Films I loved in November 2018

30 November 2018
Shoplifters

Ando Sakura as Shibata Nobuyo, Jyo Kairi as Shibita Shota and Lily Franky as Shibata Osamu in Shoplifters

Shoplifters once again demonstrates writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda’s ability to deliver a warm and leisurely character-driven drama where class and the family unit are gently critiqued without any trace of heavy handedness. The story of a family of petty thieves who take in a young neglected girl to care for as one of their own contains plenty of drama and heartbreak, but it is the sense of humanism and compassion that lingers long after viewing the film that makes it yet another triumph for Koreeda.

The Old Man And The Gun

Sissy Spacek as Jewel and Robert Redford as Forrest Tucker in The Old Man & the Gun

It’s hard to ignore that The Old Man & the Gun is reportedly Robert Redford’s final outing as an actor, as the entire film feels like a homage to his onscreen persona, legacy and the New Hollywood era that helped define him. It’s a fun, sweet and good-natured based-on-a-true story about an elderly gentleman bank robber who finds love. It delivers a loving throwback to the era of counter-culture Hollywood films that celebrated charismatic anti-heroes, where cynicism sat comfortably with star-power charm.

Lean on Pete

Charlie Plummer as Charley in Lean on Pete

Lean on Pete is on the surface a story about a teenage boy bonding with a horse as a response to parental absence, a common theme in films for and about adolescents. In the hands of the masterful British writer/director Andrew Haigh the film is free from sentiment or obvious plot development, and is a sophisticated and subtle character study about the loneliness and quiet despair of a young person in a desperate situation. It’s a slow burn yet mesmerising film that I haven’t stopped thinking about.

Fahrenheit 11:9

Michael Moore in Fahrenheit 11/9

Fahrenheit 11/9 contains a lot less of the levity and stunts that have characterised Michael Moore’s previous works, as it is a much more urgent and angry film. Moore may not present heaps of new information or analysis, but he skilfully and persuasively consolidates a lot of the almost overwhelming details about how Donald Trump’s presidency is both the symptom and cause of the erosion of democracy in the USA. There are some elements of hope, but this is mostly an engaging call-to-arms.

The Children Act

Emma Thompson as Fiona Maye in The Children Act

The main reason to see The Children Act is for Emma Thompson as a British High Court judge contending with her marriage falling apart while she is in the spotlight presiding over a case involving a 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witnesses boy refusing a life-saving blood transfusion. Thompson’s incredible performance aside, this is still a compelling and moving film with a thematically rich script that offers a lot for the audience to unpack without feeling didactic.

Thomas Caldwell, 2018
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Films I loved in October 2018

31 October 2018
First Man

Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong in First Man

The Neil Armstrong biopic First Man is a film of contrasts where the vast emptiness of the moon is juxtaposed with Armstrong’s cramped conditions on Apollo 11, the methodical precision of the space missions sits alongside the emotional upheaval felt by the astronauts’ families, and Armstrong’s stoic outward appearance masks his inner grief. The attention to detail and factual information is balanced perfectly with the film’s more soulful moments, resulting in a glorious blend of drama and sensory spectacle.

Bad Times at the El Royale

Jeff Bridge as Father Daniel Flynn and Cynthia Erivo as Darlene Sweet in Bad Times at the El Royale

Bad Times at the El Royale contains one of my favourite scenarios where a group of strangers filled with secrets converge at a single location and things get increasingly out of control. This felt like a glorious throwback to the mid-1990s where clever, violent and funny genre films were a staple of the American indie scene. However, it doesn’t feel like a homage nor does the narrative dexterity slide into self-awareness or smugness. Instead, the terrific performances and smart filmmaking make it refreshing and fun.

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Bradley Cooper as Jack and Lady Gaga as Ally in A Star Is Born

Similar to the versions that have come before it over the previous decades, the new adaptation of A Star Is Born explores the nature of show-business, fame, addiction and self-expression through a dramatic romance story. The power of this new version comes from both how electrifyingly the musical performances are filmed and the incredible dynamic between its two lead characters, one on the decline and one on the ascent. The result is a thoughtful and empathetic film that is enormously engaging and moving.

Halloween

Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in Halloween

The latest Halloween film operates as a direct sequel to the original 1978 film (bypassing all previous sequels and remakes) both in terms of picking up the story 40 years later and by brilliantly adopting the same style as John Carpenter’s hugely influential slasher classic. The focus is on establishing characters and then using lighting, framing and camera movements to beautifully build tension to gleefully unbearable levels in order to take the audience on a rollercoaster ride of suspense-based horror.

