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MIFF 2013: Stoker

8 Aug

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Chan-Wook Park, 2013

By Julia Mann

My strategy for MIFF is to book a whole lot of films I know little about, then sit back and enjoy the unexpected. Keeping this in mind, I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that I anticipated some vampiric action in Chan-wook Park’s Stoker. It’s funny how the mind plays tricks, makes mental associations and perceives clues where perhaps none exist. Park does hint at the supernatural – the distant figure watching over the funeral (is it India’s father, back from the dead?), the multi-coloured, incandescent eyes shared by India and Charlie, and his tendency to appear without warning. I mean, the guy doesn’t eat, what’s more vampiric than that?

Ultimately, despite my misguided yearnings, this is not a film about undead bloodsuckers. It is instead a tense, twisting tale of family, of inheritance and of shoes. India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) turns eighteen and loses her beloved father in a fiery car accident on the same day. In spite of her new adulthood, she behaves much like a child, using defiance and discordance as immature weapons. Widow and mother Evie (Nicole Kidman) futilely appeals to India, losing the battle with her own demons as well as the one bubbling within her child. The arrival of Uncle Charlie further fuels the fire between these two women as both are seduced by his powerful charisma. Matthew Goode is a revelation, impressing as the mysterious Charlie and in control of the fine line between sexy and psychotic.

While clearly set in the current world, Stoker rarely references modern times. The film takes on a timeless quality, combining costumes, cars and chattels from different eras. It’s a beautiful piece to watch and the pace is slow and seductive. Gorgeously constructed scenes are punctuated by violence, by slashes of crimson, but this is not the bloodbath you’d expect from Park. The film relies more on innuendo than gore and the questions it poses are even more disturbing. What lies behind Charlie and India’s matching, menacing eyes? What deep connection draws them closer? And finally, is your identity your own or nothing more than family inheritance?

Julia Mann likes all kinds of films, but mostly ones with Steven Seagal. She writes for US-based website Digital Hippos when the mood strikes.

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Melbourne Cinematheque- Helen Levitt

3 Apr

Photographer Helen Levitt is the focus of this week’s Melbourne Cinematheque with two feature films and two shorts she worked on screening. Levitt, a staple of the New York arts scene from the 1940s to her death at 95 in 2009, has been noted for her ability to capture the everyday life and moments of joy and heartache in the working class lives of those in New York. She also transferred to colour prints quite early, experimenting with overexposure, saturation, and dyeing the image. After being introduced to Luis Bunuel she took an interest in film and worked for many years as a consultant and cinematographer on various low-budget and collective films.

The Quiet One (1948) is a semi-documentary directed by Sidney Meyers which follows the life of a ten-year-old African-America boy growing up in Harlem. Having never been shown kindness or compassion in his home or school life Donald Peters lashes out against society. Eventually he is sent to the Wiltwyck School for Boys which focuses on rehabilitation and reform where psychiatrists try to find out what is ‘wrong’ with him, never realising that it was societies neglect that meant that Donald never had a chance.
Following this feature is the short In the Street (1948) which Levitt worked on, showing life in Spanish Harlem.

The Savage Eye (1959) is an essayistic documentary, the product of a four-year long collaborative between various directors (Sidney Meyers, Ben Maddow, Joseph Strick) and cinematographers (Helen Levitt, Jack Couffer, Haskell Wexler). Barbara Baxley is recently divorced and looking for a fresh start in Los Angeles. The film takes the viewer to various instances in Barbara’s new life from car accidents, to religious fanatics, to burlesque shows- all beautifully shot.
Following is Emotions of Everyday Living: The Steps of Age (1950), a short directed by Ben Maddow and produced by Levitt that focuses on the retirement of a crane driver and the effect this has on the relationship he has with his wife.

