MIFF 2010 Diary: Pre Festival – Part 2

21 July 2010

My process for selecting MIFF films each year is usually the same. I do an initial sweep off the program highlighting all the films that immediately jump out at me and noting ones of secondary interest. Those immediate interest films are the ones I book right away and bend heaven and earth to see while everything else I am happy to fit in where I can and if I can.

Here are the ten films that most grabbed my attention this year:

 I Love You Phillip Morris

I Love You Phillip Morris

I Love You Phillip Morris
Ever since I first heard about this offbeat romantic-comedy starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor as the two lovers, I’ve been looking forward to it. It has got an Australian distributor but they’ve been sitting on it for a long time now, presumably unsure about what to do with it. The same distributor almost sent The Hurt Locker direct to DVD last year so this was the first film I booked this year as who knows what might happen to it.

Air Doll
I have never seen any films by Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda but at last year’s festival, missing his previous film Still Walking was my major regret as I  heard nothing but amazing things about it. So this year I was determined to acquaint myself with Koreeda and figured seeing his new film Air Doll would be as good a place to start as any.

The Housemaid
I know almost nothing about this new South Korean film except for being aware that it was as one of the films being talked about a lot during the Cannes Film Festival. It’s an erotic thriller that’s supposed to be very good so I’m sold.

Lourdes
Another film that I know next to nothing about except that it has attracted a lot of praise from overseas. For some reason this film has implanted itself into my subconscious as something worth seeing and that seems to be a good enough reason to a select a film as anything.

World on a Wire
I haven’t seen nearly as many films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder as I would like to have seen so this rarely screened, 1973 made-for-TV cerebral science-fiction epic is another step in rectifying that.

Exodus: Burnt by the Sun 2

Exodus: Burnt by the Sun 2

Exodus: Burnt By The Sun 2
The first film I ever saw at the first MIFF I ever went to (in 1995) was Russian director’s Nikita Mikhalkov highly acclaimed Burnt by the Sun. It is still one of my all time favourite films. I haven’t heard great things about this sequel but I am nevertheless very excited about Mikhalkov reprising his role as General Kotov.

Tetro
Simply because it’s the new film by Francis Ford Coppola and it can’t be any worse than Youth Without Youth, right?

Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam
They showed the preview for this as the program launch and it looks great. I can’t make it to the Merle Haggard documentary so this will be my music doco fix this year.

Lebanon
Another trailer screening at the launch that caught my eye as it looks like it will do for tanks what Das Boot did for submarines.

Enter The Void
Irreversible was one of the best films from the last decade for me so I’ve been curious to see what Gaspar Noé would come up with next. I’m also rather anxious since Irreversible is still one of the most upsetting films I’ve ever seen. But this does sound extraordinary.

Special events
I am really looking forward to the closing night film Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll as it’s another films I’ve heard very good things about, I like that era of music and I really like actor Andy Serkis. I’m also thrilled to be seeing one of the performances of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho with Orchestra, which promises to be a pretty amazing event for film lovers and film music lover especially.

Finally, the event that I am slightly nervously looking forward to is the MIFF Shorts Awards, which I have a very small role in this year as one of the three judges. The winning films will be screened after the awards are presented so fingers crossed we pick the best films!

I’ll be back tomorrow to share my thoughts on the films screening in MIFF that I’ve already seen. Two of them are more than likely going to find themselves on my top ten films of the year list.

Cheers
Thomas

PS I wasn’t going to see the new Bruce LaBruce film L.A. Zombie but like most other fellow film lovers I’m pretty disgusted that the Film Classification Board is refusing to allow other people from seeing it. Tara Judah’s piece “Cultural Zombies” on her Liminal Vision blog pretty much expresses my feelings about the issue.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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MIFF 2010 Diary: Pre Festival – Part 1

20 July 2010

2010 Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF)The 2010 Melbourne International Film Festival is now only a couple of day away so it’s time to start my online diary to cover the event. In the past couple of years I’ve written short capsule reviews of selected films but this year I’ve decided to write up each day in short diary entries to give a better impression of the festival as a whole. There won’t be many (if any) full reviews of general release films coming from me during this time so I apologise to all my non-Melbourne readers in advance.

Booking/planning advice

Most of you have probably already booked your sessions by now but my main advice for attending film festivals it to remember that it is a festival and not a competition. It doesn’t matter how many films you see and trying to cram in too many can destroy the overall experience. Pace yourself and allow time to catch up with fellow cinephiles. Many years ago I did go nuts trying to see four or five films everyday and all I remember was getting very sick, not eating properly and always needing to go to the toilet! All the films blurred into one and it was all a bit miserable.