Wajib

Mohammad Bakri as Abu and Saleh Bakri as Shadi in Wajib

Gently unfolding over one day, Wajib follows a Palestinian father and son (played by a real-life father and son) as they drive around Nazareth, Israel, handing out wedding invitations. Through their conversations while alone with each other and while visiting various family and friends, filmmaker Annemarie Jacir explores generational, class and cultural divides with humour, sensitivity and nuance making the film a very accessible insight into some of the complex political tensions in contemporary Israel.

Westwood

Vivienne Westwood in Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist

Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist is an energetic documentary about fashion designer Vivien Westwood, celebrating her as trailblazer. There is some great analysis of the punk era and her role in defining the punk look, the focus on her hands-on approach to designing and making clothes brings the process to life, and her reluctance as an interviewee becomes part of the film’s charm. More a reflection of her life and beliefs than a comprehensive biopic, this is a triumphant film about an extraordinary person.

Thomas Caldwell, 2018


Films I loved in September 2018

29 September 2018
Custody

Thomas Gioria as Julien Besson in Custody

Xavier Legrand follows up his masterful 2013 short film Just Before Losing Everything with Custody, continuing the story of a woman and her children escaping from her abusive husband. Slowly revealing the ways the abuser continues to intimidate his family, the film is a deeply emotional social realist drama with an almost unbearable build-up of tension. Custody is a call to arms about the insidious ways violent and entitled men manipulate others, while also functioning as an expertly crafted thriller.

Don't Worry He Won't Get Far on Foot

Jack Black as Dexter and Joaquin Phoenix as John Callahan in Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot

The biopic Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is one of the more conventional films by the eclectic and unpredictable filmmaker Gus Van Sant, but it’s also his best film in the past decade. An insightful and often darkly humorous drama about addiction and recovery, its biggest triumph are the performances from supporting actors such as Jonah Hill and Jack Black, as well as Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role as cartoonist John Callahan.

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Joaquin Phoenix as Joe in You Were Never Really Here

Joaquin Phoenix is also the protagonist in the dreamlike and deeply subjective You Were Never Really Here where he plays Joe, a vigilante for hire with a traumatic past who is on a mission to save a young girl. The combination of filmmaker Lynne Ramsay’s stylised direction, which is used to convey Joe’s inner turmoil, combined with Phoenix’s intense performance, heightens the film’s brutal foundations into a powerful sensory and visceral cinematic experience.

Ghosthunter

Jason King in Ghosthunter

Ghosthunter begins as a documentary about a man investigating the paranormal, but quickly evolves into something quite different as he starts to undercover and confront personal demons from his childhood. This is a complex, troubling and powerful film that delves into issues surrounding trauma, abuse and repressed memories. Among the unearthed horrors of the past, there is some humanity and hope for the future, but not without complications, which makes the film all the more richer and challenging.

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Damian Callinan as Troy Carrington (far left) and other cast in The Merger

Starring and written by the always likeable Damian Callinan, The Merger is about a small-town outcast who tries to save the local football club by enlisting the help of the town’s new refugee population. It’s not exactly subtle in its messaging of community and acceptance, but it doesn’t matter when it’s this heartfelt, not to mention timely. This crowd-pleasing and feel-good Australian comedy also contains some great commentary on sport, mateship and masculinity. And most importantly, it’s very funny.

Beast

Jessie Buckley as Moll in Beast

A troubled young woman living in an oppressive small community has her lust for life awakened when she falls for a mysterious man who may or may not be a serial killer. While not shying away from the thriller aspects inherent in such a scenario, Beast is more a slow burn psychological drama with a focus on atmosphere that allows the film to beautifully transition back and forth between being sensual and sinister as it depicts the excitement and danger of awakening primal desires.

WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR

Fred Rogers in Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Like I suspect many Australians, I’d never heard of the legendary US children’s television host Fred Rogers, but that didn’t stop me from being deeply moved by the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Exploring Rogers’s life, career and more importantly, his philosophy of love and compassion, this film transcends the limitations of most biographical documentaries to present an urgent and compelling message of the power of respect, understanding and kindness for all children and all adults.

The Rider

Brady Jandreau as Brady Blackburn in The Rider

Based on a true story and starring non-professional actors, The Rider is a gentle and mesmerising film set in the American midwest about an upcoming rodeo star adjusting to life after having suffered a serious injury. It presents a perspective of masculinity and rural life that is affectionate and understanding, but not without subtle critical commentary. Sadly not getting a full theatrical release in Australia, The Rider is well worth tracking down through an HD video-on-demand service.

