Sunday, October 27, 2013

Top 10 Films To Watch on Halloween

One thing I absolutely miss about living in the United States is Halloween. This isn't to say that we don't celebrate Halloween in Australia, but it is nowhere near as big a deal. I miss it being a big deal!

I experienced my first real Halloween in 2008 when I was living in Los Angeles and studying at California State University Long Beach for a semester. I have to admit that Halloween was one of the things I was truly excited about when starting on my journey and it did not disappoint. Halloween parties were in full swing all through the week and I never knew that there was such thing as haunted mazes until I saw the ones opening up at the Queen Mary, Universal Studios, Knotts Berry (Scary) Farm and Griffith Park. It was the Halloween decorations on some of the mansions along the shore and also at Disneyland which really got me excited.

I did have my first (and only) Trick or Treat experience in which my roommate (who was also Australian) and I took to the streets of Huntington Beach in our costumes as a pirate and a flapper. Everyone was pretty understanding and accepting of the idea that these two Australian girls were on their first Tick or Treat, apart from one neighbour who at first told us that we were a little too old to be doing this and when we told her that we were from Australia, she said "Oh yeah, I can do that too" in the worst possible Australian accent.

Five years on I am still confused whether she was joking or not. All I know was that she couldn't imitate our accents to save her life.

So being in Australia and not being able to celebrate Halloween as much as I would like, Halloween is reserved for watching a scary or Halloween themed film. This year I decided to help those who are in the same position as me, or just want to have a low key Halloween. Plus Halloween this year is a Thursday so chances are most people will be doing all their partying over the weekend and will be working on the Friday afterwards.

We have tallied up the votes collected and put together a list of the top ten films to watch on Halloween. Nearly 80 films received votes and all types of films were represented. There were classic horror films, B grade horror, family friendly films, animation and thrillers. However, the film that has received the honour of being the top film to watch on Halloween has won by an incredible margin. Please note that this top ten is the results of the public voting and the films and order in which they appear has not been altered in any way.

10. Shaun Of The Dead (2004)

Halloween doesn't always have to be a serious movie night and nobody says you can't have a laugh. Shaun of the Dead is the creation of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright and a parody of such zombie films as Day of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Shaun of the Dead is the perfect mix of comedy and horror, as there are still a lot of blood, gore and frights as well as plenty of laughs. Shaun (Simon Pegg) is an ordinary guy, not quite everyone's favourite person and especially not in girlfriend, Liz's(Kate Ashfield) good books. However, he has to find his inner superhero when he tries to save his family and friends from the zombie apocalypse.

9. Saw (2004)

Saw caused quite the sensation when it came out in 2005, and like all horror/thriller films which cause a sensation has been followed by six follow-up films (the latest being Saw 3D in 2010). A film absolutely not for the faint hearted, Saw is incredibly suspenseful and intriguing. It is just like a car crash, you can't look away no matter how bad it gets. Two men wake up and have no recollection of what happened, where they are, who the other one is and why there is a dead body between the two of them. They have to play by the twisted rules of a serial killer only known by the name Jigsaw if they are to survive.

8. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

When The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was released in 1974, it became an instant horror sensation. Gruesome and terrifying, the film has the ability to cause nightmares in anybody who watches the film, because what could possibly be scarier than a serial killer with a chain saw as his weapon of choice? What was even more scary at the time was the persistent rumours that it was based on a true story, this is only partly true. The film is based on true events, but not an actual true story. In The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, five teenagers take a trip to their grandfather's house and are hunted by a man only known as Leatherface and his cannibalistic followers.

7. A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)

A Nightmare on Elm Street gave birth to one of the most famous and scariest horror film villains of recent time, Freddie Krueger. Krueger was an evil man who preyed on children in his life, but after he is killed by outraged parents, he starts coming for their children where nobody can protect their sleep. Krueger is one scary man with his scarred, burnt skin and knives for fingernails and he comes for you where you can't be saved. A Nightmare on Elm Street is extremely creepy, but on the brighter side, you do get to see Johnny Depp in his first ever acting performance.

6. The Exorcist (1973)

No one can deny that The Exorcist is one of the scariest, if not the scariest movie of all time. However, it does rank as also being one of the best films of all time and was the first horror film to be included in the Best Picture category at the Academy Awards. What makes The Exorcist so scary is that it is the unseen enemy of the Devil that takes possession of a young girl, Regan (Linda Blair). Regan becomes unrecognisable and it is terrifying to see such a pretty young girl turn into such a monster. The fact that it is such a wonderfully made film only adds to how terrifyingly real it feels.

5. Halloweentown (1998)

Now for a completely different change of pace! Halloween is a big day for kids as well and Halloween is not always about scaring yourself silly, but also having a bit of fun. Halloweentown was released as a television movie in 1998 and gathered quite the following for adults and children alike. In the first movie in the Halloweentown series,  Debbie Reynolds plays grandmother Aggie who is from Halloweentown and visits her grand-daughter, Marnie (Kimberly J. Brown) to teach her how to be a witch. Marnie and her brother and sister travel back to Halloweentown with Aggie in order to face the danger that is lurking there.

4. The Shining (1980)

Based on the book by the Master of Horror himself, Stephen King and directed by the great Stanley Kubrick, The Shining is incredibly creepy and spooky. Set in an abandoned hotel which a writer, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) and his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son, Danny (Danny Lloyd) move into for the winter and it isn't long before strange things begin to happen and Jack starts to turn into a violent monster. The Shining is like watching a nightmare with creepy and unsettling images throughout the film which have since become famous. The most memorable being the twin girls in blue and Jack Nicholson's "Here's Johnny!"

