Despite the plethora of TV comedy out there, it isn’t actually all that often that I find myself truly and consistently tickled by a TV show. Luckily for me, Adult Swim exists. And whilst I find most of what I’ve seen from them very, very funny there is one show in particular that rises above their own very high standard and deserves far more attention and accolade than it receives. That show is The Venture Bros. Having waited for what seems like an eternity to an avid fan, Season 4 Part 1 is now available to purchase on DVD in Australia thanks to Madman Entertainment. And it’s every bit as absolutely awesome as the three incredible seasons that precede it.

At the end of Season 3 viewers were left wondering not only where the line between “good” and “evil” lay with relation to key characters but also who exactly would make it back alive for Season 4. Well, I’m not going to spoil things by answering those rather excellent questions but what I will say is that you needn’t worry because – one way or another – all your favourites will be returning and, as has been the case all along, the “plot” (I think we can just about call it that) thickens. There are important updates afoot with regard to The Guild of Calamitous Intent, The Sovereign, budding romances between certain young characters, the mental health of various other characters and of course, the very complicated, legal minefield that applies to the world of Arching.

If everything I wrote in the last paragraph means absolutely nothing to you then I suspect you are unfamiliar with the best cartoon ever made, in which case, you really ought to start with Season 1 and catch yourself up. Don’t worry, this recommendation is about as iron clad as anyone’s sanity, so if you have a sense of humour (and particularly if things that are a little bit not quite right so happen to tickle your fancy) go buy Seasons 1-4 NOW.

The only negative thing to be said about this DVD is that once you’ve finished watching the eight wonderful episodes it boasts, you’ll no doubt wish you had the next eight at the ready (sadly, they are not yet available over here). But, on the up side, you can go back and watch those eight episodes all over again which, so far as I’m concerned, is actually pretty bloody exciting because if Seasons 1-3 taught me anything, it’s that The Venture Bros. only gets better with repeat viewings.

The Venture Bros. Season 4 Part 1 was released on DVD on Thursday February 16 through Madman Entertainment.

Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.

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Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus

December 29, 2010

As someone who is genuinely disappointed not to live in a time where true “cult cinema” exists anymore I am in the very least fascinated by contemporary attempts to relive or reinvent these practices (the true meaning of cult cinema being an actually subversive act of viewing that resists and counters mainstream cinema-going culture as well as the dominant political and social ideological and repressive state apparatuses – for more on ISAs & RSAs see Louis Althusser). Having been to see Tommy Wiseau’s The Room (2003) not once but twice at Melbourne’s Cinema Nova, I realised that contemporary attempts at acts of “cult cinema” have taken an entirely new direction and become, as is so often the case with popular culture’s willingness to adopt both the aesthetics and universalizing practices of postmodernism, ironically anti-cult.

Where audiences once went along to cinemas to see subversive content and innovative, artistic aesthetic modes of expressing that content, they now seem to go along in the hope that they can “ironically” enjoy something that is “so bad it is good”. Considering the original “midnight movies” (George A Romeo’s Night of the Living Dead 1968, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo 1970, John Waters’ Pink Flamingos 1972, Perry Henzell’s The Harder They Come 1972, Jim Sharman & Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show 1975, and David Lynch’s Eraserhead 1977) and their strong anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian, anti-segregation aesthetic and moral projects, it almost seems as though contemporary efforts at cult are closer to being subject to a universalizing neo-liberalism than they are to counter-cultural intent.

As was the case with The Room, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus (2009) is a film that has little to “say” and unlike the “bad taste” aesthetics attributed to the likes of John Waters, the “bad taste” here is bad “bad taste” and the only pleasure that an audience can derive from the viewing experience comes from derision in the first instance. Whilst low-budget aesthetics and a lack of formal sophistication might well be consistent with early forms of cult cinema it is difficult to reconcile that what was traditionally set up in opposition to the mainstream is now consumed very much in accordance with the mainstream. Certainly it is a lot harder to go along to a screening these days where you risk arrest than it was in the early 1970s and there is always in affording the resistant past with such intense nostalgia the risk of subsequently romanticising the oppression that it necessarily fought against, neither of which I am suggesting are desirable. However, what I am suggesting is that the risk only came because audiences were engaging in an actual act of subversion which is something that seems now to be entirely lost.

