Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
Since Father Geek and Harry are on the road as part of the Rolling Roadshow tour starting today, you’ll see a lot more of me and Quint on things that they would normally post. Great report from Latauro today. I don’t agree with him that WOLF CREEK is brilliant, and I think a big part of that is the last 20 minutes, so I’m sorry Latauro didn’t see the whole thing. It’s good to see coverage of a few local films from the Downunder team today. Let’s get right to it...
AICN-DOWNUNDER: 2005 MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Hello and welcome to the final in AICN-D’s coverage of MIFF 2005. Below you’ll find my last three reviews, followed by a few brief words I had with Festival Director James Hewison a few days after the festival’s end.
Also included is a review sent in by an AICN-D reader. The film is LOOK BOTH WAYS. It’s just come out on general release, and I hope to catch it soon, as it’s been getting some pretty impressive reviews. Whilst the reviewer actually saw it in Sydney, the film still played at MIFF, hence its inclusion in this column.
Before I launch into the reviews, I want to thank the MIFF organisers for the free session pass and congratulate them on an amazing festival, which I believe broke its own attendance records. Nice work.
Reviewed by Latauro
I visited my parents this weekend on the Mornington Peninsula, and my mother made some dinner. She did these sort-of herb and pasta balls, and presented them with, “They’re a lot like dumplings!”. I was then forced to explain that my reluctance to eat was less to do with her, more to do with Fruit Chan.
It’s a hard film to pass up. Three short films by three of Asia’s best directors: Fruit Chan, Chan-Wook Park and Takeshi Miike.
The first, Chan’s DUMPLINGS, follows the criminally sexy Bai Ling as a woman who rejuvenates herself and her clients by cooking dumplings with a special ingredient. This was my first experience with Chan, but I figured if he’s keeping the company of Park and Miike, there’s got to be something gloriously wrong with him. And there is. DUMPLINGS is disturbing and hilarious, and fits nicely into its short running time.
The second film, Park’s CUT, is the highlight of the three. Park, presumably taking a note out of his own life, follows a popular film director as he’s terrorised by a bloke who played an extra in his films. The reasons for the extra’s anger really go against the grain of what you expect from this sort of hostage-revenge film. It’s possibly the funniest work Park’s ever done, with the SAW-like setup taken to a ridiculous extreme. A must to track down if you’re a fan of his work.
The last film, Miike’s BOX, is a little David Lynch. This is my least favourite of the three, at times hoping to be vague and symbolic, at other times trying to create a RINGU-like narrative that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s a film I feel I’ll appreciate more on a second viewing.
These shorts have many subtle themes in common, but as far as I’m concerned, the best is structure. These are not feature film ideas crammed down, nor a one-note idea expanded, but a fully-fledged short that is perfectly structured for its running time. I mention it, because it’s rare, and the biggest problem with independent short films. Most of the shorts I see at film festivals either try to do too much, or just serve as the cinematic equivalent to a joke (one setup, one punchline, nothing else).
While I feel the order of THREE EXTREMES could use some tampering (move Miike’s film to the front, it’ll work much, much better there), I think that as three individual parts, it’s worth studying if you’re about to start pre-production on a short of your own.
Reviewed by Latauro
I’ve not been lucky enough to see any of Todd Solondz’s previous work, so I can’t say I was exactly prepared going into PALINDROMES. When I say I wasn’t prepared, I mean that based on the description of HAPPINESS I’m given by my friend every few months, I was anticipating an horrific, in-my-face look at a willing paedophilia victim, warts-and-all. In some ways it is, but there’s so much humour in there, I’ve come awfully close to referring to it as a comedy to slightly-more-sensitive third parties.
The film is about a young girl, Aviva, who wants a baby. She does everything she can to get one, leaving herself open to overage predators and opportunistic teenagers. She runs away from home, eventually finding herself with an exceptionally religious family headed by a woman called Mama Sunshine.
Aviva herself is played by eight actors. She’s not always thirteen, she’s not always white, and she’s not always a girl. You probably already know if you’re the sort of person who will dismiss this as a wanky arthouse stunt, praise Solondz for his brave Von Trierian work, or reserve judgment until you’ve seen the film. I reserved judgment, and while I’m not convinced it’s not a wanky arthouse stunt, I’m more than willing to give Solondz the benefit of the doubt. Each different situation brings out something different in her, a different side of Aviva, and I think it’s a success. It might not have been pushed as far as it could have been, but then there are many instances where Solondz likes to just sit back and let it happen.
