I thought this was pretty good. Yet another Phil Dick inspired Hollywood film, this time it’s Ubik crossed with The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, although it’s also about some weird meta-criticism of film-making and creativity which I didn’t really understand because I’ve never studied those subjects. It has a zero gravity fight scene inspired by a famous Fred Astaire musical routine. It’s very rushed though: as with District 9 I’d have preferred to watch a TV miniseries set in this world that explores these ideas over a couple dozen hours rather than a once-over-lightly two hour movie.
August 2, 2010
July 30, 2010
According to the AV Club Hollywood plans to remake Total Recall. I loved this movie when I was ~16: It had a mind-blowing sci-fi plot, appalling violence, humor, a chick with three breasts and a cat-fight between Sharon Stone and some other babe. It just didn’t get any better – but I haven’t watched it since I was a kid on the grounds that it might not have dated well. But the YouTube clips still look pretty great:
In other film related news I/S linked to this story announcing a plan to make a film adaptation of the H P Lovecraft novella At the Mountains of Madness. This is a really great story but most of it involves the heroes walking around an abandoned city reading hieroglyphs that explain Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythology and the city’s back story to the reader. There’s really no way to film it that won’t involve removing all these elements and replacing them with scary monsters that the characters run away from, which will make it just like every other horror movie around. If you’re going to adapt a Lovecraft story I’d go for Shadow over Innsmouth, which is already structured like a modern thriller film and handles most of the exposition through dialog and plot development. A Call of Chthlhu film could also be pretty great.
July 25, 2010
The film festival grinds on: I was disappointed and bored by Collapse, a documentary in which a narcissistic and paranoid autodidact cites widely known and mostly uncontroversial views about resource scarcity and sustainability as if he’s the only person in the world to have reached these conclusions. He also claims that ‘They’ are trying to silence him, kill him etc to prevent ‘the truth’ from being known (‘They’ include Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney).
A dull film made worse by the venue: the Wellington Film Archive has gone out of it’s way to design the least comfortable theatre seats I’ve ever sat in. The arm-rests are the worst crime: tiny little strips of wood about three centimetres wide positioned at hip height and terminating about quarter of the way down the radius bone of the average adult male. What the fuck were they thinking?
The night before that I rewatched The Room at the Paramount. I’d been a little apprehensive about seeing it again: had I amplified it in my mind, turned what was really just an amusingly bad film into something more significant? I had not. The Room is a genuine cultural phenomenon. Hopefully it’ll be back – I think it really benefits from the theatrical experience.
A couple of points to note – they may not mean anything to you if you haven’t seen it:
- I’m pretty sure the penultimate scene in which Johnny trashes his room is a direct homage to a similar scene in Citizen Kane. The shot sequence is almost identical, although Orson Welles never threw a TV through a window.
- Something I noticed this time around: various characters who have nothing to do with each other (ie most of the characters in the movie) keep exchanging meaningful glances with each other. Danny and Mark do this, so do Peter and Michelle. Of course it means nothing like everything else in the film but it hints that The Room might be multi-layered – like Nabakov’s Pale Fire – with hidden strata of meaning nested beneath the surface level chaos.
- God, those lengthy sex scenes were brutal on the big screen.
July 17, 2010
I saw this Charles Ferguson documentary about the global financial crisis at the Penthouse last night. It was voted best single film at Cannes and it’s hard to imagine anything beating it for best documentary at next year’s Oscars.
Ferguson’s first documentary No End in Sight was about Iraq and he follows the same formula here: starting with a modern day catastrophe and tracing it back to it’s causes. He blames the GFC on a nexus of greed in the financial sector, ideological blindness in the political system, incompetent regulation and intellectual dishonesty amongst academic economists in the United States.
I think the title has a double meaning – there’s the inside job of the crisis: how a situation was created in which financiers could make massive profits by taking risks with their own companies betting against their own clients. But the film itself is an inside job: here’s Ferguson’s biography cut and pasted from Wikipedia:
A native of San Francisco, Ferguson was originally educated as a political scientist. A graduate of Lowell High school, he earned BA in mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley in 1978, and obtained a Ph.D. in political science from M.I.T. in 1989. Following his Ph.D., Ferguson conducted postdoctoral research at MIT while also consulting to the White House, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Department of Defense, and several U.S. and European high technology firms. From 1992–1994 Ferguson was an independent consultant, providing strategic consulting to the top managements of U.S. high technology firms including Apple, Xerox, Motorola, and Texas Instruments.