MQFF- An Ordinary Family

27 Mar

Though films focussing on ‘coming out’ and ‘family reactions’ do appear a lot in Queer cinema, and at times one does wish everyone could just move past it, it is because it is a process that is constantly being faced by both those in and out of the Queer community. Whilst societies consciousness at large may be changing toward the LGBTI community and such issues as equal marriage, adoption rights, death rights, and so on -with many being played out and debated more and more in mainstream outlets- it is still something quite different to have a direct family member to put a face to the cause. It is this struggle of going from only hearing about or have a distant acquaintance with such an issue to being thrust into a position where you are expected to make a decision that will have real-life effect, and it is the build-up and consequences of one brothers decision that An Ordinary Family (Mike Akel) focuses on.

Seth (Greg Wise), having apparently tried for years to be what his family wanted and expected of him, eventually gave up, moved away, and started a relationship with William (Chad Anthony Miller). Yet a few years on the need for family approval and acceptance is still strong. Thus, summer finds Seth going back to Texas for the annual family vacation and bringing William with him. However it quickly becomes apparent that only his sister-in-law new that Seth was not only bringing William but that he was gay. Cue awkward family dinner, awkward family breakfast, awkward family conversations, etcetera.
With the father now deceased, the family patriarch is Thomas (Troy Schremmer), a Minister who not only disapproves of Seth’s “lifestyle choices” and doesn’t want William to be alone with his children, but also resents Seth for abandoning the family after their family died. It is this strained relationship that the film centres around as other family members slowly come to accept William. One such convert is Chris, who is married to Seth’s sister Sharon and has a habit of making the most inappropriate comments. Initially he not only denies that Seth is gay but then becomes worried that William will make a pass at him. However, as the week plays out, Chris and William end up bonding over various aspects of their lives.

Akel’s tight directing and strong ensemble cast make this film one of the better films that focuses on the issues still facing many individuals and families over coming out and everything attached to it.

Experimental Tribute

6 Mar

Three very personal directors are being screened at Cinematheque this week under the banner ‘Experimental Tribute’. George Kuchar, Jordan Belson and Robert Breer have all contributed greatly to the various and large experimental movements in America and the world at large. All are American, all passed away towards the end of 2011, and all left a great legacy to the film world.

George Kuchar, often with his brother Mike Kuchar, was a staple in the New York underground factory scene of the 1960s where they made no-budget 8mm films. many of these films payed homage to the Hollywood melodrama films they had seen growing up, coupled with the distinct visual style the two brothers developed. Kuchar was asked to move to San Francisco where he taught film at the San Francisco Art Institute where he continued to make short films until his death in September 2011. Cinematheque will be showing Hold Me While I’m Naked (1966), Pagan Rhapsody (1970), and Wild Night in El Reno (1977).

Jordan Belson is another San Francisco-based filmmaker. Belson’s work often revolves around the Spiritual in various representations and forms. Throughout the 1950s he collaborated with Henry Jacobs and the two, along with the Morrison Planetarium, showed a series of electronic music concerts played simultaneously with images and short films of space. Screening will be Allures (1961), Cosmos (1969), Meditation (1971), Chakra (1972), Cycles (1975).

The films of key avant-garde figure and animator Robert Breer finish the night. After early experimentation in animation, and working with avant-garde artists in Europe, Breer combined a vast collection of filmic techniques to his shorts, coupled with exact rhythm and form. Fist Fight (1964), Jamestown Baloos (1957), 69 (1968), and Fuji (1974) will be shown.

The People v George Lucas (2010)

23 Feb

By Ronan MacEwan

Warning this review includes swear words. No discussion of the Star Wars remakes and prequels can be had without them.

Lovers of the original Star Wars have finally got the film they’ve been waiting for.

No, it’s not the prequels remade to by James Cameron, David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky, or Peter Jackson. It’s the People v George Lucas, which elegantly and precisely catalogues every grievance with the work of George Lucas ever since he fiddled with Star Wars: A New Hope bits.

The complete jeremiad is here – many seen by the fans as personal slights or direct attacks by Lucas on their very existence: Han shooting first (takes away his roguish edge), midi-chlorians (reduces the universal, accessible, spiritual nature of the force to a genetically superior blood type basis – i.e. an Ubermensch) and, of course, Jar-Jar Binks (a preposterous, endlessly irritating and arguably incredibly racist character – described by one fan as the archetype of “what someone with no sense of humour thinks is funny.”)

