Sunday, August 26, 2007

I Got Goosed.

I once spent about 18 months watching every Australian film I could get my hands on, raiding video libraries, university collections, the AFI, and so on. My memory of most of the films has gone the same way as my memory of why I did it exactly, but I think I recall determining that since the number of films actually made in Australia during the period in question was relatively low, it would actually be possible to see every single Aussie film and therefore be some kind of achievable goal that sounds quite interesting, as opposed to most of my life intentions which are as impossible as they are boring. I should note that the period in question was something like 1978-1995 or something. I can't remember why I had such specific dates - I think I'd made a list of all films made in those years and there weren't that many. Whatevs.

My laboriously constructed point is that I think I'm qualified - nay, obliged - to judge the greatest moment in Australian film history. And that moment is now available to you via the magic (by which I mean technology) of youtube.

Now, some might argue that what we're watching here is just two minutes of a guy riding a motorbike, and that devoting two minutes of a 93 minute film to such dull, indistinguishable shots is what we in the biz call "padding to ensure we achieve a feature-length running time". And you're probably also thinking that "Mad" Max Rockatansky did a lot more interesting things in the inaugural installment of his adventures than just cruise the highways enjoying the scenery.

What you might not realise is that this isn't Mad Max - it's his sidekick, the most awesomest sidekick in militant-buddy-movie history. It's Goose! And when you hear his name early in the film, you just know Max's sidekick Goose is cooked! I think they even use that awful line in the film somewhere, but that could be just wishful thinking. Either way, I'm sure it's no accident that Tom Cruise's doomed sidekick buddy in militant-buddy-movie Top Gun is also named Goose. Some might argue that that film was a superior exercise in homosocial eroticism conveyed through the use of excessive high-fiving and long sequences devoted to men in control of their cockpits, but did Top Gun's Goose get a whole two minutes of uninterrupted flying time? I think not.

When I heard that the real, original Goose himself would be appearing the latest MTC blockbuster, The Glass Soldier, you can imagine how I was leaping up on my chair at work spilling my chai latte and upsetting the work experience students with my fist-pumping chant of "BISLEY! BISLEY!". I knew that Steve Bisley would bring some of his Goosey brilliance to the show, especially since it was a war-time drama (which always promises plenty of uniforms, guns and overacting - it might as well have BEEN Mad Max!)

And was I let down? Hell no! Sure, the first half is pretty slow going and I spent a fair bit of it wondering why The Bis wasn't being utilised to his full potential. We had some Aussie guy in the trenches of WWI France pining for his love over in London before getting blinded by a Nazi salvo. At some point Goose turns up as one of his superiors and gives a rousing speech, but it's not the Goose I know and love. Blind guy goes back to Melbourne and meets up with his girlfriend and is a bit stressed out by his shell-shocked buddy who shot another guy in the head, and I'm sitting here wondering why Steve-o is even billed since he would be taking all this minor drama and really doing something with it, perhaps on a motorbike.

I'll admit, though, that even in these early bits where Bisley is relegated to the background, he more than shines through. In one scene blind guy is reunited with his girlfriend in a pub, and I'm sure it's an important moment, but there was Steve dressed in a sailor's outfit in the shadows camping it up with a little dance he obviously improvised, a shoulder-shimmy and shuffle routine that just commanded your attention. When somebody stormed off the stage (again, I was too spellbound by Bisley's dance to notice what was going on) Goose gave them a wrist-flick and a don't-go-there-girlfriend head move, and I saw just how a minor part can be imbued with genius by a great actor.

Later in the play Bisley took on the part of the older version of the shell-shocked dude, and as an abusive husband, traumatised veteran and alcoholic war machine, he gave the performance of the night. It was a little disappointing that he (along with his excellent older co-stars Robert Menzies and Kerry Armstrong) were kept in the wings for so long, since they really turned the piece into the kind of drama worthy of the Arts Centre's Playhouse. I spent most of the night enjoying the pleasant piece, but not really caring that much for the goings-on, at least until the heavyweights took centre stage.

Then again, there was a bit where someone told a guy who'd lost a leg in the war the "pull the other one!" and even the amputee had to laugh. When I arrived home after the show, I remembered that moment and laughed myself since it was pretty funny. That's the show, really - not the most amazing thing to sit through, but full of bits you'll relive fondly for a few hours afterwards.

