the airfield is conveniently placed next to a sewerage farm coupled with pilots who have little to no control over their aircraft makes for some wonderful Benny Hill inspired slapstick scenes with less naked ladies and more deep chuckles. Who wins the race is ultimately less important than how they get there, what kind of plane they are flying and is their enough champagne to go round?

The imagery of this film has stuck with me since I was a wee lass. Never questioning that all Germans are bumbling military idiots, while the French are less inclined to work if I good time can be had (or is this perhaps a keener observation than I’m giving the filmmakers credit for?). I was delighted by the different air-crafts, the constant bickering by the competitors and of course, that damn catchy, if not a little camp, theme song.

The Sound Of Music (dir. Robert Wise, 1965)

They don't have a television...?

If there is a woman who is more whole-heartily lovable than Julie Andrews, I don’t want to hear it. Christopher Plumber is quoted as saying  ‘working with her is like being hit over the head with a Valentine’s Day card every day’ but even the soppy-sweetness she exudes will never diminish my love. And this is all due to the Sound of Music.

I have vivid memories of watching the Sound of Music VCR taped from the television on high rotation, to such a point I can tell you when the advertisement breaks should be. I know of several people who have had similar experiences, where a lazy parents or relative taping the film forgets to record the first ten minutes or re-record as the ad break finishes. Thus until recently I had never seen the impressive helicopter shots of Austria, nor the iconic image of Julie Andrews flinging her arms out and twirling into the helicopter tail-wind. Not to mention one or two missing scenes that now appear pivotal to the overall cohesion of the story. Yet as a child, I wasn’t so interested in the exposition, it was all about the songs.

Oscar and Hammerstein’s feel-good, wholesome music may appear cheesy and outdated but gosh-darn they sure do get stuck in your head. And isn’t that the aim of any good show-tune? The believability of the plot (which is stretched a little thin at times – Was the Revered Mother playing matchmaker? I’m sure Jesus wouldn’t approve) rests entirely upon Maria’s (Julie Andrews) shoulders. As a child, she makes you want her as your parent/guardian/cool hippie aunt/random clingy stranger. The children never go to school, constantly running around in stylish vintage fashions, being taught how to sing in perfect harmony and putting on yodeling puppet shows. All of which would appear exceedingly trite if you didn’t want to be joining in so badly. She is the antithesis of the ugly step-mother archetype, children literally begging their father to hurry up and marry the woman.

Watching it now, the lyrics and the music make me want to sing along while Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) used to look quite old to my pre-teen eyes, he looks exceedingly handsome now. Even though the film has flaws, I find myself unable to care. I will never be able to see the film as anything else other than a family I want to join and a place I want to stay