Sunday, August 14, 2016

MIFF 2016 - Day 17

A War

Claus is the commander at a base in Afghanistan, his wife and three children are back home. When one of his men dies in an IED attack, he starts going out on patrol with the men to try and calm and reassure them. Then they get caught in a firefight with the Taliban, one of his men is wounded, and he makes a call to bomb the compound. 11 civilians are killed, and he's brought up on charges of violating the rules of engagement. This isn't a film about right and wrong, so much as it's about the morally grey areas where there are no good decisions, and no simple answers. It doesn't just look at the war situation, but also the family, and the costs there. In the end, it's rough, uncomfortable, and might leave you angry.

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World

Going for breadth rather than depth, Werner Herzog turns his eye towards the Internet, and the many things it has brought us. He looks at the birth of it, the first word ever sent being "Lo", as it crashed before it could complete the word log. He also looks at online harassment, internet addiction, artificial intelligence, gets distracted by space exploration, visits some people who are allergic to cell tower radiation, and looks at hacking and cyber-security. It would be a lie to call it a good documentary, it never dives into any of its subjects enough to warrant that, but it's fun to see Herzog muse on the many implications of modern technology and calmly render snarky judgement on them.

MIFF 2016 - Day 16

Zero Days

Focusing on the release of the Stuxnet malware, developed by the US and Israel to target Iran's nuclear program, Alex Gibney delivers a well-researched and thoughtful exploration of the implications of cyber-warfare. Unearthing details that had been inferred but never confirmed, he tells the story of the development of the malware, and more or less confirms the allegations that Israel went rogue with the software. Featuring NSA insider testimony on what happened, including the blowback from Iran in the form of their own attacks, the film is ultimately a plea by those on the inside for a discussion on the use and abuse of cyber-weapons. They know how bad it could get.

Nuts!

I'm still not convinced this story is true, so outlandish are the events. But that's probably besides the point. This is an incredibly sly film tapping into both our mistrust of government and organisations, as well as our credulity. It's better not to know too much, just know this animated documentary is worth the ticket.

The Lovers and the Despot

Another truth is stranger than fiction documentary. This time about a film director and actress who were kidnapped into North Korea and made to make films for Kim Jong Il. I'd advise seeking out the This American Life podcast that covers the same material, as some bits conflict and others add more detail. It's more of a sketch than an investigation, but fascinating nonetheless.

Suburra

An Italian crime epic, ranging from high office to small time crooks. It takes its time getting going, the first half hour or so is a jumble of different characters and events, but then it kicks off and starts tying all the threads together. It's nasty and grim, with only a few moments of respite. Nobody is good, everything is terrible. Interestingly, while it covers politicians, the church and the mafia, there's not a police officer in sight. They have no place in this world it seems. It can be overwrought and the soundtrack gets overly melodramatic at times, but it mostly works, and there's some nice references to other gangster films.

The Lost Arcade

A paean to community, more than anything else, this documentary is about Chinatown Fair, the last arcade to remain open in Manhattan. We see and hear stories of how much this place meant to people, and it also celebrates its owner, who took a number of the kids who frequented the place under his wing and helped them out. It's a genuine and interesting look at a subculture and the benefits of finding your tribe.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

MIFF 2016 - Day 15

Our Huff and Puff Journey

Daigo Matsui is clearly fascinated by teen obsession. Following up Wonderful World End, he's crafted another film about teenagers obsessed, this time with a band called CreepHyp, and the delusions that come from their imagined intimacy. Four girls run away from home to ride to Tokyo for a gig, they all have their own issues and these boil over as things don't exactly go to plan. The girls are extremely believable, both in their conflicts and their innocence. They come so close to peril so often and seem vaguely oblivious to it all. It's a great examination of their relationships, and their milieu.

Life, Animated

Owen Suskind has severe autism, but his love of Disney films gave him a path to language, and gave his family a way to communicate and engage with him. This is a beautiful story of a love of cinema creating a bridge between people and offering a way to connect. I think it's the best doco I've seen this festival.

Life After Life

When a man's dead wife takes possession of their son's body, she asks her husband to move the tree in their yard. Nobody so much as blinks at this, and as he asks for help, we travel the Chinese countryside and see industrialisation and deserted towns, forced relocations to make way for mines and factories. There's a key line early on when they look at how to move the tree, cut the roots and the tree will wither. And that's what we're shown. A slow and meditative look at what's been lost in China's modernisation. A lot of people didn't like it, and I can see why, but I found it a gently moving ghost story with something to say. It would make a great double feature with Old Stone.

