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Saturday, 21 April 2018

The Current Cinema - John Snadden gives short shrift to READY PLAYER ONE (Steven Spielberg, USA, 2018)

I didn't think much of Ready Player One
Apart from a great opening sequence, it's your typical bloodless and sexless Steven Spielberg movie where the kids are all right and the adults all corrupt. 
The film mainly takes place in a video game universe named Oasis and is based on the bestselling novel of the same title by Ernest Cline. Strangely, with its deluge of 1980s pop culture references, I'm wondering who the target audience is for this big budget commercial flick.
Ben Mendelsohn is good value as the corporate bad guy however the role is so clichéd and predictable he wears out his welcome quite quickly. But he is in sharp contrast to the film's mythical figure, Halliday, a legendary games programmer who holds the keys to the kingdom, though, he is depicted physically and personally as an uncomfortable mix of an aged Woody Allen and Dana Carvey. 
Maybe that says more about the film than anything else. Oh well...

Friday, 20 April 2018

Spanish Film Festival - supercinephile Barrie Pattison samples a popular comedy SIN RODEOS/WITHOUT FILTER (Santiago Segura, 2018)

Spanish Film Festival Again. Last year, as I commented then, was phenomenal so it’s a bit much to expect them to do that again. However it’s so far so good with some promising trailers and Santiago Segura’s Sin rodeos/Without filter.

Segura is Spain’s leading low comic, occasionally acting in substantial pictures like Hellboyor Ballad of a Sad Trumpet. His Torrente series was getting a bit thin at number five so he’s come up with what proved a daring enough choice, a comedy vehicle for the great Maribel Verdú (E tu mama tambien, Pan’s Labyrinth) an undisputed beacon in Hispanic film. She can be funny, which Meryl Streep can’t, or glamorous which Elizabeth Moss can’t, and she can do character which Ann Hathaway can’t. There should be three of her.

Segura wouldn’t be able to handle this remake of a two-year old Chilean hit without Maribel who registers gangbusters as a put upon thirty nine year old (“Forty is the new thirty. Thirty nine is nothing”) in a messy hair style and bad wardrobe. Her life is in the can. She can’t sleep for the music upstairs. The custodian is so blasted on the party dope he is sitting there with the elevator door slamming on him. Her snoring action painter artist boyfriend Rafael Spregelburd has moved his obnoxious son in with them. It’s cold showers because Rafael hasn’t paid the electricity and he’s used all her shampoo anyway.  He never gets to the super market so the fridge is empty and there’s no breakfast. It’s a drive to the office interrupted by texts with emojis from her needy friends.

Maribel Verdú, Sin Rodeos
When Maribel does get through the traffic to the ad. agency, the lecherous junior boss has given her parking spot to his new girl Instagram star who is continually recording their encounters with a selfie stick and is applauded at the campaign strategy meeting for dismissing infomercials and contributing the concept that definite ideas are just not 2018. She ignores the boss’s now out dated high five.

Maribel’s encouraging ex-husband Diego Martín is cowered by his fiancée. The pills Maribel bolts have lost their charge and the sympathy her doctor seems to be offering is just him searching for a crossword clue. Her set also concludes a workout friend who is texting to the ex who has barred her from his line while they talk and a sister who throws parties for her cat.

Maribel’s last hope lies with guru Segura whose advertising she sees everywhere. Along with his feel good pitch, he gives her a bottle of calming medicine to sip which she’s gulped before she gets a couple of blocks.

At this point she punches out the abusive woman driver blocking her way, throws out the boyfriend when he won’t answer the door for the internet service man or talk to the son who is busily making porn in their bed room. 

Maribel takes her revenge on all her tormentors climaxed by setting fire to the non-stop party host’s gleaming red sports car, getting the applause of his stoned guests on the balcony above.

Finally she’s got peace but by this time she’s forgotten to give the medicine to her sister’s now deceased cat. There’s more, with a final rather splendid scene where she’s lured by the ex-husband’s fiancée using his stolen cell phone’s texts while still snacking on her baby food puré diet. The three thrash out the details of the fiancées success with blow jobs to the delight of the stoners. This is pure Segura gross out. 

Lots of “puta madre” and a bit of “Io te odio.” It all drives on the strength of Verdú’s great performance but the mounting is excellent and the here unfamiliar face cast are great, something that only becomes obvious when they go out of character to join in dancing to the play out music - everyone a mover.

We’re not too far from Nothing But the Truth. Not great art or even a significant comment on the issues it works through but this one is a fun night at the movies and a nice contribution to the credits of its star and writer-director.

