Writers: Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz (screenplay), Lee Child (novel)
Stars: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh
Release date: October 20th, 2016
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 118 minutes
Best part: Cruise’s charisma.
Worst part: The daughter subplot.
A-list megastar Tom Cruise has had a career most actors could only dream of. He has led some of the 20th and 21st century’s most compelling films, delivered multiple killer one-liners and lifted forgettable material. The man puts 110% into every role and production. However, his off-screen antics -Scientology, failed marriages etc. – have made him a polarising figure.
Since his last marriage’s decline, he has turned his attention to the silver screen. Almost every year since, he has delivered one critically and commercially viable actioner after another. 2013’s Jack Reacher, based on Lee Child’s seminal book series, delivered whip-smart dialogue and gritty drama. Sadly, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is merely a serviceable action-adventure. It begins with our titular character (Cruise) on the lam. Shifting between assignments, he finds solace in his and Major Susan Turner(Cobie Smulders)’s phone calls. He heads to Washington DC to take her on a date. However, Turner is arrested for espionage after botched military dealings in Afghanistan. Predictably so, he takes the case to uncover the truth.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back has little to do with the original. The events of that film are not even thought about here. Instead, like Child’s books, this is a pure standalone adventure. Sequel and blockbuster fatigue set in like rot. From the get-go, the story delivers limited stakes or tension. The opening scene defines Reacher: a superhuman with nothing to fear or even be mildly miffed about. The screenplay provides broad, simplistic characters and plot points. Reacher switches clunkily between personalities. As the plot kicks in, and more baddies show up, he becomes more powerful and stoic. On the other hand, after meeting his potential daughter (Samantha (Danika Yarosh)), he turns into a wise-cracking buddy-cop archetype. The mystery plot-line is infinitely less interesting, defined only by rushed flashbacks and exposition.
Director Edward Zwick once excelled with action sequences and tight story-telling. Many of his works – from crime-thrillers (The Siege, Blood Diamond) to historical-epics (Glory, The Last Samurai) – are compelling. The original set the bar for deftly handled fist-fights and shoot-outs. However, despite having worked with Cruise before, Zwick brings nothing new to the table here. The sequel’s set-pieces are few and far between. Worse still, it commits to quick-cut, shaky-cam hand-to-hand combat. The movie’s biggest flaws rest on the villain’s ultra-white shoulders. The movie delivers an even-blander Jai Courtney clone (The Hunter (Patrick Heusinger)) and nondescript military/government figures. Thankfully, Cruise and Smulders elevate said woeful material. Their back-and-forth sparring is suitable. Meanwhile, Yarosh is stuck with an idiotic, unlikable character.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, like most of 2016’s blockbusters, is forgettable but not terrible. Cruise’s raw intensity turns a tough-guy cliché into a fun lead badass. However, Zwick and co. drop the ball. The movie’s bland action, story and characters make for another disappointing sequel.
Stars: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang
Release date: September 1st, 2016
Distributors: Screen Gems, Stage 6 Films
Running time: 88 minutes
Best part: The cinematography.
Worst part: Daniel Zovatto’s character.
2016 is the year of bottle-film/horror-thrillers. Movies like 10 Cloverfield Lane, Green Room and Don’t Breathe feature helpless people, trapped in small spaces by complete psychopaths. Of course, the drama relies on their repeated attempts to escape. This peculiar resurgence delivers the goods. Don’t Breathe, although not the best of them, makes for an exhilarating 88 minutes.
Don’t Breathe is more thrilling and fun than most of 2016’s blockbusters. Maybe, the lack of expectations helps smaller-budget/independent features become more fulfilling experiences. This horror-thriller kicks off with three criminals – Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto). The trio burgle high-end residences secured by Alex’s father’s security company. Saving up to leave Detroit for Los Angeles, they get word of a one-last-heist opportunity. The three track down a blind war veteran (Stephen Lang) said to have $300,000 in his home in an abandoned neighbourhood. The man, whose daughter died in a car accident, was supposedly paid off by the culprit’s family. Obviously, the mission does not go smoothly. Upon entering the house, they discover the blind man’s taste for murder.
Writer/director Fede Alvarez (the Evil Dead remake) delivers a gruelling and tightly wound horror-thriller from frame one. Don’t Breathe subverts every overplayed horror-thriller trope. The blind man’s house, although filled with darkened crevasses, features minimal jump scares. He and cinematographer Pedro Luque veer away from shaking cameras or gratuitous clichés. Its set pieces throw young, spritely protagonists against a formidable villain and a vicious rottweiler. The infra-red sequence provides plenty of edge-of-your-seat thrills. Like Panic Room, the situation, characters and plot collide without excessive violence or gore. However, due to the second half’s disturbing plot twists, it turns from David Fincher thriller to Park Chan Wook stomach-churner.
He, alongside screenwriter Rodo Sayagues, focuses on character and story depth. Although similar to many anti-heroes, its three leads are fully developed from the opening scene. In reality, they are purely despicable. Here, their code of ethics and goals make sense. The first heist sequence, with limited dialogue, establishes their rules (not stealing over $10,000, making it look authentic etc.). After entering the blind man’s realm, the movie’s tension and stakes spike drastically. Although depicted in the trailer, Money’s brutal death makes for a crucial scene. The cast throw themselves into ostensibly schlocky material. Levy and Minnette are two of Hollywood’s most dynamic young actors. Lang, known as Avatar‘s scarred-up baddie, is a force of nature. Sadly, Zovatto’s gangbanger stereotype does not work.
Don’t Breathe – beyond creating #turkeybaster – is one of 2016’s most visceral cinematic experiences. Alvarez deserves the leap from indies to blockbusters. His relentless style and screenwriting touches flip genres on their heads.
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, Keri Russell
Release date: August 25th, 2016
Distributor: STX Entertainment
Running time: 140 minutes
Best part: Matthew McConaughey.
Worst part: The courtroom-drama sub-plot.
No other Hollywood A-lister has experienced more critical and commercial ebbs and flows than Matthew McConaughey. The man’s man went from dumb action flick/romantic-comedy lead to crime-drama superstar. True Detective Season 1, Killer Joe, Magic Mike, Wolf of Wall Street and Dallas Buyers Club showcase his range and commitment. Free State of Jones continues the McConnaissance’s post-Oscar run.
Like Interstellar and Sea of Trees, Free State of Jones is sure to divide critics. Based on an inspiring true story, it’s another docudrama more necessary than worthwhile. The plot chronicles the timeline of events in Jones County, Mississippi during the American Civil War and following years. As a Confederate Army battlefield medic during the 1862 Battle of Corinth, Newton Knight (McConaughey) becomes desensitised by bloodshed and chaos. The former farmer snaps after his nephew Daniel’s death. He defects and returns to his homestead and wife Serena (Keri Russell) before befriending slave girl Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).
The best docudramas explore one part of a famous person’s life, expanding upon their social and cultural relevance. The worst ones, however, stretch from birth to death. The latter approach makes Free State of Jones one of 2016’s biggest disappointments. Based on two major texts, its reach well exceeds its grasp. Sure, writer-director Gary Ross’s pet project has good intentions. Stories about Civil War history, important historical figures, slavery in America and American politics resonate with wide audiences. This one is a high school student’s ultimate cure for insomnia. Ross captures enough material for a HBO mini-series. The plot takes multiple turns after Knight’s return home. He, seeing poor men fighting a rich man’s conflict, plans revenge on his former army. He, fellow defectors and runaway slaves take down Confederacy taxation agents and give back to local farmers. As a mix of Defiance and Glory, the first half is peaks the interest levels.
However, the second half features several underdeveloped subplots ripe for parody. The three-way romance – between Knight, the slave, and his frustrated wife – is worth its own movie. Worse still, the courtroom scenes – chronicling Knight’s ancestor fighting for rights in the 1950s – adds nothing to the narrative. The Ross packs in an exorbitant array of dot points including the Ku Klux Klan’s formation, freedom and voting rights for slaves, the Census etc. His stylistic choices merely pad out the running time. Title cards, delivered every 10 minutes, halt proceedings to display real-life footage and paragraphs’ worth of text. However, the battle scenes unleash an eye for period detail and unflinching violence. The performances also shine. McConaughey, bouncing off quality character-actors, is a charismatic force.
Free State of Jones is an example of potential ruined by execution. Stuck between gargantuan historical epic and TV mini-series, it contains too much and too little. McConaughey still gets away Scot-free.
Stars: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman
Release date: August 4th, 2016
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 123 minutes
Best part: Will Smith and Margot Robbie.
Worst part: Jared Leto’s Joker.
Nothing in modern cinema is more divisive and distressing than the DC Extended Universe. Man of Steel divided critics and audiences but made enough coin to kick off the franchise. However, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was a laughable misfire and fundamental misunderstanding of the genre. The series relied on Suicide Squad to pick up the ball and continue running. Sadly, it hits the ground with a deafening thud.
Suicide Squad is a prime example of overwhelming potential obliterated by underwhelming execution. Writer/director David Ayer, despite being given 6 weeks for the screenplay, had reportedly made a cracking flick. However, after BvS’s disastrous critical response, the studio went into overdrive with reshoots and marketing schemes. DC’s latest misfire sees Ballbuster Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) dusting off a unique idea to combat the Metahuman threat kick started by Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman etc. Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and Katana (Karen Fukuhara) task supervillains/Belle Reve Penitentiary inmates including hit man Deadshot (Will Smith), deranged chick Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), pyrotechnic ex-gangbanger El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Aussie thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), monster Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and mercenary Slipknot (Adam Beach) with completing a deadly, government-sanctioned mission in Midway City.
Suicide Squad begins with several interesting concepts and fun moments. Ayer – whose previous efforts include WWII-thriller Fury and LA-gangland movies like End of Watch – is suited to its team-up premise. The movie hits a rollicking pace during the first third. Kooky character bios, flashbacks, narration and music cues deliver thrills and funnies. However, studio meddling quickly overruns Ayer’s lean-and-mean vision. Attempting Guardians of the Galaxy-style action-comedy, it’s light, breezy tone undercuts the ugly narrative and themes. The story jumps between past and present, warping an otherwise straightforward men-on-a-mission story. The tone lurches wildly from black comedy to action-thriller without relevance between scenes. Endless montages – Waller’s character introductions, getting the team together etc. – delay the mission itself. The mission, however, boils down to generic plot twists, a thin story structure, and an underwhelming villain. Dr June Moone/Enchantress(Cara Delevingne)’s plan, to resurrect her deity brother Incubus to take over the world, makes her 2016’s most uninspired antagonist.
Suicide Squad also disappoints fans of the Joker and DC’s broad range of superheroes. The famous antagonist appears randomly in flashbacks and action sequences. His and Quinn’s nasty relationship, worthy of its own feature, is wedged in. Jared Leto’s portrayal compares poorly to Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson’s. The broad, irritating mannerisms and ghetto bling/gangbanger style are baffling. Ben Affleck’s Batman and Ezra Miller’s Flash appear briefly to connect instalments. Ayer’s tough, brawny direction extends to the visual style; cramming fluoro colours, grimy exteriors and wacky costuming into every space. Ayer shoots and choreographs the action with textbook precision. His creation is partly salvaged by its actors’ raw enthusiasm. Robbie conquers Quinn’s first cinematic appearance. Smith, after several bland performances, is back to his charismatic best. Meanwhile, Davis, Courtney and Kinnaman succeed in underdeveloped roles.
Suicide Squad represents everything good, bad and ugly with Hollywood. The talented cast and filmmaker put 110% into every wild and wacky second. However, studio meddling and lack of depth make it one of 2016’s many ‘dark and gritty’ blockbuster disappointments.
Stars: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel
Release date: July 28th, 2016
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Running time: 123 minutes
Best part: The action sequences.
Worst part: The heavy-handed messages.
The Bourne franchise has powered through several fits and starts. The first three – Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum – set the bar for modern action cinema. The meme-worthy franchise is praised for its story-lines, visual style, and iconic elements. Many people cannot tell the difference between them. However, everyone knows the Jeremy Renner-starring Bourne Legacy is a waste of time and energy. Sadly, Jason Bourne doesn’t re-kindle the flame.
Jason Bourne is easily the least impressive of the four Matt Damon-starring Bourne flicks. This slice kicks off with a disgruntled Bourne (Damon) living off the grid, after discovering the truth behind his past 9 years ago. He feels lost within our bright, shiny world. However, in this post-Snowden and post-post-privacy era, the former psychogenic, amnesiac assassin is watched by agency spooks. He is brought back into the war by former CIA operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles). Parsons, after hacking into CIA secure files and stealing Black Ops secrets, uncovers new details about Bourne’s role in shady outfit Treadstone. Bourne’s latest mission leads to revelations about those chasing him and his father’s involvement.
Damon and writer/director Paul Greengrass (Supremacy and Ultimatum) refused to return unless a strong vision was presented. Bourne birthed – and continually utilises – specific plot-points, iconographic elements and character types. Each flick follows a familiar pattern – Bourne goes on the run, discovers strands of his back story, is tracked by CIA reps, defeats a shady border-hopping agent, and exposes an older agency representative as the real villain. This one is a bland, uninspired retread of the four preceding entries. The miasma of mysterious settings, Bourne’s reserved demeanour, quiet female characters and shady CIA dealings feels all too familiar. However, the introduction is still intriguing. Bourne’s one-to-four punch fighting style is glorious. Despite minimal dialogue and plot development, his first few scenes develop a fascinating character study. However, Bourne’s involvement leads to several underwhelming revelations. Like with Legacy, the questions are given silly answers.
Jason Bourne is hampered by Greengrass and co-screenwriter Christopher Rouse’s laughable depiction of the 21st century. Their vision delivers a fear-inducing, out-of-touch view of surveillance states. The CIA sequences are truly baffling. The CIA crew – led by CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), cyber head Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), and an asset (Vincent Cassel) – look at a screen, perform Machiavellian feats with GPS/identification technology and become hyper-aware. Their God-like powers continually lower the stakes. Whereas previous entries created enthralling cat-and-mouse missions grounded in reality, this one is stranded in a sci-fi realm. The social-media subplot, featuring app-founder Aaron Kalloor’s dealings with the CIA, is given little development. Like the other entries, the action is top-notch. Two set pieces – the bike chase through Syntagma Square and the car chase/fist fight in Las Vegas – deliver Greengrass’ enthralling quick cut-shaky cam style.
Despite glorious action sequences and locations, Jason Bourne turns a tried-and-true formula into bland mush. Damon and Greengrass coast on goodwill, leaving the remaining cast and crew in the dust. This installment, like its lead character, resembles a tired, haggard and pale shadow of its former self.
Stars: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Aidan Gillen
Release date: July 21st, 2016
Distributor: The Weinstein Company, Lionsgate
Country: Ireland, USA, UK
Running time: 105 minutes
Best part: The musical numbers.
Worst part: The parents’ subplot.
Two of cinema’s most polarising genres are the musical and the dramedy. Both tug at specific parts of the brain and heart, they relish the freedom of fantasy and, most importantly, they light up the screen and our lives. However, their high-on-life energy and emotional-rollercoaster stories repel people. Sing Street is a very rare gem – bringing both genres together with class and textbook precision.
Sing Street is 2016’s beacon of hope for independent cinema in the big, wide world of movies. Film buffs everywhere are praying it receives the attention it deserves. Come awards time, it could be this year’s Brooklyn. This Irish musical-dramedy takes us to south inner-city Dublin in 1985. The Lalor family, lead by Robert (Aiden Gillen) and Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy), is falling apart. The film’s protagonist, youngest son Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), is thrown from private school into a rough public institution. Sister Ann (Kelly Thornton) eldest brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) are difficult to connect with. Worse still, Synge Street CBS is the new hell. Conor’s run-ins with bullies, rules and mean catholic headmasters play out before he, Darren (Ben Carolan), instrumentalist Eamon (Mark McKenna) and several other rip-roaring youngsters form a rock-pop school band.
Writer/director John Carney has had an interesting career; Once gave the indie-drama a new face lift. However, Begin Again was a mushy, middling dramedy saved by its cracking cast and soundtrack. Make no mistake, Carney refuses to stray from convention here. His script follows similar plot, character and emotional beats as his previous efforts. Like the aforementioned flicks, Sing Street sees a white man struggling with his psyche and emotions, meets a pretty girl (Raphina (Lucy Boynton)), creates some music before getting his groove back. His focus on words over action recalls the early days of Woody Allen and Cameron Crowe, without leaning too heavily on them. Its subplots and side characters elevate it above similar musicals and dramedies. Conor’s interactions with Raphina have a refreshing, bittersweet glow. However, he and Brendan deliver the movie’s most light-hearted and witty chunks.
Carney’s frenetic and captivating style overwhelms the screen. Every rhythm, beat and flourish highlights his palpable affection for music. The drama leaps effortlessly between the band’s rise to prominence and the family’s swift decline. Lingering sequences move through every aspect of songwriting, recording, music video producing and touring. However, his dialogue is a little too on the nose – prophesising like a hippie at Woodstock. References to Duran, Duran, Spandau Ballet and everyone in between showcase his glowing sense of nostalgia. In fairness, the period detail, settings and costumes light up every frame. The young cast members also add to the movie’s gripping comedic timing and pure enthusiasm.