Another wartime number I sat through recently was Plague at The Stork Hotel. It's an adaptation of Albert Camus' novel, and for me it was actually better than the book. I like Camus' stuff, but Plague always felt pretty heavy-handed to me. It just doesn't speak to me that much. I much prefer ennui-ridden loners shooting random dudes on beaches. Doctors observing a town's response to a bubonic plague epidemic is probably too much like my real life to actually elicit much of a response.

Plague's Adrian Mulraney takes on every part in this adaptation and makes it sparkle, though. He's a subtle performer, and he doesn't go for cheap dramatics or drive home the point of the piece. He distils the essence of the novel and adds a lively, unexpected level of nuance to the sometimes flat characters.

I think the season ended today and if you missed out, you could always read the book.

I've heard rumours that The Stork might be changing hands soon and could be turned into a block of apartments. I hope that isn't the case since Sunday afternoons at The Stork watching damn fine literature performed by top shelf actors has lately become one of my favourite ways to relax. Inner city apartment developments - what a plague. And what would Camus do?

I've seen lots of other shows lately and haven't mentioned them here. Angus Cerini's Chapters from the Pandemic was a head-messer-up-wither, and Talya Chalef's intruiging In Other Words introduced me to the fantastic Abbotsford Convent Basement. The return of Phantom of the Opera proved more enjoyable than I expected.

And Ranters Theatre's Holiday was one of the best pieces of theatre I've seen in ages. Again, it's over now, but here's a little hint: if you missed it, you will get a chance to see it again. Stay tuned for details.

In the meantime, here's a great new video from Icelandic band Múm. It's very unnerving.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Why I Love the Internet

I never truly realised that a part of me has long been on a quest to find THE most annoying thing pop culture has ever flung at us like an angry zoo chimp slinging faeces at an innocent onlooker.

I think I may have found it.

Ladies and gentlemen, introduce your aural cavities to the smooth flow of...

Rap Cat.

The video I posted above doesn't really include any visuals, since I wanted you to taste the "pure" experience of Rap Cat's distinctive meow-based rapping. Below you can watch an actual video of the song featuring the $2 shop hand puppet that is Rap Cat along with a bunch of people who are essentially giving up on any possible future which might involve anything resembling a paid job in the entertainment industry.

As wikipedia puts it, "Rap Cat's rapping abilities seem to be limited to meowing rhythmically".

What interests me most is the dazzling genius of the idea. What most myspace pages are to your eyes, this is to your ears. It's the combination of things that are always mistakes on their own.

Firstly, any human meowing is always ridiculous.

Secondly, any non-human rapping is also ridiculous.

Thirdly, any person appearing in the same frame as a hand puppet is definitely ridiculous.

And finally, they seem to have gone out of their way to find a hand puppet that doesn't actually resemble any kind of cat I've ever seen.

Rap Cat.

I think I love you.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Fake Plastic Arms

I just noticed that one of the greatest kung fu classics of all time is on tonight on SBS and can heartily recommend it to anyone able to stay up past midnight.

It's called One-Armed Boxer versus the Master of the Flying Guillotine - well, it's got lots of names but that's the one I know it by.

And it's just great.

And by great I mean pretty good and worth a watch, but not worth beheading yourself over if you miss it.

The master at the centre of these shenanigans is a crusty old villain with cotton-wool beard and eyebrows, which also prove his main acting talent. He's blind, so it's up to those constantly waggling eyebrows to convey the complete plausibility of his superhuman senses, which allow him to kill scores of nameless extras despite his visual impairment. His main weapon of choice, the flying guillotine, is a sort of beekeeper's hat on the end of a chain, but if you're the lucky one at the end of his hoop-toss the concealed razors inside the thing will soon have you running around with your shirt pulled up over your head pretending to have been decapitated.

You see, what really distinguishes this film from the hundreds of its ilk is this dedication to truly laughable prosthetic effects in all their frugal crapitude. It's not enough to indicate the master's blindness by hammy squinting or sell us on a bloody beheading by the shirt-over-the-head caper - this film also serves up a one-armed hero who plainly has a spare limb tucked behind his back (or in front for shots from behind) as well as another villain (there are plenty) whose powers of yoga (!) allow him to extend his arms Inspector Gadget-style while fighting. If the idea of a tall Indian dude whacking a couple of fake hands on poles at a little guy pretending to have one arm gets you all excited, this is one film you cannot miss.

