15 August, 2006

miffy at the movies

Unless you live with your head up your arse, are a plebian bogan, or dwell somewhere other than Melbourne (fool!), you will be aware that it has been the Melbourne International Film Festival. MIFF is always one of my favourite times of year: traipsing about the city in the cold dark evenings, viewing often-obscure cinema from around the globe.

And if that's not enough to keep you happy, there's the Forum Bar which - though sadly lacking the half-price Stella-on-tap of yesteryear *pines* - is still a very cool place to hang out (except if you're unfortunate enough to stumble into "Movieoke" *shudders*).

Let me tell you about some things I saw at MIFF this year...

A Scanner Darkly
By now, everyone's heard/made/groaned/laughed-at the jokes about "It's the most animated Keanu Reeves has ever been!" Personally I still think he's only capable of playing a doped-out teenager, and those days are long behind us. Keanu is barely adequate in Richard Linklater's new animated film, based on Philip K. Dick's story. However the rest of the cast (particularly Robert Downey Jr. ) are great in this weird, paranoid tale. The visual style is more or less the same as that of Linklater's earlier film
Waking Life, and it lends a suitably dreamy, drug-haze quality to the story.

Thank You For Smoking
Aaron Eckhart's Chin stars as a senior spin doctor for the Tobacco Giants - an almost-universally hated man, trying to remain a role-model for his son. The film manages to be cynial and warm at the same time, and is clever in the way it presents its characters and gets its laughs without ever "taking a side". In other news, Rob Lowe has a brilliant cameo (does he do anything
but cameos these days?) and Katie Holmes is fine but distracting. It is actually impossible to watch her without thinking of Tom Cruise and Fictional Babies and Creepy Cults. Try as you might, you can't stop her public image distracting and detracting from her character. In conclusion: Ms Holmes has ruined her career. Sad.

Mutual Appreciation
This was a very-low-budget slice-of-life piece about late-20-somethings trying to make their way in New York City. I went in expecting some kind of
Reality Bites of the now generation... but this film had a much more indie heart than that, shot on grainy 16mm black-and-white and featuring unknown actors. The bad side-effect of this was that the film had no structured narrative whatsoever, and even though every scene and moment rang true and felt satisfying, as a whole it didn't really go anywhere. However the main guy (who in real-life fronts the band Bishop Allen) was outrageously charismatic, which scores a lot of points.

Spanning from the mid-sixties to the mid-eighties, in many ways this is a pretty standard gay-boy comes-of-age kind of deal. However it's far better executed than most. Unfortunatley there are some inconsistencies - the film loses a little of its humour in the second half, while the brilliant fantasy sequences which appear in the first hour fall by the wayside. But ultimately the good points outweigh the bad: it features a fantastic performance by Marc-André Grondin as Zac, flawless art direction recreating the time and settings, and some of the most breathtaking use of music in film I've ever seen/heard.

Terry Gilliam brings us this deeply fucked-up take on an
Alice In Wonderland scenario. If seeing an 11-year-old girl injecting her father with heroin doesn't make your skin crawl, just wait till she starts cuddling with corpses and kissing mentally-disturbed adult men. What makes the film so compelling is that - like Alice - the film's young protagonist carries on through all of this, emotionally detached and seemingly unscathed - remarking on its oddness, but protected by her own fantasy world so she's never really damaged by the horrors around her.

Like Minds
While beautifully shot and acted, this is one of those films that's frustrating because it
could have been great. Alas, it falls short; it'd be a decent telemovie, but is a rather lacklustre feature. The film belies its promise as a psychological thriller, by skimming over the potentially fascinating relationship between its schoolboy protagonists (and completely refusing to acknowledge the glaring homoerotic undertones) in favour of a tired Knights-Templar-inspired conspiracy *yawn*. Toni Collette is utterly wasted in a 2-dimensional role, and the "twist" is so obvious and badly-executed it would shame the writers of Law & Order. Oh well - at least the boys are nice to look at.

Brothers Of The Head
Conjoined twins! A 1970s pre-punk rock band! Sexual ambiguity! Yes, I think this film was made with munkey in mind.
Using a strange faux-documentary style, it tells the funny/tragic story of the Howe brothers, who are fused at the lower torso and share a liver. The film creates a troublingly palpable sense of the conflicting feelings that come with a life spent physically attached to another, while also creating an almost Spinal-Tap-esque pastiche of the music industry. It's by turns bizarre, hilarious, surreal and achingly sad, while the phenomenal on-stage presence of the (identical but not conjoined) Treadaway twins in their band The Bang Bang, is worth the price of admission alone.

Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic
In case you haven't yet heard the hype: Sarah Silverman is a very funny lady. The kind of funny where you feel guilty for laughing. Or embarassed for laughing. Yet laugh you do. Although her humour is completely different, she's a little like the creators of
South Park, in that she gets away with it because she's offensive about everyone. This isn't really much of a film as such, basically simply a recording of one of her live stand-up shows. Personally I found the extra bits the least satisfying, and wished it would just get back to showing us more of Silverman on-stage. But for sheer entertainment/laughter value, this is definitely worth checking out.

So there we have it, lovers and dreamers. MIFF has been and gone for 2006. Until next year!

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Blogger lili said...

you forgot to mention this year's cinematic zeitgeist:


August 15, 2006 9:24 pm  
Blogger Mel said...

Aaron Eckhart's Chin is a dirty Scientologist, or so I've heard. Some kind of Xenu brotherhood, apparently, is what gave us the wantonly miscast Eckhart in Possession.

August 16, 2006 11:30 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eckhart in Possession?

August 16, 2006 2:20 pm  
Blogger TimT said...

You may have been at the same screenings of 'Sara Silverman' and 'Brothers of the Head' I went to - both screened twice, I think; I went to see the first screening of both.

Saw 'Thankyou for Smoking' today - hilarious! He is the new morally ambivalent hero for the present day! Eckhart's a Mormon, apparently.

August 20, 2006 5:57 pm  
Blogger mindlessmunkey said...

Lili ~ I did forget! What a strange phenomenon... although it has me excited to imagine what the topic du jour (or should that be de l'année?) will be next year.

Mel ~ Goddamn those dirty scientologists. I've not seen Posession so I can't really comment. Happy Birthday, by the way. :)

TimT ~ I saw both on the very last day, so I doubt we were at the same screenings. Scientologist or Mormon... hmm I can't decide which is creepier.

August 23, 2006 7:22 am  

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