To return to the film at hand, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus is a low-budget, bad bad taste film that ultimately has as little subversive imagination as it has production values. And where this film has its greatest success is in itself becoming a type of ideological state apparatus. To explain that: in selling itself as a cult film that offers a contemporary version of cult cinema, the “event” of viewing this film appears to give audiences an outlet for revelry (much like Chaucer describes the annual revelry allowed to the masses during medieval times). However this outlet only further acts as an oppressant as it allows audiences to engage in the belief that they no longer need to rebel.

Now, what this means for audiences who want to attend Cinema Nova’s “Cult Cravings” remains to be seen. Certainly with enough alcohol and surrounded by good friends this can no doubt be an entertaining and enjoyable cinema experience. But as enjoyable or even as raucous as it has the potential to be, there is no doubt in my mind that without any real political or social subversion at play, it can never really satiate the true appetite of a “cult craving”.

Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus screens exclusively in Melbourne at Cinema Nova through Sharmill Films.

Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.

Splice Giveaway

December 7, 2010

Thanks to the wonderfully good people at Madman Entertainment I’ve got a pre-Christmas giveaway for readers of Liminal Vision. As regular visitors to this site will know, my interest in film is centred mainly around its ability to communicate theoretical, philosophical, psychoanalytical and/or ethical contemplations through visual content. And in a film about splicing together human and animal DNA, I’d say there’s more than just a little ethical questioning taking place, not to mention the one or two decidedly Freudian going-ons, and, of course, I do also happen to have something of a soft spot for wonderfully entertaining B-grade horror-schlock when it’s done just right. SO, to celebrate the December 15 DVD & Blu-ray release of Vincenzo Natali’s Splice (2009) I’ll be giving four lucky readers a Christmas gift of gloriously gory proportions!

Below is an excerpt from my MIFF review of Splice (you can access the full review here.)

“Two young, top of their game, and very much in love scientists, Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley), ignore the forbidding from their superiors and the “moral implications” of it all, and go ahead and splice together human and animal DNA. But motivated by more than just the science of the thing, the resultant spawn, Dren (Delphine Chaneac) becomes more like a deformed daughter to them than the subject of a scientific experiment, culminating in a whole lot more than they bargained for during her “coming of age” style awakening…. At its best a form of flattery for the likes of Peter Jackson and David Cronenberg in its comic gross-out moments … Splice (2009) is a successfully commercial, fun horror-schlock flick.”

To win one of 2 DVDs and 2 Blu-rays of this film please send an email naming your favourite David Cronenberg film to midnightmovies@live.co.uk with your full name and postal address and the word ‘Splice’ in the subject header – don’t forget to please also indicate whether you would prefer DVD or Blu-ray. Winners will be picked at random, at the author of this blog’s discretion and all decisions are final.

DVD Special features include; “The Making of Splice”, “The Director’s Playground” and an interview with acclaimed director Vincenzo Natali.

Splice will be available 15 December 2010 (on DVD $29.95RRP and Blu-ray $39.95RRP) through Madman Entertainment.

Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.

Zhang Yimou fans might wonder if, with his latest feature, A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop (also known as A Simple Noodle Story, 2009) he has lost the plot as he recycles one used many times before. But that would be too easy a dismissal of a great auteur’s exemplary vision of how cinema is so much more than just a simple story. A remake of a film by a filmmaking duo who pretty much only remake other people’s films (Joel and Ethan Coen), matched with a kind of cinematographic pastiche that some might think better suited to the likes of Quentin Tarantino, and a colour palette so rich it rivals Tarsem Singh’s The Fall (2006) and Park Chan-wook’s Thirst (Bakjwi 2009), Yimou’s Noodle Shop is entirely original; its use of aesthetics and context to (re)tell a simple, well-known story proving that universalism in narrative cinema doesn’t have to be unimaginative in the least.

