Film review – The Messenger (2009)

21 November 2010
The Messenger: Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson)

Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson)

Discharged early from serving in Iraq, Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) returns home to the US and is assigned to Casualty Notification. Partnered with Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), Montgomery learns the procedure of informing families that their loved ones have recently died while serving as soldiers. The Messenger is partly a strange and dark buddy film and also an incredibly moving examination of grief and anger.

Director Oren Moverman shoots the casualty notification scenes in unedited long takes so that they play out in real time. It’s a confronting effect and the scenes are made all the more powerful by the performances. Harrelson was nominated for an Academy Award for this film but everybody is excellent including Samantha Morton and Steve Buscemi in supporting roles.

As well as being very entertaining, The Messenger is commendable for how it beautifully humanises the soldiers. They may be tough guys with a hardened exterior but underneath that they are repressing an enormous amount of pain. This is a great anti-war film examining the residual effect of war on the people who fight it and the people who are left behind.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 367, 2010

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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Read more reviews at MRQE


MIFF 2010 Wrap Up

9 August 2010
Enter the Void

Enter the Void

As another Melbourne International Film Festival closes I’m left with mixed feelings. It is admittedly somewhat of a relief to no longer be dashing from session to session every day, not getting enough sleep, not eating properly and drinking way too much caffeine. On the other hand, I do feel sad that it’s all over as it is wonderful to indulge in 2 and a half weeks of doing what I love the most – seeing films, writing about films and talking about films to other passionate cinephiles. It was also a thrill to be one the jury members for the short films awards this year. Being just a very small part of the festival in that way was a real privilege.

I was overall extremely impressed with the way the festival was run and I don’t believe that there were any mishaps (or miffhaps?) that were not understandable considering the immense logistics behind putting on a festival like this. Sure, there will sometimes be delays and projection problems  but this year everything seemed to be rectified and managed quickly and competently. Having proper breaks between sessions was also wonderful. My only wish is that you could exchange tickets online or at least over the phone without paying an addition charge on top of the exchange fee. It would also be great (but perhaps unrealistic I admit) to create a system where you don’t get charged for cancelling a session but instead only get charged for replacing a session. That way tickets would be freed up when people decide to skip a screening completely.

Son of Babylon

Son of Babylon

My goodness – bless the MIFF volunteers who do such an incredible job with a love of the festival being their main motivation. Having worked professionally on another cultural festival, I am fully aware of how hard volunteers work and that they can sometimes be under-appreciated. Fortunately the general public seemed to be pretty well behaved this year and I only witnessed one temper tantrum, which was so absurd it was actually quite funny (looking at you man who declared that the whole country was apparently incompetent because you had to wait an extra 20 minutes to see a film).

So, onto the films themselves, first with a list of my top 10 favourite films that screening during the festival:

Enter the Void (Gaspar Noé, 2009)
Son of Babylon (Mohamed Al Daradji, 2009)
The Killer Inside Me (Michael Winterbottom, 2010)
I Love You Phillip Morris (Glenn Ficarra and John Reque, 2009)
Splice (Vincenzo Natali, 2009)
Lourdes (Jessica Hausner, 2010)
Boy (Taika Waititi, 2010)
The Messenger (Oren Moverman, 2010)
The Illusionist (L’illusionniste, Sylvain Chomet, 2010)
Poetry (Shi, Lee Chang-dong, 2010)

World on a Wire

World on a Wire

I would also like to mention that the final film I saw at the festival, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, was a tremendous amount of fun and I’m glad I finished the festival with such an exhilarating film. I also thoroughly enjoyed the three retrospective screenings I went to, which were Psycho with the live orchestra, Joe Dante’s Homecoming and Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s World on a Wire.

My full list of films seen at the festival is as follows:

