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Wednesday, 24 August 2016

MIFF 2016 (3) - SYC Shaun Heenan's Festival Diary - Days 5 & 6

Day Five

Don’t Call Me Son (Anna Muylaert, Brazil, 2016)
A teen who appears to be considering gender transition is shocked to learn that the mother he has known for his whole life kidnapped him at birth and will be heading to jail for it. The boy finds himself less than thrilled with his real family. This feels like the first two thirds of a better movie. Muylaert’s 82-minute film does all the setup for a story exploring gender identity and sense of belonging and the true meaning of family, and just when all the pieces are in place for something interesting to happen, it doesn’t, and the credits roll. Not recommended.

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (Juho Kuosmanen, Finland/Germany/Sweden, 2016)
This year’s winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes is a beautifully photographed black and white love story which pretends to be about boxing for a little while. In this true story, country boy Olli is taken to the city to train for the World Featherweight title against Davey Moore, but finds himself losing interest when he falls in love with a Raija, a kind girl from his hometown. This is perhaps the sweetest boxing movie ever made, and it’s one of the best films I saw at MIFF. Highly recommended.

From Afar (Lorenzo Vigas, Venezuela, 2015)
Winner of the Golden Lion at Venice last year, and Venezuela’s submission for the upcoming Oscars, From Afar is a sad tale I found it hard to connect with. This is the story of middle-aged man who uses his wealth to dominate the tough young men he meets in the street, giving them the money they need in exchange for sexual favours. It’s also the story of a boy who dominates him back, taking the money and offering nothing. The relationship begins creepily and only becomes more uncomfortable to watch. I didn’t particularly love the film’s look, which deliberately keeps most of the frame out of focus, showing only the characters with any real clarity. I’m not going to say this is a bad film, since it’s very well made, but I can’t imagine telling a person to watch it. Not recommended.

Slack Bay (Bruno Dumont, France/Germany, 2016)
Another 2016 Palme d’Or nominee. This film is out of its mind. Every performance is so wildly overplayed that they make the average Johnny Depp role look downright sensible. Characters gesticulate wildly, shriek, exaggerate their walking and so on in a way which proved to be a real turnoff to many of my fellow festivalgoers. This story about a rich family visiting a holiday house near a family of cannibals certainly overstays its welcome at over two hours. It’s an exhausting tone to keep up for that long, but I enjoyed the utter silliness just often enough to come out of this one slightly positive. Juliette Binoche comes out looking worse than the rest of the cast, though perhaps only because I’m familiar with her at a normal register. Very, very mildly recommended.

The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook, South Korea, 2016)
As of late August, this is my favourite film of the year. This Palme d’Or nominee is part sweeping historical romance, part complexly-plotted thriller and part wicked comedy. Transplanting Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith from Victorian England to 1930s Korea, the film tells the story of a Korean pickpocket selected to work as a handmaiden for a Japanese heiress. A charming conman plots to make a great deal of money by pitting maid against heiress, but the two women fall in love. The film’s labyrinthine plot lays the groundwork, but the true beauty comes from the wonderful score and the intricate set decoration. The film is surprisingly sleazy (it’s already been classified R in Australia) and incredibly funny. I could not stop smiling. Highly recommended.

Day Six
Innocence of Memories (Grant Gee, UK, 2015)
A truly dull documentary which aims to translate material previously covered in a book (Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence) to the screen, but fails to find a sensible way to do so. It’s the story of a tragic romance between a man and a shopkeeper who is not his fiancée, and there’s a house in Istanbul which stands as a museum of items mentioned in the book. The camera aimlessly floats around this building for a while, and ventures out into the nighttime streets, where it stays for most of the film as voiceover narration provides the story. I’m not sure I can name a film with a less useful visual component. Strongly not recommended.

Weiner (Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg, USA, 2016)
A documentary about Anthony Weiner: the politician whose name became an unfortunately perfect punchline after he (repeatedly) sent nude photos of himself to (many) women online. The scandal he faced when those pictures predictably became public led to his downfall from Congress, but boldfaced optimism led him to campaign as a candidate for mayor of New York. The filmmakers were in the right place at the right time to capture a disaster in the making, themselves asking Weiner near the end of his campaign, “Why did you let us film this?” The access and the story can’t help but allow the film to succeed. Recommended.

