The Rover Review – Mad Muthaf*cker


Director: David Michod 

Writer: David Michod

Stars: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy, David Field

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Release date: August 15th, 2014

Distributors: A24, Roadshow Films

Country: Australia

Running time: 102 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Pearce and Pattinson.

Worst part: The leaden pace.

For the past decade, Australian cinema has hidden in the darkest depths of Hollywood’s monstrous shadow. Despite several attempts to increase the Australian Film Industry’s popularity, our cinema continually fails to make valiant strides toward critical and commercial success. However, some home-grown dramas, avoiding labels like “boring” or “depressing”, garner significant acclaim the world over. In fact, 2014’s ambitious, dirt-covered crime-thriller The Rover might just fuel our industry for another few years.

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Guy Pearce as Australia’s last badass.

The Rover, despite the minor flaws, makes several effecting and applause-worthy leaps toward critical and commercial success. Hitting harder than most of 2014’s celluloid offerings, this crime-western places itself on the right pedestal. With much more guile and heart than the average ‘Summer’ tentpole, it’s a shame this is being passed up in favour of conventional Superhero extravaganzas and nostalgia-driven actioners. Elevating  the overt sparseness and attention to detail, its worth resides in its desire to be different. Without looking down upon its competition, the movie depicts one of 2014’s most confronting and alluring narratives. This crime-western follows vicious loner Eric (Guy Pearce), as he pushes himself through Australia’s outback wastelands. Close to giving up on his aimless existence, he and his car hurtle down dirt roads in search of salvation. However, his plans change during a routine petrol stop. After a robbery gone wrong, Henry (Scoot McNairy), Archie (David Field), and Caleb (Tawanda Manyimo) dump their damaged getaway vehicle and steal Eric’s. On a mission to track down his car, Eric comes across Henry’s injured brother Rey (Robert Pattinson). Holding Rey as collateral, Eric hunts down the robbers across dangerous heartlands. Along the way, run-ins with military personnel and anarchic citizens pull our two lead scumbags together.

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Robert Pattinson in career-reviving form.

Back in 2010, crime-drama Animal Kingdom boosted the AFI’s box-office stature and its immaculate cast members’ careers. Its writer/director, David Michod, hit the ground running with a grand vision and noble intentions. Here, Michod ventures into a vastly different genre. Mining the same ground as George Miller and John Hillcoat, Michod’s latest effort comes off as a wondrous ode to classic crime-westerns from the past 50 years. As a spiritual continuation of the Mad Max series, The Rover crafts similar tire tracks and bullet wounds. However, with a stripped-back aura in tow, Michod’s writing and direction separates it from true-blue exploitation. Of course, based around an unholy economic collapse, Michod’s story hurriedly veers into darkness. Becoming the next Andrew Dominik, Michod’s rough-and-tumble storytelling highlights valuable moments within dour surroundings. In fact, The Rover‘s twists and turns are bolstered by unique flourishes and profound dialogue. Igniting intensifying shootouts and car chases throughout, this crime-western takes opportunities at pitch-perfect intervals. Uninterested in genre clichés, Michod’s screenplay – aided by Joel Edgerton’s Story credentials – is more modest and meaningful than most of its type. If a threat arises, the screenplay lingers on it like a sniper eyeing down a stationary target. Thanks to a near-wordless first five minutes, the lead character’s actions are worth jotting down for later reference.

“You should never stop thinking about a life you’ve taken. It’s the price you pay for taking it…” (Eric (Guy Pearce), The Rover).

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Two men, one economic meltdown.

Despite Michod’s mesmerising stranglehold, all crime-westerns of this magnitude suffer similar flaws. Bordering on pretentiousness, the second and last thirds’ wordless sections threaten to drain depth out of the intricate narrative. In addition, with cynical dialogue spattered across vital sequences, the movie’s blisteringly misanthropic outlook almost stalls this otherwise poignant and visceral crime-western. In some instances, Pearce’s lines come off like brutal concoctions of Cormac McCarthy writings and Jim Beam. However, Michod’s direction is worth the admission cost. From the opening sequence onward, his style bolsters this discomforting drama-thriller. Holding his camera steady throughout, his earthy tones throw his follow-up feature into a whole other realm of ingenuity. In certain sections, it’s clear Australia’s latest cinema icon is infatuated by our big, brown land. Switching from bright, desert-laden vistas to blackened mining strips, his ticks heighten the movie’s sensory impact. The score also bolsters Michod’s near-flawless execution. Juxtaposing between the past and present, the indigenous-industrial notes add depth to the meandering plot. However,  the lead performers turn Michod’s vision into reality. Pearce, on a career turnaround with a string of Hollywood hits, reels in every emotion and mannerism for this heartbreaking performance. In addition, utilising specific physical and psychological traits, Pattinson’s scintillating turn establishes an immense hunger for worthwhile roles.

In the vein of The Proposition and The Road, The Rover is a crime-western with the right amount of sass, class, and vigour. Continually breaking new ground, Michod’s latest pushes wider audiences toward Australian genre cinema. Here, his atmospheric direction cements a ground floor for like-minded filmmakers to use. Elevated by powerhouse performances, volatile outback vistas, and prescient storytelling, this crime-western, despite rubbing against the pop-cultural grain, is worth the time, energy, and money.

Verdict: A worthy effort from Michod, Pearce, and Pattinson.

The Expendables 3 Review – Rough ‘n’ Tumble


Director: Patrick Hughes

Writers: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Sylvester Stallone

Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes, Mel Gibson

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Release date: August 14th, 2014

Distributor: Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 126 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Snipes and Banderas.

Worst part: The dodgy CGI.

