Wednesday, October 28, 2015

June (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 84 minutes
Director: L. Gustavo Cooper
Writers: Sharon Y. Cobb and L. Gustavo Cooper
Cast: Kennedy Brice, Victoria Pratt, Casper Van Dien, Eddie Jemison, Lance E. Nichols, Juliette Beavan, Addy Miller

June is now available on DVD and VOD in the United States and Australia.

June takes the somewhat tired horror cinema concept of evil spirit possession and breathes unexpected new life into it. With a young title character who is both sympathetic and terrifying simultaneously, L. Gustavo Cooper exquisite film making enables the creation of a horror film that is suspenseful with a welcomed emotional edge that sets it apart from other films of it's genre.

As a baby, June's (Kennedy Brice) parents offered her as a sacrifice in a cult ritual that went horribly wrong and the result was the supernatural being, Aer entering June and using her body as a vessel. At nine years old, June is being moved from home to home as a result of the strange and dangerous happenings that occur when she is around and her extreme introvert nature which immediately makes her an outsider. When she is fostered by Lily (Victoria Pratt) and Dave Anderson (Casper Van Dien), it seems as though she has finally found the perfect home with a loving and understanding family. However, June's past is about to catch up with her and the terror is only just beginning.

On first glance, June may draw comparisons to a number of other films of the horror genre including Firestarter, The Exorcist and Carrie, but it has it's own sense of identity and originality. June is continuously fighting the spirit, Aer within her and struggling to find which parts of herself are actually her and which are Aer. June is a story about finding out who you really are and fighting against your inner demons to overcome the obstacles that are preventing you from being yourself. However, this does not prevent the film from being extremely suspenseful and terrifying at times. The empathy that one has for June and her situation only makes the suspense greater as nobody wants to see someone so young who has had so much sadness in her life be the subject of these dreaded supernatural occurrences.

Cooper's film making style shows hints of Alfred Hitchcock, especially in regards to his use of montage in the opening sequence and range of camera shots throughout the film. June is really a beautifully shot film with some exquisite shots of nature and intriguing camera angles. The beauty of the nature shots forms an extreme contrast to the mayhem of the rage scenes in the film, symbolising the opposites of June and Aer. The original musical score by Sean and Juliette Beavan (who also plays the Priestess in the film) adds to the atmosphere of the film and it's versatility supports the two sides of June.

Kennedy Brice is perfectly cast in the lead role of June. June is an extremely complex character as her possession by Aer is not all-encompassing of who she is and is something she fears and dreads as much as anyone else, which is unique in a horror film about possession. From early on, June is established as a poor little girl who is aware that she is not only different, but also dangerous and keeps her distance from people for fear of hurting them. June is a particularly relatable character for this reason, as many people have a part of them that they are afraid will lead to someone being hurt if they expose them to it, whether it be something from their past or a condition they have. It is an unique thing to find such a character in a horror genre film that can be so relatable. One understands how Lily can form such an attachment to her as there is an immediate sympathy felt for this poor little girl who wants so badly to be loved, but is afraid to. Brice evokes this sympathy from the audience superbly and manages to be sweet and lovable, yet terrifying.

Lily and Dave Anderson, who are portrayed by Victoria Pratt and Casper Van Dien, are the perfect parents for a troubled child like June. Pratt's performance is incredibly emotional and heartfelt and she provides a maternal and nurturing side to Lily that makes her extremely likable. Van Dien's Dave is a character that one also feels sympathy for as he really has done nothing wrong and seems completely reasonable, but feels the wrath of Aer who he believes is June.

June has greater depth and character than many of the other films it is pooled with and compared to in the horror genre. Well made and tightly written to encompass emotion and suspense, June pleasantly surprises and pleases.


Monday, October 26, 2015

Crimson Peak (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 119 minutes
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writers: Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam

Crimson Peak is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed in Australia by Universal Pictures.

Guillermo del Toro's Crimson Peak has an incredibly creative and beautiful sense of self visually with it's atmospheric gothic recreation of nineteenth century New York and England.  However, with no narrative sense of individuality or unpredictability, the film that would seem to be perfection at the hands of fantasy/horror master del Toro is an unfortunate mash up of past films and is so much so that it loses its identity as a story.

Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) has been confronted by the harsh reality of death in life since she was a young girl and has been haunted by the restless from beyond the grave since the death of her mother. She is quite taken by an English stranger, Thomas Sharpe ( Tom Hiddleston) who stirs up life in the New York home she shares with her father (Jim Beaver). A tragic turn of events leads Edith to accept Thomas' marriage proposal and move to his family home of Allerdale Hall in rural England which he shares with his hostile sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Upon her arrival, Edith is greeted by many of the ghosts which haunt her new home and their presence opens a terrifying past that involves her new family.

Gothic horror is often craved by cinema goers who want to experience the old-fashioned atmospheric mode of the genre that used to be so terrifying in the early days of cinema. Unfortunately this sub-genre has not seen much success in the past decade due to the observation that while the production design has got progressively better, the screenplays have lacked intrigue and creativity. The majority of successful and remotely original and unpredictable horror films seen in recent times have been those set in the present and reasonably low budget. Crimson Peak comes at a time when audiences are thirsty for a scary film with a historical backbone to it and with a stellar cast and Guillermo del Toro at the reins, was anticipated to fill the void.

So there is a great deal of disappointment when Crimson Peak is incredible to look at, but predictable and does not hold suspense well right from the beginning. The film has a wonderful sense of identity through it's visuals. which does in fact make it a memorable experience. The production design by Thomas E. Sanders is absolutely exquisite, particularly of Allerdale Hall and it's interiors. Every room within the great house is visually intriguing with it's period appropriate features and perfect symmetry which make them delightful to behold on screen. The costume design by Kate Hawley is also most attractive. The design aspects of the film work incredibly well to give a superb nostalgic atmosphere and make it an aesthetic treat.

The incredible design does seem a waste in a film that really isn't sure what it is. Like the book which Edith is writing, the film makers claim that Crimson Peak is not a horror film even though it has ghosts in it, but a gothic romance. If this is so, it is an example of a romance with minimal romantic chemistry or tension and very little reference to love between husband and wife, but more so between brother and sister. Crimson Peak could perhaps be classified more as a mystery with the inclusion of some terrifying images during it. The screenplay pulls inspiration from a number of horror films from the past and this leads even more so to it's lack of creativity and identity. The majority of comparisons story wise seem to be being made between Crimson Peak and the 1940 Academy Award winner, Rebecca. However, the comparison between the two is only fragmented after one gets past the idea that they are both set in big houses which a woman's new husband has inherited and the slight similarities of their pasts. With some aspects of Rebecca, Crimson Peak becomes a story with the influences of other films such as The Haunting, The Woman in Black (or more likely from the novel the film is based on) and 1995's Haunted. Del Toro and Matthew Robbins screenplay feels more like a collection of pieces of other horror films thrown together and although it avoids feeling messy, does not feel creative or unpredictable in the slightest. The film relies more upon it's visuals of supernatural beings to create tension and suspense rather than it's story, which leads to moments of suspense being sporadic.

While the screenplay brings the film down, the talented cast do the very best with what they are presented with. Mia Wasikowska does very well in her role as Edith Cushing with a real emotional edge to her performance and ability to grasp the inner terror felt by her character. Jessica Chastain embraces the cold and hostile nature of her character, Lucille Sharp and does not falter for a moment during the film out of her terrifying nature, while Tom Hiddleston is awfully charismatic as Thomas Sharp.

Crimson Peak is incredibly intriguing and memorable from a production and design point of view, but lacks screenplay strength and originality. It's release time is perfectly scheduled to coincide with Halloween as if all else fails, it does provide some pretty terrifying ghostly images.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Bridge of Spies (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 142 minutes
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Matt Charman, Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Billy Magnussen, Austin Stowell, Will Rogers, Sebastian Koch

Bridge of Spies opens in Australian cinemas on October 22 and is distributed by 20th Century Fox. Opening in the United States on October 16 and the United Kingdom on November 26.