This year I am doing my best to follow these rules:

  • Three films per day maximum
  • No more than two films back-to-back
  • See only what I want to see – not what I feel I should see
  • If in doubt, scratch whatever is playing at the Greater Union cinemas (because those cinemas contain neither prestige nor comfort and I like cinemas to have at least one of those two elements).

I’ll no doubt break these rules occasionally but at least my intentions are good!

Finally, to help you select your films I’d suggest you check out the list of MIFF films with Australia distributors (and in some cases release dates) on A Little Lie Down; the new blog by film critic and film festival reporter (among many other things) Cerise Howard. I’ve also recently stumbled across a great online MIFF planner by Daniel Sheppard. Not only can you better organise your own MIFF schedule but you can check out what other users, including me, are seeing.

My current dilemma

Scott Pilgrim vs Uncle Boonmee

Scott Pilgrim vs Uncle Boonmee

My only major scheduling conflict at the moment is to do with the recent news that the 2010 Cannes Palme d’Or winning film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is now playing on the final day at the same time as Edgar Wright’s new film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Now Uncle Boonmee is clearly an important film and exactly the sort of film that is best suited to see at a film festival while Scott Pilgrim is getting released in cinemas everywhere less than a week later. It seems like an obvious choice.

However, I’ve seen Uncle Boonmee director’s Apichatpong Weerasethakul previous feature film Syndromes and a Century and although I could appreciate it, it was a very meditative film that was difficult to stay awake during! I’ve been told that Uncle Boonmee is similarly paced and I just don’t know if I can endure that as the final film of a very long festival. Scott Pilgrim on the other hand promises to be tremendous fun and exactly the kind of thing that is a blast to finish on. So, I’m edging towards Scott Pilgrim

For my next post I’ll share some of my top picks for the festival and some thoughts on the films that are playing that I’ve already seen are also on the way.

Thomas

Vote choc top!

Vote choc top!

PS Don’t forget to vote in the very fun popcorn verse choc top poll! I’m a bit alarmed to see that at the time of writing this, popcorn is in the lead. No food should weigh less then the actually money you use to pay for it. Vote choc top: dress in black (it is Melbourne after all) and just accept that you will end up wearing half of it.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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MIFF 2009 reviews – Love Exposure (2008), The Sky Crawlers (2008), Tears for Sale (2008)

7 August 2009

Reviews of film screening during the 2009 Melbourne International Film Festival.

Love Exposure (Ai no mukidashi, Sion Sono, 2008) ✭✭✭✭✩
The Sky Crawlers (Sukai kurora, Mamoru Oshii, 2008) ✭✭✭
Tears for Sale (Carlston za Ognjenku, Uros Stojanovic, 2008) ✭✭✩

Love Exposure
Love ExposureSion Sono’s (Suicide Club) latest film, Love Exposure, almost runs for four hours and at first resembles a melodramatic soap opera. However, once the main character Yu goes to train with a group of professional perverts in order to learn the skill of taking up-skirt panty shots, you realise that Sono is once again going to take you on one hell of a genre defying ride. Yu becomes a pervert in order to develop a worthy set of sins to confess to his father, a priest who has fallen from grace. But soon Yu becomes involved in a love triangle with a girl recruiting for a cult and a girl who hates all men except Kurt Cobain and Jesus Christ. Love Exposure is a delirious exploration of Christianity, family, cults, sin, forgiveness, lust, perversions (especially the supposed Japanese obsession with schoolgirls and panties) and gender – or put simply: religion and sex. Its weird, comic tone is frequently over-the-top, often funny and always inventive. Moments of excess are partly satirical, partly outrageous comedy and partly self-referential as Sono frequently draws attention to the fact that the film is shot somewhat crudely on digital videotape. This is cinema at its most daring, outrageous and defiant, and it needs to be seen to be believed.

The Sky Crawlers
Heavily indebted to George Orwell’s “War is Peace” concept from 1984, The Sky Crawlers is set in a highly anachronistic alternative history where private corporations wage ‘war’ on each other for commercial entertainment. The fighter pilots are ‘Kildren’ who remain adolescents forever (or until they are shot down). Whether working in animation (the Ghost in the Shell films) or live action (Avalon), Japanese director Mamoru Oshii likes exploring the themes of memory, reality and identity. His films are a philosophical mixture of stillness and bursts of spectacular action. The contrasts that Oshii uses in The Sky Crawlers are his most pronounced yet. The old World War II style planes and other pieces of technology are created with some of the most realistic 3D animation created to date while the characters are drawn in incredibly simple and almost ugly 2D animation. This juxtaposition is clearly a deliberate visual statement about what constitutes as reality in this Brave New World but it is nevertheless jarring. The brief dog-fight scenes between the pilots are incredible but they are few and far between. Most scenes in The Sky Crawlers consist of minimalist dialogue, long pauses and characters blankly starring at each other. Even for an Oshii film, The Sky Crawlers feels slow and despite its worthiness it doesn’t contain the same degree of depth of his previous films.

