Films I loved in August 2015

Ryan Corr as Timothy Conigrave and Craig Stott as John Caleo in Holding the Man

Ryan Corr as Timothy Conigrave and Craig Stott as John Caleo in Holding the Man

The film adaptation of the 1995 memoir Holding the Man broadly fulfils two objectives: it depicts two decades of historical importance to the Australia LGBTI community and it tells a beautiful love story. Covering the years from 1976 to 1995, the growth of queer identity politics and the beginning of the AIDS crisis are never far from the forefront. However, the heart of the film is exploring and celebrating the relationship between aspiring actor Timothy Conigrave and captain of the school football team John Caleo. Falling in love as school boys and then navigating the complexities of the adult world, the film is initially a warm, funny and tender love story about all the joys and awkwardness of first love. This warmth and tenderness is maintained, even later in the film when Tim and John’s lives become affected by AIDS. Free of melodrama and sentimentality, this is powerful and deeply moving cinema with the potential to become an Australian classic.

Shameik Moore as Malcolm Adekanbi in Dope

Shameik Moore as Malcolm Adekanbi in Dope

The thing that most impressed me about Dope was how deftly it oscillated between moments of fun teen-film hijinks and harsh wake-up call moments where the audience are reminded that Malcolm, the teenage protagonist, and his friends live in a neighbourhood rife with criminality and violence. Malcolm is a likeable and endearing self-described geek who loves ’90s hiphop, but there is also a growing rage inside him. Despite being ideal college material, the reality of his socioeconomic background constantly conspires against him. Although I found the treatment of gender a little disappointing, the focus on race and class is extremely potent and there is an incredible energy to this film that reminded me of Spike Lee’s best work, especially the youth focused Crooklyn. And most powerfully, instead of resolving with the obvious moral and naive lesson that some audiences may anticipate, the film concludes with a confronting statement about the reality of what young people with a background like Malcolm need to do to escape the environment they happen to be born into.

Rebecca Hall as Robyn Callen, Jason Bateman as Simon Callen and Joel Edgerton as Gordon

Rebecca Hall as Robyn Callen, Jason Bateman as Simon Callen and Joel Edgerton as Gordon “Gordo” Mosley

The Gift is a very impressive feature film directorial debut by Joel Edgerton, who also writes, acts and produces. It evokes many of the early films by Roman Polanski with its story about a seemingly normal and happy couple whose lives begin to unravel when a third person intrudes into their world. The film functions as a tightly wound thriller that becomes increasingly interesting as it starts to shift its sympathies between characters, but it also provides commentary on the way behaviour that is regarded as bullying in the schoolyard is often acceptable in many aspects of adult life.

William F Buckley Jr and Gore Vidal in Best of Enemies

William F Buckley Jr and Gore Vidal in Best of Enemies

I really enjoyed the documentary Best of Enemies, about the televised debates between Gore Vidal and William F Buckley Jr during the US Republican and Democrat conventions in 1968. Not only does the film deliver a fascinating insight in the changing political and media landscape in the late 1960s, but how this seemingly inspired move to bring intellectual debate to mainstream television was ironically the beginning of the dumbed down personality-driven political commentary that dominates today.


And just briefly, Woody Allen’s latest film Irrational Man once more explores his preoccupation with existentialism and the question of whether murder can ever be justified, in a way that isn’t as dark or satisfying as previous films such as Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point, but still a lot of fun. And I also caught up with Maggie, which went straight to home-entertainment in Australia in July. Being a zombie film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, it was met with enormous false expectations about the type of film it should be, but I was won over by this film for what it is – a melancholic story about a father grieving for his dying daughter.

Thomas Caldwell, 2015
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