Films I loved in September 2018

29 September 2018
Custody

Thomas Gioria as Julien Besson in Custody

Xavier Legrand follows up his masterful 2013 short film Just Before Losing Everything with Custody, continuing the story of a woman and her children escaping from her abusive husband. Slowly revealing the ways the abuser continues to intimidate his family, the film is a deeply emotional social realist drama with an almost unbearable build-up of tension. Custody is a call to arms about the insidious ways violent and entitled men manipulate others, while also functioning as an expertly crafted thriller.

Don't Worry He Won't Get Far on Foot

Jack Black as Dexter and Joaquin Phoenix as John Callahan in Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot

The biopic Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is one of the more conventional films by the eclectic and unpredictable filmmaker Gus Van Sant, but it’s also his best film in the past decade. An insightful and often darkly humorous drama about addiction and recovery, its biggest triumph are the performances from supporting actors such as Jonah Hill and Jack Black, as well as Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role as cartoonist John Callahan.

you_were_never_really_here

Joaquin Phoenix as Joe in You Were Never Really Here

Joaquin Phoenix is also the protagonist in the dreamlike and deeply subjective You Were Never Really Here where he plays Joe, a vigilante for hire with a traumatic past who is on a mission to save a young girl. The combination of filmmaker Lynne Ramsay’s stylised direction, which is used to convey Joe’s inner turmoil, combined with Phoenix’s intense performance, heightens the film’s brutal foundations into a powerful sensory and visceral cinematic experience.

Ghosthunter

Jason King in Ghosthunter

Ghosthunter begins as a documentary about a man investigating the paranormal, but quickly evolves into something quite different as he starts to undercover and confront personal demons from his childhood. This is a complex, troubling and powerful film that delves into issues surrounding trauma, abuse and repressed memories. Among the unearthed horrors of the past, there is some humanity and hope for the future, but not without complications, which makes the film all the more richer and challenging.

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Damian Callinan as Troy Carrington (far left) and other cast in The Merger

Starring and written by the always likeable Damian Callinan, The Merger is about a small-town outcast who tries to save the local football club by enlisting the help of the town’s new refugee population. It’s not exactly subtle in its messaging of community and acceptance, but it doesn’t matter when it’s this heartfelt, not to mention timely. This crowd-pleasing and feel-good Australian comedy also contains some great commentary on sport, mateship and masculinity. And most importantly, it’s very funny.

Beast

Jessie Buckley as Moll in Beast

A troubled young woman living in an oppressive small community has her lust for life awakened when she falls for a mysterious man who may or may not be a serial killer. While not shying away from the thriller aspects inherent in such a scenario, Beast is more a slow burn psychological drama with a focus on atmosphere that allows the film to beautifully transition back and forth between being sensual and sinister as it depicts the excitement and danger of awakening primal desires.

WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR

Fred Rogers in Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Like I suspect many Australians, I’d never heard of the legendary US children’s television host Fred Rogers, but that didn’t stop me from being deeply moved by the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Exploring Rogers’s life, career and more importantly, his philosophy of love and compassion, this film transcends the limitations of most biographical documentaries to present an urgent and compelling message of the power of respect, understanding and kindness for all children and all adults.

The Rider

Brady Jandreau as Brady Blackburn in The Rider

Based on a true story and starring non-professional actors, The Rider is a gentle and mesmerising film set in the American midwest about an upcoming rodeo star adjusting to life after having suffered a serious injury. It presents a perspective of masculinity and rural life that is affectionate and understanding, but not without subtle critical commentary. Sadly not getting a full theatrical release in Australia, The Rider is well worth tracking down through an HD video-on-demand service.

Thomas Caldwell, 2018
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Film review – Restless (2011)

3 December 2011
Restless: Annabel (Mia Wasikowska) and Enoch (Henry Hopper)

Annabel (Mia Wasikowska) and Enoch (Henry Hopper)

Enoch (Henry Hopper) has lost his parents, hangs out with the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot (Ryō Kase) and goes to funerals for people he doesn’t know. He meets Annabel (Mia Wasikowska), a young woman who also crashes funerals and who also has death playing a large part in her life. Despite knowing that circumstance will only allow them to spend a brief amount of time together, the pair enter into a relationship.

