Something a little different today. This is actually something that I recently submitted for a uni assignment. Obviously exhibition reviews is not a focus of this blog, but I think that the issue of censorship is one that all film buffs are quite interested in. Apologies for the distinctly average quality of the photos sorry, they were taken on my phone.
Coffee makes everything better. The curatorial staff at the National Archives clearly agree, because the newish exhibition Banned takes place in the cafe of their Parliamentary Triangle location in Canberra. Banned showcases the history of banning books in Australia, a place where saucy titles such as The Hotel Wife, Road Floozie and The Villain and the Virgin sit side by side with those now considered classics – Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Nabokov’s Lolita and Baldwin’s Another Country.
A fantastic and colourful collage of the covers of formerly banned books grabs the eye as you enter the exhibition. It is a visual repeated on the very cool looking tables scattered around the cafe. The exhibition itself consists of two main aspects. Firstly the displays on the walls which examine a number of the banned books in detail and also include details of the censorship process of the day. It is refreshing to see a Government institution willing to shed a light on the secrecy and flawed processes that previously existed in our country. There are quotes from former Customs Ministers and members of the Book Censorship Board which really do showcase the inherent flaws in this process of censorship and serve to provoke questions about censorship in general. The second aspect of the exhibition is a selection of copies of the books in question, which attendees are free to browse as they wander around. These books each contain a bookmark which succinctly gives the official reasoning for the ban. The official verdict given from a Censorship Board member on Housekeeper’s Daughter for example was that “In my opinion, this book is rubbish.” As well as the books, there are a number of bright red folders which showcase documentation relating to the decisions to ban the books, including letters both in support of and denouncing the decisions.
As I sat down to enjoy my short black, I found myself flicking through an old copy of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World as well as the folder outlining the reasons for its ban. These documents included a letter denouncing the book from the Social Service Department of the Methodist Church who were troubled by amongst other things, it’s “advocacy of promiscuity”; and letters of support for the book from the general public and publishers. One of the great choices of the exhibition is that rather than just heading over to Dymocks to get shiny new printings of these books, the folk at the Archives have scoured second hand outlets to find some brilliant printings from the 50s-70s, a time of both inspired and laughable cover design. Whilst obviously not the focus of the exhibition, looking at these old covers, yearning for a time past of books such as these, does become one of the joys of the exhibition. The way the books are set out enables people to shape the experience of Banned as they please, looking at the books that take their fancy for as long or short a period as they like. Exhibiting in a coffee shop does have its drawbacks though. Even though the cafe was close to empty when I was there, it was difficult for me to get as close to some of the displays as I would have liked because of the positioning of the tables. I would imagine that this inconvenience would be exacerbated were the cafe to be full of customers.
Banned is a relaxing kind of exhibition. It provokes thought about the issue of censorship and the issues inherent in it. All while also offering coffee and the opportunity to flick through great old copies of banned books – both the iconic and the pulpy. Definitely worth a visit. If you are interested in finding out more about the history of banning books in Australia and some of the specific titles in Banned, the Archives have set up a blog at www.blog.naa.gov.au/banned which is showcasing some of these in more detail.
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In many ways, Juno and Little Miss Sunshine both have a lot to answer for. Both films I love, the success of those two films sent studios scurrying to create the next indie hit. Of course when studios try and create something ‘indie’, it just does not work and numerous films fell into the trap of trying to imitate the legitimate charm of the two films mentioned.
The Way, Way Back sees Little Miss Sunshine stars Steve Carrell and Toni Collette seek to recapture that charming vibe. The trailer all looks a bit average until Sam Rockwell rears his awesome head, and brings a seemingly different angle to proceedings. Here’s hoping this film can be a charming and original feeling one aye. I’m keen to check it out after this trailer.
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As I popped Dead Sushi (2012) into my DVD player, I was really not sure what to expect. After watching the entire film, I am really not sure what I actually got.
The film starts out by introducing our apprentice sushi maker/martial artist protagonist Keiko. From the get go, the film is a pastiche of the style of Asian B Cinema. However when a bum gorily murders a young couple using the magical flying squid he possesses, I realised that this was definitely no ordinary film. So I felt that no ordinary review would suffice. As such I have decided to institute Misty from CinemaSchinema’s patented ‘dot points of sheer absurdity’ reviewing style (you can see this at work in Misty’s review of the awesome sounding Sand Sharks (2012) here). My thoughts on Dead Sushi went a little something like this:
- Rina Takeda, who plays the main character is really bloody good.
