Friday, 28 March 2014

Gold standard

Eureka (UK/USA 1983)
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Screenwriter: Paul Mayersberg (based on a book by Marshall Houts)
Producer: Jeremy Thomas
Cast: Gene Hackman, Teresa Russell, Rutger Hauer, Jane Lapotaire, Mickey Rourke, Joe Pesci.
Screening: Paramount Cinema (Wellington Film Society)
In Eureka, determined prospector Jack McCann (Hackman) finds his fortune in gold in the Yukon, becomes one of the world's richest men, and buys his own Caribbean island ("Eureka"), where he discovers money can't by him happiness.

Based on the book "Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes?" by Marshall Houts, Eureka is an ambitious film by director Nicolas Roeg and screenwriter Paul Mayersberg. It features excellent performances from Hackman and Russell (playing McCann's daughter, who is also the wife of Claude).

Eureka is a study of greed and obsession, a treatise on the way realpolitik interweaves with family politics, and a searing critique of greed and capitalism.

It is also complete rubbish.

This is a shame, as somewhere under this cinematic failure is a potentially great film about the USA. Paul Thomas Anderson must have seen this - so parallel in many ways are the stories of Jack McCann and of Day-Louis' Daniel Plainview from 'There Will Be Blood'. (The "stricking gold; stricking oil" scenes early in each film are especially similar.)

But almost everything Anderson does right, Roeg does wrong. Roeg's stylistic affectations were never more distracting from the narrative - never more a challenge to the audience "suspending disbelief" and being lost in the film - than in Eureka. These affectations are at their worst in the first act, where they aren't just weird, but downright goofy.

The last act is also fails, although this more the fault of the screenplay itself than Roeg's direction of it. For example, the court scene where Rutger Hauer's Claude, defending himself from a murder charge, cross examines his wife Tracey (Russell), is a great idea for a climax. She has to essentially savage him as a person (and, more broadly, deconstruct all the issues and events in the film) as a way of demonstrating that he can't be guilty of murder. It's a great ruse, but (unlike some other scenes) badly written: repetitive, overlong and melodramatic. Russell's performance here is both suburb and yet absurd - but she can only work with what she's been given.

The middle act, in particular, had just enough wit, coherency, and intrigue to make me think this film had the makings of something strong. So much so that I couldn't bring myself to give this mess less than a two star rating on Letterboxed and 5 out of ten on IMDb . But that's the best I can do. Like Russell, I can only work with what I've got.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Yes, another blog about cinema

To kick things off, a quick look at the first four films of the Wellington Film Society's 2014 programme...

Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland, UK 2012)
The notion to build a horror film around a foley artist working on a horror film is genius - one the best "meta" or "postmodern" narrative ideas ever. The final result is sound (sorry) but not striking, mostly due to a third act and denouement that's interesting, but nothing more.

Esterhazy (Izabela Plucinska, Germany/Poland 2009)
Esterhazy, along with the companion film at the 10 March screening of the Wellington Film Society, Rabbit a la Berlin, is a short inspired by the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War (or so we thought - thanks Putin for bringing that one back up again!) and the fact that large rabbit populations were actually quite happy in the no man's land between East and West Germany.

Given my general dislike for both claymation and stories involving animal analogues for human issues, this film was never going to win me over in a major way. But there's enough charm in the efficient 25 minute runtime of this short to win me over... just a little.

Rabbit a la Berlin (Bartosz Konopka, Anna Wydra, Germany/Poland 2009)
Like Esterhazy, Rabbit a la Berlin makes a kind of social allegory out of the rabbits situated, indeed prospering, in the 'death zone' between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. In this case, the rabbits have it 'easy' and are somewhat stagnant as a society. Then the Wall comes tumbling down, and suddenly they are faced with change, displacement and other challenges.

The film was vaguely interesting, but the uneasy mix of quasi-faux documentary and almost-satire didn't really work. It ultimately failed as a work of unusual natural history, and it didn't give enough substance for the audience to get its teeth into the politics or social commentary.

Zazie dans la metro (Louis Malle, France 1960)
How to explain Zazie dans le metro to a modern audience? Caro et Jeunet meets Chuck Jones with a dash of the Zucker brothers' Top Secret.

Or something like that.

Based on the book by Raymond Queneau, the film features 10 year old Zazie, who has to stay in Paris with her Uncle Gabriel for two days while her mother spends some time with her new boyfriend. Zazie determines to explore Paris, in which she has various adventures, as her pursuers have various misadventures.

In many respects, Malle's film hasn't dated well. The frequent use of sped-up editing in particular now seems kind of naff, even in a comedy.

The story's little more than an assemblage of cartoonish set pieces, but it still manages to go from diverting to actually quite engrossing about two-thirds of the way through in the Eiffel Tower sequence, and the hypnotic jazz montage scene shortly after.

All screenings of the Wellington Film Society are at the Paramount Cinema.


ETA: My next post will be Thursday, 27 March for a review of NOAH.

ETA 2: I was so unmotivated by Noah that I have decided to leave that review till Sunday, 30 March. I'll post my Eureka review on Saturday.