Tuesday, May 22, 2007

When your gravity fails

Filmmakers who try to make a film about their obsession or even their personal fascination run the risk of being so fascinated that they fail to notice they are boring the pants off everybody else. Such is the case with Curtis hanson's Lucky You.

There are more than a few things that dont ring true in this ode to Texas Hold'Em, a game now so huge they play it at my local pub every Monday. (So huge in fact that even James Bond gave up his beloved baccarat in Casino Royale to play it.) But back to the clangers. There's Eric Bana's golf swing and putting stroke as the most obvious. No way he could shoot 78 off the stick around a tough course. There's the grossly sentimental ending as well.

The film has one redeeming feature but you have to wait until the film is over before it comes on. Over the credits there's a new Bob Dylan song "Huck's Song" beautifully crooned by the old maestro himself. Dylan's product placement people also did well out of the movie. His name appears on a taxi's billboard and later there are a few bars of "Like a Rolling Stone" playing to suggest he's appearing in some nearby showroom. Nice, but not enough to redeem an incredibly dull picture.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


In the post labelled Creep Shows, I took some quotes from Crikey attributing words to Chris Corrigan. Apparently there has now been a correction and the words were in fact uttered by Greg Combet. Today's Australian reports that Mr Combet had told The Daily Telegraph newspaper in Sydney on Monday that he thought the program let the Howard Government "off very lightly, given that they concocted the whole scheme and John Howard personally signed off on it". Sorry about that. Cant help the mistakes of others.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Creep Shows

In Perfect Stranger, a tick the boxes thriller made by James Foley, the otherwise routine events taking place are enlivened by the array of male characters that Halle Berry, as a crusading tabloid reporter, has to deal with. She starts by exposing a family values Senator as a closet gay with a penchant for importuning the late adolescent interns that work in his office. Next is her associate at the paper, a techno wiz whose talent for busting into computer systems is used to move the plot along at a rapid clip. He’s a self-pitying alcoholic with unrequited lust in his heart for Halle and a general contempt for humanity as well as the law. Then there’s the key subject, Bruce Willis a rich womanizer with a team of harridans around him he’s obliged to outwit if he wishes to pursue his extra-marital amours. There is a spineless newspaper editor who is warned off the story about the Senator. Finally, there is an ex-boyfriend trying to ingratiate himself back into Halle’s favors while continuing to cheat. The only person with any moral compass is a female cop. The writer of the film was, however, a male.

Shooter also has its fair share of creeps, those prepared to betray their friends for what they think is the national good. It’s predicated on the idea that a Senator from Montana is controlling a rogue element within the CIA and that element is orchestrating what at first seems is a plan to foil a Presidential assassination but turns out, naturally, to be something else. Mark Wahlberg, seen at the start undertaking covert and violent military action inside a sovereign foreign nation, gets the chance to say a few speeches which are of the a plague on all their political houses kind before embarking on revenge soaked mayhem worthy of Takeshi Kitano. One point of great interest is that the great Levon Helm, master musician from the long lamented The Band, has a cameo as an arms expert, the second such appearance, after his terrific little contribution to The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, It’s a scene which snaps the brain back to full attention.

Far better than both is Matthew Saville’s Noise, which may be just about the best crime picture ever made in Australia. Young cop Graham already has an attitude problem when he gets consigned to sit in a caravan sited in a shopping centre way out in the bleak western suburbs of Melbourne. He’s there in the hope a local will come forward with information about a mass killer on the loose. Graham admits he’s fairly dumb but he has got down pat, and its brilliantly rendered by Brendan Cowell in a performance that ought to street the opposition in the AFI Awards, the young cop’s ability to be nasty, cynical, offensive and intimidating all at once. Graham’s girl friend is also a cop but she plays in the police band. Together they smoke a little dope and bicker. She thinks he's keeping secret from her that he's got cancer. But the plot is driven along by having Graham suffer not from cancer but from tinnitus. Shades of Insomnia here. Graham sees it as an escape into being a compo case. It’s immediate effect is to cause his judgment to go astray at key moments and for his supervisor to take a dim view of his work. The slow build-up, the creation of an authentic milieu and sheer blinding accuracy of the portrait of the dumb cop at the centre of it all is brilliant. My admiration for it grows because the film, unlike too many others of its current ilk, owes nothing to the odious example or methods of Quentin Tarantino, the current fashion-plate for crime movies. This is deadly serious stuff and it eschews all flashy violence in favor of a slow burn that maybe suggests David Fincher and Seven in particular may have been a very worthy model for making such an intense and involving piece of work.

