And so it was. THE MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL has come to an end and what a fantastic two weeks it has been. I thought that I was putting in a mighty effort taking on 11 films this year (missing only one due to sickness) but throughout the last fortnight I have overheard a lot of people talking about the 20+ films they've seen. Those lucky sods... but balancing a day job alongside the festival proved too difficult to squeeze in any more. But I am satisfied that I chose my schedule well and of the 10 films I reviewed, I only hated one (Remote Control). That's a pretty good strike rate! With more horror & cult themed festivals coming up soon I tried to keep my MIFF intake to lighter and/or more dramatic viewing... and I walk away feeling invigorated and uplifted. And what a better film to end the festival with than I AM BIG BIRD.
A couple of years ago Kevin Clash was featured in a lovely documentary called BEING ELMO. That film warmed my heart and made me feel good about the world. However, at the time I remember thinking that the legendary Caroll Spinney was far more deserving of a retrospective film. And now here it is. I AM BIG BIRD.
There isn't an adult around who wouldn't think of Big Bird fondly, nor is there child who wouldn't recognise his big infectious (and yellow) personality. He was certainly an influential character in my childhood and to this day I rate his feature film FOLLOW THAT BIRD as an all time favourite (definitely in my top 10 fav films of all time). His child-like personality and oversized heart have been an endearing and fundamental component to millions of children, spanning generations. I AM BIG BIRD shows us the man inside the bird (and the Grouch) and gives us a personal insight into his career, his life and his legacy. I watched the entire film with a huge lump in my throat and teetered on tears the entire time. I was so moved by this man and I kept thinking to myself "If only the whole world could see this film. It would be a better place, for sure". The film tells his story from childhood and his early years breaking into the business... through to his relationship with Jim Henson and his influence on all those who watch him. The film features interviews with family, friends and colleagues and it's wonderful seeing familiar faces on screen such as Frank Oz, Bob McGrath, Emilio Delgado and Sonia Manzano (amongst others). Their stories about Caroll are lovely and often hilarious and there isn't a negative word spoken against him. Spinney himself is also a wonderful storyteller and his own reflections are delightful. He recalls how he met his wife and the entire audience erupted into an emotional laughter. This is special stuff and he is a special man. Also fascinating is the technical revelations the film offers. We're taken behind the scenes of Sesame Street and the Jim Henson workshop and we're shown some of the puppeteer's secrets. The inner workings of Big Big are incredible and everyone watching was in awe of what a laborious and arduous task Spinney has undertaken for over 40 years. Only pure love and devotion could keep him working and that's precisely why he's still at it all of these years later at the age of 80. Directors Dave LaMattina and Chad N Walker have put together a superb film that will warm the coldest of hearts. Their narrative structure is perfectly pieced together and their access to archival footage is stunning. With the help of an enthusiastic line-up of Caroll Spinney's closest friends they have told his story with an abundance of sincerity what it will fill every viewer with a fat doze of warm n' fuzzies.
It was back to ACMI this evening for another night of cinema. With my partner in tow we grabbed a bite to eat, drank some coffee and hung around watching people buzzing about Federation Square like angry ants. My girlfriend is currently on crutches and once again the cripple got us the VIP treatment. I have to give HUGE props to the MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL for their amazing treatment of disabled people. They have been super helpful and most generous. They ushered us into the cinema before everyone else and allowed us to choose our seats first. Tonight was the strangest screening I have attended yet. There was a really odd vibe about the audience and being amongst them felt uncomfortable. Tonight's screening was the Melbourne premiere of FELL, which is a local film, and most of the people were comprised of family & friends of the crew (we sat next to the writer's mother). It was a sell-out session and it felt much more like a private screening. Everyone seemed to know each other, people were shouting out over the crowd to one another and there didn't seem to be much consideration for other patrons. People kept leaving their seats during the film, which is a huge distraction and seems to be typical behaviour at premiers.
