Tuesday, September 27, 2016

#Top10...with Ricky Hartman

#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 film fanatic, Ricky Hartman about his #Top10 films, but we allowed him to have a #Top11 and we were not sorry when we found out what that eleventh film was! Ricky currently resides in Ontario, California and was a film buff even at the young age of four. He believes that the reason he became so interested in film is for the same reason many people do and that is because it is an escape. He is lucky enough to have set up an encompassing home theatre in every place he has lived and bought his own projector in 2008 to escape the disrespectful members of cinema audiences today. He's planning on upgrading to a 4k model as soon as prices come down, or Uwe Boll makes a good film....whatever comes first

Here's what Ricky had to say....

When I was approached with an opportunity to provide my own personal #Top10 along with a short summary of each, I knew the first two would be easy. It was arriving on the other eight which proved to be a challenge. But ultimately the task didn't take nearly as long as I feared it might, as in this instance I'm permitted to share a list of my personal favourites, rather than a top 10 of all time within their respected fields. Since we all have our own tastes and preferences, one persons Citizen Kane or Gone with the Wind may very well be another person’s The Room or Troll 2.

The point of film is to entertain and provide enjoyment and meaning, and ultimately an escape...so naturally taste is subjective. At least we can all take comfort in the fact that at no point does an Adam Sandler film appear anywhere on this list, though if someone were to include Hotel Transylvania on their list, I suppose at least that choice would warrant a pass.   

1. Amadeus (1984)

Wolfgang. Amadeus. Mozart.  This film swept the 57th Academy Awards, and with good reason. It's a perfect film. So perfect in fact that to explain why it is perfect seems almost superfluous to me, given my familiarity and relationship with this film over the course of the last 20 years. But given that not everyone on earth has experienced this masterpiece of cinema from the era of hairspray and neon, I shall try.

All films have flaws. Even perfect films. Perhaps that notion in itself is an oxymoron, but allow me fortuity and I'll elaborate henceforth. Amadeus is both a celebration of all we can be, and all that we are. Suffice to say, talent and acclaim and those who can't quite measure up yet still want recognition of their own, be it both deserved and undeserved. This is the story of a man of whom music comes to him as naturally as a fish or Michael Phelps takes to water.  It is also a story of envy and sinister intent, filled with stunning performances from an ensemble cast, whimsical costumes, elaborate set pieces, perfect pacing, and a score that is both joyful and haunting, all of which originally and legitimately composed by the films central figure. How many films protagonists are directly responsible for its own score?  

An unnecessary directors cut has been released in recent years. If you have yet to view this film, I suggest you seek out the original theatrical cut. In lieu of your first viewing, I envy you, as it's an experience you only get to have but once. 

2. Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994)

When Anne Rice learned that Tom Cruise was cast as Lestat, she publically shared a few choice words. When she finally saw the film long after it was out of theaters, at home on VHS no less, she ate those words.

Interview with the Vampire was put to page and film well before vampires sparkled and hung out at their local high school and seduced teenagers because they were bored. It is a film that both sticks with tradition surrounding the lore, yet successfully romanticizes them at the same time. Prior to Interview, vampires were thought of as monsters right alongside of Frankenstein and The Wolf Man. Bela Lugosi brought class to the role, but for the most part vampires were never viewed as something that could be beautiful until Rice’s vision came into the foray.  Interview is a film that lives in a very real world. A world that every kid who discovered Hot Topic back in 1997 wishes they could visit. It's a place where not only do vampires exist, but if given the opportunity you had a chance to accept the dark gift, chances are you would accept. I know I would. I'd sure miss Chinese food and pizza though. But that's a small price to pay for immortality. 

3. Rocky (1976)

This is a film that is near and dear to me, as it's the first instalment of my absolute favourite series and I'm a fan of a great many films that come in groups of three and then some! It has within it an unrivalled authenticity for me. A feeling of depth and sincerity that few films come close to matching. When an actor disappears entirely within their role, that's when you know you're watching great cinema.

Before I first introduced this film to my girlfriend, she wasn't particularly interested in giving it a chance. She had never been terribly familiar with Stallone, nor was she a fan of boxing or sports in general. Neither am I, for that matter. But when I told her it was just as much of a chick flick as it was about boxing, she was sceptical yet curious. At its heart, which Rocky has in spades, it's actually not really even about boxing either. Sure, it's definitely a central element and a focal point within Rocky's story, but the story is more about Rocky himself. When he has a chance to fight the current heavyweight champion of the world, his goal is to go the distance. To stand toe to toe with greatness in hopes of proving to himself that he too is capable of greatness. It doesn't matter if he wins, and he's absolutely sincere in his conviction. This is a film I will never tire of. It's the only film I know of that features a sequel that picks up right where the first left off, so when I find myself feeling a Rocky mood coming on, it's not uncommon for me to revisit the first two films back to back.

According to AFI, Raging Bull is the superior offering. I can't stand Raging Bull. I detest that film. If I'm going to choose between an arrogant wife beating jerk or a mush headed softie, you'll excuse me for going with the mush head with heart. 

4. Ghostbusters (1984)


Childhood, thy name is Ghostbusters. This was one of the very first films my family owned on VHS and I played that tape into the ground. I was immediately smitten by Venkman, Spengler, Stantz and Zeddemore. Even at the age of seven, I knew this was a smart film. The humour was subtle and ever present, but it was so much more than a comedy. It was fantasy, science fiction, horror, drama, and comedy all rolled into one. Can a film take itself seriously yet not take itself seriously at all at the same time? Ghostbusters did and it did so effortlessly. It's a bona fide classic and will remain so over time, all the more so in lieu of the gender swapping remake no one ever asked for or wanted. That film was dead on arrival, while the film that inspired it will remain a classic for decades to come. 

