Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Interstellar (2014) film review

Year: 2014
Running Time: 169 minutes
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, Casey Affleck, Mackenzie Foy, Ellen Burstyn, Topher Grace

Interstellar opens in Australian cinemas on 6 November and is distributed by Roadshow Films. Opening in the United States and United Kingdom on 7 November.

Christopher Nolan's highly anticipated Interstellar is an incredible thought-provoking, visual event that simultaneously examines the scientific complexity of time relativity in space travel and the emotional depth and strength held by those directly impacted. The film is a visual masterpiece with incredible sound editing and score that support a highly intelligent screenplay that is particularly Nolan-esque. The impressive cast led by Matthew McConaughey give Interstellar the emotional backbone which allows this film to project itself into a class above other sci-fi and futuristic films.

In the future, the human race has come full circle and once again places its importance on what the land can give us rather than on technological advances, but even the land is turning on the human race. It's a world that doesn't sit well with father of two, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), who wants to be out exploring the world and it's skies. His chance comes when he and his daughter, Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) stumble upon NASA's secret headquarters and learn that they have discovered a wormhole near Saturn that leads to another galaxy where there could be another planet suitable for human life. Leaving behind a distraught and angry Murphy, Cooper sets out on the Endurance to search this galaxy for a new home for the human race while fighting against time and the dangers that space and these new worlds present.

Although Interstellar is reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and last year's Gravity for the obvious reasons, it is unique for what it brings to the group which the two mentioned films belong to. It is certainly a complex scientific film which must be applauded for it's intelligence and the originality of the journey which it's characters embark on. The real enemy of the film is time as the time in space and in distant galaxies can differ greatly from time on Earth. It is an intriguing concept, but also a very frightening one when it is realised how much is missed on Earth after so little time has passed in space.

This is where the emotional core of the film comes from. The characters come to realise that love transcends time and they all fight against time for those they love. While Interstellar is thought-provoking on a scientific level, it is also so on this emotional level. The idea of leaving ones family without the knowledge of whether or not they will return and not knowing whether they will be able to contact them is both unsettling and disturbing as it connects with the audience on such a personal level. It also prompts the audience into wondering what they would do in Cooper's situation. If you had the chance to find a way to save your family but there was no guarantee of ever seeing or hearing from them again, would you do it? When the question is asked, the answer would most probably be yes, but in Interstellar we see how much agony it would be to feel the separation.

At nearly three hours long, Interstellar does well to maintain tension and remain intriguing for this amount of time, yet at times the length is felt. Nolan has really attempted to pack as much action, emotion and information into the film as he possibly can and while this is admirable, there is still the feeling that things are missing as a result of other things being included. At such a running time, it is obvious that Nolan could not include any more in than he already had so there are some holes in the story as a result and hard facts are missing as to how and why things are this way on Earth. There are tinges of disbelief throughout the film and the notion that things may be getting a little too far-fetched, but Interstellar is not a prediction of what is to become of the human race as much as it is a piece of entertainment about the future of the human race.

Interstellar is just brilliant in it's production. Christopher Nolan shot the film using 15/70mm IMAX cameras so it is intended to be watched on such a screen and this is definitely how one will get the most out of the film. Like the film itself, many of the frames are quite complex in an interesting and positive way as there is so much to take in. While there are some glorious landscape shots, it is the CGI employed for the scenes in space which are truly memorable and exquisite. It is a gentle reminder of how beautiful the galaxy is while dangerous. The score by Hans Zimmer is also perfection and adds to the suspense of the film brilliantly. However, some may find the film a little overpowering in it's volume and high speed and erratic camera movements in it's action sequences.

Matthew McConaughey is truly wonderful as Cooper and has an incredible presence on screen. The audience takes to his character in a way which they feel a real emotional connection to him and they care a great deal about what happens to Cooper during the film. While he is a tower of strength for the majority of the film, it is in the moments which the character is at his most vulnerable that are the strongest for McConaughey. It is truly devastating and haunting watching Cooper leave his children and then receiving messages from them while on aboard.

