12-18June2011 :: This (SydFilmFest) Week
This week was Beats Rhymes & Life, Target, Date Night, All About Love, A Separation, Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 1, James Blake, Norwegian Wood, I Wish I Knew.
- Watched Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest (imdb); a fascinating doco about the group, from its early days to its troubled break-up, with lots of hip hop history interwoven, and featuring various hip hop greats talking about the group's influence on their own careers; it has great music, obviously, and it tells its story well, becoming quite emotional as it develops.
- Watched Target (imdb); over-ambitious and over-long Russian scifi; it starts off incredibly well, and I really wanted to like it, set in the relatively near future, with a whole bunch of design touches that make it feel real, retaining enough of the past to make the future feel possible, with its technology interwoven into the fabric of reality rather than tacked on; it introduces a couple of interesting premises, either of which could individually make for a great film: goggles that allow the wearer to see, quantified, an object or person's level of good or evil, and the eponymous Target, an old Soviet experiment that captures cosmic radiation and stops ageing in any who spend the night in the "well" dug at its centre; both have the somewhat fantastical flavour of classic scifi, but end up handled so poorly my first reaction was that the film is simply not real scifi; the reality is more that we're expected to just accept too much coincidence, and it jars; once the main characters are stopped in age the film starts to flounder; it drags on, and the promise of spending eternity with this group of thoroughly unsympathetic characters is awfully unappealing; it's well made though, beautifully designed and shot, and with a score throughout that, while it takes some time to become accustomed to, reminds one of classic Russian film.
- Watched Date Night (imdb); reasonably funny, and went to places much more darkly absurd than I was expecting; it felt it was only really carried by Tina Fey though.
- Watched All About Love (imdb); cute Hong Kong queer rom-com; its message is probably for an HK audience, seeming a little painfully obvious here, with only just enough nuance not to grate; but it's sweet and charming and has enough funny moments to carry the film.
- Watched A Separation (imdb); the one film of this year's Sydney Film Festival that I very nearly walked out of, and the festival's big winner; it was well shot and acted and structured, with some beautiful sympathetic moments, and a great portrayal of power in relationships, but I can't get over how classist it is; the family at the centre of the film are well-off, educated, progressive, and they hire a woman to take care of the ailing grandfather; she's poor, and the film never fails to point out how uneducated and superstitious she is, even playing her for laughs, the buffoon in the midst of an otherwise incredibly serious film; her and her husband are both played to extremes, she alternately shrew or cowering, he mal-tempered and simmering with lower-class violence; what's particularly disturbing then is the reception the film's getting, being raved about by cultural elites in Iran and around the world — I can't help feeling it's just another piece in the ongoing effort to ridicule the Iranian theocracy so much that even progressives won't complain much when the west eventually does move in and dismantle the government.
- Watched Sydney Symphony with Lang Lang performing Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 1; a beautiful performance, the man a virtuoso, and barely older than me (celebrating his birthday on the night, they brought out cake and had the orchestra play Happy Birthday); he's delightfully theatrical as he plays, really getting into the music, bringing extra enjoyment to the performance.
- Bought and been looping James Blake's self-titled album (iTunes/amazon); I'd seen the video for his cover of Feist's 'Limit To Your Love', a great cover of a great song; it's possibly the best on the album but the whole thing is a good listen, with him playing with glitchy sounds, autotune pushed to its limits, and the electronic made performative.
- Watched Norwegian Wood (imdb); a solid adaptation of the Murakami novel; it's no coincidence that there've been no adaptations of his novels before, and that this is the first — they're all immensely difficult to translate to film, being so much about interior lives and about the edges of reality, but at least this story is relatively straightforward; the film struggles for a while, the first act way too rushed as it sets up the characters and their circumstances, but once it moves into the second it falls into the slow pace that the novel has; that can be difficult to sit through, but it's such a beautiful film that it works, becoming meditative as the protagonist flits between the "real" world of his student life and the retreat in the mountains; the cast are great, and it really is beautiful, but in the end it finishes rather abruptly, which only serves to highlight how difficult the story is.
- Watched Zhang Ke Jia's I Wish I Knew (imdb), an incredible documentary, my highlight of the festival; it captures a series of oral histories, talking to people who've lived through the upheavals Shanghai has experienced over the last century, including people from various walks of life, those who stayed in Shanghai and those who've fled for various reasons; the film then interweaves shots of a young woman walking around the city, never letting us know her, but she acts as a sort of avatar or spirit of the city, which is a delightful image, especially set against some of the stories from the older storytellers, who convey a great sense of loss for the city; it's a nicely told documentary, focussing on the stories being told, with small elements, visual and aural, to augment those stories, but never being so crass as to reënact or to over-rely on secondary sources; and it's an incredibly beautiful film, shot with a narrow depth of field and a muted palette, and capturing everything from the dirty rundown alleys to the gleaming towers, the abandoned buildings to the busy work sites; it all combines as though to give us the stories of its subjects, but without pushing any particular agenda.
- 11September-5November2011 :: These (Riding) Weeks (05Nov2011)
- 21August-10September2011 :: These (Running) Weeks (17Sep2011)
- 7-20August2011 :: These (Winter, Returned) Weeks (21Aug2011)
- 24July-6August2011 :: These (Early Spring) Weeks (13Aug2011)
- 3-23July2011 :: These (Hong Kong) Weeks (31Jul2011)
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