Tuesday, 15 August 2017

I've Just Seen: Dunkirk (2017)

 Director: Christopher Nolan

Dunkirk, as an event, seems to occupy a similar space in British history that Gallipoli does in Australia. It is used as an example of national character, where the country's defining characteristics were displayed not through victory in battle, but in its determination to keep on going, despite the odds. This is certainly the approach Nolan takes in his film.

While I have liked Nolan's films in the past, and cannot say anything against the look of his films, I haven't been entirely convinced by his storytelling. I feel that sometimes he relies too heavily on exposition to propel his twisty plots. While the dialogue in Dunkirk is not earth-shatteringly great, and is arguably the weakest part of the film, Nolan doesn't lean on it. Instead, the actors are often left to simply act with their faces, letting us see or wonder at their feelings. The story is really well-structured, as we jump between three different stories - land, sea, and air, over one week, one day and one hour respectively. The three gradually converge as the move to get over the Channel becomes more desperate.

The film looks wonderful largely due to Nolan's use of film stock. The blue of the water almost pops out of the screen in some scenes, and the lack of digital manipulation makes the air battles in particular look and feel real. The sound design and the music are what really brings the whole thing together. The roar of the Spitfires' engines vibrates in your body (with the help of the cinema's sound system), as does Hans Zimmer's score, with its clock-ticking motif and very emotive use of Elgar's Nimrod, a beautiful, stirring piece of music.

I am really glad I went and saw this on the big screen, and wish there was an IMAX cinema near me. While the film would be impressive on a TV screen, you wouldn't get that immersive quality that the big screen gives you. The loudness of the sound was a good thing, particular as the people sitting next to me saw fit to read out the words on the screen, and talk throughout (argh!); it was so loud that I mostly couldn't hear them.

Monday, 7 August 2017

I've Just Seen: In the Realm of the Senses (Ai no corrida) (1976)

 Director: Nagisa Oshima

I am no prude when it comes to nudity and sex in films: one of my favourite films is a French adaptation of D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, which has full frontal, equal opportunity nudity, and several long sex scenes. It also has a plot with character development in between the love scenes; something that cannot be said for Oshima's film. Oh, there is a story: a woman working as a maid in a hotel begins an intense affair with her boss Ishida. The woman, Sada Abe (is it a coincidence that her name implies sadism?) used to be a prostitute, and does resume her former trade, but just can't keep away from Ishida.

If you were to play a drinking game, imbibing each time the two have sex, you would be sloshed within the first 15 minutes. Really, very little happens onscreen other than the two having sex and/or talking. And it gets boring rather quickly. Even when those two aren't having sex together, when we see them they are usually having sex with someone else, sometimes encouraged to do so by the other. Some of the activities they engage in, while not as revolting as those seen in Salo, are still unpleasant: eggs being inserted into unorthodox places, forcing others to watch them, forcing others to sleep with them, and finally a member being cut off.

Of course, what makes this all the more confronting is that much of the sex is non-simulated (well, I can't speak for Eiko Matsuda ecstasy, which may be Sally Albright levels of acting). To be honest, I had forgotten this fact as I started watching, and even found myself naively wondering how they did certain things (answer: they just did them).

The plotline of the story appears to be "I love you, and that is why I have to kill you," as the film culminates with a rather violent act, one of the few unsimulated parts of the film. While I didn't care for what I was seeing on screen, it does have some top quality cinematography (something I also said about Salo), so it does have a veneer of sexiness; it just loses it very quickly through repetition.

I am glad I have ticked this off the list, and will hopefully never need watch it again. While sex scenes are fine in films, character development and a good story is what makes them interesting and even sexy. Not continuous money shots.

Friday, 4 August 2017

I've Just Seen: Bullitt (1968)

 Director: Peter Yates

Bullitt feels likes a precursor to 70s films like The French Connection and Serpico, with its bleak approach to police work. Frank Bullitt, a policeman who is popular with the public and the media in San Francisco, is choosen to protect a Chicago defector. The man, Ross, gets killed, and Bullitt finds himself pursuing a major case of subterfuge. The plot allows for several exciting chases, including one of the most famous car chases in film history.

Steve McQueen really was one of the coolest guys to move across a screen. He was never a demonstrative actor, and here his understatement works well. You can feel the frustration building in Bullitt through the smallest flickers across his face. The other great character in this film is San Francisco, particularly during the famous car chase scene (despite it ending outside the city). Those famous hills and streets add a different feel to the chase, breaking the long scene into two parts (the second on a highway).

The editing in this film puts many modern chases to shame. It lingers a little longer with its shots, letting the audience feel motion of the cars dipping up and down the hills, and it helps elongate the tension of the whole scene over 11 minutes.

While this film does point to the bleakness of the 70s, its jazzy, snazzy soundtrack is pure 60s, and it is another element that makes this film so enjoyable. Really, look it up and listen to it; you'll imagine yourself walking around San Fran in the 1960s, or gliding around in your car, with a stylish coat on, and a hard stare searching out trouble.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

I've Just Seen: Wake in Fright (1971)

 Director: Ted Kotcheff

So many Australian films set in the outback have an aura of horror around them. There is no supernatural creature in Wake in Fright, with the horror instead comes from the aggressive friendship of the characters of Bundanyabba, who welcome city-raised teacher John Grant into their world of drinking, gambling, roo-hunting and fighting. Grant, well-educated with a suitcase full of books, waiting for a flight to Sydney to see his girlfriend, finds his whole person being completely pulled apart by this oppressive masculine world.

The view of Australia is from an outsider's perspective; we are looking at this culture through the eyes of John Grant, played by English actor Gary Bond, and the director is Canadian. The scenes in the RSL feel almost like a study of a foreign culture, from the bar etiquette to the sudden silence during the Ode. As someone who has grown up in this culture (or parts of it, I don't live in the outback) this makes for interesting viewing. When the film came out in the 70s many Australians found the film hard to stomach: it doesn't paint us in a great light!

There are many memorable scenes in the film, from the aforementioned RSL, to the two-up game, and the rather harrowing kangaroo hunt that takes place over a whole day and night. Throughout all the scenes there is an underlying menace from the locals, particularly from policeman Jock Crawford, and Doc, played by Donald Pleasance, who has a tendency to stare at one too long, and stand too close as he speaks to you. The nightmarish quality to John's experience also comes out in his inability to escape the town: he loses all his money in two-up, so no plane journery, and even a hitch-hiking attempt takes him back to the Yabba.

While not displaying Australia at its best, this is one of the great films about the Australian outback, and how alienating life can be living in the middle of nowhere. It is a horror film about the nasty side of mateship, turning the ideals of the Anzac spirit on its head, and asks Australians to think about just how friendly we really are.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

I've Just Seen: Slither (2006)

 Director: James Gunn

I watched this on the recommendation of fellow blogger SJHoneywell; we share a similar taste in horror films, a trend which continues with Slither. Comedy-horror can be difficult to pull off, but Slither is both hilarious and horrifying, and often at the same time. It also cleverly references other horror films, but without being derivative or lazy.

We are introduced to the town of Wheelsy, a typical mid-America small town which is visited by an Invasion of the Body Snatchers' style parasite which infects local car dealer Grant Grant (played by the brilliant Michael Rooker, reminding me of his role as serial killer Henry). Soon the alien life is changing Grant, making him hungry for meat and growing long tentacles. His younger wife Starla is suspicious and enlists the help of policeman Bill (who has a crush on Starla). The plot follows the usual trajectory for these type of films, but has fun playing with the audience along the way.

As I said, this gets the balance between funny and frightening pretty much perfect. The comedy comes through the interactions of the characters and their bemusement at what is going on. The horror is genuinely gross at times. The scene where Brenda, used by alien-infected Bill as his human womb, bursts open, releasing millions of these parasites into Wheelsy. The bath scene, made iconic from its inclusion on the poster, is also memorable, and cleverly moves the plot along as well. Grant's final transformation, as the primary organisism that the infected seek to absorb themselves into (with orgasmic joy) makes you laugh out of revulsion as well as humour.

I don't know why this film was poorly received by audiences in 2006, despite critical approval. Watching it now, the special effects haven't aged that badly, the writing is sharp, and many of the stars have gone on to become even more famous in recent years. Unless you hate gooey, slimy, even silly horror, there is so much to enjoy here.

I've Just Seen: The Last Battle (Le Dernier Combat) (1983)

Director: Luc Besson

Besson's debut film is not strictly a silent film; it has a lot of sound and noise on its soundtrack, from whistling wind, to pelting rain, and clanging gates. But there is not dialogue, apart from one word -  'bonjour' - and the post-apocalyptic setting implies some sort of event has happened rendering humans speechless; the characters work very hard to say this one word. The black-and-white cinematography gives this science-fiction story a timeless quality: it is set in the future, but also harks back to early cinema.

The story follows 'The Man' around this desolate world of urban ruin and environmental bleakness. The first we see of him is having sex with a blow-up doll in a dilapidated apartment, the first of many striking images in this film. He leaves this place after some unknown men pursue him, flying in a handmade aircraft. The Man eventually meets with 'The Doctor,' a man living a another town, who has a secret that another man, 'The Brute' (played by Besson regular Jean Reno), is trying to get at. The Doctor fixes The Man after he crashes, and eventually reveals his secret to him. In the final third of the film The Man and The Brute battle over this secret.

As I said, this film has several interesting images in it. The most startling is the scene of fish falling along with rain on the town, and The Man gleefully gathering them up in a giant pile. Later pieces of rock fall like rain on The Man and The Doctor. The Man's first "home" is an old office block and he sits at a desk, still with some paraphernalia on it, but instead of carpet there is sand on the ground. We never learn what has happened, yet we know that it is something cataclysmic.

I was really impressed by this film, particularly knowing it was a debut feature. Besson has become well known for weird, brightly coloured and fast-paced science-fiction, so watching where he started off is very interesting. We are given few answers as to why the world has been all but destroyed, and instead experience the brutal level of survival the characters are living.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

I've Just Seen: Z (1969)

 Director: Costa-Gavras

Use the word 'political' to describe a film these days, and most people are likely to turn off. This was not always the case, as many 60s films can attest. Z is a political thriller (not an oxymoron!) in the same vein as The Battle of Algiers, following the political fate of a country suffering under oppressive government rule. A leader of the peaceful leftist party is killed in drive-by accident, a set-up by the right-wing government, and a magistrate and journalist work to undercover the cover-up.

This doesn't sound thrilling on paper, but Costa-Gavras' film is both passionate in its politics, and very entertaining. Like Pontecorvo's film, Z doesn't have a specific protagonist but instead follows the fate of the unnamed nation as a whole. We know the truth from the start - that the government was deeply involved in the murder, making it an assassination -  and are whipped up into energetic frustration at the prospect of the government getting away with it (why does this sound so relevant?).

The screenplay is superb, as it introduces us to this politically charged world, and to the people who live in it, from the corrupt elite government officials, the weary opposition, the law and media trying to discover the truth, to the citizens with their diverse opinions and loyalties.

As you can tell, I really enjoyed this. It never talks down to its audience, trusting them to keep up with the story and the large cast of characters. The only reason you may not enjoy this film is if your politics is different to Costa-Gavras'; there is little doubt about his allegiances, though considering the recent history of Europe when the film was made (25 years since the end of WWII), it is not surprising.