Films I loved in September 2016

2 October 2016
sully

Tom Hanks as Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger in Sully

Despite regarding myself as a Clint Eastwood fan, I’d started to think his best work was long behind him. When I saw Sully I was thrilled to discover that I was wrong. The film depicts the emergency water landing of a commercial passenger flight on the Hudson River by Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger (played by Tom Hanks in the film) on 15 January 2009. It is also a fictionalised dramatisation of how Sully in the immediate aftermath coped with the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into the incident and the media attention on him. The film is nonlinear, shows events more than once from different perspectives, and depicts Sully’s anxieties and nightmares. The purpose is to convey the bewildering enormity of what Sully did and the anxiety and self doubt that followed. Rather than focusing on the spectacle of the incident, Eastwood focuses on the emotion, making Sully a heartfelt and moving introspective film about the nature of everyday heroism.

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Agyness Deyn as Chris Guthrie in Sunset Song

Terence Davies’s Sunset Song is an adaptation of a classic 1932 Scottish novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. It’s about Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn), a young Scottish woman growing up in a farming community in Aberdeenshire in northern Scotland during the start of the twentieth century and the start of the First World War. Not unlike Davies’s previous film, The Deep Blue SeaSunset Song is a love story and a story of the resilience of a woman facing enormous turmoil and hardship, against the backdrop of war. Chris is a wonderful character and true to form, Davies does a excellent job presenting her as somebody vulnerable, strong, open to love, and able to do what she needs to do to survive – these aren’t presented as contradictory character traits, but part of what constitutes a fully rounded character. And it almost goes without saying that the film looks stunning.

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Anthony Weiner in Weiner

I suspect that Weiner will be referred for many years to come as the benchmark for documentary filmmaking about politics. Through their incredible access to the film’s subject, filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg have crafted a fascinating and compelling portrait of the charismatic, outspoken and disgraced ex-congressman Anthony Weiner as he ran for mayor of New York in 2013, under the shadow of a sexting scandal. This is a compelling examination of the nature of political scandals, questions concerning personal privacy for public figures, and issues concerning moral hypocrisy and pathological behaviour. To say that during the course of the film my sympathies shifted and my stance on the various issues it raises were challenged, would be an understatement.

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Eva Green as Miss Alma LeFay Peregrine in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Tim Burton is another director I adore, but over the past decade I’ve found myself liking his new films less and less. However, my faith began to return with Frankenweenie in 2012 and it’s now fully restored thanks to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Like the source material (a 2011 YA novel by Ransom Riggs) the majority of the film concerns setting up the characters and world of peculiar children, through the eyes of troubled teenager Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield), to then lead up to the big finale. Burton’s film expands on both the world building – allowing the audience to hang out even longer with the wonderful ensemble of characters – and the finale, providing a spectacular (albeit somewhat bewildering) extended conclusion that visually evokes Burton’s beloved old fashioned Ray Harryhausen-style stop-motion animation and contemporary Slenderman imagery. Burton knows when to hold back his sometimes overwhelming visual style to allow the characters to take centre-stage, and he also knows when to let himself go off the leash to deliver some glorious sequences.

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Harrison Feldman as Elliott and Bethany Whitmore as Greta in Girl Asleep

Girl Asleep is a highly stylised Australian film that is adapted from a youth theatre production, both directed by Rosemary Myers. Set in the 1970s the focus is on 14-year-old Greta Driscoll (Bethany Whitmore) who has just started at a new school after moving house with her family, and having to contend with an unwanted 15th birthday party where fantasy and reality converge. Despite its origins and the degree to which it incorporates a high degree of theatrically, Girl Asleep never feels stagey. Instead, this glorious bold, funny, imaginative and creative insight into the anxieties of the teen mind is one of the most welcome breaths of fresh air in Australian cinema for a long time.

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Elliot the Dragon (vocals by John Kassir) and Oakes Fegley as Pete in Pete’s Dragon

Pete’s Dragon is the latest remake by Walt Disney Pictures of one of their own films, in this case the 1977 musical that mixed live action and traditional 2D animation. A variation on the ‘wild child’ trope, the film is about 11-year-old Pete who has been raised by a dragon since being stranded in the woods six years ago after a car crash that killed his parents. Pete’s discovery by the local small-town logging community creates divides about how to respond to the discovery of the dragon. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints writer/director David Lowery delivers a gentle, moving and warm family film that is ultimately about reconciliation across class and ideology lines – something that feels very timely for a major USA film.

Thomas Caldwell, 2016
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Film review – Invictus (2009)

23 January 2010
Invictus: Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman)

Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman)

William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus”, written in 1875, is said to have been a powerful source of inspiration for Nelson Mandela during the 27 years he was kept a prisoner in Apartheid South Africa. Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and four years later became South Africa’s president after helping to end Apartheid and introduce democratic elections. Director Clint Eastwood’s film Invictus portrays Mandela as a man of great intelligence, compassion and fairness. Mandela was all too aware that great tensions still existed in South Africa and that the only way for his nation to heal was through forgiveness but also for the people to develop a sense of unity. Mandela seized upon the opportunity provided by South Africa hosting the 1995 Rugby World Cup to make the national South African rugby team, the Springboks, a source of inspiration for all South Africans, black and white. Invictus portrays the PR campaign and series of rugby matches that resulted.

