August 27, 2006

AFI Screenings - Reviews #1

This is the first batch of reviews from films screened at the AFI Festival of Film. I've been a bad festival-goer and skipped today's session of Suburban Mayhem. I had my reasons though! It was on at 10am, I would've had to catch the 8am train (on a Sunday!), and it's cheaper for me to just see the movie when it's released theatrically than spend the money on a taxi to the train station, then on the trainride there and back. Seriously. I didn't really wanna see it that badly anyway, despite what I said earlier. And the other two films on today (Candy and The Caterpillar Wish I had already seen. Anyway...

The Book of Revelation, dir. Ana Kokkinos
Plot: A talented male dancer (Tom Long) is kidnapped by three mysteriously disguised woman and held in a room where he is repeatedly raped and molested and forced to perform sexual acts for the women. Released 12 days later he has been changed into a shell of his former self, but soon enough starts to try and find the three women. His dance choreographer (Gretta Scacchi) and girlfriend (Anne Torv) become frustrated, but he soon falls in love with a new woman (Deborah Mailman) before his search leads him down an impossible path.

Verdict: An incredibly off-putting film, Ana Kokkinos' follow-up to Head-On is just as sexually confronting. The first act, before any of the sexual acts are seen in flashback during the second act, is very well made. Kokkinos' is definitely a very Melbourne-cenctric director. She used the streets of the Greek outer suburbs well in Head On and here she shows off the CBD and docklands areas wonderfully - the cinematography is superb. The mystery involving where Daniel (Long) has been starts off well, but as the second act begins and we are graphically shown his ordeal, it begins to go off the rails. I don't think these scenes had any of the impact that Kokkinos intended. And the fact that it is a male being put into this situation means absolutely nada because she manages to turn these women into objects and manages to degrade the actresses much more than she does to Long.

The final act though is much better again with the arrival of Deborah Mailman, an incredibly gifted actress who makes anything better simply by showing up! I actually found myself smiling during these scenes. The film obviously doesn't end all peachy and nice, but it worked. The performances are all excellent, except for Colin Friels as a detective trying to, at first, find Daniel and then playing a major part towards the end. He doesn't register on any levels, but Long impresses in his first majorly dramatic role and a very brave actor he is. Scacchi is well-cast as the brittle choreographer, and Mailmain shines as Julie, creating a character you geniunly feel for in only several scenes.

But, in the end, the middle act caused major problems for me. I think it may have been better to not show the sexual degredation, and leave it to our imaginations to imagine what on earth could have happened to this man. That's far more interesting. I am not sure the film plays as the psychological sexual drama that Kokkinos was trying for. It definitely had an effect on me, I'm still thinking about it today, but just like Head On, the film thinks it's more than it ultimately is. It definitely deserves it R18+ rating that's for sure. C+

Opal Dream, dir. Peter Cattaneo
Plot: Kellyanne (Sapphire Boyce) is a nine-year-old girl living in Coober Pedy with her parents and older brother has only two friends, Pobby and Dingan. They're imaginary and it's slowly making her family mad. One day her father decides to take the friends out with him to the opal farm where he works so he can pretend he lost them hoping she'll forget. Alas, through a series of events her father (Vince Colosimo) gets assused of trespassing on a fellow opal miner's land (a big no-no), Kellyanne becomes extremely sick, her mother (Jacqueline McKenzie) loses her job because the town starts to outcast the family. Soon though her brother (Christian Byers) decides to rally the town to help his sister. Feel good endings abound.

The Verdict: Well, this was a surprise! This film directed by The Full Monty's Peter Cattaneo wasn't even on my radar, but it turned out to be a pleasant delight. It's essentially a children's film, but one that adults will enjoy also (the full crowd I saw it with sure did). The opening scenes are awkward because watching this girl embarass herself isn't fun, but soon enough, like the characters in the film, you get worn down and it grows on you.

I can always tell whether I like a movie if a shameless saccharine final act gets to me. I more often hate grotesque endings where everything ends nice and all tied up with a pretty bow than like them, so if I like one it means the movie worked. The film's big scene is in the good ol' court house (aren't these sort've scenes played in court houses, like, 50% of the time?) and it works. You know these characters are in the right and you want them to succeed. I didn't find myself crying during the final scene though but there were some sniffles happening around me.

