Tag Archives: film

MIAF 2014 DAY 10: 3 Days In Paris – Historical, Best Of The Fest

30 Jun

3 Days In Paris – Historical


As the last Paris experience didn’t go as well as expected, I thought I would give the French another chance. As I explained in my last Paris post, French animation is generally very well done. France is a nation that is not only passionate about the art form, but they have a widespread understanding of its purpose and relevance, which is why we are going to continue being blessed with its presence. So imagine my disappointment from once again being let down by sub-par French animation. I probably shouldn’t have got my hopes up about this session being “historic” seeing as the earliest film was from 1990, but in the past the historic session have been among my favourites and since this year’s festival didn’t have much in the way of history I was hoping that this session would fill the void. It did not. It’s bewildering, really. I don’t know whether it was a poor selection of films, or maybe the top studios in Paris were missed, or maybe Paris isn’t where France’s decent animation comes from (it is a very big country after all), but these films were soulless and lacked substance. The animation itself wasn’t bad, but it was pretty standard when compared to the rest of France and the rest of the festival. My biggest issue was that most of these films seemed utterly pointless. Too often when a film ended I asked the question “why would you bother going to all that effort for this?” I’m hoping there is something cultural that I am missing; that maybe you have to be from Paris to understand these films because right now I am lost. There were only two films from this session that even remotely tickled my fancy and they happened to be the two oldest films (now I really need my history fix). They were:

Le Balayeur

Clinic – Alexander Bubnov. Totally psychotic animation about medical fears. There’s the GP whose immunisation needle snaps off in the posterior of a patient, an optometrist who plucks eyes out patients and pins new ones in, and a whole lot of medical horror we can only wish will never happen to anyone. The animation is cartoony while being darkly humorous.

Le Balayeur – Serge Elissalde. Well drawn pencil animation about one freaky ape-looking street sweeper who attacks everything that comes near his sweeping area. He smashes things with his broom then shoves them down the drain. A young girl’s ball goes down the drain and the freaky man tries to fish it out, taking out everything he had shoved down there in the first place. He then goes to jail. The morel of the story is: assault and vandalism with a broom is not the best way to avoid prison.


Best Of The Fest

elephnats garden

All good things must come to an end. Best of the Fest is a joyous time where the greatest films of the festival are honoured. It is also a sad time because as the final credits of the final film reach the bottom, the festival disappears like a mirage. Attempts to organise an official after party ceased years ago, presumably because it took energy away from the more important event – the festival. Anyway, the festival is what we came for and the festival is what we get. This year’s MIAF brought some intense mixed feelings. Where there is normally a lot of variety within the session creating an overall feeling of “very good” or “not so good,” this year’s festival had more of an extreme feel to it where some sessions were “amazing” while others “sucked.” Those Paris showcases were nowhere near as good as anticipated and were the major disappointments of the festival. Late Night Macabre and Quickdraw’s 30th Anniversary (even with its positive back story and purpose) suffered from too many sub-par films. But on the other hand, the quality of the South American showcases was a very pleasant surprise. This year also had the best Australian Showcase, Kids Program, and Late Night Bizarre that I have witnessed in my 5 years of attending the festival. And let’s not forget the International Competition Programs that were packed with fantastic films, and International Program #2 being arguably the best single session of anything I have seen during my time at MIAF.

I am very proud (and a little bit smug) to announce that this year the judges got nearly everything right, many of the honoured films being those that I either predicted or mentioned as standout films. I don’t mean to toot my own horn or anything, but come on; you got to admit it’s a whole lotta fun predicting the winners at award ceremonies. Pity no one was taking bets here.

The Best of the Fest session begins with festival director, Malcolm Turner, announcing the best films and honourable mentions of each competition category, and then an assortment of the films are screened. After we view a handful of the top films there is a break where the judges announce the best Australian student film, the best Australian film, the best international student film, and then the grand prize of “Best of the Festival.” As I mentioned above, every film that won I have already written on, so feel free to Ctrl+F the film’s title to see my earlier review of them. The list of the festival winners can be found at the MIAF website.

It made me exceptionally happy to see the films To This Day, Land, and Ex Animo win their international programs as they truly were in the top tier of films for the whole festival. I was incredibly excited about The Elephant’s Garden being hailed as the best Australian film as part of me didn’t think it would win. That film winning best Australian film is like a David Lynch film winning the Academy Award for best feature – it’s that strange and different film that has a strong cult following, but deep down you know the award is going to go to the obvious biopic or drama that wins every year. Well done The Elephant’s Garden!


