BRINGING BACK BIFF – BIFF 2005 PART II

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And we’re back talking about the Brisbane International Film Festival, the first post about BIFF clocked in 2,988 words, the first about BIFF 2005 at 2,305 words so it may relieve some viewers to know this is razor thing at 1631 words. Recaps on BIFF 2007 and BIFF 2008 will most likely be split into parts too. We’ll see about BIFF 2017.

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P.S.: My first showcase screening was for the movie P.S. starring Laura Linney on Tuesday, the 2nd of August 2005. It was screened in the old IMAX screen South Bank Cinema 5 which was massive. I don’t know if any change was made to the projection of the 35mm film but it was big cinema with a big crowd for such a character based movie, another benefit of early screening at festivals. I was a big fan of the leads Linney and Topher Grace and liked the idea of the story, a university administrator who finds herself falling for a younger man who reminds her of a long lost love from when she was about that age. I’ll admit how cool she looked in the above picture rocking that shawl got me interested in seeing it too. How you perceive films changes over time, I of course saw things from the perspective of the young male who would be perfectly happy to bone someone as beautiful as Laura Linney. As I get older I understand the trepidation of doing such a thing with a much younger person. Yet perhaps I’ve always been an old soul, Linney’s character is full of regrets and anger about how life can turn out and that was something I was only too keenly in touch with at only 24 going on 25. I had already accumulated skeletons in my closet, disappointment at my prospects and shame at my changing body. Yet I remained a romantic and enjoyed love stories that recognised that life isn’t always perfect but there can be solace and respect and affection if you meet someone good for you and that you have to be prepared to not hide away due to fear and bitterness. I’ve read reviews that weren’t so kind to P.S. but I enjoyed it and whatever your misgivings about the film you can’t deny that there is one particularly powerful scene which I will attach below. This scene says so much about life and ageing and has always stayed with me.

 

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VANISHING POINT: Take a look at the picture above which was in the BIFF pamphlet. Now who doesn’t want to see that movie! In the age of internet, dvds, streaming, etc more and more films get remembered but in Australia 2005 you would’ve been hard pressed to get a copy of Vanishing Point much less see it on the big screen. Another film from the Blacktop Dreams program I was seriously excited to see Vanishing Point on Wednesday 03AUG2005 in South Bank Cinema 3 at 9:20pm. On the surface it has a fairly minimalist plot, the power of it was in it being part of the long forgotten past and an indulgent B-grade action film. Naked girls riding motor bikes and stunts galore. As previously mentioned there was something in car chases from this era where you feel the speed of the vehicles, there is always a sense that tyres won’t hold, the car could veer out of control and it makes you feel more connected to the action. This film was made in 1971, before The French Connection, barely after Bullitt and The Italian Job. The kind of car chases I grew up regularly seeing in film and tv were in their infancy and it is remarkable how much this film has never been bettered for what it captured. Every shot is beautiful and creates such kinetic energy, a wonderful collaboration of cinematography and editing. As time has gone on though the central conceit of the lead character Kowalski broken down by life and effectively committing one long act of suicide has only increased in value. The film does reflect the disillusionment of the time, raging against the man, (Kowalski is a man formerly of respectful institutions who has completely turned his back on them) but a sense that the flower power is over too and offered no solace to Kowalski either. With minimalist dialogue too the of vagueness of why Kowalski is doing what he is doing only makes it more powerful. I find it a lot deeper now but at the time it was immediately a BIFF highlight.

 

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PADAM ONNU: ORU VILAPAM: Another Showcase screening at BIFF 2005 was the French actioner 36 Quai des Orfevres which I was very tempted to see but I was committed to seeing films from all around the world and so instead I saw on Thursday the 4th of August 2005 in South Bank Cinema 4 at 6:30pm Padam Onnu: Oru Vilapam from the Fifty Years of Malayalam Cinema program. Directed by T.V. Chandram who started out as an actor and an assistant in the film industry. The title translated into English means Lesson One: A Wail. The film follows a talented young girl growing up in rural India who is good at her studies but the culture around her wants her to get married off and some of these marriages don’t last. I was caught up in the narrative of this film and the plight of the young girl played by Meera Jasmine (who won Best Actress at the Indian National Film Awards for her performance) which was so affecting. I still haven’t seen the French film.

