Tuesday, September 27, 2016

#Top10...with Ricky Hartman

#Top10 is a brand new feature to Movie Critical. Each week we will be chatting to a film lover or a member of the film community about their #Top10 favourite films and discussing what makes these films so special to them. We all have different tastes in film and watch movies differently depending on who we are. The object of #Top10 is to share the love of film and hopefully you the reader can find some new favourites.

This week we talked to film fanatic, Ricky Hartman about his #Top10 films, but we allowed him to have a #Top11 and we were not sorry when we found out what that eleventh film was! Ricky currently resides in Ontario, California and was a film buff even at the young age of four. He believes that the reason he became so interested in film is for the same reason many people do and that is because it is an escape. He is lucky enough to have set up an encompassing home theatre in every place he has lived and bought his own projector in 2008 to escape the disrespectful members of cinema audiences today. He's planning on upgrading to a 4k model as soon as prices come down, or Uwe Boll makes a good film....whatever comes first

Here's what Ricky had to say....

When I was approached with an opportunity to provide my own personal #Top10 along with a short summary of each, I knew the first two would be easy. It was arriving on the other eight which proved to be a challenge. But ultimately the task didn't take nearly as long as I feared it might, as in this instance I'm permitted to share a list of my personal favourites, rather than a top 10 of all time within their respected fields. Since we all have our own tastes and preferences, one persons Citizen Kane or Gone with the Wind may very well be another person’s The Room or Troll 2.

The point of film is to entertain and provide enjoyment and meaning, and ultimately an escape...so naturally taste is subjective. At least we can all take comfort in the fact that at no point does an Adam Sandler film appear anywhere on this list, though if someone were to include Hotel Transylvania on their list, I suppose at least that choice would warrant a pass.   

1. Amadeus (1984)

Wolfgang. Amadeus. Mozart.  This film swept the 57th Academy Awards, and with good reason. It's a perfect film. So perfect in fact that to explain why it is perfect seems almost superfluous to me, given my familiarity and relationship with this film over the course of the last 20 years. But given that not everyone on earth has experienced this masterpiece of cinema from the era of hairspray and neon, I shall try.

All films have flaws. Even perfect films. Perhaps that notion in itself is an oxymoron, but allow me fortuity and I'll elaborate henceforth. Amadeus is both a celebration of all we can be, and all that we are. Suffice to say, talent and acclaim and those who can't quite measure up yet still want recognition of their own, be it both deserved and undeserved. This is the story of a man of whom music comes to him as naturally as a fish or Michael Phelps takes to water.  It is also a story of envy and sinister intent, filled with stunning performances from an ensemble cast, whimsical costumes, elaborate set pieces, perfect pacing, and a score that is both joyful and haunting, all of which originally and legitimately composed by the films central figure. How many films protagonists are directly responsible for its own score?  

An unnecessary directors cut has been released in recent years. If you have yet to view this film, I suggest you seek out the original theatrical cut. In lieu of your first viewing, I envy you, as it's an experience you only get to have but once. 

2. Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994)

When Anne Rice learned that Tom Cruise was cast as Lestat, she publically shared a few choice words. When she finally saw the film long after it was out of theaters, at home on VHS no less, she ate those words.

Interview with the Vampire was put to page and film well before vampires sparkled and hung out at their local high school and seduced teenagers because they were bored. It is a film that both sticks with tradition surrounding the lore, yet successfully romanticizes them at the same time. Prior to Interview, vampires were thought of as monsters right alongside of Frankenstein and The Wolf Man. Bela Lugosi brought class to the role, but for the most part vampires were never viewed as something that could be beautiful until Rice’s vision came into the foray.  Interview is a film that lives in a very real world. A world that every kid who discovered Hot Topic back in 1997 wishes they could visit. It's a place where not only do vampires exist, but if given the opportunity you had a chance to accept the dark gift, chances are you would accept. I know I would. I'd sure miss Chinese food and pizza though. But that's a small price to pay for immortality. 

3. Rocky (1976)

This is a film that is near and dear to me, as it's the first instalment of my absolute favourite series and I'm a fan of a great many films that come in groups of three and then some! It has within it an unrivalled authenticity for me. A feeling of depth and sincerity that few films come close to matching. When an actor disappears entirely within their role, that's when you know you're watching great cinema.

