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

 

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Films I loved in April 2016

1 May 2016
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL

Jaeden Lieberher as Alton and Michael Shannon as Roy in Midnight Special

At times while watching Midnight Special, the new film by Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter), I felt like it was custom-made for me. I adored the way its story of two men kidnapping a boy from a cult created tension and intrigue by withholding so much backstory and character information, especially in an era of filmmaking where often so much is over-explained or signposted sooner than necessary. It also helped that the film was heavily and overtly inspired by ’70s and ’80s science-fiction films such as Steven Spielberg‘s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, one of my all-time favourite films. While Midnight Special ultimately didn’t deliver the full payoff that I was anticipating, which was disappointing as the final reveal was so literal, I still loved its performances, mood and exploration of many of Nichols’s reoccurring themes concerning family, fatherhood, masculinity and how we perceive reality.

Captain America: Civil War

Chris Evans as Captain America in Captain America: Civil War

While I always more or less enjoy the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise, I’ve never found any particularly memorable. Guardians of the Galaxy is the only one to ever appear in one of my monthly summaries, until now as I thought Captain America: Civil War was superb. Containing nearly every significant superhero character from the previous films and introducing new ones while further developing narrative threads from 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier and 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, this new film is impressive for just how well it manages so much story and character information. But its real triumph is the stunning action choreography and inventive fight scenes. Not since the first two X-Men films have I felt such exhilaration from the spectacle of seeing the inherent strangeness of all the various superpowers in play. Directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo never allow the computer generated effects to overshadow the visual pleasures of the actors’ bodies in motion, and they are always aware of how to best capitalise on the space of the scenes where the action takes place, frequently tracking the action vertically rather than always staging scenes along the more conventional x-axis.

A  Month of Sundays

John Clarke as Phillip Lang and Anthony LaPaglia as Frank Mollard in A Month of Sundays

The Australian film A Month of Sundays, by writer/director Matthew Saville, reminded me of many independent American films from the 1990s, with its off-kilter nervous energy, understated humour and gently melancholic atmosphere.  Anthony LaPaglia, one of Australia’s consistently excellent actors, gives a sad and funny performance as a divorced middle-aged real estate agent whose life seems to have lost all meaning. The key to the film’s success is its winning droll humour, often courtesy of the always brilliant John Clarke in a supporting role, that takes the film into more serious and ultimately heartwarming  territory. A Month of Sundays is low key and anecdotally seems to have divided audiences, but if you can tap into its humour early on then the results are extremely rewarding.

National_Lampoon

National Lampoon: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead

National Lampoon: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead is a terrific documentary that covers the founding for the American satirical magazine National Lampoon in 1960 that went on to become a multimedia operation that included comedy albums, radio serials, theatre shows and feature films such as Animal House and Vacation. The film adopts a similar visual style to the magazine’s art direction, which greatly assists in conveying the impact of the humour, which ranged from irreverent and absurd to extremely confronting and shocking. The interviews with many of the editorial staff and performers from over the years are fascinating and funny, and the film contains plenty of classic moments from the magazine, albums and live performances that still elicit big laughs. This film is enormously fun and demonstrates how rather than belittling the already powerless with lazy stereotypes, ‘offensive’ and dark humour can also be used to aggressively draw attention to social inequalities and hypocrisy.

Thomas Caldwell, 2016