Films I loved in April 2018

1 May 2018
Isle of Dogs

Rex (voiced by Edward Norton) and Chief (voiced by Bryan Cranston) in Isle of Dogs

I tend to like and admire Wes Anderson’s films from a distance, but the ones I really like, I adore: The Royal Tenenbaums, The Grand Budapest Hotel and now Isle of Dogs, his glorious tribute to canines and Japanese cinema. This stop-motion animation tonally straddles droll humour, absurdism and emotional sincerity within its inventive dystopian world and enjoyably chaotic plot.

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John Krasinski as Lee in A Quiet Place

There is something gloriously old-fashioned about A Quiet Place, which quickly and efficiently establishes its innovative premise and small group of characters, to then deliver a finely crafted horror film that is both terrifying and moving. The characters are a family that the audience are able to quickly care about, the high stakes are always present and the scenario where sound is deadly, is used to its full potential.

Avengers: Infinity War

Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr Stephen Strange, Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark, Benedict Wong as Wong and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner in Avengers: Infinity War

I was expecting to like Avengers: Infinity War as directors Anthony and Joe Russo delivered two of the best previous films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise, but I was not anticipating just how strong the storytelling and spectacle would be. The action sequences are exhilarating and inventive, the dramatic stakes are high and the huge cast of characters are expertly handled. This is my favourite film in the series to-date.

Gurrumul

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu in Gurrumul

The documentary Gurrumul provides a portrait of recently deceased Indigenous Australian musician Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. It embraces his spirit, humour and of course, extraordinary talent. It is a moving, revealing and reverential film that serves to chart his career and highlight his cultural significance to his own community and the rest of Australia.

Loveless

Maryana Spivak as Zhenya in Loveless

Loveless is explicitly about a missing child, but it is implicitly about a generation destroying itself and the one after it through bitterness, apathy, self-absorption and a complete lack of empathy. As with his previous films, Andrey Zvyagintsev creates a compelling yet ambiguous drama through his use of visual metaphor, elegant camera movements and beautiful composition.

I Am Not a Witch

Maggie Mulubwa as Shula in I Am Not a Witch

Inspired by real events in Zambia, I Am Not a Witch is a startling film about a young girl accused of being a witch. The film’s general strangeness, deadpan humour and dreamlike tone capture the bewildering events that follow as she goes to live in a witch camp. While on the surface the film overtly highlights the shocking harm of witchcraft accusations, it’s also more broadly about the creation and exploitation of an underclass.

Last Flag Flying

Bryan Cranston as Sal Nealon, Steve Carell as Larry ‘Doc’ Shepherd andLaurence Fishburne as Richard Mueller in Last Flag Flying

Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying, an unofficial sequel to Hal Ashby’s 1973 film The Last Detail, is similarly a buddy road movie that blends humour, pathos and subversive cynicism about the damage done to men who become soldiers. While not entirely without hope, the prevailing melancholy stems from how a group of veterans broken by one war confronts a new generation of men being broken by another.

Thomas Caldwell, 2018

 

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Film review – Away We Go (2009)

11 December 2009

Verona De Tessant (Maya Rudolph) and Burt Farlander (John Krasinski)

The degree to which you will be able to enjoy Away We Go will greatly depend on how much you can identify with, or at least sympathetically recognise, the type of people that the two lead characters are. Burt Farlander and Verona De Tessant are a de facto couple in their early-30s who are three months away from the birth of their first child. They are part of the demographic of thirtysomethings who are very much aware that they’ve arrived at a point in life where they are yet to have achieved anything of material worth and their future is far from certain. Living a lifestyle that is situated somewhere between bohemia and lower middle-class, the onset of parenthood is of some concern. When Burt’s parents decide to move to Belgium, which is ironically viewed by Burt and Verona as selfish, the pair realise that their support base has gone and they need to figure out what part of North America they should live in to best suit their impending arrival.

Away We Go is structurally similar (but tonally very different) to recent Jim Jarmusch films such as Broken Flowers and The Limits of Control since it is an episodic road movie made up of vignettes.  The various friends and family that Burt and Verona meet up with represent a broad range of social groups and attitudes towards family. Some of the encounters edge into grotesque caricature territory while others are more genuine and sincere. However, all modes work as the sincere moments are touching and the caricature moments are appropriately designed to target people who are frankly worthy of ridicule. In particular, Maggie Gyllenhaal is wonderfully despicable as Burt’s wealthy childhood friend LN who lives the sort of privileged self-righteous faux-hippy lifestyle that only the rich can afford to live.

John Krasinski (Leatherheads, the USA version of The Office) and Saturday Night Live regular Maya Rudolph are perfectly cast as Burt and Verona. They have the chemistry of long term lovers whose relationship is past the early days of wild romance and is now built upon respect, mutual admiration and a deep trust in the way they feel for each other. Written by an actual husband and wife team (Dave Eggers, who also co-wrote Where the Wild Things Are, and novelist Vendela Vida), Away We Go successfully explores the dynamics of a normal and stable relationship. Burt and Verona are portrayed as very much in love and their acknowledged and shared uncertainty plays a significant part in what keeps them together. Despite his reputation as a visually stylish director, Sam Mendes has taken a very low-key approach to Away We Go and by doing so has made his best film since American Beauty.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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