Tuesday, August 19, 2014

2014 Melbourne International Film Festival Round Up

The 2014 Melbourne International Film Festival has just wrapped up another exciting and entertaining 18 days of film. This year saw the audience numbers rise to make 2014 the most successful year for the festival in it's 62 year history. Opening Night was held on the 31st July and featured the upcoming release Predestination as it's film, while closing night on the 16th of August was the Australian premiere of Felony attended by the cast and crew of the film.

We at Movie Critical were in Melbourne to experience the festival first hand and watch some of the best of what it's program had to offer. Our film diary consists of 25 films, which included 18 feature films and 6 documentaries from Australia, the United States, New Zealand, France, Belgium, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Austria, Denmark, Iran and China. We have put together a one paragraph review of each of the films we saw and our top 5 films of the festival to follow.  Please note that the films which will be receiving a theatrical release in Australia will also receive a full review closer to their release date.

Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014)
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 8th and 17th of August.
Directed by Diao Yinan
The winner of the Golden Bear at this year's Berlinale, Black Coal, Thin Ice is an extremely atmospheric thriller set in contemporary northern China. Police officer Zhang Zili (Liao Fan) is injured on the job during an investigation into a grisly murder and retires to live a quieter, but more self-destructive life. When murders start happening which are very much like the one which he was working on all those years ago, he is propelled back into the world he has tried so hard to escape. Although there are elements of Black Coal, Thin Ice which are similar to many other films of it's genre, it presents it's audience with a fresh take on these elements. There is a period towards the middle of the film which is really quite slow, but even in this lapse the film is still captivating due to the power of it's visuals.The film is beautifully shot in the snow and the cinematography exquisite.
The Case Against 8 (2013)
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 15th and 17th August.
Directed by Ben Cotner, Ryan White
When Barack Obama was elected President of the United States in 2008, there was reason for many to celebrate. Yet when Proposition 8 was passed in California, there was devastation for many in the gay and lesbian community who were planning to get married or were already married and were then informed that their marriage was in fact invalid in the eyes of the law. The Case Against 8 follows the court case against Proposition 8 and in particular focuses on the two couples, Kris and Sandy and Paul and Jeff who are propelled into the spotlight as part of the case. Although the documentary starts off slow and does give the impression that it is being staged rather than being filmed as actual events are happening, it soon kicks into gear and becomes a captivating and often suspenseful journey. It is also a beautiful story of two couples who are deeply in love which each other and the film is a great deal more personal and emotional than what a typical political courtroom documentary can be.
Epic of Everest (1925)
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 3rd and 13th August.
Directed by Captain John Noel
Epic of Everest is the glorious restoration of the archival footage from the first expedition to concur the summit of Mount Everest. The 1925 silent film footage is completely mesmerising with its breathtaking visuals of the beautiful, but harsh conditions George Mallory, Andrew Irvine and their men had to endure. The camera work is truly incredible for the time in which it was filmed, especially the long shots in which they were able to shoot footage of the men from miles away. While the expedition was seen to be a triumph, it is saddening to see footage of the men who lost their lives on the mountain beforehand filled with hope and optimism.
(As this was a restored classic, it has not been included in our top 5 of the festival)
Felony (2013)
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival Closing Night on the 16th August.
Directed by Matthew Saville
Felony is a wonderful showcase of the filmmaking talent that is presently in Australia. Malcolm (Joel Edgerton), a drug cop who is currently being hailed a hero for his latest arrest, is involved in a terrible twist of fate which threatens not only to tear he and his young family apart, but also threatens to reveal extremely damaging secrets of the police force. He tries his best to cover up his lies and guilt, but is always under the watchful eye of rookie officer, Jim (Jai Courtney). Felony can sometimes feel like deja vu as much of it you may have seen in past films, but for the greater part is unpredictable and greatly entertaining. It is extremely tense and made more so by a wonderful musical score and sound mixing. Joel Edgerton, who also wrote Felony, gives an incredible performance of a strong man falling apart and encourages the audience to ponder what they would in the same situation.