5. Contact (1997)

My father was an Astronomer. I grew up in a household where I was encouraged to look up at the night sky and into our ever expanding universe. It wasn't at all uncommon to find myself at the top of Mt. Baldy here in California at 2am, peering into a telescope aimed directly at the Moon, Mars, Jupiter or Saturn and its many rings. When you peer through that hole out into the endless cosmic horizon, you can't help but wonder if we're alone and if there's life out there...somewhere....amongst those countless stars. While I personally don't believe there is, I'd have to agree with the notion that if there's not and it is just us....seems like an awful waste of space.  

Contact is the smartest film on this list, and not because it's firmly based on science. Contact is science meets science fiction. It answers the question (for those in the film) surrounding whether or not we're alone in the universe and does so with more respect than frankly we deserve. We get our answer, which is the equivalent of a toddler hoping the time has come to take the training wheels off their bike only to be told they're not quite ready, but to keep on peddling. Carl Sagan passed away in 1996, less than a single year before his vision came to the silver screen. Had he lived to see Contact, he would have found a Kindred spirit in Ellie. 

6. Glory (1989)

I was born in 1979. The concept of slavery and racial segregation has been an absurdity to me throughout the entire course of my life and although slavery has been abolished here in the US and has been condemned worldwide, racial segregation (both intentional and otherwise) remains wide spread throughout the world. It would seem that for some people, division is the norm. Self segregation is very much real and represents one of our many failings, but for some people the fight against segregation and racial inequality is worth fighting and dying for. And that's exactly what the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry did. 

Glory tells the story of a white Captain who is bestowed upon him an unwanted promotion to the rank of Colonel as the Emancipation Proclamation came into law. Born into wealth and privilege, the films protagonist has no ego among the regiment of former slaves he commands. Before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white man, thousands of brave black men and women took a rightful stand against inequality. This is but one story of many, in a film laced with sheer integrity. 

7. Highlander (1986)

This is my wild card. It almost didn't make the cut, dare I phrase it as such...but I'm too synonymous with it among my close friends not to include it. I freaking love this movie. I love the story. I love the cast. I love the Queen laden soundtrack. I love the transitions. I love the sheer 80's-ness of it all. I love the fact that Sean Connery accepted the role of an immortal Egyptian by the name of Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez, and that he was only available for a week, but he freaking NAILED IT. I love how Connor MacLeod is from lots of different places. I love everything about this film with the exception of the opening scene featuring a wrestling match, which is supposed to represent how Connors life is enveloped by conflict and violence. But once that camera zooms in on him amongst the crowd, basking in a single ray of light with an expression that suggests "this guys been around"  ....it's on. 

8.  The Terminator (1984)

This offering from a then 30 year old James Cameron is, for me, his finest achievement. Yes, most people consider the sequel to be superior in every way and I completely understand why. It's a timeless classic in its own right, which broke new ground in special effects and set the bar sky high for every action film that followed, but the original Terminator has a different kind of classic feel. The kind that comes with films you catch from the halfway point on AMC and you can't help but watch anyway even if you did miss the first half. Then when it's over you find your DVD and start from the beginning and when you reach the part you first came in, it doesn't matter...because you don't mind watching it again. Because it's awesome.  

Those without a love for action or science fiction have unjustly reduced this film as citing it as an offering featuring nothing but dated special effects and largely only remembering it as the film that launched Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career into super stardom that features his most classic catch phrase. But just as Arnold vows to be back, so will I and countless others for many repeat viewings in the years to come. In either case, in a 100 years, who's gonna care?

9. The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

The folks at AFI can gush over Lawrence of Arabia, Gone with the Wind, The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur all they want. This is my epic. This film feels considerably more real for me. The four aforementioned films are, in many ways, superior offerings on a much grander level. However, sometimes less is more and this film succeeds for the same reason Rocky speaks to me. It too has heart.  

If I were to describe The Last of the Mohicans with a single adjective, it would be authentic. None of the characters portrayed here feel any less than sincere. The tension is palpable, and the emotion is genuine. When you place this films score over these performances, you're left with nothing short of period piece that commands your respect. 

10. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

As a writer, I don't particularly like Stephen King. I consider his work vastly overrated, but life carries with it a great many exceptions and this is one of them. This is one of the films that made me appreciate finer cinema and the importance of character development. I saw and still see a lot of myself in Andy Dufresne. Those who know me well would understand where I'm coming from. I've always been able to make the best of a bad situation and figure out a way to come out ahead or on top. It's in my nature to make that happen, and I've always had a knack for doing so. I figure life is hard enough in its own right, so you better have the right approach to get through the dips, twists, and turns, as best you can.  

The idea of Morgan Freeman narrating everything has become an inside joke at this point, but it all started here. And if ever there was a man who could find a way to smuggle Rita Hayworth into Shawshank Prison, Red was the man who could make it happen. I revisit this film at least once a year and will likely continue to do so in the years to come, God willing. 

11. Hook (1991)

Top 10 be damned, after narrowing it down none of these could make the cut, so here we are. Besides, a top 10 list without Robin Williams is hardly credible anyway.  

As of composing this list, I'm 37 years old. I'm also very much a big kid at heart, with absolutely no intention to ever grow up in a traditional sense as dictated by societal norms. Suffice to say, I'm an adult when I have to be, but when I am it's just an act. The rest of the time I can be myself, which more importantly means being true to myself. And that side of me believes in Neverland. 

I used to view this film with sheer joy. It is now bittersweet. In Hook we find Williams at his most playful. Whatever demons this man kept at bay were not present here. Perhaps this was filmed well before his battle with depression was at hand. In spite of Williams personal struggles, this film is the celebration of a master at the top of his craft. When combined with a stellar cast, cheerful score and Spielberg at the helm, it's pretty hard to miss.  

Run home, Jack. Run home. 

The Magnificent Seven (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 132 minutes
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writers: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni (based on the screenplay by) , Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk (screenplay)
Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard, Vincent D'Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennet, Matt Bomer, Luke Grimes

The Magnificent Seven opens in Australian cinemas on September 29 and is distributed by Sony Pictures. Now showing in the United States.

