Thursday, August 23, 2012

I promise I don't do this on purpose.

Magic Mike Night: Girls' Night.

I totally thought Channing Tatum was in One Tree Hill. Honestly, I did. Apparently I was mistaken; that's Chad Michael Murray. Apparently they are completely different people. The more you know, right? And, as we all know, knowing is half the battle. What I definitely know to be true however - while we're on the topic of Channing Tatum - is that during high school, one of my good friends was OBSESSED with him. The way Evee felt about ol' Channing was much the same as the way I felt about Star Wars, namely the character of Wedge Antilles (but please, let's not go there). A passionate thing, the affections of a teenage girl.

When I heard about Magic Mike, and more specifically that it's directed by Mr Steven Soderburgh, I immediately thought to invite my old pal. She'd see some shirtless gyrating Tatum, I'd see me a good film while not feeling a complete loser sitting in the cinema by myself surrounded by many ladies all hot under the collar. Not that I have anything against being in the cinema by myself (it's one of my Favourite Activities), but I'd already heard rumours of the intensely filled theatres full of ladies wanting some intensely naked and muscly men. So I asked her. She immediately responded by making a Facebook event, entitled "MAGIC MIKE NIGHT".


I inwardly laughed when I clicked the "accept" button. I suppose if there was ever a perfect instance to be involved in a cliched/quintessential girls night (not usually one of my preferred activities, if we're being perfectly honest), it was this. Cocktails, then seeing a movie abut male strippers, starring Channing Tatum. 

As I drove over to Evee's house with the necessary ingredients for a vessel of sangria balancing on the passenger seat, I wondered what would the film be like. Certainly I knew the girls would be expecting non-stop stripping, with the few non-stripping scenes beholding nary a shirt in sight. I, on the other hand, was hoping and expecting Steven Soderbergh to dish out a smart, entertaining sojourn into a world I knew nothing about. The closest I've been to a strippers' is a sex show in Amsterdam, and I'm pretty sure that's something entirely different. I'm certain strippers don't have sex on stage, and that there's more in the way of teasing going on than actual penetration of any orifice. I'd apologise for that imagery, but frankly I was the one with balls very near my face while the two people were fucking onstage so I can assure you that I'm the one with the worse image in my head.

We arrived the box office, five ladies in our twenties looking very excitable.
"Let me guess" said the girl behind the desk, grinning. "Magic Mike?"
"YES!!" responded one of my companions, in her best "LADIES OUT ON THE TOWN!" voice.
My palm went to my face, but I couldn't help but laugh as well. If there was a high number of females milling about outside the cinema, then inside it was truly alarming. The cinema was FULL. FULL OF WOMEN. There was exactly one dude, who looked like he wanted to run a mile in any direction away from the movies. This dude was swimming in pussy, and not in a good way. He was drowning in high-pitched voices declaring exclamations of how fucking hot Channing Tatum was going to be at all times but especially when he's de-robed. This poor unfortunate guy was obviously there with his significant other, and my guess is that the promise of post-movie sex was the lure that had brought him to this apparent hell-hole. Poor guy. You can bet your easily-removable britches that every girl that saw him sitting there glowering was thinking the same thing. Wh-pssh, wh-pssh! Poor unfortunate soul. 

It's interesting to note that as we walked out of the theatre, I turned to Evee and asked what she'd thought of the film.
"I was unimpressed. I don't know if I liked it...I wanted more stripping!" Was her response.
"Are you serious??" I replied, shocked. "They stripped like, EVERY FIVE MINUTES."
"I know. But I wanted MORE CHANNING."

Don't let that deter you however. After all, the very dear friend that uttered that also - earlier in the night - asked me (and I quote):
"So what other movies has this Stan Sourdough made?"


I guess what that says is the following: If you were expecting a film that essentially adds up to one, really long dance sequence (a la all those terrible dance movies/TV shows proliferating our screens), you'll be disappointed. You might be disappointed, but you shouldn't really be disappointed at all, given the amount of stripping that does actually occur during Magic Mike's running time. Hot tip: there's lots of stripping.