The intrigue and suspense provoked by Bridge of Spies reconfirms Steven Spielberg's status as one of the greatest cinematic storytellers of our time. The Academy Award winning filmmaker's ability to take on a screenplay based on a well known true story and conjure up a strong sense of suspense and intensity all while ensuring that the piece of work is visually fascinating is extraordinary and exhibited wonderfully in his latest film.

Spielberg works with the screenplay written by Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen in a way that makes you overlook the small inconsistences and deem them forgivable. While the screenplay is not air tight and there may be forgivable reasons for this, it is still extremely intelligent, entertaining and contains the witty edge that one can expect from a Coen brothers creation.

Set during the Cold War in the 1950's, James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks), an insurance lawyer who is very much out of practise with criminal law, is assigned by the CIA to defend alleged Russian spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). Although Abel is tried and convicted of espionage, Jim is able to convince the judge that his client is worth more to America alive than dead and saves Abel from the electric chair. His intuition pays off as an American spy plane pilot, Francis Powers (Austin Stowell) is shot down in enemy territory and convicted, unable to return to America. Jim is once again called upon to travel to East Berlin to negotiate an exchange between Abel and Powers, but he also makes the decision to try and exchange Abel for both Powers and Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) an American Economics student who was captured being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This decision is not a popular one with anyone, but Jim stands strong behind his decision and risks it all.

Bridge of Spies is undeniably packed with intrigue and suspense that is so often lost in a cinematic retelling of a true story. The film is largely accurate despite some expected over-dramatization to move the pace of the story along quicker (such as the speeding up of time lapses between events) and to create a greater sense of suspense and tension. Spielberg's direction is absolutely superb in that he knows how to bring out the most in every situation through mise en scene. Everything and everyone in the film is perfectly placed so that Bridge of Spies resembles a work of art and is truly exquisite to behold. The entire film is so beautifully polished and neat that one is transfixed by the story and visuals, which is what gives one a true sense of captivation for the entire length of the film.

As previously touched upon, the screenplay is not completely air tight with certain subplots being left unfulfilled, such as the romance between Jim's daughter, Carol (Eve Hewson) and his assistant, Doug (Billy Magnussen). One can make the assumption that at 142 minutes, there may have had to have been some editing and scenes removed to stop the film becoming unnecessarily long. Yet, the screenplay contains incredibly entertaining and intelligent dialogue with a surprisingly witty edge to it in moments most unsuspected. Despite the film also being one about a man who became a hero because of his negotiation skills, there is very little hero worship and patriotism. There are moments where there could have been room for extreme sentimental value, but they are thankfully left as is. This is particularly true of the pivotal bridge scene, which has a beautiful moment without fanfare that could have so easily been ruined by it. Donovan is also played out in the film as an everyday hero. He does not possess super human qualities, not does he present himself in the film as someone who feels he is on the road to doing something grand and important. This works perfectly as that is the hero people prefer to see in a film as he doesn't make people believe he is definitely going to have everything work out the way he wants, hence the sense of suspense.

Another critique one may give regarding Bridge of Spies is that there is a lack of character depth and development. The lead character of Jim Donovan is without a doubt the most well rounded and established character and this is to be expected as much of what occurs in the film involves him. One comes to know him as the family man, the persistent lawyer and talented negotiator, but still the everyday man during the film. Hanks does well to portray the man many would consider a national hero and gives a solid and strong performance, but it is not a performance that is particularly challenging nor calls for any great emotional strain. However, it is perfect casting as Hanks is truly the ideal individual to be playing Jim Donovan.

It is true that no other receives as great attention as Jim Donovan does in regards to the building of character, but this is actually a positive for the complex character of Rudolf Abel. One believes they feel confidant in knowing the intentions of the convicted Russian spy, but as Abel never speaks of his crimes against the United States, he remains a mystery and this works exceptionally well for his character. The lack of knowledge regarding Rudolf Abel and who he really is adds to his charisma and makes him absolutely intriguing. Although he is labelled as an enemy of the United States, he has a likable quality in his introvert nature that is supported by his clever dialogue. Mark Rylance gives an absolutely superb performance as the stoic and mysterious Abel and works very well on screen with Hanks.

