Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sydney Film Festival 2010: Last Train Home

"Taste the bitterness first and the sweetness will follow"

The Three Gorges Dam, the biggest hydroelectric dam in the world was built in the Yangtze to support China’s rapid and unstoppable growth. This development changed the countless lives of those living near the river. Some rejected its construction while others accepted the dam as an accepted part of China’s quest in becoming an industrial force. This was the main premise of Up The Yangtze a documentary I saw two or so years ago. Thankfully, instead of wasting running time on political mumbo jumbo which would have inevitably bore the life out of me, the film focused on the personal stories of the people directly affected by the dam. 

Last Train Home, another documentary exploring similar social issues and also made by the same creators, took a similar approach. While it could have easily taken the political shove-your-ideas-down-my-throat-instead-of-letting-me-think-for-myself route (Michael Moore, anyone?), the film instead took the well-chosen cinematic route. The film didn’t feel like a documentary, it felt like a story that was real. The way the film is structured infers a narrative, the way it is shot suggests a quiet grandeur of cinematic proportions. The difference between the two films is the way they captured the interactions between the subject and the camera. In Up The Yangtze the camera is seamlessly invisible, save for face-to-face interviews. It achieves a state where the camera is able to capture the rawest form of emotion. There was a consistent sense of honesty and integrity throughout the entire film.

 In Last Train Home the initial interviews and the interactions between people felt a bit scripted and more aware of the camera. This is by no means a flaw. As we see later on, in a pivotal scene when a father hits his daughter for saying ‘fuck’ in his house, the daughter turns to the camera, and yells: “You want to film the real me? This is the real me!” All those bottled emotions finally get to bubble to the surface. The daughter holds a grudge against her parents for leaving her and her brother to be looked after by her grandmother while they travel to the city for work in order to give their children an education. While she tells us this, it felt scripted and I get the feeling she’s not telling me the truth. She is essentially a gathering storm, suppressed and unaffected at first but we feel something brewing, and unleashed (to borrow the Syd film fest’s tagline) later on.

 I felt angry towards the girl but at the same time I completely understand where she’s coming from. She is living in a country undergoing industrial change, indirectly impacting on the change in values. I see a girl losing the traditional values of Asian family life and is being forced to embrace the values of “new” China. She may appear completely selfish but I can only see her as a victim of a massive cultural shift happening in her country – a change both Up The Yangtze and Last Train Home capture so well.

Directed by Lixin Fan

Screenshots from trailer.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Versatile Blogger Award + A chance to acknowledge 15 blogs I love

The always wonderful filmgeek who writes for Final Cut has kindly awarded me the Versatile Blogger Award. So now I'm going to share the love around by acknowledging 15 other bloggers I've recently discovered and now read religiously. But first:

  1. Thank the person who gave you this award. (tick!)
  2. Share 7 things about yourself. 
  3. Pass the award along to 15 who you have recently discovered and who you think fantastic for whatever reasons! (in no particular order)
  4. Contact the blogs you picked and let them know about the award.
Now it's time to talk about myself. Everyone go to the loo if you need to and grab some snacks and drinks because this is going to be a looooooong list. Yes, I love myself what are you going to do? Kidding, I'll keep this brief (reluctantly).

1) Every now and then I like to buy myself a massive cheeseburger and pretend that it's a Big Kahuna Burger while drinking a $5 milkshake and pretend to be Uma Thurman/John Travolta (depending on my mood)
2) I know the complete dialogue from A Bug's Life by heart
3) I fell asleep watching The Godfather (to be fair, I was talking about the third film)
4) My lifelong dream is to be photographed by either The Sartorialist or Jak and Jil
5) I fall asleep to music by Azure Ray. They have really soothing voices. I recommend their music to insomnia sufferers
6) My favourite things to eat in a cinema are Pringles and M&Ms. To drink: Vitamin Water or a latte
7) I always laugh when I watch people eat. Try it. Everyone looks so funny when they're eating.

