12 Months of Movies 2007: June

June! June! Home of the Sydney Film Festival 2007! It was an amazing event providing somewhere in the vicinity of 290 movies, I believe – if not 375. I saw about ten of them! I only liked … less than half of those ten! This was my penultimate month. Not only was it miserable, it was filled with miserable movies with no end in sight. Yet I shall cover them, because I love you. Besides, it wasn’t a total bust.
Warning: My language gets a bit vitriolic in this one. Some of these movies were incredibly ill advised.

Half Nelson
Friday, June 1, 4:55, Greater Union George Street, Cinema 3

I remember it well: this movie had no ads. Already in a quandary from having to skive off work early, I had to book it to the cinema. Half Nelson proves to us all that it’s not just foreign films that have poor quality prints: it can happen to American indies, too. Ryan Gosling plays the role of a drug addicted elementary school teacher well, against a strange cast of drug dealers and the traditional “little girl who takes perhaps too much interest”. It’s a strange piece of work and one wonders precisely why it exists. Gosling’s character would float away were it not for the girl anchoring him, but I certainly don’t regret having seen Half Nelson. You just have to want to see the bleakness of humanity and the spark that can be caused between two people, even if it’s not strictly the most appropriate relationship going. [Disclaimer: there is no pedophilia involved in this film].

Breach
Tuesday, June 5, 6:50, Greater Union George Street, Cinema 17

It’s one of those tasty small movies that gets no publicity and sells itself on fine performances. I like Chris Cooper a lot, and Laura Linney is essentially one of my favourite actresses in town. She’s on my “to marry” list, which is populated by many fine specimens of actrines. This is also Ryan Phillipe’s movie of the moment, and I much prefer him when he isn’t featuring in preachy twist racist vehicles. Breach was based on a true story, featured Cooper complaining that a photographer was a “faggot” (the moment I saw the photographer, I expected this), and generally showcased him as a hypocritically religious man. Because there were no answers in real life, no answers are offered. I like this sort of film and wish that there were more like it. It had a soul-brother this year in Fracture, but that wasn’t near as good.

Sydney Film Festival Block One

Some of these movies count towards the year tally – if they were released properly cinematically – but for the most part consider this list non-canon.

The Home Song Stories
Saturday, June 9, 6:15, State Theatre
Counts towards the Year
On film, Australia is a terribly depressing place. You get the low-rise suburbs, the drab lighting and the Hills Hoist out, and frankly you’ve got something that is quintessentially Australian while at the same time you’ve got something that anchors you in and makes you want to escape. The Home Song Stories is the semi-autobiographical work of Tony Ayres, who I probably would have known best for his essay complaining that gay white Australian males don’t care for gay Asian males had I not seen this movie (which, I should hasten to add, is not about that). No, like many stories throughout the ages, this is a picture about the relationship between a mother and her children. I had no idea how this was going to turn out when I went into it and I probably would have perceived it differently had I gone in knowing. So, unlike Zodiac, I’m not going to tell you what happens in this.
With a great performance from Joan Chen (and, if Judge Dredd did not exist, I would not have thought anything else were possible), The Home Song Stories is very uncomfortable viewing indeed. You see so many stories about desperately unhappy Chinese emigrant single mothers, but the thing is they’re all based in the reality of their authors. On many levels this is an awful, awful movie: but this is a thematic matter, something that can’t be helped, and doesn’t actually affect the quality on any level.
And, as a post-script: Tony Ayres is now happily in a relationship with his producer. Take that, racial inequality in Australian homosexual politics!

How Is Your Fish Today?
Sunday, June 10, 4:00, Greater Union George Street, Cinema 1

God. This movie is shy of ninety minutes, but it is interminable! From China, this is the story of an author whose film script kind of dissipates when he visits the place where he is basing the story and settles on filming the church where the locals worship and for more than two whole minutes shoots only a man eating fish while his wife watches and he spits the bones out onto the table cloth. This movie is charm personified! It’s also not very interesting at all. You don’t have to watch this. The problem with independent film is that its sometimes synonymous with student films: artsy and pretentious, no redeeming values. What times we live in.

Hula Girls
Sunday, June 10, 7:45, Greater Union George Street, Cinema 1

It sounds sarcastic when I say this, but I was actually grateful for a dose of generic Japanese cinema. Hula Girls tells the true story of a woman who visits a mining town that wants to become a tourist attraction through the use of a Hawaiian themed pool – with hula girls! The girls are traditionally pretty, except of course for the traditionally big slow one with the heart of gold, and of course the dancing instructor looks down on the bumpkins until they eventually melt her heart. This is down to an art. It will make you teary, it will make you laugh, it will make you smile. Sometimes, that’s all I ask for a movie. That would seem like I’m a pushover, but do you know how few movies make me smile? Depressingly few indeed.

