Sunday, August 20, 2017

MIFF 2017 - Day 17

Loving Vincent

Made up of 63,000 oil paintings, this is a rotoscoped animated feature exploring the life and final days of Vincent Van Gogh. It's framed as a bit of a murder mystery, and generally works pretty well. The art varies between the excellent and the awful. The black and white flashbacks look like bad video, they chose a particularly poor art style for those scenes. But it's absolutely worth seeing, when it's working its spectacular.


People watching: The movie. A series of locked off shots observing tourists visiting Auschwitz. It's slow, but yields interesting moments. Especially listening to the different tour guides providing conflicting information on the camp, or using it as a platform for their own views. It also invites judgement as you see some of the incredibly tasteless posing for photos. A hard watch, but worthwhile.

The Ornithologist

A gay, surrealist version of the life of Saint Anthony of Padua. Fernando is an ornithologist who gets trapped in rapids while kayaking, is found by two Chinese pilgrims walking the path of Saint James, except they're lost. They attempt to kidnap Fernando to protect them from tengu, and it gets progressively weirder from there. It's not a film I'm in a hurry to rewatch, but I really enjoyed the experience.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

MIFF 2017 - Day 16

Aelita, Queen of Mars

A fascinating silent film from the USSR that pre-dates Metropolis. It tells the story of corruption and idealism in post-revolution Russia and also the story of pre-revolutionary Russia by way of the culture of Mars, where the queen, Aelita becomes obsessed with the human Los. When he finally builds a rocket and gets there, he brings revolution and it doesn't work out so well for the queen... It's visually striking, with inventive costumes and sets. Sadly, you probably won't be able to see it with the excellent live score provided by The Spheres. I felt a bit sorry for them though. By my count, the print we saw was about 15 minutes shorter than what's commonly available online. And it showed as the band had to jarringly transition between tracks on a number of occasions. It was a brilliant live event all the same.

I Am Not Your Negro

Somewhere between a documentary and an essay on race in America, Raoul Peck brings to life the words of James Baldwin, a black writer and activist I had never heard of, but who is incisive in a way that speaks as prophetically now as it did when he was alive. And that's damning. It's a powerful film that'll enlighten, provoke and depress you in equal measure. Go see it.

Marlina the Murderer I'm Four Acts

Damn, I did not see this one coming. Surprises are the best thing about MIFF. A feminist Indonesian spaghetti western with surrealist elements. Beautifully shot, with a deadpan sense of humour and an unflinchingly grim depiction of the struggles of Marlina and the women she encounters, it's a story of empowerment, oppression and indifference. The violence against the women is nasty and shocking. The denouement powerful. It's bloody brilliant.

The Void

The B-est of B movies. Take Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing and In The Mouth Of Madness and throw them in a blender. It's not particularly well written and the cinematography is too muddy for my taste, but it was fun enough. Some great gore and creature effects, but it doesn't aspire to be much more than that. But hey, those films are enjoyable.

Friday, August 18, 2017

MIFF 2017 - Day 15


Ren Amari is the inventor of Otherlife, a piece of nanotechnology that implants memories into minds ala Total Recall. She's trying to find a way to get her brother out of the coma he's in, and is misusing the company resources to achieve her ends. Then it all goes wrong, someone dies, and her business partner does a deal with the government to drop charges in return for using the technology for virtual incarceration. The thriller element steps up from there. Anyone versed in SF will pick almost every plot beat, and it's not a perfect film, but it's an enjoyable ride. A solid entry to the "what is real" genre, unfortunately about two decades too late to really blow your mind.

The Untamed

Imagine David Cronenberg made a kitchen sink relationship drama after watching too much Japanese tentacle porn. And imagine it's way better than you could expect. This is weird, smart and surprising. Also really graphic. The basic plot is about a dysfunctional family who come into contact with an alien that's the embodiment of libido. And then we follow the chaos and destruction that unbridled lust causes. Not for the queasy or the prudish, but it's really good.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

MIFF 2017 - Day 14


It's always interesting to hear the other side of history. Perhaps no more so than here, with Winnie Mandela telling her story in her own words. A lifetime spent fighting for her people, against the state apparatus. We hear from police and intelligence agents who spent their careers trying to discredit and isolate her. And frame her, as we discover witnesses paid to lie and we learn truth around some of the charges levelled against her. Depressingly we also hear how the apartheid government attempted to groom Nelson Mandela for the presidency, with a goal to preserving their power. And part of that was to set the ANC against Winnie. Something they achieved. The end is a bit grim, celebrating the achievements but also mourning the cost and wondering at the compromises made by some in pursuit of power.

