Sunday, August 30, 2009




3.5 stars

Woodstock, the music festival which became the crowning moment of the hippie era, would not have happened were it not for Elliot Tiber, a young gay man trying to save his parents’ struggling motel.

Exploiting his position as the youngest ever president of his local Chamber of Commerce, Tiber (comedian Demetri Martin) gives permission for the concert be staged on a local farm in order to ensure customers for the El Monaco Motel, setting in motion this low-key but charming comedy-drama about family and finding yourself.

Rather than focus on the festival itself, the film – based on Tiber’s own account of events – looks at the people behind the scenes who made Woodstock happen.

Performances, especially from the supporting cast, are excellent, with Liev Schreiber (recently seen as the villainous Sabretooth in Wolverine) particularly charming as a transvestite ex-marine who teaches Tiber a valuable lesson about life.

Ang Lee makes great use of split-screen shots, capturing both the energy of the festival as well as the cinematic style of the award-winning documentary, Woodstock; and presents one of the most effectively shot acid trips I’ve ever seen on film.

Taking Woodstock is a simple but solid coming of age story, and is utterly charming.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Save the VCA!

One of Australia's most important cultural institutions is under major threat. I've talked about it a lot already on 3RRR but it suddenly occurs to me that I haven't written about it yet on this here blog. Bloody remiss of me.

There's gonna be a big rally tomorrow to help save the Victorian College of the Arts from Melbourne Uni's new, economic rationalist educational model (a new model which has already axed the VCA's puppetry and musical theatre courses. What next?) under which academic breadth will be considered to be more important than hands-on expert teaching. Who was it who said we don't need dancers who can write essays, we need dancers who can dance?

Rally tomorrow at the VCA at 10am and march on Parliament at 11am. Details here. See you there.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Good things come in Sevens

I've been spoiled for entertainment over the last week.

Last Friday was the opening night The Ballad of Backbone Joe, the latest but all-to-briefly showing production by The Suitcase Royale at the Arts House Meat Market, North Melbourne.

A clever combination of film noir and Fisher's Ghost, it was another fine example of the Suitcase boys' 'junkyard theatre' aesthetic, and a wonderfully entertaining show, though to my mind it felt a little undercooked - something I also felt about their Chronicles of a Sleepless Moon when I saw its first incarnation at the 2006 Next Wave Festival, mind you.

Given time, and fine-tuning, I have no doubts Backbone Joe - a rib-tickling tale of boxing and butchery - will reach similar heights of success. It already has the same quotient of unhinged tomfoolery!

On Monday night I saw a preview of the new Australian film by director Jonathan Auf Der Heide, Van Diemen's Land, a beautifully rendered story about terrible events inspired by the confessions of Irish-born convict and cannibal Alexander Pearce. I'll be reviewing the film in more detail in the coming days, but suffice to say I highly recommend it, as does fellow blogger Alison Croggon, whose thoughts about it you can read here.

Yesterday I saw another film, the new feature from director Ang Lee, Finding Woodstock, a gentle comedy about the people behind the scenes of 1969's muddy memorial to peace, love and live music. Again, I'll review it in more detail in the coming days, and again again, I very much liked it - certainly much more than I expected to!

Tonight, I saw TRACES, only the second work from Canadian circus company Les 7 Doigts De La Main (The 7 Fingers), and an absolute gem. It's showing in Melbourne at the Comedy Theatre until August 29, and I highly recommend you check it out.

The last Canadian circus company I saw left me with a bad taste in my mouth, and yes, I'm talking about Cirque du Soleil and their show Dralion, which struck me as pompous, decadent, overblown and soulless.

The 7 Fingers are altogether different. The five young performers in TRACES are vibrant, exuberant, sexy and audacious; and their show is an exciting blend of contemporary circus arts, street skills, parkour and passion, set to a thumping soundtrack ranging from rock to drum'n'bass, including tracks by Vast, Radiohead and Nitin Sawhney.