Now the awards go to...

Sunset Gun written by Kim Morgan - The most beautiful blogger ever. She's super gorgeous and super smart. She writes incredibly insightful and lengthy posts about films, I always go to her blog for inspiration especially when I get a case of writer's block.

Last Night With Riviera written by Matt Riviera - A Sydney-based blogger who always puts up interesting posts. He's the very definition of a film buff. Plus, his Life in 100 films series are probably the most entertaining and inspiring posts I've ever read.

Jak an Jil written (or photographed) by Tommy Tan - A fashion blogger whose photos make me squeal in delight. I love how he always focuses on the details.

Epistemysics written by Adam - the funniest theatre blogger in the blogosphere. I really like how he reviews the theatre programs as well as the actual play.

The Style Rookie written by Tavi Gevinson - She's sat in front rows of fashion shows, been in Vogue, has very smart fashion posts and has a quirky and unique sense of style. And she's only thirteen. ( I think she's just turned fourteen though).

Daily Film Dose written by Alan Bacchus - Film reviews are always honest and really funny. The blog lives up to its name and is the most prolific blog I know.

Stale Popcorn written by Glenn Dunks - Another Australian blogger. Has interesting commentaries on everything related to film. 

Books on the Nightstand written by Ann Kingman and Michael Goodness - This is a blog/podcast that has book recommendations and discussions about books. They're responsible for my very long list 'To Read' list. Since both Ann and Michael work in publishing you also get an inside peek into the industry. 

BOOOOOOOM written by Jeff Hamada - The most updated design/art blog I visit. Always has interesting posts and every single one is pure eye candy. Note: There's 7 Os (I always forget that).

Style Salvage written by Steve and EJ - There's a plethora of fashion blogs out there about women's fashion. This one focuses on men and it has become my go-to place for inspirations and men's fashion reads. 

Garance Dore written by Garance Dore - She's one of the reasons why I'm angry at my parents for not being French and not making me french. Effortlessly elegant and takes beautiful photographs. And that accent!

Scare Sarah written by Sarah - A horror fan? You'll love this blog. Not a horror fan? You'll love it anyway.

Moleskinerie written by Armand Frasco - I have an unhealthy obsession with Moleskines and this blog just adds fuel to the fire. It's got fantastic posts about everything Moleskine, including artworks, Moleskine user profiles and Moleskine news. In short, it's Moleskine mecca.

Racso Ledger written by Douglas Racso - Very comprehensive filipino film blog. It makes me feel like I'm back home whenever I read one of his posts. He also shares similar film taste with me, so that's a bonus.

BryanBoy written by Bryan Boy - If you read about fashion, you know about BryanBoy. Marc Jacobs named a bag after him and is definitely one of the "superbloggers". I love how his blog is half travel, half fashion. Always funny, always interesting, sometimes bitchy. His twitter is also great.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Coming Soon: The FILM MUSIC ART LuckySeven Cinematheque

I thought I would give everyone a sneak peek into my latest film project. Knowing how much I procrastinate (I was watching rhythmic gymnastics videos on youtube before posting this, don't ask) this project might fail. But I'm really, really excited about this because it's really going to build my knowledge on cinema and fill in the many gaps that continually make me feel out of place in film buff conversations (who's this Bergman I keep hearing about? And what the hell does cinema verite mean?). I'm going to treat it like a film study class. You can join me if you wish and it could be like a film club. But because I'm currently in my final year of high school and drowning in an ocean full of assessment tasks and exams, I might not be able to begin doing this very soon. Or each one might take really long to do. I mean, I still need to finish my Sydney Film Festival reviews. But I just want to get this out there and see if people are willing to join with me.

