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.