The bright light city sure did set Elvis’ soul on fire, and it was a delight to watch George Sidney’s 1964 gem Viva Las Vegas on the big screen, my third film in MIFF’s 2011 retrospective program. However it was a modest new Australian drama with a tiny budget and a big heart that provided my soul nourishment, and I sacrificed some extra sleep to write a detailed review of it here.

If there are some typos in these posts, grammatical,, or otherw!se, you will forgive me. I have more fingers on one hand than hours spent in bed last night. But such sacrifices need to be made if I’m to get to the heart of this operation, to report from deep inside the MIFF central nervous system. I’m rather excited to see Project Nim this morning, and I’ll chase it with The Matchmaker, Tabloid and The Future. I’ll need a hearty breakfast first, and the milk I’m drinking at the moment tastes unusually sour. Hard to say if it’s me or not.

That’s all for me for now. See you in the funny pages. Hopefully not the obits. TTFN.

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In director Alexei Balabanov’s dotty Russian crime film A Stoker (film #19) former Soviet war hero “The Major” spends his life sitting on a shabby bed, maintaining the temperature of a furnace at a boiling room and intermittently tapping away one finger at a time on a novel while bodies get trundled into the building and jammed in the stoves around him. A charming but deadly gangster reassures the quiet, softly spoken Major that all the people being sent to cinders are baddies deserving of eternal flames (but not of this variety).

Much of the film focuses on what happens to the characters around the Major — the criminal man who talks to him, his money-hungry daughter, her new boyfriend who never speaks a word – until the final act homes in on the old man himself to cram in a slab about redemption, revenge and things-have-changed ruminations.

A Stoker’s unrelentingly jivey finger strumming acoustic/synthesiser soundtrack belies the film’s dark dramas, crimes and violence, giving what would ordinarily have been a down-n-dirty crime story an unusually upbeat tempo, like the first scene of a Tarantino movie stretched for an entire running time and sapped of flair and punchiness. It’s not for all tastes, but the film above all else demonstrates a reminder of how powerful music and sound composition can be to shape atmosphere, and there is something about the Major’s presence – perhaps his aged, weatherbeaten, crumpled bag countenance – that kept me engaged even as the story faulted into strange, uneven territory and a truly bizarre final scene.

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Released in 1964, when Elvis Presley was still a white-hot hunk of creamy-skinned smooth-voiced lady killing superstar, Viva Las Vegas (film 20) is director George Sidney’s frothy singalong classic about a racer-cum-waiter (Presley) and his feisty leggy love interest (Ann Margaret).

Lucky Jackson (Presley) arrives in town but needs an engine to race in the Las Vegas Grand Prix. Jackson first sees Rusty (Margaret), with whom he is immediately smitten, when he is beneath a car, observing her long golden legs approaching him like water to a parched man in a desert. Rusty tells Jackson her car is fine except its motor won’t stop whistling; he says he doesn’t blame it and proceeds to chase her for the rest of the movie, often literally.

Jackson’s lust for Rusty is equalled only by his lust for a new motor. The screwy subtext is obvious: one can naturally assume the car engine and Rusty are figuratively one and the same. A spectacular closing race scene – the only one in the movie – depicts Elvis, clad in orange goggles, masterfully navigating a low riding metallic light blue convertible. This is the sex scene Sidney couldn’t show you.

The story is shoddy but every song is a winner, the casting is bang-on and the script’s jokes are endearingly daggy-punchy. If Presley could have made (read: starred in) a string of movies of this quality for a decade and a half, The King would likely have gone down as one of cinema’s most impressionable performers, to singsong musicals what Chaplin was to silent slapstick. Fate had a different result in mind — to paraphrase the eponymous song, there are only 24 hours in the day — but Elvis fans who revisit Viva Las Vegas aren’t likely to complain.

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One interviewee in director Liz Garbus’s two thirds entertaining, one third utterly engrossing Bobby Fischer Against the World (film 21) observes that a great chess player is always paranoid on the board. But when that paranoia transfers into real life…it doesn’t pan out too well.

A Grandmaster at the age of 16, Fischer is widely accepted as the greatest chess player who every lived, and – if you read between the lines of this documentary – a man who saw so many moves ahead his mind opened a valve it could never close, and had brain that obsessively, arguably tragically, tried to compute all the angles.

Garbus spans Fischer’s life from young’un to hairy oldie and dedicates a sizable chunk of the running time to chronicling with impressive detail the mother of all chess games: the 1972 ‘Match of the Century’ showdown between Fischer and Russian player Boris Spassky. Following what happened is quite something, for chess and non chess players alike. Fischer, ever the unpredictable loose cannon variety, played all manner of unusual delays and tactics; Spassky, generally the calm and collected type, felt the pressure and came close to accusing American forces of poisoning him with radiation. As you do.

For the first two thirds Bobby Against Versus the World is an entertaining if structurally imbalanced look at the game of chess and the life and rise of Fischer. But the final third acts cranks up the voltage to become a searing, shocking portrait of mental illnesses among chess players and, most prominently, the man Fischer eventually became: a paranoid anti-Semitic Jew (!) who lost his US citizenship and celebrated the September 11 attacks. The comparison between the young and old Fischer is sad and striking.

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At 9Pm in the evening I watched Face to Face. Check this post for a detailed review.