Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with Latauro's latest report from the Melbourne International Film Festival. He's got some goodies here, having just discovered the absolutely adorable Sarah Silverman's latest work, JESUS IS MAGIC, as well as seeing a pair of flicks I'm foaming at the mouth to catch: The Korean creature feature THE HOST and recently deceased Fabian Bielinsky's EL AURA. Enjoy the latest report!
LATAURO @ MIFF #7: THE HOST, JESUS IS MAGIC, THE AURA
It occurred to me as the festival came to a close that my last booked session was on Saturday evening. That left an entire final day of the festival where I had nothing planned. Screw this, thinks I, I'm going to rock up to one of the final sessions! With a couple of friends going to THE AURA, another going to the mystery film (which one of us currently predicted would be Almodovar's VOLVER), and nothing else on the roster really grabbing me, I rocked up to THE AURA. My thoughts on this film and the ones from the previous day can, predictably, be found below.
I'll do a more detailed wrap-up of MIFF in the next AICN-Downunder, but for now I'll say I've come out of the tunnel a very happy film geek. There's nothing like a well-programmed festival to remind you exactly why you love cinema in the first place, and I've seen few festivals as well-programmed as this one. I'm happy to see James Hewison taking on the role of Kingpin at the Australian Film Institute, but I'm sorry to see him leave the post of MIFF Festival Director. I'm sure Richard Moore will continue the tradition and get us the best of the best (with the occasional FANTASMA thrown in to clear our palettes).
LATAURO @ MIFF #1: THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED, RED, BUBBLE, MIDNIGHT MOVIES
LATAURO @ MIFF #2: TAKESHIS', AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, THE SUN, TIDELAND
LATAURO @ MIFF #3: SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS, THE WILD BLUE YONDER, SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE
LATAURO @ MIFF #4: FEARLESS, HUNT ANGELS, THE GREAT YOKAI WAR
LATAURO @ MIFF #5: REMAIN UPRIGHT!, FANTASMA, THE PIANO TUNER OF EARTHQUAKES, LUNACY, MARY
LATAURO @ MIFF #6: EDMOND, A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION, SEVEN SWORDS
Impact is starting to lose its impact. These days, the Big Ideas have been done to death so often that we just look at them and feel nothing. Personally, I feel there's very little that the Big Hollywood Action Sequence can do without sending me to sleep, but I think everyone's getting sick of the cliches. Take the hitman/cop angle of "It's my last hit/case before I retire". This concept is used to up the danger and heighten the tension, but we've seen this idea done so many times over, it's beginning to numb.
The monster movie also suffers from this. Reveal it in increments, usually at night, have it stalk its prey with almost supernatural ability, picking off the main characters one by one until only the feisty girl and the nice guy remain. The makers of THE HOST appear to acknowledge this idea, and go as far as they can in the opposite direction. When we meet the monster, it's about five minutes in and he's wandering about in broad daylight. His first action is to come ashore and chase as many people down as possible. It's exactly the opposite of what you're expecting, and you immediately love the film for it.
THE HOST starts with what appears to be a live action version of an "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" teaser: an American government scientist with a Howard Hughes-like hatred of dust orders all the dusty formaldehyde bottles to be emptied down the drain. His Korean assistant objects, noting that the drains lead directly into the river. The American dismisses this, and repeats the order.
We're the introduced to the Park family, or rather five people who happen to be closely related. They all seem completely out-of-place next to each other, but things change when the monster attacks. They're not really brought closer together, mind you, they just find they have the same goal and so have to work together. Sort-of.
As a big monster movie, THE HOST is very successful. It doesn't so much challenge the conventions of the genre as much as it totally ignores them and does its own thing. Its own thing is very funny and gave the audience I was with more than a few jumps, so it definitely has that crowd-pleasing effect going for it. What surprised me, however, was the subtle political messages the film contains. (A brief glance on the net reveals that the opening scene with the formaldehyde is based on an actual incident between South Korea and the US, so maybe it's not as subtle as I first thought.) I don't think the film is as much a treatise on the importance of environmentalism, as many reviews I've read have suggested, but more a look at the complete lack of efficiency that government bodies have when dealing with a crisis such as this one.
The film goes to some oddly unexpected places at times, but it never falls short of being incisive and entertaining. And its basest level, this is a monster movie for people who want to see something completely different done with the genre.
SARAH SILVERMAN: JESUS IS MAGIC
It's hard to review this film without reviewing Sarah Silverman herself. If you like her humour, you're going to like the film, but if you think she's overly-crass and not at all funny, it's not like you can sit back and appreciate the cinematography. The film is Silverman all the way through, so I'd look into her stuff before you commit to it.
Luckily, I love the woman and think she's one of the few people who can get away with the envelope-pushing without it getting old or offensive. Most of her humour revolves around her being incredibly racist towards absolutely everyone (including herself), and the punchline is usually the fact that she takes herself completely seriously.