Bridge of Spies may not be completely without it's flaws, but they are all forgivable as a result of the wonderful things it achieves. Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks once again prove they are an unbeatable force in film.


Monday, October 12, 2015

Death Valley (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 88 minutes
Director: T.J. Scott
Writers: Brad MacPherson and T.J. Scott
Cast: Katrina Law, Lochlyn Munro, Victoria Pratt, Nick E. Tarabay, Juliette Beavan, Jeremy Ratchford, Kelly Hu

Death Valley will be available in the United States on October 20 on DVD and VOD.

Death Valley is a clever psychological thrill ride that surprises and outsmarts right till the end and mesmerises with it's stunning visuals of the rugged landscape. After a wild night which results in a an impulsive dash to Las Vegas for a shotgun wedding, the joyous road trip takes an awful turn when they hit a woman alone in the middle of the road with a gun pointed straight at them. When it is realised that they have killed the woman instantly and their car is no longer drivable, opinions are divided regarding what they should do between Hollywood heavy-weight Billy Rich (Lochlyn Munro) and his little muse Annie (Katrina Law), and married couple Jamie (Victoria Pratt) and Roy (Nick E. Tarabay). As the heat starts to mix with the alcohol and other chemicals the four have ingested, personalities start to clash, paranoia sets in and cracks start to show in relationships leading to the conclusion that there is more than one way to die in Death Valley.

Tense and unpredictable, Death Valley is wonderfully thought provoking and intelligent. It teases it's audience by allowing them to believe that they are aware of all the characters flaws and motives before slowly revealing itself just as the characters are showing their true colours. The film's haunting nature leaves a lasting impression with it's air of dread and danger which is a result of both the remote location and the tricks it can play and the underlying themes. The actual Death Valley is, as it's name suggests, not the safest place on Earth to be stranded and with the assistance of drugs and alcohol heightens the stress and emotion of the experience. For some it means not taking the situation seriously and others not being able to handle the stress of the situation, but for everyone it means the experience is one of high emotions and it becomes not just the heat that is the danger, but each other.

The evil lurking underneath picture perfect Hollywood is also exposed in Death Valley. On the surface, the Hollywood lifestyle is what everyone wants with it's money, success and parties, but underneath it can sometimes not be as attractive as it seems. Once away from their lives which exist in Los Angeles, the characters realities are exposed and nothing and nobody is what they seem. This leads one also to contemplate how well we know the people we are with, as in Death Valley it seems as though each of the four believe they have the others figured out, but they are far from the truth.

T. J. Scott's direction is exquisite and he works with the elements to perfection. The extreme heat and aridity of the desert radiate off the screen using the appropriate cinematography for the location. Yet despite the pain and suffering that is attached to Death Valley, the film also captures it's beauty with some incredible shots of the rugged landscape. The soundtrack by Sean and Juliette Beavan (who also plays the doomed Holly Fields) is extremely enigmatic and fitting for the film.

The character development of the individuals in the film who are part of the unfortunate journey in Death Valley is strong and extremely well done. Each of the characters change and open up to who they really are during their trek across the desert and their pasts and true selves are revealed. When we first meet Lochlyn Munro's Billy Rich, he is arrogant and rather unlikable, but little by little he reveals his insecurities and becomes more endearing as the film progresses. Katrina Law's Annie is much the same, as she starts off making everyone believe she is a ditzy Hollywood starlet, but she is so much more than that. Law has the wonderful ability to play a number of different roles within one character. Victoria Pratt gives an incredibly emotional performance and is incredibly strong in her role as Jamie, as is Nick E. Tarabay who has so many facets to his performance that he appears to be terrifying in himself.

Death Valley comes to symbolise the relationship between dangers of the land and the intensifying of dynamics between individuals. It is a terrifying in the best of ways and unpredictable till the very end.


Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Intern (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 121 minutes
Director: Nancy Meyers
Writer: Nancy Meyers
Cast: Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Rene Russo, Adam DeVine, Anders Holm, Zack Pearlman

The Intern is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed in Australia by Roadshow Films.