It is well established within the world of writing that there are only seven basic plotlines in narrative storytelling and from those plotlines evolved an economics of predictability that provides the very foundations upon which film genre theory is built. In lieu of this it seems almost absurd to talk about this film’s “story” in a context that compares and contrasts it with the Coens’ film Blood Simple (1984), or for that matter The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) upon which Blood Simple itself is based. That’s not to say that the story is unimportant or superfluous, it is of course integral, especially as this film fits a classical narrative paradigm whereby narrative progression is very much motivated by causal events. But seeing as the story is familiar or known to audiences, both its visual style and its contextual setting bear greater significances as they inform said “story” to an entirely new end.

A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop is set in a non-specific period of Chinese feudal society. Quite literally deserted, the story is of inexplicably wealthy Wang, his wife, and their servants – one of which Wang’s Wife is having an affair with. With little to do and no customers other than hawkers and the Law, Wang’s Wife fantasies about killing her cruel, abusive husband and taking up with her lover full-time and so, buys herself a gun. Our title provocations now successfully established; who, what, where, the Law arrive to search the premises for a canon, setting in motion the causal events to follow.

This surprise visit from the Law being the only instance in the film where Wang’s noodle shop has any customers to speak of (and they aren’t paying customers either), the inference is that Wang’s wealth is the product of corruption rather than business. On learning that his deceitful wife has armed herself, he then enters into a “contract” of sorts with The Captain, paying him to take care of the situation, which further clarifies that the Law is also corrupt. Though I am far from an expert on Chinese history, I have seen and know enough, even just of Yimou’s oeuvre, to understand that in positing lovers against the rich and powerful in society, Yimou is highlighting the adversity that faces the proletariat in China and, in setting the time somewhere in China’s feudal past, is commenting upon the resonances of so oppressive an history.

Add to this the incredible and vibrant colour palette that Yimou is famous for; where reds and blues don’t “feature”, rather they own the frame, positing communism and conservatism against one another to great effect. The lighting is so carefully and soundly executed in every shot that the actual colour and role of the landscape seamlessly changes from day to-night, hell to haven, as our brightly dressed protagonists become anomalous, animated individuals trying to survive a harsh and unnatural environment rather than its natural inhabitants. A stunning reflection of thematics and a credit one comes to expect of Yimou.

Telling its tale in a manner that feels deeply Shakespearean; a tragicomedy with sound resolution and some restoration at its end; A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop illustrates perfectly how a story is just the beginning of storytelling and how artistic direction and contextual content can transfer a well-known story into brand new territory. The two English language titles the film has been given demonstrate this with aplomb: just like the children’s game of Cluedo, there are few things you need to set up plot and intrigue: who, what and where. Furthermore, the story itself is simple; A Simple Noodle Story; for even if its particulars become convoluted it is the simple canvas upon which a cinematic artist can paint his/her masterpiece. And how beautifully Yimou does.

A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop is screening exclusively in Melbourne at the Cinema Nova.

Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.

Whether or not you’re familiar with Bill Hicks’ stand up this is a film you really ought to make the effort to go and see. American: The Bill Hicks Story, screening in Melbourne as part of an ACMI Long Play season, is a documentary about the late great man who changed the face of comedy and reinvented the term “stand up” for the better. Including familiar footage from some of his infamous routines as well as rare footage of his early days and interviews with his family and friends, American: The Bill Hicks Story is a timely reminder that when we laugh we also cry a little because the home truths that subversive “comedy” reveals are as sobering as they are welcome.

Straight forward and straight up, British directors Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas’ filmmaking style gets to the point quickly and clearly, just like Hicks did when he addressed an audience. Charting a simple but sound trajectory of Hicks’ physical and mental journey from his deep southern roots in Houston, Texas to an international stage across Canada, the US, Australia and the UK, American shows how someone who really cared about the words that came out of his mouth built a career out of progressive thought.