Sing Street is, from go to woe, is a comfortable, optimistic jaunt between two genres. Carney, for better or worse, has a style and philosophy worth considering. His latest effort delivers a stack of youthful performers, luscious visual flourishes and 80s numbers.
Stars: Aaron Pedersen, Alex Russell, Jacki Weaver, David Wenham
Release date: July 7th, 2016
Distributor: Transmission Films
Running time: 110 minutes
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.
Stars: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones
Release date: July 14th, 2016
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running time: 116 minutes
Best part: The four leads.
Worst part: The cameos.
No movie in cinema history has faced as much anger as 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot. Prior to release, it was showered in searing hatred. Delusional fanboys attacked it for coming near the 1984 original’s lasting legacy. Misogynistic creeps resented the all-female leading cast members. With all that said, it’s best to judge Ghostbusters for what it is and not what certain factions might want.
It has to be said – Ghostbusters is much better than most of 2016’s other blockbusters. The franchise kickstarter follows a familiar structure. Dr Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is a geeky professor at Columbia University just short of gaining tenure. However, a book about paranormal beings in our realm – co-written by herself and Dr Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) – gets in her way. After reuniting, Gilbert and Yates reluctantly team up with wacky engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) to tackle a reported ghost sighting. After getting fired, the trio turn into a full-time ghost-catching group looking out for New York City. Joined by streetwise MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) and ditzy receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), the group face an army of ghouls and naysayers.
The original delivered big laughs, unique visuals and intelligent heroes for geeks everywhere to look up to. The 2016 version follows a wholly specific formula from script to screen. This one also features an array of Saturday Night Live alumni coming together, proving everyone wrong and saving the world. Writer/director Paul Feig overcomes the barrage of hate and uncertainty with ease. This – like earlier works Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy – is a pleasant, crystal-clear experience free from anything ‘dark and gritty’. The plot itself boils down to everything you’d expect from a modern supernatural-comedy. The first and second acts revolve around the origin-story dynamic – building up and then shaking the team’s foundations. Of course, the third act is reserved for the underdeveloped villain’s master plan. Ghostbusters doesn’t change the game, but certainly gives it a little push.
Feig and co-screenwriter Katie Dippold make their characters human and understandable in spite of the ensuing chaos. For the most part, the humour is a mix of clever references and light-hearted one-liners. The four leads, having worked together before on many projects, make the jokes, sci-fi gobbledygook and touching moments work effectively. However, Feig’s direction occasionally lets them down. Awkward editing choices and sluggish pacing keep this reboot from reaching its true potential. Sadly, the third-act action extravaganza delivers bland, CGI-laden visuals rather than unique flourishes. Worse still, cameos from Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and the rest of the original troupe stop the movie dead in its tracks. The score also fails to impress, partly due to Fall Out Boy and Missy Elliott’s rubbish remix of the original theme.
Ghostbusters valiantly highlights the best women in contemporary Hollywood comedy. The cast and crew deliver many laugh-out-loud moments, engaging performances and effective reminders of the franchise’s appeal. However, it can’t decide whether to stand on it own or cling to the original.
Stars: Blake Jenner, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, Glen Powell
Release date: June 23rd, 2016
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 116 minutes
Best part: The kick-ass soundtrack.
Worst part: Some minor supporting characters.
No matter what decade, fraternity movies are almost all the same. From Animal House (the one that defined the genre) to Bad Neighbours (the one with Zac Efron’s abs), this type of flick serves as wish-fulfillment for some and something to laugh at for others. The best frat movies break through multiple demographics and make us laugh and think in equal measure. Everybody Wants Some!! is one of those.
Everybody Wants Some!! is the ‘spiritual sequel’ to acclaimed writer/director Richard Linklater’s cult classic Dazed and Confused. This ‘installment’ sees him return to a world of few responsibilities, fewer rules, and maximum fun. Set in the 1980s, the movie follows college freshman Jake (Blake Jenner) three days before the start of semester. Once the hotshot pitcher of high school, he must contend with a frat house full of boozy, womanising Southeast Texas Cherokees baseball players. Housemates Finnegan (Glen Powell), Roper (Ryan Guzman), McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), and Dale (Quinton Johnson) grow accustomed to Jake and fellow newbies Plummer (Temple Baker), Billy (Will Brittain) and Brumley (Tanner Kalina) and transfers Jay (Juston Street) and Willoughby (Wyatt Russell).
Linklater exists in the realm between Hollywood and Austin, Texas – combining studio and independent sensibilities for projects including the Before (Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight) trilogy, School of Rock, Bernie, A Scanner Darkly and Me and Orson Welles. Coming off coming-of-age drama/12-year cinematic experiment Boyhood, Everybody Wants Some!! returns to the laid back feel of early career favourites Dazed and Confused and Slacker. Is he darting off in a new direction or simply taking a breather after Boyhood? Answer: a bit of both. The movie indeed follows a familiar structure; strung together by conversations, bonding moments, and set-pieces throughout a steady 116-minute run-time. Linklater painstakingly emphasises every tiny detail – including meditations on music, weed, art, philosophy etc. – throughout.
Everybody Wants Some!!, like Linklater’s other movies, awaits tragic events that never arrive. The plot ebbs and flows ever so steadily. The music blares and good vibes become infectious when our characters party or get laid. However, as the drama of college and the future kicks in, tensions slowly bubble to the surface. Its darker shades – ego, masculinity, racism, misogyny etc. – cleverly highlight identity issues. The countdown to class, shown on-screen multiple times, comes off as a blessing and a curse. Surprisingly, Jake’s dalliance with arts student Beverly (Zoey Deutch) and baseball are only small parts. Thankfully, Linklater and the cast make these characters somewhat likeable. Its period detail is flawless, providing a snapshot of the 1980s’ clash of disco, punk, and country-western cultures. The cracking soundtrack may cause rockin’, 80s-themed singalongs on the ride home.
Illuminating the divide between college life and everything else, Everybody Wants Some!! looks at the optimism, realism and cynicism of a wholly different time. Jocks, nerds, nice guys, cool girls and those in between are all likely to find something to enjoy here.
Writers: James Wan, Chad & Carey Hayes, David Leslie Johnson
Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe
Release date: June 9th, 2016
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 134 minutes
Best part: Farmiga and Wilson.
Worst part: The familiar story structure.
The horror genre has gone through some strange and rocky times over the past several decades. The genre was once a cinematic paradise of trend-setters (Jaws, The Exorcist) foreign treats (Suspiria) and franchises (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th etc.). Nowadays, thanks largely to Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes juggernaut, horror has been swallowed up by reboots and remakes. Thankfully, the Conjuring franchise is here to show its fellow Hollywood counterparts how it’s done.
2013’s The Conjuring was the first movie to receive an R18+ rating based entirely on terror rather than nudity, violence, or explicit language. The original has your classic ghost/demon story – a family is terrorised, a young girl becomes possessed, crucifixes are bared, and the power of Christ compels the spirit back to hell. This time around…all of those elements occur. Set in 1977, this sequel follows a family stuck in lower-class Enfield, North London. Single mother Peggy (Frances O’Connor) Hodgson struggles to keep everything afloat. Making matters worse, The family – youngest daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe), in particular – are hampered by spirits wandering their dilapidated council house. Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), made famous by their involvement in the Amityville massacre investigation, are assigned to the Hodgons’ concerning case.
Like many of 2016’s sequels, The Conjuring 2, despite closely resembling the original, falls just short of recapturing the magic. Director/co-writer James Wan, coming back to horror after Furious 7 and before Aquaman, delivers his trademark style of graphic supernatural-thriller filmmaking. The Australian-Malaysian director’s vision is fascinating – introduced with the original Saw flick, built upon with projects like Death Sentence and the Insidious franchise, and perfected with the original Conjuring. Here, however, his direction far outshines the screenplay. Developed by Wan, Chad and Carey Hayes, and David Leslie Johnson), the script stretches standard horror-thriller/ghost story/exorcism conventions over a tiresome 134-minute run-time. This installment is a tad predictable; carrying tropes including an overpopulated family, a rundown house, and questions about faith over from the original.
Wan continually establishes himself as a hyperkinetic and intensifying filmmaker. Free from studio constraints, he lathers every frame with his unique and uncompromising vision. Wan is the jumpscare master – toying with our expectations whilst building to moments of unrequited dread. Joseph Bishara’s relentless score flutters in and out at opportune moments. The composer’s screeches and strums ratchet up the tension throughout its many set pieces. Don Burgess’ impressive camerawork floats through hallways and in between rooms with textbook precision. Wan’s eye for period detail, costume and set design balances between bold and subdued. Adding to the movie’s flair, Farmiga and Wilson blend into the narrative and make for a believable married couple.
Featuring demon nuns, possessed children and Elvis Presley sing-a-longs, The Conjuring 2 is equal parts fun and frightening. Wan’s unique and kinetic direction overshadows the familiar screenplay. His latest blood-curdling jaunt is a contender for 2016’s best horror flick and most successful sequel.
Stars: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer
Release date: May 27th, 2016
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 116 minutes
Best part: Crowe & Gosling’s chemistry.
Worst part: The shaky third act.
Writer/director Shane Black is one of modern Hollywood’s few remaining pioneers from generations past. From his 1980s and 90s jaunts (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout) to today, the visionary wordsmith has set the bar in terms of plot, character, tension, and dialogue. After ostensibly being thrown under bus after The Long Kiss Goodnight and The Last Action Hero‘s commercial failings, his spectacular work on Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and Iron Man 3 brought him back. Tinseltown loves a true underdog story.
His latest venture, The Nice Guys, takes us back to a time of bright colours, questionable antics, and political strife (judging by those qualities, nothing much has changed). Set in 1977 Los Angeles, the movie chronicles underground lowlife Jackson Healy(Russell Crowe)’s tiresome existence. Busting heads for a living, Healy’s post-divorce, cheap lifestyle takes a severe toll. Meanwhile, sketchy private detective Holland March (Ryan Gosling) has crawled into a bottle after his wife’s death. Prone to drinking and scamming helpless elderly clients, March is a bad guy pretending to do good. His 13-year-old daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice) is beginning to despise her old man. After an unfortunate run-in, Healy and March must team up to solve the head-scratching mystery of missing girl Amelia (Margaret Qualley).
The Nice Guys combines buddy-comedy’s good-natured thrills, neo-noir’s lingering hopelessness, and Black’s shocking sense of humour into a riveting adventure. Admittedly, it’s nitty-gritty plot-threads involving murder, the pornography scene, and Detroit car industry muddy the waters in its second and third acts. Overshadowing the slower moments, the first act sets up the intensifying atmosphere and Black’s idiosyncratic style. The writer/director lives and dies by sharp tonal shifts, with every frame unapologetically pushing violence and sex appeal. Black and co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi craft a shaggy-dog script chock-a-block with funny lines, intriguing plot-points and fun characters.
Black, in all three trips behind the camera, proves himself as one of today’s more meaningful and bold filmmakers. Black dives into a 70s aesthetic of pastel patterns, sleaze, and unadulterated flair. The movie’s biggest set-pieces, in true neo-noir/buddy-cop fashion, showcase the glitz and ‘glamour’ of the era’s pastel interiors, porn parties, and car conventions. Touching on 70s hangups (i.e. smog, crushing political corruption), Black never drops the snarky attitude. Provided with a sensory feast and meaty material, Crowe and Gosling develop crackling chemistry whilst hurling themselves into slapstick shenanigans. Rice delivers strong dramatic shades to balance out her co-stars’ wacky antics. Genre fans will also enjoy appearances from familiar faces Matt Bomer, Keith David, and Kim Basinger.
Featuring big laughs, over-the-top stunts, anthropomorphized bees, foul-mouthed kids, nudity, and shocking violence, The Nice Guys is anything but friendly. This neo-noir/buddy-comedy is a lean, mean ode to a bygone era. Its writer/director and spectacular cast deliver one of the year’s most entertaining popcorn flicks.
Writers: Taika Waititi (screenplay), Barry Crump (Novel)
Stars: Julian Dennison, Sam Neill, Rima Te Wiata, Rhys Darby
Release date: May 27th, 2016
Distributors: Madman Entertainment, The Orchard
Country: New Zealand
Running time: 101 minutes
Best part: Dennison and Neill’s chemistry.
Worst part: Some forgettable minor sub-plots.
Australia and New Zealand’s film industries have danced around one another since their inception. Playing around with the medium, 1980s and 90s Aussie comedies including Muriel’s Wedding and Kiwi dramas like The Piano broke the mold simultaneously. Nowadays, with heavy Australian dramas in full effect, NZ filmmaker Taika Waititi is delivering some of modern cinema’s most captivating comedies.
Coming off critically acclaimed Boy and What We Do in the Shadows, Waititi’s latest, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, has already set NZ box-office records for highest-grossing opening weekend and highest-grossing first week for a NZ film. Based on Barry Crump’s novel Wild Pork and Watercress, the movie centres around troublemaking city kid Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) being sent by child welfare services to live on a farm with new foster carers Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hector (Sam Neill). Hector, forced to track down Ricky after an escape attempt, fractures his ankle in the green, lush wilderness. As a country-wide manhunt begins, the duo spark-up an odd-couple dynamic.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople, similarly to road-trip comedies like Thelma & Louise, effectively sticks by its familiar premise. Throughout their journey, the rebellious youngster and cranky uncle’s budding friendship provides heavy doses of drama and comedy. Waititi’s abstract sense of humour and unique style separates his vision from that of even Hollywood’s most talented comedic elite (Adam McKay, Judd Apatow etc.). Waititi expertly develops every detail, giving our heroes and those chasing them significant depth and personality. Even the movie’s wacky side characters – including tough-but-misguided social worker Paula (Rachel House), bumbling officer Andy (Oscar Knightley), and Psycho Sam (Rhys Darby) – add to its thematic and emotional heft.
This coming-of-age dramedy is not perfect, with minor sub-plots hinted at but not fully developed. However, amongst the witty lines and slapstick gags, it includes several heart-breaking moments and plot-twists you won’t see coming. Unlike most big-budget comedies, it combines laugh-out-loud humour with messages about paedophilia and mental instability. The movie explores Ricky and Hec’s motivations – running away from the past, present, and future for different reasons into an abyss. Dennison holds his own against Neill, helping us side with an otherwise petulant and unlikable character. Similarly, Neill’s comic timing boosts the character-actor’s most fleshed-out, charismatic role in decades.
Despite the wacky premise and neat cast, Waititi is Hunt for the Wilderpeople‘s shining light. The writer/director’s next project is a small, independent jaunt called Thor: Ragnarok. Let’s hope Kevin Feige and the Marvel Cinematic Universe lets him off the leash.
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine
Release date: November 6th, 2014
Distributors: Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures
Countries: USA, UK
Running time: 169 minutes
Best part: The mind-blowing visuals.
Worst part: The exasperating length.
Whenever a Christopher Nolan feature is released, two distinctive camps wage war. One group, known simply as the Nolanites, strives to elevate the acclaimed British filmmaker’s status. Convinced he’s cinema’s biggest game-changer, this cult pushes internet comment sections to breaking point. The other group directly clashes with the Nolanites. Convinced he’s another Michael Bay or Brett Ratner, the group causes a stir before, during, and after each movie’s buzz-time. His latest monster,Interstellar, has crafted the decade’s boldest cinema-related feud. Inexplicably, it’s a behemoth ripe for praise and parody.
Matthew McConaughey vs. the universe.
So, how did Interstellargarner said backlash? Oh boy, where do I begin?! There are many reasons behind said divisive reaction. Hot on The Dark Knight Rises‘ heels, it had a fascinating production history. Passed from Steven Spielberg to Nolan, the production undertook several exponential changes. Working from brother/writing partner Jonathan Nolan’s original script, Nolan crafts a concoction of weighty concepts, directorial ticks, and peculiar casting choices. Indeed, Spielberg’s version would have worked. However, Nolan’s version is a scintillating yet flawed epic. The story is…seriously, where do I begin?! This extravaganza follows mankind’s journey to infinity and beyond. Former NASA test pilot/engineer turned corn farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) leads a bland life. Born into a warring world, he’s pushed through food wars, social obliteration, and his wife’s death. This widower, fathering Tom (Timothee Chalamet) and Murph (Mackenzie Foy), treats his job and father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow) with contempt. Humankind, regressing into an agrarian society, must contend with blight, dust storms, and economic/political/social/cultural failure. In fact, its schools teach children about phony, propagandistic space programs and 20th-century “excess and wastefulness”. Murph, convinced a ghost haunts her room, asks for Cooper’s help. Thanks to gravitational anomalies, it outlines a binary message listing nearby coordinates. Finding NASA’s underground station, Cooper is chosen for a humanity-saving mission. Aided by astronaut Amelia (Anne Hathaway), physicist Romilly (David Gyasi), geographer Doyle (Wes Bentley), and artificially intelligent robots TARS (Bill Irwin) and CASE (Josh Stewart), Cooper searches for life-sustaining systems and multi-tiered dimensions.
