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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Films I loved in August 2015

1 September 2015
Ryan Corr as Timothy Conigrave and Craig Stott as John Caleo in Holding the Man

Ryan Corr as Timothy Conigrave and Craig Stott as John Caleo in Holding the Man

The film adaptation of the 1995 memoir Holding the Man broadly fulfils two objectives: it depicts two decades of historical importance to the Australia LGBTI community and it tells a beautiful love story. Covering the years from 1976 to 1995, the growth of queer identity politics and the beginning of the AIDS crisis are never far from the forefront. However, the heart of the film is exploring and celebrating the relationship between aspiring actor Timothy Conigrave and captain of the school football team John Caleo. Falling in love as school boys and then navigating the complexities of the adult world, the film is initially a warm, funny and tender love story about all the joys and awkwardness of first love. This warmth and tenderness is maintained, even later in the film when Tim and John’s lives become affected by AIDS. Free of melodrama and sentimentality, this is powerful and deeply moving cinema with the potential to become an Australian classic.

Shameik Moore as Malcolm Adekanbi in Dope

Shameik Moore as Malcolm Adekanbi in Dope

The thing that most impressed me about Dope was how deftly it oscillated between moments of fun teen-film hijinks and harsh wake-up call moments where the audience are reminded that Malcolm, the teenage protagonist, and his friends live in a neighbourhood rife with criminality and violence. Malcolm is a likeable and endearing self-described geek who loves ’90s hiphop, but there is also a growing rage inside him. Despite being ideal college material, the reality of his socioeconomic background constantly conspires against him. Although I found the treatment of gender a little disappointing, the focus on race and class is extremely potent and there is an incredible energy to this film that reminded me of Spike Lee’s best work, especially the youth focused Crooklyn. And most powerfully, instead of resolving with the obvious moral and naive lesson that some audiences may anticipate, the film concludes with a confronting statement about the reality of what young people with a background like Malcolm need to do to escape the environment they happen to be born into.

Rebecca Hall as Robyn Callen, Jason Bateman as Simon Callen and Joel Edgerton as Gordon

Rebecca Hall as Robyn Callen, Jason Bateman as Simon Callen and Joel Edgerton as Gordon “Gordo” Mosley

The Gift is a very impressive feature film directorial debut by Joel Edgerton, who also writes, acts and produces. It evokes many of the early films by Roman Polanski with its story about a seemingly normal and happy couple whose lives begin to unravel when a third person intrudes into their world. The film functions as a tightly wound thriller that becomes increasingly interesting as it starts to shift its sympathies between characters, but it also provides commentary on the way behaviour that is regarded as bullying in the schoolyard is often acceptable in many aspects of adult life.

William F Buckley Jr and Gore Vidal in Best of Enemies

William F Buckley Jr and Gore Vidal in Best of Enemies

I really enjoyed the documentary Best of Enemies, about the televised debates between Gore Vidal and William F Buckley Jr during the US Republican and Democrat conventions in 1968. Not only does the film deliver a fascinating insight in the changing political and media landscape in the late 1960s, but how this seemingly inspired move to bring intellectual debate to mainstream television was ironically the beginning of the dumbed down personality-driven political commentary that dominates today.


And just briefly, Woody Allen’s latest film Irrational Man once more explores his preoccupation with existentialism and the question of whether murder can ever be justified, in a way that isn’t as dark or satisfying as previous films such as Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point, but still a lot of fun. And I also caught up with Maggie, which went straight to home-entertainment in Australia in July. Being a zombie film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, it was met with enormous false expectations about the type of film it should be, but I was won over by this film for what it is – a melancholic story about a father grieving for his dying daughter.

Thomas Caldwell, 2015