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.

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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 – We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011)

15 November 2011
We Need to Talk About Kevin: Eva (Tilda Swinton)

Eva (Tilda Swinton)

There’s little actual blood in We Need to Talk about Kevin, but director Lynne Ramsay’s pervasive use of the colour red makes sure that the idea of blood constantly remains in the audience’s mind. One of the most dramatic images comes at the start of the film where Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) is submerged in a sea of red while taking part in the Spanish tomato festival, La Tomatina. The red suggests both the birth of her son Kevin (Ezra Miller) and Kevin’s violence as a teenager. Covered in tomatoes, Eva is stained by Kevin’s actions, just as her house has been aggressively sprayed with red paint. The opening tomato festival scene also establishes Eva’s love for travel, freedom and adventure, all of which were taken away from her when Kevin was born. This plants the suggestion that Eva is wrestling with the possibility that Kevin became who he is because of her resentment towards him.

We Need to Talk about Kevin is set after Kevin’s violent actions with Eva living alone in a state of depression and borderline dereliction. Woven through the basic narrative involving Eva starting a new job and cleaning her vandalised house are her fragmented recollections of all the events that lead up to the day Kevin committed his horrific crime. The film is therefore deeply subjective and is comprised of a series of impressionist memories rather than flashbacks. The audience sees Kevin and his relationship with Eva through Eva’s eyes, resulting in a portrait of Kevin as an almost demonic, and certainly sociopathic, being who rejected his mother from even when he was a baby. It is telling that during the only major scene featuring Kevin in the present and non-subjective part of the film, he appears notably differently to how he is presented in Eva’s memories.

We Need to Talk About Kevin: Eva (Tilda Swinton) and Franklin (John C. Reilly)

Eva (Tilda Swinton) and Franklin (John C Reilly)

And yet, Eva’s guilt still intrudes, as the film is also full of moments where she is subconsciously questioning herself as a failed parent. There are several incidents where the nature of what may or may not have happened are deliberately left unresolved, further highlighting how Eva then concludes that Kevin is the one to blame. Not that the film suggests Kevin has been falsely accused or somehow justified in his actions, but it does raise plenty of nature versus nurture issues, even though it is not about attempting to reconcile that dynamic. Instead, it is a portrait of a woman living in a state of shock, guilt, emptiness and loss who is trying to process what went so wrong.

Many of the stylistic techniques that Lynne Ramsay has used in previous films are once more utilised in We Need to Talk about Kevin, but they work far better than they ever have before. The unconventional editing weaves Eva’s memories in with the present day scenes and the ironic music is genuinely chilling as it provides the soundtrack to a mild mannered suburban community that will never be the same. Close-ups on particular visual details and amplified sounds create a pattern of reoccurring visual and sound motifs that are effectively atmospheric, but then become emotionally charged when their full significance is revealed. In this way the motifs also function as sensory memories for Eva, further demonstrating how much what the audience experiences is filtered through her interpretation of events. We Need to Talk About Kevin is based on a novel, but Ramsay has made dramatic changes in structure and style for it to function as a film in the most effective way. Fretting about what’s been changed or what’s been left out is redundant and ignores its accomplishments as a film in its own right.

We Need to Talk About Kevin: Eva (Tilda Swinton) and Kevin as a toddler (Rocky Duer)

Eva (Tilda Swinton) and Kevin as a toddler (Rocky Duer)

This is sensory and visceral cinema at its most compelling and expertly crafted. You are thrown into the mind of a woman suffering unimaginable despair, self-loathing, anger and bewilderment. At times the tension and dread is close to unbearable, especially when the film begins to hint that it will show something that you really don’t want to see (and because it’s a film of such integrity, the horror comes from the idea of seeing something rather than explicitly seeing it). We Need to Talk About Kevin rivals Alien and Eraserhead for its nightmarish depiction of childbirth and parenthood. It’s a film that will make you want to scream, cry, be sick or punch something. Yet, you won’t be able to tear your attention away from it.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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