Monthly Archives: August 2014

MIFF 2014 – The Gold Spinners (2013)

Directors: Hardi Volmer, Kiur Aarma

Based on absurd premise of Communists needing advertising, never the less the ERF Studio in Estonia fulfilled this purpose for many decades due to canny business knowledge from the director and getting those in power to go along with it.

They could not actually advertise brands, so they advertised the commodity itself by repeatedly saying its name in some case “CHICKEN MINCE! CHICKEN MINCE! CHICKEN MINCE!” or building an entire ad around the concept of spreadable cheese helping you win at ice hockey or tubes of marmalade going to space with the cosmonauts (they actually did.)

Despite the idea being absurd, they still made good ads and even managed to win a Bronze Lion at Cannes the one year they competed.

Towards the end of the era of Communism things started to fall apart as people wanted more consumer goods and factories were set up to make these goods despite the fact they never arrived, ads were still made for them.

The political and historical aspects of Communism in the USSR are only lightly covered here, but they are already well documented. I really did not know about this agency before I heard of the documentary although I did know of the Eastern European Communist musicals from the earlier film “East Side Story”.

Most of the advertisements have been destroyed, but some are now safely in the Estonian film archives and even turned up in the movie Borat.

I would recommend this documentary if you wanted to see a different side to Communism in Europe and how some people can still make money in the most restrictive situations.

MIFF 2014 – The Search for Weng Weng (2014)

Director: Andrew Leavold
Producers: Daniel Palisa, Andrew Leavold

It says seven years in the making but I know Andrew has been working on it for much longer than that. I remember going to a screening of a double bill of For Yur Height Only and the Impossible Kid (live dub as it was only in French) and I was one of the only people there.

There’s also the whole saga of what happened with Machete Maidens in 2008, but that is for another time.

Weng Weng (Ernesto De La Cruz) appeared in 14 movies and only seven are known to exist at this time. Andrew has six of them and has seen seven. There was a musical that Weng Weng appeared in but they could not get the rights to use it in the documentary, but hopefully they will get to screen it at MIFF in the future.

Andrew has been to the Philippines many times in making the documentary and Daniel Palisa now lives there.

The narrative of the documentary is a detective story where Andrew starts off not even knowing Weng Weng’s real name and through leg work and in some cases good fortune ends up meeting many of the people who worked with Weng Weng including the man who edited all his movies. They could not get to interview the film’s director as one had died and the other is no longer talking to them. You can’t say they did not try, but it reflects badly on that person as the other people interviewed do not have anything good to say about her as Weng Weng was exploited and was still living in the same shack when he died that he was before he even starred in movies.

The sequences with Imdela Marcos were very strange and got a strong reaction in the Phillipines. She seems to be somewhere off in her own world and has no self awareness of how much people hate her. Ferdinand Marcos is still lying in state waiting for a state funeral, it shows an unusual amount of restraint people didn’t just throw him on the garbage dump and set him on fire.

I did like hearing from all the old stuntmen and film makers from around that era as they all have fond memories of working with Weng Weng and are sad that he was treated badly. Werner Herzog even got a mention as one person being interviewed said they showed “Even Dwarves Started Small” to the director of the Weng Weng movies.

While one interviewee said that the Philippines was “cut off” from Asia, I believe the traditional spiritual and cultural beliefs combined with the Roman Catholic religion from Spanish settlement and the USA’s involvement from World War II onwards is what makes the Philippines unique as many of the things in the documentary would not have developed otherwise.

Santo Niño was mentioned in the film and Weng Weng was dressed as him during religious celebrations. During a screening of the documentary right outside Weng Weng’s house one of his neighbours said that Weng Weng cured him as he believed he was the reincarnation of Santo Niño.

The version shown at MIFF was the “festival” cut and there are still special features being completed. The final version will be screened as the Monster Festival in November and will be a three disc set including a soundtrack.

I did like the footage from James Batman and talked to Daniel Palisa after the screening who said they have subtitled the film and hope to screen it. It is still under copyright so they cannot release it. There were a lot of superhero knock offs in Philippines.

MIFF 2014 – Mr Vampire (1985)

Director: Ricky Lau
Starring: Lam Ching-ying, Ricky Hui, Chin Siu-ho, Moon Lee

Pure cinematic comfort food that I must have already seen dozens of times on SBS TV in Australia when it was thrashed to death in the 90s. I am not sure if I have ever seen it on the big screen.