The rage and frustrations of the fans is palpable, but what the documentary makes clear is that the objections come from a place of love. The fans see themselves as wronged lovers, willing to take back George Lucas if he would just cede to what they see as reasonable demands. The fans want Lucas to gently woo them, but instead he’s just fucking them.

This is a first-world indulgent issue of the highest order, and it one I once cared deeply about  but I’ve moved on. Thinking about it or keeping up with the latest Star Wars release was, as Shaun of the dead Simon Pegg has articulately stated, a bit like being a part of an abusive relationship. You just have to a walk away – it’s not going to change, Lucas will just keeping hitting you in the face with a wet fish.

The fish will be CGI, but it will still hurt.

Nevertheless, there’s a great deal of catharsis and satisfaction in seeing Lucas’ outrageous acts of cultural vandalism so clearly spelt out. It feels like a rebellion order of fans that just can’t give up the hope – the old hope that the traditional Star Wars Empire will strike back and everything we loved about the Jedi will return.

For those who do not give a single fuck about things like Lucas changing the Ewok’s theme the end of episode VI– this may be a little ‘challenging’ (read: insanely boring). But if you want to know why your Star Wars loving fans get so mad when the fact you mention that you “didn’t mind”  the menacing phantoms, attacking clones or revenging Sith – this is an ideal primer and may spare you some sullen evenings.

In conclusion, George, we the people hate you but we wouldn’t be who we are without you. Mr Lucas, you have made generation with some extreme cognitive dissonance issues, who are will likely go on talking about this well into their twilight years.

Out through Hopscotch Entertainment.

ELIA KAZAN- THE OUTSIDER, week 1

6 Feb

And we’re back!
Another year of Melbourne Cinematheque is upon us. To kick-start 2012 is a three-week retrospective on Elia Kazan. Kazan has long been regarded as one of the best directors – of both film and stage- to emerge out of America. Making most of his films from the 1930s through to the 1970s, Kazan was born to Greek parents in Istanbul before immigrating to America where he was confronted with much discrimination from an early age. These early memories of prejudice, loneliness, ostracism, and isolation would later become apparent throughout his work with Kazan once claiming that every one of his films was autobiographical.
He is also known for his good working relationship with actors and his love of working with unknown actors, subsequently ‘discovering’ many stars. James Dean, Marlon Brando, Lee Remick, and Warren Beatty owe much of their stardom to initially staring in a Kazan film.

A Letter to Elia (Jones & Scorsese, 2010) isn’t actually a film by Kazan who passed away in 2003 at the age of 94. Rather, this is a documentary on how Kazan had affected Scorsese, both as a director and as a person. Scorsese’s ode to Kazan consists of a collage of film clips, interviews, narration, photographs, and footage of Kazan’s notorious address to the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1952.

America America (1963) is perhaps the closest of Kazan’s films to his own life and experiences having been based on a book he wrote from the stories he heard from his family growing up. Based on the life of his uncle, America America follows Stavros Topouzoglou, a Greek in Turkey, who has been sent to help out at his cousins carpet shop and has been entrusted with his families money. Yet Stavros only dreams of going to America where he can achieve greatness and make his family proud. Beautifully shot by Haskell Wexler, Kazan’s telling of The American Dream is poignant and personal.

Melbourne Cinematheque is a volunteer-run film society that screens world cinema every Wednesday from 7pm at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. Annual tickets are $115 (full) or $99 (concession), whilst a four week pass is $25 (full) or $20 (concession). That is good value people. Get into it!

The Shadow Electric presents LOLITA (1962)

31 Jan

BY ELEANOR COLLA

It has been many years since I last saw Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Lolita’ (1962), and even longer since I read Nabokov’s classic text. Needless to say I am thrilled that The Shadow Electric has given me a chance to re-watch a masterpiece this Saturday, February 4.

