Sunday, August 19, 2018

MIFF 2018 - Day 17

People's Republic of Desire

Doco about livestreaming in China. YY is kinda like Twitch meets YouTube, where people livestream themselves and their fans buy them "gifts" in the form of tokens that get converted to cash. The doco follows two of the biggest stars on the platform, and their fans. And slowly, all the ugliness behind the smiles comes out. It's like a microcosm of unrestrained capitalism. Additionally, the idea that a virtual reality is an escape from a miserable real one is teased out. Amazing and depressing viewing.

Behind The Curve

Flat earthers. They're amongst us, and this film somewhat lovingly explores them, their beliefs and their community, while also talking to scientists and psychiatrists about how this could be happening in what is ostensibly an enlightened age. Needing to be the hero of your own story rises to the top, which makes a lot of sense in an age of disenfranchisement. It's funny, but compassionate, with a really smart observation by a science educator that flat earthers are inquisitive people who've gone wrong somewhere along the way, and the solution is to encourage that desire to know and hope that eventually evidence will win out. The film gives plenty of proof that won't usually happen, but it seems like the best way to tackle it. Ridicule and marginalisation gets us nowhere. There's also a moment where two of the leading flat earthers are watching Dark City. So perfect.

Searching

Unfriended was the first "screen" movie, consisting entirely of watching someone's computer screen. This sees the format turned into more than just a horror film. The opening gives a precis of a family while also being a potted history of the development of the internet. And lots of internet trends both good and vile get an airing in this fascinating film about a father looking for his missing daughter. It does require you to believe that "find my iPhone" doesn't exist, since that's the obvious thing nobody does, and the big twist (because of course there's one) seemed a bit much, but overall it's a great sign of what can be done with this kind of storytelling.

Ash Is Purest White

I thought this was going to be a bit of a feminist take on the Chinese gangster genre, but it's far more of a messed up love story set against increasing capitalism in China. Hard to describe, but wonderful to watch. A great way to end another year of MIFF.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

MIFF 2018 - Day 16

Pope Francis: A Man Of His Word

I overheard some call this film a 90 minute sermon. And truthfully, it is. But given the message is to love each other, care for the environment and all the other things that the modern church seems to have lost sight of in pursuing culture wars, it's a sermon worth listening to. Time will ultimately tell how far Pope Francis can steer the Catholic Church into a more progressive stance. Vatican II tried and was eventually defeated by conservative forces in the church. But at least he is trying.

The Dawn Wall

Don't watch if you're afraid of heights. This is a fun doco about a remarkable free climb up a cliff face in Yosemite National Park. It was thought to be impossible, until it was done. Really inspiring and a remarkable story.

I Used To Be Normal

A really sweet doco about boyband fangirls. It runs the gamut from how they're manufactured and manipulative to who really cares when they bring joy. And community, and a kind of empowerment. It's such a positive and happy film. Really enjoyable.

Tigers Are Not Afraid

Wow. The Mexican cartel wars viewed through the magic realist lens of children whose parents are it's victims. Full of wild and dark fantasy mixed with the horrifying reality of cartel violence, it's amazing to watch. The child actors are really impressive too. So good.

Animation Shorts

A hell of a lot of technical ability on display, but far less in the storytelling department. I liked an animated memoir of Hiroshima called Oban, and there was a trippy one called [O] that recalled Peter Chung's work. Otherwise it was all pretty forgettable.

Friday, August 17, 2018

MIFF 2018 - Day 15

The King

Elvis as metaphor for the rise and decline of America. That's an idea too big to be contained in a two hour film. But they try, and they cover an immense amount of social, cultural, and political ground. Ultimately it can't bring it all together, but gee it throws a lot at you. A confused and enlightening mess.

Documentary Shorts

The usual mixed bag. Some, like House of JXN, feel like a proof of concept for something longer, while others like Silica and Symphony of a Sad Sea are perfectly constructed gems. Though I have no idea what Armageddon 2 was. I think that was meant to be in the WTF shorts program.

Donbass

Scenes from a faked civil war. It's fiction, but all about the war in Ukraine. It's genuinely unsettling in parts, horrifying and also sometimes comic. Opening with a faked bombing and actors portraying shocked bystanders, it ramps up from there demonstrating the manipulation of a populace. Not every sequence works, but it's a powerful film.