Air Doll (Kûki ningyô, Hirokazu Koreeda, 2009) ✭✭✭✩
Alamar (Pedro González-Rubio, 2009) ✭✭✭✩
Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo (Jessica Oreck, 2009) ✭✭✩
Bibliothèque Pascal (Szabolcs Hajdu, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
Boy (Taika Waititi, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
Brotherhood (Broderskab, Nicholo Donato, 2009) ✭✭✭
Caterpillar (Kyatapirâ, Kôji Wakamatsu, 2010) ✭✭
Despicable Me (Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, 2010) ✭✭✭
Dreamland (Ivan Sen, 2009) ✭✭✭
Enter the Void (Gaspar Noé, 2009) ✭✭✭✭✩
Exodus – Burnt by the Sun 2 (Utomlyonnye solntsem 2, Nikita Mikhalkov, 2010) ✭✩
Four Lions (Christopher Morris, 2009) ✭✭✭
The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Homecoming (Joe Dante, 2005) ✭✭✭✭
The Housemaid (Hanyo, Im Sang-soo, 2010) ✭✭✭
The Hunter (Rafi Pitts, 2010) ✭✭✩
I Killed My Mother (J’ai tué ma mère, Xavier Dolan, 2009) ✭✭✭✩
I Love You Phillip Morris (Glenn Ficarra and John Reque, 2009) ✭✭✭✭✩
The Illusionist (L’illusionniste, Sylvain Chomet, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
The Killer Inside Me (Michael Winterbottom, 2010) ✭✭✭✭✩
Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee (Shane Meadows, 2009) ✭✭
Leap Year (Año bisiesto, Michael Rowe, 2010) ✭✭
Lebanon (Samuel Maoz, 2009) ✭✭✭
Lourdes (Jessica Hausner, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
The Messenger (Oren Moverman, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
The Myth of the American Sleepover (David Robert Mitchell, 2009) ✭✭✩
Poetry (Shi, Lee Chang-dong, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
Psycho (Alfred Hitchock, 1960) ✭✭✭✭✭
Red Hill (Patrick Hughes, 2010) ✭✭✭
The Robber (Der Räuber, Benjamin Heisenberg, 2010) ✭✭✭
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Edgar Wright) ✭✭✭✭
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (Mat Whitecross, 2010) ✭✭✭
Son of Babylon (Mohamed Al Daradji, 2009) ✭✭✭✭✩
The Special Relationship (Richard Loncraine, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Splice (Vincenzo Natali, 2009) ✭✭✭✭✩
Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam (Omar Majeed, 2009) ✭✭✭✩
Tetro (Francis Ford Coppola, 2009) ✭✭✭
The Tree (Julie Bertucelli, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
The Trotsky (Jacob Tierney, 2009) ✭✭✭✩
The Wedding Party (Amanda Jane, 2010) ✭✭
Welcome to the Rileys (Jake Scott, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Wild Target (Jonathan Lynn, 2010) ✭✭✩
Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
World on a Wire (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1973) ✭✭✭✭
World’s Greatest Dad (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2009) ✭✭✭✭

I Love You Phillip Morris

I Love You Phillip Morris

Finally, MIFF this year was extremely sociable and I had a great time drinking and chatting with friends between sessions and making new friends while waiting for the curtains to part. I should really have done this much sooner but below is a shout-out to some of the other places online where MIFF has been discussed and digested. This list is be no means exhaustive and I apologise if I’ve left you off but I wanted to focus on people whom I actually spent time with in person in various queues, cinemas and the festival lounge. So, thanks to the following people for enriching my MIFF experience both online and in person:

Tara Judah at Liminal Vision
Cerise Howard at A Little Lie Down
Richard Watts at A Man About Town
Lee Zachariah (a.k.a. Latauro) at Ain’t It Cool News
Luke Buckmaster at Cinetology
David O’Connell at Screen Fanatic

That’s it for another year! Please feel free to list your blog/website in the comments if you’ve also covered MIFF and escaped my radar. Also, please feel free to share your MIFF highlights and maybe on this occasion it would be good to maintain the MIFF afterglow by just focusing on the films that you can share the love for.

Cheers
Thomas

PS It’s pronounced “FASS-bin-der” not “Fass-BIND-er”!

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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MIFF 2010 Diary: Part 3

27 July 2010

I sat down last night for the final MIFF Shorts Awards deliberations with my fellow judges Alan Finney and Wendy Haslem. After lots of robust discussion, where we were all willing to have our minds changed by each other’s differing perspectives, I believe we’ve made excellent decisions about what films should win what awards. I think audiences will enjoy the diversity and high quality of all these films so come along next Sunday for the awards and screenings. There is also a repeat screening the following Sunday.

The Messenger

The Messenger

Before the judging I saw The Messenger, a film I had moderate expectations for and basically only saw because it was one of the few films I hadn’t seen that was nominated for a couple of Academy Awards this year. I’m so glad I went as it is one of the best film I have ever seen about soldiers who have returned home. It alternates between being a fun buddy film to a painful exposé  of how families react when confronted with the news that their loved ones have died while fighting. Most significantly is how plausibly The Messenger humanises these tough-guy soldier types by showing that deep inside they are broken people experiencing immense repressed pain.

[EDIT 21/11/2010: Read a full review of The Messenger]

The Housemaid

The Housemaid

I also saw The Housemaid last night and wasn’t as impressed by it as I was hoping I would be. Director Im Sang-soo was at the screening to introduce his film, and also took questions afterwards, and he frequently talked about how it is a critique of South Korean society, in particular the gap between a new class of super rich and the working classes. This is certainly reflected in The Housemaid where a young maid becomes seemingly gladly subservient to a wealthy family, including making herself sexually available to the husband. All of this was fine and the film was very engaging but I found it increasingly heavy handed, obvious and melodramatic. That may have been the point I suppose and possibly exactly what other people have liked about it but it left me feeling a little unsatisfied.

[EDIT 24/10/2010: Read a full review of The Housemaid]

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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