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Film Review from Japan: Unmade Beds

18 Mar

As a lover of many things Japanese, and with a deep respect for their culture, it is both sad and terrifying to see what they’re going through at the moment. AFR’s thoughts are with them, and we hope they pull through this with the resilience they are famous for. This seemed like a good time as any to publish a review by one of Gram Morris’s students from his teaching days in Japan. Aya Nator’s take on the film makes a nice counterpoint to the panning Jemila gave it a while back.

It was at my friend’s 5th birthday party held at the local McDonalds; we sat with the plastic clownish loner on the bench while smiling at the queer black thingy-ma-jig. Discharging a loud snap, out rolled a piece of card and there appeared a photo in front of our very eyes. Since then, I’ve had an extraordinary fascination for polaroid cameras.

Vera is the female protagonist is a French artist who comes to London after ending a relationship in distress. In her anonymity she relies on the polaroids she takes on her brown SX-70 to snapshot stills of her life. Despite her determination to lead a solitary existence, when she meets the mysterious X-Ray man (who claims to have seen her before at the airport) she finds herself falling into the endless pit of love yet again.

Then there is the male protagonist Axl who discovers “the underground art-rock world of sprawling East London” after flying from Spain with very little money and no place to stay. By day he stalks his said-to-be father and at night loses himself in underground music and alcohol. He lives in a squat accommodated by arty weirdos that come and go, not that it really seems to bother him.

Polaroids, London and indie rock; all seem like grand symbols of modern hipsterism. Technically, they are, and thus this film could be about two hipsters who seek hip at a little club in Hipsterville. Fortunately Vera nor Axl are neither posh nor pretentious, but instead depict the darker and desolate side of self searching. However that still doesn’t mean we don’t get decent music, quirky haircuts and cuddly animal suits.

One could interpret this film as a cleaner version of Trainspotting, but I thought that director Alexis Dos Santos could have also been influenced by The Science Of Sleep. It resembles a similar setting with the Spain-France connection and the way it was shot reminded me of Michel Gondry. Because of the delicate and melancholic nature of the film, words can not describe the unique essence that Unmade Beds has. I felt that the film was not just the usual indie flick but actually had a strong storyline and a really nice but unexpected ending that leaves you grinning and aww-ing at the TV screen.

DVD Review: Mesrine (2009)

28 Jun

Ben Buckingham is hanging out with ultra-violent crooks again. Perhaps I should vary the movies I send him… Want to do Garfield 2: A Tail of Two kitties next time Ben?

Forty minutes in and already there has been two beat downs, a knee-capping, an (off-screen) mutilation, and a murder. The first part of Mesrine, entitled L`instinct de Mort (The Killer Instinct), is living up to its name.

Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One (as it is titled in Australia) is a four hour crime thriller detailing the more lurid aspects of the real-life French criminal Jacques Mesrine. Throughout the ’60s and ’70s he committed numerous bank heists, kidnappings and murders, quickly making himself the number one public enemy in France. Continue reading

DVD review: Cold Souls (2009)

28 Jun

COLD SOULS is constructed around a single original premise: that it’s actually possible to remove the soul from your body and keep it in storage until a later date. With your body ‘de-souled’ you’re no longer burdened by pesky emotions, you feel lighter and you think more rationally. Of course, like any medical procedure there are certain side effects.

Paul Giamatti (playing himself) is struggling with the titular character in a production of Uncle Vanya and when he reads an article about a place dealing in ‘soul storage’ he investigates whether this is the answer to his troubles. Once his soul has been removed he’s surprised to discover it resembles a small chickpea. What should have come as no surprise however, is that being soulless isn’t exactly a great way to live. He picks a new soul out of a catalogue, one that used to belong to a Russian poet and though it greatly helps his performance, once the play wraps he decides to have his original put back in. Unfortunately, his chickpea-soul has been stolen.

Director Sophie Barthes’ debut has a lot going for it: great premise, beautifully shot and a fantastic performance by Paul Giamatti. It’s also often quite funny, particularly early on when we’re still adjusting to such a service existing (Paul looks up the clinic under ‘Soul Storage’ in the Yellow Pages). Despite all these absurdities though, it leans more towards melancholic drama, which is a shame because deep within this film is the kernel of a much better existential comedy.

Well, maybe not a kernel… more of a chickpea.

