FilmInk's Julian Wood heads down to a supposedly new and improved Tropfest for a night of short film festivities.
So the bigger than ever Tropfest has just wrapped and the marquees are packed away and the starry-eyed winners are being feted and interviewed. One cannot help but wonder if swept away with the crowd’s detritus is the last little scrap of the spirit of the original festival.
Let’s not be too curmudgeonly about it though, things have to change. It is no good harking back to the good old days fifteen odd years ago when we sat in chairs in the street in Sydney’s groovy Darlinghurst to watch some wonky efforts from first timers. The festival had to morph and grow and under its manic but now a bit elusive one man engine John Polson, grow it did. It burst its seams at a number of venues before taking over almost the entire Domain. By then it was a victim of its own success as, if you were foolish enough to join late, you could just spot a screen the size of a fag packet in the distance. And, if you were in the middle, well you had better not want to go to the loo for about 6 hours.
Now Trop has moved to Sydney’s beautiful Centennial Park in a cleared area that is apparently called Brazilian Fields though it has nothing to do with pubic fashion. To be fair the screening on the giant tri-fold erection is pretty good. The only drawback, and it is one that frustrated all the filmmakers I spoke to, is that the sound continues to be terrible. The soundscape is often the least sophisticated aspect of early or low budget filmmaking, and so it comes as a double penalty. What is more surprising – but perhaps shouldn’t be – is that nobody really seems to be watching the films very closely all the way through. Attention spans are clearly getting shorter when seven minutes is too long.
Julian Wood shares his thoughts on FilmInk's Movie of the Month.
American literature would not be the same without Henry James. Generations have admired his stern elegant prose and the refined cruelty with which he dissects the foibles of his characters. These are not qualities that necessarily lend themselves to film but, nevertheless, his stories do sometimes get the celluloid treatment. What Masie Knew is one of his shorter books but is not lightweight. It is in some ways a rather grim story as it revolves around the disintegration of a marriage as told from the point of view of the seven-year-old Maise.
In this version, the two directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel (The Deep End) have transposed the action to contemporary New York. Julianne Moore plays aging rock star Susanna. She swaggers into the film wearing her hipster leather jacket like some latter-day Patti Smith. It is quite clear to the audience that she is more interested in being ‘free’ than actually attending to her domestic situation. Moore is a really good actress with plenty of cred but she has somehow decided to play this role as if her purpose was to annoy the audience as much as her ex-husband. Opposite her, in every sense, is her newly-shed partner Beale who is an art dealer. Beale is played by British comedian Steve Coogan in one of his rare forays into straight acting. Coogan is the master of the throwaway line, as anyone who saw him in Michael Winterbottom’s hilarious and partly improvised road comedy The Trip will know.
Replete with a WTF title, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a pretentious bore. Writer/director David Lowery borrows both tropes (fugitives, a Southern setting) and style (minimalist dialogue, laconic narration) of early Terrence Malick, with considerably lesser results. Rooney Mara is Ruth, a young woman who has fallen pregnant by armed robber Bob (Casey Affleck). When Bob is arrested for shooting a police officer (Ben Foster), Ruth must deal with the consequences of her actions when Bob escapes imprisonment.
You might say that the plot isn’t important in terms of such a lyrical and non-literal film as Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. However, in order to believe in the emotional stakes of the film’s many confrontations, we must also believe in the plot mechanisms that allowed for those dramatic scenes to occur. Unfortunately, the film offers too many contrivances to justify emotional investment: Why do Bob and Foster’s Patrick Wheeler tend to magically be at the same place at the same time? Why has the police force not set up a manhunt for the escaped fugitive? On the basis of this film, Texas seems like it contains the most blasé police force in the world. With the exception of Patrick, they don’t seem ALL THAT concerned over Bob’s whereabouts.
Director Park Chan-wook’s Stoker is a gothic horror/family drama/thriller-hybrid … and is just as unwieldy as that breakdown suggests. Written by British-born, US-raised actor Wentworth Miller (the lead in the TV show Prison Break), the plot – about a grieving daughter, India (Mia Wasikowska) and her oddball relationship with her father’s estranged brother (Matthew Goode) – doesn’t make much sense, but the occasionally witty script and Park’s truly baffling flourishes give the story a genuine sense of ‘otherness’ lacking from most thrillers.
The Oldboy director throws EVERYTHING at the material (often in the same scene), including match cuts, tracking shots and crossing the line. It’s beautifully photographed by Chung Chung-hoon, but Park doesn’t trust his long-time cinematographer, over-directing most scenes with peculiar editing and sound choices. It’s an entertaining mess, often verging on camp gold. Frankly, only a third act reveal sours the mood. Miller attempts to suggest the underlying psychological factors behind Charlie’s pathological behaviour, but the film – with its ridiculous stereotypes, limp world building, nonsensical plot and depiction of psychopaths as cool, aloof, well-dressed, romantic figures – has done nothing to earn that moment.
Shane A. Bassett stole a few minutes with Sandra Bullock at the Sydney premiere of her new action comedy 'The Heat'.
Not that I minded, but while glancing up the red carpet at the Sydney premiere for The Heat, I seemed to be surrounded by an excessive amount of ladies. Fans, VIP guests, journalists and publicists seemed to be 99% females, all waiting to see guest of honour, the lovely Sandra Bullock.
Wearing an open back Pucci dress (thank you to the consummate Vogue Australia reporter standing next to me on the red carpet for that on the spot information), Sandra was delightful, cracked a few jokes and was magnetic without even trying.