I feel slightly redundant in summarising the plot for you all as I believe everyone surely knows the roots of the term ‘Lolita’, ‘nymphet’ and the basic story. But for those who don’t, it is as follows. British Professor of French Literature Humber Humbert has moved to America and takes up a lodging at Charlotte Hazes’ house in New Hampshire. Humbert is instantly infatuated with Haze’s daughter Lolita who floats through life seemingly without realisation of the affect she has on many around her. Humbert eventually marries Charlotte in order to stay close to Lolita, yet his plans are foiled when Charlotte sends Lolita off to summer camp. Depressed at the turn of events Humbert is granted freedom when Charlotte unexpectedly dies, allowing him to move Lolita to another town and start life afresh as the all-innocent father and step-daughter relationship. Yet, social pressures and Lolita’s own will cause Humbert to lose control over his life once again and when Lolita disappears he is left a broken man, desperately seeking revenge on who he thinks is responsible for ending their relationship.

Part of Kubrick’s talent as a director was his ability to take something- often well known in its own right- and make it his own. This is very much the case with Lolita. Here, due to censorship and classification restrictions, he was forced to leave out much of the sexual misconduct of the novel, leaving most of it up to the viewers’ imagination. He also changes the sequence of events around in an effort create further suspense over the illicit relationship and Humbert’s final actions, whilst setting the film in contemporary times.

Filmed throughout America and England, the film features a strong cast; James Mason as Professor Humbert Humbert, Shelley Winters as Charlotte Haze, Peter Sellers as Clare Quincy, and the fourteen year old Sue Lyons as Dolores ‘Lolita’ Haze. The image of Lyons in a bikini, heart-shaped sunglasses on and lollypop in mouth has become an iconic one, just as the repetitive song she listens to has.

Doors open at 6pm and I suggest you purchase some food for the film runs in at 2.5 hours.

The Shadow Electric- Tabloid

30 Jan

By Eleanor Colla

When I saw that Tabloid (2010) would be playing at MIFF in 2011 I think I may have actually gasped in delight before quickly uploading the MIFF website to secure a ticket. And I am so glad I did.

Tabloid is Errol Morris’ most recent documentary and it follows the life of extraorindaryJoyce McKinney: beauty queen, fiancée, kidnapper, escort, dog-lover, stalker, and seemingly misunderstood prey of the British tabloids. Throughout Tabloid Morris once again exhibits his masterful use of documentary cinema as he draws out the story from his subjects whilst simultaneously drawing the viewer in.

In the early 1970s, McKinney had just been crowned Miss Wyoming World and began dating Kirk Anderson, whom she eventually became engaged to. Yet Anderson was sent to England as a Mormon missionary by his church, something that McKinney believed was against his will. Thus with the help of childhood friend Keith May she chartered a private plane to England to find him, rescue him, and bring him back home. Reports differ as to whether Anderson went willingly with McKinney or was forced at gunpoint into her car- but what happened afterwards played out on newspaper headlines across the world, causing ‘The Case of the Manacled Mormon’ to become hot gossip.

According to newspapers, McKinney had kidnapped Anderson, taken him to a country town and shackled him to a bed until he was able to escape and call for help. Bondage had been involved. People began questioning where she had acquired the funds for her botched rescue-attempt. Eventually McKinney tricked British customs officers and illegal flew back to America where the drama did not end.

I suggest you watch Morris’ television show First Person in order to get a sense of Morris’ style, and to also hear some amazing stories (personally I recommend ‘The Killer Inside Me’ and ‘The Little Gray Man’- both available on youtube).

Tabloid is showing at The Shadow Electric (outdoor cinema in Melbourne), this Thursday 2nd February. Doors open at 6pm.

Film Review: The Grey (2012)

24 Jan

By Ronan

Grr

There must have been a point, probably around the time  that cinematic blight The Phantom Menace was pooped onto our screens, where the once esteemed actor Liam Neeson said, “screw it, I’m just going to do action movies and make millions”. Clash of the Titans, Narnia, Taken, The A-Team and other forgettable outings have reduced him to a handy blockbuster actor. But credit to him, he still manages to add magnetism and actorly resonance to these otherwise superficial roles.  He is, after all, Liam Neeson: Savior of the Irish (Michael Collins) the Scottish (Rob Roy), and the Jewish (Schindler’s List).