You can if you want though.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Quick Reminder

Even I'm tired of hearing myself spruik The Jammed, but I'm pleased to see that I'm not alone. David and Margaret each gave it fours stars on At The Movies last night, David saying "it deserves to be seen by everybody."

I convinced The Age's Jim Schembri to see the film earlier this week and his review today has given it four and a half stars, calling it the Australian film of 2007. He's also put up a piece online.

"The Jammed," he writes, "is one of those films you just can't get out of your head. I've seen it twice and it still gives me chills. If another film comes along this year that is as powerful, as compelling, as skillfully made as this we'll be doing very well indeed.
And if that film also happens to be Australian - or more accurately, as Australian - as The Jammed, it'll be nothing short of miraculous."

Anyway, it opens tonight for a two week run at Cinema Nova. Tonight's screening will included a Q&A with writer/director Dee McLachlan as well as castmembers Saskia Burmeister and Veronica Sywak.

There's also a special event on Saturday at 11am called 'Auditions—Rehearsal—Performance'. It focuses on the unique form of actor preparation developed for the film and sounds like a kind of workshop with the cast and crew exploring the tools of character creation. Actor types would be well advised to attend, especially if the astonishing performances by some castmembers in the film are anything to go by (seriously, people I'd be hugely underwhelmed by in the past deliver totally unexpected performances here).

Actually now that I think of it, one of the best roles in the film is played by Adriano Cortese (pictured above with Burmeister). Cortese is the director of one of THE best theatre pieces on at the moment, Holiday by Ranters Theatre. I'll get around to posting a review of that some time soon. Fantastic show.

Geez,I'm all about the praise right now, aint I?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

MIFF report 8: End of Story

OK, so I'm a little late in posting my final MIFF bit but the Closing Night party which I hadn't meant to attend but ended up going to at 1am wearing a drawn on moustache along with a gaggle of odd friends took a little wind out of my sails, and I was worried I wouldn't be able to write long, rambling sentences for some time. Clearly, a concern I needn't have had. So I'll quickly wrap up the few films I haven't discussed yet:


After the Wedding was the last film I saw for the festival, and I quite enjoyed it. A Danish post-dogme drama, it stars Mads Mikkelsen who is fast becoming one of my favourite actors. Here's a quick run-down of the plot.

OMG I'm totally in India running an orphanage (probably going to heaven for this) WAIT *ring ring*

Hi Mads it's your boss you have to go back to Denmark.


No you have to go

No I said DENMARK SUX perhaps you didn't hear me properly and also you were much older in the movie

Yes but there are no pics of me on the internet


SO you have to go because a dude wants to give us heaps of dollars or maybe kroner I guess for the orphanage

DAMN ok brb

you are my man now dog!

great can I have my money

all in good time my dear chap all in good time


hey also come to my daughters wedding

DOUBLE DAMN but also ok

*wedding music* I am the rich guy's daughter lol

jolly good I'm off WAIT A-




heeey how you doing

i see you've met my wife


*cut forward through lots of drama*

MADS: well that was a lot of drama that just happened right there just then, it was very exciting

WIFE: yeah full on, also I look a bit like Princess Mary in this movie

MADS: awesome

WIFE: yes but really we probably couldn't fit any more drama into the film


omg nobody saw that coming, well they did but it was still pretty full on and riveting. look I'm sweating (a bit)

I give it a sizeable number of stars out of a rating system based on a slightly larger number of stars


Continuing my Danish theme, I saw this kids' flick from Denmark earlier in the day. It's pretty decent and has some great CGI effects - think crackling electricity bolts and crazy shadow creatures and stuff - and if you've got kids it should give the little Potter-heads the quick fix they're probably slavering for right now. It's definitely a kids number though - hardly even a "family film" since the plotting is a bit lame and full of holes and doesn't make a helluva lot of sense.

In the 1890s some necromancer was killed by a secret brotherhood called The Lodge for Combating Evil (that was actually pretty funny in the film) and now obviously all the Lodge members are dead. Cut to today where a little girl is being annoyed by her twerp brother who quick-smart gets possessed by one of the old Lodge members. Turns out the evil necromancer is back and living on a nearby island and we badly need a bunch of perky brats to sort things out pronto. Our heroine and her possessed brother join up with another local kid and the small country town's resident paranormal investigator (I know country Denmark and to be honest, that's not as far fetched as it sounds).