Nancy Meyers' The Intern attempts to put on celluloid a snapshot of the changing face of the workplace in the 2010's in an endearing and comical fashion which is perhaps a little too light handed.

The film seeks to destroy the harsh and outdated belief that career driven women equal hardhearted individuals who are icy mothers, as well as demonstrate that older members of the work force can view retirement as a choice. With these good intentions as the backbone of the film, it is a shame to see a screenplay built around it that is rather ill-balanced and weak despite it's witty, amusing dialogue. The Intern is indeed an incredibly light watch even though it deals with complex emotions and situations, which is refreshing but at the same time frustrating to see particular issues taken so lightly.

The Intern has dual protagonists, but unlike most screenplays with such, it does not attempt to focus on the two characters simultaneously. Retiree Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) finds his new lifestyle not being in the workforce isn't as enjoyable as he thought it would be. He answers an ad for and earns a position as a Senior Intern position at About The Fit, a highly successful online clothes business run by Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). Ben is assigned to Jules to be her personal intern, a decision that does not sit well with Jules to begin with as she is very much accustomed to and satisfied with running the business and working by herself. Little by little, she opens up to Ben as she discovers what she needs more than anything else is a friend she can share her inner most thoughts and her concerns about work and life with.

As previously stated, The Intern is a look at the changing work place and specifically how people are working for longer and women can be loving wives and mothers at the same time as hard working career women. It is through the two main characters that these two ideas are expressed and they take place one after the other rather than at the same time in the screenplay, which can feel as though the film has changed direction halfway through. The Intern is almost primarily a character study of Ben in the first half of the film as it explores his personality and lifestyle as both a retiree and widower. He represents the notion that many older members of the work force do not stay in a job purely for financial reasons, but because they find that the retired life is not what they expected it to be and this is especially prevalent in those who have lost a loved one or are single. Many people do not feel fulfilled by the retired life and even feel a loss of purpose when they are without a job, such is the case of the Ben. He accepts that he is not at the top of the food chain anymore in the world, but is comfortable working for people younger than him rather than be out of the work force and bored in life.

There is then the more evident example of Jules as the hard working young woman who has both a young daughter and husband at home, who has given up his career so that Jules can flourish in hers. What Nancy Meyers is doing here is seeking to shatter the common perception that working mothers lose focus of their families and are unapproachable to friends and family. Jules is quite a likable character who's sole focus is really her family and everything she does in her business is for her family. Yet, Meyers makes sure that while she is trying to change this perception of working mothers, she also makes it clear that in society it is still not 100% accepted nor is it an easy perception to be rid of for both outsiders and those affected directly.

With the film starting off being more about Ben and then ending being more about Jules, the screenplay feels rather uneven. The script also suffers by having a lack of strength in the conflict, particularly towards the end. The film spends so much time looking at the characters and what they represent that the conflict and resolution lose impact and are addressed far too close to the end to get a clear and comfortable idea of what is going to happen to these characters. However, it is admirable that The Intern does manage to represent something that is so embedded in our current workplace culture and make it enjoyable and entertaining. The screenplay may not be perfect, but the film is rather a fun and particularly easy to watch. There are some very funny scenes and the dialogue is very well written, intriguing and witty.

The casting of Robert De Niro as Ben and Anne Hathaway as Jules is another reason as to why The Intern makes for an enjoyable viewing experience. De Niro's Ben Whittaker is incredibly likable and empathetic. He is the man everyone would want as their friend and everyone feels for him after what he has been through. Hathaway's Jules is also extremely relatable and even more so as the film progresses. One comes to know her much better as the film goes on, and as it does her performance becomes more emotional and convincing. De Niro and Hathaway work very well on screen together and their chemistry is believable and enviable.

