MIFF2010 Day 17: Hefner, A Low-Budget Miracle and a Really Bad Film

 
HUGH HEFNER: PLAYBOY, ACTIVIST & REBEL
 
A documentary telling Hef's story and the history of Playboy should've really been a tad better than this. While this is a straight down the line documentary, following Hef's story from the origins of Playboy chronologically, the film decides to take a rather narrow focus concentrating on his civil rights victories. This wouldn't be such a problem if it,
A: wasn't over 2 hours long
 
and
 
B: didn't decide to dabble in other issues regarding Hef's story here and there.
 
This could've easily been a comprehensive 70 or 80 minute film illuminating some of the truly great things Hef has done from fighting segregation in the 50s to campaigning for civil liberties in the 60s and 70s. Instead the film floats around discussing whatever it seems to feel like filling time with, and by the time we reach the 1970s it suddenly fast forwards through 30 years in 20 minutes.
 
Of course the access Hef gives is amazing but why wouldn't it be since the film is so obsessively glorifying that it becomes rather cloying. Sadly the only real dissenting opinions are given to people who don't some across well at all (an old feminist spouting outdated 60s theories and Pat Boone, the born-again singer who obviously is uncomfortable).
 
It's a bit unfortunate that this isn't a definitive documentary because it comes kind of close. If only its focus wasn't so narrow and its perspective not so biased. Still as it stands it’s an interesting look back at the genesis of a magazine that was truly revolutionary in its time.
 
 
MONSTERS
 
If you didn't know this was a low-budget miracle of a film going in then you would never pick it. Gareth Edwards debut film is not only a calling card showing off amazing control of film grammar but also a big "Let me show you how it's done!" to Hollywood.
 
Monsters begins at the very point most films end. About 5 years prior we learn a NASA probe crashed back to earth with samples of a new form of life that it had found in our solar system. Soon thereafter large creatures began appearing and terrorising locals. In an effort to quarantine the creature a large no-go, infected area was created throughout north Mexico up to the American border and a giant wall was built with the plan of keeping the creatures out of the United States.
 
Our story starts in Mexico when photojournalist Andrew gets a call from his boss in the states ordering him to find his daughter, Rebecca and escort her home. Once Andrew finds her he realises they don't have much time to waste as the authorities are planning on shutting down all movements to America around the Infected Zone due to increased creature activity.
 
The scale of Edwards' achievement is hard to explain. His budget has been rumoured to be anywhere between 7,000 and 18,000 U.S dollars. He edited and created all the FX on a home computer using Adobe Premiere and After Effects. Most of the film was shot on location using natural light in Central America, guerrilla-style, with him, a sound guy and his two actors. All crowd scenes were done renegade and on the fly with Edwards adding his own effects later on (choppers flying over, big electric fences, creature warning signs etc). It is a stunning achievement and singularly vital viewing for anyone with low-budget filmmaking ambitions. At no point does this look or feel like a cheap low-budget film.
 
Edwards wisely keeps his story character based. It essentially is about the relationship between our two characters yet manages to encompass as many greater thematic ideas as something like District 9. Monsters is a remarkable success and one I can recommend not just as a manifesto on how to make a brilliant low-budget film but as a genuinely interesting and exciting sci-fi drama in its own right. You will be hearing about this film soon I am sure of it!
 
THE JUCHE IDEA
 
Right up top of this review I am gonna state that I hated this film! I found it to be an interminable, pretentious and thoroughly muddy experience. I almost walked out and it came close to rivalling Trash Humpers for worst film at the festival.
 
I'm not unfamiliar with director Jim Finn's previous work. I've actually seen and enjoyed his 2006 feature Interkosmos which plays with the medium in similar ways as The Juche Idea. Interkosmos is a terrifically fun piece that lampoons the Russian cold war obsession with getting into space brilliantly. Stylistically it resembles The Juche Idea in that it presents itself as a mock-documentary, subversively illuminating the ridiculousness and hypocritical nature of communist government and propaganda.
 
Sadly, The Juche Idea is much less successful than Finn’s earlier efforts. It is alternately impenetrable and juvenile. Much of its presentation is fatally flawed including what could be argued as being its most important segments, the parts that actually quote much of Kim Jong Il’s film theory. These sequences have text of Il’s theory on one side of the screen while simultaneously playing subtitled scenes from North Korean films. I wonder if Finn realised at any point the difficulty an audience would have in reading two pieces of text at the same time. Of course we can’t even be sure the subtitles are real and not Finn’s creation as it is.
 
This was a massive failure of a film for me. One I immediately wanted to walk out on (but I didn’t, keeping my clean run of no walk outs this film festival). It was unsuccessful on every single level and even the moments where Finn was shooting for straight comedy are complete misses. I yearned for the sharp deconstructive edge of something like Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! which this film resembled at moments. Bad, bad cinema!
 
 
 
 
 

Comments

I'm a big fan of Cassavettes, so when I read his name mentioned in the Monsters' blurb in MIFF guide I immediately book the film without a second thought. I was blown away by the result. If anybody remember, the lead actor was in another little film called "IN SEARCH OF A MIDNIGHT KISS" from MIFF08. He gave a strong performance as well, to the best of my recollection.