Melbourne International Film Festival – Day Two

Melbourne International Film Festival – Day Two. By Simon Miraudo.

Beasts, and guards, and Michael Shannons, oh my! My second day of movie-watching at the 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival was a packed one; so much so, I don’t even have time to write a proper introduction to this diary entry. Instead, I’m just going to rely on that tired old Wizard of Oz line at the beginning to set the scene, make reference to it here in which I acknowledge that it’s a lazy device (meta = clever!) and get down to the business of all things MIFF. Here’s what I thought of flicks four through eight of my 60 Film challenge.

4) Beauty and the Beast

Here’s an understatement: Jean Cocteau’s 1946 black-and-white classic Beauty and the Beast really holds up. Opening with a handwritten letter in which Cocteau encourages the audience to surrender their cynicism and embrace the “artlessness” of gullible children while watching his fantastical film (with that oh-so-charming-French-smugness), he brings to life the legendary fairy tale of the beautiful Beauty (Josette Day) and her beastly suitor The Beast (Jean Marais). Those familiar with the Disney tale (and who isn’t?) should know the plot by now, but Cocteau’s 65-year-old take indulges in themes that Walt’s company dare not touch: to quote 30 Rock’s Tracy Jordan, “freaky-deakies need love too”. When The Beast eventually morphs back into a handsome prince, Beauty admits that she kind of liked him better when he was covered in fur. Minx! The print screened here at MIFF isn’t perfect, and there were a few audio troubles, but nothing could diminish this beautiful, bold film. There is such imagination and ingenuity at work here; The Beast’s make up is nothing short of astounding, and the way in which the servants of his castle – disembodied arms – are incorporated into the setting is both grotesque and gorgeous. If this and the 1991 animated film are any indication, I’m going to go ahead and assume that all film adaptations of this story are equally brilliant. Beastly, I’m coming for you!

5) The Guard

Here’s another understatement: Brendan Gleeson is one of the most reliable and enjoyable actors working today. I have trouble recalling a film he didn’t steal. Needless to say, he kills in The Guard, written and directed by John Michael McDonagh. Gleeson stars as Boyle, the outrageously politically-incorrect policeman working in a small Irish village; he makes no secret of his predilection for scarlet women and recreational drug use, but he’s left well enough alone because dammit he gets the job done. When a dead body linked to a drug smuggling ring winds up in Boyle’s jurisdiction, American FBI agent Everett (Don Cheadle) turns up to take over the case. The fed soon discovers, however, he’ll need the help of the wily – and kinda racist – Irishman to take on the villainous drug dealers and murderers (the pitch-perfect trio of Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham and David Wilmot). Yes, the premise screams Lethal Weapon meets Hot Fuzz (which was itself something of a Lethal Weapon spoof), but McDonagh knows precisely what he’s doing here. His script is razor sharp; almost every line a killer. Gleeson and Cheadle’s charming odd couple chemistry is good enough to forgive their clichéd coupling. Gleeson’s performance, in fact, is something of a wonder; he fully embraces his character’s increasing outrageousness, yet never makes him seem unbelievable (him sipping a milkshake while staring down one of the killers is a highlight). The film falters when it gets into the somber philosophising that was done so much better in McDonough’s brother Martin’s film In Bruges. Still, that movie was primarily a drama, and this one is absolutely a comedy. One of the funniest of the year, no question.

6) Submarine

Give me an affectation-heavy coming-of-age comedy, and make it extra affectatious! Richard Ayoade (best known as Moss from The IT Crowd) makes his feature film directorial debut with Submarine, an adaptation of Joe Dunthorne’s novel of the same name. It stars Craig Roberts as Oliver Tate, a teenager cut from the same cloth as Rushmore’s Max Fischer. He listens to Serge Gainsbourg, reads Nietzsche, watches silent films at restoration cinemas … wait, where are you going?! Stay! OK, OK, it reads as obscenely cute and quirky, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In the wake of Wes Anderson‘s success, we’ve seen plenty of aesthetic imitators come and go. They didn’t realise it wasn’t Wes’ style alone that made his films so memorable; it was also his ability to fuse profound sadness and universal human truths with delightful comedy, and wrap it up in such a unique package. Ayoade doesn’t ape Anderson, but he achieves similar magic, delivering a sad, funny little film that takes no shame in its visual influences (French new wave, nostalgic Super 8). It may occasionally look like it was shot on a Hipstamatic camera, but there is much more under the surface (geddit?) of Submarine. Credit also belongs to the brilliant cast, especially Roberts, but also Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins as his on-the-rocks parents, Yasmin Paige as his first love and the brilliant Paddy Considine as a ninja-like mystic who believes he can harness the power of light for spiritual rejuvenation. He also has a van with a bed in the back. You know this guy.

