Films I loved in January 2019

24 January 2019
Eighth Grade

Elsie Fisher as Kayla Day in Eighth Grade

Eighth Grade presents the inner world of 13-year-old Kayla as she attempts to navigate the confusing world of boys, friends, parents, social media and sex. A lot of this film is funny, some of it is uncomfortable, some scenes are incredibly touching and there are many moments that may induce an anxiety attack. It covers very familiar teen-film material, and yet the way it presents the awkward phase of being caught between childhood and adulthood is incredibly refreshing and something to celebrate.

minding the gap

Kiere Johnson in Minding the Gap

In Minding the Gap filmmaker Bing Liu turns the camera on himself and two childhood friends who were brought together through a mutual love of skateboarding, but are now confronting the challenges of adulthood. The resulting documentary is an intimate and sometimes alarming portrait of the way three young men are examining their identities, confronting past trauma, questioning their own behaviour and making decisions to gravitate towards or move away from destructive aspects of masculinity.

how to train your dragon the hidden world

Toothless and Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) in How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World delivers an exciting, spectacular and emotionally satisfying finale to the impressive DreamWorks Animation trilogy about the village of Vikings who have learned to co-exists with dragons. It concludes the coming-of-age narrative for both protagonist Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and the community he now leads where the path to adulthood is not just defined by the acceptance of responsibility, but also by the development of empathy.

the kid who would be king

Louis Ashbourne Serkis as Alex Elliot in The Kid Who Would Be King

King Arthur mythology meets contemporary England in The Kid Who Would Be King when 12-year-old Alex and his fellow teenage knights are sent on a quest to prevent the return of Morgana. The talent that writer/director Joe Cornish displayed in Attack the Block for delivering exciting action scenes with plenty of humour and strong characterisation is once more evident in this family film, which also delivers a timely message of the power of unity and recognising that the future belongs to the young.

Glass

James McAvoy as The Horde and Bruce Willis as David Dunn in Glass

Glass is possibly M Night Shyamalan’s trickiest sleight of hand yet. By bringing together characters and plot threads from his 2000 film Unbreakable and his 2016 film Split, some viewers might expect a spectacle driven The Avengers-style team-up epic. Instead, Glass is a densely plotted, highly self-aware and low budget film about characters who are made to doubt their sanity and superhuman abilities. Both parody and pastiche, it’s an anti-comic book film that’s equally fascinated and cynical about superhero stories.

free solo

Alex Honnold in Free Solo

Free Solo documents American rock climber Alex Honnold’s preparation and execution of his record breaking free solo (no safety gear or harnesses) climb of the 900metre El Capitan Wall in Yosemite National Park. Honnold is a curious subject as he’s not traditionally charismatic, and a strength of the film is how it attempts to understand his motivation and method, as well as examining the logistics and ethics of filming him. The finale – the climb itself – is exhilarating, overwhelming and completely cinematic.

Thomas Caldwell, 2019

Films I loved in January 2017

25 January 2017
Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy in Jackie.

Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy in Jackie

Jackie is set after the assassination of United States President John F Kennedy as the former First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, speaks to a reporter about her time in the White House and the aftermath of her husband’s death. Far from the trappings of conventional biopics, this is a dreamlike film about mythology, memory, living in the public eye, grief and dignity. Filmmaker Pablo Larraín’s camera and composition at times evokes Yasujirō Ozu; at other times Stanley Kubrick and Terrence Malick. Natalie Portman delivers the best performance of her career in this deeply moving and poetic film.

moonlight

Alex Hibbert as Little (Child Chiron) and Mahershala Ali as Juan in Moonlight

On paper, Moonlight covers a lot of familiar ground in its snapshot of a gay black man, who is played by three different actors (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes) during three defining periods of his life. However, Barry Jenkins’s film presents the subject matter in a way that makes it feel fresh and vibrant. From the music choices to the unexpected ways the cinematography is used to change perspectives to the use of stillness, this is exciting cinema. And while Moonlight is specifically about black identity and queer identity, it also captures broader themes about how the male psyche is constructed. But most of all, it’s a film about the prevalence of hope and love.

lion

Sunny Pawar as Young Saroo in Lion

Lion is based on the true story of Saroo Brierley, who as a 5-year-old boy was accidentally separated from his Indian family, sent to an orphanage and adopted by an Australian couple. After 25 years of growing up in Australia, Saroo set about trying to find his birth family back in India. This is a beautiful film that is confronting and heartbreaking. It touches on themes such as the vulnerability of children, the responsibility adults have to children, what family means and how we form our identity. Lion is a deeply humane film and watching it is an incredibly rewarding experience.

df-11869r

Hailee Steinfeld as Nadine Franklin and Woody Harrelson as Mr Bruner in The Edge of Seventeen

I’m a fan of any film that treats the experience of being a teenager with respect, so I was very impressed with  The Edge of Seventeen. Filmmaker Kelly Fremon Craig captures the loneliness and awkwardness of being an unpopular teenager with sincerity and humour, and without the angst or twee whimsey that often creeps into teen films. The entire cast is excellent, but Hailee Steinfeld especially stands-out in the lead role as Nadine, a young woman learning how to juggle responsibility and asserting her own individuality, while navigating friendship, family, love, sexuality, grief and happiness.

split

James McAvoy as Kevin in Split

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an M Night Shyamalan film and even longer since I’ve seen one I’ve enjoyed, so I was very pleasantly surprised by how much fun I had with Split. It’s a B grade exploitation film made to look far more respectable than it is and filled with disarming stylistic choices that are used to alternate point-of-view and create unease. The concept of the villain being a collection of Jekyll and Hyde type identities residing in the mind of a man with dissociative identity disorder is taken to such an extreme that it’s impossible to take seriously, not unlike the way Lucy in 2014 took its premise to such preposterous lengths. I had a ball with this well-crafted and ridiculous film.

Thomas Caldwell, 2017

Film review – Ghost Town (2008)

13 February 2009
Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) and Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear)

Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) and Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear)

What do Haley Joel Osment, Whoopi Goldberg, Robert Downey Jr. and now Ricky Gervais all have in common? They have all played characters who can see dead people. As in The Sixth Sense, Ghost and Heart and Souls, Ghost Town is again using the idea that if you die without resolving certain issues then you hang around Earth as a ghost until you can find somebody who is able to see you and help you out. This time that someone is a New York dentist named Bertram Pincus (Gervais), who acquires the ability to see dead people after he himself dies for seven minutes during a routine colonoscopy. The problem is that Bertram doesn’t like the living so is less than happy about the multitude of dead people now bugging him for favours. Bertram reluctantly makes a deal with ghost Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear), agreeing to stop his widowed wife Gwen (Téa Leoni) from remarrying and in return Frank will keep the other ghosts away from him. When Bertram finds himself falling for Gwen Ghost Town very quickly establishes itself as a likable but conventional romantic comedy.

Read the rest of this entry »


Film review – The Orphanage (2007)

17 June 2008

The Orphanage is a stylish Spanish horror/drama produced by Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro and directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, first time feature film director and something of a del Toro protégé.

Read the rest of this entry »


Film review – Unbreakable (2000)

15 December 2000

Comparisons to M. Night Shyamalan’s smash hit The Sixth Sense are going to be inevitable when reviewing Unbreakable, the latest film he has written, produced, and directed. While not as good as The Sixth Sense, it is still worth seeing even though there are elements that let it down. The major problems in Unbreakable seem to be the result of Shyamalan trying too hard to re-create the mood of The Sixth Sense.

Read the rest of this entry »