Saturday, July 30, 2011

MIFF Blogathon: Day 9 (The Forgiveness of a Pool Party in Ruhr)

This blogathon is an initiative of MIFF for their 60th anniversary year. I am one of six bloggers given the mission of seeing 60 films in 17 days and writing, reporting, reviewing and wrangling my way through the tiredness and hunger to bring the festival experience to your computer.

Dir. James Benning
Running Time: 120mins

A thoroughly fascinating piece of experimental film work from an apparently master of the genre James Benning, Ruhr is a curiously fascinating work of halves. One half of the mammoth-feeling runtime of 120 minutes is devoted to 10-minute segments of various elements of the Ruhr district in Germany; an underground car tunnel, Dusseldorf Airport, a muslim prayer service, and so forth. The second half is one single uninterrupted take - yes, 60 full minutes, of a coke factory chimney. It's intermittently captivating and frustrating, but a rewarding experience for sure.

Having walked out of the experimental shorts yesterday afternoon - albeit, apparently not very good ones from people more into that sort of thing - I wasn't sure how I would go with Ruhr, but I found myself being pleasantly surprised (if also a little sleepy at moments). Perhaps it's because Ruhr is feature length and so feels less like an actual film with an actual destination rather than the art museum installations that the shorts gave the aura of. Sure, at times it feels like director Benning recently purchased his first digital camera (this is his first digital film) and wanted a tax deductible trip to Germany, but if the result is this stimulating then I guess I am all for it.

Could the second half have been shorter? Probably, but the imagery of a vent tower against a slowly darkening sunset is mesmerising. As smoke occasionally billows out from the top and oozes out of pockets along the side, it creates an eye-opening experience. It's like a modern take on, and a far shorter version of, Andy Warhol's Empire experimental work. As a matter of fact, the whole piece reminded me of the sort of exciting art that I saw in New York City and the way I felt inspired and arrested. Ruhr was sweet justification after yesterday's experience with the shorts and has only improved in my mind afterwards. A-

Pool Party
Dir. Beth Aala
Running Time: 75mins

A refreshingly fun documentary from debut feature director Beth Aala, Pool Party examines the McCarren Pool in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The size of four Olympic swimming pools put together and closed in 1984, this massive - and I mean massive - location has, in recent years, become a summer concert hot spot as a company called Jelly have put on free music concerts for the ever-so-hip residents of Brooklyn and beyond. Featuring artists that these very people have helped launch such as Matt & Kim, The Liars, The Black Lips, The Hold Steady, The Ting Tings, To Le Tango, Deerhunter, The Breeders and, in a major coup, Sonic Youth.

Moreso than a look at the pool itself, however, Aala's film looks at the way Brooklyn as a whole has risen from its dilapidated beginnings to its current status as a vibrant, hipster (almost yuppie) centre and the gentrification that comes with it. As they say, first come the artists and then come the million dollar condos. Pool Party doesn't do all that much that is particularly illuminating, but for a New York City tragic like myself it was utterly divine to see all this activity and vibrant life mixed between the token vintage footage and photographs as well as the lovingly sun-bleached shots of the beautiful city. And especially on the heels of Ruhr and after the disappointing lack of music found within last night's The Black Power Mixtape 1968-1975, the great musical performances and pulsating beat were a sound for sore ears. B+

Dir. Ivan Sen
Running Time: 101mins

The first thing that hit me with Ivan Sen's follow-up to last year's best MIFF title Dreamland was, much like that dialogue free experimental alien work, the sound design. Sen layers a ticking clock over a dog's bark and then adds the hum of a refrigerator and the ding of a young boy opening and closing a cooking pot. Unfortunately, Toomelah - a recent graduate of Cannes' Un Certain Regard - is far too familiar to succeed beyond the individual scenes of greatness that occasionally spring forth.

Acted by non-professionals (although Dean Daley-Jones of Mad Bastards does pop up as a local drug peddling thug) results in a mixed bag of good and bad performances that audiences should come to expect. This story of a dying Aboriginal mission as seen through the eyes of a small child (Daniel Connors) is told using subtitles due to the thick, lingo-laden dialogue and features some wonderful comedy moments (one character is named "Tupac" for instance) littered amongst the rather heady material. Dialogue is laced with profanity and those squeamish about "the c-word" would be best to avoid. A wonderful score made up on jangly guitar riffs and downtrodden strings adds a touch of class to the proceedings, but an overly excessive run time make Toomelah a tough ride to take. C+

The Forgiveness of Blood
Dir. Joshua Marston
Running Time: 109mins

Those familiar with Joshua Marston's sublime debut feature, Maria Full of Grace, will probably come out of The Forgiveness of Blood with, like me, pangs of disappointing. While the film is a stinging indictment of barbaric traditions in this rural Albanian village, Blood lacks an energy and a verve that was evident throughout Maria. Who can forget that pulse-pounding scene where Maria (Catalina Sandino Moreno) swallows the cocaine-filled capsules? Nothing like that in The Forgiveness of Blood, which chooses mundane village life over anything resembling tension.

It's a hard film to discuss since it is so reserved about so much, but I liked the performances and the specific art direction (loved that half-constructed second level on the family home). The performances of Tristand Halilaj - an Albania Andrew Garfield of sorts with his tall, lanky frame and goofball good looks - and Sindi Lacej as his sister are of particular note. The latter, in particular, gets a wonderful final shot amidst the movie's perplexing climax. B-

I got my cupcake! The most important review of all: It was delicious. Thank you to the wonderful Suze for that!

After Toomelah this afternoon there was a Q&A with the film's producer David Joysey. Funnily enough the first question put to him by the MIFF director was about Dreamland. As I originally mused last year, nobody has purchased it and the version of it that I saw will, presumably, never see the light of day. Such a cruel shame for such a brilliant film. I can only hope that whatever version they're cutting it into at the moment (Jowsey was, shall we say, less than forthcoming when I asked him personally in the ACMI lobby) isn't too drastic, but can allow Dreamland to be seen some sort of audience.

