Films I loved in October 2019

1 November 2019
Aaron Phagura as Roops, Nell Williams as Eliza and Viveik Kalra as Javed in Blinded by the Light

Blinded by the Light is loosely based on the true story of a Pakistani British teenager whose life was changed forever when he discovered the music of Bruce Springsteen. Set in 1987 against the backdrop of Thatcherism, mass unemployment and the rise of the National Front, this upbeat coming-of-age film deals with culture clash, friendship, first love and the transformative power of music. It’s an unashamedly feel-good film with its combination of light drama, comedy and music montages, but it’s also heartfelt and sincere, exploring issues of race and class with compassion and integrity.

Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck/Joker in Joker

While Joker is an origin story for Batman’s iconic supervillain, its style and social commentary make it much more comparable to the God’s Lonely Men anti-hero films of New Hollywood cinema, especially Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. Offering a disturbingly vicarious – and admittedly exhilarating – insight into the mind of a psychopath, Joker reflects the contemporary American psyche and political landscape, where wealth inequality, mental health neglect and bullying transform a figure who may have once attracted sympathy, into a monster of self-pity, nihilism and violence.

Jillian Bell as Brittany Forgler in Brittany Runs a Marathon

Brittany Runs a Marathon is a superb crowd-pleasing film about a woman at a dead end in her life, who turns things around when she begins training for a marathon. Inspired by the experiences of a friend of the filmmaker, it avoid inspirational cliches and unhelpful stereotypes about health and fitness. Instead, it’s a very funny and moving film that explores self esteem and friendship with empathy and intelligence. By tackling links between mental health and lifestyle with humour and sincerity, it’s an extremely rewarding and relatable underdog story.

José Acosta as Rapayet and Carmiña Martínez as Úrsula in Birds of Passage

A mesmerising variation of the organised crime epic, Birds of Passage portrays the Columbian drug trade from the 1960s to the 1980s from the perspective of the country’s indigenous Wayuu tribe. Containing many familiar gangster film tropes, the presentation of rituals and spirituality sets it apart, and contributes to its visual majesty. And while Hollywood gangster films often critique capitalism, this Latin American perspective uses the genre to examine how traditions and social structures are perverted and diluted by the pursuit of wealth and power.

Constance Wu as Destiny and Jennifer Lopez as Ramona in Hustlers

The based-on-a-true events crime drama Hustlers follows the rise and fall of a group of women who in the wake of the GFC conned thousands of dollars out of various Wall Street men. While the planning and execution of their cons is a fun and thrilling part of the film, the real enjoyment comes from the joyful camaraderie between the women who met while working as strippers and were then able to so successfully use their skills in manipulating men to flip the power dynamic between themselves and their targets.

Liron Ben-Shlush as Orna in Working Woman

Working Woman is an excellent drama about a woman having to contend with her boss’s unwanted attention. The film very effectively captures the difficultly she has in walking away from her harassment by portraying the ways in which the abuse is initially difficult to define, and the domestic pressures she has to remain in the workforce. It is a layered and complex film that looks at the ways in which so many social attitudes and workplace cultures facilitate the perpetration of sexual harassment against women by men, both overtly and through silent complicity.

Maiden

Maiden documents the experiences of the first all-female crewed boat that competed in the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1989. Skipper Tracy Edwards and her crew not only faced the incredible hardship of enduring the physical and psychological demands of the race, but also the disproportionate scrutiny and chauvinistic derision of the media who did not take them seriously. Combining skilfully assembled archival footage with contemporary interviews from Edwards and her crew members, the documentary is an inspirational and thrilling story of triumph against the odds.

Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland in Judy

Primarily focusing on Judy Garland’s tumultuous 1968 concert tour of London, to reflect on her life and legacy, is part of what makes Judy a more engaging biopic than most. The film sensitively covers the many facets of Garland’s life, including the self destructive behaviour and substance abuse that stemmed from her appalling treatment as a teen idol in Hollywood. Most rewardingly, the film pays tribute to her importance to her fanbase and the great power she possessed as a performer, with some truly stunning – and in one case completely heartbreaking – music numbers.

Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator: Dark Fate

Terminator: Dark Fate does what so many contemporary sequels based on beloved older franchises do: it mimics an earlier instalment (in this case 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day) where the new characters are proxies of the original characters, and some of those original ones show up anyway. And in this case, it works, delivering what is easily the most entertaining and satisfying Terminator film since the original two classics. It’s a terrific example of successful formulaic filmmaking where the new elements build upon a pre-existing groundwork, to deliver thematic and visual inventiveness.

Thomas Caldwell, 2019


Film review – The Hangover (2009)

12 June 2009

Phil Wenneck (Bradley Cooper), Alan Garner (Zach Galifianakis) and Stu Price (Ed Helms)

Phil Wenneck (Bradley Cooper), Alan Garner (Zach Galifianakis) and Stu Price (Ed Helms)

The set-up of The Hangover is simple enough. A guy is getting married so he takes his two best friends and his soon-to-be brother-in-law to Las Vegas for one last night of partying. The four guys are variations of the types of characters we’ve seen in these types of “guys being guys” films before, from American Graffitti to Animal House to American Pie. There is Phil (Bradley Cooper, He’s Just Not That Into You) the wise-cracking likeable bad boy, Stu (Ed Helms, the US version of The Office) the repressed nerdy one, Alan (Zach Galifianakis, What Happens in Vegas) the offbeat weird one, and there is the groom Doug (Justin Bartha, the National Treasure films), the straight and kind of boring one who fortunately does not feature too much overall. The guys start their night of celebrations with a rooftop toast and the next thing they know 12 hours have passed and they’ve lost their memories. Their apartment is trashed, there is a tiger in the bathroom, there is a baby in their room, one of them has lost a tooth, one has a hospital wristband, they have acquired a police car and worse yet, the groom has vanished. Then things start to become really weird.

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