Before I first introduced this film to my girlfriend, she wasn't particularly interested in giving it a chance. She had never been terribly familiar with Stallone, nor was she a fan of boxing or sports in general. Neither am I, for that matter. But when I told her it was just as much of a chick flick as it was about boxing, she was sceptical yet curious. At its heart, which Rocky has in spades, it's actually not really even about boxing either. Sure, it's definitely a central element and a focal point within Rocky's story, but the story is more about Rocky himself. When he has a chance to fight the current heavyweight champion of the world, his goal is to go the distance. To stand toe to toe with greatness in hopes of proving to himself that he too is capable of greatness. It doesn't matter if he wins, and he's absolutely sincere in his conviction. This is a film I will never tire of. It's the only film I know of that features a sequel that picks up right where the first left off, so when I find myself feeling a Rocky mood coming on, it's not uncommon for me to revisit the first two films back to back.

According to AFI, Raging Bull is the superior offering. I can't stand Raging Bull. I detest that film. If I'm going to choose between an arrogant wife beating jerk or a mush headed softie, you'll excuse me for going with the mush head with heart. 

4. Ghostbusters (1984)


Childhood, thy name is Ghostbusters. This was one of the very first films my family owned on VHS and I played that tape into the ground. I was immediately smitten by Venkman, Spengler, Stantz and Zeddemore. Even at the age of seven, I knew this was a smart film. The humour was subtle and ever present, but it was so much more than a comedy. It was fantasy, science fiction, horror, drama, and comedy all rolled into one. Can a film take itself seriously yet not take itself seriously at all at the same time? Ghostbusters did and it did so effortlessly. It's a bona fide classic and will remain so over time, all the more so in lieu of the gender swapping remake no one ever asked for or wanted. That film was dead on arrival, while the film that inspired it will remain a classic for decades to come. 

5. Contact (1997)

My father was an Astronomer. I grew up in a household where I was encouraged to look up at the night sky and into our ever expanding universe. It wasn't at all uncommon to find myself at the top of Mt. Baldy here in California at 2am, peering into a telescope aimed directly at the Moon, Mars, Jupiter or Saturn and its many rings. When you peer through that hole out into the endless cosmic horizon, you can't help but wonder if we're alone and if there's life out there...somewhere....amongst those countless stars. While I personally don't believe there is, I'd have to agree with the notion that if there's not and it is just us....seems like an awful waste of space.  

Contact is the smartest film on this list, and not because it's firmly based on science. Contact is science meets science fiction. It answers the question (for those in the film) surrounding whether or not we're alone in the universe and does so with more respect than frankly we deserve. We get our answer, which is the equivalent of a toddler hoping the time has come to take the training wheels off their bike only to be told they're not quite ready, but to keep on peddling. Carl Sagan passed away in 1996, less than a single year before his vision came to the silver screen. Had he lived to see Contact, he would have found a Kindred spirit in Ellie. 

6. Glory (1989)

I was born in 1979. The concept of slavery and racial segregation has been an absurdity to me throughout the entire course of my life and although slavery has been abolished here in the US and has been condemned worldwide, racial segregation (both intentional and otherwise) remains wide spread throughout the world. It would seem that for some people, division is the norm. Self segregation is very much real and represents one of our many failings, but for some people the fight against segregation and racial inequality is worth fighting and dying for. And that's exactly what the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry did. 

Glory tells the story of a white Captain who is bestowed upon him an unwanted promotion to the rank of Colonel as the Emancipation Proclamation came into law. Born into wealth and privilege, the films protagonist has no ego among the regiment of former slaves he commands. Before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white man, thousands of brave black men and women took a rightful stand against inequality. This is but one story of many, in a film laced with sheer integrity. 

7. Highlander (1986)

This is my wild card. It almost didn't make the cut, dare I phrase it as such...but I'm too synonymous with it among my close friends not to include it. I freaking love this movie. I love the story. I love the cast. I love the Queen laden soundtrack. I love the transitions. I love the sheer 80's-ness of it all. I love the fact that Sean Connery accepted the role of an immortal Egyptian by the name of Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez, and that he was only available for a week, but he freaking NAILED IT. I love how Connor MacLeod is from lots of different places. I love everything about this film with the exception of the opening scene featuring a wrestling match, which is supposed to represent how Connors life is enveloped by conflict and violence. But once that camera zooms in on him amongst the crowd, basking in a single ray of light with an expression that suggests "this guys been around"  ....it's on. 

