Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dracula Untold (2014)


Year: 2014
Running Time: 92 minutes
Director: Gary Shore
Writers: Bram Stoker (characters), Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (screenplay)
Cast: Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Charles Dance, Art Parkinson, Diarmaid Murtagh

Dracula Untold will open in Australian cinemas on the 2nd of October 2014 and is distributed by Universal Pictures. Opening in the United Kingdom also on the 3rd of October and the United States on the 10th.

As a new retelling of Bram Stoker's famous creature of the undead, Dracula Untold is an atmospheric and entertaining hybrid of the historical picture and supernatural fantasy. However, unlike other films based on Dracula, it is not as much a horror film as a historical drama with moments of pure human emotion and captivating images from the Transylvanian dark ages. As an origins film, there is the guaranteed ending, but the screenplay by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless gives greater depth to the story which offers welcomed suspense and surprise to this untold story of Dracula.

Although Prince of Transylvania, Vlad Tepes (Luke Evans) has achieved long awaited peace for his country, the threat from the Turks and their leader, Mehmed (Dominic Cooper) is never far away. When Mehmed demands soldiers from Vlad's kingdom for his army, Vlad seeks the help of a supernatural evil in the mountains (Charles Dance) in order to protect his kingdom and save lives. This creature of the dark strikes a sinister deal with Vlad in which he will hold the same powers as he for a number of days in order to save his kingdom, but must not lose his self control or he will become what he is forever. However, Vlad will whatever he needs to do to save his people and protect his wife, Mirena (Sarah Gadon) and son, Ingeras (Art Parkinson).

Dracula is a phenomenon which society will never grow tired of. Gary Shore's retelling of the origins of the mythical creature is an original cinematic experience for the character in this snapshot of a small period in time in which Vlad the Impaler became his alter ego. Whilst the subject is one which the audience is well aware its outcome, there is still a degree of unpredictability in its story which is a welcomed surprisethough it's ending does tend to stroll into the not so unfamiliar territory of cliché. Dracula Untold aims to be as much of an epic motion picture event as it possibly can in a running time of 93 minutes, but evidently tries a little too hard too impress in particular battle scenes which make it seem a little more comical than intended.

Visually, Dracula Untold very much resembles a cross between The Lord of The Rings/ The Hobbit and Game of Thrones, but this is not something which will generally be acknowledged as a negative aspect of the film. For many this similarity will lie with the presence of actors from both of these franchises, but it is more the medieval battles scenes and royal thrones which will prompt this comparison. However, the film is wonderfully atmospheric and the time period is captured in it's intriguing atmosphere of beauty and dread. As a whole Dracula Untold is not surprisingly a dark film in mood and visuals. There are some exquisite landscape shots and incredible production design and art direction. The battle scenes are quite spectacular, if not a little over-exaggerated and shot in an erratic fashion.

Luke Evans is perfect for this role which shows a different side to Vlad/Dracula than is traditionally seen, which is that of a father, husband and leader as well as a monster. He is extremely enigmatic and believable as the man who has a dark side that he insists on hiding from those who love him. Evans has wonderful on screen chemistry with Sarah Gadon and Art Parkinson, who both are also very good and bring an emotional edge to the film. Gadon is right on cue with her show of passion for her husband and maternal instinct for her child, while Parkinson is a real stand out and performs with emotion beyond his years.

As a film which relies more on the historical side of the beginnings of Dracula rather than on the not uncommon horror aspect of his story, Dracula Untold opens this story up to a greater audience. The film is an original spin on a character who has been seen in film and television countless times over the years and allows cinema audiences to find out who was the man before the monster.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Boxtrolls (2014)

Year: 2014
Running Time: 97 minutes
Director: Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi
Writers: Alan Snow (novel "Here Be Monsters!), Irena Brignull and Adam Pava (screenplay)
Cast: Ben Kingsley, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning, Tracy Morgan

The Boxtrolls is now showing in Australian cinemas and is distributed by Universal Pictures.

Though it is entertaining and visually captivating, The Boxtrolls is a film that is very confused about what it is. Lacking the charm it needs for young children to become enchanted, yet the film is not intelligent nor original enough for adults to feel like they get a great deal of enjoyment out of it. While the story lacks originality, the originality lies in the creative design of The Boxtrolls animation, which makes the film incredibly atmospheric in a rather quirky way.

In a Victorian era town by the name of Cheesebridge, there lies a secret underworld in which the Boxtrolls make their living away from the townspeople who believe they are evil and dangerous creatures capable of snatching children from their own homes. This belief stems from the power hungry, Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) who told everyone that he saw trolls kidnap a baby, when in fact the Boxtrolls adopted the child and he grew up thinking he was just a Boxtroll by the name Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright). With the help of his new friend, Winnie (Elle Fanning), he sets out to prove that the Boxtrolls are not the evil everyone believes they are and to expose Archibald Snatcher for the evil that he is.

The Boxtrolls is stuck somewhere in the middle of being a film for younger and older audiences and not in a positive way. The filmmakers really had an opportunity here to make the characters of the Boxtrolls endearing in the same way which the Minions are in Despicable Me and to make the film as a whole a piece of work which people feel an emotional attachment to, which would have worked for young audiences. There are some irksome scenes which may be unsettling to children, so with this boat missed, the films dark quirkiness seems to be more suited to adults who enjoyed past films such as Coraline and Paranorman. The visuals and the strange yet interesting world in which the Boxtrolls exist is to be enjoyed and appreciated, yet the story is rather unoriginal and predictable. The film's main theme is that humans are the real monsters and this is one that is hardly new nor is it presented in an original manner. The viewer may also be left with lingering questions as to why the trolls insisted on wearing boxes all the time to begin with, and how a boy who is brought up by these gibberish speaking creatures is able to speak and read English?

While The Boxtrolls screenplay may not be intelligent, the animation certainly is. The creative design for the town of Cheesebridge is wonderful and the detail that went into the town, the Boxtrolls underworld and the characters themselves make them almost hypnotic to watch. It is rare for an animation film to be as atmospheric as what this film is, as the viewer feels immersed in this old English style town which one could imagine must smell continuously of cheese and feel rather musty.