There’s an incredibly funny mid-section to the film, where Aviva is taken in by the afore-mentioned Mama Sunshine. It may be very condescending to conservative Christians and middle America, but there’s a certain glee Solondz seems to take in the knowledge that those are demographics unlikely to ever see his film. Still, despite his apparent paranoia and fear of these people, it’s hard not to laugh out loud. A lot.
It’s a brave film, and even if I was at this point a little weary of yet another paedophilia-themed film (after MYSTERIOUS SKIN and BOX) it does manage to find a different angle to those films, even if that angle is exceptionally disturbing.
LOOK BOTH WAYS
Reviewed by Lokian
Congratulations on hitting the century! I admit to being a little disappointed though, because there was no mention of Sarah Watt's new film "Look Both Ways". In the hopes that this might prove useful/give yourself a spur to review it, I've given my own little experience with this film. There's the website (its got some trailers on it) right here.
I got to see the premiere at the dendy opera quays cinema last Thursday... and for the first time since.... FOREVER, I found an Australian movie worth watching! I don't know if you're based in Sydney - but this last thursday was absolutely FREEZING and so I almost didn't go. Curiosity at what a Premiere is really like got the better of me though, and I am so glad I trudged through the icy winds (in Sydney of all places!) to see this film. So, feeling very much the wannabe imposter, I tramped up on the red carpet (how embarrassing!) where they actually DID have my name on the door. We endured a speach from one of the distributors, from the producer, and were finally rewarded with a little introductory speech from the director, who seemed really nice - and shy.
(I freakin HATE spoilers, and I watch "the movie show" and "at the movies" with my eyes closed because they show so much of the d#mn film! So, this is the review of a guy who hates revealing the story). With that said, Spoiler Alert!!!! The film is a very powerful story told in an original and adventurous way. Different kinds of animation are interspersed and inter-cut into the film to follow and portray the thoughts and day-dreams and imaginations of the characters. I know David Stratton said that this was an unnecessary contrivance, but that just goes to show what a blow-hard he is. The animations, though predominantly hand-drawn - seem so outrageous and crazy at times as to come from an anime episode - preoccupied with violent and bloody death! From the first five minutes, it seems like a film that is absolutely obsessed with death - it is jarring and confrontational as you are assailed by people who, touched in some way by death, have become morbidly obsessed with it. With this conceit, this first-time director took me through a story about coming to terms with death, about dealing with loss, and about realising and coming to terms with one's own mortality. The inter-woven stories carried by an ensemble cast of nobodies really works to tell a story about life: It's messy, it's convoluted, it's occasionally moving, and it ends. I found the heart of the film to be about people learning to forget about "looking both ways" and just enjoying the view. With that simple, and beautiful premise, I was treated to a story that did what the best stories do: it reflected "real life". I don't pretend that that was "the" premise, or that that's all you can get from a film like this(!) - but surely you can agree that if someone can get THAT out of it, it's worth checking out.
Searching for bad things to say about it, I think the performances were a little bit of a let down, for me. William McInnes is a well-known face in Australia, and if this film is the success it deserves to be, he'll be a much bigger name at the end of it. There are moments in the film where McInnes shines, an ordinary guy trying to express himself and come to terms with his life. At the same time, there are times during the film though, when I felt his performance didn't seem to have the range of emotions his character needed to portray - whether the fault for this lies on him, his director-wife, or the script, I couldn't/wouldn't venture to say. Perhaps my perception of his performance has been poisoned by his "teevee personality", and the bland television shows he's appeared on. I don't want to be too negative about this, though, because overall the acting is excellent. My girlfriend is constantly bemoaning the hollywood, "Melrose Place" kind of casting - full of bleach blonde anorexic girls and pretty boys that could have been printed from a mould (I don't mind this NEARLY as much, but she has a point - can anyone really point out a difference between DiCaprio, Bloom, and Ledger? they really do seem to be interchangeable carbon copies!). With this in mind, the casting is pretty good - especially given the fact that it is an ensemble film. The people seem real, and the performances are solid. Justine Clarke is really good opposite McInnes, and while the "supporting" cast doesn't have as much to do, they all contribute to the weird and wonderful world the film travels through. It was also really fantastic to see the multi-cultural aspect of Australia reflected without it being some ham-handed "commentary" inserted into the film.
I really enjoyed the fact that there was no hollywood panacea - where everyone ends up with their happy ending. It's a story about a bunch of people who are struggling to survive and cope and find happiness. With a film that's telling a story of "endings", Sarah Watt really nailed the conclusion - I won't spoil it by talking about it any further - I won't even tell you if its "happy"/"bittersweet"/"sad" - suffice it to say that you should watch this film. In the after-party at the swanky "opera bar" and heard somebody saying that if this film can't make it, then the entire Australian industry is f#cked. I can only whole-heartedly agree. I realise that a "critique" is supposed to be a well-balanced review of the good points and the bad, and I did my best to find things wrong with it. They're very few and far-between.