Basically, Magic Mike is about a stripper named Mike. He's been stripping for a while, and is saving up all those scrunched up one dollar bills in order to pursue his real dream: owning a custom furniture business. He also occasionally works in construction, which is where he meets Adam. Adam has no money but he has a nice bod, so when Adam happens to end up at the strip club where Mike works, he's thrust (haha...thrust) onstage in the place of a stripper who is unable perform. This happens and that happens and voila! Adam is dubbed The Kid, and Mike takes him under his very beefy wing.

The trajectory of the film is an easy one to foresee: young bright eyed and bushy tailed youngster enters a crazy world of sex and drugs, becomes corrupted. Rise and fall! Betrayal! Love interest! You know there's going to be sexual tension between Adam's sister Brooke and Mike. You know Adam's going to get tainted by all the money and sex, and you know Mike's headed for a fall. That being said though, Soderbergh (Sourdough) executes everything in a really compelling, mature, interesting way. It's a vivid and increasingly dark look into an at times fairly seedy universe. For every victorious night onstage, there's eventually going to be a house party visit that descends into a drug-fuelled brawl. As we've learned from countless backstage musicals, what goes up must inevitably come down. The owner of the club where much of the film is set, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) is not only a charismatic frontman and master of ceremonies, but also a shrewd businessman who knows how to get the most out of his troupe and the dollars they deliver. That being said, Magic Mike is also an incredibly enjoyable romp, with many a moment of comedy to be had.

The performances are all good, nothing's ham-fisted, the motivations and flaws of characters aren't rammed down your throats. I mention this because if you were expecting something along the lines of Step Up or Generic Dance Battle Romantic Journey, you'd most likely also be expecting something very easy to digest. Mercifully, Magic Mike isn't Dance Dance Step Up Revolution. Nuance! Subtlety! Showing not telling! These things you will find.

Channing Tatum has really, really made me rethink the way in which I consider him. So long, I'd thought him as merely a somewhat potato-like guy who either danced a lot or looked sad in Nicholas Sparks adaptations. Or was that Chad Michael Murray? Fuck, I can't remember. In any case, I was laughing near-uncontrollably at points during 21 Jump Street, and I found him to be an immensely likeable presence onscreen. As in, distinctly more interesting and well-imagined than a potato.

Credit goes to Miguel for this one.

Magic Mike is no different. Ol' Tatum's able to be the emotional heart of the film, makes for a solid (YOU CAN SAY THAT AGAIN, said all the ladies) leading man, and proves himself to be a guy you can't help but root for. In addition to that, he can really, really bust a move. By that I mean to say I'm unsure how he manages to be so agile and jump so high with a body that big. I for one, am convinced that he's some sort of really svelte wizard type.

There's no denying he's got a body for which the laydeez are wont to go weak at the knees for. Word on the street (next to me in the cinema) is that Tatum actually began his career as a stripper. The stripping sequences during the film are all super entertaining, well choreographed, and are really conducive to the sort of shrieking giggles that were happening onscreen. Like I said, I've never been to a male strip joint, but I can only imagine they're filled with hens' nights, birthday posses and intoxicated women. At any rate, the stripping sequences within Magic Mike are probably damn deserving of the hooting and wolf-whistles that were erupting around the cinema. Construction workers, firemen, a fourth of July theme; I'd wager there's something for every lady in the mood for some nudity.

Hell, I'm usually one for the scrawny nerdy dudes but at times even I'm sure even I burst into giggling fits of "Shiieeeeeeeeet". Especially during this one sequence where Matthew McConaughey takes to the stage, I distinctly remember turning to the pal beside me and flicking my fingers in approval "That McConaughey still got it!"

So sue me.
So. What did I think? 
I enjoyed Magic Mike. It was entertaining, interesting, vivid and mature. Channing Tatum is definitely earning points in my book. Let's hope he doesn't do any more Nicholas Sparks adaptations and sticks to being funny and dancing well in between Acting. 

Also, I did enjoy GIRLS' NIGHT. I won't soon be heading to a LADIES AT THE CINEMA type film again any time soon, but it was a highly enjoyable experience. I do adore the girls I went with, so I suppose it wouldn't really matter what movie I saw with them, I'd probably have a rad-ass time. I tell you what though, judging by car-ride post-movie banter amongst the boyfriended girls, I know at least three guys got very lucky that night. HEY-O!