The Boxtrolls is filled with colourful characters and the voice actors all do wonderful jobs of adding to these interesting and odd personalities. Ben Kingsley does a great job at making Archibald Snatcher even more sinister and chilling with his wonderful vocal performance. Jared Harris also does very well as Cheesebridge's head man, Lord Portley-Rind and makes him an often detestable, but humorous character. Isaac Hempstead Wright does fine and Elle Fanning once again shows her versatility as an actress is in voice as well as physical performance.

The target audience for The Boxtrolls is not well defined, even though it does tend to lean towards the younger audience being as it is a children's book that it is based on. The film is not as fun as it could be with it's interesting characters due to it's mediocrity in story and script.


Monday, September 22, 2014

The Maze Runner (2014)

Year: 2014
Running Time: 113 minutes
Director: Wes Ball
Writers: James Dashner (book), Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers and T.S. Nowlin (screenplay)
Cast: Dylan O'Brien, Aml Ameen, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario, Blake Cooper, Patricia Clarkson

The Maze Runner is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed in Australia by Twentieth Century Fox.

"You are not like the others".

"He/She's different"

When we hear one of these sayings in a young adult film at this present time, it means the absolute opposite. The film's likely to be no different from the rest. The idea of a group of teenagers in a dystopian society battling to survive under a watchful eye is becoming old fast and if the film has to be made, it has to be made with a certain degree of originality and point of difference. The Maze Runner is by no means a completely lost cause, but does not evoke any grand emotions or feelings of awe in the viewer. Fast paced, thrilling action sequences and impressive production design, do little to save a weak screenplay that provides nowhere near as much intrigue for an unpredictable story as it should.

Waking up in an elevator with a group of teenage boys jeering him does little to comfort the fact that Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) has no recollection of who he is or how he came to be in this situation. He soon finds out that he is now part of a group of boys who started much like him, waking up with no recollection and finding themselves in a vast space surrounded by a maze which stops them from leaving with it's deadly terrors and ability to change it's course at night. The boys already have their system of hierarchy and methods of survival, but when Thomas enters the arena everything starts to change. The game rules change and the boys have to adapt in order to not only survive, but understand the reason for their existence.

While The Maze Runner is in fact quiet suspenseful in several high paced scenes and continuously unpredictable, it surprisingly lacks intrigue and conviction. While the screenplay isn't particularly strong as it relies a great deal on it's action sequences to build suspense and contains rather simplistic and lousy dialogue, it's story that we feel we have heard so many times before which is the reason for the film failing to hit its mark. The Maze Runner feels like a cross between The Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies and this feeling of deja vu takes out much of the interest in the film. Another trap several YA films have fallen into with their optimism of upcoming success, is believing that there will be a sequel and therefore leaving the film hanging on a note that doesn't make much sense to those who haven't read the book it is adapted from. This is a method Vampire Academy used earlier this year and The Maze Runner also has now. It did work for The Hunger Games  and Divergent, but not in this case where a sequel isn't guaranteed. Instead, it leaves the viewer feeling like what they watched didn't make as much sense as what they thought it did.

However, the production design of the film is extremely impressive. Director, Wes Ball is better known for his film work in visual effects and in this film that is evidently where his strength lies. The maze design is wonderfully complex, atmospheric and daunting. The CGI is very good for the most part, but does have its obvious green screen moments. The beginning sequence will be a terrible start for those members of the audience who do not like rides and suffer from motion sickness.

Unfortunately, the cast of The Maze Runner are not given much to work with. The characters are exceptionally one-dimensional and stereotypical for such a film and form no real emotional attachment to the audience. It really is a shame as each actor does as much as they possibly can with the material given to them and there is no doubt that they are fine actors, but they are not given the material to shine with here. Dylan O'Brien is fine in the lead as Thomas. His performance is somewhat tedious until the final few scenes of the film when he is finally able to show some real emotion, then he is wonderful. The same can be said for Will Poulter in playing clan bully, Gally. A stereotypical role for Poulter and doesn't get particularly interesting until right at the end.

It is not so much the lack of originality involved with The Maze Runner story that makes it unmemorable, but the lack of emotional connection to the film and its characters. The outstanding production design and intensity of some of the key scenes are not enough to set this film apart from the crowd.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Planes: Fire and Rescue (2014)

Year: 2014
Running Time: 83 minutes
Director: Roberts Gannaway
Writers: Jeffery M. Howard
Cast: Dane Cook, Ed Harris, Julie Bowen, Curtis Armstrong, Hal Holbrook, John Michael Higgins, Teri Hatcher

Planes: Fire and Rescue is now showing everywhere and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

 Planes: Fire and Rescue is a remarkable improvement on it's 2013 predecessor, Planes. Even though it does not have the makings of a Disney classic, it definitely works as a holiday film that is fun and entertaining with frequent laughs for adults as well as children. The film takes the method of personification of it's non-human characters as used in the 2006 Disney Pixar film, Cars further than in it's original and this difference allows for greater enjoyment and the greater appreciation of the characters.

Cropduster turned champion air-racer, Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook), is flying high after his Wing Across the World win and enjoying his new found fame and respect. His world crumbles around him when he realises that he has an unfixable mechanical problem with his engine which will stop him from ever racing again. He decides that he will instead train to be a fire and rescue plane and joins forces with a group known as the Smokejumpers. Dusty and his new found friends face danger in the battle against an out of control wild fire and Dusty finds himself having to step up and adapt to his new challenge with extreme haste.

