BRINGING BACK BIFF – BIFF 2008 PART II

BIFF 2008

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LATE AUGUST, EARLY SEPTEMBER: Saturday the 2nd of August 2008 and I went to see Late August, Early September at 2:30pm in Palace Centro 1. This was part of a 4 film retrospective on the early works of French director Olivier Assayas including Paris Awakens (1991), Irma Vep (1996), Late August, Early September (1999) and Sentimental Desires (2000). Also screening at BIFF that year was Boarding Gate from Assayas. While sitting down waiting for the film to start I noticed the girl from UQ with blonde hair whom I volunteered with at BIFF 2004. I was surprised and quite happy to see her but did not go over to her. The film started. One of the weirdest things for me in doing these retrospectives is realising how much I have forgotten about movies. Movies have always been my passion and I could effortlessly retain details about them as I struggled to remember things for school tests. It was a running joke with family and friends. Part of getting old is forgetting things you once knew and it has thrown me to realise that I have forgotten an awful lot about movies. Reading from the program I see the film is about a writer weighing up his career options and a group of friends in their late 20s over a year where one is terminally ill. It seems a slice of life film about the transition from youth to middle age and the tug of making money or being an artist. Being French it is also about sex and relationships. One thing I do remember is Virginie Ledoyen as the girlfriend of the writer having her own secrets. I recall being satisfied with the film, thinking maybe it meandered but it was interesting enough and even then felt a little nostalgic (1999 was a great year). But honestly I don’t remember much.

After the film I had to walk past the girl from UQ and I said hello and she said hello much to my relief. I struck up a conversation and we hung out throughout the afternoon. She was an incredibly kind and intelligent woman. She once described the film Raise the Red Lantern to me in such a beautiful way that I’ve always wanted to see the film ever since. She was doing a thesis on Asian cinema and spoke so well of China and filmmaking. She had a great way of looking at things and I really enjoyed our chats. She also had a gentle manner about her that I found very endearing. We did catch up again but I’m afraid we never really pursued it much further and part of that was I started a new relationship following BIFF 2008 and time just got away. I’m sure she’s doing well and kicking ass and do miss her. I of course had a crush on her a bit and fate had handed me two opportunities to hang out with her which I sadly squandered. It goes like that sometime.

 

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CARGO 200: I was attracted to see Cargo 200 in the sense that it was a Russian film looking back at the dying days of Soviet era in 1984. I think I knew it would be dark and satirical but I really didn’t know what I left myself in for when I attended Palace Centro 2 at 8:50pm Saturday night after walking back from New Farm. Following on from Hunger and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days last year, Cargo 200 was one of the roughest films I saw. Unlike those two, the horrible things depicted going on here were done with an intended heightened sense of reality. It involves a girl, daughter of a Communist Party leader being kidnapped and kept hostage by a police officer because well he’s just a sick fucker. No I don’t have a problem remembering this film. Well shot with specific choices throughout it’s obvious director Alexei Balabanov is good at what he does. There’s a lot of things that haunt, the girl’s empty threats about her father being a powerful man as we see his ignorance and ineptitude at her kidnapping. We’re desperate to see her rescued as the film centres more and more on the horrible police officer Captain Zhurov played expertly by Alexsey Poluyan an impotent mostly mute man who lives with his mother and tortures the girl (Agniya Kuznetsova)with almost casual cruelty. Alas Balabanov doesn’t deal in easy answers and happy endings. A well made film with something to say even if in an over the top mode but hard going and not for everyone.

 

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FOUR WOMEN: Sunday August 3 I went to Palace Centro 1 at 6pm to see Four Women from India. Cut from the same cloth as Padam Onnu: Oru Vilapam from BIFF 2005 in the sense that it was about the difficulties women face in Indian culture. Directed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan it told four separate stories about The Prostitute (Padmapriya), The Virgin (Geetu Mohandas), The Housewife (Manju Pillai) and The Spinster (Nandita Das). I found that film fascinating and moving as each woman in her story makes choices as best she can in the face of societal discrimination. Two things stand out from the packed screening which held a Q&A with Adoor Gopalakrishnan.