FELL is a new Australian drama from first time feature director, Kasimir Burgess, starring Matt Nable, Daniel Henshall & Jacqueline McKenzie. It tells the story of a father dealing with the loss of his daughter who was killed by a negligent truck driver near a forestry plantation in the Victorian wilderness. With the driver in prison, the father leaves his suburban life behind and moves to a ramshackle hut in the bush near to where is little girl was killed. He begins working as a lumberjack and when the killer is released from prison the two find themselves working shoulder to shoulder. The killer is unaware of his workmate's identity and the film explores a deep seeded anguish and desire for revenge. Needless to say FELL is a heavy film and demands your attention. It's very much a spiritual film with much of the focus being on the father character and his inner thoughts. He is in a constant state of anguish and contemplation and Matt Nable has dug deep to deliver a powerful and affecting performance. Daniel Henshall is also excellent as the ex-con working to rebuild his life outside of prison. He is such a versatile actor and is generally great in almost everything, although this is his best turn since his debut in SNOWTOWN. Director Kasimir Burgess demonstrates a natural skill and restraint with his haunting tale of anguish and guilt. The Victorian wilderness is used beautifully and becomes a character unto itself. The gorgeous landscapes and hostile terrain provide a surreal setting for these characters to be dealing with their pain. The script by Natasha Pincus may as well have been written by an accomplished writer. You would never know it was a first time feature for her as she dares to focus on moments of reflection, favouring captivating inner-reflections & emptiness over unnecessary dialogue. This is a film that isn't about words, but rather the thoughts and actions of the characters. I am sure FALL will test some people's tolerance. It's a smart film and it is thought provoking... and it requires patience. Some may say that the story meanders, where others will say that it's eloquent and fluent. It resonated with me in a big way. It felt almost musical and transcendent and it's haunting themes cast my mind back to other films like IN THE WINTER DARK and THE HUNTER. It impressed the heck out of me and it deserves your attention.
The marketing campaign surrounding FELL is fantastic too. Following it's MIFF screenings it will also be enjoying a short run at ACMI (with ticket prices just $10) and will be available to stream online for the same price. They want people to see this movie. They have made it affordable in an attempt to help bolster the movie-going culture. You COULD stream it but I recommend you get yourself to ACMI and see it properly. Click HERE to read more about FELL's ACMI screenings.
Unexpectedly tonight was one of the festival highlights for me. All of the right elements were in place I guess. ACMI is a fantastic cinema venue and I always love watching films on their screens. While they're modern cinemas they also feel classic. The screen is the perfect size and just the right distance from the seats. Anyhow, I arrived an hour early and grabbed myself a coffee. It was an unreal coffee too, but you don't need to know that. Twenty minutes before the doors opened I caught up with a fellow blogger/critic and friend John Noonan and his friend. We had a great nerdy conversation about some of the films we've seen and for the most part we seemed in tune with each other. It was great to have some like minded peeps to sit with and we were finally separated from the portly "blogger" stereotype that FilmInk recently described in an amusing blog. We had come to see THE SEARCH FOR WENG WENG.
Director Andrew Leavold has made a name for himself as an authority of obscure cult cinema. He is well known for previously owning one of the most celebrated video stores in Australia, TRASH VIDEO, and has previously directed one other 50 minute film called LESBOS A GO-GO. That was an arcane, rarely seen exploitation film that I actually liked a lot and recently contributed to a retrospective documentary, GONE LESBO GONE. 11 years have passed since his first film and Andrew Leavold has spent much of that time discussing cinema on panels and at various other festivals and events. Oh yeah and he also spent 7 of those years making his latest film THE SEARCH FOR WENG WENG.
Weng Weng was a Filipino movie star during the 1970s who made a series of cheap James Bond knock-off films. At the time he was a sensation and mingled with some of the film industry's elite. He was an odd character and what made him so sought after was his stature. As described in the film, he wasn't a midget. Nor was he a dwarf. He was simply a miniature person. Andrew Leavold fell in love with Weng Weng 20 years ago when he first saw one of his films on VHS. Upon investigation he discovered that Weng Weng had faded into obscurity with little information about him available. And so over the course of 7 years Leavold delved head first into the Filipino film industry and turned over every stone in hopes of solving the mystery of what happened to Weng Weng.
