I try not to pay too much attention to the nonfestival films opening during SIFF, because it's hard to find time and money, but no one's been able to shut up about Mad Max: Fury Road, so I took a break on Saturday to get caught up, and I'm glad I did. Afterwards I noticed that SIFF, coincidentally or not, also happened to be very Australia heavy this weekend. Lots of Australian films and Australian talent—David Gulpilil (Walkabout), Guy Pearce, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Mendelsohn, Jacki Weaver. So after Max, I headed back into festival world to see what the antipode had to offer.
I caught Andrew Bujalski's Results first. When I heard that the Austin-based, Harvard-educated Funny Ha Ha director would be working with Pearce, the highest-profile actor to appear in one of his films, I was intrigued. Pearce tends to play tightly wound cops and criminals, while Bujalski tends to make small-scale films about miscommunication among civilian types.
The good news: they work well together. The not-so-good news: it's Bujalski's least successful film to date. I'm still piecing out the reasons why, but it's partly because Pearce and Cobie Smulders don't quite click as a couple, and their acting styles are so different it's as if they're in different movies—he's in a low-key rom-com; she's in a screwball comedy. He had better chemistry with his dog—or even Russell Crowe in LA Confidential.
Then there's the usually reliable Kevin Corrigan, who brings these two fitness trainers together. His wealthy schlub character, Danny, doesn't make a lot of sense, and there's only so much he can do to make it work, though he gets most of the funny bits of business—buying a cat sight unseen, taking that cat jogging, etc. Bujalski also seems to find it amusing that Danny has stalker tendencies and likes to leer at women, but it just seems creepy—not rapey-creepy, but I'm-not-sure-I'd-want-to-sit-next-to-that-guy-on-a-bus creepy. On the plus side, Justin Rice's percussive score keeps the tone lively (Pearce's gym owner likes to bang on a drum set to relax, so the score has thematic relevance). Though best known as a musician, Rice starred in Bujalski's second film, the nouvelle vague-inspired Mutual Appreciation, and he was good enough to make me wish he acted more.
Though I missed the films with Gulpilil (Charlie's Country) and Weaver (Maya the Bee Movie), I did make it to John Maclean's directorial debut, Slow West. As with Results, it isn't an Australian film, and it wasn't even filmed there (the Scottish director shot it in New Zealand), but it features Smit-McPhee as Jay, a young Scotsman who travels to America to track down his childhood sweetheart, and Mendelsohn as Payne, an absinthe-swilling bounty hunter. Michael Fassbender, who starred in three of the director's short films, plays Silas, a former member of Payne's gang, who offers to guide the under-prepared Jay to his destination in exchange for some cold, hard cash.
Though filled with incident (double-crosses and shoot-outs) and lovely scenery, the film takes awhile to get cooking, but that turns out to be a blessing in disguise. Maclean's matter-of-fact, lightly comic tone leads to an action-packed conclusion that makes more of an impact than it might have otherwise. It also features one of the more clever visual gags I've ever seen, i.e. a moldy idiom made flesh. Mostly, it's a chance to hang out with the naïve McPhee and the worldly Fassbender, who have more chemistry—or a more dynamic brand of chemistry—than Pearce and Smulders.
As for non-Australian-oriented films, I also caught Love & Mercy with Oscar-winning composer Atticus Ross (The Social Network with Trent Reznor) in attendance. He compiled his score from Brian Wilson's master tapes, and it's a brilliant piece of work, since he reproduces the sounds playing in Wilson's dazzlingly fractured mind. In the film, Mike Love comes off as almost as much of a villain as Murry Wilson (Wilson's father and former manager) and Eugene Landy (his therapist-turned-guardian), but Love also encourages him to work on the melody that would become the masterful "Good Vibrations," so there's that. As Stranger contributor Josh Bis noted afterward, "Too bad it [the score] won't be Oscar-eligible" (a fate that previously befell Jonny Greenwood's highly evocative, if largely re-purposed score for There Will Be Blood). I agree.
On another music note, I didn't notice until I was reading up on John Maclean that he used to be in the Beta Band! I'm more familiar with his work than I realized, since I have two of their albums. I was wondering why he chose Django Django to provide the closing theme, and now I know—other than the fact that it's a good song—his brother, David Maclean, is in the band.
There are no more SIFF screenings of Results, Slow West, or Love & Mercy, but all three films are set to open later this year. Find more SIFF info here.