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A Selection of Reviews from Blueprint: Review + Articles on Film

Gracie Otto’s The Last Impresario

Originally published on Blueprint Review

Michael ‘Chalky’ White has had a profound influence on the entertainment industry over the last fifty years, yet, remarkably remains largely unknown to the public. After a chance meeting in Cannes in 2010, Gracie Otto made it her mission to explore the extraordinary life of White in The Last Impresario.  Otto was drawn to the engaging history of the playboy and proficient gambler, willing his story to becoming foregrounded. Seemingly, White quite liked the idea of the spirited, young, Australian filmmaker projecting a collage of his life onto the big screen.

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This is a feature debut for Otto who has had a series of shorts circulating around the film festival circuit for some time, since her graduation from Sydney Film School. She belongs to an Australian Dynasty, her father Barry Otto is a much-adored Sydney thespian, and her sister Miranda is a well-established film actress. This may explain why she found herself at a party in Cannes in the company of White. In fact, the entire film feels like a party at Cannes, the eccentric world that the subject’s inhabit remains tantalisingly out of reach. From the iconic interviewees including Yoko Ono, Naomi Watts and Anna Wintour, to the exploration of notorious stage shows such as the Rocky Horror Picture show, Otto invites us to crane our necks up and look at a enigmatic and bedazzling world.

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It is a sweet dedication to this interesting character. He certainly took a sling-shot to the stagnant theatre industry of yore and challenged audiences with daring material that have become much loved theatre staples. Instead of acting as a sycophant, Otto champion’s Whites failures and setbacks as much as his successes.  She weaves in stories of White’s isolated childhood including his sickliness and residence in a Swiss boarding school at the impressionable age of seven. Perhaps, these childhood vignettes give reason for his lavish lifestyle and adopted theatrical family. He is certainly man that craves the company of eccentrics.

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Otto remains mostly in the shadows throughout the film allowing White to be spotlighted, however, there are moments of obvious tension between the two when she probes too deeply into this financial insecurity and past betrayals, thus achieving a more rounded understanding of the infamous producer. We begin to understand why, after all his success, he is not living in abundant riches. Otto illustrates a man who took risks and fought for work he believed in, who trusted business partners as friends and who documented every lavish party or social event by taking myriad photos with film cameras.

The Last Impresario is a stunning tribute to Michael White’s eclectic life. It is hard to pigeon hole Michael White and Otto does not attempt to. Instead, she illustrates the multifaceted and beautifully texture life that White led and continues to lead.

 

 

 

Spike Jonze’s Her

The odd thing about Her is how normal it all seemed.

Interestingly, one of the more jarring factors of Spike Jonze’s film was the wardrobe. I found myself commenting on how strange it was. Joaquin Phoenix is donned in absurd trousers and shirts with stumped collars in pastel shades for much of the film. I do not usually find myself so enthralled by costume choices and rarely in such an engaging film as Her. The wardrobe department did a fantastic job of catching a ‘near future’ by altering modern dress ever so slightly to create a uniquely futuristic feel. It is strange to think that I was wrapped up in the oddity of dress rather than a romantic relationship between man and device.

My remarks on the wardrobe are not intended to discredit impact of the film but are aimed to underline how the content felt believable and current. Alarmingly, the fact that the protagonist’s main communication was with a portable device did not seem shocking, whereas the visual of high trousers and pastel colours was instantly affronting.

The OS system, voiced by Scarlet Johanson, is a near relative of the android phones that we carry around today: she is a more robust and complex version of Siri. In Her, the portable device has artificial intelligence and is far more advanced than the devices we are familiar with today. But, the idea of a dependence on a device like this is not a foreign concept to many of us.

