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LATAURO DOES MIFF #4: Orange Groves, Considine Rapping, and Voids Entered!

LATAURO DOES MIFF #4: Orange Groves, Considine Rapping, and Voids Entered!

The Event: The 2010 Melbourne International Film Festival

The Protagonist: Latauro (AICN-Downunder)

The Mission: To see as many films as possible over a two-and-a-half week period, everything with a vaguely-interesting premise or promising director. The best and worst are filtered down to you so you can seek out the greats and avoid the ingrates.

Today's Lesson: The advertising for MIFF is always something we anticipate with a certain hesitation. In some respects, it's more important than the films. If you see a bad film, you can move on to something else, but every single session you see will have the same exact ads before them, and if you're seeing as many films as I am, this is an important issue. The previous years offered us some wonderfully dodgy material in the form of the "Rush" ads (the Australian cop show), or the Yalumba wine ads with their warbling soundtrack. This year, the ads are not better, but they do look cheaper. There's an embarrassingly scattershot ad for the Sofitel Hotel, which is so obviously filled with downloaded pictures, I keep mistaking it as an ad for Getty Images. There's a truly terrible Turn Your Phones Off ad made by the State Government (which, like the Sofitel ad, doesn't appear to be available online) featuring a fake film critic talking about road safety. It's not really funny, not really clever, and most people seem to be confused by the ad's central message. (And hey, I've had some experience with Turn Your Phones Off ads.) Then there's the MIFF promo itself. This year's catchphrase is "It's a Matter of Taste", replacing the dire "Everyone's a Critic" from the past two years. "It's a Matter of Taste", superimposed over ominous storm clouds, still feels a little pretentious. The ad, however, is better than any they've had in some time. A Popcorn Bucket and Choc-Top fight in an alleyway as a voice over compares Cameron to Bigelow, Allen to Fellini, etc. Although I'm always a tad uncomfortable at any promotions that suggest going to MIFF is a part of some OCD desire to rank things against each other, the ad has held up to many repeat viewings, so I'm at least glad for that. And the music is very well done. I'm yet to see an ad campaign for MIFF that captures the whole point of going -- ie: enjoying amazing films you'd otherwise never get to see -- I consider this a small step in the right direction.

WILD TARGET: This remake of French film CIBLE ÉMOUVANTE was described by the MIFF Guide (quoting a review from Screen International) as being "in the tradition of the Ealing comedies", presumably by someone who has never seen an Ealing comedy in their life. Bill Nighy is a hitman; Emily Blunt is his target; Rupert Grint is a bystander who gets caught up with them; Martin Freeman is a rival hitman; Rupert Everett is the man who wants Blunt dead. It all seems quite promising, especially given it's direct by Jonathan Lynn ("Yes Minister"), and certainly it starts with a lot of energy. Unfortunately, it quickly descends into an underwritten blandness. The characters fit into their roles far too quickly, as if they'd read that the synopsis was about three people hiding out at a farmhouse, and were just trying to get there as quickly as possible. The rushing becomes even more confusing when, upon reaching the destination, the film stops dead in a fit of chronic torpor. What unfolds is a series of supposedly-wacky scenes written as some sort of half-baked romantic comedy. Character consistency flies out the window. It also does that really annoying thing where it turns the lead assassin into this supernatural being: "He's never been seen!" "Nobody's met him and lived!" "He's killed millions armed only with a pen!", that sort of thing, but the reality we're shown is the exact opposite. He's actually quite clumsy, he shoots the wrong people, and follows his mark with great obviousness and awkwardness. It is a bad cliché done terribly. The music choices are strange, too: good songs played on top of scenes in which they don't belong, for no readily-apparent reason. The only thing that holds the film together are the decent performances, particularly Nighy, who deserved a better film than this.

THE UNLOVED: I'm a huge fan of Samantha Morton, and I like to see her act in as much as possible, but based on THE UNLOVED, I'd be happy if she went into directing full time. Written by Tony Grisoni from an idea by Morton, the film tells the story of a young girl abandoned by her mother and beaten by her father. I know, it sounds like a rollicking hay ride, but if this was a cynical kitchen sink weepy trying to court critical acclaim by being as depressing as possible, I'd be the first one calling it out. But the story Grisoni has written is better than that, and the way Morton tells it is absolutely masterful. An extraordinary work.