I have followed the production of the project for some time and have watched it go through various fundraising efforts and attempts to get it made. To be honest I had kept my expectations low. I was cautious that it might be a vanity project and expected a lot of self indulgence. I was pleasantly surprised. What Leavold has delivered is an impassioned and heartfelt exploration into the life of an exploited and forgotten star. The film is told as a quest and Leavold puts the viewer in his shoes. We are as keen to unravel the mystery as he is and the story of Weng Weng is completely mesmerising. With loads of classic footage, fantastic interviews and unexpected discoveries the film is a delight. At no point do you know where the film is going and to Leavold's credit, he steers the story perfectly. His relationship with the Philippines in general is a romantic one and his love for the Filipino film industry is infectious. It's important to keep in mind that this is his first feature length film and so he is still cutting his teeth. The product is impressive considering that fact. It's well filmed, extensively researched and humorously told. It's also tragic and heartbreaking and all the while surprising. Who'd 'av thought that Imelda Marcos would have embraced Leavold and his crew so much that we're taken inside the tomb of Ferdinand as his preserved corpse is on display for viewing? Truly bizarre. My only true criticism of the film is that much of it is unnecessarily subtitled. Many of the perfectly distinguishable accents are assisted with subtitles and it is distracting. I kept catching myself reading the words, realising that I could clearly understand what they were saying. A small criticism. The film is wonderful.
And to cap the night off I was greeted to a beautiful view of the cityscape and drove home listening to PET SOUNDS. Yep. It was a great night.
Last night's screening was at the Kino cinemas. This is one of my favourite cinemas and its a great venue to be attending MIFF at. I arrived early, grabbed a bite to eat and watched people arrive. Being a foreign film the crowd to this screening were distinctly different to the others I have attended. Of course this year I have kept my line-up of films genre-orientated and so I have mostly avoided these types of people... film snobs. As the cue formed I joined the line and listened to them talk shit while I waited. They discussed all of the other foreign films and documentaries they had seen and were critical about almost everything.
We are all in line to see the Mongolian film REMOTE CONTROL. The attendance was great and almost filled the cinema. I couldn't help but notice that almost everyone was sipping wine from oversized glasses. I represent a different type of movie-goer and so I unzipped my hoodie to expose my CREEPSHOW 2 t-shirt...ahh, that felt better. hehehe. The lights dimmed and the film began.
The film tells the story of a teenage boy who runs away from his poverty stricken village and spends his time living on the roof of a city apartment building. From there he watches people's lives and creates his own fantasy world by imagining himself inside their windows. The synopsis for the film played well in my mind and I was really looking forward to seeing REMOTE CONTROL.... but I loathed it. In fact I went against my very own ethos by walking out on the film. I didn't leave because it was rat-shit awful, nor was I offended... I was bored out of my brains. I watch films of all types and this website is a testament to that. I gave REMOTE CONTROL 40 minutes of my time, hoping that something would happen. Hoping that there would be the slightest thing to perk my attention. Some good music might have even helped keep my ass in place. Sadly nothing worked for me. It was a surreal experience for me because I hardly ever give up on films the way I did last night. When the sound of restlessness began to resonate in the cinema I made up my mind that I was going to leave. And when I heard another guy actually snoring I decided it was time to go. And so I left.
Robin Williams died today and the world just got a lot less funny. The word "heartbroken" doesn't quite sum up the emotions I am feeling this morning. You would think that a family member had died and in a strange way, one has. If social media is any indication, a greater part of the world is at a loss from his passing and in one way or another we all loved Robin. My personal connection to him goes back to the mid 80s when I was obsessed with re-runs of MORK & MINDY. Of course from there onwards I grew up with his films and my own maturity corresponded with his onscreen persona. In my early teen years I would watch live stand-up films of his... you know, the really outrageous R rated stuff?? My friends and I would quote his routines at school and we would reenact some of his most hilarious lines -- "Take a dump in my tuba?". So many of his films fill my heart with warmth and each of them will now hold a stronger power for me. There are too many to list but my favourites include THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, GOOD MORNING VIETNAM, CADILLAC MAN and THE FISHER KING. And of course no two films better showcased the child at heart than HOOK and TOYS... and how eerie WHAT DREAMS MAY COME is going to be whenever I watch it now. They say that behind every clown is tears. That the makeup conceals sorrow. How true that is of Robin Williams. The man who made us all laugh was forever battling his own demons. A life of substance abuse and a deep seeded depression, masked with his own genius. His death is an absolute shock, but not entirely unexpected. I recall watching him, just recently, on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and he was clearly a man with no self worth. Of course he was always ON and his personality was as colourful as ever, and yet his own self-deprecating remarks concerned me. My laughter turned to worry and it was only his own revelation that he was seeking help that helped wash away what I was feeling. And so this morning as the world learns about his passing, I am not surprised. I am stunned. Speechless and feeling empty. A man who meant so much to the world... who meant so much to me........... is gone. May he rest in peace.