The Spy Gone North

A ripper of a spy thriller with a heart crying for a reunified Korea. It's tense and well paced from the get go, only occasionally let down by some bad cgi. The core is a conflicted spy who is caught between serving his country and the needs of the intelligence agency he works for, navigating corrupt politicians in the south and deadly mistrust in the north. Based on a true story, some of the events are insane. Like South Korean politicians paying the North to attack just before an election to favour the ruling party. It's fictionalised, but still, damn.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

MIFF 2018 - Day 13

Chris The Swiss

Anja is a documentary filmmaker who wants to understand how her cousin Chris, a journalist, died while covering the war in the former Yugoslavia. What emerges is a complex portrait of a very stupid man. Young and naive, thrillseeking, or maybe more. He moves from covering the war to joining a paramilitary. Somehow he thinks he'll write a book about their atrocities, and ends up being killed by them. It's depressing and upsetting stuff, but gives insight into how people can become capable of appaling violence.

Everybody Knows

A solid little thriller cum soap opera as a girl is kidnapped at a wedding which triggers the exposure of old family wounds, resentments and secrets. The end is disappointingly conventional given how unusual the focus is prior, with a lazy reveal that seems unnecessary. But it's a fun ride.

First Reformed

Could anyone besides Paul Schrader make something this off kilter and genius? Tackling environmental apocalypse, the corporate takeover of religion, hope, despair, and faith, this is a singular vision and bloody awesome. Surgically analysing the problems, corruptions and conflicts of mega church religion vs the older traditions of the faith in a few spare scenes is amazing to watch. Plus, anything that quotes Thomas Merton gets extra points from me. The end will either inspire or frustrate, but I loved every minute.

American Animals

A highly inventive documentary slash dramatisation of a highly unusual heist. Directed with brio and digging into the motivations of the four boys involved, it also reckons with the damage they did. It draws out the end way too much, with bad slomo set to Leonard Cohen, but otherwise this is a really good watch.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

MIFF 2018 - Day 12

Big Fish & Begonia

A beautifully animated Chinese fantasy film. I wonder if it's meant to serve as propaganda, warning children who go overseas to study to remember not to bring "destructive" ideas back with them. There's a lot of moralising about how bringing something from the outside world will destroy your life and your entire community. That aside though, it's a gorgeous and fun film.

Lu Over The Wall

A brilliant and weird mermaid tale. Animated in a way that reminded me of Mind Game, it covers similar ground to Ponyo, but in a far more interesting way. One of my favourites this festival. Also, I want a merdog.

1%

Well, this was a surprise. Viscerally filmed, this Aussie biker movie grabs your attention and holds it right the way through. It's grim and nasty, sometimes in ways that feel a bit cheap, but it's playing to its genre. The end I'm a little bit iffy on, but not enough to say I didn't like it. A solid ride.

Happy Sad Man

A great documentary exploring men's mental health. The different men speak to a range of issues and their families also speak on how they manage too. It's a great film to get people talking as well as increasing understanding.

Thoroughbreds

Another one for the genre of "stage plays turned into movies that feel like stage plays". The dialogue is cracking, and the ground it covers is really interesting. Does being a sociopath automatically make you a bad person? This says no, in a really engaging way. Great performances and witty dialogue make for a great night at the theatre.

Monday, August 13, 2018

MIFF 2018 - Day 11

The Central Airport

Berlin's Tempelhof airport is a park these days. People ride bikes, walk their dogs, have parties... It's also the temporary home for hundreds of refugees. The film seems satisfied with juxtaposing images of the park with short scenes from the lives of refugees. There's some interesting stories told, but it feels over long and under structured.

Jirga

A beautifully shot film let down by an unengaging lead performance. That said, it picks up towards the end. But its story of an Australian soldier seeking to apologise to an Afghan village for killing one of them during a raid is both topical and well handled.

Caniba

A documentary about a Japanese cannibal who is being cared for by his brother after a stroke. Sound interesting? It really isn't. The final third feels highly contrived, and I can't believe such a disturbing and interesting subject could be turned into a film so dull and boring.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

MIFF 2018 - Day 10

[Censored]

Interesting in parts but undeveloped in full. Seeing a bunch of clips censored from movies really shows how some things are presented. Violence against women, affection, violence in general. It needed more work I think to dig into the ideas behind the theming of sequences, but it was OK.

Wrath of Silence

A grim and ugly thriller set against corruption in China's mining industry. It's a tightly directed film, but didn't end up sticking with me the way similar thrillers have tended to. Highly enjoyable in the moment though.

The Night Eats The World

A solid little zombie tale. A man wakes up in an apartment to find himself the sole survivor of a zombie apocalypse. So he sets about gathering supplies and trying to survive. And rigging up Rube Goldberg contraptions to help him make music. It's very much a study of a man losing his sanity to loneliness. Nothing much new to add to the genre, but a good entry into it.