I give Magic Mike 3.5 out of 5 martini glasses full of muscle and dollar bills. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

MIFF: Pure

Dir. Lisa Langseth 

"Mesmerising" is an adjective I've been known to use often. Or at the very least, I find that I use it on a regular basis, to describe a variety of things. Performances, long takes, certain ridiculous gifs found in the dark underbelly of the internet. However, while watching Pure late last week I found myself truly mesmerised by the film's young lead, Alicia Vikander. I say that I was truly mesmerised because I actually COULD NOT tear my eyes away from her. Her eyes, her face, and the myriad emotions bubbling just beneath the surface.

In fact, I was so busy scribbling gushing notes on the tram going home that I managed to get on the wrong tram. True story, and testament to the extent of Pure having whisked away with my thoughts.

Alicia Vikander is Katarina, a twenty-year-old former prostitute, who lives with her boyfriend in the scummy part of Sweden (I guess). A troubled youth who despises her alcoholic mother, she's constantly dealing with social services, and constantly getting fired. She's prone to bursts of rage, in between long stretches of quiet, bottled up emotion. After stumbling upon a piece of music by Mozart on Youtube, Katarina is immediately and deeply affected by it. To her, the music represents (and sends her to) a place where even those she hates can't reach her.

After Katarina somewhat accidentally lands herself a job as a receptionist at a concert hall where she'd previously attended a performance, she promptly sets about burning all of her bridges and becomes involved with the egotistical resident conductor. The conductor (Samuel Fröler) is a pompous, arrogant, selfish ass, but it's easy to see why Katarina would become enamoured of him. Which she does, immediately. It's immediately after this, that Katarina's sojourn into the world of the upper class and classical music begins to take a turn for the dire.

The recurring use of Mozart's Requiem - a performance of which Katarina attends - is incredibly effective. It imbues Pure with a sense of impending doom, with the overriding feeling that this is all going to end badly for at least someone involved. Indeed, as Katarina's life spirals further and further out of her control Requiem seems to represent all of the boiling rage and despair sitting just underneath Katarina's beautiful yet increasingly haggard exterior.

Pure is made by Vikander's performance. It's an incredibly natural, nuanced, graceful performance. Every small victory, every instance in which Adam the conductor slights her, they're all reflected with a subtlety and maturity. It's at times somewhat painful viewing, as Katarina is pushed further and further to her limits. "Courage is life's only measure" Adam tells her, and one can't help but wonder how far Katarina might be able to get before she or her world snaps.

Pure is my surprise hit of the festival so far, and is well worth a look, if only to become absorbed with Alicia Vikander's superb portrayal of a young woman pushed to her edge.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

MIFF: Violeta Went to Heaven

Dir. Andrés Wood

My experience of seeing Violeta Went to Heaven was an interesting one. Being a biopic of Chilean national hero and folksinger Violeta Parra, the film is one entirely spoken in Spanish. However, Saturday's screening managed to be devoid of subtitles. Due to the mix-up, understandably about half of the audience had to depart after half an hour of failed attempts to couple the digital print with some English words. Lucky enough to have two Chilean parents, I was able to watch Violeta unimpeded by the lack of subtitulos. I was pretty chuffed with myself about that, I have to admit. That being said though, I found myself fumbling along at some points, namely the points in which characters spoke with lightning-quick urgency.

Perhaps it was the fact that at certain points I was unable to quite catch exactly what was being said, or perhaps it was Andrés Wood's choice to distractingly interweave moments of magic realism into the story, but I didn't find Violeta Se Fue a los Cielos resonating with me like I'd hoped it would.

Violeta Parra was born in 1917, growing up in rural Chile with her siblings and her widowed schoolteacher/musician/alcoholic father. In adulthood she traveled around Chile collecting folk songs before moving to Europe with her much younger lover, Swiss flautist Gilbert Favre. Before committing suicide in 1967, Parra had time to be a poet, singer and artist (she had her work exhibited at the Louvre) as well as a member of the Chilean communist party. I knew next to nothing about Parra's life before watching Andrés Wood's biopic of the singer's tragic story, which is at times irritating in its chronological choices. As a result, I had trouble piecing together the sequence of onscreen events, as well as being clear on what was actually happening and what was a more fantastical scene. Held together by an television interview from the mid-1960s, Violeta Went to Heaven jumps around various points in Parra's life, as well as instances of characters thought dead gazing directly down the barrel of the camera and of Parra striding through a misty wood.

