Films I loved in December 2016

15 December 2016
still_478533

Adam Driver as Paterson in Paterson

As Jim Jarmusch is one of my favourite living filmmakers, Paterson was one of the films I was most looking forward to seeing this year, and it didn’t disappoint. It contains many of Jarmusch’s trademark characteristics, including an understated dead-pan sense humour, dialogue that sounds so conventional and direct it becomes strangely lyrical, and a overall minimalist approach that is captivating. While many of  Jarmusch’s films feel like the epitome of cinematic coolness, the story of a poetry-writing bus driver delivers a romantic and sweet depiction of American small-town working-class life. Adam Driver, as the titular bus driver observing life around him, is a perfect Jarmusch leading man and the scenes between him and Golshifteh Farahani, as his wife Laura, are unbelievably sweet.

null

Ryan Gosling as Sebastian Wilder and Emma Stone as Mia Dolan in La La Land

While La La Land is clearly a homage to the musicals of the classical Hollywood era, especially the colour films of the 1950s by directors such as Vincente Minnelli and Stanley Donen, it is also heavily indebted to Jacques Demy’s 1960s musicals, themselves homages to classical Hollywood musicals. As a Demy fan, this is not a problem for me at all, and it gives La La Land an extra layer of depth. The heightened use of colour, overt slides into fantasy and abstraction, and contrasting moods of whimsey and melancholy are all close to the spirit of Demy. Lead actors Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are a terrific on-screen couple, and the songs and dance choreography are great. This is a gorgeous and sincerely crafted love letter to the musical genre.

null

Auli’i Cravalho voicing Moana Waialiki in Moana.

Walt Disney Animation Studios have been in incredibly strong form over the past few years and Moana is their latest success. Its story of a Polynesian girl on a quest with a demigod, delivers an exciting hero’s journey story with strong music numbers, fun gags, and inventive animation. It also continues the recent Disney tradition of critiquing the reductive representation of class and gender in so many of their earlier films about princesses. Moana is fun, exhilarating and moving.

null

Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso in Rogue One

I was a big fan of the 2014 Godzilla, especially the way director Gareth Edwards stayed true to the spirit of the original films while bringing something new; namely giving the large scale action scenes an immediate and gritty aesthetic. With Rogue One Edwards does something similar by making it a very faithful prequel to the original 1977 Stars Wars film while also ensuring it works as a standalone film. One of the darker entries into the franchise (both thematically and visually) it contains a wonderful ensemble of flawed anti-hero characters and a series of gripping action sequences. This was the most I’ve been entertained by a Star Wars film since seeing the original trilogy as a child.

Thomas Caldwell, 2016

Films I loved in May 2014

2 June 2014
Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin

Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin

The more I think about Under the Skin the more I find myself falling for the visuals and soundscape that fuel its stripped-down story of an alien harvesting men from the streets of Scotland. The eerie and the avant-garde imagery in this film are difficult to shake off, being both sublime and disturbing. Combining the formally experimental moments in the film with scenes that employ such a bold cinéma vérité-style approach to filmmaking, has resulted in a truly unique work.

Veerle Baetens as Elise and Johan Heldenbergh as Didier in The Broken Circle Breakdown

Veerle Baetens as Elise and Johan Heldenbergh as Didier in The Broken Circle Breakdown

I experienced intense  joy and sorrow while watching the highs and lows of the relationship depicted in The Broken Circle Breakdown. Similar to the masterful Blue Valentine, this Belgium/Dutch film is cleverly non-lineal in order to contrast the happiness at the start of a relationship to the trauma that comes later. Included in the mix is a great subtext about religious faith and loosing faith in what America stood for during the Bush Administration, and some amazing bluegrass music.

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip to Italy

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip to Italy

While I enjoyed The Trip I loved The Trip to Italy, which not only features funnier interactions between Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing versions of themselves travelling around Italy for a food article, but is overall a tighter, better structured and better developed film. It not only gave me some of the biggest laughs I have had watching a film for a very long time, but the melancholic observations on mortality and morality were surprisingly effective.

Godzilla

Godzilla

The new Godzilla film somehow manages to stay true to the spirit and basic mythology of the original Japanese films, while also feeling like a fresh and sincere reincarnation of the legendary franchise. And while in hindsight the film suffers from some weak characterisation, the spectacle and action sequences more than compensate. The restraint used in key sequences made those moments genuinely frightening and exhilarating.

Del Herbert-Jane as James and Tilda Cobham-Hervey as Billie in 52 Tuesdays

Del Herbert-Jane as James and Tilda Cobham-Hervey as Billie in 52 Tuesdays

The Australian film 52 Tuesdays is a highly inventive and sophisticated coming-of-age film. The various limitations that the filmmakers set for themselves has resulted in a fascinating film that continually challenges the audience to reassess their perceptions. Shot over 52 Tuesday afternoons, the story of a teenage girl coming to terms with her mother’s transition to a man touches on issues of adolescent sexuality, gender identity and ideas of privacy with sensitivity and complexity.

Thomas Caldwell, 2014

Q&A with Monsters writer/director Gareth Edwards

25 November 2010

On Tuesday 9 November 2010 I hosted a Q&A with Gareth Edwards, the writer and director of Monsters. Some of the highlights (ie I’ve been edited out!) are in this promotional video from Madman Entertainment:

Bookmark and Share


Film review – Monsters (2010)

29 October 2010
Monsters: Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able)

Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able)

The low-budget British film Monsters begins with a found-footage/doco style opening of a giant squid-like creature being shot at by the US army. It looks like a film along the same lines of District 9, which is further evoked by its back-story about an alien species that is quarantined along the US/Mexican boarder in what is known as the Infected Zone. Similar to District 9, the treatment of the aliens is symbolic of the way Western governments treat and respond to refugees and illegal immigrants. However, for the majority of the film the aliens are kept in the background. So despite all the initial signs that suggest Monsters will be a science-fiction/thriller, it is actually best described as a melancholic romance film since the majority of the focus is on the growing feelings that the two human protagonists have for each other.

Our two heroes (of sorts) are a bitter and frustrated photojournalist named Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) and his wealthy boss’s daughter Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able), whom he is reluctantly looking after. As they travel through the Infected Zone in Central America hoping to make it back into the US they encounter the destruction and devastation done to Mexico as a result of the US military’s actions against the aliens. Their cynicism begins to subside, they stop resenting each other and through shared experiences find themselves drawn to each other. In other words, Monsters follows the narrative structure of the classic screwball comedy/road movie It Happened One Night, even though it is tonally a completely different film

Monsters: Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy)

Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy)

Once you accept that Monsters is a love story set against a sad metaphor for how the US treats outsiders (hint: the film’s title is not referring to the alien creatures), then it can be reasonably enjoyed on the level it was intended to be. The few times the possibility of an encounter with aliens does enter the narrative the film is suitably tense and exciting. While the US military aggression is sometimes too bluntly asserted (the soldiers singing “Ride of the Valkyries” is particularly crude) there are also powerful moments such as when Andrew and Samantha encounter the giant wall that has been built to keep the aliens out. The rather over-the-top ending will either be regarded as ludicrous and cheesy or effectively majestic depending on the extent that you are still prepared to go along with the film.

Watch highlights from the Q&A with writer/director Gareth Edwards, moderated by Thomas Caldwell.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

Bookmark and Share

Read more reviews at MRQE