Thursday, January 29, 2015

Wild (2014) film review

Year: 2014
Running Time: 115 minutes
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Writers: Cheryl Strayed (memoir "Wild: From Lost to Found on The Pacific Crest Trail"), Nick Hornby (screenplay)
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Keene McRae, Gaby Hoffman

Wild is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed in Australia by 20th Century Fox.

Wild is one woman's soul searching journey through the American wilderness that many people will find themselves caring a great deal about due to it's relatability and the emotional connection one establishes with it's protagonist.  Based on the memoir "Wild: From Lost to Found on The Pacific Crest Trail", the film follows Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) as she attempts to trek the 1,100 mile Pacific Crest Trail from California's Mexican border to the Canadian border. After her mother's death, Strayed's life spiralled into a self-destructive existence fuelled by dangerous addictions and a loss of self-worth. Her motivation behind her trek is to walk herself back to the person her mother believed she was and by doing so, forgive and make peace with herself.

Wild is the film that anybody who has ever stepped outside their daily life to truly find themselves will be able to relate to. The idea of walking away from life as you know it to find peace with yourself is a very 21st century mode of therapy. A soul searching journey requires us to leave our lives in one place and take ourselves somewhere where we are not effected by the white noise of past and present troubles to work through ourselves and reach a point of inner peace and clarity. While these journeys are relatable and touching, it is also the travel aspect of this mode of soul searching which audiences find so mesmerising. Film has the ability to take people away from the everyday, much like that of a holiday and while one is entertained and moved by Wild, they are also given the opportunity to travel to a lesser filmed and exquisite section of the United States.

Wild has the perfect balance of Cheryl Strayed's past and present which allows one to feel a true connection to the woman on a personal level and as well as a traveller. Flashbacks are used in order to show where Strayed has come from and to give a greater understanding as to why she does need to make her way on the Pacific Crest Trail to become the person her mother knew her to be and the person she is trying to find her way back to. Wild is a one woman film, as Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed is in every scene, yet there is never a lull as every part of the screenplay contributes in a meaningful way to her self forgiveness and to the audience's understanding.

The film is an absolute visual delight with beautiful cinematography and editing. The way in which the American wilderness is shot produces a calming effect for the audience which makes Strayed's journey feel all the more relatable as one feels the peace of she is coming to experience. It is a wonderful contrast to the hectic and erratic nature of the flashback scenes.

Reese Witherspoon gives her best performance in years as Cheryl Strayed, a woman who went through such a dramatic transformation in the years leading up to her trek that Witherspoon could be credited with playing several different characters in this one film. While she plays the role of Strayed with an incredible amount of conviction and raw emotion, the evidence of how physically demanding and strenuous the role was cannot be overlooked. Even though Witherspoon does not take on the whole trek the way Strayed did, the dramatizing of the events along the trail would be no walk in the park as they are still physically straining. Laura Dern is also brilliant as Strayed's mother, Bobbi. While in life she is clearly her daughter's shining light and inspiration, she is also that to the audience. Her optimism and peace with a world that has been cruel to her is infectious and she is a most lovable character.

While Wild can be confronting and graphic at particular moments throughout the film, it has an unexpected calming effect on it's audience. It does not attempt to over-glorify it's heroine in her journey which makes both Cheryl Strayed and the film extremely natural and relatable.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Focus on Independent Film Producer, Kirk Shaw

Photo Courtesy: IMDb

As the entertainment industry continues to change and evolve at a dramatic rate, it is more crucial than ever for film makers to be adaptable and know how to turn challenges into opportunities. Independent film producer, Kirk Shaw is riding the wave of change and enjoying the thrill. While many are intimidated by what the future holds for the entertainment industry, Shaw draws on his industry experience of over 25 years and natural talent to make these changes work for him, setting an example for those both in the industry and those who aim to be.

Growing up in the 1960's with a love of television westerns and Saturday theatre matinees, Shaw has always had a passion for storytelling and been fascinated by the moving image. After creating a revolutionary mode of storytelling through audio tours in several of the world's most prestigious museums, he was approached by The Vancouver Museum to produce video content as part of a traveling exhibit. By saying yes, Shaw  made a decision that would change his life.

  "Each edit, each sound cue, every piece of video could be put together in a dozen different ways, but there is artistry in getting it right", explains Shaw. "I had been bitten and knew I wanted to be a producer". 

With close to 200 film and television credits to his name, Shaw is now one of the leading film financiers and producers. He founded Insight Film Studios in 1990, which over time has become Canada’s largest independent production company having produced $500 million worth of film and television content between 2006-2009. Shaw is now Executive Producer and Consultant at Odyssey Media, the international film and television production, distribution and rights management company with offices in Vancouver, Brisbane and Los Angeles. Among his credits are the Academy Award winning The Hurt Locker, Suddenly starring Ray Liotta and Drive Hard with John Cusack and Thomas Jane. He has also worked with some of the biggest names in the film industry from Charlize Theron, Kim Basinger, Woody Harrelson and Cuba Gooding Jr.

 During his production career, Shaw has always regarded himself as an entrepreneur and believes that the film making process is about finding the right mix of people and ideas for a particular project, but always remembering to keep in mind the net worth of the film. Along with his wonderful networking skills and commitment to those who have helped him which extends beyond their time working together, Shaw has developed a formula that allows him to produce his best work while others struggle with the changing climate of the film industry. Currently at Odyssey, he has over 20 films in pre and post-production to be released in 2015. 

We got a few minutes with Kirk Shaw to hear first hand about his experiences and how he has become one of the most popular and successful film producers. 