- An alarming succession of groin jokes.
- Re-animating serum (that explains the bum’s magic squid I guess).
- Dodgy special effects.
- Murderous sushi.
- Script makes no sense at all.
- Dodgy looking CGI blood. Looks far faker than prop blood.
- Without a doubt, the most disgusting kissing scene I have ever witnessed. An egg yolk is involved if that helps paint the picture.
- Fart jokes.
- Singing sushi.
- Best. Robot. Dance. Ever.
- Former sushi chef with a knife with a knife phobia.
- The main woman is awesome. And the film is never dull. That’s about all I got in the way of positives.
- Nose sushi.
- Lips sushi.
- Oh c’mon. I’m not sure, but I am pretty sure sushi just went into vagina. I’m too scared to rewind and check.
- Tuna-Man! decapitates a dude which causes a woman to inadvertently shower in his blood.
- Erm… two pieces of sushi having sex.
- A character exclaims “Things have reached the point where they no longer make any sense”. I think he was a bit slow on the uptake on that one.
- Sushi zombies.
- Quotable quote #2 “Mother fucking roast sushi” from a dude as his face is roasted by a piece of sushi. Then he eats it. Then his head explodes into flames.
- I need another whisky.
- Back with new whisky.
- Mmmm whisky.
- One guy is able to kill the sushi by screaming. Well that’s handy then.
- Sushi nunchakus.
- Giant sushi roll battleship
- Egg sushi offsider called Eggie.
- Big pharma.
- The sexual desires of Tuna-Man! are awakened.
- Fish shaped fireworks.
- The end.
I think that should give you a pretty good idea of whether or not this is the film for you. In summary, I like weird, nay I love weird. But was a little too weird for me.
Verdict: Schooner of Carlton Draught
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I’ll acknowledge that the title of this post is really rather cryptic. However basically what I want to know is if you know of any cool features that could be possibly be shown in a film festival I am working on (The Blue Mountains Film Festival) which will be happening in early October this year.
Criteria wise, the films must have been completed after 1 January 2012 and not have had a commercial release in Australia prior to October 2013. The films definitely do not have to be Australian. So hit me up in the comments section or at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any thoughts. I am keen for all kinds of films – things you have seen at festivals recently, films which only got small releases wherever you are, indie films, things you have spotted on crowdfunding sites, films you have made yourself. Please feel free to re-blog this or pass the above email address on to anyone you know of with a cool flick.
Cheers all, you guys are the best.
The Wedding Party (2011) is an Australian comedy which did not garner very much attention when it was released recently. Perhaps the dramatic aspects of the film could have been played up a little more, because this combo of the two genres deserves to be seen by a lot more people.
The film sees Steve, crushed by a recent breakup, becoming engaged to Ana a recent arrival from Russia. Money for him, a Visa to stay in the country for her. The film does jump straight into this setup, and the lack of reinforcement of the reasons that this is the only course of action for Steve does make it jar a little. Especially given he is clearly still enamoured with his ex-girlfriend Jacqui and their break-up seems to be more of a ‘break’ at this stage. However any criticism of this lack of logic is pretty easily forgotten as the film gets going with what it is aiming for. What makes this relationship drama/gentle comedy so good is that it all feels very real. The interactions between people are not sanitised as is so often the case on screen. All the fuckups, betrayals and wonderful experiences that we have all experienced in our actual lives are accurately and interestingly displayed onscreen. This is set up nicely through the voiceover of a 14 year old girl who is extremely naive about what a ‘normal’ relationship looks like. Perhaps there isn’t such a thing, but if there is, her first relationship of new experiences with her boyfriend is probably the closest to one in the film. One of the great strengths of the film is this structure, which sees a number of secondary relationships weaved into the narrative behind the core emotional struggles of Steve. These all feed into how we feel about the concept of love itself and specifically into Steve’s relationship with his Russian bride to be Ana, and love of his life Jacqui. All of these secondary relationships have issues – premature ejaculation, porn addiction, adultery, disinterest from one party or both – that are brought to life with a refreshingly open attitude toward these aspects of modern day life.