In a makeshift shelter, five young people shelter from an impending catastrophe, defying the oncoming storm by fighting, loving and living life to the full. Inventive video and projection work enrich the versatile quintet's performances, which range from an exhilarating sequence based around two Chinese Poles and a bravura teeterboard act, to piano playing, hoop diving, a memorable skateboarding sequence seemingly inspired by Esther Williams' synchronised swimming routines, and a visceral and exciting German Wheel routine set to an folk-punk soundtrack (something akin to Dropkick Murphys, though it was probably a different band of a similar ilk).

Boasting a playfully 21st century approach to sexuality and an enviable physicality, The 7 Fingers' TRACES is one of the most satisfying and exciting circus shows it's ever been my pleasure to witness. Bravo!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Listen Up!

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

Monday, August 10, 2009

Remembering Dorothy Porter


By Dorothy Porter
(published by Black Inc, 2009)


For Andy

There's a damp melancholy
in T'ang poetry
that smudges
the lovely
jade precision.

I love Walt Whitman's
spunky company
but under his bardic
I can hear his lonely heart
at the turned back
of some deaf rough trade.

So many poets
in the cold faery spaces
between their frost-bitten ears.

How lucky I am
to hear you, darling,
coming up the stairs
to smell the coffee
floating ahead of you
like my favourite incense.

Dorothy Porter 1954 - 2009

From Literary Melbourne
Edited by Stephen Grimwade
Published by Hardie Grant Books
August 2009

Sunday, August 09, 2009

In memory of Ianto Jones

Don't watch this if you haven't seen Torchwood: Children of Earth yet. If you have, make sure you have a box of tissues handy...

Saturday, August 08, 2009

2009 MIFF Diary Part 12

(Dir. Ana Kokkinos, 2009)

Based on the Melbourne Worker’s Theatre production Who’s Afraid of the Working Class? by Andrew Bovell, Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves and Christos Tsiolkas (which was first performed at the Victorian Trades Hall in May 1998), Ana Kokkinos’ Blessed will doubtless re-engage the audience she lost with her last effort, the painful The Book of Revelation.

Blessed is a bleak story of mothers and children set in contemporary Melbourne; and as with the play, a number of storylines play out simultaneously over its 113 minute running time:
  • Tanya (Deborah Lee-Furness) and her husband Peter (William McInnes) watch their relationship fall apart as they argue and fight over their mortgage, while their son Daniel (Harrison Gilbertson) tries his hand at crime, having already been accused of theft by his mother.
  • Young runaway Orton (an excellent performance by Reef Ireland) struggles to look after his mentally retarded sister Stacey (Eva Lazzaro) on the city’s streets, while their mother Rhonda (Frances O’Connor) struggles with the Department of Human Services.
  • Two young school girls, Katrina (Sophie Lowe) and Trisha (Anastasia Baboussouras) pretend to be from a private school with unexpected consequences.
  • A gay youth (Eamon Farren) runs away from home.
  • A middle class Aboriginal man, James (Wayne Blair) deals with racism on the worksite, and finds himself lost between two worlds.
Frustratingly, at least for me, the film makes significant – and to my mind unnecessary – changes to its source material, especially to the characters created by queer author Christos Tsiolkas in Suit, his section of Who’s Afraid of the Working Class? (And I should add a disclaimer here: Christos is a mate of mine.)

In the play, the character of Daniel – who becomes Roo in the film – is an angry and aggressive gay youth, who, in a remarkable and confrontational monologue exploring the fetishisation of power by the powerless and dispossessed, fantasises about having sex with Jeff Kennett, who was the Premier of Victoria at the time the play was written.

In Blessed, however, the character becomes a weak and passive victim; and in one of the film’s most unlikely scenes (which like The Book of Revelation portrays sex as something ugly and to be feared) Roo is forced to masturbate on camera for a pornographer.