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Adoor Gopalakrishnan at the Q&A of Four Women at BIFF 2008 in Palace Centro 1 taken on old Motorolla phone with 1.3 Megapixel camera. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

When Adoor was asked about the symbolism of the location in one scene he replied that’s simply how the location was saying he had not intended anything more than that. This bewildered the interviewer and the crowd for whom such things had resonated. Secondly I recognised a female academic from my workplace at QUT at the screening and hailed from the subcontinent. I asked her later in the week what she thought of the film which I loved. She however told me that she would like to see different types of films being made about that issue or maybe focussing on other issues. It’s always nice to get a different perspective.

 

 

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THE MAN FROM HONG KONG: Following the Q&A with director Adoor Gopalakrishnan I darted across to Regent Cinema 1 in town to see my next film from the Ozploitation programme at 9pm. I’ve had a lifetime of watching American productions get made here but be set elsewhere. The Australian film industry I grew up with made some spectacular films The Lighthorsemen, Crocodile Dundee and Mad Max but I always wondered what it would be like to make a full action blockbuster in Australia. The closest to the visuals I guess would be Sydney getting shown off in Mission Impossible 2 but that seemed all wrong too. Little did I know the film had already been made and released in 1975. There are a whole bunch of films lost to time before the VHS era and part of the joy of going to a film festival was not only discovering these lost treasures but having them showcased and put up on the big screen. DVDs have helped too but you have to promote the films and get them into the culture again and as streaming takes off I’m seeing again a lot of classic titles just be lost to time.

Anyway the screening for The Man From Hong Kong in that beautiful classic downstairs Regent cinema late on a Sunday night was a film festival event in the best sense. Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith, the film starred Jimmy Wang Yu as a Hong Kong cop out in Australia to bring down a major villain played by George Lazenby (who I think fared here even better than he did in his James Bond outing). Along for the ride were Rebecca Gilling, a young Sammo Hung, and Roger Ward and Hugh Keays-Bryne (the crowd absolutely erupted when he got put in his place by Wang Yu) both of whom would go on to feature in the original Mad Max. Also Bill Hunter is in there somewhere because Bill Hunter had to feature in every Australian movie ever made. It’s the law. Since it’s the 1970s there’s a lot of racist jokes going around but Wang Yu lets his fists do the talking eventually winning the day. Lazenby who knew martial arts also dives thick into the action and it blew my mind when I saw a series of classic 1970s Australian sports cars present in a full on car chase through Australian country roads that could measure up to anything being done today. There’s also a fight on top of Ayers Rock, (not possible today due to recognition of the sacred value it holds to the Aboriginal people now being recognised as Uluru) and they blew up the floor of high rise in Sydney’s CBD. It’s trashy, dated, over the top and fun as hell. One of the most fun films I saw at any BIFF but it only got better.

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Most will know about the classic Australian directors who came of age in the Australian film renaissance, amongst them Gillian Armstrong, Philip Noyce, Peter Weir, Fred Schepsi, Bruce Beresford but I had never heard of Brian Trenchard-Smith who is one of Quentin Tarantino’s favourite directors. Who stepped forward after the film to do a Q&A with Trash Video legend Andrew Leovold. I think I attended with a mate of mine who I worked with at QUT and we had a blast. Trenchard-Smith like his more well known contemporaries has gone on to work overseas too but in films like Leprechaun 3 and 4. He also directed Nicole Kidman in her film debut BMX Bandits.