The Grey is the latest in Neeson’s roles that revolve around him as a centripetal force, on whom everyone else’s fate hangs. Ottway (Neeson) is a wanderer; heartbroken and suicidal, he finds himself working on an oil-rig in the remote Alaskan wilderness, charged with protecting his co-workers from the roaming wolves that surround the station. A hunter.

Brr

After a plane trip home goes spectacularly awry, he finds himself stranded with the survivors; a disparate collection of rugged outcasts. It soon becomes apparent that no rescue is coming, and this dysfunctional group must rely on each other to survive the blizzard, lack of food and, most alarmingly, the large pack of territorial wolves determinedly whittling down their numbers.

 From this point on Director Joe Carnahan’s The Grey becomes a viscerally intense and bloody film, and a respectable member of the snow-survival genre alongside The Thing, Cliffhanger, Alive and The Shining*. The gray wolves are represented with a primal-fear-producing malevolence; It made me hate wolves a bit.  

grr

It’s like jaws on ice.

The Grey is in many respects standard action film fare, but it stands out from the pack for a number of reasons. While sometimes hamstrung by cliché, the performances from the largely unknown cast are excellent. The roles are well carved out, and give shape and colour to a motley group of men reduced to a struggle to fulfill basic needs. It’s also spectacularly shot; Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi captures the harshness and serene beauty of the Alaskan wilds marvelously. Definitely worth seeing on the big screen.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of men in this movie; in fact the only the only female exists in flashback. I mention this, because I like women. Nonetheless, this was bloody entertaining. Forget Twilight for your wolf fix, go see The Grey.

*Could we add Home Alone, Empire Strikes Back and Die Hard to this list? Any others?

Three and a half stars.

In Cinemas February 16 (through Icon Distribution)

Australia, you’re Missing Out #2: SPRING FORWARD (1999)

12 Dec

By Ben Buckingham (@dissolvedpet)

Ned Beatty is one of those actors who used to pop up all over the place, but rarely got the recognition he deserved.

It hasn’t exactly gotten better for him over the years. You might squeal piggy and never give a thought to Ned’s brave performance as one of the few male Hollywood rape victims. You may cry out that you’re not going to take it any more, and forget that Ned towered above any Satan with his networking skills and commanding presence. In the case of Spring Forward, there is no memorable quote or brash violence. There was also no release in Australia beyond a long forgotten MIFF screening.

It is a great shame for such a confident and beautiful film about the bond between two men.

Directed and written by Tom Gilroy, an actor of straight-to-DVD and TV, it is a skilful, elegant film about a developing friendship over 12 months. Curiously, it was filmed chronologically over the course of an actual year and is divided loosely into four season-bound segments. Spring Forward captures a rhythm of life that is too often missing from dramatic works.

It is, for the most part, a two-hander, Murph (Ned Beatty) and Paul (Liev Schreiber, another actor who deserves more attention) as they live their lives. These men are brought together by a job, working for the Parks and Recreation Department in Connecticut. Murph has been doing it for a while. He has seen many a season come and go, calmly watching the ups and downs of the world pass by. Paul has just been released from prison after serving time for armed robbery; he has had it hard, that he wants to turn his life around.

The basic plot description and the trailer set the wheels of groaning into motion. Your automatic schmaltz deflectors go into action. But this isn’t that film.

There are very few big dramatic scenes and this is no melodrama. Instead, their lives mirror the leaves in the parks under their stead, gradually turning from lush green to vibrant orange and then back again. Despite the stillness, change is ever present. It is a film of precise and empathic performances, with slowly shifting moments of possibility interjecting from outside. While it is a small-scale film, it never feels slight. These two men are full and alive. There is melancholy and joy, and it is a simple, beautiful pleasure to accompany them on this year of their lives.

Due to the ridiculous classification system in America, this film was slapped with an R-17 (our equivalent MA15+) due to some swearing and one scene in which the two characters partake in a joint. There is nothing offensive here, nothing to corrupt or harm, but much to enjoy. It is available on a region 1 disc put out by MGM, very inexpensive. However, if you are in Melbourne, it will be screening at Screen Sect at Bar Open, 317 Brunswick St, on the 19th of December at 7:30pm. Cost is $5 for a monthly membership.

Seek Spring Forward out.