This should have been the 7th MIFF DIARY but nature had other plans and hit me with the mother of all flus. Of course it could have struck me at any other time but no... it waits until there's a film festival that I am committed to and wipes me out. I was supposed to see GERMAN CONCENTRATION CAMPS FACTUAL SURVEY on Saturday but there was no chance of that happening. It's a shame too because that film had my curiosity well and truly perked.
And so skip to Sunday and I pumped my body full of meds and did my best to conceal my ailment. I even sat away from people and did my best to keep myself quarantined. The film was William Friedkin's SORCERER.
Seeing SORCERER on the big screen was an experience. After years of restoration, William Friedkin's 1977 classic has been given new life and is perhaps more powerful than ever. The film tells the story of four men who flee separate parts of the world and find themselves together in a small South American village where they take on a death defying task of driving decades old nitroglycerin thorough the merciless mountainous jungle to a remote oil refinery. The film begins with a series of unrelated vignettes, which give each of the characters a back story. One is a hitman, another is a terrorist, another is a gangster and another is a disgraced business man. Each have fled their home countries and sought asylum in the same poverty stricken village. When the opportunity to make good money arises they volunteer themselves for the task. The film then chronicles their efforts to transport the volatile explosives through some of the most treacherous and forbidding environments in the world. In two unreliable and corroded trucks these four men embark on an adventure that has to be seen to be believed.
SORCERER is breathtaking stuff. William Friedkin is a brilliant filmmaker and choosing a favourite film of his is almost impossible. His films incLude THE FRENCH CONNECTION, THE EXORCIST and CRUISING (amongst others) and having now seen SORCERER twice I can unequivocally say that SORCERER is his masterpiece. In fact it is some of the most incredible filmmaking that I have ever seen. What he has captured on screen is gobsmacking, especially when factoring in its era. At a time when CGI was non-existent and everything on camera was practical, his scenes of peril put you right on the edge of your seat. The set piece of the film is an incredible bridge crossing scene, which is featured on the poster. This is one of the most exciting and spectacular moments I have ever seen in cinema. For this scene alone, SORCERER is amongst the greatest films ever made... the performances are all exceptional and the players all put themselves through the ringer. Roy Scheider has such a wonderful screen presence and his is supported by equally captivating personalities.
The title itself has been the subject of debate since the film's release in 1977. The word SORCERER itself refers to the name inscribed onto one of the trucks. There is no supernatural component to the story and this confusion is probably what caused the film to suffer to much during it's original release. It was also released alongside STAR WARS at a time when sci-fi was ruling the box office. And so "SORCERER" was definitely a very misleading title. However, time has served the film well. The digital restoration of the film is beautiful and the title lends itself well to the story. I cannot pinpoint why I like the title SORCERER or why it suits, but it is definitely a point of discussion. This is one of those films you need to see before you die... so put it on your list.
Tonight I parked in my regular spot at Melbourne Central and slowly made my way down to the Capitol Theatre, several blocks away. I grabbed a bite to eat and took my sweet time. I had 40 minutes to spare and was in no hurry... and then I got to the theatre and there was an ominous sight. A line of people filed out onto the side walk and continued down Swanston Street as far as I could see. My changes of bagging a decent seat were slim to none. The time waiting was easily passed with ordinary folk walking past us, trying to guess what we were lined up for. "It's a cabaret" declared one woman with confidence. "I think there's a book signing" said another... and one guy cracked me up when he said to his girlfriend "Apparently there's a sale on at Myers" (too bad The Capitol Theatre isn't anywhere near Myers). Finally the cue started moving and we made our way inside. I saw the strangest thing on our way in. MIFF had put up signs warning patrons that BOYHOOD contained nudity. It didn't makes sense to me. This is a film festival... nudity is almost expected. LOL. Have we become so prudish that we need to be forewarned? What was even more perplexing was that the film had NO nudity in it whatsoever... as in NONE!! Anyhow, into the theatre.... As predicted I was left with little choice but to sit close to the front. That wasn't a problem, although the Capitol is an unfortunate venue for a 3 hour film with its tiny seats and lack of comfort.