Yes, it is all about Lam Ching-ying’s eyebrows, or eyebrow in this case. I even bought some fake eyebrows to stick on and watch the screening, only to find they did not include any sticky stuff and were actually sideburns. Next time I will just draw them on.

Lam Ching-ying as Master Gau was actually younger than most of the cast at the time, but played the elder and this role is his most famous.

The main story concerns a rich businessman asking for his father to be reburied, but when they open the coffin they find the corpse has not decomposed after 20 years and there is a lot of trouble after this. The vampires in this movie are not wimpy sparkly ones, they may only be able to hop but they are like the Terminator as nothing seems to stop them except for extreme force.

The supporting cast are nothing to be sneezed at with Ricky Hui as Man Choi and one of the legendary Hui brothers comedy group. I like him even more when he turns into a vampire as he is a very goofy vampire.

The fight scenes are really great in this especially the final scenes where everything is destroyed and they have to start hitting the lead vampire with giant poles. I liked the fight scene in the prison where they are locked in the yard after the local police chief tells his subordinates not to open the door under any circumstances.

This film was included in the Hong Kong horror program at the festival I saw it at along with Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind and Rigor Mortis, but I could not get to see everything.

MIFF 2014 – Irma Vep (1996)

Director: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Maggie Cheung, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Nathalie Richard, Nathalie Boutefeu, Antoine Basler

Maggie Cheung stars as herself in this odd duck of a movie about a remake of a silent film that is falling apart even before she arrives with a neurotic director René Vidal (Jean-Pierre Léaud), the crew abandoning the main star as they are so keen to leave the set and the costumer Zoe (Nathalie Richard) who has a crush on her.

This film seems like a mockumentary even before they were popular as it is hard to work out which scenes are real and which are part of the movie. The fake interview that Maggie Cheung has during the film seems to be her telling her real thoughts about the directors and films mentioned.

My favourite part is at the party where the host is talking to Maggie in broken English and asks her if she likes girls. From her reaction it looks like they really asked her and she didn’t know it was going to be used, or Maggie Cheung is an even better actor than I have realized.

The whole film is more of a character study and a statement on how the film industry in France was operating at the time. The director in the film has had past success, but seems to be floundering and they have to bring in a replacement. The journalist in the interview scene is very down on traditional French cinema and praises the action genre.

Maggie Cheung really did not know French when she first came to work on this movie and ended up marrying Olivier Assayas after the movie. The number one reason to watch this film is if you are a Maggie Cheung completist and want to see her walking around in a latex cat suit. Any reason to watch Maggie Cheung is good enough for me and the clips shown from Heroic Trio in the movie are most welcome.

MIFF 2014 – The Imp (1981)

Director: Dennis Yu
Starring: Charlie Chin Chiang Lin, Kent Cheng Jak Si, Dorothy Yu Yee Ha, Yueh Hua, Chan Shen, Hui Bing Sam, Jim Sam Sing Tak, Wong Ching, Wong Chung, Fung King Man

Keung (Charlie Chin Chiang Lin) is having a run of bad luck and can’t seem to keep a job to support his pregnant wife. The people around him even seem to suffer as one job interview he attends his cancelled due to a killing spree by a former employee just before he arrives. He would have a lot of trouble applying for 40 jobs per month under these circumstances.

By chance or some evil plans he ends up applying for a job at a yet to be completed shopping mall and office complex (the chandelier reminded me of the one from Police Story) with a gang of other guards including Old Uncle Han (Chang Shen) and the ever enjoyable Fatty (Kent Cheng).

He starts to see weird things, but the other guards tell them to ignore them, that is until one of the guards ends up dying under mysterious circumstances and they have to seek the help of a Geomancer (Elliot Ngok) who tells him he was born under a bad sign and the evil spirit is trying to be reincarnated as his wife’s baby. Will they succeed in stopping it or not?

This screened as part of the “Haunted Midnight” program at MIFF and is different to other horror films from around the era as the focus was not on blood and gore as with western slasher movies, but in setting the scene and the belief in the spiritual practices in every day life that are something people really live with.