Anyone remember the hospital scene from The Dark Knight? In particular, the part where The Joker mashes on a detonator to set off a firestorm of explosions? Now, do me a favour: picture that scene, then apply it to the Expendables franchise. Over the course of three movies, the directors, actors, and ‘writers’ involved have done little more than mash on detonators and watch studio-approved pyrotechnics light up the sky. Here, our pathos-driven Expendables come out all guns blazing for one last hurrah. The Expendables 3 is, at the very least, an efficient and amusing way to waste two hours.

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Sylvester Stallone at his baddest!

Nowadays, action flicks – leaning on extreme expectations from young, middle-aged, and old cinema-goers alike – are continually shot down by harsh critical backlash. Despite making piles of money higher than Scarface’s cocaine mountain, this series is seen as being the nadir of blockbuster filmmaking. More so, its cast members are laughed at for drifting through an extreme aura of denial. However, thanks to cinema heavyweight Sylvester Stallone’s influence, there’s something just so intriguing about these movies! This time around, Stallone and co. delivered a gargantuan marketing campaign. Willing to roll tanks through the Cannes Film Festival, this cast and crew lap up the attention they so desperately crave. Obviously, The Expendables 3 is not looking to be a straight-laced meta-narrative about the perils of getting older. Here, Stallone’s army is simply having a grand ol’ time in the spotlight. The plot, such as it is, revolves around the aforementioned team losing members left and right. Breaking original Expendable Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) out of a fortified prison locomotive, Barney Ross (Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), and Toll Road (Randy Couture) meet up with Hail Caesar (Terry Crews) to track down more bad guys and send them to hell! Unsurprisingly, their Somalia mission goes horribly wrong when arms dealer/former Expendable Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) severely harms one of our muscle-and-wrinkle-bound heroes.

Jason Statham and Wesley Snipes' friendship on a...knife's edge.

Jason Statham and Wesley Snipes’ friendship on a…knife’s edge.

Obviously, this series has suffered its fair share of hits and misses. The 2010 original, thanks to cheap CGI and a diminutive scope, tripped over its own intriguing premise. However, 2012’s sequel delivered several testosterone-driven set pieces and ‘f*ck yeah!’ moments. Thankfully, The Expendables 3 defies the odds whilst  sticking to its guns…and knives…and colostomy bags. Running its premise ragged, this instalment could, and should, follow its poster’s advice and establish itself as that “one last ride”. Upping the stakes and scale immediately, this sequel displays more signs of life than our ageing screen icons. It delivers everything you’d expect: train/helicopter chases, car chases, knife fights, shootouts, explosions, funny lines, emotionally gripping twists, and more deaths than The Wild Bunch… and that’s all within the first 20 minutes! The opening set pieces, developing a consistent tone, launch this sequel into overdrive. Sadly, Stallone takes everything a little too much to heart. Firing his near-retiree buddies, Stallone’s roided-out stature goes looking for fresh meat. Sadly, despite mercenary turned recruiter Bonaparte(Kelsey Grammer)’s sage advice, the middle third stalls an otherwise promising actioner. Stripping away its nostalgic glow, the youngsters – rounded out by hacker Thorn (Glen Powell), Vegas bouncer Luna (Ronda Rousey), ex-Marine John Smilee (Kellan Lutz), and weapons specialist Mars (Victor Ortiz) – lack their elders’ overt charisma. Adding zero gravitas to the conventional narrative, the middle third is salvaged only by zany badasses Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Galgo (Antonio Banderas). In addition, the original members transition from vicious warriors into jealous buffoons.

“Jing-a-lang, jang-a-lang…” (Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes), The Expendables 3).

Antonio Banderas as kooky mercenary Galgo.

Beyond the vicious piracy scandals, The Expendables 3 is still one of Lionsgate’s biggest box-office weapons. However, Despite director Patrick Hughes(Red Hill)’s commendable intentions, the screenwriters and post-production workers spray a hellfire of bullets into this fresh corpse. Delivering dodgy CGI, cheap stock footage, distracting film grains, and off-kilter voice dubbing, this heavy-duty juggernaut hasn’t been taken care of. Delivering a near-inexcusable final product, Stallone and co. should know better by now. However, thanks to Hughes’ searing direction and the cast’s enthusiasm, The Expendables 3 is a franchise standout! The action, though choppy to accommodate the PG13+ rating, fires on all cylinders. Utilising its performers’ abilities, the fight choreography lands several effecting blows. With Hughes hitting his stride, these sequences deliver enough explosions, knife attacks, and gunshots to take down a small army. In fact, that’s exactly what our plucky heroes do in the hell-bells final third. Throwing in tanks, helicopters, Harrison Ford, and Jet Li, this extended action sequence delivers well-charged thrills and energetic back-and-fourths between fan favourites. Despite the stupidity, motorcycle stunts and falling buildings add to the immense spectacle. In addition, as expected, our leads’ rapport is worth the ever-increasing admission cost. As the franchise’s saviour, Stallone carries the lead role with style and gusto. Getting along with Statham and co., his immense presence elevates hokey material. In addition, Snipes and Banderas are wholly aware of the movie they’re in. Blissfully, their charm offensives sit well with the series’ baffling  stupidity.

With Stallone and the gang keeping everything afloat, at this point, this series has, unquestionably, said everything it could ever hope to say! With a fourth instalment and The Expendabelles on the cards, I can only hope they recruit some better screenwriters and post-production staffers to salvage the mission. Obviously, hiring Shane Black or John Woo would deliver that truly brilliant Expendables flick we’ve been waiting for. However, compared to 2014’s other nostalgia-driven actioners, you could do a helluva lot worse than this low-three-and-a-half-star explosive thrill-ride.

Verdict: A charming yet transparent explosion fest.

God’s Pocket Review – Truer Grit


Director: John Slattery 

Writers: John Slattery, Alex Metcalf (screenplay), Pete Dexter (novel)

Stars: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, Christina Hendricks, John Turturro

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Release date: August 8th, 2014

Distributor: IFC Films

Country: USA

Running time: 88 minutes


 

 

3/5

Best part: The arresting performances.