The Good Life (La belle vie) (2013)
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 5th and 14th of August.
Directed by Jean Denizot
The Good Life is an absolutely charming coming of age story with a difference which looks at that time when you approach an age where you can go your own way in life, but choose what to take with you from your parents. Based on an incredible true story, Yves (Nicholas Bouchaud) is a father who eleven years ago went to desperate measures not to lose custody of his sons and has been living on the run with them ever since. After another close call means another change of location, the eldest boy, Pierre (Jules Pelissier) decides it is time to take his life into his own hands and sets off leaving his father and brother, Sylvain (Zacharie Chasseriaud) behind. Sylvain feels the unease of his nomadic lifestyle and after meeting Gilda (Solene Rigot) he starts to ponder what life would be like without it's secrecy. The Good Life is very atmospheric and quite beautiful to look at with it's beautiful photography of the French countryside. Zacharie Chasseriaud is extremely likable and it is incredible to watch how his happiness with life changes gradually into frustration, but he is always driven by his loyalty to his father.
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 7th, 9th and 17th of August.
Directed by Johannes Holzhausen
The Great Museum is a documentary about the world inside the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. It explores how items are chosen to put on exhibit, how they are put on exhibit and how they are maintained, as well as how the museum operates day to day. This documentary is an absolute must for any art history fan and is made in a rather unique fashion. There are no curators who speak directly to the camera, but rather the viewer finds out what they need to know about the museum by playing witness to conversations between museum workers and also by watching them go about their work. The museum is an absolutely beautiful institute in itself, but the cinematography enhances it's beauty and does the Kunsthistorisches complete justice.
Jauja (2014)
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 10th and 13th of August.
Directed by Lisandro Alonso
Jauja is a surrealistic adventure of a man who would go to the end of the world for his daughter. Captain Dinesen (Viggo Mortensen) is tempted by the promised wonders of the land of Jauja, but his attentions take a dramatic turn when his daughter runs away with a young soldier. He sets off to find her and encounters the dangers of the land and unforseen moral dilemmas. Jauja is a film that should be seen with an open mind, as it is quite surrealistic and doesn't abide by common storytelling techniques. Yet there are some extremely interesting camera shots used and glorious scenery assisted by an incredible use of camera. It's two hour running time does seem a great deal longer due to the slow pace of the story, but can be forgiven as there is so much beauty to play witness to during this time.
Jimi: All Is By My Side (2013)
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 8th and 16th of August.
Directed by John Ridley
Jimi: All Is By My Side is John Ridley's tribute to legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix. The film chronicles Hendrix's (Andre Benjamin) life from when he was discovered by Keith Richards' girlfriend, Linda Keith (Imogen Poots) through to the beginning of his worldwide fame. Andre Benjamin does well as Hendrix, as does Poots as Keith and Hayley Atwell as his girlfriend, Kathy, and the soundtrack is also memorable. However, the film tries to do a little too much and believes it is amazing, and it is never a good thing when you can tell that this. There are too many elements of a documentary thrown into this biopic, such as captions informing the audience who is who and real photos thrown in when the character is talking about a particular event. Many of the creative choices of this film bring a film that could have been so much more down.
Jodorowsky's Dune (2013)
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 7th and 11th of August.
Directed by Frank Pavich
Jodorowsky's Dune is a documentary about the film that never was. Back in the 1970's, eccentric filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky started work on the extremely ambitious adaption of Frank Herbert's "Dune'. The film was to have an impressive cast including Orson Welles and Salvador Dali and had some wonderfully talented designers behind the scenes. However, it was never to be and became legend. This documentary is absolutely brilliant. Jodorowsky is such a passionate man and so full of energy that his love for the film radiates off the screen. After seeing Jodorowsky's Dune, you really do feel as though you did see Jodorowsky's Dune, even though it was a film which was never made. The depth of information of the pre-production of the lost film in this film is perfect and the whole documentary has the atmosphere of a science fiction film, just like it's subject matter. After watching the film, you are devastated that Jodorowsky's Dune never got off the ground, but still in high spirits after experiencing something so fun and passionate.