So the idea is simple: I choose seven films, hence the "LuckySeven" - fugly name I know but I couldn't think of any cinematic associations to the number seven - and they're films that fit a certain description. It could be anything from similarities in the title, films with certain actors or made by particular directors. It could belong to a particular sub-genre in film or contain a single theme or idea. Anything really. I choose the seven films based on their significance in cinema, people's recommendations and some of my own personal favourites.

 I've made four "LuckySevens" so far and I've made posters to accompany them.

The first one is called: "Two is Company" and the rule here is the title has to have two names of characters in them, separated with "and". Simple.

The next one is called 'Killer Animals' and they're movies that are based on...well...killer animals.

The third one includes films that star Meryl Streep in them. It's called 'Meryl's Choice'. Get it? Meryl's choice? Like Sophie's Choice? Okay, never mind. Here's the poster with her beautiful face on it.

The fourth LuckySeven focuses on a particular idea: love destroyed or created by war. It's called 'Make Love, Not War'.

About 90% of the films here I've never seen before so I'm super excited to experience them. But for now, I'm going to go hunting for DVD copies of the films in sales bins. If you're interested in joining me with this project please e-mail me, or comment. You don't have to be a blogger to take part.

P.S. I designed the posters myself and they're copyrighted. I think (where do I do that?) And I don't know why the Streep poster is edging towards the left. I think I messed up the HTML :(

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sydney Film Festival 2010: Bill Cunningham New York

Clothes are like people’s armour to the reality of the world”

Bill Cunningham captures fashion photographs for the New York Times and is well-known for his street and social pictures. “We all get dressed for Bill” Anna Wintour says. We see her briefly stop for Bill while ignoring the other photographers. “When he puts his camera down, it’s death”.

Bill is a man of contradictions. Even though he adores people who wear the most fabulous clothes and those who have the most eccentric personal styles, he himself is the antithesis of his photographic subjects. He wears a blue worker’s coat on a daily basis. Practical? Yes. Fashionable? Not really. He also uses tape to patch up a raincoat because “they’re going to be ruined anyway”. There is a refreshing nature in his character, he’s not the kind of person one would expect to be successful in an industry that functions by portraying a certain, and an idealised image.

Halfway through the film I was struck with a question. Why on earth did Bill pursue a lifelong career in fashion photography? I mean, why fashion? Why not architectural, commercial or maybe even travel photography? Why not portraits?
Then I hear him talk about his photographs. He literally loses his breath from excitement when he talks about the tiniest of details. Tiny fragments of beauty that many miss and only few can notice. He photographs fashion because it’s what makes him get out of bed in the morning. It’s pure passion.

Bill doesn’t just capture pictures of clothes but the mentality, the mood, the personality of the people he photographs. Isn’t fashion just an extension of our inner self? A visual representation of who we are or, in most cases, who we want to be. He doesn’t just capture the trends he, as one person in the film puts is: “captures life”.

There was a particular scene that made me cry, the interview when he was asked why he goes to church. There’s a moment of silence then he puts his head down and weeps.
Although it was highly emotional and allowed us to see another side of Bill, I felt that the interviewer was being too pushy. Instead of letting us see it come out naturally in a less impetuous setting, we see the reaction forced out of Bill. Yes, he did warn him first that they were going to be very personal questions. But something about that scene made me very uneasy.

Maybe this is just me becoming protective over Bill. In less than an hour, I fell immediately in love with him. Bill to me became like the role model grandfather. The one that always gave you the most insightful advice about life and how to live it, the one whose random thoughts said out loud can easily become a life motto, or a quote to live by for the younger generation.

This may sound very cliché but this film was truly inspirational and, well, changed my perception of the world.

I’ve always wanted to move to New York and I’ve always thought that to survive in such a harsh city brimming with the most competitive people in the world, one needs a heavy dose of narcissism, superficiality and vanity. This film made me re-think that attitude.
It’s very easy to dismiss the fashion world as being materialistic, superficial and shallow. But people like Bill show us that even in an industry where appearances and images are paramount, scratch the surface and you’ll always find a deeper purpose.