3. Halloween (1978)

It couldn't be a Halloween film list without Halloween. This is the ultimate horror Halloween classic as it encompasses both the night of Halloween and real horror. It's a relatively simple story with an incredible amount of suspense and terror. On Halloween 1963, a young boy by the name of Michael Myers kills his sister in cold blood and is locked away in an institution. It isn't until 15 years later that he escapes and brings terror back to Haddonfield, the scene of his crime. Myers is one scary villain, as he never says a thing and wears an ice hockey mask. The ultimate Halloween slasher film!

2. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a favourite animated film of many people and comes in at number two on our top Halloween films. Nothing like your traditional Halloween film, Tim Burton's film combines the holiday with Christmas, making The Nightmare Before Christmas both a Halloween movie and a Christmas movie. Jack Skellington is the hero of the film and king of Halloween Town. He gets bored of doing the same thing every Halloween and after stumbling on Christmas Town, decides to combine the two holidays. The result is of complete mayhem, but a wonderfully creative, original and memorable film.

1. Hocus Pocus (1993)

At number one is 1993's Hocus Pocus, which is only fitting as this Halloween marks the film's 20th anniversary. Hocus Pocus is a truly wonderful Halloween film with it's holiday atmosphere, great story and flawless characters. When Max (Omri Katz)  and his younger sister, Dani (Thora Birch) move to Salem, they immediately hear the story of the Sanderson sisters who were witches hung hundreds of years ago. Legend has it that if a virgin lights the Black Flame Candle,  the sisters will come back to take the lives of all the children in Salem. Max, of course, doesn't believe this, and lights the candle as a joke. He soon realises that it is more than legend when the Sanderson sisters walk through the door and puts every child, including Dani in danger.

Hocus Pocus is another Halloween film which the whole family can enjoy. The film catches the essence of Halloween the way it is celebrated in a community, while also having a scary (but not too scary) side. Bette Midler plays head sister, Winifred Sanderson and is wonderful. Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy played sisters Sarah and Mary and the three of them have amazing on screen chemistry. This is perhaps Sarah Jessica Parker's best role. No disrespect to her Carrie from Sex & The City, but she plays a completely different character in Hocus Pocus and is truly hilarious.

The 19th of October saw the films 20th anniversary and a screening was held at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. Please see here to check out all the action and see photos of some of the stars 20 years on.

Other films which received a considerable amount of votes were:-
The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Nosferatu (1922)
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The Wolf Man (1941)
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Paranormal Activity (2009)
Fright Night (1985)
The Wizard Of Oz (1939)


Thankyou to everyone who voted and to Nicole Voigt for helping out with the voting.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Butler (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 132 minutes
Director: Lee Daniels
Writer: Danny Strong (screenplay), Wil Haygood (article)
Cast: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz, Robin Williams, John Cusack, Terrence Howard, Elijah Kelley, Yaya Alafia, James Marsden, Minka Kelly, Live Schreiber, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda

The Butler opens in Australian cinemas on the 31st October 2013 and is distributed by Hopscotch Films.

Whilst The Butler may not be the flawless masterpiece that many were hoping it would be, there is still no denying that it is an enjoyable and entertaining slice of modern American history on the big screen.

Lee Daniels latest is a fine feature which offers the viewer a great deal of information regarding the changing face of America's racial relations and the role of presidency in the White House. Although The Butler is extremely thorough in it's examination of the major events in the USA of the past 60 years, this attempt to cover so much results in the depth and emotion of the film suffering. Yet, the representation of the times and the acting being so impressive means that there is still so much to marvel at in The Butler.

The butler is Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), a man who's journey takes him from slavery in the cotton fields of Georgia to the White House in Washington, DC. He is directly effected by the changes that are slowly taking place for the coloured of America as his son, Louis (David Oyelowo) becomes active in trying to orchestrate these changes. As the years progress, Cecil serves and has his own special encounters with each of the American presidents. While he is told to make sure the presidents feel as though there is no one in the room when he is present, all the presidents are aware of Cecil's presence and value his contribution to the White House and their presidency.

There is so much covered in The Butler which is both a blessing and a curse at the same time. It is a blessing because, as previously said, it is a thorough study into recent American history in regards to racial relations and the office of President. Lovers of American history will find this film to be an absolute treat for how much they will see being recreated. The period of the 1960-70's in the southern states is very well done, but still quite disturbing. There is also the perfect musical score to accompany each period in time represented. It is the portrayals of the different presidents that many Americans will be interested to see in The Butler and these portrayals are definitely intriguing. Unlike many other historical films which past US presidents have been featured in, these presidents are not the focal point of the film, but are the supporting players in Cecil's story. Dwight Eisenhower (Robin Williams), John F. Kennedy (James Marsden), Lyndon Johnson (Liev Schreiber), Richard Nixon (John Cusack) and Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman) are the presidents featured in the film, and there is also a small scene with Martin Luther King (Nelsan Ellis).

As well as these historical representations, there is also Cecil's personal family life which is featured greatly throughout the film. While all these events are taking place, Cecil also fights to keep his marriage to Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) alive and well and to be a present and effective father to Louis and Charlie (Elijah Kelley). As one may expect, this is a lot to fit into one film. At 132 minutes, The Butler is not a short film to begin with, but it is still not long enough to pack all of this in without it feeling rushed. So much is covered yet isn't covered in great detail. It feels like many details are just skimmed over and not gone into too much detail as there is just not enough time to. As a result, it does feel as though there is a lack of depth and emotion in the film. This isn't to say that it doesn't evoke emotion at all, because the film absolutely does. However, this emotion could have been pushed further and just as you begin to feel something, it is lost as you have to move onto the next thing. Even though the film is enjoyable, it does feel considerably rushed (particularly the last decade of Cecil's term), which is a strange thing to feel in a film which is over two hours long.

