Films I loved in November 2018

30 November 2018
Shoplifters

Ando Sakura as Shibata Nobuyo, Jyo Kairi as Shibita Shota and Lily Franky as Shibata Osamu in Shoplifters

Shoplifters once again demonstrates writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda’s ability to deliver a warm and leisurely character-driven drama where class and the family unit are gently critiqued without any trace of heavy handedness. The story of a family of petty thieves who take in a young neglected girl to care for as one of their own contains plenty of drama and heartbreak, but it is the sense of humanism and compassion that lingers long after viewing the film that makes it yet another triumph for Koreeda.

The Old Man And The Gun

Sissy Spacek as Jewel and Robert Redford as Forrest Tucker in The Old Man & the Gun

It’s hard to ignore that The Old Man & the Gun is reportedly Robert Redford’s final outing as an actor, as the entire film feels like a homage to his onscreen persona, legacy and the New Hollywood era that helped define him. It’s a fun, sweet and good-natured based-on-a-true story about an elderly gentleman bank robber who finds love. It delivers a loving throwback to the era of counter-culture Hollywood films that celebrated charismatic anti-heroes, where cynicism sat comfortably with star-power charm.

Lean on Pete

Charlie Plummer as Charley in Lean on Pete

Lean on Pete is on the surface a story about a teenage boy bonding with a horse as a response to parental absence, a common theme in films for and about adolescents. In the hands of the masterful British writer/director Andrew Haigh the film is free from sentiment or obvious plot development, and is a sophisticated and subtle character study about the loneliness and quiet despair of a young person in a desperate situation. It’s a slow burn yet mesmerising film that I haven’t stopped thinking about.

Fahrenheit 11:9

Michael Moore in Fahrenheit 11/9

Fahrenheit 11/9 contains a lot less of the levity and stunts that have characterised Michael Moore’s previous works, as it is a much more urgent and angry film. Moore may not present heaps of new information or analysis, but he skilfully and persuasively consolidates a lot of the almost overwhelming details about how Donald Trump’s presidency is both the symptom and cause of the erosion of democracy in the USA. There are some elements of hope, but this is mostly an engaging call-to-arms.

The Children Act

Emma Thompson as Fiona Maye in The Children Act

The main reason to see The Children Act is for Emma Thompson as a British High Court judge contending with her marriage falling apart while she is in the spotlight presiding over a case involving a 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witnesses boy refusing a life-saving blood transfusion. Thompson’s incredible performance aside, this is still a compelling and moving film with a thematically rich script that offers a lot for the audience to unpack without feeling didactic.

Thomas Caldwell, 2018
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Films I loved in April 2014

30 April 2014
Ralph Fiennes as M Gustave in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Ralph Fiennes as M Gustave in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel is a glorious tribute to an imagined era of European civility and innocence before the onslaught of fascism. Channelling the spirit of Ernst Lubitsch, this is one of Anderson’s best films and certainly the one I’ve enjoyed the most since The Royal Tenenbaums in 2001. For the most part a beautifully designed, cleverly structured and hilarious caper, the real triumph in this film is the final five or so minutes where Anderson delivers a heartfelt conclusion that acknowledges the fundamental tragedy of what fascism destroyed.

Tilda Swinton as Eve and Tom Hiddleston as Adam in Only Lovers Left Alive

Tilda Swinton as Eve and Tom Hiddleston as Adam in Only Lovers Left Alive

I have long been a fan of Jim Jarmusch – who like Wes Anderson is also a maverick with a unique and uncompromising approach to filmmaking – and Only Lovers Left Alive did not disappoint. This time Jarmusch applies his droll, minimalist and laid back style to the vampire genre to produce a film both visually and audibly rich in texture and atmosphere. The love and symbiotic relationship between the two creatures of the night reflects the delicate balance of the natural world that is slowly falling in decay due to human greed, selfishness and destructiveness.

Will Arnett voicing Batman and Charlie Day voicing Benny in The LEGO Movie

Will Arnett voicing Batman and Charlie Day voicing Benny in The LEGO Movie

On the other end of the spectrum comes the deliriously fun and subversive mainstream family comedy The LEGO Movie, which has a seemingly anarchic animation style that reminded me of A Town Called Panic (Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, 2009). It does seem incongruous that such an overtly branded and marketed film would contain such a strident message against consumerism, materialism and conformity, but it does and it does it well. It also smartly deconstructs several pop culture tropes including the rather regressive idea of the Chosen One. And it’s hilarious.

Masaharu Fukuyama as Ryota Nonomiya and Machiko Ono and Midori Nonomiya in Like Father, Like Son

Masaharu Fukuyama as Ryota Nonomiya and Machiko Ono as Midori Nonomiya in Like Father, Like Son

In Like Father, Like Son director Hirokazu Koreeda finds considerable charm, humour and pathos in the potentially scandalous story about two sets of parents discovering their 6-year-old sons were mixed up at birth. Instead of melodramatics, Koreeda’s graceful style of storytelling allows for gentle social observations concerning class divisions and parental expectations in modern Japan. My favourite films of Koreeda’s are After Life (1998) and Still Walking (2008), but this is still an excellent film by one of the most consistently impressive filmmakers working today.


It was great to see the low-fi French romantic comedy 2 Autumns, 3 Winters get a number of screenings around Melbourne, as I really enjoyed its quirky and hyper self-referential style. Most of the time I find the device of having characters talk directly to the camera a bit too twee, but it worked for me in this film and I enjoyed its 20-something hipster angst.

Another film that had a few local screenings, just ahead of its DVD release, is the extraordinary Cheap Thrills where two friends are encouraged to compete against each other, in increasingly disturbing ways, for money. The blend of horror and dark comedy in this post-GFC film, delivers a biting social critique of the way middle and lower classes are conned into fighting against each other, while the powerful and wealthy upper class sit back and enjoy the show. The levels of depravity, humiliation and ruthlessness are built up extremely convincingly and are wonderfully excruciating to watch.

The other DVD release of note this month is  Starlet, a very impressive low budget American drama about an unlikely friendship between a 21-year-old woman and an 85-year-old woman. The film is very strategic about when it provides keys pieces of information about the background of both women, but when it does the timing is perfect and the effect is profound. Starlet goes into surprising and unlikely places to deal with subject matter that a lesser film would have sensationalised, but writer/director Sean Baker has an impressive grasp on the material and, like 2 Autumns, 3 Winters writer/director Sébastien Betbeder and like Cheap Thrills director EL Katz, is a talent to keep an eye out for.

Thomas Caldwell, 2014