What attracted you to the world of independent filmmaking?
I fell in love with the process of finding an idea that could be translated into a film. I relished the role of being the type of a producer who had control over choosing the idea whether my own or someone else's.  I was driven to see that idea through all these stages from development to delivery.  I think one of my talents is identifying talent in others and assembling a team of people who all could contribute their own talent toward building the project from idea to final piece. Independent filmmaking has offered me this type of experience in spades.

Would you say that independent film making is a rewarding process?
As much as the writer is often credited with germinating the idea, nothing in filmmaking happens without a producer.  The producer takes the ethereal and makes it real.  Although this may sound mercenary it is the reality. In independent filmmaking every production dollar, every crew paycheck and every deal is made by the producer.  Producers of independent films are constantly creating, thinking outside the norm and adapting what we know to the emerging reality.  There is little time to sit on your laurels.  Producing independent films is also uber entrepreneurial.  Finding the right mix of financing and distribution is an art.  Adding in the creative team needed to take the script from words to film production is like conducting a symphony.  Each part in the piece or production adds to the whole.  In this multi layered process we also hopefully create something that resonates with our end user, the audience.

Photo Courtesy: Kirk Shaw Online

One of the greatest challenges of being an independent filmmaker  comes from financing. How do you feel you successfully overcome these challenges?
 To be a producer of more than one independent film is to absolutely know the value of the film you are going to deliver and never make a film for more than its value.  Certain genres and actors retain a quantifiable value. Understanding this value as it changes is what I do almost daily. Whether it is a Nicolas Cage theatrical release or an MOW, a producer has to be able to measure the true value of Nicolas Cage in the market today or Jean Claude Van Damme’s current value around the world.  It’s the same for all actors.  The cast and genre give you a benchmark value to arrive at the film’s worth.  That’s the limit of the money you can raise to finance the film. It’s also the value the budget cannot exceed for the film to remain profitable or at the very least break even. I never go into a film to lose money because I make multiple films.

Once I peg the film’s value, I enter the symphony phase. As the producer, I am like the conductor controlling the symphony of people needed to make the film. Rather than waving a baton, I wave spreadsheets that allocate the financial resources in the best way to get the film on the screen, big or small. Whether there is a budget of $1 million or $20 million, independent filmmakers always want more money.  Each department asks for more, the Director too swears his vision just needs a few more dollars. However, to make more than one film, it’s important to understand the value of the film you can make and then get all to agree that we will make the very best film possible for the financing available.  It is actually in this challenge that true creative genius and innovation occurs in filmmaking.

What do you look for in a potential film project? What attracts you to a film?
There is no single attraction to a film or project.  As I said before, I am at my heart an entrepreneur.  So part of me is looking for a film that returns a profit, but profits for films don’t always fuel my passion. I’m also an ideas person looking to inform and challenge the audience so I’m often motivated to find films that simply need or deserve to be made and use my skill, talent and resources to bring these to fruition and get them in front of an audience. Anyone who looks closely at my IMDB credits will see a lot of films made for money, but a decent number of passion projects sprinkled throughout. It’s not just the financial investment, but also the time investment and personal investment. Producing independent films is a lifestyle that sucks your time, energy and focus. If you have a family like me, there are many times the job takes me away from family and my children.  I often ask filmmakers who come to me where do you see your film playing?  What channel and what slot in the broadcaster’s day?  Most haven’t thought this through. If it is a feature, unfortunately I currently mostly look for genre like action scripts to package with an A list cast.  I love dramas, but they are really difficult for an independent filmmaker to finance. It’s a formula that is currently successful and also generates the resources for me to also make one or two passion films a year out of the box. 

What has been your greatest accomplishment in your career so far?
That is easy.  My greatest accomplishment is employing, nurturing and building friendships with 100s of production crew, staff and people who have gained from the movies I’ve produced and all those whom I have crossed paths with. It truly fuels my entrepreneurial drive to see that films I make give not only money, but the opportunity to hundreds of people who are each carving out their own career in the film industry. Sometime in 2015, I will have produced my 200th film. It will be a personal milestone that I will savor as a moment to look back over my total body of work. However, the number pales in the comparison to the opportunities my films provided and the friendships I’ve made. 

Do you have any particular favourite projects you have worked on?
Two passion projects I loved were Battle in Seattle and When A Man Falls in a Forest....who wouldn’t enjoy walking the red carpet with Sharon Stone at the Berlin Festival? But with that said, there are many moments from too many productions that generated life long memories.  I remember my first documentary, we went to interview real, practicing witches.  I got to trek across Ireland for a St. Patrick documentary and remember climbing the mountain for annual pilgrimage with a film crew. In 2014, I was in China producing a movie with Jean Claude Van Damme. Recently, I enjoyed getting to know the EDM music world by filming a 3D dance film in LA. I’ve had so many experiences and met so many people, it’s truly impossible to single any out.

What was your experience working on The Hurt Locker like?
Nobody knew how big it would be.  It was truly a passion project put together on a shoestring budget. We all knew we had a really good script and top-notch creative team not to mention the cast of Jeremy Renner and Evangeline Lilly. But an Oscar was never on our radar. My company oversaw shooting the sequences when Jeremy Renner’s character returns to North America. One theme that resonated with me was the character’s struggle to find his own normal.  Home in the US didn’t fit, but he comes to a realization that his life is most meaningful to him in the world dissembling of bombs in Iraq.  Although not the same life and death choice, I too find my normal in the producer’s world of risk and danger. I actually feed on the frenetic energy of this business and would choose to do nothing else.