Even if the film's structure and more over the top poetic choices were at times frustrating, the music that would inevitably fill a movie about a Chilean singer is astoundingly beautiful. Indeed, I found myself being moved to the point of teary-eyed sniffling at more than one point. While that probably says more about me than anything else, there's no denying that the music within Violeta is consistently gorgeous and buoys the film a great deal. As far as I'm concerned, I find that I'm very often moved to tears by South American folk music so there was never any doubt that I was going to find some sort of emotional connection to the onscreen proceedings.

Fransisca Gavilán's depiction of Parra is an emotional, passionate one. It's also a tiring one, wanting in nuance. She carries the film though, and is dynamic enough to portray someone whose life was so tumultuous and full of tragedy and hardship. Thomas Durand too, is solid as the Swiss flautist that Parra falls in love with. However, not many of the other characters that inhabit Parra's life are given enough screen time to make a lasting impression.

Violeta Went to Heaven is a solid biopic of a fascinating character within Chilean history. While at times moving, it is also uneven and lacks the emotional weight that it could have had. This is in part because of unnecessary expressionistic sequences. The music that propels the film though, is crazy-good, and Violeta is greatly improved for its inclusion.

2.5/5 (an extra .5 given because I loved the music so goddamn much)

MIFF: Moonrise Kingdom

I almost feel foolish, all this posting of invariably positive reviews from MIFF. I mean, it's obviously not a bad thing. I'd much rather spend a fortnight watching films I enjoy over films I think are bad/boring/inconsequential. That being said though, I feel still like I'm being won over very easily by these nuggets of cinematic bliss. What a slurry, no? Gimme some good performances and some lush visuals and suddenly I'm all hot and bothered, all "WANNA LIKE, GET OUT OF HERE? BACK TO MY PLACE SO I CAN WRITE A GUSHING BLOG?"

But I digress.

Moonrise Kingdom was the MIFF equivalent of my over-the-top excitement about The Dark Knight Rises. Mercifully, Moonrise Kingdom managed to live up to my lofty expectations, and then exceed them with flying colours. In short, I really enjoyed it.

The long version of that succinct little statement is this:
Wes Anderson has crafted a really magical story. Admittedly, he does have a real propensity for telling slightly fantastical tales that happen to be somewhat set in a reality we're familiar with, so it shouldn't really come as a surprise that he's done it again. In the case of Moonrise Kingdom, it's a story of first love, of the last summer before adulthood rears its ugly head.

Sam is an orphan, and by far the most unpopular member of his khaki scout troupe. Suzy is also a misfit without friends, a bookworm who's been deemed a "troubled child". They meet the summer before this one and instantly become pen pals, confiding with each other about their social misfortune and familial woes. We pick up the story as Suzy looks out her window with her ever-present pair of binoculars. She's on the look-out for Sam, with whom she's planned to meet and run away into the wilderness of the small island where they live.

They bust out of their respective prisons, Sam armed with his scouting skills and a giant backpack, and Suzy with a bunch of books, her kitten and a battery-operated record player. While Suzy's lawyer parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), the local policeman (Bruce Willis) and Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton) pursue the young couple, Sam and Suzy trek across the island to a secluded beach. As an orphan, Sam's also being followed by a character known only as "Social Services" (Tilda Swinton), and all the while we the audience of a monumental hurricane that's about to hit the small island thanks information given to us to the narrator/chorus (Bob Balaban). After the small community is torn apart by the actions of the young lovers, the storm promises to set the stage for a monumental showdown.

Moonrise Kingdom is full of the dysfunctional characters, meticulous composition, nostalgic colour palette, quirky musical choices (the use of Hank Williams pleased me greatly) and humour that one would expect from Wes Anderson.

Anderson's films tend to follow the stories of quirky, intelligent underdogs. This is no different, with Jared Gilman's Sam being pretty reminiscent of a previous Anderson hero, Rushmore's Max Fischer. Both are supremely confident in themselves and their abilities, despite being unpopular and labelled as somewhat of a failure by some. I often find myself being unconvinced by young performances onscreen, yet Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward give really lovely performances. They're solemn and serious yet full of life, and ready to defeat any obstacle that dares stand in their way. You can't help but root for the young pair. They embody what it's like to be young and completely fearless.