The Wedding Party has some real charm to it, a very old fashioned comedy with a very old school narrative contrivance at the centre. The attempts to keep this arranged marriage on the down low are always destined to fail. But what happens when it does come out is a delightful spiralling out of control wedding planning venture. And where many films with this kind of setup fall down, wrapping everything up in a satisfying manner, this film excels because it is not afraid to leave a few of the narrative and relationship strands open. No twee happy endings for all. The script is a winner, especially as it manages to create quite a few characters and give them all the sufficient screen time to make them feel real and individual. The cast, made up by predominately instantly recognisable Australian performers along with a couple of less familiar ones, does a really good job of bringing these very real relationships to the screen. It is great to see Rhonda Burchmore back on screen, even if her role is only a small one. Isabel Lucas rocking a Russian accent was something that I did not expect to work out well for anyone. But in a pleasant surprise she keeps the accent consistent and more than that really comes to embody the character that she is playing. You believe that she is in this vulnerable yet strangely proactive position. Aussie veteran Steve Bisley is very good as the family patriarch who gets very enthusiastic about the wedding. Playing his son, and the film’s protagonist, is Josh Lawson whose background is in comedy, but in the very well performed wedding scene, proves he has some dramatic chops too (Lucas is also very good in this sequence, which is possibly the high point of the film).
The Wedding Party is a light, but very real film. It is possibly the film that has impressed me most since I started focusing on Australian film. I definitely recommend this one if you are after a very authentic, rather off-kilter drama about love, with some good laughs thrown in too.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
I think that most would agree the careers of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson have not exactly been setting the world on fire of recent years, with the exception of the latter’s turn in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Their high point together, if you consider there has been one, was Wedding Crashers an ultra successful comedy. It looks like they are looking to rekindle their comedic relationship with The Internship. And the results look highly unpromising. I did not find anything in this trailer to suggest that comedic sparks are going to fly. Or even that anything the remotest bit original is going to fly. Looks pretty groan inducing. I think it may also be some form of ad for Google.
Promised Land (2012) features quite incredible pedigree – Gus Van Sant, Matt Damon, Frances McDormand and Dave Eggers are all involved – and is about a hot-button issue in fracking for natural gas, but strangely has had next to no hype around it. Here in Australia it has had a muted release, with only one of the four cinemas I frequent showing the film.
Having seen the film though, it is pretty easy to see why the film has generated a total lack of fuss. Whilst nothing about the film is bad, indeed it is all very slickly and professionally executed, the film is basically one giant cliché. Matt Damon plays an executive for a natural gas company. Along with his offsider Frances McDormand, they travel the American countryside, signing up farmers to allow fracking for gas on their land. They make a cool onscreen working team. Watching this made me realise that a Thelma and Louise (1991) remake starring Matt Damon and Frances McDormand in the main roles would be basically the greatest thing ever. No script, just them driving around the countryside for 90 minutes talking shit. I digress, in Australia, fracking (generally for coal seam gas) is all of a sudden a HUGE issue, and yes the capitals are necessary. I suspect it is a similarly sized issue in America too. In Australia at least, in one corner we have the big, bad, evil coal and gas multinationals, facing off against the unlikely alliance of green groups and agricultural organisations in the other corner. Basically, there is so much of this whole issue that is ripe for exploration and exposition through a great seam gas film. Unfortunately, Promised Land is definitely not that great film.
Overall, the film is much like the sales patter that Damon and McDormand use on their potential targets. Too slick for its own good. There is a Hollywood sheen in both material and execution that the film never transcends. It is pretty clear from the start who the good guys are and the bad guys are, and it is also always pretty clear where the film will end up. A huge twist toward the end falls ultra flat and just adds to the predictability of it all really. The narrative is so clunky. All the townsfolk seem for the gas company coming is. That is until the crusty old science teacher gets up at the town meeting in the local school hall and educates the locals about the potential dangers of fracking. That’s the quality of narrative surprise you are basically stuck with for the whole film. Obviously any fictional film on an issue such as this will be a simplification, but this just feels like a vast oversimplification. The film briefly touches on some super interesting territory, such as the manner in which these companies prey on those of lower socio-economic status, the broader reasons behind the collapse of small-town America (and by extension Australia) and why good people work for really evil corporations. But these issues, as well as basically all the others the film contemplates, are examined in a very superficial, un-nuanced way.
