Well-credentialed, and oft-liked Royals creative, Lee Spencer-Michaelsen, hit up the Melbourne International Film Festival recently. We asked him to consider writing a review. And he did that. But he did more. Much, much more. Behold, Lee’s Beowulf-like appraisal of his festival experience..

Eight feature films
Fourteen shorts
Six TV episodes
Two documentaries
A movie marathon
Five choc tops
One tantrum

A film festival review poem

by Lee Spencer-Michaelsen


 

put on your sternest librarian face
purse your lips
tightly
inhale
exhale through your teeth

shush
release your pent up anger
silence the babblers
low talkers, and blah blahers

try it
repeat after me

shhh!
shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!
Shshshshsh sh sh sh shhhh

feel good?

according to a shushing expert, a secondary school teacher
a good shush starts with a loud, heavy shhh
a prolonged shush
followed by short, sharp shushes fading away

apart from spending hours trawling through the MIFF program to select your films
and getting to the cinema, half an hour early to save a middle, centre seat
a good shush is all the preparation you need
I lie – and a shiraz, a mint choc top, and eyes
Join me as we watch
the 2017 Melbourne International Film Festival
through my black rimmed Quiksilver spectacles.

Goodtime [Ben & John Safdie, 2017]

We’ve been taken hostage
by Robert Pattinson, playing Connie
a bottom feeding New Yorker crim
with the social disposition of a maniac
who accidently imprisons his mentally handicapped brother
after a foiled bank robbery
we, he, must fight to bail him out alive

from the outset
we’re injected with Stockholm syndrome
we’re rooting for the anti-hero as
Connie stumbles through life
through the saturated yellows and
melancholic blues that draw out New York’s bleakness
below the majestic capitalist skyscrapers

the intensity is amplified
with the help of the Cannes winning
racing synth score by
Oneohtrix Point Never

Melbourne audiences laugh awkwardly
at Connie yelling at a teenage girl
to “shut up and give him the car keys”
after trying to have sex with her
Melbourne audience seem to laugh inappropriately
sometimes you have to

Pattinson was meant to wank off a German Shepherd for this film
luckily he didn’t, would’ve been awkwarder

Credit rolls
Iggy Pop sings The Pure and the Damned
we’re released from the film’s vice grip
our souls melt away

Top of the Lake: China Girl [Jane Campion & Ariel Kleiman, 2017]

“It’s a novel not a TV show”
“I hope you enjoy watching six one hour episodes in a row”
Jane Campion tells the crowd

Top of the Lake’s compelling murder mystery storyline
and resulting cultural discussions that spill out of its plot
prove binge watching isn’t just a brainless activity
reserved for your couch, pyjamas, and a hangover
that TV shows have transcended mediocrity to become cinematic spectacles

we’re engulfed in a tale of
sexual abuse, violence
sexism within a macho police force
the fragility of broken families
prostitution, and most poignantly
the exploitation of Thai female surrogates
the progressive writing of Jane Campion and Gerard Lee
deliver the depth of story needed to captivate an audience for six hours
make them laugh, horny, cry, and think

Save Elisabeth Moss’s questionable Aussie accent
(who must be the most prolific, in demand actress of the current milieu)
her role as Detective Robin Griffin proves she’s capable of being put through a dramatic mincer
supported by Nicole Kidman’s defiant neurotic postmenstrual mother
and Game of Throne’s Brienne of Tarth, Gwendoline Christie’s comic relief

David Wenham’s brief but terrifying appearance
sees him channeling the smiling psychopath
of his character Brett from The Boys, 1998.
Worth watching episode three just for this moment

As usual,
it’s always good to see Jane Campion squeezing in a woman urinating on screen
and prostituting her own daughter on screen, who plays Robin’s daughter