Then it's off to the island and lots of hijinx and whatnot involving an animated killer scarecrow and souls in jars and the evil necromancer who now has wisely added "bald and glowing eyed" to his already impressive job title.

As the program notes suggested, the director clearly knows his Spielberg, right down to the I-can't-believe-it's-not-John-Williams soundtrack. There are enough quirky flourishes to maintain interest - having one main character as a possessed kid is pretty weird - but it doesn't quite have the grandeur it should, or quite enough plot elements adding up to something truly epic and original. Like I said, though, a fun flick for kids - though the aforementioned scarecrow was pretty scary, and had at least one tyke in front of me immediately running from his seat to mum's lap where he sat covering his eyes for a few minutes.


This is a really important film of its era, but sometimes that isn't enough. For me, it was the most boring film of the festival and while I know it's important, so was the state of my rear after two and a half weeks of films and I couldn't handle what this flick was doing to it.

The 60s documentary takes as its subject the phenomenon of people who simply disappear from society for whatever reason. It starts with the case of a guy who vanished and I quickly found I could relate as my interest, patience and caring soon went AWOL too. The film tracks various people who knew him, soliciting their opinions as to why he'd do it, and continues in this vein for a few hours. Then it gets bogged down with his fiance and her sister who start arguing about whether or not he'd gone to the sister's place a few times. This argument continues for at least twenty minutes, I swear. Now, I gradually became aware that this "documentary" was in fact mostly fictional, since everything I'd ever read or heard about it told me so, and so I was wondering why exactly I was being subjected to this looooooong, pointless and circular argument. I swear to you, it went nowhere, and didn't even go there in an interesting way. It was like two people saying "you did" followed by "no I didn't" on repeat for twenty minutes. No wait, not like that. IT WAS THAT. With tiny, minor variations.


The set gets pulled back and he explains that this is all just fiction.

I almost expected him to wink at the camera and put one finger to his lips in a "shhhh" gesture as the film froze and faded to black.

I wish.

Nope, instead we return to the drama where the actors go out on the street and continue THE SAME ARGUMENT for another ten minutes.

Unlike the film, however, I won't keep you here any longer.


MIFF was the best I've seen in years. Congrats to all involved. I had a hearty good time.

And I just realised I wrote more than 10,000 words on this here blog during the fest.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

MIFF report 7 - More than MIFF

What's all this malarkey about text shrinking in my posts? I have no idea. It doesn't happen on any of the computers I'm using. Maybe it's a Firefox thing or a Mac issue or whatever. I don't get this stuff.


About a year ago I was in England and on my last day overseas before flying home I decided to visit Stonehenge, because I hadn’t been there and apparently the Big Rock craze which swept the country some time ago left some mighty monoliths worth a look-see. Enlisting the two friends I had remaining in the country, we hired a car and drove through the countryside to see the chunky fellas. After our sight-seeing was done, we decided to visit nearby Avesbury, but got lost due to a strange number of army tanks and armoured personnel carriers which were buzzing all over the area and realised we had no idea where Avesbury was (or why there was a full scale military operation seemingly going on around us). On a whim, we decided to drive to the lovely seaside town of Brighton instead.

The problem with this brilliant plan was that we had no maps, no money and none of us had ever been to Brighton, which was clearly a long way away. On the bright side, we had a small compass embedded in the wristband of our driver and the worldly knowledge that Brighton is along the southern coast of England. So we figured if we just drove south and then followed the coastline, we’d be there in a jiffy.

Five or six hours later we arrived in what might be charitably termed a state of blubbering droolitude. A nice meal and some cavorting along the rocky beach next to the famous Brighton Pier helped soothed the nerves, and when the sun had set we drove back from Brighton to London, and collapsed in preparation for the flight the next day (the hire car was towed while we slept – true story).

And so I have to admit that the only reason I went along to the UK film London to Brighton was to relive that exhausted but somehow jubilant commute in reverse. It was the end of my journey, after all, and that always carries some kind of melancholy charge.