Anne Hathaway does very well as Amelia Brand and her character continually grows on the audience throughout the film. Jessica Chastain is also very good as the adult Murphy, yet Mackenzie Foy who plays the younger version of her character gives an extremely powerful performance for such a young age. Foy and McConaughey work incredibly well as the father and daughter team and one feels the tragedy on a personal level of these two being separated.

Interstellar is a cinematic event that encourages it's audience to use their heart and mind when watching. Although not perfect on every level, it is memorable for the things it does to perfection.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Editor's Choice: Top 10 Films for Halloween

Happy Halloween everyone!

At this time last year we put together a list of the top ten films to watch on Halloween as voted by our fans. There was something that we noticed when looking over the films and thinking about the Halloween holiday. Of the films that were voted in the top ten last year, over half of them were of the horror genre, three were family friendly films and one was a hybrid of horror and comedy. Different people enjoy different things about Halloween and this showed in the results of our Halloween film survey. Many enjoy embracing October 31 and the week of as a time to celebrate with friends and family at parties and trick or treating, while others associate it with the supernatural and all things terrifying.

The meaning of Halloween has changed dramatically over the centuries. According to the History Channel website, it's origins can be traced back to the Celtic holiday of Samhain on November 1 which marked the end of the harvest season and beginning of winter. With the turning of the seasons, it was believed that the world of the dead was disturbed and people would light bonfires to ward off ghosts and when leaving the house, they themselves would wear masks so that the spirits would mistake them for one of their own and leave them be. In the eighth century, October 31 became known as All Hallow's Eve and over the centuries became Halloween, the night associated with Jack o' Lanterns, dressing up, bobbing for apples and candy corn.

Halloween is embraced by people of all walks of life. Along with the more popular Halloween activities, watching movies on October 31 is a tradition held by many households. Films people watch on Halloween are not limited to films set on Halloween or are primarily about the holiday itself, but also include scary films of the horror genre due to the fact that the original concept of Halloween was one of the supernatural and fear. Nowadays, Halloween is appreciated for different reasons and one of the ways which comes to be understood is by looking at the variety of films people recognise as being films to watch on Halloween.

In order to show this variation again this year, we have put together Movie Critical's picks for the top ten films to watch on Halloween. A few of these were included in the top ten as voted by fans, but there are some additions. The trend we found was that there are less of the violent horror films and more atmospheric films which are more suspense rather than straight up horror films.

10. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is the ultimate for any classic movie fan on Halloween. Two of the kings of comedy, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello star as freight handlers who are given the shock of their lives when the remains of Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and Frankenstein arrive in the United States from Europe. Things become a great deal more complicated when both Dracula and Frankenstein awaken and then escape together. If things could not get even more complicated, Lawrence Talbot, otherwise known as The Wolfman (Lon Chaney, Jr) arrives to hunt down Dracula. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is a hilarious film featuring three of the greatest horror film characters in a crazy series of events.

9. Nosferatu (1922)

German silent classic, Nosferatu is based on Bram Stoker's novel, "Dracula". When a real estate agent, Hutter and his wife, Ellen encounter Count Orlok (Max Schreck), Hutter feels that there is something strange about him and he soon starts to wonder whether he is the vampire he has been hearing about. As strange deaths follow the Count wherever he goes, he starts to fear for his life and the life of his wife. Nosferatu is what nightmares are made of. The image of the Count and his shadow are scarier than any villain you will see in modern films and as the film approaches a hundred years old, it remains as terrifying as ever.

8. 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. Writer, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son, Danny (Danny Lloyd) move into an abandoned hotel for the winter so Jack can focus on his writing. 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!"

7. Casper (1995)

The 1995 family film, Casper may not have ever reached the level of classic, but it still remains a fun and sweet supernatural based film that is Halloween appropriate. Dr. James Harvey (Bill Pullman) has been hired by heiress, Carrigan (Cathy Moriarty) to exorcise ghosts from the mansion she has inherited and moves in with his teenage daughter, Kat (Christina Ricci). They meet the troublesome ghosts who have been causing Carrigan grief, but they also meet the friendliest ghost, Casper and he and Kat form a very special bond. Casper is a film that both children and adults can enjoy on Halloween, especially as it embraces the holiday spirit towards the end.

6. Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Based on Washington Irvine's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow is an extremely atmospheric horror period piece. It tells the tale of Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp), who is sent to Sleepy Hollow is investigate the recent gruesome murders and soon comes to realise that all this talk of the headless horseman he thought to be untrue is quite the opposite. The headless horseman is a figure who has long been associated with Halloween and although not actually set on Halloween, you could be forgiven for thinking so with the presence of Jack o' Lanterns on some scary looking scarecrows.

5. Psycho (1960)

Hailed as one of the greatest horror movies of all time, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho is the ultimate in suspense. When Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), a Phoenix secretary on the run after taking $40000 from her employer's client, pulls in to a quiet motel for the night, she meets a quiet and seemingly polite young man who is utterly terrified of his mother who lives in the intimidating house behind. Marion finds out before the night is through just how terrifying his mother really is. The infamous shower scene is still one of the most popular horror scenes of all time, but it is the suspenseful and unpredictable nature of Psycho which make it a true classic and a haunting film to watch on Halloween. For the record, after making Psycho, Janet Leigh developed a fear of showers and would only take one if there was no bath and if all the doors were locked.

4. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a favourite animated film of many people and comes in at number four 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.

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. Dracula (1931)

As many times as Bram Stoker's character can be recreated for the big screen, the 1931 Dracula is perhaps the creepiest and most unsettling. Bela Lugosi is truly terrifying and the perfect Dracula. While some may feel the film is dated and such things as the bat on the string may be laughable, it is the lack of colour and music that only add to the atmosphere of the film and the overall suspense and unease.

1. Hocus Pocus (1993)

As it did last year, Hocus Pocus tops our list once again as the top film to watch on Halloween. 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 2013 was 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.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

This Is Where I Leave You (2014)

Year: 2014
Running Time: 103 minutes
Director: Shawn Levy
Writer: Jonathan Tropper (novel and screenplay)
Cast: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Corey Stoll, Adam Driver, Kathryn Hahn, Rose Byrne, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant, Dax Shepard, Abigail Spencer

This Is Where I Leave You opens in Australian cinemas on October 23 and is distributed by Roadshow Films. Now showing in the United States and opening in the United Kingdom October 24.

You can see what This Is Where I Leave You is trying to do. You can also tell that it is trying really very hard to achieve this. However, Shawn Levy's latest film doesn't live up to all it can be despite how much it is trying. It is a film that has far too much going on to be emotionally effective and it's characters do not connect with the audience the way they should despite a stellar cast. There are sparks of the special film which This Is Where I Leave You could have been, but these sparks don't form into the fireworks which they should have been.

After Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) finds his wife, Quinn (Abigail Spencer) in bed with his boss, he loses his job, his beautiful wife and his cool apartment all at once. When things seem like they could not get any worse, he receives a call from his sister, Wendy (Tina Fey) telling him that his father has just passed away. He makes the trek back to his hometown to be reunited with his mother, Hillary (Jane Fonda) and his siblings, Wendy, Paul (Corey Stoll) and Phillip (Adam Driver). As well as their father passing away, each of the Altmans have their own issues and in this emotional time there are confrontations as well as comforts.

This Is Where I Leave You has wonderful intentions. It is trying to be a film that is sensitive and sympathetic to family death and the notion that families are made up of different personalities which are susceptible to clash at such a time when emotions are running high. Yet at the same time, it is trying to highlight the hilarity that can ensue when all these different people with so much happening in their lives are put under the same roof. However, This Is Where I Leave You lacks the emotional attachment that would allow these two to work in unison. With so much going on with so many different characters, the viewer finds that there is not enough time spent with each of them to be able to develop a connection and the scenes which should bring a tear to the eye instead feel lack lustre and close to empty. Even with Jason Bateman's Judd who is the lead character in the film, there is pity felt for him at the beginning of the film, but this connection is lost when the film is swamped by the rest of the cast.

