French Film Festival: Melbourne Edition

As the festival is now upon us in Melbourne anyway, I’m sticking it up the front of Troppo for a while for your delectation. Below is a timetable of the French Film Festival in Melbourne together with a table of the films rating better than most. I hope it helps you get to see a film. And if you want to find the films in cities other than Melbourne, then feel free to hightail it to the festival website.

Top Picks

Friends from France ☆☆☆☆
Going Away ☆☆☆☆
Jules and Jim ☆☆☆☆
Me, Myself and Mum ☆☆☆☆
Our Heroes Died Tonight ☆☆☆☆
The 400 Blows ☆☆☆☆☆
Venus in Fur ☆☆☆☆

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What’s on? A Troppo Initiative starting with the British Film Festival

This image came up on a Google search for “What’s On”. It’s from The Central Tavern at Springfield Lakes, wherever that is. Seems nice enough, the cocktails can be very red by the looks of things, though there does seem to be quite a breeze blowing there. But I digress.

I’ve complained before about the strange state of the world. On the one hand we can set up fabulously useful markets for stuff on eBay and Amazon where you can not only find just what you’re looking for (if it’s available) but are also made aware of things that, based on what you’ve previously bought or liked, you might like, but you can’t get the same service for events on around you. And here the market for events is divided into the heavily marketed standard fare – mainstream films, and Big Arts for instance – and the not so much. Of this there’s what you might call ‘mainstream arthouse’ which is also heavily marketed, and then there are lots of other events like festivals where there are once off events. And here you’re at the mercy of the marketers of the festivals. For instance the British Film Festival started last night and had a film on that it said was pretty swish.  The reviews say it’s pretty horrible, but you have to do a bit of work to find that out.  True, with Google, it’s much less work than it used to be, but then there are a lot of events on. And I would check out perhaps one per cent of those events.

Meanwhile the government which should be in the business of funding public goods is nevertheless in the business of subsidising private goods.  It subsidises the Art Gallery to further its own interests and feather it’s own nest, and the Recital Centre, and the ABC and the Opera and so on. They’re all taking to the internet with their cool new apps. But that isn’t solving the problem, but rather replicating it. Why? Because us users continue to receive a service that’s fragmented which wastes our time and misleads us with marketing bumph rather than addressing our needs (to mainly go to events we’re likely to like.)

But there you go. Complaints are only ever surfaced so as to spur action to solve them – that’s one of our corest of core values on “Our Values Charter” at Troppo. So I’ve asked Anoop, Lateral Economics’ designer-cum-research-assistant in India to do the basic legwork necessary to produce a schedule of a film festival with our interests as potential patrons in mind. So instead of the marketing bumph on the official website, I’ve asked Anoop to go find the two best reviews he can find, and to put up the synopsis, and links to the trailer denoted by this iconTrailer  and the best reviews together with their ratings either as expressed by them in stars out of five, or as they have rated them themselves. So below the fold you’ll find the schedule for Melbourne. It immediately demonstrates the difference between marketing bumph and reviews. The opening movie is described on the official website as “A superb, celebratory crowd-pleaser, with a gorgeous performance from the affable Corden as an inspirational nobody who dared to follow his dream against all odds.”. Maybe that’s right, but you should at least know that the Guardian reviewer reported it as being a “weirdly miscast. . . treacly, tepid heartwarmer”. The bad news is that with this kind of shoestring operation, you would probably have liked to know this before last night when it was on.  But the rest of the festival is similarly unlocked for you. Imagine if markets in information actually worked a little more directly to actually help consumers! It really shouldn’t take much.

Melbourne Schedule

@Palace Cinema Como

Wednesday 20 November

7:00pm One Chance (Opening Night)Trailer
Triumph follows adversity follows triumph follows adversity in dizzying fashion in David Frankel’s contrived but still affecting biopic of Paul Potts, the phone salesman from Port Talbot who became the first winner of Britain’s Got Talent.
☆☆☆☆☆   The Guardian
☆☆☆☆☆   The Independent

Thursday 21 November

Mr Pip: and some things and people who give me the pip

Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are the rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried than before – more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.

I went to see Mr Pip last night. I checked out several reviews before I went and they were not encouraging. But I liked the sound of the story and wanted to go to a movie and so there I was. I recommend it – though readers are warned that I am prone to strong views when seeing movies – particularly when I see them on my own which I did with this one.

