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
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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

 


Films I loved in March 2018

29 March 2018
Annihilation

Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dr Ventress and Natalie Portman as Lena in Annihilation

Alex Garland is one of my favourite contemporary writers and directors of science-fiction films, and my admiration for him continues with Annihilation. Atmospheric and with just the right amount of explanation to not remove all mystery, its story of an expedition into the unknown is beautiful, terrifying and uncanny. Released in Australia on Netflix, it is disappointing it can’t be experienced on the big screen.

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Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev, Michael Palin as Vyacheslav Molotov and Paul Whitehouse as Anastas Mikoyan in The Death of Stalin

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt as uncomfortable watching a comedy as I did with The Death of Stalin, where master political satirist Armando Iannucci savagely ridicules the Soviet regime while constantly reminding the audience that it was built on torture, sexual violence and murder. However, this uneasiness is part of its strength and it’s a timely reminder of the dangerousness and destructiveness of men who crave power.

Thomas Caldwell, 2018

Films I loved in February 2018

26 February 2018
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Saoirse Ronan as Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson and Laurie Metcalf as Marion McPherson in Lady Bird

With its sensitive blend of humour and pathos, the coming-of-age film Lady Bird is an understated triumph of empathetic cinema. As the mother and daughter at the centre of the story, actors Laurie Metcalf and Saoirse Ronan deliver deeply nuanced performances as two people who know how to press each others buttons, but struggle to express just how deeply they love each other.

PHANTOM THREAD

Vicky Krieps as Alma Elson and Daniel Day-Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock in Phantom Thread

Few filmmakers could do anything original or vibrant by making yet another film about a creative yet difficult man (who’s also in a relationship with a younger woman), but that’s what Paul Thomas Anderson does in Phantom Thread. With its blend of gothic romance, melodrama and Oedipal desires, it’s a mysterious, lush and ultimately playful film when it reveals how much it has been one step ahead of the audience.

A Fantastic Woman

Francisco Reyes as Orlando and Daniela Vega as Marina in A Fantastic Woman

For a film containing so much grief and prejudice, A Fantastic Woman is astonishingly sensitive and heartfelt. A lot of this is due to the superb performance by Daniela Vega as Marina, a trans-woman who after the death of her partner must contend with his family trying to exclude her. Marina’s humanity and resilience are beautifully amplified by the film’s delicate cinematography and score.

The Wound 8

Nakhane Touré as Xolani in The Wound

The Wound depicts an eight-day rite-of-passage ritual that Xhosa teenage boys in rural South Africa are expected to endure. While the film doesn’t necessarily critique the ritual itself, it does condemn the destructiveness and violence of the traditional attitudes regarding masculinity that surround it. Confronting and tough viewing at times, The Wound is not without much-needed moments of tenderness and compassion.

Thomas Caldwell, 2018

Films I loved in January 2018

30 January 2018
Sweet Country

Natassia Gorey Furber as Lizzie and Hamilton Morris as Sam in Sweet Country

Sweet Country confirms yet again that Warwick Thornton is one of Australia’s most important filmmakers. Steeped in Australia’s brutal colonialist past and evoking other contemporary classics such as The Proposition and The Tracker, Sweet Country continually defies and undermines genre expectations with its masterful command of film style and its confronting tale of racism and injustice.

I, Tonya

Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding in I, Tonya

I, Tonya touches on many themes – including living in the media spotlight, competitive sport and class in American – but at its core it is film about abuse, resilience and obsession. The filmmakers skilfully manage the shifting tones and the often outrageous details in Tonya Harding’s story; oscillating between dark uncomfortable humour and moments where the tragic human face behind the sensationalism is revealed.

The Shape of Water

Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito in The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro’s best film in a decade, The Shape of Water is wonderful fantasy-horror-romance film that provides a new variation on one of my favourite tropes: the misunderstood monster. Reminding me of both Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton at their best, this is still distinctively a del Toro film where the horror, grief and beauty of humanity is expressed through a dark fantastic tale of love and desire.