The Magnificent Seven is a throwback to the traditional westerns of yesteryear that ticks all the boxes of what makes a film of it's genre successful. When her town of Rose Creek is taken over by savage gunmen and her husband shot and killed in front of her, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) tries to find the right men to bring justice to her hometown. She finds her emancipator in Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who sets out to assemble a group of highly skilled and dangerous men to take on Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) and his band of men to bring Rose Creek to peace again.

The 2016 Magnificent Seven wears the title of remake loosely, as it doesn't greatly resemble the 1960 film of the same name starring Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner and Charles Bronson that it is based on. This is actually surprising considering how Antoine Fuqua's film is nostalgic as it feel like the westerns of Hollywood's Golden Age. However, as is expected of all remade films with any type of action, it likes to show off what can now be done in the cinematography and special effects department.

And show off it does. There are plenty of impressive sweeping shots of the American west that bring out how attractive it is rather than how brutal. Fuqoa is particularly fond of setting up his cast for hero shots, which usually come when introducing a character or end of the film and are in this case spread out throughout the whole movie. Again, some of these shots are rather impressive such as the seven walking into the sunset (a stereotypical shot for a film of it's genre), but it is more overkill than artistic.

However, the grandest moment of The Magnificent Seven is the fight for Rose Creek. It's battle is exactly what you crave from a western genre film with plenty of action, suspense, unpredictability and heartbreak. The first half of the film (with the exception of the opening scene) coasts along without too much to marvel at, but the promise of and lead up to the final shoot out is superb....and this is no spoiler at all to speak about. The final shoot-out is an accepted piece of a western film, and the plot of The Magnificent Seven lets one know early on that this is where the film is headed.

There isn't too great an attempt of character development for any of the main players besides the basics and what they have done in the past month or so, but each player has a solid and distinctive personality. Despite it being The Magnificent Seven, it is basically Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt being the two of the most magnificence. The two are presented in the film as rock star-like figures and it is them that drive the film. Washington is very good and a real presence on screen as the leader of the seven, Sam Chisolm. His attitude is intriguing and he embodies the cowboy ring-leader with ease and class.

Chris Pratt plays Chisolm's opposite as the mostly intoxicated and laidback, Josh Faraday. Faraday does have many traits that liken him to other Pratt characters in his past movies with his cheeky demeanour and witty one-liners so much that it almost feels as though Pratt was cast purely for comedic value. However, it does work in lightening the mood of the film and giving the screenplay a bit more life. Haley Bennett also does well in the sole female role as Emma Cullen and has several moments throughout the film when she shines.

As westerns do not grace our cinema screens with the consistency which they did in the past, The Magnificent Seven may well be the best of it's genre you see this year. Satisfies lovers of westerns and old-fashioned action.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

#Top10....with Chris Elena

#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. Our favourite films say a great deal about the person we are and what we value.The object of #Top10 is to share the love of film and hopefully you the reader can find some new favourites.

Our first #Top10 guest is Chris Elena, a filmmaker from Sydney who is still trying his best to shoot on 16mm film. He has written for An Online Universe and Stash Everything and is currently working on his next short film whilst his most recent, The Limited just made its festival debut at Queensland Film Festival in July. He admits that he is obsessed with the topics of gender and sexuality in film, having studied feminism, film and creative writing at the University of Wollongong and the most common threads you'll see in his film taste and in the list below are: Feminism, sexuality, queer and gender representation.

Here is Chris' #Top10.....

1. The Master (2012)

There is this obsession I have with films being sweet, gentle and involving. Besides the obvious reason for it making for a much more shared experience when trying to connect with the story and character, my only real guess to why is that sadness and loneliness is better understood and felt when in contrast with acceptance and adoration. I only ever understand how lonely and hopeless a character is when they're being listened to or welcomed in. The Master made me come to this realisation, it put in place what I love about movies, that feeling to understand a character's loneliness and longing for love. We see a relationship develop that encapsulates this and the notion of one's loneliness ultimately rejecting said love and acceptance. It might just be the sweetest and saddest film I've ever seen. Of course it's my favourite movie of all time.

2. 35 Shots of Rum (2008)

Like almost every film on this list, loneliness is front and centre and how a character/characters accept loneliness whether it's due to the circumstance or by their own hand. Claire Denis' film establishes relationships by their interactions, not by their titles. We know exactly who they are and what they mean to one another without any announcements. I've never seen a film dedicate all its energy and soul to its characters and their existence over audience acknowledgement or satisfaction. I learned exactly how much character representation can be short changed by dictating their words and actions to appease an audience. If there was ever a movie that taught me the importance of character integrity and relationships, it's this one. One of the greatest final shots of all time included.

3. Magnolia (1999)

The movie sold me on the notion of: You can do almost whatever you want with plot just as long as your characters are developed, interesting, emotional and multi-dimensional and once you've done that, you should do everything you can to make a film no one's seen before. Essentially, the movie that convinced me that my be all and end all for movies is character. The film's greatest achievement is its approach of wearing its heart on its sleeve and the running joke of, you can have almost anything happen in your film no matter how chaotic, outlandish or downright insane the scene or idea on screen is - its no match for characters in distress who are breaking apart before your very eyes. One of the warmest films I've seen. Incredibly heartbreaking, sweet and original.

4. There Will Be Blood (2007)

Greed, America, Fatherhood, Men, Capitalism - sure, it's about all of those things, but the way in which it's conducted like all of his films is through character. Plot, like in The Master, we're given a protagonist who will push people away for power and do just about anything to rise above the status quo. But for a film that involves masculinity heavily and includes almost no female characters, it's one of the very first films I've seen of its kind that doesn't indulge the masculine complex, but portrays this man as a strange creature unlike any other by how he interacts with people and finds any flaw he can in a loving relationship, including the one with his son. It's to me a movie involving men about the process of separating yourself from empathy and love, even without knowing it. The true, ultimate dissection of masculinity and the idea of men refusing to be emotional without the blatant use of sexism and homophobia laden dialogue because every other movie about men will have that on display already.