Who are some directors you would like to work with?
I used to religiously watch directors like Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone and Woody Allen. I enjoyed the chronological progress/evolution of their work.  I would love to work with any of these greats to just be able to listen to every word they say and see the choices they make. I am excited to work this year with Bob Yari who Directed  the film Papa documenting Ernest Hemingway's two years in Cuba.  I fell in love with the script Bob found.  Bob Yari knows so much about the business side of the industry, I’m happy to see him focusing his first love, which is film making and directing. Papa will be very timely with the US restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba. It is a great moment in history and Bob and I have a film that could fill in some of the long Cuban/US history through one of the great American writers. With that said, I actually prefer discovering talented directors looking for their first break.  I am very proud to be a Canadian and a Canadian film producer. One Canadian director I’m proud of assisting is Jason Bourque. Through Jason’s long association with my films, I’ve been able to watch as Jason grew as a director and carved out his own successful career path in the industry. In 2015, after many years of trying, I’m also finally able to give a close friend, David Tennant, who is successful and respected TV commercial director, the opportunity to direct his first feature film, Forced Entry

Who are some of the actors you have worked with that you are proud you have had the opportunity to do so?
I honestly have liked working with them all. I have had many great dinners and moments on set talking to all levels of actors that have enriched my life and my knowledge of this industry. While I don’t like to name drop, I will give you an example; I recently had dinner with Michael Jai White who is the star of Echo Effect. My appreciation and respect for him increased just by sitting with him and getting to know him on a personal level. Although I haven't worked with him since 2006, I still owe Mathew Perry a movie. I’m looking for a good script that lets him play a character close to himself....someone the audience really likes and then twist the end so Matthew is really the villain. I enjoyed Cory Haim who was filled with life and wore his heart on his sleeve which made him all that much more an interesting of actor. Sadly he lost the battle with his demons. This industry can be tough on the young.   

How has the industry changed in the time you have worked in film production?
 It seems that since I started in the late 90s, the film and entertainment industry has been caught in an amazing flux.  HDTV emerged. Distribution changed. DVD stores died. The Internet siphoned off advertising dollars and put movies onto everyone’s phone or desktop. At the same time technology changed the production process, film gave way to digital. We now have IT people on set to manage digital data. Nobody counts feet of film. It’s all more efficient with instant dailies and the time from prep to delivery has been cut substantially, but the technology also brings challenges and glitches.

This year we had a beautiful drone shot for a movie. We watched the image live on the screen. It was art and perfect. When the drone operator landed the small chopper, the thumbnail sized memory chip jumped out of its compartment and nobody  could find it. We lost the light and the shot was gone. In the days of film, we sometimes had camera faults ruin shots too. The production side of filmmaking is faster and cheaper, but post has become expensive simply because so much more image manipulation can now occur in post. Before these would have been beyond the budget or done in camera. Even the drone shot would have come with a prohibitive price tag if we needed a full size helicopter, a pilot and camera operator in the air. Post has become more labour intensive with artists working frame by frame to enhance shots, add elements or create 3D models.

Looking ahead to the change on the horizon, convergence offers challenges to producers looking to raise funds to make content. Many avenues of delivery both legal and illegal have conditioned the audience to not pay much for moving images delivered to their home. Someone will hit the right formula to replace the lost sales producers used to rely on, but as yet VOD and PPV haven't helped the independent producer trying to coble together a budget to make a strong film.  

Streaming sites like Netflix and Youtube have pulled viewers away from traditional television. But as networks and studios lose eyeballs, they have responded with some of the best quality television ever produced. Although quality can still pull in viewers, we have millions of hours of television programming out there that is going unviewed. I’m not sure it’s sustainable.

Regardless of whether its paid for or given away free, every delivery media requires content so as a producer, I’ll do what I have done the past 20 years, adapt experiment and then figure out how to finance, create and deliver content using different models.

How have you adapted to these changes?
As part of adapting to the market today, I made a decision to produce in different parts of the world.  This expands our international co-pro relationships, brings the resources of two countries and two or more producers together. It’s an economical model many are using. With a co-pro in Brazil for example, we can access a tax shelter program that generates funding for film and television content, plus still receive a portion of the Canadian tax credit incentives. It’s really just spreading the risk and reward among a group of producers, which Odyssey has done this successfully in China, Romania, Bulgaria, Cuba, Australia and also in certain states in the US and provinces in Canada.  

What is you approach to developing talent? Do you play an active role in working to ensure actors, directors and writers reach their full potential?
Although I have given many actors and directors opportunity to show their talent, I have been most successful is developing technicians, the below the line talent.  Every film crew in Vancouver and in other places as well are filled with professionals who got their first or first big opportunity from working on one of my films given the volume of films Odyssey produces each year. One production manager we are currently working with gained seven feature credits in one year. For 2015, I’ve moved him into a bigger film and I’m trusting him with a TV series. It’s this fast track to building a strong body of work that lets talented people demonstrate their skill and reach their full potential.

What projects are you and Odyssey currently working on?
We have two TV movies and a feature film to shoot in February. We are busy working with our close partners The Cartel and Reel One on a new US series going to camera in March. We have a slate of seven more TV movies financed for this spring. We are currently assessing the best locations to shoot the films. Later in the year, we have several exciting much higher budget films with A List actors that at this moment I’m not at liberty to name.