It's funny, because the last time I saw a film that moved me the way this one did was watching "My Life Without Me" - which is similar in its theme. Here's hoping there are more films of this kind of standard getting made in Australia!
Reviewed by Latauro
‘It’s a brilliant film,’ I said, leaving the cinema’s foyer. Director Greg McLean and star Cassandra Magrath smiled. ‘It’s over, then?’ McLean asked. ‘No,’ I said, shaking my head. I was given two quizzical stares. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said, ‘I couldn’t handle it.’ A disappointed look from Magrath prompted me to add: ‘I’m just not as desensitised as I thought.’ She smiled, shrugged, and they headed in to catch the remaining few minutes.
I don’t really walk out of films. The only times I can remember leaving a cinema both occurred at the Astor. The first was when I thought I was buying a ticket to a Woody Allen double, and was greeted with the opening credits of WOMEN IN LOVE, a film I hadn’t, at the time, heard of. The second time was documented in this column, where the supposed thrills of JU-ON left me bored and wishing I was out drinking with my friends, so I left halfway through to join them. At no point have I left a cinema because I couldn’t handle what was on-screen. Even the worst film I’ve ever seen, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (whose name will come up again in this review and others), I still stuck it out to the end.
Why did I leave WOLF CREEK? And if I walked out before it ended, was I just blowing smoke because I’d seen the director and star out the front of the cinema?
No. WOLF CREEK is a brilliant film. The first act is a work of genius. Two English backbackers and a city boy from Sydney set out cross-country in a car the guy has just picked up from a second hand dealership. Nothing much happens in this opening. We just get to know these characters, their habits and affectations, and watch them drive across the western deserts to the meteor crash at Wolf Creek.
What’s brilliant about the opening is that it does what almost no other Australian film has done. It manages to show realistic characters behaving naturally. It sounds like such a simple task, but it’s always overdone, and I had personally given up hope that we’d ever see it done successfully. But, sure enough, here it is.
The Sydney bloke is played by Nathan Phillips, a really good actor whose ubiquity has seen him squander his talents in trash like UNDER THE RADAR or the abysmal YOU AND YOUR STUPID MATE. It’s been a while since AUSTRALIAN RULES, but finally a filmmaker has worked out what to do with him. Phillips makes Ben so honest and likeable, that, vaguely aware of the horror they will soon encounter, you pray that the entire film will just follow Phillips trekking affably across the country with his two English lasses.
The girls also give solid performances, and their almost-lack-of-chemistry with Phillips, their awkward does-he-like-me attempted casualness, makes them a really watchable and, I’ll say it again, thoroughly believable trio.
Yes, the first act of WOLF CREEK is the best Australian cinema has been in a long time (the first half of THREE DOLLARS notwithstanding).
Here’s where the review gets tricky. See, there’s nothing really wrong with the rest of the film. The transition from road trip to kidnap drama is handled with subtle brilliance. The problem I had was that it was *too* full-on. I mean, at first I was chuckling silently to myself as a number of people filed out, clearly unable to handle the horror. But, I suppose, everyone has their threshold. This film found mine.
John Jarrat plays the Ed Gein/Ivan Milat character. For those of us who grew up knowing him as an amiable TV handyman on some lifestyle program (even if we never actually watched it ourselves), this is a bit of a shock. What’s even more of a shock is how perfectly Jarrat plays it. He’s unnerving on every possible level, and just about the most accurate representation of an outback bloke as you’re likely to find (I should stress that the accuracy ends when he turns into a psycho; when he turns up to help them out of a tight spot, he’s 100% spot-on). It’s easy to watch Freddy or Michael Myers or Jason dish out the violence, because they’re not real. They’re just surreal fantasies. Ghostface from SCREAM didn’t wear a mask because the film’s such a big and elaborate mystery; it’s because a faceless killer is easier to mass-market than a deranged teen. I couldn’t watch Jarrat; he was too real.
The horror, too, is unrelenting. Given it’s set pretty much in real time as the captives try to escape the psycho, there’s not much chance for reprieve moments that we usually get in these things. It’s merciless in every way it can be, and bored into my skull until I couldn’t take it. I tried looking away for moments at a time. I tried shutting it out. Nothing worked. I left.