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The now long gone Regent 1 with Brian Trenchard-Smith holding court on the left during the Q&A. Apologies to the low quality but it gives you sense of the atmosphere hopefully. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

Here he regaled us of tales from The Man From Hong Kong‘s shoot including one where he set himself on fire to convince Lazenby to do the same for a fight scene. According to IMDB however when Lazenby shot the sequence he struggled to get his jacket off and subsequently received burns to his arm. You can see this in the finished film. Another close call can be seen in the final shot of the trailer where a car explosion saw the door come flying off towards camera barely missing the cameraman. Such stories are covered in the excellent documentary Not Quite Hollywood which screened at BIFF 2008 and covers a lot of the films from the BIFF 2008 Ozploitation program including The Man From Hong Kong. Apparently none of the car chase was filmed with closed roads or permits either. Brian also told us that the hero car a 1974 Chrysler Valiant Charger got smashed up for real and was then sent back to the wreckers and repaired. Then the car was sold and apparently when the buyer saw his rego number in the movie he understandably was taken aback. Image result for the man from hong kong

 

The film also features the classic Sky High by Jigsaw. When I was a teenager in the 1990s a group called Newtown did a cover of Sky High which was a favourite of mine. I was surprised and delighted when I heard the original in the film which charted around the world and is a bonafide classic. My goodness this film just has fuckin everything!  It might be hyperbole, all kinds of genre films got made over the years by the Australian film industry, but I think there’s something very special about The Man From Hong Kong. Check it out if you haven’t already. My friend Brian and I took off into the night and had a few drinks at the nearby Treasury casino before heading home to get up for the work next day. It had been a great weekend at BIFF 2008 and there were still lots of films to see. Little did I know the next day would change the course of my life.

-Lloyd Marken

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RANKINGS OF 24 BONDS and COUNTING PART TWO: 17 to 11

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17. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

I know how could I? So let’s talk about what works. George Lazenby, the weakest actor to inhabit the role, nails every scene he needs to. He brings a boyish vulnerability to the role and an absolute tenderness to his love scenes with Diana Riggs. Beyond that he is arguably the most physically talented individual to have ever played the role. Skidding down ice on his belly while firing a machine gun. Craig, Connery and Dalton threw themselves into stunts but Lazenby was comfortable doing them. When escaping from the goons halfway through and being rescued by Tracey he seems genuinely scared. I don’t know if Connery would’ve played it that vulnerable and that’s something to admire in Lazenby’s performance. Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny and Bernard Lee as M have a great scene where she changes Bond’s impulsive resignation letter to a request for leave. The ski scenes were ahead of their time and Telly Savalas makes a great villain as a very physical Blofeld. The famous final scene is absolutely devastating. In some ways we haven’t had a lot of screen time to see the relationship develop but Riggs and Lazenby have sold it. And then a car drives past and a machine gun is fired and Bond is a widow. We don’t see the fatal shot hit, it’s all from Bond’s point of view and we share in his shock. How many films feature a death like that of the love interest in a blockbuster franchise? It’s why the death still packs a punch. It is a great moment but here’s the thing. The rest of the movie is good but for my money not nearly as exciting as some of the films on this list. Give me another week and it could shoot straight up the list but for now it’s just not one of my favourites. Sorry.

16. Quantum of Solace

This is a real tough one. Capable of sliding or rising given any time of day. I like the song too and it is universally hated. Quantum disappoints for a lot of reasons. Like the second effort from Brosnan and Dalton it ramps up the action and like Brosnan’s without fully nurturing the plot. Vesper haunts this movie but is seldom mentioned by name and the true catharsis frustratingly takes place off screen at the end. Yet I love what they got right here. It’s dangerously as political as the Broccolis ever get with a plot about corporations making deals with dictators and undermining third world populaces. I got no problems with that, it makes Bond feel relevant. Olga Kurylenko is great as Camille, seen more as a protégé then a love interest. Bond is hurting here and so is the female lead making them partners on a parallel journey of revenge. M has some great scenes as does Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter which makes me scream out for him to come back and be given something substantial to do. The call back to Goldfinger works better for me than the one to The Spy Who Loved Me. Bond’s assault on the villain’s hideout in the finale is ludicrous but Craig’s physicality sells it. He basically jumps down into the garage and starts shooting. My favourite scenes are the ones with Giancarlo Giannini’s Rene Mathis reprising his role from Casino Royale. Spying is a tough and dangerous business. You can see why Bond treasures good allies and mourns far too many deaths. For me a lot of the action works but that car chase is over-edited. The best scene may not even involve Bond. Mathieu Amalric as Dominic Greene explaining how Quantum works to a military dictator is the villain’s highpoint.