Worst part: The incoherent narrative.

Once upon a time in sunny-side-up Hollywood, acclaimed filmmaker Martin Scorsese said: “There’s no such thing as simple. Simple is hard”. Positioned above all the philosophically viable quotes one can muster, these two short sentences achieve true purpose. In fact, Scorsese’s words describe the filmmaking process as a journey of unconscionable measure. So, how does all this relate to kooky crime-drama God’s Pocket?

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Phillip Seymour Hoffman & John Turturro in cool-cat roles.

Well, with Scorsese’s influence casting itself over everything, God’s Pocket tries too damn hard to be simple. Betwixt by its own elaborate sheen, the movie aims for succinct but lands just short of pretentious. With too much going on at once, the movie wholly relies on familiarity and grit. In fact, this type of simplicity makes for a confusing and unexacting tale of woe and whimsy. However, despite matching up to Scorsese’s quote, it’s still a halfway descent first effort. The story, such as it is, examines one man and his sketchy practices. An outsider to the titular Philadelphian district, small-time crook Mickey Scarpano (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) has found solace in his surroundings. Struggling to maintain his marriage to Jeanie (Christina Hendricks), Mickey looks to his mates, gambling, and alcohol for guidance. Floating through day-to-day life, the man runs errands with best mate Arthur ‘Bird’ Capezio (John Turturro) and mob enforcer Sal (Domenick Lombardozzi). Sadly, Mickey’s existence is hindered by his abrasive stepson Leon(Caleb Landry Jones)’s industrial accident. Along the way, whilst Mickey is arranging payment plans with funeral director Smilin’ Jack Moran (Eddie Marsan), Jeanie calls for an investigation into her son’s death.

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Christina Hendricks in post-Mad Men form.

Admittedly, I may’ve been a little harsh on God’s Pocket‘s overt modesty. The narrative’s low-stakes aura is, to a certain extent, refreshing compared to today’s big-budget offerings. Here, Mad Men star John Slattery slips past his TV series’ lavish world to pay homage to 1970s Middle America. Being Slattery’s first feature, his  direction far eclipses his screenwriting. Co-written by Alex Metcalf, the screenplay takes to cliches and contrivances the way its characters take to booze and cigarettes. With several story-lines in play, Slattery and Metcalf throw in too many insufficient perspectives. After the dysfunctional family dynamic is introduced and deliberated on, we’re introduced to notorious God’s Pocket columnist Richard Shelburn(Richard Jenkins)’s peculiar lifestyle. Shelburn, an avatar for the novel’s author Pete Dexter, becomes an unnecessary antagonist in this free-wheeling narrative. In following the original material so closely, Slattery and Metcalf pick up and drop certain story-lines without warning. Infatuated with his own creation, Slattery gestates on certain plot-threads without giving them definitive beginnings, middles, or ends. In fact, several plot-lines are left wholly unanswered for. Despite the taut 88 minute run-time, the movie comes off like an underwhelming brawl between Scorsese, the Coen Brothers, and Ben Affleck’s directorial flourishes.

The working men of God’s Pocket are simple men. They work, marry, and have children. And, until recently, they die like everyone else.” (Richard Shelburn (Richard Jenkins), God’s Pocket).

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Richard Jenkins as God’s Pocket’s top columnist.

Despite this hearty love letter’s overwhelming negatives, the final product’s positives reside in its all-around willingness to succeed. With Slattery paying respect to a long-lost era, his head and heart are certainly in the right place. In fact, thanks to emotional resonance and technical savvy, God’s Pocket achieves just enough to earn a low-3-star rating. Accustomed to period pieces, Slattery’s directorial motivations craft a rich, textured version of Middle America. The movie never screams out an exact date or time. If anything, this 70s-set crime-drama allows its audience to pick up certain nuances skidding across each frame. Depicting a horrific place to call home, Slattery’s version of God’s Pocket is defined by earthy colour palettes and specific iconography. Halfway through, you begin to notice the time period in all its glory. With browns, yellows, and greys amplifying certain scenes, Slattery depicts a world in which men are men and women succumb to those around them. Finding the ugliest of ugly folks, his attention to detail and taste for black comedy excel. In addition, Slattery draws dynamic performances from his talented ensemble. In one of his last roles, Hoffman delivers a mesmerising turn as the ultimate average Joe. In addition, Jenkins, Hendricks, and Turturro excel as downtrodden characters begging for justice and respect.

Stepping up to a blank canvas, Slattery makes a valiant first effort out of such broad material. Experimenting with specific stylistic choices, dealing specifically with its gritty veneer, this busting of the proverbial cherry could’ve been a helluva lot worse. However, unlike Mean Streets or Gone Baby Gone, this dissection of Middle America comes almost flatlines at opportune moments. If anything, Slattery would do well to sat back, relax, and reflect on the final few Mad Men episodes remaining.

Verdict: An unfocused love letter to simpler times.

2014’s Blockbuster Season: Conquerers & Wimps


Article: 

2014’s Blockbuster Season: Conquerers & Wimps

Franchise Fix – The Dark Knight Trilogy


Well, as far as superhero-action movies go, we have come to this point in our epic saga. Unquestionably, this genre has reached its proverbial peak. Certain entries, defying extreme expectations, have taken it upon themselves to stand out. How are they different exactly? They, above all else, have soared, dipped, punched, and stretched to elevate themselves above the meandering competition. So, what separates a Captain America from a Ghost Rider? It all starts with the seed of an idea, before growing it into an all-encompassing entity.