As one would expect, Moonrise Kingdom is an ensemble piece, with each character probably being interesting and entertaining enough to warrant a story of their own. Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand are all great. Bill Murray is, as ever, playing his usual Wes Anderson role, that of the slightly bored and slightly disappointed curmudgeon. Bob Balaban is quietly hilarious as the narrator, resplendent in a vaguely Life Aquatic-esque getup. Jason Schwartzmann makes a quick yet hilarious appearance as Cousin Ben, a smooth-operating contraband-selling scout leader. Even Harvey Keitel appears, as the commander of a neighbouring khaki scout troupe.

Moonrise Kingdom is Anderson's most ambitious work to date, full of all the humour, sadness, fantasy and stylistic flourishes that one would expect from the director. It's beautiful viewing, and it's distinctly Anderson, but it's never annoying about it. Given how much Anderson's style has evolved and grown since his 1996 debut, I was a little worried Moonrise Kingdom was going to risk edging into the territory of over-the-top. Not so however, as this particular ode to young love and innocence manages to be just the right amount of just about everything.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

MIFF: The Sessions

I admit that I initially bought my ticket to The Sessions because I am a fan of John Hawkes. I admit it, so sue me. I saw his name and my eyes lit up. Then I saw a picture of him in bed with Helen Hunt and thought something along the lines of, "Oh? John Hawkes as a romantic lead? I'll take ten!"

It was only after that I read up on what I'd be seeing on over the weekend. Written and directed by Ben Lewin, The Sessions is based on the autobiographical article by Mark O'Brien, On Seeing a Sex Surrogate. Stricken by polio at a young age (as was Lewin), O'Brien seeks to live his life to the fullest, graduating from university even while being confined to a gurney with his only limited use of his head and neck available to him. At the age of 38 though, thinking he's getting close to his "expiry date", he decides he'd like to lose his virginity. As a deeply religious man, he feels it necessary to consult a priest (William H. Macy) in order to proceed with a clear conscience. After some deliberation, Father Brendan gives O'Brien the go-ahead, believing the man upstairs will give the poet/writer/journalist a free pass on extra-marital sex. It's at this point that Helen Hunt enters the picture, as the article's titular sex surrogate.

It's not difficult to see why The Sessions won big at Sundance, including a prize for ensemble acting; the film is made by the performances within it. John Hawkes gives an Oscar-worthy turn as Mark O'Brien, managing to give a natural, warm, riveting performance with only the (limited) use of his face. His body too, is a sight to behold, twisted upward with the use of a contraption dubbed onset as the "torture ball". It's the type of performance that invites attention from the Academy, yet doesn't scream "HEY YOU. GIMME AN OSCAR. LOOK HOW OSCAR-WORTHY I AM." Helen Hunt too, gives her best performance in many an outing. It seems a bold portrayal initially, getting her gear off constantly. Yet it is noteworthy more so because of the restraint and maturity she projects, and the initial iciness she brings to a role that could have been all warmth and nurturing. Those are the two worthy of a poster, but a film doesn't win big for an ensemble with two good performances. Moon Bloodgood and Annika Marks as O'Brien's assistant/carers and Jennifer Kumiyama as a friend with Arthrogryposis who lends her bed all give great supporting turns. And of course, William H Macy is great. But then, his default state is probably usually somewhere in the "pretty great" area of description. His priest though, is understated while at the same time being darn funny. 

Back to the funnies though. Which is the one of the other really noteworthy things about The Sessions: it's as heartwarming and emotionally stirring as one would expect given the premise, but it's also incredibly funny. All the awkwardness and terror that so many would remember vividly from their first time "attempting full intercourse" with another human being is perfectly captured, to often hysterical result. The Sessions does this though without being crude or stepping into gross-out territory...which is no mean feat given how much ejaculation is involved. Apart from all the torture ball stuff, the emotional resonating, all that bizzo, John Hawkes should probably also be commended on his comedic timing.

