Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Pan (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 111 minutes
Director: Joe Wright
Writers: J.M. Barrie (characters), Jason Fuchs
Cast: Levi Miller, Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund, Rooney Mara, Adeel Akhtar, Amanda Seyfried, Kathy Burke, Jimmy Vee, Cara Delevingne

Pan open in Australian cinemas on September 24 and is distributed by Roadshow Films. To be released in the United States on October 9 and the United Kingdom on October 16.

Pan comes in with the tidal wave of prequels and sequels to much loved family classics gracing our screens this year. J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan" has already met it's sequel in 1991's Hook, but the idea of a prequel does spark interest as there are questions that need answering from the original. How did Peter Pan come to be the beloved warrior and leader of the Lost Boys? How does Peter Pan fly? Was he born in Neverland? What did become of his family?

There is a great deal of potential there for a strong origins story about the boy who never grows up, all it needed was a good screenplay that answered these questions. The questions are absolutely answered, but the screenplay encompassing the story is incredibly weak and bitterly disappointing. Joe Wright's direction of all things intriguing and beautiful does little to enhance the flat dialogue he is faced with and what results is a film that knows the story it is trying to tell, but isn't sure how to tell it.

During World War II, many children in London were orphaned and among them a rather mischievous small boy named Peter (Levi Miller), who was left on the step of an orphanage by his mother when he was a baby. He starts to notice that other boys have been disappearing at night and it is only a matter of time before he is one of the chosen ones who is shipped off to Neverland to serve the formidable pirate, Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). Peter is one of the lucky ones who makes it out of Blackbeard's clutches alive and sets out on a journey across Neverland, as he is convinced that this is where the mother he has been searching for so long is living and waiting for him. What awaits for him is adventure like he never imagined and the realisation of how important he really is.

The original story of "Peter Pan" was a tale for all ages and over the years has inspired many remakes and variations. Pan will inevitably draw comparisons to several of these films and while the production design and special effects are particularly stunning and superior to the large majority of predecessors, what it lacks in comparison is being a film for families as a whole. It is true, the screenplay is extremely basic in both dialogue and story so it is easy for children to follow. However, the film is also quite dark and can also be quite intimidating for little children on the big screen. Despite beautiful production design, the film lacks a great deal of well deserved colour, which is something the film is screaming for. The only scene which does impress with it's colour through lovely costume design is with the tribes, but this is not an appropriate scene for children as it is quite violent.

On the other hand, Pan does come across as too basic for adults to fall in love with. The film is not an emotional experience nor are there any underlying themes to bring further meaning to it. There's also the especially strange inclusion of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana and "Hey Ho, Let's Go" by The Ramones which are sure to raise a few eyebrows due to their bizarre appearance in the film. Pan also presents one with frustrating unanswered questions in its final moments and inconsistencies between the film and the original story. No sequel for this film is on the cards, so one cannot help but feel cheated when a gap in story is left between Pan and when he meets Wendy, Michael and John in "Peter Pan". Another strange decision by writer, Jason Fuchs is to include hints of flirting between Hook (Garrett Hedlund) and Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), which seems a lame attempt purely to include some romance in the film.

The characters themselves are also problematic. While Levi Miller is fine as Peter Pan and rather enjoyable, Blackbeard and Hook are badly constructed characters and Hook in particular is given some strange characteristics. Hugh Jackman's Blackbeard is not given much of a background story as to who he really is and how he came to be the evil man with no consideration for human life. Although Blackbeard does have some of the best lines in the film and it is Jackman's comedic timing that provides a source of entertainment. Garrett Hedlund's James Hook is incredibly exaggerated. Physically and vocally he resembles Indiana Jones more than the traditional idea of the man he is yet to become.

Pan is a disappointment to it's film relatives. It acts as an adolescent who is still not quite sure who they are, but is attempting to be everything to everyone...which ultimately never works when you are trying too hard.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Blinky Bill the Movie (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 90 minutes
Director: Deane Taylor, Noel Cleary (co-director), Alexs Stadermann (co-director) and Alex Weight (co-director)
Cast: (voices) Ryan Kwanten, Deborah Mailman, Barry Otto, Rufus Sewell, Robin McLeavy, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, Toni Collette, Barry Humphries

Blinky Bill the Movie is now showing in Australian cinemas and is distributed by Studiocanal.

Blinky Bill the Movie follows the trend we are currently seeing with children's stories being adapted to film. The excitement the cuddly, mischievous koala will create by once again being on the big screen will be infectious with those who grew up reading the "Blinky Bill" books by Dorothy Wall which were first published in the 1930's and watching the animated television series in the early 1990's. However, it is these loyal fans who will feel the greatest blow by Blinky Bill the Movie. The newest tale of Blinky Bill and his friends is aimed wholly at the younger generation, which is wonderful for introducing them to this Australian animated icon. Yet it is a let down for those who have grown up with him and are seeking to embrace his return to the screen.

