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

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Films I loved in August 2014

3 September 2014
Jarvis Cocker in Pulp: a Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets

Jarvis Cocker in Pulp: a Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets

Although Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets isn’t technically an August 2014 release, it received a number of festival and special event screenings as well as getting a Digital Home Entertainment release (the DVD and blu-ray release is September). It is also a film I adored. It helps that I’ve long been a fan of the band so was overcome by nostalgia, but regardless this is still a very strong documentary that manages to provide an insightful context for the band and their music. By providing a portrait of the English city of Sheffield (where Pulp original hail from) and its residents, director Florian Habicht goes beyond the fact-listing and anecdote-telling formula of most music documentaries, to explore the time and place that produced the music and investigate why it still resonates with its fans. The concert footage is also extremely dynamic and some of the best I’ve ever seen.

Nicolas Cage as Joe and Tye Sheridan as Gary in Joe.

Nicolas Cage as Joe and Tye Sheridan as Gary in Joe.

Part of the growing number of Southern Gothic films that are coming out of the United States at the moment, which I am fascinated by, Joe is both a coming-of-age story about men and masculinity, and a portrait of a community that is rarely depicted on screen other than to be ridiculed. Director David Gordon Green’s use of non-professional actors was inspired, especially Gary Poulter who sadly died shortly after the film was made. Teenage actor-on-the-rise Tye Sheridan is great and continues to impress after Mud and The Tree of Life, and Nicolas Cage in the titular role gives one of his best performances in years.

Zoe Saldana as Gamora and Chris Pratt as Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy

Zoe Saldana as Gamora and Chris Pratt as Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy is the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series that really stayed with me and it’s probably no coincidence that it is more in the spirit of the original Star Wars films and the television series Firefly, than the superhero-driven films from the rest of the franchise. Director James Gunn has previously demonstrated that he has the ability to playfully subvert and draw attention to generic conventions, without resorting to parody or blatant self-awareness, which is why Guardians of the Galaxy is so much fun while still taking itself seriously as an ensemble-driven space opera. Most importantly is the character development where the audience are quickly endeared to the anti-heroes of the film so that most of the enjoyment comes from them riffing off one another and even occasionally having exchanges that are genuinely touching.

Thomas Caldwell, 2014