Faces Places

JR and Agnès Varda in Faces Places

Faces Places is one of the end results of a glorious collaboration between iconic French filmmaker Agnès Varda and photographer/muralist JR. Following the pair as they create giant portraits of people they meet by chance in regional France, this sweet, moving, funny and playful film is an exploration of friendship, the artist process, personal identity and embracing the new.

Brawl in Cell Block 99

Vince Vaughn as Bradley Thomas in Brawl in Cell Block 99

I’m still not sure if Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a nightmarish right wing nationalist fantasy or a brutal condemnation of the nihilism and toxic masculinity sweeping the USA under Trump. Either way, this ultra-violent descent into hell where a brooding self-righteous man fights his way through the prison system to protect his wife and unborn child, is a breath-taking visceral spectacle of shattered bones that I couldn’t take my eyes off.

Thomas Caldwell, 2018

Films I loved in December 2017

23 December 2017
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

Armie Hammer as Oliver in Call Me by Your Name

The mix of young love, lust, and summer in Northern Italy in Call Me by Your Name has allowed director Luca Guadagnino to deliver a film of immense beauty and emotional resonance. The film’s slow burn pace allows a wonderful build of tension and desire, to underpin the romance between 17-year-old Elio and his father’s student Oliver, both played to perfection respectively by Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer.

The Florida Project

Christopher Rivera as Scooty and Brooklynn Prince as Moonee in The Florida Project

The Florida Project continues filmmaker Sean Baker’s spotlight on marginalised and invisible people living in the USA. Set in a low-budget motel, within walking distance of the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, it follows the lives of mother and daughter Halley (Bria Vinaite) and Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) whose defiant struggle to get through every day is both gleefully audacious and heartbreaking.

Paddington 2

Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) in Paddington 2

Paddington 2 maintains the original film’s blend of good natured humour and warm hearted message of acceptance and diversity, without losing any of the charm or stylistic inventiveness that defined the original film. While 2017 has seen the release of many films that capture the current grim mood of the times, the release of this child-friendly crime-caper/prison film right at the end of the year is a much needed tonic.

In Between

Sana Jammelieh as Salma, Shaden Kanboura as Noor and Mouna Hawa as Leila in In Between

In Between begins as an enjoyably light drama about three Palestinian women living in Tel Aviv, and then transitions into a more serious film to explore issues of religion, gender and sexuality. The joy of the film is the solidarity the women share with each other despite their differences, while the tragedy of the film are the ways patriarchal oppression under the guise of religion and tradition continues to assault them.

IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD

Suzu (voiced by Rena Nounen) in In This Corner of the World

In This Corner of the World begins as a domestic drama about a young woman in 1930s Japan entering into an arranged marriage, and then gradually becomes a powerful drama about living during wartime. The animation is impressive, especially when it incorporates the main character’s own artwork, and the restraint used to depict the horrors of war and losing loved ones is quietly powerful.

SAMI BLOOD

Lene Cecilia Sparrok as Elle-Marja in Sami Blood

Not knowing anything about the Scandinavian indigenous Sami people, most of what occurs in Sami Blood was new to me. However, it was also depressingly familiar as through the experiences of a 14-year-old Sami girl in 1930s Sweden, the films reveals how yet another indigenous group was expected to assimilate while also being made to feel inferior. This is an excellent drama and a bold new development in Swedish cinema.

Waru

Tanea Heke as Charm in Waru

The New Zealand film Waru comprises eight short films that all take place simultaneously during the funeral of a young boy who has died as the result of neglect and abuse. All eight films are single takes, all are directed by Māori women and all feature a different Māori woman who is directly or indirectly affected by the death. This is powerful and urgent storytelling.

Jim & Andy

Jim Carrey in Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond

And finally, I caught up with Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond on Netflix, a documentary combining an interview with Jim Carrey along with previously unseen footage of the making of the 1999 Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon. The result is a compelling portrait of both Carrey and Kaufman, and also a fascinating study of the artistic process that is at times hilarious, unsettling, disturbing and surprisingly moving.

Thomas Caldwell, 2017