It's hard to describe what you're going to get without giving away all of her jokes (okay, just one: lamenting the fact that she's starting to get too old to have kids, she notes that the best time to get pregnant is when you're a black teenager), but I'd even recommend her to people who wouldn't normally like this form of "edgy" humour. Silverman's delivery and material is so extreme, I think it goes beyond offensive enough for you to not feel uncomfortable.
Oh, and you know how every audience has a Laugher? The person who laughs louder and longer than everyone else? I was seated next to that guy. He had a high-pitched belly laugh that begun when the film begun and stopped when the film stopped. It was pretty consistent. It wasn't as annoying as I thought it might be, though I think I did miss a fair few lines because of it. Anyway, thought you'd like to know.
I don't know if we'll be getting this film in Australia or New Zealand (will probably be a DVD release), but if you like your stand-up films, this is one of the best I've seen.
Imagine that you fall between the cracks of a big-time heist film, and end up watching it from the sidelines. Imagine that there is one film world where Cary Grant and James Stewart are vying for Katherine Hepburn's affections whilst Joan Fontaine is dealing with Laurence Olivier's obsession with his first wife. Or while John Cusack is tracking down his ex-girlfriends, Edward Norton is founding Fight Club. It all happens in the one world, and we only see what's relevant to the story. Our main character, The Taxidermist, is living in a world of heists and robberies, but those aren't the stories he's involved with. He's involved in the stories that concentrate on his problems with his wife, the ones that revolves around his unexciting work, the stories that see him go off on a SIDEWAYS-like hunting trip. The Taxidermist is the guy who's standing on the street at Steve Buscemi runs down it waving a gun. When we cut away to the next scene of action or importance in OCEAN'S 11, the Taxidermist is back at the previous scene, observing what unfolded after we as an audience had moved on.
This isn't the plot of the film, mind you. There's no voice over describing how he's living in a film world only he's not involved in the action. It's not self-aware the way a film like, say, 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE is. There's no scene where Steve Coogan casually mentions deleted scenes that will probably turn up on the DVD. No, THE AURA is a serious drama about a man who is unsatisfied with his life; the above references to films and so forth is simply my way of describing the cracks and alleyways of other films where I think this film lives.
The Taxidermist (whose name is, I believe, Esteban, but I don't recall him ever being referred to as such in the film... or referred to at all, for that matter) is a quiet man who suffers from epilepsy. Every now and then, his world goes all hyper-real and he has a small fit, followed by a period of unconsciousness. It's never usually triggered by anything, but it certainly doesn't come at the best times. Conversely, it's never used as an overt plot device (safe for one minor moment), and I think it's there more to supplement the subtext, which I'll get to later. The Taxidermist also has a photographic memory, and uses that skill to plan bank heists and the like as he waits in line. His plans are, he believes, flawless, and result in nobody getting killed or harmed. If you plan it correctly, he says, nobody need get hurt.
Of course, he's never going to actually go through with the plan. He's far too timid and quiet to do it, and seems drawn more to the hypothetical nature of the heists than the execution of them. I'll stop myself here before I go into the plot. Seeing over twenty films with next-to-no expectations of any of them has, as I've said frequently in these reviews, enhanced my appreciation of going into these things as spoiler-free as possible. This isn't a heavily plot-driven film, but I still wouldn't want to ruin any of the moments.
What impressed me most about this film was the layers upon layers of meaning that are not brought to our immediate attention. You've got to work for the subtext, almost as if writer/director Fabian Bielinsky (NINE QUEENS) quietly inserted them as a reminder to himself. Early on, he shows us clearly that there's going to be parallels in framing and blocking. If you keep it in mind, you notice some startlingly frank comparisons drawn between characters in one shot and characters in another. It's astonishingly subtle work, but proves he knows exactly what he's doing. There's some powerful stuff done with the texture of eyes, which ties into the most powerful figure in the film: the dog. I don't want to taint your own personal reading of the film too much, but the dog is what it's all about, and he's neither over-used or under-used. His appearances are powerful. By the time we reached the 138 minute end point, the film had slowed to what we knew would be its final shot. As the camera panned across, I felt a very strong pang in my gut as I prayed that Bielinsky would do what I was hoping he'd do. It's such a low key ending, and yet I was almost falling off my seat with anticipation of what the final image would be. My prediction was correct, but it was executed in a way that was so superior to what I expected.
It's a very slow film that may bore those expecting to see something different, but it's worth the time. This film hit me out of nowhere, and is exactly the sort of experience I hope for when I throw a dart at a film festival guide. Bielinsky is a phenomenal talent with some very important things to say, and very unexpected ways in which to say them. It'll be getting a release in Australia at the end of the month, and should open in the US around September. Again, I'll suggest you go in expecting something slow, but it's a film I cannot recommend enough.