Films I loved in May 2016

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Ryan Gosling as Holland March and Russell Crowe as Jackson Healy in The Nice Guys

I had been looking forward to The Nice Guys, as the promise of a funny and violent buddy-cop (or buddy-PI) film set in the 1970s, written and directed by Shane Black, was just too enticing. And fortunately Black, the writer of Lethal Weapon and the writer/director of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, not did not disappoint. Nor did Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as the odd-couple private investigators who have to work together on a missing-person case that, of course, gets them in way over their heads. The dialogue is sharp and funny, the action is exciting, and while the tone is overall playful, it is underscored by genuine menace to ensure the stakes remain high. After the sheer joy of Inherent Vice I didn’t think another film would come along so soon that so successfully blends together classical Hollywood hardboiled noir with such a distinctively ’70s setting, but The Nice Guys pulls it off with not one but two pulp detective protagonists and a gleefully convoluted plot where good detective work and fucking things up often yield the desired outcome in equal measure. Black even includes a sly dig at moral outrage hypocrisy through the device of having corporate greed undermined by a porn film. The Nice Guys is so much fun.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Julian Dennison as Ricky Baker and Sam Neill as Hector Faulkner in Hunt for the Wilderpeople

When I first heard about Hunt for the Wilderpeople, the new film by New Zealand writer/director Taika Waititi, I anticipated something that contained the droll humour and sincerity of his glorious film Boy along with his increasing proficiency with visual effects and spectacle as displayed in the very funny What We Do in the Shadows. These were unreasonably high expectations, but fortunately Hunt of the Wilderpeople met them and then exceeded them. The film is an adaptation of the 1986 novel Wild Pork And Watercress, by New Zealand author and personality Barry Crump, and the film adopts Crump’s core story about the growing bond between a troubled adolescent and a cantankerous older man who are on the run together in the New Zealand wilderness. The magic touch that Waititi delivers is maintaining the heart of Crump’s novel while adding several new characters and dialogue to facilitate his own sometimes dark but always well-meaning deadpan humour. This is another extremely fun film that is also very sweet. I’ve already seen it twice.

Chasing Asylum

Chasing Asylum

On a very different note Chasing Asylum is likely to be the most difficult, but also the most important, film I’ve seen this year, not only because of its upsetting portrayal of human rights abuses, but because they are abuses being committed by the Australian government. Filmmaker Eva Orner’s many impressive previous credits include producing Alex Gibney’s Academy Award winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side. In Chasing Asylum Orner presents a sobering examination of what is happening to asylum seekers who while attempting to come to Australia have been left in indefinite detention in offshore camps. Using extensive footage secretly taken inside the camps as well as testimonials from ex-camp workers and detainees, a picture emerges of a policy that is resulting in the physical, psychological and sexual abuses of men, women and cruelest of all, children. A lot of the information presented in the film was stuff I knew about, but only in fragmented form. Seeing everything presented in one package with the full context and background information is heartbreaking. I hope as many people as possible see it to arm themselves with information about this country’s appalling ethical compromise (that also happens to be absurdly expensive) that is going to have terrible repercussions for generations to come.

Thomas Caldwell, 2016
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