AFI staff go to MIFF – Part 4: Jane Carracher

In this short blog series, get to know some of your friendly AFI staff members through their eclectic picks from this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival. In Parts 1, 2 & 3, Lia McCrae-Moore, Simon Elchlepp and Tany Tribuzio shared their MIFF 2011 highlights so far. Here’s the fourth installment.

Jane Carracher is the AFI’s Finance Manager/IT Director/Social Co-Ordinator/Cake Buyer/Longest Serving Staff Member. While she has never officially studied film, she has been an avid fan from the day she first threw Jaffas at her noisy annoying brother, who was interrupting her quiet enjoyment of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.

“For my MIFF experience this year, I decided to make the most of my membership and purchased two eMini Passes. Adding a ticket to opening and closing nights, MIFF can become quite an expensive exercise, but it only comes around once a year, creating a wonderful filmy buzz around the city, so it’s well worth the investment. To date, I’ve only seen 12 of my scheduled 25 films, so an intense final weekend is ahead (whilst no doubt nursing a potential sore head on the final day!).

The Guard

Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson in Irish comedy 'The Guard'

Kicking things off was the Irish comedy The Guard, starring Brendan Gleeson as a drinking, womanising, slightly racist and disinterested small town cop, who reluctantly assists straight laced FBI agent Don Cheadle hunt down a group of drug runners. This was an engaging and accessible film with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and Brendan Gleeson turns in a hilarious performance.

My first weekend ended with Martha Marcy May Marlene, followed by 13 Assassins. MMMM was an engrossing slow burn, with many shocking moments and a very ambiguous, though satisfying ending. Elizabeth Olsen (who has an uncanny resemblance to Maggie Gyllenhaal in Secretary) as the titular character(s), is a damaged cult escapee trying to return to normalcy by reconnecting with her sister. Olsen’s performance was phenomenal. As was John Hawkes, who through dreamlike flashbacks, played the seemingly charming though ultimately menacing Charles Manson-esque cult leader.

Martha Marcy May Marlene

An engrossing slow burn - John Hawkes and Elizabeth Olsen in 'Martha Marcy May Marlene'

The subtitles at the beginning of 13 Assassins were only shown for a fleeting moment, making the story a tad hard to follow, initially. But the final 40 minute battle between the sadistic Shaolin lord and his 200 strong army, against the mere 13 samurai assassins clarified any doubts. Blood was in abundance, and the fight choreography was a thrill to watch. A surprisingly witty film, 13 Assassins was extremely satisfying and a lot of fun.

13 Assassins

Surprisingly witty and satisfying - '13 Assassins'

I’ve only scheduled one of the retrospective screenings, which was the De Niro/Scorsese collaboration The King of Comedy. Going into it, I had no idea what this film was about, despite it being almost 30 years old. After a small hiccup with the projector, I discovered that De Niro plays aspiring comedian Rupert Pupkin (one of the best character names in history!) who ambushes and tries to convince his idol, played by a surprisingly straight Jerry Lewis, to let him on his late night TV show. Jerry politely tries to fob Rupert off by getting him to “Call his office”, which only fuels Rupert’s delusions that he’s about to hit the big time. Things spiral out of control from there, with the film foreshadowing the “Celebrity for the wrong reasons” phenomenon which is so prominent today. De Niro was fantastic, as was Sandra Bernhard, who played an equally obsessed fan. I was in awe of how cringe-worthy their antics were and couldn’t take my eyes of the screen. One of my new/old favourites!

King of Comedy

A celebrity for all the wrong reasons - Robert De Niro as Rupert Pupkin in 'King of Comedy'

Black Power Mix TapeThe first documentary I attended was The Black Power Mixtape 1967 – 1975 which was a fascinating look at the Black Power movement through the eyes of Swedish journalists. The footage was remarkable, and in amazing condition, whilst the commentary from contemporary artists and people involved in the movement itself, provided a powerful insight and alternative perspective into an important era in America.

Tiny Furniture has been the biggest surprise for me so far. Going into this I was expecting a pretentious hipster indie bore (who knows why I scheduled it in?). However, writer/director/star Lena Dunham, who plays Aura, perfectly captures the aimlessness of post-university graduation life, in a charming and witty way. Adding to her misery is the breakup with her college boyfriend, and going back to live with and fit into the lives of her mother and sister (who are actually that in real life) is another adjustment she struggles with. She discovers her mother’s diary from the same period of her life, which seems to provide Aura with some comfort in the knowledge that she is not alone in her uncertainty. Throughout the film, she reconnects with a similarly aimless, though not as concerned, childhood friend, and  invites a potential love interest (an arrogant “YouTube star”) to stay with her. She also drifts away from a close college friend.  We leave the film not knowing what is in store for Aura, but have faith that she will find her way. I related to this film immensely, which is why it is perhaps my favourites of the festival so far.

The final 10 minutes (especially the ending) of Our Idiot Brother, was a major let down, though I suspect this was due to a studio cut. The characters seem to do a major 180 without any rhyme or reason, and the final scene reminded me of the ending to 500 Days of Summer, which was a frustrating and unnecessary “meet-cute”. Despite this, I can’t help but love any film Paul Rudd is in (especially any in which he breaks out his mad dancing skills). Here he stars with Rashida Jones, Adam Scott and T.J. Miller in adorable supporting roles.

Our Idiot Brother

Can't help but love Paul Rudd in 'Our Idiot Brother'

Of the films I am still to see, I’m most looking forward to the offbeat superhero flick Super, Beats Rhymes and Life which follows the conflict laden comeback tour of the pioneers of hip-hop, ‘A Tribe Called Quest’, the closing night film Drive starring Ryan “Hey Girl/Baby Goose” Gosling, and Sundance indie darling Another Earth.

