Tuesday, August 21, 2012

2012 MIFF Diary - Day 1 & 2

As many of you would have noticed, there has not been any content on the blog for about six days. The reason for this was a trip out of town - to Melbourne - for the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), a 17 day festival that had been running since August 2nd. I caught the last five days of the festival, watched some fantastic films and met some lovely people, and got back last night. Here's what went down on days 1 and 2.

Day 1 - Wednesday

Set out by train to the Domestic Terminal at Sydney International Airport for my 9am flight to Melbourne and had a lovely surprise by running into my girlfriend, Sam McCosh (@sakura_59), at Central Station. Sam was on her way to work, and wasn't coming to Melbourne until Friday. It was purely by chance we hopped on the same train. As I was going for six days, and didn't want to take a large bag and have to check it in, my carry on luggage was bursting at the seams.

At the airport I grabbed a coffee and a muffin, sent some tweets and emails, and then boarded. It was a pleasant flight. I took the time to have a quick sleep (not having enough sleep before embarking on a six day trip was a grave concern, actually) and read some of Mark Kermode's book, 'The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex', before touching down in Tullamarine Airport, 20 minutes outside Melbourne city. To bridge this gap I took a shuttle bus, a quick, easy and relaxing mode of transport. The only way to go.

I wandered through the city for a while, stopped by the ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) gift store, where I always buy something (this time The Man With A Movie Camera and Tokyo Story on DVD), and grabbed a burger at grill'd before heading to my first film, Broken. I met and sat with Sarah Ward (@swardplay), in town for her last day of the festival.

Broken is an engrossing British social-realist drama, the feature-film debut from acclaimed theatre and opera director Rupert Norris, that chronicles the interweaving lives of three families who share a north London suburban street and the bright and innocent youngster, Skunk (an excellent debut performance from natural screen presence Eloise Laurence), caught up in the emotional turmoil. The conflict is sparked by Skunk's problem neighbors, the Oswalds, and her solicitor father, Archie (Tim Roth), teacher, Mike (Cillian Murphy), and mentally challenged neighbor, Rick (Robert Emms), are drawn into the web of affairs following the allegations made against Mike and Rick, and the violent outbursts from Mr. Oswald (Rory Kinnear) as a repercussion. Though the film is quite intense, and there are some affecting sequences, there are also some amusing and heartwarming coming-of-age moments, and some well-written exchanges between Skunk and a young man from the neighborhood. Ultimately, the story takes on a bit too much; feeling contrived and leaving some of the developments unconvincing and hard to accept but this thoughtfully constructed drama deals with some relevant issues (broken family/community ties, bullying, and health privilege and entitlement) quite competently, and boasts some strong performances. ★★★ (B-)
I met up with Tom Clift (@tom_clift) and he escorted me back to his place, where I would be staying for two nights. It is about 25-30 minutes outside of the city. I made my own way back and met up with Sarah, Richard Haridy (@RichOnFilm), Ian Barr (@ianbarr) and Sam Bowron (@samityville) at a panel discussion led by Lee Zachariah (@leezachariah) about comedy film in the 1970's and the transitions, in terms of studio restrictions and creative inspiration, over the last 30 years. One of the guests was Bobcat Goldthwait, writer/director of World's Greatest Dad and God Bless America. The latter was screening at the festival and was on my schedule. A little after six, Sarah and I headed upstairs - this discussion was taking place in the Forum Lounge, located beneath the beautiful Forum Theatre, one of the festival venues - for No, a funny, behind-the-scenes period comedy/drama from Chilean director Pablo Larrain, revolving around the 1988 referendum on the Pinochet regime in Chile and the ad campaign wars that changed the route of the country.