Nowadays, forced to pay ridiculous ticket prices, the average film-goer determines each superhero flick’s chances of success. To succeed, you need to deliver an action flick people will go see more than once. However, the other side of the coin is one of torrential, Twitter-fuelled critical comments and poor box-office performances. Of course, top spot on the superhero franchise podium belongs to the Dark Knight trilogy. Despite varying in quality between efforts, Christopher and Jonathan Nolan’s trilogy series has sparked a wave of darker, meatier blockbusters. With that said, each instalment delivers significant highs and debilitating lows. Like the caped crusader, however, they all manage to pick themselves up.

3. The Dark Knight Rises

As the highly anticipated franchise capper, The Dark Knight Rises had a helluva lot to live up to. Resting on Nolan and co.’s previous successes, the final product had the potential to be the best of the series. However, with rumours, videos, and images threatening to spoil the movie’s intricate plot, it seemed destined to continue the trend of underwhelming third instalments in superhero franchises. Fittingly, after its mega-successful release, this instalment was met with polarising reactions from critics, fans, and common film-goers.

Some people, looking past minor quarrels, saw fit to compliment Nolan for completing his game-changing franchise. Sadly, however, many people felt the opposite. Criticising villain Bane’s vocal patterns, the leaps in logic, and egregious run-time, this instalment’s detractors nearly threw it into the Spider-Man 3/X-Men: The Last Stand/Blade: Trinity pit of doom. Thanks to Nolan’s seminal final Batman flick’s mixed response, The Dark Knight Rises comes off as the trilogy’s third best instalment.

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Bane vs. Batman vs. Gotham’s soul.

With that said, I said “third best” and not “worst” for a reason. With minor plot-holes and character faults getting in many people’s way, the movie delivers more-than-enough positives. Nolan, at the very least, should be admired for pulling off such a gargantuan trilogy capper. In fact, the movie, thanks to its emotional heft and stunning performances, is more dystopian drama than superhero extravaganza. With Bane’s spectacular introduction pitting man against machine, this instalment seemed destined to follow charismatic characters through a dire journey. Of course, despite Bane’s raw power and regal presence, you can’t go past Christian Bale’s scintillating turn as a dilapidated Bruce Wayne/Batman.

Providing his best Caped Crusader performance, Bale’s energy and purposeful mannerisms propel his extraordinary character arc here. With an 8-year hiatus, Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Alfred’s betrayal, and Bane’s might to deal with, Wayne’s raw determination pushes him ahead of this instalment’s other well-drawn heroes and villains.

2. Batman Begins

Before the era of reboots, reboots, and more reboots, one origin tale took it upon itself to change the system. Batman Begins, introducing the average cinema-goer to a sickeningly dark version of the Caped Crusader, did its job in delivering something fresh and original for its time. In an age of sugar-coated blockbusters, this reboot opened the doors to several superhero origin movies willing to embrace their characters’ first ventures into crime fighting and personal discoveries.

The narrative, as usual for superhero reboots, kicks off with a younger version of the titular figure. Refreshingly so, his friendship with family friend Rachel Dawes kicks off this transcendent and touching superhero-action flick. With a child’s innocence smashing into said child’s greatest fears, the opening delivers an appropriate leap off the blocks. From there, Batman Begins falls into a pit of despair and anger. With a thirty-something Wayne (Christian Bale) meeting wise nobleman Ras Al Ghul (Liam Neeson), the lead’s journey transforms him from a rebellious fighter into an intriguing symbol of hope.

Batman Begins – the Caped Crusader’s true origin story.

Tackling several  weighty issues, Batman Begins looks into its own soul and examines Batman’s undying aura. With an arresting story wrestling with a claustrophobic atmosphere, this uncompromising thriller aims higher than whiz-bang effects and generic genre twists. From the first Batman sequence onwards, Christopher Nolan presents this fan favourite DC character as a philosophically bruised anti-hero willing to destroy anyone in his way. Like its sepia-esque colour palette, the tone pushes us into each gloriously dour setting. Fusing his Memento/Insomnia darkness with the comic series’ free-flowing nature, Batman Begins threw Nolan into another realm of fame and possibility.

Despite all this, it’s the cast members involved which divert Batman Begins from the Summer tent-pole blur.  Rounded out by Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Katie Holmes, Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy, the movie’s talented ensemble brought Oscar-calibre vibes to this intensifying superhero adventure. With movies like Man of Steel and The Incredible Hulk borrowing ideas and sequences from Nolan’s first Bat-flick, Batman Begins, 9 years on, still stands up to intense scrutiny.

1. The Dark Knight

I know, it’s a complete cliché to place The Dark Knight on top of any kind of ‘Best of…’ list. I’ll admit, my extreme infatuation with this feature might be clouding my judgement. However, I think I speak for a helluva lot of people when I proclaim this action-drama to be the best action movie of the past 10 years. Up there with the likes of There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men, this superhero flick is an instant classic that future generations will discover and fall in love with the way we all did. The Dark Knight, Nolan’s magnum opus, is a triumph on every level.

Thanks to scintillating action sequences and pitch-perfect performances, this sequel proves itself worthy of repeat viewings and intense analysis. From the opening back heist sequence onwards, this superhero flick establishes itself as an unbeatable and transcendent. Despite soaring above and beyond the competition, the movie intrinsically examines the evils of good and the strengths of evil. As our characters stand on a knife’s edge, Gotham City’s newest resident seeks to turn everything inside out. Painting each character in shades of grey, The Dark Knight matches crime-thrillers like The Departed and Heat point for point.

Heath Ledger’s momentous portrayal of the Joker.

Of course, credit belongs to Nolan for elevating the genre from its cartoonish roots to a more mature and meaningful place. taking a real-world approach to the Cape Crusader, The Dark Knight  amicably discusses the consequences of vigilantism. Is Batman doing right by the citizens or his own sense of valour? The movie’s greatest moments belong to Batman’s fight against the Joker (Heath Ledger) and Harvey Dent/Two Face (Aaron Eckhart). With Gotham’s tug of war becoming increasingly violent, The Dark Knight lets loose on our society’s fragile world view. Wayne’s ego, now interlocking with his motivations, seeks to push him towards hanging up the cape and cowl. Establishing connections between Wayne, Alfred (Caine), and Lucius Fox (Freeman), the quieter moments cement this movie’s place in the annals of blockbuster cinema.