Marilyn Myller winning the Best of the Festival gave me some initial mixed thoughts. “Best of the Festival” means that this one film was of a higher quality than any other competition film. I have a history of allowing the Best of the Festival to go straight over my head; as in, I remember being in the session while the film played but the film did not leave an instant impression on me. This does not mean that I feel the top pick was inferior, just that many of these animated films don’t instantly slap you in the face with their awesomeness; they take a bit more understanding.

Thankfully MIAF does something that every award ceremony should do – explain why the winning film deserved to win. The judging for MIAF comprises of real industry professionals who are not part of a secret organisation and who are not afraid to reveal their identity. These are people are animators themselves who live animation. They travel around the world visiting many animation festivals and hence are given the opportunity to witness a lot of the competition films on multiple occasions. It also gives them the chance to dig deeper with certain standout films. To simply sum up the case of Marilyn Myller, the film was basically technical mastery on a level that is difficult to comprehend. Firstly, director Mikey Please used a type of foam as his animation medium; something that is insanely complex as it involves carving new sculptures for pretty much every movement. But the interesting lighting that I mentioned in my review of the film is ever more complex. Please’s lightning setup to create his amazing shadows and scattered patterns over a completely white landscape was so advanced that pretty much every frame has its own unique setup.

This explanation would divide the audience right down the middle for two reasons. Reason 1) The bonus knowledge of this film may give it an unfair advantage and for a film to be truly deserving of winning then it should have widespread appeal and not need to rely on all the behind-the-scenes extras that only then make you understand its worthiness. Reason 2) Here is an animation festival created by and attended by true animation enthusiasts and therefore the most unique and complex animation (with the explanation to help those less familiar to understand) should be more than deserving of the top prize. Admittedly I was initially in the first category. I felt that it was an interesting film but not my favourite of the festival. I have since come to change my mind on the matter; not that I now believe it is the best film of the festival (I still stand by my To This Day pick) but I respect the decision to name Marilyn Myller the best of the festival because if festivals like MIAF don’t publicly honour the tireless efforts and technical genius that some true artists of capable of, then who will?


Review: Stories We Tell (2013

9 Sep


By Patricia Tobin

Stories We Tell follows Canadian writer/director Sarah Polley in uncovering her very own family secrets. Following her mother’s death when she was eleven, Polley started growing close to her father, retired British actor Michael Polley.  Her parents’ tumultuous relationship was an open secret, and Polley soon discovers the truth behind her mother’s extramarital affairs that might change her life forever.

Polley’s investigation behind her family history includes interviews with relatives and close friends, and re-created home movies footage, shot on Super-8. This blend of actual interrogation and fictional sequences reveals not only the multiple versions a story often consists of, but also the idiosyncratic nature of human beings. The interviews showcase Polley’s earnest siblings giving candid anecdotes, but sometimes opposing views on their parents’ relationship. The fictional home movies are certainly nostalgic – they help give audience members a chance to imagine what really happened, and is perhaps, also a mechanism for Polley to cope with the past. In addition, Polley‘s father, Michael, provides the voiceover narration of his own personal account, and Polley deliberately includes scenes of her father rehearsing the lines. This fusion of the real and the not-real plays with the fleeting nature of truth and memory, and questions just which account could be trusted. Furthermore, this interweaving of juxtaposing scenes recognises that all the different sides of any story are just so human.

Polley’s deeply personal tale encapsulates the core elements of every family – love, unity, and unconditional acceptance.  It acknowledges certain issues of belonging and aspects of identity as well, but the subject of family eventually becomes overshadowed by the notion of storytelling.

The most striking feature of Stories We Tell is Polley’s assertive authorship that shines in every scene. Throughout the documentary, her careful and calculated editing is highly evident – after all, she pieces together her family history to form a compelling narrative. Her authorial voice is firm and it is never lost amongst the numerous voices. This highly conscious, metafictional quality of the film gives rise to her own side of the story.

Stories We Tell is heart-warming and poignant, using intimate tales to present a film that appeal to all. As a documentary about storytelling, Polley’s discourse of intimacy and authenticity has a distinctly human feel. Polley is not afraid to reveal personal vulnerabilities and aspects about infidelity. Ultimately, Stories We Tell draws from the age-old tradition of storytelling. Narratives bring families together, or even apart, but most of all, it moulds individuals to who they are today.

