Films I loved in April 2014

30 April 2014
Ralph Fiennes as M Gustave in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Ralph Fiennes as M Gustave in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel is a glorious tribute to an imagined era of European civility and innocence before the onslaught of fascism. Channelling the spirit of Ernst Lubitsch, this is one of Anderson’s best films and certainly the one I’ve enjoyed the most since The Royal Tenenbaums in 2001. For the most part a beautifully designed, cleverly structured and hilarious caper, the real triumph in this film is the final five or so minutes where Anderson delivers a heartfelt conclusion that acknowledges the fundamental tragedy of what fascism destroyed.

Tilda Swinton as Eve and Tom Hiddleston as Adam in Only Lovers Left Alive

Tilda Swinton as Eve and Tom Hiddleston as Adam in Only Lovers Left Alive

I have long been a fan of Jim Jarmusch – who like Wes Anderson is also a maverick with a unique and uncompromising approach to filmmaking – and Only Lovers Left Alive did not disappoint. This time Jarmusch applies his droll, minimalist and laid back style to the vampire genre to produce a film both visually and audibly rich in texture and atmosphere. The love and symbiotic relationship between the two creatures of the night reflects the delicate balance of the natural world that is slowly falling in decay due to human greed, selfishness and destructiveness.

Will Arnett voicing Batman and Charlie Day voicing Benny in The LEGO Movie

Will Arnett voicing Batman and Charlie Day voicing Benny in The LEGO Movie

On the other end of the spectrum comes the deliriously fun and subversive mainstream family comedy The LEGO Movie, which has a seemingly anarchic animation style that reminded me of A Town Called Panic (Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, 2009). It does seem incongruous that such an overtly branded and marketed film would contain such a strident message against consumerism, materialism and conformity, but it does and it does it well. It also smartly deconstructs several pop culture tropes including the rather regressive idea of the Chosen One. And it’s hilarious.

Masaharu Fukuyama as Ryota Nonomiya and Machiko Ono and Midori Nonomiya in Like Father, Like Son

Masaharu Fukuyama as Ryota Nonomiya and Machiko Ono as Midori Nonomiya in Like Father, Like Son

In Like Father, Like Son director Hirokazu Koreeda finds considerable charm, humour and pathos in the potentially scandalous story about two sets of parents discovering their 6-year-old sons were mixed up at birth. Instead of melodramatics, Koreeda’s graceful style of storytelling allows for gentle social observations concerning class divisions and parental expectations in modern Japan. My favourite films of Koreeda’s are After Life (1998) and Still Walking (2008), but this is still an excellent film by one of the most consistently impressive filmmakers working today.


It was great to see the low-fi French romantic comedy 2 Autumns, 3 Winters get a number of screenings around Melbourne, as I really enjoyed its quirky and hyper self-referential style. Most of the time I find the device of having characters talk directly to the camera a bit too twee, but it worked for me in this film and I enjoyed its 20-something hipster angst.

Another film that had a few local screenings, just ahead of its DVD release, is the extraordinary Cheap Thrills where two friends are encouraged to compete against each other, in increasingly disturbing ways, for money. The blend of horror and dark comedy in this post-GFC film, delivers a biting social critique of the way middle and lower classes are conned into fighting against each other, while the powerful and wealthy upper class sit back and enjoy the show. The levels of depravity, humiliation and ruthlessness are built up extremely convincingly and are wonderfully excruciating to watch.

The other DVD release of note this month is  Starlet, a very impressive low budget American drama about an unlikely friendship between a 21-year-old woman and an 85-year-old woman. The film is very strategic about when it provides keys pieces of information about the background of both women, but when it does the timing is perfect and the effect is profound. Starlet goes into surprising and unlikely places to deal with subject matter that a lesser film would have sensationalised, but writer/director Sean Baker has an impressive grasp on the material and, like 2 Autumns, 3 Winters writer/director Sébastien Betbeder and like Cheap Thrills director EL Katz, is a talent to keep an eye out for.

Thomas Caldwell, 2014

MIFF 2013 recommendations part 3

24 July 2013

Melbourne International Film Festival 2013

Here is my final batch of MIFF 2013 recommendations before the festival kicks off. Don’t forget to check out part 1 and part 2, and I hope my thoughts on the films below are helpful. In fact, you could do a lot worse than seeing the first three films on this list, which make a sort of unofficial indie trilogy about 20-somethings adrift in three of the greatest cities in the world (after Melbourne of course):

Frances Ha

Frances Ha

This energetic celebration of friendship and the awkwardness of modern life provides one of the most  joyous cinema experiences in years. A feel-good film with substance and integrity.

2 Autumns, 3 Winters

A formally playful French indie about love, friendship and the dramas of life, which uses its self-awareness to draw in the viewer rather than distance them.

Oh Boy

The deadpan humour and mild absurdism of this film set over 24 hours in the life of an aimless young man living in Berlin, becomes a deeply moving film about collective memory.

A Touch of Sin

An expertly made and powerful commentary on social inequality in modern day China, told through four overlapping stories with violent resolutions.

Harmony Lessons

Harmony Lessons

An unsettling school drama set in Kazakhstan about a boy bullied by another student with ties to an organised extortion ring. This slow burn film undermines expectations, plays with audience sympathies and sparingly uses dream sequences to powerful effect.

A Hijacking

The realism in this film about a Danish boat captured by Somali pirates delivers a fascinating insight into hostage negotiations as well as delivering a tense thriller.

I Am Devine

A heartfelt, in-depth and entertaining documentary about Harris Glenn Milstead and his alter-ego Devine; muse to John Waters and counter-culture/queer icon.

These Final Hours

These Final Hours

An  end-of-the-world thriller/drama featuring a man attempting to get to a hedonistic party to spend his remaining time on the planet in a state of ignorant bliss. However, he discovers that there could be better ways to use what little time he has left in this constantly surprising and highly accomplished new Australian film.

Valentine Road

A sobering documentary about a hate crime murder committed in a classroom and the subsequent trial, which raises issues concerning community culpability, marginalisation of LGBTI youth, how intolerance escalates into violence and victim blaming.

Blackbird

Another film to examine school violence and persecution, but with the twist of having the main character – a bullied loner who foolishly publishes online a cathartic revenge story – getting falsely accused of planning a high school massacre.

From the films I’ve seen so far I also recommend people check out Ilo IloA World Not Ours and Twisted Trunk, Big Fat Body.  I also had a lot of fun watching I Declare WarPatrick, Lesson of the Evil and Rewind This! And I really urge people to go to at least one or two of the Short Film Packages.

Finally, there are a number of films I’m really hoping to see during the festival and some of those are Leviathan, 3x3D, Omar, Like Father, Like Son, Ginger and Rosa, The Dance of Reality, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Bastards, The Pervert‘s Guide to Ideology and pretty much everything in the Shining Violence: Italian Giallo section.

Have a great MIFF!

Thomas Caldwell
Shorts & Next Gen Coordinator
Melbourne International Film Festival

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