I didn’t realise that the reverse trip, in this film, would turn out to be a one-way ride with terror the final destination! I know, I know, I’ve always secretly hoped to be the copywriter for shitty B-grade flicks.

London to Brighton is a puerile, tawdry monster of a piece crafted with impeccable skill. A prostitute is ordered by her pimp to secure the services of an 11-year-old to satisfy the sick desires of a wealthy businessman, and after finding a sassy pre-teen the deal gets bloody and she soon finds herself on the run with the kid, hotfooting it to Brighton. Meanwhile, the shotgun-toting pimp along with the businessman’s psycho son are hunting the two down to exact bloody vengeance. It’s all much more tasteful than it sounds.

No, wait.

It’s jaw-clenching, squirm-in-your-seat fare, and it’s certainly well-executed, but the whole paedophilia angle had me horrified from at least the first ten minutes onwards. My point here follows on from my last review: at what point does playing on the real terrors which exist in society become just another excuse for entertainment, giving us a thrill of abjection that is finally satisfied by the demands of your typical filmic narrative? Films demand resolution, after all, and while I exited London to Brighton aware that equally monstrous stuff is going on all the time, the distance I felt from the fictional characters I was offered, as well as the seedy settings they inhabited, meant that I didn’t feel I’d witnessed something that would change my world. And given the subject matter, it should have.


Tonight I headed along to the opening of Malthouse Theatre’s Criminology. Like London to Brighton, it deals with some scary stuff, but unlike that film it doesn’t just explore the things we normally ignore, but actually engages with a true case of horror. In 1997, a Canberra law student drugged her boyfriend and injected him with enough heroin to kill him, intending to end her own life afterwards. All of this occurred after a party at which most of the guests knew her mission.

Criminology doesn’t re-enact the case but instead re-imagines it, drawing on the talents of playwrights Tom Wright and Lally Katz to get into the minds not of the woman in question but of anyone who could commit such an act. It’s a bizarre mixture of social realism and warped fabulism. I’m still thinking about it and so I won’t write a proper review here – I’ll be writing plenty about it elsewhere. It’s definitely something worth checking out, however, especially if you had any kind of interaction with culture in the late 90s, since the soundtrack, cultural references, clothing and even set design are eerily evocative of that period which, even though it’s only a decade gone, sometimes seem a lifetime past.

And of course if frequent explicit sex, nudity, heavy drug use and strobe lighting is your thing, they’ll be throwing you a bone as well.


I saw a preview of this film early this week. 10am on a Tuesday. I haven’t looked at Melbourne the same way since.

It’s having a short release from August 16 at Cinema Nova, though I think it should be receiving a much bigger release.

The big distributors didn’t want to touch it. It didn’t make it into MIFF, though it sold out at the Sydney Film Festival.

It’s a drama about the slave trafficking industry in Melbourne.

It’s based on real testimonials and court transcripts. It’s also an exquisitely crafted thriller.

There are flaws, sure, but compared to the usual Aussie output – from gangland dramas to giant-croc horrors to outback romances – it’s in a league of its own. It’s been years, easily, since an Australian film has moved me to such teary-eyed anger.

I think you should see it.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

MIFF report 6 - Movies You Either Won't Have a Chance or Shouldn't Bother Seeing


Men at Work
is the definitive film about four middle-aged Iranian dudes trying to push a rock off a cliff. I’ve always felt the whole Guys Pushing Rocks Off Cliffs sub-genre has been under-represented by the Melbourne Film Festival, so the fact that this film was included was a bonus, but it’s actually better than it sounds.

A car-load of mostly bearded geezers are on their way home from a ski trip and notice a ten foot tall stone pillar sticking out of a bend in the road and ready to topple down into the lake below, and here’s where the audience is divided. I did a random sample survey of my male friends after the film, and most agreed that it’s a natural human instinct to give the thing a push. If you’re the sort who’d keep on driving, skip to the next review because there’s not much else in this film for you. For everyone else, though, you’ll be subtly engrossed by the escalating drama of this quartet as their initially whimsical attempts to knock the thing over become a mildly obsessed quest to finish what they’ve begun, as tools are secured, reinforcements called in and relationships are put to the test.