When the original Planes film was created, it was intended to be a direct to DVD release and was saved from being so after the response from test audiences was so positive. The differences between that film and Planes: Fire and Rescue are so dramatic for the reason that the latter was made especially for the big screen and therefore was in possession of a bigger budget and higher expectations. The sequel to the 2013 Cars spin-off has a finer screenplay, more impressive use of animation and a popular soundtrack, which are all the product of a film with greater expectations than it's predecessor. The story may not be a terribly exciting, unpredictable or original one and slightly bland, but also could be quite scary in part for small children. However, what the Planes: Fire and Rescue screenplay has which the first film lacked is the fun personification of it's aviation based characters. It is a great deal more like Cars in the way that the planes take on greater human characteristics and situations, which is a feature adults will find highly amusing. For example, the bar scene in the film features planes becoming the stereotypical characters one may find in a bar and the situations that pan out between these types. This technique adds many a laugh to the film and an enjoyable element that was missing from the first film.

While the principle animation is the same as in Planes, it's use is far more impressive with amazingly lifelike images of the wildfire tearing through the woodlands and of the waterfall and river rapids. The use of colour is incredibly impressive and the film as a whole is visually beautiful and interesting to watch. Disney and Disney Resort fanatics may recognise that the lodge in the film bears a startling resemblance to the magnificent lobby at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa in Anaheim. It's a terribly clever piece of marketing that makes all those who have been to Disneyland in California feel reminiscent and encourages them to return. There are also several other pieces of film cross overs between the Cars and Planes worlds snuck in throughout the film. The soundtrack to the film is also fitting, particularly the use of AC/DC's "Thunderstruck".

The voice performances by the cast in Planes: Fire and Rescue are all fine, but there are no real stand outs among the performers. Dane Cook once again returns to loan his voice to Dusty and again does well with making the role his own. Julie Bowen, who lends her vocal talents to Dusty's fan, Lil' Dipper also does well and brings fun with a touch of crazy to the character.

Planes: Fire and Rescue steps up to the sequel challenge and the result is a film which is redeeming as well as being entertaining and enjoyable.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Wish I Was Here (2014)

Year: 2014
Running Time: 106 minutes
Director: Zach Braff
Writer: Zach Braff and Adam J. Braff
Cast: Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Joey King, Pierce Gagnon, Mandy Patinkin, Josh Gad, Ashley Greene, Jim Parsons

Wish I Was Here will be released in Australian cinemas on the 18th September 2014 and is distributed by Transmission Films. To be released in the United Kingdom on the 19th September 2014.

Zach Braff's long awaited Wish I Was Here is as charming and feel good as they come. While for some this may mean an overkill of sentimentality and optimism, this film may be just what is needed to break the mould of misery felt in the world. With Wish I Was Here, Braff gives a piece of happiness and fun to his audience that resonates and shows once again his great talent in bringing out the beauty in everything and everyone with his direction.

Los Angeles struggling actor, Aidan Bloom (Braff) has always been able to pursue his dream with the ongoing support of his working wife, Sarah (Kate Hudson) and two children, Grace (Joey King) and Tucker (Pierce Gagnon). However, when his father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) gives him the news that his health is rapidly deteriorating and he can no longer pay for Grace and Tucker's school fees, Aidan is faced with the reality that his dream may be over and it may be the time to move on. He realises that everyone around him is searching for happiness, but that everyone needs a little help from each other to find that place.

Wish I Was Here may come under fire for being too much of a light, feel good film, but this isn't so much of a negative. Zach Braff's personal style which has previously been seen in his 2004 film, Garden State and through his acting and direction in several episodes of the television series, "Scrubs", is very much apparent in his new film. This is a style that many find endearing and hilarious, while others find ridiculous and irritating. So it goes without saying that Wish I Was Here will fare better for those who admire Braff, but one cannot help but appreciate what he has attempted to do with this film whether they are a fan of his or not.

While Wish I Was Here's initial claim to fame was being Braff's crowd-funding project and therefore has instant importance for the contributors, what it attempts to do for both it's contributing and non-contributing audiences is just as important. The film is incredibly uplifting as well as moving and sincere. It is the rare type of film these days that's optimism resonates with the viewer and still gives you a reason to smile days later. Wish I Was Here truly basks in the glory of how special life is and how we must make the most of every moment, which makes it a film that is needed when the world and cinema screens tend to show a great deal of gloom. There are moments in the screenplay and in Braff's direction which are slightly over-sentimental, but the film is overall such a pleasant experience.

The brand of humour employed in Wish I Was Here is more reminiscent of Braff's "Scrubs" days (particularly in the first scene) than the quirky Garden State and there are some very funny moments throughout the film. The dialogue is very clever and there are many life quotes sewn in among the conversations between the characters. As well as having an uplifting story, the visuals add towards the happy vibe of the film with an extraordinary use of colour and spectacular locations. Braff knows how to find and bring out the beauty in everyday situations and surroundings and remind the viewer that they must look for that beauty next time they are in such a place. The soundtrack is original and perfectly suited to the overall atmosphere of the film as with it's folk edge, it is serene, thoughtful and enjoyable.

On screen, Zach Braff is right at home in his character of Aidan Bloom and shows how he has grown and changed as an actor. He directs himself wonderfully and his comedic timing is, as always, brilliant. He and Kate Hudson have an incredible amount of on screen chemistry and work extremely well together. The two represent a relationship which is not perfect, but strong as they are best friends who haven't lost their passion for conversation over the years. This is absolutely Hudson's best performance in years. Her performance is controlled and strong, and her Sarah such a great role model. She is the bread winner for her family as she wants to see her husband succeed, but that doesn't mean she misses out on anything with her family.

Joey King is an absolute star and once again proves that she has an incredible career ahead of her. Her performance of the confused and frustrated teenager is a heartfelt and realistic one, yet she is also such a fun character with her bright purple wig that she opts to wear. Both Mandy Patinkin and Josh Gad are also stand outs as they are both incredibly moving in their roles.

 Wish I Was Here is a sweet, fun and original experience. It seeks to remind us how special life and happiness are and what makes that all the more special is that this film provides such happiness.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Night Moves (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 112 minutes
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Writers: Jonathan Raymond and Kelly Reichardt
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard

Night Moves is currently playing in limited release in Australia and is distributed by Curious.

