Friday, August 31, 2018

Audient Auteurs: Bela Tarr

This is the seventh in my 2018 monthly series (I skipped January) watching two films per month by auteurs whose work was unfamiliar to me.

Hungarian director Bela Tarr promised to be a truly formidable entry in this series. Not only were both the movies I had on the docket in excess of two hours, but they had a dreaded assignation affixed to them: "Slow Cinema."

Wikipedia describes "Slow Cinema" as "a genre of art cinema filmmaking that emphasizes long takes, and is often minimalist, observational, and with little or no narrative. It is sometimes called 'contemplative cinema.'"

This is a genre that has only started to become familiar to me as a genre, even though I've seen many films that would conform to its broad strokes. I just didn't have a name for such a film until recently. Wikipedia lists Tarr as one of the genre's progenitors, but it also includes the likes of Andrei Tarkovsky, Ingmar Bergman, Kelly Reichardt and Abbas Kiarostami as filmmakers who were either responsible for launching the genre or are modern representatives of it. I've loved at least one film by each of those directors, so watching two Tarr movies in August would not necessarily be a death sentence.

But I understood that Tarr was slow even by the standards of slow cinema.

I'd toyed with watching the second of my two films when it was on Netflix ages ago, but had never quite been able to pull the trigger. Rarely -- or really, never, as it proved -- was I in the mood for a night of such work.

Well, that's pretty much exactly why I'm doing this series.

August may not have been the best month to try Tarr, as the first half of the month was consumed by MIFF, and the second half by the upcoming playoffs in my fantasy baseball league. Slow cinema did not seem to fit into my prevailing mindset.

But the pickin's are getting slim as I find myself increasingly unable to source films from my original list of filmmakers, previewed for you at the end of 2017. Tarr was on that list. So was Chantal Akerman, another director who worked in slow cinema and has so far eluded me. Tarr had two movies available on iTunes, one of which was the film of his I'd definitely planned on seeing, so Tarr it was.

But before we talk about those movies, let's talk a little bit more about Tarr.

I'm almost wondering if this shouldn't be a series about Bela Tarr and Agnes Hranitzky, Tarr's wife, who is actually credited as a co-director on both of the films I watched. I guess their credits are not exactly the same -- if they were both listed as co-directors, they might be, but he's the director and she's the co-director, which I guess is why many sites just list him as the director. Anyway.

Tarr was born in Hungary in 1955, the son of a scenery designer and a dialogue prompter at a theater. He originally wanted to become a philosopher (which has a rather direct relevance to one of the two films) and considered filmmaking sort of a hobby. He started out making amateur documentaries that caught the attention of a Hungarian studio, which funded his first feature. Social realism was a guiding principle of his early work, but a 1984 adaptation of Macbeth represented a shift to what would become his dominant mode: films compromised of long takes lasting between six and 11 minutes in which the camera would move around on a dolly and swoop and glide through the set. All of it, as you would guess, fairly slowly.

Tarr has said that the second film I watched would be his last, but it's only been seven years since that came out and he's only 63, so who knows.

The Man from London (2007)

Although Satantango (1994) and Werckmeister Harmonies (2000) are both films I've heard of -- Satantango because it's 415 minutes long -- I went straight for his second-to-last and last film, the first of which was 2007's The Man for London. And boy did it give me an idea of what to expect from Tarr pretty quickly.

The story, such as it is, surrounds a dock worker, who mans an observation station by night, who witnesses a murder that occurs after two men are arguing over a briefcase of money. When the murderer flees the scene, he abandons the briefcase in the water, which the night watchman goes and fishes out. He must continue about his routines as a detective from London comes poking around and asking questions.

This sounds like pretty standard material for a thriller/murder mystery, but it would be impossible to use the word "thriller" in relation to anything made by Tarr. Before this murder occurs, the camera spends what must be about 20 minutes just panning around the docks, following the activities of men from afar and of trains as they pull in and out of the adjoining station. The camera is looking down from the very tower you see in the poster, which does make for quite a good set. But nothing is happening, really. The setting of the scene is taking place, only for 20 times longer than any other filmmaker would spend on it.

The man makes his way between his home, his work and other locales, such as a bar, in this presumably French port town. (The actors speak French, including, somewhat surprisingly, Tilda Swinton as his wife.) The story slowly develops, I suppose, but everything is so drawn out and elongated that it's possible to lose focus even on the minimal amount that is "happening." I had to consult the Wikipedia plot synopsis afterward to be sure I'd actually noted the developments in the plot correctly, and in fact, I had missed some of them.

It's the kind of film you should not watch tired, and of course, I was very tired when I watched it. But in this case that also had its benefits. There was one particular shot where the camera was following the man as he walked along a pier. I think I had front-loaded the sweets I'd planned to eat during the movie and was trying to make it through without any more. Well, I actually fell asleep on two separate occasions during this shot; both times I awoke, it was still going on, with no appreciable change in the scenery or in the visual information being communicated.

This might sound awful to you, but actually, I give the film a marginal recommendation. The black and white cinematography looks really nice, and it's clear that Tarr is going for, and pulling off, something very specific and intentional. It's very possible to say I appreciated it without having any intention of ever watching it again.

The Turin Horse (2011)

The Turin Horse was, if anything, more of a chore, but it was almost a chore I didn't get to have. I'll explain.

You know how you seem to get the option with iTunes nowadays whether you want to download your rental or stream it directly from the cloud? That was certainly the case with The Man From London, which I did stream.

Well. The Turin Horse wasn't having any of that. I'd press play, and it would never start progressing forward with the film. It was a slightly different phenomenon than the one I wrote about with my broken rental of Thor: Ragnarok, which also would not start playing. In the case of The Turin Horse, I could drag the time marker forward to any random part of the movie, and it would show me a still from that moment. It just wouldn't play.

And unfortunately, I'd left it until the last minute to watch it. This was Wednesday night I discovered this, and I'd already set aside Thursday night as spillover in case I couldn't take the whole thing down in one evening. (Friday night was the 31st of the month, but I wasn't about to spend my Friday night this way.) So I reported the problem to iTunes in the hopes that they might be able to provide me with a working copy. On a lark, I also decided to set the film to download while watching something else that night.

The next morning I had a refund from Apple, which seemed to doom any hopes I had of getting a working copy of the film from them. But then I also checked my download, and lo and behold, it worked. So I managed to take the whole thing down on Thursday night ... and didn't end up paying for it either.

The thing that's most interesting about the "plot" of The Turin Horse is the thing that sets the plot in motion -- whether that's literally or metaphorically is unclear. And it was interesting because it taught me something about the life of Friedrich Nietzsche that I'd never known. Were you aware that Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown while watching a man whip a horse? Well he did, and threw his arms around the horse to hug it, shortly afterward uttering his final words and living as a mute cared for by family for the last ten years of his life.