Patricia Tobin is a full-time university student and a part-time marathon napper. She writes theatre reviews for ArtsHub and sub-edits for Lot’s Wife. She tweets at @havesomepatty, and writes about film at http://screenappeals.wordpress.com.

MIFF 2013: Bastards

14 Aug

By Brent Morrow


French master Claire Denis’ latest launches into being a frame-spanning gush of water, with odd drops catching light as if specks and scratches on a particularly worn film print. Denis and regular DP Agnès Godard’s approach is as filmic as ever, despite having shot Bastards on the digital Red Epic, allowing for a murkier palette of grey-browns and as low lighting as possible to flatter the seediness of its world. The nocturnal deluge continues, reflected on the walls aside a pacing man and an unmarked envelope, then drowning a crime scene we learn is his suicide. A young woman wearing only heels wanders stupefied down a cobbled street. Denis elliptically feels her way into the mood, the narrative, seducing an active and attentive viewer, and probably baffling or boring a lazy one. Neither viewer will have to work as hard as for the overwhelming L’intrus, as Bastards sits closer to White Material and Trouble Every Day on the temporal/metaphorical ambiguity level. With this film it’s essential to ponder on how the quasi-detective fiction, puzzle-like manner plays on one’s associative reading of the narrative.

We wonder if the man killed himself unable to bear with some harm done to the girl (Lola Créton), or conversely if her incident somehow resulted from his death in nihilistic grief. The “answer” such as it is will for some time obscure that connection before becoming a good deal more complicated and disturbing than your mind could have inferred. This opening is not so removed from the subjectivity of Beau Travail and White Material in which the main characters seem to reflect upon their transformative experiences while riding public transport, informing the diegesis. That is, we could be privvy to the images conjured by Vincent Lindon’s navy merchant as he attempts to make sense of the shocking but vague details giving to him by his sister about her family’s recent traumas.

From here we assume Lindon seeks revenge on the wealthy tycoon (a Mabuse-like Michel Subor) whose money-lending is to blame for the aforementioned suicide of Lindon’s brother-in-law. This “revenge”, while not revealed to be a false lead (he stays at the apartment next to Subor, after all, and is shown Googling articles about the man), is at least distracted by or refracted as an affair with Subor’s young wife (Chiara Mastroianni), and in classic noir fashion (think Chinatown), turns drastically hopeless. Here, too, a vision of Mastroianni and police coming across her son’s wrecked bike in the woods, wedged between shots of Lindon lying in bed. His imagination predicting the revenge? An actual flash-forward? The narrative only approaches this again when Subor returns home with the boy to retrieve the bike. Denis allows us to now suspect Subor, or else an accident. Misdirection, perhaps, but it’s in the sowing of those seeds of viewer mistrust that Denis’ ambiguity makes good on the noir premise, and the title.

If Denis’ films are about the push and pull of family, the bittersweet or traumatic transition between homes (Friday Night, quite literally), Bastards follows suit. Lindon, beckoned back, attempts to clean up the mess out of some obligation to his family—yet he had eloped to the seas years prior, escaping them. His actions throughout the film are thus rather aloof, in self-interest, and ultimately he finds himself at odds with everybody. Mastroianni is tempted away from her comfortable family life by the masculine but benevolent presence of the sailor—demonstrated in one vintage moment of Denis sensuality in which she (both shes) gazes at the contours of Lindon’s muscled back beneath his shirt—before resolutely affirming her position come the end. And Créton presumably rebels via dangerous sexuality, but perhaps she is in fact obedient, masochistically so—the rotten fruit of bourgeois depravity. Denis customarily works with close-ups (so often here profiles meeting the edge of the frame with an ear centrally composed), barely visible faces we must cling to for all the uncertainty. Yet Créton remains impenetrable to us; one earnest declaration of love aside, she is entranced by Dionysian youth. Tindersticks take a cue from her: their score is a hypnotic stir of pleasure, ruin, and menace, more than crucial in establishing the film’s mood.