Seoul Station

Friggin awesome animated film about a zombie outbreak. Like the best zombie films, it uses them for political metaphor. Here, it's the homeless and dispossessed rising up. And it starts because nobody will help "patient zero". Everyone ignores him because he's inconvenient. The main plot is a runaway girl trying to reunite with her boyfriend and father, but since this is by the director of King of Pigs, things end up very dark and all is not as it seems. Layered and tense, it's a ripper.

Train to Busan

Ok, Seoul Station was awesome, but it was just the appetiser. This is the live-action companion film, and OMG! Best zombie film in years. So inventive and ruthless. Barely anyone survives and they all go out in spectacular ways. And the scale of it... Some of the set pieces are massive. I don't think I've enjoyed a zombie film this much since 28 Days Later. There are a few issues here and there with the script, and it gets a bit mawkish at the end, but it's still brilliant, and the most fun I've had in the cinema in ages.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

MIFF 2016 - Day 14

The Family

I still remember reading about the police raids on The Family cult, and all the children who had been abused by them. This documentary digs into the whole sorry saga, unearthing a lot of surprising information. The tentacles that extended into government, community and health services explains a lot about how they were able to operate the way they did. There's inspiring stories and depressing stories, and the lack of convictions is frustrating. It's a horrifying film, not least because there are still people loyal to the evil woman behind all this abuse. But then again, Kenja still exists too. Depressing really.

Adama

Adama lives beneath a cliff, sheltered from the world. The elders forbid going beyond into the  "World of Wind", bad things are there. But his brother Samba has been secretly making visits to the wider world, and has taken gold from the French to fight for them. When he leaves, Adama follows to get him back. It's a journey through an ugly bit of colonial history, from Africa to Verdun. Adama is a child and every adult tries to protect him, but he won't let go of his brother. His wilfulness is both admirable and frustrating. Blending magic realism with coming of age, and using a unique animation style, it all adds up to an engrossing and highly affecting story.

Old Stone

Lao Shi is a taxi driver. When a drunk passenger grabs him, he crashes into a motorcyclist. Because he takes the guy to hospital instead of waiting for an ambulance, his insurance won't pay and he has to cover the hospital bills. And so begins a descent into an ugly world. Nobody will help him sort things out with the police and the insurance company, everyone just cares about themselves. But this isn't a simple honest man against the system kind of film. Lao Shi isn't a noble hero, he's a stubborn jerk willing to tear his whole family down for the sake of his pride, lying to them and stealing from them to try and save face. In the end he's undone by his desire for justice. It's a dark mirror held up to modern China.

Olympic Nick: A Donutuary

A short documentary about Olympic Donuts, an icon of Footscray Station for decades. They even make sure to get a shot in of the dolphin jam nozzle. It's a sweet and short precis of the man behind the shop, his life, and how much the people of the neighbourhood appreciate him. As well as how he survived the reconstruction of the station, when all the other shops had to pack up and leave.

Barista

Aka Hipster, the film. From the lighting, framing, typography, etc this may as well be a Squarespace ad. Beards, tattoos, a baby named Huckleberry and distilled coffee all feed the joke. As someone in the film accurately describes it, it's Best In Show for coffee. Chronicling the journey of five baristas on their way to the US Barista Championships, it shows you how complex and rich the pursuit of the perfect cup of coffee can be. Sometimes ridiculous, but no more so than beer or wine obsessives, it's a hugely entertaining look into coffee culture, and the level to which the obsession can go. Not to mention how poorly paid it is compared to a sommelier, a point not lost on the baristas.

MIFF 2016 - Day 13

The Lure

The second Eastern European film riffing off The Little Mermaid I've seen this festival. And both are set in skeevy nightclubs. This is much less of a direct retelling though, only borrowing small elements. Here, we have the story of Golden and Silver, two mermaids who attempt to lure some musicians into the water so they can eat them. But instead they end up getting taken in and made part of their nightclub act. They sing, they dance, one falls in love with the bass player and the other seduces men and women and eats them. It's a weird blend of musical, horror, comedy and fantasy. The story is more or less evident, but the editing is choppy so it doesn't always link up. Good fun, but I'm not sure I can call it good. Fun trash cinema.