No - Having no knowledge of the politics, it did take me a while to immerse myself in the film, but when I did I found No, which won the top prize at the Director's Fortnight at Cannes, to be aesthetically inventive, entertaining and often very funny. Gael Garcia Bernal, convincing as always, plays a talented ad man hired to lead the creative team behind the NO campaign in the referendum to abolish/reinstate communism in Chile. A struggle ensures between his new colleagues over whether his vision (an upbeat tone similar to a coca-cola ad) will prove successful, and former colleagues, who view him as a traitor. Larrain adopts a very interesting look and the low-quality, home-video appearance (shot on period U-matic tape) and the square 4:3 ratio, might initially throw some viewers, but it makes the blending of actual footage from the time, and these scripted sequences, all the more convincing. Its an unlikely story, and to think that the country's oppression was overthrown as a result of this war, is quite extraordinary. Well worth a look. Bernal is great, and it shifts between being hilarious and dramatic/emotionally involving in surprisingly effortless ways. ★★★1/2 (B)
I ended the night with sparkling wine and chocolate pudding back at Tom's place to celebrate his birthday.

 Day 2 - Thursday

Caught the tram into the city and headed straight for Degraves Street - a bustling little alleyway lined with awesome cafes/restaurants. I had a breakfast involving egg, tomato, sausage, prosciutto and pesto toast (genius) and then caught some quick snapshots of the city around Southbank.

Then I headed back to the Forum Theatre (what luck to have my first three films in here...you'll understand the jubilation later) for Oslo, August 31st. There I was delighted to meet and chat with Ruth Richards (@ruthelizabeth_R).

Oslo August 31st - This is a powerful, mesmerising, stylish and deeply tragic drama. Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier's (Reprise, 2006) daringly upfront feature not only remains sensitively observant of its central character but is also study of a generation and a portrait of a city. Oslo, August 31st is very intelligently directed, sublimely photographed and compellingly acted. In one of the first sequences, in a lengthy and unbroken take, we watch a young man attempt suicide, and fail to go through with it. Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) is a man who has come from privilege - he is a well educated academic and once a talented writer/journalist - but he has become deeply troubled as a result of drug addiction. We follow him over a 24-hour period. He is part of a rehabilitation program, and this grants him leave to travel to the city for a job interview. While there he visits an old friend, reaches out to his sister (who sends her partner to meet him because she needs more time to accept his approaching release), finds himself reuniting, and in some cases confronting, people he knew in the past, and generally drifts around Oslo. There is an ever-present sense that this will be Anders' final day on earth, and the unsettling atmosphere is engrossing to say the least. Has Anders fallen back into his past habits, or is he on a self-destructive path?

Throughout the film he has the opportunity to turn his life around, find love and re-build a promising career, but he learns that his demons have scarred him forever. We follow him as he copes with the perils of rehabilitation and reintegration into regular life. This striking story is told with a great sense of style - hypnotic camerawork and effective soundtrack selections (especially during some party and club sequences towards the end) - and situates us within Anders' personal space. Anders Danielsen Lie carries this film squarely on his shoulders, and as we accumulate knowledge about how bad Anders' addiction became we continue to be concerned for him as his behaviour becomes increasingly erratic and questionable. Knowing that he has attempted suicide at the beginning of the film - something that the other characters do not - we are implicated, and know what is hidden beneath his quiet and reserved exterior. This is a devastating film, but one I cannot recommend highly enough. ★★★★1/2 (A-)
I then met up with Cameron Williams (@PopcornJunkies) before Alois Nebel, and sat with him during the film.

Alois Nebel Utilising the animation technique of rotoscoping, Alois Nebel is unique and striking to look at, and because I am unacquainted with films like this, it remained relatively engaging for that reason alone. It is a blend of western and film noir with crawling yet hypnotic pacing. The film opens in very moody fashion and we learn that a man has crossed the German/Czech Republic border equipped with an axe, seeking revenge. We are then introduced to an elderly railway worker, Alois Nebel, who runs an isolated station. He is suffering from a mental illness, and is admitted to a hospital and later loses his job, but he is continually being reminded of an incident from his past. He has flashbacks to the event - one that may have also involved this mysterious stranger. They eventually cross paths and become unlikely allies. The story moves very slow and is reliant on the beauty of the imagery and subtle connection of the puzzle, and though a lot is purposefully understated and implied, the narrative is so loose that one can question its feature-length. If some of the subplots - which are swiftly developed at times and lack credibility - were eliminated, and the focus directed entirely on the war-related incident and the revenge plot, it would have been a great short film. As it stands, there are some fantastic moments, but the narrative is just too dull and didn't hold my attention for the duration, so its hard to recommend unless acquainted with the graphic novel at its origin. ★★★ (B-)