This story follows that horse, at least metaphorically, which is as literally as anything can be taken in this film. I was put in mind of another film I watched in this series, Au Hasard Balthasar, as I watched this horse receive some of the same abuse the donkey receives in that movie. A man rides this horse through a windstorm out to a remote farmhouse with a nearby well. His grown daughter is there waiting for him. For the next week, the man and his daughter eat potatoes, get water from the well and spend timing staring out the window into the wind.

That's it. That's the whole movie.

It's pretty arduous, as this goes on for two hours and 35 minutes. There's a part sometime in the middle when a neighbor shows up to report vaguely of post-apocalyptic occurrences in the nearby town and spout some philosophical mumbo jumbo about the division of responsibility between God and man for destroying the world. Later, a group of gypsies show up in a horse-drawn carriage, and are turned away almost immediately. Shame, as you are really desperate for something to shake up the monotony by this point.

And though I spent most of the movie certain I was going to give the film a star rating 2.5 or lower -- meaning I could not recommend it -- I ended up at three stars with this movie too. There is again something raw and pure about Tarr's artistic intent, and the mood he creates can be downright haunting, especially with the sound of that wind always blowing in the background. There's a shot that focuses on the father in the foreground outside, and only eventually do you realize you can see the face of his daughter staring out the window, almost like a ghost. Who knows, maybe she is.

It's a lot easier to take this film as a metaphor than maybe it is for The Man From London, and it has a special funereal tone to it given its expected place in Tarr's career as his last film. I came to think of these characters as existing in some kind of unchanging purgatory, either already dead or perhaps in the throes of a terminal illness, waiting for death to arrive. The final ten minutes of the film really drives this home. It ends up being hopeless and profound.

I still do think there are better ways to expend 155 minutes of screen time than to beat us into some kind of submission that's almost like a fugue state. So I can't go a lot heartier on my recommendation than that. But there's no doubt that Tarr has something going on that can be dark and mysterious and unnerving. The apparent simplicity of his storytelling style and narrative content is belied, also, by the occasionally complicated camera movements, which require intense amounts of premeditation.

I've got some candidates for September, but you and I will probably be equally surprised by who I end up going with. Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Steampunk apocalypse

It had been a long time since I've gone to the movies and seen a trailer for a large-scale, high-concept sci fi fantasy movie I'd never heard of before. But that happened Thursday night with the trailer for the Peter Jackson-produced Mortal Engines.

This book cover gives you a better idea what the movie's about than the fairly nondescript movie poster, which shows only the female protagonist with her trademark sash covering everything but her eyes (presumably to save her from some kind of post-apocalyptic toxic air?).

I don't actually know what the movie's about, and that's great -- this was just a teaser trailer and it's exactly what I wanted from a thing like that. If you haven't seen it, I'll describe it to you.

We open on a shot of a lone, determined tree in an otherwise harsh, rocky landscape with large stretches of open terrain. Moments later this tree is crushed by the tank-like treads of a giant vehicular contraption that is barreling through this landscape, its various moving parts crunching and whirring as (presumably steam) powers it forward.

But we're about to have our definition of "giant" redefined.

As large as the vehicle initially seems, a few moments later it is dwarfed by a much larger version of the same thing -- much larger. In fact, our "giant" vehicle is now about the size of a kitten to Andre the Giant.

As the Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic survivors on the back of our "giant" vehicle look up at it in awe as they beat a fast retreat from its approach, the much larger vehicle begins to open a gaping mechanical maw in its front, various doors opening and various arms and other tendrils starting to extend outward, ready to consume the smaller vehicle.

They ask what this thing is, and someone says "It's England."

And sure enough, as the camera pans up on this giant moving city? country? it shows some of England's most famous buildings affixed to the top.

I can't wait to see this movie.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Melissa McCarthy movies in far-flung cinematic venues

There must be something about hiking out to an outer suburb of Melbourne, going to the local pub for a pint and watching a Melissa McCarthy movie, because I've done it twice now.

I was wondering why I was getting a sense of deja vu on my trip to the Melbourne outerlying territory of Hawthorn to go to Lido Cinemas for the first time, and it was because it reminded me of a similar trip in 2015 out to Classic Cinemas in Elsternwick.

Both trips involved beer and Melissa McCarthy.

In 2015 I was taking in the cinema for research purposes, as they had a job opening in their -- marketing department? I think that was it -- and I wanted to apply for it. I figured if I'd never even been there I would be a poor applicant indeed, and I guess I was anyway because I never even got a rejection from them.

Anyway, the movie that was playing that night was Spy, one of my favorite comedies of that year and the movie that turned me around on McCarthy. I should say, I chose it from a number of films playing, in part, I would guess, because I had indeed stopped at a pub to drink a beer while there, and something like Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief didn't seem likely to provide me as many yuks (or not intentional ones, anyway). Don't ask me why I can remember three years later that this movie was also playing there that night. (Along with a half-dozen others I don't remember.)

The beer? The train got me out there with a good 90 minutes before the movie, so dinner and that beer seemed like a good way to pass the time. I almost never drink before a movie because, you know, sleep. But that wasn't a problem with Spy.

Similar circumstances arose on Thursday night. This time I arrived by car, and the purpose of my trip to Hawthorn was to buy a book for my son's birthday. It wasn't just any book, because otherwise I would have just bought it at a local book store. Rather, it was a book that I'd loved from my childhood that was more or less out of print -- the wonderful viking adventure Erik the Viking, written by Monty Python alum Terry Jones. Despite his history (and the book's misguided cinematic adaptation), it's not a comedy. Somehow, there was a copy of this on the shelves at the Readings in Hawthorn, the website told me, and after a short hunt I actually found it, even though the guy who helped me expressed surprise it was even there, given how long they'd had it in stock. Score.

The bookshop closed at 8, and I got there by about 7:30, leaving me plenty of time to kill before the movie. I'd eaten dinner at home, so that wasn't necessary this time around.

Hello, pub.

I'd planned to drink two beers, figuring that the running time of the movie would be enough to ensure my sobriety on the way home, but I'd selected a pint that ran a whopping $14 (Melbourne is pricy) so I didn't choose a second. It got me plenty buzzed anyway.

Which wasn't much of a help on The Happytime Murders, McCarthy's new movie that had come out that very same day.

I wanted to laugh. Really I did. The beer was cheering me on. The beer wanted me to just kick back and enjoy this movie.

No can do.

It's really bad. Nay, it's awful. This movie needed to watch Deadpool 2 or something if it wanted to figure out how to be crass and have heart simultaneously. But who knows, maybe it didn't want to have any heart, and if not, they certainly succeeded.