Other than that weren't too many MIFF anecdotes from today's screenings. I certainly could have done without the patron rustling a packet of chips deep into the final scene of Ruhr, likewise to the woman sitting near me at The Forgiveness of Blood who exaggerated every reaction to the point of comedy. I did walk into a wall today though. At Ruhr, I sorta just lost my bearings and stumbled against the wall of Greater Union's cinema 4. That's what seeing 60 films at a festival whilst battling the flu is all about, I suppose!

Lastly, before the festival began I wrote a top posters of the fest piece for Trespass Magazine and it's now up! See what I consider the best posters of films showing at this year's MIFF and let me know if there are any I didn't consider long enough?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

MIFF Blogathon: Day 8 (Top Floor Brother on the Sly)

This blogathon is an initiative of MIFF for their 60th anniversary year. I am one of six bloggers given the mission of seeing 60 films in 17 days and writing, reporting, reviewing and wrangling my way through the tiredness and hunger to bring the festival experience to your computer.

On the Sly
Dir. Olivier Ringer
Running Time: 77mins

"Cute, but slight" is a frequent criticism of films that play festivals. It could easily be said for Olivier Ringer's On the Sly [A pas de loup], a nicely made French drama about a girl who suspects she is invisible to her busy Parisian parents so, on a weekend trip to the country, she decides to become just that and vanishes before their very eyes. She then spends several days living in the forest behind the country home, fending for herself (she finds a berry - just one - and then eats worms), amasses several pets and takes care of a cluster of plant seeds.

Starring Wynona Ringer - I'm assuming the director's own daughter? - the film only ever shows the faces of those who can "see" her; a kindly old gent who offers her some seeds to plant and, later on, her father. The scenes set in her makeshift hut of sticks and fern leaves are quaint, but enjoyable, and the film certainly doesn't outstay its welcome, however, just like The Ugly Duckling yesterday, it feels quite long despite being less than 80 minutes. There's nothing overtly wrong with On the Sly, but it could have probably used a bit of fleshing out or a director with a few more tricks up their sleeve. B-

Top Floor Left Wing
Dir. Angelo Cianci
Running Time:

I feel like I would have enjoyed Angelo Cianci's debut feature Top Floor Left Wing [Dernier etage gauche gauche] if I had more rest behind me. From what I could gather from the film, however, it's a funny - if not as funny hah hah as the rest of the crowd seems to find it - film that is directed with vigour, features an energetic soundtrack and is acted with some real zest. Judging by the reaction it received post credits, and considering the similar storylines involving chaotic villains, Top Floor Left Wing is this year's Four Lions; last year's hilarious terrorist comedy from Chris Morris. B-

Experimental Shorts Program 1
Dir. Various
Running Time: 81mins

I attempted to make my way through the first program of experimental shorts, but - as I inevitably do with short films - I ended up frustrated, annoyed and left. I could handle the first of the four shorts, Nathaniel Dorsky's Pastourelle, even if it did kinda just remind me of 17 minutes of outtakes from ABC1's Gardening Australia, what with its out of focus close-ups of flowers and streams of sunlight. And with no soundtrack, either!

I decided to leave after the second short, Ben Russell's 10-minute Tryppes #7 (Badlands), which was, for the majority of its length, just a single shot of a woman as a bell rings every 60 seconds. These sort of films frequently lead me to query where they are going, but the answer is inevitably "nowhere" and I'm glad I left before the commencement of the 40-minute Slow Action, which was apparently dire and the title alone gave me the shivers!

Brother Number One
Dir. Annie Goldson
Running Time: 97mins

This New Zealand documentary follows famous sportsman Rob Hamill as he travels to Cambodia - with detours to Australia and his native New Zealand - to give a victim statement at a trial for an evil Khmer Rouge leader responsible for the death of his bother, Kerry. As any documentary about the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge would be - you'll know of what I speak if you've seen Oscar-winning The Killing Fields from 1984 - Brother Number One (and not Number One Brother as I've been erroneously calling it all day!) is affecting and will wring tears from many.

It's such a shame then that director Annie Goldson's film isn't more a visually dynamic film. It's a very straightforward film, with little done to take it to the next level whether that be visually, structurally or within the material. While, thankfully, the story at its core is important enough to not necessarily need it, it just makes it hard to really say the film itself deserves the score I give it as opposed to the potency of its subject. B

The Black Power Mix-Tape 1967-1975
Dir. Göran Olsson
Running Time: 100mins

It's funny the things that can swing one's opinion of a film. Goran Olsson's The Black Power Mix-Tape 1967-1975 is a fascinating, and frequently enraging exploration of the black civil rights movement through the eyes of previously unseen Swedish news footage from the era. The film is definitely put together well and the interviews - both on screen from the 1960s and '70s to the audio interviews with the likes of ?uestlove, Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli and so forth - are interesting and full of wonderful details that, for someone like me, are quite illuminating.

Unfortunately, for a film with the word "Mix-Tape" in the title, there is a distinct lack of music. In fact, apart from one Michael Jackson song at the very beginning and a recurring use of one track by The Roots that I can't recall the title of (it was a great song) there is no music whatsoever. Perhaps it was naive to think a movie with this title explored the rights movement through music? Perhaps. B

You know what I've discovered is a really good way to stop oneself from falling asleep during a movie? Sit at the back of the cinema and as you drift off your head will topple backwards and hit the wall! I did this tonight at the ever fancy Greater Union 5 and my head hit the wall with an almighty smack. The lady next to me even jumped. I had to apologise: "Sorry, I fell asleep and my head hit the wall." Only during MIFF could I say that and not be embarrassed. The amount of times I've dozed off during films so far this festival is embarrassing in itself! Tomorrow I have Ruhr, so I'm sure it'll be happening again.