5. The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford (2007)

See the description to all four films above...they apply here. Yet here, it's in the silence. The western genre always felt like an exploration of sadness and emptiness, no matter how exciting the shootouts within that exploration may appear. This is the movie that relishes in that feeling. It's a movie about dying alone and the world not caring otherwise. The last twenty minutes are everything.

6. Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005)

A film that explores how and why people meet one another and how social normalities are built on cynicism, judgement, a fear of being kind and honest that's ingrained in all of us that ultimately prevent relationships from forming. The film looks why we are the way we are and why we judge and exactly where that comes from. (including sexuality, art, kindness etc). A movie that condemns unjustified cynicism, irrational judgement of people and dishonesty whilst having perhaps the most gentle and adorable execution of ideas I've ever seen. The movie that challenged my perception of human interaction, honesty and kindness.

7. Boogie Nights (1997)

My favourite era of music, fashion and movies is the 1970's. My obsession with that decade, I never understood until I saw Boogie Nights for the first time. The ultimate metaphor of an era that has a fun, inviting and judgement free representation through music and movies that was essentially an attempt to avoid how corrupt and broken the world had become. A collection of mistreated, misunderstood and abandoned people who find love and validation in one another and that all collaborate in the adult film industry. The movie that made me assess how destructive sexuality can be in film and how representation is everything and the fallacy of fantasy through representation, whether it be in sex on screen or by a moment in time. After Boogie Nights I questioned my understanding of what is neglected or ignored when one fantasizes or praises.

8. In The Cut (2003)

The first movie I ever saw that reversed tired gender driven caricatures. The contemplative and lonely protagonist driven by curiosity and obsession and the femme fatale. Meg Ryan is the protagonist and Mark Ruffalo is the femme fatale. A movie about female sexuality with every sex scene establishing character progression and development. A movie that questions why female sexuality and domestic violence is ignored in film, how women are beaten and murdered in films to advance plot whereas In The Cut looks at why misogyny in film is often represented as sexy instead of toxic. This is the movie that got me to acknowledge the relationship between sex and violence in a very honest way with the emphasis on the way films over sensationalise and sexualize female suffering and often biased, dishonest representation of female sexuality in film and the insistence on ignoring the violence men are capable of toward women through insecurity and entitlement.

9. Do The Right Thing (1989)

Racism from the perspective of an angry and flabbergasted voice that is still unsure why racism is ingrained in us and the double standards in place of a social infrastructure that still supports it. Do The Right Thing taught me the importance of challenging social injustice in film through style and a sense of community and keeping that community together despite being forced to take sides through fear and distrust. From its opening scene till its very final moments, movies don't get much more perceptive, opinionated and challenging.

10. Shortbus (2006)

The greatest example of sex and intimacy I’ve ever seen on film. The emphasis on female sexuality, the focus on sexuality that’s often feared and ignored in most mainstream cinema and how characters can be defined by sex scenes which in an opening sequence reveals through sex the grief, confusion, sadness and suffering they're all experiencing in a world that will never be the same after 9/11. The film that says above all else, we have each other, even if we're unsure of what happened and if we'll ever be happy again. It's what taught me about unbiased sexuality on screen and how sex can often define, save and bring people together in an honest and open way.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Storks (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 90 minutes
Director: Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland
Writer: Nicholas Stoller
Cast: (voices) Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Ty Burrell, Jennifer Aniston, Kelsey Grammer, Anton Starkman, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Danny Trejo, Peter Helliar

Storks opens in Australian cinemas on September 22 and is distributed by Roadshow Films. Opening in the United States on September 23 and distributed by Warner Bros.

Much like the bird that is it's title, it feels as though Storks has completely flown under the radar this year. This new and original film has arrived in cinemas with perhaps not as much fanfare as other family animations which makes how enjoyable, hilarious, relatable and touching Storks is even more surprising.

You may have noticed that with so many other methods now available, storks no longer deliver babies. Instead, they deliver telecommunication devices from the online company, Cornerstore.com which is a great deal more practical. Workaholic stork, Junior (voiced by Andy Samberg) has just been offered the much coveted boss role , but first he has to fire the only human in the factory who was also the last baby that was attempted to be delivered, Tulip (Katie Crown). Junior and Tulip accidently re-discover and reactivate the Baby Making Machine leading to one little adorable baby being created. The two have to deliver this bundle of joy as quickly as possible so Junior can save his promotion.

Storks is a real breath of fresh air. With a completely original screenplay by co-director Nicholas Stoller, Storks takes a concept that doesn't seem overly interesting and makes it far funnier and more relatable than it should be. When compared to the other animated film that is currently in Australian cinemas for the school holidays, Storks gets right what The Secret Life of Pets got wrong. Both will entertain younger audiences just fine with their simple storylines and cute characters, but Storks will also completely win over older audiences.

Adults will find a great deal of enjoyment in watching scenarios unfold during the film that are so familiar to them as both workers and parents. Many of the amusing scenes in Storks are based on situational humour (which some younger members of the audience may not understand) with a slice of random humour in there for good measure. There will be no parent in the cinema who will not be able to see themselves in the film's characters at least once, especially when Junior and Tulip are attempting to get the baby to sleep and keep her asleep. Yet while these are the scenes that will make people chuckle, these are also the moments that will bring a tear to your eye as they are so touching. The ending is particularly true of this and anyone who has had to wait for a child to come into their life will be moved by the visuals accompanying Vance Joy's "Fire and The Flood". That adorable baby girl also shows the power cute babies have to make people go a bit silly at times.

Even if you are not a parent and feel that you cannot relate to this aspect of Storks, then you will definitely be able to relate to the workplace dynamics of Cornerstone.com. This idea of becoming the boss is one that is highlighted in the film. It's a job that everyone seems to want, but besides the usual perks like increased pay, so many people do not really know why they want to be the boss and cite that it "sounds cool" as their reason for wanting the job title. It's also not common etiquette to act excited when you are told you are boss, even though your brain is exploding. Then there is Pigeon Toady (as voiced by Stephen Kramer Glickman) who is the perfect embodiment of that over-the-top co-worker who is trying so hard to be friends that he is just creepy. Tulip's multiple personalities in the empty warehouse is also very amusing.