I do want to tell you about Lido Cinemas, though. It's either brand new or recently refurbished in the past couple years, and I can't even tell you how damn classy the place is. It's got a great black and white tile aesthetic, plus a good place to sit and eat or have a drink beforehand (making me kind of wish I'd saved my drink for here). But the thing I really want to tell you about, or in fact show you, is the wonderful way they do the movie titles on the marquee, both inside and outside the theater.

This picture will give you some idea what they look like:

But not what they sound like. And that is, the same as the sounds those old destination signs in old train stations made as the switched themselves from one destination to another. The marquees at Lido are constantly unspooling the titles and gobbling them up again through a de-population and re-population of the dot letters you see above, and they make that little shuffling sound that you would expect to go with that kind of action. I don't think I'm describing it very well but I imagine you get some idea what I'm talking about.

Maybe McCarthy will get back in the win column when some new theater opens in 2021 and this occasion arises for me again.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Things I've been ignoring during MIFF

I've had my head in the cinematic sand for the last two weeks as I've taken in all MIFF has to offer. But around me, the cinematic world has continued to spin. I thought I might quickly catch up with some of those things I would have written about if I didn't have to recap Melbourne's film festival in excessive detail.

1) Aretha Franklin died. Very sad.

Anyone looking to find the cinematic relevance of her passing need look no further than The Blues Brothers. But this is one of those that transcends any particular medium. Franklin was a cultural giant and I feel like she was the voice of good times -- not the TV show, but the feeling of being on top of the world. If you are having a good day and want to strut down the street, who better to celebrate your mood than the soaring voice of Aretha Franklin? I will miss that voice.

We have a terrific Atlantic Records compilation from the years 1966 to 1969 that we've played the kids a couple times on vinyl. It includes "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)," "Do Right Woman - Do Right Man," "Respect," "Baby I Love You," "Chain of Fools" and "Think." They were all in rotation last night as we held an impromptu dance party around the dinner table.

2) The Oscars created an insane new category. Very sad.

Best popular film? Ugh.

At first I thought this was going to be a minor curio like best animated feature, but it sounds as though they will present it at or near the end of the show. Ugh.

I agree with the Oscars listening to feedback about how to make the show more relevant. There's nothing more frustrating than an institution that is smugly content with the way it has always done things, unwilling to change.

But I can't say I can get behind this change. Nor can I get behind the idea of presenting some of the 23? 26? categories off screen, during commercial breaks. Sure, we may never see that animated short subject or documentary short, but that's always been a part of my Oscar ballot, dammit, and I cherish it in all its obscurity.

3) MoviePass is still alive. Good ... I guess?

I wrote a few weeks back about the expected demise of MoviePass, but it appears they did not die. Instead, they created new rules that barely prove to be an advantage to their customers, if at all.

So if I'm understanding it correctly, they will now only allow you to see three movies per month on the pass, and they can limit which movies those are based on certain whims or the number of days since the movie's release? Not awesome.

Might as well just go out in a blaze of failed idealism than this lame introduction of a business model that we always assumed was the only way they could be sustainable.

Friday, August 17, 2018

MIFF: Last firsts

It’s been a MIFF of firsts for me, even though it’s my fifth MIFF.

I closed the festival with three firsts on Wednesday:

1) My first time seeing a MIFF movie on a weekday afternoon.

2) My first time reaching 12 total movies, my previous festival high having been 11.

3) First Reformed.

You might almost include a fourth first, as I watched my 12th and final film, First Reformed, with a mate. (Might as well use the local parlance.) That’s something I almost never do, but the “almost” is what keeps it from being a first. My friend Don Handsome was visiting us during MIFF in 2015, and we saw two films together, so just because I’d seen 32 straight films solo since then doesn’t mean it had never happened before.

But first, the first first.

As I’ve mentioned in other MIFF 2018 posts, you get three weekday afternoon movies for free on a ten-ticket minipass, as these sessions are always undersold due to it being business hours. This was the third minipass I’d either bought or earned through press credentials, and I’d yet to use one of these three additional passes.

Twenty eighteen was the time to change all that. I’d been planning to take off Wednesday afternoon from work to assist with childcare, something that’s much easier now given that I’m no longer a contractor and get all sorts of paid leave. (Government jobs, God bless 'em.) At the last minute that wasn’t needed anymore, but I’d already secured the time off so I didn’t feel like forfeiting it.

That left me redeeming a free afternoon ticket for Chris the Swiss, which would be the first in an eventual day-night double feature at the festival hub, the Forum on Flinders Street. It’s my favorite festival venue, in part because it’s a beautiful and ornate old theater, and in part because the downstairs is transformed into a festival lounge, where I’m always sure to grab a drink or a meal. But I hadn’t yet visited it in 2018, as my ten previous films were scattered between the other venues. I didn’t need to select Chris the Swiss to ensure a Forum visit, as First Reformed was scheduled for there later that evening. I actually picked it because was on my original shortlist for evening sessions, losing out in a numbers game.

And it was an important add to keep going an informal tradition I’ve developed in the past three years, ever since I’ve started going to double digit films. When I boosted my total from four movies in 2015 to 11 movies in 2016, I decided I now had the freedom to go outside the box a bit, which led to the selection of an animated zombie movie called Seoul Station, made by the same guy who directed the live action zombie movie Train to Busan. That was a big hit for me, so in 2017 I rolled the dice on My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea, wanting to keep the outsider animation groove going. This didn’t work quite as well for me as Seoul Station, but I did enjoy it, and in 2017 I also saw a repertory screening of one of my favorite outsider animation films, Fantastic Planet.

Without Chris the Swiss the tradition would die, or at least take a year’s hiatus, so it was especially satisfying to squeeze it in. It also allowed me to make sure I had a female director among this year’s screenings, which felt important in our current cultural moment.

Anja Kofmel’s film uses a mixture of documentary interview footage and animation to investigate the 1991 death of her cousin, Chris Wurtenberg, a war correspondent who was entrenched with a paramilitary unit in Croatia. She interviews people who knew him, including family and other journalists, in the present day, and supplements the real footage with wonderful black-and-white animation that speculates on what might have happened to him based on the available facts. I thought it was a really engrossing combo that allowed for plenty of creative expressionism, elevating it above your “standard” documentary. It was a real win and I hope it reaches a much larger audience.

So a really good start to my afternoon – or, I should say, a really good second chapter of an afternoon that had started with lunch at this sushi place where you pick plates of sushi off a conveyer belt that goes by your seat, not unlike the baggage claim area at the airport. Believe me, it’s a lot more charming than it may sound.

The third chapter was worth talking about because having time off in the afternoon allowed me to replace my mobile phone. It had gotten to that phase where it would randomly say the battery was drained when there was still 40% left, and I was a week or two out of contract, so the timing was perfect and the store was not crowded.