Interstellarbares several overwhelming positives and mind-numbing negatives. Wanting to have its cake and eat it too, the movie reaches for the stars but just misses. As notoriety and power rushes to these siblings’ heads, their latest aims higher than the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception combined. Despite Chris’ majesty, his reach still exceeds his grasp. So, with this in mind, why the high rating? The well-renowned filmmaker, switching from mind-bending blockbusters to unique drama-thrillers (Memento, Insomnia) to outside-the-box surprises (Following, The Prestige), still deserves immense credit. His style, delivering blockbusters no one else can compete with, deserves meticulous study and discussion. Interstellar, despite being a lesser effort, is born from full-blooded ambition. Unlike previous efforts, light, space, and optimism solidify its core. Fuelled by intriguing ideas, multi-layered plot-lines, and major themes, each act delivers significant twists and turns. Standing out from the second-two thirds, the opening 45-60 minutes weave through parenthood, global degradation, and spirituality. Despite the leaps in logic, the first third delivers touching moments and picturesque flourishes. Ripping up/burning down corn fields, poetic happenstances, and far-fetched ideologies, its less-is-more approach switches between apocalyptic-actioner tropes and ponderous dream-weaving. After Cooper’s run-ins with Dylan Thomas poetry aficionado/Earth saviour professor Brand (Michael Caine), Nolan hurls us into the stratosphere. Pulling us into his galaxy-hopping journey, the second-two-thirds obsess over quantum mechanics, wormholes, potential home-worlds, black-holes, physics, and relativity. The convoluted screenplay, spilling vital details through exposition, becomes a miasma of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne-approved science mumbo-jumbo, plot-holes, needless plot-strands, and contrivances.
“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.” (Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), Interstellar).
Jessica Chastain & Casey Affleck.
Sadly, Interstellar‘s egregious run-time is inexcusable. Exhausting his audience, Nolan’s latest is too dark for too long. In the last third, its grand-scale messages send it into a crash landing. Flipping between hard science and love-and-fate-conquer-all posturing, Nolan becomes lost in his own tumultuous labyrinth. However, its smaller moments add emotional resonance, awe, and stakes. Nolan’s uncompromising visual flourishes are worth the admission cost. Wearing its central influences – 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Right Stuff – on its sleeve, it laps up the universe’s wondrous creations. Lapping up our solar system, Saturn has never looked so appealing! Also, the black-holes/wormholes are vast, awe-inspiring obstacles. The planets – constructed of water, ice and sand – are imaginative constructions. Shooting on anamorphic 35mm film, Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography paints with delectable strokes. Nolan’s world-building – depicting space’s weightlessness, silence, and claustrophobia – delivers edge-of-your-seat thrills. Nolan’s process – utilising practical effects over CGI – improves over each set piece, visual flourish, and extended take. Capturing space travel, human endeavour, and astronomy’s overwhelming merits, his style crafts engaging dreamscapes. Hans Zimmer’s organ-based score, coming in at opportune moments, amplifies the movie’s atmospheric glow. Throughout the middle-third, cross-cutting between space-and-time-tearing adventures and Murph(Jessica Chastain)’s and Tom(Casey Affleck)’s sibling rivalry, its overly insistent momentum swings wildly. However, the action – including one set piece connecting a shuttle to a damaged spacecraft – amplifies Nolan’s glorious style. Also, McConaughey elevates this monolithic sci-fi extravaganza. Crafting new inflections and ticks, the Oscar winner solidifies his immense worth.
Swinging for the fences, Interstellar attempts to deconstruct blockbuster cinema and create ground-breaking celluloid playgrounds. Despite the polarising screenplay and directorial choices, Nolan’s ambitions deliver several heart-breaking moments and wondrous flourishes. Delivering 2014’s ultimate movie-going experience, his willpower and attention to detail overshadow other action-adventure filmmakers’ styles. Aiding Nolan’s grand-scale project, McConaughey and Hathaway are flawless in beautiful roles. As an enthralling concoction of Cloud Atlas, Sunshine, and The Grapes of Wrath, this is true big-budget spectacle. However, Gravity achieved much more in half the length.
Verdict: A flawed yet invigorating sci-fi extravaganza.
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton
Release date: October 31st, 2014
Distributors: Open Road Films, Entertainment One, Elevation Pictures, Madman Entertainment
Running time: 117 minutes
Best part: Gyllenhaal’s mesmerising turn.
Worst part: The detective sub-plot.
No, Hollywood’s latest attack against Western Civilization – scintillating crime-thriller Nightcrawler – isn’t an X-Men spin-off. Almost certainly, this crime-thriller won’t resonate with average film-goers. In fact, those waiting for said superhero flick may shrug it off. From its casting choices to its viewpoints,the movie rallies against everything comfortable and wholesome. However, in this business-over-artistic-value era, few movies pack the one-two punch of creativity and intelligence.
Several recent movies have dissected capitalism, Western prowess, and modern media. Crime-dramas including Maps to the Stars and Gone Girl tear through the wool over our eyes. Nightcrawlerseeks to uncover the lowest rung of humanity. However, from a production standpoint, it appears unaware of its own hypocrisy. Despite attacking media, culture, and society, Hollywood’s allure still shines through. The cast and crew live financially and culturally rich existences. What would they know about lower-class suffering? So, with such people leading the charge, how does Nightcrawlerget away with it? By being accurate, determined, and so damn entertaining! The premise, though charging into several big questions and themes, revolves around one bizarre man. Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an unemployed twenty/thirty-something with his eye on the prize. Desperate for cash, he resorts to stealing and trading metal from industrial complexes. Attacking and stealing from innocent people, his disturbing behaviour never pays off. One night, after pulling over to watch TV-news cameramen (nightcrawlers) film a fatal car crash, he concocts a get-rich-quick scheme. Obsessed with money, power, and respect, our unqualified and unstable lead becomes lost inside his uber-calculated conscience.
Arming himself with a cheap camera, a police scanner, and unemployed sidekick Rick (Riz Ahmed), Bloom aims for industry success, adrenaline rushes, and recognition. Certainly, Nightcrawler is an ambitious and opinionated crime-thriller. Ambitiously, it strives for the action-thriller and Aaron Sorkin crowds. Tackling major endeavours within a taut 117-minute run-time, certain sequences eek under immense pressure. Rushing towards its resolution, the movie struggles to define its points. Delivering a crash course in 21st-century living, director Dan Gilroy – acclaimed filmmaker Tony Gilroy’s brother – throws everything at us. Obsessed with its snaky lead character, the movie’s ethical and emotional current crafts a punishing and relentless swell. Throughout the first half, this crime-drama seems intent on following Bloom’s rise to success. Examining its slimy go-getter lead, the opening scenes deliver several nasty surprises. Contrasting Bloom’s home and work life, it becomes a unique thesis on the American Dream. Watering his one plant before hitting the web, our near-nocturnal lead pours blood, sweat, and tears into his journey. As the second half rolls through, he transitions into a murderous, selfish psychopath. Post dynamic station manager Nina(Rene Russo)’s introduction, the movie becomes a schizophrenic struggle between right, wrong, and modern civilization. The narrative, examining what Network expounded upon decades earlier, obsesses over delivering harsh truths.
“What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them?” (Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), Nightcrawler).
Gyllenhaal & Riz Ahmed.
Nightcrawler‘s nihilism may repel some viewers. Set in one of America’s most violent cities, its anti-capitalism agenda unfolds spectacularly. Presenting a pro-TMZ/anti-ethics world, the movie worships this seedy underbelly of vile men and lifeless machines. Bewitching those around him, Bloom’s ultra-slick business speak describes everything about him. Like a self-help speech, he communicates in lists, statistics, jargon, and tiresome cliches. His actions, proving pictures speak louder than words or morals, discusses this era of citizen journalism, the cameras-on-everything craze, and matter-over-mind media. Feeding TV stations with graphic images and exclusive/first-on-the-scene accounts, there is nothing he can’t, or won’t, do. Credit belongs to Gyllenhaal’s complete career-180. Following up star-defining vehicles Prisoners and Enemy, his Oscar-worthy turn tests each tick and inflection. Russo, fresh off a long-term screen hiatus, excels as Bloom’s shadowy game’s central victim. Gracefully, Ahmed and Bill Paxton provide chuckles as Bloom’s personality-driven distractions. Gilroy, like our lead character, creates show-stopping, unshakeable thrills. Several set pieces – depicting everything from shootouts to car accidents to home invasions – deliver edge-of-your-seat fragments throughout. The car chase, set up by our icky ‘protagonist’, boosts the scintillating and gruelling last third. Bolstered by Bloom’s Mustang, this sequence distinguishes itself from everything else.
In Nightcrawler, the City of Angels plays host to spiritual, emotional, and psychological demons. As Bloom crawls under our skin, the drama accelerates whenever he’s on-screen. Chronicling a slick rise-and-rise-and-rise story, this pulsating crime-thriller revs with force, meaning, and consistency. Similarly to Collateral and Drive, LA becomes a mix of crime, grime, and slime. Despite the sickening blackness, the grey areas keep the reviews flowing and ratings soaring.
Stars: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney, Daniel Henshall
Release date: October 24th, 2014
Distributor: Cinetic Media/eOne Films International
Running time: 94 minutes
Best part: Kent’s direction.
Worst part: The creaky CGI.
Horror and romantic-comedy, the only two genres with long-lasting demographics, keep Hollywood in operation. For generations, adolescents have made a habit of catching (sneaking into) the latest celluloid bloodbath. Thanks to their buying power, the studios don’t need to try. Seriously, why do you think we keep getting Friday the 13th remakes and Paranormal Activity sequels? However, several movements and industries, residing well outside the studio system, still seek to change the game.
Australian horror cinema – existing since the industry’s beginnings – revolves around irking grimaces from film-goers and commendations from critics. Connecting with Ozploitation buffs, horror freaks, and each demographic in between, break-out frightener The Babadook loudly asks the question: Why aren’t Australians watching Australian movies? Despite the lack of transforming robots and superheroes, Aussie industry does deliver worthwhile entertainment. In 2014, The Rover, Predestination, and Son of a Gun grasped tightly onto worldwide acclaim. The Babadook, despite the limited budget and small scale, is the David to Hollywood’s Goliath. Blitzing Kevin Smith’s Tusk at this year’s Fantastic Fest, the movie has more supporters than slip-ups. How did this happen? Well, the story makes for gripping and intelligent horror cinema. In the first scene, the movie establishes its tone and never lets up. Amelia (Essie Davis) is pregnant with her first child. En route to the hospital, her husband is killed by an oncoming vehicle. We jump seven years, and Amelia is a single mum struggling to juggle responsibilities. Her precocious son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), makes dangerous contraptions and causes trouble in the school yard. After pulling Samuel out of school, our widowed lead is soon hounded by her employer, her sister Claire (Hayley McElhinney), the next-door neighbour Mrs. Roach (Barbara West), and social services.
Obviously, calling attention to spoilers would be unnecessary. Despite modern horror’s cash-grabbing, made-by-committee aura, each entry deserves credit. Tackling one of cinema’s most subjective genres, The Babadook enters the underdog and emerges the deserving victor. Void of jump-scares, debauchery, and unlikable teenagers, it dodges almost every horror trope. Despite touching upon The Shining, The Exorcist, The Ring, and Carrie, this Aussie fright-fest holds up to criticism. Its story takes a peculiar turn after Amelia and Sam find a disturbing pop-up book in his room. Reading it together, they unearth a nightmarish, Nosferatu-esque figure dressed in hipster threads. Similarly to Sinister‘s film-reel and The Conjuring‘s Annabelle doll, the titular children’s book causes enough scares to have an asylum named after it. Complete with bleak colour patterns, distressing imagery, and threatening messages, it’s an unholy creation. Set to be released as a collectable, the question must be asked: Who would want this thing?! Writer/director Jennifer Kent, expanding upon her notable 2005 short, enriches each momentous frame. As our mother/son duo flips through the book, Kent stretches the stakes and tension to breaking point. Setting paranoia upon its characters and audience, multiple threads are let loose. Is it a supernatural force or a stalker? And why is this happening to them, specifically? Throughout this gothic freak-out, her directorial flourishes and commendable intentions fit each twist and turn.
“If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.” (Amelia (Essie Davis), The Babadook).
Aussies vs. ghosts.
Relishing in its smaller moments, The Babadook crafts terror, suspense, and, subtext. Kent’s visuals – turning wholesome settings into labyrinthine deathtraps – elevates conventional material. Utilising a muted colour palette, sweeping cinematography, and haunting shadows, her direction lingers on terrifying imagery without indulging in blood. Holding the scare tactics back for extended periods, this frightener knows when and how to bump in the night. Fuelled by purpose and reason, the story examines many common familial and social issues. The central conflict, kick-starting after Samuel’s excision from school, sinks into the skin. The story, possessing each character with realistic personalities and emotional currents, carries a human touch. Examining lower-middle class issues, the central dynamic overshadows the spooky creatures. Pitting spirits and ghouls against emotional demons, it delves intently into Amelia’s psyche. Tackling grief and loneliness, she’s a fascinating protagonist. Amelia – fighting against Samuel’s troubling condition, the world around her, and household scares – is worth siding with. Tackling the school system, parenthood, and mental instability, its agenda integrates with its blood-curdling scenarios. Davis, known for remarkable TV and theatre appearances, is one of Australia’s most consistent actresses. Switching between innocent mother and psychotic disturbance, her searing turn elevates the material. Wiseman’s wondrous performance, jumping from manic glee to shrieking chaos, elevates the drama.
Sticking to story and character over box-office receipts and target demographics, The Babadook terrorizes the competition. Peering over big-name horror filmmakers’ shoulders, Kent delivers enough game-changing sequences and stylish flourishes to stand out. Beyond the narrative and technical achievements, Davis and Wiseman elevate the material. As 2014’s biggest sleeper hit, this horror-thriller/psychological-drama boots Australia’s film industry. This year, genre cinema was stolen by a nation of convicts.
Stars: Andre Benjamin, Hayley Atwell, Imogen Poots, Andrew Buckley
Release date: October 24th, 2014
Distributor: XLrator Media
Countries: UK, Ireland
Running time: 118 minutes
Best part: Andre Benjamin.
Worst part: Ridley’s direction.
When handling a true story, the producers, writers, directors, actors etc. involved have momentous duties to uphold. As Hollywood’s taste for docudramas and biopics grows hastily, we’re getting more true stories than ever. Attracting specific audiences (those learning about the subject matter and those already aware), these movies are designed to accelerate ongoing discussions. Jimi: All Is By My Side is the latest docudrama to aptly cover a well-known musician. So, why the average rating?
Andre Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix.
There are several factors keeping me from loving Jimi: All Is By My Side. Despite Ridley and co.’s affections, its flaws are more irritating and obvious than a narc at Woodstock. Like an old Republican yelling “get off my lawn!” at a drum circle, the movie breaks up the party before the cool stuff happens. In all fairness, the cast and crew aren’t to blame. In fact, the studio executives – normally responsible for on-set turbulence – let free will and bright ideas take control. Picking through enthralling facts and details, the movie crafts a spirited yet inconsistent take on Jimi Hendrix’s life. The movie kick off in a lowly, New York jazz club in 1966. Chronicling one year of Jimi'(Andre Benjamin)’s existence, the opening scene holds the cards and plays them succinctly. As a sideman to several forgettable acts, his career looks to be heading nowhere. Refusing to take anything seriously, the younger Hendrix lives a hazy, simplicity fuelled lifestyle. One night, he catches the eye of Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards’ girlfriend Linda Keith (Imogen Poots). Despite being mistaken for a groupie, Linda’s street-smarts and moxy pull people into the spotlight. After Hendrix’s discovery, aided by The Animals’ enthusiastic manager Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley), the mesmerising musician turns friends, lovers, and record label executives against him.
Benjamin & Hayley Atwell.
Despite the true story’s value, Jimi: All Is By My Side‘s production issues overshadow the final product. Criticised by Hendrix’s former flame Kathy Etchingham (Played by Hayley Atwell here), its agenda is cause for concern. Also, writer/director John Ridley, lacking permission from Hendrix LLC (Hendrix’s estate), couldn’t use any of the singer/songwriter’s phenomenal tracks. Hindered by these restrictions, this biopic opts for a more subdued and modest approach. Ridley, having tackled story and screenplay duties for everything from Undercover Brother to 12 Years a Slave, lends a strong-willed touch to this project. Avoiding most musical-biopic cliches, Ridley dissects the guitarist’s love of music, women, music, philosophy, music, weed, and music. Infatuated with the subject matter, Ridley’s project explores the under-the-surface elements. This biopic, capturing the ins and outs of Hendrix’s identity, examines a time before the fame, fortune, classic tunes, and copycats. Avoiding America’s bright-lights music scene, its microscope-like, small-scale focus on the London years delivers several invigorating sequences and enthralling revelations. Set before revelatory first album Are You Experienced‘s release, and the Monterey Jazz Festival, the year-long storyline never hinges on his current, long-lasting notoriety. Utilising cover songs (Benjamin’s ‘Wild Thing’ cover is used twice) and extensive guitar riffs, Ridley’s glowing affection hits like reverb and pot smoke.