Since 2002 director Richard Linklater has made 8 films. Some of them included SCHOOL OF ROCK, BEFORE SUNSET, BEFORE MIDNIGHT, A SCANNER DARKLY and BERNIE. The man is a machine and he has clearly been busy. What the sneaky bugger didn't let on was the fact that during those 12 years he was also making BOYHOOD. Every 12 months he would reunite all of the actors and film new scenes. The story itself follows one boy as he moves from home to home with his mother and sister and literally grows up before our eyes. We see his elementary years, junior high years, senior high years and the beginning of his college journey. Various influences come and go from his life including alcoholic step fathers, bullies and of course... girls. It is a remarkable film, albeit too long. As just under 3 hours the story would have benefited from a tighter edit. Nevertheless the story flows smoothly and transitions between ages seamlessly. Linklater could have taken a gimmicky direction with titled cards identifying the boy's age but he chose to keep it all fluent and smooth. One age blends into another and we dont need to be told which is which. It's obvious. Watching these people age before our eyes is a very surreal and uplifting experience. Not only do the kids age, but so do the characters around them. Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and a few others all travel the same course of time and their commitment to the film has to be commended. All of the performances are top-notch with the two child leads delivering absolute stellar turns. The sister was played by Linklater's own daughter and she is just lovely. Her role was so prominent that the film really should have been called CHILDHOOD. This film is a one of a kind and knowing how much time, patience and dedication went into it makes it all the more special. The script is really damn good and it must have been an awesome experience writing it over time and adapting it to suit the year. The music, the topical issues and the fashions... all of these details are given a lot of detail. I've always had a lot of time for Richard Linklater. I've always considered him a great filmmaker. His BEFORE trilogy has, in itself, been a labor of love and now that I've seen BOYHOOD I am starting to think that he's prolific. I can't wait to see it again. It's quite exceptional.
The universe worked in a strange and surreal way tonight. I had little time to spare and it was a case of finishing work and driving straight into the city. When I approached the elevator that would take me from the underground car park up to the cinema another guy walked in with me. He was the same guy who rode it down with me last night. It was a weird case of Déjà vu that we both acknowledged before striking up a discussion about the festival. He told me that he had 50 films on his schedule and that he had taken a couple of weeks off work to fit them all in. He does it each year and treats it like a holiday. Wow. Now there's a lover of cinema. And it gets weirder so keep reading... tonight's film was the documentary LIFE ITSELF.
I have been a fan of Roger Ebert for 20 years. In fact there are only 4 people who I can actually pin-point to having a profound impact on my life and have helped shape my love of films in specific ways. Those people are Charles Band, Everett De Roche, Steven Spielberg and Roger Ebert. I spent my late teens living in Canada and I would watch Siskel & Ebert religiously. They were the go-to guys for film criticism. They coined the "thumbs up/thumbs down" form of scoring and pioneered the critic-themed television format. Over the years I have read his books, read almost every review he has ever written and subscribed to the members only section of his website. I adored the man and while I didn't always agree with his perspective, I always respected the hell out of him. This very website was created with Roger in mind. My own writing about film is always with him in mind. When he passed away last year, I was devastated.
LIFE ITSELF is a documentary, which is adapted from his own memoir of the same name. Directed by Steve James (who made one of Roger's favourite docos, HOOP DREAMS) the film builds itself around Roger's final months during his time in and out of hospital as he recovers from numerous surgeries and pushes himself through rehabilitation. From there the film scrolls back through time to his childhood and early adulthood and travels along his career right through his relationships with Gene Siskel, Martin Scorsese and a range of other peers, relatives and friends. This is a remarkable film.
While on the surface LIFE ITSELF seems like a typical and manipulative documentary intended to tug at our heartstrings and boy does it achieve that. The journey is emotional and anyone who doesn't tear up while watching it ought to be poked with a stick (just to make sure they're alive)... and then the film breaks away from the convention and does the impossible by exposing it's subject in a negative light. During the height of his fame Roger Ebert was not a nice person. HIs ego and his addiction to alcohol made him a horribly unpleasant person to work with. This is shown through interviews and archival footage that needs to be seen to be believed. And what is so astonishing to me about this film is that regardless of whatever light Roger is portrayed in, he is entirely loveable at the same time. He was a man of passion and as the film reveals, he was a man of conviction and a strong sense of social justice. When agreeing to be a part of the film he insisted that it was an honest depiction of his life. Nothing was sacred and everything from his personal demons to his gut wrenching illness was fair game. Director Steve James has presented Roger's story in a most sincere and respectful way and the information, footage and stories speak for themselves.