Tears For Sale
The special-effects-filled Magical Realist Serbian film Tears for Sale is visually a blend of the cinematic styles of Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Emir Kusturica. Narratively it initially seems to follow Kusturica’s approach of exploring history and politics with a very dark sense of humour. The scenario of a village that is only inhabited by women certainly follows the absurdist tradition of using excessive black humour to respond to something horrific – in this case the fact that two thirds of the Serbian male population died during World War I. The women have become professional grievers and are paid for their mourning expertise. The only other source of income for the village is a mine-filled vineyard that nobody ever leaves alive. Unfortunately Tears for Sale very quickly gets lost in its own indulgences and seems to function simply in order to present yet another display of dazzling visual effect. All meaning and character development gets thrown out the window and as the film progresses the behaviour of the characters becomes increasingly inexplicable and implausible. The later stages of the film also expect us to start empathising with characters that we have no reason to empathise with and the heavy use of slow motion and gushy music does not do the trick. Tears for Sale looks incredible but it is empty spectacle that never engages with its subject matter or with the audience.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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MIFF 2009 reviews – Che (2009), Paper Soldiers (2008), Chocolate (2008)

2 August 2009

Reviews of film screening during the 2009 Melbourne International Film Festival.

Che (Steven Soderbergh, 2008) ✭✭✭✭
Paper Soldiers (Bumazhnyy soldat, Aleksei German Ml., 2008) ✭✭✭✭
Chocolate (Prachya Pinkaew, 2008) ✭✭✩

Che

Ernesto 'Che' Guevara (Benicio Del Toro)

Ernesto 'Che' Guevara (Benicio Del Toro)

Based on the actual memoirs of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, Steven Soderbergh’s Che: Part One depicts the role that the famous revolutionary played in overthrowing the USA-friendly Cuban dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1956, while Che: Part Two depicts Guevara’s failed attempt to start a similar revolution in Bolivia in 1966. The two films are very much separate entities with Part One functioning as Che’s climb to glory while Part Two depicts his gradual downfall. As the asthmatic, Argentinean doctor who would later become a revolutionary icon, Benicio Del Toro is incredibly impressive as Che. Together with Soderbergh, he depicts Che as a dignified, intelligent and compassionate man who truly believed that the only way to achieve human rights for South American people was through the combination of a popular uprising and armed struggle. Part One is the stronger of the two films as it better establishes the link between Guevara’s actions and his politics by inter-cutting between the guerilla warfare in the Cuban forests and Guevara’s 1964 address to the United Nations. Part Two initially struggles to maintain the same level of interest although its final half hour is incredibly captivating. Both films are beautifully shot and have a similar pacing to The Thin Red Line where a lot of attention is placed on preparations and the slow build-up to actual conflict. The battle sequences are stunningly depicted in their blunt simplicity. You get the immediate impression of being right in the middle of a conflict and then the film, almost coldly, cuts the scene to move onto something else, making the violence one aspect of a larger story rather than having it as the film’s main attraction.

Paper Soldiers

It is 1961 and in a remote stretch of land in Kazakhstan, the preparations to launch the first human into space are underway. Dr. Daniel Pokrovsky is in charge of the wellbeing of the cosmonauts and he is increasingly concerned about their safety as well as suffering from his own health concerns. He is also torn romantically between his wife in Moscow and a young girl in Kazakhstan. Paper Soldiers may at first glance sound like a Russian The Right Stuff but its poetic mix of history, political discourse, philosophical discussion and human drama make it far closer in tone to the films of Andrei Tarkovsky with a slight nod to Federico Fellini as well. The fluid camera drifts over the colour-drained action to capture the strange mix of characters and objects that fill the frame. Characters talking off screen suddenly walk into a close-up shot and then move into the background, by which time the focus has switched to another element that has appeared in the shot from either the background or off camera. The ambient background sounds, perfectly balanced cinematography, and thematic mix of the personal and the political make Paper Soldiers a very beautiful and meditative film that is played out against a dreamlike, mist-filled landscape.