“I want my music to inside the soul of a person. For me it’s colours, I want people to feel the music the same way I see it.” (Jimi Hendrix (Andre Benjamin), Jimi: All Is By My Side).
Benjamin & Imogen Poots.
Despite avoiding the ‘greatest hits’ structure of Jersey Boys and Get on Up, Jimi: All Is By My Side resembles fantasy wrapped in docudrama’s bright clothing. Dodging any discussion of civil rights, the movie – like its subject – lacks clear vision and purpose. Presenting the rule-makers and rule-breakers evenly, Ridley’s 1960s is as disarming as Hendrix’s stash. Unceremoniously, the third act relishes in Jimi’s abuse of music industry practices, weed, and women. Certain sequences, including one featuring Jimi bludgeoning Kathy with a phone, rift against its hallucinogenic flow. Sadly, Ridley breaks his stings well before the climax. Having written for Steve McQueen, Oliver Stone, and David O. Russell, his style is a frenzying but overcooked mix of visual flourishes. Affectionate for this specific time and place, the archival footage, elaborate production design, and magnetic score alleviate the tension and existential crises. Unfortunately, Ridley’s direction – smashing together sound-bites, freeze frames, cut-aways, and jump cuts – rifts against the production’s restraints. Despite the visual and narrative incoherence, the performances save it from obscurity and unoriginality. Benjamin, known as Andre 3000 of RnB group Outkast, its scintillating as one of music history’s biggest hitters. Blitzing previous performances from Four Brothers and Semi-Pro, his overt charisma elevates this stagnant effort. Poots and Atwell, two of Hollywood’s most underrated women, deliver fun turns in intriguing roles.
Despite lacking ‘Foxy Lady’, ‘All Along the Watchtower’, ‘Voodoo Chile’, ‘Castles Made of Sand’ etc., Jimi: All Is By My Side swaggers and spins around production issues. Thanks to Ridley’s quiet reserve and spirited style, the movie appeals to Hendrix aficionados and average film-goers. If anything, it will attract more people to the master’s discography. Hell, it may get some hooked on ganja! However, despite the ambition and allure, Ridley overworks several gimmicky flourishes. Too bad Hendrix’s Estate isn’t as laid-back.
Stars: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena
Release date: October 24th, 2014
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Countries: USA, UK
Running time: 134 minutes
Best part: The tank battles.
Worst part: The machismo dialogue.
Considering his current critical and commercial acclaim, It’s hard to believe actor/producer Brad Pitt was once considered one of Hollywood’s most irritating personalities. Back in the early 1990s, general audiences and film aficionados beat his reputation into submission. However, within just two years, the hat-trick of True Romance, 12 Monkeys, and Se7en hurled him into the stratosphere. After this ball-busting trifecta’s release, people saw a thespian instead of a dumb-looking pretty boy.
Brad Pitt & Logan Lerman.
In Tinseltown’s latest war-actioner, Fury, his character’s introduction asks a valuable question: Seriously, what would the world be like without this spirited performer? Guiding this flick through the trenches, the 50-year-old mega-star throws everything at the intriguing material. Thanks to his cool persona, fun sense of humour, stunning looks, and immense physicality, he is exactly who men want to be and women want to be with. So, beyond my overwhelming man crush, is Fury worth saving from tyranny or destroying with a big f*ucking tank? Thankfully, it falls into the former. The story delivers a horrifying take on World War II’s battlefields and mass graves. It’s April 1945, and the Allies have snatched the European Theatre of War from Hitler’s Nazi Germany. The narrative is, remarkably so, constructed by one extended take. The first shot depicts a Nazi officer straddled atop a white horse. Striding through a smoke-and-blood-stained war-zone, the mounted superior is ambushed and murdered by a beige-covered soldier. This murderous man is battle-hardened US Army Staff Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Pitt). Wardaddy – holding up the 66th Armour regiment, 2nd Armoured division – commands a M4A3E8 Sherman tank called, you guessed it, “Fury”. We meet his crew – gunner T/5 Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), driver CPL Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena), and loader PFC Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (John Bernthal) – mourning their assistant driver/bow gunner’s gruesome demise.
Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena & Jon Bernthal.
Having toured together since the North African Campaign, the crew despises everything. Recently enlisted typist PVT Norman “Machine” Ellison(Logan Lerman), having zero warfare experience, becomes a major obstacle during the team’s latest mission. Guided by CPT “Old man” Waggoner (Jason Isaacs), the squad pushes straight through the Fatherland. These events, taking up the simmering first third, develop Fury‘s heart and soul. Introducing the team and tank within the opening shot, Fury defends this loyal squad the way Wardaddy defends his Macklemore haircut. Playing to his strengths, writer/director David Ayer (Street Kings, End of Watch) ditches the mean streets of Los Angeles for the meaner landscapes of 20th-century Germany. Ayer proves himself to be a better story-teller than screenwriter. Guided by egos and wavering accents, the movie approves of its characters’ despicable behaviour. In fact, it may prove too much for some liberal-minded viewers. Developing a 134-minute dick-measuring contest, its ‘badass’ lines and brutal images craft a relentless take on WWII. Throughout the narrative, as the team surges from one battle to the next, the team serves to talk down to, then pick back up, Lerman’s character. Ayer’s story and character tropes – brotherhood, death, masculinity, existential angst – are lathered on thick. Pitt, LaBeouf, Pena, and Bernthal’s characters are given little development. However, the team itself tugs Fury‘s emotional threads. Analysing their broken-down psyches, the movie fights for our blood-stained anti-heroes through the worst.
“Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.” (Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), Fury).
The gang of Fury.
Essentially, Fury is an intensifying concoction of Saving Private Ryan, Lone Survivor, and Inglorious Basterds. Sheltered within its dour and morose middle-third, one sequence delivers a slice of humility. Wardaddy and Norman find two pretty, blonde women in an apartment. Despite their positive-role-model personas, they carry out a bizarre form of statutory rape. Soon after, the entire team argues around the breakfast table. This standout sequence, upping the tension and pathos, marks Ayer’s evolution from adrenaline-fuelled pyro-head to seasoned, mature filmmaker. Beyond the invigorating character moments, the action sequences are worth the admission cost. Resembling the Call of Duty video-game franchise, these sequences put several clunky vehicles to the test. As guts, bullets, and emotions fly, the movie’s technical precision and gravitas match that of the year’s biggest blockbusters. The tank battles, ascending in quality, deliver edge-of-your-seat moments and magnificent visual flourishes. In addition, the last third’s 300-style, few-against-many set piece delivers an exhaustive roller-coaster ride. Most importantly, Roman Vasyanov’s uncompromising cinematography fuels Ayer’s vision. Diving into the filth, his precise camera-work and muted colour palette bolster the movie’s aura. Like most Ayer efforts, the performances overshadow the screenwriting and directorial flaws. Pitt, using his Lt. Aldo Raine voice, is powerful as the all-encompassing leader. Shedding his pretty-boy persona, his charisma tares through flesh and bone.
Hurling us into the hot seat, Fury creates enough surprises, thrilling moments, and heart-breaking performances to fire on all cylinders. Carrying its strong-minded agenda, the movie delivers more gravitas and emotional heft than expected. Crafting one of 2014’s biggest surprises, Ayer’s action-direction and attention to detail overshadow his screenwriting foibles. Pushing the tension and violence into overdrive, this war-actioner ranks among the year’s brightest blockbusters.
Stars: Josh Lawson, Bojana Novakovic, Damon Herriman, Lisa McCune
Release date: September 25th, 2014
Distributors: Entertainment One, Hopscotch, Magnolia
Running time: 96 minutes
Best part: The invigorating performances.
Worst part: The last scene.
Despite the consistent quality and commendable intentions, the Australian film and television industry is stuck in a critical and commercial pot-hole. Allowed few resources, many productions use out-of-the-box ideas to impress audiences. Today, film-goers gravitate more towards spectacle than story or character. Sadly, our cinematic accomplishments are either ignored or brushed off. Despite the heavy subject matter of entries like Somersault and Animal Kingdom, there are brighter efforts out there.
Josh Lawson & Bojana Novakovic.
This year, our industry has steered itself in a whole new direction. Analysing specific demographics and trends, genre flicks like The Rover, Predestination, and The Babadook received enough attention for wide release distribution. Now, thanks to talented comedic actor Josh Lawson, modern sex-comedy The Little Death is tickling us in all the right places. This romantic comedy figuratively – literally, depending on your tastes – explores our many sweet spots. Examining sex’s natural and unnatural elements, this project gives new meaning to the term: “down under”. The movie discusses sex, romance, death, marriage, taboo, and everything in between. In fact, given its out-there premise, I’m surprised it didn’t explore the terrors of taxes and insurance claims. Don’t be afraid, this local effort is actually a breath of fresh air. The narrative juggles several peculiar story-lines and characters. Dealing with multiple couples, the story touches on many life stages. We are first introduced to an attractive couple, Paul (Josh Lawson) and Maeve (Bojana Novakovic), in full cuddle mode. Maeve, afraid of her emotions, asks Paul to fulfil her rape fantasy. Meanwhile, Dan (Damon Herriman) and Evie(Kate Mulvany)’s marriage counsellor tasks them with conducting role-play to spice things up.
Damon Herriman & Kate Mulvany.
In addition, Richard (Patrick Brammall) and Rowena (Kate Box) must adjust to a loved one’s sudden death. Bafflingly so, Kate’s libido kick-starts whenever Richard cries. Propelling the narrative from light-hearted fluff into unadulterated overdrive, Lawson elevates said three plot-threads above everything else. Connecting each strand, we see a middle-aged man, Steve (Kim Gyngell), informing his new neighbours of two things: he bakes Golliwog cookies and is a convicted sex offender. The three central story-threads, despite the exposition-driven set-ups, are almost worth the admission cost. However, Lawson, handing himself the lead role, lends significant attention to his and Novakovic’s plot-line. The other two, despite the positive vibes, are given little personality. Beyond our central story-lines, we get several underdeveloped and listless strands. One sub-plot, involving a loveless marriage between desk jockey Phil (Alan Dukes) and ball-busting housewife Maureen (Lisa McCune), goes nowhere. The intricate narrative, born from Lawson’s hyper-snappy mind, is The Little Death‘s biggest flaw. Despite the ambition, Lawson’s talents don’t stretch to fit the feature format. Introducing story-lines and character arcs at random throughout, Lawson’s screenplay resembles a brainstorming session gone horribly wrong. Despite the intriguing premise, none of its plot-strands connect succinctly. Despite the occasional meet-ups, restricts our characters to their specific threads.
“Whatever happened to good all fashioned, run-of-the-mill sex? People have to complicate it with all this kinky shit.” (Glenn (Ben Lawson), The Little Death).
Whilst promoting The Little Death, Lawson landed himself in controversy by slamming the Aussie film industry’s dark side. Putting his first feature on a high pedestal, Lawson’s high-minded promises aren’t fulfilled. Having achieved recent success with TV corporate-drama House of Lies, the export’s vanity project lands with a whimper instead of a, ahem, bang. Introducing, picking up and dropping sub-plots and character arcs without warning, Lawson’s feature – busy riding mainstream and indie tropes – never develops a satisfying through-line. Thanks to the movie’s disparate structure, it becomes a series of skits, pratfalls, misunderstandings, and miscommunications. Its skittish story-telling tropes – used to expand the wafer-thin narrative – overshadow the more alluring ideas and scenarios. These sketches, despite the pitch-perfect comedic timing, amplify the screenplay’s lack of charm, guile, or emotional resonance. Despite the flaws, the movie bares several positive aspects. The dialogue, alleviating the tension, elevates certain sequences. In addition, its talented performers elevate the mediocre material. Sadly, Lawson’s commentary on suburbia and relationships is startlingly condescending. Focusing on good-looking, upper-middle class people, the movie alienates a significant portion of its audience. With first-world problems guiding the narrative, most of its conflicts become cold-hearted. Lacking resolutions, Lawson’s daring vision never pays off.
The Little Death, almost reaching crying-after-sex disappointment, is saved by its…climax. A sign language translator, Monica (Erin James), is caught between a deaf man and a phone-sex operator. Interpreting their horrific words, the translator gains a firm understanding of the world around her. This scene pumps blood towards the movie’s heads. However, despite Lawson’s ambition, his first feature goes hard and fast for only short bursts.
Stars: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser
Release date: October 10th, 2014
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Running time: 106 minutes
Best part: Teller and Simmons.
Worst part: The relationship sub-plot.
Even the most cynical person on Earth will admit that music is a valuable art form. As a universal language, the medium can bring people together and tear others apart. From the first note to the last, a track can turn sombre morsels into happy-go-lucky specimens. From gospel to blues ‘n’ roots to rock, music genres – like movie genres – rise and fall depending on the surrounding pop-cultural landscape. Whiplash, a small-scale drama with big aspirations, meticulously examines the miasmic world of jazz.
The idea for Whiplash, similarly to a classic album, simmered for several years before seeing the green light. Based on writer/director Damien Chazelle’s horrific music school experiences, his 85-page screenplay treatment hit Hollywood’s notorious Black-list. After gaining interest, he adapted 15 pages of his original effort into an 18-minute short film. Boosted by Hollywood’s occasional-stroke-of-genius methods, this first-feature – a $3.3 million/19-day-shoot production – lands smoother than Miles Davis’ silk threads. The story, like the scintillating tunes blaring throughout, flows with as much intensity, prowess, and class as humanly possible. In fact, it takes this ‘humanly possible’ idea, and re-moulds it into something truly extraordinary. Spirited twenty-something Andrew (Miles Teller) studies the jazz drums morning noon, and night. Hitting his strides at America’s top music school, the Schaffer Conservatory of Music, the ambitious youngster’s life couldn’t be better. Dating candy-bar girl Nicole (Melissa Benoist), he yields vivid dreams about his immediate future. Picked by renowned studio jazz band conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), Andrew is unaware of what’s about to happen. In their first practice session together, Fletcher throws a chair at Andrew before slapping him repeatedly and screaming profanities. From there, Andrew is in it for the long haul.
Fletcher, to motivate terrified students, tells a hearty story about influential musician Charlie Parker. In 1936, at Kansas City’s Reno Club, a 16-year-old Parker got up on stage to perform ‘I Got Rhythm’ on the saxophone. Whilst bombing spectacularly, the drummer, Jo Jones, lobbed a cymbal at his head to the crowd’s approval. Parker, after a year of intensive practice, returned to the venue and made history. If this tale interests you, then Whiplash will suit your tastes perfectly. Following up Inside Llewyn Davis, this psychological-drama delivers an equally impressive ode to a specific genre. Jumping back to a better time, the movie’s infatuation with soulful hits and inspirational artists hits its audience with bass-drum-like momentum. From the opening scene – depicting Andrew and Fletcher’s first interaction – onwards, the movie crafts a spirited dynamic between two enthralling professionals. Going Full Metal Jacket within the first half-hour, Whiplash‘s student/mentor relationship turns up the heat, stakes, and emotional resonance. Delivering some of cinema’s most brutal insults, Chazelle’s screenplay echoes Aaron Sorkin’s more focused works. Like The Social Network, egos, personalities, and tempers clash like warring, blood-thirsty factions. Switching from Brassed Off to The Master to Black Swan, Whiplash conducts a seasoned and visceral performance throughout its taut run-time. Chazelle’s style – defined by quick cuts, whip-pans, close-ups, and a saturated colour palette – elevates each set piece. The heart-thumping climax, set at New York’s Carnegie Hall, delivers actioner-like thrills and sports-drama bravado.
“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job'”. (Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), Whiplash).
Teller & Simmons.
Despite the overworked premise, Whiplash never walks to the beat of its own drum. The central conflict, beyond the trauma and rage, delivers blackly comedic moments. “Are you one of those…single tear people”, Fletcher asks Andrew as his reputation and defences crumble. Throughout this fear-and-potential-driven experience, Andrew and Fletcher’s feud sends characters and film-goers into a tailspin. Andrew – praising music religiously – treats each sound, music page, and instrument with greater affection than most. Seeing his father (Paul Reiser) and girlfriend as mindless distractions, his anti-social behaviour wrestles with Fletcher’s sociopathic teaching methods. Fletcher, looking for the next big jazz talent, switches gears every few seconds. One second, he’s chatting heartily with old friends. The next, he’s berating his pupils over physical features, wrong notes, and slight mishaps. Despite the shocking behaviour, his intentions become clear and, to a certain extent, believable. Obliterating the “good job” approach, his style births classic hits and memorable musicians. Teller and Simmons bolster the movie’s relentless tempo. Adapting to the blood-sweat-and-tears role, Teller delivers his most commendable performance yet. Drumming with immense power, the Spectacular Now leads improves upon his skills here. Simmons, known for the Spider-Man trilogy and Juno, excels as the mighty mentor ruling his rhythmically sound version of hell.