While the techniques used are very simple, with just red and green lights and dry ice they can create a spooky atmosphere. They do combine to create something unique and show that you don’t even need to show what is killing people for it to be spooky. At one point a character gets suffocated by a newspaper (probably the part with Andrew Bolt’s column) and they don’t actually say what kills some of the people.

My favourite character in the movie is Fatty (Kent Cheng) especially his two-part red t-shirt with while letters “Am I a girl?”, “No! I am a man!”) that he wears with red short-shorts with white piping.

While there are other Hong Kong horror movies I would recommend before this one, it is still worth your time if you have seen a lot of other ones before.

MIFF 2014 – Don’t Throw Stones (2014)

Director: Mike Brook
Featuring: Stephen Cummings, Andrew Pendlebery, Rebecca Barnard, Joe Camelleri, Shane O’Mara, Michael Gudinski
Tagline: “I’M A MOTH!”

I was only young when the Sports had their big hit and toured the USA, but I am aware of Stephen Cummings solo work and have seen him play a few times. I always seem to have something on when he plays out at Oakleigh.

The reason I most wanted to see this doco was Rebecca Barnard saying “that’s bullshit!” in the promo and she also spoke up at the Q&A after the film when Stephen had left to say that recording the album up in Sydney with Steve Kilbey was a “boys club” and that he was the one being hostile.

The main thread of the documentary was getting people to read out parts of Stephen’s memoir “Will it be funny tomorrow Billy?” and getting their reactions to it. Unfortunately they could not get Nick Cave to participate as he had his own doco coming out.

I thought they would have asked Ed Bates to appear, but he was only talked about. JVG said afterwards that it was “as it should be”. Come on! He could have had something interesting to say.

Michael Gudinski was a good sport to take part as he had a scuffle with Stephen at Niagra Falls that nearly led to one or both of them going over the side. I am sure he has been at gigs I have been to but I never see him.

In the Q&A afterwards Stephen Cummings was very entertaining and said he could not stay long as he had to get the train home. I should have asked why they did not include any of Stephen’s spoken word stuff (I like the “I’m a moth!” story). There was a longer cut of the film, but it was decided to make it shorter as it was not as interesting talking about inspirations of songs in detail. I did not know there was meant to be a Sports reunion in late 2013. It did not get up unfortunately.

At present due to music rights issues there are not going to be any more screenings, but hopefully if there is more interest in the documentary it can be finished and released with bonus features including extended interviews.

MIFF 2014 – Sound Proof (2013)

Director: Darren Cole
Featuring: The Palace, Pure Pop Records, Cherry Bar, many musicians

The story is well known to anyone who has been going to gigs in Melbourne during the past few years. The “Agent of Change” ruling has recently been passed but has not come into affect yet and two of the venues featured in the documentary have either closed or just about to close.

Cherry Bar ended up asking for help to complete their sound proofing and reached the target in 24 hours. I do not go there very often, but it is popular with the people who do attend.

It was good to see people I know on screen including bands from just down the road who would not normally get to be up on the big screen otherwise.

I was wondering if anyone would cover the Pure Pop Records story in a documentary, this is one good thing about it at least that it is on film.

MIFF 2014 – Rouge (1987)

Director: Stanley Kwan
Starring: Anita Mui, Leslie Cheung, Alex Man, Emily Chu

Getting the obvious out of the way, the Anita Mui and Leslie Cheung both died in 2003 and it was especially sad about Leslie. It is still possible to enjoy their legacy, but some of the subject matter in this movie makes it difficult.

The main story is the classic star-crossed lovers story with Fleur (Anita Mui) and Chan Chen-Pang (Leslie Cheung) as courtesan and rich businessman respectively who could not be together in this life and so decide to be together in the afterlife.

Cut to 53 years later and Fleur turns up at the newspaper to place a missing persons report to Yuen (Alex Man) and then follows him home as she wants to go back to her old neighbourhood. His girlfriend Ah Chor (Emily Chu) is not too pleased at first, but when she discovers Fleur is a ghost she agrees to help out and they start looking for her old lover, believing him still to be alive.

This film was screening as part of a Perfect Midnight – Haunted Hong Kong program at the Melbourne International Film Festival and is a different style of ghost story. The cast even visits the set of a film during a movie complete with a “flying” ghost.