Despite delivering thorough questions and answers, The Dark Knight dons a core entertainment value at opportune moments. Blissfully so, the action sequences reach sky-high levels of fun. The Bat-pod chase through Gotham ends with pure gusto and awe-inspiring technical savvy. The truck flip alone is cause for celebration. By breaking up the light and dark moments, The Dark Knight proves its own worth as a momentous turning point for blockbuster filmmaking.

Ps. check out this video, it sums up everything awesome and immaculate about this series! Enjoy!

Flickers & Footsteps – Hollywood Boulevard


The Walk of Fame.

Over the course of one week, I got the chance to soak in the scalding hot sun, glowing nostalgia, and pleasant vibes of Los Angeles. LA – the city in which dreams, heartaches, and regrettable sexual favours are dealt out to naive hopefuls  – is one of the world’s most epic and unique cities. With a grittiness stretching from Hollywood Boulevard to Compton, the city’s urban-warfare-fuelled history still resides in the tar-laden roads linking Beverley Hills to the slums. With the Boulevard my one-and-only target, I took immediately to the mirage-inducing landscapes and peculiar personalities on offer. Whilst walking down the saucy district, souvenir shops, angry locals, excited tourists, and cumbersome homeless folk strummed up soulful beats that echoed on for miles. Fulfilling my aspirations, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, the Dolby Theatre, the Hollywood Sign, and Universal Studios all lived up to my frenzied expectations. In addition, Paramount Pictures’ studio tour delivers an eclectic insight into the ins and out of the studio system. Beware – everything is designed to fool you! Meanwhile, the Hollywood Museum provided a rich and decadent experience to cling onto. So, sit back…relax…and enjoy the view! I sure did.

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The Inbetweeners 2 Review – The Trip Down Under


 Directors: Damon Beesley, Iain Morris

Writers: Damon Beesley, Iain Morris

Stars: Simon Bird, James Buckley, Blake Harrison, Joe Thomas


Release date: August 7th, 2014

Distributors: Film4 Productions, Bwark Productions 

Country: UK

Running time: 96 minutes 


 

3½/5

Best part: The leads’ inherent chemistry.

Worst part: The overlong gross out gags.

As the perfect release from reality, sitcom TV relishes in bizarre situations and unadulterated slapstick. With the enjoyment factor turned up to 11, shows like Parks & Recreation and Community fuse light-hearted thrills with imaginative characters. One recent sitcom – British cult hit The Inbetweeners – achieved success by latching onto a particular age bracket. As a slice of UK escapism, the E4 franchise has been lucky enough to launch two mega-smash cinema releases.

The Inbetweeners down under (pun definitely intended)!

Admittedly, I realise these big-screen Inbetweeners adventures come off like extreme acts of desperation. These ventures, taking our downtrodden characters from sitcom modesty to American Pie glory, could have easily become tiresome and frustrating. However, bafflingly so, the original’s massive profit margins pushed many boundaries. Now, after three years of watching our four leads fail to develop multi-layered careers, we get a front row seat to watch this sequel shunt its way past the competition on opening weekend. This movie, if anything, displays the nerds becoming the jocks of the British franchise universe. All that’s needed now is a televised Inbetweeners vs. Doctor Who showdown. Fortunately, unlike everything else this series has offered, The Inbetweeners 2 is a likeable and sensitive effort. Our favourite nobodies – Will (Simon Bird), Simon (Joe Thomas), Neil (Blake Harrison), and Jay (James Buckley) – have somehow stooped lower than before. Will – his university’s least popular undergraduate – is aching for a much-needed escape. After falling for yet another clever prank, Will, Simon, and Neil receive an extensive email from Jay. Jay, enjoying a “mental” gap year in Australia, tells them of his sordid adventures within his uncle’s lavish mansion.

Jay making himself king of the “Sex Capital of the World”.

Simon and Neil, escaping psychotic girlfriends and meaningless existences, agree to Will’s plan to travel half-way around the globe. Leaving Jay’s uncle’s house behind, our four adolescent schlubs head from Sydney to Byron Bay – in the ‘Mobile Virgin Conversion Unit’ – in the hopes of achieving their impulse-driven goals. Obviously, The Inbetweeners 2 isn’t trying to wow its target demographic with intricate plot-threads or heartbreaking character arcs. Aware of their series’ immense appeal, directors/writers/show creators Damon Beesley and Iain Morris take the reins with suitable street-smarts in tow. Unlike the original, this instalment sticks wholeheartedly by its four dunderheaded leads. Despite smashing into several cliches and dry spots, this sequel takes a hands-on approach to this standard road trip tale. Running on buddy-comedy wise-cracks and tried-and-true plot-lines, even horny 13 year olds can predict where this shame-fuelled journey is heading. However, laid out like any given episode of the original series, the joy comes from seeing our clunge-obsessed ravagers rise and fall spectacularly. Unsurprisingly, the Australian stereotypes come thick and fast. In the first third, Jay shows off his encounters with boomerangs, sun-drenched beaches, frenzied nightclub scene, and bikini-clad babes. His first scene alone, playing out like a Wolf of Wall Street montage, makes this sequel feel wholly cinematic.

“Will be careful, muff before mace is actually a crime in Australia.” (Neil (Blake Harrison), The Inbetweeners 2).

Emily Berrington as Katie.