Ben Lewin too, should be commended. He's made a - as much as I hate this phrase - life-affirming film, that urges all to live theirs to the fullest, and does it without being cheesy. It addresses O'Brien's Catholic guilt with regard to sex while managing to avoid casting a negative shadow on Catholicism. It's Oscar-worthy without Oscar-baiting, and moving without ever descending into schmaltz. Is there nothing this film can't do? I don't know. I do know this though: it's most definitely worth your while checking out when it inevitably gets a nation-wide release. 


Monday, August 6, 2012


Directors: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence

I was hoping to be terrified. I was hoping that I'd barely make it home with my sanity intact out of every shadowy alleyway I'd be expecting doom and death and some sort of dark hellish creature to leap forth. Unfortunately, that was not to be the result of watching V/H/S.

At no point did I feel like I was on the verge of chundering up my pre-movie dumplings as a result of the pure, undiluted terror onscreen. While that's probably a good thing for those sitting around me, I found that fact to be a bit of a downer. A far more accurate description would be this: that V/H/S is at times genuinely, at times darkly hilarious, quite often very suspenseful, and while at times uneven, is definitely a welcome breath of fresh air to an increasingly stale genre.

V/H/S is an anthology of five short stories of horror, realised by as many directors, and held together by a flimsy premise about a bunch of petty criminals being hired to steal a VHS tape. "When you see it, you'll know" they're told, and so the obnoxious group of guys begin to rummage around a run-down old house. The creepy location also houses a dead guy seated in front of a bunch of TV screens, as well as (of course) a creepy-as-hell basement. They watch the tapes, stories unfold, we get terrified.

Given that V/H/S is of the increasingly popular "found footage" horror sub-genre, it's all a hand-held, shaky, dizzying affair. The opening ("Amateur Night") proves to be especially difficult to decipher, although it is true to the antics of a group of obnoxious creeps in their twenties. While the hand-held style will no doubt infuriate some, for the most part it's used pretty effectively within the shorts.

The content of the short stories themselves range from vampires to Halloween rituals to a cabin-in-the-woods massacre and a haunting captured entirely via Skype. They all feature stock-standard characters, and conventions of the horror genre. The guys out on the town, the honeymooning couple, four friends at a cabin, a Halloween turned sour. Conventions they may be, but each vignette manages to bring a refreshing spin to the well-worn characters and locations. A mood-shift, or a dark moment of wicked humour, or an intriguing use of the hand-held POV form; the directors involved all obviously know their horror, and what works.

A film comprising of six stories will inevitably be home to a couple of weaker links to sit alongside the gems. Happily, even those that inhabit the lesser positions of terror and effectiveness still manage to be entertaining, and bring something refreshing or inventive to the table. In an age where the horror genre is so prone to mediocrity and stupidity (not in the good way), that in itself is surely worth the price of admission. Hell, all six of the films did actually contain moments of real suspense. At times I even found myself peeking at the screen from within fingers while laughing at what was going on.

Even if I was able to get to sleep that night without a care in the world, I'd be lying if I said V/H/S was devoid of scares and the ol' sense of dread/impending doom. Particular standouts included the Radio Silence collective's spectacular Halloween haunted house romp 10/31/98, as well as Second Honeymoon, which manages to be equal parts suspenseful, surprisingly graphic, and darkly amusing. In addition to that, I found myself rather surprised at how unsettled I was by the deceptively simple Skype romp, That Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger.

V/H/S isn't likely to send hardened horror fans home with The Fear. It's also slightly too long. That being said though, it does give hope to lovers of the genre. It's inventive, refreshing, entertaining and smart. Even when it's not so great, it's pretty damn enjoyable, and better than much of what else is going in the horror world at the moment. It also made me hide behind my hands and put my knees up to my face a couple of times, something that certainly warrants consideration.



Sunday, August 5, 2012

MIFF: Shut Up and Play the Hits

The first film to hit my eyes at MIFF '12 was akin to a great opening track of a kick-ass mix-tape. I think it was High Fidelity, where someone declared the opening track must be "a killer, an attention-grabber". That's a given of course, but as I tapped my foot and resisted the urge to have a little seated boogie, I couldn't help but make take note of how well Shut Up and Play the Hits ticked that particular box. In one fell swoop, Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace's documentary/concert film managed to be just the sort of exhilarating, poignant and highly enjoyable way I prefer to begin fortnights spent at the cinematorium.

