20 September 2010

Sound & Rhythm

This week's 15 minute film review looks at the Wellington Film Society screening of Beyond Ipanema, which was shown Monday 13 September in conjunction with the Reel Brazil Film Festival, now in its second year. Unfortunately I missed last Monday's (20 Sept) screening of Belgian Bond parody OSS117: Cairo: Nest of Spies. So, start the clock...

Beyond Ipanema (2009)

It would be difficult not to make a reasonably entertaining and interesting documentary about the resurgent Brazilian music scene: the soundtrack's a given, Brazil has ample gorgeous vistas and gorgeous people, and there's 60 years of history and interest from world famous musicians (chiefly David Byrne). Filmmaker Guto Barra (along with co-producer and music director B├ęco Dranoff) manages to make a doco that's just that: interesting, entertaining, handsomely put together, and featuring great music.

It's a good documentary film, but it seemed lacking in enough detail, enough depth; there weren't many of those moments that make the audience feel like they are marvelling at an incite. The film was somewhat like a bus tour, with a better than average guide holding the mike. (A tour mostly around Rio and New York, which received much of Barra's focus.)

One of the best moments was when someone from the Bossa Nova scene explains the difference between his style and regular jazz. It was all conveyed in the way he gestured and mimicked the sound and rhythm of the two styles - that's what made the scene, what drew the laughs, what instilled the appreciation. It's really not something a written review can replicate, which surely is a sign of documentary film at its best - working with sound and vision to impart wisdom and effect not easy to summarise.

08 September 2010

The fog of war

Over the next few months I'm trying an experiment of sorts. I am attending the Wellington Film Society screenings on Monday nights, and would like to comment on the movies I see. However, I don't have the time to post a lengthy critique every week, so I've set myself the humble task of reviewing each week's screening in 15 minutes. The 15 minutes is for the main content, and does not include a little time afterwards for adding in links, tags and images, and proofreading for typos. I will post the comment after work on the day after the screening, so it should be up by around 6.30pm Tuesdays.

This first attempt is an exception: No Man's Land actually screened last week (30 August, I didn't go to this week's showing), and this review took longer than 15 minutes. It's a trail run...

No Man's Land (2001)

I went into the screening of No Man's Land (written and directed by Danis Tanovic) not knowing much about it. I'd heard of it, mostly because of the coverage it got from its 2001 Oscar win for Best Foreign Language Film, but had little idea of the story other than that it was set in the Bosnian war (1992 to 1995). It's one of those films where this lack of knowledge helps, as its story telling makes effective moments from the unexpected. For example, the opening scene is set in a night fog, with a Bosnian patrol lost and about to hunker down till dawn. We seem to be getting to know the gang - this film's dirty dozen, or inglorious bastards - as they talk and joke with each other. Then with daybreak the gang finds that they're much too close to the Serbian lines and suddenly virtually everyone in the Bosnian group is brutally killed.

Eventually, we settle on two or three main characters in a predicament together in a trench in no man's land. The relationship of the Serb and Bosnian characters in the trench is fairly realistically drawn, and appropriately frustrating. It is here, and in the character of the head of the French UN unit trying to intervene, that the humanity of the story is at the fore. The wider shenanigans involving the UN peacekeepers, the British command, the two sides' respective leadership in the area, and the media is more satirical, at times even perhaps a touch over the top, and gives the film a strong parable feel.

I'm wary of actors turned directors when it comes to the visual aspect, and this is a good example of why. No Man's Land has fairly bland cinematography (the shot above is one of the more interesting). Apart from the effective opening scenes, Tanovic relies largely on a few establishing shots and a lot of "Um, I know, let's point the camera at the actors".

Despite that, No Man's Land does a competent job blending different genres and styles: effective as war movie, situation comedy, tragedy, satire, farce, and even thriller.

Criticism of the film includes that it seems to have little to say other than 'war is hell'. That's true to a point, but I think that of most war films. I've never been a big fan of war satires. The likes of Dr Strangelove and the movie version of Catch 22, supposed classics of the genre, are okay, but not hugely impressive. Maybe it's a 'shooting fish in a barrel' thing - war seems easy to satirize. No Man's Land is one of the better attempts. Even so, the absurdities and violence on display still seem only an indication of the complexity and brutality of the real conflict.

War may provoke the occasional good movie, but on balance, I'm against it.

05 September 2010

Lost on yer merry way

Ahem. I'm... a little late with this one. Lost's season finale was screened 30 May 2010.


So how about I cop out and refer to what others have written - after all, my thoughts are summed up nicely by much earlier comments and reviews, and, like the characters from Lost, I really need to move on. (In their case to the afterlife, in my case to reviewing No Man's Land and Inception.)

In regards to the finale itself, Charles Reece's Amoeblog commentary pretty well covers all the stuff I disliked, and the few aspects I liked, about The End.

I was particularly disappointed with the sentimentality (not to mention illogicality) of the 'Sideways Timeline' resolution, juxtaposed with the otherwise excellent final few 'real world' scenes on the Island.

I still feel the series overall was worth my time: often an almost perfect blend of the elements that make good science fiction/fantasy television drama. The flashbacks were well used early on (but not so much in season 2, where they were often wasted on characters who would turn out to have little real significance to the ongoing events), and the switch to flashforwards in season 3 was clever. The show was at its best during seasons 3 to 5.

Wellington's Dominion Post tv reviewer, Jane Bowron sums up:

What the show did do was throw action, science, myth, and retribution into the soup as it made acute observations on human nature in intriguingly drawn characters.

Above all, the show made us feel our loneliness, that we are all isolated in spite of Charlie's words at the very beginning when he assured Sayid: "They'll find us. They have satellites in space that can take pictures of your licence plates."

To which Sayid sarcastically replied: "If only we were all wearing licence plates."

Adios, Perdidos.

Off on a merry way, Often in a lotta days, Lost on yer merry way
Cause unrevealed and never known.