With the long weekend over there was a distinct lull on the Sydney Film Festival's mood and those who'd been going particularly hard over the previous six days began to show their toll. The amount of middle distance staring, sniffling and yearning for regularly priced, home cooked food instead of M&Ms and booze coursing through their veins was up by 300 percent. And yet it was once more into the breach with the Indian entry into the official competition MONSOON SHOOTOUT. What can I say except that it was easily the worst film of the competition and the festival. You may literally drown in cliches from bad 70s cop shows. Perhaps the only saving grace was that I was sitting beside friends who (quietly) teased the living shite out of it from about twenty minutes in. If you are subjected to it at any point, keep an eye out for the most shirtless villain of all time.
How does one recover after such an experience? Beer. Unpacking its terrible-ness with friends took us up to the most mispronounced flick of the fest, BLANCANIEVES, a very cute, silent, black and white re-imagining of the Snow White tale through the prism of Seville's Matador circuit. There's something about the constraints of silent cinema that inspires visually inventive stylistic choices. It was a fun little fairy tale, melodrama - with midgets to boot!
After the flick it was Hub time with the GwP 'Three Mugs of Beer,' Andy Buckle, Cam Williams and I (and of course Sam McCosh) finally geeking out together. Life is Good.
Wednesday - Day Eight
The first was the German OH BOY about a young guy in crisis in Berlin, attempting to find a direction. Throughout this 'day in the life' ode to Francois Truffaut the are characters as sign posts guiding his future. It's a very funny, insightful tale, told timelessly.
We were then treated to a Q&A with the strapping young director Jan Ole Gerster who received some of the ABSOLUTE WORST questions of the entire fest. It was like watching a bad blind date unfold while the couple are mic'd. Thankfully Nashen Moodley finally intervened and dropped a zinger to the effect of "Please ask your questions...and HAND BACK the microphone;" which received a rousing applause.
Then it was off the The East, a new domestic terror thriller co written/starring Brit Marling. I was blessed with the presence of two great gents @MatWhi & @ChrisKostakis. The East, ladies and gentlemen, features the nearly nude man parts of one Alexander Skarsgård. During a particularly nude moment of lake frolicking by Alexander, @matwhi leant over and said "I'm wetter than that lake right now." It was one of the comedic highlights of the festival. It's a solid film that suffers in it's decision to end with such a definitive resolution.
Two Films: Check Get assaulted with innuendo: Check.
Thursday - Day Nine
We're at the three quarter mark of the fest and the next film came with a really positive response from Cannes 2013. Borgman is completely weird amalgam between fairy tale fantasy and modern 'con' manning. It's a film that wears its David Lynch-ian weirdness on its sleeve. It was fun to watch the contrasting (re: confused) reactions of the audience. It's not going to be done justice by the brief confused glimpses that this diary will enunciate.
Next up was one that I'd been looking forward to mostly because it meant that a bunch of team GwP: Andy Buckle, Cam Williams (our team's scaredy cat) and I would join one Garth @DarkHorizons Franklin in the geek perfect storm for film and celebratory beers. You're Next, the most 'it does what it says on the tin,' horror title ever, combines slasher smarts and contemporary self-awareness to make for an insanely fun viewing. The anticipation, tension resulted in ripples of nervous laughter through the audience. Aussie Sharni Vinson, refreshingly plays an Aussie, delivers a star making turn and kicks arse to some great John Carpenter-esque synth along the way.
In case you haven't noticed, film geeks like to see good flicks and then talk about them together with some cheeky alcoholic beverages; which is what we did again. That's one of the best elements of the Sydney Film Festival experience.
In the words of Ross Noble - "Sweet baby Jesus on a Jet Ski"; it's Friday!
First up was Sarah Polley's (Away From Her) latest, and very personal documentary Stories We Tell. Well I'm going to drop the 'M' bomb; it's a masterpiece. And upon reflection, my favourite film of the year. Look out for my full review at a later date.
Next up was Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig's FRANCIS HA - the comedy of the singular and whimsical Frances as the square peg trying to find her place surrounded by round holes. Gerwig shines, embracing a whole believable quirk. Great music, supporting cast and response from the festival audience. This one's going to get a wider release and you're going to have to check it out - it's a cracker.
Saturday - Day Eleven
So up until this point I've been fairly conservative with the volume of films that I've seen per day, which has definitely assisted in me maintaining my health. However, on the second last day of the fest, all of that is out the flippin' window.
FIVE FILMS were slated; FOUR FILMS seen.
Thanks to Cityrail's ritualistic trackwork during major events, I was sprinting to arrive on time to Argentinian drama WHITE ELEPHANT. Thanks to my dear friend Steph aka @skygirrl I had a pretty decent seat for this moving immersive experience. Set in one of the worlds largest slums, with a team of aid workers and priests intent to do good, you're tortured by the bureaucracy and greed that's rife in government and religious institutions.
Insert Burger, Beer and phone charging here...
The mind melt of UPSTREAM COLOR was next, which you could broadly call a (bio)science fiction film. Check out Cam Williams' review here for some structured thought on the subject that I'm not going to be able to enunciate in this mere paragraph. It's a disorientating mental and emotional experience that MUST be seen.
Now between two of the highlights of the fest Guy Pearce's latest starring role BREATHE IN is an advertorial for mid-life crisis. It's a tremendously performed, music infused but ultimately FRUSTRATING viewing. There will be rant...
Firstly I have to thank @ChrisKostakis for his "kiss on the mouth" worthy gesture of providing my lady and I a ticket to Only God Forgives on the Saturday. I foolishly originally purchased tickets for the Sunday session and wanted desperately to be in the first public audience in Sydney. So seated with an audience 'Gosling' in anticipation, what transpired was easily one of the most divisive cinematic viewings of the Festival. See Andy's review here for an extremely tantalising and erudite analysis.
After those four pretty intense viewing experiences I did not have the mental or emotional wiles to sit through Asghar Farhadi's The Past (despite the fact that it was one of my most anticipated of the festival). Instead I decided that attending the uber geek meet up of Cam Williams, Andy Buckle, Sam McCosh, Luke Buckmeister, Jemima Bucknell, Steph @skygirrl, Lisa Malouf, Garth Franklin, Simon Miraudo and Sarah Ward was a cathartic penultimate celebration for the awesomeness of the festival thus far.
Sunday - Day Twelve
After failing to get tickets to The Past the next morning, I needed to head along to see one of the current releases for this week's THAT MOVIE SHOW 2UE. So it was me and the Smith Family's turgid sci-fi After Earth, which is a disgracefully self indulgent $130 million waste of money.
After recording the show and unceremoniously shredding After Earth to bits, I was off to the Final Night Gala and final film of the festival, back up singer appreciation flick - 20 Feet From Stardom. Yoram Gross' speech, a staple of the festival, was absolutely outstanding. The presentation from Alice Tynan and Giles Hardie was lots of fun - but the shock of the evening came when ONLY GOD FORGIVES was announced as the winner of the Sydney Film Festival Prize. This divisive experience imprinted itself upon the jury, and with their brief including pushing cinematic boundaries, the choice was made making it two for Nicholas Winding Refn (his prior win coming with Bronson).
Now onto the film, which was the pitch perfect selection to close out 12 days of cinematic joy.
I just wanted to say a huge thank you to Lee Small and Nashen Moodley for this year's fest - it was brilliant on every level.
Thanks for reading and come back soon for full reviews for almost all of the aforementioned films.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to the audio review on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.