In this updated version of Blinky Bill, our cute and cuddly hero (voiced by Ryan Kwanten) is the naughtiest little koala in his home of Green Patch in the Australian bush. His father, the great adventurer Bill Koala (Richard Roxburgh) was last seen embarking on a trip into the Outback and has not been seen for months and is assumed to be dead by everyone, except Blinky. Against his mother's wishes, he sets out to find his beloved father and bring him home. He soon finds that the Outback is an unforgiving place and that there are those out there who are not friends of koalas, including feral cat (Rufus Sewell) has a score to settle with koalas and will stop at nothing to take his revenge.

Visually, Blinky Bill the Movie is a solid animation effort. The character of Blinky Bill as we know him has been given a makeover and thanks to the advancements of CGI, his world is a great deal more colourful than what is has been in the past. Blinky himself is still a cute little critter in this new form of animation, though perhaps not as endearing as he once was.

Blinky Bill the Movie leaves a lot to be desired for it's older audience, though it will still prove to be a hit with the younger audiences this school holidays. The story is very basic without a great deal of emotion and promotes the popular concepts that appear in family films of belief in oneself and the importance of family. Blinky Bill the Movie is a prologue film of sorts as it introduces Blinky for the first time and explains how he came to be an adventurer and meet his friends, including the character of Nutsy who is featured in earlier "Blinky Bill" works. This concept of a prologue film is another trend in children's films at the present time and while it may give an original telling of the concept, it can still not be an original story on a grand scale. 

Like the story itself, the dialogue and humour is exceptionally basic. Even though the script tries harder to give the little ones laughs, there are still some moments which will delight older viewers. The character of Jacko, the wacky lizard voiced by David Wenham has some comical moments, as does Wombo the wombat (voiced by Barry Humphries), who seems to have had a little too much sun. Many adults will find that the highlight of the film occurs in the opening scene where a game of bush cricket is taking place and Billy Birmingham of The 12th Man fame makes a hilarious voice cameo. Blinky Bill the Movie is very much a proud Australian film and many of the jokes and references will be lost on those who are not living in or have lived in Australia, including the ones made during this game of bush cricket, which will also be lost on anyone who isn't a cricket fan.

There is no denying that Blinky Bill the Movie is an easy school holiday movie that the younger ones will enjoy for it's simplicity and talking animals. However, despite a few humorous moments, the loyal Blinky Bill fans who have stuck by him for decades will be disappointed at the lack of substance and respect they are given in the film.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Everest (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 121 minutes
Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Writers: Simon Beaufoy and William Nicholson
Cast: Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Keira Knightley, Emily Watson, John Hawkes, Michael Kelly, Robin Wright, Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Debicki, Martin Henderson

Everest opens in Australian cinemas on September 17 and is distributed by Universal Pictures. Opens in the United States on September 24 and the United Kingdom September 18.

Everest is an incredibly tense and brutally honest film based on horrifying true events that took place at one of the world's most dangerous and beautiful locations, which does not disappoint on any level. The world's highest peak, Mount Everest has always been the source of fascination and wonder for mankind and to many it has also symbolised achievement. The chance for adventure seekers all around the world to summit Everest has grown to be a highly marketable business and in May 1996, the mountain's base camp was at capacity with five teams set to summit on the 10th. The mountain proved too much for many of the climbers to make it to the top, but just after many of the participants did summit a dangerous blizzard hit the area. What resulted was the darkest day in Everest's history to date.

Based on the memoirs and accounts of the survivors of the tragedy, Everest has a magnificent way of telling a story whilst building and maintaining tension. Films based on true events tend to have a challenge developing a level of suspense when their audience is aware of the incident and it's outcome. Everest avoids this stigma as the events which took place in May 1996 occurred in one of the world's most dangerous places and allow the dramatic story to have an action/adventure edge to it which heightens the opportunity for suspense. Much of the tension also comes from the fact that this film is based on true events so taps into people's worst fears.

Everest does not attempt to sugar coat the experience of climbing the world's highest mountain. The attempt to summit does not only involve a physical strain on the body due to the climbing itself, but also the hazards involved with the body at high altitudes. There are some rather confronting scenes which involve how the body was not meant to withstand the altitude at which Mount Everest stands. The screenplay gives one the understanding of why people choose to climb the mountain, but also why others would never attempt it. The majority of the screenplay is aligned with fact and stays true to the accounts of those involved who survived. However, there are several scenes involving those who didn't survive which are obviously fictionalized and imagined for dramatic effect as there is no way one could know exactly how these certain instances took place.