The fourth chapter involved going to the State Library, where I wrote my review of the movie I’d seen the night before, Everybody Knows, which has still not posted but should soon.

A full day finally climaxed when I met my friend in the line outside the Forum for First Reformed. We’re both cinephiles and had discussed MIFF in the past, but this was the year we decided to line up our schedules and see something together. I’d limited our choices to something playing at the Forum, so we could grab dinner afterward in the lounge downstairs. He didn’t care which of the three choices I proposed, so I selected First Reformed, even though it’s been out since May in the U.S., and may actually already be available for rental through my American iTunes account. (When you’re seeing 12 movies essentially for free, you can “fritter away” one of your choices on something like this.)

But it was not frittered. There was no frittering.

I sat there, rapt, blown away by every single solitary second of this movie. For five minutes afterward I wondered what I thought of that ending. And then I decided I loved the ending too.

What could I say about First Reformed that you have not already heard somebody else persuasively argue over the last three months? Probably nothing, so I won’t even try. I had been planning to write a review of it, and I might still, though my editor has chipped in two reviews, so our eight in total more than justifies our receipt of the press credentials. Or maybe I’ll chew on it some more and write a full-length review whenever it finally does hit Australian theaters (I can’t believe there’s still no release date). There’s a lot of chewing a person could do. In fact, one of my other dense favorites so far of this year, BlacKkKlansman, leaves me with the feeling that I didn’t write half of what I could have said in the review. Maybe thinking about First Reformed longer will allow me to get out all of it in my allotted length.

Alas, my viewing companion was not as sold on it. His first words after the credits rolled were “There was a nugget of a good idea in that movie.” Needless to say it was an interesting debate over dinner. (I had the antipasto and a beer.) I suppose it’s that kind of movie.

And so closes another great MIFF, in particularly great fashion. Also, with four films in a 26-hour period, which is the same way I started this year's festival. 

I think I may write one more MIFF post this weekend, as a special way of celebrating my landmark fifth MIFF. But we’ll see how I go. I am a bit MIFFed out at this point, and in fact, expect to take a second straight night off from watching movies tonight. 

That’s pretty rare for me. I must be really exhausted. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

MIFF: Surprise double, and master of the inciting incident

We've exchanged out so many tickets for other tickets in this year's MIFF that I'm starting to lose track.

Tuesday night was originally envisioned as a double feature of Everybody Knows and a film called Arctic, but I traded in my Arctic ticket when the editor of my website needed a ticket for a film made by a friend of his. He's not the MIFF lover that I am so he usually gives me all the tickets on our pass, and was willing to just buy one. That didn't seem fair, so I gladly shaved off the ticket of mine that seemed most superfluous, and was set to just go to Asghar Farhadi's latest that night.

But then my wife traded in one of her daytime tickets for one of my daytime tickets, freeing up another ticket. If that sentence doesn't make sense, I'll explain. With a MIFF minipass you get three free weekday daytime sessions, as those sessions are always undersold since they can only be attended by people with flexible working schedules. That describes my wife, so she's going to a good number of daytime sessions this year. So many, in fact, that she used one of her ten regular sessions on a daytime session, when she could have just used one of the unused daytime sessions on my pass and saved one regular ticket for a nighttime session. Got all that?

As she's got a full slate anyway, she turned the newly converted nighttime ticket over to me. I was going to turn it into Arctic, but Arctic was sold out now. so instead I focused on another movie that had originally been on my shortlist, Timur Bekmambetov's Profile, picking that narrowly over Joel Potrykus' Relaxer.

I'm sure all these ins and outs were so interesting for you to spend the last minute of your life reading.

Anyway, that left me with an unexpected Tuesday night double feature, kicked off by the dumpling dinner I didn't have last week, with a snack of fries and dipping sauce between the two movies. I made all the sessions on time and nothing else interesting happened, so let's just get to the movies.

Given that I was relatively disappointed by Farhadi's last movie I saw at MIFF, The Salesman -- and then more so when it snagged the best foreign film Oscar away from Toni Erdmann, my #1 movie of that year -- I'd say my expectations were a bit muted for Everybody Knows. That's strange given that The Salesman was the only one of four Farhadi movies I've seen that I awarded fewer than 4.5 stars on Letterboxd. Nonetheless, I must have thought he was headed in the wrong direction, so even the promise of him transplanting the usual thing he does to Spain and to international stars (Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem) only left me intrigued enough to secure the ticket, not to actually look forward to it with great anticipation.

Boy was that dumb.

But first, what "usual thing he does?" For as great as he is, Farhadi is notable for being somewhat predictable in terms of the general composition of his films. In the review I just wrote that has not yet posted as of this writing (but may have by the time you read this), I said "Iranian director Asghar Farhadi has become the face of a subgenre that might be labeled 'social intrigue,' as his films address the miscommunications, misunderstandings and recriminations that lead to low-level tragedies among ordinary people." That's Farhadi in a nutshell. I'm sure he's made a film that couldn't be summarized in these terms, but I have yet to see it.

So I was watching this film just waiting to see what its "inciting incident" would be. That's a screenwriting term for the thing that occurs sometime in the first act that sets the rest of the plot in motion. Farhadi is master of the inciting incident as this is the thing around which all the rest of the confusion swirls, resulting in Rashomon-like competing interpretations of the same event. It was funny to watch the film consciously looking for what that would be.

Oddly enough for Farhadi, who normally deals in occurrences that are comparatively mundane, the inciting incident in this case is a kidnapping. Just when my alarms started to go off that he was selling out and becoming some kind of genre filmmaker, I was reminded that this is Asghar Farhadi we are talking about, and he possesses a keen insight on human nature. Of course this movie is not really going to be about a kidnapping. That's just the excuse to turn people against each other, even loved ones, and see what happens.

And damned if this isn't just about the best and most engrossing movie I've seen all year.

Read my review if you want to know more, but it's kind of best if you don't know too much. Hopefully you won't have to wait too long to see another Farhadi masterpiece.

Everybody Knows (and yes, I was singing Leonard Cohen in my head all night) was a tough act to follow for Profile, but it did so fairly admirably. That seemed especially unlikely given the film's central gimmick.

Yes, ladies and gentleman, this is another one of those movie that takes place entirely on the screen of a laptop.

Movies like that can be good (Unfriended) or highly unfortunate (Open Windows), but even when they're good they remind you of certain cinematic trends that are starting to feel played out. At their core they are basically found footage movies, as the events take place in real time and strain credulity to the breaking point.

