I hope that donkey doesn't have a heinie troll!
We've reached the end! At 11:30pm on Sunday the 13th, my friends who'd been through the MIFF experience with me came out of the final sessions of the festival and we regrouped at the Gin Palace in Melbourne to ponder our experiences over some beverages. It was the perfect way to the end the festival, toasting our two weeks of excellent cinema and promising to get back to the friends and family we'd neglected in that time. Personally, it was my favouritist MIFF ever, but that could have been due to the fact that I threw myself into this one like I hadn't done in the past. You want to know how far my commitment to seeing awesome films and bringing you guys reviews went? My long-term relationship ended during the first week of MIFF. I had the choice between the film festival and keeping my girl, and I went with the festival! How's that for commitment? (Note: this is utter crap, the reasons actually had nothing to do with MIFF. I will, however, pull this story out again in the future if I ever want to prove my obsession with the artform.)
The venues were terrific. Very classy cinemas, all within walking distance of each other (making the mid-sessions dash actually doable). My favourite venue was the Regent, despite the fact that there seemed to be some problem with the projection at every single session I attended. The Forum was pretty sweet as well, but this had more to do with the should-be-a-permanent-fixture Coopers Lounge downstairs. The atmosphere was amazing, and there were few better places to grab a post-screening drink. (Oh, and it was nice to see MIFF was actually sponsored by a genuinely awesome beer... and I have no problem with Coopers sending me a slab of Pale Ale for that.)
MIFF has always focused on international cinema, but the presence of Australian film was very strong. 2:37 (now on general release) opened the festival, and SUBURBAN MAYHEM closed it. My personal highlights included SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE, TIDELAND, BUBBLE, PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION and THE AURA. The extreme lowlight being the so-bad-it's-not-even-a-film FANTASMA. Everything I heard about the Best of MIFF Shorts made it sound like an interesting event. I didn't actually attend, but my friends did, and they all seemed pretty pissed off at one particular moment. I'll quote my friend Tim's blog here:
In the surest bet since Phar Lap won the cup, the winning Oz short was a doco on carers for mental disability amongst inner city kids, featuring an all Indigenous cast and crew. Oh, and the director was the best friend of the woman judging the category. Seriously, they hugged and did a little dance on stage. Even if this relationship was completely kosher and everything had been done above board, GET SOMEONE ELSE TO READ OUT THAT CATEGORY! From a simple PR point of view, it makes sense. The crowd reacted like someone had dropped a turd in the middle of the room. I imagine the other contestants in that category were feeling even worse.
This made me laugh a lot. It wouldn't be the Australian film industry if there wasn't a serious suggestion of nepotism. (And to support the idea that everybody in the world is constantly blogging, my friend Tristan also wrote some pretty amusing stuff about the event. Worth checking out, if only for the line "the wanker outweighs the anchor".)
But overall, it wasn't just the films that made the festival what it was. It was, for want of a better term, the lifestyle. There was always at least half-a-dozen friends you'd run into at any given screening (I even ran into people at some of the the obscure daytime sessions!), and there was always a slew of places open for coffee or drinks. Over the course of the festival, I think I managed to have everything on the menu at Fed Square's Time Out. It was a good time had by all, and I'd by lying if I said that -- despite the excesses spent at restaurants and on parking -- I wasn't a little sad it was over.
The superb programme was echoed by the record-breaking box office returns MIFF received, and I hope this validation means we'll get something just as good next year. I really needed this festival to remind me how much I love film, and it turns out I love it quite a lot.
The final round-up of my MIFF coverage:
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
LATAURO @ MIFF #7: THE HOST, JESUS IS MAGIC, THE AURA
Plus reviews of other MIFF films THANK YOU FOR SMOKING and UNFOLDING FLORENCE!
Some thoughts on the new HULK movie... To begin with, Clint at Moviehole seems pretty sure that no matter what, Eric Bana is definitely out. So, who'll be stepping in? A two-second pause during a radio interview would indicate that either Dominic Purcell was distracted by something out the window, or he's definitely signed on as Bruce Banner the second. Purcell fits the role in the sense that, like Bana, he grew up in Australia, but unless they're looking to go straight to video, I doubt they'll go with him (and I say that sporting an unpopular liking of Purcell). A few months ago I crapped out big-time with a false rumour about David Duchovny, but I honestly think he'd be a better choice. Either way, I think it's safe to assume that whoever will take over the role of Bruce Banner, it's a name we haven't heard yet.
One of our favourite scoopers, the Big Large Monkey, is back with some more scoopage on the Kiwi-produced Loch Ness Monster film THE WATERHORSE. According to the Monkey, "Principle photography just wrapped, finishing up with two weeks of shooting in Scotland. While there, they shot scenes with a secret cast addition. And here's you scoop -- it's none other than William Stryker himself - Brian Cox. From what I'm hearing on the inside is they are keeping a very low profile with the film and then plan on surprising everyone with it. The Kiwi crew has been saying nothing but good things about it." Many thanks to BLM.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, first-time filmmaker Shane Abbess has just sold his film GABRIEL to Sony Pictures for worldwide distribution. The film is described as a "Gothic-style action drama", and was shot entirely in Sydney.
I was sent a link to a trailer for a short film called KNIFE SHIFT by its director, Jim Hudson, who had a lot of praise to give his lead actor Craig Hall. The trailer itself is actually pretty nifty (the film's shot on bloody 35mm, which is why it looks so good), and I'm looking forward to catching the film in its entirety. For now, you can view the trailer with a simple click of your index finger by clicking here.
The Australian International Movie Convention recently wrapped up on the Gold Coast, and I took note of an interesting quote from John Fithian, the president of the National Association of Cinema Owners: "I don not know exactly how long you can keep running 35mm prints of major movies, but suggest that within ten, twelve or fifteen years they will not be available." Usually, I dismiss this sort of time-specific speculation, but it really sounds like they're planning to phase them out sooner rather than later. I'm a traditionalist and I love the look of film, but this won't bother me as much if someone can develop a video projection system that looks even remotely as good as film. Anyway, I'd say this is a pretty clear indication of the timeframe exhibitors are looking at for the transition. Note it in your diaries.
AWARDS, FESTIVALS AND SCREENINGS
GOLD COAST FILM FANTASTIC 2006
The Film Fantastic Festival on the Gold Coast has scored some pretty cool coups over the years, with a focus on fantasy, horror and science fiction. This year, however, they've got something so cool that I'm heading up to attend: this year the festival will feature me! Hooray! Yes, AICN's Latauro will be flying up to the Gold Coast in a few weeks to introduce Terry Gilliam's TIDELAND. Queenslanders, how can you resist? The festival begins on September 6 and concludes on September 10. I'll have an exact schedule for you in the coming weeks, but make sure you're there.
LUCIANA FILM FESTIVAL 2006
Last week, the Australian short film BROTHER (written and directed by Galvin Scott Davis) picked up a Best Actor award (for Jai Koutrae) at the festival in Italy. BROTHER has actually won so many awards, I don't have the space to list them all (but notably, it's picked up a few Best Film awards at festivals such as the Beverly Hills Film Festival and the LA Silver Lake Film Festival). It's been picked for official selection at a number of festivals, a list of which you can see here. And, for added incentive, you can check out the trailer on that same link.
The Pirates held on to fourth spot as CG animation, a questionable comedy and a very good-looking action-y film dominated. I'm curious to see what next week's list will look like given there are no obvious contenders. I'm suspecting KENNY might be a bit of a sleeper hit, given the excellent reviews it's been getting (I wasn't invited, so I can't speak to its quality). I don't think KENNY will take out number one, but I think it'll be higher than we're expecting.