I was affected by LIFE ITSELF. It struck me on a deeply emotional level. The lump in my throat would not subside and my tears wrestled with my eye lids. What moved me most of all was that the film also serves as a fitting tribute to Gene Siskel, who co-hosted the various incarnations of SISKEL & EBERT for over 20 years. Their relationship was complicated and volatile and yet through it all, they shared a deeply seeded love for each other. This is painfully clear in this documentary and Gene's life, while not chronicled, is also celebrated. Two amazing film critics - gone. LIFE ITSELF is an exceptional film and thus far, the best of the festival in my eyes.
When the film faded to black, the credits rolled and the houselights came up I made a B-line to the car park. I was sorely wanting to get home, drink tea and spend the rest of the night with my family. When I got into the elevator the doors closed and a moment later the doors opened again before reaching the car park... and who the fuck should get in? The same guy from earlier. What the hell? Are our paths predestined to cross? Is the universe saying something? I don't believe in that shit but ya never know... and so I handed him my business card and invited him to visit FakeShemp. If you're reading this mate, it was oddly nice to meet you. Lets see if our paths cross again before the festival is up.
Night number 3 for me at the Melbourne International Film Festival proved to be a little more colourful than the previous nights. Nothing out of the ordinary actually happened but observing other people sure did cured the pre-film boredom. I arrived a little early and passed the time drinking dish water (technically you could call it coffee). Film festival crowds always amuse me. So many pretentious and wanky types. Eavesdropping on some of their conversations always cracks me up. Their conversations are usually about what documentaries they've seen and tonight I overheard two people complaining about Nicholas Cage being in a MIFF film and that his presence was a sell out. Um... err, then why were they attending a Nicholas Cage film then?
Once inside the cinema my amusement was sustained. There must have been something wrong with the step beside my seat because five people tripped up it. After watching three people stumble I looked over, assuming it was slippery or something... but nope (just a step). And then from out of nowhere came the smell of mandarines. Across the isle from me was a man with an entire bag of them. The prick could have shared some... and then a couple sit beside me. They were the couple from hell. The guy had an American accent and the only reason I mention this fact is on the off-chance he happens to read this blog (mate, you're a douche!). While the pre-film advertisements were playing they were talking amongst themselves (loud enough to have been addressing the whole cinema). The guy says "so. lets see what this film festival thing is all about". So clearly they were newbies to the whole thing, which was cool. And then the film began and they kept talking... and talking...... and talking. Seriously, they would not shut up. It took all of my might to ignore them when my instinct was more along the lines of belting the shit out of them. Luckily for me they up and left when there was a particularly violent moment in the film. Awww, the poor darlings couldn't hack it. And then there was the film... yes, lets focus on the film.
JOE was my least anticipated film at the festival. It was the last one I chose on my schedule and it was more of a filler than anything else. It is a strange film to have on the festival line-up because it's not exactly new and it has already been released to DVD in the US. Nevertheless I had heard good things and so I was more than happy to give it a go. I am really glad I gave it the time. This is a remarkable film. It tells the story of Joe (derr) an ex-con who has a good heart and bad luck. Wanting only to stick to his work and fuck prostitutes he has an uncanny knack for attracting trouble. A 15 year old boy comes into his life, wanting work, and the two develop and unlikely bond. Trouble is chasing both of these two characters and the film explores their relationship in a powerful and compelling way. I sure as hell wasn't expecting JOE to be as confronting as it was and it doesn't muck around. My expectation was something more in line with the film MUD but what I got was closer to the darker dramas of SLING BLADE and WINTER'S BONE. Nicholas Cage certainly has become something of a Hollywood joke in recent years but people often forget that he's still a remarkable actor. He's still the guy who made LEAVING LAS VEGAS and WILD AT HEART and he can still deliver the goods. With his excellent performance in FROZEN GROUND recently, he has managed two amazing films back to back. JOE is the best thing he's done in years. Director David Gordon Green has captured the Southern American poverty-life skilfully. All of the characters feel as though they could be locals, plucked from the streets and plonked into the film. in fact the director is known to do that in his films. The script is wonderful too with all of the key characters really well explored. Tye Sheridan is stunning as the 15 year old kid with a world full of burden on his shoulders (coincidentally he also starred in MUD) and possibly the most incredible performance of the film belongs to Gary Poulter who plays the boy's drunken and abusive father. His story is heartbreaking. Having never acted before in his life, he was discovered homeless on the streets of Austin and cast in the movie. His performance is award worthy and tragically he later died on the same streets he was discovered, only weeks after the film wrapped. There is something beautiful knowing that his one brush with fame was something as powerful and mesmerising as JOE. It's a brilliant film that I cannot wait to see again.