LEBANON: It's odd that films such as, I don't know, KNIGHT AND DAY or TRANSFORMERS are designed for people who want an adrenaline hit, yet contain no actual adrenaline at all. Everything's so plastic and over-stylised all impact is removed and the action scenes becom boring. I'm reminded of this even more after LEBANON, one of the most intense adrenaline-filled films I've seen in years. My partner and I ran into Cinema Autopsy's Thomas Caldwell before the screening, who commented that it looked a lot like DAS BOOT in a tank, and that's probably the most apt description you'll hear. It has all the extreme claustrophobia of Wolfgang Peterson's masterpiece, with action scenes shown almost entirely through a periscope's POV. It's the film I want to send to every mediocre action director in Hollywood as a retirement incentive: "This guy Samuel Moez just made this. I think you should call it a day, yes?" I saw the film hours after writing this piece in the previous MIFF roundup about the anti-Israeli protesters, and the proximity of these events weighed one me. This Israeli co-production (along with Germany, France and Lebanon) says more about Jewish/Mulsim relations than a thousand petitions ever could, and does so with more subtlety and grace than any placard. This is what a cultural exchange is all about, this complex and unsentimental look at what it must be like over there. The fact that it comes in such a package -- the sort of film the term "edge of your seat" was invented for before it was applied to every single boring thriller and robbed of its meaning -- is all the more amazing. And I haven't even scratched the surface of why it's so great. No question, this is one of the best films of the year.

LE DONK AND SCOR-ZAY-ZEE: As a huge fan of Shane Meadows, I was really looking forward to this, but even I had a bit of a stereotypical view of what the film would be. Even though I knew it was about a rapper trying to make it big, I still pictures a bittersweet (emphasis on the "bitter") drama shot in black and white in long, static, single takes. Even if you're a fan of someone, you can start to reduce them in your head to their public persona. LE DONK is actually a mockumentary, shot in colour, and pretty much hilarious all the way through. Paddy Considine adds another string to his already hefty bow by playing music promoter Le Donk, a part-time roadie whose pregnant ex-girlfriend is living with another guy, and who is pinning his hopes on an obese white rapper called Scor-Zay-Zee. It resists every cliché and second-guessing, avoiding the usual dour twists to give us something surprisingly uplifting and hopeful. Meadows even appears as himself filming the action as it goes. There are a couple of moments that give me pause -- Meadows is too eager to interfere, which wouldn't happen if it were a real documentary, and the camera seems all-too-conveniently placed at one point, which again it wouldn't be if this were real -- but these are minor blips in what is a hilarious, surprising and very welcome film in the canon of one of Britain's best filmmakers.

COLLAPSE: COLLAPSE basically takes the format of THE FOG OF WAR, Errol Morris's terrific 2003 doco on Robert McNamara, in that it's just Michael Ruppert sitting in a room for 85 minutes talking. Who is he? Chris Smith, director of AMERICAN MOVIE and THE YES MEN discovered Ruppert when researching a screenplay, and decided he had to make a documentary centering on him. It's not hard to see why. Ruppert predicted the financial collapse of 2008 (although, he admits, he thought it would hit in 2007), and has very complex, thought-out theories on peak oil and how the world is heading to imminent collapse. The cinema was packed, no doubt eager to see a crackpot espouse conspiracy theories through some sort of identifiable mental disorder. The scariest part of the film is how sane Ruppert appears. Far from being a madman, he comes off as an extremely intelligent person whose every claim is supportable by figures and precedent. There are some cracks, though: living with the stigma of being considered a crackpot or just ignored leaves some obvious sadness bubbling under the surface, but even this does not negate the compelling, convincing arguments he puts forth. Even when presuming a logical, objective counter-argument that does not appear in the film, COLLAPSE is one that should be shown to everyone everywhere. Hopefully Ruppert can reach what should have been the title of the movie: that elusive hundredth monkey.

MATCHING JACK: Whilst not as disappointing as SOUTH SOLITARY, Nadia Tass's MATCHING JACK is something of a let down. The story of a young child (the ubiquitous Tom Russell from LAST RIDE and THE TREE) battling leukemia and the secrets about his father that subsequently come to light, is one that is handled fairly clumsily. The whole thing feels like amateurish, be it the acting (half the actors are either miscast or texting it in) or the cloyingly obvious Dialogue. I capitalised "Dialogue", because every line makes you think of someone sitting at a computer typing out something that doesn't resemble anything anyone would ever say. The ones who emerge with the most dignity are the youngsters, Tom Russell and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Not helping things is Smit-McPhee's onscreen father, the Charming Oirishman (played by the usually-great James Nesbitt). He is written as being so cloyingly eccentric that he misses charming and hits pathologically unstable with spot-on accuracy. The Charming Oirishman is, like the Sage Frenchman, almost as insidious as the Magic Negro, and he's about two seconds from putting on a green hat with a belt buckle and going for a little jig. I experience zero schaedenfruede in writing this. I'd have loved nothing more than to tell you that this film is great, or even good, or even competent, but any praise I gave it would force me to pretend that MATCHING JACK does not exist in a world occupied by a great number of superior films, many of which have tackled similar subjects in a far better way. I'm not sure who this is made for, but I'd suggest steering well clear of it.

