Goldstone Review: Bitin’ the Dust


Director: Ivan Sen

Writer: Ivan Sen

Stars: Aaron Pedersen, Alex Russell, Jacki Weaver, David Wenham

goldstone-393834-poster


Release date: July 7th, 2016

Distributor: Transmission Films 

Country: Australia

Running time: 110 minutes 


4/5

Best part: The strong cast.

Worst part: The pacing.

Film noir has taken on many shades and turns since its beginnings in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Of course, everyone knows the heavy hitters including The Maltese Falcon and Touch of Evil from way back when. However, plot, character, theme and visual elements have stuck with cinema throughout generations. The genre has also made its way to the great southern land of Oz.

Goldstone is the superior follow-up to writer/director Ivan Sen’s 2013 surprise hit Mystery Road. Mystery Road‘s electrifying noir-western fusion, cracking cast, haunting locations and genuine chills overshadowed the diluted missing-person plot. Goldstone keeps the good stuff and improves on the poorer elements. Set several years after the original, the sequel returns to the scintillating landscapes of rural Queensland. After exposing corruption within his home town, Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) is assigned to investigate the mining/pit-stop town Goldstone. After being arrested by local naïve cop Josh (Alex Russell), Jay coaxes Josh into helping him track down a missing Asian girl. Scummy mine supervisor Johnny (David Wenham) and corrupt town mayor Maureen (Jacki Weaver) are soon hot on his trail.

Goldstone continues the trend of compelling Australian crime-thrillers with numerous nuances and twists. The movie expertly balances larrikin black comedy and dark, dreary epic elements. Unlike Mystery Road, it does not rely on long-drawn out pauses for dramatic effect. Every plot-point and twist is painstakingly etched into a taught, clear-cut vision. In true film noir fashion, its period setting alludes to  today’s social and political climate. Sen leaves nothing to chance – the good guys look tough and strong, the baddies are slimy and pale. Although a little too obvious, Sen’s love of classic cinema is chiseled into every detail. Like Chinatown, the crux of it boils down to a spiritual and financial battle between opposing forces. The tussle between greedy mining giants and small indigenous communities, led by strong-willed elder Jimmy (David Gulpilil), sets off a deadly chain of events.

Sen’s latest effort is a character-based, disturbingly intense noir-western with style and substance.Sen captures the outback setting with an array of visual and sensory flourishes. Every explosion, gun shot and line of dialogue rings out with whip-cracking precision. The quieter moments highlight its intellectual and emotional heft. His new-twist-on-old-tricks approach stands out during tender moments between Josh and Asian sex worker May (Michelle Lim Davidson). The contrast between Jay and Josh is vital. Jay, suffering one loss after another despite doing the right thing, is disillusioned by the endless desert void. Josh, however, is enthusiastic but afraid to make a real difference. The performances showcase Australia’s rich variety of talent. Pedersen and Russell delightfully toy with one another. Weaver and Wenham are suitably hammy, while Gulpilil provides true class.

Goldstone, although filled with elements we’ve seen 1000 times before, is a worthwhile flick from start to finish. The movie falls short of reaching the standards set by Australia’s best crime-thrillers (Animal Kingdom). However, it provides a tough, arresting look at the land down under.

Verdict: A tough-as-nails modern western.

Magic in the Moonlight Review – A Cruel Trick


Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen

Stars: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Hamish Linklater, Marcia Gay Harden

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Release date: September 19th, 2014

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Country: USA

Running time: 97 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: The charming performances.

Worst part: The heavy-handed subtext.

Certainly, veteran actor/writer/director Woody Allen has lived an awe-inspiring, unpredictable, and thought-provoking life. The 78-year-old Tinseltown icon has spent several decades breaking the mould. With game-changing successes in multiple disciplines, his aura, for the better part of a century, has shone brighter than Hollywood Boulevard and Times Square combined. This starry-eyed filmmaker has delivered some of cinema history’s greatest moments. In front of and behind the camera, the tick-laden auteur has given industry hopefuls and impressionists plenty to smile about.

Colin Firth and Emma Stone's peculiar coupling.

Colin Firth and Emma Stone’s peculiar coupling.