As cliché as it sounds, Storks really is a movie that the whole family can enjoy. It is a whole lot of fun with a load of laughs while still being moving and respectful.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Beatles: Eight Days A Week- The Touring Years (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 106 minutes (+32 minute Shea Stadium concert footage exclusive to theatrical release)
Director: Ron Howard
Writer: Mark Monroe
Cast: Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon (archival footage), George Harrison (archival footage), Whoopi Goldberg, Eddie Izzard, Larry Kane, Elvis Costello, Sigourney Weaver

The Beatles: Eight Days A Week- The Touring Years opens in Australian cinemas on September 16 2016 and is distributed by Studiocanal. Now showing in UK, France and Germany and opening in the USA on September 16.

Over the years, plenty has been written about the life and times of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr who are, of course, collectively known as The Beatles. Biographical details are not hard to find out about the Fab Four, but what The Beatles: Eight Days a Week- The Touring Years sets out to achieve is something which is not as greatly covered in any previously written or recorded material and is incredibly refreshing, informative and cheekily amusing.

For those who watch Eight Days a Week and were born post-1970, you come to the realisation sometime within the hour and a half that you really did miss out on something special by not being alive when The Beatles were together, especially when they were touring. Ron Howard's film documents both the actual act of The Beatles touring and the effect that they and their touring had on themselves as band members and the world. It highlights the amazing things which the cheeky and likable four did through use of recently found archival footage and interviews from people who saw them live so that we in 2016 can understand what made them so special.

During their 1963-1966 touring years, Beatles-mania hit the world like nothing anybody had ever experienced before. John, Paul, George and Ringo were four boys from working class Liverpool who people took into their hearts not just because of their catchy tunes, but also because they were four friends just doing what they love and were not afraid to show everyone how much fun they were having. During the political and racial tension that plagued the early 1960's, their music and live shows had the incredible power to bring people together despite their background. The story of The Beatles touring is an unexpected cultural narrative told through the eyes of people witnessed the phenomenon and were moved by it including Whoopi Goldberg and Kitty Oliver, as well as news reels from the time and archived interviews from the band members themselves.

However, for the four band members this was a huge burden to bear, especially with such an intense tour schedule. Interviews with the remaining Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr reveal how during the touring years they went from being boys to men very quickly and eventually they all started to feel the strain of being on the road and in the public eye constantly. The film doesn't look a great deal at how each band member individually felt and how they coped, rather how they dealt with it as a unit. The viewer empathizes with the band members by coming to understand how heavy their workload along with their touring schedule was and feels the stress and burden the band understandably felt. It then becomes evident why they changed their style so dramatically in the later years and decided to no longer perform live.

Eight Days a Week is without a doubt a must see for any Beatles fan. The film showcases pieces of live footage taken by Beatles fans from their shows that have never publicly been seen before. For those who weren't there, you feel as though this film is the closest you will get to the real thing with the vivid accounts by concert goers accompanied by the live footage. Eight Days a Week also does have a comical element to it because, as any Beatles fan will know, the boys loved to be playful and joke around. Of course, the legendary music is an obvious feature of the film and there are many Beatles tracks including "She Loves You", "Help" and "Eight Days a Week".

For those who are not fans of The Beatles and are not familiar with their background (which may be the case with members of the younger generation), Eight Days A Week will provide merely the basics about the band. This is something that people who know more about the band will be thankful for as it is original, but others will feel irritated by as it may be hard to enjoy the movie without knowing the finer details. Much of the Beatles story is left out of the film as it is assumed knowledge by the filmmakers. Yet, this isn't a real criticism as one can imagine the large majority of the people seeing the film will be Beatles fans or at least know something about them so this is a forgivable assumption.

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week- The Touring Years is incredibly unique as it looks at The Beatles and their story from a different angle. It focuses purely on one period of the band's history and explains how this stage of their existence affected the world and how the world affected them. It is a defining piece in their story, but also enjoyable for any music buff and Beatles lover.


Monday, September 12, 2016

#Top10 - Let's talk!

#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.

As it is #Top10's first week, we are going to kick things off with my own favourite films! A quick bio for those who don't know me....my name is Nicki Newton-Plater and I am the founder, Editor in Chief and head writer at Movie Critical. I took Film Studies at university and as well as writing for Movie Critical, I also write for Sydney Film School. I've been a film lover my whole life thanks to Walt Disney and to my parents for letting me watch all of Disney's animated films back to back when I was a child.

Choosing my #Top10 proved to be a much harder task than I had anticipated. So here they are in no particular order...

#1 Gone With The Wind (1939)

I know, I just said in no particular order...but Gone With The Wind will always be my number one. I am often met with criticism when I tell people that it is my favourite, so hear me out. Gone With The Wind blew me away the first time I saw it in this day and age so I can only imagine what people felt when they saw it in 1939. It is spectacular and it is epic. I could really write a whole review on why I love the film so much so I'll have to narrow it down to only a few points. The costume design is stunning and the production design of the old South is incredible. This was a time when CGI could not even be imagined in the future, therefore a whole set on the Culver City backlot was set alight for the Atlanta burning scene.

It was during the filming of this scene that Vivien Leigh first stepped foot on the Gone With The Wind set. The search for Scarlett was a spectacle in itself as all of America had read Margaret Mitchell's book and wanted to weigh in on who should play Scarlett O'Hara, yet now it is hard to imagine anybody else playing Scarlett besides Leigh. If she had played the role in 2016, she still would have won the Oscar. Scarlett is brutal, Scarlett is manipulative and Scarlett was a hard bitch. Yet she is one of the most powerful and strong female characters to ever grace the screen and that is something we still need more of nearly 80 years later.