Forest Whitaker is wonderful as Cecil Gaines. Towards the beginning of the film he takes seizes the chance to make his character as likable as possible so that the audience can go on this journey with him and feel connected. Again, there are times which he could have taken his performance much further emotionally, but this isn't to say that his performance flat-lines in the emotional department.

Oprah Winfrey makes an incredible return to the big screen as Gloria. Her character is a very real woman with a great deal of character. She has her flaws, but also her undying love for her family, She is superb, and you stop seeing the talk show host in her as soon as she opens her mouth for the first time.

David Oyelowo is also very good and displays wonderful character development throughout the film as his character grows from a boy into a man. Yaya Alafia also does very well as Louis' love interest, Carol. Cuba Gooding Jr and Lenny Kravitz are great to watch on screen, especially Gooding who provides much of the comedy relief. Although each of the actors who play the presidents do well, none of them are really given enough of a part to be outstanding. However, Minka Kelly and Jane Fonda, who play Jacqueline Kennedy and Nancy Reagan, do particularly well as the first ladies.

You can tell that The Butler intended to be far more than it actually is. Yet, it is still entertaining and a bit of fun to watch.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fruitvale Station (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 85 minutes
Director: Ryan Coogler
Writer: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Ariana Neal, Chad Michael Murray, Kevin Durand

Fruitvale Station will be released in Australia on the 7th November and is distributed by Roadshow Films.

Fruitvale Station is the heartbreaking true story of Oscar Grant, who was shot and killed by police at Fruitvale Station in the early hours of New Year's Day 2009.

While heartbreaking may well be a term overused when describing dramatic films, Fruitvale Station does indeed break your heart with it's extreme sudden change of emotion. It is a film which will inflict so many emotions on you in it's 85 minutes, but does so in such an incredible way that all these emotions are welcomed. While Fruitvale Station has the ability to both sadden and anger, it must also be embraced for it's wonderful characters and human spirit.

Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) has a troubled past which includes spending time behind bars for drug dealing. He desires change to make a better life for himself, his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz) and daughter, Tatiana (Ariana Neal), and it seems that on New Years Eve 2008, he may finally be really starting to make the right moves towards being a better man. All this comes crumbling down when on the way back from the city with his group of friends, he is held by police at Fruitvale Station in what is ultimately a misunderstanding with tragic consequences.

For those who are not familiar with what happened at Fruitvale Station on that fateful day, the first five minutes of the film will tell you everything you need to know with actual footage taken on a cell phone by a witness to the incident. After that shockingly powerful start to the film, the film tones down dramatically to reveal how although Oscar is still far from perfect, he is trying and you immediately feel a strong bond with him. The 24 hours leading up to the event in the film can easily be described as beautiful. There is so much human spirit and it shows Oscar trying to be a good Samaritan and making friends in doing so with a woman in need of advice at his old workplace and a stray dog he meets while filling up his car. The scenes with his family and with his daughter are just filled with so much love. While you are watching these exquisite scenes take place, there is still that niggling at the back of your mind of what is coming up. Just when you feel like you have pushed this out of your mind enough to sit back and enjoy the beauty you are seeing, the change comes. You go from feeling happy for Oscar (with a tinge of anxiety) to being shocked and dismayed.

Ryan Coogler has done an incredible job at building tension in such an unique fashion. Everyone knows what is going to happen in Fruitvale Station because if you didn't know about the actual events to begin with, you know about it from the beginning of the film. Coogler doesn't build suspense in the conventional cinematic fashion, but instead relies on bringing the audience closer to the character of Oscar and showing how beautiful life can be. It's this closeness that you feel to Oscar that makes you dread the event even more. The ending of the film leaves you feeling angry about the events that followed the shooting. The final shot reminds us that this is indeed a true story and that it is not only the subject matter of the film which makes it so heartbreaking, but also the fact that is a true story, and the final shot really hits this reality home.

Michael B. Jordan is perfectly cast as Oscar Grant. He is incredibly likable despite everything you know he has done, and he makes it evident that he is not finding change easy. He is still a man who is battling his inner demons, but also enjoying the moments when he knows he has overcome those demons. Jordan has wonderful on screen chemistry with all the co-stars he works closely with, particularly Melonie Diaz and Ariana Neal, who is just a treasure in her young age.

Octavia Spencer is an absolute stand out as Oscar's mother, Wanda. She is warm, but she is also an extremely strong female figure. She is superb in every scene she is in throughout the movie and is one of those characters you really just want to see more of.

One would almost feel as though Fruitvale Station is two movies in one as it makes you feel two extreme emotions which are at complete opposite ends to each other. It is a beautiful film with so much human spirit in it for the most part, but then switches to reveal the dark side of society where there is no happy ending.


You may have also seen Octavia Spencer in......
The Help as Minny

Friday, October 18, 2013

Captain Phillips (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 134 minutes
Director: Paul Greengrass
Writers: Billy Ray (screenplay), Richard Phillips and Stephan Talty (book)
Cast: Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Mahat M. Ali

Captain Phillips is to be released in Australia on the 24th October 2013 and is distributed by Sony Pictures. Now showing in the USA and UK.