What plans do you and Odyssey have for the future?
When I joined Odyssey I was following my passion for producing and doing what I know and love. Now I feel personally and professionally ready to build Odyssey into a leading international company. I’m more excited for the future than any time in my past. There is so much on the horizon and I’m in the middle of it. At the company Christmas dinner this year, the people of Odyssey had doubled since 2013. I fully expect the 2015 Christmas party to double our number again.

What advice would you give to people who want in work in film production?
There are so many ways into this business, but it all starts with connections. Get as many credits as you can, watch, learn and be easy to work with. Even volunteering on short film is a step toward honing your skill and building a resume. 

If you would like to find out more about Kirk Shaw and Odyssey, please visit the following websites:-
Odyssey Media
Kirk Shaw Online

Odyssey Media
Kirk Shaw


Sunday, January 18, 2015

American Sniper (2014) film review

Year: 2014
Running Time: 132 minutes
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writers: Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice (book), Jason Hall (screenplay)
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes

American Sniper opens in Australian cinemas on January 22 and is distributed by Roadshow Films. Now showing in the United States and United Kingdom.

Almost two years after his death, ex-United States Navy seal, Chris Kyle has been given a heroes tribute in Clint Eastwood's American Sniper. It is a tribute which is somewhat troublesome for individual audience members for varied reasons and although Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller give fine performances, the film does not succeed in achieving the optimum combined level of captivation and enjoyment. The result is a film that will do very little for those who are unentertained by war films and will unsettle and distress others.

Texan born Navy seal Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is recognised as the deadliest sniper in American history with over 160 confirmed kills and many more unconfirmed during his four tours to Iraq. His time as a seal saw him exposed to the evils of the world and his time in duty was as dramatic for him as it was for his wife, Taya (Sienna Miller) waiting for him at home. As distressing and deadly as the war is, Kyle finds himself not mentally able to leave it even when he is at home and safe with his family.

With American Sniper, Clint Eastwood has made a rather patriotic film about the man the Navy tagged "Legend", which like many biopics has been amplified for dramatic effect. It is a film which is problematic for various reasons and different people will relate to a different reason as to why they did not completely take to American Sniper. Firstly, the film wastes no time in establishing that one of it's motives is to create an incredibly tense atmosphere which will no doubt shock, unsettle and distress many audience members. The majority of the scenes which are used to demonstrate the evil and terrors of war are extremely confronting and often quite graphic, yet they are also not historically accurate and included in the film purely for dramatic effect and shock value. The problem with this is that it is not a welcomed suspense that is created and makes for an uncomfortable experience and considering these events (such as the first scene and The Butcher torture scenes) are not completely factual, there is no point for this.

What American Sniper lacks is a firm sense of balance. The film covers both Kyle's life on the battlefield and at home with his family so there is an understanding that Eastwood is trying to make a film about war that doesn't discriminate against those who are not typically fans of war films. However, the scenes in the Kyle household are not strong enough nor do they have enough time donated to them to ensure this. The scenes in Iraq are very well made with some incredible location shots and brilliant sound editing, but no matter how strong and tense they may be, do not entertain those who do not admire war films. Yet for those who do admire war films, it will almost feel as though the scenes in the United States take away from the action.

This all being said, one can still understand what the film is trying to do and say. This may be a biographical film about Chris Kyle, but it wants to be a film which any soldier and their family can relate to. As is shown with Kyle, the war doesn't end for the participant and their family when they return home. The horrors they have seen stay with them long after they have left and affect their everyday life. Many find the only way they can combat this torture is to go back on tour, much to the dismay of their families.  A husband going to war is a battle for any army wife, as it is a time of emotional torture filled with constant anxiety. Eastwood is trying to make American Sniper as relatable as possible for families who are directly effected by war and show that although Chris Kyle was tagged a hero and legend, his battles away from Iraq are much the same as anybody else's.

Bradley Cooper gives a flawless performance as the late Chris Kyle. In a performance which is also physically demanding, Cooper brings an incredibly human quality to the well known naval figure. He allows people to see his character as a human being who was not as cold-hearted as his occupation may suggest, but one that was emotionally and mentally effected by him actions. Cooper's performance is strong, controlled and quite wonderful. Sienna Miller is also very good and gives perhaps the best performance of her career thus far. Her Taya could be any army wife and the on screen chemistry between her and Cooper is perfect.

American Sniper is strong minded as it knows exactly what it is trying to achieve, yet is not executed strongly enough to achieve this. The film will strike a cord with any family member who has been personally effected by war, but is not a particularly enjoyable experience for those who cannot relate.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Into The Woods (2014) film review

Year: 2014
Running Time: 125 minutes
Director: Rob Marshall
Writers: Stephen Sondheim (musical), James Lapine (musical and screenplay)
Cast: Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, Daniel Huttlestone, Lilla Crawford, Christine Baranski, Lucy Punch, Tammy Blanchard, Tracy Ullman, Johnny Depp, Chris Pine, Mackenzie Mauzy, Billy Magnussen

Into The Woods is now showing everywhere and is distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.

Disney's venture Into The Woods may not be the same feel good live action film the world is accustomed to seeing from the studio, but does not fail to entertain audiences, especially those who are fantasy and musical lovers. While Rob Marshall's film is a lot of fun with it's witty and enjoyable screenplay and musical numbers, it is also rather unexpectedly deep and metaphorical. The film does a great deal more than just impressively recreate some of the most loved fairytales and in doing so is pleasantly surprising in numerous ways.