15. Moonraker

When I was a kid Moonraker was one of the best Bonds ever. It came from the time of Superman and Star Wars and looked the same in terms of film stock and being broadcast on Channel 10. People fighting giants on cable cars, laser fights in space, a city with streets made entirely of water (this could have been my first introduction to the city of Venice) with a speed boat and gondola chase, a fight in a glass store where everything gets trashed and a skydiving sequence where our hero jumps without a parachute and then has to fight someone for one before they hit the ground. Too bad they got to waste time with all this kissing crap. Then I grew up and the plot became ludicrous and the film a re-make of the better The Spy Who Loved Me. And yet what’s not to love. Lois Chiles can’t measure up to Barbara Bach but she’s capable and beautiful. Look at how they play the scenes in space. Bond stays in command and knowledgeable but its clear Holly Goodhead is the expert here and piloting the craft. Jaws was a great villain diminished by continuing to fail so the producers correctly just made the audience favourite a good guy. I always liked that he got a happy ending and helped Bond. Although at 10 I never noticed just how great a rack his geeky girlfriend had. I mean is she geeky? She wears glasses. That doesn’t make you geeky so what the hell am I talking about?! Thoughts for another time. I’m a sucker for the theme tune. The least liked of Shirley Bassey’s contributions it’s still meant she’s done 3 songs for the series and nobody else has done even 2. Go Shirley! Special mention to Michael Lonsdale as villain Hugo Drax. Every line he delivers in that condescending snobbish voice is a joy but “Mr Bond, you persist in defying my efforts to provide an amusing death for you.” has to be a Meta highlight.

14. From Russia With Love

From Russia With Love is beloved by critics. It’s Bond before Bond became too much of a formula. That fight scene with Robert Shaw as Red Grant is over 50 years old and holds up remarkably well when you think of what was contemporary at the time and how much fight scenes have developed since. There’s a great love interest, a staggeringly good ally for Bond and a plot that allows itself to slowly develop things without worrying the audience has ADHD. Look at something like The World is Not Enough which actually had a crack at developing strong and complex characters for comparison. It’s admirable but TWINE shoves an action scene in regularly just to make sure the kids aren’t bored. From Russia With Love builds them organically through their story. Hypocritically it’s down on my list because my memory is that it was still a bit too slow and boring for my tastes. This is definitely another one that could shoot up the list on a different week.

13. Never Say Never Again

Eon didn’t make this movie. It’s a remake of Thunderball but Sean Connery is playing James Bond and that makes it a James Bond movie okay! You’ll be hard pressed to find those that don’t rate Thunderball better than this 1983 effort so I submit it could just be that whole child of the 80s thing again. I saw it in the 90s which meant that I’ve always seen it through nostalgic eyes. It’s got the look in the film stock once again and yes it was on Channel 10. Connery here is in better shape than he was twelve years earlier for his last Eon production and he’s enjoying himself. Moore gets a lot of credit for being the funny Bond but Connery was just as much a master of the dead pan and there is a lot of wit in this film not to mention Connery is a good sport about the commentary given to Bond’s age. I love the bit where Connery in a ballroom whispers to Kim Basinger’s Domino “Your brother is dead. Keep dancing!”. Cheesetastic! There’s an excellent bike chase, Barbara Carerra hamming it up wonderfully as a femme fatale 12 years before Famke Janssen would be celebrated for her work as Xenia Onatopp and Klaus Maria Brandauer sulking about Bond magnificently. Yet it is seeing an older Connery, an icon of the 60s looking as good as ever in the early 80s as Bond that is the real draw here just before he disappeared into white haired/bald Connery with facial hair and became just as big a star as he had ever been as Bond.