7) Take Shelter

I should have known better than to pigeonhole Michael Shannon. I’ve seen him in a number of films at this point (including his work on TV’s Boardwalk Empire), and I thought I had him pegged. When I heard he played a man driven to madness by his fears of an impending apocalypse in Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter, I figured we’d see plenty wrath-of-God speeches coming from his mouth amidst an onslaught of bodily tics. That’s not to diminish his previous work – he’s a great actor – but his role in Take Shelter sounded like such ‘a Michael Shannon role’. I didn’t want him to wind up in a typecast box from which he couldn’t later escape. This film proves there is no box the man can get stuck in. What I thought would be a man-goes-crazy ‘end of days’ thriller turned out to be a thoughtful, heartbreaking movie about mental illness, and Shannon gives an understated, haunting performance as a man tormented by hallucinations. Despite the love of a good woman (Jessica Chastain), and a beautiful young daughter (Tova Stewart), Curtis LaForche (Shannon) can’t shake the feeling that a storm of Biblical proportions is coming. Knowing full well that schizophrenia runs in his family, he seeks medical help for his increasingly violent visions. But although he has the presence of mind at first to acknowledge that he might be losing his mind, the fact that he is losing his mind means he will eventually succumb to his obsessions. Against all good advice, he pours his family money into the building of a storm shelter in their backyard, preparing for a reckoning. He’s a sympathetic man, often apologetic for his actions and ashamed of his increasing madness; it’s a nice contrast to the typical depiction of people driven to this level of insanity, especially in this post-“rapture” age we now live in. The film has a moving, perfect climax. The final scene, however, I’m not sure I like. It raises some interesting questions about the line between crackpots and prophets, but seeks to undo the focus on mental illness that came before. Still, Shannon gives one of the best performances of the year, in a film that manages both white-knuckle intensity and tender drama. Watch it as a double feature with Roman Polanski’s Repulsion.

8 ) The Innkeepers

Nothing like watching a late-night horror movie about a haunted hotel before returning to my lonely hotel room! Ti West’s The Innkeepers follows two young hotel clerks (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) who are eager to meet the spirit that haunts their workplace during its final weekend in business. The premise is simple, and the terror confined to a few select rooms. The film has such a sense of humour and cheekiness to it, whilst never resorting to winking at the camera. Compare it to Insidious, which similarly deals with ghost-hunters using microphones and cameras to locate ghouls, which was so morose and unpleasant. The Innkeepers is good old fashioned fun, but still terribly frightening. It feels, frankly, like a really well performed and absolutely horrifying episode of Goosebumps. Although West may not have used Goosebumps as an inspiration, its 1990s-esque lo-fi visual style is certainly intentional. This is a filmmaker who, with his last film The House of the Devil, astutely and effectively recreated the look and feel of 1970s horror films. Here, he brings to mind Disney-channel style spookfests like Hocus Pocus, but still follows through and gives us some gory, horrifying money shots in the final act. Not all were charmed by The Innkeepers however. A couple of girls in front of me, bored by proceedings, decided to get drunk, talk, and then take a photo – with flash – of themselves not enjoying the film. I assumed this was their first time in a cinema. I took the opportunity to tell them off, and enjoyed it greatly. Even better, they now have a photo of themselves smiling in a darkened cinema; eventually they will discover in the background the specter of a very annoyed guy with Chicos in his mouth. Spooky!


Opening Night
Day One

Discuss: Which films have you caught so far?

4 Responses to “Melbourne International Film Festival – Day Two”

  1. What a day! Loved The Guard and Take Shelter at SFF. Really looking forward to Submarine, but won’t be at MIFF until the last couple of days (for biggies Melancholia and Drive).

  2. saw Melancholia, hard going, but amazing. Looking forward to Submarine next.

  3. GOOD BYE, CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS and THE BENGALI DETECTIVE were pretty mediocre. But A SEPERATION was absolutely fantastic. Felt so incredibly real. Don’t miss it!!!

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