However, providing pure laugh-out-loud relief, the last third brings specific Aussie cliches, and our awesome foursome, together. During the climax, the hilarity spills fourth as our leads become stuck in a harsh desert landscape. I half expected them to run into Mick Taylor and his trusty -. Sadly, despite the positives, this sequel ventures into several ill-advisable gross out gags and soppy moments. The water park scene, in particular, yields several unfunny and ethically questionable set pieces. In addition, like with the original, the supporting characters – rounded out by several antagonistic back-packers – stall this otherwise quaint adventure. Worse still, the movie almost breaks down whenever its misogyny catches up to everything else. Presenting multiple female characters as hindrances, it’s offensiveness becomes unrelentingly vapid. However, making this sitcom-based series whole, our lead performers seize this opportunity to show off their sublime talents. Bird, hitting his stride as the crew’s nerdiest combatant, is a charismatic and witty force throughout. Eclipsing his three comrades, Will’s arc instantly takes centre stage. In addition, Buckley’s Jay delivers several cracking moments as the group’s most obnoxious yet ambitious member. Oddly enough, Simon and Neil get pushed to the background in favour of their more-intriguing buddies.

The Inbetweeners series sits best with the hormonal teens and clueless adolescents scrounging around this bleak, blue marble. Driven by expletive-driven humour and manic characters, this pacy and hysterical creation has transitioned gracefully from sitcom success to celluloid gloss. The Inbetweeners 2, though not an award winner, makes for a worthwhile 90 minutes. surprisingly so, fans and newcomers will enjoy Will, Simon, Neil, and Jay’s final on-screen adventure. God knows where they’ll end up!

Verdict: A mostly triumphant last hurrah. 

Stephen Amis (Director) Interview – Reaching for the Stars


Stephen Amis, Camera operator Con Filippidis & Director of Photography David Richardson.

Back in 2012, I got the chance to meet Australian true-blue filmmaker Stephen Amis. Promoting his latest cinematic effort at the time, his independent cinema seminar transfixed a room of enthusiastic press folks and cinephiles. In addition, his sci-fi extravaganza, The 25th Reich, took the Revelation Perth Film Festival storm. So, with a couple of years having past between then and now, I made it an all-on-the-line mission to, once again, get in touch with Amis . I chatted to this underrated genre-cinema icon about his love of filmmaking, his multiple production roles, and the Australian Film Industry’s response to big-idea projects.

Where did the idea of the 25th Reich come from?

I made the 25th Reich as a kind of sci-fi homage to the Super-8 movies I made when I was a kid. It was also a celebration of the B pulp films I grew up with – made by directors like George Pal and Sam Fuller…

What are the major challenges with financing a film such as this in the Australian film Industry?

It was very difficult financing the movie – but isn’t that the case with every movie? Australian film agencies generally see genre films as being ‘soft’ as the box office – so it was hard convincing them to come aboard, and ultimately they didn’t. In addition, with Aussie films barely finding any cinema space these days, and DVD sales plummeting, The 25th Reich was a very tricky film to produce and distribute.

How did your plan for the film come together in the script writing/pre-production stage?

Our budget was tiny compared to what you would ordinarily have to spend on this kind of production, and consequently our crew was limited. I wore many hats – co-writer, director, co-producer, not to mention post-production supervisor – so I was the only one who really had the entire film ‘in my head’. I also have a solid background in cinematography, so I was able to very clearly write on the page what I knew could be achieve in production for the specific budget.

What were the highest and lowest points of the production?

For me, the highest point in the making of The 25th Reich was getting the music composed and synchronised – that’s when the magic happens and all the hard work comes together – particularly as this film was very music driven. Up until then, you’re always asking yourself will it work, is it emotionally engaging…

And the low point? Shooting was very difficulty and treacherous. 50 degree days and 2 degree nights in the wildness. Scorpions, snakes, spiders – it was quite arduous!

How did you create the visual effects and set designs on location?

I set-up 8 small VFX teams worldwide to produce the visual effects. We worked mostly by cloud computing and developed a lot of short cuts and new tools to bring the film in on budget. Oddly enough, we barely used any green-screen as this was too time consuming on set and I decided quite early in the production to rotoscope everything in post – when ended up achieving a better look than traditional green screen keying.

 How did everything come together in the post-production stage?

Post-production was like pushups – particularly in regard to the VFX. Every VFX shot you do, is one less you have to do… It took 18 months to finish all of the special effects, along with many edits of the film and replacing and refining each VFX shot from previz, to crude animation, to final animation to fully rendered animation.

How important are genre films such as yours in the image of Australian independent cinema?

I think genre films in general are important worldwide. Genre films, as opposed to other kinds of films, have the unique ability to contain sociological subtext about the times they were made in: Think about the subtext in ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’, made during the cold war, or the original ‘Planet of the Apes’, made during the Vietnam war. The 25th Reich is no different, and was made in an era of out-of-control right-wing, neo conservative ideology. In terms of subtext, The 25th Reich has more to do with contemporary fascism rather than specifically Nazi Germany.

How did you distribute the film?

The film went through the conventional distribution route – with international and domestic sales. But that old model is dying, and I’ve just setup a new distribution company called ‘Label’, to distribute my next film. Label will be using an unconventional mix of old and new distribution techniques to get films into the market and to attract and engage audiences.

How do you see social media outlets aiding the distribution and advertising of independent films such as yours?

We had a social media campaign running via Twitter and Facebook. The film had quite a good showing on the festival circuit, and I found our social media campaign helped drive and consolidate that. Aside from being able to speak directly to our fan base, which is hugely important to me, there are also other businesses based issues of specifically directing your target audience ‘somewhere’ to achieve an identifiable goal – whether that may be buying a cinema ticket, purchasing a DVD or the soundtrack…

How important to you is the fan base that it now has?

Our fan base (and genre film fan bases in general), are very loyal. It’s an important base which we plan to take with us on the next instalment of the movie which we are now writing. So in that context, we are trying to harness and grow our fan base across the franchise.

How important are national film festivals to independent film-makers such as yourselves?