#2 Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

Breakfast at Tiffany's is known more than anything for kicking fashion goals with the iconic Little Black Dress and over-sized sunglasses. This in itself made the film legendary, but it was the complexity of Holly Golighty that spoke to me. Holly Golighty is merely a persona that Lula Mae Barnes created when she arrived in New York City to escape who she used to be. The real person she is is somewhere between Holly and Lula Mae and I really related to that. I feel that at one point in our lives we try our hardest to be somebody who is so far removed from the person we used to be and that who we really are is somewhere in between those two personas. Breakfast at Tiffany's had a stunning script, brilliant direction by Blake Edwards and is gloriously nostalgic of New York City in the early 1960's. And of course, Audrey Hepburn is just delightful.

#3 The Philadelphia Story (1940)

I would say that The Philadelphia Story is my "go-to" movie because it never fails to cheer me up and make me laugh. The screenplay written by Donald Ogden Stewart and based on the play by  Philip Barry is just superb in itself, but is perfected by the cast of Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey, John Howard and Virginia Weildler. Hepburn, Grant and Stewart were three of the biggest names in the golden age of Hollywood (not to mention three of my favourite actors) and to have them all in one film and playing off each other with that script is pure bliss. So many great moments. The travelling shot used when Stewart and Hussey first enter the film with Grant walking behind them is one of my favourite scenes of all time because you just can't get a better entrance than that. Another one of my favourite scenes of all time is Stewart's Macaulay Connor's drunk late night visit to Grant's C.K. Dexter Haven's house, which always leaves me in stitches.

#4 Bringing Up Baby (1938)

"I can't give you anything but love, baby"

Bringing Up Baby is classic screwball comedy and another film that is a guaranteed laugh for me. Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant made four films together and they were a real comedic force when they were together. Hepburn (who was known as "Box Office Poison" at the time of release) is probably most remembered for her more dramatic roles, but she played the role of loopy Susan so well and proved that she really was an actress of extreme versatility. There are so many random pieces of hilarity throughout the film and moments of pure slapstick, such as Grant sliding to the floor by treading on a hat. It is just plain and simple comedy. It's clean and pure. It's not a deep film by any means, but it is the perfect light film to sit back and watch when you really need a laugh and it never fails to make me giggle uncontrollably.

#5 L.A. Confidential (1997)

I love this movie. L.A. Confidential is so atmospheric and nostalgic. It's probably pretty obvious looking at my favourite films that I love Hollywood history and classic Hollywood films. I also love the city of Los Angeles. It's a mixed up city that is dirty and grimy but also star struck with a certain sense of glamour to it. L.A. Confidential shows Los Angeles the way I really believe it would have looked and felt in the 1950's. There was (and probably still is) a corrupt world behind the glitz and glamour. It was the film that made Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce stars outside of Australia and they along with Kevin Spacey are wonderful in the film. Another one of my all time favourite movie scenes belongs to this film when Guy Pearce's Ed Exley memorably accuses Lana Turner of being a hooker who looks like Lana Turner.

Even though I did enjoy the novel by James Ellroy which this movie is based on, L.A. Confidential is one of the few times I will ever say that the movie was better than the book.

#6 Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

The feeling I get when I watch Shane Black's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is just that the stars aligned. Everything in this film just works and not enough people have seen this film. I saw it when it came out and then studied it for my American Film Genres class at college where I realised how much I really loved it. Shane Black has a really unique style of comedy which is extremely dark, random and sarcastic. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a comedy which is part action and part murder mystery. It is a great, crazy and fun romp which is thrilling and unpredictable. Set once again in Los Angeles, but in the present day with the main players being people who don't have a great deal of talent and are still hoping for their big break. I do love watching Robert Downey Jr. in roles like this as he does more franchise films these days rather than stand alone films, and it is great watching him play someone quirky, but otherwise normal in comparison.

#7 Hollywoodland (2006)

I love Hollywood history and Hollywoodland is based in part on real life events. It looks at the death of the 1950's television Superman, George Reeves and examines the possibility of whether his death (which was ruled a suicide) could have been murder. I love old Hollywood conspiracy theories even if I really believe that they are just rumours to sensationalize. The way the film approaches all the evidence and looks at all the possibilities is not only thought-provoking, but enjoyable and entertaining. It also shows the contrasting sides of Los Angeles where George Reeves and the Mannix's live the lives of the Hollywood elite as opposed to Louis Simo's grimy apartment building and his family's suburban life.

#8 The Great Dictator (1940)

Charlie, Charlie, Charlie. The man was a genius and he is my number one film hero. Charlie Chaplin changed the face of cinema and brought happiness and laughter to so many people's lives. Of course, Modern Times, City Lights, The Kid and The Gold Rush are also among my favourite films and are each pure genius in themselves, but The Great Dictator is the one I personally love more than any others. Although the film states at the beginning that no characters are based on any actual real life person, it does not take a university degree to know that Dictator Adenoid Hynkel is based on Adolf Hitler.  Chaplin and Hitler were born on the same day and Hitler modelled his moustache on Chaplin's as he thought it would make him more likable. Chaplin was not a Jew, but he saw what Hitler was doing and it angered him. Chaplin got in a great deal of trouble from the public for making The Great Dictator, the American public were also not a fan of it as they thought he was mocking the USA. Now we look back and see how incredible it is. Even now, his final speech in the film is relevant. Yet despite the serious nature of the film, it is still a comedy in true Chaplin fashion and his gibberish speech at the beginning of the film is absolutely hysterical.

#9 Mary Poppins (1964)

As I said, Disney was what kicked off my love of film all those years ago. There are so many Disney films that I love, but at this point in time I would have to say Mary Poppins is my favourite and it's only been recently that I have found that it has snuck it's way into my very favourite films. I must have seen it for the first time when I was around 5, but I have come to appreciate it a great deal more as an adult. I love all the song and dance scenes, but my favourite part of the film is Julie Andrews. Andrews has said that Walt Disney approached her to make the film while she was pregnant and told her that they could wait until she had had the baby and was ready to come back to work to start to make the film. He knew she was the only one for the role. The character of Mary Poppins in a film like this really could have been so over the top and by the wrong person could have just been laughable, but Julie Andrews is absolutely perfect. She is just so natural in a role in which it actually would have been hard to be natural in. Again, such a well deserved Oscar and one of my favourite performances of all time.