Shut Up and Play the Hits chronicles the 48 hour period before and after the final LCD Soundsystem show. It's part funeral, part farewell party, and entirely a move very consciously orchestrated by the band's engine, James Murphy. Apart from the obvious inclusion of footage from the concert itself - at a sold-out Madison Square Garden - Southern and Lovelace also follow Murphy around during preparations for the gig, throughout the day after, as well documenting an interview with Chuck Klosterman. All the while however, Murphy doesn't address or acknowledge the camera. We watch him as he shaves, as he potters around his apartment, takes his adorable dog for a walk, visits a friend. Even the Klosterman interview which provides the film's narration, is filmed at times almost voyeuristically. As a result, one does end up wondering to what extent each shot was constructed and deliberate. Like the death/end/demise of LCD Soundsystem as a project, much of Shut Up and Play the Hits seems to be highly controlled. And like the at times melancholy and quite introspective lyrical content of Murphy's songs, it's all interestingly juxtaposed with the no-holds-barred exhilaration of their live performance (oh boy oh boy is it ever fun), as well as the moments in which Murphy's emotions in the day following bubble to the surface.

Obviously it helps that I've been a great fan of LCD Soundsystem for many years now. Hell, I very clearly remember watching the final concert, streamed live via I was in my pyjamas (it must've been the early afternoon), chatting to a friend streaming it from London. He was at a hostel computer, I was at my parents' house, and LCD Soundsystem were ending their career at a sold-out Madison Square Garden. I recall consciously thinking that I was watching something special, something that would never ever happen again. Watching it on the big screen, sumptuously photographed with tracking shots and focus pulls - no buffering, or cries of "FUCKING LAG" - that feeling seemed to be creeping back.

I'd hazard to say that one doesn't need to be a fan of LCD to enjoy the musical segments of Shut Up and Play the Hits, but I'm obviously fairly biased. I've put their songs on mix-tapes for everyone from romantic interests to family members to a metal-loving pals. I'd put that down to James Murphy's propensity to make eloquent, mature, introspective, hilarious music. But you know, I am a fan. I'll say this much though, I found it difficult to keep myself (flying solo, of course) from dancing around in my seat, and by the film's close I'd long given up on trying to keep my feet from tapping. The concert captured is a worthy last hurrah - the crowd swarms beneath a huge disco ball, the band cut loose (Al Doyle in particular, never remains still and upright for more than a couple of seconds). It kind of makes you want to run out into the night and find a gig to attend and have an emotional attachment to. Highlights (for those of you playing at home) included "All My Friends", "Dance Yrself Clean", "Movement", a guest appearance by Reggie Watts, and the concert's closing number: "New York I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down". If it's in an indicator of how amped up I was after leaving the cinema, I sent a message to a friend that read: "GO SEE SHUT UP AND PLAY THE HITS. JAMES MURPHY IS A FUCKING BOSS. SO GOOD. GO SEE. GOGOGOGOGGOGO."

Murphy is a dynamic frontman, and makes for an intriguing, articulate and thoughtful protagonist. Via his interview with Klosterman, we see how thoroughly he's considered the reasoning behind ending the band, as well as his preoccupation with aging, his awareness and fondness of pretensions, his sense of humour. At the same time however, Klosterman often seems to have far more to say than Murphy himself on the band's trajectory and legacy. Perhaps it's the intellectualizing and the somewhat performative aspect of some scenes that make the instances in which Murphy sheds tears over the band's death surprisingly poignant and moving. As balloons fall from the roof, on the phone to a friend,  visiting the gear for a last time before it's all sold off are just a few instances.

Shut Up and Play the Hits is for fans of LCD Soundsystem. The same way someone unfamiliar with The Band might enjoy The Last Waltz because it's so damn entertaining and beautiful however, I'd put it out there that music fans in general are likely to get a kick out of LCD's funeral party. Shit, I hope my funeral's as much fun.

3.5/5 stars (As a fan, I'm tempted to bust out a 4/5)


Thursday, August 2, 2012

It's MIFF Time.

It's that time again. The time of year when I disappear for a few weeks, into a cloud of little sleep and many movies. In case any of you were hoping to hang out with me over August, I'm afraid I'm going to have to disappoint. I'll be unavailable for comment IRL, unless of course you want to meet up with me at the ol' cinematorium. The Melbourne International Film Festival is well and truly filling up my schedule.