With Australian films struggling to find cinema space (it’s now almost impossible to book a movie) , and the DVD market plummeting – the festival circuit is one of the last avenues for filmmakers to showcase their work on the big screen. It’s important that Australian film festivals showcase more Australian content. At the moment, the large festivals pay lip service to Aussie films, but not much more. There are many Aussie films seen each year that don’t see the light of day and they really should.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of the Australian independent film industry?

The disadvantage is that we have no protection for Australian cinema. It’s not like in France where film is considered a cultural art form and protected by a fairly rigid quota system. North Korea set up a quota system too, and like France, their industry is now thriving. We desperately need a quota system here in Australia to protect Aussie cinema.

What is your next project?

I’m developing a small number of projects. Two science fiction films and one big broad Aussie comedy – all to be shot in 3D…

Has anything in the industry, major or minor, changed in the industry over the past to years?

There’s been many many changes – many of the big obvious changes on the distribution landscape and the way content is seen and disseminated. Film is not the cultural pop icon it was 20 years ago. It’s competing with many other consumer products now. And that is really what’s at the core of the revolution we are now having. I wouldn’t say film is dead – but it’s certainly going through some kind of metamorphosis…

Official website: The 25th Reich

Get On Up Review – I Feel Good!


Director: Tate Taylor

Writers: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth

Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer

get-on-up-poster


Release date: August 1st, 2014

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: US

Running time: 138 minutes


 

 

3/5

Best part: Boseman’s scintillating performance.

Worst part: The jumbled structure.

Musical biopics commercial hits share one particular similarity – they gain significant traction by following a specific formula. Despite the quality of certain examples, these docudramas skate by on the success of the people/groups etc involved. Get On Up examines one musician, and the blues-soul hits he carved from nothing. Despite clinging onto several alluring conceits, this musical biopic is nowhere near as energetic as its title suggests.

Chadwick Boseman as the Godfather of Soul.

Chadwick Boseman as the Godfather of Soul.

Obviously, James Brown aka the Godfather of Soul is an inspirational person worthy of significant cinematic treatment. Breaking down racial and artistic barriers, Brown was a caricature and musician willing to transform his world. His songs, hitting hearts and minds from the 1960s onward, work their way into the consciousness like no one else’s. In addition, his work paved the way for everyone from Stevie Wonder to Pharrell Williams. So, does Get On Up do him justice? Short answer: Yes and no. Yes, on a performance level. No, because of the rift between its director and writers. For those unaware of Brown’s story, the movie chronicles the best and worst parts of his existence. The movie’s first scene comes off like a belligerent, Eddie Murphy-driven Saturday Night Live Sketch. Kicking off in 1988, we meet a worn-out Brown (Chadwick Boseman) in the midst of a concerning drug problem. After finding out someone had used his bathroom without his consent, Brown threatens the attendees of an insurance seminar with a shotgun. Looking past is peculiar event, the movie then tracks back through his better moments. With Vietnam in full swing, late 60s America turned to musicians like Brown to distract itself from problems abroad. Beyond this, the movie extensively applauds his fascinating success story.

Viola Davis as Susie Brown

Viola Davis as Susie Brown.

Abandoned by his parents, Joe (Lennie James) and Susie (Viola Davis), Brown shifts from working for brothel owner Aunt Honey (Octavia Spencer) to jail time to singing gospel alongside Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis). Tracking Brown from his troubled youth to his notorious 90s comeback, Get On Up painstakingly throws everything regarding his existence onto the big screen. In fact, director Tate Taylor (The Help) appears to be making a habit of wholeheartedly tackling African-American history’s most involving stories. From the opening hostage sequence onward, Taylor latest docudrama seeks to deliver a ‘greatest hits’ version of Brown’s invigorating legacy. Refreshingly, his style crafts several Oscar-worthy moments. In certain sections, Taylor examines everything from Brown’s extraordinary personality to his significant achievements to his deplorable brushes with temptation. This biopic’s shiny veneer is a testament to Taylor’s own guile and heartiness. Refusing to make big-budget dross, Taylor is a game-changer himself. Unfortunately, the material he’s working with fails to honour Brown’s unforgettable aura. As Jez and John-Henry Butterworth’s second major screenplay for 2014, following up enjoyable action-thriller Edge of Tomorrow, their work copies and pastes entire sequences from similar musical biopics. Following a tried-and-true formula, their writing lacks Walk the Line and Ray‘s bright spark. Tackling Dreamgirls‘ structure, this rise-and-fall formula deserves a significant shake up.

“If it sound good, and it feel good, then it’s musical.” (James Brown (Chadwick Boseman), Get On Up).

Dan Aykroyd on mission from...the studio execs.

Dan Aykroyd on a mission from…the studio execs.

In trying to reinvigorate this genre, Taylor and co. shuffle things around to fit a non-linear format. Delivering a convoluted narrative, this note-worthy biopic lacks its competitors’ coherency and depth. By switching up certain story and character beats, Taylor reduces its overall message to fit the Brown family’s wishes. Depicting a conservative analysis of Brown’s life choices, The movie, for the most part, leaves his problems with domestic violence and drug abuse on the cutting room floor. In addition, the race-relations angle is, bafflingly, picked up and dropped without warning. Addressed in small doses, the movie’s agenda restricts itself to, every so often, having minor white characters say the N-word. However, beyond the prickly race issues and stirring conflicts, the movie hinges on its performers successfully enveloping these parts. Fortunately, Taylor’s specialty resides in pulling brilliant turns out of stellar ensembles. Boseman, kicking off his career with last year’s Jackie Robinson biopic 42, is revelatory as music history’s biggest ego. Capturing Brown’s signature voice and mannerisms, his scintillating turn is worth the admission cost. In fact, his dance moves elevate the movie’s catchy renditions of ‘I Got You (I Feel Good)’,  and ‘Please, Please, Please’.