Not only is the scene filmed in a cinematically 'dramatic' decayed warehouse rather than in a domestic setting, as would normally be the case with amateur porn, Kokkinos also shows Roo weeping as he masturbates; yet he is still able to maintain an erection and ejaculate despite his obvious fear and discomfort. Unrealistic much?

Elsewhere in the film Kokkinos takes major liberties with the Aboriginal man, James, who in the play is shown as a flawed and conflicted character. As written by Tsiolkas, James is both a victim of racism and a perpetrator of it, and his vilification of a white prostitute reinforces the fact that racism is a two-way street. In Blessed, however, Kokkinos not only whitewashes the character (pun intended) but effectively writes him out of the conclusion of the film, which seriously unbalances the film’s dramatic structure as it reaches its conclusion and ties its various plot threads together.

I also had problems with some of the performances, particularly Miranda Otto and Frances O’Connor, neither of whom I was ever entirely convinced by. There’s a constant, niggling awareness while watching Blessed that one is watching middle-class Australian actors pretending to be working class; a sensation I don't have in similar films by other Australian directors, such as Alkinos Tsilimidos for example, which to my mind points to a weakness in Kokkinos' directorial style.

Coupled with the fact that I was sitting watching this film as part of a middle class audience seeking entertainment at a film festival, this made the whole experience somewhat unreal.

These criticisms aside, Blessed is still a powerful film, and will no doubt provoke a strong emotional response from its viewers upon its cinematic release later this year.

Rating: Three stars

Friday, August 07, 2009

MIFF 2009 Diary Part Eleven

(Dir. Ole Christian Madsen, 2008)

This grim exploration of life as a resistance fighter in Nazi-occupied Denmark during the dying days of World War II is based on a true story, and stars Mads Mikkelsen and Thure Lindhardt as partisans lost in the fog of war.

Ordered to assassinate collaborators and traitors, these two “soldiers without a front” soon find themselves drifting away from friends and family, the moral ambiguity of their actions placing increasing pressure on their relationships and themselves.

Set in Copenhagen, and shot in cold blue tones, Madsen directs this increasingly complex story well, but given I fell asleep part-way through the film – a victim of festival fatigue – it would be inappropriate, not to say unethical of me to review it in further detail.


(Dir. Alexei Balabanov, 2008)

Set in a remote corner of Russia in 1917 that has not yet been touched by revolution, this bleak study of addiction and tragedy is not for the faint-hearted. Explicit depictions of primitive surgery and the misery of morphine addiction are coupled with vivid portrayals of the daily life of a Russian country doctor, in this stark film based on a series of autobiographical stories by Mikhail Bulgakov.

The screenplay also manages a few digs at both the former aristocracy and the communists who overthrew them during its 102 minute running time.

Handsome young Dr Polyakov (Leonid Bichevin) arrives by train and then sleigh at a small hospital in the middle of nowhere, and must rely on the books left behind by his predecessor, and the skill of his colleagues – one of whom, the nurse, Anna (Ingeborga Dapkunaite) he starts sleeping with – to augment his lack of experience.

After treating a patient with diphtheria Polyakov proves allergic to the vaccine, and alleviates his suffering with an injection of morphine: the first step on a very steep downhill slope...

This vividly realised and lovingly detailed drama suffers from an episodic nature, emphasised by the intrusive presence of title cards between scenes which nonetheless reinforce both the period in which the film is set and its origins as a collection of short stories. Nor are its characters particularly well drawn, which distances the viewer emotionally when in comes to depicting their invariably tragic plights.

Natural light is used often and effectively, highlighting the superb set design and immersing one utterly in the unfolding story; and subtle flourishes – such as a stuck needle on a gramophone repeating the same snatch of song over and over as Dr Polyakov is confronted with the ugly truth of his addition – further enrich the story.

Morphia is not an especially original tale, but it is beautifully told.