Boiling Whiplash down to its most salient conceits, Chazelle teaches us a valuable lesson: don’t meet your heroes. More importantly, if you do meet them, don’t work for them. This drama-thriller is a cautionary tale about the dangers of ambition and expectations. Driven by our leads’ momentous conflict, the movie’s cynicism and snarky wit might prove too much for some. However, the compelling story and fun performances deliver a beat worth tapping to.
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Peyman Moaadi, Lane Garrison, John Carroll Lynch
Release date: October 17th, 2014
Distributor: IFC Films
Running time: 117 minutes
Best part: Stewart and Moaadi.
Worst part: The irritating supporting characters.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, the United States of America, considered to be the most stable country on Earth, did everything it could to respond. Sadly, what happened next crafted a chain of events the world is still unable to break. Along with the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and 2003 overhaul of Iraq, America struck the Middle-Eastern world with indescribable force. In addition, as highlighted in independent drama Camp X-Ray, one particular issue reshaped the world’s stance on the West.
Guantanamo Bay, created specifically to house persons of interest, was a torture chamber shadowed by the US Government. With several horrific cases making the news, something needed to be done. Thankfully, this place is no longer a problem. Why am I examining this topic? Well, because everyone deserves to gain a thorough understanding of our world. Camp X-Ray, despite only scraping the tip of the iceberg, is a fine example of cinema’s raw power. Ambitiously, the movie depicts one Army private’s brief stint in this nightmarish facility. Despite the questionable premise, it’s the people involved that push viewers in the right direction. In the opening two scenes, we get a brief glimpse into the events of 9/11 and Amir Ali(Peyman Moaadi)’s day-to-day existence. Ali, a lonely and humble simpleton, doesn’t seem like much of a threat. However, whilst in Salat (Islamic ritualistic prayer), he is abducted from Germany and moved halfway around the world to Guantanamo. Treated like an animal, he spends eight years in confinement. We then meet our other protagonist, Private First Class Amy Cole (Kristen Stewart).
Thanks to a subdued marketing campaign and well-earned award contention, Camp X-Ray is one of 2014’s most alluring indie releases. Refusing to boast its lead actor’s stardom, the movie aims for film festival crowds and strictly adult audiences. In fact, I doubt Twilight fans would be willing to watch K-Stew be kicked, spat on, or covered in excrement by vicious detainees. Interestingly enough, the title only refers to one part of the compound. Whilst watching this stirring drama, many viewers’ jaws will drop uncontrollably. Throughout the 117-minute run-time, the “I can’t believe this actually happened!” thought became lodged in my skull like a rogue piece of shrapnel. The narrative, crafting a slice-of-life account, drags us through each stage of Guantanamo’s gruelling processes. Graphic designer turned writer/director Peter Sattler, despite the fictional story, gathers enough research to make each frame feel genuine. Following Cole’s potent story, from her discomforting initiation to tender bond with Ali and more, Settler’s purposeful style illuminates our lead characters’ words and actions. In most sequences, Sattler’s less-is-more approach cranks the tension up to 11. Capturing the most mundane parts of Cole’s job, the movie never attempts to manipulate us. Oddly enough, despite the aforementioned faeces incident, Sattler’s succinct screenplay is more about telling than showing. The quieter moments, defined by searing dialogue and charming comedic jabs, cement this prison drama as a muted mix of The Shawshank Redemption and Zero Dark Thirty.
“It’s not as black and white as they said it was going to be.” (PFC Amy Cole (Kristen Stewart), Camp X-Ray).
Life in Guantanamo Bay.
Despite lacking the aforementioned movies’ prowess, Camp X-Ray delivers many heartfelt moments, cracking lines, and thought-provoking viewpoints. Powered by Sattler’s tell-don’t-show approach, the supporting characters serve to summarise his agenda. In fact, these caricatures’ cruel words and disgraceful actions become overbearing. However, among the existential angst and political jabs, Camp X-Ray‘s central dynamic steadily turns this political-thriller into a fascinating and sweet pseudo-fairytale. As our lead character’s time runs out, varying conflicts and complications play out with maximum effect. Yearning for masculine qualities, our lead warps and twists herself around the system. Afraid of consequences and responsibilities, Cole’s arc delivers an emotionally resonant experience. Beyond Sattler’s profound character development, credit belongs to Stewart for shedding her persona and becoming something else entirely. Ridding herself of the ongoing backlash, this ambitious project illuminates her immense magnetism and range. Utilising her slender figure and distinctive facial features, Stewart adapts to every situation and flourish. Stuck primarily in close up, she and Sattler’s intimate style bolster this meaningful journey. Aiding Stewart throughout, Moaadi – known primarily for breakout Iranian drama, A Separation – is blindingly charismatic as a sorrowful victim hidden deep within hell. Adding comedic hints when required, his bountiful performance elevates this sombre character study.
Despite switching between ever-so-slight Left and Right viewpoints, forcing Camp X-Ray to apologise on behalf of the US Government whilst applauding its stance on terrorism, the end result deserves our immediate attention. Telling a heart-breaking story about the West, Middle-East, and everywhere in between, this prison drama delivers a full-strength assault on the heart, mind, and senses. As a performance piece for one of Hollywood’s most underrated actresses, this is a sure-fire indie-drama highlight.
Stars: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Hamish Linklater, Marcia Gay Harden
Release date: September 19th, 2014
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Running time: 97 minutes
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.
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.
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.
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 Moonlightdiscards 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.
Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe
Release date: March 21st, 2014
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Running time: 99 minutes
Best part: Anderson’s direction.
Worst part: The unnecessary bookends.
Words like “hipster” and “pretentious” are thrown around far too often nowadays. Intended as insults, these words are too often taken out of context and placed into judgemental analyses. Unfortunately, these words are often directed toward writer/director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom). Sure, his style stands out from every other big-name filmmaker out there. But why should we criticise him for being different? This year, Anderson has pursued a new and improved form of critical and commercial acclaim.
Ralph Fiennes & Tony Revolori.
Simultaneously lampooning and embracing his distinctive style, Anderson’s new feature The Grand Budapest Hotel reaches out to newcomers and long-time fans. Here, this near-rabid fandom is what Anderson strives for. In this delectable dramedy, his bold visuals, deadpan performances, and relevant themes are dissected and meticulously placed back together. To introduce readers to Anderson’s universe, I’ll describe this labyrinthine plot. In one timeline, a girl places a key on a statue before diving into a novel named ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’. We are then introduced to the novel’s narratorial force. The author (Tom Wilkinson) describes one significant event in his tumultuous life. From there, we meet the author’s younger self (Jude Law) residing in 1968. Meeting the hotel’s elderly owner Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the author enquires about Moustafa’s past. We then examine Moustafa’s younger self (Tony Revolori) whilst learning of the Hotel’s former glory back in 1932. This timeline, set in the fictional Eastern European country of Zubrowka, deals with countries and businesses during wartime. As a lobby boy, Moustafa becomes friends with the hotel’s favourable concierge Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes). Over the years, Gustave courts several rich, elderly women whom come for the hotel’s reputation and stay for his “exceptional service”.
Adrian Brody & Willem Dafoe.
Heartbroken over his lover Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe-und-Taxis(Tilda Swinton)’s death, Gustave, after acquiring prized painting ‘Boy With Apple’, is pursued by her son Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Adrien Brody), assassin J.G.Jopling (Willem Dafoe), Deputy Vilmos Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum), and Inspector Henckels (Edward Norton). Honestly, it’s difficult fitting this expansive, starry-eyed cast into this synopsis. In true Anderson fashion, commendable lead and character actors fill each role. Here, Anderson’s auteur status ascends to a notch above transcendent. Embracing narrative tropes and visual flourishes, Anderson takes full responsibility for each detail. Conquering screenwriting and directorial duties, this masterful dramedy icon embellishes what others fear. Idealistically, fun concepts are explored in this sprawling tale about hope, love, age, loss, and survival. The Grand Budapest Hotel, escaping Anderson’s conventional familial-drama confines, delivers an investigation into an entire country’s peculiar inhabitants. Despite including one-too-many timelines, Anderson’s deft touch and focused direction delivers an honest and fruitful idea of humanity’s lighter and darker shades. The author’s timeline fuses with Moustafa’s in a tricky yet purposeful fashion. As a showcase for renowned performers, The Grand Budapest Hotel is chock-a-block with impactful moments and hearty surprises. In fact, around every corner, characters, laugh-out-loud gags, and clues reside to bolster this quirky tale. In addition, the movie throws gunfights, murders, and tension into this whimsical concoction. Thankfully, the movie never becomes quirky for quirky’s sake. Gustave’s journey never becomes corny or materialistic. Instead, this harsh yet intelligent narrative explores Anderson’s most enigmatic ideas.
“Keep your hands off my lobby boy!” (M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), The Grand Budapest Hotel).
Jude Law & Jason Schwartzman
Of course, generating fans the world over, Anderson’s signature visual style eclipses this narratorial thrust and opinionated viewpoints. Beyond being the all-knowing creator of prescient dollhouse-like universes, the mis-en-scene, from the ground upward, builds glorious interiors and kitsch exteriors. As Gustave compliments people on their artistic merits, we can see Anderson applauding his own identity and style. Here, his universe becomes more wondrous, idiosyncratic, and gargantuan than anything a modern blockbuster can, and would, deliver. As blockbusters for the indie crowd, Anderson’s features exclaim more than expected each time. Overcoming obvious and ill-conceived preconceptions, his attention to detail almost becomes a cure for a conquering bout of Hollywood-itis. Overcoming the cynicism, his near-symmetrical compositions, clashing colours, stylistic experiments, and blank-faced characters develop near-wordless conversations. Here, his glorious style interacts with over-arching messages. Paying homage to everyone from Ernst Lubitsch to The Marx Brothers, Anderson uses hallways, elevators, cramped spaces, and lobbies to accentuate the story’s manic energy. Fitting its entire cast onto a bevy of key hangars, the poster reveals only a fraction of the movie’s content. Despite the vagueness, these performers, whether they be new to or accustomed to Anderson’s flourishes, admirably reinforce this tale’s enthusiasm, vision, and ideology. Fiennes breaks from tradition to embody this unhinged and comedically-charged role. Tapping into his slapstick chops, the iconic British actor jumps into each scene with charm, maliciousness, and reverence. Newcomer Revolori is also a standout as Gustave’s naive and witty number-two. Bolstering their already esteemed reputations, supporting players like Norton, Goldblum, Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray, and Harvey Keitel stand above this immensely talented ensemble.
Eclipsing Anderson’s best efforts, including Rushmore and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Grand Budapest Hotel is an effervescent and efficient love letter. In addition, it outright refuses to become a sorrowful apology to Anderson’s detractors or even average filmgoers. Anderson, now reaching critical and commercial acclaim, holds his head up higher than even the most respectful hotel staff member. Ideally, it’s worth making reservations for, and checking-in to, this hysterical and dexterous dramedy.
Verdict: Anderson’s most gleeful and nuanced effort yet.
Writer: Jason Reitman (screenplay), Joyce Maynard (novel)
Stars: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Clark Gregg
Release date: December 27th, 2013
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 111 minutes
Best part: The charismatic performances.
Worst part: The egregious romance.
Romantic-drama Labor Day‘s opening credits sequence sets its audience up for a heart-breaking fall. Here, the movie introduces us to one of Middle America’s most gorgeous suburbs. Sure, this seems pleasurable. But, as this sequence goes on, the tedium steadily sets in. In one 30/40-second shot, Labor Day transitions from intriguingly simple to bland and dreary. This movie, leading itself down Oscar-bait lane, is nowhere near as interesting as its all-powerful competition. From the aforementioned credits sequence onward, the movie crashes and burns.
Dear young and old couples alike, don’t be drawn into Labor Day‘s alluring marketing campaign! This movie is the ultimate relationship test. If anyone who watches it says, to their respective partners, things like: “that was so romantic” or “these characters remind me of me”, they should take a long, hard look in the mirror. Despite my scornful words (really, they’re just words!), Labor Day does sport several interesting scenes and revelatory performances. However, despite the slight positives, I still hate this messy and disgraceful melodrama. Anyway, I guess I should describe the ‘plot’. In a sector of 1980s America (I presume), depressed and agoraphobic single mother Adele (Kate Winslet) struggles with day-to-day life. Forced to look after her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) full time, the thought of even stepping outside makes her shake uncontrollably. Relying on Henry’s acute precociousness, she’s unable to fend for herself. In addition, at the local supermarket, several things remind Adele of her current predicament. Henry bumps into escaped convict Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin). Forcing himself into their maudlin lives, Frank finds solace in their quaint home. Over Labor Day weekend, Frank becomes ingrained into their peculiar familial structure. Based on Joyce Maynard’s semi-autobiographical novella, this adaptation bludgeons this already weak-minded genre. Admittedly, the story’s heart-warming premise seems romantic. My steel-like heart melts the tiniest bit for concepts like these. However, Labor Day’s execution, to be gleefully hyperbolic, is as painful as witnessing an actual execution.
Josh Brolin & Gattlin Griffith.
Before I go on a “modern romance is awful!” rant, I’ll stop myself dead. My cynical perspective, somehow, became darker as I watched this insipid and egregious romantic-drama. Its problems stem from the story’s core ingredients. As Adele and Frank fall in love, Labor Day slides into a brainless and vacuous lull. Anyone, of any age group, can tear through this unending melodrama’s plot mechanics. Relying on coincidences and implausibilities, the story’s hollow and archaic nature becomes frustrating. From their creepy meet-up onward, Adele and Frank’s romance hurriedly, and unexpectedly, becomes ethically questionable and unlikeable. From then on, the movie falls into manipulative territory. Forcing himself into their lives, Frank, inexplicably, turns into a cross between Bob the Builder and Martha Stewart. Within Labor Day’s malfunctioning 72-hour window, Frank fixes everything around the house, teaches his ‘victims’ how to bake, and turns Henry from a sensitive child into a baseball-loving primate. Even more unrealistic, the leads’ relationship blossoms over this alarmingly short space of time. Frank’s muscle flexing and Adele’s cleavage-friendly dresses become catalysts in this uninspired love story. As the saccharine love child of Fifty Shades of Grey and Nicholas Sparks’ harlequin romance novels, this exhaustive mess is just as stale. Like Safe Haven and The Lucky One, Labor Day is mind-numbingly dull and oddly psychosexual. Sadly, Dear John is much better. My disappointment rests squarely on its wasted potential. Romance, despite mass cultural and critical vile, can make for intriguing and invigorating cinematic gold. The Notebook and Titanic, though not without their flaws, still sit at the top of this schmaltzy leaderboard.
“I don’t think losing my father broke my mother’s heart, but rather losing love itself.” (Henry (Gattlin Griffith), Labor Day).
The ‘family’ in action.
The blame rests with acclaimed writer/director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air). Reitman, known for insightful and darkly comedic character studies (Thank You for Smoking, Young Adult), avoids his satirical shades and witty edge here. Instead, this energetic filmmaker reaches into an ancient bag of tricks. Where is his sense of humour or acute insight into pop-culture? Despite Reitman’s ambitiousness, his new career path falls into dangerous and degrading territory. Like with Nick Cassavetes, commercial glory and watchful studio eyes now cast a debilitating shadow over Reitman’s distinctive style. Here, Reitman examines his and Maynard’s livelihoods. Based on Maynard’s peculiar experience with a prison pen-pal, the young filmmaker’s efforts dampen this manipulative tale. Displayed in flashback, Frank’s life story and motivations become clear. However, Reitman, clinging onto small and intriguing details, mashes the flashback and flash-forward buttons. Unfortunately, inconsistent flourishes distort several plot points and revelations. Jumping from pre-Vietnam 60s, to present day, then to the swinging 70s, the movie’s timeline doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. However, one sequence is effectively handled. Examining Adele’s dilapidated psyche and harsh life story, this flashback-fuelled vignette sits head-and-shoulders above the present-day romantic dross. Rescuing this atrocious romantic-drama from the cinematic doldrums, Winslet and Brolin deliver touching performances. Though unable to elevate such soggy material, Winslet injects charm and malice into this frustrating character. Looking beyond her character’s child-like mind, the Oscar-winning actress – making the most of this career misstep – relishes in the narrative’s wavering emotional state. Here, Brolin is endlessly charismatic. Despite the lack of chemistry, Brolin’s distinctive voice and charms bolster this irritating character. Meanwhile, Griffith is revelatory as the patriarch turned concerned citizen.
Sadly, Labor Day is a gigantic waste of time, potential, and talent. Despite the cruelty, I see this as a public service announcement. Depicting a joyless and hollow version of romance, this romantic-drama is a calculated, lugubrious, and cynical mess. Earning a spot on my 2014 Worst of the Year list, I pray this Hallmark Channel reject is just a one-off for Reitman. I still like him, but this is pushing it! Even the world’s craziest cat ladies are too intelligent for this one. Skip it at all costs!
