Thursday, February 25, 2016

Zoolander 2 (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 102 minutes
Director: Ben Stiller
Writers: Drake Sather (character), Ben Stiller (character and screenplay), Justin Theroux, Nicholas Stoller and John Hamburg (screenplay)
Cast: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Cyrus Arnold, Christine Taylor, Billy Zane, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kiefer Sutherland

Zoolander 2 is perhaps not a completely unexpected disappointment. It was always to be a massive task recreating the success of the first film, especially when the sequel's screenwriters focused and tried too hard with the wrong elements, Instead of recreating the unique brand of humour displayed in the original film, Zoolander  2 is hardly funny and incredibly weak.

After years in a self inflicted exile, male model Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) comes out of hiding when he receives an invitation to make his comeback on the catwalk in Rome. He is reunited with his old friend, Hansel and the two discover that the world of fashion has changed a great deal. When they meet ex-swimsuit model, Valentina Valencia (Penelope Cruz), they find out that celebrities all around the world have been dying and using a past signature look of Derek's to communicate information regarding their killer. However, it all becomes personal when Derek finds out that his estranged son, Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold) is in great danger and he, Hansel and Valentina must find a way to save him.

There is no better way to describe Zoolander 2 than an absolute mess. It's screenplay is less of an actual story and more of a cluster of ridiculous one-liners and references to the 2001 film thrown together in no particular order. Ben Stiller and his co-writers, Justin Theroux, Nicholas Stoller and John Hamburg seem to have approached the writing of the Zoolander sequel in much the same way as most sequels are written, which is working with the elements that made the first film work. In this case, they got the idea of what worked in Zoolander completely wrong. Zoolander has become something of a cult classic because it was it was a satire of the modelling world that was clever and ridiculous at the same time.

There is nothing clever about Zoolander 2. The story is incredibly weak because the focus is more on making the film as funny as it can possibly be and this is the reason that the film is not funny at all. Every single piece of dialogue and every scenario is just designed to be funny and instead is just irritating. The sad thing is that there are actually some moments in the film that would be laugh out loud funny if audiences hadn't been inundated with other things significantly less funny around it. More than laughs, Zoolander 2 induces more eye rolls with the things it wants you to find funny, many of which are incredibly predictable such as Derek discovering his son is not male model material.

The entire concept of a satirical look at the modelling world does not have the same appeal as it did fifteen years ago when it was something unique with a creative screenplay. One cannot help but believe that Stiller just waited too long to make a Zoolander sequel and the concept does not work as well in 2016 as it did in 2001. Despite the introduction of new characters and even the world of fashion which Derek and Hansel exist in having changed with the times, the whole concept just feels tired.

What was once considered funny about Derek Zoolander and Hansel now just feels overtly exaggerated and much too ridiculous. Admittedly, the only two performances in the film which one does feel comfortable watching are Billy Zane's and Cyrus Arnold's, who plays Derek Jr. Zane plays himself and his presence actually gives an enjoyable start to the film, while Arnold plays a moody teenager. The two are unforced in their delivery and it is a welcome change to every other performance in the film (except for Christine Taylor as Matilda's ghost). Every other character in the film is so incredibly over the top and exaggerated to the point of irritation, especially Stiller's Derek Zoolander who proves that exaggerating a character who was successful the first time round doesn't work.

Zoolander 2 is a film that should never have existed. The original film should have been allowed to remain a stand alone film and the name Derek Zoolander be met with fond memories. However, Zoolander 2 proves once again that the sequel is never as good as the first and lightening does not strike in the same place twice.


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Brooklyn (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 111 minutes
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 now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed in Australia by Transmission Films and in the United States by Fox Searchlight.

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.

In the early 1950's, young Irish girl, Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) is sent to America to make a new life for herself in Brooklyn, New York. Plagued by an over-whelming sense of homesickness, the beginning of her journey is not a happy one. However, things soon turn around for Eilis when she finds a sense of purpose studying bookkeeping at night and meets Tony (Emory Cohen). She and Tony find love in one another and start to plan for a future together, until Eilis receives the terrible news that her beloved older sister, Rose (Fiona Glascott) has passed away suddenly. She returns to Ireland to console her mother and is faced with the dilemma of whether she should stay in her homeland with her mother or return to Brooklyn to her new life and Tony.