One comes away from the film feeling as though it is really trying to do too much and missing so much because of it. There are some laughs, but with a lesser cast the humour would be lost. In fact, many of the laughs seem unoriginal and worth more of a giggle than a belly laugh. While it's underlying premise of the dramatic meeting the comedic in such a situation is somewhat original (although it cannot avoid the obvious comparisons to August: Osage County), the film itself falls into several pitfalls which allow it to come across as rather predictable and often cliché, especially when it comes to Judd's ending.

There is no doubt that the comedic timing and acting ability of the cast carries This Is Where I Leave You. The on screen chemistry between the cast members who are part of the Altman family is spot on and allows for the dynamics to be extremely realistic. What is great about the way the Altman characters interact with each other is that like adult family members, they start off speaking to each other like adults but the conversations often end with them acting and talking like they are their younger selves. It is something which people may not realise is a part of sibling relations as they mature. Conversations begin in the present, but inevitably turn towards the past.

Jason Bateman does well in the lead and truly does as much with the part as he can. He has some  moments of pure sadness, but the situations he becomes involved in throughout the film should allow for a greater variety of intense emotions to be exhibited. Although he is likable to an extent and has some witty dialogue, the audience leaves the film not feeling as though they really had a connection to or even knew who the lead character was. Tina Fey is pleasant and will delight anyone who is a fan of her previous work as her dialogue is delivered with the same wit and sarcasm she has became popular for. Wendy Altman is probably one of the more entertaining characters in the film, but again, not enough time is spent with her during her pressing situations to feel a real emotional attachment to her.

Corey Stoll is fine, but his character of Paul could have been given so much more to work with and if he had, could well have been one of the most interesting in the film. Adam Driver is a lot of fun as baby of the family, Phillip. His inability to grow up and really be a man is endearing despite his questionable actions. Jane Fonda is very good, but doesn't have nearly enough screen time.

This Is Where I Leave You has the best intentions, but tries to do too much with too many characters. The result is a film that lacks emotional attachment and doesn't have nearly enough laughs to make up for it.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Whiplash (2014)

Year: 2014
Running Time: 106 minutes
Director: Damien Chazelle
Writer: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell

Whiplash opens in Australian cinemas on October 23 and is distributed by Sony Pictures. Now showing in limited release in the USA and opening January 16 in the United Kingdom.

Damien Chazelle's Whiplash absolutely triumphs over everything that is cliché and stereotypical of a music school film. As an intensely real film set inside an extremely high pressure institution, this character driven drama does not sugar-coat any of it's content which gives it an unpredictability and suspense not often felt in a film such as this. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons give absolutely outstanding performances as two very real and very complex characters who have incredible on-screen chemistry and are involved together in some of the most intense and memorable scenes of the year.

When we are introduced to nineteen-year-old drummer, Andrew (Miles Teller), his private practise session at his music school has been interrupted by infamous teacher/conductor, Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) who insists on listening to him play. Although Fletcher doesn't give Andrew any indication that he is impressed, he transfers him to his band the next day as the alternate drummer. A twist of fate allows Andrew to become the core drummer and as a result, his confidence grows in his ability and he begins to ostracize all those close to him in order to have the success he craves. Yet, Fletcher makes sure he keeps Andrew on the edge and constantly reminds him that his place in the band is never safe.

Whiplash is far from the sugar-coated music or dance school films that cinema goers are accustomed to these days. While this subgenre tends to bask in the idea that performing arts schools are the institutions where your dreams are sure to come true, Whiplash seeks to destroy this fabricated image and remind that these schools are also places where dreams are slashed and only the strong survive in circumstances which can be incredibly brutal and often unpleasant. Andrew's constantly bandaged hands and the sweaty, intense competitions between those vying for the same part are reminders that hard work in such a place is very rarely clean and can often be physically demanding and psychologically taxing. While other films set in performing arts schools use exaggerated and optimistic elements such as overcoming the odds to win or be accepted, it is the fact that Whiplash doesn't do this and is realistic that makes it all the more captivating and entertaining. There is a great deal of suspense and unpredictability to the film which is very welcomed and refreshing as a result.