Brigsby Bear

James is raised in a small bunker by his loving parents who warn him of the toxic air outside and get him his weekly Brigsby Bear videotape. Then the police raid and reunite him with his real parents and the real world. But all he wants is to know what happens next in Brigsby Bear. So he decides to make it himself. As a way to explore emotional trauma it's smartly done with a lot of humour, and never minimises the underlying horror of what happened to James. It's also dope as shit.

Have a Nice Day

A man steals a million rmb, and kicks off a series of interrelated incidents as people screw each other over to get the bag of cash. It's a fun and effective comedic thriller, with a through line examining how capitalism and the desire to be wealthy has broken family and social bonds in China. It's a running theme in the Chinese films I've been seeing, which is interesting. There's also an hysterical musical number in the middle parodying Chinese propaganda posters. Loved it.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

MIFF 2017 - Day 13

The Force

Follows the Oakland police department from 2014 to 2016 as it tries to implement reforms. At first it looks like they're having success. No police shootings, violent crime down. And then the shit hits the fan. A series of police shootings create distrust in the community, and then corruption scandals further damage credibility. The film shows how up against it the force is. Even when video evidence shows that the shootings are justified, activists peddle conspiracy theories. One even says on camera that there is no such thing as a good cop. But as the department falls further and further into disrepute, seeing off three police chiefs in nine days, it's hard not to sympathise with their frustration. And with the good cops trying their best in a really shitty situation.

The Face of Another

About halfway through, I decided this was more of a dramatised essay rather than a narrative film. But it's a really interesting one, exploring the connections between identity and the body. Who are we if we change our face? What is beauty and how do we perceive and define it? It's not for everyone, the pace could generously be called measured, plodding would be the less kind way to put it. But for the philosophically minded, there's a lot to consider and enjoy.

Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web

The larger than life figure at the centre of a notorious copyright case gets the documentary treatment. It shows his extravagant lifestyle, his history and the case that turned him into a folk hero for the internet freedom movement. The political impact in New Zealand is particularly interesting, with the original raid being a complete disaster from a legal perspective. And subsequent revelations of the illegality of how evidence was gathered transformed NZ law... They made it legal. It's a sobering look at how the law is both catching up to and overreaching technology, with consequences for all of us.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

MIFF 2017 - Day 12

Marjorie Prime

The credits say adapted for the screen, but really this is just a filmed play. It's not particularly cinematic and it's science fiction elements are an excuse for long expository monologues rather than something to be explored. But it is a fine contemplation of memory, love and grief. Not particularly deep, more a lesser episode of Black Mirror elevated by incredible actors. But still satisfying and worth a watch.

Free and Easy

A bunch of con men run afoul of each other in a nearly deserted rural town in China. Slow but never boring, it has a dark and surreal humour to it as everyone screws each other over, reconciles then conspires to screw over yet more people. It does overstay itself through, with an epilogue ruining what felt like a perfect ending. Clearly the director was trying to say something different, but it was lost on me. Excellent until the last 5 minutes or so.

Tokyo Idols

A really interesting deep dive into Japanese Idol culture. Beginning with the interesting observation that this is Japan's answer to punk, the film examines the phenomenon from the perspective of both the girls and their middle aged male fans. It's seriously creepy in parts, especially the borderline(?) paedophilia of guys fawning over 10 year olds. But it also deals with the hopelessness and escapism that idols offer the men, in an economy and society failing to offer them meaning. But the men are fleeing from the challenging work of reality and the film is not uncritical of this. Both sides know it's a fantasy, and the men prefer it. As for the girls, it's a business and might offer pathways to other careers in entertainment. But as one journalist interviewed puts it best, this society will do anything to ensure men aren't challenged or required to put real effort into a relationship. So Idol culture endures and protects men from the destruction of their fantasies.

The 10th Victim

Marcello Mastrioianni and Usula Andress star in this pop art delirium that prefigures The Running Man, through it's closer in some ways to They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Hunter and hunted play with each other in a legalised manhunt designed to vent humanity's dark side. It's weird and friggin funny. If you ever get a chance to see it, it's a must watch.

Monday, August 14, 2017

MIFF 2017 - Day 11

The Family I Had

Absolutely harrowing, but also slightly hopeful. It's a documentary about a mother whose son murdered her daughter. Years later, she still visits and speaks to him, but she is under no illusions about how dangerous and manipulative he is. The entire family is full of tragedy, bad life choices and dysfunction, but they struggle on. It's a complex and detailed investigation of a family under extreme stress trying to love, and a generational legacy it finds hard to break free of.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Well, that was cheery. A very, very offbeat horror movie about a surgeon being terrorised by the son of a patient who died on the operating table. There's no logic to it, but then it's Yorgos Lanthimos and nothing he does makes sense. But it's powerful and unsettling.


Follows two Super PACs campaigning for Ben Carsons in the Republican primary. It's purely observational and lacks a lot of insight as a result. I learned more from the Q&A afterwards. But it's fun and has its moments.