12. Tomorrow Never Dies

We’re at the half way mark with Tomorrow Never Dies a solid but unexciting Bond film. The action is ramped up but there is enough wit and characterisation to make it more than a series of set pieces. Michelle Yeoh a charismatic performer holds her own and is presented as an equal in Chinese agent Wai Lin. Jonathan Pryce savours the opportunity to be outlandish and send up media barons as Elliot Carver. Judi Dench as M and as always gets some nice moments. Pierce Brosnan in only his second time out completely and utterly owns the role. But it is a basic by the numbers adequate Bond. Why it ranks so high is the fact that I’m a Brosnan guy and its relative youth means the stunts remain more interesting to me. If there have been a few on the list so far  that could rank higher next week this is the first that could rank lower but I do love it. My favourite sequence is when he gets taken into a room and beat up. Managing to get the upper hand he eventually subdues his several opponents. Pryce is doing a presentation downstairs and to embarrass him Bond pulls the power to the building. The look on Pierce’s face says it all. He then goes back to his hotel and plays cards staying up with vodka and a pistol waiting for more attackers to come get him. The scene is classic Bond and harkens back to the darkness of the character and the Connery years. I believe Brosnan was always pushing for stuff like this but it is Craig who has gotten to play it more. Instead of enemy henchman Teri Hatcher comes as Paris, a former lover and now the wife of Carver. This is a Bond of regrets and their love scene is passionate. When Paris is murdered by Vincent Schiavelli’s eccentric hit man and Bond manages to get the drop on him there is a great deal of satisfaction. By the way Brosnan wore a Royal Naval uniform in this one so we’re long overdue for Craig to get polys out. I don’t care how tall he is.

11. Diamonds Are Forever

Diamonds maybe forever but Sean Connery no longer plays Bond. Most things in life after all are not forever. After Lazenby got arrogant and walked away or his Bond didn’t make as much money Connery got a sixth go at the role. Who knows which reason is accurate but hint-Connery got 1.25 million dollars which set up the Scottish International Education Fund and United Artists commitment to produce two films he wanted to do. Sounds like United Artists at least wanted him back. In hindsight we got lucky. After all they couldn’t keep going back to this well but thankfully they did and we got Connery in the 70s. It’s an odd film. Tracey Bond is never mentioned by name but Connery is typically ruthless in tracking down Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the beginning and killing him (not really but thinking so anyway) while on personal leave. Imagine if Salvalas had returned to take on Connery? Or Lazenby?! Or if Connery had done the previous film but projected some of that lovesick vulnerability that Lazenby did? Missed chances. But afterwards not a lot is made of the past or even of Connery’s return. Moneypenny is still flirting and asking for a ring. Really? M is still M and Connery ends up with some girls and is still his cheeky self. What’s interesting is Sir Sean is not really out of shape but there is a little puppy fat and the temples are allowed to show grey hair along with those 70s sideburns. He looks visibly older and while not out of place in the 70s fashion it reminds us how much the world has moved on in the past 10 years.  Which is why maybe the primary setting of 1970s Las Vegas matters so much? In a town known for being seedy and about gluttony a little tired and older Bond suits the setting. What’s neat though is Connery looks comfortable driving a muscle car, sporting the sideburns and being at the centre of a more silly plot, silly female leads and even a camp non-threatening but delightfully witty Blofeld played here by Charles Gray. God help me but I just love Diamonds Are Forever. It’s interesting to note that while Moore often has some hard edged scenes in his first couple of Bonds, Connery is here alongside some of the fun cheeky stuff that Moore would become known for. He does well. “I was just walking my rat and I seem to have gotten lost.”