The screenplay is incredibly tight with witty and entertaining dialogue, which evolves from being quite comedic to begin with to being dark and menacing as the film progresses and the characters change. The music will inevitably delight those who appreciate jazz and it's use as part of the soundtrack when the character's are not playing it gives the film a nostalgic and classic atmosphere. The stage lights are taken full advantage of in the film by creating silhouettes for the characters in crucial moments and gives the moment greater importance.

Miles Teller's Andrew develops a great deal as a character throughout the film. To begin with, he is a self-proclaimed loner and is so in the most endearing way. His lack of confidence in himself, but obvious drive makes him incredibly likeable and the audience takes to him straight away. Throughout the film, the character changes into one who has qualities which are normally associated with a character audiences love to hate. However, the impact of Teller's performance at the beginning of the film is powerful enough that even though he changes for the worst, he is still the loved one of the film. Teller's delivery is spot on and his performance very physical, but in a completely natural way as he looks completely at home behind his drum kit.

In the teaching profession, music teachers can be among the most intimidating and often scariest. J.K. Simmons' Terence Fletcher takes this to a whole new level. Fletcher is the type of teacher which would haunt people's dreams for years to come with his words and twisted method of encouragement via intimidation. Yet, he gives the impression that there is another more gentle side to him. This impression is just that, as there is never actual confirmation that it exists. Simmons is terrifying, but at the same time completely brilliant. His words hit the viewer in the same way they hit the characters on screen and feel physical rather than verbal. Simmons and Teller are perfectly cast and work perfectly on screen, particularly in the last incredibly memorable scene of the film.

Whiplash is wonderfully unique and completely riveting. It is a joy for anyone who has attended a school specialising in performing arts to see a film which captures the intense reality of such an institution. However, it is also a joy for those who have only seen these places in cinema to play witness to a film that breaks stereotype in an incredibly courageous and honest way.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The 50 Year Argument (2014)

Year: 2014
Running Time: 95 minutes
Directors: Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi

The 50 Year Argument  will be showing at the Antenna Documentary Film Festival at Chauvel Cinema on Saturday 18 October. For more information and for ticket purchases, please see the Official Website

Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi's documentary about the institution that is The New York Review of Books, The 50 Year Argument is a piece of cinema which every avid reader and writer should see whether or not they are familiar with the periodical. The film is constructed in such a way that it is not just a history of the Review, but a history of the world as the Review saw it. An extremely passionate exploration of the sphere of both journalism and literature which contains wonderful images, but also some which are the most shocking of the last 50 years.

As The New York Review of Books reaches it's 50th birthday, Scorsese and Tedeschi embark on an in depth study of what has made the publication so unique compared to it's competitors and of the journalists and intellectuals who made it so. From it's beginnings in 1963, editor Robert Silvers has been committed to assembling the past and present respected writers who have given the Review not only views on the most popular pieces of writing, but also an unique cultural and political voice in covering some of the most monumental events in the world over that time. In order to make The New York Review of Books superior to other publications, these writers have strived to put to print their brave and sometimes unpopular views and are continuously being encouraged to do this as the world changes.

"Our only truth is narrative truth".

While The 50 Year Argument is primarily an insight into The New York Review of Books' 50 year history, it's story cannot be told without encompassing elements of what was occurring in the world and being reported over that time. The last half century has produced some truly shocking events which have been caught on film as well as in print. These events (including the Vietnam War and the unrest in Cairo) are retold by those journalists for the Review who were on the ground as they happened and offer an unique recollection of events which produced controversial pieces of writing at the time. The film also demonstrates how the written word can bring on change and has the ability to influence such is with the example of "The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan and feminism. The 50 Year Argument seeks to remind viewers that the written word is the only true way of capturing the truth and it has an incredibly powerful ability to influence change and history.

