One of the two things I do each year to take a break from the intense experience that MIFF can be is to see a non-MIFF film; something very B-grade or very Hollywood. This year I went to the media screening of Salt, which didn’t really deliver the guilty pleasure respite that I was hoping for so was a bit of a waste of time. My other break-from-MIFF activity is to attend some kind of live performance and this year I went to see Stephen Fry, which was one the most entertaining and inspiring nights I have experienced for a long time. The wisdom and stories that Fry shared actually complemented MIFF, and the types of films that such a festival champions, as he is so passionate about culture, intellectual curiosity and the importance of self expression.
Back to the festival. On Friday night I saw I Love You Phillip Morris, which is essentially a con-man film, with some similarities to Catch Me If You Can, but with a warm love story at its heart and a very wicked sense of humour. Jim Carrey gives a terrific performance as the extroverted con-man who does what he does to fund the lifestyle he shares with his sweet and shy partner Phillip Morris, played beautifully by Ewan McGregor. Carrey and McGregor have incredibly chemistry and are completely convincing as a couple. You will gasp at some of the subject matter that this film draws laughs from but that’s part of its brilliance. The distributors in Australia and other countries who are nervously sitting on this film for whatever reason (surely in 2010 they’re not worried about the gay content?) need to give this film the wide release that it deserves or pass on the distribution rights to a company that can handle a film like this.
[EDIT 1/4/2011: Read a full review of I Love You Phillip Morris]
The new film by Francis Ford Coppola, Tetro, is about estranged brothers reuniting in Buenos Aires. Tetro is gorgeously shot in crisp black-and-white, full depth-of-field cinematography. For the most part it is a steadily paced drama with faint echoes of John Cassavetes in the way it gives a sense of vibrancy to the everyday lives of the people who occupy the various locations the film is set in. However, the final section of the film moves it from drama to melodrama so that ultimately a very good film is let down by a flabby ending. Vincent Gallo is great in the lead role, demonstrating just how photogenic he is and just how suited he is to playing such disagreeable characters.
Many people will check out the animated feature The Illusionist because it is directed by Sylvain Chomet of The Triplets of Belleville fame. That is a good enough reason in itself but my own interest was more it do with the fact that it is based on an unproduced Jacques Tati script. It is only in the past five years that Tati has become one of my favourite filmmakers and I was delighted by how well The Illusionist captures both the look of Tati’s films and his favourite theme of how modernity is sweeping away a way of life that was simpler and purer. The animated character of the magician looks and moves exactly like Tati, provoking plenty of laughs. The defining aspect of Tati’s onscreen persona is the idea that he can’t fit into the world around him. This facilitates lots of great physical comedy but also the incredibly sad nostalgic sentiment that the time of old-school entertainers is over. The Illusionist is a wonderful and a fitting tribute to the great Jacques Tati.
[EDIT 18/8/2011: Read a full review of The Illusionist]
I went to see Welcome to the Rileys mainly because of James Gandolfini and he certainly gives a fine performance as a man who is still coming to terms with the death of his teenage daughter. He befriends and takes is upon himself to look after an underage stripper played by Kristen Stewart, in a role even grittier than the one she played in The Runaways. When Melissa Leo’s character enters the narrative more substantially, the film gets even more interesting as it explores the situation of a middle-class America couple wanting to ‘save’ an underprivileged teenager. Welcome to the Rileys has some similarities to The Blind Side, as both films explore a similar scenario, but Welcome to the Rileys is more complex, less conservative, less offensive and an overall far superior film.