Not exactly a stranger to controversy, Hicks was more than just a “comedian”. Probably more politically astute than the entirety of any western country’s governmental administration, Hicks was on a militant mission to change the minds of the masses and, if he could, to quite literally shake consciousness into a populace who, at least in his early days, weren’t expecting to learn something when they turned up to hear his “routine”. But with such great intellect and wit there comes a price. It is not anomalous for someone so perceptive and affected by the problems of the world to find solace in substance abuse and self-destruction and so, we see too a side to Hicks we might prefer to forget, but it is one that we most certainly shouldn’t.

Inter-cutting interview footage of Hicks’ closest family and friends with the stock footage of his stand up routines, American gives its audience – newcomers and veterans alike – a view of how Hicks’ personal life simultaneously informed and was informed by his measurable successes and failures. A product of his own mythology, Hicks couldn’t abide the self-destructive nature of a society so filled with fear and hate.

Demonstrating perhaps more perfectly than even his own words were able, Hicks’ life – at least insofar as it is presented in the film – outlines a wonderful “how-to” guide for reaching enlightenment:  first look at yourself and where you come from, then examine the influences and the surroundings of which you are – whether you like it or not – a product, and finally, look and examine again. One thing that is always present in Hicks’ stand up is the central idea that everything in life, including life itself, is subject to limitation – except of course for the critical use of the human mind.

If you love Bill Hicks then get off your lazy ass and leave your living room to learn a little more about the man’s life and journey as it informed his work. And if you don’t know who Bill Hicks is – well, I’d still implore you to get off your ass and go see it. It doesn’t matter if you know everything or nothing about this man before you see this film: whatever Hicks’ material you come to first is the right one, because believe me, everything this man ever said is enough to change something in you for the better.

American: The Bill Hicks Story opens in Melbourne at ACMI Thursday November 4 and screens until Tuesday November 23.

The Loved Ones

November 2, 2010

After having its release date pushed back several times and subsequently being withdrawn from this year’s AFI Award Screenings, The Loved Ones (2009), which premiered at MIFF in 2009, is finally getting its release in Australian cinemas. Assuredly worth the wait, The Loved Ones is simultaneously a relief and a pleasure as an Australian film that can honestly boast both an original script and a unique directorial vision. Taking my hat off to writer/director Sean Byrne, for whom this is a feature film debut, I’d like to talk a little about the role of performativity within the film and how it is so wonderfully amplified by an inspirational kitsch-horror aesthetic.

The film opens with Brent Mitchell (Xavier Samuel), a seemingly happy teen, driving along a highway with his father. At this point Brent fits the stereotype of a young, carefree, plaid-shirt wearing, country boy-next-door. But when an ill omen appears in front of them in the form of a blood-drenched young man, causing Brent to swerve suddenly and crash into a nearby tree, killing his father, there is a clear break with this idyllic presentation of reality and Brent undergoes a deeply Freudian experience of trauma. Blaming himself for his father’s death, and becoming increasingly distant from his own “loved ones”; a grief-stricken mother and a concerned girlfriend; some six month later Brent is displaying early signs of “emo” behaviour and from here we are introduced to a group of teenagers who each perform hyper-real stereotypes of misplaced teen angst and overzealous sexual desires.

In addition to “emo” protagonist Brent there is; goth Mia (Jessica McNamee), stoner Jamie (Richard Wilson), pretty, popular girl Holly (Victoria Thaine) and invisible wilting wallflower Lola (Robin McLeavy). Each teen carefully performs both their stereotype and their gender in order to establish their individual “role” and “function” in an environment where identification and semiotics are everything: high school. In order to judge, categorise and somewhat misguidedly “understand” one another it is acceptable for teens to almost over-perform these roles in order to establish a clear, unspoken order, and from that order derive a set of acceptable and unacceptable social codes. Once established, we see these codes at play in almost every scene as gender and type conversely allow and forbid the various social and sexual encounters that take place in the narrative film world.