In 1994, Ferguson founded Vermeer Technologies, one of the earliest Internet software companies, with Randy Forgaard. Vermeer created the first visual Web site development tool, FrontPage. In early 1996, Ferguson sold Vermeer to Microsoft for $133 million, which integrated FrontPage into Microsoft Office. After selling Vermeer, Ferguson returned to research and writing. He was a visiting scholar and/or lecturer for several years at MIT and Berkeley, and for three years was a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC.
So instead of being a reporter or Michael Moore style muckraking provocateur Ferguson is very much a part of the world his film is about. This gives him access to interview subjects other documentary makers could only dream of: central bankers, hedge fund multi-billionaires, senior economists, finance lobbyists, former investment bank CEOs, Wall Street prostitutes, the Prime Minister of Singapore . . . For a movie about economics and finance it’s a surprisingly funny movie but most of the humor is laughter in the dark: Ferguson’s interview subjects try to spin their own moral complicity and moral bankruptcy and he skewers them expertly. It’s a brilliant film.
July 16, 2010
I saw the world premiere of this at the Film Festival opening last night. Based on a Ronald Hugh Morrieson book it’s set in Hawera and filmed on location. It’s an attempt to make a Kiwi version of a Coen Brothers comic thriller and while it falls quite a long way short of this ambition but it’s not a bad movie. As with most New Zealand films the screenplay is the biggest flaw. The director doesn’t get the tone right and so the performances never quite match what’s happening in the film, with the exception of Jermaine Clement who was the biggest crowd-pleaser but also the best thing about the movie. The set design and cinematography is very strong especially given that they shot it all in South Taranaki. The non-film snobs in the audience seemed to enjoy it more than I did.
July 1, 2010
Sir Peter Jackson has released his long awaited review of the Film Commission. It can be viewed here and is pretty damning. One quote that stood out for me:
A number of people described the Commission as operating like a Hollywood studio but without the accountability of a studio – ‘without anyone having their job on the line’, as one producer put it.
Everyone I know who’s had experience with the Commission has expressed similar sentiments.
Some years ago I wrote a satirical screenplay for a low budget digital feature with a friend. We found a director, shot some sample scenes and approached the Film Commission who told us (direct quote): ‘We don’t want to read your script or watch your footage. We don’t want to hear from writers or directors. We want to hear from producers who have a track record with us.’
Subsequent to this the Film Commission actually ran a screen writing contest to seek out new talent. I did not enter. A friend of mine did and won. The script was attached to an experienced producer who – my friend was disappointed to see – was responsible for some of the least successful, most critically reviled films in New Zealand history. The producer appeared to hate the script and the genre; it went through years of redrafts, a ‘professional scriptdoctor’ (a Shortland Street writer) was bought in to ‘rescue it’. Eventually my friend lost interest and moved overseas. The script is no longer ‘in development’.
From Jackson’s report:
A NZFC staff member told us of one situation where a producer applied for script development funding totaling $34,000. The writer, who was doing all the work at this stage, received $4,000, and the producer’s ‘overheads’ swallowed $30,000.
This does not reflect the behaviour of all producers, but neither is it an isolated incidence.
The problem in New Zealand film making really comes into focus when you go to the finals for the 48 Hour film contest. Almost all of the films are funny, well made, ingenious . . . and none of those qualities seem to translate into feature New Zealand movies.
Hopefully Finlayson will heed Jackson’s advice and reform the Commission – and then the new improved institution will gladly fund the development of my script Become the Huntress, a thriller in which a beautiful but headstrong young prostitute named ‘Become’ secretly murders serial killers.
June 18, 2010
The film festival launched their guide last night and screened Exit Through the Gift Shop, a documentary about street art (you might know this by the old-fashioned term ‘graffiti’) made by the world’s ‘most famous’ street artist – the anonymous Banksy (sample work above). Banksy describes his film as ‘the worlds first street art disaster movie’. It’s about the commercialisation and authenticity of art so all the critics assume it’s a hoax in the tradition of F for Fake. It felt pretty real to me – it’s a very funny film; I think a fraud would take itself more seriously.