The film does look great, although it is not hugely creative in the way it is shot, just very glossy. A couple of the performances are really good too. Matt Damon really is an exceptional actor, even when the material is not particularly good. And this material is not particularly good, the dialogue not at all sharp within a script that is just average overall. I have already mentioned Frances McDormand and unsurprisingly she is really good. Her and Damon are great together onscreen. Unfortunately the performance of Justin Kransinski (who also co-wrote the film with Damon) as an environmentalist who clashes with Damon drove me up the wall. He imbues his character with such an annoying presence that makes it impossible to warm to him and more importantly makes you wonder how he becomes such a darling of the townsfolk. Kransinski’s character just ruins the whole tone of the film, jarring with what has come before. Overall, the film is almost bizarre, because it is so hard to see what Van Sant and friends were going for. It is such an uneven experience.
Sorely lacking in edge, Promised Land is not the great seam gas film that really could be made, which is all the more disappointing given the fantastic bunch of people behind it. Clearly it is not all bad, Damon and McDormand really do light up the screen every time they are on it. But I really struggle to recommend it on any level.
Verdict: Schooner of Carlton Draught
Buster Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin, are the contemporary faces of film comedy from the silent era. Whilst Chaplin was probably more renowned during their actual careers, if anything Keaton’s reputation and Filmography is probably more renowned today. In a career of almost universally loved features, The General (1926) is generally considered his greatest work.
The film is a phenomenal one, partly because it works on a bunch of levels and functions as an example of multiple genres. This is in my view probably the best comedy in history. Add to that the fact that it is also a wonderful love story, action film, war film and example of stuntwork and you can see why it is so loved. Keaton plays Johnnie Gray, a train engineer who attempts to enlist for the South during the Civil War. His application is rejected on the grounds that his work as an engineer is more important to the cause. His beloved Annabelle however does not know the reasons behind his rejection and accuses him of cowardice, no longer wanting anything to do with him. Fast forward a year and the devious North have hatched a plot to steal a train from the South and utilise it to blow up their supply routes. The train they happen to steal is being driven by Johnnie and also has Marion accidently stowed away.
What follows is surely the greatest chase sequence in all of cinema, lasting a good half an hour. The whole thing is helter skelter and Keaton also somehow manages to give proceedings a simultaneous feeling of both danger and fun. A sequence where our hero is actually sitting on the front of his locomotive balancing large pieces of wood perhaps the most iconic example. Keaton delivers plenty of these iconic images actually, such as him sitting on the wheel of the train as it moves and the huge set piece involving a train and a burning bridge toward the end of the film. The director/star must have been quite the athlete in his day, because the stunts that he pulls off will leave your jaw dropping. It doesn’t hurt that the actor is always willing to put his body (and probably his life) on the line, over and over. A totally fearless man, who knows how he would survive in today’s Hollywood, filled with insurance policies and stuntmen. On a comedic level, one of the reasons that the film succeeds so spectacularly is because Keaton employs a wide array of techniques to garner laughs – from typically over the top slapstick to much subtler, clever methods. The score on the version I watched (which is also the one I am giving away this week), composed by Joe Hisaishi in 2001, is fantastic and really enhances the viewing of the film. As does the fact that the print is a wonderfully sharp one. It is great to see older films being restored and presented in this way.
To put it bluntly, The General is a masterpiece. It is one of my top 5 favourite films of all time and on many days it would be my number 1. If you haven’t seen it, then I highly urge you to seek it out. I think it is probably the most charming film I have ever seen and also such a brilliant example of the comedy genre.
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
A quick interruption to Silent Film Week, to bring you something loud, boisterous and most likely daft from the mind of Roland Emmerich, the master of those three things. His latest effort is White House Down. And as you can see from the trailer below it appears to be an excuse for the ever subtle Mr Emmerich to mash some more American landmarks. Will it bring anything more to the table? Doubtful, but I guess we will just have to wait and see.