In an Oscar season chock-a-block with dark docudramas, deftly comic road-trip movies, and visceral crime-thrillers, few movies have been brave enough to stand out from the pack. Despite the Oscar contenders’ overwhelming quality and relevance, movies that balance an entertaining action-adventure narrative with stark rawness become instant success stories. Delivering an engaging survival story, All is Lost delivers Oscar-calibre moments and thrilling set-pieces. It’s extremely difficult to mix these qualities together into a meaningful artistic endeavour. However, two geniuses reached out and grasped this fruitful opportunity.
With pulsating concepts and cultural preconceptions in hand, All is Lostdelivers edge-of-your-seat thrills whilst occasionally remembering to take deep breaths. This intricate balance places All is Lost in the realm of memorable and confronting survival-dramas. The story itself is incredibly straightforward. However, in an age of convoluted and self-indulgent blockbusters, simple yet effective action-adventure movies are indelibly refreshing. The movie kicks off with a man (Robert Redford) deliberating upon his dying wishes and deepest regrets. Why to himself? He writes these haunting words on a scraggly piece of paper before placing the note in a jar. These revelations become his final statements whilst his life raft floats across the Indian Ocean. The movie then jumps back eight days, and the man’s priceless yacht, Virginia Jane, crashes into a floating, bright-red cargo container. Filled with cheap shoes, the tough container tears an excruciatingly significant hole into the boat’s starboard side (right, I researched it). With guile and quick thinking, the man repairs the hole with a glue-like concoction and scraps. Unfortunately, the soft patch is far from the man’s most exasperating issue. Soon after, he sails into a gigantic thunderstorm. Tossing his boat into impactful waves and currents, the thunderstorm tests the man’s steely reserve. However, the boat is nowhere near as strong as its captain. With the boat’s final voyage concluding disastrously, the man must choose between a memorable life and a horrifying death.
More Robert Redford.
Survival tales blend intriguing, multi-layered relationships with celluloid’s emphatic potential. With metaphorical and literal conflicts eviscerating the big screen, their varying twists and turns deliver enlightening and punishing rewards. Spiritually enriching journeys (Life of Pi, 127 Hours) and discomforting life-or-death situations (Buried) define this beguiling genre. With these movies becoming major box-office hits, this popular and note-worthy genre strives to grasp its true potential. All is Lost – defined by groundbreaking technological achievements, captivating set-pieces, and an invigorating performance – continually delivers emotional impact and thematic resonance. Here, the survival narrative rests on an understandable and harrowing scenario. With retirees and ambitious sailors taking around-the-world trips each year, horrific casualties continually arise. Despite the ambitious idea, tumultuous conditions and poor preparation deliver significant risks. All is Lost, ideally, focuses on a specific point in time. With its limited scope and enriching authenticity, this action-adventure conveys specific points about morality and mortality. Director J. C. Chandor (Margin Call) immerses us into one pressing and heart-breaking situation after another. Sticking with the boat throughout its 106-minute run-time, Chandor’s vision is astoundingly touching. Becoming Gravity‘s ocean-dwelling relative, All is Lost similarly transforms into a soulful, exhilarating, and modest survival-thriller. To examine this movie’s most engaging aspects, the viewer must recognise the valuable details that remain missing. The movie never travels to other setting or characters. We are never introduced to relatives, friends, enemies, or even strangers. Efficiently, Chandor seems wholly fascinated by Redford’s idiosyncratic features. Assuredly, the narrative effectively tests the character’s survival skills, will power, patience, and faith. Mutedly, this survival-thriller, like our main character, looks upward for an explanation. Is God punishing this man? Is God solidifying his internal strength? Or, realistically, did the man make wrong turns during his voyage?
“All is lost here, except for soul and body, that is, what’s left of them, and a half day’s ration.” (Our Man (Robert Redford), All is Lost).
Even more Robert Redford.
Lacking stupefying exposition, useless supporting characters, and obvious titbits, the movie allows the audience to piece together this mystifying puzzle. Pushing his only character to breaking point, Chandor’s latest feature tests humanity and Mother Nature’s boundaries. With thunderous weather patterns, dwindling supplies, waterlogged equipment, and predatory creatures affecting this journey, the movie, by pummelling Redford’s character, wallows in its harshly constructed world. Chandor’s style develops a picturesque and damaging reality. Here, Earth’s elements stand between the main character and a continued existence. Immediately stating that he is: “1700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Straights”, this atmospheric journey becomes an exasperating cinematic experience. Searching for land and/or passing vessels, this captain becomes a humanistic and conquering force of nature. Credit goes to Redford for delivering another textured and naturalistic turn. Reaching beyond his sub-par directorial efforts (The Company You Keep), Redford’s all-important physicality and charisma shine through this near-wordless role. Thankfully, Chandor’s directorial flair also provides an assuring and unconscionable aura. Exposed to the lead character’s drastic actions and recognisable reactions, we become one with his impressive yacht and amicable life raft. Frank G. DeMarco’s uncompromising and unique cinematography elevates unquestionably intense moments. Emphasising the man’s critically arduous situation, the camera commendably fuses with the movie’s desolate settings. Kept in close-up, the yachting sequences become heart-pounding and nail-biting roller-coaster rides. However, once the raft becomes key to the man’s survival, the camera dives into the ocean and soars into the sky. Immaculate pans and zooms establish this ordeal’s otherworldly impact. Graciously, chillingly powerful sound effects highlight crashing waves and tumbling vessels. However, the score becomes an unnecessarily overt distraction. The manipulative rhythms distort this otherwise organic and potent drama.
Elevating itself above the already intriguing premise, All is Lost is a gritty, realistic, and unflinching insight into mankind’s most absurd and thought-provoking endeavours. Despite queasiness becoming a major concern, Chandor’s style hurls the audience into the movie’s discomforting and perilous journey. Most importantly, Redford’s towering performance silences the critics – illustrating his immense star quality and intense range. Despite the quarrels, this is a purposeful and delirium-inducing thrill-ride.
Verdict: An intensifying and creative survival tale.
Stars: Sarah Polley, Michael Polley, Harry Gulkin, Rebecca Jenkins
Release date: May 17th, 2013
Distributors: Mongrel Media, Roadside Attractions
Running time: 109 minutes
Best part: The catchy soundtrack.
Worst part: The never-ending ending.
The holiday season, though imbued with joy and charm, can become a tiresome chore. Transporting us between realistic and heart-wrenching realms, independent drama darling Sarah Polley has returned home. With family reunions normally regrettable and unintentionally laughable, Polley prevents family members and friends from starting gigantic feuds and running jokes. Here, Polley’s immense talents are applied to her confident and loveable family. Her latest effort, Stories We Tell, paints an emotionally charged portrait of life in the Polley household. With serious Oscar contention in sight, Stories We Tell is a frontrunner for this season’s generous rewards.
This dramatic-documentary delves into several noteworthy and confronting topics. With Polley embracing her directing, writing, and acting chops, the movie is unlike any other released this decade. Despite its relevance, the story necessarily and patiently absorbs its subjects’ enthralling words. Stories We Tellis about Polley’s assortment of charismatic relatives and the documentary filmmaking process itself. Challenging herself throughout each extraneous step, Polley’s motivations specifically rely on honouring her late mother Diane. Having died when Polley was eleven, Diane’s overt generosity and happiness touched many lives. Taking on this immense task, the movie kicks off with its subjects facing up to Polley’s talented production crew and intense questioning. Once the filmmaking boundaries are established, the movie allows each subject to open up about the pros and cons of family values, responsibility, and trust. Providing a memoir-like narration, Polley’s father Richard sits in a recording studio. Waiting to talk into the microphone, Richard deliberates on everything embedded in his consciousness. Providing a poetic foothold, his words soon delve into the infectious tale of Polley’s childhood. Not to be overshadowed, her siblings are given room to breathe. Her brothers, Mark and John, discuss important issues developed during their childhood years. These undead titbits, though simultaneously hilarious and distressing, develop the intriguing narrative.
Despite her brothers’ good-natured attitudes, Polley’s likeable sisters, Susy and Joanna, further develop this expansive and mystifying tale. Deliberating on love, divorce, and redemption, the sisters’ testimonies link certain situations to Polley’s life story. In addition, she interviews several people involved with Diane’s acting and singing careers. With familial ties an out-stretched theme this holiday season; Stories We Tell is an ambitious, realistic, and loving portrait of an infectious ensemble. Guided by experience and will power, Polley conscientiously seeks out the truth. No matter the cost to her family’s brick-wall-like structure, she explores every nook and cranny of her subjects’ lives. This honest and dense documentary hurriedly grows a brain and heart. It’s easy to connect to this bunch of charming and surprising subjects. Polley’s career, ranging from star-studded directorial efforts (Take this Waltz) to acclaim-worthy performances (Go, Splice), has blossomed into a commendable and impassioned artistic endeavour. Here, Polley tirelessly pushes herself to honour her family’s name. After the comedic and fourth-wall-breaking opening, the movie delves into anecdotes and points of view. Objectively presenting Diane’s friends and relatives, this performative/investigatory documentary highlights the genre’s raw potential. Elaborating on this format’s glowing intricacies, Stories We Tell provides a though examination of art, life, secrets, and the human spirit. Ably presenting each step of her grand methodology, the end profoundly justifies the means. With a close connection to these subjects, Polley’s style lures us into this family’s past, present, and future. Thanks to its empathetic and heartening narrative, the movie’s cracking pace and revelations comfortingly push it along. With each twist and turn, I heard titters, gasps, and cheers from several overly-enthused, surrounding audience members. Despite the disturbances, it inexplicably enhanced the movie’s hard-hitting narrative. With its pleasant tone and messages, it reminded me that life’s smallest intricacies are immensely important to the bigger picture.
“I’m interested in the way we tell stories about our lives.” (Sarah Polley, Stories We Tell).
Rebecca Jenkins as Diane Polley.
Continually sidestepping documentary movie-making’s restrictions, Stories We Tell discusses subjectivity, memory, and humanity’s overwhelming importance. The medium, considered plain and tiresome by some, is pulled apart with Polley’s ingenious directorial nuances. With some pans, zooms, and tilts, the movie hysterically shatters its own immersive effects. With each subject questioning this topic’s worthiness, the movie develops engaging, definitive, and intelligible layers. While peeling back these layers, Polley’s quirky style draws a profoundly sentimental line between her latest work and its commendable Oscar-hungry competition. Thankfully, the movie’s visual touches don’t overshadow the all-important messages. Developing a titanic, tug-of-war struggle between archival footage and elaborate dramatisations, this drama-documentary constantly plays tricks on the unsuspecting audience. With seamless aesthetic ticks, the flashbacks sit comfortably with this tender and enrapturing story. Revealing the movie’s own secrets during the conclusion, Polley’s filmmaking techniques stand up to this extraordinary tale. Handheld cameras, distinct film grains, and period piece settings are key aspects of Polley’s impressive vision. However, despite obvious visual flourishes, this trip down memory lane almost unravels during the final few minutes. The ending, relaying the movie’s seminal themes with incessant monologues and symbols, throws this heartening documentary off balance. Despite this, the interviewees solidify Polley’s ambitious and conquering investigation. Revealing secrets and in-jokes to the world, her relatives laugh with, and at, Polley throughout this unique production. Anecdotes and revelations aside, certain interviewees’ characteristics make for intriguing and unsettling highlights. Sporting beaming smiles, hearty laughs, and kinetic personalities, Polley’s family members are engaging and likeable people.
Flicking through interviewees, anecdotes, and opinions, Stories We Tell provides one of modern cinema’s most dynamic and baffling stories. Polley – holding her family, friends, and colleagues in high regard – injects sensitivity, intelligence, and wit into this tear-jerking adventure. With its engaging visual style, interesting interviewees, and determined direction, this drama-documentary proves that truth really is stranger than fiction.
Stars: Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt, Cobie Smulders, Andrzej Blumenfeld
Release date: November 22nd, 2013
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 104 minutes
Best part: The fun performances.
Worst part: The repetitive gags.
I let out an audible groan after I first heard about Delivery Man‘s existence. As a remake of the 2011 French-Canadian comedy Starbuck, the premise seemed entirely conventional and cynical. Soon after, I became more disdainful when comedic actor Vince Vaughn attached himself to the project. Somehow, by the powers of Grayskull and tinsel-town, this blatant re-tread turned out to be…genuinely watchable. Delivery Man is a generic yet enjoyably silly and heart-warming dramedy. In addition, Vaughn, though straining, wholeheartedly elevates the final product.
Despite the inconsistencies and awkward moments, Delivery Man embraces every second of its appropriate run-time. Unlike most Hollywood comedies, the movie contains enough laughs to keep audiences engaged. As seen in the trailers, the plot contains several twists, turns, and bumps. Good-for-nothing slacker David Wosniak (Vaughn) ambitiously strives to obtain a more fulfilling existence. Constantly letting people down, David’s reserve is tested by his frustrated family and friends. If that wasn’t enough, his ‘hydroponic endeavours’ have landed him in an $80 000 debt with local gangsters. On top of that, David’s world is sent spinning when his estranged girlfriend Emma (Cobie Smulders) reveals she is pregnant. With an oncoming child, David admits he is unprepared and outgunned for his life’s next step. Unfortunately, his past comes back to haunt him. Thanks to a whopping 693 sperm donations given during his student years, his samples have created a baffling 533 biological children. Burdened by the strange news, David becomes a wishful saviour for several of the identified children.
Vaughn & Chris Pratt.
With 124 of David’s offspring joining a class action lawsuit against the sperm bank and the persona known only as “Starbuck”, David’s dilemma becomes increasingly stressful. With the help of lawyer and life-long buddy Brett (Chris Pratt), David, known to make poor decisions in high-pressure situations, crusades against the sperm bank. Before this, however, the movie leans too much on predictability and emotional manipulation. Hurriedly laying down every plot-thread, the movie constantly deliberates on David’s ever-expanding problems. Within the first few minutes, this dramedy beats is lead character to a pulp. Thankfully, in trouble with all manner of good and bad citizens, David’s journey contains potential, heart, and relevance. Writer/director Ken Scott gives his original feature a big-budget face-lift. Starbuck, being a sleeper-hit across the globe, highlights suburbia and the first world order’s most iconic aspects. Here, family businesses, parenthood, and the American dream are treated with affection and an attention to detail. Sporting a democratic agenda, Scott’s direction present’s David’s pressing situation as a series of mild inconveniences. Certain story-lines are picked up and dropped without warning. Unfortunately, these sub-plots contain dramatic and comedic potential. The mobster plot-strand is a contrived and unnecessary distraction. However, this optimistic dramedy contains several vital messages. Scott’s perspective, discussing parenthood and responsibility, provides a ray of glorious and gleeful sunshine. Despite the pros and cons of children, relationships, and hard work, Scott still delivers a well-crafted and thoughtful farce. In multiple ways, Delivery Man borrows from other beloved big-budget dramedies. Despite its French-Canadian roots, this ode to Knocked Up and About a Boy becomes a light-hearted and impactful narrative.
“This could be the most be the beautiful thing that could ever happened to me. These kids ned someone to look out for them. They need a guardian angel.” (David Wosniak (Vince Vaughn), The Delivery Man).
Vaughn & the kids.
Here, unlike the aforementioned dramedies, the lead character starts out as a likeable and engaging presence. Unfortunately, his journey becomes increasingly ridiculous and bombastic up until its sweet denouement. David’s questionable antics turn him from a humanistic man-child to a well-meaning stalker. With each baffling twist and turn, the movie steadily loses its dry wit and quaint tone. Despite the overt cheesiness, the dramatic moments elevate this otherwise forgettable remake. Despite the bizarre situation, David’s motivations make for Delivery Man‘s most touching sequences. David, taking care of a young Down syndrome sufferer, becomes a good samaritan. These wordless scenes lend heart and intelligence to this wacky dramedy. Despite its charming sheen, the hit-and-miss humour restrains it. Vaughn’s sarcastic veneer elevates the derivative one-liners and ludicrous slapstick gags. His situation, illustrated by Vaughn’s zany facial expressions and enthusiasm, is made whole by Scott’s kinetic and enlightening comedic timing. As an improv vs. staged gag Hollywood comedy (like most nowadays), the pithy dialogue far outweighs the repetitive physical hijinks. Vaughn is, yet again, playing himself. Despite his overt charisma and rat-tat-tat delivery, he’s embodying yet another spoiled and down-trodden man-child. Learning important life lessons whilst maturing into a responsible individual, Vaughn can play this role in his sleep. Thankfully, the supporting characters save certain scenes. Pratt excels as David’s goofy and unprofessional lawyer. His magnetic screen presence, made whole via Parks and Recreation, boosts this sympathetic and engaging foil. Smulders, known for How I Met your Mother and The Avengers, provides an enjoyable performance as David’s better half.
Despite the obvious issues, Delivery Man is a well-intentioned and charming holiday hit. Vaughn – despite his poor run of comedies including The Dilemma, The Watch, and The Internship – elevates the conventional material. This remake, though unnecessary, becomes a refreshing and comforting flick out-matching most modern Hollywood comedies.
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley
Release date: April 25th, 2013
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 130 minutes
Best part: Black’s direction.