Adapted from the book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation, by journalist John Carlin, Invictus is an examination of the relationship between sport and politics. Invictus never gets too much deeper than establishing this connection in its precise historical context but it does convincingly demonstrate the incredible importance and significance a sports game can have to a nation. During the scenes depicting the cup you very quickly find yourself cheering on the Springbok’s knowing how profound the outcome of the matches will be.

François Pienaar (Matt Damon)

Working with Eastwood for the third time after Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, Morgan Freeman gives one of his best performances to date as Nelson Mandela. Freeman beautifully captures Mandela’s charisma, confidence and genuine enthusiasm for both rugby and reconciliation. Matt Damon is also convincing as the South African sporting hero François Pienaar the Springbok team captain. However, many of the best moments in Invictus occur during the scenes depicting Mandela’s security team who are a combination of Mandela’s personal guards and ex-Apartheid Special Branch men. The initially tense dynamic between the security men functions as a microcosm for black and white relations within South Africa, creating an enjoyable subplot throughout the film.

Invictus begins as a political biopic, ends as a sports film and is entertaining throughout.  Eastwood is one of the most reliable and assured directors working today and like most of his films Invictus combines his disciplined approach to filmmaking with his calm desire to not rush proceedings in order to allow the story to leisurely unfold. There is nothing particularly remarkable about Invictus but it suitably delivers plenty of emotive moments that are hard to not be swept away by and the final rugby game is suitably exhilarating.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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An interview with Sergio Leone biographer, Sir Christopher Frayling

1 December 2009

Once Upon a Time in the West

Sir Christopher Frayling is a globally renowned writer and film historian. In 2001 he was knighted for “Services to Art and Design Education”. One area of cinema that Sir Frayling has dedicated a significant amount of time to is the Italian-made spaghetti westerns of the mid-1960s and in particular the films of Sergio Leone who made classics such as The Good, The Bad and They Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West. Sir Christopher has provided the commentary on many DVD releases of Leone’s films plus he wrote Sergio Leone: Something To Do With Death, a book that many regard as the definitive biography of Sergio Leone.

On Saturday 28 November 2009 I recorded the following interview with Sir Frayling, which was played on The Casting Couch later that day in conjunction with the re-release of Once Upon a Time in the West at The Astor Theatre.

http://www.cpod.org.au/download.php?id=2628

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5 reasons why Cinema Autopsy loves Clint Eastwood

4 February 2009

With two new films playing in Australian cinemas it seems only right that Cinema Autopsy should dedicate an entire post to the iconic actor and great filmmaker that is Clint Eastwood.

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1. He is The Man With No Name

The Italian director Sergio Leone, famous for his “Spaghetti Westerns”, made six truly great films and three of those stared Eastwood as The Man With No Name character. The first of these was A Fistful of Dollars (1964), a western remake of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai classic Yojimbo (1961). A Fistful of Dollars established Eastwood’s steely gaze, witty one-liners and capacity to burst into action at any moment. His seductive, unpredictable capacity for sudden violence means that you can’t take your eyes off him. Eastwood dominates the screen and continued to do so in For a Few Dollars More (1965) and then The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), the film that leaves no doubt about the greatness of Eastwood and director Sergio Leone.

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Film review – Changeling (2008)

3 February 2009
Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie)

Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie)

In 1928 the disappearance of Christine Collins’ 9-year-old son received nationwide attention in the USA. Also at the time, the Los Angeles Police Department were increasingly being accused of corruption and links to organised crime. In an attempt to drum up some much needed positive publicity the Police Department gave Christine custody of another 9-year-old boy who insisted that he was her son. When Christine refused to accept that this boy was her real son, she was accused of being hysterical and an unfit mother. Clint Eastwood’s Changeling is based on Christine’s story and the horrific series of kidnappings and murders of young boys that later became known as the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders. Eastwood explores the injustice done to Christine and her son as a result of ineffective police work, political opportunism, socially ingrained chauvinism and barbaric attitudes towards mental health

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Film review – Gran Torino (2008)

20 January 2009
Clint Eastwood as Walt Kowalski

Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood)

Clint Eastwood’s place in cinema history has been well and truly established by both his iconic presence on screen and his talented work behind the camera. Eastwood really doesn’t need to prove himself any further but that hasn’t stopped him from continuing to create entertaining and well-crafted pieces of cinema. While Gran Torino is one of two films that he directed in 2008 (the magnificent Changeling being the other) it is the first film that he has acted in since his Academy Award winning 2004 film Million Dollar Baby.

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