Finally there were a lot of creeps on show in Bastard Boys, but not anywhere near enough. Surprisingly given the general level of caricature that others have graced with that ugly word docudrama, I actually felt a little sympathy for Chris Corrigan. Not for what he did but for the way he was represented as this rather pathetic nerd - friendless, cold, greedy, impatient and utterly lacking in political judgment. But the real creeps were almost entirely absent. The film-makers were either not interested in, or too frightened of delving into, just what role the odious Peter Reith and John Howard had in it all. Reith is portrayed as pretty much an innocent bystander. Anybody who has dealt with Reith never has any trouble in saying how he was prepared to lie and deceive at the drop of a hat. “Born to plot” he once said of himself! Leaving him out and concentrating on the workers and unionists only told part of the story. As Chris Corrigan told Crikey and The Daily Telegraph: “I think the Government gets off very lightly, given that they concocted the whole scheme and John Howard personally signed off on it. We have the cabinet documents, and he signed off on the sacking of the entire workforce. The producers originally told me they weren’t making a boring tale of class warfare but the production serves it up in spades...I will be surprised if anyone other than welded on members of the industrial left can survive four hours of this tedium.” Well over 900,000+ watched on both nights so one's tedium is another man's rivetting drama.

The scriptwriter claimed in a piece in the SMH that she was being fair and objective to all. She said nobody would be interested in a polemic. Dont know where she got either of those ideas. Not from watching Ken Loach's masterly Days of Hope.

Still, in an election year it’s good to know that the ABC and it’s current management will now have managed to be consigned away with all the other voodoo dolls that will have pins stuck into them for the next six months or so by an increasingly rattled government smelling of defeat. Hopefully Labor will show its gratitude following a Rudd election victory and enable the Corporation to commission more interesting left wing drama. With a bit of practice we may even discover in our midst our very own Loach.

Monday, May 14, 2007


I've been struck down with a lethargy inducing rhume of some kind. My sparks have however been rekindled by watching the caricatures in Bastard Boys, a DVD viewing of Claude Cahbrol's The Bridesmaid and by contemplating what the Government has done with the klatest film policy announcements. I'll be back on deck to give the entire world the benefit of my views asap.

Saturday, May 5, 2007


The little trip to NZ produced some interesting insights. One was that the newspaper scene in NZ, which seems not to be in a stranglehold from the evil Murdoch empire, is bright, diverse and lively. It lacks anything like the bad taste , downright vulgarity, arrogance and slef-righteousness that most of our newspapers feature. Over the course of a week or so there were more than a shore of pearls, including a reprint of a piece written by former Senator George McGovern which did a demolition job on the odious Dick Cheney that is worth memorising. Whether it appeared anywhere heare I dont know. I cant imagine any of the Murdoch publications touching it. Such truth is anathema to them. My favourite little moment was from 'Mountain Scene' a weekly published in Queenstown NZ. Its from the backpage of the 26 April issue and the author is known only as Ferris. Under a heading "The Killing Fields of Africa' it told of Auckland's Rugby woes. Strangely enough the Kiwis dont despise Australian Rugby they just sort of alugh and produce a bit of mock pity when it's mentioned. Their real hatred is directed towards the South Africans. Here's the para.

"The Aucklanders are in that zone no self-respecting, rugby-playing, barbecues only Kiwi wants to be - their fate in the hands of South Africans. Four South African teams to be precise - and a fifth if you regard Western Force as merely an outcrop of the republic due to the number of arrogant Jaapie pricks who have migrated to Perth."

Ferris was right to worry. The South Africans somehow pulled off last round victories thanks to inept Australian teams that got them the two top spots in the Super 14 and guaranteed home semi-finals.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Let George Do It

Its a week before Federal Budget night so let's do a little speculating and have a ramble about what might be in store for the film industry. Last year, at 6.01 pm on 16 December to be precise, I put up a post on http://filmalert.blogspot.com/ speculating about future decisions the Federal Government may make about the film industry. I said then that ‘next year we can probably expect somebody to come up with some rejigged bureaucratic arrangements, probably putting parts of the AFC into the FFC and leaving the residue of the AFC to run the National Film and Sound Archive and the cultural activities stuff like grants for festivals. ....’. I turn my back on the country for a week, (pondering while I’m away mysterious headlines like “Campion to don gloves and follow Betham” Dunedin Sunday Star Times, (I think ) and come back to find a piece by John Garnaut and Gary Maddox in the SMH, (a version of which you may still find if you look around at at http://www.smh.com.au)

It reported that in fact the Government proposes to throw everything film related into one large melting pot and that the FFC, the AFC (and apparently all the attendant AFC functions like the National Film and Sound Archive) will come under one big roof. If that’s true then maybe one of the anonymous bureaucrats who conducted the recent behind closed doors review of the film industry has been attracted by the model of the French CNC which has as its principal missions to regulate the industry, sustain it economically, promote it across all audiences, including internationally, and conserve it. We could do worse.

