MIFF2010 Day 12: A Neo-Noir Kidnapping & A Photographer in New York

I really hit a wall today and was extraordinarily tired throughout the two films I saw (on top of a whole day of work and a whole morning of writing).
Now we enter the energy drink phase of the festival. I think I have waited long enough. As for the films today, yeh they were OK.
Hitting a wall in impressionability too.
Need to push through.
After this won an audience award at the Sydney Film Festival my curiosity was spiked. Personally I had never heard of the man so I was going into this film completely cold.
And it turned out to be a very charming, small film. Bill Cunningham is an odd little character, spritely and energetic even at the age of 80. For countless years Bill has been photographing normal women on the streets of New York, chronicling fashion trends in a brilliant kind of in-the-trenches way, for his weekly page in the New York Times.
Bill is the sweetest man you could meet, completely down-to-earth yet powerfully influential in ways he would always deny. He just simply loves fashion and loves to take photographs of stylish, individual and most importantly, real women. That is pretty much all there is to the film to be honest. It's breezy and entertaining. One can clearly see why it became an audience favourite but the superficial level of the examination really began to bother me as it went along. Bill is obviously a very interesting character and I really wanted to know a bit more about him. In the closing moments of the film the film-maker spends 2 or 3 minutes asking him the big questions about his relationships and his religion. He gets a couple of oblique answers and moves on.
Here is an 80 year old Catholic man who in his own words, has never had even one romantic relationship in his entire life, is not gay, and finds ways to “control his urges”. There is a damn fascinating film in there somewhere but the film-maker doesn't push Bill or his other interviewees for answers. Maybe most of the audience was happy with a superficial examination of the subject, maybe this was a documentary about clothes and outer garments, never intending to get under the surface.
But in the end I had a lot of questions...
J Blakeson's low-budget debut is a marvel of inventive staging and tight writing. This is a film that relies on strategically placed narrative twists, so this is all you need to know about the story: The film opens with two men buying supplies (rope, saws, drills) and fixing up a room which is obviously the stage for something quite horrific to come. They tarp up a van and moments later throw a blindfolded, screaming woman into it.
The first 10 minutes of the film is truly brilliant cinema and sets the film up to be some kind of intense variation on the torture porn genre that we have seen plenty of over recent years. In fact the film turns out to be nothing like that. As the story progresses it more resembles the wave of neo-noir thrillers we had in the early to mid 90s where no one can be trusted and the the best laid plans inevitably go awry.
The final act of the film loses a bit of momentum sadly and the conclusion is a bit cheesy and generic but again this so reminded me of those films from the 90s that it didn't bother me too much. While some of the twists are patently ridiculous (they recieved some large laughs from the audience) this film can be a lot of fun if approached without too much discretion.
J Blakeson has made a solid, well-paced and entertaining thriller that will not only serve as a calling card for things to come but also a tight little bit of retro-fun in its own right. Don't hype this one up too much and you should get a good nights enjoyment out of it.