It’s a deliberately underplayed film that is more concerned with character than situation, and as various strangers, partners and work colleagues are drawn into the struggle we gain a pretty compelling portrait of masculinity and its shortcomings. After one of the guys is injured the crew drop the rock-toppling thing and head back to town in the fading sunlight, but one decides to persevere and do whatever it takes to bring the rock down. The film’s ending is a tiny tragedy in its obvious inevitability, but also a quiet triumph in the way it suggests hope despite the ridiculousness of these fellas’ macho aspirations. Highly recommended, though I don’t think it’s screening again.


was based on a play, which usually means it was really, really cheap to make. You’ve got a script right there, and you probably only need to shoot in one or two locations at most. You’ve also likely got a small cast, since professional theatre pays its actors and rarely has much money to flash around on minor parts.

I spent half a decade studying cinema theory and my academically qualified assessment of this flick is that it’s really, really stupid. I’m still a little cautious in advancing such an damning appraisal as I clearly wasn’t any more clever than anyone actually involved in making the damned thing, since I actually sat through the whole film.

Ashley Judd plays the central character in a white-trash triumvirate, a seedy motel-dwelling hick who is being stalked by her ex-con ex-husband and courted by a creepy young guy with bug issues. It all comes to a heated confrontation as ex-husband takes on creepy new dude and is taught a valuable lesson about the perils of stalking your white trash ex-wife, and then a pointless and unjustified final act sees Judd and her new beau descending into a maelstrom of paranoia and bug-fear and aluminium-foil wallpaper that curiously manages to be both puzzling and sleep-inducing.

Judd’s former hubby is played Harry Connick Jr, who here continues a bewildering streak of film roles in which he plays foul-mouthed hillbillies with murder on their mind. I do appreciate how his cinematic career thusly distinguishes him from the Connick Jr of music, since his albums have always been solidly targeted towards middle-aged couples looking to rekindle the romance of their youth and hunting for the perfect soundtrack to accompany a candle-lit roast, some cheek-to-cheek on the back verandah and a quiet thank you to God that the old folks were willing to mind to kids for the weekend. He might not be an artist I have any interest in, but he plays a valuable social role for someone, I guess.

Here, though, he joins his cast in what we call an “actor’s film”. This usually means that he is given free reign to indulge in whatever expressive melodramatics he desires, and he’s surprisingly restrained in comparison to the others. Much of this flick is someone or other screaming, crying, eye-rolling, yelling, punching walls, scratching furiously, projecting delusions or otherwise boring their audience in some way or another. An actor’s film, unfortunately, is rarely an audience’s film.


There’s no real point to Children, either, but it’s a hell of a lot more enjoyable. It’s an Icelandic character piece that is well-cast and well-acted and well-good. An ensemble number, it shifts between the fortunes of a diverse group of loosely connected folk – a young mother of four living in a council flat, her rebellious teenage son, his violent and thuggish father, estranged until now, and the schizophrenic man who is the poor kid’s only friend. It’s shot in black and white but doesn’t have any of the trappings of self-absorbed arthouse fare, instead creating a psychological realism that is heightened by the fascinating characters on offer.

If Ken Loach took a quick (if expensive) Iceland Express flight north and slapped together a film on a weekend off, you might end up with something like this. It's a deliberately paced work that superbly balances social realism with narrative intent, convincing characters dragging you into their conflicting worlds. As the harrowed young mother Karitas, Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir is unforgettable, and worth looking out for in the future. I'm not a huge fan of films like this, and it's surely not the Iceland I like to see on screen, but I thoroughly enjoyed Children from its violent, Trainspotting-like beginning to its subtly transcendent, though equally bloody end.


Manila has long overshadowed its sister-cities of Spiral Bound and Lever Arch as the Folder Capital of the World, but this long-overdue doco-drama makes an earnest and non-document-organiser-related plea, a message in a bottle that to me reads: HELP NEEDED. SEND TRIPODS. An hour and a half into the thing, my humanitarian compassion towards the plight of its central character was matched only by my hypnagogic head-nodding induced by the epileptic camera work.

The Bet Collector centres on a middle-aged woman who walks the streets of a Manila slum daily, gathering bets for the regular local games of jeuteng. Jeuteng is a kind of lottery run by various syndicates, and is as popular as it is illegal - as the film's intro states, jeuteng-related corruption is rife in the police force, the government and even the church. The last two leaders of the Phillipines have either been deposed through links to jeuteng-related activities or are under investigation.