Captain Phillips is a high paced, suspenseful film based on the true story of sea captain, Richard Phillips.

Being a true story, Paul Greengrass' latest film does what many suspense films fail to do and that is remain realistic while maintaining tension. It is also an incredible thing for a film to remain so suspenseful while being a true story, as being a true story will often mean that people know  how it will end. Although Captain Phillips is not a film without flaws, it is remembered far more for what it does right rather than what it does wrong.

In April 2009, an American cargo ship was making it's way along the Somali coast to Kenya at a time when there was an increasing number of pirate attacks. The Maersk Alabama is targeted by a group of Somali pirates as it is not travelling with a herd of other ships and therefore makes an easier target. Four pirates hijack the ship taking crew members hostage, among them being the ship's captain, Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks). While protecting his crew, Phillips risks all to make sure his men and his ship remain safe.

Captain Phillips does not for one moment feel like it is it's 134 minutes long. There is never a dull moment throughout the film and it constantly flows at a steady pace. Nothing is included in the film that doesn't need to be there as a result of a very clean cut screenplay and skilful editing. When the Maersk Alabama was hijacked now over four years ago, it was a huge event as no American cargo ship had been hijacked in 200 years. Therefore, the story of Captain Phillips and his crew is quite a well known one. It is not an easy thing to do to make a film out of a true story and generate suspense equivalent to what the audience would feel if they didn't know the outcome. By being a true story it does also avoid the pitfalls that many suspense films fall into, which is that of coming close to the end so many times that it loses it's realism. Although the story's credibility has recently come into question as a result of differing stories from the actual crew of the Maersk, Captain Phillips does not feel as though it is trying too hard to build tension and does do naturally.

Visually, Captain Phillips is quite well done. People who suffer from seasickness will not be bothered by the film, as there are far more things to worry about than the state of the water. There are some scenes in which you feel you are in the lifeboat, but there isn't the effect of feeling as though you are on the choppy sea. Some camera movements are a little too quick to be able to allow you to focus, but this doesn't do too much in taking away from the situation at hand.

The film is very much a one man film. There is really no time taken to get to know any of the other characters in the film besides Captain Phillips. This isn't really a major problem, but it does mean that the film lends itself to a type of Hollywood heroism in which they are trying to go above and beyond in glorifying the main characters. Based on many recent articles regarding the inaccuracies of the film in regards to Captain Phillips himself and his behaviour, it would seem as though there has been an attempt to make Phillips out to be more heroic than he actually was in the circumstances for the sake of a film. We gain tiny glimpses into the lead pirate, Muse's life and personality, but it feels as though we still don't really know as much about him as we should by the end of the film.

As it is a one man film, Tom Hanks has a big task in holding his own throughout the film. He does so brilliantly. He does have the air of being slightly arrogant and distant from his crew, but he is a very strong character. His best acting of the film is absolutely in the last 20 minutes when all his walls come down, but no one can deny that Hanks gives a solid performance throughout the film. He's beginning scenes with Catherine Keener, who plays his wife Andrea, are particularly enjoyable as they show the human side of his character away from the ship. Barkhad Abdi, who plays Muse, also is commendable, as is Barkhad Abdirahman who plays Bilal.

Captain Phillips is a suspenseful survival film which keeps you constantly wondering how things will eventually pan out, whether you know the answers or not. Tom Hanks' powerhouse performance is one of the must sees of the year.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Diana (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 113 minutes
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Writers: Stephen Jefferies (screenplay) and Kate Snell (book)
Cast: Naomi Watts, Naveen Andrews, Douglas Hodge, Geraldine James, Juliet Stevenson, Charles Edwards

Diana is now showing in Australia and is distributed by Becker Film Group. Also now showing in the UK and opening in the USA on the 1st November 2013.

It's still too soon for a film about the late Princess of Wales. Or is it?

In all honesty, it probably isn't too soon. However, it may be too soon to look at her in the way which Diana does. Oliver Hirschbiegel's film is more an angst driven romance than the inspiring and heart-warming biopic many were hoping it would be. Even though it has been 16 years since that fateful night in Paris, Diana is still fresh in the people's mind and as much as the film believes it is doing her memory justice, it is not remembering Diana the way her admirers want her to be remembered.

Diana opens with a recreation of the now famous last CV footage of Diana, Princess of Wales (Naomi Watts) as she enters an elevator in her hotel in Paris. Two years prior to this trip to Paris, Diana embarked on a secret love affair with heart surgeon, Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews). While their relationship flourishes, Diana finds in herself the overwhelming desire to help those less fortunate than herself and becomes stronger, more confident and the Queen of people's hearts.

Diana certainly seems to be one of those screenplays that just seemed like a much better idea on paper than on screen. You can tell what the film sets out to achieve, which is to show the world a different side of Diana than they are used to seeing. Yet, if they wanted to see another side of Diana, it was not this side. Many have described Diana as resembling a Mills and Boon novel and this is unfortunately quite correct. It is a feeble attempt at a romance film as it is not suspenseful by any means and very slow and dull. Instead of being intriguing seeing Diana in a romance such as this, it is just awkward. It is almost a strain on your senses to watch someone as highly regarded as what Diana was (and still is) in some of these situations. It is true that there are the scenes where we see the Diana we love and remember such as comforting the children in the hospital and the mother at her son's grave, but even these scenes aren't particularly inspirational. However, seeing Diana out in the street in the middle of the night calling out Hasnat's name and running crying out of his apartment on more than one occasion just doesn't seem flattering for her character. In the film's defence, many Diana biographies have expressed how Diana could often be needy and was so eager to be loved, but Diana takes it to the point where she is just depicted as being a lovesick little girl, who then tries to do some pretty silly things as revenge. However, the film does know how to show how loved she was by the people and the film itself loves her very much.

