It’s a time travel film, so forgive me for getting lost as to whether it is the past, the future, the present, an alternative present; it is this confusion that makes the tricks and games of this genre of films really work. Let me start it again;
It is at a point in time in a world like ours but with a few people who are able to travel through time. Agents, like The Bartender (Ethan Hawke), who is trying to track down a bomber and stop him from killing thousands. His boss is Mr Robertson (Noah Taylor), and then there is the story of The Unmarried Mother (Sarah Snook), a mysterious character who has a terribly sad story to tell.
There is a lot that works so well for this film; it was wonderful to see Ethan Hawke back at his best, and Sarah Snook was also wonderful. The storylines became necessarily convoluted, but I was totally engaged, mostly because of how much I liked the characters. I would say, however, that if it were the intent of The Spierig Brothers to create a story that had great twists and turns, it didn’t work that way for the viewer. For me, I didn’t mind that I could pick where the plot was going; there was pleasure in seeing the characters make the connections.
USA 85 Mins
Donna Slate (Jenny Slate) is a stand up comedienne who shares a lot about her personal life on stage. This doesn’t really suit her boyfriend, who leaves her (for her best mate, although she’s not really seen and this doesn’t seem to be a big issue). Donna deals with this in an adult manner – she gets drunk with some friends and ends up sleeping with nice guy Max (Jake Lacey). And pregnant.
It’s a fun film, especially the dark humour. Parts didn’t really work all that well for me, especially the very clunky use of the Paul Simon song that gave the film its title. But, even though I felt that Donna had the self-focusing Girls-like annoying personality, she was quite a strong character who had a good support network and was able to stand up for herself when needed. I do always like seeing Richard Kind and David Cross on screen, though I felt their characters were not really needed in the story. It’s worth a watch, unless you find humour about women’s bodies and the like uncomfortable or not funny.
Obvious Child is screening at 6:30pm on Friday August 15 at The Capitol, and at 6:30pm on Saturday August 16 at the Forum. Book tickets at MIFF or call 9662 3722
USA 107 Mins
No, not that James Bulger. James ‘Whitey’ Bulger was the head of a Boston crime group who may or may not have been an FBI informant. In 2011, he was caught and charged with a whole heap of things, including murder. The big question is, if he was an informant, did that give him free rein to murder and torment a community for thirty years? And would he admit to being an informant, losing face with all his criminal buddies?
This was a terribly composed documentary. It was so repetitive, and yet at the end, I don’t feel like I have learned an awful lot about the world of Whitey and what he did. While the documentary was supposedly about the trial, there were a lot of talking heads who repeated what others had said, and I lost any interest. I was hoping in the end there would be some point to it all, but there wasn’t. There is a film to be released apparently in 2015 starring Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger. I hope it is good.
Whitey: United States of America v. James J Bulger is screening at 9:00pm on Friday August 15 at Forum, and at 1:30pm on Sunday August 17 at Hoyts. Book tickets at MIFF or call 9662 3722
Korea 111 Mins
Gun-su is a policeman in a corrupt system who hits a person on his way home, under the influence, from his mother’s funeral. Aware of the severity, he takes great measures to cover it up, but it turns out he is covering up an awful lot more.
I loved it. Fun, funny, dramatic, ridiculous, violent and surprising. So much fun, it is a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously and, as an audience member, you shouldn’t either. It ups the ante a lot, and keeps you guessing most of the time. If you like Korean films, see it. If you haven’t watched Korean films, this is a good one to start with.
A Hard Day is screening at 6:30pm on Thursday August 7 at Hoyts and on Sunday August 17 at the Capitol. Book tickets at MIFF or call 9662 3722
Japan/Russia/Korea 102 Mins
Giovanni and his family live of a small island in Japan. He and his brothers are named after characters in his father’s favourite book. After Japan surrenders at the end of World War II, the community needs to deal with being taken over by the Soviets and what this means for their lives, being separated from loved ones and taken from their home.
It’s a beautiful story with stunning animation, although at times it pushes well into sentimental, melodramatic territory. I think it would be a good and fun teaching tool for younger year levels learning about the less reported parts of World War II.
Giovanni’s Island is screening at 11am on Sunday August 10 and on Sunday August 17 at ACMI. Book tickets at MIFF or call 9662 3722
Denmark/Norway/Sweden 116 Mins
When Nils (Stellan Skarsgard), self-made man who runs a company keeping mountain roads cleared of snow using magnificent snow blowing trucks, learns that his son has died of an apparent drug overdose, he cannot believe it. He falls apart; until he learns that it was all a plot by a crime group and he sets out for revenge. Bloody revenge. He works his way up, aiming to take it right to the boss, Greven(Pal Sverre Hagen), a psychopathic vegan who inherited his crime empire. Add in the Serbian mafia and you have a great film.
In some ways, this is like two different films; there is the serious Nils played with the sense of anger of a man who has lost everything and will not rest until he gets satisfaction. Then there is the over-the-top, almost slapstick insanity of Greven, who is so utterly ridiculous in his short temper and violence that it is totally hilarious. What you end up with is a film that has an excellent balance of grief, violence and humour, and is a must see for anyone with a slightly twisted, black sense of humour.