Thomas Caldwell, 2018

Films I loved in August 2018

30 August 2018
My Abandonment

Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie as Tom and Ben Foster as Will in Leave No Trace

One of the most distinctive things about Debra Granik’s masterful drama Leave No Trace is the degree of empathy she has for all her characters even though they are all grappling with circumstances that may put them in opposition to each other. The film concerns a war veteran with PTSD who is attempting to live off the grid with his 13-year-old daughter. Granik gives so much dignity to the many marginalised characters in this film, and the father/daughter bond is powerful and profound.

BlacKkKlansman

Adam Driver as Flip Zimmerman andJohn David Washington as Ron Stallworth in BlacKkKlansman

Spike Lee is one of the USA’s most important and distinctive filmmakers, and his latest film, BlacKkKlansman, is one of his best films to date. The based-on-a-true story about an African-American cop and a Jewish cop who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan deftly manages the bewildering humour offered by the scenario, the police procedural genre elements, and the rage towards the institutionalised racism at the heart of the story. And true to form, Lee ensures the audience is aware of how this story relates to the present.

Three Identical Strangers

Three Identical Strangers

The documentary Three Identical Strangers begins as a fun novelty story about a trio of separated-at-birth identical triplets who found each other when they were nineteen, before evolving into something far darker. Often playing out like a mystery film where information is careful withheld then revealed at key moments, and footage is often replayed to be reappraised after new revelations, it becomes a shocking yet undeniably compelling examination of the nature-versus-nurture debate.

Summer 1993

Laia Artigas as Frida in Summer 1993

The naturalistic Spanish drama Summer 1993 provides a gentle insight into the experience of a 6-year-old girl who after the death of her parents has to adjust to a new life living in the country with her aunt, uncle and younger cousin. Free from melodramatics, the film gradually reveals the stages of grief and coping mechanisms that its young protagonist navigates while trying to make sense of the world, culminating in a final scene that is heartbreakingly brilliant in its understated simplicity.

Mirai

Kun (voiced by Moka Kamishiraishi) and Mirai (voiced by Haru Kuroki) in Mirai

Filmmaker and animator Mamoru Hosoda once again uses fantasy to explores issues of family and childhood in Mirai, an incredibly sweet animated drama about a 4-year-old coming to terms with the arrival of his baby-sister and the changing dynamics between his parents. The sequences that initially suggest an elaborate make-believe world become increasingly metaphysical as time-travel and different planes of reality come into play resulting in a truly remarkable and unexpectedly moving finale.

 

Thomas Caldwell, 2018


Films I loved in June 2018

29 June 2018
Hereditary

Toni Collette as Annie Graham in Hereditary

Hereditary combines family tragedy, psychological thriller and supernatural horror to generate a mood of dread that is sustained for almost the entire film. The story of a family besieged with grief and trauma, which manifests as something even more sinister, is increasingly unnerving. Hereditary is never clear what direction it is going in or even what character to follow, and it uses this uncertainty to its full advantage.

Disobedience

Rachel Weisz as Ronit Krushka and Rachel McAdams as Esti Kuperman in Disobedience

Sebastián Lelio’s latest film Disobedience is about a love triangle in London’s Orthodox Jewish community. Exploring faith, autonomy, tradition, community, friendship and love, it’s a gently melancholic film punctuated by beautifully crafted moments of passion and sensuality in the scenes between actors Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams, playing characters whose paths cross again after years of living completely seperate lives.

Brothers' Nest

Clayton Jacobson as Jeff and Shane Jacobson as Terry in Brothers’ Nest

Brothers’ Nest skilfully moves from black comedy to tragedy to tense thriller as it depicts the events of a single day, where two brothers prepare to murder their stepfather. Despite seeming to have planned the perfect crime, it becomes all too apparent that something will go wrong. As fate, morality and old grudges come into play, the film delightfully plunges the hapless anti-heroes into a hell of their own making.

Thomas Caldwell, 2018

Films I loved in May 2018

31 May 2018
Cargo

Martin Freeman as Andy and Simone Landers as Thoomi in Cargo

Cargo is a refreshing, unexpected and innovative zombie-apocalypse film that successful adheres to the expectations that make this genre so popular, by combining genuine horror thrills with heartfelt human drama and a potent political subtext. Most excitingly is how distinctively Australian it is, and the fact that Indigenous Australian culture is incorporated as such a crucial part of the film’s fabric is something of a triumph.

I Kill Giants

Madison Wolfe as Barbara Thorson in I Kill Giants

I’ve been looking forward to I Kill Giants for a while now, having loved the graphic novel source material, and I’m extremely impressed with how well this young adult story of fantasy and grief has been adapted for film. While comparisons to A Monster Calls (which I also loved) are inevitable and reasonable, this still very much holds its own as an imaginative and moving depiction of teenage trauma and resilience.