The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq (2014)
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 4th and 11th of August.
Directed by Guillaume Nicloux
In 2011, the author Michele Houellebecq did not turn up for his book tour and seemingly disappeared. His disappearance made a lot of people speculate as to where he could be, and this film is a fantasied answer to those questions which people have had. Houellebecq (who plays himself in this film) has experienced a kidnapping like no other where his every needs are attended to and he befriends his captors. The Kidnapping of Michele Houellebecq is an odd film with no real direction to it. It is quite funny at times and there is an interesting underlying theme of celebrity obsession, as Houellebecq's kidnappers are clearly impressed by his star status. However, the film doesn't seem to make a huge amount of sense and is not overly interesting for those who are not familiar with Houellebecq.
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 2nd, 7th and 14th of August.
Directed by David Zellner
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is a retelling by the Zellner brothers of the Fargo legend. Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) is a painfully shy, Japanese girl who travels from Tokyo to Minnesota in the belief that the Coen brothers film, Fargo is real and that there really is a treasure buried in the snow there. It is a wonderful retelling of the myth with some glorious images, particularly those in the Minnesota winter. There are some brilliant underlying themes of cinema obsession and the need for adventure and self-importance. Rinko Kikuchi does wonderfully to portray a character which is completely introverted, but there is a thirst to know why Kumiko is the way she is which isn't fulfilled.
Please see out exclusive interview with director, David Zellner here
Life After Beth (2014)
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 12th and 14th of August.
Directed by Jeff Baena
Life After Beth is a hilarious insight into what happens when family and friends are still in the grieving stage when the deceased shows up on the front door...showing all the vital signs that they are in the process of becoming a zombie. Zac (Dane DeHaan) is absolutely devastated when his girlfriend, Beth (Aubrey Plaza) receives a fatal snake bite. Not even a week later, she arrives back at her parents house with no recollection of what happened to her and Zac and her parents are overjoyed. However, it isn't long before everyone starts to realise that Beth is not the person she used to be. Life After Beth is truly funny and a wonderful directorial debut for Jeff Baena. There are several  missing pieces of information and holes within the story, but they are forgiven as the film is completely enjoyable and contains some wonderful performances by Dane DeHaan and Aubrey Plaza.
Locke (2013)
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 1st and 4th of August.
Directed by Steven Knight
Locke is a film like no other. For the film's entirety, the lead character, Ivan Locke (Tom Handy) is in his car by himself and is faced with a number of challenges during his car trip. There is no physical appearance of any other characters, yet we hear them all during Ivan's phone calls. Locke is a minimalist film, but it demonstrates how much you can do with so little. The cinematography is quite beautiful and the way the lighting is used brings so much to the film. The story is unpredictable and the way which Ivan is trying so hard not to be the way someone was to him, that he becomes like that person in the areas of his life that he has taken the focus off. It is a theme which many can relate to. Tom Hardy gives an intriguing and wonderful performance as a man who is trying to hold it together in the most stressful of situations.
Queen and Country (2014)
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 9th and 15th of August.
Directed by John Boorman
The long awaited follow up to 1987's Hope and Glory, Queen and Country is a surprisingly hilarious and very entertaining film. Lifelong best friends, Bill (Callum Turner) and Percy (Caleb Landry Jones) are excited to finally be given the chance to join the army in the shadow of the Korean War. Instead of being sent to fight, they are to be based in England preparing soldiers for their work in Korea and this is where the two boys are able to get into mischief, but also have their first adventures in romance. Queen and Country, despite it's autobiographical roots, is a wonderful addition to a small group of British war comedies and is incredibly funny. The story does suffer at times under the comedy aspect of the film and unfortunately feels a little flimsy as a result. Tamsin Egerton is a particular standout as Bill's love interest, Ophelia.
Trespassing Bergman (2013)
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 4th and 14th of August.