8.  The Terminator (1984)

This offering from a then 30 year old James Cameron is, for me, his finest achievement. Yes, most people consider the sequel to be superior in every way and I completely understand why. It's a timeless classic in its own right, which broke new ground in special effects and set the bar sky high for every action film that followed, but the original Terminator has a different kind of classic feel. The kind that comes with films you catch from the halfway point on AMC and you can't help but watch anyway even if you did miss the first half. Then when it's over you find your DVD and start from the beginning and when you reach the part you first came in, it doesn't matter...because you don't mind watching it again. Because it's awesome.  

Those without a love for action or science fiction have unjustly reduced this film as citing it as an offering featuring nothing but dated special effects and largely only remembering it as the film that launched Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career into super stardom that features his most classic catch phrase. But just as Arnold vows to be back, so will I and countless others for many repeat viewings in the years to come. In either case, in a 100 years, who's gonna care?

9. The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

The folks at AFI can gush over Lawrence of Arabia, Gone with the Wind, The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur all they want. This is my epic. This film feels considerably more real for me. The four aforementioned films are, in many ways, superior offerings on a much grander level. However, sometimes less is more and this film succeeds for the same reason Rocky speaks to me. It too has heart.  

If I were to describe The Last of the Mohicans with a single adjective, it would be authentic. None of the characters portrayed here feel any less than sincere. The tension is palpable, and the emotion is genuine. When you place this films score over these performances, you're left with nothing short of period piece that commands your respect. 

10. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

As a writer, I don't particularly like Stephen King. I consider his work vastly overrated, but life carries with it a great many exceptions and this is one of them. This is one of the films that made me appreciate finer cinema and the importance of character development. I saw and still see a lot of myself in Andy Dufresne. Those who know me well would understand where I'm coming from. I've always been able to make the best of a bad situation and figure out a way to come out ahead or on top. It's in my nature to make that happen, and I've always had a knack for doing so. I figure life is hard enough in its own right, so you better have the right approach to get through the dips, twists, and turns, as best you can.  

The idea of Morgan Freeman narrating everything has become an inside joke at this point, but it all started here. And if ever there was a man who could find a way to smuggle Rita Hayworth into Shawshank Prison, Red was the man who could make it happen. I revisit this film at least once a year and will likely continue to do so in the years to come, God willing. 

11. Hook (1991)

Top 10 be damned, after narrowing it down none of these could make the cut, so here we are. Besides, a top 10 list without Robin Williams is hardly credible anyway.  

As of composing this list, I'm 37 years old. I'm also very much a big kid at heart, with absolutely no intention to ever grow up in a traditional sense as dictated by societal norms. Suffice to say, I'm an adult when I have to be, but when I am it's just an act. The rest of the time I can be myself, which more importantly means being true to myself. And that side of me believes in Neverland. 

I used to view this film with sheer joy. It is now bittersweet. In Hook we find Williams at his most playful. Whatever demons this man kept at bay were not present here. Perhaps this was filmed well before his battle with depression was at hand. In spite of Williams personal struggles, this film is the celebration of a master at the top of his craft. When combined with a stellar cast, cheerful score and Spielberg at the helm, it's pretty hard to miss.  

Run home, Jack. Run home. 

The Magnificent Seven (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 132 minutes
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writers: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni (based on the screenplay by) , Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk (screenplay)
Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard, Vincent D'Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennet, Matt Bomer, Luke Grimes

The Magnificent Seven opens in Australian cinemas on September 29 and is distributed by Sony Pictures. Now showing in the United States.

The Magnificent Seven is a throwback to the traditional westerns of yesteryear that ticks all the boxes of what makes a film of it's genre successful. When her town of Rose Creek is taken over by savage gunmen and her husband shot and killed in front of her, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) tries to find the right men to bring justice to her hometown. She finds her emancipator in Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who sets out to assemble a group of highly skilled and dangerous men to take on Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) and his band of men to bring Rose Creek to peace again.

The 2016 Magnificent Seven wears the title of remake loosely, as it doesn't greatly resemble the 1960 film of the same name starring Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner and Charles Bronson that it is based on. This is actually surprising considering how Antoine Fuqua's film is nostalgic as it feel like the westerns of Hollywood's Golden Age. However, as is expected of all remade films with any type of action, it likes to show off what can now be done in the cinematography and special effects department.