Even as a love story and putting the fact that this is Princess Diana aside, it would be mediocre at very best. There really feels like there is no spark between Diana and Hasnat. The beginning of their relationship seems ridiculously rushed and there is no chemistry between them at all so it doesn't even seem realistic. The dreamy music accompanying much of the film doesn't aid the lack of romantic feeling either.

Royalists will also be disappointed. As the film deals with the last two years of Diana's life and well after the break up between her and Charles, there is barely any mention of the royal family and only a handful of lines muttered about her children, William and Harry. This is perhaps a good idea as it doesn't paint the royal family in a terrible light and avoids getting the film makers in trouble.

At the beginning of the film, you are absolutely convinced that Naomi Watts was the perfect choice as Princess Diana. She does particularly well when recreating the infamous interview with Martin Bashir. In this scene she is almost a replica of the princess. However, it is the scenes which Watts would have had footage to imitate that she is the most like her. The very sad news is that there are a great deal of scenes in the film where you forget that you are supposed to be watching Diana and all you feel like you are doing is watching Naomi Watts. When playing a historical figure such as this, the important thing to do is fool the audience into believing that they really are watching this person on screen. Watts does do this at times during the film and when she does, she is perfect. Yet, for the most part she is not quite believable.

It is interesting to ponder whether this film would have been at least a bit more successful had it been another ten or so years before it was made. There would have to have been a few adjustments to the film making techniques, but maybe people might have been a bit more open to seeing Diana in the way she is portrayed in this film. Maybe.


You may have also seen Naomi Watts in.....
The Impossible as Maria

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Prisoners (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 153 minutes
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Aaron Guzikowski
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Viola Davis, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, Terrence Howard

Prisoners will open in Australia on the 17th October 2013 and is distributed by Roadshow Films. Now showing in the UK and USA.

What would you do if the thing you love more than life itself went missing without a trace?

While Prisoners is a story about the search for two young girls who have gone missing in extremely suspicious circumstances, it delves deep into the psychological states of those who are most affected by the situation. As well as being suspenseful, confronting, intriguing and giving way to some wonderful performances, Prisoners leaves you pondering who you would be in this film and how you would react if you were faced with the same situation.

On Thanksgiving, two little girls go missing and the only clue the police have is the suspicious RV which the two girls were playing on during the day. When Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) tracks down the suspected RV, it's driver, Alex Jones (Paul Dano) is ruled out as a suspect due to his mental capacities. However, one of the girls fathers, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) does not believe for a moment that Jones does not have a role in his daughter's disappearance and takes matters into his own hands.

Prisoners is a wonderful piece of work. The screenplay by Aaron Guzikowski is near flawless, as it is never for one moment dull and it is a very clever thriller. The connections made throughout the film and the twists and turns are all well done. It is great to see a thriller which is not always predictable and has several layers to reveal. However, the subject matter and violent images in the film may be a little too much for some people to completely enjoy the film. It can be quite confronting and disturbing in its delivery, particularly in the scenes with Keller and Alex and towards the end of the film.

As Prisoners deals with child abduction, this will not be an easy watch for many parents. It is impossible to watch this as a parent and not be moved as you start to see yourself as one of the four parents who are dealing with the disappearance of their daughter. Whilst you feel you are forced into seeing the wrong that Hugh Jackman's Keller Dover is doing, you are also faced with the question of what would you do if you were in his position. What would you do if you felt that the police were not doing their job and that they do not believe what you have found out? Prisoners does well in encouraging you to contemplate these questions. Also, putting aside the information which Keller Dover is aware of, how would you handle the situation if it was you in the parents place? The four parents of the two girls all demonstrate different behaviours in their grief. While Keller is being proactive and trying to find his daughter himself, his wife, Grace (played by Maria Bello) is consumed by her grief. She cannot perform daily tasks as all she can do is just sleep and wait for her daughter to come home. The other mother and father pair, played by Terrence Howard and Viola Davis' are not as extreme in their emotions (that we see). Franklin Birch (Howard) is in a state of confusion as to the situation and although he is clearly distressed, he is at a lost as to what he should do. His wife, Nancy (Davis), seems like the strongest of the parents. She does show her vulnerability at times, but believes in doing the right thing. All four of these characters are dealing with something so tragic in a different way to each other. It is a great thing to be able to delve so much into character and get people to try and put themselves in their shoes whilst maintaining the suspense and intrigue of the story.

The cinematography works wonders for the film. The decision for the majority of the film to take place during the pouring rain adds to the eerie and sinister feel of the film. The photography in the rain is not particularly polished, but this works as it makes you feel as though you are really there with the characters.

All performances in Prisoners need to be as perfect as they can be in order for the film to really have an emotional impact on the audience. With perfect casting, this has all been made possible. Hugh Jackman gives a performance unlike any other he has ever done. He is completely terrifying in his madness, but is also heartbreaking as the father who has lost the apple of his eye. His first scene with Gyllenhaal is incredible in the way he portrays the man who is trying his hardest to fight back tears and stay strong for his wife while trying to get across the importance of his words to the detective.