Along with the sleepiness, I think I'm getting deep vein thrombosis in my legs and to top off that marvellous feeling my coughing fits are remaining hoarse and sore. Plus I feel like I've been wearing the same clothes over and over again (I have, at least, with my jeans, which are the most comfortable ones to wear whilst in public that still look like I'm not wearing "comfy jeans"). I think I'm gonna have to swing into Little Cupcakes tomorrow and cheer myself up! It's not like my resident cupcake cooking friend Suze is helping!

*waits for a basket of cupcakes all his own!*

No? Oh...

MIFF Blogathon: Day 7 (Winter's Ugly Furniture)

This blogathon is an initiative of MIFF for their 60th anniversary year. I am one of six bloggers given the mission of seeing 60 films in 17 days and writing, reporting, reviewing and wrangling my way through the tiredness and hunger to bring the festival experience to your computer.

The Ugly Duckling
Dir. Garri Bardin
Running Time: 75mins

This Russian adaptation of the famed "ugly duckling" tale is most certainly the only time in cinema history that we will ever be able to describe a movie as "Chicken Run meets Black Swan!" and have it be absolutely accurate. The Ugly Duckling [Gadkiy utyonok] is Garri Bardin's first feature after a career of short movies that spans 40 years. While at only 75 minutes and bare storytelling it's hard to really define it as a feature at all, but a feature we shall call it nevertheless. This adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's short story is lovingly crafted and features several charming songs, but it's hard to deny the slight nature of its being and that

As featured in the "Next Generation" section of the festival, The Ugly Duckling is most definitely a film that would appeal to a younger audience. While I got quite a bit out of it, especially marvelling at the wonderfully expressive and detailed character creations, the fact that its made for kids with little consideration of adults was somewhat off-putting. I can't imagine anybody other than children finding the shrill singing voice of the ugly cygnet hatchling to be hilarious - and in a frustrating turn, we don't even get to hear the redemptive beautiful singing voice of the swan once he has transformed. Seems like a missed opportunity, especially in such a short movie.

In fact, the film's golden egg to speak in terms of adults viewers has surely come about purely by accident. Bardin has used Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake music as the basis for the original songs and the score routinely swells into the decadence of the musical pieces that were recently made pop culturally significant again due to Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan. The aesthetic is very 1980s TV Christmas movie - you know what I'm talking about if you grew up during the era - but that is another endearing quality that the film has in its plumage. The Ugly Ducking isn't particularly special, but curious parents could certainly do far worse (like, say, Cars 2!) B

Strangely, our print had both French and English subtitles on it. I've never seen this before! It was confusing at first.

Winter's Daughter
Dir. Johannes Schmid
Running Time: 92mins

It's about time I start using a thesaurus for words like "sweet" and "charming". The way I'm going, seemingly describing every second film as one or two of those adjectives, I will have well and truly burnt them out and they'll have as much meaning as "the Australian Liberal Party" or "Chris Brown: pop star". But, sometimes, they are the correct words to apply and in the case of Johannes Schmid's Winter's Daughter [Wintertochter], a wonderfully endearing tale of a two German women of different generations (who can tell where this one's going already, can't you?) driving through Poland to discover their lost and unknown families.

Nina Monka stars as 11-year-old Kattaka. She swims, is friends with the young boy next door and goes Christmas tree shopping with an elderly neighter, Ursula Werner's tough Lene. After being told by her mother (Katharina M Schubert) that the man she thought was her father (Maxim Mehmet) is not, but instead is a Russian trawler mechanic named Alexis, Kattaka and Lene travel to the Poland port town of Szczecin to meet him before segueing to the place Lene lived upon the breakout of WWII. It's hard to explain why Winter's Daughter was so good, but it really is just such a satisfying film that made me smile and feel a bit warm inside. The performances are uniformly excellent, especially Werner as well as Leon Seidel as a teenage boy who helps them on their way. The stark, wintery landscapes are wonderfully captured by Michael Bertl and the screenplay by Michaela Hinnenthal, Nora Lämmermann and Thomas Schmid is a restrained charmer. B+

True story: I actually wrote down "SEXY DAD!" in my notes. Add this Maxim Mehmet to the growing list of incredibly-sexy-i-hope-you-get-cast-in-staff-i-get-to-see-throughout-the-year MIFF actors.

Tiny Furniture
Dir. Lena Dunham
Running Time: 98mins

Could we have a new favourite of the 2011 film festival? Why yes, I think we do! Lena Dunham's extraordinary debut feature Tiny Furniture is a wonderful gem filled with hilarious insights into both twentysomething and adult life and a truly wicked outlook on all things "hipster". Many will take Tiny Furniture as being an actual hipster film - the "Mumblecore" movement of filmmaking does that to people - but I instead found Dunham's screenplay to be a vicious attack on the ideas of hipsters, as if pointing to the absurdity of it and cruelly jabbing it.

Following 23-year-old Aura (played by writer, director and - obviously - star Lena Dunahm) as a recently graduated, but emotionally and professionally questioning individual that I identified with greatly. As she moves back in with her mother and sister she finds it hard to identify what it is she wants and how to go about it. There are a lot of movies about this very topic, but it's the unique humour that Dunham brings to the material that stood out as well as the brittle deadpan delivery of she and her cast. My favourite bit was the line about watching reruns of Seinfeld. I watch reruns of Seinfeld! The way it came out of nowhere, much like most of the laugh out loud moments, elevated it beyond simple gag.

