Films I loved in June 2015

Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) and Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith) in Inside Out

Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) and Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith) in Inside Out

The 15th film by Pixar Animation Studios, Inside Out is not only a huge return to form after the recent disappointments, but one of the studios best films yet. It’s an extremely entertaining and sophisticated film that physicalises the inner workings of an 11-year-old girl’s mind while she is going through a period of emotional upheaval. Similar to Toy Story 3 it taps directly into the universal experience of growing up where the way we think and relate to the world changes, and because of those changes there is a degree of transformation and loss as we let go of things we cherished as children. It’s heartbreaking and uplifting, and the film celebrates the complex emotions that work within all of us as we get older and discover that it is okay and even useful to sometimes feel sad.

Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene in Far from the Madding Crowd

Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene in Far from the Madding Crowd

Thomas Vinterberg’s adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel Far from the Madding Crowd is an excellent example of how to tease out the modern aspects of an older text (which itself was very progressive to begin with) in order to make it accessible and relevant for contemporary film audiences. Carey Mulligan is possibly even better than she has been before with her outstanding portrayal of Bathsheba Everdene, expressing a wealth of emotions and thoughts in the slightest gesture or expression. The decision to focus the film on Bathsheba’s friendship with Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) – one of three suitors who offer her marriage – is a wise one and allows a wonderful undercurrent of unresolved sexual tension to simmer throughout the film.

Paul Dano as Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy

Paul Dano as Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy

Love & Mercy does exactly what I like a biopic to do, which is to focus on a specific period of time or incident (in this case two periods of time) to give an impression of the person rather than attempting to portray their entire life. In this case we get a snap shot of Beach Boys leader and co-founder Brian Wilson through the period in the 1960s when he was recording Pet Sounds and the period in the 1980s where he met his second wife while under the dubious care of a psychotherapist. Both Paul Dano and John Cusack are excellent portraying Wilson, and the film is extremely good at conveying Wilson’s fragile mental condition, especially through the use of sound. A surprisingly moving film with a perfect edit to cut from the final scene to the credits.

Raúl Arévalo as Pedro Suárez and Javier Gutiérrez as Juan Robles in Marshland

Raúl Arévalo as Pedro Suárez and Javier Gutiérrez as Juan Robles in Marshland

The big surprise for me this month was the Spanish murder mystery Marshland, set in the Spanish deep south during the country’s transition to democracy after the end of Franco’s fascist dictatorship. While mood and stylistic comparisons to the television series True Detective are very much justified, it is also thematically aligned to the television series Top of the Lake as well as recent films The Secret in their Eyes and Mystery Road (and the many other television and film detective narratives that have come previously). All are texts where the central murder investigation uncovers dark and disturbing issues that lie at the very heart of the community involved. This is intelligent, engaging and fast-paced storytelling that is enjoyable as both a cynical whodunnit and as a parable for a dark period of recent Spanish history.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

And finally, prolific documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney once more impresses with Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief where he investigates the history of Scientology and by using extensive testimonials from many former members presents a compelling and convincing critique of how it operates today. Of particular interest is how the film explores the relationship between Scientology and Hollywood; most disturbing is the evidence presented concerning the way the organisation attempts to silence and discredit anybody who speaks out about them or chooses to leave.

Thomas Caldwell, 2015

On a quick personal note, I was absolutely delighted to be invited back onto the excellent monthly podcast Hell Is For Hyphenates for their June 2015 episode where I got to discuss the films of David Lynch.

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