Next Sydney Film Festival review: Last Train Home. Sorry for taking so long with these.

Photo Credits: 1, 2,3,4

Friday, June 11, 2010

Sydney Film Festival 2010: The Loved Ones

"Is it finger-lickin' good?"

It certainly was. We're only halfway through the year and Australia has already given us a two-punch knockout with Animal Kingdom and now this.

I cannot tell you how much I've been craving for a fun, well-crafted horror/comedy film. Re-watchings of Drag Me To Hell has not been enough. The Loved Ones gave me the fix I so desperately needed. It was outrageous, fun, gruesome, and totally wild - all blended (with a dash of pink, of course) in one heart-stopping night at the movies.

The film's plot is simple: A timid high school teen (Robin McLeavey), with the aid of her father, captures a fellow schoolmate (Xavier Samuel) after being rejected to go to the school prom with him. So they decide to hold a private prom in their house. To say anything more would ruin the whole film. Just think Carrie meets Saw.

 McLeavey plays a character here that I think, upon its release, will fast become an icon. She's just so funny and..well...crazy. Literally!

It has those moments where you go: "they're not going to actually do that, are they?"
Then they do. Laughter and gasps ensue.
 Plus the soundtrack is brilliant. They chose the best song as an anthem for a character in the film. Everytime I hear that song now, I giggle.


Even though it was fun I have to point out a very minor flaw. The zombie-people in the basement didn't really work for me. Yes, it did go with the ridiculousness and the absurdity of the story but when they were revealed  I just went "Really? Zombies?" Maybe it's just me getting really sick of the zombie genre, or seeing zombies on screen but for a film that had so many fresh ideas the whole weird monster/pet in the basement idea felt a bit like stale air. However, according to the director, the "method" that they used to create these zombie-people is scientifically possible, so the whole idea doesn't really take you out of the film's world.

Apart from that I think the film has enough goriness to satisfy audiences who like that aspect of the horror genre. It has well-drawn and interesting characters, plus smart and witty one-liners to satisfy people who like their horror films to be "smart". It provides plenty of laughs for people who like to laugh and at a sweet and short running time of just 90 minutes, it's short enough so that people who always complain about long movies, can't complain with this one.

So basically it's an audience pleaser.

Photo Credits:
Blue King's Hat, Running, Blue Injection, Daddy, Poster/Title

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sydney Film Festival 2010: The Tree

"It's not a tree, it's an octopus!"

My second film of the festival, which I saw at the magnificent State Theatre was also the closing film for the Cannes Film Festival. Directed by Julie Bertucelli and starring Charlotte Gainsbourg which you might remember from Von Trier's Antichrist from last year (I certainly remembered her, in fact I couldn't get that film out of my head when I was watching this).

The story is about a family living in rural Australia and coping after the sudden death of their father.

Gainsbourg plays the mother struggling to keep the family together and a young actress, Morgana Davies plays the daughter who discovers that the spirit of her father has transferred to the tree next to their house. She talks to him there, plays with him and even built a memorial for him with his belongings scattered around in the branches.

Although we hear the faint whispers of the father's voice, the film never takes the supernatural route instead focusing on the drama within the family. The tree only serves a representation of the father, a tangible entity and  one that literally hovers, protectively, over the household.

The Tree explores the necessary 'moving on' part in the grieving process, and tells a simple story of a family trying to live their lives after a terrible loss.

The film was shot beautifully, having a light, airy feel to it during the daytime and a very dark, quiet atmosphere during the night - which complimented the setting quite well.

But it felt like it was made for television with one person in twitter tweeting that the story is better suited as a novel, not so much as a film. I cannot recall any scene that resonated or became memorable. I feel like I've seen all this before.  The performances were fine, especially by Gainsbourg and Davies. But honestly, I found it hard to write this review because there's really not much to say about it. It wasn't terrible but it was lukewarm.