And show off it does. There are plenty of impressive sweeping shots of the American west that bring out how attractive it is rather than how brutal. Fuqoa is particularly fond of setting up his cast for hero shots, which usually come when introducing a character or end of the film and are in this case spread out throughout the whole movie. Again, some of these shots are rather impressive such as the seven walking into the sunset (a stereotypical shot for a film of it's genre), but it is more overkill than artistic.

However, the grandest moment of The Magnificent Seven is the fight for Rose Creek. It's battle is exactly what you crave from a western genre film with plenty of action, suspense, unpredictability and heartbreak. The first half of the film (with the exception of the opening scene) coasts along without too much to marvel at, but the promise of and lead up to the final shoot out is superb....and this is no spoiler at all to speak about. The final shoot-out is an accepted piece of a western film, and the plot of The Magnificent Seven lets one know early on that this is where the film is headed.

There isn't too great an attempt of character development for any of the main players besides the basics and what they have done in the past month or so, but each player has a solid and distinctive personality. Despite it being The Magnificent Seven, it is basically Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt being the two of the most magnificence. The two are presented in the film as rock star-like figures and it is them that drive the film. Washington is very good and a real presence on screen as the leader of the seven, Sam Chisolm. His attitude is intriguing and he embodies the cowboy ring-leader with ease and class.

Chris Pratt plays Chisolm's opposite as the mostly intoxicated and laidback, Josh Faraday. Faraday does have many traits that liken him to other Pratt characters in his past movies with his cheeky demeanour and witty one-liners so much that it almost feels as though Pratt was cast purely for comedic value. However, it does work in lightening the mood of the film and giving the screenplay a bit more life. Haley Bennett also does well in the sole female role as Emma Cullen and has several moments throughout the film when she shines.

As westerns do not grace our cinema screens with the consistency which they did in the past, The Magnificent Seven may well be the best of it's genre you see this year. Satisfies lovers of westerns and old-fashioned action.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

#Top10....with Chris Elena

#Top10 is a brand new feature to Movie Critical. Each week we will be chatting to a film lover or a member of the film community about their #Top10 favourite films and discussing what makes these films so special to them. We all have different tastes in film and watch movies differently depending on who we are. Our favourite films say a great deal about the person we are and what we value.The object of #Top10 is to share the love of film and hopefully you the reader can find some new favourites.

Our first #Top10 guest is Chris Elena, a filmmaker from Sydney who is still trying his best to shoot on 16mm film. He has written for An Online Universe and Stash Everything and is currently working on his next short film whilst his most recent, The Limited just made its festival debut at Queensland Film Festival in July. He admits that he is obsessed with the topics of gender and sexuality in film, having studied feminism, film and creative writing at the University of Wollongong and the most common threads you'll see in his film taste and in the list below are: Feminism, sexuality, queer and gender representation.

Here is Chris' #Top10.....

1. The Master (2012)

There is this obsession I have with films being sweet, gentle and involving. Besides the obvious reason for it making for a much more shared experience when trying to connect with the story and character, my only real guess to why is that sadness and loneliness is better understood and felt when in contrast with acceptance and adoration. I only ever understand how lonely and hopeless a character is when they're being listened to or welcomed in. The Master made me come to this realisation, it put in place what I love about movies, that feeling to understand a character's loneliness and longing for love. We see a relationship develop that encapsulates this and the notion of one's loneliness ultimately rejecting said love and acceptance. It might just be the sweetest and saddest film I've ever seen. Of course it's my favourite movie of all time.

2. 35 Shots of Rum (2008)

Like almost every film on this list, loneliness is front and centre and how a character/characters accept loneliness whether it's due to the circumstance or by their own hand. Claire Denis' film establishes relationships by their interactions, not by their titles. We know exactly who they are and what they mean to one another without any announcements. I've never seen a film dedicate all its energy and soul to its characters and their existence over audience acknowledgement or satisfaction. I learned exactly how much character representation can be short changed by dictating their words and actions to appease an audience. If there was ever a movie that taught me the importance of character integrity and relationships, it's this one. One of the greatest final shots of all time included.