Rating: Three and a half stars

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

2009 MIFF Diary part the tenth

(Kerry Negara, 2009)

The posthumously published diaries of Australian draftsman, diarist, printmaker and painter Donald Friend (1915 – 1989) – especially the fourth and final volume, which covers the extended period Friend resided in Bali – reveal that the artist was sexually active with teenage and pre-pubescent boys, some as young as 10, over a number of years.

In her documentary A Loving Friend, filmmaker Kerry Negara sets out to confront the Australian art world with this fact, which has been largely ignored by Friend’s colleagues and associates as they attempt to bolster his standing as an artist of merit in the years following his death.

Artist Margaret Olley and academic Ian Britain are among those interviewed by Negara who either sidestep the issue, or obfuscate when confronted with the fact that Friend was a paedophile.

“He just liked the young company about him, and they’re easier to draw,” Olley claims of Friend’s predilection for the company of boys, despite the fact that Friend’s diaries are frank in describing his sexual activities with minors.

Unfortunately, A Loving Friend is an awkward, even strident documentary, and its flaws detract from its important subject matter.

Extracts from Friend’s diary are read aloud in a sibilant, echoing voice that evokes the tone of a horror movie rather than a documentary. The film’s score is heavy handed, and the filmmaker unnecessarily inserts herself into the film, at one point filming herself looking sadly out the window of Friend’s old house, a move that smacks of egotism at the very least.

That said, Negara is to be commended for tracking down and interviewing several of Friend’s former houseboys, now men, and interviewing them about their relationships with the artist and their anger that such details have been published in Friend’s diaries.

On the basis of this documentary, it would appear that the National Library of Australia, the publisher of Friend’s journals and an organisation with considerably more resources than the filmmaker herself, made no such attempt to gain the men’s approval before going to print with stories of their sexual exploitation as children.

Rating: Two and a half stars

(Richard Lowenstein, 2009)

Premiering the day after Lowenstein’s digitally restored Dogs in Space screened at MIFF was this new movie which began life as a ‘making of’ about the feature film, but which evolved into a fascinating documentary about the period in which Dogs in Space was set.

We’re Living on Dog Food (which takes its name from an Iggy Pop song featured prominently in Dogs in Space) is an honest examination of a remarkable era in Australian music and pop culture history. Unlike the heightened drama of Dogs in Space, the documentary looks at the events of those times with a more cynical eye, detailing the world of the Crystal Ballroom and the ‘Little Bands’ scene of Fitzroy through a series of frank interviews and fascinating original footage from the late 1970s.

It also looks at everything that went on during the making of Dogs in Space a few years later. One participant, an extra who was 14 at the time Lowenstein’s feature film was made, recalls losing her virginity and trying heroin for the first time on set.

Others reminisce about the remarkable confluence of shared influences which shaped Melbourne’s punk scene in the late 70s, in a superbly edited sequence which opens We’re Living on Dog Food.

Although a little long and slightly self-indulgent, as an accompaniment to Dogs in Space, as well as a stand-alone documentary about Melbourne’s punk heyday, We’re Living on Dog Food is a fascinating, rewarding and very entertaining film.

Rating: Three and a half stars

(Dir. Alexis Dos Santos, 2009)

A young man yearning for family and a young woman trying to heal her broken heart are the protagonists of Unmade Beds, a beautiful new film from the Argentinean director of Glue (2006), which also screened at MIFF in 2007.

Like Dos Santos’s first feature, Unmade Beds is a richly textured, lo-fi drama about friendship and desire in which what goes unsaid is just as important – if not more so – than anything spoken by its often-inebriated characters.

Axl (Fernando Tielve) is a 20 year old Spaniard who has come to London seeking the English father who left him when he was three. Vera (Déborah François), a young Belgian woman, is seeking to ease the pain of a failed relationship by embarking on an affair with a handsome stranger. Both live in the same chaotic squat, but are too caught up in their own lives to ever meet each other.

Their stories run parallel for much of the film, illustrated by photographs to represent their internal thoughts, and occasional flashbacks to earlier periods in their lives.