It’s a film made in New Zealand and I have to say that based on a number of New Zealand films I’ve seen – most particularly Once were Warriors and In my Father’s Den these New Zealanders seem to be much better than us at making serious movies lately. Ours are so timid by comparison – so often focused on fairly cute comedies of manners – like Priscilla and Muriel’s Wedding and usually bathed in the treacle of our national preoccupation with asking “what does it mean to be Australian?” – sorry I nearly lost consciousness just contemplating that last question. Such an interesting one. Note: Henry Lawson and cousin Banjo were no doubt good guys, but can we please move on?

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Lincoln

I went to see Lincoln last night and thoroughly enjoyed it.  The first five minutes was pretty dreadful with Lincoln meeting a couple of black soldiers who repeated the various lines of the Gettysburg Address to him. Ugggghhh. Death by anachronism.

But the film gets down to the business of its plot which is of course the passage of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. It’s dark and sombre with a cast of interesting characters, and Lincoln is well portrayed by Daniel Day Lewis. I had always imagined that Mary Todd was a dull, straightening sort, but who knows if that’s true and it doesn’t make for good cinema, so Sally Field’s Mary much more interesting and compelling First Lady isn’t dull.

The thing that’s so good about the film is its writing and acting. There are four or five scenes which are quite brilliantly written and acted, not least a major screaming match between Abe and Mary which ultimately homes in on their shared grief at the loss of their children.

Weaknesses of the film were that, despite some attempts to add a few warts, Abe is still Mr Nice Guy through and through. Despite the attempt at those warts, Americans really can’t quite get beyond their almost infantile relationship of the President as father and teacher of the nation. (This is the same thing that keeps me away from the West Wing, despite the President’s smartarsed irony he’s just such a Great Guy).

One of it’s biggest weaknesses is a kind of politically correct anachronism regarding race.  In his heart of hearts Lincoln was presumably an abolitionist despite his political contortions. He was also someone who seems to have related to black people and this would have had a fair bit to do with his background as a relatively poor country lad. He liked them. But black people would have been treated pretty damn badly as a matter of course in that world in ways that it’s hard to imagine not being drawn into as part of the ordinary discourse of life.  The word ‘nigger’ gets used a couple of times but the generalised discrimination of normal everyday life is no-where captured.  Had this been done, had we even seen the sainted Abe being drawn into it in some way – as I expect he almost certainly was – it would not only have been more realistic, but also a more powerful anti-racist polemic.

Anyway, go see the movie. It’s a great achievement, and not surprisingly for such an ambitious undertaking, there are a few things that might have been better done.

Family apps – where are they?

Osper is a smart new London startup. Here’s its pitch to Angel investors.

Osper is a cash card for young people with a mobile banking app with login for mum and dad (with parental controls) and login for young people (which teaches responsible money management).

The cash card can be used anywhere, is setup within minutes and doesn’t require bank visits or complex paperwork.

The parent app can instantly lock the card, track transactions in real time, and manage loans from the bank of mum and dad! The young person’s app allows them to manage their own savings goals.

That’s all well and good. I’m surprised that the only mainstream parental ‘app’ that’s at all common in my experience is ‘net nanny’ type apps which filter out porn from websites. One of the things I’ve always wanted was software that would enable me to give my kids time limits for recreational use of a computer or a TV. Oh and software on the house wifi to enable you to check out what people were using it for, or, if you don’t like that, to impose download limits on different users. Alas, I think with enough savvy some of these things are possible, but they weren’t easy. And there are only 24 hours in the day.

In defence of Lazenby, the Aussie Bond

With a few days to the local release of the James Bond movie Skyfall, it’s time for all patriotic Aussies to understand the case for the only home-grown James Bond, George Lazenby. I am not a Bond fan, but I’ve long maintained that his sole Bond film, 1969′s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (OHMSS), was at once the series’ best and among its most innovative. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments, with the urbane violence appropriate to the subject.

For most of the past 30 years, OHMSS has been a minority taste: it was usually referred as “the forgotten Bond film”, if it was referred to at all. But recent years have rehabilitated it to the point where it now sits with From Russia With Love and Casino Royale atop most lists of best-ever Bond films. And Lazenby is being re-assessed too.

(Above, some highlights from the final half-hour of OHMSS)

OHMSS began with a problem: Sean Connery was Bond, and he was heartily sick of it. When he turned down a sixth tour of duty, Bond producers Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman began looking for a remarkable replacement. Their search for the perfect Bond discovered no-one very impressive; both Richard Burton and a 22-year-old Timothy Dalton turned them down.