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GATTACA: As part of the CineSparks program for young people there were free screenings in the Suncorp Piazza just a stone’s throw away from the South Bank Cinemas. I went over during one of my volunteering stints and watched Gattaca (which I had seen on VHS a few years earlier) at the Piazza 10am on Friday the 5th of August. I was moved more this time, the ending is quite sublime. Additionally for those who are fans or not fans of the actor Jude Law I urge you to check out his performance in this film which is very impressive. I won’t spoil it for you here but the plot is about a young man played by Ethan Hawke who is growing up in a world where most people have their children genetically conceived. This is not cloning but your offspring are essentially a combination of the best of your genes. Hawke’s parents conceived him the old fashioned way at the advent of all of all of this. With birth  defects rare a class divide has sprouted up, people pick partners based on the best combination of genes and those with weak hearts, bad eyesight are doomed to less fruitful employment, etc, etc. In some ways these are truths that have long existed but this kicks it into another gear. Yet there have always been people that fight the status quo, that dream big and pursue their goals no matter the obstacle. There is no gene for the human spirit.

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PIN BOY: Pin Boy screened Saturday 30JUL2005 in South Bank Cinema 4 at 2:10pm. I may have seen it then but I believe more likely I saw it at another session on Friday the 5th of August in South Bank Cinema 4 too at 1:50pm. I probably just got to go in during my Volly Shift, not planning on seeing the film or buying a ticket but it seemed interesting. It was from Argentina and told the story of a young man from the country working in  manually operated ten pin bowling alley. I knew that once upon a time bowling alleys had been like this in my country and I was keen to see another place in the world that I may not see without the power of film. I’m afraid the festival was catching up with me and I fell asleep during the film at a couple of points and its so long ago I can’t tell you much more except that it was interesting and I wish I had not snoozed a bit.

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NEAR DARK: We’re heading towards the final weekend of BIFF 2005 where on Friday the 5th of August 2005 I went to Regent Cinema 1 to watch another Blacktop Dreams film  Near Dark at 5pm. Kathryn Bigelow’s career was not in hyper drive at that time but Near Dark was a cult classic and everybody loved Point Break. This has a lot going for it, made in the wake of Aliens sharing certain cast members, nostalgia for the 80s, a vampire movie. On the point of Jenette Goldstein, Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen they are brilliant. If you only know Goldstein as Vasquez in Aliens then check her out here and Bill Paxton was always such a character. It’s very sad he is no longer with us. I thought I would love this film and was a little underwhelmed by my reaction. Its true it was gorgeous looking film, my heart was warmed just to see Pepsi signs the way they used to be and the vampire characters were an interesting idea for how to see vampires. Essentially a family unit and white trash Image result for near darkrather than European aristocracy. Image result for interview with a vampireThey didn’t look sexy, they looked miserable but also loyal to each other. Think about the last words Lance Henriksen’s character says in the film and you kind of have a really strong theme there. Maybe it is due a re-watch.

Well that’s it for Part II, hopefully we’ll conclude 2005 with Part III. I hope you’re enjoying this look back at not just film but the history of the festival itself and the inspiration it can provide to young minds far from the streets of Hollywood and open up the whole world’s cultures, regions and histories to those who can’t afford to travel far.