Subtle on the surface but morally complex, Night Moves is a slow and intense burn. Kelly Reichardt's latest is recognised as an environmentally political film due to it's subject matter along with it's tranquil nature visuals, yet it explores a great deal more than such a film would typically do. The film looks at taking responsibility for and dealing with actions which were made with good intentions, but have outcomes which are less than desirable and lead to human guilt. Night Moves is a very quiet film with big intentions.

Wanting to take a political stance for the good of the world, three radical environmental activists hatch a plan of attack on a hydroelectric dam in Portland. Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), Dena (Dakota Fanning) and Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) find success in their venture which they undertake in order to make a political statement, but none are prepared for the aftermath of their elaborate and dangerous venture. The outcome does not evoke the sense of personal satisfaction or community gratification which they were seeking, but leaves each having to deal with a great deal of guilt, paranoia and the realisation that what seemed like the right thing to do for the environment may not have been worth the inner turmoil they were to endure in the aftermath.

Night Moves requires great contemplation and not about the themes typically found in such an environmentally minded film. With the exception of the environmental documentary screening in the film at the beginning and some facts about the state of the world during the film, Night Moves gives us very little to contemplate as far as the environment is concerned through plain speech. Yet, it gives us more to contemplate in relation to taking responsibility for your actions even if they were done for the right reasons. In Night Moves, this group believes they are making a stand for the good of the Earth, but they are not the heroes in the aftermath that they were expecting. Each emotionally deals with the guilt of taking responsibility for their actions when they realise they may have gone too far with their ambition. It is a dilemma which is presented in an extremely realistic way through the wonderful screenplay. The film is quietly and subtly suspenseful and as a result very unpredictable.

While Night Moves doesn't talk about environmental activism verbally, it more than makes up for this in it's visuals. Even though there is suspense in the character's actions, there is peace in the visuals. The nature shots of the forest and river are extremely tranquil and make the film extremely atmospheric. These beautiful shots install in the viewer a love for these pieces of nature and makes one understand why Josh, Dena and Harmon go to such extremes to try and make people see that this is something worth saving. Something Night Moves also does brilliantly is it avoids showing disaster so the attention is not taken away from the moral implications of the aftermath. The mind is greater than anything the eye can see, so sounds and conversation are used instead to let the viewer see the disasters talked about in their film in their mind rather than on screen.

Jesse Eisenberg does well with a character which doesn't show a great deal of emotion or variety until the last minutes of the film. Like the film itself, Josh is a very quiet, contemplative character who makes it known that he is always in deep thought about something. Eisenberg shows his wonderful ability to demonstrate great character development while saying very little. Dakota Fanning's performance is an extremely interesting one. As the rich kid turned enviro-politically minded rebel, Fanning's Dena undergoes change throughout the film due to the change in circumstances. In the beginning, she is calm in their decision to make a difference and even a little cocky feeling as she feels she is thinking the most logically out of the group and is confident in herself and actions. After the event, her emotions get the better of her as she is taken aback by this planning becoming reality and she is then the one who is visibly overcome by guilt. It is an interesting transformation of character and Fanning gives an even and controlled performance to support this development.

Kelly Reichardt's Night Moves' originality lies in it's subtle intensity and ability to quietly create a sense of importance. Wonderfully atmospheric and intriguing till the last moment.


Friday, September 12, 2014

"Women in the Films of John Ford" book review and Interview with Author, David Meuel

Author: David Meuel
Publication Year: 2014
Pages: 196 pages
Publisher: McFarland

If you would like to purchase "Women in the Films of John Ford", please see the below Amazon link.

 While prolific and respected filmmaker John Ford completed over 140 films in a career which spanned over six decades, his name is so quickly associated with his westerns and collaborations with John Wayne despite the incredibly wide variety of films he made. Therefore, it is a common misconception that Ford was in fact a man's director. In his book "Women in the Films of John Ford", David Meuel wishes bring new light to this idea by acknowledging that Ford was as much a woman's director as a man's director. Intriguing and wonderfully researched, "Women in the Films of John Ford" is not just a book for Ford enthusiasts, but for all film history lovers who do and don't need convincing that Ford was as much a women's director as a men's director.

"Women in the Films of John Ford" is an intriguing and convincing study into John Ford's most memorable female characters which contradict the belief that Ford was primarily a man's director. Meuel explores the character traits of the strong and well-rounded women in thirty of Ford's films ranging from Henrietta Crosman in Pilgrimage (1933) to Anne Bancroft in 7 Women (1966). The character's are looked at in depth to prove how much Ford cared about the women in his film, but the actresses who played these characters are also given short biographies of their own as their characters are spoken about.
 Written in a style that is academic yet slightly conversational, David Meuel is extremely convincing in his quest to prove that Ford should not be remembered primarily as a man's director, but rather one that cared as much about his female characters as he did about his male. Meuel is quick to point out that there was not one particular type of Ford woman as there is with other directors of the time, but a wide variety of women with different character traits and different backgrounds. However, they are all strong, distinct characters which have all been constructed with a great amount of thought and care by Ford.

"Women in the Films of John Ford" is a piece of non-fiction which will be a fascinating read for any film history lover. The research Meuel has undertaken for this book is outstanding, as he draws upon the films, biographies and past reviews and interviews as part of his exploration. While it is of course intriguing coming to understand Ford as also a women's director, it is astounding to read in detail about the large number of films which Ford made and the number of talented and diverse women he worked with in bringing these characters to the screen. Ford had the pleasure of working with such well known actresses as Jean Arthur, Shirley Temple, Claudette Colbert, Donna Reed, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Natalie Wood, Anne Bancroft and, of course, Maureen O'Hara. The films themselves are just as intriguing to read about as many lesser known Ford films are spoken of, such as Pilgrimage, Steamboat Round The Bend (1935) and Drums Along The Mohawk (1939), which encourage the reader to re-explore Ford's films to witness these performances themselves.