Worst part: The underdeveloped supporting characters.
Ever since 2008’s Iron Man, Tony Stark has become a pop-culture icon and beloved Marvel Universe character. In The Avengers, Captain America orders Stark to list his special qualities. Stark simply looks him in the eye and, with a straight face, replies “Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.”. His tone and dry wit have now pulled him through four hit blockbusters. The latest, Iron Man 3, is a thrill-ride in every sense.
Robert Downey, Jr. & Don Cheadle.
It’s a fun and enlightening superhero flick that focuses on the series’ core ingredients. This instalment is also vastly different to the previous two Iron Man Flicks. Set after the near-apocalyptic events of The Avengers, Iron Man 3 picks up with Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) recoiling from memories of magic, monsters, and aliens. His trip through the wormhole, during the Avenger’s New York battle, has left him with post-traumatic stress disorder. However, anxiety attacks and insomnia are the least of his problems. Stark must now contend with The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), Leader of a terrorist group known as the ‘Ten Rings’. He sets off horrific explosions within the US and publicly boasts about it. Also gumming up the works is Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM) founder and ultra-smart-ass Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). Stark, Killian, and fellow scientist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) have a history. In 1999, Stark rejected Killian’s ground-breaking ideas. This was a bad move! After his house is destroyed, Stark must find the motives behind the Mandarin’s attacks whilst keeping his girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and best friend, Lt. Col. James Rhodes a.k.a. The Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle), out of harm’s way.
Iron Man 3 may lack the focus and charm of the original, but it’s still much better than 2010’s Iron Man 2. Whereas Iron Man 2 suffered from story, character, and pacing issues, Iron Man 3 smartly balances drama, action, and character. Despite the glitz and glamour that comes with casting Robert Downey jr. in a lead role, the biggest star of this instalment is Shane Black (writer of Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout, director of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). As you can tell, his filmography is both commendable and extensive. This is Downey jr. and Black’s first collaboration since Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The amusing and grimy film noir is similar to Iron Man 3 in many ways. These two men clearly work well together. They provide a wink-and-nudge style of humour that many big-budget flicks desperately need. Black commands this movie the same way that Joss Whedon took control of The Avengers. Black has a strong love for both smart storytelling/screen-writing and the original material. His film will appeal to both film-goers and comic book aficionados. His writing/directorial style has many idiosyncrasies. Much like his previous efforts, Iron Man 3 has a Christmassy theme, tough heroes, spectacular action set-pieces, a buddy-cop style team up, and slimy villains.
Iron Man 3, despite its convoluted story and multitude of characters, moves at a good pace. It pumps up the volume when it needs to whilst taking time to focus on Stark’s human side. The first third moves quickly. It establishes how every character fits into this expansive universe and what they represent (war on terror, patriotism etc.). After the first spectacular action set piece, in which Stark’s luxurious Malibu house is obliterated, the film suddenly slows down. All three acts are separate from each other in both subject matter and tone. The second third is a charming buddy-cop/detective flick. Stark’s new friendship with a young boy, Harley (Ty Simpkins), is both refreshing and hilarious. Stark, whilst talking down to the young boy, realises that he is a hypocrite. He also admits that he is an extremely vulnerable individual. It’s fun to see Downey Jr. play another detective character; applying Stark’s knowledge to this dangerous mission. The film’s special effects and gadgets are stellar. The action sequences are fresh and vibrant. Mixing fun choreography with inventive cinematography, each set-piece is both memorable and thrilling. His new suit, made up of multiple, inter-locking parts, is both a neat invention and the subject of many comedic moments. The mix of dramatic and cartoonish elements is important to this exciting and visceral experience.
“That’s the thing about smart guys: we cover our asses!” (Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), Iron Man 3).
Black needed to create some interesting characters for this instalment. Unlike Iron Man 2, the characters here are well developed, necessary and empathetic. Stark is as entertaining as ever. Instead of being arrogant and/or selfish, he is an entrepreneur with a thirst for vengeance and thrills. His relationship with Potts brings him back down to Earth and gives us a reason to care about him. We like Iron Man, but we love the man underneath the suit. Downey Jr. is at his charismatic best here. Much like his performance in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, he uses charm and sensitivity to bring his character to life. Don Cheadle fits more comfortably into his role than he did in Iron Man 2. Stark and Rhodes’ friendship works similarly to the buddy-cop partnerships seen in Black’s previous works. I wish they had more time together on-screen. Paltrow is effective as Stark’s better half and the film’s strongest female character. Pearce is slimy yet sympathetic as a man looking for revenge. Kingsley is magnetic as the menacing lead villain. The twists and turns involving his character are some of the film’s best moments. Unfortunately, Hall is sorely underused as Stark’s old flame. Her character has charm, but no real reason to be in this film.
Stepping out of TheAvengers‘ gigantic shadow, Iron Man 3 is nothing short of awesome. Many people will be bothered by its emphasis on drama over action. However, the story, characters, humour, and visuals collaborate to create an enjoyable blockbuster. Marvel’s Phase 2 is off to a cracking start.
Verdict: A witty and entertaining third instalment.
Stars: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson
Release date: December 25th, 2012
Distributors: The Weinstein Company, Columbia Pictures
Running time: 165 minutes
Best part: Dynamite performances from Waltz and DiCaprio.
Worst part: The excessive use of the ‘N-word’.
One of the most advanced languages on Earth has to be ‘Tarantino English’. Everyone in Hollywood would kill to speak it on the big screen. The dialogue of one of Hollywood’s greatest Auteurs has sky-rocketed him and many actors into the A-list. The director’s work has inspired film buffs and makers alike, while washing the modern film-going audience in a wave of blood and expletives. His latest, Django Unchained, proves that an ageing genre can be brought back to life.
Django (Jamie Foxx) is released from slavery by dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Charming the inhabitants of America while hunting down criminals for the tempting rewards, Schultz makes a satisfying proposition with Django. If Django identifies Schultz’ next targets, then he will help Django free his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Django, training promisingly in the art of gun fighting, is ready to meet his vicious enemies as a free man. Broomhilda’s owner turns out to be Plantation owner and Mandingo aficionado Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). On his luxurious ranch, ‘Candieland’, Candie must contend with his intimidating guests.
Django Unchained can be seen as many things. It’s an engaging and visceral mix of blaxploitation flick, revenge tale, black comedy and violent spaghetti western. Tarantino’s love of western tropes has lead to this anachronistic and lively experience (basically a mix of The Searchers, Blazing Saddles and Jackie Brown). The first act defines who these characters are and why we should support them. Breaking Django free in a tight first scene, Schultz and his new partner divide the land while eagerly searching for bloodthirsty wretches. The partnership builds overtime as Django stops being a stoic slave and becomes a fierce yet heartening anti-hero. The beginning moves at a cracking pace. This largely linear story is a much more reserved choice for Tarantino, known to be a director obsessed with subverting any storytelling style. However, when DiCaprio’s character enters the film, it slows down to focus on Tarantino’s fierce dialogue and tension-inducing conversations. This is Tarantino’s first film without his regular editor Sally Menke, and it shows. At 165 minutes, this already gritty and epic revenge fantasy is extended longer than required. This also proves Tarantino to be a better director than screenwriter, in need of Roger Avary(Pulp Fiction co-writer)’s cautioning hand in the script-writing stage.
His directorial flourishes liven up the sprawling landscapes and action set pieces. Tarantino has never been one to back down from excess. Thankfully, Django Unchained is a master-class in excess, but done in a particularly inventive way. Never willing to downplay this already expansive story, he livens it up with anachronisms, spicy dialogue and gore. Each setting adds a distinctive harshness to every scene, while His rush-zoom effect adds a comic-book like affectation to this burgeoning western universe. This version of the american plains is an anarchic mess. Tarantino loves to splatter exaggerated amounts of blood across many shots. The Sam Peckinpah-esque gore becomes harrowing to watch, but it wouldn’t be a Tarantino flick if it didn’t. When Django and Schultz aren’t putting giant bullet holes into baddies, then a black man is getting ripped apart by dogs, mandingos are fighting to the death or someone is brutally tortured. Combining elements from contrasting time periods, Blackly comedic moments balance out the gruelling intensity. Some viewers, however, may find the comedic, and painfully excessive, use of the ‘N-word’ discomforting. Much like in his previous film Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino uses his characters as weapons against racism and prejudice. Times have clearly changed, and he wants this fact emphasised with as many intensifying slurs as possible.
“Kill white people and get paid for it? What’s not to like?” (Django (Jamie Foxx), Django Unchained).
Samuel L. Jackson & Kerry Washington.
This film should have been called ‘One Upon a Time in Tarantino’s Head’. He has done his research as far as capturing a disturbed and rounded depiction of the wild south. Sergio Corbucci and Sergio Leone both get their dues here. What also makes this adventure so compelling are the nasty characters and enigmatic performances on display. Foxx plays the smooth-talking Django with a unique range. Despite delivering greater performances in Collateral and Ray, he still a true acting force here. Sporting slick attire and quick moves, Django quickly becomes a better shade of bad-ass. Waltz steps back into Tarantino’s world after his revelatory performance in Inglorious Basterds. Charming his way out of any situation, his character is a welcome presence on-screen. DiCaprio provides a revelatory turn as the sadistic and cold-hearted Candie. His character’s blackened teeth and trimmed beard illuminate DiCaprio’s steely persona. His character will surely be added to the likes of other classic Tarantino creations. Samuel L. Jackson hasn’t been this entertaining in years. As the true soul of Candieland, his character is a heartless and vivacious individual.
It may seem impossible, but Tarantino has done it again! He has created a controversial yet rambunctious story of the American heartlands. With his trademark flourishes, this enthralling and delectable western becomes a gleefully hilarious bloodbath. As Candie would say: “Adult supervision is required.”
Stars: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Albert Brooks, Megan Fox
Release date: December 21st, 2012
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Running time: 133 minutes
Best part: The chemistry between Rudd and Mann.
Worst part: Its 134 min. length.
What is a defining part of life that is scary and unavoidable? Age. Age and wisdom define who we are as people. This pressing issue affects everyone in Judd Apatow’s new dramedy This is 40. The film is a coming-of-age tale in more ways than one. It’s also a funny, insightful yet slow jog toward one couple’s goals. One can’t help but notice, however, that Apatow’s comedy styling would be best suited to another format.
Paul Rudd & Leslie Mann.
This story follows married couple Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) as their lives begin to crumble. With Debbie having turned forty and Pete following suit, they contemplate where their lives have ended up. But bodily restrictions and regrets are far from their only problems. Pete’s record company is failing to gain the attention it needs to stay afloat. While Debbie is convinced one of her employees is stealing money from her clothing store. Also coming to a head are problems with their kids Sadie and Charlotte (Maude and Iris Apatow), as both adjust to their bickering parents and their own inconsistencies. It’s up to Pete and Debbie to band together, before their afflicting issues cripple their marriage.
Rudd, Chris O’Dowd & Lena Dunham.
Apatow clearly loves his own life. Putting too much of himself into each film, all four of his theatrical creations can be seen as pieces of a much greater puzzle. His breakout smash hit The 40-Year old Virgin discuses the ‘first time’ and the importance of adolescence. Knocked Up, the pseudo-precursor to This is 40, chronicles the nervousness that comes with having a child. Funny People is based on the acceptance of death. While This is 40 is about hitting the wall. The norms of society are examined with close scrutiny. Instead of depicting unrealistically happy people conflicted by implausible issues, Apatow’s illustration of marriage and parenthood is smart and appropriately realistic for a Hollywood Romantic-comedy. Pete and Debbie are basically an ideal 1990’s couple forced to deal with the issues of a new century. Feeling out of place and unable to help, their constant arguing grounds this couple in a realistic fashion. They angrily discuss everyday issues such as kids, bullying, friends, parents and, most importantly, money. Apatow’s involvement, to a certain extent, brings out the uncomfortable and jarring elements of this on-screen relationship. With Rudd essentially playing Apatow’s avatar, the involvement of Mann (Apatow’s real-life wife) and their kids unnecessarily hits too close to home. Writer/directors that Apatow has obviously taken notes from could’ve avoided subjectivity to convey a clearer message and funnier film-going experience. James L. Brooks and Nancy Meyers would’ve improved the material at hand and injected a greater amount of wit into proceedings (watch Brooks’ Spanglish for a strong example).
“We had sex the other night. You should give me some credit for that.” (Pete (Paul Rudd), This is 40).
Apatow’s effect on Hollywood comedy in the past few years has been exponential. He has resurrected careers and reinvigorated gross-out humour. Here, he has proven just how important he still is. With a Robert Altman-esque love of cameos and a refreshing grasp on reality, he has created an ideal night out for family and friends. He has, however, repeated his biggest mistake in stretching an identifiable story out to an excessive run-time. His involvement in TV, including hit shows such as Freaks and Geeks and Girls, has affected his grasp on concise cinematic storytelling. While avoiding Funny People‘s monotonous pace and unessential revelations, he is still unable to focus on the most important parts of his own material. Subplots are picked up and dropped without a hint of warning or development. Important issues are also unresolved, disrupting this story’s all too vital messages about family values and the joys of life. The comedic tone changes abruptly throughout. Flipping instantaneously from heartening moments to situational comedic hijinks, Apatow’s choices seem to be muddled here. Having said that, many characters are carried by fun performances. Rudd and Mann depict the same loving yet sour relationship they achieved as the same couple from Knocked up. They are two of the most likeable actors in Hollywood, and, despite their coarse attitudes here, its still easy to see why.
This is 40 can be summed up in one scene. Debbie’s gynaecological exam leads to everyone in the room trying to determine her real age. This hilarious yet frustrating game details both the sour aspects of ageing and Apatow’s love of awkward observational comedy. Its a comedy with as much wisdom, bite and tedium as life itself.
Verdict: An enlightening yet tedious look at growing up.
Stars: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Alison Janney
Release date: September 14th, 2012
Distributor: IFC Films
Running time: 97 minutes
Best part: The witty Screenplay.
Worst part: The heavy-handed messages.
Building the foundations of a successful career and profound personal existence can have an effect on any college graduate. While looking back on the good old college days, thinking of the person you were could cause regret and heartache in the present. Liberal Artsdiscusses this issue with a witty and optimistic outlook. Josh Radnor’s new film defines him as both an auteur and a prolific director of fun yet painfully realistic dramedies.
Josh Radnor & Elizabeth Olsen.
Thirty-five year old Jesse Fisher(Radnor)’s New York-based lifestyle is crumbling under his feet. A bad break up, stolen laundry, a boring job, a deep love of books and an innate desire to ignore everyone culminates into existential angst. Relief comes in the form of an invitation to his favourite college teacher’s retirement celebrations. Professor Peter Hoberg (Jenkins) finds Jesse to be a friend and protege, admiring his love of literature. Jesse’s attention however is drawn away from his mentor to the seductive beauty of nineteen year old Zibby (Olsen). Zibby and Jesse soon form a careless friendship, despite their 16 year age difference. Jesse is then forced to make the tough decisions Zibby has not yet been introduced to.
Radnor’s eye for imaginative yet occasionally brutal drama has formed the basis for his second independent feature. Known primarily for his role as Ted on hit sitcom How I Met Your Mother, both his first feature Happythankyoumoreplease and Liberal Arts have turned Radnor into someone to look out for. His script is a smart balance of snarky comic sensibilities and profound romantic-drama conventions. Now known for both comedic and dramatic talent, Radnor’s direction is reminiscent of Woody Allen’s early period of Annie Hall and Manhattan. Both Radnor and Allen succinctly and creatively depict New York, Intertwining relationships and the problems associated with life itself. Jesse’s perspective on art, politics and society is highlighted through the contrast between New York and his old college grounds. The film highlights problems concerning sudden change, human connection and infinite possibilities. Jesse’s once optimistic persona has turned into a cynical yet still hopeful shadow of its former self. He now revels in opinionated discussion and helping anyone he can to see the harsh realities of modern culture.
Jesse is at points likeable and at others hard to get close to. Spelled out as a ‘likeable’ guy at points, his emotions continually change when least expected. Arguments with the light-hearted Zibby may be snappy at points (especially in their heated debate over Twilight-related material), but his constant desire to have his own way becomes tiresome. having said that Radnor delivers a charismatic portrayal of someone down on his luck with his head held high. A bleakly honest, world weary soul with a thirst for knowledge, his heart is in the right place but his head is understandably elsewhere. He and Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene) convey instant chemistry, becoming a believable couple in the face of realistic hurdles. An optimistic and opinionated individual, Olsen’s Zibby happily embodies unique principals. She illustrates that ‘yes’ is the best way to enjoy every day, giving Jesse’s outlook on life a whole new understanding. Jenkins (having a stellar year following Killing Them Softly and The Cabin in the Woods) continues his fine form as Jesse’s mentor. His frustration with retirement leads to a familiar fear of change, expressing a wide range of emotions in his intense performance.
“Grace, I realized, is neither time nor place dependent. All we need is the right soundtrack.” (Jesse Fisher (Josh Radnor), Liberal Arts).
Radnor & Olsen.