While Everest is considered one of the most dangerous places on Earth, it is also one of the most stunning which is a major reason why it is a another major draw for adventure seekers. The mountain and it's section of the Himalayas in Nepal is captured to perfection on camera in Everest. The aesthetics of the film allow one to feel as though they are on the mountain themselves feeling the extreme cold, but also marvelling at it's beauty. The cinematography by Salvatore Totino is exquisite and the editing by Mick Audsley fantastic.

The multi-protagonist nature of the film allows for well-rounded characters to be developed and wonderful performances to be created. It is with the attention paid to each of the characters and their motives that allow one the understand the fascination of Mount Everest before judging people for putting their lives in danger. Jason Clarke give a solid and convincing performance as Rob Hall, the leader of the Adventure Consultants expedition team. While Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays the quirky guide for the Mountain Madness crew Scott Fischer, is fine, but it feels as though his character wasn't given a great deal to work with. Josh Brolin gives perhaps the strongest performance of the climbers on the mountain as Beck Weathers. His character develops throughout the film from a cocky adrenalin seeker to being vulnerable under the power of the mountain. As Rob Hall's wife, Jan, Keira Knightley is also very good and makes the most of her limited screen time as her character waits at home for her beloved husband to return.

Everest is a particularly strong hybrid of drama and adventure that avoids the general pitfalls of films based on real life events. It's suspenseful and terrifying nature is met with breathtakingly beautiful images and allows for an experience that is devastating, but intriguing.


Friday, September 4, 2015

Straight Outta Compton (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 147 minutes
Director: F. Gary Gray
Writers: S, Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus (story), Andrea Berloff (story and screenplay) and Jonathan Herman (screenplay)
Cast: O'Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, Paul Giamatt, R. Marcos Taylor

Straight Outta Compton is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed in Australia by Universal Pictures.

The highly anticipated Straight Outta Compton is an extremely detailed look at the story and legacy behind U.S. rap band, N.W.A. who were active in the late 1980's and early 1990's. It is a piece of cinema which will be moving for those who were admirers of the band and it's music and while not quite as moving for those who aren't familiar with N.W.A, still incredibly informative, entertaining and enjoyable.

Formed on the mean streets of L.A.'s Compton in the 80's when racial tensions were running high, N.W.A. consisted of neighbourhood boys Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr Dre (Corey Hawkins), MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.). Although criticised for it's violent content and explicit language, the band's music represented their reality and the inequality they felt growing up. Becoming wildly popular across the country, the band was never short of drama wherever they went with their wild lifestyle and music often inciting violence at their concerts, but behind the scenes was just as tense and unpredictable.

Straight Outta Compton is an ambitious, but ultimately successful film. The story of N.W.A . and individual band members is not a simple one to tell and is many faceted. The film is not just a straightforward history of the band which is the pitfall of many biopics, but it also tells the cultural significance of N.W.A. and their music. For those who are not familiar with the gangster rap genre which the band revolutionized, Straight Outta Compton makes one come to an understanding about the music and realise that the explicit content is not for the sake of shock, but an response fuelled by anger to the events they played witness to and involuntarily had been a part of. The film also demonstrates how and why the band's music was and still is important to so many people and came to be a soundtrack to historic events such as the Los Angeles Riots in 1992. Even for those who were not a fan of the band or their genre, with Straight Outta Compton comes a new found respect for their music and message.

There is so much content to fit in this story about N.W.A and it is an absolute credit to the screenwriters Andrea Berloff and Jonathan Herman that they were able to include as much as they could to give what is an almost complete story of the band including their cultural impact. However, as is the case with films that do have so much to say, a great deal of emotion and power is lost in certain areas. This is not a general observation as the film is indeed powerful in particular scenes, but some events are skimmed over rather quickly (such as the band's arrest in Detroit and Dr Dre's police chase) and the ensuing consequences not greatly explained. This was always going to be problematic as in order to tell a complete N.W.A story with so much included some things were going to have to be left behind. As is the case with a biopic who's subject or subject is still alive, there are also several truths eliminated from the band's history in order to protect the reputations of the remaining members. This could again be put down to trying to fit so much into the film, or the inevitable outcome of outcome of having Dr Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E's widow, Tomica Woods-Wright in producing roles which obviously comes with a certain degree of power.