Maria Bello is also heartbreaking in portraying a broken woman. She falls apart bit by bit throughout the film and is completely convincing as the grieving mother. Jake Gyllenhaal is also fantastic. His Detective Loki doesn't say much about his private life, but from what he does say and do, you can see how much this case is effecting him and there is something deep and dark that has happened to him in his past. Terrence Howard and Viola Davis also do well in their roles, as do Melissa Leo and Paul Dano.

Prisoners is one of the best thrillers which deal with family to be released in years. It's psychological edge makes it disturbing yet a wonderful piece of cinema.


You may have also seen Hugh Jackman in....
The Wolverine as Logan/Wolverine
Les Miserables as Jean Valjean

You may have also seen Jake Gyllenhaal in.....
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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Metallica: Through The Never (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 94 minutes
Director: Nimrod Antal
Writers: Nimrod Antal, James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo, Lars Ulrich
Cast: Dane Dehaan, James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo, Lars Ulrich

Metallica: Through The Never opens in cinemas across Australia on 10 October 2013 and is distributed by Hopscotch Films. Now showing in cinemas across the USA and the UK.

Metallica: Through The Never is described by the official movie website as being "a groundbreaking music-driven 3-D motion picture event". In some ways it certainly is, but perhaps not in all the ways that the film makers and Metallica hoped it would be.

First and foremost, Metallica fans will be absolutely thrilled with this film. Unlike 2004's Metallica: Some Kind of Monster which was a documentary, Through The Never is a 3-D concert film which is best experienced on the big screen. It gives you the feeling as though you really are there amongst the Metallica fans for this one off concert which took place especially for the film. However, in amongst the set is also a subplot centring around a roadie, Trip (Dane Dehann) who has been sent on an urgent errand for the band during their show. He enters into the city and finds he is in the centre of a violent uprising in which he has to fight for his life as well as making sure his beloved band receive the mysterious bag he has been sent out to retrieve.

Again, this is the ultimate for Metallica and general rock music fans. It allows you to be right up there in the front row of this incredible concert event. An arena spectacular which has one of the most elaborate sets you will ever see makes this concert an absolute must see. Metallica perform their greatest hits including "Enter Sandman", "Nothing Else Matters", "One", "Fuel" and "Master of Puppets" and do so flawlessly while around them the stage morphs itself into a living, breathing video clip, and that is in no way a bad thing. Coffin shaped screens lower showing clips of people who are not dead and trying to be set free are definitely a memorable moment, but perhaps the most memorable is the completion of a large statue which moves and then falls apart on stage leaving no doubt how heavy duty it really is.

However, the flip side of the film which is Trip's journey leaves a great amount to be desired. Although it is assumed that if you are going to see this film you are going as you are a Metallica fan and you are more interested in the concert aspect, the "narrative" of the story is just not all it could be. It starts off interesting enough with Trip entering the arena and seeing the band through his eyes backstage. There is also suspense and tension when he enters into the deserted city and is bit by bit faced with the horror that has taken place. And then you are left to figure it all out by yourself. This isn't always a bad thing, but search hard for the clues as to what is actually going on and you still can't find any which makes it impossible for you to draw any real conclusion about what you are seeing. If there was a real story behind the mash up of images, one would not be bothered so much. There does start off being some continuation, but this is lost just as you think you are about to figure out what is going on.

Dane Dehann does well for what he is given. He does spend the large majority of his on screen time looking confused more than anything else, which will probably match what most of the audience are feeling too.

The bottom line with Metallica: Through The Never is that on the big screen it will be one of the year's highlights for Metallica fans. It would have benefitted so much more from being just a film about an outstanding concert event, rather than trying to fit in a story which doesn't seem to go anywhere or make sense. By trying to add this "story" into the film and trying to make it a film for more people than just Metallica fans, it actually does the opposite.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Gravity (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 91 minutes
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Writers: Alfonso Cuaron and Jonas Cuaron
Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris

Gravity is now showing in cinemas in Australia and is distributed by Roadshow. Opening in the USA on the 4th of October and the UK on the 8th of November 2013.

From the very first visual, you know you have entered into something very special with Gravity.

Alfonso Cuaron's latest film is extremely ambitious, but his risk has indeed paid off. Gravity is visual perfection accompanied by 90 minutes of on the edge of your seat tension. It reminds us of how something so beautiful can be the source of complete terror hundreds of kilometres above Earth. Even though there are some aspects of the screenplay which are not all they can be, these moments are forgiven as the rest of the film is so spectacular.

Medical engineer Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are undertaking a fairly straight forward routine maintenance on the space station when they are caught in a storm of satellite shrapnel. Their ship is destroyed and they are the only two survivors. They both begin their fight for survival on limited air and limited time.

Gravity is completely unsettling and extremely tense. The film begins with text reminding us that there is no air and therefore nothing to carry sound in space. It is completely silent and no existence can be made. It is the stuff that nightmares are made of. The enemy is all around you and you are on your own. Nobody can save you and your chance of survival is slim to none. This is what makes Gravity so terrifying as this is the situation Sandra Bullock's Stone finds herself in.

Yet for how terrifying the idea the fight for survival in this film is, it is just exquisite. Straight after the beginning text in the film comes one of the most amazing visuals ever seen in an opening of a film. As it is completely silent in space, there is no sound that accompanies an incredible panning out shot of the side of the Earth from space. After this breathless beginning, there are other absolutely stunning shots of the galaxy of stars and also more of the Earth is all it's glory below them. The end is also completely aesthetically pleasing. Director Alfonso Cuaron has ensured that the audience also see's this beauty in the optimum way. He employs 360 degree shots so that you are able to see both the characters and also plenty of the scenery. He has also made the interesting, but genius decision to allow the audience to be able to see exactly what Stone is seeing in particular key scenes. One particularly genius piece of film is when Stone is first separated from her ship and Kowalski and is spinning while she is trying to confirm a location. This puts the audience right in Stone's spacesuit and gives them the same sense of confusion and helplessness she feels from being thrown into the black, starry abyss. It is just unbelievable how far CGI has come and how it can make us feel as though we really are witnessing footage of outer space.

