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Thursday, 21 September 2017

Italian Film Festival - Barrie Pattison reviews MESSY CHRISTMAS (Non c'è più religione) (Luca Miniero, 2016)

Editor’s Note: Barrie Pattison is singlehandedly covering the waterfront of the local Italian Film Festival (and paying the inflated admission prices common to such events). You can find his earlier reports if you click on the following film titles After the War, I Can Quit Whenever I Want to: Masterclass and Let Yourself Go   

Director Luca Miniero and stars Claudio Bisio & Angela Finocchiaro have done pretty well out of Benvenuti al sud/Welcome to the South running to a sequel and  a French version with Danny Boon, so they decided to give the handle another turn. This time it's Non c'è più religione/Messy Christmas where Bisio is the mayor of the remote Mediterranean Island of Portobuillo to which he has returned after some kind of a failure in Brussels.

They have a problem. The declining population means that the youngest inhabitant is a chubby kid grown to the point where he crushes the nativity pageant crib at the rehearsal. Without the pageant the needed tourists won’t be interested and the place will decline even further and nobody fancies the idea of the standard issue plastic baby Jesus. So Bisio determines that he will recruit a baby from the adjacent community of “crab eater” Muslims, over the objections of the church congregation he keeps on interrupting.

Things get more complicated when he and resident nun Finocchiaro have to deal with barely recognisable Alessandro Gassman, with whom they used to be á trois (before Angela took her vows of course). Alessandro is now a Muslim convert leading to a swathe of cultural divergency jokes – (“don’t admire anything in their home or they will feel obligated to give it to you”), the giraffe statue and his scratchy false beard. The baby deal requires the islanders to observe Ramadan.

Non c'è più religione
This is backed by attractive Mediterranean scenery and a great comic cast. It sounds like lively and edgy fun and for a while it is but they can’t keep up the momentum. The routines become strained - simultaneous services in the shared church or the bishop, an aged Roberto Herlitzka no less, desperately making excuses for the irregularities in the Nativity scene are finally defeated when they ring in a Llama because they can’t find an Ox. The Muslim kids, seeing his robes decide he’s Santa Claus, foreshadowing the films nicest gag where they break out in “Santa Claus is coming to Town” with belly dancer choreography.

The personal material is better with Bisio, Finocchiaro and Gassman recalling their time together and Bisio’s teen age daughter Laura Adriani leaving Muslim boy Mehdi Meskar who holds up a farewell placard as her ferry pulls out. This all gets buried in the farcical complications.

By the time we get to a Ganesh statue in the dinghy, and the baby’s delivery, attention is wandering.

On Blu-ray - Rod Bishop reviews a quality spy drama, NIGHT PEOPLE, (Nunnally Johnson, USA, 1954)

Here’s a little-known spy thriller jam-packed with double-agents, absinthe addiction, torture victims, strychnine, soldier diplomats, nightclubs, a femme fatale, cut-outs, fraudulent identities (“phony papers”), good Russians, bad Russians, former Nazis from Himmler’s gang working in East Berlin and a general involved in the plot to assassinate Hitler. Even Peter Van Eyck pops up - a decade later he would play John le Carre’s East German double-agent Hans Dieter-Mundt in the great film version of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (Martin Ritt, 1963).

Shot and set in Berlin in 1954, a soldier is kidnapped from the American Sector and a US Army officer Lt-Colonel Van Dyke (Gregory Peck) sets out to negotiate a hostage exchange with the Russians. Much to the chagrin of his current squeeze (Rita Gam), Van Dyke uses his contact with a spy and former lover (Anita Bjork) as the go-between. His life is further complicated by having to instruct the kidnapped soldier’s bellicose, industrialist father (Broderick Crawford) in a crash course about Cold War politics.

Night People is directed, written and produced by veteran scriptwriter Nunnally Johnson (it’s his directorial debut). The writing is better than the direction and Peck gets some acerbic lines – “He wasn’t a Nazi” he is told, before snapping back: “I know. Nobody was. I don’t know how the rumor ever got started that there were Nazis in Germany”. He even gets to refer to the Russians as “progressive businessmen…what you Americans call the Mob”. Broderick Crawford does a good imitation of a wealthy Donald Trumpish bully who thinks money can buy anything and believes he is qualified in Cold War politics as “I have four ex-Colonels and one ex-Brigadier-General working for me. I’m no longer awed by military rank”.

The spy material is fascinating, clearly heavily researched and it references the same dark Cold War world of tradecraft, double agents and double-crosses that John le Carre would begin writing about seven years later.

In Cinemascope and Technicolor from Kino Lorbeer and according to DVD Beaver, released for the first time on disc in the correct ratio 2.55:1.

Broderick Crawford, Gregory Peck, Night People

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Australian Film Festival - a few thoughts from the AFI AACTA screenings now concluding.