The Go-Betweens: Right Here [Kriv Stenders, 2017]

we’ve reached the music on film proportion of MIFF
where the unseen bickering between band members
the ego trips, the angst behind the stage lights
are brought to fester under the microscope
in this case, the famously unpopular Go Betweens

as the crow flies, we follow the band forming in Brisbane in 1977
the two frontmen, Robert Forster and Grant McLennan
collecting band members and girlfriends, Lindy Morrison and Amanda Brown
travelling to Melbourne and London
in search of the shadow of fame
reaching a shot at stardom with the release of 16 Lovers Lane
turning it down when everything seems too good
ending with Grant’s unfortunate death

director Kriv Stenders
long time acquaintance of the band
through the Toowong Music Centre
uses the metaphor of a country house
to act as the spiritual home of the band
the swinging saloon door of the lineup
interviewing members as they ebb and flow, chronologically, in and out of the band
splicing the story with cutaway historical reenactments
as if parts of a Brisbane Dazed and Confused

“The Go-Betweens proved there could be
something interesting coming out of Brisbane,” one music critic quips
Paul Kelly shares the heartfelt moment when he first heard Cattle and Cane
we share the awkwardness of a caricature of the band playing the same song on Countdown
we lay witness to Robert Forster reaching the height of his ego with Spring Rain
revealing his bare chest unassumingly during TV interviews
we see the pieces of the puzzle align for Streets of Your Town

knowing near nothing of the Go Betweens
this film gives you a detailed grasp of their struggles and successes
but does it push the pulp further than Forster’s book, Grant and I?

if a band could be a poem
of search for fame through art
it would be the Go Betweens

Song to Song [Terrence Mallick, 2017]

or alternatively entitled
man points camera at beautiful people in obnoxious houses
and stitches it together with worthless prose

oh no
we’ve been sucked in
we’ve fallen into a trap
a MIFF faux pas

we’re seated at the cramped Comedy Theatre
shoulder to shoulder with a crowd of Melbourne Uni film students
about to watch a film by an established director, Terrance Mallick
it has high calibre actors, it’s set in Austin, Texas
it’s about two songwriters in love who live from Song to Song
what could go wrong?

Die Antwoord’s Never Le Nkemise 2 plays
over the opening credits

it’s a trainwreck
it’s a porno but all the hardcore porn has been cut out of it
it’s the first ten minutes where two actors feverishly pretend to like each other before they fuck

fuck
I wish we could walk out
people do
we’ve paid for a ticket
fuck
try to fall asleep
it’s our only hope of coming out alive

The soundtrack’s not half bad
but every time a song takes hold
the editor cuts it
snatches it away from us

if you enjoy your eyeballs
don’t watch this film

Girl Unbound [Erin Heidenreich, 2016]

imagine you’re a 14 year old girl
in Pakistan’s Taliban tribal areas
you dress in butch clothing
cut your hair short
change your name to Genghis Khan
to become a boy
so you can play outside
to pursue your dream as a squash player
but you’re found out
you’re locked in a room
because you’re a girl
the Taliban won’t allow it
you hit a ball against the wall
over
and over
and over
and over

you flee to Canada
where you’re free to become the number one
female squash player in the world
you return home to see your family
and give other young girl’s hope

shot in an observational documentary style
we follow the journey of Maria Toorpakai
as she fights back at gender constraints
explores her own sexuallality
to remind us that the world is still a long way off from
equality

Sci-Fi Marathon

welcome to the endurance event of MIFF
with seven obscure sci-fi films screening from at 9:30pm to 8am
630 minutes of otherworldly cinema watching
we, well, I, only last three films, until 4am
shame! shame! shame!

Time Crimes [Nacho Vigalondo, 2007]

ever wondered what it would be like
if you travelled back in time
multiple times
only a few minutes apart
and had to deal with multiple versions of yourself to get your life back on track?
the Spanish Time Crimes explores this question
in a sexy, funny, thrilling low budget film
that sees the lead character become his own worst enemy

it also raises the question
if a stranger asked you to get into a weird contraption
to hide from a pink bandaged man
would you?