A married couple who live and work in a bakery (Emily Blunt and James Corden) are desperate for children, but are unable to conceive. They are at a loss as to why this is until one day the Witch from next door (Meryl Streep) arrives and tells them that she placed a curse on the household long ago and to break the curse they must bring her all she desires. The baker and his wife set out into the woods to fetch the red cape from Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), the hair as yellow as corn from Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), the glass slipper from Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and the cow as white as milk from Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) for the Witch. When all is said and done, it looks as though everyone has had their wish fulfilled and will live happily ever after. However, that is not the way things work out for any of them as they all venture into the woods once again together.

Director Rob Marshall and writer of both screenplay and musical (which he co-wrote with Stephen Sondheim) James Lapine have done a fine job of adapting Into The Woods for the screen. This is what audiences must remember when judging Into The Woods. It is adapted from a stage musical and much of what can be said about the story good or bad relates more to the original musical than the adapted screenplay. One of the aspects of the film which reminds you that this is so is the notion that Into The Woods feels like two different films in one. The only reason it feels like that is because there are two acts in the stage musical and they are of completely different atmospheres. Because of this, people not familiar with the musical will feel as though the film is quite lengthy, which at barely over two hours this is hardly the case. The majority of the screenplay remains true to the original Into The Woods, yet several songs were abandoned for the film (while one song was added to the soundtrack) and the dark atmosphere slightly lifted so to make a more family friendly film.

Into The Woods knows it's target audience well. The film is well suited to lovers of fairytales and musicals, as those who do not appreciate musicals will not enjoy the fact that the majority of the storytelling is told through song. However, Into The Woods is saying a lot more to it's audience than is vocalised through the dialogue and lyrics. The overall theme is the universally acknowledged notion that there is realistically no such thing as a happily ever after. There is such thing as perfect for the time being, but no life or love is forever without some sort of complication. Fairytales install in children unrealistic expectations of the world, which is why the film reminds us that children are listening, so be careful what you tell them. The story takes fairytales to a place they are not traditionally taken to by asking the questions no one asks of them. Why did Cinderella really run from the man she loved? Was Rapunzel ever troubled by losing the woman who raised her? Is Prince Charming really the man he makes every one believe he is, or is he really just charming? The title of Into The Woods is literal, but also metaphorical as walking through life can be like walking through the woods in its unpredictability and terror.

The mash-up of the fairytales is very well done, but some stories are given a lot more love and attention than others. In particular the Rapunzel storyline doesn't have a great deal to offer and is almost non-existent in the second half of the film. However, it is understandable that at least one of the stories within the film was going to be limited as the film's running time needed to be kept in mind, especially considering this is a family film. Yet, the screenplay is extremely witty with brilliant dialogue and entertaining and enjoyable musical productions, especially the elegant "On The Steps of The Place" and hilarious "Agony". The production design is absolutely exquisite with very little CGI used and the film is very atmospheric as the woods are designed with an air of mystery and darkness that is felt by the audience.

Into The Woods boasts an impressive cast with performances that may surprise. Emily Blunt and James Corden work very well together on screen and their relationship is comedic in the most realistic of ways. Blunt appears in her first musical role and stuns with her beautiful singing voice. Anna Kendrick is certainly no stranger to musicals with her Broadway background and past roles in Camp and Pitch Perfect (as well as the upcoming sequel to the latter and The Last 5 Years), but truly shows her vocal range and is exquisite as Cinderella. She is incredibly likable and the most naturalistic Cinderella to grace the screen.

Meryl Streep does not disappoint as the Witch. She is full of character and shows another side to the Witch who lives in these fairytales, which is that of a Witch with a past that has shaped her. Chris Pine is a real surprise packet as Cinderella's Prince Charming. It is a completely different role for Pine and hearing him sing is surprising, but not a terrible experience at all. His performance is formed around a parody of fairytale princes and is really quite amusing. Young Daniel Huttlestone, who plays Jack, is also a standout with incredible acting ability and a lovely voice.

While there is a moral to most stories we tell our children, what Into The Woods has to say about life through the way the fairytales are told is a great deal more helpful and insightful. The film is surprising, but pleasing for many reasons, but won't delight those who don't enjoy musicals as much as those who do.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

What To Expect From The 2015 Golden Globes


Welcome to the official beginning of Movie Critical's 2015 awards coverage! January and February are the two most exciting months on the film calendar as the awards season is in full swing leading up to the grand finale that is the Academy Awards. As has been the case the last two years, Movie Critical will once again be heading to Hollywood for Oscars Week and will be keeping our readers informed as to the events taking place in the days leading up to the big night.

However, Hollywood's second biggest awards night, the Golden Globes is this Sunday January 11 2015. The night is somewhat a prelude to the Oscars with the same major categories and are often a good indication of the Academy Award winners. The difference between the two awards being that the Golden Globes are voted for by the 93 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the Oscars being voted for by the member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Yet, the Golden Globes are a tad less formal than the Oscars. The fashion is still of the same elegant calibre, but the Globes are a sit down table affair with alcohol freely flowing and are tagged as Hollywood's biggest party of the year.

So what can we expect from the 2015 Golden Globes?

Well, the rain is currently falling in Los Angeles which is surprisingly not uncommon when it comes to awards week weather there. Rain in Los Angeles isn't an overly common occurrence, but it is almost becoming a tradition when it comes to the week of awards. The past two years we have been in Los Angeles for the Oscars it has rained during the week. The below photo was posted on the official Golden Globes instagram account of the red carpet area outside The Beverly Hilton earlier today.

Rain, hail or shine, the show will go on. As expected, there will be some exquisite fashion on the red carpet as well as the occasional fashion disaster that no doubt the world's media will pounce on. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler will host the awards for the third year in a row and that promises a night a hilarity as they have delivered in the past.