The film’s love of art, culture and democracy is illustrated through Jesse’s shattered mentality. Going back to where he feels at home, the change between Iowa and New York defines the importance of tradition and a deeper meaning for life in a world dominated by popular culture. The film’s themes such as transition, age, politics, romance, culture and retirement all interweave into every conflict and witty dialogue sequence. Despite Radnor’s smart writing and profound outlook on society, Liberal Arts is conservative and awkwardly condescending simultaneously. The film’s light hearted tone leaves many important conflicts without significant development. Jesse’s broken psyche is relieved in one underused sub plot with a mentally unstable male student. While the romantic aspect is also touched on lightly, despite Jesse and Zibby’s instant connection. Their problems are quickly and easily resolved, lacking the depth of similar relationship-based films like (500) Days of Summer. The film however has a keen eye for literature, music and valuable ideals. Vivaldi and Beethoven interweave beautifully into every montage. While Jesse’s love of reading defines how both knowledge and analysis define the power of culture, opinion, and intellect.
Despite the cutesy messages, Liberal Arts is a fun, enlightening, and intriguing dramedy. Radnor, launching himself far away from HIMYM, the TV star has set his affairs in order and delivered an assured cinematic effort.
Stars: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson
Release date: October 12th, 2013
Distributors: Momentum Pictures, CBS Films
Countries: UK, USA
Running time: 110 minutes
Best part: Sam Rockwell’s hilarious character.
Worst part: Underused female characters.
Ever since Pulp Fiction‘s effect on the cinematic universe in 1994, many directors have tried to capture that similar balance of violence, wit and references to classic elements of popular culture. Now among several complex and smartly written gangster/assassin comedies following Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece, Seven Psychopaths sits atop this year’s gritty gangster/assassin character studies above Killing Them Softly, Lawless and Looper. The film is a vibrant and stylish comedic-drama, stretching the credibility of typical cinema tropes in the vein of Get Shorty or even Tropic Thunder.
Colin Farrell & Sam Rockwell.
Martin (Colin Farrell) is a struggling screenwriter living under the famous ‘Hollywood’ sign in middle class Los Angeles. Surrounded by quirky characters while finding inspiration for his latest screenplay, he becomes embroiled in a strange plan helmed by struggling actor Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken). Having stolen the beloved Shih Tzu of dangerous gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson), the three bumbling friends must go into exile before the increasingly vicious Charlie can find them. The three friends run into many troubled characters such as Martin’s frustrated girlfriend, a rabbit carrying sociopath (soul singer Tom Waits) and a mysterious assassin known only as ‘The Joker of Diamonds’. Martin must also overcome writer’s block and discover a knock out idea for his next grand story, hopefully before all three end up on the wrong end of a gun.
From the opening scene, involving a witty conversation between two slimy gangsters played by Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg, director Martin McDonagh quickly becomes the worthy successor to Tarantino. Following his surprise hit assassin-comedy In Bruges, McDonagh has provided a funny, self-reflexive and hyper-stylish crime flick. Similarly to Guy Richie’s Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, Seven Psychopathsreveals so many intricate and fun details in every captivating scene. The film finds the right balance of absurdity and intelligence. The intertwining cast of characters creates a rich narrative, effectively placing the screenplay’s effect on cinema in full view. With strange ideas continually incepted into his alcohol induced mind, Farrell’s character carefully lays everything out on the page.Seven Psychopaths creates a subtle and nuanced separation between Martin’s confusing situation and the ideas flowing through each characters’ minds. Their ideas form several stylish and blackly comedic sequences, including an increasingly elaborate shoot out, an Asian terrorist dressed as a priest and character actor Harry Dean Stanton as a creepy figure dressed in black. Despite the inclusion of multiple stories creating a cohesive whole, each short story sorely decreases the film’s sense of urgency.
Woody Harrelson & Zeljko Ivanek.
The film greatly benefits from the inclusion of McDonagh’s derivative yet engaging style. Identifying every psychopath is a fun guessing game, grounding the film in a solid sense of fun straight after every shocking and outrageously clever act of violence. Borrowing similar stylistic techniques from Tarantino and Richie, McDonagh effectively captures the harsh realities of both a life of crime and the Hollywood system. Gangsters, assassins and serial killers soon end up on the wrong side of our three unlucky ‘heroes’. The film is a wink and nudge to its modern cinema audience, de-constructing and subverting significant clichés in one of Hollywood’s most overused film movements. Target demographics, violence, female characters and climactic final shoot-outs are all discussed in a condescending tone. It’s no coincidence that Farrell’s character is named after the director, as McDonagh displays a profound love for influential crime flicks such as Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde and Natural Born Killers.
“You didn’t think I was what? Serious? You think I’m not serious just because I carry a rabbit?” (Zachariah (Tom Waits), Seven Psychopaths).
The A-list cast delivers the hilarious and snappy dialogue with a much needed sense of enthusiasm. Colin Farrell has always played the drunken Irish character type with a wave of charisma. He continues this here, providing many hilarious reactions as the innocent screenwriter surrounded by dog kidnappers, assassins, angry gangsters and suffering friends. Sam Rockwell, impressive throughout his career, goes off like a firecracker as the struggling actor with many questionable hobbies up his sleeve. A sarcastic yet scathingly honest character with a love for his friends, he portrays the average Joe with an obsessive love of girls, guns and blood-soaked mayhem. Christopher Walken provides his most enigmatic performance since Man on Fire as the repressed and passive-aggressive con man. Woody Harrelson provides yet another outrageous and deadly turn as the tough-as-nails gangster with an enduring love for his four-legged friend. While Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko, Kevin Corrigan, Gabourey Sidibe and Zeljko Ivanek provide solid turns in thankless roles.
When is all said and done, Seven Psychopaths comes off like a homage to the world’s biggest entertainment hub. Taking the industry for a spin, this crime/gangster-comedy will rough you up, ask for your money, before showing you a good time. Have fun!
Verdict: A smart, hilarious and self-reflexive gangster-comedy.
Works: The Dark Knight trilogy (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises), Memento, Following, Insomnia, The Prestige, Inception
Christopher Nolan throughout his career has tirelessly worked to re-create the idea of authorship. His modern and expansive cinematic scope in every frame has proven his worth as one of the most influential and popular directors in modern cinema. Nolan, along with his brother and writing partner Jonathan, continually strive to break the bonds of modern Hollywood cinema, with The Dark Knight and Inception instantly considered to be modern masterpieces. His unique abilities with cinematography and stunt sequences prove the existence of artistic vision within modern action cinema.
In his interpretation of the Batman legend, his penchant for creating an aura of realism out of fantastical elements has created a gritty, terrifying yet culturally relevant depiction of a famously fantastical character. Nolan’s control over his works is proven in his militarised origin story and development of believable cult figures. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight have taken Bruce Wayne, an arrogant yet determined warrior, and built him into a cunning, fearless and selfless saviour of Gotham. Batman’s universe (dubbed the ’Nolanverse’ due to his intelligent style) is a gravely sombre yet recognisable scene of post 9/11 threats and heroes developing a desire to protect those to need them. Nolan Creates a realistic universe out of beautiful yet haunting locations such as the maze-like structure of Chicago city streets, intricate photo realistic sets and alluring perspective tricks through miniature cityscapes.
Nolan on set (The Dark Knight trilogy).
His use of realism in film-making has created an authenticity rarely seen in the era of digital/blue- screen technology. Creating action set pieces through stunt work and elaborate, story-boarded set pieces, the creation of sequences such as the rotating hotel ceiling fight in Inception and the truck chase/flip through Gotham streets in The Dark Knight are developed with a seamless visceral quality not explored since the renaissance of practical effects in the 1960’s/70’s/80’s with gripping formalist cinema such Alien/Aliens, The Terminator, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Fly. His maze-like structures and other symbolic/visual elements reflect the intricacies of his eye for ground-breaking elements of film production. The idea of several layers inside the subconscious mind is an intricate and stylish concept explored through heist, film noir and chase film elements. The art-deco style created in each layer of Nolan’s visual splendour involves a strict use of smooth colour patterns/tones, symmetry and the composition of important symbolic foreground and background elements; creating multiple dimensions through the intricacies of multi-layered city streets and skyscrapers.
Trademarks: Epic scopes, writes with brother Jonathan Nolan, recurring cast members, non-linear timelines
Nolan & Christian Bale (The Prestige).
His use of symbolism to illustrate an important and original narrative structure can be seen in his first studio feature Memento, a thought-provoking thriller executed with complexity and based on Jonathan Nolan’s short story. Photographs and tattoos, illustrating Guy Pearce’s path through a decaying life of short term amnesia, symbolise his determination in tracing his forgotten steps, hoping to find his wife’s murderer. Whether it’s one man battling the villainy of a post 9/11 criminal world, Leo DiCaprio struggling to expel his love from professional duties inside his fractured subconscious, Al Pacino’s erratic mind due to his condition in Insomnia and an attraction to stalking people on the street in Following, Nolan uses his expansive scope to illustrate the gravity of his characters’ disturbed situations. His non-linear storytelling and cross-cutting create a contrast between multiple realities and the conflicting subconscious; illustrated by the rivalry between Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman in The Prestige, building throughout this story of the dangerously competitive nature of human beings.
Thematic, visual and symbolic relevance in film and popular culture has classified Nolan as one of the defying film-makers of this generation. Whether its the electrifying illusion of the transported man, a slowly developing superhero/vigilante origin story or Heath Ledger’s Oscar worthy portrayal of the Joker, Nolan has given birth to many authentic and thought provoking examples of ingenuity in modern cinema.
Stars: Seth MacFarlane, Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Joel McHale
Release date: June 29th, 2012
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Running time: 106 minutes
Best part: The charming characters.
Worst part: The sitcom-esque story.
With a successful string of raunchy animated TV shows to his name such as Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show, Seth Macfarlane has now successfully converted his controversial comedic style to the big screen. Fans of his popular TV creations will happily devour Ted, while sensitive types will be lost in the referential and explicit comedic translation.
Mark Wahlberg and Seth MacFarlane’s character.
As a young boy, John Bennett was a lonely outsider desperately wanting a personal connection. With everyone, including the victimised Jewish kids in his Boston neighbourhood, refusing to associate with him, John’s desperation comes to fruition after his Christmas present, a cuddly brown teddy bear, comes to life. His new ‘thunder buddy for Life’ soon becomes a child star due to this Christmas miracle. The fame eventually wears off and 27 years later, John (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted are pot-smoking, immature slackers. With John’s long-term girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) wanting him to escape the clutches of his fluffy friend, John’s desperation leads him to find a new, independent life for Ted, but not without being continually drawn into Ted’s wild antics.
Macfarlane’s comedic style is not for the faint of heart. His intelligent satirical comedy and quick wit are delivered with the comfortable tones of his thick accent. Voicing Ted much the same as Peter and Brian Griffin on Family Guy, his beloved style will appeal to fans and teenage film-goers, but may inadvertently push away anyone else. Macfarlane isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of skewering popular culture. Much like Ricky Gervais hosting an awards ceremony, everyone is on the chopping block as insulting remarks are thrown at celebrities such as Adam Sandler, Justin Bieber and Katy Perry. Jokes illustrating his stance on religion, ethnicity, politics and society are split between being hilarious, inappropriate or repetitive. The jokes are fired at the audience likes bullets out of a machine gun, with every hit met with a devastating miss, eventually losing the subtle satirical edge delivered in every episode of his hit animated TV comedies. Spelling out jokes as they pass, with Family Guy inspired flashback sequences, constant questioning of cultural practice and disgusting sex humour, feels like Macfarlane’s strong opinion and notorious style being forced upon an objective audience looking for another gross out hit like The Hangover and Bridesmaids.
The many references calling back to Macfarlane’s childhood influences, though important to the theme of transitioning between childhood and adulthood, won’t stick with certain audiences due to an intense reminder of the important artistic works of the 80’s. The many unnecessary references quickly become tiresome by the third Star Wars joke (clearly an already established influence). Macfarlane’s control over his artistic vision qualifies him as a unique auteur. Along with his in-your-face comedic hijinks, his transition from animation to live action has created a fun comedy balancing sensitivity and explicit humour. Using the Marcel Duchamp method of creating artistic meaning out of inanimate objects, his creation of Ted through producing, directing, writing and performing (through motion capture) the titular character has created a satisfying character study out of this unique premise. The direction is clearly influenced by popular directors such as Sam Raimi, Steven Soderbergh, and Oliver Stone. Ted‘s quick cut action and dialogue sequences and fast steady-cam shots are simple yet effective tricks used by Raimi and Macfarlane to create intensity and fast pacing. While Macfarlane’s use of bright colour to create dulcet tones is reminiscent of Soderbergh’s stylish colour coordination.
“No matter how big a splash you make in this world, whether you’re Corey Feldman, Frankie Muniz, Justin Bieber or a talking teddy bear, eventually, nobody gives a shit!” (Narrator (Patrick Stewart), Ted).
More of MacFarlane’s animated gold.
Macfarlane obviously references his influences through cameos from many famous faces synonymous with popular culture from different generations. Ted and John’s fascination with the sci-fi cult classic Flash Gordon leads to a cameo from Flash himself Sam J. Jones, extended long enough to outstay its Welcome. While clever cameos from Ryan Reynolds AKA ‘some Van Wilder looking guy’, Tom Skerritt and Jazz Singer Norah Jones, as a former lover cleverly referring to the lack of private parts on Ted, create culturally relevant humour subverting our idea of celebrity. The ever reliable Wahlberg and Kunis create a charming couple in their charismatic dialogue moments, quickly developing an alluring distraction from the predictable narrative. Community lead actor Joel McHale proves his comedic talent as the slimy boss pining for his female workers. While dramatic actor Giovanni Ribisi is suitably disturbing as Ted’s stalker, essentially re-enacting the Kathy Bates role from Misery.
Macfarlane’s animated TV comedy redefined the expression of a comedian’s perspective on societal/political issues and popular culture. His opinion is expressed in Ted with quick wit and smart direction, but his overwhelming views on important issues may prove costly for a wider audience outside his already huge fan base.
Verdict: A unique, charming yet sickening and over-whelming farce.
Stars: Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Corey Stoll
Release date: May 20th, 2011
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Countries: USA, Spain
Running time: 94 minutes
Best part: The kinetic visuals.
Worst part: McAdams’ annoying character.
Woody Allen has found his home away from home with Midnight in Paris, a film about finding your imagination hiding in the city of love. Reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie, Allen illuminates the historical and famous locales of Paris, turning the city into a charming and expressive work of art. Allowing us to view both the past and present through his eyes illustrates his love of Paris, and is reminiscent of his representations of his native Manhattan.
Owen Wilson & Marion Cotillard.
The story centres around Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a thirty-something writer struggling to find a worthwhile ending for his first novel. Unable to fit into the life his obnoxious fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) has picked out for him, including expensive belongings and pedantic friends, Gil feels a special connection to Paris that no one around him understands. One night while walking through the streets of Paris, he stumbles across an antique 1920’s car. After accompanying the people inside, he travels back in time and meets his literary and artistic idols, including Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway. His love for their work, and new-found friendship with Picasso’s mistress Adriana (Marion Cotillard), creates a desire to continually return to this world at the stroke of midnight.
Wilson, Corey Stoll & Kathy Bates.
Allen’s direction and screenplay make Midnight in Paris a smart, witty and charming adventure. The beginning of the film, featuring continuous wide shots of the city, details 24 hours in Paris and develops the feeling of a wonderful fantasy. A bold visual style featuring elaborate 1920’s era fashion and nightclub settings, and a smooth guitar and jazz based score, delivers a quaint and comfortable representation of the past. Both artistic and literary references and discussions, based on the work of his role models, spark delightful scenes of dialogue that Allen is known for. The chemistry between every character is electric and the desire to learn more about, but not spending too much time on, each icon leaves a surprise around every turn and keeps the film consistently exciting. Despite the historical and literary discourses becoming alienating at points, the appearance of every icon keeps the viewer interested in both their work and their reactions and connections to a fan like Gil. Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali, Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald respectively, and Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway deliver standout performances in their small but dignified roles.
“No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.” (Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Midnight in Paris).
Owen Wilson’s standout performance becomes the most beguiling aspect of Midnight in Paris. Not only does Wilson portray a representation of Allen perfectly but he also becomes the avatar for the audience. Gil’s writer’s block and desperate search for creativity post screenwriting are defined by his entrapment of simple ideas. His inability to fit into Inez’s life of material things, and his increasingly different views to others around him on the art life of Paris, make him a likeable, funny and dynamic character. He feels a true sense of belonging when confronted with his heroes in the same place and when entwined with their overarching stories. Gil’s feeling towards his situation contains many signs of Allen’s theories of film-making and creating a true piece of art. Allen’s ode to a “Golden Age” of creativity is both a homage to the art and literature history of Paris and a representation of his struggle to fit into the present Hollywood system.
Allen, from Annie Hall to Match Point, has gone out of his way to boost Hollywood cinema above the norm. Midnight in Paris, tapping into his long-lost optimism and light-heartedness, is a fun and frivolous romantic comedy.