#10 The Wizard of Oz (1939)

I really had a tough time choosing this tenth film. There are so many other films that I just absolutely adore such as Sunset Blvd., The King's Speech, The Departed, The Aviator, Bonnie and Clyde, Network and It's A Wonderful Life that I could have put here. At first I shied away from including The Wizard of Oz because I thought it seemed too obvious, but there is a reason it is obvious. It is because it is a true classic in every sense of the word and it is really is one of my all time favourites. 1939 was such an incredible year for film. Two of the greatest films of all time in one year. I do sometimes speak of The Wizard of Oz in the same sentence as Gone With The Wind because I love hearing about the making of it, the search for the actors to play the characters and the aftermath. The Wizard of Oz was truly before it's time. I love the fact that my grandparents watched it as children, my parents did, I did and now my children are and I know families will for years and years to come. Poor Judy Garland...such a tragic star.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Secret Life of Pets (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 97 minutes
Directors: Yarrow Cheney and Chris Renaud
Writers: Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio and Brian Lynch
Cast: (voices), Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Albert Brooks, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey

The Secret Life of Pets is now showing in Australian cinemas and is distributed by Universal Pictures.

The Secret Life of Pets is a rather uncomplicated, sweet ode to those small, furry family members that younger audiences will relish, but it's simplicity will prove to be not enough to satisfy older audience members.

Ever wondered what your pets do at home all day by themselves? The Secret Life of Pets shows pet-owners the side of their cats and dogs which they don't get to witness. Most days their lives have a steady routine, but Max's (voiced by Louis C.K.) comfortable life with his much loved owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) is severely disrupted by the appearance of a new and much bigger dog, Duke (Eric Stonestreet). The automatic friction between the two leads to a most unforgettable day where new friends and enemies are made outside of their beloved home and in the big city.

While The Secret Life of Pets is solid and does not fail in what it sets out to achieve, it is a weak contribution to what has so far been a very strong year for animation. The film is extremely simple and straight forward as it is not saying anything more than what is presented on screen and in it's screenplay. For children, this easy to follow story line along with the cute and colourful characters will be extremely entertaining and enjoyable.

Yet for adults, it's simplicity will make it all seem a little "ho-hum". Not all movies need to be saying something to be liked or be entertaining, but the creative choices made within this somewhat original concept are too obvious and therefore lose a sense of surprise and enjoyment.

However, it would be both unfair and untrue to say that the movie is holds no enjoyment for adults. It is merely that it comes at a time when as film goers, we are expecting more from animated films. The Secret Life of Pets is definitely a treat for pet-owners. In particular, anyone who has ever come home after a long, hard day of work to their cat or dog will find the final scene especially heart-warming. Also, even though it is featured in the trailer, the most amusing part of the film and the most random is still the head-banging Poodle and the sofa-bouncing Chihuahua. It truly doesn't have much to do with anything which makes it even funnier.

Many of the characters in the film are still somewhat unoriginal in regards to the story, even though they are still charismatic in a cute and cuddly way. Kevin Hart as the villainous bunny rabbit, Snowball is a particular standout in the voice cast. He may not do a great deal vocally, but he does give Snowball a great deal of character. Without Hart providing his recognisable voice, the bunny would have been completely different. Jenny Slate is also a whole lot of fun as Max's admirer, Gidget.

The Secret Life of Pets is a fine film for families, but does not have enough depth and substance to make it memorable.


Saturday, September 10, 2016

Oz Comic-Con causing Sydney to geek-out!

Cosplay craziness has taken over Sydney this weekend with Oz Comic-Con...and it really is a whole lot of crazy. Yet it is the type of crazy you will love if you are serious about "geek" culture.

Don't be fooled though. Oz Comic-Con has something for everyone, but one's first Comic-Con experience can be a real eye-opener. Probably the most shocking thing about a Comic-Con is how much effort people put into their Cosplay costumes, which can be hard to understand if you haven't witnessed it before or if you are not one of the die-hards.

Yet, once you get past how scary good (or just plain scary) some of the costumes are, there is so much to enjoy for movie and TV lovers. Oz Comic-Con is in Sydney for this weekend (September 10 and 11 2016) at the Sydney Exhibition Centre @ Glebe Island. As it was opening day, the halls were packed with high energy and excitement from fans and exhibitors alike. It truly is heaven for lovers of everything sci-fi and fantasy with everything to satisfy your passion and make you feel as close to your favourite films, television shows and print (including comics and books) as possible. It is no wonder people choose to participate in Cosplay when visiting, why not really feel as though you are in these worlds by making yourself into a character in the narrative?

Along with stalls selling the best in pop culture merchandise, there are exhibits from the Star Wars, Marvel and Star Trek universes....all of which are incredibly impressive. You can enter the world of Star Wars and have your photo taken with Captain Phasma, Kylo Ren or a Storm-Trooper, as well as get excited with previews for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story which is due out this December.

As it is Marvel's Captain America's 75th anniversary, it is only fitting for he to have his own exhibit. There is a little something for all Marvel lovers though. You can even battle your friends to see who is the mightiest by attempting to remove Thor's hammer!