Always a star-studded night, presenters on the night will include Robert Downey Jr., Salma Hayek, Kate Hudson, Kevin Hart, Kristen Wiig, Ricky Gervais, Lily Tomlin, Anna Faris, Adrien Brody, Gwyneth Paltrow, Owen Wison, Chris Pratt, Amy Adams, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum, Katherine Heigel, Jeremy Renner, Harrison Ford, Kate Beckinsale, Kerry Washington, Adam Levine, Dakota Johnson, Jamie Doran, Jennifer Aniston, Matthew McConaughey, Lupita N'yongo, Bill Hader, Jennifer Lopez, Seth Meyers, Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Jane Fonda, Bryan Cranston, Vince Vaughn, Melissa McCarthy, Clive Owen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Oprah Winfrey, Naomi Watts, Jared Leto and more.

As for the actual awards, the following are the nominees of each film category and we have our predictions as to who will take out the awards on the big night.

Best Motion Picture, Drama
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

Our pick- Boyhood
It's hard to see past Richard Linklater's twelve year masterpiece, Boyhood taking out the most sought after award on the night. An incredibly ambitious product which is moving in the most subtle of ways and an amazing piece of cinema. Linklater deserves to be rewarded for his triumph.
Runner up- The Theory of Everything

Best Motion Picture, Musical/Comedy
Into The Woods
The Grand Budapest Hotel
St. Vincent

Our pick- Birdman
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Birdman has all the elements it needs to take out this Golden Globe. With it's incredible screenplay, cinematography, direction and performances, it is exceptionally well made and is a favourite to win this category by many.
Runner up-The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama
Eddie Redmayne- The Theory of Everything
Steve Carell- Foxcatcher
Benedict Cumberbatch-  The Imitation Game
David Oweloyo- Selma
Jake Gyllenhaal- Nightcrawler

Our pick- Eddie Redmayne- The Theory of Everything
Although The Theory of Everything has yet to arrive in Australian cinemas, first time nominee Eddie Redmayne is the frontrunner for Best Actor this year. His performance as Stephen Hawking has everyone talking and was said to bring a tear to the real Stephen Hawking's eye when he watched the film.
Runner up- Benedict Cumberbatch- The Imitation Game

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Michael Keaton- Birdman
Bill Murray- St. Vincent
Ralph Fiennes- The Grand Budapest Hotel
Christoph Waltz- Big Eyes
Joaquin Phoenix- Inherent Vice

Our pick- Michael Keaton- Birdman
Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomas in Birdman is not only the best performance of his career, but also the best performance in this category of the year. Keaton is just brilliant in the film and leaves one speechless.
Runner up- Ralph Fiennes- The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama
Julianne Moore- Still Alice
Rosamund Pike- Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon- Wild
Felicity Jones- The Theory of Everything
Jennifer Aniston- Cake

Our pick- Julianne Moore- Still Alice
This is Julianne Moore's 9th Golden Globe nomination (she won in 2013 for Best Actress in a Mini-Series of Motion Picture Made For Television for her portrayal as Sarah Palin in Game Change), and she is the frontrunner by a mile. Moore's performance as a woman in the early stages of Alzheimer's is heartbreaking and is said to have brought a greater awareness to the disease in society.
Runner up- Felicity Jones- The Theory of Everything
Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Julianne Moore- Maps To The Stars
Amy Adams- Big Eyes
Emily Blunt- Into The Woods
Quvenzhane Wallis- Annie
Our pick- Julianne Moore- Maps To The Stars
Julianne Moore could well make it a double this year. Her performance of damaged child of Hollywood Havana Segrand won her Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival and although Maps To The Stars may not be to everyone's liking, her performance is universally admirable.
Runner up- Amy Adams- Big Eyes
Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
Ethan Hawke- Boyhood
Robert Duvall- The Judge
Edward Norton- Birdman
J. K. Simmons- Whiplash
Mark Ruffalo- Foxcatcher
Our pick- J.K. Simmons- Whiplash
J.K. Simmons was absolutely terrifying as hardcore music teacher, Fletcher in Whiplash and has every viewer shaking in their boots. It is a true talent to put so much terror into someone when they are not capable of violence as they are just a character on screen.
Runner up- Robert Duvall- The Judge
Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
Jessica Chastain- A Most Violent Year
Keira Knightley- The Imitation Game
Patricia Arquette- Boyhood
Meryl Streep- Into The Woods
Emma Stone- Birdman
Our pick- Patricia Arquette- Boyhood
Patricia Arquette as Mason's mother, Olivia is twelve years worth of acting with a character that changes and develops just as her on screen son does. Audiences took to Olivia with open arms as she could be any mother trying to make her way in the world and provide for her children.
Runner up- Emma Stone- Birdman
Best Director
Ava DuVernay- Selma
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu- Birdman
David Fincher- Gone Girl
Richard Linklater- Boyhood
Our pick- Richard Linklater- Boyhood
We've said it before and we will say it again, how can you not reward someone for putting twelve years of your life into the direction of a film? Not only the fact that it was twelve years, but Richard Linklater has made a truly beautiful film about the most natural thing in the world, growing up.
Runner up- Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu- Birdman
Happy Golden Globes everyone!

The Imitation Game (2014) film review

Year: 2014
Running Time: 114 minutes
Director: Morten Tyldum
Writers: Andrew Hodges (book), Graham Moore (screenplay)
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Mark Strong, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance, Alex Lawther

The Imitation Game is now showing in Australian cinemas and is distributed by Roadshow Films. Now showing in the United States and United Kingdom.