Bastards could be taken to task for its ultimately lurid content, where contrastly the non-hyperbolic universality of 35 Rhums and the microcosmic reality to the violence of White Material rise above. A metaphorical reading, the central family as symbolic of the aforementioned “bourgeois depravity”, may be too vague. Nonetheless, one can not ignore the ebb and flow of perturbing, violent films with the lighter, more tender efforts that make up Denis’ oeuvre (it is more accurate to say each film contains a complex combination of those extremes). Bastards is likely the most accomplished of her darker films, if for no other reason than the now-expert fractured assemblage of beguiling images towards a disquieting atmosphere and final impression. This is exciting cinema.

Brent Morrow watches A LOT of films and writes about them at Technicolor Red (http://bmtr.wordpress.com/). 

MIFF 2013: Capturing Dad

14 Aug

Ryota Nakano, 2012


By Patricia Tobin

Capturing Dad follows the tale of two young sisters, 17-year-old Koharu (Nanoka Matsubara) and 20-year-old Hazuki (Erisa Yanagi), who receive some unexpected news from their mother (Makiko Watanabe). Their estranged father is dying, and are sent by their mother to visit him on his deathbed. However, he soon passes away before they arrive in the rural town of Ashigara. The girls now have to attend a funeral for a man they barely know, while confronting family truths and uncomfortable situations.

Capturing Dad succeeds with its stellar cast, primarily Makiko Watanabe as the stern, but caring mother. Watanabe displays deep motherly love and care, while balancing a cheeky, almost child-like demeanour when teasing her children. Matsubara and Yanagi are also promising young actresses, and provide some delightful moments as bickering sisters. 

Unfortunately, Capturing Dad ultimately suffers from poor execution, primarily under Nakano’s  direction. The film largely takes place on the day of the father’s funeral, where tense family dynamics would be great for the screen. However, Nakano does not seize or fully explore the all-too-common friction and strain among family and distant relatives. 

Capturing Dad aims to create a playful, off-kilter feel for dealing with the morbid subject of death and loss. However, it gradually becomes unclear what tone the film is trying to encapsulate. There are scenes that are genuinely weird and hilarious, including an ongoing joke about breasts among the tight-knit family. At the same time, there is an underlying sense of detached irony throughout Capturing Dad, which undermines the film’s heart-warming moments. 

In particular, the sisters’ younger half-brother Chihiro (Kaito Kobayashi) often serves as a reminder for familial kindness and care. Donning a crisp, white shirt and suspenders, the adorable Kobayashi attempts to befriend his sisters, but Capturing Dad‘s bemused attitude results in the sibling relationship being rather contrived.  

The ending, too, consists of a surprise element that feels utterly out of place, perhaps even unnecessarily forced. Capturing Dad struggles in finding a firm take on familial relations and grim matters. The film intends to retain a spirited outlook throughout, but its light-hearted touch slowly becomes muffled and unclear, turning sweet moments sour. 

Patricia Tobin is a full-time university student and a part-time marathon napper. She writes theatre reviews for ArtsHub and sub-edits for Lot’s Wife. She tweets at @havesomepatty, and writes about film athttp://screenappeals.wordpress.com.

MIFF 2013: O Apostolo – The Apostle

14 Aug


By Gabby Easter

A gothic tale of the living dead, lost souls and redemption, The Apostle is a spooky stop-animation with a hint of a twisted Grimm’s fairy tale.

Ramon, voiced by Galician Carlos Blanco, is a second generation thief who escapes from prison, driven by an insatiable thirst for hidden treasure that he hopes will be his way out of his old life. Posing as a pilgrim on the path to Santiago de Compostela, a strange old man leads Ramon awry, promising a good nights feed and a decent rest. Don Cesareo (Xose Manuel Olveira), the creepy village priest, complete with a larger-than-head nose and a Vampiric feel, screams evil and untrustworthy, but Ramon is unaware of the threat until it’s too late. The quiet little town turns out to harbour secrets more sinister than just stolen jewels.

Meanwhile, and yes, it’s a typical ‘meanwhile’ scenario, the Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela is on the hunt for some high profile pilgrims who have mysteriously gone missing. Paul Naschy voices the impudent, corrupt archpriest, intent on working his way up to papacy in style and comfort, with a penchant for fine wine and good food.

The characters are caricatures in a somewhat predictable plot, but the suspense, humour and craftily made sets are the redeeming features in the first stop-animation to come out of Spain. The not-so-subtle swings at the Catholic Church, almost entirely made through the Archbishop, are balanced out by heavy themes of redemption and salvation.