Stoner Jamie is emo Brent’s best mate, acceptable within the established social code because 1) they are both gendered male and 2) they are both in roles that operate as counter to popular or mainstream teen stereotypes. Each of our male protagonists then performs his straight heteronormative sexuality by taking up with a performed female counterpart. Jamie, nervous and introverted (qualities becoming of our typical stoner friend) asks gorgeous goth Mia to the school dance. She accepts with little enthusiasm with confirms her goth stereotype through 1) nonchalance and indifference and 2) by taking up with a stoner who is an acceptable date for a goth as they, again, both occupy positions counter to the popular majority.

Due however to Brent’s transition from a happy-go-lucky boy-next-door type to outsider emo, we see two very different female gendered performances present themselves to him and, in lieu of their rivalry, a truly fascinating break down of these established social codes ensues. Brent already has a girlfriend: an attractive, fun-loving girl-next-door type. She is compassionate and caring and even though Brent’s recent emo behaviour has put a strain on their relationship it still functions because 1) she operates as a nurturer, intent on “saving” her wistful, broken partner and 2) because their relationship presumably pre-dates Brent’s performative change it can supposedly withstand it. But, unbeknownst to Holly, Lola has read Brent’s present emo performance as a coded opportunity to ask him to be her date for the school dance. Of course he declines, in a kind but dismissive way which one would ordinarily assume, from Lola’s performed wallflower exterior, would sadden and probably even humiliate her. But what no one could have predicted is that it would anger and provoke her own change in performativity. And when Lola’s shy violet facade fades, it reveals a terrifyingly promiscuous pink psycho-killer in its wake.

Abducting Brent and inflicting her pent-up psychotic desires upon him, Lola performs the stereotype she would rather embody: a perfectly pink prom queen. Outside of the coded grounds of high school, Lola is a “Princess” who gets whatever she wants; the spoilt, brattish embodiment of “Daddy’s little girl”. Dressing Brent in a tux she tries to force him to perform the available role of prom king to her queen, and failing thus his resistance is met with bloody violence.

The violence that then takes place, though I am sure many will crudely call it torture-porn, actually operates as a manifestation of misplaced and misrepresented teen angst and sexual desire as well as a subtle indicator for the breakdown of cohesive, functional familial structure – Lola’s relationship with her father, known disturbingly only as “Daddy”, being decidedly less than kosher. Not wanting to give too much away, the most interesting violent act Lola exacts is the attempt to home-labotomise her victim using a power drill. The required removal of Brent’s agency is demonstrative of the intense break-down of Lola’s performed fantasies and her failed need for an implicit co-performer.

With the pinkest of pinks you could possibly imagine (and probably pinker), Lola is a vision in satin, glitter and lip-gloss, which, set against the cruel and unforgiving mise-en-scene of rural depravity offers up a kitsch backdrop for the tremendous splashes of blood that homage a plethora of horror films from the ’70s and ’80s. In lieu of this, and as the only central teen character not shown to be sexually active, Lola’s excess in blood-spill make her an exemplary model for Barbara Creed’s “monstrous feminine” or Laura Mulvey’s “bearer of the bleeding wound”. A modern-day Carrie if you will, Lola abjectly performs and embodies the inverted object of the male gaze, she who  “can exist only in relation to castration and cannot transcend it.” (Laura Mulvey)

Intercutting between our stoner and goth couple getting it on whilst Princess tortures her victim, there is also an interesting juxtaposition of Freudian life and death drives whereby alternating actions intended towards creation and calm represent a terrifically twisted view of teen survival. Fantastically shot against devastating and pathetic surroundings of; a tackily decorated school gym, the unromantic, unmemorable car park setting for a sexual encounter and the disturbingly child-like bedroom of our femme fatal, right up to the final moments where the highway plays cyclical host to the horror at its very heart; The Loved Ones offers a fantastically kitsch aesthetic and is nothing but pure unadulterated entertainment from beginning to bloody end.

The Loved Ones is released in Australian cinemas on Thursday November 4 2010 through Madman Entertainment.

Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.

Enter the Void

August 11, 2010

I have agreed elsewhere with James Quandt’s assertion that much of the New French Extremism which has come along in recent decades has replaced the politically challenging and artistically complex films that came before with “an aggressiveness that is really a grandiose form of passivity.” After seeing Gasper Noé’s latest, Enter the Void (2009) I stand by what I said.