But the big breakthrough came when Barry and I returned from our circumnavigation of the planet and I wrote the most influential page of prose of my life. And I want to remind you about it – because it is my belief that the only way forward for our troubled industry is to retrace those steps and make the same arguments loud and clear
My page began with a piece of nudge nudge wink wink plagiarism – the opening statement of America’s Declaration of Independence. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident.’ Yes, it was a joke. But my page was also a declaration of independence. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident. It is time to see our own landscapes, hear our own voices and dream our own dreams.’
Australian filmgoers had rarely seen their own landscapes on a Hoyts or Greater Union screen. They were much more familiar with the American accents than their own. And when it came to dreams? We knew next to nothing of our own history. Our ignorance of Aboriginal Australia was utter – whereas we knew a great deal about the so-called Red Indians. And when it came to dreaming dreams? Even our heroes were fully imported from the US.  Phillip Adams, Hector Crawford memorial Lecture, 2014 SPAA Conference
I hate to say it but Phillip’s message has been forgotten by far too many people who have anything to do with the film industry as it is today. That doesn’t just include film-makers – writers, directors, producers – it includes Government politicians, government bureaucrats, funding bodies and the endless stream of executive producers, sales agents, distributors and buyers who hang off the industry and try and clip the ticket on the way through.
I got het up when I noticed thanks being given to the Chief Minister of the ACT, Andrew Barr, in an otherwise utterly undistinguished low-budget movie called Blue World Order, screened as part of the Australian Film Festival being presented by the Australian Film Institute  for its AACTA Awards. The young man who introduced the screening whose name I didn’t catch, because his intro started before the advertised screening time, seemed personable enough. He was addressing a crowd of less than twenty and expressed his enthusiasm for making movies very succinctly. Be that as it may, his film like others to be named had all its characters speaking in American accents in a movie set in and around Canberra and its Black Mountain telecommunications tower. These included the American Billy Zane, a regular visitor to these parts who featured in Phillip Noyce’s Dead Calm and in The Phantom, plus Jack Thompson and Bruce Spence.
Thirty-six features are up for your consideration in this year’s AACTA prizes and, though there is a general belief that Lion (Garth Davis) will win more than a handful of prizes, the nominations must be shared around. What you would hope for is that the pieces of fake Americana made here in some hopefully misguided view that this is the way to crack some sort of international market are ignored in their entirety.
Chief offender, yet again, is the eternally ubiquitous Antony I Ginnane who has managed, yet again, to convince money people in some Government body somewhere to back his endeavours. This is despite the fact that nowadays he seems to be keen to pull all his old stuff off the shelf. It’s either being done for the first time long after the script was initially written or simply done again. For goodness sake, but it seems to work like clockwork. There it was Bad Blood, “Adapted from a script by Patrick Edgeworth” and I’m sure it was written long ago. The story involves identical twins and so you get two parts from one actor and presumably for the price of one.
The one in this case is played by Xavier Samuel fresh from appearing a mere couple of days before in Cris Jones The Death and Life of Otto Bloom. In that one, which opened the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2016 to what must surely have been general incredulity, the handsome Samuel plays a man with a memory problem. He only ‘remembers’ things which are about to happen not what has gone before. Goodness. There’s an idea.
The good twin, Xavier Samuel, Bad Blood
Samuel’s arduous role playing twins for Ginnane and director David Pulbrook in Bad Blood requires him to adopt at least one American accent. I’m not sure whether he was also trying for a different American voice for the second, evil, twin. The good twin though is a successful young American novelist living in Australia. He seems to have writer’s bloc though that’s eventually understandable when we finally learn that his life involves being stalked, set-up, kidnapped and held in chains by his jealous twin. I am not worried about a spoiler alert because nobody is ever going to go and see this film, ever, anywhere. But it kept the Government supported studios and the SA film community at work and that’s important to be sure.
American accents also abounded in one other piece of work on show. Shane Abbess’s The Osiris ChildScience Fiction Volume One had an American actor in the lead. He is Kellan Lutz and IMDb tells us he got his first TV break with a small role in The Bold and The Beautiful,  and then did The Comeback, Generation Kill (an excellent David Simon mini-series about the Iraq war), Accepted and Prom Night…. His major break came in 2008 when he won the role of vampire Emmett Cullen in the smash hit Twilight (2008), and its subsequent sequels. OK now you know.

It no doubt landed Lutz front and centre in The Osiris ChildScience Fiction Volume One. But sad to say, Lutz makes Jason Statham look like Marlon Brando. The rest of the cast have to affect American accents. They have to deal with being in a movie that has bits and pieces of Star Wars, Alien, Mad Max, Jurassic Park and who knows how many others as its component parts.
And what to make of Greg McLean’s Jungle, another based on a true story movie, this time about an Israeli who rebels against his father and runs off to South America where he gets lost in the Bolivian bush and is finally found more dead than alive after being harassed by nature for much of the film's very long 115 minutes. The lead part of Yossi is played by Daniel Radcliffe who has grown up since Harry Potter, if not upwards, and acquits himself quite well doing an Israeli accent and gradually reducing himself to skin and bone after we’ve seen him in the full bloom when he and his mates take a skinny dip in a river before the real adventure starts.
There is a gruelling realism about life in the jungle especially, though none of the human obsessiveness of a Werner Herzog movie is on show. McLean resists the urge to sensationalise in fact. There's only one shock moment when a snake lunges out of a tree and it's used to demonstrate Yossi's doggedness. But in the end its just four dumb bastards who get lost in the bush and two… hmm.
Daniel Radcliffe, Jungle
This movie is not cynical in the way that Blue World Order is. It tells a gruesome story very straight-forwardly. I don’t imagine there was the same incredulity when this one opened this year’s MIFF though I’m not sure audiences would have, and will, find it a nice night’s entertainment. 

But, to return to Phillip’s thoughts. Why are we spending government money to make cod sub-copies of American movies where our actors are required to adopt yankee accents. Why do we spend taxpayers’ money on the tale of an Israeli lost in the South American jungle? Beats me, especially in a week where ‘the industry’ is holding public meetings in support of a Make It Australian:Our Stories on Screen campaign.

".....It is time to see our own landscapes, hear our own voices and dream our own dreams...."