"Women in the Films of John Ford" is a wonderful piece of work that not only proves a notion which may surprise many, but it is also entertaining and evokes excitement in the reader for Ford's work.


Movie Critical was extremely lucky to be joined by "Women in the Films of John Ford" author, David Meuel. David has penned over 100 poems and hundreds of articles and currently resides in Menlo Park, California.

Thank you for joining us, David, and congratulations on your book, Women In The Films of John Ford!

Thank you, Nicole! I’m always delighted to chat about John Ford’s films. 

John Ford is traditionally known more for his male characters than his female characters, so your book may come as a surprise to many people. If you could sum up in a few words why people shouldn’t find this book surprising, what would you say?

That’s an intriguing question. Some of Ford’s best-known characters are women. Maureen O’Hara’s Mary Kate in The Quiet Man and Jane Darwell’s Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath are certainly two good examples. In addition, Ford populated dozens of his films with complex, well-developed and compelling females. People shouldn’t find the subject of my book surprising, because, if you look at the films, the interesting female characters are there. Sometimes, they’ve taken supporting roles along side dominating actors such as John Wayne, but they are there. They have strong points of view, they are often vividly portrayed, and they are absolutely worth our attention.

When did you start to see Ford for the female characters he brought to the screen rather than the male? Did you ever see Ford as purely specialising in male characters, or have you always paid more attention to the female?

I’ve always thought that Ford’s films had great characters in them, both male and female. But, I must confess that I didn’t realize how many wonderful, diverse female characters are in Ford’s films until I started researching this book. 

When did you feel you needed to tell the world about the amazing female characters Ford brought to the screen and write a book about them?

The process probably started about three and a half years ago when I first saw Pilgrimage, a little-known gem Ford made in 1933 that stars an actress hardly anyone knows about anymore. Her name
is Henrietta Crosman. She was a major stage actress from the 1880s to the 1920s, and in her later years she transitioned into movies. She made Pilgrimage when she was 71, and she dominates the film from beginning to end. Both the character she plays, Hannah Jessop, and her performance are riveting. Of all the other roles in Ford films, the one she reminds me of the most is Ethan Edwards, the character John Wayne plays in The Searchers. Yes, like Ethan, Hannah is sometimes a very cruel, troubled person, but she’s also thoroughly captivating. 

I wrote a blog about Pilgrimage, Hannah, and Crosman for a website that’s dedicated to Ford and his films, and I was on my way. I thought this was a refreshing angle to take on Ford—something people didn’t write about all the time—and I kept writing short blogs on women in his films. Soon, the blogs became essays, and the essays became chapters in a book.

You cover an incredible number of Ford films and the female characters in your book. Including shorts and documentaries, Ford has over 140 directorial credits to his name and over 50 of those are features. How many Ford films did you see as part of your research?

I’d guess that more than 80 of his films are features. Sadly, too, many of his silent films—both
feature length pieces and shorts—have been lost. That said, I’ve seen about 60 of his features, many for the first time as I was researching the book. Along with Pilgrimage, there were many other surprises: Shirley Temple in Wee Willie Winkie, Jean Arthur in The Whole Town’s Talking, Karen Morley in Flesh, and lots more.

Do you have a favourite Ford film?

Wow, that’s a tough one! One of the reasons this is such a tough question is that Ford made so many films that are so good. I could easily name 15 or 20 that I have special fondness for. But, when pressed, I would have to say The Grapes of Wrath, They Were Expendable, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Now, as soon as I say this, I feel guilty because I’ve left out so many that I really like!

How about the women in them? Do you have a favourite Ford woman?

That’s another tough question. For many people, that favourite woman would be Maureen O’Hara, particularly her Mary Kate in The Quiet Man. That would certainly be one of mine, too. But there are so many others: Ava Gardner’s Honey Bear in Mogambo, Joanne Dru’s Denver in Wagon Master, Henrietta Crosman’s Hannah in Pilgrimage, and Anne Bancroft’s Dr. Cartwright in 7 Women are just a few.

It has recently been announced that Maureen O’Hara, who appeared in several Ford films, will be presented by the Academy with a Lifetime Achievement Award this year. You must believe that this is great news!

Yes, I think it’s great that Maureen O’Hara is finally getting some Academy fanfare. It’s been a long time coming. She did superb work for Ford in How Green Was My Valley, Rio Grande, and The Quiet Man. She also delivered excellent performances in dozens of films by other directors. 
By the way, as part of the research for my book, I read her memoir, ‘Tis Herself. What I liked best was how her natural feistiness shined through. She could (and probably still can) hold her own with
anyone, even someone as feisty as John Ford.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

2014 Persian International Film Festival: Don't be Tired! (2013)

This year marks the third year of the inaugural Persian International Film Festival. Founded in 2012, the festival is the Australian showcase of selected films from Iran and Afghanistan, as well as the best from the Persian community around the globe. It will take place over the four days between the 11th and 14th September 2014 at Chauvel Cinemas in Paddington, Sydney.

This year's festival consists of six films with the opening film being Manuscripts Don't Burn, the latest offering from controversial Iranian filmmaker, Mohammad Rasoulof who has had his previous work banned in his own country and a year in prison as a consequence. The Closing Night film which will screen at 6:30pm on the 14th of September will be the Iranian film, Don't Be Tired! The film shows an unique side to Iran that is not often seen from a foreign perspective, which makes this film a wonderful representation of what the Persian International Film Festival is all about.


Don't be Tired! will screen at the Persian International Film Festival on the 14th September 2014 at 6:30pm. For more information and for ticket purchases, please see the official website.
Year: 2013
Running Time: 90 minutes
Directors: Moshen Gharaei & Afshin Hashemi
Writer: Mohammad Rezaei Rad
Cast: Ghogha Bayat , Jalal Fatemi, Hesam Mahmoudi Farid, Farzad Bagheri, Roya Afshar

The road trip film is one that is synonymous with self discovery and emotional growth taking place against a background worthy of a tourism campaign. Yet in films such as Don't be Tired! this is such an entertaining and enjoyable combination that there is nothing negative in this. Don't be Tired! is a wonderful screenplay with both dramatic and comedic elements and incorporates identifiable and relatable characters and themes. It gives the world a chance to see Iran in all it's beauty with some breathtaking landscape shots and glimpses into it's culture as seen through the eyes of foreigners.