Brooklyn is a simple, but incredibly sweet and beautiful film. It's beauty lies in both the exquisite mode of storytelling by screenwriter, Nick Hornby and in the delightfully unique visuals of 1950's Brooklyn. The story of Eilis is uncomplicated and straightforward, but it's charming nature makes it mesmerising and enjoyable. While Brooklyn seems to primarily be encouraging one to follow their heart, it possesses a greater depth than it's face value. It shines a light on the idea of doing something because it is what you know what is right for you rather than what everybody else believes you should do. Following one's heart is easy when you have support from those around you, but it is much harder to do when what everyone else believes what thy think is right for you contradicts your beliefs. Eilis experiences an internal struggle on return to Ireland when she starts to once again feel as though she is part of the town, but she soon realises how trapped she feels by everyone else's assumptions about her future.

Despite it being set over half a century ago, the idea of a young girl leaving home and travelling overseas by herself is a rather modern one. While in this day and age a plane would transport one across the seas instead of an ocean liner, many young people (both men and women) embrace the idea of leaving home and living a year abroad. The emotions one goes through upon arrival in a brand new country are very similar to Eilis. It is not unusual to feel an initial overwhelming sense of homesickness before finding your feet and embracing a new life with new opportunities which would not be found in one's homeland. A solo trip abroad can also make one more independent and also more confidant within oneself, which seen here with Eilis in Brooklyn. This, along with it's theme of self-fulfilment, makes Brooklyn incredibly relatable despite the time in which the film was set.

Brooklyn is an incredibly attractive production with it's superb cinematography and phenomenal costume design. The location shots of both Ireland and New York are contradictory in nature, but they are both beautiful in different ways which allows one to understand Eilis' dilemma It is the exquisite costume design by Odile Dicks-Mireaux and complimenting hair and make-up that gives the film a true nostalgic and rather sweet and adorable edge. The costumes are absolutely beautiful, particularly the New York characters' wardrobes. Their clothes come to represent who each character is, where they come from and also change as the character develops.

Saoirse Ronan is the perfect fit for Eilis. Ronan herself was born in New York City to Irish parents who moved back to Ireland when she was very young. She brings a sincerity to the role that makes one feel immediately engaged and emotionally invested in her character. Ronan truly does carry the film as she is in almost every scene and is at all times engaging as the sole focus. She is fiercely real as the timid, homesick girl from Ireland and completely believable in her character growth and development. Emory Cohen is also a stand out. Like Ronan, he brings a real sincerity to his role as  Eilis' Italian boyfriend, Tony and the joy of his love for Eilis is both incredibly sweet and infectious.

Brooklyn is a truly exquisite piece of cinema. It is an absolute joy to behold with it's engaging tale of love and self-discovery and it's visual beauty.


Monday, February 22, 2016

Oscars 2016 Predictions

The 88th Academy Awards is set to take place this Sunday February 28! This year we have made our Predictions via video! Please check them out and let us know what you think!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Hail, Caesar! (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 106 minutes
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

Hail, Caesar! opens in Australian cinemas on February 25 and now showing in the United States. Distributed by Universal Pictures.

Joel and Ethan Coen have 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.

It would seem that Hollywood studio fixer, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) really has his work cut out for him today. His daily job consists of keeping the contract players of Capitol Pictures in line and making sure that the public continues to see them in the best light possible, especially with tabloid reporters, Thora Thacker and her sister, Thessaly (both portrayed by Tilda Swinton) prowling the studio. When one of their biggest stars, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is abducted during the filming of a production of epic proportions, Mannix must try and conceal the true nature of his disappearance as well as bide by his kidnappers demands. All this while making sure Capitol Pictures is still running smoothly around this scandal and that the stars, including starlet DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) and cowboy turned drama star, Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) are causing as little trouble as possible.