The Devil's Candy

A solid B-movie horror flick from the director of The Loved Ones. While that film was a horror film that also winked at the audience, this is more of a straight satanic thriller. A family moves into a house only to discover the son of the previous owners has left the mental asylum and is compelled by the devil to kill children, the candy of the title. Their daughter ends up in the crosshairs and it all goes bad. It's a solid enough effort, but didn't impress me the same way The Loved Ones did. That said, the soundtrack is excellent and there's nothing to pick on. The actors and the production are all great. It just didn't grab me as much.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

MIFF 2016 - Day 12

The Family Fang

Jason Bateman and Nicole Kidman are Baxter and Annie Fang, the children of famous performance artists. As children they were players in their parent's art pieces, or possibly just their pranks. Opinion is divided on their work. Adults now, their parents go missing, presumed kidnapped and murdered. Annie thinks it's another piece, and wants to track them down. Baxter thinks they're probably dead, and if not, isn't that even worse? It's a gently paced story of how parental neglect comes in many forms, and how legacies are hard to shake. I'm not sure it quite nails everything it's going for, but it comes close. Definitely worth watching.

Animation Shorts

A mixed bag, as always. There's POP, which is a student film obviously in love with Peter Chung's work. Bird Flu is a trippy story of a birdhouse in love with a pestilence that destroys the ecosystem it lives in. It's probably closest to my favourite. The Crossing is a technical marvel, animated using salt and sand, and looks awesome though the plot didn't grab me. Of Shadows and Wings could have been amazing, but is let down by an arch and pretentious voiceover. Without it it might have been transcendent. Instead it's just good. Mrs Metro is a dark story about a baby on a train disturbing the peace. Funny and ugly. Those are the ones that stick in the mind for one reason or another. There wasn't a bad one in the bunch, but nothing special sadly.

Monday, August 08, 2016

MIFF 2016 - Day 11

Blood of my Blood

An extremely angular take on vampire stories. We start with a woman accused of devilry and the brother of the man she's accused of seducing. He needs her to confess, otherwise his brother (who appears to have committed suicide) can't be buried properly. But she won't confess. Then we're in the modern day with a vampire mafioso defending his town from a conman. Institutional abuse of process seems to be the underlying theme, and it all kind of fits, sort of, but it's so deliberately obtuse you could easily be frustrated with it. But pay enough attention and you can link the parts together, though who knows if you're right or not. I kinda dug it though.

Men & Chicken

What did I just watch? An absurdist comic take on The Island of Dr Moreau? I think that's the best way to describe it. Two brothers discover that they're adopted, and only half-brothers. So they go in search of their birth father, who lives on an island with their other three brothers. Who are all extremely odd. This may be Mads Mikkelsen's finest hour. Seriously, he's hysterical and oh so wrong here. Almost unrecognisable. It's dark and weird and very very twisted. Bloody funny stuff. I loved it.

MIFF 2016 - Day 10

Mune - Guardian of the Moon

Jaw droppingly beautiful and imaginative animation sees this kids film stand out from the pack. The story and mythology it invents is really cool too. Recalling the whimsy of Ghibli but with enough of its own identity, it's a pure visual treat.

Bugs

Join Nordic Food Lab researcher Josh and head chef Ben as they travel the globe discovering how people eat insects and find ways to make them delicious. Slowly the film moves to explore food sustainability and the challenge of feeding the world's growing population. Big business is starting to look into bugs, and Ben and Josh are concerned that commercialisation will bring a whole new set of problems. In the end, bugs aren't the answer to feeding the world that they are sometimes touted as being.

The Man from Mo'Wax

The rise and fall of James Lavelle, founder of the Mo'Wax record label and Unkle. It's a warts and all view of things. There's a bit in the middle that plays like a nightmare version of Classic Albums, a lot of arguing over whether James deserves to be credited with Unkle or not, and generally shows you the record industry is great when you're on top, and ugly when you're not a massive success. It isn't exactly kind to its subject, but it's arresting viewing.

Frank & Lola

A psycho-sexual thriller about a toxic relationship. He's jealous and obsessive, she's in love with her rapist and keeps going back to him. So Frank, jealous man that he is, decides to kill him. It's presented far more sedately than that, a cool and moody noir. But it's still as ridiculous as it sounds. Top notch performances from Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots elevate it though.

