Friday, July 31, 2009

MIFF 2009 Day 7 - 30/7/09

Running at 190 minutes, I figured I'd drop United Red Army off my schedule yesterday, have a little break and do some other things (like blogging). Then darn, the person who suggested it to me in the first place tells me it's the best film he's seen yet. I'm a bit pissed with myself and yet not. I've long given up on the idea that one can see everything one wants to at MIFF, or even during the year in general.
  • Red Riding: 1983 (Anand Tucker, UK, 2009)
  • Away We Go (Same Mendes, USA, 2009)
  • The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, USA, 2008)

Red Riding: 1983
What an incoherent mess this finale to the Red Riding series this is. Unlike the first two, you have to see the others to make any sense of it. And even if you have seen the others, you'll still struggle! There are unexplained shifts between the three time frames and nothing to signal which period the film is in. John Dawson, the developer murdered in 1974, suddenly appears when we're thinking it's 1983. The number of characters who flash past in quick succession makes it hard to know who plays what role and what the hell is going on. At the end, confusion reigns and I'm left wondering "what the...?"

I expected James Marsh's 1980 to be the best instalment and it was.

Away We Go

My planning for MIFF avoided seeing three films in a row, and this one wasn't really on my radar because it's getting a commercial release. I had a spare two hours between films and because I knew this would be light-weight comedy and Red Riding isn't really emotionally challenging, I slotted this between the other two.

There is nothing about this film that identifies it as a Sam Mendes film. No particular insights, no revelations about relationships, just another 'quirky indie comedy', a genre that I find I'm a bit bored with, and have been with at least Little Miss Sunshine. It's not as stupid or contrived as that piece of populist trash, but it pushes all the right formulaic buttons: hip music in all the right places, a parade of idiosyncratic characters, quirky diaogue, characters who struggle with their age and responsibilities. It looks nice enough and audience laughter came at all the intended places but it's only worth seeing if you want to see how Mendes does mainstream. Or if you're a 30-something feeling directionless in life, or pregnant.

The Hurt Locker
At the risk of sounding sexist, you wouldn't know this thrilling film was directed by a woman. It's heart-in-your-mouth from go to whoa as we follow a US Army bomb disposal unit in Iraq. The suspense, the dialogue, the understated humour, the character development are all excellent. The film is like a cross between Beaufort (MIFF 2007, for the suspense), Full Metal Jacket (for the characterisations), Jarhead (itself derived from FMJ, but set in the region) and Children of Men (for the embedded journalist style of camera work and editing).

I found the choppy look a bit more than required and tend towards the David Stratton perspective on that account, though I expect he would acknowledge the strengths of the film. This is perhaps the best film I've seen that depicts the current military situation in the Afghanistan/Iraq region and maybe that's because the film does nothing didactic. Like most of the other films mentioned above, it simply depicts the lives of these men in war and the small details of their day-to-day existence. And man, what a bloody struggle, as they count down the days to their return to the US, just hoping to stay alive each day. Definitely worth seeing.


Glenn Dunks said...

I'm very much looking forward to The Hurt Locker, which I'm seeing in the second week. I figure there's a reason people are saying Bigelow could become the first female Oscar winner for best director.

Paul Martin said...

Glenn, I think The Hurt Locker is too gritty a film to win best director Oscar. I like it a lot, but I don't think it would win any major awards (non-Oscars) other than perhaps on the basis of sentiments that it's an honest depiction of America's presence in Iraq.

I was discussing the film with someone today who thought it glorified war, while I thought it was anti-war. Anti, because even though the protagonist is depicted as a hero, we know he is irresponsible and endangers the lives of others. That's the cowboy mentality of the previous President.

Jurguens said...

Kathryn Bigelow has done a bit of everything, but at her best she has delivered really powerful films. I would be quite happy if she won an oscar, but oscars tend to go for people who toe the line a lot more than her.

I haven't seen The Hurt Locker but Strange Days comes to mind as a film that is incredibly strong and powerful and that people would never guess it was directed by a woman - I know what you mean Paul.

I'm definitely looking forward to seeing this film.