Following this, Cam and I headed out to Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, and found ourselves outside the Little Creatures dining hall and brewery. We spent a good few hours discussing all things film, drinking delicious beer and eating pizza, before walking back to the city for The Angels' Share. What was incredible about this was the short space of time it took us to cover this distance and how passionate our discussion was. Certainly one of the highlights of this trip was hanging out with Cam and he would join myself and Sam (who was coming to Melbourne on the Friday) for several screenings and adventures.
The Angels' Share - The tale of whiskey espionage from prolific British director Ken Loach. The Angels' Share screened at the Cannes Film Festival (Loach's eleventh film to screen) and picked up the Jury Prize. It is an edgy, though heartfelt redemption story about a troubled/violent youth, Robbie (Paul Brannigan), who has one chance, with a new bub on the way, to turn his life around. Balancing the drama with a clever dose of comedy, in the vein of The Full Monty, it is also uproariously funny. The only issue is that sometimes the Scottish accents are so think that it is very difficult to understand what is being said, and there are times I definitely missed the jokes. Unable to escape his local tormentors and being forcibly told to keep away from the mother of his child by her family, Robbie discovers a hidden talent - a nose for whiskey - and enlists a few of his buddies he met on community service to turn that talent to their advantage. Really strong comedy, and though Robbie is a loser who is hard to sympathise with initially, he eventually wins us over. Should be a feel-good hit that thrives on positive word-of-mouth, but viewers should be aware it contains plenty of C-bombs and some grisly violence. ★★★★ (B+)
I ran into a bunch of people before and after (drinks) the session of Mine Games. I met Paul Anthony Nelson (@mrpaulnelson), Kwenton Bellette (@Kwenton) and Glenn Dunks (@stalepopcorn) for the first time and ran into Richard Gray (@DVDBits) and his partner Susan (@140cutecats) as well as Tom Clift, Richard Haridy, Sam Bowron and Tara Judah (@midnightmovies).
Mine Games - The film's premise was indeed an interesting one, but I believe it has been done before (Time Crimes, a film I am unfamiliar with), and here it was just woefully executed. It contains a checklist of obvious thriller cliches, and for a friends-who-venture-into-the-woods premise, it is everything that Cabin in the Woods makes fun of. Actually, the first twenty minutes is exactly the same as Cabin in the Woods, though much much worse. Poor lighting and photography, dreadful dialogue, average acting and a threatening location (a mine if you hadn't already assumed) that is anything but, prove to be embarrassing. It lacks scares and suspense, and has to include some of the worst decisions made by characters in a horror film that I can recall. That is saying a lot. There were some moments near the end which offer up some satisfaction and provided some unexpected revelation, but its not a film that has any consideration for the intelligence of the audience. Honestly, how could anyone have called it 'Deliverance meets Memento'? ★ (D)


  1. I knew I shouldn't have read this, because now I really miss Melbourne! Even though I only spent six days there, I loved that city. Sounds like you had a good first couple of days there, too, and met some great pepole! Out of all the films you caught up with, I'd love to see Oslo August 31st. I've heard many great things about that one!

    1. I remember you saying how much you enjoyed your time in Melbourne. I really enjoy visiting. Oslo, August 31st was one of my highlights. I can certainly recommend it :-)

  2. Loving the diary and those photos make Melbourne look awesome!! (Well, it is ;) )

    Also saw NO with barely any political knowledge and found it really enjoyable.

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