Films I loved in July 2014

6 August 2014

As I’m currently caught up in the thick of the Melbourne International Film Festival and didn’t get this summary done beforehand, my notes on my favourite films from July are briefer than ever. I also didn’t even get to see all the films I wanted to see, particularly A Most Wanted Man, so maybe that will appear on my August list. But for now here’s what I did see in July, better later than never…

Tilda Swinton as Mason in  Snowpiercer

Tilda Swinton as Mason in Snowpiercer

I first saw Snowpiercer while travelling abroad late last year and I was thrilled to see it again recently as I think it’s become my favourite film to-date by Bong Joon-ho. I love the visceral and exhilarating action, I love the production design, I love the dark humour and I love the social satire. Not only is the film a savage condemnation of class politics, but it examines the conditions under which class-based oppression thrives with all aspects of the film designed to facilitate that critique.

Brendan Gleeson as Father James and Chris O'Dowd as Jack Brennan in Calvary

Brendan Gleeson as Father James and Chris O’Dowd as Jack Brennan in Calvary

I have to keep reminding myself that Calvary is a blacker-than-black comedy, because it left me devastated. This is extremely sophisticated storytelling that transcended all expectations I had for writer/director John Michael McDonagh. The insights into personal and collective guilt, and the mix of ideas concerning redemption, forgiveness, sin and martyrdom, make this an essential film for trying to understand just how much damage the centuries of sex abuse and cover-ups committed by the Catholic Church have done to individuals and communities.

David Gulpilil as Charlie in Charlie's Country

David Gulpilil as Charlie in Charlie’s Country

I have been a fan of Rolf de Heer’s films for over 20 years now and Charlie’s Country yet again validates my belief that he is one of the most important Australian filmmakers of all time. After making so many progressive films, often about marginalised people, including two previous films with an Indigenous focus but set in the past, this is the film I’ve been waiting for de Heer to make for some time. And it doesn’t disappoint. Closely collaborating with co-writer/lead actor David Gulpilil, de Heer delivers an insight into the extent to which white Australia has continually intruded upon the lives of the First Australians on all levels. While this is overall a sobering film, it also contains a lot of humour thanks to Gulpilil’s performance and just the right amount of hope to prevent the audience from throwing their hands up into the air and declaring the issues to be all too hard to deal with.

Scarlett Johansson as Lucy in Lucy

Scarlett Johansson as Lucy in Lucy

I feel vaguely guilty for including Lucy here, but I had such a great time with this B-grade mash-up of junk science, stoner-philosophy and Hong Kong action-inspired spectacle. The film’s conceptual audacity and the way it fully embraces its internal ridiculousness is completely exhilarating, and it’s by far the most fun I’ve had watching a Luc Besson film since Léon: The Professional 20 years ago.


Otherwise, I really enjoyed Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox, which is a sort of Hindi In the Mood for Love/Brief Encounter with interesting insights into some of the social issues within contemporary India. I found the Australian documentary All This Mayhem very compelling, having next to no knowledge of the rise and then very disturbing fall of skateboarding champions Tas and Ben Pappas. It’s been a year since I saw The Selfish Giant, which is now on general release in Australia, but at the time I was extremely impressed by the way it transformed a parable by Oscar Wilde into a very moving social-realist film set in a poverty stricken part of northern England. And I was finally able to catch up on Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise trilogy, which has recently been released on DVD, with Paradise: Love from 2012 being the standout film from that trilogy. Set at a Kenyan beach resort where older Austrian women go to have sex with the young locals, the cocktail of gender, race, class and body politics on offer in this film results in a wonderfully uncomfortable, provocative, confronting and darkly funny film.

Thomas Caldwell, 2014

DVD review – Mother (2009), Region 4, Madman

15 August 2010
Mother (Kim Hye-ja)

Mother (Kim Hye-ja)

From South Korea, Mother is a stylish and extremely impressive “wrong man” murder mystery. Do-joon (Won Bin) is a sweet natured, mentally handicapped young man who is accused of murder based on circumstantial evidence. Do-joon’s doting mother becomes fixated on finding the real killer to prove her son’s innocence so she starts her own investigation, unveiling all sorts of sordid details about their small town community.

Director Bong Joon-ho’s previous film was the monster movie The Host, which very playfully toyed with its generic conventions without becoming overly self-aware. Mother is more focused than The Host, operating as a strong genre film even though Bong skilfully undermines many of the murder mystery conventions. With its clever play on audience expectations and sympathies there are some completely unexpected twists and turns.