Adrian Danks Facebook Post on CINEMA REBORN

Meant to post about this earlier, but now that it is fast approaching I'd like to highlight the absolutely fabulous looking Cinema Reborn festival being held in Sydney for the first time from May 3-7. This is a truly wonderful initiative that all cinephiles in Sydney (and Australia) should embrace - as we need many more events like this. I'll be there, making the trip up from Melbourne (not suggesting that's an incentive for anyone but just to illustrate my commitment), and looking forward to seeing a great array of recent restorations within a truly eclectic but outstanding program (thanks to all involved, Geoffrey Gardner in particular). 
Max Ophuls
Particular highlights, programmed alongside the likes of Renoir, Ophuls (& I've waited years to see SANS LENDEMAIN in a decent print/copy), Fassbinder, Hondo and Ozu, are a rich array of Australian films including such seminal works as YACKETY YACK & Corinne Cantrill's IN THIS LIFE'S BODY. Each program will also be introduced by a great array of speakers ranging from Margot Nash, David Stratton and Peter Hourigan to Phillip Adams and Jane Mills. 
Hope to see you there. 

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

In New Orleans - Rod Bishop uncovers a superb documentary about New Orleans music THE WHOLE GRITTY CITY (Richard Barber and Andre Lambertson, 2013)

Class Got Brass competition, New Orleans, March 2018
(phot: Rod Bishop)
Last month, the Landry-Walker High School from Algiers in New Orleans won the top prize at the annual Class Got Brass. It’s a contest held every year in Congo Square at Louis Armstrong Park and offers $US40,000 in prize money for school instruments. The size of the bands is restricted to 12 with only one bass, one snare and one tuba, but in New Orleans tradition, woodwinds are allowed and “steppers” or dancers encouraged. The contest takes the form of a traditional second-line parade.

Class Got Brass competition, New Orleans, March 2018
(phot: Rod Bishop)
It’s a community event, parents and relatives give loud vocal support and the bands warm up before the contest with impromptu performances designed to out-psych the opposition.

The Whole Gritty City
But compared to the sophistication of the high school marching bands in The Whole Gritty City,Class Got Brass is a very benign event. This 2013 documentary, apparently ignored by all outlets in this country, shows three enormous high school bands – the Rabouin High School Falcons, the O. Perry Walker Chargers and the Roots of Music Marching Crusaders. Extravagantly costumed, rigorously rehearsed and fronted by outstanding steppers, we see their preparations for the fortnight-long Mardi Gras season parades. 

Half the students live in poverty and many are regarded as at-risk. When not at school or in overcrowded homes, they negotiate dangerous lives on the streets. Band rehearsals on a football field are abandoned when a gunfight breaks out. Rival bands abuse each other after parades and drunken spectators try to physically disrupt parades. Band leader Wilbert Rawlins Jr talks about the seven friends he once had – four shot dead and the remaining three overdosed.

Rawlins also talks about the transformative effect of the bands on the students: “I don’t care if you just had something very tragic happen to you in your life. Once that band gives you that downbeat, and the music is right…just for that brief two or three minutes you forget everything, every problem you had.”

The Whole Gritty City
Two members of the Roots of Music Band, 10-year-old Jaron “Bear” Williams and 13-year-old Jazz Henry play the trumpeters Robert and Jennifer in Antoine Batiste’s high school band in Treme. Jaron’s 19-year-old brother was shot and killed “I cried the whole day, I can’t get him out of my head”. After joining the band his life has been transformed, music has become “25% of me” and after the parade “I feel like I’m the best thing in the world and can’t be stopped”.

The deaths of two band leaders haunt The Whole Gritty City. Dinerra Shavers was a member of the Hot 8 Brass Bandand band leader at Rabouin and the widely beloved Brandon Franklin was assistant to Rawlins at O. Perry Walker. The Times-Picayune tribute to Franklin described him as a “charismatic, out-going band leader, but also a quiet counselor.” His popularity was evident at his funeral, when 300 high school band musicians (including 15 tubas) perform outside the church under Rawlins’s direction.

The sound of the music is simply astounding as the 300 segue through Richard Smallwood’s Total Praise, Sting’s I'll be Watching You (Every Breath You Take) and, in a fitting end to the memorial and the film, finish with I’ll Fly Away,the great New Orleans hymn composed by Albert E Brumley in 1929

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Vale Frank Bren - Actor, writer, director, scholar, critic - Friends John Snadden and Mark Savage remember

Frank Bren the Melbourne based actor, writer and scholar died this week. Two friends have posted on Facebook:

John Snadden
A very good friend of mine, and many others, died late on Saturday night. Well known Melbourne actor and writer, Frank Bren, succumbed to a short but virulent bout of cancer which was diagnosed less than 6 weeks ago. His gentle humour and demeanour will be fondly remembered by his friends and 
colleagues. This picture is from BETEL NUT GIRL, a low budget Chinese film made in 2012.
I first met Frank in the early 90s, when we were both discovering the cinema delights being offered up by Melbourne's then 2 Chinese cinemas. It's been a long and very enjoyable friendship and I will miss Frank dearly. Farewell friend.
 Mark Savage
Frank Bren, who was a dear friend and professional colleague (he'd appeared in a few of my films) was a true old world gentleman, scholar, and extraordinarily unique individual.

His death has really shaken me.

Frank was a talented writer, and championed many long-forgotten and ignored actors and directors of Chinese/Hong Kong cinema. He walked everywhere, always dressed impeccably, and always welcomed a get-together for a coffee, and never exhausted his storytelling skills.