I was really lucky that when preparing for this week focused on silent film, Arc Cinema at the National Film and Sound Archives happened to show a series of D.W. Griffith short films. I won’t give you a history lesson on Griffith, but rightly or wrongly, he is generally considered the father of the American feature film industry and is most (in)famous for classic silent features such as The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916)
Before features, Griffith also made literally hundreds of short films. The night at Arc showcased 7 of them and they really showed a huge range of interests from the director. They also illuminated him as a bit of a “leftie” as one of my friends put it, with concern for those in poverty, anti big business sentiment and searing indictment of white treatment of Native Americans all featuring in these films.
I have seen a fair bit of silent cinema and on a select couple of occasions on the big screen. But this screening was the first time I had seen silent cinema with a live accompaniment. And it was something else. The pianist they had there was amazing and her engagement with what was taking place onscreen was literally watching art being created right there and then. Not at all distracting from the films though, but managing to heighten them and elevate them. If you ever get the chance to see silent cinema with a live accompaniment, I cannot recommend it to you highly enough.
Luckily for those of you without an incredible archive style cinema nearby, all of the films I saw the other night are available on Youtube. So rather than write detailed reviews of the films, I decided I would share them with you here. I have ranked them from my least favourite to most favourite, and given you a couple of brief thoughts too. Don’t let some of the lower ranked ones pass you by. I would say that all of them, except for perhaps #7, are really well worth your time.
I really encourage you to take the time to check some of these films out. Let me know what your favourites and least favourites are below.
#7: The Sunbeam (1912)
The first film was the weakest for me and probably the only one I would say that I actually didn’t enjoy. Check it out for yourself, but I found it rather old fashioned (a silly thing to say about a film 100 years old I know, but the others did not feel that way) and a little simplistic emotionally. Tis a very traditional drama type film I thought, that was a little staid.
#6: An Unseen Enemy (1912)
This sort of a heist film is the first screen appearance by the Gish sisters, the iconic Lillian and her lesser known sibling Dorothy. You can definitely see why Lillian would go on to become such a star, because the two of them bring an incredible spark onto the screen. One of the slighter films that was shown, this is still worth checking out, for the leading ladies at the very least.
#5 The Mothering Heart (1913)
This one starts off rather melodramatic and dated, but once the plot kicks into gear over adultery, things get interesting. The two main characters, who seem so bland initially, add some layers of depth actually, especially as financial success changes one of them. Not harmed by having another excellent, and crushingly emotional, performance from Lillian Gish either.
#4: The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912)
Often referred to as the first gangster flick in all of cinema, this is the film I had heard most about before seeing the screening. Whilst not my favourite, it is still utterly intriguing and it is fascinating to see just how much of the iconography that would go on to characterise gangster film is already here. It is a simple tale of the swaggering Musketeers, the local gangsters and their interactions with the fuzz and a young couple they terrorise. As well as being a historical curiosity, the film has some interesting things to say about crime as well.
#3: Ramona (1910)
The subtitle of this film is “White man’s injustice to the Indians” and it is an effective, but really quite bleak look at the mistreatment of the indigenous inhabitants of North America. The film also resonated with me as an Australian because it had so many parallels with what took place (and continues to take place) in this country. It is a love story, of a love that is forbidden but will not be denied. However this confronting film is not a happy love story and the lead female performance from Mary Pickford is harrowing in its execution. Definitely one to watch.
#2 A Corner in Wheat (1909)
After the disappointing first film of the night, this one blew me away. It looks incredible in comparison, the location shots on farms are especially great to look at. It is incredible that in such a short running time, Griffith manages to show a whole industry (in this case wheat) and the devastating effects of massive commerce. It is incredible how long we have worshipped money above all other masters. The crosscutting between a fatcat stockbroker and the salt of the earth folk just conveys so much. I really encourage you all to watch this one. Especially to see a rather shocking scene that I won’t spoil for you (I found it pretty intense though).
#1 The Painted Lady (1912)
As much as I loved the number 2 film, I just could not overlook this film as my favourite of the night. It is really something else and I cannot urge you enough to check it out. A love story of vague sorts. This is just the basis for Griffith to explore body image, the fundamental notion of popularity and loneliness. Astoundingly handled for a film of this vintage. The film also features a great performance from Blanche Sweet, who shows off some serious chops when portraying the wrenching conflicting emotions that her character is being subjected too. I struggle to think of a better performance in any silent film, short or feature, actually.