GJB

DVD Extras: Trailers, Soul Extractor concept sketches.

DVD Review: Departures (aka Okurbito) (2008)

14 May

DJ Versey Verse merrily skips into a new funeral home to learn the Japanese art of encoffinment in Departures.

The daily machinations of life in a funeral home never screamed “box office gold” before we were introduced to the Fisher family in Alan Ball’s ground-breaking 2001 cable series, Six Feet Under.  The balance of human drama, black comedy, dashes of philosophy and a willingness to tackle the taboos surrounding death and what happens to the human body once it no longer breathes was groundbreaking.  Throw in a killer soundtrack and an oddly pro-incest stance and a generation was hooked.  To tackle similar subject matter without retreading old ground (and without the indie tunes and do-your-sister subplot) was a challenge but it’s one that Departures (Okuribito) masterfully overcomes.

Contextualised within conservative Japanese society with its strict social rules and rituals; death, in this world, is the subject of solemn ceremony but also of great fear and shame as discovered by Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki).  As his dreams of becoming a great concert cellist look as if they’ll never be realized, Daigo returns to his hometown with his frustrated but supportive wife, Mika (Ryoko Hirosue) in order to start afresh and see his former home through new eyes.  His job prospects grim, Daigo applies for a job with an agency that deals with “departures”.  Daigo isn’t what one would call quick on the uptake and thus is surprised to learn the agency is not a travel agency as he previously thought but rather, an agency that practises the art of encoffinment – a ceremony where the dead are prepared in front of family and mourners for their final resting.

Like Six Feet Under before it and the offbeat necrophiliac romance, Kissed (2006), Departures balances what could be an oppressive stifling drama with tender moments of humour and unpredictable, impulsive characters such as Shoei Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki), the pragmatic president of the agency who only asks his new employee one question – “will you work hard?” – before hiring him on the spot.

Daigo overcomes his initial misgivings to find a quiet solace in his work, taking great pride and comfort in the ritual of tending to the departed while their loved ones watch on.  This opinion is not shared by Mika whose disgust at his work represents the wider community and the taboos surrounding death.  But ultimately this leads them to evaluate the possibilities of life with all its regrets, misunderstandings, missed opportunities, grief and ultimately, hope.

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Anyone who’s ever seen a film about a wounded character returning home to come to terms with their past will know where this one’s heading and director Yojiro Takita is certainly in no hurry to get to his destination.  After a very engaging opening involving some surprising revelations regarding a female corpse, the film does slow to a crawl.  But that is half the charm and also a very deliberate step as it comments on the moments we miss as we rush through our normal routines.  And while its many awards and acclaims (among them the Best Foreign Language Oscar) may raise expectations a little higher than necessary, Departures is a beautifully meditative experience with mostly strong, endearing performances (despite a little hysteria), an evocative score (by Joe Hisaishi – frequent collaborator with Hayao Miyazaki) and a dry humour that ensure the film doesn’t crumble into sentimentality.

–> Available through Madman


DVD review: Just Another Love Story (2007)

25 Apr

Nightwatch director Ole Bornedal subjects reviewer Ben Buckingham to a violent noir vision of love forgotten, masqueraded, and remembered in Just Another Love Story.


Jonas, a man who dreams of faraway places, who sleeps besides a lovely wife and a stack of National Geographics, finds himself to be as dead inside as the bodies he photographs as a crime scene photographer. Going through the motions, spending time with his slightly crazy cop friends, making small talk with his wife and entertaining his children, he stumbles through each day until his stalled car causes a brutal car accident in which his family is unscathed yet almost everyone else die – except for the manic and damaged Julia. Jonas, with the unaware inevitability of all noir heroes, is drawn into her life by pretending to be Sebastian, the boyfriend Julia’s family never met and whom she has seemingly forgotten. We the audience now this can’t end well. Asides from the usual (and name checked) noir clichés, we’ve also seen Julia shoot her boyfriend in some kind of failed suicide pact while holidaying in Asia.

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This act of murder is one of three brief scenes of failed passion and death which open the film, each featuring the intertitle of ‘Love Scene Number 1′ through to ’3′. One is reminded of a line from Se7en: “look at all that passion on the wall”. Just Another Love Story is another story of the shock and awe of passion, at 4000km per second into the heart and decorating the wall in crimson tones. It is a film with a passion for noir, a passion that almost leads it to self-aware celluloid destruction as it attempts to juggle the clichés of a long past Hollywood genre.