Curious to note that Tiny Furniture shares a cinematographer with my other best-of-the-fest title, Martha Marcy May Marlene since they look so different and do such different things with their surroundings (MMMM mostly exteriors, TF mostly interiors.) I adored the way Jody Lee Lipes framed Dunham's film. Major notice must go to art direction by Jade Healy and Chris Trujillo who were in charge of making this interior world amongst the New York suburbs of Tribecca and DUMBO look as refreshing and comical as it does. Dunham - also appearing in The Innkeepers this fest - is a wonderfully refreshing presence in front of the camera. Almost like a female Seth Rogen. Laurie Simmons, on the other hand, isn't so much refreshing as just deliciously lived in and natural as Aura's artist mother.

Whether Tiny Furniture classifies itself as Mumblecore is beyond my care, but what I really focus on is the precise and dedicated wit that Dunham brought to it. Tiny Furniture is a special, hilarious and deeply personal film that I will remember long after the festival. A

Beauty and the Beast
Dir. Jean Cocteau
Running Time: 96mins

Another retrospective title for MIFF and it's a wonderful one that I had never seen before. Jean Coteau's 1946 adaptation of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont's 1756 tale is a sumptuously designed affair with elaborate, dreamlike sets that incorporate gothic design and inventive visual effects. Meanwhile, costumes by Antonio Castillo, Marcel Escoffier and an uncredited Christian Bérard are almost as equally divine.

As classic as the film is - and despite having never seen it before, I can easily say that it is indeed a classic - it's hard not to laugh at some of the overt theatricality of it all. And as much as I'd love to admit I didn't laugh when Jean Marais's bête appeared for the first (and second and third...) time dressed like a cross between David Bowie in Labyrinth and Bjorn from ABBA wearing Liza Minelli's favourite black sequin top, however that would be lie. A big fat lie! A-

This evening at the Kino Palace for Beauty and the Beast there was very almost an "incident". In fact, I thought for sure I was witnessing a man dying right there in the cinema. You could've fooled me because it sounded like actual like vanishing from a man. As this elderly gentleman wheezed, coughed and splattered upon himself towards the start of the movie it, at first, sounded quite humourous ("now that's a cough!") but quickly sounded as if it was becoming very serious. Those sitting around him leaned in and offer assistance, one woman went running out of the cinema for assistance, one man yelled that he "take it outside!" (!!!) And then when one woman who had moved across the isle to help him asked "Someone's gone for help, are you okay?" and just like that he stopped coughing, said "Yes" in an inquisitive 'why wouldn't I be okay?' tone and then resumed watching the film never to be heard of again. Curious.

Curiouser still because just moments early I had returned from my own cinema exit rush as I absolutely had to leave for a spectacular coughing fit. It sounded like someone had removed a vital internal organ it was that long and loud. Yikes.

I also attended a screening today - Winter's Daughter - that was attended by what I think was several school classes. It was so refreshing to go to a film with teenagers in attendance and not wanna smack them with their phones and because of their endless chatter. They even laughed and applauded the opening commercial with Geoffrey Rush and clapped at film's end, too. I hope that amongst that large group of MIFF attendees there is at least one person as batty as we cinemagoers seeing 60 films a festival.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

MIFF Blogathon: Day 6 (Tomboys and Film-Noir in Oregon)

This blogathon is an initiative of MIFF for their 60th anniversary year. I am one of six bloggers given the mission of seeing 60 films in 17 days and writing, reporting, reviewing and wrangling my way through the tiredness and hunger to bring the festival experience to your computer.

If you've missed other days just click the "MIFF" tag at the bottom of the entry. I also wrote a dispatch for Trespass Mag on the first four days of the fest.

The Third Man
Dir. Carol Reed
Running Time: 104mins

Carol Reed's masterpiece The Third Man was released two years after his exceptional Odd Man Out, and together the two make a rather stunning double. The chance to see The Third Man, the story of Harry Lime and his mysterious death in a road accident outside his Vienna apartment, on the big screen was far too good to pass up. Even more so when I knew it meant not necessarily having to watch the film with my critical brain on. Having already seen it and thought of it as one of the greatest films ever made, I was able to simply soak in the beautiful Italian locations (yes, even the sewers are beautiful!), the perfect Oscar-winning cinematography by Robert Krasker, the crackling chemistry between all four lead characters, the dazzling looks of Valli and revel in the excitement and thrills of the final 40 minutes, one of the greatest chase sequences ever put to celluloid.

Unlike Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy on day one of the festival, there is no need for me to request my dear readers hail The Third Man as a newly minted masterpiece as it has been hailed as one since the day it won the Palme d'Or in Cannes (or, as it was known in 1949, the "Grand Prize of the Festival"). I can only suggest you watch it (or watch it again) and agree with the masses. A

I Wish I Knew
Dir. Jia Zhangke
Running Time: 138mins

This peculiar film comes from the director of Still Life, which reminds to this one of the two or three greatest films I've ever seen at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Perhaps that's why I keep going to his films - perhaps? it is - but neither of the subsequent Zhang films have been, well, good. While this long, meandering testimonial documentary is certainly better than Useless, I Wish I Knew failed to grab me and resulted in a long series of walkouts. I was never offended or truly annoyed by the film to walk out sooner, but I did have to leave several minutes before the end due to another session. To be honest, I don't think I missed much.

The film follows an unnamed woman as she trudges about the city of Shanghai. As she does nothing of note, we are greeted to lovely footage of citizens of Shanghai going about their daily routine: mahjong, a young child running around looking for a fight to show off his "muscles", shopping for produce at a market. Throughout the movie are dozens or interviews with subjects ranging from the recognisable (Hsiao-hsien Hou for instance) to the not (I'm not sure if they were all supposed to be famous. were they?) as they recall memories about the city of Shanghai. Occasionally these interviews produced some wonderful stories, but others (like one man who talks about moving a sofa lounge? I admit to probably dozing off during that one!) are unfocused and uninteresting.