Captain Fantastic (Matt Ross, USA, 2016)
A big draw at this year’s Sundance Film Festival before making its way to Melbourne via Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section. Viggo Mortensen plays Ben, a father who chose to raise his clan of children in the woods, teaching them anti-capitalist philosophy and survival skills. The suicide of his wife leads the family to venture into civilization for the funeral. The film decries the level of education modern children receive, while still more-or-less accepting that Ben’s method is borderline child abuse. I’d like it more if it hadn’t undone some of its wisest decisions with its feelgood ending. Many of the young actors here feel like they should become stars. Mildly recommended.

Madly (Gael Garcia Bernal/Anurag Kashyap/Natasha Khan/Sebastian Silva/Sion Sono/Mia Wasikowska, USA/UK/India/Australia/Argentina/Japan/Sweden, 2016)
I’m not the world’s greatest fan of themed short film compilations, since I find even great directors tend to find themselves hamstrung by the format. Madly offers a series of shorts on the vague topic of love, with many of them focusing on the ways love can hurt, confuse and disappoint. Mia Wasikowska’s local effort is a darkly comic tale of post-natal depression. Sebastian Silva’s entry begins as a strong look at the life of a teen, made homeless when his religious parents eject him for coming out as gay, but Silva relies too much on his cynicism, ending on a series of cruel twists which undermine his efforts. Natasha Khan is unknown to me, but her film about a young woman’s wedding day is probably the best of an underwhelming collection. Not recommended.

Lily Lane (Benedek Fliegauf, France/Germany/Hungary, 2016)
A troubled mother tortures her son with scary stories, passing her own pain on to her child in this ugly, dreary sleep-inducing quasi-horror film. The film drags its way through scene after scene of what is essentially filler as it trudges its way towards the only point it has to make: a very obvious revelation about the nature of these stories. The visuals are dingy and the occasional interruptions by a surreal nightmare world of trick photography look even worse. We spend a lot of time looking at close-ups of a gnarled tree, for reasons I can’t fathom. I have hardly ever been so bored by a film. Strongly not recommended.

Baskin (Can Evrenol, Turkey, 2015)

During the weekends, MIFF audiences can choose to attend various midnight horror screenings at ACMI. This widely-hyped Turkish film was the lesser of the two I attended. There are moments of horrific creativity on display here, as a group of obnoxiously-masculine police officers follow a late-night emergency call into the bowels of an old building at the end of a mysterious road. The film spends too long with these truly off-putting characters making ugly conversation at a diner, then makes them more-or-less irrelevant as the nightmare world they discover takes over. The hellish imagery on display later in the film is impressive at first, but there’s just not quite enough going on to sustain this one. Not recommended.

Monday, 22 August 2016

The Current Cinema - Barrie Pattison reviews the Korean hit TRAIN TO BUSAN

A monster hit on its home turf and getting attention in festival exposure, its an agreeable surprise to find that Train to Busan actually does what the best trash movies do - follow nail biting build ups with cheerworthy outcomes. They even manage enough characterisation to create some involvement. It totally creams the country's more measured The Wailing, which we saw earlier this year.

Expert exposition, with the road kill getting up glassy eyed and emergency vehicles racing through the traffic, while sketching in the tension between Yoo Gong and his pre-teener daughter Su-an Kim who wants to visit separated mum for her birthday. They take the high speed K Rail train to Busan. The immaculately turned out conductor has the train hostess straighten her uniform scarf and we think aha  more characters! A barely glimpsed figure tumbles on board where the snotty school kids are being mean to isolated boy Woo-sik Choi, whom K pop girl Ahn So-hee determinedly sits next to. There’s a granny and her daughter.

So much for background. Lets get on with  filling up carriages  with blood thirsty  rabid zombies and introduce burley Dong-seok Ma with his pregnant wife Jung Yu Me, crooked on dad for nearly locking them in with the crazies. 

The stop at the station which the military were supposed to be protecting, filling with swarming khaki zombies who spill off the awning onto the platform when our lot switch escalators to get back up, is a great set piece - but there’s more.

The leads have to travel four zombie filled carriages, using the darkness of the tunnels for cover, to rescue their own, and the survivors, headed by the mean businessman don’t want to let them in. Well we know what’s going to happen to them. 

The tracks are blocked by derailed carriages and there are runaway trains, some great crash effects and a diesel engine pulling a carpet of zombies before we get the tunnel climax where the audience is by now articulating “Oh no!” 