1981: I programmed this largely because of my parking. See, I was booked in to see KOSMOS at midday, but it was far cheaper for me to come in two hours earlier, and since I was there anyway, I figured I may as well see something. 1981 won, partly because I was born in that year, and partly because it was the only thing on at 10am. I've heard people compare this French-Canadian film to AMELIE, and I can see why: the fantasy sequences certainly echo the ones from Jeunet's film but the rest of the film has a grounded feeling that not even AMELIE's "reality" scenes have. An autobiographical film by Ricardo Trogi, 1981 follows young Ricardo as he begins at a new school in Quebec City, makes friends, tells lies, and falls for the smartest girl in the class. Despite a bit of a lag towards the end, 1981 is an extremely endearing film with great characters and flawless performances. The writing is sharp, and whilst the film is unavoidably sentimental, it is not sugar-coated or soppy. A terrific coming-of-age story.

KOSMOS: I'd heard some great things about this film, and I can almost see what the appeal is. This Turkish/Bulgarian film follows a stranger as he saves a drowning child moments after arriving at a remote village. He is a strange, messianic figure, whose powers include healing himself, healing others, and looking like Alexander Siddig. It's a very long and very eclectic film, acting as if it wants to always keep the audience at arm's length. It grasps for a parallel between animals and humans, but doesn't quite get there. The soundtrack is fascinating, always reminding us of a war that we cannot see. Soldiers and bombs are ever-present, but almost never glimpsed. There are many times when I bristle upon being told I didn't "get" a film (the standard response being that, no, I got it, I just didn't like it). This is not one of these times. In fact, I'll gladly confess that I don't get it. I don't believe KOSMOS is a bad film, nor do I necessarily feel it failed at what it set out to do; it's just that what it was doing left me -- appropriately, given the snow-covered locale in which the film takes place -- cold.

GARBO THE SPY: The story of the mysterious double agent code-named "Garbo" is a fascinating one, and contains some pretty amazing twists. It's prime material for a doco, and it makes for a brilliant forty-five minute film. A pity, then, that it goes for ninety minutes. Desperate to reach feature length, GARBO is padded endlessly with sequences from classic films, and montages set to music.Some of these work quite well, but their sheer number leaves you overwhelmed, and just a teensy bit pissed off. And that's a shame, because there is a lot of great stuff in here. A drastic re-editing would make this one of the best documentaries of the year. Flawed, but kinda worth it.

SUMMER CODA: The most nervous person at the world premiere of SUMMER CODA was its writer/director Richard Gray. The second most person was me. See, my partner is handling a lot of the publicity for the film, and has been heavily involved with it for months. Add to that the fact that I'm on friendly terms with Richard, and my fear was not just "What if it's bad?" but "What if it's average?". No matter what, I'd be ethically bound to report my feelings on the film, and although I don't think I'd necessarily alienate anyone, I was worried about the awkwardness that may ensue. So, when the end credits ran and I realised I was not anywhere near that dreaded situation, I almost yelled out a relieved "Thank Christ!", but restrained myself. In my solipsistic interpretation of events, Richard sensed the difficult position I was in, and obligingly made an utter beautiful, brilliant film. For those ready to scream "Bias!", I can assure you that the crowd felt the same way, and word of mouth will bear me out on this one. The film follows Heidi (Rachael Taylor) returning to Australia for her father's funeral. The film starts slowly, but it soon becomes apparent that this gentle pacing is the whole point. To choose a recent comparison, the film WILD TARGET (reviewed above) speeds through its setup in an unsatisfying manner so it can get to its destination, which proved to be not very interesting at all. SUMMER CODA takes its time with Heidi's journey, and it's well-earned time, never feeling overly-slow or meandering. When we eventually arrive at Mildura, we are ready to go wherever Heidi wants to go, be it with her estranged family, back to America, or off with handsome stranger Michael (Alex Dimitriades). Studiously avoiding the clichés one might have expected -- be it the aping of American romantic films, or a cloying attempt to make everything painfully Australian by showing landmarks and shots of kangaroos jumping past -- it feels and looks like an entirely new thing. If it must be compared to anything, it feels like classic French or Italian cinema. The brilliant cinematography on the Red is by Greg De Marigny, and shows a corner of Australia we rarely see, filtered through what feels like a classic European eye. These seemingly incompatible elements complement each other astonishingly well, and I'll say it again: it feels like something new. The cast is uniformly spot-on, with Rachael Taylor playing distant without ever putting us off, Alex Dimitriades playing the stoic romantic lead perfectly, and Angus Sampson nearly stealing the show as an amorous orange picker. Sampson and co-star Nathan Phillips are so naturally and genuinely funny together, I think we can officially proclaim YOU AND YOUR STUPID MATE as Not Their Fault. I know this sounds like suspiciously-enthusiastic hype, but I'm confident that the reviews and audience reaction will soon bear me out. Richard Gray's debut feature is a gorgeous entity, the sort of film many aim for, but never hit with the deadly accuracy that SUMMER CODA achieves.