We’ll probably never know the thinking went into any proposals for future arrangements. The Review process was completely opaque. Any interrogation or interlocution, that is if indeed there was any, was also conducted out of the public eye. Any consultation and the submissions that went to the Minister and the Cabinet Submission itself were naturally conducted with the usual surrounding secrecy one associates with the high level control freakery practised by the Howard Government and the ‘modern’ Federal bureaucracy.

No matter, according to Garnaut and Maddox, no doubt after information was supplied to them by someone close to the Government, we will have something that might come to appear like a Federal Film Commissiariat (FFC). It’s possible that given the proximity to the election, and the need to bed the arrangements down quickly, Brian Rosen will become pro tem the Federal Film Commissar, taking ultimate responsibility for everything from development, cultural policy, marketing, promotion and preservation. I may be wrong there of course. The Government may already have someone else in mind for the Commissar’s job, perhaps Donald McDonald’s name might mysteriously emerge again if they cant get him up as Chief Censor. But I digress into the realms of paranoid fantasy….. surely….Whoever it is, they will probably also have the task of winnowing out a number of public servants whose jobs will be seen as unnecessary, duplicatory or capable of amalgamation. That’s always messy and it takes a hard person to get it right for the longer term…Perhaps Max Moore-Wilton could be brought back. He’s a cultured sort of guy…but I digress into paranoia again…surely….

Apparently the unions are happy and maybe have already committed to saying so on Budget night when the full details are known and a mountain of positive press releases from interested parties, not just the film industry, extolling the Howard Government’s brilliance and generosity can be expected to fall into the press boxes in Parliament House and out onto the wire services. They will then be quoted from extensively as the Government takes the cudgels to Kevin Rudd in Question Time the day after. The Australian Screen Directors’ Association already is reported by the SMH as being supportive. ASDA’s concern for new money and new subsidy arrangements arises from its view that only $360 million was invested in film production last year, not enough apparently. ASDA wants transparency and for all the money invested to be spent on film-making not on lawyers’ and bankers’ clip fees. That's a laudable object. Still, when you add in the amounts spent on and by the various film bureaucracies, Federal and state, and such bodies as the NFSA and the Australian Film Television and Radio School it would be fairly easy to get the total amount, public and private, already devoted to film and its attendant activities well up over the half a billion dollar mark each year. That’s reached without any additional large scale foreign investment on projects like Superman et al that use the studio facilities built and/or subsidised by the states.
The problem for me remains the same however as it has for a number of years. Nobody of course yet knows if these arrangements will improve the quality of our films and lift our international standing, or even return it to its once much higher levels. I’d like to think that when the announcements are made there might be some focus on this element of our film production for the fact is we currently make too few films of very high quality. This year, with two of the three major European competitive festivals already past or upon us we have still not managed to make a film good enough to be adjudged worthy of entry into those elite competitions. (One of our films has of course won an Oscar) But generally, the films that are made with the support of the agencies still seem to be regarded as mediocre by international standards and are not really making much impact locally either critically or at the box office. Let me ask you if you think the most admired films of the last two years (Wolf Creek, Little Fish, Look Both Ways, Kenny, Jindabyne, Ten Canoes and Happy Feet) really stand up against the best we’ve done in long gone years.I don’t think I’m being nostalgic in being just a little circumspect about where we are at right now.
So, what would I like George Brandis to say and do on Budget night? I’d like him to say that the new arrangements will allow the sole agency to radically rethink the attention given to the process of scriptwriting, the funding of writer/auteurs and the relationships that exist between writers, producers and directors in the Australian film industry. As well, he could say that he wants a strong, forthright and full commitment on behalf of all (Federal and State) funding and investment bodies to ensure that our best film-makers, those whose work has been internationally or locally recognized and rewarded, and our best writers, are working more fruitfully and more often. I’m not holding out much hope that he will.

I also doubt that Peter Garrett will offer any similar sentiments on behalf of the Labor Party either. He’s probably happy enough to go with the rebates idea that is at the core of the new additional funding arrangements. It would make his life as Arts spokesman easier. I’m sure he’ll have been encouraged to agree by the unions and others. Garrett is a brilliant spokesman on environmental issues but in his job as Arts spokesman I think he’s a bit of a dud. I suspect he thinks that if he doesn’t have to dream up his own film scheme to placate a vociferous, demanding and well-organised lobby group he wont be unhappy. That’s one more sleeping dog to let lie in the run-up to the election.

But, if Brandis, or even Garrett, were to take a leap and make those commitments however we might just be taking the first small step towards getting back our once-held status as a nation producing films of the highest international standards and reap the rewards, psyche and financial, for so doing.