My favourite interview was Wang Tung/Wang Toon who directed the 1997 film Red Persimmon. The film is interlaced with film clips and locations sequences of Shanghai are gloriously lensed by Ke-Jia's frequent cinematographer Nelson Yu Lik-wai in his trademark colour palate of sea green and smoggy whites. The heavily synthesised score by Giong Lim is a highlight, but eventually becomes repetitious. Like I said, it's hardly offensive enough to my sensibilities, but there lacks any serious bite to really engage. C-

How to Die in Oregon
Dir. Peter Richardson
Running Time: 107mins

To be perfectly honest with you, I'm not sure I am quite ready, willing and able to discuss this documentary about dying with dignity. Peter Richardson's deeply moving How to Die in Oregan follows a few cases of people wanting to die with dignity after contracting debilitating terminal illness, as well the Washington state's proposition to legalise it like it is in Oregon. Richardson mainly follows one case, however, and that's the beautiful Cody Curtis, a mother and wife with liver cancer. After the movie I tweeted this, and it's entirely true:

It knocked me out.

I don't really want to use my blog here to get into a big theological discussion about whether dying with dignity is a basic human right or not (I think it is, ahem), but I honestly don't know how anyone could watch this documentary and not be moved. There's a sequence in the film that shows religious protesters who believe when we die is the matter of God and God alone, but it's probably quite easy for them to say that when they're not the one dealing with crippling disease and pain. Hmmm. A-

Dir. Céline Sciamma
Running Time: 82mins

"Sweet" is the word that I - and I presume many others, too - keep coming back to when deciding what to write about this French childhood comedy, the first film by Céline Sciamma since Water Lilles in 2007. Tomboy follows a young girl, Laure, whose family has recently moved to a new area. She has a younger sister and her mother is pregnant. Laure, as played by the wonderful and touching Zoé Héran, does "the boy thing" - cuts her hair short, wears boys clothes, and actually passes for a boy in the presence of others.

The performances by Héran, Malonn Lévana as sister Jeanne and Sophie Cattani as their mother are uniformly excellent. Héran especially gives a beautiful performance and one that goes deeper than the rather shallow waters of the screenplay. It's one of the finest child actor performances of recent years. Unlike many other viewers though, I suspect sweetness is Tomboy's major thematic virtue. Does Sciamma's screenplay have much else to say on the matter of androgyny and even, though never explicitly discussed but certainly raised, homosexuality in young children? I'm not too sure. In fact, I happen to think that Tomboy works best as a look at sisterly bond than anything relating to a girl dressing up as a boy. B

Today was the first day of the festival where I didn't feel like I really wanted to just stay in bed and take flu-fighting drugs. I actually felt like perky today. Perhaps I've got the initial wind that most people had on the first day of the festival? That or I'll wake up tomorrow feeling like crap again and I'll wanna punch myself in the face for jinxing myself.

It's gotten to the stage of the festival where I truly, honestly, don't know what day it is or even what time it is. It's also gotten to the stage where I start to see and hear things. During yesterday's films I couldn't help but watch boring paedophile drama Michael and see Buster Bluth! Today, as I was watching The Third Man I routinely got the theme tune to Curb Your Enthusiasm in my brain! That zither music does weird things to the brain, I swear!

MIFF Blogathon: Day 5 (Pianos and Chess in Littlerock)

This blogathon is an initiative of MIFF for their 60th anniversary year. I am one of six bloggers given the mission of seeing 60 films in 17 days and writing, reporting, reviewing and wrangling my way through the tiredness and hunger to bring the festival experience to your computer.

The Piano in a Factory
Dir. Zhang Meng
Running Time: 105mins

China's answer to the American indie quirk genre, Zhang Meng's The Piano in a Factory [Gang de qin] is a surprisingly charming and goofy examination of a band of performers living amidst a dying industrial town as they go about building a piano for their leader's daughter. After divorce has left this troubadour, Wang Quin-yuan's Chen, with no money, the only way to buy the affections of his daughter over those of her materialistic mother, is to build a piano alongside his band mates in a disused factory. Wonderfully lensed by Shu Chou in a series of steely greys, the wintery landscapes of snow and mud are fabulously intertwined with the factories, pipes, tunnels, pillars and traffic sounds of this industrial wasteland.

We routinely hear of China being in an economic resources boom, so it's interesting to see this film's portrayal as less than so, with dank and decaying fashion. The director has thankfully used a light touch with the material and does a lot that stops it from descending into maudlin, depression territory, while skirting the twee, cloying tone that could come from using the Super Mario Bros theme music. The Piano in a Factory proves to be far less obvious and manufactured here than it would be in an American film of the same variety. Combined with utterly bizarre musical sequences, a fantastic lead performance by Qin Hai-lu make this film, despite being too long for sure, an endearing surprise. B+

Dir. Mike Ott
Running Time: 83mins

America through the eyes of two Asian tourists, Littlerock features an evocative sense of place mere minutes into its short running time, but a pair of strange lead performances dulls the experience. Atsuko Okatsuka stars as Atsuko, a young girl travelling through America with her brother. Stuck in Littlerock, California (not to be confused with the actual city of Little Rock, Arkansas), Atsuko finds herself enamoured with the small town Americana vibe (or perhaps just enamoured with anything that isn't a staunch Japanese upbringing) and chooses to stay on as her brother heads to San Fransisco. She makes friends with a curiously fey - yet staunchly heterosexual - drug pusher and wannabe model (Cory Zacharia as Cory), as well as Jordan (Brett L Tinnes), a cute boy who proves hipsters can be found anymore!