Canadians, Roman and Maria are a troubled married couple who are on holiday in Iran, the land of Maria's birth. When they have problems with the tourism company they were initially dealing with, fired hotel worker, Morteza presents himself as a tour guide and offers to take Roman and Maria wherever they need to go with the aid of his cousin, Hossein. The four embark on a trip across the country which is anything but uneventful and changes each one in a different way.

Road trips and self discovery often come hand in hand with each other in film, which is a cliché this type has fallen into but not without justification. Travellers will understand that one of the great things about venturing away from your homeland is that you are able to reassess and re-evaluate aspects of your life by clearing your mind. This is what people find relatable in a film such as Don't be Tired! For Roman and Maria, much of the addressing of their individual and marital problems are not without pain, but they are problems that needed to be addressed eventually. The film is slightly predictable, which is again directly related to the type of film which it is. Yet one issue that the film addresses which is not one that is so cliché is the idea of what makes a place your home. This is an issue that Maria struggles with throughout the film as she feels no real connection to her homeland being that she left it so long ago. As it is associated with feelings she would rather not remember, she does not consider it her home. Is it the memories or the fond connection you feel to the place what makes it your home?

Don't be Tired! is beautifully shot and allows foreigners to see Iran in a way they never have before. The film does work as a wonderful tourism tool for Iran, starting with a luxury hotel and ending in the Iranian desert. It shows different sides to the country and presents it with pure love and care. The panoramic shots while the four main characters are driving through the desert are really quite spectacular, as are the shots when Roman is underground.

Don't be Tired! is a wonderful way to see Iran via film. It shows a land which is rich in culture and beauty, but with it's screenplay presents it with universal themes which are relatable across cultures.


The Persian International Film Festival will run from 11-14 September 2014 at Chauvel Cinema. For more information, please see the official website.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Immigrant (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 120 minutes
Director: James Gray
Writers: James Gray and Ric Menello
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner, Angela Sarafyan

The Immigrant opens in limited release in Australia on the 25th of September 2014 and is distributed by Roadshow Films.

James Gray's The Immigrant is a truly exquisite piece of work. Visually stunning and reminiscent of 1920's New York City, the tale of a woman's journey to a new and promising land which turns to disaster is extraordinarily tight knit and flows wonderfully without being clichéd or predictable. Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix are both superb as two strong characters with a great deal of complexity and depth. The Immigrant is as stunning on the surface as it is subtly complex.

Polish immigrant, Ewa Cybulska (Marion Cotillard) and her sister, Magda (Angela Sarafyan) arrive on Ellis Island, New York City in 1921 in order to escape the horrors of their war torn homeland and make a new start in the land of opportunity. When Magda is denied entry to the United States on account of her bad health, Ewa is nearly deported herself when nobody arrives to meet her and she is accused of participating in immoral activities aboard the boat. Her luck seemingly changes when she meets Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix) who takes her to the mainland and gives her a place to sleep and a position at his theatre. However, under the influence of Bruno, Ewa finds herself thrown into the world of prostitution against her all her morals. Her only escape may lie with the enigmatic Orlando the Magician (Jeremy Renner), whom already has a long standing feud with his cousin, Bruno.

From the film's beautiful opening of nostalgic images of 1920's Ellis Island and New York City, The Immigrant is an extremely respectable piece of work with outstanding performances that carry the complexity of the situation, characters and relationships. Not only is James Gray's direction incredibly special, but the screenplay which he has co-written with Ric Menello is superb.  The story is intriguing, unpredictable and even if a little slow paced, never tedious. Elements of The Immigrant are still relatable today for many who leave their homeland in search of a better life. They escape horrors, but arrive in a new land as a stranger with no clear pathway to their new life with the opportunities they know are available. Many arrive jobless and although the majority wouldn't be in Ewa's situation, many have to start with nothing to eventually find happiness and success.

1920's New York is recreated with a startling degree of realism. The Immigrant's production design is truly remarkable, particularly of Ellis Island and the streets of New York City where the visuals are able to provoke other senses as well as sight and sound. The way the camera captures the Statue of Liberty on the harbour is inspiring and a constant reminder of the freedom and opportunity the immigrants arriving at Ellis Island have come to America for. There are some spectacular pieces of cinematography throughout the film, including during Ewa's confessional scene and the unforgettable final shot. The nostalgic nature of the film is also captured in the beautiful costume design and mesmerising musical score.

Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix give exceptionally strong performances of highly complex characters which are anything but one-dimensional. Cotillard's Ewa is a woman who treads the line between fragile and strong in a way which some may find a troubling character trait. However, a woman in her position would indeed be neither be one nor the other. Ewa is fragile and weak as she is a stranger in a new land with no one to help her get a proper job and a sorry reputation that she cannot get rid of, but she has to be strong as she knows she is her sister's only hope. When she is in the presence of money, Ewa is her stronger self as her strength feeds off the memory of her sister. Her ordeal cuts down her optimism, but her strength as the big sister she is remains. As Ewa, Cotillard demonstrates the double side to her personality with complete sincerity. She gives a beautiful performance in which she forms an emotional attachment and captures the audiences complete sympathy.

Joaquin Phoenix's Bruno Weiss is on the surface the villain of the film, but is he truly a villain? It is true that the things he makes Ewa do for his own profit are despicable, but he truly cares for his working girls and in his heart believes he is doing them all a favour by finding them work and not allowing them to succumb to poverty. There will always be the debate of whether the activities he makes them do are ethical and it is not an untruth to say that Bruno is also concerned with his finances. However, all the girls are thankful to him and idolise him for what he has done for them, besides Ewa and even then, while Ewa does not show any compassion or warmth towards Bruno, he does not repay her with the same spite and maintains that he cares very much for her. Underneath his domineering physical presence, Bruno may well be just a lonely soul looking for love and appreciation and finding this in his girls by feeling like he is doing something to change their lives for the better. Phoenix does a brilliant job at portraying this complex and layered character. As Bruno, Phoenix has an incredible presence about him and is extremely intimidating, yet incredibly charismatic.