Telling the story of the band and the five band members (with the greatest focus on Eazy-E, Ice Cube and Dr, Dre) takes place over an eight year period from 1987-1995. The film channels this era very well and is rather nostalgic. The recreation of South Los Angeles in the late 1980's brings an atmosphere of peril and tension to the film in it's opening stages and the contrast between where the band comes from and where they arrive at are at opposite ends of the spectrum, yet the are both felt with a feeling of dread. It is particularly worth seeing Straight Outta Compton on the big screen for the optimal music experience. Not surprisingly one of the main features of the film is the music of N.W.A and the band members as solo artists. The most entertaining musical scenes are absolutely the recreation of their live shows, which are rather enjoyable regardless if one is a fan of rap or not.

Straight Outta Compton boasts some wonderful acting performances, particularly those of the film's three main stars. Jason Mitchell portrays Eazy-E with an incredible presence and wonderful strength, which is evident in his very first scene and does not falter throughout the film. Corey Hawkins is very good as Dr Dre and perhaps gives the most emotional performance. Much of the film's media attention has been drawn towards O'Shea Jackson Jr. who is playing his real life father, O'Shea Jackson AKA Ice Cube. One does wonder whether his performance is a drawn out imitation of his father, but regardless he is extremely powerful in his delivery of dialogue and has a great deal of on screen presence. Paul Giamatti also does well as the band's manager, Jerry Heller and special mention must be given to Marcc Rose, who although is only on screen or a very short amount of time as Tupac Shakur makes an incredible impact for his uncanny likeness to the late singer.

Straight Outta Compton is one of the more successful music biopics to have been released in recent years. For an outsider learning about the band and it's history for the first time, it may not pack the emotional punch felt by those who are N.W.A. fans due to the overwhelming amount of content included. Yet, it is still a great accomplishment to have such a detailed screenplay and extremely entertaining to play witness to.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Ricki and The Flash (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 101 minutes
Director: Jonathan Demme
Writer: Diablo Cody
Cast: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer, Rick Springfield, Sebastian Stan, Ben Platt

Ricki and The Flash is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed in Australia by Sony Pictures

Apart from the ever strong presence of Meryl Streep and an enjoyable, enthusiastic soundtrack, Ricki and the Flash fails to leave a lasting impression as a result of it's uneventful and exceptionally light screenplay. Middle-aged rock chick, Ricki (Meryl Streep) seemingly lives an uninspired life where she is unfulfilled by her ill-paying supermarket day job and playing with her band The Flash as the house band at the bar, The Salt Well in Los Angeles. Her world is shaken up and the guilt of the past comes back to haunt her when she receives a call from her ex-husband, Pete (Kevin Kline) telling her that her daughter, Julie (Mamie Gummer) has just been left by her husband and is in a bad way. Ricki travels back to Indiana to face the wrath of her three children for leaving them years ago to pursue her dream of becoming a rock star.

Ricki and the Flash is a somewhat disappointing screenwriting effort for Diablo Cody. The screenplay comes with a message that Streep's Ricki verbalises during the film which is that women have to choose between being a mother and following their dreams and will often get condemned for choosing career while men are applauded for it. The example of Ricki in this film is an exaggerated one, but the essence of it is a provocative message which is a topic that is discussed more and more often in today's society. Yet, the script that exists around this notion is rather lifeless and cannot decide whether it is supposed to be dramatic or comedic, which results in the film as a whole being rather light and soft. The overall feeling Ricki and the Flash leaves one with by the end of the film is not that of closure, but a sense of how unrealistic the atonement presented is. However, the film can be commended for avoiding certain stereotypes often presented in reconciliation films and the usual plot points that are included which is rather refreshing.

Yet one of the factors that does save the film is the true object of Ricki's affection (not her on screen boyfriend Greg played by singer Rick Springfield), her music. The soundtrack contains both current and classic songs which are refashioned in the style of Ricki and her band. Despite how anticlimactic story-wise the film turns out to be, the finale is at least a lot of fun thanks to Ricki's music.

The other saving factor of Ricki and the Flash is Meryl Streep, who can make any film seem a greater success thanks to her presence. Streep slips into the persona of Ricki easily and makes one feel empathy towards the character regardless of how questionable some of her decisions are and quirky her behaviour is. Like the chameleon she is, she also has no problem pulling off a believable rock chick persona and appearance. Starring opposite Streep is her real life daughter, Mamie Gummer who shows tremendous talent and potential. She does not back down from her role as the emotionally unstable Julie and in some scenes even outshines her mother. Rick Springfield gives a solid performance and is also rather likable.

Even though Ricki and the Flash attempts to carry a message which is relevant and beneficial, the film itself remains rather unmemorable and even the force of Meryl Streep cannot redeem it's lack of impact.