The camera of cinematographer Carl McLaughlin (also a co-writer) is the real star of Littlerock, as it latches on to the sights of America that so endear it to many travellers. Okatsuka's performance as Atsumo, unfortunately blank and empty as a tourist with no knowledge of the local language, is not one of the things that the camera appears in awe of. Occasionally piping up with flat narration in the form of letters written home to her father, Okatskuka never seizes upon any emotional reading of her face when given a close-up. She just sits there and she makes for a difficult entry into the story. The character of Cory is the opposite, as there is so much of him given to us that I actually wished they put him away. Why he was written as an obvious homosexual who's willing to pull Zoolander model faces and perform his runway walk at the drop of a hat is beyond me. Was Ott trying to say something about homosexuality in a small town? If he was, I think I missed it. C+

Bobby Fischer Against the World
Dir. Liz Garbus
Running Time: 90mins

Chess: It's not the most exciting sport, is it? Especially when your prime subject has a rule in his big matches that there be no filming allowed. So, what we have here with Liz Garbus' documentary Bobby Fischer Against the World is a movie about chess' greatest player and yet we never actually get to see the man play. Must be a joke, yeah? Unfortunately, no.

Bobby Fischer Against the World is what I called a "wikipedia film". It even goes so far as to divide its (thankfully brief) run time into separately themed chapters of easily digestible themes. Garbus' subject is an interesting one, that's for sure, but where is the punch, where is the excitement? Something to have enlivened this documentary would have been greatly appreciated. As it is it's a standard history lesson that doesn't dig all that deep. C

Dir. Markus Schleinzer
Running Time: 96mins

It's curious. The banality that I found numbing and dull in Michael is the exact virtue that many others (including fellow blogathon buddy Thomas Caldwell) found in the piece. Was debut director Markus Schleinzer's plan to show that not only are paedophiles evil, but they're also incredibly boring? Sadly, I suspect this was in fact the case, but Schleinzer has gone about the material with the vagueness of blanched brussel sprouts.

The daunting prospect of watching a film about a paedophile who keeps a child locked in the basement is blunted by Schleinzer's desire to do absolutely nothing with it. There isn't anything particularly shocking or daring going on here; we've heard far worse coming out of the mouths of actual dungeon abuse victims. All Michael has is a static camera that thinks its being observational about the world, but instead - from my perspective - came off as scared and uninterested.

To call the lead character of Michael, played by Buster Bluth lookalike Michael Fuith, detached would be an understatement for the festival. As he keeps young Wolfgang locked in his basement, Schleinzer follows his mundane life as he goes to work, goes skiing, tries to have sex with a woman and fails, goes to hospital due to a car accident... and it all plays out in bland, Haneke-lite long shots with ambiguous beginning and end times. There is some interesting work done to imply that this boy has been there for quite some time and that Michael has helf other boys before, but it really does come off as a case of the director letting the subject matter do the heavy lifting and expecting some sort of meaning to bounce out because of it. Michael is arthouse filmmaking at its most maddening. Except, I guess, there's nothing particularly "maddening" about Michael. It just exists. Like brussel sprouts. D

I expected walkouts at Michael due to the nature of the plot, but the film's wishy-washy presentation - almost afraid to do or say anything about paedophiles or their victims - gave the large Tuesday night crowd nothing to get particularly huffy about, although I heard bad projection issues meant an earlier screening of Uzo and Scorsese's The King of Comedy meant viewers were left wanting.

Today at Bobby Fischer I had the pleasure of finally meeting Rhett Bartlett of Dial M for Movies. As we sat waiting for the movie to begin a lady began speaking to us. She had recognised me as one of the bloggers and began to explain how she thought it was a conspiracy as to who was chosen to take part. Apparently we'd all been published already (there's a difference between being published and making money, but I couldn't be bothered going into the depressing details right then and there) and how she wanted to be a blogger. Humourously, upon noticing me pull out a notepad and pen she all but screamed "I don't want to be blogger anymore! I don't want to be blogger anymore!"

Apparently all this "writing" stuff was a bit much for her. When I asked if she had been reading or following us on Twitter she said had not and then went about giving herself, Rhett and I popcorn related nicknames. The people you meet... :/

Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: The Illusionist

The Illusionist
Dir. Sylvain Chomet
Year: 2010
Aus Rating: PG
Running Time: 80mins

An 80-minute, hand-drawn animated French film without dialogue and with one of the most depressing finale acts ever committed to celluloid: this is The Illusionist. It’s also some sort of divine masterpiece. French animator Sylvain Chomet has adapted an unproduced Jacques Tati (the iconic late French comedian behind Mon Oncle and Playtime) screenplay from 1956 into this vividly realised, boutique piece of old-fashioned nostalgia. First seen at the 2010 Melbourne International Film Festival, this timeless film is finally receiving a local release and it is one of the finest works seen on our screens this year.

Read the rest at Trespass Mag

MIFF Blogathon: Day 4 (Yoko Ono Plastic Driving Morgue Attending Band)

This blogathon is an initiative of MIFF for their 60th anniversary year. I am one of six bloggers given the mission of seeing 60 films in 17 days and writing, reporting, reviewing and wrangling my way through the tiredness and hunger to bring the festival experience to your computer.

Dir. Michael Epstein
Running Time: 120mins

This documentary about John Lennon's decade-long residency in New York City proved to be a very rewarding winner. Directed by relative newcomer Michael Epstein, and with permission by Yoko Ono to use unheard audio and unseen video, LennoNYC is an expansive and exciting documentary. I adored the various vintage videos of New York City as well as the fascinating Lennon/Ono footage that never quite becomes so in love with its subject as to lose sight of his foibles. Alas, thankfully, it's a loving put together film that shows Lennon off to the be funny, gifted musician that everyone says he was.