While Jeremy Renner's Orlando/ Emil doesn't have as much screen time as Ewa or Bruno, he creates a memorable impression with the time he does have. The character of Emil is extremely likable and charismatic, which makes it clear to see why Bruno is jealous of him and Ewa falls for him. The chemistry between Renner and Cotillard is wonderfully romantic and provides hope in a dark world.

The Immigrant is a truly remarkable period piece not only for it's stunning visuals and nostalgic atmosphere, but also for the depth of it's story and main characters. The incredible final shot leaves one with the memory of two of the best constructed characters and the memory of a truly exquisite piece of film.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

What We Do In The Shadows (2014)

Year: 2014
Running Time: 86 minutes
Directors: Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi
Writers: Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi
Cast: Taika Waititi, Jemain Clement, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stuart Rutherford, Rhys Darby

What We Do In The Shadows may well be the most universally hilarious film of the year. It's extremely clever situational humour is the backbone of this unique and entertaining look at vampire life in the modern world as told in documentary style with a hint of narrative. Written by directors and cast members, Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, What We Do In The Shadows is wonderfully character driven and a tremendous amount of fun for even those who are the biggest vampire cynics.

In 2013, a camera crew was given special permission and protection to enter into the house of a group of vampires living in Wellington, New Zealand to capture their nocturnal lives on film. Viago (Taika Waititi), Vladislav ( Jemaine Clement), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and Petyr (Ben Fransham) are four flatmates who are all very much their own vampire and have extremely different personalities. Their undead existence is not easy in the 21st century and they have to adapt as well as they can to living in the modern world. Their lives are made all the more complicated when Petyr turns twenty-something, Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) into a vampire and he brings his human friend, Stuart (Stuart Rutherford) into the house. It takes Nick and Stuart to show in this portrait of vampire life that while they are undead creatures of the night, they are not immune to feeling and emotion.

What We Do In The Shadows is exceptionally clever and hilarious on so many levels. While the vampire genre has been used excessively in film over the past decade, this mockumentary takes the traditional elements of these supernatural creatures and presents them in an original and humorous way. Many of the issues addressed when watching these vampires explore life in Wellington in the present and trying to blend in are quite valid concerns (one could imagine) and the way they are executed makes them extremely entertaining. For example, for vampires to go out at night they must be invited into nightclubs, how they get ready dressed without a reflection to check how they look and in order to obtain modern clothes, they must take clothes off their victims (as not many shops are open in their waking hours). There is also the eternal battle between vampires and werewolves. The werewolves have 21st century problems of their own and the rivalry between the two species is more verbal than physical. What We Do In The Shadows is an extremely unique take on vampires living in the modern world and the humour is brilliantly incorporated into the situations which they find themselves in. As the humour employed in the screenplay is mostly situational humour and the dialogue extremely witty, the film is universally funny as it appeals to a greater audience and discriminates against none.

While What We Do In The Shadows will stay with people long after their first watch mainly for it's humour, there is no denying that it is very atmospheric and has it's own individual personality. Horror elements are carefully worked into the film and incorporated with life in Wellington in the present in a subtle yet effective way. The production design for the vampire's house is reminiscent of the old fashioned manors in classic horror films and is fitting for a group such as this to dwell in. Yet, once the characters step outside into the night, the film takes on a whole new feel as they prowl the streets of Wellington. The traditional meets a place which is not associated with the vampire sub-genre and it feels like a city anyone would stroll in which gives the film a familiar feeling for the viewer. As the film's title suggests, shadows are used to create the dark and mysterious atmosphere with the aid of the score which is also reminiscent of earlier horror films. The costume design and make-up for the main characters (especially Petyr) is also very well done.

The characters of Viago, Vladislav and Deacon are what really make What We Do In The Shadows such a hilarious piece of work. Each character is distinctive, brilliantly portrayed and have a wonderful amount of chemistry with each other. Taika Waititi's Viago is often awkward for the documentary crew, but incredibly endearing, while Jemaine Clement's Vladislav is the vampire from the legends of a time long ago we often hear and is an interesting and layered character. Both Waititi and Clement do an incredible job at directing themselves and deliver believable and entertaining characters. Jonathan Brugh is also hilarious as Deacon, who is the "bad boy" of the group with an incredibly entertaining attitude.

What We Do In The Shadows is a delight and a half. It certainly is one of the funniest, if not the funniest film of the year and extremely clever and terribly unique.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Magic In The Moonlight (2014)

Year: 2014
Running Time: 97 minutes
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Cast: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Marcia Gay Harden, Simon McBurney, Jacki Weaver, Erica Lershen, Eileen Atkins

Magic in the Moonlight has all the cinematic elements one would expect to find in a Woody Allen film, yet the magic promised in the title is not quite present. Allen's latest does give out sparks with it's beautiful panoramic shots, exquisite costume design and entertaining and witty performance by Colin Firth, yet as a whole remains rather unremarkable and forgettable. It's a screenplay filled with the promise of a comical and joyful scenario, but falls into the unfortunate trap of coming across as ridiculous rather than charming.

Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth), an Englishman who's alter ego is the Chinese magician, Wei Ling Soo, makes it his duty and takes great pleasure in exposing frauds who claim to be psychic mediums. Following a tip from his long time friend, Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), Stanley travels to the Cote d'Azur where a young woman who claims to be a medium is staying with the wealthy Catledge family. When Stanley meets the woman in question, Sophie (Emma Stone), he finds it hard to put a finger on her methods and starts to wonder whether there is really more to this life than what he has always believed.