Scorsese and Tedeschi's documentary is quite a stunning piece of work and is assembled with great care and love for the New York institution. It's content as well as the visual appearance of important information and passages from and about the Review often appear throughout the film in written form in the Times New Roman font, which will delight avid writers and readers with it's familiarity. The 50 Year Argument does not shy away from some of the most startling photos and videos, such as the infamous Tibetan monk on fire footage. While many will find several images unsettling and confronting, the fact that they are spread out through the film is a wonderful technique as it allows for tension to be felt continuously throughout the film. 

The 50 Year Argument is made with warmth and love for one of the great publications of the United States. The film is nostalgic and classic, but also an extremely smart piece of cinema.


Monday, October 6, 2014

The Judge (2014)

Year: 2014
Running Time: 141 minutes
Director: David Dobkin
Writers: David Dobkin (story), Nick Schenk (story and screenplay), Bill Dubuque (screenplay)
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vincent D'Onofrio, Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thornton, Leighton Meester

The Judge opens in Australian cinemas on October 9 and is distributed by Roadshow Films. Opens in the United States on October 10 and the United Kingdom on October 17.

Without it's magnificent cast and smart direction by David Dobkin, The Judge would be in danger of becoming just another predictable family redemption melodrama. The saving grace of the charismatic presence of Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall makes sure that what would usually be seen as stereotypical is given a disguise for it to be perceived as new and original. While the disguise may not be as convincing as it could be, the emotional intensity of the performances puts it above the majority of films in its cluster.

High flying Chicago lawyer, Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) receives the terrible news that his mother has passed away suddenly and he will have to make his way back to his Indiana rural hometown  for the funeral. The idea of returning to the place he grew up does not appeal to Hank as it means the reunion of he and his estranged father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall). It appears as though it will be a trip long enough only to have a confrontation with his father and be on his way, until it is discovered that his father has been involved in an accident and needs a very good lawyer for him to escape being convicted of murder.

The Judge is not altogether predictable, but neither does it feel like something audiences haven't seen several times before. The family relations storyline about the troubled father-son relationship and about the son returning to his hometown to face his past is extremely predictable and almost painfully stereotypical with elements such as the compulsory encounter with an ex-girlfriend and reminiscing over family photos and films accompanied by nostalgic music. However, the film gains originality when the family aspect is combined with courtroom drama. It is the legal side of The Judge which keeps it intriguing as that is where the unpredictability in the film lies and it's screenplay becomes all the more interesting for it. Unfortunately, the courtroom drama and mystery of what happened on that rainy night are not enough to make the film overly memorable.

Visually the film regains it's stereotypical family melodrama feel. Flashback shots in home movie style are used to visualize memories which Hank has running through his head and the town he returns to is much like any other town in which a character has made an effort to escape only to return to in order to face their demons. Yet it is a beautiful and quaint town which is a perfect place to go to reflect on life and is pleasantly captured on film. Even though the musical score is attempting to be light and nostalgic, it comes across as more dated and timeworn.

As Hank Palmer, Robert Downey Jr. shows how he can regain his charismatic and enjoyable persona and take it emotionally wherever it needs to go. The main source of humour in The Judge is his dialogue, which is as quick and witty as audiences have fondly become accustomed to from such roles as Tony Stark and Sherlock Holmes. Yet, Downey gives his most emotional performance in years and is both convincing and wonderfully moving. Robert Duvall is also very good. He is extremely real in his portrayal of a man who is in mourning, but at the same time is angry with the world and very much in denial about his own reality. Downey and Duvall work brilliantly together and there are some truly remarkable confrontation scenes between the two of them.

The Judge is a film with a story like many others, but the strength and intensity of it's performances by Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall gives it the edge to put it above the films in it's class it could be compared to.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Gone Girl (2014)

Year: 2014
Running Time: 149 minutes
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Gillian Flynn (book and screenplay)
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit

Gone Girl is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed in Australia by Twentieth Century Fox.

A book shouldn't be made into a film unless it really has something to gain from it. Unfortunately in most cases with highly successful books, this gain and the driving reason behind the adaptation seems to be money. However, Gone Girl truly has gained from being made into a movie, especially in the hands of David Fincher. Based on the bestselling novel by Gillian Flynn (who also wrote the screenplay), the neo-noir film unsettles and thrills with its combination of suspense and depth. With incredibly strong and memorable performances by all the cast, Gone Girl proves that unlike so many others, it belongs off the book page and on the screen.