Almost three years in the making, and partially financed through Crowdfunding, the dedication and detail put into director Fernando Cortizo’s debut feature film is easily recognised, with a Goya nomination and a steady run of screenings at film festivals across the globe. Despite a shaky plot and the occasional technical mishap, Cortizo has produced a stop-animation that’s a little too spooky for the little ones, but eerie and entertaining enough for an older crowd as well.

Gabby Easter lives in Melbourne and writes for Time Out magazine.

MIFF 2013: Stoker

8 Aug


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.

MIFF 2013: The Act of Killing

1 Aug

The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2013)


By Patricia Tobin

The Act of Killing is not meant to be an enjoyable film. It defies any notion of the conventional good-versus-evil dichotomy and instead, director Joshua Oppenheimer poses a few questions: why does man commit acts of evil? What sort of repercussions are formed from such crimes?

In 1965, the Indonesian government was overthrown by the military and anti-Communist resentment was on the rise. Gangsters Anwar Congo and his friends were employed by the army to execute suspected Chinese communists in North Sumatra. Today, Anwar is a rich and powerful man in his community. He is now a rather dapper aging man, often seen in bright, well-dressed suits. He has close ties to heavyweight political leaders and is seen as a role model for young paramilitaries. Anwar and his associates have not been punished for their crimes against humanity. They appear on glossy talk shows and are cheered on at political rallies; their community wholeheartedly celebrates their “victory” against communists.

As a response to their incessant boasting about their past murders, Oppenheimer gives Anwar and his friends an opportunity to reenact their experience of the killings. However, as with every good documentary, The Act of Killing neither sympathises with these killers, nor does it paint them in a bad light. These killers are seen as very human characters, yet their responses to their past deeds are shocking, gross and offensive. There is hardly any gory or graphic imagery shown on screen, but their cavalier stance towards their past crimes is appalling. When the group is reminiscing about the past, they discuss the best age to rape women ¡ªfourteen. “Sedap!” one member happily cries, meaning “delicious”. It is this sort of awfully sickening behaviour that is hard to digest, but the film’s uncompromising position forces the audience to make their own opinions about these mass murderers.

The retellings by Anwar and his friends present an attempt by The Act of Killing to understand their openness towards their acts of genocide. It gives a deeper insight into the minds of the killers, and in particular, Anwar’s own personal feelings towards his past deeds. From the gun-touting cowboy John Wayne to the slick dance moves of Elvis Presley, these killers are great admirers of Hollywood cinema. They recreate an interrogation scene by drawing from Al Pacino and mafia mobsters, and surreal dream sequences are akin to lavish musicals. The fictional scenes are interwoven with Anwar’s narrative and his reactions from watching the finished products. The deliberate blurring of the lines between fiction and reality micmic Anwar’s own failure in his endeavour to escape the past. The film gradually reveals his vulnerability, hypocrisy and eventually, his sheer inability to properly grasp the true dreadfulness of the crimes he has committed.

The Act of Killing occasionally presents a bleak sense of humour, giving the audience some breathing space between all the talk about devious and dreadful crimes. In one scene, a politician invites the camera crew into his home. Flaunting his wealth, he brags about his massive collection of crystals. “Limited edition…they are all very limited,” he says. His kitsch crystal collection, ranging from a Tinkerbell figurine to a model of a duck, is all hideously gaudy. His flamboyance becomes rather humorous, as he also gleefully shows off a latex bass singing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”.

Stretching at a hundred and sixty minutes, The Act of Killing‘s steady pace is not meant for an easy viewing. The documentary also unveils that the killers’ pride is a result of a much more complex problem that is deeply rooted in a corrupt society. Political leaders freely extort money from Chinese shopkeepers, editors of newspapers publish one-sided reports and votes for parliamentary election are all rigged. The North Sumatra community is so entrenched in immorality, and any unscrupulous behaviour appears to be the norm. The Act of Killing is a very powerful film, and presents the terrifying truth that murderers are mere products of a debased society.

Patricia Tobin is a full-time university student and a part-time marathon napper. She writes theatre reviews for ArtsHub and sub-edits for Lot’s Wife. She tweets at @havesomepatty, and writes about film at http://screenappeals.wordpress.com.

