Films I loved in May 2016

29 May 2016
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Ryan Gosling as Holland March and Russell Crowe as Jackson Healy in The Nice Guys

I had been looking forward to The Nice Guys, as the promise of a funny and violent buddy-cop (or buddy-PI) film set in the 1970s, written and directed by Shane Black, was just too enticing. And fortunately Black, the writer of Lethal Weapon and the writer/director of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, not did not disappoint. Nor did Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as the odd-couple private investigators who have to work together on a missing-person case that, of course, gets them in way over their heads. The dialogue is sharp and funny, the action is exciting, and while the tone is overall playful, it is underscored by genuine menace to ensure the stakes remain high. After the sheer joy of Inherent Vice I didn’t think another film would come along so soon that so successfully blends together classical Hollywood hardboiled noir with such a distinctively ’70s setting, but The Nice Guys pulls it off with not one but two pulp detective protagonists and a gleefully convoluted plot where good detective work and fucking things up often yield the desired outcome in equal measure. Black even includes a sly dig at moral outrage hypocrisy through the device of having corporate greed undermined by a porn film. The Nice Guys is so much fun.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Julian Dennison as Ricky Baker and Sam Neill as Hector Faulkner in Hunt for the Wilderpeople

When I first heard about Hunt for the Wilderpeople, the new film by New Zealand writer/director Taika Waititi, I anticipated something that contained the droll humour and sincerity of his glorious film Boy along with his increasing proficiency with visual effects and spectacle as displayed in the very funny What We Do in the Shadows. These were unreasonably high expectations, but fortunately Hunt of the Wilderpeople met them and then exceeded them. The film is an adaptation of the 1986 novel Wild Pork And Watercress, by New Zealand author and personality Barry Crump, and the film adopts Crump’s core story about the growing bond between a troubled adolescent and a cantankerous older man who are on the run together in the New Zealand wilderness. The magic touch that Waititi delivers is maintaining the heart of Crump’s novel while adding several new characters and dialogue to facilitate his own sometimes dark but always well-meaning deadpan humour. This is another extremely fun film that is also very sweet. I’ve already seen it twice.

Chasing Asylum

Chasing Asylum

On a very different note Chasing Asylum is likely to be the most difficult, but also the most important, film I’ve seen this year, not only because of its upsetting portrayal of human rights abuses, but because they are abuses being committed by the Australian government. Filmmaker Eva Orner’s many impressive previous credits include producing Alex Gibney’s Academy Award winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side. In Chasing Asylum Orner presents a sobering examination of what is happening to asylum seekers who while attempting to come to Australia have been left in indefinite detention in offshore camps. Using extensive footage secretly taken inside the camps as well as testimonials from ex-camp workers and detainees, a picture emerges of a policy that is resulting in the physical, psychological and sexual abuses of men, women and cruelest of all, children. A lot of the information presented in the film was stuff I knew about, but only in fragmented form. Seeing everything presented in one package with the full context and background information is heartbreaking. I hope as many people as possible see it to arm themselves with information about this country’s appalling ethical compromise (that also happens to be absurdly expensive) that is going to have terrible repercussions for generations to come.

Thomas Caldwell, 2016
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Films I loved in September 2014

1 October 2014
Tony Leung as Ip Man in The Grandmaster

Tony Leung as Ip Man in The Grandmaster

September was a great month in terms of the number of films that got me excited, but none more so than The Grandmaster, the most recent film by Wong Kar-wai, which has finally made its way to Australia. I’ve long adored Wong’s films and I’ve long been a fan of martial arts films, so I was already primed to embrace his take of the story of Wing Chun expert Ip Man. Set in 1930s China and 1950s Hong Kong, The Grandmaster is an exquisitely sensory film filled with beautiful people in beautiful clothes against beautiful settings, engaging in elaborate and breathtaking fight choreography that resembles dance. I was swept away by the exhilarating and sumptuous look and sound of this film, and moved by its romantic melancholy.

Xavier Dolan as Tom in Tom at the Farm

Xavier Dolan as Tom in Tom at the Farm

Although I’ve had mixed feelings about Xavier Dolan’s previous films, Tom at the Farm has converted me into a card-carrying admirer of the young French-Canadian filmmaker. Dolan not only directs (and writes, produces and edits) but also plays the lead character, a young man named Tom who travels to the country to attend the funeral of his dead boyfriend. Tom becomes drawn into an intriguing power play with his boyfriend’s crude and violent brother Francis, where both men are attracted and repulsed by each other. The end result is a compelling psychological thriller that evokes many of Roman Polanski‘s early films.