Screenshots from the trailer.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

NOTES ON THE GO: My thoughts so far about the Sydney Film Fest

So I'm currently sitting outside the Dendy Cinema waiting for my next screening of 'Last Train Home'. I've just seen another documentary about one of fashion's most influential photographers, Bill Cunningham. I'm not going to write my review of the film just yet because I feel I should give it some time first and really think about it. I think most of the films I've seen deserves more time for contemplation (...or maybe Jesue's just too lazy to write a review so quickly, maybe Jesue procrastinates too much, maybe Jesue doesn't know what to think about the films and have no fucking clue what they're actually about...) Or maybe my cynical self needs to just shut the hell up.
Moving on...The film festival so far has been fantastic. In every screening there's always a sense of community and an atmosphere that can only come out when you put a whole bunch of people who truly love film together in one room. This is something that I find is lacking in most of my movie-going experiences. I love it when people applaud and cheer when the credits start rolling and I love it when people share a collective gasp from a particularly shocking moment. I love it when the whole room suddenly goes dead quiet when an emotional scene is playing in front of us and I love it when the walls of a theatre literally shake when the whole audience laughs. Yes, my name is Jesue and I'm a film festival addict.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Sydney Film Festival 2010: Last Address (short) and Beautiful Darling

I just had my very first film festival experience and I must say I was very impressed with the film festival crowd. Everyone was dead quiet when they needed to be. Everyone laughed at the right time and the lady sitting next to me was even taking notes during the film, so I was comfortable enough to use my Moleskine to take down notes myself without the fear of looking like a stuck up wanna-be film critic. It was a whole page of chicken scratches but I was still able to decipher it afterwards (I'm getting really good at note-taking in the dark - so yay for me).

But let's talk about the movies.

Last Address
The documentary had no actual “plot” to speak of or any kind of complex film structure, and it contained no dialogue. Just simple exterior shots of a number of houses and apartments in New York that had been inhabited by people who have passed away due to an AIDS related disease. It's a tribute to remember the victims of an incredibly sad epidemic that took the lives of so many people. The interesting thing was there were no photographs of the people, just their names and the address and of course, the shots of the houses and the neighbourhoods surrounding them. It was very quiet save the noise of an occasional car passing by or the flapping wings of a pigeon flying overhead.

Using the images of their homes was very touching and made a more significant impact because those places that they lived in ultimately became a second memorial for them. When homes are vacated, our physical presence leaves yet somehow a fragment of our spirit lingers. It reminded me of what Alain de Botton wrote in his book Architecture to Happiness: "It is in dialogue with pain that many beautiful things acquire their value. Acquaintance with grief turns out to be one of the more unusual prerequisites of architectural appreciation

Beautiful Darling
This is another documentary based on the life of one of Warhol’s Superstars – the aptly named Candy Darling, a transgender whose single goal in life was to become a famous Hollywood superstar. She died at the age of just twenty-nine and she wasn’t able to do everything she set out to do. But she did enough. She was an inspiration for many.

On the surface, she is superficial, self-obsessed and narcissistic but she grew up being constantly rejected by people around her, no one really understood her but she would never have survived if she wasn’t any of those three things.

There was an interview in the film with someone commenting that Warhol always liked people who had shame, he was attracted to them. Candy Darling felt like she had shame but it was always quickly hidden. She hid it behind a veil made up of her outlandish personality. It made it more painful to watch the clips of her talking about her life, you could see she was hurt and that there were other things going on inside but she really had no other way to express that.

The most touching moment in the film was in the end, when one of her close friends, Jeremiah Newton, was fussing over her funeral arrangements and wanting her to be safe. It wasn’t very subtly placed in the film, it was preceded with a clip of Candy talking about how there was never anyone special in her life, and how she didn’t have a man to take care of her. But for some reason, it worked and it was hard not to shed a tear.

Photo Credits: 1 and 2 (Beautiful Darling)


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