Within twenty minutes it had almost completely lost me.

While the performances are strong and believable throughout, the overwrought dialogue in the early scenes, as recited by overly aware damaged souls, does its best to sink the narrative. Extensive use of traditional rear-projection techniques to demonstrate the thoughts or emotions of characters comes off as lazy and too self-referential. A ridiculously overdone car accident scene shot from within Julia’s car bores, while the split-second real-world version shown a few minutes later is horrifying. The ruthlessly ‘artistic’ images inserted into backgrounds match nicely with obvious and tedious dialogue referring to film noir and movie clichés. The artlessness of these moments seeps into the surrounding scenes causing everything to feel overly artificial.

One particular scene is so uneven in tone that it becomes perplexing as to its intent. Having conned his way into Julia’s hospital room, Jonas is made to communicate with and then kiss Julia by her family in order to draw her out of a coma. She is exposed to all, nude, a corpse waiting to happen, still bruised & bloodied, with assorted tubes distorting her form. The family hovers at the doorway, eager & happy, while he struggles to keep his eyes off her breasts. On the soundtrack we can hear the laughter of a cop to whom he is recounting the story. Well, is it farce? Is it horror? Is it drama? Yet it is from this moment that the film began to draw me back in, to suggest that there is an intelligent creative force behind these decisions. The self-awareness settles down and the film begins to properly tell the story, one in which the subjective experience is paramount. This uneven hospital scene is played out with all the various hopes, fears and desires crowding for attention, and while it is perhaps less than successful it cannot be called boring. The daft fantasy of artificial film techniques fall away as the events unfolding in the hospital room, the world of Julia & Sebastian/Jonas, become the only fantasy the film requires. The words falling from their lips begin to sound like the real fears and doubts, and we truly begin to care about these characters as they make their way towards to the inevitable noir ending.

Perhaps it is a film which rewards multiple viewings, not because of a twist in the narrative but rather for its unusual deployment of humanity and art. Truth and lies become overlapping, artifice and fact become allies, as these characters attempt to build something out of the wreckage they have wrought upon themselves. The friction of fantasy and reality creates intrigue, drawing characters out into the open and aligning them upon a collision course which is deeply thought provoking and playful while never letting go of how deeply unsettling these events are.

Ben Buckingham

Links:

J.A.L.S official website

Mr Buckingham’s CineCultania Blog and Podcast

J.A.L.S. distributed locally through Madman

The Guardian review of J.A.L.S.


DVD Review: Prime Mover (2009)

17 Apr

Director David Ceaser, the bloke who made Idiot Box and the less successful Mullet, is back in his first film since his 2002 hit Dirty Deeds. David Stratton thought it was ‘Rather wonderful’, now Victoria Nugent has taken his latest slice of Australiana for a roll.

Optimus Prime Mover. Takes a while to save up for this one.

Prime Mover tells the story of a young man and his struggle between the two loves of his life: his long-held trucking truck driving dreams and the gypsy-like Melissa, an attendant at the local service station.

Set in the NSW town of Dubbo, the film centres around Tom, who’s stuck working at the truck stop as a detailer, but dreams of becoming a truck driver. He spends time getting clocking up enough hours to get his licence, during which he meets Melissa.

Cue instant romance.

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The two have a whirlwind courtship and soon enough Melissa gets pregnant and they decide to get married. The wedding would have to be one of my favourite scenes of the film: its quirky romance and emotional drama makes it a real highlight.

The shocking death of Tom’s father early in the film motivates him to leave the truck stop and buy his own truck. Unfortunately, he has no choice but to source the money from a loan shark and is soon struggling under a crippling debt. He resorts to drugs to stay awake on the road while his relationship with Melissa suffers because of his constant absence.

Although the film initially seemed slightly clichéd, I soon found myself swept up by the love story and the drama resulting from Tom’s truck driving ambition. The narrative arc swerves between light amusement and gritty dilemmas relatively effortlessly, however the ending comes across slightly contrived and lacking realism, which is unfortunate as it takes away from what is otherwise a very enjoyable film.