The film is based loosely on two of Australia’s biggest outback murder mysteries of the 20th Century: the Ivan Milat murders and the Peter Falconio case. TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is based on America’s Ed Gein. The two films are structurally identical (for the purposes of this review, I’ll speak of the MASSACRE remake only). The unrelenting horror exists in both. So why am I singing the praises of WOLF CREEK when I spewed such vitriol towards MASSACRE?
The disparity may seem subtle, but as with many things, the difference is all the difference. Whereas CREEK goes to the trouble of setting up three completely believable twenty-somethings and plays it all as if it’s completely real, MASSACRE went in the opposite direction. I suppose it was as real as any film with “Produced by Michael Bay” in its credits can be, but it was the same-old, same-old for me. Your typical WB teen idols. Not universally-recognised names, but pretty faces that the target audience will recognise, all of them talking the way teenagers in Hollywood films all talk.
CREEK is real. MASSACRE is not. CREEK feels like a doco maker trying to make an interesting road trip flick, who then gets inadvertently caught up in something they hadn’t planned for. MASSACRE feels like a bunch of Hollywood execs trying to make a buck off someone else’s suffering. Do you remember that shot in MASSACRE that pulls out through the gunshot wound in the back of the girl’s head? It was disgusting, but not in the way the director intended. CREEK has none of that. CREEK has hand-held camerawork and point-of-view shots.
The line may be wafer thin, but it always is when you’re dealing with extremes. I still consider MASSACRE to be the most offensively awful thing it’s ever been my misfortune to sit through. WOLF CREEK, which I saw in the exact same cinema, is a work of genius. I couldn’t sit through it, but I’ll say now that Greg McLean is someone we’re going to be hearing a lot from in the future. If you want to attempt to watch the most powerful, real horror film ever made, then get your ticket as soon as possible.
On Friday, August 12, I had a drink with James Hewison in Dizzy’s Jazz Bar (90 Swan Street, Richmond, Victoria if you want to experience the best jazz club around). The following is a collection of excerpts from an interview I conducted with Hewison for a much bigger project I’ll hopefully be able to tell you about in the near future.
LATAURO: Well, congratulations!
HEWISON: Thank you.
LATAURO: It’s finally over. How do you feel it went?
HEWISON: Personally speaking, I had a blast. In terms of results, we did very well. We’ve matched our box office results from last year. Don’t know the attendance figures yet, but I imagine they’ll pretty much scale the heights of our last year. Most importantly, though, I think we had a very interesting program. People went to see a bunch of pretty uncompromising films, and I think if we do something well, we create an environment where people take risks, go see something they normally wouldn’t. What usually happens to me is I come out the end of the film festival with a bunch of bruises across my chest from people sticking their fingers into my breast bone saying, “And another thing about those Asian films with junkies and homosexuals...”. I guess from a physical point of view, it was very smooth as well!
LATAURO: How do you go about selecting these films? There are hundreds in the festival. Do you see every single one of them?
HEWISON: Well, it’s a team effort. I have a colleague who I work most closely with, and we go to a number of film festivals overseas, we have a number of people who advise us, we have panels and so forth. We don’t start each year with a fresh piece of paper. One of the things we try to do each year is talk to the previous year as much as we can, and talk to the following year as well. There are cornerstones like Australian cinema, Asian cinema, and, now, a lot more from the Middle East. In 2003 we had Iranian director Kiarostami. He was amazed at the number of people and the variety of people that attended. He said, “Do you want me to send you films that wouldn’t be on your radar?”, and he did! So the following year we had a bunch that he’d recommended.
LATAURO: Do you have the one that got away? Like THE ARISTOCRATS or SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE? Are there any you want, but can’t get?
HEWISON: Those would be in the Sad and Lonely James Hewison Film Festival, which I’m glad to say wouldn’t be as big the Melbourne International Film Festival. But yeah, you form attachments to things. In the case of SYMPATHY, it wasn’t finished in time. Park Chan-Wook is going to be presenting the film in four weeks at the Venice Film Festival. With ARISTOCRATS, well, that had a market screening at Cannes, and that was kind of in training for its US release. But you gotta move on. It’s like falling in love with a girl and not being successful...
LATAURO: When do you start for 2006? It hasn’t yet been a week since the last one finished...
HEWISON: Oh, about two, three years ago!
Hewison also summed up quite succinctly why film festivals like MIFF are important: “There are films like THE MATRIX... I don’t even know if I’ve seen that film. but I feel like I’ve seen it! That’s not a slight against MATRIX, but don’t you just yearn for that virgin cinema experience? You don’t know anything about the director, the actors...”
Can’t wait for next year.