Axl falls in to a ménage à trois with two of the residents of the squat – his blurred sexuality again reflecting an earlier bisexual coupling in Dos Santos’s Glue – while Vera’s relationship evolves anonymously, with neither her nor her new paramour knowing anything about the other beyond assumed identities and assignations made at random.

The film’s meandering, episodic structure may frustrate some viewers, but to my eyes was perfectly pitched to capture the drunken, drifting lives of its central characters. Coupled with the film’s eclectic visual style, and a rich soundtrack featuring such bands as (We Are) Performance, Tindersticks, Mary and the Boy, and Daniel Johnston, it results in a distinctive and vibrant exploration of hope and memory; a memorable drama with a pitch-perfect and deeply satisfying conclusion. Alexis Dos Santos is definitely a filmmaker to watch.

Rating: Four stars

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

2009 MIFF Diary part the ninth

(Various directors and years)

The cinematic exploration of the punk and post-punk era in Australia, and especially in Melbourne, is the focus of a central programming stream at this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival.

Curated by Michelle Carey, Punk Becomes Pop: The Australian Post-Punk Underground consists of three feature films and over 40 shorts documenting the vibrant inner-city scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s, where music, art, film and fashion fused together in a raucous and chaotic whole.

Post-Punk Mixtape #2
is the second of five short film screenings programmed as part of Punk Becomes Pop. This diverse array of film clips and experimental shorts included a hilarious, drunken interview with Boys Next Door members Rowland S. Howard and Nick Cave; a film noir inspired music video for Sydney band Frontier Scouts, When Daddy Blows His Top, directed by Kriv Stenders; the hallucinatory and surreal short drama by Swinburne student Hugh Marchant, Meanwhile Elsewhere; and a short but fascinating film documenting Melbourne’s inner city music scene by the late Mark Zenner, Big Risk, featuring live performances by The Negatives, News, and The Boys Next Door.

A remarkable insight into the era, and a rare glimpse at an under-documented moment in history. The three remaining Mixtape sessions this Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday night should not be missed by film buffs or aficionados of Melbourne’s vital music scene.

Rating: Three and a half stars

(Nicolas Winding Refn, 2008)

With Bronson, Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (best known to date for his Pusher trilogy, which has previously screened at MIFF) has created a remarkably vivid excoriation of life in the British prison system as seen through the eyes of the UK’s most notorious inmate, Michael Petersen.

Petersen, who changes his name to ‘Charles Bronson’ partway through the film at the urging of his boxing manager, is endlessly brutalised by prison officials after initially being sentenced to seven years for a post office robbery that netted less than £50 and in which no-one was hurt. Their violence feeds his, and vice versa; an endless feedback loop of brutality and suffering.

Part biography, part operatic fantasy, the film has been aptly described as ‘a Clockwork Orange for the 21st century’, featuring as it does numerous scenes of extreme violence set to beautiful music, including Verdi, Puccini and Wagner; as well as extended direct-to-camera monologues by Bronson himself, who is always aware of his audience, and indeed often pandering to them.

The violence in the film is carefully choreographed so as to always appear staged; and set to majestic bursts of music as if to celebrate Bronson’s growing prison notoriety. Gorgeous cinematography, and exquisite lighting and composition ensure that even at its most brutal, the film possesses a sublime beauty in every frame.

Dark humour also permeates the film, such as a grotesquely funny scene in an insane asylum where a drugged-up Bronson and his fellow inmates flail and sway to Pet Shop Boys’ ‘It’s A Sin’. A later scene, where a newly released Bronson visits his uncle and his drag queen friends, is also played strictly for laughs.

At its heart, Bronson is the story of a man struggling to stay afloat in a sea of shit. His violence, Refn seems to be saying, is a means of self-expression that would later be channelled through poetry (for which the real-life Bronson has won numerous awards) and art; a quest for self-expression that was challenged and assaulted at every turn.