Luckily, the film is about as familiar with judgemental attitudes as it is with proper steadicam technique, so what we end up with is an amazing portrait of ghetto life that doesn't try to pin suffering and poverty on any one target. Most of the film consists of long shots of our heroine as she wanders around the corrugated labyrinth she inhabits, touching down on dozens of locals engaged in business, funerals, arrests, prayer, escape or self-improvement before soon moving on to the next bettor. Despite the horrific circumstances the film's subjects seem to live in, they aren't treated as objects of pity, but as fierce survivors. This is a film that doesn't revel in despair, though there's a coldness to its characters' existence born purely of the pragmatic need to eat tomorrow.

Shot entirely on handheld video, it's not the easiest thing on the eyes, though. If it helps, at least I felt guilty as I was nodding off around the 60 minute mark. If this baby appears on SBS or something, though, give it a shot. Ten minutes after I was feeling drowsy, the film dragged me back into edge-of-the-seat consciousness with a riveting and perfectly staged finale.

Friday, August 03, 2007

MIFF Report 5 - World's End


As Boney M so astutely put it: “Oh, those Russians!” Since the Cold War ended, pretty much everyone in the West has been carefully watching former Soviet states for the inevitable grudges which will still be lurking around like the smell of the rancid zharkoye your babushka left on the counter yesterday. But while capitalist swine have been suspiciously eyeing the spaces once obscured by an iron curtain, those in Russia have been busy making the kick-assing-est films ever seen!

My last run-in with a Russian mega-movie had kicked my behind so bad I was sleeping on my side for weeks. That was Nightwatch. When I heard that its sequel Daywatch would be screening this year I of course checked the bathroom cabinet for the array of rump-soothing salves and lotions I keep stocked for just such emergencies and hot-footed my way to the cinema. I won’t lie – I was wary, having been burned before by such lacklustre sequels as Porkys II, Dumb and Dumberer and the straight-to-DVD follow-up to The Little Mermaid. I’m still dealing with those.

Nothing doing here, though, since Daywatch took my reservations and cancelled them like an unscrupulous maitre d’! Does that simile make much sense? Of course not! Does Daywatch! Of course not! But it’s still the greatest cinematic event since the last really, really good cinematic event!

The story tracks the conflict between the forces of darkness and light and the factions who police the boundary – the Nightwatch and Daywatch. They’ve all got magical powers that seem to be invented whenever the story requires it or whenever it would just make for a great effect. Which is often. The film is kind of like a mystical version of The Matrix, with so much shape-changing, body-swapping, dimension-jumping and time-warping that you barely get a chance to understand who is who, let alone why they’re doing what they’re up to or why we should really care about any of it. We care because we have to, and we have to because we’re having a fantastic time and are a little bit afraid of these Russians and their superior filmmaking abilities.

If you haven’t seen Nightwatch, this film will make even less sense, but if you have seen it then know that this is an even better movie – tighter, more spectacular and full of moments that take your breath away. It expands upon the universe developed in the first film, and part of the series’ appeal (I think it’s a trilogy) lies in how it effortlessly suggests a complete alternate reality that isn’t simply encompassed within the film itself but seems to stretch outwards to the limits of the imagination. It’s a bit like Harry Potter – the Harry books aren’t particularly great in themselves, but they seem to get people excited by the way they construct an entire world separate from our own, but recognisable in all the important ways.
Here's a trailer for the film which ends with one of my favourite bits - entirely ridiculous and proudly so.


Daywatch is far from the only apocalyptic film in this year’s festival, which is handy. Like most responsible adults, I spend a good portion of my waking life preparing for one of the various doomsday scenarios which seem increasingly inevitable, but I’m not so deluded as to think that the whole otherworldly demon angle Daywatch promotes is anything other than fantasy. No, I’m completely aware that a zombie plague is a much more likely threat, which is why I keep my one-bedroom fortified garret stockpiled with munitions, tinned food, and medical supplies. I also refrain from developing any particular relationships with other humans, since that will only make it harder to put one between the eyes of a loved one when the shit goes down, and when I wake up each afternoon I’m already repeating my self-help mantra: every day, in every way, I am getting better (at headshots).