Allen, despite being cinema’s most prolific hit-and-miss filmmaker, shouldn’t be insulted for his work. However, despite his merits, his latest effort, Magic in the Moonlight, won’t convert any average film-goers into raging fans. This jaunty romantic comedy, if anything, proves that Allen should take more vacations. Possibly, he should go to some of the many picturesque locations he’s captured over his illustrious career. For now, he’s stuck making witless and confused rom-coms. In typical Allen fashion, the allure of classier times fuels the otherwise bland and uninspired narrative. The story, inexplicably wafer-thin, relies on several key players to push it into overdrive. We start off in 1920s Berlin, with a world-famous illusionist performing his signature act for a packed house. Wei Ling Soo, playing to wealthy audiences, earns his fortune by making elephants disappear from boxes and slicing gorgeous stage hands in half. However, the real illusion is revealed once Soo is back-stage. Revealed to be a snide British man, Stanley (Colin Firth), Soo regularly berates production crew members, journalists, and fans. Debunking fraudulent magicians and mediums in his spare time, Stanley’s narrow-minded worldview attracts business but deters everything else. Given a new assignment by long-time friend Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), Stanley heads to the Cote d’Azur  to mingle with the ultra-wealthy Catledge family  – Grace (Jacki Weaver), Brice (Hamish Linklater), Caroline (Erica Leershen), and her husband George (Jeremy Shamos) – and uncover houseguest/clairvoyant Sophie(Emma Stone) and her mother(Marcia Gey Harden)’s misgivings.

The sublime sights of a Woody Allen picture.

The sublime sights of a Woody Allen picture.

Crafting a star-studded feature every one-or-two years, Allen’s work-horse routine is now cracking under pressure. Sporting a career marred by controversy, the notorious filmmaker should be trying harder to win us over. Sadly, this lifeless and misguided rom-com is a significant step backwards. Sitting well-below recent efforts including Blue Jasmine and Match Point, Magic in the Moonlight calls Allen’s attentiveness, relevance, and tolerance levels into question. Unlike previous efforts, this movie lacks anything resembling subtlety, gravitas, originality, or charm. His signature storytelling tropes, bolstered by real-life events, overcook the movie’s tiresome screenplay. Throughout its brief run-time, as Stanley becomes bewitched by Sophie’s charms, the cliche-meter ticks over. Crafting a whimsical mystery/love story, this nostalgic rom-com shifts awkwardly between each conversation, montage, and revelation. Pulling Stanley and Sophie together with witless conversations and wide-eyed stares, Allen’s latest delivers several discomforting and interminable scenarios. In addition, the narrative makes the unwarranted leap from meet-cute-driven comedy to sweeping romance. One scene, in which Stanley and Sophie’s car breaks down in front of an observatory, almost sinks this light-hearted romp. Throwing in plot-threads, characters, and twists sporadically, Allen’s 96-minute magic trick lands with a whimper instead of a bang.

“When the heart rules the head, disaster follows.” (Stanley (Colin Firth), Magic in the Moonlight).

Hamish Linklater and Jacki Weaver now part of Woody Allen's collective.

Hamish Linklater and Jacki Weaver now part of Woody Allen’s collective.

Obsessed with slight-of-hand story-telling ticks, Allen’s hubris hurriedly takes over here. Sugar-coating each plot-strand and character arc, Magic in the Moonlight discards intriguing concepts in favour of stylistic flourishes and heavy-handed dialogue. Beyond the inflated narrative, the movie never says anything relevant or thought-provoking. Pitting Stanley’s nihilism against Sophie’s air-tight optimism, the movie continually dives into a suffocating science vs. religion debate. Relying on mismatched leads and one-note support, the characters exists simply to echo Allen’s viewpoints. Meddling with infidelity and age differences in relationships yet again, Allen’s personal touch amp-ups the creep factor. However, known to show off the world’s most picturesque locations, Allen’s direction bolsters this archaic and forgettable effort. Aided by Darius Khondji’s pristine cinematography, the movie’s infatuation with France is almost worth the admission cost. Drowning us in his high-society existence, his version of the Mediterranean sports the world’s most appealing vineyards, Great Gatsby-style parties, mansions, and scenic vistas. Allen should also be credited for pulling this remarkable cast together. Bolstering his exhaustive dialogue, certain scenes bow down to these immaculate thespians. Firth, despite his irritating character, admirably sells each line. Thanks to his pithy delivery and effortless charisma, the British icon elevates several sequences. Stone, however, is the movie’s best asset. Her show-stopping looks and raw energy make for an invigorating love interest. Eileen Atkins almost steals the show as Stanley’s wise and advantageous aunt, Vanessa.

Whenever Allen invites a journalist into his home, he always shows off the most important part of the property. He opens a drawer, then pulls out a stack of screenplay ideas from which his features originate. This method, despite the infatuation with cinema, now seems like an act of desperation. Surely, Magic in the Moonlight won’t age well. Thanks to a ridiculous screenplay, wafer-thin characters, and overbearing subtext, this fluffy rom-com highlights the veteran filmmaker’s flaws. Wearing his style thin, the movie makes for a significant misstep within a momentous career.

Verdict: The master filmmaker’s latest fumble.

Silver Linings Playbook Review – Dancing with Disaster


Director: David O. Russell

Writer: David O. Russell (screenplay), Matthew Quick (novel)

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker


Release date: November 16th, 2012

Distributor: The Weinstein Company 

Country: USA

Running time: 122 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Dynamic performances from Cooper and Lawrence.