Noé is truly a modern-day enfant terrible if ever there was one: his films more an annoying exercise in challenging traditional modes of viewing than engaging or entertaining viewing in and of themselves. Though personally not averse to such a premise (heck, I love experimental cinema probably even a little more than the next person) there is an arrogance that goes along with Noé’s version of experimenta that ventures beyond slight abrasion and arrives at raw irritation. But personal feelings aside, Enter the Void is indeed an interesting film (albeit at least an hour overlong) for what it says about the way in which we are accustomed to receiving cinematic visuals.

Starting with the most incredible title sequence I’ve ever seen, Enter the Void is high-octane at the outset but, as its protagonists descend into a drug-fuelled liminality between life and death, so too is the viewer induced into a trance like state, receiving a lengthy and repetitive succession of seedy images that straddle a strange space between stimulating and sedating. Without any access to the usual outlets of spectatorial identification and devoid of the type of affect that encourages an active engagement in a narrative, Enter the Void never asks its audience to disavow and constantly reminds them that they are at the mercy of a (somewhat sadistic) filmmaker (for two long hours and thirty-four even longer minutes, I might add.) This does however produce a poignant line of questioning, particularly as it pertains to the idea of feature-length film within the realm of counter-cinema (most experimental film is short in duration, one of the many usual ways in which it counters the mainstream cinema it is necessarily situated against.)

But even after being coerced by Noé into contemplating the merits of identification and considering the artifice of cinema as highlighted through cinematic excess (see Kristen Thompson’s “The Concept of Cinematic Excess” and then Jeffrey Sconce’s “Trashing the Academy: Taste, Excess and an Emerging Politics of Cinematic Style”), I couldn’t help but feel as though he were sat right behind me, laughing at my gullibility whilst counting his bulging pay packet. I’d like to say that Enter the Void deserves the appreciation and attention it will undoubtedly get, but in reality all I really hope for is to see an editor take a pair of scissors to it like a dog in heat.

Beeswax

August 11, 2010

Despite how popular the genre is, it’s actually pretty rare these days to see an “American Indie” flick that is actually indie. But Andrew Bujalski is one actor/writer/director/editor who is still championing and making independent cinema for audiences who are able to recall what it is that actually means. Bujalski’s latest feature, Beeswax (2009) is the type of film that is probably only going to appeal to its already present audience as it is essentially an exercise in the continuation of existent discursive practice rather than the pioneering of any kind of new generic content.

Attributed to the “mumblecore” movement (though I personally prefer the term “Slackavetes”), Beeswax is less the story of white middle-class twins meandering their way through modern life and relationships than it is a filmic contribution to the still prevalent existence of a Linklater-esque “Gen X”. Just because it’s not new doesn’t make it untrue. In this way, Beeswax offers a snapshot of the apathetic hangover that the 2000s have inherited. We may well have reached the 21st century, but that doesn’t mean that the sensibilities of young adults has necessarily changed along with the times.

Interesting in and of itself rather than for its “story” in the first instance, Beeswax is a highly enjoyable film about an awkward, intelligent, “real” set of individuals who are ruled and conflicted by their own ignominy. Simple and brilliant.

Life During Wartime

August 10, 2010

Coming from just about anyone else the idea of a sequel more than ten years on with not one single member of the original cast would probably seem absurd. But, with Solondz, it is merely par for the course. And so we have Life During Wartime (2009), a follow-up feature about the altered lives of the veritable smorgasbord of freaks and pervs that constitute characters from his earlier cult-hit black comedy Happiness (1998).

One of the more coveted films for me in this year’s festival line-up, Life During Wartime has been a long time coming and, moreover, after the disappointment that went with both Storytelling (2001) and Palindromes (2004), was hopefully going to be something of a saving grace for Solondz in his otherwise enjoyably nihilistic, yet increasingly overlooked, oeuvre. Despite a large proportion of the popular response post-screening being negative (many disappointed when the same dizzying heights of Happiness didn’t ensue), Life During Wartime is actually a very good sequel and still indulgently dark humoured fare.