At the heart of Mother is Kim Hye-ja’s lead performance as Do-joon’s mother. Her incredible love and devotion for Do-joon is both touching and sad. Her singular drive to protect him is what drives this film resulting in a heavily ironic and clever examination of guilt and culpability. Beautifully shot and consistently entertaining, Mother is a film that you should not let slip under your radar.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 360, 2010

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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MIFF 2009 wrap up

12 August 2009
Antichrist

Antichrist

The 2009 Melbourne International Film Festival finished last Sunday and I was pleased to end the festival on a high note by seeing Mother (Madeo, Bong Joon-ho, 2009), a wonderfully ironic and clever examination of guilt and  culpability in the guise of a whodunit. Before that I caught Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009) a good social-realist film with a terrific central performance from its young lead, newcomer Katie Jarvis.

The day before was a mixed blessing that began with the very enjoyable $9.99 (Tatia Rosenthal, 2008), a sort of animated metaphysical Short Cuts that will inevitably be compared to the superior Mary and Max. Unfortunately the much anticiapted closing night film at MIFF was the very cringe-worthy Bran Nue Dae (Rachel Perkins, 2009). While containing many strong performances, Ernie Dingo especially, and certainly having its heart in the right place, it is just far too twee. What may have once worked on stage — and Bran Nue Dae does feel like community theatre — hasn’t translated onto screen and it was my biggest disappointment of the festival. Fortunately I skipped the Closing Night party to see Antichrist (2009), the startling new film by Lars von Trier. With its dreamlike combination of hauntingly beautiful and uncanny imagery, and power to actually make me physically recoil for most of the final part of the film, Antichrist was one of my festival highlights along with Love Exposure and the opening night film Balibo.

Otherwise, during the festival I also caught the appropriate titled documentary Outrage (Kirby Dick, 2009), which draws much needed attention to the gross hypocrisy of closeted gay and lesbian politicians who actively legislate and campaign against the homosexual community. I also saw Henry Selick’s wonderful 3D stop motion Coraline (2009) , the quirky but forgettable comedy Pardon My French (Un chat un chat, Sophie Fillières, 2009) and An Education (2009), a highly enjoyable and unconventional coming-of-age film by Danish director Lone Scherfig. Overall, I was very pleased with the films I picked this year.

I didn’t go to any of the retrospective screenings but MIFF did screen both Dogs in Space (Richard Lowenstein, 1986), one of my all time favourite Australian films, and Alphaville (1965), one of my favourite films by Jean-Luc Godard.

Of the many films that I didn’t get around to seeing, I am still kicking myself the hardest for missing Still Walking (Aruitemo aruitemo, Hirokazu Koreeda, 2008). But, I guess you can’t get to see everything!

My 2009 MIFF summary

✭✭✭✭✭
Balibo
(Robert Connolly, 2009)

✭✭✭✭✩
Love Exposure
(Ai no mukidashi, Sion Sono, 2008)
Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

✭✭✭✭
35 Shots of Rum (35 rhums, Claire Denis, 2008)
Paper Soldiers (Bumazhnyy soldat, Aleksei German Ml., 2008)
Thirst (Bakjwi, Park Chan-wook, 2009)
Mother (Madeo, Bong Joon-ho, 2009)
Bronson (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2009)
Che: Part One (Steven Soderbergh, 2008)
Red Riding: 1980 (James Marsh, 2009)
Red Riding: 1974 (Julian Jarrold, 2009)
The 10 Conditions of Love (Jeff Daniels, 2009)
An Education (Lone Scherfig, 2009)
Red Riding: 1983 (Anand Tucker, 2009)

✭✭✭✩
The White Ribbon (Das weiße Band, Michael Haneke, 2009)
Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009)
The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2009)
Che: Part Two (Steven Soderbergh, 2008)
Outrage (Kirby Dick, 2009)
Coraline (Henry Selick, 2009)
Krabat (Marco Kreuzpaintner, 2008)
$9.99 (Tatia Rosenthal, 2008)
The Burrowers (J.T. Petty, 2008)
Like You Know It All (Jal aljido mothamyeonseo, Hong Sang-soo, 2009)

✭✭✭
The Sky Crawlers (Sukai kurora, Mamoru Oshii, 2008)
The Girlfriend Experience (Steven Soderbergh, 2009)
Pardon My French (Un chat un chat, Sophie Fillières, 2009)

✭✭✩
Shadow Play: The Making of Anton Corbijn (Josh Whiteman, 2009)
Tears for Sale (Carlston za Ognjenku, Uros Stojanovic, 2008)
Chocolate (Prachya Pinkaew, 2008)

✭✭
Bran Nue Dae (Rachel Perkins, 2009)

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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