Monday, August 8, 2011

MIFF Blogathon: Day 16 & 17 (Driving to Page One with Sushi & Attenberg)

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.

Page One: Inside the New York Times
Dir. Andrew Rossi
Running Time: 88mins

Unfortunately I had to leave this screening of Andrew Rossi's year inside the news offices of the "paper of record" The New York Times due to an emergency (er, an emergency known as "needing to earn money"), but I have a screener on the way so I'll be able to properly assess then. However, from what I did see I found Page One: Inside the New York Times to be a rather unfocused and haphazardly pieced together documentary.

It's a fascinating topic, and for a New York tragic like myself there should've been plenty to interest me, but it lacks a solid backbone. There are several different movies in Page One: a look at the Wikileaks scandal as seen through the eyes a newsroom; a documentary biopic of an acclaimed writer (David Carr) whose life is much like a film script; an investigation on the dying form known as the hardcopy newspaper and the way technology has both hurt and saved journalism. Unfortunately, instead of simply focusing on one, Rossi chooses a free-flowing structure and never settles. The Wikileaks issue is raised early on and then forgotten, while one scene sees many seasoned journalists being made redundant and either being fired or retiring and yet it never packs much of a punch because we haven't been given enough time to get to know these people. I won't grade it just yet, but will return to it once I've seen the entire film.

Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn
Running Time: 100mins

I'm going to review this film with a much larger word length sometimes in the future (probably once I've seen it for a second time), but I feel like I need to just say this: Drive is perfect. An excellent choice (however secondary it was after the initial selection, Red Dog, had to be swapped) for a closing night film as it races right to the heart and injects it full of adrenalin and noir-tinged style. It's stylish, cool and gorgeously rendered as it pulsates to that stunning electro synth score by Cliff Martinez and pieces with Los Angeles photography that is the best since Collateral in 2003.

Nicolas Winding Refn is a director that has never particularly been on my radar. Bronson never appealed to me and I wasn't even aware of his Pusher trilogy, but now I think it's an absolute must to catch up with them if they are at all even half as good as Drive. This film is like some wild mix of David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, William Friedkin's To Live and Die in LA (hello Wang Chung!), Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (those night time sequences!) and Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver. And yet, thankfully, it feels like entirely its own film and never succumbs to mere copycat filmmaking or obvious homage. I'm lucky if I find just one movie a year to make me feel so giddy that I want to dance. And dance I did. A+

Dir. Athina Rachel Tsangari
Running Time: 95mins

You know what? I think I would've been absolutely as perplexed by Athina Rachel Tsangari's Attenberg no matter what the circumstances. That I saw it on a dreary-eyed Sunday morning after the "closing night" festivities of the night before and was battling a debilitating hangover (and brain-draining embarrassment) surely did not help matters. Was I just on the wrong wavelength to the crowd, who seemed the be laughing with startling frequency? Or am I just on the wrong wavelength to Greek cinema altogether? Ever since I saw Dogtooth two years ago at MIFF I haven't come across a Greek I've liked! Hmmm.

Starring Venice Best Actress winner Ariane Labed as a - here are those words again! - socially awkward young adult named Marina. She asks her dad inappropriate questions about sex, imitates animals that she sees on David Attenborough documentaries and does kooky dances with her friend, Bella (played by Evangelia Randou). The idea of quirk for quirk's sake surely went through my mind when thinking about Attenberg, since there are multiple scenes that feel as if they are there simply to be weird, but which I will surely be told actually, in fact, "mean something". Yeah, okay, whatever, but when a character (played by Dogtooth director Giorgos Lanthimos!) tells the lead that she is annoying and that he'd like her to shut up you're kinda bringing this rating on yourself. C-

Dir. Giorgio Mangiamele
Running Time: 85mins

Recently restored and looking stunning, this is the first film by Mangiamele that I have seen. He was a prolific filmmaker "in his day" and this 1965 drama about a man on the run from the law is certainly "of its day". Filmed in incredible black and white, Clay follows the small number of members of an artist's commune in the Victorian countryside who take in a stranger, knowing nothing of his past. He falls for the girl, she falls for him, but the other pointy end of a love triangle has other plans.