Rating: Four stars

(Dir. Richard Lowenstein, 1986)

The centrepiece of the festival's Punk Becomes Pop: The Australian Post-Punk Underground program is this digitally remastered edition of Richard Lowenstein's cult masterpiece, Dogs in Space, set in an anarchic Richmond share house and closely based on Lowenstein's own life and the lives of his friends and housemates - especially, and notoriously, the experiences of Melbourne playwright and musician Sam Sejavka, whose life and loves are exploited for the sake of the film.

Made at a time when the Australian film industry was largely concerned with national icons and an exaggerated sense of what it meant to be Australian (Crocodile Dundee was made the same year, and The Man From Snowy River just a few years earlier), Dogs in Space was radically different - an almost plotless film about the lives and times of a group of young people living in inner city Melbourne in 1978.

The film is episodic, fractured, moving in fits and starts towards its tragic conclusion, which is based on the overdose of Sejavka's real-life girlfriend at the time.

But while it may not be dramatically satisfying in the traditional sense, Dogs in Space is an enormously rewarding film in so many other ways. This remastered edition reveals the complexity of the sound design, and the rich cinematography that takes in everything from ticket queues outside Festival Hall to gigs at the now-lost Champion Hotel in Fitzroy (the home of the 'Little Bands' scene) and St Kilda's infamous Crystal Ballroom. The inclusion of bands of the day such as The Primative Calculators and Thrush and the Cunts, as well as songs by The Boys Next Door and Iggy Pop on the soundtrack make for a richly rewarding viewing and listening experience.

Performances vary, with the film's star, rock singer Michael Hutchence as Sammy in his first dramatic role, ranging from wooden to excellent, depending on the demands of the scene. Saskia Post as Sammy's lover, Anna, is superb throughout. Other actors vary enormously, but for me the performances matter less than the era they evoke, and for the passion with which the film is made. It's also fun spotting people such as filmmaker Tony Ayres making cameos at various points in the film.

Dogs in Space is an exercise in nostalgia about an influential but poorly documented period in Australian (un)popular culture, made less than a decade after the time in which it is set, by which point the time it evoked had already faded into drug-hazed memory. Seeing this immaculately restored edition, instead of a crappy old video copy, is both a delight and a priviledge. Seeing it makes me wish more than ever that I'd been born a few years earlier, so I could have experienced the time it documents first hand.

Rating: Three and a half stars

MIFF 2009 Diary Part the Eighth


(Lynn Shelton, 2009)

This indie comedy written and directed by Lynn Shelton explores a reunion between two former best friends from college when they reunite ten years later.

Ben (Mark Duplass) has married and settled down. He and his wife Anna (Alycia Delmore) are trying for a baby, so far unsuccessfully. The quiet order of their lives is interrupted late one night by the unexpected arrival of Andrew (Joshua Leonard), a hard drinking, fast living man still clinging to his shiftless collegiate lifestyle.

Within 24 hours Andrew has led Ben off the straight and narrow. At a drunken party, the pair hear about a local porn film festival, and drunkenly decide to enter by making a film in which they have sex with each other. It will, Andrew declares, be “beyond gay”; it will be porn as art.

When they sober up, instead of recognising what a bad idea this is, the two men persist with the plan; Andrew because he needs to prove that he really is a wild bohemian rather than the failure he fears himself to be; and Ben because he needs to prove to Andrew that his life isn’t as dull as it looks.

What could have been a sharply observed comedy-drama about two straight male friends trying to express their love for each other the only way they know how, the way society has conditioned them to – sexually – became dull and disappointing due to Shelton’s insistence on extended takes and improvised dialogue.

Neither Ben or Andrew are especially well-developed characters, and so there is little about them to engage or interest the audience; nor is there great chemistry between the two. Their meandering conversations lack drama and focus, and a hokey attempt to introduce conflict between them using a basketball game as a narrative device rings extremely false.

Humpday aims to be a good-natured exploration of male friendships. It fails.