With it's interesting and seemingly original subject matter, Magic in the Moonlight very much feels like it is Woody Allen's exploration of the Science vs. Spirituality debate. It is unfortunately not a thoroughly executed theme as it is strong to a point, and then starts to lose it's importance drastically towards the end of the film. The lead character of Stanley Crawford makes it clear that he believes everything has an explanation and that there is nothing more to this world than what we see. However, when he meets Sophie and cannot understand her ways, he starts to believe that his beliefs may not have been valid. As the film progresses, there is a great deal of going and back and forwards before the film arrives at an ending which doesn't say anything clear about the point Allen is trying to make. Has Allen just constructed a story around this theme so that his audience can make their own conclusion, or is there a point he is trying to make there which is just unclear?

However, without looking into Magic in the Moonlight with too much depth, it is an entertaining and fun piece of work. The dialogue is particularly Allen-esque and wonderfully executed with some very funny moments, particularly by Colin Firth. However, the ending does go off on a tangent to make the finale seem highly unrealistic and quite ridiculous. One might believe that this was an attempt to have an old fashioned, romantic ending to a nostalgic film, but is more mindboggling than anything else. Overall the film is pleasantly nostalgic and visually a treat. Magic in the Moonlight is set in 1928 and the way in which it recreates this time period in the south of France is perfect. The production design is well reminiscent of the 1920's and the costume design is absolutely stunning. The "hot" music that is played when dancing is also perfectly suited to the time period and very fun. The Cote d'Azur is beautifully captured on film with gorgeous panoramic shots of the seaside and mountains.

Colin Firth is the absolute standout of the cast. He has exceptional comedic timing and delivers his witty and sarcastic dialogue so naturally which makes him an absolute joy to watch. Emma Stone does well in her role as Sophie individually, but together Firth and Stone have very little on screen chemistry. Not only do they not visually fit together, but there are no sparks between the two at all and this makes it very hard to believe that one could feel anything romantically for the other.

Magic in the Moonlight is a beautiful nostalgic trip, but it's fun story is not a strongly executed one. Unfortunately, Woody Allen's latest film is one of his more forgettable ones.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Felony (2013)

Year: 2013
Running Time: 105 minutes
Director: Matthew Saville
Writer: Joel Edgerton
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Tom Wilkinson, Jai Courtney, Melissa George, Sarah Roberts

Incredibly intense and emotionally challenging, Felony is what you want a psychological drama to be. Not only is it's audience pushed into continuously guessing due to the unpredictability of the film, but an ethical examination of the situation presented is also continuously carried out. Written by and staring Joel Edgerton and directed by Matthew Saville, Felony is a particularly solid police drama that addresses how complex the idea of the right thing to do can often be.

While drug cop, Malcolm Toohey (Joel Edgerton) is being hailed a hero for his latest arrest, he is involved in a tragic accident which leads to more than just his guilt being covered up. Malcolm tries to deal with his moral dilemma and take responsibility in a way that is best for he and his family, while at the same time, he has two investigative policemen breathing down his neck. Detective Carl Summer (Tom Wilkinson) wants him to keep his secret and remember how not doing so will effect a great number of people in the police force, while rookie, Jim Melic (Jai Courtney) is working hard to find out the truth and expose Malcolm.

While Felony can at times feel like it wavers on the edge of the type of ethical dilemma film we have seen before, it's screenplay is kept original as well as being unpredictable and challenging. The story of this cop getting himself into a situation where he could cause a destructive domino effect if he attempts to do the right thing is kept fresh and doesn't fail to entertain and intrigue. The screenplay toys with the idea of the right thing having many dimensions and while that it seems like the correct thing to do as a whole, when you break it down into smaller pieces all you can see are the reasons not to do it. As an outsider looking in on Malcolm's story, it is easy to say that he should have done the right thing to begin with and when he didn't, he should have made up for it afterwards. However, it is to the credit of the filmmakers that one is drawn into the film so much that you come to understand all the character's reasoning's and then remain confused for the duration of the film what really is the right thing for Malcolm to do.

 Felony does feel highly realistic for the most part and very much an emotional experience as a result. Australians will be able to relate to many aspects of the films, right down to the compulsory belting out of "Livin' On A Prayer" in a pub with a beer in one's hand. The fact that the viewer is drawn into the story and provoked into questioning the decisions and actions of those in the film is a sign of how realistic it feels. However, it does get to a point where it loses it's hold towards the end of the film when events start to take a turn. Things start to get a tad unbelievable and events become removed from the audience's personal space. For entertainment's sake, this period of the film is quite well done, but it does lose it's emotional relationship with the audience that it establishes earlier in the film.

The story taking place in Felony is intense in itself, but made even more so by the wonderful score. It does a great deal to enhance the atmosphere of the situation at hand and add a sense of dread and anxiety. The film has some particularly impressive visual moments, especially during the scenes when Malcolm is inside his car driving to and from his accident.

Joel Edgerton is wonderful in a role which he penned himself and it is clear that he well and truly knows who his character is. He is incredibly convincing as the man who is falling apart bit by bit under the weight of his guilt. A particularly brilliant piece of cinema is provided by Edgerton when his Malcolm is driving away after giving his statement and the further he drives, the more you see in his expression the realisation of what he has just done and an intense guilt is taking hold of him. It is such a subtle piece of acting which says so much about the evolution of feelings taking place within him.

Tom Wilkinson is very good as Detective Summer and Jai Courtney also shows great ability, but both have characters which seem a little too forced in their personality traits. Wilkinson and Courtney still carry their characters well, but the way in which they are directed seems a little overdone. Melissa George does particularly well as Malcolm's wife, Julie. The relationship between Malcolm and Julie is also a pleasantly realistic one. Before the accident, their marriage isn't presented as being perfect, but rather ordinary with the day to day ups and downs experienced by a family.

Felony is a wonderful combination of emotionally and psychologically challenging in the way it draws it's audience in and encourages them to address the consequences of doing the right thing in such a situation.