RELEASED THIS WEEK
Murali Thalluri makes a film that may or may not be based on his own experiences, Cillian Murphy is far too pretty, a new CG animation forgets the CG, a mockumentary about a portable toilet plumber apparently doesn't suck, Gillian Armstrong unfolds Florence Broadhurst, and Greengrass avoids the flag-waving.
BREAKFAST ON PLUTO
EM 4 JAY
I'm in this room by myself, but had someone else been here they would have seen me noticeably deflate when I typed the above title, when I realised I'd have to relive the experience of watching it.
It's never fun to trash an Australian film. There's something too personal about it; particularly when most of the film is set on the street outside the cinema you're sitting in (and, in my case, the suburb I was born in and the home of the footy team I support). Still, when the film opens with two young lovers shooting up heroin in their run-down apartment, the gut feeling of "Oh no, not again" is impossible to ignore. This is a genre that got tired about ten years ago, and should not be brought back unless you have something new to say. Take CANDY. CANDY didn't go the TRAINSPOTTING route I was expecting it to go. It had something new to say about the mindset of drug users and the world they live in, and refused to coast on the simple equation of drug use = conflict. The film was divided into three sections: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell. The fact is, the characters were in hell from the very beginning; the only thing that changed was their perception of their world.
EM 4 JAY starts in a similar fashion, with the two main characters already knee-deep in their drug use. Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with this so long as the characters have some place to go. Really, anywhere will do. Up or down or some place new, just so long as there's a journey there. The film's journey can best be summed up with the phrase: "A couple's slight decent into a marginally-worse life." Em and Jay take heroin, screw each other in front of a guy for money, then decide it's probably time to rob shops for money. It's a decision taken so lightly, you wonder if they're not just returning to a life they used to live until they misplaced their balaclavas. The only real changes in their life? A slightly bigger knife, the decision to deal drugs, changing their masks, buying a gun, and continuing to inject. It's pretty thin.
The most frustrating thing about this film is that it really does seem to believe that drugs and crime are all you need for drama and conflict. So long as your characters are engaged in these acts, you can pretty much coast along without giving them anything else to do. It's hard to believe this film was made by Alkinos Tsilimidos, the same man who made the excellent 1994 prison drama EVERYNIGHT... EVERYNIGHT. (He also made 2004's TOM WHITE, which is also supposed to be excellent, but I've not yet seen it so can't comment on its quality.) EVERYNIGHT had genuine conflict, an interesting premise, interesting characters and compelling dialogue. In Bizarr-o world, so does EM 4 JAY.
If the film has a bigger failure, it's the two main characters: Em and Jay. Neither is interesting or likeable or able to sustain an entire film. They're written in a very condescending, unaffectionate way. We're supposed to see both of them as fairly stupid people, and the manner in which this is done is so snobby, you just totally hate both the characters... and wonder at the contempt the writers clearly had for them. Laura Gordon (Em) and Nick Barkla (Jay) aren't particularly great, but it's hard to fault them for it. They don't appear to have much to work with. The real stand-outs are actually two supporting characters who are in two scenes each. I can't remember the names, but the bloke who played Jay's old workmate and the girl who played Em's sister are both excellent. Really, though, these two are the only things that stood out for me.
The film plods along in a sustained monotony until the apparently-hopeless ending. When the credits ran, I managed to retrospectively figure out what they were going for with the last couple of scenes, but holy crap... talk about a limp resolution. The end is so undramatic, uninspired and lame, that I would have laughed had I not been so relieved the thing was over. Not only does it not pack a narrative punch, but it lacks any sort of real character resolution that I can't help but assume the printer simply ran out of paper.
I'm trying hard to see the filmmaker's intent here. I can't imagine anyone mustering up any excitement over such a plodding, cliche-ridden, poorly-told story. It gives me no joy to write this, but this is a serious misfire that will, unfortunately, fall into the obscurity it deserves.
