Films I loved in July 2017

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The Monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) and Lewis MacDougall as Conor O’Malley in A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls once more confirms my suspicion that films aimed at children and young adults often deal with difficult subject matter with far more sophistication and sensitivity than films designed for adult audiences. What makes A Monster Calls so compelling and moving isn’t the mystery of what will happen to 12-year-old Conor and his seriously ill mother, but the unknown nature of the monster that has started to appear before Conor. Is it there to help, guide, cure, punish, torment or nurture? This ambiguity allows the film to explore not just grief and associated emotions such as anger and fear, but even more complex ideas about what it means to a human with all the contradictions that come with it.

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Fionn Whitehead as Tommy in Dunkirk

Dunkirk is a expertly orchestrated spectacle that showcases Christopher Nolan’s greatest strengths as a filmmaker, particularly his use of sound. Cutting between three stories that unfold across different periods of time, Nolan delivers an almost impressionist snapshot of the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation of Allied soldiers during World War II. By only delivering snapshots of a small handful of characters caught up in events, and portraying a series of tension moments rather than a more conventional narrative, Dunkirk is an explicitly sensory film. It conveys feelings of bewilderment, disorientation, dread, fear, panic and despair, but it is ultimately a triumphant and exhilarating experience that celebrates what human beings are capable of even in the most desperate situations.

Ansel Elgort

Ansel Elgort as Baby in Baby Driver

Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is cinematic pastiche at its best. It’s a fun and funny homage to heist and action films – specifically films from the 1970s, and even more specifically films featuring car chases – and yet it’s edited to and choreographed to an eclectic selection of songs that getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort) listens to, as if the film were a musical. I cannot recall seeing another film that conveys the act of walking down the street with headphones on with the excitement of a full dance number. The combination of a pulpy crime plot with a sweet romance sub-plot along with beautifully orchestrated action and a killer soundtrack, won me over completely.

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Zucchini, voiced by Gaspard Schlatter (French version) and Erick Abbate (English version), in My Life as a Zucchini

My Life as a Zucchini is a warm and moving tale that deceptively resembles a kids’ film in production design and style, but explores difficult themes with nuance through well-developed and complex characters. I’ve now seen both the original French-language version and the English-language dub and while I probably prefer the original version, casting Nick Offerman as the voice of the kind police man who looks out of the film’s troubled 9-year-old protagonist, is inspired.

Photographer select; Tom Holland

Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming is my favourite cinematic outing for the likeable teen superhero character, possibly because it’s more of a teen-film/superhero hybrid. Combining Peter Parker’s awkward attempts to navigate high school and first love, with his over-eagerness to develop his superhero abilities as Spider-Man, allows for lots of fun teen angst and coming-of-age moments, punctuated with some of the better action sequences from the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. Tom Holland is great as Parker/Spider-Man and Michael Keaton makes a terrific villain, playing a working-class man who is sick of being screwed over.

The Beguiled

Colin Farrell as Corporal John McBurney and Kirsten Dunst as Edwina Morrow in The Beguiled

The dreamlike spell of Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled owes a lot to its mist-filled, over-grown-garden, swampy Virginian setting during the American Civil War, where the sunlight is constantly fighting to penetrate the overgrowth and darkness. The strange and disturbing tale of repressed sexuality and violence is more muted, less sensationalised and less seedy than Don Siegel’s 1971 adaptation of the same source material, and for that reason many will prefer Siegel’s version, but I like Coppola’s more. Siegel’s film contains plenty of aspect I like and in same cases prefer, but I feel there’s more mystery and richer characterisation in Coppola’s film.

It Comes At Night

Joel Edgerton as Paul in It Comes at Night

It Come at Night is a film with all the tropes of a zombie apocalypse horror film, but plays out as a psychological thriller crossed with an indie family drama. It’s utterly gripping and suspenseful throughout, and the acting is superb, and yet it wilfully defies easy categorisation and easy explanation. Is it an exercise in using as much ambiguity as possible to deliver as much tension as possible, or it is a clever subversion of audience expectations, which allows it to provide a grim commentary on the nature of paranoia? Either way, it’s a film I keep thinking about it.

A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story is a small film with grand themes that feels both highly ambitious and very humble. And to be honest, I was not on board for a while, but once it clicked into place for me, I feel under its spell. The image of a man’s ghost being visualised as an actor wearing a bed sheet with cutout eyes, is on screen for so long that it moves past looking twee or ridiculous, to become oddly moving as the droopy eye holes increasingly suggest a profound melancholia. Moving forward and back in time, meditating on the meaning of life (including a superb scene featuring Will Oldham as an insufferable party guest on a nihilist rant), and at its core being a story about love and loss; it somehow all works, making this a thoughtful and graceful piece of cinema.

Thomas Caldwell, 2017
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