The Intern has every good intention, but is let down by it's somewhat messy screenplay. Yet, it is completely watchable and still enjoyable thanks to it's moments of hilarity and crisp, likable performances.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Diary of A Teenage Girl (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 102 minutes
Director: Marielle Heller
Writers: Phoebe Gloeckner (novel), Marielle Heller (screenplay)
Cast: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgard, Kristen Wiig, Abby Wait, Christopher Meloni, Madeline Waters

The Diary of A Teenage Girl is now showing in limited release in Australia and is distributed by Sony Pictures.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a confronting expose of one adolescent's sexual awakening and swift transition into adulthood that is both powerful and frightening. However, it captures the mindset well of a young woman who believes she is worldly, but is still na├»ve about the distinction between love and sex, while also embracing the concept of how children subconsciously imitate their parents behaviour. Marielle Heller's film based on the novel by Phoebe Gloeckner is an exaggerated coming of age story set against the backdrop of 1970's San Francisco which will strike terror into the hearts of all those who are parents of teenage girls.

Upon meeting fifteen year old Minnie (Bel Powley), her adolescent logic regarding her sexual curiosity and then her first sexual encounter is endearingly comical. The way in which her psych approaches and then questions her new experience is fairly typical of her age and how she questions her appearance and body type in relation to how she believes the opposite sex perceives her is something every female will feel they can relate to how they felt at her age. However her days of innocently thinking about sex come to an end when she begins a heated affair with her mother's (Kristen Wiig) boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard). As their affair continues and becomes more and more intense, Minnie becomes entrenched in a dangerous world which could set her on a destructive path for both herself and her family.

While The Diary of a Teenage Girl has a surprisingly tame moral and it's underlying themes are relatable to any young woman, the film is extremely confrontational as it is largely built around the sexual act and is visually rather graphic. It is frightening to see someone so young (although Bel Powley at time of filming was seven years older than the character she played) involved in these situations and watching as she gradually becomes more and more self destructive in the process. It is a particularly frightening film for anyone who has a daughter as through her voice-recorded diary (a technique that could not be pulled off had it been set in after 2000), her character is humanized as her inner thoughts are fairly typical of a fifteen year old girl and these musings could be that of any girl. Minnie gets confused differentiating between love and sex and see's Monroe's rejection of her as an weight related insult, which is hilarious as it is such a stereotypical conclusion for a teenage girl to make.

Yet, there are reasons Minnie's curiosity takes a disastrous turn and this along with the "free love" atmosphere of 1970's San Francisco can set parents minds at ease after watching The Diary of A Teenage Girl. Much of Minnie's behaviour is a product of watching and unknowingly imitating her mother's behaviour and also not having a strong and stable male presence in her life. She is seen many times throughout the movie to be watching in the background as her mother enjoys a good time with men, alcohol and various substances. Minnie is also affected by the lack of physical contact from her mother and is therefore craving a feeling of closeness from anyone in any form. As Monroe is the only stable male figure in her life, she is inevitably drawn towards him even though he is less than a appropriate or responsible figure to have in ones life. The extreme turn her normal teenage sexual curiosity takes is a product of her environment rather than a representation of what is expected in an average teenage girl.

The time period in which the film is set brings a certain acceptability to the graphic and open sexual nature of the film. San Francisco was the epicentre of the hippy lifestyle in California during the 1970's and it was a time in which people were learning not to be afraid of sex and to embrace their sexuality. This vibe is felt loud and clear in The Diary of A Teenage Girl and the 70's replicated in wonderful fashion. The artistry and animated graphics featured throughout the film not only support the psychedelic nature of the time period, but also supply a youthful, playful feeling that should be associated with these teenage years.

Bel Powley proves her star power with her powerful and extremely brave performance as Minnie. As previously mentioned, Powley is well out of her adolescent years, but is extremely convincing as her fifteen year old character who she embodies perfectly. She completely nails Minnie's awkward teenage mannerisms and her emotional ups and downs. Kristen Wiig also does very well as Minnie's mother, Charlotte and is a rather empathetic character that the audience feels for.

The Diary of A Teenage Girl has it's heart in the right place and wants to make an example of how one's environment can send them down the wrong path, but it's powerful and confrontational edge do not make it an easy nor enjoyable watch. This is not to say that the film isn't entertaining, but it's graphic representation of a teenage girl in a sexual relationship with an older man and such a young girl becoming so promiscuous result in a tense and uncomfortable film experience.