To be able to experience Gravity in it's full glory, it should absolutely be seen in 3D. There are so many films that have chosen to be made to accommodate 3D just because the technology is available. Gravity actually uses 3D to it's advantage and uses it so that it adds to the intensity of the film. Seeing Gravity on the biggest screen possible and combining 3D makes you feel like you are really in space and are feeling like you are being swallowed whole by the universe, much like the characters of Stone and Kowalski in the film.

This is a survival film, so the screenplay itself relies much more on film making methods rather than the story and script to create the tension. The script does allow for some cliché dialogue about survival that one would normally find in such a film. Also typical of the survival film is the unrealistic element of how much the lead can go through and not be beaten by it. However, who are we to say whether that is realistic or not considering the normal everyday person will never go into space so how do we know what would be possible and what wouldn't.

Sandra Bullock is to be given the highest praise for the film , not just because she gives a wonderful acting performance, but also because of how mentally and physically complicated the film and her character are. Bullock spends the majority of the film as the sole human being on screen and at only one point in time in the film does she have her feet on the ground. She is in a constant state of non-gravity and spends most of the film in her spacesuit. She does do an incredible job and gives a wonderful performance. George Clooney is good, but his character doesn't really give as much as what Bullock's does. He is likable and very funny, but one feels it is just George Clooney being George Clooney in space.

Gravity is an absolute cinematic spectacular. It is the one film you should definitely see in 3D this year to really get the full experience. Alfonso Cuaron has confirmed himself as one of the great filmmakers of our time with this beautiful film.


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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Editor's Choice: St Trinian's (2007)

Year: 2007
Running Time: 97 minutes
Director: Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson
Writers: Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft (screenplay), Jamie Minoprio and Jonathan M. Stern (additional material), Ronald Searle (cartoons)
Cast: Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Gemma Arterton, Talulah Riley, Lena Headey, Russell Brand, Kathryn Drysdale, Tamsin Egerton, Paloma Faith, Juno Temple, Lily Cole, Lucy Punch, Holly Mackie, Cloe Mackie, Toby Jones, Celia Imrie, Jodie Whittaker, Mischa Barton, Stephen Fry

There is only so long you can go as a film reviewer before you feel that you absolutely must tell the world why you love one of your guilty pleasures.

St Trinian's is perhaps my biggest guilty pleasure. It is the movie I put on when I don't know what I feel like watching. It is the film I watch when I need a bit of a laugh. It is the film I watch when I want to see all these great actors in one place. It's the film I watch when I just want to have some fun and not be challenged in any way shape or form. It's may not be the best made film and it won't feature in any "Best of" lists, but this doesn't detract from the enjoyment it gives me and so many other people. Does this make St Trinian's a cult classic? It could well do. Honestly, I don't think I will ever get sick of watching this film over and over and I have no shame in saying it. Nor do I think I will ever stop quoting Tasmin Egerton's lines over and over.

Before I go into detail about why I love this film so much, here's a quick run through about St Trinian's. St Trinian's is an English boarding school for girls, but not just any girls. The naughtiest and unruly girls. By their own definition, they are the defenders of anarchy. As for the teachers, they are the teachers who can't find a job anywhere else. Headmistress Ms Camilla Fritton (played by Rupert Everett) is known to the area as the one who lets her girls run wild and do whatever they want, yet she believes she is looking after her girls who have nowhere else to go. Yet, St Trinian's is about to make some changes, starting on the day which Ms Fritton's estranged brother, Carnaby (also played by Everett) brings his bullied daughter, Annabelle (Talulah Riley) to St Trinian's. Head girl, Kelly Jones (Gemma Arterton) is on hand to welcome Annabelle and after introducing her to all the cliques, reveals that the First Year's are taking bets about how long she will last. The girls over hear a conversation between Ms Fritton and the bank manager and find out that their school is in dire straits financially and may close down. The girls take matters into their own hands and hatch an extremely elaborate plan to save their beloved school.

So why do I love St Trinian's so much? The film, based on the cartoons by Ronald Searle, opened in 2007 to mixed reviews. It has a 5.6 rating on IMDb and 31% on Rotten Tomatoes. This doesn't sound enticing at all at the moment, does it? Yet, there is so much to love about it.

When I went to the Australian premiere of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters in January this year which Gemma Arterton, I overheard a fan say to her "You were great in St Trinian's!" and she replied, "Thankyou. It's a real girl power film".

And that it is. The audience for St Trinian's may predominantly be female for this reason. Obviously the majority of the cast is female (even Rupert Everett is playing a woman for the large part of the movie) as it is set in a girls school. Even though this is a school for bad girls, the characters maintain the image of being unruly without crossing the boundaries into them being described as crude or inappropriate. Although they speak of bombs and explosives, they are not particularly violent either. They are more just mischievous than anything else, and it is welcome for them to be so. St Trinian's is very much the English brand of comedy. If you are not a fan of British comedy, this is probably not for you, yet it is perfect for those that are. The girls antics throughout the film are very, very funny and the script is hilarious.