First of all, I would like know, where do you keep your Oscar?
Right now my Oscar is in bubble wrap because there is a construction crew, a real one, at the house. So he is safely ensconced in bubble wrap hidden at the house in a nice little box, but he'll be coming out when it's done.
How do you get ready for a red carpet looking so wonderful?
Thank you, I sit there and let other people do the work. I have ideas and say I want to wear this or that, I sit down and everyone works together like a construction crew.
At a special preview screening of the apocalyptic comedy, 'This Is The End', Shane A. Bassett caught up with co-writers and directors, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.
In Australia to promote their outrageous new comedy, co-writers and directors of This Is The End, Seth Rogen (also starring) and Evan Goldberg, are great guys, so friendly and upbeat. The pair, who have been writing together since they were teens, have collaborated on a string of projects, co-writing Superbad, Pineapple Express and The Green Hornet and they now make their directorial debut with This Is The End.
Bassett: Observe & Report is one of your most underrated movies.
Rogen: I couldn't agree more, I was actually going through a box recently and found the badge I wore.
Goldberg: It is one of my favourite movies of his and I had nothing to do with it.
Bassett: You have made one of the funniest movies I've seen since Porky's.
Rogen: Oh nice, also a Canadian production. [Laughs] A classic.
Goldberg: You just made me want to watch Porky's again.
Bassett: It's one of the greats and let’s just hope nobody remakes it and ruins it.
Goldberg: Oh they will.
Rogen: If anyone does it will be us! I'm surprised we haven't been offered that.
Danish auteur, Nicholas Winding Refn’s, Only God Forgives, the festival’s Competition Winner, is a visceral journey into Thailand’s underworld, touching on themes of spiritualism, rage and revenge. Although he may have won a wealth of fans with his previous feature, Drive, he will most likely divide them with Forgives.
We follow Ryan Gosling’s Julian, an American in Bangkok, running a kickboxing arena as a front for the family drug-smuggling syndicate. After his brother is killed by an enigmatic, blade-wielding detective, Julian is pressured by his venomous mother (a brilliant Kristin Scott Thomas) to seek revenge.
Gosling, with his looks of (now patented) languor and minimal dialogue, manages to underplay the character too much – making Julian feel like a parody of Alain Delon’s Jeff Costello or, more appropriately, Gosling’s own anti-hero in Drive. Though Julian is mentioned as being “extremely dangerous,” Gosling prefers to stare at his hands for 30 seconds at a time or stand, framed, in front of dragon-patterned walls. Nor do we get enough sense of the impending doom that the screenplay seems to steer its protagonists towards.
After his 2004 cult low-budget feature, Primer, with its complex language and mind-boggling time travel, Shane Carruth’s sophomore effort, Upstream Colour, is mind-boggling, experimental sci-fi.
Its non-linear storyline follows the complex, life cycle of a parasite and its synergetic relationship with pigs, orchids and humans. Multi-talented Carruth, once again, assumes various roles ranging from actor to editor to composer. His talents as a filmmaker have certainly developed, often cutting to black and then re-emerging with cross-fades and match-cuts. Upstream’s calm and abstract cinematography, for the most part, is reminiscent of Terrence Malick, particularly in its cerulean-lit exterior scenes and stirring shots of flora and fauna.
Much of the movie follows Kris, played by Amy Seimetz, and her encounter with the worm-like parasite. Her dialogue, for the most part, is often incomprehensible and impulsive and one can only assume that this is purposeful, particularly in a scene when she questions the source of one of her memories. The story seems to slip into familiar territory when she meets Jeff (Carruth) on a train – dialogue-free at first – and these moments are romanticised and endearing to watch.
Irish indie hit, What Richard Did, follows a university-bound alpha male over the course of a hedonistic summer, and the haunting accident that threatens his future.
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, the story focuses less on the tragedy itself, preferring instead to address its aftershocks. Abrahamson establishes a gilded community, taking time to cultivate his characters, not least that of Jack Reynor – exceptional as the eponymous, de-facto leader; often seen wearing his jacket collar up and smoking cigarettes like they’re going out of fashion.
The naturalistic style of direction is at its most effective when very little is actually happening, often when Reynor is silent. In one scene, set at an 18th birthday party, we find him observing the room; conflicting nuances in his eyes and pining for a girl (Roisin Murphy) that will ultimately lead to the death of a peer. In another, Reynor is shown reluctantly listening to a friend’s rendition of an Irish song. His Richard is so spoilt, financially and socially-speaking, that he depends on the affection and support of others.
Pluto, an intense, often brutal South Korean film, starts with the murder of top high school student Yujin (Jun Sung). Fellow student June (Da-wit Lee) is hauled in for questioning and the tale is told via flashbacks, depicting a group of elite students and what they do to stay on top to ensure a university place. It’s a story about bullying, blackmail, hierarchy and the underbelly of human nature, but Su-won Shin – writer/director and former school teacher – does not judge her characters. She keeps a certain impartial distance as the story unfolds, yet there’s still some compassion here for the central characters, irrespective of how deeply flawed they are.
The film treads a surprisingly similar path to The King Of Pigs – a South Korean animated film from last year’s festival that saw two former classmates, now adults, reflect upon the hell that was high school Pluto is also a fairly close relative of the Australian drama Wasted On The Young. Yet both Wasted On The Young and The King Of Pigs feel superior to this entirely bleak, although well made, offering. Those films both had a surreal edge, and Wasted had key characters that were easy to care about.