Told from the outset that “sometimes it’s better not to understand” one could be forgiven for thinking that Solondz was excusing his last feature release, Palindromes, a film which many found confusing and irreverent.

The stark, biting dialogue that Solondz is known for is ever-present as he showcases the hysteria of traditional “family values” and an innate human inability to communicate and connect on any truly meaningful or remotely honest level. The use of colour (and the mise-en-scene more generally) is bold and telling; each shot perfectly framed, each character’s flaws further explicated through their harsh surroundings. The stereotypes are well overdrawn and the replacement cast perform brilliantly, Ally Sheedy deserving a special mention for absolutely nailing Lara Flynn Boyle’s already fantastic version of Joy Jordan.

Thematically contemplative about the ability of individuals to “forgive and forget”, the film thinks through the characters lives as comparable to enduring wartime: the constant ethical questioning of moral judgements. There is a strong suggestion from the film that we ought to “just keep pretending” as ultimately “nothing works, it just goes on forever.” And if to “forgive and forget” is like to “freedom and democracy” then indeed it is a justified suggestion of Solondz’ that we do, and ought to continue, to pretend. Intelligent, thoughtful, dark and depressing, Life During Wartime isn’t Happiness but it is a damn good film.

Homecoming

July 28, 2010

This year’s tribute festival strand, Dante’s Inferno, is a series of retrospective screenings of the cinematic works of subversive Hollywood insider, Joe Dante. Working within the confines of the system, Dante’s films are just about B-grade enough for both them and him to achieve cult status. Familiar with a few of his features already (I am proud to admit that my geekery knows no bounds and I enjoy viewing Gremlins (1984) and Gremlins 2 (1990) as part of my annual Christmas triple feature; along with Die Hard (1988), of course), I thought it was about time I gave his shorter works a wee look-in. Although I’m usually happy to subscribe to the mantra that good things come in threes (skeptics can refer back to my aforementioned Christmas viewing program), when it came to Tuesday night’s screening, it was more the case that “two out of three ain’t bad”.

Homecoming (2005, 58 mins)

This is the most relentlessly self-conscious and blatantly subversive zombie schlock flick I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing. Featuring sensationally drawn republican sycophants up against a bunch of military soldier “zombie dissidents” whose motivation to return undead has absolutely nothing to do with the desire to eat people or even to “infect” them, but comes rather from the great compulsion to exercise their democratic right to vote against the very administration that needlessly sent them to their deaths in the search for a bunch of made up WMDs. With a script so incredibly sassy that you’ll barely have time to finish laughing at one line of dialogue before you starting cracking up at the next, Homecoming is a film where one cheap shot constantly and hilariously supercedes the last.

It ‘s a Good Life (1983, 26 mins)

This might in fact be the very best thing I’ve seen at the festival so far. When the film started up I began to experience a pang of nostalgia and some kinda creepy deja vu. Then I realised that here was a film I have seen somewhere around twenty or thirty times (at least) in my childhood and that used to absolutely scare the crap out of me. The opportunity to see it on film, and on a big screen, well, that sure was something. The story is a simple one; Helen Foley is a school teacher whose life is ruled by “sameness” and who endlessly waits “for something different to happen”. Following an “accident” outside a highway diner, Helen drives the young boy involved home, stopping in to meet his “family” for just a moment… But Anthony is no ordinary boy and his “special powers” stretch the limits of reality in this imaginative and terrifying installment of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone series.

Lightning (1995, 31 mins)

This was, unfortunately, the weakest film in the program. Not all together terrible but certainly paling in comparison to the two films that came before, Lightning is an old-fashioned tale about greed and comeuppance. Very straight forward, narrative and moral, Lightning ought to be daytime tele fodder programmed alongside the likes of Little House on the Prairie (1974-1982).

Homecoming, It’s a Good Life and Lightning are screening as part of the Joe Dante retrospective program of this year’s MIFF and will be screening again on Saturday July 31 2010, 4.45pm in ACMI 2.