Nothing Lasts Forever [Tom Schiller, 1984]

the mention of Bill Murray in an unreleased film
that had to be sent from an archive in Scotland
screened for the first time in Australia
has the attention of the cinephile crowd
I, wondering why it was unreleased

after watching Clint Eastwood warn us not to smoke crack in a preview
Gremlins star Zach Galligan as Adam Beckett
begins his journey as a young aristocrat to a self made artist
while New York City is on strike
in a black and white 1950’s sci-fi spoof
with Mel Brooks-eque satirical humour
highlighting the importance of artists in our society
featuring Bill Murray as a moon flight attendant
and Dan Ackroyd as a tunnel inspector

meanwhile at the Astor
a man belches, and cackles three rows down, ferociously
induced by on screen gags involving naked ladies and masturbation
and a German buff boy walking on a treadmill, counting to a thousand

The Visitor [Giulio Paradisi and Michael J. Paradise, 1979]

we’re forewarned
many won’t make it through this 108 minute
‘Mt Everest of insane 70s Italian movies’
maybe the Battleship Potemkin of schlock-busters
The alternatively titled ‘Stridulum’
wonder why that name didn’t take off

an ageing intergalactic warrior
with a team of skinheads descend on Earth
to destroy an evil little girl
long, and at times, meandering
the film garnered unintended laughs
through average special effects
although a bad film in its own right
it’s worthy of its cult status

Accelerator 1 (Australian & New Zealand Shorts)

what’s good about a short film showcase?
if you don’t like a film, it’s over in 10 minutes
if you do like a film, a director
they’ll normally make another, or a feature in a year to come
unfortunately most of these missed the mark

Locker Room [Greta Nash, 2017]

what happens in the footy locker room
like a can of Lynx body spray
seeps out through the blazers of young boys
and onto social media

as one of the boys
would you slut shame
or shame the team?

A Birthday Party [W.A.M. Bleakley, 2017]

In the rough borough of Traralgon
the alpha male of a group
takes his role too seriously
and beats the birthday boy to death

do you let group mentality take hold
or do something about it?

Losing It [Nikki Richardson, 2017]

two school girls
long time friends
discuss losing their virginity
on a swing set

sometimes things we put in an ivory tower
things we think will change us forever
don’t change us at all

The World In Your Window [Zoe McIntosh, 2016]

a young boy
looking after his severely depressed dad
in a caravan park
gets help from a transsexual
to help his dad get over losing
his wife

don’t let grief drown you
or you’ll lose what you have left

Mrs McCutcheon [John Sheedy, 2017]

a young school boy
coming out as a girl
transforming into Mrs McCutcheon
befriends a boy who accepts her for who she is
they must fight off societal pressures to ‘act normal’

borrowing from a popular on trend
Aussie camp style
alike Girl Asleep, 2016

After the Smoke [Nick Waterman, 2017]

a filmic poem of the death of a rodeo star
in a town where rodeo is one of the only escapes
from the drudgery of living in the middle of nowhere

smoke plumes from the stacks
as a funeral salute
darkness befalls the cinema
pick yourself back up
get back in the ring

Possum [Dave Whitehead, 2017]

two young brothers go camping to catch
the dreaded, the horrifying, the bowel releasing
Possum
a feelgood family short
with hint of Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Dark City [Alex Proyas, 1998]

we’re plunged into the depths of a genre mash up
a sci-fi-noir
where elements of the past
and elements of the future
combine to create something much intriguing than
Cowboys and Aliens

the shoebox diorama aesthetic of the set
exposes the orchestrated world we’re consumed by
something isn’t right

it’s always night
no one ever questions it
until John Murdoch awakens to be accused of murders
he didn’t commit
problem is
he can’t remember a thing

the detective story of this noir
propels the plot forward
while the sci-fi super powers
of a strange unknown cult
lurking beneath the surface of the city
have us gagging for answers
on the what the key is to the human mind

Australian director Alex Proyas’s
film proceeding The Crow, 1994
with appearances from Bruce Spence, Colin Friels
straddle a hammy performance by Keifer Sutherland
and the sensuous manifestation of Jennifer Connelly
who I’ve had a crush on since The Labyrinth
and been tainted since Requiem for a Dream
Dark City is one for a cold Winter’s night in