Hail, Caesar! is absolutely immersed in references to the golden age of Hollywood. To truly understand the extent of how much the film is cleverly inspired by the Southern California film industry of the 1950's, one must already possess a certain amount of knowledge and fascination regarding this era. However, it is not a prerequisite to find incredible enjoyment in the film by any means. Hail, Caesar! is a great deal of fun with it's hilarious screenplay featuring colourful characters in the most entertaining of scenarios. The Coen brothers screenplay is unique to their films because although there is the main storyline of Baird Whitlock's abduction, it is not the strong, solid heart of the film and this is fine because that's not what it's supposed to be. Hail, Caesar! is a portrait of Hollywood history in a time now long gone and doesn't focus on just one aspect, but instead focuses on the industry and it's inner workings as a whole.

The nostalgic film with it's glorious production and costume design (by Jess Gonchor and Mary Zophres) is a mixture of old Hollywood fact and fiction. However, even the fictionalized aspects of Hail, Caesar! are based on and reference true to life elements of 1950's Hollywood. How much of old Hollywood that is acutely incorporated into the film visually and as part of it's screenplay is astounding and this would not have been able to so if Hail, Caesar! was only focused primarily on the Baird Whitlock abduction.

Capitol Pictures is a product of the Coen brothers' imagination, but it is evidently based on the legendary Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (MGM) which is considered by many to have been the greatest of the old Hollywood studios. The fictional studio visually resembles MGM, particularly the side gates, but perhaps the biggest resemblance is the fact that MGM did indeed have a fixer by the name of Eddie Mannix who worked for the studio covering up many a celebrity scandal. However, the similarities between the real life Mannix and Josh Brolin's Mannix end there. While the Mannix of Hail, Caesar! is affable, likable and a man looking for a way to spend time with his family, the real life Mannix had to cover up more sinister events and earned an unsavoury reputation. He was personally linked to the death of Superman actor, George Reeves as his wife, Toni was having an affair with Reeves. Brolin's Mannix makes for a more appropriate hero in Hail, Caesar! with his strong conscience, as he wants to do the right thing and worries that his job prevents him from doing what is honest.

The Coen brothers once again give George Clooney the opportunity to show his comedic ability and as Baird Whitlock he provides many a laugh. Clooney's Whitlock has the movie idol appeal while on set, but comes across as a less than intelligent being away from the camera which produces much hilarity. He comes in contact with a group not unlike the Hollywood 10, who were a group of screenwriters and producers in the 1950's that were Communist sympathizers (and who were also featured in the recent film, Trumbo).

Although Clooney is marketed as the member of the cast generating the most laughs, Alden Ehrenreich undoubtedly has the best comedic moments of the film. Ehrenreich plays Hobie Doyle, a young star of westerns who is given the news that the studio has decided to change his image and make him into a dramatic actor. He is also given instructions by Capitol to take actress, Carlotta Valdez (who, although her name is the same as the ill-fated women in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, is a character much like Carmen Miranda) to his movie premiere as his date, although he has never met her before. Hobie is a product of the studio system, where studios determined who they wanted their stars to be, how they were marketed and, in this case, who they dated. This was a system that would not always ensure success for their stars, as is shown in Hail, Caesar! with Hobie and his difficulty to transition into a serious actor with no warning. Ehrenreich is absolutely wonderful as Hobie as he generates a great deal of sympathy as a result of his terror not wanting to disappoint. With his natural comedic ability, he is so likable and relatable and manages to outshine many of his more well known co-stars.

Old Hollywood enthusiasts will jump on the obvious resemblance of Scarlett Johnasson's DeeAnna Moran to musical water baby, Esther Williams. Her mermaid sequence pays tribute to the Busby Berkeley musicals with their aerial shots and is truly exquisite with it's beautiful colours and costumes. Yet, when DeeAnna opens her mouth her resemblance to Williams ends there. DeeAnna is at the centre of a public relations nightmare and her case is the type of predicament which Hollywood fixers were hired to work on. DeeAnna's problem and the solution given by Mannix is actually very similar to what resulted from a flirtation between Loretta Young and a married Clark Gable in 1935 while they were filming The Call of The Wild  together.