FRIENDS WITH MONEY
This was cleverly programmed back-to-back with the CLERKS II screening, as it's a film I probably wouldn't have made the effort to get to otherwise. Since I was definitely going in for the other film, it made sense to go in a bit earlier and catch this one. My expectations were not high. I like Jennifer Aniston and all, I was worried FRIENDS WITH MONEY would simply turn out to be "Friends" with money. And as proud as I am for coming up with that pun, it's just occurred to me that it's probably been done about five hundred times already.
This film is the very definition of a character piece, where four friends with varying degrees of wealth deal with their various life problems. Sounds fascinating, huh? Not to shock you, but it's actually pretty good. It's a bit like "Desperate Housewives", if "Desperate Housewives" was as funny or relevant or interesting as it seems to think it is.
It helps that the core group of four female friends is also made up of Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand and Joan Cusack. Typically, they're all great here. These are three actresses who not only get to the emotional centre of their characters without descending into melodrama, but also give slightly unexpected line readings. Scenes become a few shades more interesting than they otherwise would be when they're on screen.
That's not to take anything away from Aniston, however. She's really good, but given she's playing an emotionally-dulled character who feels as if she's lacking direction, there's not a lot of room for showboating. I was also going to make special mention of Jason Isaacs, who I was convinced was unrecognisable as Aaron. Turns out he was actually unrecognisable as David, but both he and Simon McBurney (the genuine Aaron) are excellent as Keener's and McDormand's respective husbands.
Now, this is going to be difficult to write about because the things I really loved in this movie occur in the last act, and I almost never discuss a final act. Spoiling a good film is something I'm at loathe to do, even if someone's begging me to. I just hate to do it, so I'm going to have to talk about FRIENDS's last act in the abstract. Or maybe in the cubist. Wouldn't it be cool to review a film using cubism? Sorry.
Okay, there's a very narrow line between loving and hating something. It's a lot more narrow than people usually realise, and (as always) I point to my slightly different moods at two separate screenings of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN that took me from really hating the film to really loving it. The final moments of FRIENDS had me teetering on the edge. A conclusion I was starting to adore went very subtly into an area that I wasn't sure about. In fact, the underlying message I was getting from it made me uncomfortable. I left the cinema to get a twixt-films coffee and I began to get a bit angry at the ending. Was writer/director Nicole Holofcener really saying what I thought she was saying? Then, moments later when I was in line for the coffee, it suddenly struck me that it might be the point. Was she pointing out a human foible without necessarily advocating it? Were there enough clues in there to suggest that this contradicting duality was on purpose? Should it have perhaps been more obvious and overt, or was I missing the subtlety? How far does a filmmaker have to go before the audience is expected to make the rest of the journey?
I still don't know if the thing that I was unsure about was intentional or not. I choose to believe it was, and consequently I really, really like this film. I like its mix of hopefulness and reality, or, at least, the mix that I'm perceiving to exist.
I realise that the above is mostly useless if you haven't seen the film, and if you have, I've probably been too vague for you to have any idea what I'm talking about. I recommend the film -- yes, even to this audience... in fact, specifically to this audience for reasons you'll figure out when you see it -- and I promise my next review will be slightly clearer. Even if it does incorporate cubism.
This is not a film you should really see in a room full of critics. They all seem like nice people, but the majority of them are from, let's say, a slightly different generation than yours truly, and probably not the target audience for a Kevin Smith film. As a result, when Jay is rubbing his buttocks up against the window as a serious scene plays in the foreground, you've got your head pressed up against the wall doing everything you can to stifle your laughter, 'cos you're going to be the only one. And that could be embarrassing. It got so bad, I almost wanted them to leave, and considered announcing "time to go!", but I wasn't sure how well this would go over.
CLERKS II is a film I was against. CLERKS was good, JERSEY GIRL wasn't, but I'd take another JERSEY GIRL in a heartbeat. Why? 'Cos the Askewniverse has been played out. We've seen all we need to, and it's time to move on. JERSEY GIRL wasn't the unmitigated disaster most people seem to believe, and I'd rather see Smith try something new and (sorta) fail than head for safe ground where his fanbase will embrace him.