Rating: Two stars

Monday, August 03, 2009

This just in about MIFF ticket sales

I don't often cut and paste emails and media releases, but in this instance I'm happy to make an exception:


It's business as usual on the MIFF ticketing website!

You may have read a lot of information recently in the press about the MIFF website and ticketing system. This email is to remind you that the web ticketing system is functioning as per normal, with some changes described below.

Some important points to note:

- The MIFF ticketing system has not been compromised in any way; no-one has been able to break into the system

- The ticketing system website passes PCI credit card and McAfee security checks; both are best practice industry security standards.

- All customer and credit card details are transferred using SSL encryption to maintain your privacy

- The ticketing site is locked down to Australian computer ip addresses only to filter out any potential offshore issues

- All information and activity on the system is logged and actively monitored, and any unauthorised activities that take place will be referred to police or lawyers for criminal or civil prosecution To access the MIFF ticketing website:

- You must have an account to log in to the ticketing system to be able to browse and purchase tickets.

- If you have purchased tickets this year on the website, you already have an email address and password to access the ticketing system.

- If you have forgotten your password, please contact MIFF via phone on 03 9662 3722 to recover your password.

- Make sure you print off your tickets to any sessions, as you book them.

Queues are developing to buy tickets and pick up bookings before sessions. You can create bookings via phone 03 9662 3722, or in person at any one of the MIFF box offices, but the fastest, easiest and most convenient way to book tickets is ONLINE using the ticketing system.

There are still tickets available for many of the excellent sessions over this final week of the festival. We urge you to take advantage of the ticketing website and see as many great films as you can!

Best wishes

MIFF ticketing staff

Sunday, August 02, 2009

MIFF Diary Part the Seventh

Continuing my series of off-the-cuff reviews from the 2009 Melbourne International Film Festival...

(Dir. Anand Tucker, 2009)

The final chapter in this grim trilogy was, regrettably, the most laboured, weighed down as it was by the need to pull together the various plot threads established in the preceding two films.

Nor was the complex story aided by constant flashbacks to past events, though I appreciated the filmmaker's willingness to credit his audience with the intelligence to recognise when we were witnessing events set in a previous time without having to blatantly signpost them. That said, it was
sometimes a struggle to recognise or remember key characters as a result, to the detriment of the story's concluding big reveal.

David Morrissey (pictured, top) was strong as Detective Chief Superintentdent Maurice Jobson, a guilt-ridden copper finally sick of his corrupt cohorts' excess; but the film really belonged to Mark Addy (pictured, right) as John Piggott, a third rate local solicitor compelled into action by the nagging of his conscience when an innocent lad (Gerard Kearns) is arrested by the police on suspicion of abducting a young girl. Despite the man responsible being dead - or so we think - it seems the killer responsible for the child murders depicted in Red Riding 1974 is active once more.

All the hens come home to roost - literally - in a melodramatic ending which seemed at odds with the tone of the film to date. An unsatisfying end to a flawed but fascinating screen trilogy.

Rating: Two and a half stars

Saturday, August 01, 2009

MIFF Diary Part the Sixth

(Dir. Gustave de Kervern & Benoit Delepine, 2008)

Screening as part of the festival's 'Vengeance is Mine' stream, a program of films about retribution, is this macabre French-Belgian comedy about a team of female factory workers who hire a hitman to take out their boss when he closes their manufacturing plant down.

September 11 conspiracy theorists, people smuggling, the green movement and rampant capitalism all cop a serve along the way, as a bumbling pair - Louise (Yolande Moreau), an antisocial and illiterate man who is pretending to be a woman in order to find work after serving 15 years in prison; and Michel (Bouli Lanners) a woman living as a man after taking too many hormones as a child in order to become a champion hammer-thrower - try and track down and kill the man responsible for the factory's misfortune.

This comedy is as black as it gets (as evidenced by a scene where the bumbling and slovenly Michel weasels out of shooting the capitalist responsible for the factory's closure by talking his cousin, who is dying of cancer, into doing the job for him) although an all-pervasive melancholy also infuses the story to strong effect.