Directed by Hynek Pallas and Jane Magnusson
Trespassing Bergman is an ode to legendary Swedish filmmaker, Ingmar Bergman. Until his death, the whereabouts of Bergman's home on the Swedish island of Faro remained a heavily guarded secret. In Trespassing Bergman, filmmakers including Michael Haneke, Claire Denis, Alejandro González Iñárritu and John Landis are allowed into his personal abode to explore to world of one of the most studied figures in film history. In addition, directors such as Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson and Woody Allen also put forward their thoughts and experiences with Bergman's films. It is a film lovers delight to see all these admired filmmakers speak of their love for Bergman and also hear more about Bergman's life and see his past home. Yet, there is not a great deal more to this film than this and it does not evoke a sense of desire to hear more about Bergman nor is the film as mesmerising and awe inspiring as one would hope it would be.
Two Days, One Night (2014)
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 2nd of August.
Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Winner of the Sydney Film Festival, Two Days, One Night is a small film, but an incredibly effective one. Sandra (Marion Cotillard) receives a call informing her that she will lose her job, unless she can convince her co-workers to give up on their bonus for the year. Over the weekend, Sandra visits each of her co-workers individually and asks them if they will consider saving her by giving up their bonus. Two Days, One Night is suspenseful in an extremely subtle and unusual fashion, as it is unclear what is going to happen at the end and how Sandra, who is already a fragile person, will react to either situation. It is really quite an emotional film, and Marion Cotillard does brilliantly in a role which makes the audience feel a great deal of sympathy and care for her.
We Are The Best! (2013)
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 3rd and 7th of August.
Directed by Lukas Moodysson
Swedish film, We Are The Best! is an ode to growing up and the time when adult ideas first start to enter the mind of a child. Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) are two 13 year old girls who decide to start a punk rock band without any musical experience of their own. It is when they convince Hedvig (Liv Lemoyne) to join the band, that they finally find their feet as a band. We Are The Best! is a fun and sweet film about a group of girls who start to see the world differently than they did as a child, and believe there is more to this world than what the other girls who are their age believe. Yet, it is still wonderful to see these girls at an age where they are starting to see things differently, but still hang on to the fun parts of their childhood such a running around laughing and throwing food at each other.
What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 2nd of August.
Directed by Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
The hilarious What We Do In The Shadows was the perfect end to the festival. This vampire mockumentary follows four vampire flatmates in Wellington as they explain how they live in a modern world and the obstacles they face being an immortal beast, including their werewolf rivals and how they seek out victims and clean up after them. What We Do In The Shadows is universally funny and extremely creative. It is a new take on vampires living in the modern world and does well at interlacing history (both fact and fiction) into the film. All of the actors, especially Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement and Jonathan Brugh do wonderfully well as their undead characters.
Wish I Was Here (2014)
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 12th and 17th of August.
Directed by Zach Braff
Zach Braff fans have been waiting a long time for his directorial follow up to Garden State, and he does not disappoint with Wish I Was Here. Braff stars as Aidan, a family man who cannot give up his dream of being an actor while his wife, Sarah (Kate Hudson) works in a mundane office job. When Aidan's father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) falls ill, he can no longer pay for his grandchildren's tuition at their Jewish school and Aidan decides to home-school his son and daughter. Wish I Was Here is an incredibly sweet and funny film, which feels more like Scrubs than Garden State. It can fall into the trap of being oversentimental at times, but it is a welcome oversentimental in a harsh world. The soundtrack is enjoyable and there are some wonderful acting performances, particularly by Joey King and Josh Gad.
The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (2013)
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 3rd and 17th of August.
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet is a charming film told by the unique and magical storytelling of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. 10 year old child genius, T.S (Kyle Catlett) lives in an unhappy world where he feels like he is a constant disappointment to his family, despite his incredible achievements. He decides to leave behind his home on the prairie and travel to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, which is where his genius is recognised and exploited. This film is a sweet and often surrealistic film which can sometimes leave you pondering what is actually really happening and what is not. The cinematography and production design is exquisite and so intriguing to see on the screen. The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet is a rather emotional and often heartbreaking journey.
Movie Critical's Top 5 of the Melbourne International Film Festival
5. I Origins (2014)
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 5th and 15th of August.