The film's conceit is that a British reporter is trying to write a story about the way ISIS recruits western women into becoming revolutionaries, and in some cases, unwitting sex slaves. As she sets up a fake profile on Facebook in order to catfish one of these terrorists and learn the secrets of his operation, we see a series of Skype calls between her and her editor, her and her boyfriend, her and her BFF (who seems like a bit of a lush), her and the IT guy, and her and the ISIS member himself. Things get complicated when the ISIS guy is a lot more charming than he should be, and she wonders if she herself is genuinely being seduced.

Bekmambetov, a director known for his visual panache (see: Night Watch), does not seem to have an immediate outlet for that here, as a movie that plays out on a laptop screen is a trick that's been pulled off by the guys at Blumhouse. It doesn't necessarily require a master of the form. Refreshingly, Bekmambetov accomplishes a nifty trick that has everything to do with how the movie does not actually play out in real time. The events on the screen have a seeming continuity, but we can tell from time stamps in various chats and the progression of scenes that these conversations are actually taking place over a period of weeks. That they all seem like "one shot," as it were, is a testament to how Bekmambetov can continue to impress visually, even within these apparent constraints.

I would have liked to have provided you a poster of Profile to go along with the one for Everybody Knows, but in a search of the interwebs, I could not find one. Letterboxd only has the title over a blank poster as a placeholder for the poster that does not yet exist. A deep cut, to be sure -- which is why we go to film festivals, when you come right down to it.

Tomorrow's post will wrap MIFF for 2018 ... if I don't write a proper wrap-up post, which I might, and if I don't get any more free tickets, which given the recent history seems like a distinct possibility.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

MIFF: Cold War, hot war

I'll be brief as it is after midnight and I am falling behind on my blogging.

I saw a double feature on my MIFF Sunday night, but only one was actually a MIFF movie. The other was "the greatest action movie of the 21st century," or so some people are saying.

One had the implied threat of the use of nuclear weapons hanging over it, one had the very real threat of very real nuclear weapons suffusing it. Hence my clever title.

But I really only want to tell you about Cold War, as others have told you about Mission: Impossible - Fallout, if you have not seen it for yourself.

Cold War continues a personal MIFF tradition of seeing the follow-up movie to recent movies by acclaimed international directors that I ranked very highly on my year-end lists. Past examples have included Graduation in 2016 from Cristian Mungiu (his previous two features had ranked #1 and #2 in their respective years), The Salesman from Asghar Farhadi in 2016 (A Separation was my #1 of 2011) and After the Storm from Hirokazu Kore-eda in 2016 (Like Father, Like Son was my #2 of 2014). Kore-eda and Farhadi each also have films I'm seeing in this year's MIFF, as I saw Kore-eda's Shoplifters last Friday night and have Farhadi's Everybody Knows due up on Tuesday. I suspect MIFF 2019 will be the perfect time for Maren Ade's follow-up to my #1 of 2016, Toni Erdmann.

But I'm straying, and I said I'd be brief.

Polish director Pawel Powlikowski directed my #3 movie of 2014, Ida, which is a masterpiece. Cold War is similarly shot in black and white and similarly deals with Poland in the decades following World War II, when it's struggling with the legacy of the war and the control of Communist forces.

My full review is to the right, but let's just say it's no Ida. However, I do also suspect that this one will grow on me the more I think about it. It's not entirely unexpected, either, as both Graduation and The Salesman felt like letdowns compared to the movies that preceded them. (After the Storm did too, a bit, but at least that one got four stars from me.)

Mission: Impossible?

I quite enjoyed it, but it's not the best action movie of the 21st century. In fact, it's not even the best action in a 21st century Mission: Impossible movie. That honor goes to Ghost Protocol and its exhilarating Burj Khalifa sequence. The Burj Khalifa always trumps.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

MIFF Asian double feature: Cannes winner and first doco

It's been a MIFF of a number of firsts already, and Friday represented one more: my first MIFF documentary.

But first, the winner of the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes.

Together, they represented a double feature of Asian movies, one from Japan and one from China.

Let's start with dinner.

I had wanted to go to my favorite dumpling place after leaving work on Friday and walking down toward Elizabeth Street, where the dumpling place is. I call it my favorite dumpling place, but actually, it's the only dumpling place I've been to. I enjoyed my first visit well enough that I saw no reason not to just return to this place every time I needed dumplings. I don't want to sell dumpling places short, but I figured they were more or less of a piece.

Anyway, it seemed like the right way to kick off an Asian double feature.

But I'd been craving a cheeseburger for like a week. On previous occasions where I might have scratched that itch, I was not in range of a place that could deliver me a really good one. But on my walk from Collins Place to Elizabeth Street, I realized I was heading straight for Betty's Burgers, a place my wife and I had discovered within the past 18 months and already been to a couple times -- which is unusual as we don't have that many opportunities to eat out together. Thinking of a Betty's burger and a shake, my eyes actually widened. You usually say that metaphorically, but nope -- I felt them widening. Dumplings would need to wait for another day.

Although it's a popular place, I finished my business at Betty's (fully satisfied) early enough to arrive early at the Comedy Theatre. I don't usually like arriving early at movies -- I'll usually make up reasons to kill time -- but I knew the Cannes Palme d'Or winner Shoplifters, from director Hirokazu Kore-eda, was sold out. I also knew you don't want to arrive at the Comedy Theatre too late if you want a shot at a comfortable seat. And by "comfortable seat," I don't mean any of them are actually comfortable, but their discomfort is minimized if you can sit in a front row, where that discomfort is not exacerbated by a lack of legroom. So in this instance I didn't dilly dally.

Glad I didn't. The line was already wrapped around the corner even at like 6:05 for a 6:30 start. But it's a big theater, so a line wrapped around the corner is not ever as dispiriting as it seems to be. When it's wrapped around the corner and stretched all the way up the block, that's bad, but just wrapped around the corner is manageable.

And indeed I did get a front row seat, off to the left rather than off to the right as I'd been trying to do ever since I discovered the idea watching The Killing of a Sacred Deer in 2017. Most people have not discovered this Comedy Theatre life hack, thinking of the first row as a bad seat no matter where it is. But in this instance, two of the three front row seats were actually marked as reserved, while the other was occupied. I increased my gait a little and got to the equivalent seats on the other side, where two of three were occupied while the one other one was vacant. That seat had my name on it.

Glad I wasn't forced to contort myself into a seat with a seat in front of me, because this was a two-hour movie and I wanted every opportunity not to become distracted like I was last year at this theater watching the way-too-long The Square. I knew Shoplifters had a chance to be a real contender, as Kore-eda directed by #2 movie of 2014, Like Father, Like Son. I also saw and really liked his After the Storm at MIFF 2016.

Shoplifters is in between those two movies in terms of quality, but it's closer to the former than the latter. In other words, it's pretty flipping great. I really have to go back and see the other Kore-eda films I haven't seen, as this guy is a born filmmaker with a generous sense of humanism. I'm not going to include a mini-review here because I've written a full review that will be linked on the right of this page, depending on when you read this. But damn, this guy is good.