If you’re curious in seeing the films I have lined up, I have been using this extremely handy scheduler which you can view here.  Hope your MIFF-ing has been enjoyable as mine!”

Stay tuned for more AFI staff picks from MIFF 2011.

AFI staff go to MIFF – Part 1: Lia McCrae-Moore

Here at the AFI we love going to the movies of course, and not just Australian ones! The Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) is always a busy time as we try to fit in as many films as possible around our office hours and other commitments. In this short blog series you can get to know some of your friendly AFI staff members through their eclectic MIFF picks.

Lia McCrae-Moore

Lia McCrae-Moore

First up it’s Lia McCrae-Moore, our wonderful Membership Coordinator. You may have spoken to her on the phone, or seen her in the office wrangling databases, and organising juicy giveaways for our members. But Lia has another not-so-secret life as a cinephile, with an Honours degree in Cinema Studies, and a special interest in Australian film. Here are her MIFF musings so far.

“It’s MIFF time again in Melbourne and this year, the festival’s comprehensive program, guest speakers and open mic forums have proved a welcome distraction from my busy working week. Despite finding the initial film selection process a little stressful, I’ve been remarkably satisfied with my choices so far. My list, as it stands today, contains Norwegian Wood, Tiny Furniture, Toomelah, The Future, Being Elmo, Melbourne on Film: Shorts 2 and Page One: Inside the New York Times. Of these seven, I have only seen the first four but they’ve been a lovely combination of beautifully shot, quaintly written or devastatingly powerful films.

Norwegian Wood

Sensuous and evocative - Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood is based on Haruki Murakami’s novel of the same name and is directed by Anh Hung Tran (The Scent of the Green Papaya). The film’s carefully curated shots and stunning sets envelop you in a bittersweet, melancholic mood as you observe Toru Watanabe (Ken’ichi Matsuyama) negotiate the dilemmas of love, life and death. Torn between the deep love he feels for his dead best friend’s soulmate, Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi) and Midori (Kiko Mizuhara), a vivacious and confident college classmate, Watanabe must first accept the complexity of his situation before he can embrace change and move forward. It is a stunning coming of age film, sensuous and evocative, though perhaps a little long for my liking.

Tiny Furniture was a total mid week treat, a delightfully funny surprise. At once honest and pretentious, 22-year-old Aura (Lena Dunham) navigates her directionless post-university life with both trepidation and ease. She returns home to her artist mother’s New York apartment to start afresh. Along the way, Aura invites an egotistical stranger and potential lover to stay, rekindles her childhood friendship with a lonely socialite, bickers with her younger sister, gets work momentarily as a hostess and has disappointing sex in a deserted back street with a cute chef. From the get go, I was hooked by this film’s warmth and wit. Aura is a charming lead protagonist, simultaneously open and engaging but also immature and naïve. Director and actor Lena Dunham perfectly captures that mix of anxiety and excitement, boredom and confusion that is associated with life after Uni and your early twenties. Despite it being all a little too familiar, I was completely engrossed and couldn’t help laughing out loud.

Tiny Furniture

Tiny Furniture - familiar and funny depiction of life after University

Australians are renowned for making slow, long and languishing or contemplative films with atmospheric music and sparse dialogue.  But unlike many people, this doesn’t bother me greatly. When these films are done well, they hold a remarkable power. They hit home in all the right places. They are films that really make you feel. Toomelah, the new feature film from Indigenous Australian writer/director Ivan Sen (Beneath Clouds) is one such film. Made on location at Toomelah Mission, north of Moree, the film follows life on the old Aboriginal Mission through the eyes of a tenacious ten-year-old, Daniel (Daniel Connors).  Daniel wants to be a successful boxer like his alcoholic father once was. He is bored with school, perplexed by the sudden arrival of his Aunt Cindy and her strange behaviour, saddened by his Nan’s lethargy, resigned to his mum’s drug taking and intrigued by Linden, the local dealer, and his set-up.  Ultimately, Daniel is looking for something to do and someone to show him how to do it. Linden’s interest, bravado and dynamic energy prove to be the most appealing to Daniel, and although misguided, Linden teaches Daniel skills and entrusts him with responsibility.

A disturbing but beautiful portrait of threatened childhood in Ivan Sen's Toomelah

Ivan Sen is an expert at observing and demonstrating for an adult audience, how uniquely children encounter and interpret the world. Daniel is surrounded by substance abuse, generational poverty and a loss of language and culture. While his community desperately tries to hold on to its lingo and history, the devastating aftermath of the Stolen Generations still permeates the present. The complexities of these issues are not lost on Sen’s young protagonist but rather heightened by his reckless attempts to make sense of them.

Toomelah is beautifully filmed. Sen will transform the seemingly insignificant into the exceptionally poignant. He will cut from a close-up of Daniel’s furrowed brow to a long shot of him loping hopelessly down a quiet street with his hood pulled up and his laces undone.  In the end, this close attention to detail and the film’s heart-rending music had me bawling my eyes out. (Toomelah will receive a general release later this year.)

All in all, it has been a great beginning to MIFF 2011. I have largely avoided the mayhem and stuck close to my schedule but like any moderate cinephile, I’ve left room for some spontaneous pics. After eagerly awaiting Miranda July’s The Future, I was somewhat underwhelmed by it. Perhaps I had too many expectations, but it just didn’t have the same whimsy or freshness as her first feature, Me and You and Everyone We Know.  That said, it was still entertaining, filled with plenty of awkward and endearing moments that made it well worth the watch. I am now exceptionally excited about getting a glimpse behind the scenes of the New York Times (Page One: Inside the New York Times)  and can’t wait to revisit Melbourne through the ages in Melbourne on Film: Shorts 2.

Stay tuned for more AFI staff picks from MIFF 2011.