MIFF 2016 - Day 9

Born to be Blue

Ethan Hawke is very good at playing gifted but dissolute characters, and he's excellent here as Chet Baker. A biopic set after his fall, his teeth smashed out by a disgruntled drug dealer, he walks a slow path to getting clean and rebuilding his career. It's an interesting story told in a near jazz improvisational manner. The story moves forward, but we meander here and there, shading the main narrative with brief diversions. It's excellent, beautiful, inspiring and sad.

Captain Fantastic

It opens well, but very quickly what looks like it could be an interesting take on well-trodden story ground ends up becoming yet another bog-standard American indie film. Or should I say super-indie, since it boasts an impressive cast and wonderful production values. But it's all so predictable and "quirky". It's not bad, just average. The opening is pretty damn awesome though.

Little from the Fish Shop

A stop motion interpretation of The Little Mermaid, this one trades a prince for a brothel owner and keeps the grim ending and makes it darker, but then puts a positive spin on things. It's Eastern European, so really, par for the course. It's gorgeous to look at, weird and wonderful.

Christine

I might have liked this better if I hadn't already seen Kate Plays Christine. It's a good film with a strong central performance, but it didn't grab me. The suicide is kind of incidental to the story, which is probably a smart choice, but beyond seeing a mentally ill woman twist in the wind, there's not a lot to recommend this.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

MIFF 2016 - Day 8

The Magic Brush

An animated kids film where a young painter is gifted a magic brush by the God of Ink. It's kind of like getting a ring from the Green Lantern Corps, whatever he can imagine becomes real. But an evil general wants it, and connives to steal it. Weirdly, it's a mixture of paint by numbers plotting and incoherent. non-sequitur scenes. Good for young kids, and fun enough for everyone else.

Don't Blink Robert Frank

A documentary about the photographer Robert Frank. I hadn't heard of him. He photographed the Beats, made a bunch of films, produced some interesting books and has a really positive way of looking at life. It's a fun, if rambling, look at a man who is fascinated by life at the margins.

Gary Numan: An Android in La La Land

You have to love a film that ends with a rock star reading his daughter Giraffes Don't Dance, and uses it to tie the whole thing together. This is a really funny and personal look at the career and comeback of Gary Numan. His wife Gemma is the real star though, a superfan who went to all his gigs and now they're a really good couple. The stuff they've been through is toe curling, but they come through it. It's a great film for fans, but I think just about anyone would enjoy it.

The Handmaiden 

 Park Chan Wook presents us with his take on Bound, at least, it's hard not to make the comparisons. A loose adaptation of The Fingersmith, this is one of those films that delights in transgression, a staple of Park's work throughout his career. Here, he tackles Japanese pornographic literature, Korea-Japan relations and wraps it up in a lesbian neo-noir con thriller. Broken up into three parts, part one has so many "Chekov's Guns" it's funny to see each of them fired later on. The twisty narrative sees betrayal upon betrayal, cross and double-cross, so much so that you're waiting for the tables to turn again when things seem to finally be at an end. It's a cheeky and funny film, wrapped up in an arthouse presentation. Better and more coherent than Thirst, but kind of on that level.

Friday, August 05, 2016

MIFF 2016 - Day 7

Tower

Stylised animation is used to recreate August 1, 1966, when a sniper on the rooftop of the tower at University of Texas in Austin killed and wounded dozens of people. We get the stories of many of the people who became involved that day, with their memories and footage from the day forming the basis of the movie. The animation allows the film to recreate the day without becoming too "fake", the look of the people approximating how they really were so long ago. The different stories of heroism, helplessness and horror form an arresting portrait of the day.

Elle

I'd heard someone say this was Paul Verhoeven's best film, and I didn't believe it was possible. He's made many great films, and some genuine stinkers. But my goodness, this is a hugely complex and provocative study of a person. Michelle is sexually assaulted at home, then tidies up and carries on as if nothing has happened. She's traumatised, but she's already been traumatised before. When she was a child her father murdered everyone in the entire street. She's also negotiating an affair with her best friend's husband, an ex-husband with a new and younger partner, and a dropkick son with a pregnant girlfriend she dislikes intensely. And so we move between all these different elements, meanwhile she's being stalked by her attacker. But because of her father she refuses to go to police. There are points where you wonder if she's a psychopath herself, especially when it becomes clear she kind of enjoys the drama of it all. I'm not sure what I make of the whole thing, I probably need more time to think about it, but this is a brilliant film.