My philosophy of the film festival is to see (a) the stuff that isn’t likely to rescreen in theatres or get released on DVD and (b) movies that are worth the cost of the tickets to see them on the big screen. The documentaries all fit into the first category, Once Upon a Time in the West and Senso fall into the second.
This year they’re finally screening The Room a movie I reviewed here and I’ve been nagging them to aquire for years. My wife refuses to watch this so if any blog readers are game we could meet up before the screening, which is on Saturday the 24th of July at 9:30 at the Paramount.
June 7, 2010
Last night we watched Chinatown. Most thrillers are based on fantastic scenarios: brilliant serial killers, suitcases full of money, global conspiracies and so on. I love Chinatown because the secrets at the heart of the movie are things like local government corruption, oligarchy, land ownership and domestic abuse – things that actually happen in the real world all the time. It’s a great movie and if you haven’t watched it you should. It’s fun to see Jack Nicholson acting instead of doing the Jack Nicholson impersonation he’s been coasting on for the last thirty years.
June 6, 2010
A central theme of the western is the tension between the sometimes lonely freedom of the road and the sometimes suffocating security of the rooted community. Easy Rider took place in a modern western landscape, not in the days of the frontier, but it grappled with the same idea. J.F.X. Gillis has argued that the film is, despite its reputation, a deeply conservative movie with parallels to Chaucer’s “The Pardoner’s Tale.” In their stops along the road, Gillis argues, the protagonists “were given choices, opportunities to find meaning in their lives beyond that gas tank filled with money, beyond the pleasure of the brothel or the bottle, beyond the aimless wandering, meaning offered through spiritual commitment. Could there be a more conservative theme? The rancher and his family, the commune: first they were given a model of a meaningful life, then they were given an invitation to build that life. Invited to stay and join a family and find God, they refused.”
“If this narrative had been Medieval, could there be any doubt at all of the theme or the moral teaching intended?” Gillis asks. “Sinners wander the countryside on a secular quest, encountering God’s message but failing to acknowledge Him. They seek worldly pleasure at the expense of spiritual fulfillment, finding treasure and discussing it under a tree, only finally to die a horrid death by the wayside.” That might not match the popular understanding of the movie’s message, but it isn’t far from at least one of the filmmakers’ views. “My heroes are not right, they’re wrong,” Hopper’s co-writer and co-star Peter Fonda said. “Liberty’s become a whore, and we’re all taking the easy ride.”
I think this is a totally valid reading of the movie. Another thing to note is how modern the movie looks – especially in the New Orleans scenes towards the end. The cinematography has dated really well – most of the content not so much. Easy Rider was revolutionary in that it examined communes, drug abuse and other topics that were on everyone’s minds by the end of the sixties but taboo subjects in Hollywood films that still consisted of MGM musicals, WWII war movies and old-fashioned Westerns. But forty years later the depiction of the sixties is just dull and dated and the movie drags until Jack Nicolson turns up.
May 16, 2010
A former mayoral candidate accused of secretly filming a woman living in a house he owned says he was only doing what any other “red-blooded male” would have done.
There is a sleazy 90s movie called Sliver based on this very premise. It starred Sharon Stone and one of the Baldwins and isn’t very good – but it has a great soundtrack. Do the kids still listen to soundtracks?
On friday night we watched Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. This is Werner Herzog’s remake of another dubious 90s film, Abel Ferrera’s Bad Lieutenant. Herzog claims he has not seen the original. His remake stars Nicolas Cage and Val Kilmer. I cannot quite believe this film exists even though I watched it two nights ago.
It’s a pretty good genre film although it has odd grace-notes like an ‘iguana-cam’ technique that I am at a loss to describe. Cage built his career in weird early 90s indie films (check out Vampires Kiss and Wild at Heart sometime) before he crossed over to big budget action movies. Herzog built his career directing some of the most visionary, epic movies of all time (Fitzcarraldo, Aguire) and a secondary career as a brilliant documentary maker so a cop drama staring Cage set in New Orleans is a weird direction for him.