With an incredibly strong cast and screenplay, The Imitation Game is an extremely solid and highly enjoyable film. Looking at the relatively recent discovery of how Alan Turing and his associates came to play a major part in ending World War II, it is Benedict Cumberbatch who is at the centre of the film and truly makes it a memorable experience with his incredible performance.

In 1939 Great Britain, war has just been declared and one of the country's greatest mathematical minds, Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) has just been employed by the government to help crack the code of the German's encryption device, Enigma. As Enigma's code resets each day, it is an extremely difficult talk and a race against time, but to break it would bring about the end of the war. A team of great minds are assembled alongside Alan to try to solve Enigma, including champion chess player, Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) and Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). In order to do this, Alan builds his own machine to work against the Germans, a decision that is not made without criticism from those around him. However, if Alan can get the machine (which he has affectionately called Christopher) to crack Enigma's code, it would be the greatest weapon against the enemy and would once again bring peace to the world.

The story of Alan Turing is not only intriguing, but one which everyone should hear in order to understand that it wasn't the weapons on the battlefield that ultimately made a difference. Some of the greatest minds worked in top secret conditions to bring peace to the world. As this part of history was kept a government secret for over 50 years, this story has not been told on the screen before and brings a new understanding to the quest for peace in the war years. The Imitation Game is a truly unique experience for this reason and it's screenplay does the story of Alan Turing's life and most important achievement complete justice. As well as chronicling the war days, flashbacks to Alan's childhood are used to connect the viewer to and understand the character of Alan further. The screenplay is exceptionally well written and the dialogue very witty and surprisingly hilarious at times. As Alan Turing wasn't particularly sociable, he suffered from a lack of personal skills and his honesty and reactions to certain aspects of human behaviour and speech are highly amusing.

The film isn't continuously suspenseful, but rather has bursts of tension. These moments are actually quite eerie, as one can feel the tension of the characters on screen trying to work against time to solve the code and prevent the war continuing with thousands of lives being lost. They are connected to the war and although they are working far away from it, in the moments of silence at the end of the day you can somehow hear the sounds on the battlefield far away. The film is quite moving at times, but it is the story which is most powerful.

With the majority of The Imitation Game being set in 1939-1942, the film is incredibly nostalgic. The costumes and production design are perfect for the time period, but the attitudes captured are also time relevant. Being female, Joan is always the outsider of the group and although she is in fact a woman quite ahead of her time, the way everyone around her see's her is perfectly suited to the time period.

While the screenplay is brilliant, it is Benedict Cumberbatch that The Imitation Game will most be remembered for. Cumberbatch is absolutely brilliant as the quirky genius. He channels Turing wonderfully and gives an incredibly controlled performance. He delivers his comedic lines perfectly and is able to become likable to the viewer while behaving hostile, but he also plays the damaged Alan so well. It is a role which shows Cumberbatch's versatility as an actor as he shows the many sides of Alan with such conviction.

Although none of the other characters in the film are really given a great deal of background or development, the rest of the cast all have strong screen presences and work perfectly alongside Cumberbatch. Keira Knightley is wonderful as Joan Clarke in a performance which is also controlled and strong without being forced. Charles Dance, Mark Strong and Matthew Goode all have tremendous screen presence and also do very well.

The Imitation Game is a unique story which is not widely known, but one that should be. Benedict Cumberbatch proves his incredible versatility as an actor and ultimately carries the film to the success that it is.


Friday, January 9, 2015

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) film review

Year: 2014
Running Time: 119 minutes
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Writers: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo
Cast: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Ryan

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) will open in Australian cinemas on January 15 and is distributed by 20th Century Fox. Now showing in the United States and United Kingdom.

Michael Keaton playing an ex-superhero actor in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) sounds like it could well be autobiographical. However, that it isn't and that's a beautiful thing. Birdman is a remarkable cinematic experience that showcases exquisite cinematography and editing, wonderful performances and a highly entertaining screenplay, which all show beyond doubt the filmmaking brilliance of director and co-writer Inarritu. Though the film is mostly bleak in it's outlook of life and love, it does have it's underlying uplifting themes hidden in it's black humour and slight surrealism.

Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton), the film actor who's most memorable role is that of superhero Birdman, is trying to make his acting comeback on the stage by directing and starring in an adaptation of 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Love". He puts everything on the line for this play including his finances and reputation, but also his relationship with his daughter, Sam (Emma Stone) who is fresh out of rehab and acting as his PA. Riggon can't seem to catch a break on his stage with the actions of his erratic actors (especially the unpredictable latecomer Mike (Edward Norton)) and mishaps stopping the company from having a perfect run through before opening night and making Riggan believe that maybe he really is just Birdman.

Birdman is absolutely superb film making. The screenplay is incredibly detailed and unpredictable with colourful dialogue that is witty, hilarious and entertaining. Riggan's story treads the line between realism and surrealism which could make it hard for some to figure out, but is an unique method of ensuring the films unpredictability. Inarritu ensures that the characters of Broadway and their situations are realistic to those of the world theatre world, but has fun in letting anything go with Riggan and his Birdman alter ego. The relationship between Riggan and Birdman is a particularly interesting one. Like many actors who are typecast as a result of an iconic role they have played, Riggan is trying to be rid of the Birdman persona he is known by and the voice of the character who has become a part of him in his head. However, it would seem that Riggan cannot be separated from Birdman so the two are actually one in the same. What the film is saying here is that rather than be ashamed of the past, one needs to take the best of what the past gave you and believe that you are special for it and only then will others believe that you are special. Birdman does this in an extremely innovative, memorable and unexpected way.