Catherine, played by Rooney Mara, is the only character to verbally express concern toward Theodore and Samantha’s relationship. She is dumbfounded when her ex-husband reveals his new love is an OS. She discriminates against their relationship, calling Samantha a ‘laptop’. Upon reflection, I agree with Catherine. However, at the time I was encouraging of the pairing. Samantha seemed to enhance Theodore’s life in numerous ways, giving him confidence in the world. It is a mutually beneficial relationship: Samantha learns of human feeling, sexuality and limitations, and Theodore learns to be spontaneous and open himself up again.  Where the film really succeeds are the awkward sexual encounters that can never replace human contact. Theo’s sexual journey begins with a web chat where his alter ego, ‘Big Boy’ chats with ‘Sexual Kitten (Kristen Wig). Theo becomes sexual with Samantha through voice. Their romantic interactions culminate into an awkward third party scenario that ends horribly and embarrasses all involved.

Samantha outgrows Theodore and the human world, suddenly the curiosity she feels for humanity is dulled and she is open to an expanse of new information. At a picnic with Theo’s friends she (unintentionally) belittles the human experience because it is marked by decay. Soon, she begins to embrace her lack of physical anchorage. Theodore cannot compete with the complexity of the non-human entity.

The film provides a thorough understanding of a man’s need to reconnect with aspects of himself via a relationship with the OS system, he needs to repair parts of himself before he is able to reconnect with another human intimately. This, to me, seemed courageous and understandable. The film made me feel uncomfortable when the spectrum broadened to include others. I could understand Theo’s need however, once the camera panned out to reveal those who walked by Phoenix, or references to others who were also having relationships with their OS I was confronted by the abnormality of it all. Scenes where Phoenix ignores everyone who passes by are sad. The commuters are invisible to one another, each equipped with an earpiece or portable screen.

Jonze’s film does not lecture its audience about the ills of a technologically-driven society. For Theodore, the relationship with Samantha truly does help him understand himself in an intimate and honest way.

101 Words on Baby Jane.

One of my favourite films, Robert Aldrich’s “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” gains its ranking largely due to Bette Davis’ harrowingly eerie performance as the titular character; a psychologically brittle and publicly forgotten actress. The sickly-sweet tune “I’ve written a letter to Daddy” instantly situates the viewer in a position of unease. The screechy performance of the young child star creates a long shadow over the entire film. Haunted by the attention Jane received as a child yet fails to gain as an adult, Aldrich’s film exposes the cruelty of sibling rivalry and ageing in a harsh celebrity driven society.

Roman Polanski’s Carnage

Child’s Play in Carnage. 

Being a parent means being a role model and if we act like grown ups our children will follow suit. We hope.  And here we have the fine line between adult and child, teacher and student. Yet, as adults we are let in on a little secret that we often try to ignore, that acting like a child is much more fun. If children stop believing in the myth of the ‘adult’, carnage will surely ensue…

In the opening shot we see one kid hit another with a big stick. The respective parents ignore that boys will be boys and meet to tackle the issue, an issue that soon becomes background noise to a far more consuming telenovela style drama.  Apart from a minor face mutilation, as Penelope Longstreet (Jodie Foster) so dramatically decides to label it, the brawl between the children appears to be just a schoolyard normality that really needs no further consideration.

So why are these four individuals summoned to this Brooklyn apartment to awkwardly discuss the issue? The short time that we spend in the Longstreet’s apartment is a master class in shoddy diplomacy. In the initial stages, Penelope acts as the moral compass of the group, appearing to be the conductor of this bizarre meeting. Her righteous approach to parenting creates a stiff social battleground where each parent is campaigning to be the more sensitive and intellectually advanced, except, that is, in the case of Alan Cowen (Christoph Waltz). Those familiar with Waltz from Inglorious Basterds will not be disappointed, he retains the same childlike smugness that won him so much praise.

His performance in Carnage is equally as compelling, as Alan he prioritises his business calls over the mundane formality of fixing the dilemma of the squabbling schoolboys.