THE 'BURBS: I love the idea of retrospectives at film festivals, but I never attend them, always lulled away as I am by the promise of something new. But with MIFF playing the Joe Dante retrospective, and with me woefully ignorant in the man's works, I went along to catch THE 'BURBS. Sadly, there was no intro by the man himself (who is here as a guest of the festival), so I remain the only person at MIFF to have not witnessed Mr Dante in person. But no matter. THE 'BURBS is a film I've avoided in the past, because the omnipresent video cover made it look like a horrible, pre-legit Tom Hanks comedy. I'm actually glad I thought that, because it forced me to wait for it on the big screen. What a fantastic film! You know this already, of course, but permit me my discovery. Funny and consumed by the best B movie sensibilities, it's a frighteningly clever script whose lack of subtlety no way diminished its impact. The final moments may, but I'm wondering if so overtly switching tracks at the end is a feint to reinforce the original theme. Either way, it's a great movie, and I'm glad to have caught at least one Dante during this run.

COOKING WITH HISTORY: I understand it's the MIFF Guide writer's job to make the films sound as interesting as possible, but on the occasion that the film is significantly worse than MIFF's describe of it, the viewer can leave the cinema feeling pretty pissed off. (See 2009's MORPHIA for a good example of this.) This is the MIFF description of COOKING WITH HISTORY. It's accurate, but also a bit misleading, because you immediately picture a very good and very interesting film that does all of those things. COOKING is a series of interviews with former wartime chefs, and manages to avoid any real insight whilst being as annoyingly disrespectful as possible. I get that they wanted a funny, whimsical doco, but the interviewer is patronising, and some of the intertitles are jaw-droppingly insulting. The interviewees look interesting, but are never given a chance to be so. The graphic scenes of animal slaughter feel gratuitous. The subtitles, too, are a letdown: when a soldier attempts to describe the differences between the Serb and Croat languages, the subtitles translate both into English, rendering the whole exercise pointless. The films best moments come at the end, with a former submarine cook's amazing story of survival. Reliably, the film manages to ruin this moment as well. I don't fault the Guide writers for making the film sound better than it was; I fault the film for not being better than it was.

ENTER THE VOID: This was my first encounter with Gasper Noé, and I booked it based purely on these opening titles, which appeared online after its Sundance screening. Like its Sundance screening, it received a round of applause from the audience, but the question remained: what would the other 153 minutes look like? Was this not a foolish reason to book such a long film at such a late time of night? Local reactions to the first film had been violently mixed, with some loving it and other loathing it. I tried to go in with an open mind, but a part of me just knew I'd be on the side that loathed it. I don't know why, I just had that Lars von Trier feel about it. I was more than surprised when the film caught in my throat, evoking RUSSIAN ARK with its point of view cinematography and recalling the psychedelia of 2001 (the second film of MIFF to do so). It was an intense experience, and an extremely beautiful one. I was struck back in my chair, following it as it slowly meandered from moment to moment with linear story discarded in favour of an ethereal, intangible journey. For two hours, I loved this film. For the remaining half hour, I did not. Noé squanders the good will he has earned through pointless repetition -- he covered meaningful repetition earlier, so this was an interesting change -- and a growing love of shock over impact. Impact is generally shock plus meaning, but when he began to lose the meaning, it was lost. It's a reaction I resisted having, because I had the feeling Noé wanted me to get pissed off, and I didn't want to give him the satisfaction. As that remaining half hour drags on, he makes some exceptionally silly and predictable choices, and you are reminded just how disciplined seemingly free-associating, stream-of-consciousness films actually need to be. LOST HIGHWAY always felt like a boundary-less dream, but that's because Lynch was very carefully noting the boundaries and keeping the film in check. Noé needed that. I was more than willing to forget the horribly clunky dialogue and clichéd music choices earlier on, but when the film lost track of itself, I lost track of the film. It's a pity, because it's so damned close.

It's 2:20am on the Thursday night/Friday morning, and I need to quickly nab a few hours of sleep. Tomorrow I am booked into seven consecutive sessions, and I'm not sure what my chances of survival will be. As for the festival, there's only three days left to go, but with fifteen odd films, the question must be asked: will I survive, and what will be left of me? Find out soon.




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