Birdman's brilliance is not at all limited to it's screenplay. Inarritu's piece of cinematic art plays with the technical side of the form and makes the film visually captivating. The impression is given that Birdman is filmed in one shot, but it is the incredible use of sly editing which makes this possible. The camera produces what seems to be one long tracking shot, in which characters are followed by the camera to where the next scene takes place. This was extremely ambitious, but executed so well that it is genius. It feels as though the camera is a living being running after each of the characters and moving from side to side with haste as if listening to and watching characters address each other. The musical score is also unique with the large majority of it being primarily percussion and this fits right in with the Broadway atmosphere. Although the majority of the film is set inside the St James Theatre in New York City, when the characters step outside one can feel the cool city air and the bustle of being on the ground or the feeling of freedom being removed when looking down on Times Square.

With this role, Michael Keaton completely reinvents himself. No one ever doubted Keaton's ability as an actor, but with his portrayal of the desperate Riggan he undoubtedly gives the best performance of his career. It would have been expected for his character to be distraught about not being able to break free of his Birdman persona and although there are hints at this annoyance, this is not what his performance is about. It is about a man who is desperate in every area of his life and who's life keeps intercepting with the role he is playing on stage. Keaton has many shining moments and his Riggan is a character which the viewer truly cares about and connects with.

Emma Stone, like Keaton, gives the best performance of her career. She gives a controlled but evolving performance throughout the film, though she has one truly spectacular scene with Keaton filmed in close up in which her dialogue is brilliantly delivered but her expressions speaks louder than words. Edward Norton is also very good as Mike, an actor who relies greatly on the practise of method acting and struggles to understand who he is away from the stage as a result. Norton captures the notion of being confidant in not knowing who you are perfectly. Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough and Zach Galifinakis all also shine in their roles.

Birdman is a cinematic triumph in so many areas. Inarritu has not only brought out the very best in all of his actors, but has also created a fine piece of cinema artwork.


Monday, January 5, 2015

St. Vincent (2014) film review

Year: 2014
Running Time: 102 minutes
Director and Writer: Theodore Melfi
Cast: Bill Murray, Jaeden Lieberher, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Scott Adsit, Chris O'Dowd

St. Vincent is now showing in Australian cinemas and is distributed by Roadshow Films.

Theodore Melfi's St. Vincent is a perfect example of how the right casting can create something truly special from a story which is not completely innovative. While the film is indeed well made, the story of Vincent and his neighbours is not overly creative and rather predictable. However, it is the characters which are extremely well developed and absolutely fascinating that are brought to life by wonderful performances that truly make the film a completely memorable experience.

When one has the misfortune of meeting Vincent (Bill Murray), it is obvious with his extreme brutal honesty, disregard for personal hygiene and aggressive outlook that he is not a people person. That becomes problematic when recently divorced Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) move in next door and Vincent offers to look after Oliver each day after school for a chosen fee. Oliver finds that he cannot change who Vincent is, but he sees past his tough front and understands who this man truly is.

While the screenplay is beautifully written and Theodore Melfi is a wonderful storyteller, it is not a revolutionary story with a great deal of originality. The story of a youngster befriending someone from an older generation and the two of them finding out how much they need each other is a film plot that seems to come around periodically and when it does always offers little unpredictability. It has become a story which can now only really work in a film if the screenplay is exceptionally strong and has intriguing characters which connect on an emotional level with audiences. St. Vincent is indeed one of these films. Melfi does a wonderful job at turning a story so often told before into a fresh cinematic experience with his wonderful direction in this character driven film.

 It is in this way that St. Vincent is a film which relies more on it's characters than it does it's story in order for it to work. Without the incredibly interesting and deep characters brought to life in brilliant performances by Murray, McCarthy and Watts, the film would feel rather ordinary and unmemorable. This is not to say that the film has only one good aspect, as this is not the case. It's soundtrack fits well with the tone of the film and the cinematography gives the audience the chance to really feel what it is like to be in the Brooklyn which the film is set in. There are some truly tender and emotional moments in the film, some of which are tragic and others completely heart warming. However, it are the characters and performances that allow one to forget how many times they have seen this story done in film before.

The casting of the four main characters in St. Vincent is perfect. Unlike many protagonists, Bill Murray ensures that Vincent wins no fans as the film opens. He is repulsive and repellent, which makes he and his story all the more intriguing. He never completely restores himself in the audience's eyes, yet he does produce moments which evoke sympathy and he is still enormously entertaining to watch as a result. Murray is excellent in the lead and gives an incredibly well rounded performance of a complex human being. He has wonderful on screen chemistry with young Jaeden Lieberher, who in his feature film debut does wonderfully. The way in which his character of Oliver develops throughout the film is incredibly portrayed by an actor of such a young age.

As the broken Maggie, Melissa McCarthy gives her best performance to date. From her first moments on screen as her and Oliver move into the house next door to Vincent, one feels her overwhelming sadness and pities her without even knowing the full scope of the situation her and Oliver have found themselves in. Maggie is McCarthy's most likable role in her career so far and shows her incredible dramatic ability. On the other hand, Naomi Watts as Vincent's pregnant Russian stripper girlfriend, Daka paddles into the unknown waters of comedy (if her role in the dud Movie 43 is neglected) and is an absolute delight. Although her character has some moments of distaste as Vincent does, the heavily pregnant lady of the night is larger than life in personality and Watts is a complete joy in this role.

St. Vincent is an example of starting with something that is neither overly interesting or special, and understanding what to do in order to make it special.