It appears that in the last few posts of note on here I've been a little overly excited. I don't know how to feel about that. Perhaps it's a genuine enthusiasm for the things that are going on around me. Perhaps it's the fact that I usually blog when I'm highly caffeinated and as a result uncomfortably energetic. Perhaps it's a little from Column A and a little from Column B. Either way, I look at my calendar and I can't help but be very pleased with my upcoming movements. I actually haven't been to MIFF since 2009; both last year and the year before I was overseas. Which is fine of course - don't even get me started on what I was doing this time last year - but I can hardly wait to get stuck back into it.


In case anyone was wondering where I'll be spending my time over the next two and a half weeks, here you are:

LCD Soundsystem's farewell concert. This is one of the few films I wish I had to foresight and good thinking to find a buddy for. I usually prefer to get my moviefilm on solo, but I think this one'll be a ripper of a film to see in a team.

Horror film, something about finding a VHS tape. Perhaps it is a haunted VHS tape? Will terrify. Hopefully. I hope to be terrified. I hope I barely make it home with my sanity because everything is so terrifying after walking out of the theatre.

I like John Hawkes, so I'm seeing The Sessions. Guy who has a #dark disease of some sort wants to have sex, so enlists Helen Hunt to help him out. 

I wouldn't be a self-respecting hipster type if I didn't see Moonrise Kingdom as soon as is humanly possible. So I am. While this isn't the sort of Dark Knight Rises anticipation that's been all the rage in my brain recently, I am really pumped for this. My love of Wes Anderson began right about the time I accidentally watched Bottle Rocket when I was about fourteen. So, a while ago. Hence the excitement.

Skateboarding in East Germany! Same as the way I am attracted to people who understand physics and math, I'm one of those rather cliched ladies who find themselves drawn to skaters. This is probably because numbers make no sense to me and I'm far and away the most uncoordinated person I know. As in, I'm no good at skating. I'm attending this with a like-minded lady, and I'm looking forward to it immensely.

I originally saw the trailer for Violeta while actually in Chile, and cursed the fact that it was to be released there after I returned to Australia. As you can imagine, I was very pleased to see it on the program for MIFF. I'm not so pleased with the international title it's received - Violeta Went to Heaven - but I guess them's the breaks. The titular Violeta is Violeta Parra, the Chilean singer. I heard her music for the first time earlier this year at a barbeque celebrating my mother's family's 30th anniversary of arriving in Australia. By about halfway through one of her tunes the majority of the family was in tears, so I suppose she's a significant figure in Chilean history. 

Seriously though, I'm going with my family and I think we'll fill the cinema. 

Short films. I'm not sure what's on, but I'm looking forward to the surprise.

I've been a fan of Mark Duplass since I saw Humpday at MIFF '09. I am currently re-watching Parks and Recreation. This looks pretty damn cool. Reporter and a couple of interns track down a guy who takes out an ad searching for a time travel companion. Romance and hilarity ensue.


Ken Loach. Down on his luck soon-to-be-father Scottish dude on probation steals whiskey. Looks fun.

Another Chilean flick! Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, about Pinochet's 1988 referendum. Won big at Directors Fortnight at Cannes. 

So. Those are the flicks I have tickets to currently. As soon as payday rolls around, I'll be buying tickets to Bestiare, War Witch and an animation shorts screening. I also feel like my list is currently a little too heavy on the American side so I'll be looking to check out something Swedish, as well as at least one of the films screening as part of the Accent on Asia program. Basically I'm seeing the ten listed, plus at least five more. 

See you on the other side!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Internet Harvest

...haven't had one of these in a while, have we?

Here are some good books paired with bikinis on pretty girls.

For instance:

Good, no?

The Dark Knight Rises is still on my mind, obviously. Following my comments about Bane's voice:

Personally, I prefer 'before' sound ... indecipherable as it is. 

What else ... here's a fairly rad video by one of the guys I work with, depicting the evolution of the design lair. Features yours truly, for a split second. 

And here's a gif of Gary Oldman, part of which now graces my phone's background. 

Today's a productive one, obviously!