-Lloyd Marken

 

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SPECTRE LIVES UP TO ITS TITLE IF NOT ITS PREDECESSOR

Casino Royale and Live and Let Die. The two Ian Fleming novels I read a few years back, they were light weight and I scarcely remember much about them but I do remember a great sense of physicality to the character. Bond could get out of and back into shape, got hurt in them and bad ways to die were ever present. My father who read them very young before Sean Connery became a movie star told me that the more you read of the books the more filled out the character of James Bond becomes. Daniel Craig has brought both of these attributes to the series. If you look back, George Lazenby in his one movie has more character growth than the other actors over their whole run. Except Craig. Daniel Craig’s James Bond remembers and ages and in a train cart in North Africa he arrives at a crossroads. Imprisoned, on a personal vendetta, married, returning home; these series of films have been electrifying when they’ve done something new with James and the ending of Spectre sees Bond in a very different place. It’s difficult to speak about the film without revealing spoilers but unlike some professional critics I will at least try. I’m looking at you Matt Zoller Seitz and I’m a fan! Let me just say that Spectre’s whole finale felt contrived and yet that last shot I both really enjoyed and dreaded. It could be a curtain call for Craig and that’s fine. If not well then, as M once said, my advice to Eon productions is “Don’t muck it up.”

We open in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead celebrations with an uninterrupted tracking shot that takes us from crowded streets to deserted rooftops. This could be the best bit of the film. Bond in disguise, anonymous in a crowd, a female companion both part of the disguise and granting him access, their bodies heady with the promise of sex that is not to come before the spy…actually well spies on someone. The dramatic action that follows (augmented by CGI) is not nearly as interesting but there are tongue in cheek moments and great use of the crowd, location and two crazy stuntmen hanging off a helicopter. The opening credits and song showcase beautiful but unsettling imagery of two lovers threatened by the spectre of death. Notable for two things, first Craig who has always featured heavily in his credits is here bare chested and objectified like the women and second an early shot looks like a threesome involving an Octopus.  No I’m not joking and no that’s not my idea of a fun Friday night.

Returning to London the secret agent finds an intelligence community under threat from government bureaucracy and an M under pressure. Bond doesn’t trust him like his predecessor despite the courtroom shootout from Skyfall. So Bond has to go rogue again, you might think that’s a trope but he’s only really done it two or three times previously. Fortunately for Bond he does trust the people he needs support from in Q and Moneypenny and with their help he sets off to Rome next. Snowy Alps and Tangiers will follow and he will eventually track down the mysterious Mr White who is the physical embodiment of links to Spectre from the Quantum of earlier films. There is a lot of call back to previous personalities lost which I was happy to see although perhaps due to the critical reaction of Quantum I don’t recall any mention of dear old Mathis. Silva from Skyfall really had an agenda of his own so retconning him into Spectre’s organisation feels a little shoehorned but it’ll pass. The film is grand in scale but going for a moody dreamy feel, most locations are at night and deserted. It’s epic including a spectacular explosion late in the piece but drained of colour to a palette of yellows, grey, browns and whites it’s ghoulish rather than pretty. The dead are alive the opening proclaims and in more ways than one. This is all about Bond putting his ghosts to rest, White, Vesper Lynd, M and new villain Franz Oberhauser played by Christoph Waltz. A perfect film then to finally have a boogeyman come for him and Mr. Hinx played by Dave Bautista fits the role well. A graphic killing for his introduction and that train fight with his hulking frame moving at speed after the now leaner Craig is fantastic.

That fight scene is without doubt the highpoint of the action in this Bond film which is disappointing although I enjoyed the effort put into a pursuit where an airborne Bond goes after bad guys in cars for a change. The car chase in Rome feels like a mixed bag of intentions that never quite comes together. I kind of liked Moneypenny getting yoghurt out of the fridge in London while talking to Bond via phone in Rome. The chase is even an afterthought almost for Bond as Hinx shows up beside him almost as if to remind him that he’s being chased. There is no real sense of speed or jeopardy in it though and I’m sorry but you know what the new Ashton Martin-not that pretty. Fuck it we’ll be in driverless cars in two years licking iPads so who cares. Still Vanishing Point children, that’s a car chase.

