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.