Throughout his career director Gus Van Sant has depicted the lives of young people, capturing the way they speak and relate to the world around them with an affectionate sincerity. His films are frequently about young men who are somewhat lost and removed from mainstream society, with death being a reoccurring theme that looms large. All these elements came together brilliantly in films such as Elephant (2003) and Paranoid Park (2007), and they are all present once again in Restless, however, this time something has not worked.

Based on a play by Jason Lew, the dialogue throughout Restless is twee to the extent that it borders on parody. The fusion of cutesy antics, banal teen-speak mixed with philosophical discussion (Charles Darwin is described as ‘the evolution guy’) and hip death-is-sad-but-also-cool attitude seems overtly calculated to appeal to what a marketing company might define as the hipster demographic. This is melodrama and sentiment dressed up as ironic nonchalance, complete with vintage fashion and geek-chic. Wasikowska delivers a respectable performance that attempts to stay true to the tone of the film without completely surrendering in its tedious indulgences. Hopper is less successful, although he does display occasional flashes of his late father Dennis Hopper, suggesting that there is an emerging talent within him yet to be fully realised.

Restless: Annabel (Mia Wasikowska) and Enoch (Henry Hopper)By signposting so early how it will end, Restless does suggest that it may handle its subject matter in a refreshingly unconventional manner or at least with a degree of restraint. That is why the film is most disappointing when it resorts to melodramatic outbursts that don’t feel like they belong in a film so self-consciously trying to distance itself from a run-of-the-mill weepy. To its credit Restless does eventually arrive at a moving and meaningful conclusion, but there are too many annoying moments that it passes through to get there.

Comparing Restless to Van Sant’s previous film Milk suggests that Van Sant is a director whose films are only as good as the scripts and actors he has to work with. That may seem like an obvious point, but worth making because so many aspects of Restless are impressive, just not enough to compensate for the flaws. For example, the cinematography by Harris Savides is astonishing. The film appears to have been mostly shot late in the afternoon in autumn, which gives it a gorgeous melancholic feel and visually evokes the themes of death and time running out. Visually and thematically the film frequently recalls Never Let Me Go although Restless is a far less satisfying film. Had Restless been a silent film it may have been some kind of stylish masterpiece, with its attractive stars symbolically posing through a number of scenes to represent love, mortality and embracing the moment.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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DVD review – The Times of Harvey Milk (1984), Region 4, Shock

24 March 2009
Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk

This 1984 Academy Award winning documentary by Rob Epstein (The Celluloid Closet) is a stirring testament to civil rights campaigner Harvey Milk and a superb companion piece to the recent Gus Van Sant film Milk. However The Times of Harvey Milk delves much further into the political and social significance of what Milk did and what he stood for. Milk was an openly gay man who campaigned on behalf of all minorities. Combining an abundance of archival footage and insightful interviews, Epstein reveals how Milk’s presence in City Hall allowed the “little people” of San Francisco to finally feel connected to the political process.

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Film review – Milk (2008)

27 January 2009
Harvey Milk (Sean Penn)

Harvey Milk (Sean Penn)

Milk is a civil rights film about Harvey Milk, a prominent American gay rights activist in the 1970s who became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. Harvey’s story of overcoming bigotry and prejudice to inspire others and effect change evokes the better-known stories of African American civil rights activists who fought different types of persecution. As a member of the gay and lesbian community Harvey faced particular challenges. Police brutality, fear of violence, death threats, suicide and anti-homosexual hysteria fuelled by the religious right were all aspects of Harvey’s life. Milk is also a fascinating examination of the political process and it is a lot of fun witnessing Harvey’s transformation from hedonistic hippy into a slick, media savvy orator.

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