I Don’t Want To Sleep Alone
Tuesday, June 12, 6:15, Dendy Opera Quays, Cinema 2

Yeah? Well I don’t want to live in the same world as Tsai Ming-Liang. What does Wikipedia have to say about this movie?

Lee Kang-sheng stars in a dual role as a brain-dead patient being cared for by a young woman (Chen Shiang-chyi), and as a homeless man who is severely beaten by a mob, and then found and cared for by an Indian migrant worker (Norman Atun).

Scary thing is, that’s pretty much more than I could tell you, and I was there for the movie. All 115 minutes of it. All 115 almost entirely non-verbal, tending to the silent minutes of it. A two hour movie with no dialogue, you say? Hot damn! Wait, no. Not in this case. Murky and boring, I Don’t Want To Sleep Alone is the kind of movie that makes Tsai Ming-Liang the beloved of all film students everywhere. You know, the sort of movie where you have to watch guys piss up against walls, while being aided by other guys, I guess. Always from behind, of course.
For me to discuss this movie in any capacity is for me to become an incredibly angry person. I don’t think that this is “art”. This is drudgery, coated in attempted murder and resolved in a shared mattress. I understand that there is a school of thought that says that I should approve of this movie because Ming-Liang is openly gay and this movie has homosexual undercurrents. Screw that. You think that being gay makes you somehow more talented? It doesn’t. Boredom is boredom, regardless. Interminable movies should be taken out and shot.
Oh yeah, this was Malaysian-Taiwanese, for reference.

Ad Lib Night
Tuesday, June 12, 8:25, Dendy Opera Quays, Cinema 2

And sometimes you get weird Korean movies. This one is about a girl who looks like the daughter of a man from a country town. The man is dying of cancer, so his family members and friends ask her to pretend to be his long lost daughter for what may be the last night of his life. I thought that this movie failed to take off, which is a shame because it had an awful lot of potential. The characters were plainly historied and had natural chemistry, and the idea of a room preserved exactly as it was when its occupant left always has a certain resonance. Yet understatement was the order of the day and one could never quite get into the situation. Like the girl brought into the situation, we’re witnessing this from the outside. We can never hope to penetrate the village, and we’re left wanting as a result. It gets bonus points for not resolving itself in a fashion that everyone would dread, but it goes down on a sad list of movies that I really wanted to like.

After This Our Exile
Friday, June 15, 4:00, Greater Union George Street, Cinema 2

I shouldn’t say that some movies are suicide inducing, but I seriously would prefer the sweet release of death to ever having to watch After This Our Exile again. In a nutshell: three hour movie about a woman who leaves her abusive husband, leaving her son in his care, he’s too proud to control his anger long enough to keep a job, moves around, turns to a life of crime, ruins his son’s life in the process, PIANO CRESCENDO, end of movie. Seriously, fuck this shit. Life is too short to see Aaron Kwok repeatedly beating his son and his son repeatedly running back to him.
Yeah, I got to see the 160 minute director’s cut! Aren’t I lucky! Please don’t watch this movie.
(It’s from Hong Kong)

Woman on the Beach
Saturday, June 16, 12:00, Dendy Opera Quays, Cinema 2

The problem with movies about relationships is that the relationships generally are fucked up so that the movie can survive on its own steam. This is a movie about a movie director, a screenwriter, and the screenwriter’s girlfriend. They go to the beach for some ideas, and the director thinks “hot dang, I want a piece of that screenwriter’s girlfriend”.
Unfortunately, and this is apparently common in real relationships, the director asks too much and forever thinks that he’s inadequate because the girlfriend has slept with an American. Yeah … (on that note, it was incredibly awkward when one of my Asian friends claimed that the stereotypes were true).
Woman on the Beach – a Korean movie and not to be confused with the earlier noir effort – is a strange duck but not a bad one. I quite enjoyed it but again it was lacking something. It put its limited locations to effective use but something about people acting stupid about relationships always pisses me off. Sure, love’s course does not run true, but that doesn’t give it any right to run stupid.

Sydney Film Festival 2007 Intermission

I saw two more general release movies amidst the madness! Like everything else – mixed bag city!

The Lives of Others
Monday, June 18, 6:00, Dendy Newtown , Cinema 4

Now this is what I’m talking about – East German thrillers! A Stasi officer is charged with observing the life of a playwright and his girlfriend, but becomes so enamoured of the couple that he starts falsifying their reports when they finally start acting counter to the established government. With great performances and genuine tension, not to mention East German prostitutes, The Lives of Others has it all. It even has my most hated of movie endings: the freeze frame. For this reason alone it is a failure. Otherwise this would have been a guaranteed 90+.