In Order of Disappearance is screening at 9:15pm on Sunday August 10 and at 9pm at the Forum and on Wednesday August 13 at the Capitol. Book tickets at MIFF or call 9662 3722
Japan 130 Mins
Reiji (Toma Ikuta) is a hopeless policeman, who is fired then rehired as a mole to go into a Yakuza organisation and weed out the drug importers. Along the way, he befriends one of the main guys in the organisation, (who, perhaps naively, does not believe his family deals in drugs), battles repeatedly with a mysterious, short, bald villain with diamond-covered teeth, and finally loses his virginity to the policewoman he loves in an uncomfortable scene (he walks away without forcing himself on her, but geez it had unneccessary sexual aggression that almost ruined the film).
By director Takashi Miike who directed Ace Attorney that screened at MIFF a few years ago, The Mole Song was the one film that I was determined to not miss this year. Based on a manga book, like Ace Attorney, it mixes film with animation in a ridiculous fashion. It’s violent, but wonderfully so. It was really disappointing that Reiji came on so strong in the sex scene (especially because it would have been possibly even more funny played in other ways), but once she took the upper hand, even that scene became humourous. It was long, but I didn’t mind that at all. I just love the insanity of it.
The Mole Song – Undercover Agent Reiji is screening at 8:45pm on Wednesday August 6 at Hoyts and at 6:15pm on Saturday August 9 at the Capitol. Book tickets at MIFF or call 9662 3722
US 92 Mins
Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) have been in a relationship for 39 years when they are finally able to marry. However, unforeseen consequences occur, most significantly, George loses his music teaching job at a Catholic school. They hit a financial low and need to live apart with friends and family until they can sort things out.
It is a beautiful and gentle film that addresses so many issues, but for me, the most notable is that of aging. The feeling of becoming invisible, of having to rely on others and just of the changing nature of life. Add to that the challenges for the two men of being interlopers as well as suffering separation from each other; and on top of that, the friends and families suddenly have to deal with Ben and George in ways they probably would prefer not to.
At times, I became frustrated with the characters for being too selfish or for being ignorant of their place in the world, but that was because it was real. These situations would be hard and frustrating and painful. John Lithgow and Alfred Molina were perfect for the lead roles, portraying a long-term, caring, gentle and wonderful relationship. There was also an excellent supporting cast, including my favourite Marisa Tomei. I personally could have lost the last ten minutes or so, but I can see why it was there; I didn’t really want that closure.
Love is Strange is screening at 11:00am on Friday August 1 at ACMI, at 1:30pm on Sunday August 3 at the Capitol and on Monday August 11 at Hoyts. Book tickets at MIFF or call 9662 3722
US 85 Mins
Ever heard of Shep Gordon? Me neither. But he is really quite a legend – watching even the opening of this documentary tells you a lot about who he was and what he has contributed to the world of entertainment. After dealing drugs to greats like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morison, he took Alice Cooper from obscurity to legendary status; he worked with great African-American artists such as Teddy Pendergrass to break down the disparities in pay and conditions for touring African-American performers; he invented the celebrity chef and he bedded a lot of beautiful women. And is apparently one of the nicest guys in the world.
It’s almost impossible to not like Shep Gordon after seeing this documentary, and perhaps that is because it was directed by Mike Myers, who clearly loves the man. He appears to be quite self-deprecating, charming, and alarming honest, and all this left me wondering what people who are not huge fans think. Surely there must be some other side of him? Surely?
Supermensch – The Legend of Shep Gordon is screening at 9pm on Friday August 1 and at 9pm on Sunday August 3 at the Forum. Book tickets at MIFF or call 9662 3722
Philippines 92 Mins
In the seventies and eighties, the Philippines had a thriving film industry; fast and with terrible working conditions for the cast and crew, they were churning out around three hundred films per year. Many were pisstakes or copies of Hollywood success, but few have had the resounding success and cult status of ‘For Y’ur Height Only’, a James Bond style film starring Weng Weng, an actor who stood just under three feet tall. Australian cult video storeowner and Weng Weng obsessive Andrew Leavold travels to Manila to discover what happened to this star.
It is a fascinating story – when Imelda Marcos hosted the Manila International Film Festival in 1982, the films weren’t being sold. Until ‘For Y’ur Height Only’ was screened and the film was picked up. Years later, while many people recognise the name Weng Weng, no-one seems to know what happened to him; perhaps because it was considered an embarrassment that the greatest film export of the country was a man many considered to be a freak and a novelty. The clips of the film included in this doco showed that, whilst it clearly was a novelty to have a small version of Bond running about, he was clearly quite a talented mover, and I didn’t feel that he was being insulted through these roles. Unfortunately, he was being exploited, and died in poverty.
Initially, I found the narration by Andrew Leavold to be annoying but as the film continued I warmed to him. By the time he ended up in the home of Imelda Marcos, celebrating her birthday, I was pleased he had put himself into the film as it added a layer of absurdity to the story. However, I felt it was about thirty minutes too long – the story had been told, and there was far more repetition than was needed. I do always like a documentary that introduces me to something new, though, and now I am most keen on seeing some of Weng Weng’s films for myself.
The Search for Weng Weng is screening at 9:00pm on Thursday August 14 at ACMI, and at 6:30pm on Saturday August 16 at Treasury Theatre. Book tickets at MIFF http://miff.com.au/program/search or call 9662 3722