And the masterplan they hatch! Brilliant! It is so elaborate, colourful and fun. They combine the competing in a televised school game show with a heist in order to save their school and although it may be predictable, is just great fun to watch. The soundtrack is also extremely foot tapping and head bopping.

Yet, I think it is really the actors and their  characters who make the film. What separates St Trinians from other comedy films and particularly those with a lot of characters, like this film has, is that there is a great deal of character and character development. So let's take a look at the players who make this film what it is.

Rupert Everett
The role of Miss Fritton was played in the earlier St Trinian's films (released in 1954 and 1957) by Alastair Sim. But what must have Rupert Everett thought when hewas approached to play both a male and female in the 2007 St Trinian's? No matter what he thought or what it sounded like, it works! This isn't a case of Everett playing a man in drag either, you completely forget after awhile that Miss Fritton is actually a man! The love story between Fritton and Colin Firth's Geoffrey Thwaites is over the top, but a riot when you do remember that Fritton is a male. One of the funniest parts of the film is when Geoffrey see's her/him for the first time in years and the vision of Fritton in her bright pink running suit is accompanied by "Love Is A Many Splendored Thing" by The Four Aces. For all of you playing at home, here is a little bit of trivia courtesy of IMDb, the character of Camilla Fritton is modelled on the Duchess of Cornwall's image and mannerisms.
Colin Firth
Love Pride & Prejudice? Will love St Trininan's. The film is absolutely covered in references to Colin Firth's role as Mr Darcy Austen classic. When appearing on the hockey pitch again, his emergence is reminiscent of that of Mr Darcy appearing at the end of Pride & Prejudice. Miss Fritton's dog, who Geoffrey is the cause of it's demise, name is Mr Darcy. There are also quite a few references to another film of Firth's, The Girl With The Pearl Earring. In one scene, there is a classic line by Antonia Bernath's Chloe who when looking at the painting says "Wow, you can so see why Colin Firth wanted to shag her".
Lena Headey
While these days Lena Headey is most well known for her role as Cersei in "Game Of Thrones", we saw her play a polar opposite character in St Trinian's. Perhaps the most well behaved character of the film, Miss Dickinson is a far cry from Cersei Lannister. She is the goody-goody newest teacher of St Trinian's who is dying to see the girls take part in School Challenge. Headey has been around for a long time and is an extremely versatile actress. This film shows off her versatility in a character who is meant to be boring in behaviour compared to the others, but is still such a great character with a whole lot of character.
Russell Brand

Russell Brand plays Flash, another character who made his first appearance in the earlier St Trinian's films as played  by George Cole. Flash is the girl's crime consultant if you will. St Trinian's is essential viewing for any Russell Brand fan as the type of comedic dialogue he uses is very much his own. Brand's Flash is very much a superstar to the girls, as he is in real life. Perhaps his funniest scene in St Trinian's is his meeting with Carnaby Fritton in his art gallery when he is pretending to be an elusive and gay art dealer.

Talulah Riley
Talulah Riley is the perfect leading lady as Annabelle Fritton. She has the ability to play the bullied schoolgirl convincingly before switching to play a true St Trinian. She is a completely different character at the beginning of the film compared to at the end and that is a true example of the evolving of a character. She never stops changing throughout the film. Like Firth, Riley also provides another Pride & Prejudice reference as she played Mary Bennett in the 2005 film. Riley also appeared in the sequel, St Trinians 2 where Annabelle is named head girl.

Gemma Arterton
For the now globally famous actress, this was her breakthrough role. Gemma Arterton played head girl Kelly Jones and was absolute perfection. Many still credit this as being Arterton's best performance to date. She is undoubtedly the leader of the girls and is absolutely convincing as it. She, like Riley, has complete star power in St Trinian's.
Tamsin Egerton
Tamsin Egerton plays Chelsea, the leader of the Poshy Totty, a group of girls who run a chat line and all claim to have slept with a member of the royal family. Chelsea is believed to be the tarty airhead, but there are signs throughout the film that suggest otherwise. Egerton is wonderful in this role and is one of the most memorable characters. She delivers some of the funniest lines of the film and her final scene of School Challenge is pure gold. She is gifted with perhaps the best line of the film when she says "You want to steal...Scarlett Johansson?"
Paloma Faith
Paloma Faith plays St Trinian school girl, Andrea, who is the face of the Emo clique. Faith, who is nowadays better known as a successful UK pop/jazz singer with signature flaming red hair, is seen in a completely different light here than how we are now used to seeing her. She is also great fun to watch as she is more disturbed than actually an angry Emo chick, but also changes throughout the film to become a little less Emo in attitude.

Lily Cole
Another star who we see in a completely different light in St Trinian's than we normally see is supermodel, Lily Cole. Cole plays Polly, the leader of the Geek clique of St Trinian's. Absolutely convincing, until the scenes where you see he standing next to he co-stars and she is towering above them with her 5'10" frame.
Holly and Cloe Mackie
I love these two girls! Twin sisters who play first years, Tara and Tania are referred to by Arterton's Kelly as "Winchester's answer to The Sopranos". They are wise beyond their years, but also a whole lot of first year trouble. The girls were only ten years old when they appeared in St Trinian's and were absolutely hilarious. You know it shouldn't be adorable, but it is here when in a little ten year old voice you hear "You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!"

So, as you can see, there are dozens of reasons to love St Trinian's. I'm sure there are people out there whose personal taste will allow them the find dozens of reasons to dislike it, but everyone has their rerun guilty pleasures. Whatever film it may be, there are reasons you will always love it.