I had about 45 minutes to kill between my two movies, and killed almost all of it waiting for one of those inscrutable Chinese smoothies from one of the Chinese smoothie shops that dot the Melbourne downtown. This was my thematic makeup for not going for dumplings, and a way to fill a small hole in my stomach. Unfortunately, I'm a rookie when it comes to these smoothies, so I ordered kind of randomly and wasn't prepared for how long the wait would be in a shop that was brimming with people. By the end I was pacing around nervously, with serious doubts about whether I'd miss the opening of the second movie. As it happens I didn't, but I couldn't finish the entire smoothie before getting to the theater and had to smuggle it in in the inner pocket of my winter jacket.

People's Republic of Desire was the 37th film I've seen at MIFF over the past five years -- and the first documentary, if you can believe it. And that hasn't been for lack of choice; it's just demonstrated a bias in the type of film I seek out at a film festival. But for some reason this film caught my eye and I decided to make it one of my randoms this year -- in other words, one of my comparatively small number of films that were not either from directors I knew or whose buzz had preceded them. (My other two this year were The Night Eats the World and Euthanizer, both of which I've already written about.)

The reason this movie caught my attention was -- well, I suppose because the titillating title prompted me to read the description. Sex is not actually what this movie is about, and if it were I probably wouldn't have done more than read the description. (My wife knows everything I'm seeing and I would feel sheepish about going both to a movie called Climax and this, were it actually about sex.) The actual description interested me enough to put it on my schedule, as the movie is about the booming online streaming industry in China, in which hosts are sponsored by big talent agencies, compete in big competitions, and pull down huge salaries each month from fans throwing money at them in terms of virtual gifts costing real money. And all of this without, in many cases, having discernible talent, or even in some cases having a lot of charisma.

I found the inner workings fascinating in this world we westerners know little about. I suppose the mania over this is in some ways similar to something like American Idol at its peak, except even more people seem to be invested in it, and they're not just paying in the form of the price of an SMS to vote for a particular person. The status of fans with each other has to do with how much they spend on the hosts, and some are proud to boast that they've dropped hundreds of thousands of American dollars in a single month. Director Hao Wu also visualizes this world in an absorbing manner via three-dimensional planes, in which the host is in the background while all sorts of avatars and online gifts dance around in the foreground in an orgy of consumerism, pseudo celebrity and reflected glow.

I'm done with the double features in 2018, although there is a day-night double header, to use a baseball term, coming up on Wednesday. Next up is my Sunday night viewing, Pawel Pawlikowski's Cold War.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Re-coen-sidering: Burn After Reading

This is the fourth in my 2018 bi-monthly series in which I’m re-examining the films of Joel and Ethan Coen that didn’t work so well for me the first time. This particular installment will contain SPOILERS.

When I held the box of Burn After Reading, which I’d borrowed from the library only that afternoon, in my hand on Thursday night, I looked at it and couldn’t help thinking: “God I hate this fucking movie.”

That gives you a little idea what this 2008 film was up against, even still, nearly ten years after I first saw it.

It had not only been my least favorite Coen movie, it was my least favorite by a significant margin, and the only film of theirs that was firmly in thumbs down territory. I might have gone as low as 2.5 stars on one of their other films, but even that is only mildly negative -- as close to a marginal recommendation as you can get, and the kind of thing that might be overturned to three stars in a series like this.

That’s not what we’re talking about with Burn After ReadingBurn After Reading was in possession of only a single star on Letterboxd, and I did not think there was much chance it would go up.

Well, that’s why I do series like this.

Burn After Reading will still be my least favorite Coen brothers movie, unless the last two movies I watch this year take a significant turn downward on second viewing. But it might be worthy of as much as twice the original star rating I gave it.

The first time I watched this movie, I just could not abide by its cynicism. I didn’t like the misanthropy inherent in the Coens killing off the two most likeable characters (played by Brad Pitt and Richard E. Jenkins), while the rest of the characters were blowhard assholes, blithe philanderers, narcissistic ditzes or self-satisfied masochists. (The latter is the best way I could think to quickly describe the CIA guys played by David Rasche and J.K. Simmons, who just want an expedient solution to everything regardless of who gets squashed in the process.) Some of those people do come to bad ends, but not all. I don’t expect the Coens to be paragons of humanism, because they’ve never been that, but I do expect a little bit of heart, of which I get none in this movie.

Ten years later, I guess I must be more cynical myself, as this did not bother me as much this time around. There are sacrificial lambs in the real world, and there are monsters who profit from them. Having a wicked sense of humor about those things is not inherently bad. And, I felt the plot worked a little better for me this time, the interconnections seeming a little more clever, even if the cast is going round and round in circles regarding imaginary intelligence and threats that only exist in their own head. That central absurdity felt a bit more useful to me this time as well.

I still don’t really like spending time with these characters, and maybe that’s the more germane similarity between the perspectives of the 44-year-old me and the 35-year-old me. Not only are most of the characters unlikable, but they are pitched at different levels. Frances McDormand, for one, is going over-the-top in a way that feels more consistent with something like O Brother Where Art Thou?, which is more of a fable than a realistic presentation of real people. Brad Pitt and George Clooney are a bit like that as well. Then you have John Malkovich, who is an incredible asshole but is not going over-the-top in the sense that his performance doesn’t have quotation marks around it. He’s giving us a realistic depiction of his fury, rather than a cartoon one. So performers like Malkovich, Jenkins and Tilda Swinton feel like they’re in one movie while McDormand, Pitt and Clooney feel like they’re in another. Either could work, but combined, it creates tonal awkwardness.

Now that this series has reacquainted me with two collaborations between the Coens and George Clooney, and one more still to come, I can’t help but reach the conclusion that these two creative perspectives are not a good match. Or at least, not the way the brothers typically deploy Clooney. Clooney could/should play roles like Gabriel Byrne plays in Miller’s Crossing, not roles where he bugs out his eyes and has lots of tics. He’s misused by the Coens in a way similar to how Tom Hanks was misused in June’s movie, The Ladykillers. I have an incredible amount of fondness for George Clooney, but I think I want him to play GEORGE CLOONEY, or someone with only a small or superficial variation on that. Three of his four collaborations with the Coens are misses for me, though we’ll revisit the third one of those in December, so I’ll withhold a final ruling on that until then. The one movie he’s made with them that I like better, Intolerable Cruelty, is one that most other people don’t like – and that I liked a bit less on my second viewing a few years back.  

