Films I loved in July 2017

2 August 2017
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The Monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) and Lewis MacDougall as Conor O’Malley in A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls once more confirms my suspicion that films aimed at children and young adults often deal with difficult subject matter with far more sophistication and sensitivity than films designed for adult audiences. What makes A Monster Calls so compelling and moving isn’t the mystery of what will happen to 12-year-old Conor and his seriously ill mother, but the unknown nature of the monster that has started to appear before Conor. Is it there to help, guide, cure, punish, torment or nurture? This ambiguity allows the film to explore not just grief and associated emotions such as anger and fear, but even more complex ideas about what it means to a human with all the contradictions that come with it.

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Fionn Whitehead as Tommy in Dunkirk

Dunkirk is a expertly orchestrated spectacle that showcases Christopher Nolan’s greatest strengths as a filmmaker, particularly his use of sound. Cutting between three stories that unfold across different periods of time, Nolan delivers an almost impressionist snapshot of the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation of Allied soldiers during World War II. By only delivering snapshots of a small handful of characters caught up in events, and portraying a series of tension moments rather than a more conventional narrative, Dunkirk is an explicitly sensory film. It conveys feelings of bewilderment, disorientation, dread, fear, panic and despair, but it is ultimately a triumphant and exhilarating experience that celebrates what human beings are capable of even in the most desperate situations.

Ansel Elgort

Ansel Elgort as Baby in Baby Driver

Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is cinematic pastiche at its best. It’s a fun and funny homage to heist and action films – specifically films from the 1970s, and even more specifically films featuring car chases – and yet it’s edited to and choreographed to an eclectic selection of songs that getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort) listens to, as if the film were a musical. I cannot recall seeing another film that conveys the act of walking down the street with headphones on with the excitement of a full dance number. The combination of a pulpy crime plot with a sweet romance sub-plot along with beautifully orchestrated action and a killer soundtrack, won me over completely.

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Zucchini, voiced by Gaspard Schlatter (French version) and Erick Abbate (English version), in My Life as a Zucchini

My Life as a Zucchini is a warm and moving tale that deceptively resembles a kids’ film in production design and style, but explores difficult themes with nuance through well-developed and complex characters. I’ve now seen both the original French-language version and the English-language dub and while I probably prefer the original version, casting Nick Offerman as the voice of the kind police man who looks out of the film’s troubled 9-year-old protagonist, is inspired.

Photographer select; Tom Holland

Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming is my favourite cinematic outing for the likeable teen superhero character, possibly because it’s more of a teen-film/superhero hybrid. Combining Peter Parker’s awkward attempts to navigate high school and first love, with his over-eagerness to develop his superhero abilities as Spider-Man, allows for lots of fun teen angst and coming-of-age moments, punctuated with some of the better action sequences from the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. Tom Holland is great as Parker/Spider-Man and Michael Keaton makes a terrific villain, playing a working-class man who is sick of being screwed over.

The Beguiled

Colin Farrell as Corporal John McBurney and Kirsten Dunst as Edwina Morrow in The Beguiled

The dreamlike spell of Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled owes a lot to its mist-filled, over-grown-garden, swampy Virginian setting during the American Civil War, where the sunlight is constantly fighting to penetrate the overgrowth and darkness. The strange and disturbing tale of repressed sexuality and violence is more muted, less sensationalised and less seedy than Don Siegel’s 1971 adaptation of the same source material, and for that reason many will prefer Siegel’s version, but I like Coppola’s more. Siegel’s film contains plenty of aspect I like and in same cases prefer, but I feel there’s more mystery and richer characterisation in Coppola’s film.

It Comes At Night

Joel Edgerton as Paul in It Comes at Night

It Come at Night is a film with all the tropes of a zombie apocalypse horror film, but plays out as a psychological thriller crossed with an indie family drama. It’s utterly gripping and suspenseful throughout, and the acting is superb, and yet it wilfully defies easy categorisation and easy explanation. Is it an exercise in using as much ambiguity as possible to deliver as much tension as possible, or it is a clever subversion of audience expectations, which allows it to provide a grim commentary on the nature of paranoia? Either way, it’s a film I keep thinking about it.

A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story is a small film with grand themes that feels both highly ambitious and very humble. And to be honest, I was not on board for a while, but once it clicked into place for me, I feel under its spell. The image of a man’s ghost being visualised as an actor wearing a bed sheet with cutout eyes, is on screen for so long that it moves past looking twee or ridiculous, to become oddly moving as the droopy eye holes increasingly suggest a profound melancholia. Moving forward and back in time, meditating on the meaning of life (including a superb scene featuring Will Oldham as an insufferable party guest on a nihilist rant), and at its core being a story about love and loss; it somehow all works, making this a thoughtful and graceful piece of cinema.

Thomas Caldwell, 2017
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Film review – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

11 August 2010
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera)

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera)

Edgar Wright’s latest film, an adaptation of the acclaimed Scott Pilgrim comic series, is a hyperactive blend of indi cinema storyline, computer game logic and comic book aesthetics. It is slick, fast paced, self-reflexive and so full of cultural references that you’ll probably need several viewings in order to pick everything up.  It could have been a mess of epic proportions but Wright, who previously made Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, has made Scott Pilgrim vs. the World one of the most energetic and fun films of the year.