The performances, for the most part, are good Colosimo is great at the everyman type of role (and he looks bloody good in that singlet all sweaty and such) and it's always great seeing someone as talented as Jacqueline McKenzie not working is dumb tv pap like The 4400. The two young kids are hit and miss. I really liked the boy, Christian Byers. He had a charm that was delightful. The girl, however, didn't come off as well. If the girl was a better actress then the emotional payoff may have worked even more, but as it is she comes off as annoying more often than not. The townspeople (including David Field, Denise Roberts and Robert Menzies) are the traditional lot, but they're not cliched quirky like usual in Australian films. Overall though, I found this movie exceedingly pleasant and well-made (the score by recent Oscar nominee Dario Marianelli is sublime). It's definitely pitched at audiences the age of the two kids, but definitely doesn't stop at that. B

Em 4 Jay, dir. Alkinos Tsilimidos (no IMDb page)
Plot: Two drug addicts, Emma and Jay, make money to buy coke by putting of sex shows for perverts as well as other jobs. Soon enough they decide that robbing convenience stores and chemists is the way to go. Eventually they start rolling in money, but start getting cocky and raising the stakes. Before long they must face the consequences, but not before shooting enough coke to last a lifetime.

The Verdict: Wow, another drug film! I'm so excited*. (* denotes dripping with sarcasm). This film by Alkino Tsilimidos (the bad Tom White) is another one of his life-on-the-fringes tales involving hard edged people with odd senses of humour and filmed in a dark and grimy way. I didn't like the way this movie looked. It was ugly. I suppose that's the point, but it seemed as if the makers deliberately chose to make the streets (in places like St Kilda and Carlton that aren't hidious) look gross.

Luckily though, the film's characters are hopelessly clueless. While we're probably meant to feel sad for these characters, I found myself chuckling along with some of their exploits (the pig mask scene is very funny hah hah). The performances by Nik Barkla and Laura Gordon are good (actually, Gordon is really good!), but the performance of the film for me was Kat Stewart. Who in only 2 brief scenes gives her character (of Emma's sister) so much history and is even more fully realised than either of the two leads.

But, in the end, this whole story is dreadfully dreary. But as I said, the laughs (quite regular, actually) help keep it afloat and the performances are effective. I want that Kat Stewart woman to get a major role though. She was phenomenal. C+

Hunt Angels, dir. Alec Morgon
WOW! This was even more of an unexpected surprise than Opal Dream. This second film by director Alec Morgan (and his first in 24 years since Lousy Little Sixpence) is stunningly produced. It tells the tale of Rupert Kathner and Alma Brooks, who went to any methods to produce Australian films at a time when barely any were being made (as our cinemas were filled to the brim with American films, as all our cinemas were run by the American mafia), whether those methods were legal or illegal or devious or whatever. It shows how Rupert desperately just wanted to show Australian stories, his favourite was that of Ned Kelly and a large portion of the film details their making of two films. One about Kelly (The Glenrowan Affair) and another about a deceased woman whose identity was unknown.

The film's real treat is the way it is made. Actors Ben Mendlesohn and Victoria Hill (out next big thing I predict) play Rupert and Alma and are transported into historical photographs in black and white and sepia along with other actors, as well as flat out recreating events that happened. There are also traditional documentary bits such as talking heads and archival footage, but all of that is put in through interesting ways (newsreel footage is seen on a screen being watched by an audience). The look of the film is something like a cross between Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Sin City. It's truly stunning to look at. As it is, the performances are great fun with Mendelsohn and Hill clearly relishing their roles and the situation they're in.

The film, like any good documentary, is informative on a subject that is really interesting. The Australian film industry is something I obviously have a thing for, and it was great to see this movie and learn a little something but have it told to me through inventive methods. And it's another film under 90 minutes! Oh and it's hilarious at times. Seriously, a great fun doco. B+

So that's all for now. Audience reception was mixed on The Book of Revelation (about half the crown clapped at the end), very positive on Opal Dream (whole crowd clapped, wouldn't be surprised to see it get a Best Film nomination because a lot of other contenders are very serious types), negative on Em 4 Jay (nobody clapped, so nobody really liked it, but I'm sure some did but just not to any big levels) and also very positive on Hunt Angels (about 75% clapping).

Next week we have Last Train to Freo, 48 Shades, Raul the Terrible and the first collection of shorts (both film and animation).


richardwatts said...

Mike and I went to see 'The Book of Revelation' last night. God it was bad. He was much less condemning of it than me, though...

Kamikaze Camel said...

Yeah, I'm now definite that it's a C+ at the max.