3. Magnolia (1999)

The movie sold me on the notion of: You can do almost whatever you want with plot just as long as your characters are developed, interesting, emotional and multi-dimensional and once you've done that, you should do everything you can to make a film no one's seen before. Essentially, the movie that convinced me that my be all and end all for movies is character. The film's greatest achievement is its approach of wearing its heart on its sleeve and the running joke of, you can have almost anything happen in your film no matter how chaotic, outlandish or downright insane the scene or idea on screen is - its no match for characters in distress who are breaking apart before your very eyes. One of the warmest films I've seen. Incredibly heartbreaking, sweet and original.

4. There Will Be Blood (2007)

Greed, America, Fatherhood, Men, Capitalism - sure, it's about all of those things, but the way in which it's conducted like all of his films is through character. Plot, like in The Master, we're given a protagonist who will push people away for power and do just about anything to rise above the status quo. But for a film that involves masculinity heavily and includes almost no female characters, it's one of the very first films I've seen of its kind that doesn't indulge the masculine complex, but portrays this man as a strange creature unlike any other by how he interacts with people and finds any flaw he can in a loving relationship, including the one with his son. It's to me a movie involving men about the process of separating yourself from empathy and love, even without knowing it. The true, ultimate dissection of masculinity and the idea of men refusing to be emotional without the blatant use of sexism and homophobia laden dialogue because every other movie about men will have that on display already.

5. The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford (2007)

See the description to all four films above...they apply here. Yet here, it's in the silence. The western genre always felt like an exploration of sadness and emptiness, no matter how exciting the shootouts within that exploration may appear. This is the movie that relishes in that feeling. It's a movie about dying alone and the world not caring otherwise. The last twenty minutes are everything.

6. Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005)

A film that explores how and why people meet one another and how social normalities are built on cynicism, judgement, a fear of being kind and honest that's ingrained in all of us that ultimately prevent relationships from forming. The film looks why we are the way we are and why we judge and exactly where that comes from. (including sexuality, art, kindness etc). A movie that condemns unjustified cynicism, irrational judgement of people and dishonesty whilst having perhaps the most gentle and adorable execution of ideas I've ever seen. The movie that challenged my perception of human interaction, honesty and kindness.

7. Boogie Nights (1997)

My favourite era of music, fashion and movies is the 1970's. My obsession with that decade, I never understood until I saw Boogie Nights for the first time. The ultimate metaphor of an era that has a fun, inviting and judgement free representation through music and movies that was essentially an attempt to avoid how corrupt and broken the world had become. A collection of mistreated, misunderstood and abandoned people who find love and validation in one another and that all collaborate in the adult film industry. The movie that made me assess how destructive sexuality can be in film and how representation is everything and the fallacy of fantasy through representation, whether it be in sex on screen or by a moment in time. After Boogie Nights I questioned my understanding of what is neglected or ignored when one fantasizes or praises.

8. In The Cut (2003)

The first movie I ever saw that reversed tired gender driven caricatures. The contemplative and lonely protagonist driven by curiosity and obsession and the femme fatale. Meg Ryan is the protagonist and Mark Ruffalo is the femme fatale. A movie about female sexuality with every sex scene establishing character progression and development. A movie that questions why female sexuality and domestic violence is ignored in film, how women are beaten and murdered in films to advance plot whereas In The Cut looks at why misogyny in film is often represented as sexy instead of toxic. This is the movie that got me to acknowledge the relationship between sex and violence in a very honest way with the emphasis on the way films over sensationalise and sexualize female suffering and often biased, dishonest representation of female sexuality in film and the insistence on ignoring the violence men are capable of toward women through insecurity and entitlement.

9. Do The Right Thing (1989)

Racism from the perspective of an angry and flabbergasted voice that is still unsure why racism is ingrained in us and the double standards in place of a social infrastructure that still supports it. Do The Right Thing taught me the importance of challenging social injustice in film through style and a sense of community and keeping that community together despite being forced to take sides through fear and distrust. From its opening scene till its very final moments, movies don't get much more perceptive, opinionated and challenging.

10. Shortbus (2006)

The greatest example of sex and intimacy I’ve ever seen on film. The emphasis on female sexuality, the focus on sexuality that’s often feared and ignored in most mainstream cinema and how characters can be defined by sex scenes which in an opening sequence reveals through sex the grief, confusion, sadness and suffering they're all experiencing in a world that will never be the same after 9/11. The film that says above all else, we have each other, even if we're unsure of what happened and if we'll ever be happy again. It's what taught me about unbiased sexuality on screen and how sex can often define, save and bring people together in an honest and open way.