John’s MIFF blog – the introduction

This was the very first article for The Outland Institute. Recently it’s been attracting a large number of hits due to it’s high Jason Statham content, but I can’t help thinking the writing’s perhaps not as strong as some of the later pieces. Mind you, you’re probably not here for the words, are you? However, since you ARE here, why not leave a comment at the end of the piece? It’s only polite to say hello… And you can buy The Bank Job on PAL/Region 2 here – The Bank Job [DVD] [2008] or NTSC/Region 1 here – The Bank Job (Two-Disc Special Edition + Digital Copy).

Another year, another Melbourne International Film Festival. I’m going to run a blog here about the event as a whole, not necessarily as a review of individual films. Because I believe you have a right to my opinion. No, don’t thank me.

This is the third time I’ve worked in the box office for MIFF, and the customers are the nicest of any of Melbourne’s arts events. They have a genuine excitement for both the festival and film as an artform, with none of that “the world owes me everything” attitude you get from – say – the MTCaudience (a lot fewer red blazers, too. What is it with the MTC and red blazers?). It’s the most egalitarian of the festivals, which may well be a matter of ticket price – film is an art everyone can afford. Also good value for money – after all, some-one may have spent fifty million dollars for something I can see for fifteen. Could you make The Bank Job at home for fifteen dollars? No, you couldn’t. You probably couldn’t even get Saffron Burrows to pop around for a cup of tea for fifteen dollars. She’d cost more than that. And that’s even with you providing the tea. And biscuits.

Speaking of The Bank Job, the evil Dr Chris and I attended a MIFF pre-screening because we’re both huge fans of Jason Statham. He’s a fine, fine actor. Just look:

A FINE, FINE actor. Especially when he’s topless. And wet. Which happens fairly regularly in his films, in all honesty, so everyone wins. As the Onion AV Club’s Nathan Rabin once said about Matthew McConaughey, Statham is fighting a “one-man war on the tyranny of shirts”. The reason for attending this screening was because Mr Statham was there in person to introduce it. And he is, after all, a fine fine actor.

Oh yes.

Statham was good value, although he was wearing an unflattering top that – bewilderingly – he didn’t take off at any point. There was a sense of bemusement – did he ever know where he was, or why? Being dragged into The Forum on a Sunday to do a brief introduction to a movie for a film festival that hasn’t even started yet isn’t the most obvious gig (and incidentally, why is The Bank Job playing in MIFF four days before it opens in mainstream cinemas anyway?). One of the producers was also on hand, and he got the biggest laugh by revealing that one of the real-life bank robbers had been hired as a consultant on the film. He was a little thrown by the laughter this comment generated – presumably in Hollywood this sort of thing isn’t at all unusual. See kids, crime does pay!

The Bank Job is a pretty good bank heist/caper flick, with an early 70s setting both in plot and feel. That said, it could easily have been half an hour shorter (in common with many films at the moment) and it did seem to get bogged down in unnecessary sub-plots involving minor characters. It’s based on a true story and you can’t help thinking that more some simplification and fictionalising wouldn’t have been amiss. Even though there’s no such word as fictionalising. I also found the tone a little uneven, running between comedy and thriller, and for my money much more successful at the former than the latter.

I wish I could add some more about Statham’s live appearance, but really there’s not much more to say. He was wearing fashionable – but nondescript – clothing that made him look a bit dull, to be honest. He’s a man who should really wear a suit or nothing at all. The crowd were more interesting – a huge proportion of built young men with cropped hair, it was impossible to tell if they wanted to be Statham or just wanted to be in bed with Statham. It’s hard to think of any other action hardman who appeals equally to both boys and the other boys – did anyone else notice that the Transporter is far more homo-erotic than Brokeback Mountain? Oh Jason – you’re a fine, FINE actor.

We also watched George A Romero’s latest, Diary Of the Dead. I’m a big fan of Romero’s zombie films, but this sadly is the weakest in the series (especially disappointing since I loved his previous, Land Of The Dead). The subtext here – and there’s always a subtext with Romero, which is what makes him great – involves the responsibility of journalism, especially in these days of blogging and youtube. But it just comes off as grumpy rather than insightful, and I never believed the film’s central premise that I was watching some kids filming on dv cameras (more successful in Cloverfield, although both films suffer from exceptionally bland characters). The lighting, the sound and – in particular – an irritating voice-over stops you from ever really thinking you’re in the moment, rather than watching a film. There are some great moments, both visually and conceptually, but sadly it’s less than the sum of it’s parts. Still worth a look, though, if you’ve seen his others (all of which are playing at MIFF, and I’d definitely recommend you see Night, Dawn and Land of the Dead if you haven’t already).

I’ll stop now, but here are two talking points:

This year’s MIFF contains more older films than usual – as well as a Romero retrospective, there’s a great Ozploitation strand, as well as a Cannes Directors’ Fortnight anniversary, Edward Yang tribute and screenings of The Chant Of Jimmy Blacksmith and Mad Max 2. Is this a good or bad thing for a festival? Discuss.

How will downloading affect future festivals? This is the first year where at least two of the films – The Bank Job and Diary Of The Dead – were doing the rounds on dodgy DVD well before the program had come out. Diary of the Dead in particular has been around for months. Festivals used to be very important because it would be the only chance to see foreign or specialist films – what will it mean if you can get them all at your fingertips whenever you want?

For those of you playing along at home, here are the films I am currently booked in to see (I’m hoping to add In Bruges, Mad Max 2, My Winnipegand some of the Romanian films to this list). Oddly, it’s almost entirely Ozploitation, Romero, and arts documentaries:

In Conversation With George A Romero
Sun, 27 July, 7pm
Festival Club, Forum

Not Quite Hollywood
Mon, 28th July, 9.15pm
GU

I Think We’re Alone Now
Wed, 30th July, 5pm
GU

Rock ‘n Roll Nerd
Wed, 30th July, 9.30pm
ACMI

Let The Right One In
Sun, 3rd August, 7pm
GU

Animation Shorts (no dogs)
Mon, 4th August, 5.15pm
GU

Young@Heart
Mon, 4th August, 7.15pm
GU

Kate Bush: Under Review
Tues, 5th August, 9.15pm
GU

With Gilbert & George
Wed, 6th August, 7.15pm
ACMI

Razorback
Wed, 6th August, 9.30pm
ACMI

Martin
Sat, 9th August, 5.30pm
Capitol

Derek
Sun, 10th August, 11am
GU

Dead End Drive-In
Sun, 10th August, 1pm
ACMI

The Crazies
Sun, 10th August, 3.15pm
Capitol

Dead On: The Life and Cinema of George A Romero
Sun, 10th August, 5.15pm
Capitol

Four films in a row on that last day… hmmmm…. Anyway, to finish with, here’s Jason Statham selling Kit Kats. Remember – you are not a salmon…

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