Channing Tatum as Burt Gurney channels Gene Kelly during his song and dance routine, which is incredibly funny and entertaining. Tilda Swinton portrays both Thora and Thessaly Thackery, a particularly Coen-esque creation where twin columnist sisters are both competing to get the big scoop. The rivalry of Thora and Thessaly is much like the rivalry between Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, two old Hollywood gossip columnists who competed with each other over the big scoops from the studios. Swinton's characters display attributes which the two women both had, especially the ability to manipulate and blackmail in order to obtain the information they needed. It was important that the studio executives keep these two on their side and fed them newsworthy information, because being on their bad side could mean disaster for the studio and their stars.

Hail, Caesar! is genius in the way it incorporates so much of old Hollywood. It is an incredibly fun piece of cinema that pays tribute to the past in the most entertaining and enjoyable of ways.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Trumbo (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 124 minutes
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

Trumbo will be released in Australia on February 18 and distributed by eOne.

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.

Eccentric screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (portrayed by Bryan Cranston) was a favourite among Hollywood studios in the 1940's with such credits to his name as Kitty Foyle and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. He was also well known for his vocal political beliefs which coincided with that of the Communist party and being a member of the Hollywood 10, a group of directors and screenwriters who were blacklisted after refusing to answer questions and name names in Congress. After being tried, convicted and sent to prison, the blacklist prevented Trumbo and fellow Hollywood 10 members from obtaining work in American cinema. As a result, Trumbo had to find a way to write and make money for his family without the Academy, Screenwriters Guild and the infamous gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) finding out.

Jay Roach's first turn at directing dramatic film is an intriguing piece of cinema that only becomes more so as the film progresses. It's sense of intrigue drives this fascinating story which is an imprint of Hollywood history that captures the political climate of the time in both the Southern Californian movie town and the United States as a whole. With the onset of the Cold War, the United States held an increased sense of paranoia. Hence the concern with those who were Communist sympathizers, especially in the film industry where filmmakers have a greater ability to influence by way of their large scale of reach. Hollywood during this time was generally daunted by anything that was considered different in terms of filmmaking and the film industry people, so those who were Communists were part of a minority and ostracised.

Trumbo is a fine piece of old Hollywood nostalgia as it captures the time period and it's players splendidly and will be a treat to anyone who is interested in the American film industry's earlier years. The costume design by Daniel Orlandi for both men and women is truly splendid and captures the fashion of the late 1940's and then the early 1950's wonderfully. The landscapes and location shots of North Hollywood and Highland Park are extreme contrasts to the way they are now, as they are far more tranquil and peaceful in the film as the Trumbo family's neighbourhoods than in this century.

One of the main features of Trumbo that fans of the golden era will appreciate is that it shows the power that Hedda Hopper really had in Hollywood. Hopper was absolutely ruthless in her approach to obtaining information and getting exactly the outcome she wanted in any situation. She had the power to make or break people's careers and many of the stars chose to share exclusives with Hopper for her column to be on her good side. In Trumbo, Helen Mirren portrays her perfectly as Hopper was known for being able to switch from trying to obtain information by being charming to being manipulative and scheming. The film shows how her accessibility to some of the biggest names in Hollywood including Louis B. Mayer and John Wayne made her so powerful and how in this case she not only used the information for her column, but also to mould Hollywood into the way she wanted it.

Bryan Cranston is superb in the title role as Dalton Trumbo as his transformation into the screenwriter with all his eccentricities is a wonderful example of brilliant character acting. Towards the beginning of the film, it almost feels as though John MacNamara's screenplay has created a glorified version of Trumbo with his frequent long, meaningful speeches. However, when Louis C.K.'s character of Arlen Hird questions Trumbo as to why he has to "say everything like it is chiselled into a rock", this is the end of these long passages by Trumbo and one realises that this was really the way Trumbo spoke until he was tried and convicted. Cranston's Trumbo develops throughout the film and it is evident how his character changed and evolved as a result of the tumultuous events.