Music plays an important part throughout the film; the gypsy music that Melissa loves, forms a unifying thread and ties the various parts of the film together. Splashes of colour enhance the film’s cinematography, but some surreal techniques jarred slightly, failing to mesh well with the rest of the film. Perhaps these could have easily been left out.

I found myself at times wanting to hit Tom with a blunt object, wishing he would just come to his senses, but actor Michael Dorman must credited for his convincing portrayal of a man well and truly troubled. In my opinion though, Emily Barclay is the real shining star in this film, putting in a wonderful performance as Melissa.  It is the relationship between these two characters that breathes life into the film, but the viewer is made to understand very early on that nothing about their love is going to be simple. During a rather off-putting love scene, Tom excuses himself to fetch a huge spanner which he then asks Melissa to pose with. It is that moment that really signals the magnitude of Tom’s love for his truck and made me uneasy about his obsession.

The criminal elements of film dragged a bit at stages, and it is instead all the emotional conflict that makes the film so notable. Though the drama driving (so to speak) Prime Mover may feel forced, the film’s quirky heart more than makes up for it.

Victoria Nugent

DVD Special Features

Audio commentary with director David Caesar
Four behind-the-scenes featurettes
Theatrical trailer
TV spots

Links

–> Official.

–> Locally through Madman.




MIFF review: The White Ribbon (2009)

12 Aug

Dir: Michael Haneke

Awards: Palme d’Or at Cannes

the-white-ribbon1

An amazing film – many walk outs during the screening.

Shot in black and white, the film is set in small town in northern Germany just before WW2. Strange unexplainable crimes begin to happen – the doctor is tripped from his horse by wire, a woman dies from an ‘accident’ at the saw mill. The child of the towns main employer and land owner, The Baron, is found tied up with the marks of a severe lashing. As the school teacher and narrator of the the story slowly unravels these mysteries we become privy to the many secrets the town holds and the everyday cruelties that the adults inflict on each other and their children. A quiet and heavy atmosphere of horror builds as the audience blindly stares at the clues, but with so many villains in this story it is almost impossible to figure out the culprit.

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The truth is too sinister to bare and the notion of justice of any kind becomes an impossibility. War breaks and the truth is never revealed; it is a mirror of the horror of war and those who are really accountable. No one is exonerated except those who search for and try to expose truth in a hope for change. An amazing exploration on how evil manifests itself in humans and is passed on like a plague.

Score: *****

Jemila MacEwan

[you're definitely a love or hate it reviewer. Passionate. -ed]

MIFF review: We Live in Public (2009)

3 Aug

Genre: Documentary

Dir: Ondi Timoner

we_live_in_publicWhat were you doing in the mid-90s? I spent a large portion of my time eating Maggi 2 Minute noodles (the chicken flavoured ones) and wearing dachet jeans. On the other hand, Josh Harris, “the greatest Internet pioneer you’ve never heard of”, was busy smothering himself in all the giddy delights available to a self-made millionaire of the dotcom variety. For a while it seemed computer nerds like Harris were destined to a life of solitude and short sleeved shirts and ties, but the Internet boom freed the geeks from their polyester shackles and allowed them to firmly suckle at the teat of cooldom.

WeLiveInPublic2

Josh Harris was a playboy gazillionaire. Unfortunately for Josh he was also a playboy gazillionaire with an untapped talent for bad performance art and squandering fortunes. Punctured with awkward and cringe-worthy moments, We Live in Public documents his forays into Internet TV and barely legal but amusing social experiments.  If you are inspired by Branson-esque tales of daring entrepreneurial successes, this film will probably disappoint. However, if you have an interest in any of the following: mental decay, nudity, guns, apple farms, video conferencing, Sherwood Schwartz, public defecation, bunk beds or circular showers, you might just enjoy it.

score: 3.5 stars

Virginia Mannering

—> official website

—>Review in Variety

—>Other MIFF 2009 reviews:

10 conditions of love

Moon

North (Nord)

The Girlfriend Experience

Anna

I Need that Record! + Van Diemens + Treeless Mountain

Unmade Beds + The Loved Ones + Hansel and Gretel

MIFF review: Unmade Beds; The Loved Ones; Hansel and Gretel

2 Aug

Unmade Beds **

Dir: Alexis Dos Santos (seemed like a lovely chap).

