Films I loved in December 2017

23 December 2017

Armie Hammer as Oliver in Call Me by Your Name

The mix of young love, lust, and summer in Northern Italy in Call Me by Your Name has allowed director Luca Guadagnino to deliver a film of immense beauty and emotional resonance. The film’s slow burn pace allows a wonderful build of tension and desire, to underpin the romance between 17-year-old Elio and his father’s student Oliver, both played to perfection respectively by Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer.

The Florida Project

Christopher Rivera as Scooty and Brooklynn Prince as Moonee in The Florida Project

The Florida Project continues filmmaker Sean Baker’s spotlight on marginalised and invisible people living in the USA. Set in a low-budget motel, within walking distance of the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, it follows the lives of mother and daughter Halley (Bria Vinaite) and Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) whose defiant struggle to get through every day is both gleefully audacious and heartbreaking.

Paddington 2

Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) in Paddington 2

Paddington 2 maintains the original film’s blend of good natured humour and warm hearted message of acceptance and diversity, without losing any of the charm or stylistic inventiveness that defined the original film. While 2017 has seen the release of many films that capture the current grim mood of the times, the release of this child-friendly crime-caper/prison film right at the end of the year is a much needed tonic.

In Between

Sana Jammelieh as Salma, Shaden Kanboura as Noor and Mouna Hawa as Leila in In Between

In Between begins as an enjoyably light drama about three Palestinian women living in Tel Aviv, and then transitions into a more serious film to explore issues of religion, gender and sexuality. The joy of the film is the solidarity the women share with each other despite their differences, while the tragedy of the film are the ways patriarchal oppression under the guise of religion and tradition continues to assault them.


Suzu (voiced by Rena Nounen) in In This Corner of the World

In This Corner of the World begins as a domestic drama about a young woman in 1930s Japan entering into an arranged marriage, and then gradually becomes a powerful drama about living during wartime. The animation is impressive, especially when it incorporates the main character’s own artwork, and the restraint used to depict the horrors of war and losing loved ones is quietly powerful.


Lene Cecilia Sparrok as Elle-Marja in Sami Blood

Not knowing anything about the Scandinavian indigenous Sami people, most of what occurs in Sami Blood was new to me. However, it was also depressingly familiar as through the experiences of a 14-year-old Sami girl in 1930s Sweden, the films reveals how yet another indigenous group was expected to assimilate while also being made to feel inferior. This is an excellent drama and a bold new development in Swedish cinema.


Tanea Heke as Charm in Waru

The New Zealand film Waru comprises eight short films that all take place simultaneously during the funeral of a young boy who has died as the result of neglect and abuse. All eight films are single takes, all are directed by Māori women and all feature a different Māori woman who is directly or indirectly affected by the death. This is powerful and urgent storytelling.

Jim & Andy

Jim Carrey in Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond

And finally, I caught up with Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond on Netflix, a documentary combining an interview with Jim Carrey along with previously unseen footage of the making of the 1999 Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon. The result is a compelling portrait of both Carrey and Kaufman, and also a fascinating study of the artistic process that is at times hilarious, unsettling, disturbing and surprisingly moving.

Thomas Caldwell, 2017


Films I loved in September 2015

4 October 2015
Bel Powley as Minnie Goetze and Kristen Wiig as Charlotte Worthington in The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Bel Powley as Minnie Goetze and Kristen Wiig as Charlotte Worthington in The Diary of a Teenage Girl

The Diary of a Teenage Girl is an extremely impressive portrayal of teenage sexuality, especially that of a teenage girl. Emerging actor Bel Powley gives a wonderful performance as 15-year-old Minnie Goetze whose sexual coming-of-age includes having an affair with her mother’s boyfriend. She is neither a victim nor a Lolita-style nymphet, she is simply a curious and sexual young person who has found a convenient way to explore her desires with an older man who probably should know better, but is more passively opportunistic rather than being an exploitive predator. This was a fun and funny film exploring all the complications and difficult terrain that such a scenario creates, without overt judgement or moral panic.

Olivia Colman as Julie in London Road

Olivia Colman as Julie in London Road

After Broken I was keen to see what theatre and director Rufus Norris would do next, and yet I was still surprised by how much I liked London Road. It’s an adaptation of a theatre show where interviews with the residents of the UK town of Ipswich, during the aftermath of the Ipswich serial murders in 2006, were set to music. This is a bold and compelling way of presenting the pain of a community in a way that resonates emotionally. It uses heightened artificiality to highlight that it is a reconstruction of actual interviews and events, and somehow this gives it a powerful authenticity.

Mya Taylor as Alexandra and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez as Sin-Dee in Tangerine

Mya Taylor as Alexandra and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez as Sin-Dee in Tangerine

Sean Baker is another filmmaker whom I’ve been keen to see what he does next so I was very much looking forward to Tangerine. While not as focused as his excellent 2012 film Starlet, it similarly depicts a side of Los Angeles that is typically marginalised and can attract instant judgement. In the case of Tangerine it is about the subculture of transgender women who are sex workers. Made in collaboration with the transgender women who also star in the film, the result is a loud, hyperactive and frequently very funny ride through a series of misadventures on Christmas eve. Completely unapologetic in attitude and shot on iPhones to create a new style of guerrilla filmmaking for the digital era, this reminded me of some of Gregg Araki’s more audacious films from the early 1990s.