Chocolate

It is somewhat difficult to believe that Prachya Pinkaew,  the director of the breathtaking Muay Thai martial-arts film Ong-bak, is also responsible for this very dodgy film about a girl whose autism somehow gives her special fighting skills. That is not to say that Chocolate is not an enjoyable film because despite the horrible scripting and acting, there are a lot of laughs to be had – both of the intentional and unintentional variety. In terms of the intentional laughs, many of the fight sequences in Chocolate are a highly enjoyable combination of impressive choreography with some genuinely funny visual humour. Having said that, there are also some very lazy and contrived sequences too. The unintentional laughs come at the expenses of a villain who does things like shoot himself in the foot to appear tough and the ridiculous portrayal of autism.  If the film wasn’t so absurd then it may have been offensive.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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MIFF 2009 reviews – Bronson (2009), The 10 Conditions of Love (2009), Krabat (2008)

25 July 2009

Reviews of film screening during the 2009 Melbourne International Film Festival.

Bronson (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2009) ✭✭✭✭
The 10 Conditions of Love (Jeff Daniels, 2009) ✭✭✭✭
Krabat (Marco Kreuzpaintner, 2008) ✭✭✭✩

Bronson

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Charles Bronson (Tom Hardy)

The British press once described Charles “Charlie” Bronson as the “most violent prisoner in Britain.” He has spent most of his life in prison and for most of that time he has been in solitary confinement. Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn likes grim subject matter but audiences expecting the gritty social realism of his Pusher trilogy are going to be very surprised by Bronson, which is a macabre blend of horror and comedy, biographical information and complete fabrication, realism and Brechtian techniques. Bronson is presented as a showman whose acts of violence are his greatest source of self-expression and throughout the film Bronson appears on a stage addressing an unseen audience as if he is taking part in a bizarre one person pantomime. Bronson’s criminality and delusions of grandeur make Bronson comparable to Chopper but the satirical avant garde nature of Bronson also makes it very close in tone to A Clockwork Orange. Considering that Bronson’s sole response to everything he encounters is to simply commit violence, Refn and actor Tom Hardy, who plays Bronson, have done a remarkable job of making such a compelling, entertaining and disturbing film.

The 10 Conditions of Love

Rebiya Kadeer is a successful businesswoman, political activist and human rights advocate. She campaigns for the rights of the Uyghur people who live in Xinjiang, a supposedly autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China. Known as East Turkistan by the Uyghur people, Xinjiang was annexed by China in 1949, similarly to how China later also annexed Tibet. As a Uyghur person herself, Kadeer has long campaigned about the ethnic, political, religious and economic persecution that her people have suffered. The documentary The 10 Conditions of Love tells Rebiya’s story and she is an extraordinary woman who has made some incredible personal sacrifices to bring the plight of the Uyghur people to the attention of the rest of the world. The 10 Conditions of Love is an eye-opening and moving tribute to her work, which is far from over. It’s a film that needs to be seen and if the recent demands by the Chinese government for it not to be shown at the Melbourne International Film Festival have generated more publicity for the film than it would have attracted otherwise, then this is a good thing.

Interview with The 10 Conditions of Love director Jeff Daniels from The Casting Couch 18 July 2009
http://www.cpod.org.au/download.php?id=1621

Krabat

The German fantasy Krabat is an 18th century tale of magic and morality in the vein of classic Brothers Grimm stories. Based on the 1971 German novel The Satanic Mill, which was based on tales dating back to the 17th century, Krabat is about a 14-year-old boy who joins a secret brotherhood of apprentices training in Black Magic. The boy, Krabat (played by David Kross from The Reader), is initially pleased to have apparently found his place in the world but soon discovers that his training comes with a terrible price. Krabat is a refreshingly highbrow fantasy film that doesn’t contain any extraneous exposition and explanation, uses its special effect sequences sparingly and is incredibly serious. The protagonists of the film may be predominantly teenage boys and young men but this is a film aimed at an adult audience. Nevertheless, there is something a little overtly cold and detached about Krabat that prevents you from becoming fully immersed in its dark and mysterious story.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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Preparing for MIFF 2009

12 July 2009

The program for the 2009 Melbourne International Film Festival came out on Friday and I’ve finally selected the 20 films that I will see this year. From previous experience I find that 20 -30 films is the ideal amount for me. Any more than that usually results in too many films blurring into one and me getting really sick! Maybe I’m getting old but I find that 2 films per day is ideal (3 max) and I try to avoid anything with a start time after 10pm. I also like to keep some days free to recover and catch up on regularly released films, as there is a lot of good stuff getting a general release in Australia while MIFF is on. So I’ve picked 20 films (two mini-passes worth) and there will inevitably be a few more added on as word of mouth during the festival brings to my attention things that I hadn’t previously considered.

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MIFF reviews – Nightwatching, Words of Advice: William S. Burroughs on the Road

30 July 2008

Reviews of film screening during the 2008 Melbourne International Film Festival.

Nightwatching
Words of Advice: William S. Burroughs on the Road

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