MIFF 2012: Reviews of Jack Irish, Beyond, Headshot and Safety Not Guaranteed

Disclaimer: Due to the sheer number of films I am seeing (60), these reviews will be shorter and more concise than usual. I will update each day as the festival continues. Enjoy.

 

Beyond

Beyond

This Swedish drama set in the 1970s is the definition of emotive cinema. Leena (Noomi Rapace) is a young mother of two who has a seemingly idyllic life. When Leena receives a phone call telling her that her estranged mother is dying, long-repressed memories start to re-emerge. Leena’s husband is perplexed by her reluctance to reconcile, but through a series of powerful flashbacks we find that Leena is hiding a horrific childhood. Beyond  is primarily a character study, except for its flashback-heavy structure — which completely works and successfully builds suspense. This is (plot-wise) a simplistic film. First time director Pernilla August takes a powerful, universal theme — alcoholism — and lets it be the catalyst for the drama; this is unsentimental and devastating work. Ville Virtanen and Outi Mäenpää are phenomenal as Leena’s perpetually hungover parents. While their heated, drunken exchanges are skin-crawling intense, it is the work they do when they are remorsefully sober that wrenches the heart –these are people with an anvil swinging above their heads. Noomi Rapace has a difficult role, as most of her conflict is internalized, but she is haunting as a woman living with the spectre of the past. Tehilla Blad is the heart of this film as the young Leena; a large part of this film’s emotional heft is due to her sweet, unassuming nature. Seeing her lied to and abused by those who purport to love her is harrowing. This film has undeniably bleak moments, but it is never a slog to sit through. Beyond  successfully captures the optimism of childhood and I imagine that anyone touched by alcoholism would find this hugely cathartic.

Four Stars

 

 Headshot

Headshot

 

This Thai crime thriller has some novel ideas and is strikingly shot, but a jumbled, overreaching narrative robs it of cohesion. Headshot  follows Tul (Nopporn Chaiyanam), a hitman who botches a job and is given a bullet in his head as a reward. Once he awakes from a lengthy coma, Tul finds that his vision has become, literally, inverted. As Tul struggles to come to grips with his new worldview, we are treated to a series of fragmented flashbacks that explain Tul’s journey from dutiful cop to cold-blooded assassin. Headshot starts off fantastically: a POV assassination attempt sets the pace at a breakneck speed, but soon after things begin to get muddled. This narrative jumps forward and back in time on a whim and it over-complicates what is already a convoluted plot. Headshot, however, looks beautiful, and director Pen-ek Ratanaruang has a great eye and keeps things visually interesting. The central gimmick — upside down vision — is the selling point of this film, but ultimately, it is inconsequential. It is not as essential to this narrative as, say, the memory loss in Memento, and it feels pointless. Chiyanam is a great, sinewy lead and his charisma keeps us invested in Tul’s twisted journey. This film features some sharp action and beautiful women and is definitely recommended for fans of new-wave Asian crime cinema.

Three Stars

 

Jack Irish: Bad Debts

Jack Irish: Bad Debts

Jack Irish  is technically a telemovie shot for Australian Broadcaster ABC. Despite its small screen roots (which are losing their stigma more and more everyday) Jack Irish is an ambitious, fantastic crime thriller. Jack Irish follows former lawyer turned debt collector Jack Irish (Guy Pearce) who, by his own admission, ‘Gambles, drinks and lives on his wits’. After a pang of negligence-based remorse, Jack starts investigating the case of an ex-client who was recently shot by police. Once Jack starts scratching the surface, he finds that the details don’t match up and someone is profiting from this discrepancy. Quintessentially Australian, Jack Irish is a noir in the strictest sense. Based on the novel by Peter Temple, this film plays like an affable, Aussie Chinatown. Jack is just as happy to be on a bar stool watching the Aussie Rules as he is to be solving murders. Guy Pearce is phenomenal in the titular role; Jack is a hugely appealing character and I imagine that the combination of sharp wits and shaggy charm is what attracted an international star like himself to this production. Pearce is offered great support by a wealth of Australian talent (Colin Friels, Shane Jacobson), especially Marta Dusseldorp who plays an intrepid reporter that sees Jack as more than a source. Their interplay is sexy, witty and funny, and it elevates Jack Irish considerably. This is a fantastic combination of great, earthy humour and enthralling mystery. Australian readers, keep your eyes open for this when to screens on ABC1.

Four Stars

 

Safety Not Guaranteed

Safety Not Guaranteed

This hugely enjoyable comedy shows that you don’t need massive budgets or stars for success: likeable characters and smart ideas are more than enough. Safety follows droll, snarky intern Darius (Audrey Plaza) as she struggles through an unfulfilling position at a Seattle magazine. Darius finds herself on a road trip to Ocean View after a colleague proposes that they write a story on a bizarre personal ad, one that reads: “Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. Safety not guaranteed.”  Once they arrive, the reporters are bemused by what they find. The author of the ad is Kenneth Calloway (Mark Duplass), the town kook. The highly paranoid Kenneth practices (subpar) martial arts in his backyard and sprouts line like ‘You’ve gotta be ready for when the heat gets hot’. But is Kenneth a nutjob with developmental issues or is he indeed capable of accomplishing something never recorded in human history. This film has been sold as a ‘time travel comedy’, but that is far from the truth. Kenneth’s plan merely works as a catalyst to gather this group of characters together. Almost all of the characters in Safety are clichéd — the sleazy dirt bag, the nerdy virgin, the delusional wacko — but through some great dialogue, and unusual beats, writer Derek Connolly and director Colin Trevorrow make this a very endearing film. The cast are all great, especial Mark Duplass as the tragically funny Kenneth. This is a quirky, fun film with a big heart.

Four Stars

Tomorrow’s films: Into the Abyss, Monsieur Lazhar, The Sessions and V/H/S !!!

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