The hierarchy of the group never stagnates. Alan, the eternally busy professional is the obvious target for charges of neglect and improper nurturing of his son, especially when compared with the seemingly tranquil tempered and culturally ‘enlightened’ Penelope. When at last the ‘carnage’ is finally released, I suspect that Alan will be the one who escapes the brunt of audience disfavour. The demure Nancy Cowan (Kate Winslet) is stripped of sophistication and reduced to an angry vomiting mess, while Michael Longstreet (John C. Reilly) similarly has his true colours exposed. He begins as the most calm and easy going of the group, yet his flaws are revealed and his charming smile begins to weaken.The two brawling pairs display worse character traits than the kids who originally brought them together.By the close of the film all that remains is a boiling stew of bitter rivalry, a shared feeling of loathing and a vague memory of the children that united them. The last image is a wide shot of the children in question, quite different from the claustrophobic interior of the Longstreet’s apartment. The two boys play harmoniously together, appearing to have massaged the kinks out of their relationship far quicker than their parents.

So what nugget of wisdom has Roman Polanski imprinted upon us?

That it is always best to keep your distance from children.

Film: The Turning

THERE APPEARS TO BE A TREND IN AUSTRALIAN CINEMA TO VIEW OUR COUNTRY THROUGH A MELANCHOLIC LENS. THE TURNING, WHILE GREAT, IS NO EXCEPTION.

By Becky Latham

The Turning is a beautifully crafted work that masterfully conveys solitude, grief and self-reflection, and it’s slightly unnerving how its remoteness paints such a complex picture of sadness. But though it’s a powerful film that is deserving of the praise it will undoubtedly receive, it is a little frustrating to see Australia once again be portrayed on the big screen as being bleak and remote. Perhaps this is an oversimplification of a complex and far reaching work, yet I definitely feel it’s time to try to understand why we as an Australian audience seem to constantly reflect on our country with such a sombre contemplation.

Australia’s onscreen image has often been moody, and thriving with criminal activity. Think Two Hands (1999), Animal Kingdom (2010), Wolf Creek (2005), Snowtown (2011), Little Fish (2005), The Boys (1998), Candy (2006). The majority of these films have a low-middle class character pool and the plots are saturated with an unshakeable grief. Like those previously mentioned, The Turning is invested in telling the (apparently) fragile and tragic Australian story. Well, eighteen stories in this instance, with eighteen different directors, culminating in a three hour run-time with an intermission. The film will only be showing in select theatres for one session per day, being treated almost as an exhibition.

The stories which make up The Turning, all written by Tim Winton, are set in Western Australia. For some of the directors, like Mia Wasikowska, who takes on one of The Turning’s more successful segments “Long, Clear View”, it is their first time directing. These are up alongside pieces by more seasoned directors such as Justin Kurzel and Warwick Thornton. Despite the numerous creative contributors, the film maintains a constant tonal consistency. There are many factors at play other than the bleak narratives that create the stark tone to the film: there is visual coherency due to the muted colour palette that many of the chapters adopt, and a restrained use of dialogue, giving the film an overall stripped back feeling.

The Western Sydney landscapes that are depicted are expansive, seemingly endless and barren. Actress Brenna Harding, who stars in the segment “Cockleshell” spoke at the Sydney premiere of The Turning at the Hayden Orpheum in Cremorne. She took to the stage and gave a rehearsed but undeniably charming account of her days on set. She had everyone fixated on her quiet, simple, alluring portrayal of Australia. Harding described her shoot location as being extremely remote. She accomplished in those few minutes what this film, at its best, accomplishes over the three-hour span. It draws you in quietly and reveals itself at its own pace, asking patience of its audience members. The directors deliver, to great affect, an alienating account of Australian life.

The Turning is a great piece of art; it is affecting and will no doubt stay with viewers long after the credits roll, and it is exciting to have work like this being produced in this country. If only a few added moments of sophisticated humour could have been included to lift us out of the eternal sadness that Australia’s feature films seem so ready to relish in.

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