Handling Brown’s reputation with care, Taylor and Boseman succeed in delivering a meaningful and efficient biopic. Fortunately, as the narrative rises and falls, Get On up delivers several applause-worthy moments. However, despite the lead’s inherent charisma, the movie around him hits some unbearable screeches. Boosting this docudrama above the pack, Boseman – like Brown – is a true game-changer.

Verdict: A soulful yet inconsistent ballad. 

Guardians of the Galaxy Review – I Am Groot


Director: James Gunn

Writers: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman

Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel

GOTG_Payoff_1-Sht_v4b_Lg


Release date: August 1st, 2014

Distributors: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Marvel Studios

Country: UK

Running time: 121 minutes


 

 

 

4½/5

Best part: The dynamic soundtrack.

Worst part: The two-dimensional villains.

All-powerful mega-conglomerate Marvel Studios has, for the past few years, been keeping everything close to the chest. Its mission, to build an intricate cinematic universe whilst entertaining the masses, is worthy of immense critical and commercial acclaim. Unlike most blockbusters, the Iron Man, Thor, Incredible Hulk, Captain America, and Avengers tentpoles work as stand-alone adventures and vital instalments. Marvel’s latest effort, Guardians of the Galaxy, fits into this gutsy and entertaining franchise.

Peter Quill/Starlord in action.

Peter Quill/Starlord in action.

Hitting and sticking, this sci-fi epic puts the pedal to the metal from the get-go and refuses to listen to the studio big-wigs. As Marvel’s craziest venture yet, Guardians of the Galaxy is ballsy enough to stick to its overarching plan. Unlike Marvel’s preceding efforts, this movie refuses to stay Earth bound. Here, the narrative and characters reach for the stars and soar into the sky to achieve the nigh-impossible. Thanks to the alluring marketing campaign, its premise is significantly more bizarre and questionable than expected. Shortly after his mother’s death, a young Peter Quill escapes his family’s grasp before being abducted by an unknown entity. The movie then jumps several years, and thirty-something Quill (Chris Pratt), going by “Starlord”, is a lowlife criminal working for himself. Dodging bounty hunters and murderers across the galaxy, his immediate future consists of treasure and loose alien babes. Unsurprisingly, his latest prize, a sphere-like artefact, places him atop the universe’s Most Wanted list. After a tussle between Quill, assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Racoon-like badass Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and tree-like creature Groot (Vin Diesel), our brawlers are thrown into a vicious floating jail.

The Guardians kicking ass!

The Guardians kicking ass!

After a daring escape, aided by Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), these abrasive warriors come together to tackle villainous figures including Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Korath (Djimon Hounsou). Predictably so, comic-book aficionados and giddy cinema-goers define Guardians of the Galaxy‘s set fan-base. Pushing its kooky and intriguing narrative into warp speed, this sci-fi actioner delivers on everything it promises. Director/co-writer James Gunn (Slither, Super) injects his off-kilter style into each scene. From the emotionally resonant prologue (placed in front of Marvel’s logo) onward, the movie delivers a balance of charm and poignancy. Mixing sci-fi, action, and comedy tropes, Marvel latest is even more boisterous and hearty than preceding efforts. Scouring the universe, the movie examines the comic-book series and Marvel’s Cinematic Universe simultaneously. As varying factions and figureheads fight for control, the story etches in several cartoonish heroes and villains. Despite the sequel baiting and distracting contrivances, the goodies (led by the Nova Corps) and the baddies (led by high-ruler Thanos (Josh Brolin)) never distort the narrative. Instead, the pacing and tone establish a Star Wars vibe with hints of Serenity and Indiana Jones. Bolstered by a 70s/80s soundtrack, its nostalgic glow pushes everything along with style and gusto. Venturing into the vast reaches of space, this Star Trek-like space opera connects aliens, humans, and animals together organically.

“I am Groot.” (Groot (Vin Diesel), Guardians of the Galaxy).

Ronan the Accuser

Ronan the Accuser.

Indeed, Guardians of the Galaxy‘s universe-building techniques inject gravitas and awe into its simple-yet-effective plot. With our five leads at each other’s throats, their zany actions and reactions are worth the admission cost. Drifting between expansive star systems and planets, the movie’s production design eclipses that of both Thor instalments. The Knowhere, a mining district built inside a gigantic skull, is a sight to behold. Handling magic and mystery deftly, Marvel’s latest achieves everything Green Lantern failed at. Despite the confusing space-opera/source material jargon, its story beats and character motivations mature naturally throughout. Without becoming a slapstick farce, the comedic jabs craft memorable and applause-worthy moments. Pulling people from different realms together, our five leads’ camaraderie bolsters this inspired instalment. Outshining its set pieces and genre cliches, the quieter moments make for significant strides. Whenever  our characters sit and talk to one another, the movie’s negatives hurriedly dissipate. Graciously, its unique performers elevate certain set pieces and dialogue moments. Pratt, coming off Parks and Recreation and The Lego Movie, excels in his run-and-gun lead role. As the group’s Han Solo, Quill has the attitude, and dance moves, to match Marvel’s other anti-heroes.  Surprisingly, Bautista, Cooper, and Diesel steal the show from one another as the team’s wackiest members. Their foul-mouthed, vengeful characters solidify this sarcastic yet determined ensemble.

From Quill opening credits dance number to the third act’s spaceship showdown, Guardians of the Galaxy takes to shooting first and taking names second. Fuelled by its retro visuals and puffed-up swagger, this sci-fi actioner signifies the start of Marvel’s immense evolution. With Phase 2 coming to a close, this mega-studio is heading in the right direction. The pressure now rests on Avengers: Age of Ultron‘s God of Thunder-sized shoulders. I anticipate a Rocket/Groot/Iron Man team-up flick by 2019.

Verdict: Marvel’s most ambitious and peculiar effort yet!