Today was my second day at the Melbourne International Film Festival and there wasn't much fanfare this time. No mingling of any kind... it was simply a case of showing up, cuing in line and watching. The film was PING PONG SUMMER and it was my second most anticipated movie of the festival.
Ok yep. Good movie! Set in 1985 the story follows a 13 year old boy as he spends his summer with his family at Holiday City in Maryland. With little else to do he becomes friends with another kid and together they fall victim to the town's two bullies. As with all movies of this type the formula demands that they get even and that justice is served (literally). With a mutual interest in ping-pong our underdog agrees to a table-tennis showdown at a local arcade and he seeks guidance from the town's local "weirdo" (Susan Sarandon) who just so happens to be a former ping-pong champion.
By now you would be right in thinking that it sounds totally cheesy. Ah huh, this film has lovingly stacked the cheese on high and doesn't apologise for it. Director Michael Tully has directed this film with an abundance of love and nostalgia. You can't help but feel that his own childhood is put on the screen for all of us to see... and for many of us, our own childhoods are also reflected. With massive boom boxes, cassette tapes and break-dancing the film is unashamedly 80's and almost every scene has something wistful and sentimental for us to smile & laugh about. The cast is great and it was particularly wonderful to see Lea Thompson as the daggy mother. It's perfect casting and filmies might have cast their minds back to her own 80s films like THE WILD LIFE or ALL THE RIGHT MOVES...
The best way to describe the tone of the film would be to combine THE WAY WAY BACK with NAPOLEON DYNAMITE. With the heartfelt coming of age drama of THE WAY WAY BACK and the odd quirkiness of NAPOLEON DYNAMITE this new comedy has achieve precisely what it set out to.... it wants you to laugh at the fashion. It wants you to laugh at the technology and it definitely wants you to laugh at the language. The opening scene had my attention from the get go but with a an already pounding headache set-in it took me longer than most to click with the story. Add to that the fact that an older guy sitting next to me was laughing HYSTERICALLY as every damn frame (even the dramatic stuff). I guess he reeeally related to it. Ha.
The only negatives I can draw from PING PONG SUMMER is that it relied too heavily on close up shots and that it would have benefited from more well known songs of the time. I guess for a low budget independent film the music licensing would be problematic... as for the close up photography, well I figured it was a simple way to conceal the modern surroundings. That made sense for the exterior shots but didn't make a lot of sense for the interiors... i suppose director Michael Tully probably had specific films in mind that he was trying to emulate. But regardless of these nit-picky qualms PING PONG SUMMER won me over and I suspect that it will be a real grower and I can't wait to watch it again.
It seems like only a few months ago that I was sitting in a crowded cinema watching the world premier of Mark Hartley's reimagining of PATRICK at the Melbourne International Film Festival... and now here I am again, one year later, watching the world premier of his latest film. Tonight was night 3 of the festival (my first of many nights) and arguably one of the most anticipated screenings. The film was ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS.
My partner and I arrived earlier than most, which allowed us time to drink coffee and watch people file into the foyer. There were MIFF staff everywhere and the event looked regimentally organised. A young woman approached us and said that we would be escorted into the cinema with the VIPs ahead of everyone else. I thought to myself "wow, FakeShemp makin' good" and then realised that it was actually my partner's crutch that afforded us this opportunity. Ah huh... and so we were ushered into the cinema along with many of the production people and snagged ourselves a good seat and watched the rest of the plebs (ie people) walk in. Lots of people I knew... many of whom since last year.
