Tuesday, August 11, 2009

2009 MIFF Diary Part 13

(Dir. Tommy Wirkola, 2008)

Screening as part of the festival’s ‘Night Shift’ program, the Norwegian horror-comedy Død Snø (Dead Snow) is light on thrills and heavy on laughs; a bloody romp involving horny medical students, an isolated cottage, and a battalion of Nazi zombies.

The film opens with Sara (Ane Dahl Torp) chased by shadowy pursuers through a twilight of snow and skeletal branches, to the accompaniment of Edvard Grieg’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’; one of several knowing winks made in the audience’s direction throughout the film.

The joking tone is maintained a few minutes later, when one of a small group of holidaying medical students (who are traipsing through the wilderness intent on rendezvousing with Sara at her chalet) discovers that their group has no mobile phone coverage. “How many films start with a group of friends at a cabin with no cell phones?” he wonders aloud; an obvious reference to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy and other films of that ilk.

Sadly, director Tommy Wirkola lacks Raimi’s inventive flair and black humour, for what follows is an often-laboured pastiche of horror film tropes, complete with an eccentric loner (who I immediately dubbed ‘Mr. Exposition’) whose dire warnings about “an evil presence” go unheeded by the youngsters, who are more intent on playing Twister than searching for their missing friend.

The first half of the film takes its time in setting the scene, but never really follows through on its clearly flagged plot elements; and its simply-sketched characters are all equally disposable. However, once the Nazi zombies claw their way out of the snow, led by the cadaverous Colonel Herzog (Örjan Gamst) in the second half, the pace picks up nicely.

Inventive deaths, fun with entrails and buckets of blood galore ensure that gore hounds will get a kick from Dead Snow, although its muddled plot involving gold and vengeful zombies may leave them scratching their heads in bemusement.

Rating: Three stars

(Dir. Rachel Perkins, 2009)

Based on the popular stage musical by Jimmy Chi, Rachel Perkins’ effervescent and charming Indigenous road movie is the feel-good Australian film of the year.

Set in 1967, Bran Nue Dae stars Rocky McKenzie as Willie, an Indigenous teenager sent away from his home in Broome to a Clontarf mission school, to study under the tutelage of Father Benedictus (Geoffrey Rush). But Willie’s heart lies with his childhood sweetheart Rosie (Australian Idol 2006 runner-up Jessica Mauboy) and before long he has fled the school and is making his way back up the coast in the company of a charming rogue named Uncle Tadpole (an exceptional performance by the charismatic Ernie Dingo) and two hapless hippies, Annie (Missy Higgins) and Wolfgang (Tom Budge).

Performances are excellent throughout, especially country/soul singer Dan Sultan as Willie’s swaggering rival Lester, and Deborah Mailman as the lascivious Kimberly woman Roxanne; while the musical numbers –especially the toe-tapping “There is nothing I would be, than to be an Aborigine” – had the closing night MIFF audience breaking out in spontaneous applause.

Perkins directs the film with a steady hand, perfectly balancing the heady mix of romance, musical numbers and broad comedy; and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie brings the rich colours of the Australian landscape to full and vivid life.

While its story is relatively slight, Bran Nue Dae is a joyful and uplifting cinematic experience; a bright and beautiful story about love, hope and belonging.

Rating: Four stars

NECESSARY GAMES(Dir. Sophie Hyde, 2009)

This short Australian film created in collaboration with Adelaide’s Restless Dance Theatre (which works with young dancers with intellectual disabilities) is a triptych of dance works created specifically for the screen; and features moments of such sublime beauty that I found myself wiping away tears several times throughout the screening.

The three films were directed by Sophie Hyde, in collaboration with three different choreographers who have all worked with Restless in the past. Collectively, the films which make up Necessary GamesMoths (co-directed and choreographed by Paul Zivkovich), Sixteen (co-directed and choreographed by Kat Worth) and Necessity (co-directed and choreographed by Tuula Roppola) – explore our human need to connect.

Beautiful cinematography, haunting music, and choreography that is simultaneously muscular and tender, intimate and dramatic, combine to craft a memorable and remarkable filmic experience.
Rating: Four and a half stars

(Dir. Julian Temple, 2009)

Released in May this year, The Liberty of Norton Folgate is the ninth studio album by British band Madness (best known for their ska-inspired 1980s pop songs, ‘House of Fun’ and ‘Baggy Trousers’); a sophisticated concept album exploring the rich history and personalities of London town.

This spectacular concert film by Julian Temple (The Filth and the Fury, Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten) not only captures the album performed live in its entirety at the Hackney Empire Theatre, but also documents the history explored in its songs through a richly layered series of projections, images and archival footage.

The presence of numerous music hall performers on and off stage, and direct-to-camera monologues about such London luminaries as Jack the Ripper and Karl Marx between songs by band members Suggs and Carl, further enrich the film.

Tales of a city born in mud and blood; of the diabolical Spring-Heeled Jack who once haunted the city’s narrow streets; and of the waves of Irish, Jewish, Caribbean and Asian immigrants whose legacies have enriched London culturally – and whose music is reflected in Madness’s songs – combine in this richly evocative visual and musical tapestry to create a concert film like no other.

Rating: Three and a half stars

(Dir. Tomm Moore, 2009)

My final film at MIFF was this delightful animated fantasy about the power of imagination and the creation of the world’s most famous illuminated manuscript, The Book of Kells.

Brendan (voiced by young actor Evan McGuire) is an orphan raised by monks in the Monastery of Kells, ruled over by Abbot Cellach (Brendan Gleeson). The Abbot is obsessed with building a vast wall to protect the monastery’s inhabitants from marauding Vikings; but Brendan is more interested in spending time in the monastery’s scriptorium, in the company of Brother Aidan (Mick Lally), a newly arrived monk fleeing the sacked isle of Iona, and carrying with him an illuminated Bible so beautiful it is said to blind heretics who look upon it.

To help Brother Aidan make the ink he needs to work upon the unfinished manuscript, Brendan ventures into the forbidden forest beyond the monastery walls, where he encounters ferocious wolves, a dark god, and the forest sprite Aisling (Christen Mooney), whom he soon befriends. But not even Aisling’s magic can save Kells from an approaching Viking horde…

An inspired visual feast from Irish animator Tomm Moore, the film’s look is inspired by the artwork of The Book of Kells itself, an intricate illuminated Bible in Latin, transcribed by Celtic monks circa 800 AD. Drawing on the book’s Celtic knot-work, fearsome beasts and extremely stylized imagery, Moore and his team of animators have crafted a beautiful looking film in which every frame is a work of art. Even the attack on the monastery by bloodthirsty Norsemen is visually stunning, with gouts of flame and clouds of smoke snaking hypnotically across the screen, while the Vikings themselves are truly terrifying, an implacable force, all horns and swords and flaming eyes that had the child seated in front of me whimpering in terror.

The story’s fantasy elements never overshadow the focus on young Brendan and his personal quest to discover his own hidden talents; and while the story is sparse, it unfolds at a perfect pace. A rich, rewarding and vivid film and a triumph of animation.

Rating: Four stars

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