This was a thought that was enhanced when the film begun. I didn't think Brian O'Halloran was doing particularly well, and the geek references were falling a bit flat. The One Ring scene just didn't work, and I was trying to remember the original CLERKS. Did I forgive awkward scenes like this because it was grainy and in black and white? Was it actually that good?
Yes, it was. I figured this out when CLERKS II suddenly became really good, and I actually fell in love with it.
See, JAY AND SILENT BOB has always been my favourite Smith film ("always", in this case, referring to the time between now and when it came out). My reasons were pretty much the same as those who hated the film: it was incredibly self-indulgent. I loved it because I was convinced that Kevin Smith had made this entire damn film simply so he could have a lightsaber fight with Mark Hamill. How can you not love that? A guy with enough influence to get a film budget and a whole slew of great actors and comedians together does it simply to live out a childhood geek fantasy. It's the only time self-indulgence has made me love a film.
At first, I thought that's where CLERKS II was going, and I didn't think it was working. But a few different things happen to turn the film around. The big one is Rosario Dawson showing up. Now, I couldn't quite get next to this piece of casting when I first heard about it. I love Dawson, but I couldn't see her fitting into Smith's particular style of writing. I take it all back. Kevin: cast Dawson in all of your films. I don't think any actor has fit your style as well as she has. What's great about her nailing every line of dialogue is that everything else appears to have to step up to match it. O'Halloran gets really good, and I got totally on board with his character.
The other stand-out is Jeff Anderson. Even though I completely disagreed with his STAR WARS vs LORD OF THE RINGS argument, I was completely on his side, such was the power of his conviction. Anderson is really, really fucking good, and helped convince me that not only is CLERKS II essential, but so is III in ten years and IV in another ten. Sort-of like what Apted's doing, only with fictitious characters. But the real reason I want to revisit these characters is how well they're written. The dick-and-fart jokes in CLERKS II are all pretty funny, but it's the emotion of the piece that actually got to me. I thought it was going to head down a fairly predictable road, but it went somewhere interesting and managed to get me a little choked up in the process. (Admittedly, that break-up I mentioned in the editorial section will probably cause me to get choked up at MONSTER HOUSE and SNAKES ON A PLANE, but still...)
Other highlights include Trevor Fehrman as Elias, and Jennifer Schwalbach as Emma. Now, the only bit of self-indulgence I didn't like in JSBSB was when Smith miscast his wife as one of the lesbian jewel thieves. I really thought she shouldn't have been in that film, and suspected I'd have similar feelings here. Total opposite. She's really damn good in this, so it feels marginally less nepotistic this time around.
I really want to recommend this to Kevin Smith fans, and reassure them that as cynical as they may be about a sequel (like I was), it works! But I mentioned it to someone earlier tonight, who grew suspicious when he tried to calibrate our opinions of Kevin Smith by asking what I thought of JSBSB. When I confessed my love for it, I don't think he bought anything else I had to say about CLERKS II. That's fair enough. Different people want different things from Smith films. Personally, I didn't even realise that I wanted an emotional look at the differences between life in your 20s and life in your 30s, but it hit me on exactly the right level. As far as I'm concerned, we should get one of these every decade.
- Jim Carrey to portray Lewis Carroll and his relationship with some widow who's dying of something in the Oscar-baiting FINDING WONDERLAND
- Spike Lee to revive Michael Jackson's career with the feature film BOYS 'N THE TRUNK
- Mel Gibson denies his cancelled Holocaust-themed mini-series was ever set up at ABC, claiming that there is no solid evidence to support this claim and that ABC "simply couldn't afford it. A budget of six million? They did not have the money to make it. That's why they cancelled Emily's Reasons Why Not"