It is more of a realistic ghost story as while Fleur can disappear and move about at will, there are no flying scenes and she calls the sun “big macho” that causes her to look less pretty. Also she can smell things but not eat them.

If you are a fan of the two leads I would recommend this movie and even if you do not usually watch romantic movies this is still on the list as it is an important film to watch in terms of Hong Kong film history.

Hong Kong has changed even more since this film was made so the themes of change and being able to move on, but remember what is important to you are even more pressing.

MIFF 2014 – The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (2013)

Director: Mami Sunada
Featuring: Hayao Miyazaki, Toshio Suzuki, Isao Takahata, Hideaki Anno, John Lasseter
Tagline: “Oh no! I left the goats out!”

Covering the production of Hayao Miyazaki’s final film the Wind Rises, we see the daily workings of Studio Ghibli and watch the master at work. He is the very personification of the kindly Geppetto as his creations come to life on screen. It was a very warm festival audience that I saw the film with so people laughed at everything.

Although Isao Takahata was mentioned and did appear, they did not follow the work on a Tale of Princess Kaguya apart from saying there were issues with the production and they didn’t think it was ever going to be finished.

With the recent announcement of Studio Ghibli scaling back production and moving to a model where they hire artists on a per-project basis, you can see why that it is from the things said here. Miyazaki complains that he is getting to old to be drawing every day, and uses a 6B pencil to draw, where children only need to use a 5B pencil.

Miyazaki is the star and is only upstaged by the studio cat (Ushiko) once or twice. I was surprised at how candid Miyazaki was as even the narrator mentioned that he changes his mind about his fellow creator Isao Takahata from day to day and there is creative tension between them as rivals within the same company.

Some of the staff also seemed to discourage people from working at the company as the best people often do not last long due to having more demands put on them.

It was also interesting to see Toshio Suzuki, the producer of many of Studio Ghibli movies and you do not get to hear from the producer of the movie that often even they are ones ultimately responsible for getting the film done.

The Japanese work culture was interesting with everyone smoking at work and people stopping and doing exercise as a group (this would be a good thing for a lot of desk-based jobs). I did like the part where everyone stopped and went up to the roof to look at the garden they have there. Miyazaki spends part of his day waving to children in the child care at the company.

Having seen the Wind Rises it was interesting to see how the production of the film was worked out and even the part where Miyazaki received a letter from a survivor of an air raid during World War II made it into the documentary.

While mainly recommended to fans of Miyazaki’s work, if you have an interest in the creative process or animation I would also put this forward as something you should see.

MIFF 2014 – The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013)

Director: Isao Takahata

Based on the folk story The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter we see a simple bamboo cutter finding a tiny girl inside a bamboo stalk, who turns into a baby once he hands her over to his wife. The baby is no ordinary baby and seems to be growing at an extraordinary rate, leading her friends to call her Lil’ Bamboo while her adopted father calls her Princess.

After finding a bamboo stalk full of gold and one full of fine kimonos, the father decides that his princess should live in the city and take her place amongst nobility. His daughter is not so sure, but goes along with it any way.

Fitting in with the Japanese nobility at the time isn’t easy, but the princess tries her best and even ends up with five suitors. As she wants them to prove their love, she asks each of them to bring her something that is impossible and they leave disappointed. Things do not turn out as expected as three years later they return claiming to having done the impossible and now even the Emperor of Japan is interested in her.

This film is quite extraordinary. From the “other” director at Studio Ghibli , Isao Takahata, I can see why it took so long to finish. In the documentary Kingdom of Dreams and Madness they were worried it was never going to be finished as the director seemed like he did not want to finish it. I can see why you would not want to finish it as if you could keep working on your best work forever you would want to do that.

More than any of the other Studio Ghibli films, you can tell this film is all hand drawn as the style starts off all sketchy and broken up during the scenes in the country and gets more refined as the characters move into the world of the nobility.

At times it does go back to being sketchy and strange when emotion is being shown. Some of the characters have funny shaped heads even though most of them are meant to be human, but it just gives them more character.

There is a lot of emotion in the movie with the woodcutter prone to blowing up and also crying. I should have expected as much from the director after seeing Grave of Fireflies.

It does not really explain why the Princess came to be where she was or how she manages suddenly to have super powers but these things do fit with the story.

I would recommend this film if you are a fan of this director or folk stories as it is a great example of a good story told well.