A lot of excitement was created by Monica Bellucci at 50 becoming a Bond girl and as someone who can appreciate a woman whom appreciates garters I was very excited to see where this led. Sadly garters are the high point. She’s cast off fairly early in proceedings for you guessed it – a younger woman.

Fortunate then that Lea Seydoux saddled with a great deal builds an awful lot in a very short time frame. As Dr Madeline Swann she is the daughter of Mr White whose work came to his house one day when he wasn’t there but she was. Usually when a character hates a lead and resists the narrative I can get impatient but she has very genuine reasons to resent Bond who is basically bringing a world she has successfully hidden from back into her life. There’s an age gag to be sure but love is love and their relationship feels pretty well matched to me. There’s a bit more to her than meets the eye, Bond recognises a kindred spirit as Duncan Casey pointed out and her relative youth offers a sense of renewal for Bond if he is prepared to risk it alllllllll because the writing is on the wall.

The opening credits for Casino Royale sported a lot of bodies falling to the ground and the film that followed made the deaths count even if they racked up considerably fast. Craig’s Bond has always inhabited this world of killers with a sense that one day the bullet could come for him. Skyfall in fact showed the character possibly getting shot for the first time ever-twice! Spectre really asks is Bond more than just a trigger? Swann is at the heart of that question and she may just be one of the best Bond girls ever. And I haven’t even mentioned that dress.

Spectre is not a perfect Bond outing. The personal stakes were higher with M and Vesper, Casino Royale more real and Skyfall more fun. Those who complained about the plot holes in Silva’s plan will be driven crazy here by the decisions both Bond and Oberhauser make in tracking and trying to kill their opponents. That might feel a bit rich given the history of the series but after the reality of Casino Royale I did find it off putting. Christoph Waltz sits in the back of a helicopter in the finale kind of looking bored. A great actor diminished in a role that should be crackling, he’s playing a Bond villain for crying out loud.

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I don’t want to say he is what is wrong with the film, the projection of power in a shadowy board room scene early on is sublime but the handling of his character and the pointless backstory given to him is muted at best. On a bad day Spectre falls in line with the lesser Bonds, serious with good intentions but lacking polish, wit and excitement. Today though is a good day and Spectre is a good Bond entry with a strong love interest, epic if downbeat cinematography, a scary henchman, an ambitious theme of love’s triumph over death and Daniel Craig once more in the role he has made his own. Enjoy him here, James Bond will return but Daniel Craig may not.

-Lloyd Marken

For those who have ready my previous rankings of the Bond film series you may be wondering where Spectre falls into it. As I mused throughout the rankings can change on any given day. Already I’m questioning Die Another Day, Thunderball, From Russia With Love and The Man with the Golden Gun but I’ll leave it as is for the moment. Spectre on a bad day could easily fall behind For Your Eyes Only which I believe was a little bit more fun than this latest film. Yet I keep thinking about the ambition of this film, telling a real emotional story for Bond and really considering the guts of the character and his future. The film plays like a nightmare and accordingly can be a bit of a slog but the performances are excellent, there’s an epic quality to the world and I really enjoy that Bond’s relationships matter here.

So without further ado here is how I rank the now 25 James Bond films.

25. A View to a Kill

24. The Man with the Golden Gun                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

23. Octopussy 

22. Thunderball

21. The World Is Not Enough

20. Live and Let Die

19. For Your Eyes Only

18. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

17. Quantum of Solace                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

16. Moonraker

15. From Russia With Love                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

14. Never Say Never Again                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

13. Spectre 

12. Tomorrow Never Dies

11. Diamonds Are Forever

10. Die Another Day                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

9. Dr. No                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

8. You Only Live Twice                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

7. The Living Daylights   

6. License To Kill                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

5. The Spy Who Loved Me                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

4. GoldenEye

3. Skyfall 

2. Casino Royale                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

1. Goldfinger