Ocean’s Thirteen
Tuesday, June 19, 5:30, Greater Union George Street, Cinema 7

It was almost time. The time would not arrive until the end of October, but it arrived. When it did, it was vengeful. So you know Steven Soderbergh? Even when he makes a populist movie, it’s still a wank! This is a waste of a movie, and a showcase of talent having far too good a time with far too thin a premise. Look, here’s a prelim script I found:

Danny Ocean: Hey guys, let’s heist a casino! For the third time! Whoooooo! Spring Break!
Rusty Ryan: inaudible whispering in Danny’s ear
Danny: Oh. Right. This time it’s personal!
Linus Caldwell: The nose plays.

And this is pretty much what the movie is. If you want to see smugness confined to celluloid, try Ocean’s Thirteen. Just try not to drown in smarm on your way out.

Sydney Film Festival 2007: The Thrilling Two Part Conclusion

Eye in the Sky
Tuesday, June 19, 8:30, State Theatre

Eye in the Sky is a somewhat generic thriller about a surveillance team in Hong Kong. Like several Hong Kong films, it has dual subtitles: Chinese and English. Like a lot of movies with dual subtitles, the English ain’t strictly the hottest that it can be. A movie featuring blatant unprofessionalism, improbable escapes from death and not a lot of action that I can actually remember, this isn’t strictly a keeper. Jiao remarked that it seemed more like the pilot episode of a TV show than it did a movie, and I’m inclined to agree. I wish it had more smarts, and more cats and mice.

Paprika
Thursday, June 21, 8:35, Greater Union George Street, Cinema 2

I love Kon Satoshi. I hate dream logic dominating a narrative. So with Paprika, I was pretty well screwed. Paprika is a visual beauty that makes nary a lick of sense. From what I could tell, there were homosexual pacts forged between villains so that they could consolidate power, and a romance between an incredibly fat man and a woman who can be remarkably visually interesting, jumping seamlessly from frame to frame and genre to genre. Yeah, it was the first time I’d heard of “Gay-for-evil” rather than “gay-for-pay”. So, tour de force for the eyes? Certainly. Mindfuck? Almost without question. It was worthwhile, but it’s the sort of movie that you have to have the patience to see several times. I think it would be easier just to watch Millenium Actress until the end of the time, but hey: if a director can’t make every movie as perfect as that one, he’s hardly a criminal.

Commence End of Month Finale

Knocked Up
Wednesday, June 27, 6:45, Greater Union Campbelltown, Cinema 1

Katherine Heigl used to be on my marriage list. Used to be. The problem with Katherine Heigl is that she doesn’t know how not to talk. I’m sorry, Katherine Heigl, but if you thought that Knocked Up was “a bit sexist”, you should have chosen not to act in it and pulled out before it made $150 million US! I’m sorry, but I won’t be putting up with these shenanigans! Sure, diss Isaiah Washington all you want, but I’m sick of your outspoken “look at me, I’m the only person who represents the writer’s strike” self-righteousness. Seriously.
So before Katherine Heigl ruined the world as we know it, she starred in a funny and sweet movie. It wasn’t until I read in another review that I realised that Alison was saddled only with her sister as a friend as opposed to Ben’s enslaught of buddies, but I’m not entirely sure that that matters so much. Judd Apatow can make movies that are very funny indeed but still have some heart behind them. This is one such case. Personally I would argue that this movie ultimately swings in favour of treating women right, but what would I know? I’m just a stupid man!

Transformers
Wednesday, June 30, 5:30, Greater Union Hurstville, Cinema 1

I think that Michael Bay has to be a misanthropist. How else could he get away with making such terrible movies on so frequent a basis? I can’t remember if the nerdlingers liked this movie. I know that my friend Casper thought that it was the best movie ever committed to celluloid and he was frequently hyperventilating with excitement. I have vague memories of Transformers from my childhood but I am not wedded to them by nostalgia as so many others seem to be – like the guy I saw at the train station a month or so ago who had an Autobots tattoo and a tattoo that said “Transformers” in katakana. How do you explain that one to “the ladies”? This was a guy who looked like he had attitude, like he was hardcore. But he had not one, but two Transformers tattoos.
Anyway, despite my lack of a natural bias, Transformers was a godawful movie. Feature a car that wants its owner to have sex either inside it or on top of it, a bunch of samey villains who you can’t tell apart from anyone, and the death of the “black” Transformer – not to mention the comic relief black characters – and you’ve got a ticket to the lousiest blockbuster of 2007. Well, if there were lousier, I’m glad I wasn’t enlightened.

Pick of the Month: The Lives of Others

One of the things I look for in a movie is the total lack of the desire to pluck my eyes out. I didn’t feel like going blind even once during this superlative film!
I remember that I survived this month with a steady diet of Phoenix Wright. Without that Ace Attorney’s assistance, God only knows where I’d be today.

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