MIFF 2012: Reviews of Side By Side, Your Sister’s Sister and On The Road

Welcome to day three of my coverage of the Melbourne International Film Festival. You can read previous entries here: Day One / Day Two . Enjoy.

 

 Side by Side

Side By Side

 

This exhaustive documentary is one of the best films ever made about the filmmaking process. Primarily about the revolution of digital cinema, Side By Side details the history of the camera in relation to feature filmmaking. Narrated and produced by Keanu Reeves, this film talks candidly to a huge selection of the world’s best filmmakers: David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan and James Cameron. Equally informative and fascinating, Side By Side presents the radical epoch that is taking place behind the scenes of filmmaking. Digital cameras are freeing up filmmakers and democratising cinema, but at what cost? Is it a positive or negative that almost anyone can make a film? While early segments of this film may seem rudimentary to those well versed in film, this is a deliberate choice by director Christopher Kenneally as he wants everyone along for the ride, and by the end, Side By Side is almost head-spinning in its explanation of modern technologies (colour grading, stereoscopic 3D). Reeves is a (surprisingly) spectacular choice, as his star quality and relation to the filmmakers (The Matrix‘s Lana and Andy Wachowski) makes him an unintimidated host. He gets great, inflammatory statements from both sides of the fence: Steven Soderbergh says he is now embarrassed by watching features shot on film and Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer Wally Pfister seems highly agitated by the suggestion that digital is a comparable format. For me, Side By Side played like pornography, but this film may be lost on those that don’t want their cinema demystified. If you have even a slight interest on what happens on the other side of the camera, I highly recommend Side by Side.

Five Stars

 

Your Sister’s Sister

Your Sister's Sister

This lo-fi comedy is big on charm but was a little too shaggy for my taste.  Your Sister’s Sister follows Jack (Mark Duplass), a sweet guy who has become disillusioned after the death of his brother. In a gentle act of intervention, Jack’s best friend Iris (Emily Blunt) sends him to her family’s holiday retreat. When Jack arrives he finds his alone time compromised by Iris’s sister Hannah (Rosemary DeWitt) who is also seeking refuge from personal problems. Jack and Hannah hit it off in an unexpected way and their burgeoning relationship is further complicated when Iris decides to join them. This is an ultra-low budgeted affair ($125,000) and it shows. This film is muddy to look at and has a loose, rough style. Luckily, it has three hugely charismatic performers that elevate it from its experiment roots. Mark Duplass is becoming a real cinematic force and he is great as the put upon Jack. Both of the girls shine as wildly different, but loving siblings. While this film’s writing is credited to director Lynn Shelton, each of the leads has a ‘script consultant’ credit (read: it was improvised). Improvisation is a dangerous cinematic tool as it can often fall into self-indulgence. While it never cripples Your Sister’s Sister, a crisper, revised script would have tightened this film. With more inventive direction and aforementioned revisions, Your Sister’s Sister could have been a minor classic. As it stands, this is a humble, amusing film that showcases three great talents.

Three Stars

 

On the Road

On the Road

 

This sprawling, handsome adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is the definition of an imperfect film. On the Road offers beautiful vistas, full-blooded performances and great, episodic vignettes. It also frequently buckles under the weight of its own pretention. Many have claimed that On the Road is unfilmable (after seeing the film, some critics haven’t changed this assessment) but director Walter Salles gives it everything he has got. This is a stunningly lensed film that occasionally soars. The plot concerns Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), a writer who yearns to experience life in all of its wonder. Teaming up with the uninhibited and reckless Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) and his teenage bride Marylou (Kristen Stewart), Sal sets out to explore the American landscape and hopefully, along the way, find meaning in his life. A definitive text of the Beat generation, On the Road’s cinematic problems are intertwined with the source material. It is far more fun to drink, smoke and screw than to watch other people do it –  no matter how pretty they are. Often (but not always) this film forgets to include the audience in on the fun.  Also problematic is the Beat generation itself: the original ‘hipsters’. So your enjoyment of On the Road may be limited by your tolerance of bohemian existential musings.

The core trio are fantastic; Riley is an unusual leading man choice, but he brings a brooding intensity to Sal. Kristen Stewart manages (finally) to drop the mumbling shackles of Twilight and delivers a starkly different performance as the perpetually flushed minx, Marylou (and yes she gets naked, you perv). The real standout is Garett Hedlund as Dean Moriatry. This role has been offered to Brad Pitt and Colin Farrell in previous incarnations and Hedlund has the right mixture of looks and charisma to make this hedonistic shaman indelible. On the Road also has an awesome revolving door cast featuring Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams and Steve Buscemi. On the Road is a good film with some truly evocative moments, it just lacks narrative drive and features repetitive sequences that make you really feel its substantial runtime (137 minutes).

Three Stars

Tomorrow’s films: Involuntary, Dark Horse and Beasts of the Southern Wild.

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