My Friend Dahmer

Ross Lynch as Jeffrey Dahmer in My Friend Dahmer

Another graphic novel adaptation, My Friend Dahmer is about American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s teenage years, as recalled by his school friend and cartoonist John ‘Derf’ Backderf. Tantalisingly ambiguous about what influenced Dahmer and what pathologies were already there, the film generates dread, contempt but also empathy for its banal protagonist who would go on to commit unspeakable acts of real-life horror.

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Arnaud Valois as Nathan in BPM (Beats Per Minute)

BPM (Beats Per Minute) is a compelling dramatisation of some of the activism carried out by the Paris chapter of HIV/AIDS advocacy group ACT UP in the early 1990s. Initially focusing on the complex group dynamics of the organisation and their public protests, it moves into a powerful character drama focusing on two of the group’s members. The result is an energetic and moving film about the personal and the political.

Deadpool 2

Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool in Deadpool 2

While I mostly enjoyed the original Deadpool from 2016, I really enjoyed Deadpool 2 with its entertaining blend of ultra-violent spectacle driven action and highly self-referential pop culture satire. Oscillating between a sort-of sincere superhero narrative and anarchic breaking-the-fourth wall parody, it feels less self-consciously trying to shock and more at ease with simply delivering big laughs and gloriously crafted carnage.

Solo

Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca and Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo in Solo: A Star Wars Story

I’m quickly discovering I’m preferring the stand-alone Star Wars films over the new chapters; hence, I really liked Solo: A Star Wars Story. It’s a heist film with a science-fiction facade combined with a dash of allusions to World War I films and nods to Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. As much as I admire how some of the other films have expanded the scope of the franchise, I really enjoyed this return to basics.

Thomas Caldwell, 2018

 


Films I loved in April 2018

1 May 2018
Isle of Dogs

Rex (voiced by Edward Norton) and Chief (voiced by Bryan Cranston) in Isle of Dogs

I tend to like and admire Wes Anderson’s films from a distance, but the ones I really like, I adore: The Royal Tenenbaums, The Grand Budapest Hotel and now Isle of Dogs, his glorious tribute to canines and Japanese cinema. This stop-motion animation tonally straddles droll humour, absurdism and emotional sincerity within its inventive dystopian world and enjoyably chaotic plot.

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John Krasinski as Lee in A Quiet Place

There is something gloriously old-fashioned about A Quiet Place, which quickly and efficiently establishes its innovative premise and small group of characters, to then deliver a finely crafted horror film that is both terrifying and moving. The characters are a family that the audience are able to quickly care about, the high stakes are always present and the scenario where sound is deadly, is used to its full potential.

Avengers: Infinity War

Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr Stephen Strange, Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark, Benedict Wong as Wong and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner in Avengers: Infinity War

I was expecting to like Avengers: Infinity War as directors Anthony and Joe Russo delivered two of the best previous films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise, but I was not anticipating just how strong the storytelling and spectacle would be. The action sequences are exhilarating and inventive, the dramatic stakes are high and the huge cast of characters are expertly handled. This is my favourite film in the series to-date.

Gurrumul

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu in Gurrumul

The documentary Gurrumul provides a portrait of recently deceased Indigenous Australian musician Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. It embraces his spirit, humour and of course, extraordinary talent. It is a moving, revealing and reverential film that serves to chart his career and highlight his cultural significance to his own community and the rest of Australia.

Loveless

Maryana Spivak as Zhenya in Loveless

Loveless is explicitly about a missing child, but it is implicitly about a generation destroying itself and the one after it through bitterness, apathy, self-absorption and a complete lack of empathy. As with his previous films, Andrey Zvyagintsev creates a compelling yet ambiguous drama through his use of visual metaphor, elegant camera movements and beautiful composition.

I Am Not a Witch

Maggie Mulubwa as Shula in I Am Not a Witch

Inspired by real events in Zambia, I Am Not a Witch is a startling film about a young girl accused of being a witch. The film’s general strangeness, deadpan humour and dreamlike tone capture the bewildering events that follow as she goes to live in a witch camp. While on the surface the film overtly highlights the shocking harm of witchcraft accusations, it’s also more broadly about the creation and exploitation of an underclass.

Last Flag Flying

Bryan Cranston as Sal Nealon, Steve Carell as Larry ‘Doc’ Shepherd andLaurence Fishburne as Richard Mueller in Last Flag Flying

Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying, an unofficial sequel to Hal Ashby’s 1973 film The Last Detail, is similarly a buddy road movie that blends humour, pathos and subversive cynicism about the damage done to men who become soldiers. While not entirely without hope, the prevailing melancholy stems from how a group of veterans broken by one war confronts a new generation of men being broken by another.

Thomas Caldwell, 2018