6:30 arrived and Mark Hartley and his producer were introduced to offer their thanks and briefly discuss the film. You don't see many film presentations that begin with Chuck Norris jokes but that's exactly what we got. Off to a good start. The cinema lights dimmed and the film began. I have been excited about ELECTRIC BOOGALOO for a long time and have been anticipating it since it was announced several years ago. As a child of the 80s and 90s much of my cinematic education came from the Cannon films. With classic B titles like ENTER THE NINJA, THE DELTA FORCE and FIREWALKER amongst the countless gems that informed my love of alternative cinema I was as giddy as a school boy to learn more.
Now how do I describe my reaction to this new documentary. Well I did not walk away from it with the same euphoric feeling that I was hoping for. Instead I felt depressed... gutted even. Perhaps it was because it felt like my childhood was being pissed upon... yeah that's exactly what it was. Tonight the illusion was shattered and I didn't like what I was hearing. Of course I am not stupid and I know enough of the Cannon story to know what type of production company they were and I know the resentments and hostilities they received from much of Hollywood throughout the years. My problem with the film, however, was that it focused on the negative. It more or less made fun of Cannon and neglected what made them so wonderful. All of the featured guests told negative stories and ridiculed the company. There weren't many positive reflections and the nature of the doco became cynical and dismissive. The featured guests included the likes of Tobe Hooper, Richard Chamberlain, Elliot Gould and Alex Winter (amongst a heap of others) and they told fantastic stories. A particular highlight was Cannon's former music supervisor Richard Kraft who provided enough charisma and character to earn himself the most screen time.
FAKESHEMP.NET has a devoted love of Albert Pyun & his films and I was disappointed that his input into Cannon's story was mostly ignored. To my knowledge he made more films for Cannon than any other director and several of his productions are some of the company's best stories. His ill-fated SPIDERMAN film, CAPTAIN AMERICA and his involvement with MASTER OF THE UNIVERSE 2 - all ignored. The doco briefly covered the failure of MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE 2 but left out the whole story of Albert re-working the script and utilising the set designs and costumes to quickly make CYBORG. This is a huge part of the Cannon story with his quick thinking and ingenuity saving the company from further financial disaster. And then there was his sequel to ALIEN FROM LA which was recut and crudely spliced together with Rusty Lemorande's JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH. There's a big story in there that was only brushed upon. Perhaps all of this was omitted for creative reasons in order to speed the film along... but I felt that this made much of ELECTRIC BOOGALOO feel disjointed and clunky. Too many wonderful Cannon films were left out. There was too much focus on the cruddier titles and no discussion about the great ones.
I wonder whether or not BOOGALOO would have taken a different direction had it included some of Cannons more respected films. There are plenty that were critically successful and others that have remained relevant. Titles like: POWERQQATSI, BLOODSPORT, KICKBOXER, COBRA, OVER THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE, HANNA'S WAR, THE COMPANY OF WOLVES, DUET FOR ONE, FOOR FOR LOVE, SURRENDER, SHY PEOPLE, HAUNTED SUMMER and THE FOURTH WAR.
I love Mark Hartley. He's a great filmmaker and a lovely guy. But I can't help but feel that his documentary filmmaking is running out of steam. I wanted to love ELECTRIC BOOGALOO but it left me empty. Of course I am probably blinded by my love for this particular era of cinema. I know that I'm not the only one who loves these films and even after the film, during the Q&A Paul Harris (who hosted this part of the night) expressed that he felt disheartened by what he saw and suggested that the Cannon films deserve more celebration. I agree. He also pointed out that much of Hollywood's genre output these days owes gratitude to Cannon Films. Perhaps Hartley told an honest story... I'm just not sure I am ready to accept it. I wanted ELECTRIC BOOGALOO to be a celebration, not a mourning.
With all of those criticisms aside, I can still say that it was bloody marvellous to see so many of these past stars, directors and writers up on the screen again. I was also reminded of movies I had forgotten about and will now seek and find. The opening credit sequence was wonderful, albeit too short. And to lift my spirits at the very end I was shocked and excited to see my name listed in the end credits. I was NOT expecting that but because I had helped source some Albert Pyun material for the film they felt that it deserved a mention. That was very kind of them and I am chuffed.