Films I loved in May 2018

31 May 2018
Cargo

Martin Freeman as Andy and Simone Landers as Thoomi in Cargo

Cargo is a refreshing, unexpected and innovative zombie-apocalypse film that successful adheres to the expectations that make this genre so popular, by combining genuine horror thrills with heartfelt human drama and a potent political subtext. Most excitingly is how distinctively Australian it is, and the fact that Indigenous Australian culture is incorporated as such a crucial part of the film’s fabric is something of a triumph.

I Kill Giants

Madison Wolfe as Barbara Thorson in I Kill Giants

I’ve been looking forward to I Kill Giants for a while now, having loved the graphic novel source material, and I’m extremely impressed with how well this young adult story of fantasy and grief has been adapted for film. While comparisons to A Monster Calls (which I also loved) are inevitable and reasonable, this still very much holds its own as an imaginative and moving depiction of teenage trauma and resilience.

My Friend Dahmer

Ross Lynch as Jeffrey Dahmer in My Friend Dahmer

Another graphic novel adaptation, My Friend Dahmer is about American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s teenage years, as recalled by his school friend and cartoonist John ‘Derf’ Backderf. Tantalisingly ambiguous about what influenced Dahmer and what pathologies were already there, the film generates dread, contempt but also empathy for its banal protagonist who would go on to commit unspeakable acts of real-life horror.

still_482639

Arnaud Valois as Nathan in BPM (Beats Per Minute)

BPM (Beats Per Minute) is a compelling dramatisation of some of the activism carried out by the Paris chapter of HIV/AIDS advocacy group ACT UP in the early 1990s. Initially focusing on the complex group dynamics of the organisation and their public protests, it moves into a powerful character drama focusing on two of the group’s members. The result is an energetic and moving film about the personal and the political.

Deadpool 2

Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool in Deadpool 2

While I mostly enjoyed the original Deadpool from 2016, I really enjoyed Deadpool 2 with its entertaining blend of ultra-violent spectacle driven action and highly self-referential pop culture satire. Oscillating between a sort-of sincere superhero narrative and anarchic breaking-the-fourth wall parody, it feels less self-consciously trying to shock and more at ease with simply delivering big laughs and gloriously crafted carnage.

Solo

Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca and Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo in Solo: A Star Wars Story

I’m quickly discovering I’m preferring the stand-alone Star Wars films over the new chapters; hence, I really liked Solo: A Star Wars Story. It’s a heist film with a science-fiction facade combined with a dash of allusions to World War I films and nods to Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. As much as I admire how some of the other films have expanded the scope of the franchise, I really enjoyed this return to basics.

Thomas Caldwell, 2018

 

Advertisements

Film review – American Graffiti (1973)

22 April 2011

American GraffitiAt first glance American Graffiti appears to be a nostalgia trip back to the early 1960s, the teenage years of its now legendary filmmakers – producer Francis Ford Coppola who at the time had just directed The Godfather and writer/director George Lucas who would go on to create the Star Wars franchise. Made in 1973 and set over one summer night in a small town in California in 1962, American Graffiti depicts the adventures and misadventures of a group of teenagers on the brink of adulthood. Upon closer reflection American Graffiti casts a bitter/sweet shadow over a time of perceived innocence, suggesting that the ideal of a simpler way of life was just a front for a far bleaker and cynical reality. It’s one of the all-time great feel good films, but its sly cultural commentary is what makes it the masterpiece that it is.

In many ways American Graffiti set the template for the coming-of-age teen film. The characters are all distinctive types and the film is set over just one night, where the revelations that the characters experience have a profound impact on how they view themselves and their place in the world. The four main characters are the nice guy Steve Bolander (Ron Howard), the tough drag-racing guy John Milner (Paul Le Mat), the awkward nerdy guy Terry ‘The Toad’ Fields (Charles Martin Smith) and the slightly whimsical Curt Henderson (Richard Dreyfuss).

American Graffiti: Curt Henderson (Richard Dreyfuss)

Curt Henderson (Richard Dreyfuss)

Over the course of the night all four characters are either revealed to the audience in a new light or see the world around them in a new light. Steve’s treatment of his high school sweetheart Laurie Henderson (Cindy Williams) suggests that under the small-town politeness and boyish good looks he is not such a nice guy, while John is shown to be a bit of a softy. More importantly John realises that by becoming the king of the road he faces a future of either being eventually usurped by a young challenger or forever being a big fish in a small pond. While Terry learns the more conventional lesson that being himself is enough to impress a girl, it is Curt’s story that is most interesting.

Curt has the most reason and opportunity to break free from the path set out for him. Unlike Steve, who was presumably always destined for college, Curt seemingly would have been destined to remain in his childhood town with John and Terry if he hadn’t earned a college scholarship and therefore his ticket out. On the eve of his departure he is nervous and anxious about leaving, making his night a journey of self-discovery to assess what he should do. While hankering for the past and developing an impossible and intangible obsession with a mysterious blonde woman in a Ford Thunderbird, Curt finds fewer and fewer reasons to stay. Like Truman in The Truman Show, Curt sees behind the scenes for the first time and it changes his entire worldview. His teenage years are over now that he can see that the world is much less glamorous, noble and exciting than it once seemed.

American Graffiti: John Milner (Paul Le Mat)

John Milner (Paul Le Mat)

The car has long been a symbol in American cinema for freedom and status, and in American Graffiti cars play a very important role in the lives of the characters. Cars are status symbols to admire, they are used to assert dominance when revved at traffic lights and they can take the characters out of town to secluded spots for make-out sessions. As the cynicism begins to creep into the film images of car crashes increasingly become a fixture in the film in dialogue, setting and storyline to once again indicate a dying mythology for both youth and America in general. As the lyrics ‘We’ve been having fun all summer long’ by The Beach Boys fades over the film’s final credits, it is difficult to shake off the sad feeling that now that summer is over the fun is over too. It won’t ever be the same again and now the characters have little to look forward to other than mediocrity or worse.

American Graffiti functions as a final farewell to childhood dreams before reality steps in. The main sting in the tail is that the film also signifies the end of the post-WWII American Dream. It is especially telling when Curt is teased about his ambition to one day shake hands with President John F Kennedy. Audiences now and in 1973 will recognise that Curt will never fulfil that ambition as a year later Kennedy would be assassinated.

American GraffitiFor the most part American Graffiti is a joyous and frequently very funny vicarious night in the life of a likeable group of characters. The film’s multiple intersecting narratives and exhilarating constant use of diegetic music (heard by the characters in the film as well as the audience) create a wonderful sense of time and place. American Graffiti has lost none of its charm or energy, making it one of the many great masterpieces of the New Hollywood era.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

Bookmark and Share


Film review – Doubt (2008)

13 January 2009

Doubt is an adaptation of the award winning play Doubt: A Parable. Set in a Bronx Catholic school in the mid 1960s, Doubt explores the conflict between Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the conservative and authoritarian principal of the school, and Father Brendan Flynn, a new progressive priest who Sister Aloysius accuses of having sexual relationships with the school’s first black student. Doubt is an exploration of faith, casting judgement, suspicion, and of course, doubt. The audience is never too sure if Flynn is actually guilty or what is motivating Sister Aloysius to go after him. Unfortunately what makes powerful drama on stage does not automatically translate to cinema.

Read the rest of this entry »