Of course, one of the most popular parts of any Comic-Con is the special guests. In Sydney this weekend, film and television guests include Aaron Ashmore ("Warehouse 13"), Charles Martinet ("Super Mario Bros"), Charlie Carver ("Teen Wolf"), Christian Kane ("Angel"), Daniel Portman ("Game of Thrones"), Devon Murray (Harry Potter), Hal Rayle (Transformers), Joe Flanigan ("Stargate: Atlantis"), Katee Sackhoff ("Battlestar Galactica"), Ken Kirsinger ( Freddy vs Jason), Ksenia Solo ("Lost Girl"), Maggie Roswell ("The Simpsons"), Max Carver ("Teen Wolf"), Mitch Pileggi ("The X-Files"), Nicki Aycox ("Supernatural"), Rachel Miner ("Supernatural"), Rainbow Sun Francks ("Stargate: Atlantis"), Stephen Hunter (The Hobbit) and Timothy Omundson ("Psych"). However, the two most popular guests based on their panels and their autograph and photo demands were Karl Urban (Star Trek, Lord of the Rings) and Freddy Kruger himself, Robert Englund.

And of course, the Cosplay. There are several competitions that take place over the two days so the more effort your put in the better. Again, some of the costumes are quite unsettling, but you also have the hilarious and the ridiculous (such as Mario jumping out of a pipe just like in the video game and an AT-AT walker). One of the most entertaining aspects of the Cosplay happens outside the exhibition hall. It is not every day you see Kylo Ren sitting on a Sydney ferry just chatting to his friend (who is not dressed up at all), Shrek sitting on the dock at Darling Harbour or three bearded girls sitting side by side checking their phones.

However, a tip if you are a girl and wanting to dress up for any Comic-Con this year or next, if you want to be original avoid going as Harley Quinn. The character which Suicide Squad has made popular once again was the most popular female Cosplay today and therefore lacked originality. So stand out from the crowd and pick someone else! As for the male characters, there wasn't one character that was more abundant in the crowd than the others and some very original ones were seen out and about.

Oz Comic-Con is an interesting and enjoyable day out for any pop culture enthusiast. Thankyou to Blue Planet Public Relations for the chance to check it out and we can't wait to go again next year!

If you would like to go to the Sydney Comic-Con today (Sunday September 11 2016) or want to find out about Oz Comic-Con in your city, please see the official website http://www.ozcomiccon.com/2016/

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Pete's Dragon (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 102 minutes
Director: David Lowery
Writers: Malcolm Marmorstein (based on the screenplay by), David Lowery and Toby Halbrooks (screenplay)
Cast: Oakes Fegley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Oona Laurence, Robert Redford, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban

Pete's Dragon is now showing in the United States and will open in Australia on September 15. Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.

Once again, another film enters cinemas this year that looks deceptively like a stereotypical remake. However, Pete's Dragon is only loosely based on the 1977 film of the same name with the only concrete similarity being that there is a boy named Pete who's best friend is a dragon named Elliot. Disney's new film has gone in the opposite direction of it's namesake and instead of remaking Pete's Dragon as the musical comedy it originally was, they have turned it into a family drama that is simple and quick, but incredibly sweet, loving and moving.

In the small Pacific northwest town of Mulhaven, there has always been stories of dragons in the woods, but with so little evidence they have never been proved to be much more than folklore. However, when a young, orphaned boy, Pete (Oakes Fegley) emerges from the wilderness, the town is shocked that he was able to stay alive living by himself for so long. Park ranger, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) is able to earn Pete's trust and he confides in her about his best friend, Elliot, which challenges everything she and most of her family has ever believed.

While vastly different films, Pete's Dragon can be likened to the 2016 Ghostbusters. Both may be classified as remakes, but neither primarily aspires to replicate the original on a bigger and better scale as stereotypical remakes tend to do. In both cases, the filmmakers use the originals only as inspiration to do something new and different with the story and this is what should be done with remakes. A remake should be a product of seeing an original opportunity in an old idea.

Although the 1977 Pete's Dragon is loosely classified as a Disney classic, the Don Chaffey directed film which starred Sean Marshall, Helen Reddy and Mickey Rooney is considered mediocre at best. David Lowery's film may be a very different film to the original, but is so superior in it's production that it has the power to become the more referenced out of the two in years to come.

The 2016 Pete's Dragon is a truly surprising experience. While the film seems quite quick as it takes place over only two days and the story easy and straight forward, there is a great deal of power behind it's simplicity. The film is filled with so much love which is transcended onto the screen in the sweetest of ways so that it would take a cold heart to not be moved by Pete and his dragon. The audience feels an instant emotional attachment to the two unlikely friends as a result of splendid character development (especially that of Oakes Fegley's Pete) and wonderful casting and direction. This attachment formed between character and audience is one of the things which makes Pete's Dragon extremely moving. The soundtrack for the film is also beautifully utilised to give greater depth and understanding to the situations at hand.

In an age where CGI is such a dominant feature in mainstream Hollywood films, it takes something special to be truly surprised by the phenomenon these days. The CGI development of Elliot is outstanding, but not in the way it traditional sense. Elliot has been constructed with so much love that he is immediately likable and it is easy to forget that he is not a real being that is being filmed alongside Fegley. He is the perfect mixture of pet and best friend and while the idea of chemistry between an actor and a CGI created animal may seem impossible, it is certainly proved otherwise here.

This is a definite area of credit for Oakes Fegley. Acting alongside a CGI creation is often difficult and when this is so it transcends to the screen, but Fegley does a superb job of making us believe that he is really there with his best friend who just happens to be a dragon. Fegley's performance as Pete is one of the best by a young person of the year. Like Elliot, he is immediately lovable and empathetic. Fegley allows the audience to watch Pete go through some heavy emotions (such as hurt and grief, as well as the complicated notion of separation anxiety) in a way which is devastatingly real.

Bryce Dallas Howard also gives a performance which is just beautiful. Her portrayal of Grace is stunningly heart-warming and maternal. Robert Redford also does well as Grace's father, Meacham and makes the most of the screen time he is given. Karl Urban character of Gavin, who is the film's villain, is perhaps the only let down. He comes across as corny and over-exaggerated without a hint of real menace, which makes him a lousy nemesis to Elliot.

Who would have thought that in 2016 Pete's Dragon would be a loving family film that brings a tear to your eye on more than one occasion? What David Lowery has done with his film is truly wonderful and a perfect example of what a remake should be...inspired, but original in it's own way.