Scott Pilgrim is a 22-year-old Canadian slacker whose life is transformed when he meets and falls in love with Ramona Flowers, an American girl trying to make a new start. Unfortunately for Scott, Ramona comes with more baggage than anticipated in the form of seven evil exes who are determined to fight him to the death.  Within the world of the film these fight scenes take the form of elaborate and over-the-top combat scenes like the ones from computer games. The various exes are like the end-of-level bosses who have special powers and abilities that Scott must find a way to overcome. Not only is this gaming approach an exciting stylistic device but it is also used as a simple yet effective metaphor for Scott having to find his inner strength in order to win Ramona’s love.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera)

Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera)

The other distinctive stylistic device present in this film is its comic book aesthetic. While Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is not the first comic book adaptation to replicate the look and form of comics, it is the first one to take it as far as it does. Even the editing cuts dramatically from scene to scene to convey the sudden change in time and space that you get moving from one panel of a comic to another. Far from being a series of alienating jump cuts, this style is remarkably fluid and contributes to making it such a fast paced film that you can completely surrender to.

The story itself is rather slight with Scott and Ramona playing fairly typical indi film characters with him being the slightly awkward nice guy and her being the mysterious, quirky unobtainable girl. However, the film’s humour and energy overcome any danger of the film feeling overly familiar in any way. Michael Cera as Scott doesn’t exactly play against type but his performance is still enough of a departure from his very distinctive roles in films such as Juno and Superbad. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Die Hard 4.0 and Death Proof) has a wonderful onscreen presence and while sparks don’t really fly between the pair as much as they probably should, they are still a likeable enough onscreen couple.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the WorldJust as Gremlins 2: The New Batch, the Wayne’s World films and The Simpsons introduced a new style of self-aware post-modern comedy, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World feels like the beginning of a new form of super self-reflexive cinema that relies on not just the audience’s knowledge of film and television but also other forms of media. The way it sets up and then sustains its internal logic and distinctive style is a remarkable achievement. It is also a consistently entertaining film from beginning to end.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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MIFF 2010 Diary: Pre Festival – Part 1

20 July 2010

2010 Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF)The 2010 Melbourne International Film Festival is now only a couple of day away so it’s time to start my online diary to cover the event. In the past couple of years I’ve written short capsule reviews of selected films but this year I’ve decided to write up each day in short diary entries to give a better impression of the festival as a whole. There won’t be many (if any) full reviews of general release films coming from me during this time so I apologise to all my non-Melbourne readers in advance.

Booking/planning advice

Most of you have probably already booked your sessions by now but my main advice for attending film festivals it to remember that it is a festival and not a competition. It doesn’t matter how many films you see and trying to cram in too many can destroy the overall experience. Pace yourself and allow time to catch up with fellow cinephiles. Many years ago I did go nuts trying to see four or five films everyday and all I remember was getting very sick, not eating properly and always needing to go to the toilet! All the films blurred into one and it was all a bit miserable.

This year I am doing my best to follow these rules:

  • Three films per day maximum
  • No more than two films back-to-back
  • See only what I want to see – not what I feel I should see
  • If in doubt, scratch whatever is playing at the Greater Union cinemas (because those cinemas contain neither prestige nor comfort and I like cinemas to have at least one of those two elements).

I’ll no doubt break these rules occasionally but at least my intentions are good!

Finally, to help you select your films I’d suggest you check out the list of MIFF films with Australia distributors (and in some cases release dates) on A Little Lie Down; the new blog by film critic and film festival reporter (among many other things) Cerise Howard. I’ve also recently stumbled across a great online MIFF planner by Daniel Sheppard. Not only can you better organise your own MIFF schedule but you can check out what other users, including me, are seeing.

My current dilemma

Scott Pilgrim vs Uncle Boonmee

Scott Pilgrim vs Uncle Boonmee

My only major scheduling conflict at the moment is to do with the recent news that the 2010 Cannes Palme d’Or winning film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is now playing on the final day at the same time as Edgar Wright’s new film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Now Uncle Boonmee is clearly an important film and exactly the sort of film that is best suited to see at a film festival while Scott Pilgrim is getting released in cinemas everywhere less than a week later. It seems like an obvious choice.

However, I’ve seen Uncle Boonmee director’s Apichatpong Weerasethakul previous feature film Syndromes and a Century and although I could appreciate it, it was a very meditative film that was difficult to stay awake during! I’ve been told that Uncle Boonmee is similarly paced and I just don’t know if I can endure that as the final film of a very long festival. Scott Pilgrim on the other hand promises to be tremendous fun and exactly the kind of thing that is a blast to finish on. So, I’m edging towards Scott Pilgrim

For my next post I’ll share some of my top picks for the festival and some thoughts on the films that are playing that I’ve already seen are also on the way.

Thomas

Vote choc top!

Vote choc top!

PS Don’t forget to vote in the very fun popcorn verse choc top poll! I’m a bit alarmed to see that at the time of writing this, popcorn is in the lead. No food should weigh less then the actually money you use to pay for it. Vote choc top: dress in black (it is Melbourne after all) and just accept that you will end up wearing half of it.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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Film review – Run Fatboy Run (2007)

25 March 2008

A comedy co-written and starring Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) and co-starring Dylan Moran (television’s Black Books) and Hank Azaria (various voices on The Simpsons) really should be a lot funnier than the disappointing Run Fat Boy Run. Pegg plays Dennis, an underachieving loser who ran off on his pregnant fiancée (Thandie Newton from The Pursuit of Happyness and Crash) on their wedding day. 5 years later he decides she is the love of his life and tries to win her back from her new fiancée (Azaria) by running the London marathon to prove his ability to commit to something.

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