To say Clay is dated in its acting and writing style is be kind. The actors here are certainly a curious bunch, often looking bored or confused. The dialogue they have to speak isn't much better as Jean Lebedew's Margot narrates in excessive and increasingly long-winded platitudes about life and stuff ("life and stuff" is as much as I could gather) and speaks in slow, breathy whimpers when she's not laughing hysterically in the irritating manner that she does. George Dixon and Chris Tsalikis both have the "strong, silent type" routine to a tee, but it could also be confused with "strong, silent, seriously this is my first time acting!" (which it was). Gorgeous to look at, but where other old films' classic filmmaking methods still ring true, Clay's are stilted and hard to push through. C+

Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Dir. David Gelb
Running Time: 81mins

As refreshing, elegant and deceptively simply as the food it so exquisitely documents, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a delectable and mouthwatering Japanese documentary that explores the life of famed sushi master Jiro Ono and his 10-seat, yet 3 Michelin Star-ed, restaurant. David Gelb's gorgeous film is as much an ode to the Japanese cuisine as it is Jiro Ono, but Ono is such a delightful presence that it's nigh on impossible to not be charmed by the man. Same goes for his several employees and former apprentices who reel off humourous tales of their experiences working alongside this intimidated pint-sized man.

A lot of the film's success must be placed at the feet of editor Brandon Driscoll-Luttringer who keeps the film to a brief running time and superbly placed. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is such a narrow subject that the editing must be fiercely blunt in order to make sure the film doesn't get bogged down in repetitive nothingness. Unnecessary? Get rid of it! As a piece of "food porn" Gelb's documentary certainly passes the grade with the cinematography framing the neatly packaged bite-sized morsels in such a saintly light that everyone viewing the film will crave sushi afterwards.

What really makes Jiro Dreams of Sushi such an exceptional slice of filmmaking, however, is the rather melancholic way it presents the life of Ono's eldest son. Being the older of two means that he is the one to take over the business, but what is he to do with, at 85 years of age, Jiro shows no sign of slowing down? Has his father's success and subsequent shadow prevented Takashi from living the life he wanted to live or are the seemingly still rigid Japanese cultural norms to blame for stunting Takeshi's life from taking a different path that it is hinted Takeshi wishes he had taken? Either way, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a rather exceptional documentary and one that will make you think twice about how much work went into that California Roll you snack on at lunch. A-

The MIFF "closing night" festivities certainly were a roller-coaster. Starting off with meeting the one and only David Stratton - for all you non-antipodeans out there, David Stratton is Australia's answer to Roger Ebert - who, let's face it, didn't particularly care to be talking with a bunch of no-name critics such as myself and fellow blogathon partners. Nevertheless, we got a Lars von Trier rant out of him (he famously hates the man and gave Dancer in the Dark 0 stars whilst his TV show reviewing partner Margaret Pomeranz gave it 5) and that's pretty much the greatest thing ever. For the record, Stratton is a fan of the start and the end of Melancholia, but thinks the rest is rubbish. So that's that then.

After that as well as a brief tasting of truffle-infused popcorn (hint: it tastes just like regular popcorn, but with the aftertaste of money) we were filed into cinema 5 at the Greater Union on Russell Street to watch Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive. As uncomfortable as it is to be in the GU in general, let alone whilst wearing a suit and tie, the film was - as you've surely figured - brilliant and a work of genius. We later found out that the festival's director, Michelle Carey, thanked us bloggers in her speech. I saw "later found out" because, lo and behold, we were not in the much larger cinema 6. Oh sure, I got to sit right in front of Wolf Creek director Greg McLean (obviously a late RSVP or else he'd be over in cinema 6, I'm sure), but I find it somewhat ironic that we got shafted to the lesser cinema whilst people across the way who'd probably barely even seen one or two films got awards and nice speeches and Drive exhibited on a screen double the size. Crikey blogathon member Luke Buckmaster has a much more acid-tongued response the whole situation.

The closing night party was glorious, apart from the rather embarrassing Gosling clones out the front who were wearing the wrong costume and chewing on toothpicks with all the coolness of Kathy Bates. While the night was filled with amazing '80s tunes, fabulous dancing and incredible people, it ended on a truly bizarre note that I shall not go into on here. Honestly, I never could have predicted the direction that night took me on and even though I had a sore head in the morning (and sore ego/bank account) I guess it was all worth it. Yeah? Any night where I get to dance crazy Kate Bush dance moves mere minutes after discussing the inherent sexiness to be found in Timothy Olyphant with a knife (something Jason at My New Plaid Pants certainly agrees with) is a-okay by me!

I will be doing one or two more MIFF pieces to bring this crazy blogathon to a close. I will rank all the films I saw, hand out my own awards and give all the required thank yous. Hopefully we'll be back on regular programming once that's all done and dusted.

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