Monday, August 7, 2017

Setting forth on my fourth MIFF

Yes, that subject is meant to be a tongue twister.

In two weeks I will have been in Melbourne for four years. When I arrived in 2013, however, I had just missed that year's Melbourne International Film Festival. I haven't missed one since, and on Thursday night it kicked off for 2017.

However, Thursday night I was wrapping up a film festival of my own making, set in my living room, and it didn't seem right to start going to MIFF movies on either Friday or Saturday night with my wife deep in the fog of jet lag. So I made a later than usual debut this year, but it was worth the wait. More on that in a moment.

This year's MIFF is a bit different than last year's in that this year I'm paying for it. We failed to secure my press credentials before the deadline, meaning that instead of gallivanting my way to 11 free movies this year, I'm seeing "only" nine, and they are on my own dime. But after I got over the initial disappointment I sprung for that mini-pass. Because hey, it's MIFF.

And MIFF has meant quite a bit in terms of serving up some of my favorite movies of each year. Last year, it was responsible for allowing me to see my favorite film of 2016, Toni Erdmann, which would have eluded my year-end rankings by not releasing in Australia until February of this year. In 2014 I saw The Skeleton Twins, my #4 movie of the year, at this festival. Even in the "down year" of 2015, I still saw what ended up as my #16 movie of the year, The End of the Tour. So you can understand why I look forward to these 18 days with great anticipation.

No matter how the other eight films go after this -- seven new films, since I'm also seeing one old film for the first time this year -- I'm already pretty sure I've got a film that will beat #16.

Matt Spicer's Ingrid Goes West was not supposed to be on my schedule at all. The way I'd originally drawn it up, I was going to take in a double feature on Friday night: Alex Ross Perry's Golden Exits, which I will still be seeing a week from Wednesday, and Takashi Miike's Blade of the Immortal, which has fallen by the wayside. That was because I did not consciously realize that my wife was only returning home that morning from America, and that if I went to a double feature I would leave her alone with both kids on her first night back and not even see her until Saturday morning. Yeah, I'm a little thick sometimes.

But I had to get something in before the end of the first weekend, and I landed on Ingrid Goes West. Star Aubrey Plaza was not a selling point on this movie; in fact, if you've read any of my diatribes about her on this blog (specifically this one), you'll know it was just the opposite. But I do really like Elizabeth Olsen, and I thought the subject matter of a woman stalking another woman she's following on Instagram was ripe with potential. (In fact, Ingrid ended up bearing some similarities to one of my favorite films, The Cable Guy). So I shrugged and bought the ticket.

Well, let's just say I'm tagging Plaza with her own label on this post, with the hopes of balancing out the bad things I've said about her before.

Simply put, I loved this movie. Not only is it really funny, a thing you tend to notice all the more when you're joined by a full house who are also laughing (an increasing rarity these days), but it's got some profound truths about our social media-obsessed culture and its not-so-funny casualties. Ingrid Goes West is not full of surprises, per se, as there have been a number of movies that have grappled with the way that social media poisons the already fragile brain of a disturbed person. But I never knew where it was going to go, and that's something you don't get much from the movies these days either. In fact, so involved was I with the story that I found myself sitting forward in my seat as it progressed toward its conclusion -- and not only because the seats in Melbourne's Comedy Theatre are pretty uncomfortable.

Plaza is great in this -- not typical for her lately, unfortunately -- and Olsen is a bit more typically great in a role that could have been sort of thankless in lesser hands. But special kudos go to Ice Cube's son, O'Shea Jackson Jr., who is capable of a lot more than playing his dad in Straight Outta Compton. He's the heart, soul and funny bone of this movie, and I can't wait to see him appear in every movie in the next five years if he wants to. It's possible he's even more charming than his dad. And speaking of actors with famous dads, I'm really developing a fondness for Kurt Russell's son, Wyatt, who was great in Everybody Wants Some!! and brings more of the same here. I don't know who Billy Magnusson might be related to, but he steals his scenes as Olsen's douchy brother. It can be hard to make douchiness specific and memorable, but boy does Magnussen do it.

But I should probably give Plaza her own paragraph. I thought I had made up my mind that she was just someone I didn't like after she seemed content to slum it in movies like last year's Dirty Grandpa and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. But she's back in my good graces in a big way. This role is a departure for her as it does not involve her deadpan shtick and is free from holier than thou sarcasm. Plaza can act, and now I'm almost excited to see that period piece about the horny nuns. Almost.

Because I won't be reviewing most or possibly any of the films I see at MIFF -- which I did last year as a condition of getting my press credentials -- I don't know exactly how I will cover my 2017 MIFF experience on my blog. Last year I mostly did not review the movies in this space because I was already doing that for ReelGood, and tended to bore you with anecdotes related to the circumstances of the viewings themselves. I guess I'll just go with the flow and see what happens.

I'm just glad to have set forth on another cinematic adventure full of promising new releases, which has started as promisingly as any of them.

In fact, as I have actually been underwhelmed by my first film in each of the previous three years, this could be my best MIFF yet.

No comments: