Friday, December 30, 2016

La La Land (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 128 minutes
Director and Writer: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, J.K. Simmons, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Legend

La La Land is now showing everywhere and is distributed  in Australia by Entertainment One.

The exquisite La La Land is a multi-layered, whimsical and truly timeless piece of creative brilliance from Damien Chazelle that is an ode to both old and new Hollywood.

La La Land opens on a busy freeway, a scene which is more than familiar to anyone from Los Angeles. Sitting in this terrible, but expected traffic jam are an aspiring actress who is yet to have her big break, Mia (Emma Stone) and a jazz musician who longs hit the big time and open his own venue, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). Despite a middle finger salute by Sebastian being their only communication here, fate would have it that these two cross paths a number of times before they fall in love with one another. Their romance is idyllic and uncomplicated, until their dreams start to get in the way of each others.

Timeless is the best way to describe La La Land in one word. Usually when people use the word "timeless" to describe a film, it means that they believe it will stand the test of time and still remain relevant after years go by. La La Land is this, but it is also timeless because it is a story that could be told at any time during Hollywood's history. Not only that, but it contains so many elements from the past and present that you are never quite sure when the film is set. Instead of this being confusing, it is divine.

Chazelle's film is a love letter to Los Angeles (particularly Hollywood) in it's past and present and is a kaleidoscope of nostalgic and modern images and music. At any one time, you can be watching a scene that seems to be taking place in the present, but is surrounded by pieces of 1950's nostalgia and featuring a song such as "Someone in the Crowd" that would not have been out of place in a MGM musical of yesteryear (including such films as Singin' in the Rain, An American in Paris and Swing Time). La La Land does draw great inspiration from these past musicals in the composition, dance routines and cinematography in numbers such as  "A Lovely Night" and the unforgettable Griffith Observatory scene.

La La Land is deceptively complex and it is so in the most beautiful of ways. There are so many layers to the film and so many things to be taken away from it. Some themes will ring true with some viewers more than others, but it is without a doubt that those who have worked or live in the entertainment business will take a great deal away from the film.

The most obvious theme is that of following your dreams. Emma Stone's Mia and Ryan Gosling's Sebastian are our dreamers and they are relatable to anyone who has ever chased after a dream that seems so huge that it is out of their reach. Mia's speech in small town Nevada is particularly moving as she verbalises what anybody who has been rejected and thought of giving up has felt. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are both at their most lovely and charming in La La Land. Their chemistry is perfect as they work off each other incredibly well and they too create characters that are a perfect balance between the modern and the old Hollywood starlet and leading man.

The film also has the underlying theme of preserving history, something which is often neglected in Hollywood and it's surrounding areas. Sebastian speaks of jazz as an art form dying and the Rialto Theatre in the film (and real life) is a beautiful old theatre that is closed down. Both of these are signs of how people can often forget about preserving something from another time and ultimately they become lost. However, Chazelle's movie as a whole really is a homage to old Hollywood with the many references that appear throughout the film.  Again, La La Land is reminiscent of golden age of Hollywood films by way of it's musical numbers, but also with it's use of captions and in it's whimsical, romantic nature. In this way, Chazelle is actually doing his part to preserve Hollywood history by paying tribute to it with his film.

It also must be said that Los Angeles looks at it's best in La La Land. Despite having a reputation of a sun drenched Californian city of glitz and glamour, LA struggles to uphold this image in real life as certain areas can look run-down and unpolished. However, it is at it's most beautiful in the film showing many famous landmarks in amazing light and colour. The image of the Los Angeles of La La Land is aligned with the dreamlike atmosphere of the film and almost symbolises the pull the city has for dreamers to flock to this land where magic happens. There are also plenty of in-jokes for those who have lived in Los Angeles.

La La Land is pure, old-fashioned cinematic escapism. It maintains an incredible equilibrium between what is nostalgic and modern and the result is absolutely exquisite.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

RIP Debbie Reynolds- Our MGM Hero

Debbie Reynolds
April 1 1932- December 28 2016

And I thought that same sentence was hard to write yesterday for Carrie Fisher. I can tell you my heart truly broke when the news came through that her mother, the beautiful and talented Debbie Reynolds passed away only one day later.

It was no secret how close Fisher and her mother were. Last year I read "Unsinkable" by Debbie Reynolds and "Wishful Drinking" by Carrie Fisher back to back and the way those women's two worlds revolved around each other was beautiful. Not surprisingly, Carrie was a nightmare in her rebellious years during her twenties, but her mother clearly never gave up on her. In later years, the two lived next door to each other and shared a remarkable bond.

The strength of that bond was made known on the morning of Wednesday December 28. According to E!Online, Todd Fisher (Debbie's son and Carrie's brother) stated that his mother had expressed how much she missed her daughter and wanted to see her again before she suffered an alleged stroke (this has yet to be confirmed as of this time). The idea of having to live without her beloved daughter and the emotional stress of having to deal with this and funeral arrangements was too much for her to bear. The heartbreaking reality was that Reynolds simply could not live without her daughter.

For classic film fans like myself, Debbie Reynolds was our hero. She was a true lady in every sense of the word and one of the few that the Studio System did not have to work on to make sure she upheld her reputation as a good MGM girl, because she really was. She always stood by her morals and was a survivor. Although many class her finest film achievement as Kathy in 1952's  Singin' in the Rain, she earned an Oscar nomination in 1964 for The Unsinkable Molly Brown. It was from this film that her memoir, "Unsinkable" took it's name and unsinkable was the perfect way to describe Reynolds. She endured incredible trials and tribulations in her life, which included messy divorces (including her infamous one with Eddie Fisher where Elizabeth Taylor was the other woman) and financial hardships. Yet, she was always seen with a smile on her face and always resembled a ray of sunshine.

As amazing as her long career was, her professional achievements are not the ultimate reason for her being a champion among classic film fanatics. Reynolds worked tirelessly to preserve the history of old Hollywood, particularly that of MGM. She was a serious collector of movie memorabilia from the Golden Age of Hollywood and was angered by the idea that others were not seeking to look after history the way she was.

Unfortunately for Reynolds, she had to sell the items in her collection at auctions over the years. However, at these auctions she was able to make sure that the items (which included Dorothy's ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz and one of Scarlett O'Hara's dresses from Gone With The Wind among others) went to homes where they would be taken care of.

Fans of old Hollywood, like myself, will be forever grateful for Reynold's efforts in preserving pieces of an age gone by and being such a staunch advocate for it. She really was an old Hollywood treasure herself. Losing her is losing another piece of film history. However, it does feel selfish to want Debbie to still be here when she is now back with Carrie.

Now that I have finished writing this, I just want to say that I pray I do not need to write another one of these tomorrow evening. Move along 2016, move along.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

RIP Carrie Fisher: The woman away from Leia

Carrie Frances Fisher
October 21 1956- December 27 2016

That was painful to write.

2016 has been a tough year for celebrity death. We've lost the likes of Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Prince, Patty Duke, Anton Yelchin, Muhammad Ali, Gene Wilder, George Michael and a number of others. Now also Carrie Fisher.

Fisher's death has hit me the hardest. Yes I live in a household that is Star Wars obsessed, but I loved her more for who she was off-screen than on. Don't get me wrong, Princess Leia is one of my favourite female film characters of all time because of her tremendous inner strength and spirit, but Carrie Fisher the woman was far more than Darth Vader's daughter who often wore her hair in twin buns and was enslaved in a gold bikini.

I never knew Fisher personally, but it was such a joy to have her in the world. Despite her tiny height of 5'1", she was a tower of strength with a larger than life personality. She refused to make herself a victim of mental health and threw herself into inspiring others who were like herself. She made light of her less than ordinary life and upbringing as the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher with her extraordinary sense of humour that paved the way for her to become a best selling author and playwright.

One of the things I really loved about Fisher was that she was never afraid to speak her mind in any situation and would often be the one to say what everyone else was thinking. I have seen countless memes today with inspiring and witty quotes she had said over the years. People related to her greatly because she had the courage to approach hard subjects and speak about the publicly so that those who were going through similar issues would not feel alone.

However, it wasn't just the difficult issues she spoke of that made people love her. On a much lighter note, I know I cannot be the only one who loved how natural and candid she was during interviews and public appearances. In later years, Fisher was always accompanied by her beloved dog, Gary in interviews, which is uncanny when you think about interview protocol, but completely endearing from a viewer's perspective. When The Force Awakens was close to release, of course I was excited for the film itself, but I loved the fact that it meant Carrie was once again on the publicity trail.

When I watch interviews on television with celebrities, I often wonder how much self control it takes the interviewee not to react when they are asked a dumb question or a question that is the same as the one just asked, but worded differently. Carrie Fisher didn't have that self control, and it was brilliant. She never held back from saying "You already asked me that..." and "I already told you...". I can only imagine how many other people in the spotlight envied her honesty in these situations, because there isn't many other people besides Carrie Fisher who could get away with something like that.

I witnessed this first hand now over three years ago. My husband and I attended Supanova Pop Culture Expo in Sydney in July 2013 when Fisher was a special guest. Her panel was the perfect example of being asked the same questions over and over. This was the time when there was just speculation as to whether she would be in the new Disney Star Wars films and she dodged every question about whether she was going to be in them (and there was a few) with "I hadn't heard there was going to be a new Star Wars film. Are they remaking Star Wars?"

Many of the audience looked at each other with confusion, but I was sure she had already signed on and couldn't say anything....she obviously did know as she was part of The Force Awakens in 2015!

The highlight for me personally was when members of the audience kept asking her 'What was your favourite scene in Star Wars?" and "What was your favourite part about filming Star Wars?" She kept answering with "When I killed the giant slug"

After about four times, Fisher (in exactly the same way you can hear her saying it in your head) said "I don't know what is wrong with all of you! You don't seem to believe me when I say that killing the giant slug was my favourite part!"

At exactly the right moment, my son who wasn't much older than one year old at the time, let out one loud random cry and Fisher said "See! You are all even making babies cry!"

I don't think my husband could have been more proud of his son getting her attention at that point in time.

I will always be grateful that I was able to see Carrie Fisher in person and I will always have a story to tell my now Star Wars crazy son as he gets older that he had an interaction with Princess Leia/ General Organa. Unlike many of the other celebrity deaths this year, I and so many others around the world will feel the absence of Carrie Fisher. From what I understand, she was in the middle of a great creative period of her life and it is a terrible shame that we will no longer see any more of her work. She not only entertained, but she inspired and was truly an amazing woman. She will be greatly missed.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Top 10 Films of 2016

So here we are at the end of another year!

While 2016 has been a year that many of us would rather forget for many reasons, film has not let us down. As we once again head into awards season, we are reminded of how much beauty there is in the escapism of cinema and that this art form is one that remains a comfort in the hard times. Of course each year sees the release of some terrible films, but we will always remember the year for the amazing films that were released rather than the downright awful.

So as always, my top 10 for the year is based on the Australian release schedule. So one film in particular that I have seen that will not feature in my list is Pablo Larrain's Jackie, as it will be released in Australia on January 12 2017. I am absolutely besotted with this film and there is no doubt that I would be in my top 5 if it was to be released in 2016.

Also, I have found that this year that my top 10 reflects my personal taste more than any other year. I recognise that many will not share my enthusiasm for a few of the films in my list, but I have reasoning behind each of these films and stand by them.

So let's start off with number 10 and count down....

10. Zootopia
Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush
Writers: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jennifer Lee, Josie Trinidad and Jim Reardon (story), Jared Bush and Phil Johnston (story and screenplay), Dan Fogelman (additional story material)
Cast: (voices) Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer

When Disney talks, the world listens. Zootopia's timing this year was absolutely uncanny. It was exactly what the world needed to see at the time of release and still is nine months later. Disney once again turned to their winning concept of talking animals (which always delights the younger audiences), but there were underlying themes there for both young and old. On top of that, the film was a whole lot of fun with a witty sense of humour that played on words and the stereotypes of animals, as well as loads of film and Disney related Easter Eggs.

9. Oasis: Supersonic
Director: Mat Whitecross
Cast: Liam Gallagher, Noel Gallagher, Paul Arthurs, Paul McGuigan, Tony McCarroll, Mark Coyle

So this is one of the films that slipped into my top 10 because of what it meant to me, but I know I am not the only one out there who feel's so passionately about Mat Whitecross' Oasis: Supersonic. This music documentary about the Gallagher brothers' hugely successful British band is such a treat for fans as it is reminiscent of the band's glory days and gives us much needed hope that there may be a reunion one day. Yet, it does not sugar-coat nor defend anything the band did and is unapologetic as it tells things for how they really were. Seeing the infamous Knebworth concert on the big screen and hearing their music in a cinema was quite the experience.

8. Trumbo
Director: Jay Roach
Writers: Bruce Cook (book), John McNamara (screenplay)
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Michael Stuhlberg, Louise C.K., Elle Fanning, Dave Maldonado, John Goodman, David James Elliot, Alan Tudyk, Roger Bart, Dean O'Gorman, Christian Berkel

You can all have your Walter White, but this is my favourite Bryan Cranston performance. Trumbo is a stunning and riveting portrait of old Hollywood which brings to light the extreme injustice inflicted upon important and talented members of the filmmaking community out of fear of their conflicting political beliefs. Cranston was astonishing as Dalton Trumbo and it was a well-earned Oscar nomination for him. Helen Mirren was also perfect as Hedda Hopper, the woman with balls of steel who could make or break anyone in Hollywood. Despite having a serious undertone about a dark period of Hollywood history, there was still something so much fun about this piece of movie nostalgia. 

7. Brooklyn
Director: John Crowley
Writers: Colm Toibin (novel), Nick Hornby (screenplay)
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Fiona Glascott, Julie Walters, Eileen O'Higgins, Jessica Pare, Emily Bett Rickards, Eve Macklin, Nora-Jane Noone

Brooklyn is just downright sweet and beautiful. Every part of it. With it's glorious sense of 1950's nostalgia, it is almost surprising how relatable the story and themes in John Crowley's Brooklyn are to the modern woman in it's heart-warming story of personal growth and love. I saw a lot of myself in Saoirse Ronan's Eilis and with how much women are encouraged to go out into the world and find a new life these days, I know I am not the only one who did. The production design of 1950's New York and the exquisite costume design made Brooklyn extremely easy on the eye.

6. Hacksaw Ridge
Director: Mel Gibson
Writers: Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Luke Pegler

Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge is frightfully graphic, violent and confronting, but ultimately life-changing in the most beautiful of ways and an absolute triumph in filmmaking. People talk of how some war films are frightfully beautiful, this is one of them. The cinematography and special effects of Hacksaw Ridge are just so incredible, but they also make the film a very hard watch and it takes a lot not to look away during some of the combat sequences. However, the story of Desmond Doss is overwhelming in the best possible way and Andrew Garfield an unforgettable performance.

5. The Revenant
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Writers: Michael Punke (based in part on the novel by), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Mark L. Smith (screenplay)
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Paul Anderson, Forrest Goodluck, Luke Haas, Grace Dove

The Revenant just snuck into Australia's 2016 release schedule as it was released on January 7 and I could not neglect it. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's The Revenant is the perfect hybrid of exquisite beauty and graphic brutality in it's story of human survival in the unforgiving wilderness which is enhanced by it's superb performances by it's stellar cast. The film will always be remembered primarily as the film that Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar for and there is no denying that it was a well deserved win. However, the film as a whole deserves more respect than that. Brutal, but visually exquisite.

4. La La Land
Director/Writer: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, J.K. Simmons, Rosemarie DeWitt

Damien Chazelle's La La Land is getting a lot of love in the form of Oscar buzz at the moment and I am all for it. The film a love letter to both old and new Hollywood and to the city of Los Angeles, and the city hasn't looked this good on screen in a long time. La La Land is so multi-layered and says so many things in the most creative of ways with beautiful song and dance sequences. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are both wonderful as the dreamers we all wish we were. The fact that I love old Hollywood and Los Angeles didn't hurt the growing love I felt for this film when I saw it in the cinema.

3. Hail, Caesar!
Directors/Writers: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Alden Ehrenreich, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand, Alison Pill

When I first saw Hail, Caesar! back in February, I was almost positive I had seen the film that would be my number one film of 2016. Joel and Ethan Coen penned the ultimate love letter to old Hollywood with Hail, Caesar! The film is a masterpiece in the eyes of those who are fascinated with the golden age of Hollywood, but with it's entertaining screenplay and stunning visual production can be enjoyed on a much larger scale by all audiences. Being an old Hollywood buff myself, the Coen brothers' screenplay blew me away because of how much it interlocked several pieces of Hollywood history. I know those who know only bits and pieces about the days of the Studio System would not pick up as much, but for those who are it is just glorious and so much fun.

2. Hunt For The Wilderpeople
Director: Taika Waititi
Writers: Barry Crump (based on the book by), Taika Waititi (screenplay)
Cast: Julian Dennison, Sam Neill, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Taika Waititi, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Rhys Darby, Oscar Knightley, Stan Walker, Mike Minogue, Cohen Halloway

I loved Hunt for the Wilderpeople when I first saw it in the cinema, but after I bought it on the first day it came out on DVD, I have come to love it even more with each rewatch. Taika Waititi's new take on the self discovery adventure film is incredibly charming and effortlessly funny with a view of New Zealand that has never been seen in cinema before. There is so much beauty in this film both in the visuals and in the subtly heartfelt performance by Julian Dennison and Sam Neill as the lead characters, Ricky and Hector. Waititi's direction is currently going from strength to strength and his cameo as the priest is a hilarious highlight.

1. Ghostbusters
Director: Paul Feig
Writers: Kate Dippold and Paul Feig (written by). Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis (based on the 1984 Ghostbusters written by)
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey, Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong, Charles Dance

So....Ghostbusters is my number one film of 2016 and believe me, no one is more shocked about this than me. If someone had told me this time last year that the female led Ghostbusters remake was going to be my favourite film of the coming year, I would have asked what drug they were on. Now, I am obsessed with this film and it will come as no surprise to those who know me that it tops my list.

So hear me out. Yes, I love Ghostbusters because it makes me laugh every time I watch it (and I have watched it at least 20 times since I bought it on DVD) and Kate McKinnon's Holtzmann is my spirit animal, but there are some things I feel this movie did brilliantly. Firstly, this year and last year has seen the bombardment of remakes and by July this year, I was completely over going to see remakes, origin stories and sequels. From the outside, Ghostbusters purely looked like just another remake with females in the lead to make it look different. This film gave me faith in the remake. The Paul Feig and Kate Dippold written screenplay merely used the 1984 film as inspiration while it created a whole new story, but was still completely respectful to the original film.

Secondly, THIS is how you do a female empowerment film. So many filmmakers think that female empowerment in film is merely just putting a woman in their film or an action woman kicking butt. The four women in Ghostbusters are the ones girls should be looking up to. All smart women who are doing what they want in life, despite what people are saying. Nothing is talked about in regards to their appearance or their relationship status. Yet they do all kick butt in the name of science and because they are all smart and streetwise women.

And now I will go and watch this film for the 21st time.

Honourable mentions.....
The Big Short
The Witch

Friday, December 23, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 133 minutes
Director: Gareth Edwards
Writers: John Knoll and Gary Whitta (story), Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy (screenplay)
Cast: Felicity Jones, Mads Mikkelsen, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is now showing everywhere and is distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.

While Star Wars: The Force Awakens was an undeniable success, Rogue One brings forth the Star Wars film that people truly wanted to see with a brand new and original story that answers long held questions in the most spectacular and glorious of ways.

Rogue One is what Star Wars fans were eagerly anticipating when Disney announced their plans to expand the Star Wars universe. The Force Awakens was a great starting point for kicking off the new series of films, but many complained of it's lack of originality because of how much it resembled A New Hope. Gareth Edward's film really does expand the Star Wars universe by opening it up to include more than just the Skywalkers and their family tales, and the screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy makes the most of this freedom while also staying true and respectful to the George Lucas films.

Rogue One takes place right before 1977's Star Wars: Episode IV- A New Hope and focuses on the rebels who obtained the plans to the Death Star. Orphaned at a young age when her father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) is called upon to work for the Empire, Jyn (Felicity Jones) finds herself years later being recruited by the Rebellion. She discovers that her father has hidden the secret to bringing down the Empire's weapon, the Death Star in it's plans and she must lead a group of rebels into enemy territory to give them hope that the Empire and Darth Vader can be defeated.

Rogue One is a film for Star Wars lovers. It fills a great hole that was left gaping when George Lucas completed his six episodes and answers the questions you never knew you had until you watched Rogue One. Fans of the Star Wars franchise will be delighted with several Easter Eggs throughout the film and also the inclusion of unused footage from A New Hope. However, as a result, this film will mean far more and be enjoyed more by actual Star Wars fans rather than those who are indifferent. The aim of the screenplay is to primarily explain a missing piece of the Star Wars universe and to link up with A New Hope, not to tell a brand new story to appeal to an un-bias audience.

Yet, Rogue One is undeniably entertaining with it's impressive action sequences and outstanding use of CGI. The final act is particularly spectacular as well as visually stunning with a wonderful use of colour combined with high intensity action. While the large majority of the audience will know what the ending to the film will be, the journey is unpredictable and therefore, anything goes. All areas of production are, as one would expect from a Star Wars film in 2016, superb.

There has been much spoken about how the newer Star Wars films are both led by female characters and how strong the characters of Rey (portrayed by Daisy Ridley in The Force Awakens ) and Jyn Erso are. However, what is truly great about the way Star Wars has approached these characters is that they have made gender irrelevant in the creation of them. The fact that they are female in the film is not brought up at all and the respect they receive in these films are equal to that of any male counterpart. Felicity Jones is wonderful as Jyn. She brings to the character her strength as an actor and gives a heartfelt, yet stoic performance.

Ben Mendelsohn also impresses as Director Orson Krennic, but it is once again a droid who steals the show. Voiced by Alan Tudyk, K-2SO is equipped with the wittiest of lines that give the film it's comedy relief, much in the same fashion that R2-D2 and C-3PO have done in the past.

Rogue One successfully expands the Star Wars universe and is an utter treat for long time fans. It may not have the same power for those who are no overly familiar with the past films, but is still entertaining thanks to it's incredible visuals and original screenplay.


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Office Christmas Party (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 105 minutes
Directors: Josh Gordon and Will Speck
Writers: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore and Timothy Dowling (story), Justin Malen, Laura Solon and Dan Mazer (screenplay)
Cast: Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon, Vanessa Bayer, Courtney B. Vance, Rob Corddry, Karan Soni, Randall Park

Office Christmas Party is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed in Australian by Entertainment One.

Josh Gordon and Will Speck's Office Christmas Party is not much more than a stereotypical lewd party comedy with the likes of Santa Claus, a few Christmas trees and fairy lights thrown in to make it relevant to the season.

The holiday season is closing in quickly at Chicago's Zenotek office and morale is low. Things are only set to get worse when CEO, Carol Vanstone (Jennifer Aniston) announces that she will be closing her brother, Clay's (T.J. Miller) branch down. In a last minute attempt to save their office, Clay, Josh (Jason Bateman) and Tracey (Olivia Munn) organise an explosive Christmas party to impress a potential client, Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance) who could save their branch if he agrees to work with them. What ensues is a night of absolute mayhem which is a throwback to the work Christmas parties of old where anything goes.

Perhaps the most unfortunate thing about Office Christmas Party is that when there is not a party involved, it is actually far from painful. The actual party itself is a colossal mash-up of as much crude humour that could take place at any event where a great deal of alcohol and drugs are being consumed. There is nothing subtle nor even remotely original about the film's attempts at humour during this time and it will take fans with this particular type of humour to conjure up a giggle or two.

Yet, the script and humour involved before and after the party is quite entertaining with some great banter taking place between the main players including Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller and Jennifer Aniston. There are deeper themes involved including the ongoing economic worries that plague corporate business, but these more serious plot points are pushed aside so to make way for the grand attraction of Christmas party shenanigans.

It's inevitable that Office Christmas Party will do well at the box office as during the few weeks leading up to the holidays, people are drawn toward seeing films that are in the Christmas spirit. The truth of the matter is that Office Christmas Party is really not much of a festive movie. It's disguised as a festive film by all the things which symbolise Christmas, which also includes the infamous work Christmas party. The screenplay could well exist without it being set during the Christmas season, but it would be unlikely to grasp the attention of the public and unlikely to have achieved the attention of the impressive comedic cast.

It almost feels cliché to say that the cast  (who are all highly respected comedic actors) are all underused in this film. It is completely evident that each tries to do all they can with the material that is given to them, but even those who are especially talented when it comes to improvisation (eg. Kate McKinnon and T.J. Miller) struggle to make something of merit. However, it would be unfair to say that Office Christmas Party is not funny at all if you are not a fan of dirty humour, as there are some moments which are very amusing. All the characters in the film are fairly safe and stereotypical of their surroundings, but each actor knows their character well enough (especially Bateman, Aniston and Karan Soni as Nate) to be able to fit into them comfortably and bring out the best in them.

Office Christmas Party may not be the holiday fix one would like to experience at the cinemas this season, but is entertaining enough thanks to it's talented cast.


Monday, December 5, 2016

Jackie (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 99 minutes
Director: Pablo Larrain
Writer: Noah Oppenheim
Cast: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, Richard E. Grant, Caspar Phillipson

Jackie is now showing in the United States and is distributed by Fox Searchlight. To be released in Australia on January 12 and distributed by Entertainment One.

Pablo Larrain's Jackie paints a sublime portrait of the extraordinary First Lady in the most complex and darkest of days following her husband's death. While Natalie Portman's wonderful performance of Jacqueline Kennedy is it's focal point, the film is an incredibly beautiful piece of work that is subtly powerful and brilliantly written by Noah Oppenheim.

November 22 1963 was the day that shocked the world. While the nation mourned the death of their leader, President John F. Kennedy, his widow, Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) was faced not only with making sense of the sudden death of her husband, but also the closing of the Kennedy's reign of power in the White House. The days that followed that terrible event were filled with confusion and grief for the former First lady, but also a great deal of strength and remarkable power.

While the film is a thing of beauty as a whole, Natalie Portman is the core strength, heart and soul of Jackie. With her first appearance on screen as Jacqueline Kennedy as she greets the journalist at her front door, it is obvious that this is so much more than a straight forward biopic performance. While Portman does completely disappears into her character by perfecting her speech, mannerisms and walk, it is what she brings emotionally and psychologically rather than just physically that makes this her such a revelation. In Jackie, Portman has the uncanny ability to pack so much power into such a restrained performance and she is truly breathtaking.

The former First Lady has been crafted into a character for the screen with complete sincerity and respect. She is presented as a woman who experiences a great deal of sadness and confusion in her grief in the most extraordinary of situations, which the majority of us can only imagine. While Jacqueline Kennedy has always been seen as an enigmatic historical figure, Jackie allows us to see her in the most human of ways despite her social position of power. She is not subject to overt hero-worship, but it is impossible not to respect her and grow even more fond of her, which is a credit to both Portman and the filmmakers.

Jackie is beautifully constructed around it's main character. It is incredibly interesting to look at the way her story is told, as the screenplay is not written in the conventional fashion of the chronological order of events. Rather than this being confusing in any way, it makes the film feel well-rounded and Jackie's story complete. Flashbacks (particularly of the White House Tour) are used both to compare the lady she was to the lady she became and also to build suspense and intrigue in her story. The film plays back history from her point of view, which is a completely different story to the one we all know about what occurred on that fateful day.

And production-wise Jackie is completely and utterly exquisite. From beginning to end, the film feels as though it was truly shot in 1963. It's nostalgia is perfected by the incredible production design by Jean Rabasse, beautiful costume design by Madeline Fontaine and art direction by Halina Gebarowicz. Director of Photography Stephane Fontaine's cinematography is also incredibly special with the way he has the ability to turn so many scenes into a piece of art using the lighting and a range of long, short and travelling shots. Finally the harrowing musical score by Mica Levi does everything a score should do as it heightens suspense and builds on emotion to add even more power to the film.

Jackie is what you want every biopic to be like. Although Natalie Portman's performance is one of the most powerful and memorable of the past twelve months, the film does not rely purely on her to create magic and it is beautiful in every way.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

#Top10...with Lisa Malouf

#Top10 is a brand new feature to Movie Critical. Each week we will be chatting to a film lover or a member of the film community about their #Top10 favourite films and discussing what makes these films so special to them. We all have different tastes in film and watch movies differently depending on who we are. The object of #Top10 is to share the love of film and hopefully you the reader can find some new favourites.

This week we talked to Sydney-based film lover Lisa Malouf. Lisa received degrees from the University of Sydney and NIDA before going on to work as a stage manager for plays and then in casting for commercial musicals. She now works as a childrens' TV scriptwriter, and also reviews a few new release films a week for The Limerick Review , as well as writing occasional articles about her favourite classic films for Graffiti with Punctuation's Five Star Films series.

Here's what Lisa had to say ...

I became obsessed with film as a very young child: before I started school, my grandmother introduced me to classic films via the Bill Collins Golden Years of Hollywood double bill, which would screen on TV on Saturday nights. There were also countless Sunday afternoon classic B-films. So over about a decade, up until my early teens, we probably watched about 1000 classic films. I learned so much from these films, and now I'm paying the knowledge forward: teaching my little nieces and nephews about film history/appreciation.

As hard as it's been to narrow down my favourite films to a reasonable-sized list, it's also been such a pleasure revisiting the ones that have meant so much to me. A handful of them are newer releases, but most of them are favourites that I've loved for decades.

#1 It's A Wonderful Life (1946, Frank Capra)

It's a Wonderful Life is my all-time favourite film. It's primarily known as a Christmas film, but it's so much more than that. While it's famous for its (....what's the statute of limitations on spoiler alerts? I trust 70 years has been long enough for the word to get out ...) uplifting ending, there's also a darkness to it with its exploration of issues of suicide, worthlessness and the cruelty inflicted by the powerful upon the powerless. And because it has these dark elements, the ultimate happy ending (and the road to it) is that much more joyous. 

A fun memory I have of this film is when I first saw it as a child and noticed that there were friends called Bert and an Ernie in the same scene. Years later, I heard that Jim Henson was quoted saying that these It's a Wonderful Life character names weren't the inspiration for the naming of the famous Sesame Street roomies - but at the time I found the assumed connection very exciting and wondered if someone called Oscar or Snuffaluffagus might also show up in Bedford Falls.

One of my favourite things about the work of Capra is his casting. This film is led by the beloved James Stewart and Donna Reed, who are just terrific. But unlike many other films where all non-principal casting seems to be an afterthought, every single actor is so beautifully cast - and not just the supporting actors (including Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell and 'serial Jimmy Stewart's mum' Beulah Bondi). There are none of those amorphous masses of generic townsfolk for Capra: every extra has a unique look. Scan a group scene in any Capra film and you'll know what I mean. They are faces of character, with character. 

Because of his recurring themes of family, loyalty, and the little guy (yes, it usually was a guy) up against the system, Capra's work is often dismissed by cynics as 'Capra-corn'. But if you can see beyond what's often superficially dubbed as 'aw shucks' cheesiness - at the heart of it there's an inherent celebration of humble decency. 

#2 Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz)

Casablanca runs a very close second in my favourite films list. There's a magnificence about this film, on so many levels. Central to the film is a beautiful, complex love triangle for the ages (Humphrey Bogart's Rick, Ingrid Bergman's Ilsa and Paul Henreid's Victor). 

Then there's the gorgeous lighting design. I can't think of another black and white film where there are so many 'colours'. There's also a special luminosity to Ilsa: it's as though she's lit from within.

Central to my (and many other people's) love of Casablanca is the script. There are countless delicious, quotable lines. And these lines are now so familiar that they almost seem to have a life of their own: existing outside the film. Many people who haven't seen the film at least know of its hill of beans, gin joints, usual suspects and always having of Paris.

Over 25 years ago, I read an essay* by Umberto Eco about Casablanca, which examined, among other things, the concept of cult movies, archetypes, and clichés. I'll never forgot a particular observation Eco made in the essay. It's been ingrained in my brain all these years because it's just so perfect. And it's still my favourite observation I've ever read about any film:

 "Casablanca is a cult movie precisely because all the archetypes are there .... Casablanca became a cult movie because it is not one movie. It is 'movies' ... all the archetypes burst out shamelessly ... Two clichés make us laugh but a hundred clichés move is because we sense dimly that the clichés are talking among themselves, celebrating a reunion". 

*Eco, Umberto (1985) Casablanca: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage

And here are the rest of my top 10 favourites (alphabetically) ... 

All About Eve (1950, Joseph Mankiewicz)

This Best Picture Oscar winner is truly sublime. Bette Davis is transcendent as the longtime Broadway star Margo Channing, and Anne Baxter shines as the (at first) seemingly innocent young performer Eve Harrington. The film is set in the New York theatre world, and I love its fabulous mix of intriguing backstage machinations, bitchiness and drama. 

Most of the other Broadway-set films that I love from this era are musical comedies (à la
 'let's put on a show' and the like), so it's the high drama that sets All About Eve apart from them. One of my favourite contributors to this drama is George Sanders, who plays the Machiavellian Addison De Witt, a theatre critic and master manipulator. His scenes with a young (pre-mega-fame) Marilyn Monroe are just terrific. 

Being a lover of beautiful costume design, the exquisite wardrobe in All About Eve is another reason this film is so special to me. The gowns in the famous '... It's going to be a bumpy night’ party scene are particularly gorgeous.

Fun facts: Only one film (Titanic, 1997) has matched All About Eve's record 14 Oscar nominations. And Mankiewicz is the only director in history to direct four women to acting Oscar nominations in the same film.

Double Indemnity (1944, Billy Wilder)

Oh how I adore this film. Every frame's a winner in this perfect film noir thriller. Barbara Stanwyck shines as complex and manipulative Phyllis, who orchestrates (spoiler ahead ...) the 'removal' of her husband by Fred MacMurray's Walter. The initial chemistry between Walter and Phyllis is quite electric, and amazingly their sexually-charged, innuendo-laden banter passed the censors.

My favourite scenes in this film include: the first time Phyllis and Walter meet, the famous Jerry's Market scene where they surreptitiously exchange information, and just about every time Edward G. Robinson's Barton Keyes shows up. He was a masterful character actor, with such an impressive range.

His Girl Friday (1940, Howard Hawks)

This film is such a delight. Its stars, Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant, are in absolute top form, shouting out rapid-fire dialogue at a super-human rate. Their characters, Hildy and Walter, were once married, and both work in the newspaper business (he as editor, she as his top reporter). It's a joy watching them spar.

I love the scenes where Walter undermines Hildy's fiancé Bruce (Ralph Bellamy). Poor hapless Bruce doesn't know what he's up against. Walter's behaviour is quite terrible, but he's so charming that the audience is rooting for him. We want Hildy to be in a (re-)relationship with Walter, who is smart and feisty like she is, rather than boring, wet blanket Bruce. It's clear that intellectually (and assumed, sexually), this pair of exes are a better match than the betrothed odd couple.

Howard Hawks' direction is masterful. The pacing is exhausting, in the best possible way. And though the lead actors are the clear focus, the whole ensemble and extras cast work together so beautifully. 

Interestingly, in the source material (a play called The Front Page), Hildy's role was male. I'm so glad that that the change was made. Without it, we wouldn't have the pleasure of experiencing Russell in what I believe is one of her two best roles (the other being her star turn in Auntie Mame 18 years later).

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013, Joel & Ethan Coen)

I love this film so much that I can hardly write about it without crying. It's just so special to me. I find it profoundly moving. Firstly, we have the magnificent script and direction by the Coen brothers. It's full of symbolism, which is executed so beautifully that it doesn't hit you over the head. Its messages are so meaningful, but also so subtle that they just float along and into your soul.

Oscar Isaac's performance is outstanding, and I believe it hasn't received the recognition it deserves. His Llewyn faces complex issues regarding his art and his life (which are inexorably connected). We see the dogged strength he has with regard to sticking to his art in the face of challenges. Then there's the whole 'own worst enemy' thing. It's a heart-breaking portrayal that's so multi-layered that I get more out of it with each viewing. And Isaac doesn't just shine in the spoken scenes. His delivery of the songs is sublime. There's palpable melancholy. Credit also to the music department, headed by T Bone Burnett.

The Maltese Falcon (1941, John Huston)

The Maltese Falcon is another one of those across-the-board winners, where every element is perfect: script, direction, casting, production design, etc - and amazingly, it was John Huston's directorial debut. Not for one frame does this film feel like it came from a novice director. Huston's work here is outstanding. There's wonderful claustrophobic tension, action, mystery,  crime elements, a dark romance, and one of the most iconic props in film history. 

This film was also the debut of then 62-year-old actor Sydney Greenstreet. He'd been a stage actor in Britain since his early 20s, but had never been on film prior to The Maltese Falcon. It's a fantastic performance. There's a terrific negotiation scene between his Kasper Gutman and Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade. It's a masterclass in quality acting.  

I first came across this film as a teenager on TV, and later on VHS - and watched it countless times. Then a few years ago I got to see it on the big screen for the first time. It was such a pleasure to experience it in a cinema with a full house of classic film lovers. 

Spellbound (1945, Alfred Hitchcock)

There are at least a dozen Hitchcock films that I'd rate amongst the greatest films of all time. I don't believe that Spellbound is the very best of Hitchcock's films, but it's my favourite of his. (Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying it's a bad film at all. To me, it's wonderful: it's just that I recognise that there are other greater Hitchcock films .... and because Hitchcock's body of work is so outstanding, even a second-tier film of his will compare favourably against the work of most other directors)

Spellbound is the first Hitchcock film I remember seeing, so it has special significance for me. It's also the film that introduced me to my first (and lifelong) on-screen crush and favourite actor, Gregory Peck. Beautiful Peck and beautiful Ingrid Bergman glow in this film. They are great together, and are backed by an excellent supporting cast.

The story is compelling, and its themes include the workings of the brain, which I find fascinating. Then there's the bonus of a fantastic dream sequence, designed by Salvador Dali.

When Harry Met Sally (1989, Rob Reiner)

I absolutely adore When Harry Met Sally, and never tire of it - no matter many times I see it. There's lots to love here: The cast is excellent, with lead performances by Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, supported by Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby. There's pitch-perfect direction from Rob Reiner, and gorgeous cinematography from Barry Sonnenfeld - including stunning exteriors of New York through the seasons (autumn looks particularly delicious). 

... But the real star of When Harry Met Sally is Nora Ephron's script. It's clever and witty, and perceptive and warm and funny. There are so many memorable lines. I've been known to be sitting there doing something completely unrelated to the watching of this film, and suddenly think of  '... Surrey with a Fringe on Top in front of Ira!' and burst out laughing.

The Women (1939, George Cukor)

This is a really special film, and a unique one. The complete cast (of over 100 speaking-role humans, and various animals) is female. This was certainly unique for a 1939 release, when a significant number of films would be let by a pair of actors (one female and one male).

The stellar cast included Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Joan Fontaine Paulette Goddard and Margorie Main, along with an extensive supporting cast. Even gossip columnist Hedda Hopper makes an appearance. 

The script is excellent, with a great mix of drama, humour, bitchiness (particularly from Crawford's Crystal Allen), and moments of high camp: including a six-minute Technicolor fashion parade in the middle of this black-and-white film.

The Women is a magnificent film, and it comes from (many will say arguably, but I say definitely) cinema's greatest year.


And because there are some more filmic wonders that I just can't bear to leave out: here are
the titles (alphabetically) of my next ten favourite films, to round out my list of twenty all-time favourites ....

The Apartment (1960, Billy Wilder)

Cameraperson (2016, Kirsten Johnson)

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986, John Hughes)

Life Is Beautiful (1997, Roberto Benigni)

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939, Frank Capra)

North By Northwest (1959, Alfred Hitchcock)

The Philadelphia Story (1940, George Cukor)

Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock)

Singin' in the Rain (1952, Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen)

The Wizard of Oz (1939, Victor Fleming)

Monday, November 28, 2016

Trolls (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 92 minutes
Directors: Walt Dohrn and Mike Mitchell
Writers: Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger (screenplay), Erica Rivinoja (story) and Thomas Dam (based on the Good Luck Trolls created by)
Cast: (voices) Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Russell Brand, Christine Baranski, Gwen Stefani, John Cleese, James Corden

Trolls is now showing in the United States and is to be released in Australian on December 1. Distributed by 20th Century Fox.

Like it's protagonist, Trolls is a crazily colourful explosion of sparkling optimism that is a whole lot of toe-tapping fun for the whole family.

Based on the dolls that were at their height of popularity in the 1990's, the trolls are a community of happy little creatures with crazy hair who live in the safe haven of Troll Village away from the hideous and troll-eating Bergens. When one of their parties becomes a little too loud, their cover is blown and several trolls are taken away to fulfil the wishes of King Gristle (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse). The brightest and happiest of all the trolls, Poppy (Anna Kendrick) decides to venture behind enemy lines to rescue her friends and she decides to take her polar opposite, the pessimistic Branch (Justin Timberlake) with her. The two unlikely partners in crime take a journey which results in the two learning more about life and the real world off each other than they ever thought possible.

Trolls is definitely not a film for the extreme pessimists of the world with it's over-the-top, but pleasant mantra of happiness. It is a particularly simple film that doesn't say anything more than what is being said out loud, which is that happiness is always inside you. Of course this works well for the younger members of the audience, but the film is also enjoyable enough for adults not to crave anything deeper. Yet, again, some adults may find the film a little too overly optimistic for their liking and this is something that will vary according to the individual.

Directors Walt Dohrn and Mike Mitchell do not take the happiness theme lightly. Trolls is designed to have whole families leave the cinema with big smiles on their faces. Visually, the large majority of the film resembles a rainbow that has exploded, which is not a bad thing as Trolls really is beautiful to look at with it's amazing use of colour and all things pretty such a glitter bombs, cupcakes and long multi-coloured hair.

Then there is the uplifting musical score by Christophe Beck and executive music producer Justin Timberlake. Anyone who has heard the catchy Timberlake song "Can't Stop The Feeling" would have guessed the tone of the film without having to see it nor hear the rest of the soundtrack. The cast, which includes Timberlake, Anna Kendrick and Zooey Deschanel, have remarkable vocal talents which are on show with wonderful renditions of songs such as "True Colors", "The Sound of Silence" and "Hello".

There is no doubt that Trolls is definitely the most colourful and excitable film of the year. While some may find the film absolutely adorable, others who don't like feeling as though happiness is forced onto them will find it cringe-worthy.


Monday, November 21, 2016

The Connected Universe (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 98 minutes
Director: Malcom Carter
Cast: Patrick Stewart (narrator), Nassim Haramein

The Connected Universe is the first film to be distributed by Vimeo. Now available here.

Malcom Carter's The Connected Universe is an incredibly beautiful ode to the theory of the interconnection between all things that is both scientifically spellbinding and heart-warmingly inspirational.

Scientists and philosophers have pondered the idea of interconnection between everything in the universe for centuries. The Connected Universe explores this idea using physicist, Nassim Haramein's theory of quantum theory being connected on a cosmological scale and at the same time explores how we are connected with the universe by both science and humanity. As narrated by Patrick Stewart, the film takes us on a visually rich journey that makes one realise that interconnection is achieved not just in existence, but also in human experience.

The Connected Universe is unlike any other documentary that has come before it exploring our existence. Every aspect of the film shows how there is more than a scientific connection between everything in the universe and this is what people truly do feel delight in discovering. We as humans want to believe that we are more than just a walking pile of atoms and The Connected Universe makes us believe that we all matter and should be inspired to make a difference in the world.

This idea is resonated all through the film. Nassim Haramein's theory regarding interconnection is intriguing and brilliant within itself and often surprisingly humbling, but it is the way the film works around this theory that makes it a splendid marriage between science, humanity and art. The stories of Harramein's self discovery journey that led to him to forming his theory show a more emotional and human side to what is otherwise a strictly scientific idea and this itself shows how we are connected to the universe in more ways than one.

The timing of The Connected Universe's release could not be more perfect. At a point in history where we are currently being forced by the media and certain world leaders to see, be afraid of and question each others differences, Malcolm Carter's film reminds us how alike we really are. Our differences are so minute compared to our similarities, but the film also reminds us that sometimes we have to disconnect in order to reconnect.

Visually, the film is undeniably spectacular. The cinematography by Carter and Seppi Dabringer is absolutely superb and makes The Connected Universe an all encompassing experience, which, again, sets it apart from other documentaries it could be likened to. Filmed in a vast array of locations all around the world featuring the faces of many different people, the film makes us feel at peace and inspired by the world around us.

The Connected Universe is a ground-breaking piece of documentary filmmaking which speaks to us on a personal level as well as scientific. It's deeply human side inspires us and encourages us to look at the universe in a different way.


The Connected Universe Official Trailer from THE CONNECTED UNIVERSE on Vimeo.