But before we get to that heretofore unnamed December movie – which people with a knowledge of the Coens and the chronological nature of my project will have already guessed – I will tackle True Grit in October.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

MIFF: The euthanasia that almost wasn't

My first solo feature at MIFF 2018 was a Finnish film called Euthanizer, but it almost wasn't, or mightn't have been. By "solo" I mean it wasn't paired with another movie in a double feature, and by "almost wasn't" I mean I realized only about 30 hours before showtime that I wasn't in possession of a valid ticket.

See, this is one of two movies this year that both my wife and I are seeing, the other being the previously discussed disappointment Wildlife. Because we are too cheap for the going rates of babysitters, and because it's our Melbourne International Film Festival tradition, we were seeing the film separately. (We both saw The Witch separately in 2015, and I'm sure there have been other examples.)

But when she printed out her little MIFF calendar from the website, which plugs in all the sessions you've purchased on that account, only her instance of Euthanizer (which MIFF calls "The Euthanizer") appeared.

We both thought this was because of shenanigans.

See, she's got two MIFF minipasses attached in some way to her account -- one that she purchased, and the other that I got as my credentials through ReelGood. The reason they were both on her account is that when I went to buy my tickets at work, my computer remembered my wife's login, so I just logged in that way and ordered the tickets.

Which is actually fine to do. The site lets you choose either a minipass you have registered on the account, or to plug in a minipass # a la carte. I can imagine numerous instances where a thing like that might be necessary, like an executive assistant at some distributor managing multiple minipasses through one login.

Nonetheless my wife was not pleased. She thought this would somehow run afoul of MIFF and that some of the passes we had reserved and were rightly entitled to might be invalidated. I didn't know if I believed that logic, but anything that carries the threat of invalidating something you are counting on triggers that little superstitious part of you. What if it was against the rules to use two separate minipasses on one account?

The potential evidence of this appeared to be in that calendar, which showed only her Monday, August 13th session of Euthanizer, and not my Wednesday, August 8th one. Was it possible some kind of internal audit had occurred, and the system choked on the idea that there could be two Euthanizers booked on this account when only one was kosher according to the rules?

Yet we had two different tickets for Euthanizer, I was sure of it. They had been forwarded to me as two separate PDFs. But wait ... they both said Monday, August 13th. Only with different reference numbers.

So in the end the explanation was a simple one: I'd booked the wrong session.

Fortunately, one thing the MIFF website does really well is allow you to exchange tickets, as I've written about in the past. If you can't go to a session for some reason, or decide you'd prefer one over another as the use of your finite number of tickets, or any other reason you can think of, you can return the ticket you've purchased into the pool of available seats and exchange it for a different one. And it costs you only a $1 processing fee.

I realized my mistake midway through the day on Tuesday, and three minutes later I had a ticket for the correct session.

All that trouble and mystery were worth it, as this is a very enjoyable film. I'll give you the quick premise: A man who has a side business euthanizing pets tangles with a bunch of Neo Nazis. Let the good times roll.

It was actually not quite what I was expecting, which was probably more like a Finnish Green Room. In fact, the tangling with the Neo Nazis comes only near the end, as it's preceded by the title character (played by Matti Onnismaa) teaching neglectful pet owners lessons about their poor treatment of animals, and his spontaneous affair with a much younger woman who likes to be choked while they're having sex -- she's one of the nurses in the hospital where his father is approaching the end of his life. I guess I imagined a lot of set pieces where Veijo (that's his name) repurposes various implements used in euthanasia for dispatching the white supremacists. That's not really what it is.

Still, there's a lot to enjoy and a lot of black humor in both the premise and its execution, though ultimately it's more contemplative than funny. Not currently scheduled for release in any English-speaking countries as far as I can see, but keep an eye open for it.

One thing that was nice about the experience of watching Euthanizer was that it was preceded by a short film, which is something they used to do all the time at MIFF but which I hadn't seen personally since 2015. And as they did in 2015, when they matched a short and a feature that both involved people witnessing heinous crimes via eavesdropping in apartment buildings with thin walls, the programmers got a good match for Euthanizer as well. That was a short called Tungrus, which was about an Indian family and their adopted pet rooster, and about how having a pet rooster in a small apartment is an incredible hassle. I probably could have done with seven minutes of Tungrus rather than a full 14, but it had a lot of heart and laughs, and where it goes at the end ... well, I won't spoil anything, but let's just say it's a good match for Euthanizer.

Okay, back to work on Friday with my third and final double feature of this year's festival.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

MIFF: Opening night not on opening night, and Oh Noe you didn't

It's my fifth MIFF but I'm still experiencing firsts.

Never previously had I seen the opening night film at the Melbourne International Film Festival. This year, I did.

I just didn't see it on opening night.

An encore screening of Paul Dano's Wildlife, which kicked off the festival on Thursday night and which my wife saw that night, was my opening film of a Saturday night double feature. I followed it with the latest gasp-worthy film from Gaspar Noe, Climax.

Wildlife actually represented a second first for me, as it was closed captioned for the hearing impaired. I haven't seen a film presented that way at the festival before -- I don't think I've ever seen a film presented that way, period. I'm not sure how many different films they give this treatment during MIFF, but it makes sense that the opening night film would be one of them. It was a bit distracting, of course -- your eye is trained to flick down to the bottom of the screen to glean information from the subtitles, even if you don't need that information -- but I got used to it eventually. I don't think it impacted my enjoyment of the film. Other things impacted my enjoyment of the film -- like, the quality of the film -- but more on that in a minute.

I'm not entirely clear on why this was selected for the hallowed position of festival opener, it being directed by an American and starring two other Americans (Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan). It does, however, also star Ed Oxenbould, a teenage actor who is indeed Australian. Wouldn't necessarily seem like enough to earn this plum status in the festival, but okay.

Oxenbould actually introduced the film, which was kind of cool, and gave me a little sense of that opening night razzmatazz. He was sticking around for a Q&A after the session.

I usually stay for the Q&A, if I have time and I like the film. But I had only 50 minutes between my two screenings, during which I had to grab some dinner. And, I did not like the film.

I do plan to review this, so I'll just say for now that Dano was fighting an uphill battle making a period piece set in 1960 about a family living in Montana. In order to make it distinctive, Dano needed to really do something unusual with that essentially bland material. Uh uh. It's a story of a kid (Oxenbould) trying to navigate the growing estrangement of his parents, but it makes the fatal mistake of focusing almost none of its energies on the kid himself. We know nothing about him. All we know is that he's really concerned about his parents separating and devotes almost all of his available bandwidth to fretting about them. Oh, and to being very nice. Among many unbelievable things in the film, it's hard to imagine why such a nice boy would have been the offspring of two assholes.

It's especially a shame as I love Dano as an actor, as written about at length here. His choices as an actor are much more interesting than his first choice as a director.

I cleansed my palette with some McDonald's (hope my wife isn't reading this) and then it was off to hope I could keep it down in a Gaspar Noe film.

