Friday, March 23, 2007

Suburban Mayhem (2006)

***
Australia

A flashy, sassy and very black Aussie comedy about a teenage mother who wears cheap mini-skirts, says 'cunt' a lot, dispenses blowjobs to the neighbourhood and is essentially an amalgam of the most despicable characteristics of every coke-sniffing femme fatale in the post-Tarantino punk-music-fueled anti-PC indie scene. The movie is more engaging than it has any right to be, but even at 95 minutes it's overlong and bloated by a clumsy mockumentary angle.

dir: Paul Goldman
wr: Alice Bell
cast: Emily Barclay, Michael Dorman, Robert Morgan, Anthony Hayes, Laurence Breuls, Steve BastoniMia Wasikowska, Geneviève Lemon

The War Game (1965)

****½
UK

Peter Watkins' docudrama about the harrowing potential of a nuclear attack on Kent gained notoriety, a cinema release and even an Academy Award after BBC (which commissioned it) refused to broadcast it or let other networks do the same. It's a 45 minute piece of hysterical paranoia but its conviction is infectious. Between street interviews with English suburbanites highlighting the local ignorance over the consequences of a nuclear attack, Watkins stages the hypothetical aftermath of one such attack, utilising newsreel techniques with an arresting, matter-of-fact skill, which renders the scenario not only plausible but uncannily, horrifyingly real. And a big part of why these images of destruction and carnage are still so unsettling is that 40+ years on they are about as relevant and conceivable as they were at the peak of the Cold War.

wr/dir: Peter Watkins

Thursday, March 22, 2007

King and the Clown (2005)

**½
South Korea

Up until Bong Joon-ho's The Host the following year, this historical melodrama was South Korea's highest-grossing film of all time as well as the country's official submission to the Academy's Best Foreign Film category. But you wouldn't believe it if you saw the movie, since a) it essentially revolves around a love triangle between three men; and b) it's a stodgy soap opera.

dir: Lee Jun-ik
cast: Kam Woo-seong, Jeong Jin-yeong, Lee Jun-gi, Kang Sung-yeon, Jang Hang-seon, Yu Hae-jin, Jeong Seok-yong, Lee Seung-hun

Stardust Memories (1980)

***
USA

Woody Allen often brings up masturbation in his movies but the only time he made a movie entirely structured around it was this self-assured variation on Fellini's 8½. He lifts from Fellini the aggressively autobiographical, self-aggrandising slant, the stark monochrome, the dream-like fluidity and the army of funny-faced extras. And he contributes nothing of his own. It's an empty, polished pastiche of a movie, filled with lovely visuals and lovely tunes, none of which resonate.

wr/dir: Woody Allen
ph: Gordon Willis
cast: Woody Allen, Charlotte Rampling, Marie-Christine Barrault, Jessica Harper, Tony Roberts, Helen Hanft, John Rothman, Louise Lasser

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)

****
Romania

Mr. Lazarescu's first name is Dante and he is a sixty-something-year-old who must travel through the three circles of the Romanian health care system if he is to live through the night. However, it isn't Alighieri's poet but Franz Kafka's Josef K who is Mr. Lazarescu's true soul brother. And it is the same absurdist but terrifyingly vivid concept of Eastern European bureaucracy that informs both Kafka's fiction and director Cristi Puiu's much-lauded horror comedy. Puiu observes Lazarescu's night-long odyssey through Bucharest's inert hospitals with uncanny documentary-style detail, with Luminita Gheorghiu's initially despondent but increasingly partisan ambulance nurse representing a paralyzed glimmer of conscience in a dehumanised system.

dir: Cristi Puiu
wr: Cristi Puiu, Razvan Radulescu
ph: Andrei Butica, Oleg Mutu
cast: Ion Fiscuteanu, Luminita Gheorgiu, Gabriel Spahiu, Doru Ana, Dara Dogaru, Serban Pavlu, Florin Zamfirescu, Clara Voda, Adrian Titieni, Mihai Bratila, Monica Barladeanu

They Live by Night (1948)

****
USA

Nicholas Ray embraced his fetish for fatalism from his first film and it takes over hardcore in this romance between a teen escaped convict and an outcast country girl. It's life's fault that Farley Granger is drawn time and time again to kill and rob banks and it's life's fault that hardened-beyond-her-years Cathy O'Connell can't help but follow him where he goes. Ray romanticises his doomed young lovers to no end, and even though you may be able to see through it, his passion for them is infectious.
The movie is an adaptation of a novel called "Thieves Like Us" which was filmed again and very evocatively by Robert Altman in 1974.

dir: Nicholas Ray
ph: George E. Diskant
cast: Farley Granger, Cathy O'Donnell, Howard da Silva, Jay C. Flippen, Helen Craig, Will Wright, Marie Bryant, Ian Wolfe