Worst part: De Niro’s slightly obnoxious character.

They say that “every cloud has a silver lining”. This metaphor illuminates the good moments in an otherwise dark existence. This idea is what Silver Linings Playbook explores in great detail. Positivity is the basis of this rewarding and genuine romantic comedy. Rom-coms are normally never this in-depth. But this film is worthy of its Academy Award nominations. Its charismatic performances and solid messages prove that Hollywood rom-coms with real heart and laughs can still be made.

Bradley Cooper & Jennifer Lawrence.

Silver Linings Playbook‘s story picks up with Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) in a mental  institution. He seems fine, yet the doctors and courts insist that he has a problem. That doesn’t stop his stern and comforting mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) from taking him out of the asylum and putting him in her and Pat Sr.(Robert De Niro)’s home. His rehabilitation crumbles as he discovers and is re-introduced to several problems under their roof. Trying to get his marriage back on track, Pat seeks to become a better person and live every day to the fullest. His plans, however, are disrupted by promiscuous young widow Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Her mysterious and intimidating personality attracts him. However, her husband’s death has caused her own severely debilitating mental issues. With Pat’s family and friends, and Tiffany, by his side, he may hopefully find that desirable silver lining.

Robert De Niro & Jacki Weaver.

Whether it’s Jack Nicholson rising up against injustice in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder befriending one another in Girl, Interrupted, instability and rehabilitation prove to be Profound topics to put on celluloid. Much like this year’s hit indie-drama Smashed, a controversial yet painful topic has been discussed with a balance of sorrow and comedy. The humour here comes from a quirky sense of irony and awkwardness. The supporting characters react to Pat and Tiffany with a conflicting array of emotions. Between each psychotic episode, Pat and Tiffany relieve the tension by discovering the positives of everyday life. Silver Linings Playbook is an intimate and detailed examination of the effects of mental instability. It discusses Pat’s mental issues with a warming sincerity. Sidelined with mood swings and multiple restraining orders, Pat’s journey to success and happiness isn’t easy. Pat himself is an unpredictable yet heartfelt human being. His love for his unfaithful wife is what put him away. Unable to feel joy or comfort in things he used to embellish, his freeing quest to find happiness turns his conflicted personality into something worth cherishing.

Cooper & Chris Tucker.

Cooper & Chris Tucker.

The film delves deeply into his life, as multiple sources of his condition are discovered. He wears a garbage bag while jogging through the neighbourhood and throws acclaimed novels through windows. This erratic behaviour promptly alerts the viewer to Pat’s burgeoning diagnosis. Pat still is, however, an inspirational character. Interacting with his family while balancing a keen intellect and bright personality, he soon becomes the silver lining of many people’s lives. David O. Russell wrote and directed this uplifting story. His acclaimed works, including Three Kings and The Fighter, have received deserved attention and multiple Academy Awards. Known for on-set shouting matches with his actors, O. Russell is definitely one of the most keen-eyed and determined directors working in Hollywood today. His delicate direction and witty screen-writing bring life to a predictable story. It’s a story of boy-meets-girl, but peppered with several alarming nuances along the way. O. Russell clearly loves heated arguments (watch The Fighter for a definitive example). Here, every character’s realistic and dangerous problems collide at once. This leads to several breath-taking punches and insults being thrown across the Solitano’s house.

“I do this! Time after time after time! I do all this shit for other people! And then I wake up and I’m empty! I have nothing!” (Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), Silver Linings Playbook). 

Cooper & Lawrence.

Cooper & Lawrence.

Having directed Christian Bale’s outstanding turn in The Fighter, O. Russell is a masterful actor-director. He is able to draw remarkable performances out of actors far outside their comfort zones. Cooper, known as the ‘pretty boy’ in films such The Hangover and The A-Team, deserves every bit of praise for his performance here. Cooper’s facial twitches, wide smile and charismatic personality bring this difficult role to life. Lawrence proves, both here and in The Hunger Games, that she is currently the best young actress in Hollywood. Her enthralling persona, sarcastic tone and inherent sexuality add multiple layers to Tiffany’s damaged psyche. The chemistry between her and Cooper is electric and provides the best on-screen couple since (500) Days of Summer. Recovering from a disastrous run of poor material over the past decade, De Niro is back to his intense best. He proudly and distinctly embodies an irritating character. His character’s obsessive love of the Philadelphia Eagles NFL team is irrationally crazy in itself.

The film is as naturalistic and comforting as its Philadelphia setting. O. Russell proves once again that he can create truly affecting material. Credit also goes to Cooper and Lawrence for proving their Oscar-worthy talents.

Verdict: An enlightening and unique rom-com.