Films I loved in June 2014

30 June 2014
Ernest & Celestine

Ernest & Celestine

I feel a bit odd including Ernest & Celestine at the top of my list of favourite films for this month, as I originally saw it two years ago and I saw the original French-language version as opposed to the English-dubbed version that is currently screening in Australia. Nevertheless, this is a gorgeous animated film about friendship that also works very effectively as a parable about not fearing others simply because they are different to us and we don’t know much about them. I’m looking forward to revisiting it once the DVD comes out (hopefully in the original language with English subtitles!)

Michael Fassbender as Frank in Frank

Michael Fassbender as Frank in Frank

I haven’t seen Lenny Abrahamson’s first feature film, but I remember being really impressed by Garage in 2007 and I loved What Richard Did, which I mentioned a few months ago when it got released on DVD in Australia. And going by his latest film Frank, Abrahamson is clearly a director who is getting stronger and stronger. Inspired by the film’s co-writer Jon Ronson’s experiences playing in a band with Frank Sidebottom (an alter-ego of English comedian and musician Chris Sievey), Frank is both a funny and melancholic tribute to marginal figures. While several real-life experimental musicians were inspirations for the character of Frank as presented in the film, I often thought of Scott Walker whose creative process was captured so well in the documentary Scott Walker: 30 Century Man. While Frank is for the most part quite a fun film, its real strength lies in its final half hour where it sidesteps several cliches common to films about bands and musicians to instead de-romanticise the link between artistic genius and mental illness.

Emily Blunt as Rita and Tom Cruise as Cage in Edge of Tomorrow

Emily Blunt as Rita and Tom Cruise as Cage in Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow is an extremely satisfying and mostly smart high concept blockbuster that uses the cultural baggage of its star Tom Cruise to cleverly develop the main protagonist from somebody the audience has contempt for to a plausible action hero. It’s also refreshing to see a film that champions the idea of having to learn and master skills rather than simply rely on some kind of Chosen One or naturally gifted hero narrative. And in terms of spectacle cinema, director Doug Liman really delivers in creating a sense of chaos without sacrificing coherence. The second half of the film may not maintain the same level of interest as the first, but otherwise I loved this mash-up of Groundhog Day, Starship Troopers, Aliens and Saving Private Ryan.

Macon Blair as Dwight in Blue Ruin

Macon Blair as Dwight in Blue Ruin

My favourite film this month is one that didn’t get a theatrical release in Australia, but has instead gone to DVD, and that’s the masterful American thriller Blue Ruin. The film very skilfully conceals narrative information from the audience regarding character backstory and motivation without ever becoming obtuse, so that the viewer only ever needs to know just enough about what is happening to make every scene achieve the most tension as possible. The revenge story that emerges is as engaging as it is due to the film’s ability to maintain plausibility with the core idea that the protagonist is an ordinary person, albeit an ordinary person who’s suffered severe emotional trauma, and is therefore likely to make all the mistakes that a typical person would make.


I also finally caught up with the documentary Cutie and the Boxer, which was released on DVD in May. A really beautiful insight into the lives of artist Ushio Shinohara and his wife Noriko Shinohara, the film touches on their art and the difficulties of making a living as artists, but it is mostly a study of a relationship where the demands and dominating personality of one person has overshadowed the aspirations of another. This is a sensitive, revealing and very moving film that ultimately possesses a very empowering message.

Thomas Caldwell, 2014

MIFF 2012: Feature film picks

31 July 2012

The Melbourne International Film Festival opens this Thursday so I thought I’d share my festival picks, even though they are based on a somewhat random sampling of what I have just happened to have seen. Many of my favourite films in the festival are Shorts and the Next Gen films, but I’ve covered those two programs in detail already. Which brings me to the obligatory disclaimer that I work for MIFF in the programming department so have zero objectivity about the festival. Having said that, all the films discussed here are ones that I had nothing at all to do with selecting.

Beasts of the Southern Wild 

The textures and colour make this film a visual masterpiece, and when that is combined with an amazing performance by the film’s young star and an emotive coming-of-age tale that incorporates visions of prehistoric times with future climate change catastrophes, the result is a Magical Realist triumph. I cannot wait to see this film again.

Holy Motors

I am so thankful that films this playful, provocative and puzzling are still made. The latest by Leos Carax, who is the subject of a retrospective at the festival, is a fascinating exploration of dreams, film genres and the effect that technology is having on the way audiences experience cinema. At least that’s what I took from it.

Ernest & Celestine

As two of the three directors on this film are the geniuses behind the deliriously funny A Town Called Panic, I was not expecting it to be a traditional hand-drawn animation that would be so incredibly charming. This gorgeous parable about a mouse and a bear who become friends, despite being told that they should fear and hate each other, is not only funny but so sweet that at moments I was possibly a little misty eyed.

Tabu

Beautiful shot in black-and-white in 4:3, this mesmerising film set in Portugal and African uses selected techniques from early cinema to create a dreamlike story about illicit love, race, colonialism and melancholy.

[REC] Genesis

While not as strong as the original film, which is one of my favourite contemporary zombie films, this loose prequel is a lot of fun. It does abandon the found footage approach early on, but the resulting wedding-based flesh-eating mayhem is a lot of fun.

Side by Side

A really accessible,  in-depth and entertaining look at the way the film industry – on every level – is making the transition from film-based technology to digital. This documentary contains interviews with many of the major players in the film industry and gives voice to a wide range of viewpoints. It challenged and possibly even changed several of my opinions.

Maniac

A film shot in the first-person about a serial killer who scalps his victims after killing them gets points alone for audacity. This is a slickly made cinematic nasty that I really enjoyed being shocked and disturbed by. There is also some really impressive filmmaking on display, used to mimic the fractured way the delusional and deranged protagonist views the world.

Alois Nebel

The stunning black and white rotoscoping in this Czech animation perfectly complements the dark and sombre story about a loner train dispatcher whose experiences during World War II come back to haunt him. There is a remarkable sense of stillness in this film, which gives it a beautiful meditative quality.

Gainsbourg by Gainsbourg: An Intimate Self Portrait

Like its subject Serge Gainsbourg, this is a rambling film that is sometimes infuriating, something baffling, self-important, self-deprecating, all over the place and constantly fascinating. The combination of archival footage and audio recorded by Gainsbourg provides an impressionist portrait of the man, told out of chronological sequence and far more illuminating than the biopic about him that came out in 2010.

100 Bloody Acres

This horror/comedy is a tremendous amount of fun. As the two brothers with a creative solution to making fertiliser, Angus Sampson is wonderfully wicked while Damon Herriman is hilariously endearing.

Have a great MIFF everybody!

Thomas Caldwell
MIFF Shorts & Next Gen Coordinator