The film's acerbic tone won't be to everyone's taste, nor will it's occasionally uneven pace, but I was delighted by Louise-Michel, laughing uproariously throughout.

Rating: Three and a half stars

(Dir. Lance Daly, 2008)

This simple indie charmer - written, directed and shot by Lance Daly and set a few days before Christmas - is the story of two not-quite-teens, Dylan (Shane Curry, who was 12 at the time of shooting) and Kylie (Kelly O'Neill, 11) who flee their abusive homes in a grim estate where dead dogs and broken bikes lie scattered beside the roads, in order to scour the streets of Dublin in search of Dylan's older brother.

Kylie fights with her sister and lives in fear of her abusive uncle Maurice; Dylan tries to drown out his father and step-mother's fighting by playing computer games. But when he tries to stop his dad from hitting his step-mother, Dylan's father turns on him.

The dramatic and dynamic sequence in which Kylie helps Dylan escape his dad by climbing through the bathroom window and down a ladder is superbly shot, staged and edited; one of several beautiful sequences in the film.

Hitching a lift with a canal bargeman (David Bendito), who introduces them to the music of Bob Dylan along the way, once the pair are in Dublin the film skillfully captures the sheer, unfettered joy of childhood; countered with several scenes of high tension which are made all the more menacing by the protagonists' young ages and their unfettered, innocent performances.

Kisses opens in black and white, but colour starts to slowly leach into the film as the kids make their way towards Dublin. In less competent hands this effect could have been mawkish, or an irritating reference to The Wizard of Oz; but Daly plays it so subtly that it works beautifully - especially in a final, magical moment at the film's end.

While one scene in particular - a chase sequence the likes of which I've never seen before - may strain credibility to a degree, overall I found Kisses to be a charming, touching and near-perfect film despite its slight nature and brief running time. An uncredited cameo by Stephen Rea as Bob Dylan, and a great soundtrack, are also among the highlights.

Without doubt, my favourite film of the festival to date, even though I struggled at times to decipher some of the dialogue due to the heavy Irish accents featured in the film (optional subtitles will probably be added for the local DVD release, I'm told).

Rating: Four and a half stars

MIFF 2009 Diary Part the Fifth

(Dir. James Marsh, 2009)

Each chapter of this made-for-television drama about unspeakable crimes and police corruption is shot by a different dirctor on different stock, meaning that each part has a drastically different style and tone. Part One, Red Riding 1974, was shot by director Julian Jarrold (who made last year's cinematic remake of Brideshead Revisited) and was overtly cinematic and artful in its look and tone; but with Red Riding 1980, director James Marsh (Man on Wire) takes a leaner, meaner approach to the tale, and to far greater effect.

Set against the backdrop of the Yorkshire Ripper's killing spree, the plot sees Paddy Considine as Peter Hunter, a copper who has tried and failed in the past to unravel the web of corruption and graft which makes up the world of Yorkshire's police force; and who now is called back to conduct a review of their investigation into the Ripper's crimes.

Before long, Hunter and his team have turned up a suspect who seems an unlikely victim - at which point the Ripper's crimes become incidental, and the corruption witnessed firsthand in the previous chapter starts to ooze out of the shadows.

A tightly plotted and superbly directed episode, this is Britain's Channel 4 rising to the challenge of making great television set in recent years by the US cable network HBO. Performances - especially Considine's increasingly conflicted Hunter, and Sean Harris as the vile. weasel-like corrupt cop Bob Craven - are superb throughout, while the balance between historical fact and dramatic fiction is judiciously judged. Events witnessed in the previous chapter come home to roost like vultures in the hen house, but atmosphere never overpowers the rapidly developing story, which twists and turns but never throws the audience off the noxious scent of the central plot. Grim, fascinating and masterful television - though why the hell did this and other episodes have to be screened with subtitles? Bloody Americans and their inability to cope with regional English accents...

Rating: Four stars