Like Speed, on which it is modeled (along with a bit of the Indian Robot and Carnival of Souls), the film goes on too long after they get off the train and the digital work can be spotted at the end. But this one is pretty much admirable of it’s kind, free of the suspect science fiction speculation they fall back on in Snow Piercer.

Director Sang-ho Yeon (the admirable animator of Dwae-ji-ui wang/The King of Pigs, 2011) had a first go round as a toon with his Seoul Station. It will be interesting to see what these people do next.

Editor's Note: Train to Busan is, according to the ticket seller at the Event Cinema in George St, "the biggest Korean movie we've ever had on". Its on 21 screens around the country and after 11 days in release had grossed $390,000. 

AFI Screenings 2016 - GIRL ASLEEP (inc post script from Eddie Cockrell)

Ok, let's put something to rest. The first shot of this movie, a long single medium shot of two kids on a school bench with much activity around them in the background, and with some interruptions on their plane, is as strikingly similar to the way Wes Anderson sets up his scenes that you just go "duh".  If you want an extended explanation of how Anderson does it you should visit David Bordwell's blog entry when Moonrise Kingdom was released This trope continues on for much of the film, though as it progresses towards the very end some scenes are filmed in  more conventional cross-cutting involving three quarter face diagonals. Why the formal front on was abandoned may have been asked at the Q&A at the Bondi Junction AFI screening but I wasn't there for it. Sooner or later the truth will out.

Girl Asleep, a first feature by theatre director Rosemary Myers, was financed in part by and premiered at the Adelaide Film Festival. That premiere took place in October last year. The film was screened at the Sydney Film Festival where it got programmed into a section headed Family Films and was I submit both wrongly categorized and hence, somewhat un-noticed. This month it was at the Melbourne Film Festival, where it  got good session times and won a cash prize for best Australian feature awarded by The Age film critics. It opens in cinemas on September 8.

But you can understand why all this has taken a little time. This is a film that starts out as one thing - Wes Anderson whimsy using the 70s to give the film a satiric edge by allowing the characters to be dressed in what are just slightly satirical versions of what was worn at the time. There's also a bit more subtle stuff about what was done at the time, most notably a very funny family dinner where Chinese is served, including prawn crackers and only two of those present use chopsticks. Then there's a fabulous party sequence where the guests arrive in dance mode and the film gets out the look and feel of a suburban Saturday Night Fever. Toe tapping fun at that moment.

Then the film dives into some other space and summons up costumed animals and doubled characters of Mum and Dad from inside the family home, who live in a fantasy wood at the back of the house. It detours into variations on Alice in Wonderland. Hmmm. With some contrivance it all rocks back to normal though not before the heroine, the 'Girl Asleep' goes through a poorly choreographed dream/fight scene where she takes down the three bitches who have been terrorising her at school. Wes Anderson would not have dreamed of allowing that bit of rough and tumble, at least not like that.

Elsewhere there are nice touches - the droll signs that appear on walls, the youthful vitality of the two young leading players (Bethany Whitmore and Harrison Feldman) who handle some long single shot sequences with some quite complicated dialogue to negotiate and do it with with considerable aplomb. The director would have had to work hard to get that done as well as it has been done. But its not quite funny frequently enough even over the very slim 77 minutes. Still, wondering about such whimsy opposed to the foul language grit of Down Under,  its interesting to ponder a little about comic derivations in our local product. Gentility versus aggro. Adelaide versus Sydney. Hard to know.

Editor's note. Since I posted this note Eddie Cockrell, who reviewed the film for Variety around the time that it played the 2016 Berlinale program, has sent in A link to his Variety review. One sentence caught my eye.

“If all this sounds like an unholy blending of Napoleon Dynamite and Where the Wild Things Are by way of Wes Anderson, nothing could be further from the truth.” 

Sunday, 21 August 2016

On DVD - A note from Noel Bjorndahl on Raoul Walsh's COLORADO TERRITORY

I've just re-visited one of Director Raoul Walsh's powerhouse Westerns Colorado Territory (1949), a wonderfully noirish remake of his earlier treatment of similar subject matter in the Gangster film High Sierra (USA, 1941) with Ida Lupino, Humphrey Bogart and Joan Leslie. The Director's use of towering landscapes in the later film, however, for me give it a special edge as Joel McCrea and Virginia Mayo (looking superbly exotic) race to their doom. They are shot down together in the unremitting landscape while an early use of a zoom lense captures their demise with enormous physical impact. Surely a masterpiece. 

Viewed on a Warner Bros Archive disc published in 2008.