Thankfully, best of all, was the film's stance on Ono. Usually a figure of jest or abuse, all the participants who discuss her relationship with John do so in an affirmative manner, which is a relief - I guess since she is responsible for getting the film made then it was never going to be a Yoko Ono hate piece, but representations of her in the media are never positive enough if you ask me. It also helps that I feel the exact same way about this city as they did: They felt they were "on the same page as New Yorkers. We felt like New Yorkers." Amen, John. B+

Dir. Craig Lahiff
Running Time: 87mins

This Australian thriller plays much like an ocker version of John Dahl's fabulous Red Rock West, and for a while is actually quite a rock solid affair. However, it also plays like a recent Australian film called Cactus. Unfortunately the end product is certainly better than that one, but lacks the punch of Dahl's western noir. Swerve is either not silly enough or not serious enough, but it does still have some entertaining moments.

The cast is great to look at and Lahiff's direction of a action sequences is great, but there's just not enough of them. For a movie called Swerve there are indeed a lot of cars, but not enough cars being hit my freight trains, ya know? C+

What began as a five film day very quickly became a two film day in a casualty like something out of Swerve. I unfortunately had to ditch Janus Metz Pedersen's war documentary Armadillo is favour of rest. While I, at first, felt much better today than the last few, by the end my head was pounding, my throat was rendering me unable to talk clearly and even my eyeballs hurt!

The biggest story of the day, however, was Pablo Larraín's Post Mortem. This film played in competition at Venice last year and won some effusive praise from the likes of Guy Lodge, but... yeesh! Post Mortem now counts as my first walk out of the festival. And after only about 45 minutes, too. While it's partly my fault - I dozed off and woke up during a scene of characters screaming and drooling and fucking and promptly went "right, that's that!" - but, yikes, from what I saw this was a maddeningly frustrating film. What any of it meant, I haven't the slightest clue. I went downstairs to The Forum Lounge and was quickly joined by Richard Watts and fellow blogathon-er Thomas Caldwell. Turns out, from witnesses who stayed the full length, that it was the busiest walkout film of the festival so far!

Has The Turin Horse screened yet?

Oh, and the fifth film? I feel no shame is admitting I dumped 33 Postcards for a press screening of Captain America. I chose correctly, I suspect. I continue to apologise if my writings sound awfully rushed and incoherent. I'm alive off of the smell of an oily rag!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

MIFF Blogathon: Day 3 (Cult Assassins)

This blogathon is an initiative of MIFF for their 60th anniversary year. I am one of six bloggers given the mission of seeing 60 films in 17 days and writing, reporting, reviewing and wrangling my way through the tiredness and hunger to bring the festival experience to your computer.

Martha Marcy May Marlene
Dir. Sean Durkin
Running Time: 101mins

A deeply disturbing, haunting and enigmatic exploration of a disturbed young woman - a superb Elizabeth Olsen as all four titular names in one package - escaping an abusive cult-like commune. Martha Marcy May Marlene is an exceptionally well-made debut feature for writer/director Sean Durkin; an instant career maker for a man clearly already very much aware of his craft. He has been fortunate enough to cast the wildly talented Olsen - looking more like a mix between Miley Cyrus and Hilary Duff than her more famous sisters - whose face is a dizzying mix of need, desire, want and desperation. Her increasing paranoia is perfectly framed on either side of the film's non-linear storytelling method by supporting performances from the likes of John Hawkes, terrifying as the commune's leader, and Sarah Paulson as her worried sister.

Like the recent works of David Lynch, a superb example of how a film can be a horror movie without necessarily being full of blood or violence. One scene in particular at a garden party is amongst the scariest stuff I've seen all year, and another moment reminiscent of Michael Hanake's Funny Games (not least of all due to the presence of Brady Corbett) is the stuff of gun-churning nightmares. Cinematography by Jody Lee Lipes paints these worlds with Earthy greens, pearly beige, deep yellows and deep greys, with careful care taken to not present one part of Martha's story as more positive or hopeful. You can take the girl out of the cult, but you can't take the cult out of the girl and Durkin's fabulous screenplay wonderfully plays with the idea that these places do damage for far longer than just the time spent there. A / A-

I'm sure I'll have more to say on this film through the rest of year and awards season, where I hope it plays to success.

13 Assassins
Dir. Takeshi Miike
Running Time: 126mins

I will freely admit that I think, perhaps, this flu that I am currently trudging through got the best of me with Takeshi Miike's samurai film, 13 Assassins [十三人の刺客 Jūsannin no Shikaku]. In fact, I was willing to admit this mere seconds into it as a bunch of set-up text flew by on the screen so fast I was barely able to read or comprehend any of it. For the next 40 minutes or so I didn't have much of a clue as to what was going on. Daisuke Tengan's screenplay lacks character definition outside of two or three characters - and with a film of, basically, 16 notable characters, that's not a good start - and the production itself does little to set them apart.

Thankfully Miike's direction is fun, if a tad too familiar, and the climactic battle sequence that takes up the entire final act is a dazzling, intricate and humourous affair that warrants seeing on the big screen. Yuji Hayashida's art direction and Kazuhiro Sawataishi's costume design are particularly memorable, as is the performance by Gorô Inagaki as the villainous Lord Naritsugu. B-

I bit my tongue whilst waiting in the line for Martha Marcy May Marlene at ACMI when a couple just ahead of me asked each other "what do they use this place for during the rest of the year?" As someone who has such deep love for that place, I wanted to tap them on the shoulder and scream.

More humourous, however, was the man who yelled out during the closing credits for the ACMI staff to turn the lights on. For whatever reason the lights weren't raised at all during the credits, so most people just remained seated. This man obviously wanted to leave (oh, there was a walk out about half way through the film, too!) because, ya know, heaven forbid one should watch the closing credits of the movie you just spent 100 minutes of your life watching.