Oh my.

Some context: I love two of the three Noe films I've seen, those being Irreversible and Enter the Void. I have not seen I Stand Alone and I think Love is just meh. Which is especially surprising given that "meh" is not the reaction you expect a Noe film to elicit. (Look, it has real sex and a part where a penis ejaculates at the camera, which was in 3D when people saw it in the theater. So it's still Noe. I still found it meh.)

Climax is in the same ballpark as Irreversible and Enter the Void in terms of quality.

I don't want to say too much about it. I will probably also review this because I just have to write about it. I've got a lot to say. But for those of you just innocently reading my blog who did not want a Climax review, I think it's best to advise you to go in cold.

I will say that the film contains some absolutely incredible dancing, as it is about a bunch of dancers. And by dancers I don't mean ballet or ballroom dancers, but breakdancers? hip hop dancers? I'm not sure the best way to refer to them. Anyway, they are genetic freaks, some of whom can contort their bodies and do crazy things with their arms, as though shoulders are just a suggestion rather than a limiting factor in their movement. And needless to say, probably, since it's Noe, much of this stuff is shot in one take and from a crazy angle.

I will also say that if you don't like Irreversible and Enter the Void, I don't think this is going to be the one to win you over.

Okay. With 40% of my MIFF viewing completed in just over 24 hours, I'm now off until Wednesday.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Time to MIFF the ground running

My fifth Melbourne International Film Festival is underway.

That also means it's almost my five-year anniversary in Australia. I arrived just days after the end of the 2013 MIFF, and have attended each one since, with ever greater vigor.

And there may be no better example of that vigor than 2018, when I am seeing four movies within a space of 26 hours to start things off.

In past years I would usually start with the cinematic equivalent of an amuse bouche, either a foreign film that piqued my interest (White God, 2014), a new film from an acclaimed director (The Lobster, 2015 and The Salesman, 2016) or an independent comedy (Ingrid Goes West, 2017). At the very least, just a single film to start me off -- a soft open, if you will.

Not this year.

In 2018 I went straight for a cult movie, and then topped that off with a second genre movie playing as a midnight movie. (Well, 11:30 p.m.) So, a double feature straight off the bat -- a double feature starting at 9 p.m. with a two-hour movie, at that. Traditionally, that's strictly mid-festival stuff. 

Those two movies were the highly anticipated Nicolas Cage film Mandy, and the French zombie movie The Night Eats the World.

Having watched them, it would have made a lot more sense to stick the hallucinatory Mandy in the midnight spot and program the more conventional zombie movie at 9 p.m. But because Mandy was so anticipated -- if not only for Cage, than as the follow-up to Beyond the Black Rainbow by Panos Cosmatos -- they couldn't throw away a screening on a sparsely attended 11:30 showing. (In fact, the film is kicking off a seven-movie Cage marathon next Friday night at The Astor in St. Kilda, which also includes Raising Arizona, Red Rock West, Vampire's Kiss, The Wicker Man, Drive Angry and Con Air.) Of course, it wasn't an either-or, as these were just two of many films that screened Friday night and their programming had nothing to do with each other.

It was a good genre double feature, though, and a great way to kick off the festival. I was especially worried about seeing a film at 11:30 because I'd inadvertently stayed up too late Thursday night while trying to finish a movie that was too long. But I stocked up on chocolate and caffeine and I made it with much less difficulty than the only other time I've seen an 11:30 movie at MIFF, which was when I saw the grisly horror Baskin two years ago. Interestingly, Mandy was kind of the movie I hoped Baskin would be.

I've got a review of Mandy posting in a few days, and I'll link to it, so I won't go into any detail on that here. I'll just say ... wow. Bonkers.

As for The Night Eats the World, it starts off seeming like it will be a French version of 28 Days Later, and therefore, not very inspired by comparison. It becomes more interesting as it goes along as it tends to be more interior and less about zombie set pieces ... which is all the more reason it didn't seem quite the right fit for a midnight movie. All in all well worth it, though.

Okay, on to my second MIFF double feature tonight, which I will tell you about tomorrow.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Doco double

Ten days ago I'm telling you that it's been more than two years since I've seen a documentary in the movie theater.

Today, I'm telling you about seeing two in the same night.

And even as I've just crossed 5,100 movies seen in my life, I'm still experiencing some firsts.

Never can I remember seeing back-to-back documentaries in the theater. That's not to say it hasn't happened, just I don't remember it. These were not only in the same theater, they were in the exact same screening space. The Sun in Yarraville has about 20 movies playing at any given time on maybe a dozen screens, so there's a lot of space sharing going on. In retrospect it's no surprise they were in there cleaning long before the credits of the first movie were over, as they needed to let the crowd for the second movie -- which included me, though I wasn't aware of it at the time -- file on in.

So yes indeed, I followed up a viewing of Betsy West & Julie Cohen's RBG with a viewing of Kevin Macdonald's Whitney. And the films have more in common than you might think -- more than the women had, anyway.

For example:

1) Both films are named after the person they depict.

2) Both films feature women who had significant events in their lives occur in 1992; for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it was the election of the president who would nominate her to the Supreme Court the following year, and for Whitney Houston, it was the release of her film The Bodyguard, which the film argues sent her off into the pop culture stratosphere.

3) Both films show footage of the subject being parodied on Saturday Night Live.

4) Both films address how the husbands of these powerful women addressed playing second banana in their relationships.

5) The posters of both movies even use a yellow trim.

There might be more in common if I wanted to sit here and dig. But they also shared in common a star rating from me: 4 out of 5 stars. Which makes them both very good, if not quite great. (Though both women were certainly great, at least for a time.)

Although I figured Whitney would have a tough time topping RBG, if only because the subject of the first film is so much more upstanding and easier to praise than the second, I do think I liked Whitney better as a film. Veteran documentarian Kevin Macdonald has a real instinct how to use the form to make us feel, as he relies on kaleidoscopic montages of music and the moving image to conjure both the joy and the reckless horror that was Whitney Houston. West and Cohen don't have quite the track record and hence rely more on the natural wonders of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to sell their material.

Still, a great night of non-fiction at the movies.

I did want to say one thing about RBG, which is that it's almost impossible to talk about it without calling it "RGB" at least once. The reason for that is probably obvious and rooted in science. There's an instinct to think "Roy G Biv" when you are saying it, ROYGBIV of course being the acronym to represent all the colors in the rainbow. Anyway, it isn't only me as I noticed that they also spelled it as "RGB" on the theater's marquee. I thought of notifying someone inside, but decided against being labeled as "that guy."

Besides, they also had it spelled as "Miission Impossible" with consecutive I's in the first word, so maybe the marquee guy was just drunk that night.