Directed by Mike Cahill
I Origins is an extremely intelligent film which explores the balance in life between science and spirituality. Biologist, Ian Grey (Michael Pitt) falls in love with the free-spirited Sofi ( Astrid Berges-Frisbey) and find that amid their passionate romance are also issues which cannot easily be overcome due to their conflicting views on life and the universe. Years after their relationship ends, Ian discovers that there is a possibility that Sofi maybe finding her way back to him in a way which contradicts all he has ever believed. I Origins screenplay is a brilliant piece of work. It is carefully constructed so that the most minute details all play a part in the bigger picture and no stone is left unturned. Even though there are still some questionable and slightly predictable moments in the film, the way it stays true in every way to and honours in such an original way it's theme of the science vs spirituality debate is extremely admirable.
4. Fish & Cat (2013)
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 3rd and 15th of August.
Directed by Shahram Mokri
Fish & Cat is a truly remarkable film. What it does with the art form of film is spectacular. Shahram Mokri's film is a single shot film and what it does with one single shot is pure brilliance. Set on a lake in rural Iran, a group of university students are camping out while taking part in a night of kite flying. Little do they know that there are two very dangerous men nearby who have something else on their mind. Fish & Cat may not be to everyone's liking as it is very quirky and unless you are 100% committed to the film, it can be very confusing. However, the ways which the film avoids continuity problems that would arise from it being a single shot film is incredible and so well done. It truly challenges the rules of film making and is highly entertaining and atmospheric while doing it.

3. Dinosaur 13 (2014)
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 2nd and 13th of August.
Directed by Todd Douglas Miller
Dinosaur 13 does exactly what a documentary should do. It informs, entertains, inspires and rises emotions of the viewer. In 1990, the most complete and largest Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil was found and was moved by palaeontologist Peter Larson and his crew to Black Hills, a small town where they wanted to keep and display the dinosaur known as Sue. The FBI and National Guard turned up soon after and seized the dinosaur skeleton and a court case followed with an outcome which no one believed would have even happened one that happy day when Sue was first discovered. The amount of emotion which this film provokes is surprising considering one would not believe this subject matter would be so. Yet, it makes you happy, sad and angry. The way the people saw Sue was not as though she was just a group of bones, but as though she was still a living breathing dinosaur and it is a beautiful love the palaeontologists and the town of Black Hills had for her. It is an incredibly interesting subject and ultimately is a story of love against money.

2. Boyhood (2014)
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 2nd, 6th and 17th of August.
Directed by Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater's Boyhood is a beautiful and ground-breaking piece of cinema that's power lies in the subtlety of life's most meaningful moments. Twelve years in the making, Linklater's masterpiece is the true definition of a coming of age film and is revolutionary in it's production. Boyhood is made with a huge amount of love for life and for the process of growing up without any use of exaggeration. Mason is more than a character in a film, he is a boy you form an attachment to and cherish the opportunity to watch grow up.
1. The Immigrant (2013)
Screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival on the 3rd and 17th of August.
Directed by James Gray
The Immigrant is an incredibly beautiful and emotional piece of work which is strengthened by it's powerhouse performances by Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix and exquisite direction by James Gray. The year is 1921 and Ewa Cybulski (Cotillard) and her sister, Magda have arrived in New York to escape to horrors they have seen in war torn Poland. Upon arrival, Magda is detained on Ellis Island as she is seen as being too unwell to enter the United States and is separated from her sister. Ewa finds help in the charismatic Bruno Weiss (Phoenix) and he takes Ewa under his wing, but she soon finds herself mixed up in the world of prostitution at the hands of her saviour. Visually gorgeous and very nostalgic, The Immigrant is a masterpiece. The themes of social class and immigration are worked into the story with great care and emotion and the screenplay in unpredictable and captivating. Cotillard is wonderful as the fragile woman who fights to remain strong and hold onto her dignity despite her situation and Phoenix is an incredible presence in the film who is a far more intriguing character than he first appears to be. Jeremy Renner, who plays Bruno's cousin Emil/Orlando is also incredibly likable.

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