Ellar Coltrane asMason and Ethan Hawke as his father in Boyhood

Ellar Coltrane as Mason and Ethan Hawke as his father in Boyhood

Not only is Boyhood a remarkable conceptual and technical achievement – having been shot over twelve years so that the cast could age in real time – but it is also a beautiful portrait of childhood and growing up. Writer/director Richard Linklater has long had a fascination with how the lives of everyday people are a tangle of the extraordinary and the mundane, and here more so than ever he creates a convincing portrait of ordinary lives as they traverse through the years, being subjected to both gentle change and dramatic upheavals. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke in particular are outstanding as the divorced parents of Mason, the boy we see age from 6 to 18-years-old.

Josh McConville as Dean and Hannah Marshall as Lana in The Infinite Man

Josh McConville as Dean and Hannah Marshall as Lana in The Infinite Man

This has been a fantastic year for bold feature film debuts by Australian filmmakers with Hugh Sullivan’s The Infinite Man being one of the films I had the most fun with. The complex time travel narrative is gleefully tricky and very effectively used to facilitate the theme of destructive obsession, where the control freak protagonist desperately tries to repair a ruined relationship. The two leads – Josh McConville and Hannah Marshall – are wonderful, and Alex Dimitriades as the rival love interest delivers one of the funniest performances I’ve seen in Australian cinema in years.

Taika Waititias Viago in What We Do in the Shadows

Taika Waititi as Viago in What We Do in the Shadows

And speaking of comedic performances, not a single person involved in the the droll New Zealand vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows puts a foot out of place. Directors/writers/actors Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi have created a superb comedy that very effectively works within the conventions of its faux-documentary format and vampire mythology. This is an endlessly inventive and funny film with a glorious low-fi aesthetic that no doubt must have involved meticulous craftsmanship to achieve.


Otherwise, two extremely strong coming-of-age films about teenage girls were released in Australia recently. The Georgian film In Bloom presents a very sad portrait of a culture where patriarchal values are so heavily entrenched that customs that horribly infringe on the rights of women are treated as everyday occurrences. Meanwhile the teenage girls in the Swedish film We Are the Best! also have to confront the condescensions and restrictions of regressive attitudes to gender. Their weapon of choice is punk music resulting in a film bursting with fun and rebellious energy, by filmmaker Lukas Moodysson whose 1998 feature debut Show Me Love is one of the greatest films ever made about teenagers.

While I am highly sceptical that Alejandro Jodorowsky’s vision for the film version of Dune would have worked as well as he and his fans imagined it would, I really enjoyed Frank Pavich’s documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, which examines the history of the so-called greatest science-fiction film never made. Finally, I loved Craig Johnson’s The Skeleton Twins with Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader (and Luke Wilson for that matter) delivering great performances in this familiar but extremely endearing spin on the dysfunctional family narrative.

Thomas Caldwell, 2014

Film review – Boy (2010)

13 September 2010
Boy: Rocky (Te Aho Eketone-Whitu) and Boy (James Rolleston)

Rocky (Te Aho Eketone-Whitu) and Boy (James Rolleston)

Could a New Zealand film set in 1984 about a boy who idolises Michael Jackson and his dodgy absent-until-now father turn out to be the most sincere and endearing film of 2010? It’s possible as the blend of Magical Realism, physical comedy, snappy one-liners and socially observant drama in Boy makes it a gorgeous film with a tremendous amount of heart.

The film revolves around the sweet natured 11-year-old boy (nicknamed Boy and played by James Rolleston), his over-imaginative younger brother Rocky (Te Aho Eketone-Whitu) and their father Alamein (played by writer/director Taika Waititi), a petty criminal who is looking for a stash of buried money. Alamein is clearly no good but one of the film’s strengths is ensuring that he remains likeable and sympathetic despite his massive character flaws.

Waititi’s previous film Eagle vs Shark was a little bit too awkward and quirky for it to work overall but with Boy he demonstrates his considerable talents. Boy is consistently funny and energetic so that the sadder, darker and more serious aspects of the story, which are treated with integrity, never ruin the upbeat mood. All the performances are wonderful and frankly films are rarely this genuine and consistently entertaining.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 362, 2010

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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