The Square [Ruben Östlund, 2017]

from a beach in Spain
on an iphone
director Ruben Östlund
explains to the Melbourne audience
the concept of The Square

The Square is a public space
The Square is a caring and equal place
four lines connected on the pavement
to form a boundary of comfort
a binding contract between two groups of people
like that of a pedestrian crossing
where a driver must stop to let a pedestrian pass
if someone is standing in The Square
those outside are morally obliged to help the person within

this idea
now an art installation in three countries
provides the backbone to the film’s story

how long will it take you to feel for humanity?
four seconds?
eight seconds?
too late
You’ve let a blonde ragged child explode
we’ve gone viral

the film toys with the irony of how the concepts
that pieces within art galleries aim to explore
are restricted by its walls, for a high brow audience’s eyes only
themes of social inclusion
our perception of those around us
the way we belittle others because they’re different or poor
these expensive exhibits
do nothing for the beggars on the street

scenes can create cinematic joy
The scene with a man acting as a gorilla
in a performance art piece
to a lavish dinner of esteemed guests
delivers the wild to the civilised
developing into chaos
making us forget we’re watching a film
is a true art form of the screen

why do we need to step inside The Square
to represent a space where we help people?
shouldn’t we help the people around us?
step outside of The Square
ask someone if they need help

Accelerator 2 (Australian and New Zealand shorts)

Mother, Child [Tin Pang, 2017]

dealing with a loved one
after a stroke
can strain relationships
cause fractures
but the bond between a mother and child
elastically springs back into shape
after tensions boil over

Have you tried, maybe, not worrying? [Rachel Ross, 2017]

confusion sets in
fear sinks its teeth in
it grabs you around your throat
“listen to ocean sounds,
it helps me”
anxiety
when someone’s troubles seem miniscule to you
can be the world to them
have you tried, maybe, not worrying?

Sengatan [Frank Magree, 2016]

you tricked me
you told a story about a guy getting in trouble
for smuggling heroin
placing the protagonist behind bars
to look as if he was in prison
only to reveal he is just waxing up his surfboard near a barred fence
they cut off fingers for that in Indonesia

Passengers [Simon Portus, 2017]

how do you deal with your own son
when he loves your wife’s new husband
more than you?
do you kidnap him
or try to become his friend?
should’ve kidnapped the kid
we want to see characters
make the wrong choices
maybe that’s just me

Somersault Pike [Kate Lefoe, 2017]

climbing up the ladder
to a 10ft high platform
stepping to the edge
facing backwards
imagine yourself
upside down
twisting around
somersaulting through the air
jump
capture it with a Phantom
high speed camera
for a VCA short film
thumbs up

Mwah [Nina Buxton, 2017]

a highschool girl
rides her bike into the night
stalked by a creep in a car
blowing kisses at her
ignore him
pedal faster
ignore him
pedal faster
he’s gaining on you
can you feel your heartbeat?

a tidy performance from Girl Asleep’s Bethany Whitmore

Miro [Victoria Wharfe McIntyre, 2017]

Pawno’s Mark Coles Smith
as an indigenous father
conscripted to fight in a white man’s war
only to have his child stolen
his wife displaced
not considered human enough to drink in a pub
there’s only so much one man can take
before he breaks and takes matters
into his own hands

24 frames [Abbas Kiarostami, 2017]

the posthumous feature
of experimental Iranian director
Abbas Kiarostami
who has repeatedly said
“he doesn’t mind if people sleep during his films
as long as they dream about them afterwards”

24 Frames
is 24 short films
of Abbas playing with the idea
of what happens before and after a still photograph

the frames allow the viewer to drift
in and out of consciousness
my eyes close
blackness
I awaken
not sure of how many frames I’ve missed
a deer is shot
ravens loom
a cat catches a bird
there’s an overwhelming sense of
death in the air of this film
the swan song of an artist

this is something you’re more likely to see
screening in an art gallery
rather than a packed cinema

draining, beautiful, expansive

the opposite to the latest
whizz bang Blockbuster
hitting the box office

Abbas Kiarostami would like that.