Review: To The Wonder (2013)

1 Jul

Written and Directed by Terrence Malick – Screening from July 4 – Exclusively at Cinema Nova, Carlton, VIC


Review By Paul Anthony Nelson.

Terrence Malick is a genius.


But don’t just take my word for it: the guy’s a Rhodes Scholar, and a summa cum laude graduate in Philosophy from Harvard, no less. But it’s his compact, astonishing filmography which puts this point into further relief: three of his first five feature films, BADLANDS (1973), THE THIN RED LINE (1998) and THE TREE OF LIFE (2011), are bona fide masterpieces, with the hugely underrated THE NEW WORLD (2005) and physically breathtaking DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978) not far behind. Malick is an auteur of singularly intuitive style, and, thus, his elliptical narratives, searching cinematography and dreamlike voiceovers aren’t for everybody. But, to this reviewer’s mind, he is a master of image and mood; his films’ avoidance of conventional dialogue delivery, and dependence upon human faces and natural vistas, somehow navigate a more direct, mightier pathway to emotional truth.

What’s more, the auteur is famous for shooting endless reams of film, taking his sweet time to put these things together: one became accustomed to greeting a new Malick film as an event, as — look at those years of release again — they generally land but once a decade. So, when a new Malick picture arrives just two scant years after the last (particularly as he has three more films shot and in the pipeline, presumably to whizz their way to us over the next few years), is it cause for celebration… or suspicion?

After seeing TO THE WONDER, it pains me to suggest the latter.

TO THE WONDER plays very much in the TREE OF LIFE sandbox, throwing out questions of love, spirituality, a world in turmoil and humanity’s effect upon it. We begin with Marina (Olga Kurylenko) and Neil (Ben Affleck), a couple clearly in love, travelling by train to Mont Saint-Michel, the picturesque monastery near Marina’s childhood home. They’ve been together in Paris for some time, with Neil even ingratiated to Marina’s young daughter from a previous marriage, Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline). Their life seems wonderful, when Neil gets an enticing job offer in Oklahoma, and Marina agrees to move her and Tatiana with him. However, upon arrival in the US of A, they’re greeted by the prison of white middle class American suburbia – depicted with quietly efficient scorn – and the couple’s relationship instantly begins to deteriorate.

For a while, Marina takes solace in the church of Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), but he’s grappling with his faith more than anybody. Soon, Marina and Tatiana must return to Paris, where she continues to be depressed by their situation, while in the US, Neil reunites with an old friend, Jane (Rachel MacAdams). This situation is further complicated some time later, when Marina resolves to return, and Walt Whitman’s maxim “you can never go home again” becomes brutally apparent.

While the story is loaded with potential, and touches on some compelling themes – how can true love and faith endure in this world when we’re surrounded by so much self-inflicted suffering – Malick, for the first time in his stellar 40 year career, seriously fumbles the ball.

The main issue is the story. While his past films carry the gravitas of elemental forces like war, love, violence, history, changing landscapes and spirituality, TO THE WONDER has all the emotional heft of a third-rate television melodrama. This particular treatment of these themes, as written and performed, just doesn’t justify the weighty Malick imprimatur and, more often than not, just comes off as silly.

It doesn’t help that his cast don’t seem particularly up to the task. Affleck’s limited range is exposed here, and Kurylenko, while obviously beautiful, is limited to a couple of vacant expressions – and not helped by the fact that her character, set up as a free spirit, dumbs down to the point of near-intellectual disability by film’s end. MacAdams, too, adds little but physical beauty to a nothing role. Of the performers, Bardem is the most accomplished, but is given little to do but mope about with a “why hath thou forsaken me??” look on his face. With each action, it becomes increasingly difficult to relate to anybody.

Absent are the beautifully observed, infinitesimal details of Brad Pitt and Hunter McCracken’s heartbreaking performances in TREE OF LIFE, or Jim Caviezel in THIN RED LINE, or the grace notes of BADLANDS’ Sissy Spacek or TREE’s Jessica Chastain. Everybody is given one note to play and drive into the Earth. What’s more, the film’s voiceover is in French (supplied by Marina), which is fine in isolation, but merely adds to the film’s unfortunate aura of Malickian parody when coupled with the “woe is me” melodrama, whooshing camera and random digressions. Malick’s juxtaposition of natural imagery and human emotion is strangely tone deaf here, even laughable at times, as if the relative speed of this production has thrown the compass of his peerless intuition off course.

Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is customarily gorgeous – this film has more beauty in its natural little fingernail than, say, the CG-splashed LIFE OF PI has in its whole body – but his method of constantly rushing his camera toward the actors here feels particularly annoying, like a creepy birthday clown running up to people to tickle them. Too much of the film feels like it was cobbled together from TREE OF LIFE outtakes – and indeed, as the end credits reveal, some of it was – and quickly assembled into a more abstract companion piece. While this is fine in theory, TREE OF LIFE was such a gigantic, powerful, definitive take on these similar themes that TO THE WONDER seems minor, sketchy, woefully underpowered and scarcely necessary.

Sadly, TO THE WONDER will be to Malick’s career what, say, THE TERMINAL is to Steven Spielberg’s –the exemplar of an auteur’s every perceived negative directorial trait in one film, providing unfortunate fuel to their detractors’ fire. Yet Malick is one of American cinema’s greatest artists and I, for one, remain confident he will bounce back with his next film… just, not too quickly, okay?

Heaven’s Gate Minute by Minute: 209 of 209

10 Jun

209 of 209

I’m yet to see the names of the million plus extras. I suppose there’s not enough material in the universe to make the film stock required to screen all those names.

What on Earth is ‘Atmosphere Casting’? Did this Tony Gaznick character cast smoke, haze, mist and shards of light? Or was he responsible for the nitrogen, oxygen and argon on set?

“Hey, Ms. Casting Agent Person,”
“Hi Tony, what can I do for you?”
“We’ve got a role for some air. It’ll be playing the town photographer, have you got a canister you can send over?”
“Tony, you know the air on my books won’t play 19th century photographers. They keep geting burned up in the magnesium flashes.”

Before CGI, actors were forced to play layers of gas in motion pictures. In addition to John Proctor, Daniel Day Lewis also played the exosphere in The Crucible. He’s so versatile.

Oh, the key grips were Richard Deats and Tony Cridlin. That’s good to know, I was thinking throughout the whole film that the movie is well gripped. I must send them a congratulatory e-card.

The credits move seamlessly into the thank yous. A courteous man, Michael Cimino has been generous in extending his gratitude. He thanks the USA, then the Governor of Montana, Glacier National Parks and several other forest/park departments who I presume are all part of the USA. If you lead by thanking the entire country, is there a need to get into specifics? You just say, “Thanks America,” and everyone is covered. Thank Earth just to be on the safe side if you’re frightened of missing someone, like Penny. Everyone always forgets poor ol’ Penny. If you’re asking yourself, “Who the hell is Penny?” Exactly. Case in point.

The music and the increasing sparcity of the names leads me to believe the film is at last ending. As the final credits role, it might be a good moment to reflect. Cue reflection music, something with a harp and a basset horn, but no keytars.

After four years and having finally seen all of it, what do I think of Heaven’s Gate; the tale of love amidst the Johnson County cattle wars of Wyoming during the late 1800s? My final analysis is the film is much like this review – long, pointless and centred on something completely obscure.

Written in Panavision.

Colour by the distribution of light power versus wavelength interacting with the eye.

The soundtrack for this review can be purchased through Sony Records, or stolen from John Hurt’s garage.

Thank you for reading, thank you Penny and thank you Earth.

The end.



Heaven’s Gate Minute by Minute: 208 of 209

8 Jun

208 of 209

The credits keep on a-rollin’. They’re moving at a good speed, I’d say. Not too fast, not too slow – they’re in something scientists like to call the ‘end credits Goldilocks zone’. Whether credits do or don’t fall into this category is adjudicated by Goldie Hawn. She takes the role very seriously, so don’t ever scroll text passed her too quickly. A waiter once waved a dinner menu speedily in front of her and she drowned him in a vat of minestrone. The thing is, the restaurant wasn’t even serving soup, she bought it in herself just in case.

There were three assistant camera men, apparently. Ken, Eric and Michael. I think that’s a good number and what a likely lot they would have been on set, hey? Kensy Ez & Mick! Oh, the hijinks and tomfoolery they would’ve gotten up too. On a serious note, practical jokes cause deaths in the workplace. Pull your juvenile heads in, Ken, Mick and Eric!

Heaven’s Gate was stunt coordinated by Buddy Van Horn. It’s nice to see some adult entertainer/anti-Western cross over.