On the morning of their anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home to find that his wife of five years, Amy (Rosamund Pike) has disappeared in what appears to be a violent kidnapping. As the search for Amy begins, Nick finds himself at the centre of the investigation as all the evidence starts to point to him when the cracks in his marriage start to be seen by the world and he becomes the lead suspect in his wife's disappearance and assumed murder.

Fincher's Gone Girl does exactly what book to film adaptations should do and that is to recognise and act upon what cinema can do to enhance the story. As a book, "Gone Girl" continues to attract a large readership and among it are admirers and cynics of Flynn's work. However, the film will impress and entertain even those amongst the cynics. The screenplay stays true to the book for the most part which means that the ending, which is the main cause for complaint of many, is present in the film. This is evidently what many will profess to dislike about the film, but the way in which Fincher has dealt with and fleshed out the material which has been given to him is testimony to his brilliance as a film maker. It is not often one says that a book works better on screen than it does on paper, but the unmistakable style of Fincher is perfect for Flynn's story and brings out it's true suspenseful and unsettling nature in spectacular style.

For those who have not read the book, Gone Girl is completely unpredictable and suspenseful. Yet, those who have read the book will be astonished at the suspense they feel while watching and knowing what is to come. While most of the suspense is in the story, it is assisted in spectacular fashion by the incredibly haunting music provided by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and gorgeous use of cinematography. Fincher shows the characters from such interesting and beautiful camera angles which allow a different story to be told through the camera lens. The final music piece of the film which plays through the last scene and into the credits is beautifully unsettling and this is the feeling that resonates after leaving the film.

Fincher has the wonderful ability to bring out themes in the film which were not as evident in the book as what they should have been. The notion which both the book and the film will prompt people into contemplating is whether we ever truly know the person we are with. It is easy to start seeing your marriage alongside Nick and Amy's and hoping that in the comparison you see differences. While this is intriguingly and thought provoking, the theme which plays alongside this in the film is that of changing ourselves for other people. This is something which many members of the audience will be able to relate to as we are all capable of trying to change ourselves for others. However, you can only try and be someone else for a certain amount of time until you become troubled as that unknown version of yourself and the real person starts to show themselves. In marriage, people don't change after they are married. They purely relax and reveal who they really are.
From the very first moment Rosamund Pike appears on screen as Amy Dunne in close up, she presents the viewer with a character of extreme complexity. As a result of the constant comparison Amy has felt throughout her life to her mother's fictional book character, Amazing Amy, she is never quite sure of who she is. Pike's performance is nothing short of outstanding. She shows a remarkable amount of versatility and range in this complex and intriguing role and is perfectly cast in the role. Pike and Ben Affleck have such an interesting screen chemistry. They do fine in the romantic scenes, but it is the awkwardness and tension they have towards each other afterwards which makes them truly exciting to watch. Affleck does very well as Nick Dunne and again is perfect for the role. He gives a pure, strong and controlled performance. Both Affleck and Pike also have the uncanny ability to make the viewer feel both love and hate for the two of them at different times throughout the film and hold a real emotional connection with the audience.
Carrie Coon, who plays Nick's twin sister, Margo is a stand out. She is often Nick's strength and she is completely entertaining in every scene she is in. Neil Patrick Harris plays Amy's ex-boyfriend, Desi Collings, a role which seems completely different from his previous work. Desi is another very interesting character, as you never know what his real intentions are and Harris gives such a strong and memorable performance in a part which is relatively small. Kim Dickens is also commendable in her role as Detective Rhonda Boney. It is a role which could have been stereotypical and one dimensional, but Dickens is perfect and incredibly real.

Gone Girl worked as a book for so many, but the film fleshes out far more and brings to the screen the type of thriller once thought long gone. David Fincher's film shows that there are still ways to shock audiences which are accompanied by dark beauty and extraordinary talent. While the film doesn't end in popular fashion, it unsettles and resonates for long after.