I’m fully supportive of the new wave of zombie flicks, then (I suppose film theorists would call it nouveau undead or something equally catchy). They just help reaffirm my world view and increase my confidence in the role of paranoid loner which I have attempted to carve for myself. I was a little confused at the end of post-zom film The Signal, then, which posited a situation even I couldn’t quite make sense of. In a minor moment, some characters who’ve survived mankind's degeneration into savage killing machines do a bit of looting, which is one of the perks of any apocalypse. But their wardrobe restock seems to take place in a thrift shop. Does that make any sense? It was then that I realised how far away from my goal I really am, since clearly the only sorts who will survive a zombie outbreak are the kinds whose outfits are entirely made up of second-hand army fatigues purchased for a few bucks a pop.

The Signal is obviously quite effective horror, but it is so in more than a sartorial sense. Like 28 Days Later, its monsters aren’t shambling creeps with a bucket of ugly dumped on their heads, but are fast-moving, cunning monsters. It’s a bit like the Pulp Fiction of zombie films, too, with a fragmented narrative following a handful of characters whose interlocking destinies criss-cross throughout. Some kind of signal is being broadcast through all electronic equipment and anyone who hears it quickly loses all social censures and starts killing people in order to get whatever they want. A few folks still have ambitions beyond adding to the body count and so we watch as they attempt to escape.

Fans of zombie films will enjoy the fresh take it has on the genre, while horror fans in general will get plenty from its overall inventiveness. Those averse to blood and guts should very well avoid this, however. It’s very gory, though the central third of the film (it was directed in three parts by a trio of friends) is almost entirely comedic. The light touch provides some welcome respite from the terror, but soon enough it’s back into to the hedge clippers, power drills and decapitations.


But zombie comedy, it seems, is all the rage. If rom-com is the accepted shorthand for romantic comedy, it shouldn't knock the yellow off your teeth when you get the pun surrounding the corporation at the centre of Fido, ZomCom. The world on offer here has survived a zombie plague by creating metal collars which subdue a zombie’s appetite for human flesh, effectively turning them into docile servants able to fulfil all of the menial tasks of society. Humans enjoy a picture-perfect life of leisure while the undead collect their garbage, serve their martinis and paint their white picket fences.

This is Pleasantville or The Stepford Wives given a zombie twist, and I really didn’t expect it to be as much fun as it is. I didn’t really grow up with the Leave It To Beaver world the film satirises, but it’s smart enough on several levels to appeal to a wide audience. Beneath the surface veneer of 1950s technicolour sterility, fertile veins of class and race are tapped – subservient zombies occupying the role of the oppressed everywhere – while an equally rich current of familial tension urges the story along. Our hero is a ten year old who finds himself dangerously sympathetic towards his new house attendant Fido (Billy Connolly) while his mother (Carrie Ann Moss) discovers in the undead manservant a caring soul more human than her neurotic and quivering husband. Meanwhile, the retired army hero next door thinks of zombies as nothing but threats waiting to be eliminated, and wants to teach the young lad just how dangerous the undead can be. It's all campy humour with an undercurrent of seriousness that hits just the right balance.


It seemed odd to cast Connolly as a zombie, since this means that the comedian doesn’t actually get to utter a word of intelligible dialogue. But after watching Red Road, it kind of made sense. Set in Glasgow, its characters’ accents are so thick that at times I felt I was watching zombies groaning for brains in burberry scarves. This is the Chav Apocalypse, and it’s more depressing than any actual undead film could be.

The story follows a woman, Jackie, who works in a Glaswegian police surveillance firm, watching a bank of monitors which track the areas in and around a local high-rise for illegal activity. One day she spots a guy who has featured as some kind of villain in her past, and gradually enters his life for reasons we can’t at first comprehend.

It doesn’t get much bleaker than this. The realm Jackie enters is uniformly depressing as the dregs of society shuffle through an aimless existence amidst grim concrete surrounds. A different soundtrack and you’d have a zombie film right here. Our protagonist’s solution to her woes, along with the tentative redemption that follows, are so painful to watch that they border on walk-out stuff, but at least they’re original enough to make for an unforgettable watch. For better or for worse.

When I compare the film to a zombie flick, I’m not just being facetious. Are there connections between films which cause us to revel in and be repulsed by bodily carnage, and those that give us the same experience rendered on an emotive level? Is watching a character’s psychological disintegration more worthy than watching a character torn apart by bloodthirsty fiends? Answers on a postcard.