As an actor, Frank exuded a unique, powerful, quirky, old world presence, and I saw this ably displayed when he played 'The Snake' in my film SENSITIVE NEW AGE KILLER. He was a skilled comic actor also, and knew exactly how to balance a character's personality. In some critiques, he was described as "a George Sanders type,", and, in this context, that description was accurate. He also wrote a number of plays, reviewed HK films with me for the Herald-Sun, and once asked me to direct one he had written and was starring in (at La Mama). The experience gave me a deep appreciation of Frank's diversity and dedication to the craft.

He will be terribly missed. He was a unique Melbourne fixture. He always left an indelible impression, and warmed every heart he touched.

His email address, frankmondial@, said it all: "Frank Of The World." He truly was.

And he's now of the next world.

RIP, dear Frank. Your passing leaves an abyss in Melbourne and the world.

Fellow scholar and critic Adrian Danks advises that there will be a memorial for Frank at La Mama on April 29 at 6:00

Vale Milos Forman - John Conomos remembers the great director and his enticement of James Cagney out of retirement

RIP Milos Forman (1932-2018) 

Milos Forman
Sad news : the recent passing of Milos Forman. He was 86 yrs old. Extraordinarily gifted filmmaker notable for his sly, satiric sensibility and humour. 

His film legacy includes such milestones as The Fireman's Ball, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Hair ( with a cameo appliance by Nicholas Ray), Amadeus, The People vs Larry Flynt and Ragtime (1981). 

Milos Forman had a gentle, reflexive, subversive view of the world and he was someone who prized cinema history and preceding exemplary figures like James Cagney for example.

James Cagney, Ragtime
When he directed Ragtime he persisted in trying to persuade James Cagney to do the role as the police commissioner because of the vast respect he had for Cagney. Finally, Cagney agreed to do the role after much resistance ( "Who will remember me" he is reported to have said to Forman.) 

When Cagney arrived at the set to do his role everyone stopped what they were doing and clapped their welcoming appreciation of paying respect to JC as one of Hollywood's elder iconic figures. It is said that Cagney wept because of their great warm support to have him in the film.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

CINEMA REBORN - Two short films to accompany debut features

Cinema Reborn is presenting two short films as part of its 2018 program. 

Michael Thornhill's 1974 feature Between Wars will be accompanied by a screening of Thornhill's 1969 short The American Poet's Visit, an adaptation of Frank Moorhouse's story of the same name which had appeared in the author's first book 'Futility and Other Animals'. Thornhill and writer Ken Quinnell adapted the story.

Frank Moorhouse
In the printed Cinema Reborn catalogue (free to subscribers, $10 otherwise) there will appear a specially written memoir by Frank Moorhouse recording his life as a writer for the film industry. The following paragraphs are part of a much longer piece.

"In 1968, Michael approached me about using a short story of mine The American Poet’s Visit for a short movie. He paid me for the rights with a bottle of Moet champagne. He directed and co-wrote it with Ken Quinnell, who was producer, and they made The American Poet’s Visit  which is fairly faithful to the story (1969, 20 mins/16 mins – there is some confusion, maybe two versions (?), 16mm, bw, budget of $900). The 25–year old Russell Boyd shot it and Lloyd Coleman did the sound.

Karl Foudrinier, Darcy Waters, The American Poet's Visit
"The American Poet’s Visit was set among the Sydney Libertarian Push, some of whom acted or were extras in the film along with some filmniks. The film and story recreate a visit to Australia by the American poet, Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982) an anarchist, pacifist, member of the IWW, and labelled ‘Father of the Beats’ by Time magazine. The film satirizes Rexroth and, as well, the embarrassing, immature difficulties we had in socializing with a famous poet. There may be some perverse cultural cringe in it. I hope to god, in reality we treated Rexroth and ourselves, better."

Shadi Abdel Salam made The Night of Counting the Years in 1969 and the restoration by Cineteca di Bologna appeared in 2015 now recognized as the greatest film ever from the Arab world. Abdel Salam's only other dramatic film is the short film The Eloquent Peasant. Rod Bishop's notes on the film include the following:

Shadi Abdel Salam
Pieced together from several differing versions, The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant was written in classical Middle Egyptian and composed around 2200 BC. A combined folk story, morality play and poem, it tells of the peasant Khunanup and his donkey who stumble into lands owned by the nobleman Rensi. Khunanup’s possessions are stolen but he is accused of theft. He pleads his case to the Pharaoh, who is impressed by the peasant’s speech. Although realizing Khunanup has been wronged, Pharaoh withholds judgement so he can listen, over and over again, to the peasant’s remarkable eloquence.
Each plea by Khunanup to Pharaoh becomes another variation on the concept of Maat. Variously translated as status quo, truth, justice, order and righteousness, Maat transcends mere human existence and is part of Ancient Egyptian cosmological thought.
Khunanup is played by Ahmed Marei, the young Egyptologist from The Night of Counting the Years.
The World Cinema Foundation and Bologna’s Cinema Ritrovato used the original 35mm camera and sound negatives preserved at the Egyptian Film Centre in Cairo to produce a new 35mm inter-negative for digital restoration.