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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Film review – Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)

6 November 2009
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Michael Moore

Writing persuasively about a Michael Moore film seems almost pointless as most people already have pretty strong preconceived ideas about how they feel about him, his politics and his style of documentary making. If you unquestioningly love everything about him then you will love this new film. If you think he is the devil incarnate who has come to steal your precious bodily fluids then this film is not for you. However, if you are genuinely interested in what Moore has to say and you cannot help but be fascinated by the highly successful popularist way he presents his material, then Capitalism: A Love Story is a film worth seeing. It’s Moore’s best and most focused film since Bowling for Columbine and once again it sees him embracing the new journalism ideal of abandoning all pretences of objectivity in order to most effectively make his point. In Capitalism: A Love Story that point is that capitalism is the natural enemy of democracy.

Moore begins his film with a series of comical and fairly obvious sequences. An old piece of stock footage warns us about the disturbing nature of what we are about to see and then the open credits include CCTV footage of banks being robbed. We then see images of modern America being contrasted to images of ancient Rome while the voiceover explains that a civilisation kept distracted by dumb entertainment never noticed the corrupt leadership that brought about its downfall.  Then we get raw footage of a family being evicted from their home and the seriousness of Moore’s film steps in. The broad purpose of Capitalism: A Love Story is to examine how America got from the post-WWII heyday of 1950s materialism up to the current financial crisis. Along the way Moore exposes some specific examples of the capitalist system at its worse by exposing the appalling low pay for commercial airline pilots, a private adolescent jail that was paying judges to sentence children and the widely used “Dead Peasants” practice where corporations secretly take out life insurance policies on their employees, rendering them more profitable dead than alive. However, Moore’s main targets are Wall Street, which he argues is run like a casino, and the alarming influence that the corporate sector has in the White House.

FT1339_09While many of Moore’s stunts, like trying to go into the head offices of the major banks to reclaim bailout money and make citizen’s arrests, often feel a bit mild there is still much to admire about Capitalism: A Love Story. Moore very cleverly enlists the support of various religious leaders, one of whom describes capitalism as ‘radical evil’ that goes against everything Jesus stood for. Moore largely avoids using the dreaded S-word although he does wickedly point out that the current widespread misuse of the word ‘socialism’ has resulted in a new generation who are curious about finding out what socialism actually stands for. However, the most impressive aspect of Capitalism: A Love Story is that Moore demonstrates actual workable alternatives to the system in the form of various co-operative workplaces and successful acts of civil disobedience. There’s hope in this film but there is also a call to arms and Moore’s impatience with the status quo rings out loudly as he parts by telling us, “I refuse to live in a country like this. And I’m not leaving.”

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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Film review – Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden? (2008)

26 August 2008

Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock is a more humourous yet less hard-hitting equivalent to Michael Moore. Nevertheless Super Size Me, Spurlock’s attack on the fast food industry, was very entertaining and possibly reached a section of the audience that a more serious film would not have. In his new film Spurlock travels to Egypt, Morocco, Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and finally Pakistan to complete his self-assigned task of finding Osama Bin Laden.

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