Bob Hunter in How to Change the World

Bob Hunter in How to Change the World

If nothing else, How to Change the World is astonishing for the wealth of archival material it brings to light for the very first time, depicting the beginnings and early years of Greenpeace. It is mostly a conventional documentary that chronologically depicts the known facts behind Greenpeace’s origins and its visionary ideals and strategies, managing to also incorporate different sides of the various arguments over the many disputed areas. However, it also delivers an engaging discussion about the nature of leadership, the ethics of documenting versus intervening, and the struggle between pragmatism and idealism. And it also highlights how its reluctant leader Bob Hunter was a remarkable person whom we all owe a large debt to for his part in making us give a damn about the planet we live on.

I also caught up with a number of films on home entertainment that I felt worth mentioning, including Michael Winterbottom’s The Face of an Angel about a filmmaker trying to make an ethical film about a real-life murder. I completely understand how its refusal to conform to generic expectations has been infuriating for so many, but I was engrossed by how well the form of the film reflected the values it was endorsing.

I also enjoyed the South Korean drama/thriller Haemoo, very loosely based on a true story from 2001 about a group of Korean-Chinese illegal immigrants travelling by boat. While far from being a perfect film, I was impressed by the measured build, the severity of the situation when the film takes an extreme turn into something darker than expected, and the moral conflicts that play during the tense second half.

And finally, I was really pleased to see Heaven Knows What, by brothers Ben Safdie and Joshua Safdie. A low fi film about a young woman addicted to heroin and her unrequited love for her boyfriend. It’s free from sensationalism and romanticism, and yet still contains moments of beauty among all its rawness. Most revelatory is the lead performance by newcomer Arielle Holmes whose own experiences inspired the film. After watching the film I was extremely pleased to discover she has continued to act and will appear in Andrea Arnold’s upcoming new film.

Thomas Caldwell, 2015

Films I loved in April 2014

30 April 2014
Ralph Fiennes as M Gustave in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Ralph Fiennes as M Gustave in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel is a glorious tribute to an imagined era of European civility and innocence before the onslaught of fascism. Channelling the spirit of Ernst Lubitsch, this is one of Anderson’s best films and certainly the one I’ve enjoyed the most since The Royal Tenenbaums in 2001. For the most part a beautifully designed, cleverly structured and hilarious caper, the real triumph in this film is the final five or so minutes where Anderson delivers a heartfelt conclusion that acknowledges the fundamental tragedy of what fascism destroyed.

Tilda Swinton as Eve and Tom Hiddleston as Adam in Only Lovers Left Alive

Tilda Swinton as Eve and Tom Hiddleston as Adam in Only Lovers Left Alive

I have long been a fan of Jim Jarmusch – who like Wes Anderson is also a maverick with a unique and uncompromising approach to filmmaking – and Only Lovers Left Alive did not disappoint. This time Jarmusch applies his droll, minimalist and laid back style to the vampire genre to produce a film both visually and audibly rich in texture and atmosphere. The love and symbiotic relationship between the two creatures of the night reflects the delicate balance of the natural world that is slowly falling in decay due to human greed, selfishness and destructiveness.

Will Arnett voicing Batman and Charlie Day voicing Benny in The LEGO Movie

Will Arnett voicing Batman and Charlie Day voicing Benny in The LEGO Movie

On the other end of the spectrum comes the deliriously fun and subversive mainstream family comedy The LEGO Movie, which has a seemingly anarchic animation style that reminded me of A Town Called Panic (Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, 2009). It does seem incongruous that such an overtly branded and marketed film would contain such a strident message against consumerism, materialism and conformity, but it does and it does it well. It also smartly deconstructs several pop culture tropes including the rather regressive idea of the Chosen One. And it’s hilarious.

Masaharu Fukuyama as Ryota Nonomiya and Machiko Ono and Midori Nonomiya in Like Father, Like Son

Masaharu Fukuyama as Ryota Nonomiya and Machiko Ono as Midori Nonomiya in Like Father, Like Son

In Like Father, Like Son director Hirokazu Koreeda finds considerable charm, humour and pathos in the potentially scandalous story about two sets of parents discovering their 6-year-old sons were mixed up at birth. Instead of melodramatics, Koreeda’s graceful style of storytelling allows for gentle social observations concerning class divisions and parental expectations in modern Japan. My favourite films of Koreeda’s are After Life (1998) and Still Walking (2008), but this is still an excellent film by one of the most consistently impressive filmmakers working today.

It was great to see the low-fi French romantic comedy 2 Autumns, 3 Winters get a number of screenings around Melbourne, as I really enjoyed its quirky and hyper self-referential style. Most of the time I find the device of having characters talk directly to the camera a bit too twee, but it worked for me in this film and I enjoyed its 20-something hipster angst.

Another film that had a few local screenings, just ahead of its DVD release, is the extraordinary Cheap Thrills where two friends are encouraged to compete against each other, in increasingly disturbing ways, for money. The blend of horror and dark comedy in this post-GFC film, delivers a biting social critique of the way middle and lower classes are conned into fighting against each other, while the powerful and wealthy upper class sit back and enjoy the show. The levels of depravity, humiliation and ruthlessness are built up extremely convincingly and are wonderfully excruciating to watch.

The other DVD release of note this month is  Starlet, a very impressive low budget American drama about an unlikely friendship between a 21-year-old woman and an 85-year-old woman. The film is very strategic about when it provides keys pieces of information about the background of both women, but when it does the timing is perfect and the effect is profound. Starlet goes into surprising and unlikely places to deal with subject matter that a lesser film would have sensationalised, but writer/director Sean Baker has an impressive grasp on the material and, like 2 Autumns, 3 Winters writer/director Sébastien Betbeder and like Cheap Thrills director EL Katz, is a talent to keep an eye out for.

Thomas Caldwell, 2014