Enter George Lazenby – initially, through the door of the barber shop where Cubby Broccoli was having his hair cut. Lazenby was a Queanbeyan-raised former car salesman, ski champion and Army martial arts instructor who had made the trip to London and quickly become a highly-paid male model. When Broccoli saw Lazenby in a chocolate commercial he remembered their barber-shop encounter and called him in for auditions. He stood out from the uninspiring alternatives. He first turned up in a suit he had bought from a Saville Row tailor that had actually been made for Connery but never collected. He looked like Bond should look. In a later audition, he brawled like Bond too: one of his punches allegedly broke stuntman Yuri Borienko’s nose. That seemed to seal the deal. He was quickly signed. Unbeknownst to Broccoli, it was Lazenby’s very first acting role. Continue reading

To Rome with Love

Enthusiasm alert: Well folks, some of you are aware that I suffer from bouts of enthusiasm. In the cold light of day, perhaps things don’t look so good. So here I am blown away by something I’ve just seen. But then I’m on a plane travelling across the greatest ocean in the world sitting here in a cocoon with the wind wooshing by at 900 kms. I’ve had a delicious dinner of Indian rice and butter chicken aboard Air New Zealand. (I’m in economy, but it was delicious nevertheless). And I’ve had three glasses of wine.

So perhaps I’m wrong. But I’ve just watched Woody Allen’s “To Rome with Love”. So far Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer and Naomi Wolf in sheep’s clothing have managed to orchestrate for public consumption whatever Stage They’re Going Through from adolescent girls (Naomi) to suburban neurosis (Betty) to middle aged Have it All woman to retiree (Betty). Good luck to them. I haven’t read much of their books, but I’m sure they’re OK.

But Woody Allen has just done it with much more humour and artistry. We’ve had Annie Hall and Manhattan and then a string of hits and misses of middle age, and now with “To Rome with Love” we have a masterpiece of comedy surely equal to Chekov. Well to tell the truth I wouldn’t really know. Who am I to measure and equate Chekov and Woody? Just a schmuck at 35,000 feet. I wouldn’t know. But I recommend To Rome with Love unreservedly as an hilarious comedy and a great work of art.

I’m in my fifties (alas and double alas), and it appeals to me from that vantage point. Woody’s in his seventies. If you’re in your twenties or thirties, I don’t know if you’ll be that impressed – though it’s a good film in my opinion nevertheless. But it resonated with me at every level, humour, intellect, soul.

But go and see it and tell us what you think.

Postscript: you can read an insufferably pretentious review of it here, by someone who thinks that reviewing a film involves little more than showing how well read and viewed you are by ‘decoding’ all its allusions. I’m no expert in film but I’d say the allusions to other filmmakers are atmospheric ornaments. The story’s the thing, and its presentation. Here’s another review – this one as off point as the first but also at least clear in its dislike of the film. Both these reviews take what I think of as one of the best scenes in the film as a ‘joke’ – a man singing in the shower. It’s not a joke guys, it’s a metaphor. It’s the pinnacle in which utter ridiculousness provides the keyhole through which some genuine achievement occurs. Anyway, what can one say. All can say is that I was moved.

Postscript II: by the way, the trailer is not a good sampling from the movie leaving out the best scenes, particularly the opera scenes.

In case you missed it – A really great Woody Allen doco

The ABC has broadcast a two part doco on Woody Allen’s life which I really loved. He’s a remarkable person, and just keeps churning out films, great, good, bad and indifferent.

In any event by the end of watching this documentary I was an admirer of his, not just of his films, which is to say that he seems to be someone who’s been very ‘on the level’. He doesn’t have an exaggerated opinion of himself, and just does his films, for better or worse, year in year out.

Here’s the first episode on iView, and here’s the second.

Marilyn

Like lots of people, I’ve always been fond of Marilyn. She was an interesting and courageous person. I liked her apparent seriousness. And the cut of her ideological jib.  She was one of the few people who stood against McCarthyism. Yet I always harboured the view that this was just a kind of trick. That somehow I’d been suckered by her female charms – the carefully honed innocence awaiting the male fantasy of protection.

It’s very easy to be seduced by image. I think of another great icon of her era (or rather slightly afterward), Cassius Clay/Muhammed Ali. He was basically a bit of a nutter, and horrible to Joe Frazier who’d helped him through his darkest hour.  But I still wanted him to win.

Anyway, I heard this lecture on the ABC RN program Big Ideas (which is a really great program methinks, largely because it’s not a program, but an empty box into which the producers often put great stuff from around the world. It’s about Marilyn and it’s a knockout. Taken seriously by a pretty serious person who, though I suspect she’s also been seduced by the image, nevertheless shows us what a remarkable person Marilyn was.

You can stream the video from ABC Big Ideas here or go to the LRB site where you can do the same or read the lecture.  Highly recommended.