MIFF Blogathon: Day 2 (Forgotten Caves, Kill Lists and Submarines)

This blogathon is an initiative of MIFF for their 60th anniversary year. I am one of six bloggers given the mission of seeing 60 films in 17 days and writing, reporting, reviewing and wrangling my way through the tiredness and hunger to bring the festival experience to your computer.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Dir. Werner Herzog
Running Time: 90mins

Has Werner Herzog become a quasi-hipster joke? A piss-take of himself that nobody can take seriously? It certainly feels that way after watching this 3D documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, as he drearily walks around a cave spouting ridiculous dialogue like "is this cave the beginning of the modern soul?" in that recognisable accent of his. Perhaps Herzog thinks that by this stage of his career he can do whatever he likes and that if he just throws out some verbose narration and obvious references to Baywatch that people will love it?

Whatever the case my be, the subject matter - previously undiscovered, ancient rock drawings from France - feels like an important topic in a historic sense, but nothing Herzog does here, other than the occasionally spectacular 3D, can enliven the rather drowsy material. I admit to falling into several microsleeps during this film, which feels like a short documentary expanded into feature length to the detriment of the material. An abrasive musical score by Ernst Reijseger certainly doesn't help matters, either. A disappointing effort. C

Living on Love Alone
Dir. Isabelle Czajka
Running Time: 89mins

A lovingly lit French drama about a young woman, Anaïs Demoustier as Julie, whose inability to cope with the realities of inner city life sends her crashing towards a doomed romance with an out of work actor, Pio Marmaï as Ben. Living on Love Alone [D'amour et d'eau fraîche] is the debut feature for Isabelle Czajka and while it certainly looks impressive, thanks to sun-kissed cinematography by Crystel Fournier and the attractive leads, it suffers from the dreaded no-third-act syndrome. This is a phenomenon that plagues many Australian films, too, and it's disappointing that this brief film wasn't expanded somewhat and given a proper ending.

Demoustier is a stylish presence on screen, but it's Marmaï who really stands out as the film's strongest aspect. His charming presence makes Julie's decisions more believable than they otherwise would be. The screenplay, also by Czajka, has some interesting things to say about the laziness of youth and Julie's inability to comprehend what is required of her in the adult world. I appreciated Czajka's realistic take on young people and their attitudes towards sex, while a family dinner sequence is spot on, too, in the way family members interact. The closing scenes are involving, but end too abruptly. B-

I just want to show you what Pio Marmaï looks like, okay?

I think I'm in love lust.

Dir. Richard Ayoade
Running Time: 97mins

"Ben Stiller Presents" says the poster. I presume because British humour does not travel well over the Atlantic Ocean (the Australian poster is Ben Still free) they felt the need to place Stiller's marketable name on there, but I can't imagine anybody going to see Richard Ayoade's debut feature Submarine based on his name and being anything but disappointed. That's not a mark against the film, but it was something that lingered on my mind after the credits. There is such a distinct voice to Submarine that dumbing it down to Ben Stiller's level feels silly.

At first coming off as Britain's answer to a Wes Anderson film, Submarine eventually morphs into something far darker and less pleasurable. Aided by a winning lead performance by Craig Roberts, the opening half of Richard Ayoade's debut feature is funny and charming, with brisk editing Chris Dickens and Nick Fenton and a wonderfully worked sense of time and place. However, the way Ayoade handled the shift in tone is troublesome. There's no nuance there and the abrupt change is distracting. Still, there are many pleasures to be found withing Submarine and I suspect it was garner a lot of fans with its refreshing take on American quirky indies. B

Kill List
Dir. Ben Wheatley
Running Time: 90mins

A film of three very different acts - domestic drama; action movie; horror - Ben Wheatley's Kill List is a rather confounding experience. The less you know about it the more intrigued you will be by it. I was curious as to where it was going, especially in those opening scenes where domestic non-bliss, although once it got there I found my interest waning. A third act about face, however, produces some truly visceral, terrifying cinema. Kill List is a curious film and probably demands more thought than I am able to give it right now. B-

The Innkeepers
Dir. Ti West
Running Time: 102mins

Ti West has, after two films, become one of the most interesting names in horror. Not content to make the same film like many others, West has followed up his terrifying 1980s homage The House of the Devil with this far more quaint and quieter scarer. Made with a very obvious wink at the audience, The Innkeepers succeeds due to the adorable charm of lead Sara Paxton and a gripping set of frights that work time and time again.

It still saddens me to know that The House of the Devil never got a release in country. I was able to see it a local horror film festival, but no subsequent DVD release has ever eventuated. Such a shame that people haven't been able to see it without illegal downloading because it's a doozy of a horror flick. West appears to have learnt a thing or two as well since there are no pacing issues and the third act is a considerable step in the right direction. I can only hope that local audiences get the chance to see The Innkeepers at some point as it works far better than many horror films that get a release. It's got a kindred spirit in Insidious, and I think if you mixed the two films together they would actually make a perfect horror movie. As it stands? B+

I somehow made it through five films yesterday despite battling the flu. I have popped so many pills and drank so many blackcurrent lemsips and yet it still hangs around. If you notice my writing in these entries tends to drift off or sound disconnected, it's probably because I don't feel like myself right now. This is getting very tiresome.

Not as tiresome, however, as the technical issues a near sold out crowd experienced at Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Not just one, but several! At first the film began to play with distorted sound. As @FeNi64 humourously put it on Twitter: "It sounded like Stephen Hawking on flat batteries." That this is an apt description is all very o_O you know? Still, the pandemonium that erupted through the Hoyts cinema was like nothing I had ever witness before. Patrons, a lot of them, were stomping their feet, booing, chanting... anything to get the attention of the festival staff so they would do something. I heard later in the evening from someone who was standing next to festival director Michelle Carey when she got the phone call and she was none too pleased.

Once they finally got the film going from the start again the crowd couldn't have expected what would come next: During the "postscript" sequence (the bit about albino crocodiles) the film just stopped. Another wave of moans and groans swept across the cinema as one employee valiantly tried to keep us all in check. Several people got up to leave. I didn't. However, once the film started up again and then froze AGAIN? I grabbed my stuff and left. Such is the burden of a person seeing 60 films at a festival.