Shit. Shallow as fuck and too cool for school. Filled with dull self indulgent alcoholic mopers, and a love story that could make you want to punch things. I think it was supposed to be fun, cute and beguiling, but I found it irritating and contrived. I left this film with no idea of what the point was.  I honestly tried to like this film, and though there are one or two funny moments, after the first 20 minutes I just gave up and waited for it to end. The atmosphere is the only convincing part of this film so it may be interesting in 20 years or so as a document of a time and place, but I sincerely doubt the film will last in people minds long enough for that to happen.

The Loved Ones (2009) ***

After a weak and melodramatic beginning, it’s the second half where this film really takes off. First time feature director Sean Byrne shows a real talent for timing managing to combine comedy and horror in the same moment. Though this work has many faults, it is clear that Byrne is one to watch closely as a possible future Australian cult film identity. Despite not being a fan of horror movies, I was happlily taken on the ride with this one (though peeking through my fingers for many parts), and so was the audience who were simultaniously laughing, gasping, and slipping out the occasional profanity. I think this film could be particularly succesful with a teen audience.

Hansel and Gretel (2007) *****

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Fairy tales more than many other forms of story telling have always illuminated the darkest abysses of our moral subconscious. Hansel and Gretel plumbs those depths.

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A young man Eun-Soo is in a car accident. He is found by a young girl and taken to her house in the clearing of a dark forest “The house of happy children.” In the house he finds a family, the picture of a kind of childhood utopia; it seams to be Christmas all the time and the house is filled with saccharin nostalgia, toys and cakes. His attempts to leave the house through the thick and winding forest seem to always lead him back to the house. The story line takes the kind of dark twisted and unexpected turns as the forest itself.

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This film is richly layered in European folk law, but with a distinctly south Korean creepiness. We follow Eun-Soo closly as he unravels the dark secrets behind the lives of the house and its inhabitants, feeling his confusion, fear and distrust he becomes the trully endearing hero of the story. This film taps into the psychology of the Grimm fairy tale demonstrating that this story is as affecting and frightening as it was as a child. Incredible production design and a sound track reminiscent of Danny Elfmans early work this film is an astoundingly imaginative and impressive achievement from young film maker Yim Phil-Sung. Truly unforgettable.

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Jemila MacEwan

—> OTHER MIFF REVIEWS:

10 conditions of love

Moon

North (Nord)

The Girlfriend Experience

Anna

I Need that Record! + Van Diemens + Treeless Mountain

MIFF review: North (Nord) (2009)

27 Jul

Genre: Black Comedy. Lonely man gets less lonely by turning back towards humanity

Writer: Erlend Loe

Director: Rune Denstad Langlo

North opens with us staring face to face with the films hero, Jomar (Anders Baasmo Christiansen).

Our first impression? A vacant brutish man; the lonely operator of a ski lift.

Jomar seams to be suffering from a series of psychological problems including a paralyzing anxiety disorder that causes him to fear leaving his life in the ski park; once a professional skier, now addicted to pills and booze.

When a former friend comes to visit we discover the heart of Jomar’s problems. Jomar’s ex girlfriend left him for his best friend, they now live in a small village in the far north with his four year old son. His friend urges him to come with him to see his son but Jomar’s anxiety disorder prevents him from making the journey.

Though combined act of stupidity and laziness Jomar finds himself homeless, releasing him from the bird-cage of security; he begins his journey north on a snow mobile.

His journey brings him in contact with a range of absurd characters, who, while they could not be more varied, all share the deep loneliness of isolation. Though mostly at first they seem to be insane, in there own particular ways the humanity that comes through their connection with Jomar is genuinely touching, and some unlikely frienships are forged. With the help of these new friends, our protaganist manages to maintain his alcoholism which gets him into a hilarious situation involving a young homophobic man who introduces Jomar to a novel way of getting drunk with limited resources. It includes an electric razor, sandpaper and a couple of tampons, but i’ll stop there lest you try it at home.

Filmed in some desperately horrendous conditions, North is a beautiful story of a journey of love and longing. The films conclusion is both understated and magnificent.

I left the film smiling and wondering if I could get up to the snow this year.

Score: ****

Trailer. Here.

Jemila MacEwan

Other MIFF reviews:

Moon

10 conditions of love

The Girlfriend Experience

Anna

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