Trumbo has a number of old Hollywood figures featured in the film that many will recognise. There is a great use of archival footage of actual events and old films in which footage shot for this film of actors portraying certain characters is inserted in. While some of the actors playing characters who are based on real life figures may not exactly physically resemble them, it is incredible how each of them have mastered the mannerisms and voices of their real life counterparts. Michael Stuhlberg is an absolute standout as Edward G. Robinson. He gives a fantastic emotional portrayal as the actor who commits a rather despicable act in the eyes of his friends, but one forgives him when his heartfelt explanation is heard. David James Elliot's portrayal of John Wayne makes him perhaps not as likable as he was perceived, while Dean O'Gorman's Kirk Douglas does quite the opposite. O'Gorman embodies the Spartacus actor perfectly and is incredibly likable leading those who weren't alive in the 1950's to understand Douglas' appeal.

While Trumbo is not a proud look back at this time period in Hollywood, it is an accurate and fascinating biopic with a strong screenplay and wonderful performances which make it incredibly entertaining and enjoyable in it's nostalgia.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

45 Years (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 95 minutes
Director: Andrew Haigh
Writers: David Constantine (based on the short story "In Another County" by), Andrew Haigh (screenplay)
Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Geraldine James

45 Years opens in Australian cinemas on February 18 and is distributed by Madman Films.

Andrew Haigh's 45 Years is a harrowing look at how those things which are long left unsaid can tear apart many years of love, trust and commitment in a matter of days and an intriguing study of the themes that emerge as a marriage progresses into it's later years.

In the days approaching their 45th wedding anniversary and a grand party in their honour, Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff Mercer (Tom Courtenay) receive a letter informing them that the body of Geoff's ex-girlfriend has been found in the icy glaciers of the Swiss Alps, where she was lost decades earlier. The shock of the discovery changes Geoff's behaviour and outlook on life in a way that disrupts both planning for the upcoming party and Kate's feelings towards her husband when she realises how much he hasn't told her all these years.

While the characters and storyline of 45 Years will be most relatable for those who are in the same stage of life as Kate and Geoff Mercer, it is a haunting reminder to all how fragile trust is in a marriage or any relationship. Even after four and a half decades together, the details Geoff has left out regarding a relationship he had in the time before he met Kate comes back to haunt him and does a great deal of damage that cannot be fixed with ease.

Charlotte Rampling gives a wonderfully subtle performance as Kate which shows the gradual change in emotion towards her husband as a result of the things he has been hiding. With each passing day one sees her change more in how she feels towards Geoff. In 45 Years, the Mercers are first met when they are in a solid stage of marriage where they both feel comfortable and safe with one another. It is Monday when the letter is received and the film comes to it's conclusion on Saturday, which is a representation of the speed in which all the feelings and trust that has been built up over the years can change. Kate comes to feel that everything in their marriage has been a lie and that there was always a third person in their marriage which she was never aware of until now. This brings up the question of how well we really know the people we are in a relationship with and the rather depressing notion that no relationship is truly safe, no matter how new or old it may be.

Haigh's screenplay brings to the surface the themes that become prevalent in a long marriage and with the inevitability of growing older. Kate and Geoff both acknowledge that neither of them are as young as they used to be and cannot do what they did as a couple when they were twenty years old. This includes a rather touching scene where the two dance before realizing neither can move the way they used to.

However, Geoff is more effected by it in the circumstances. With the realisation that his lost love, Katia's body would be frozen as she was approximately fifty years ago, Geoff becomes melancholy thinking about how he has changed physically since then. He becomes obsessed with the past and irritable with those around him that wish to discuss the present or who bear no connection to when he was younger. What Geoff experiences is not unlike what many people feel as they grow older, but this is another reason for the rift between he and his wife. Tom Courtenay also puts in a fine performance as Geoff and he can really be quite frustrating at times in his preoccupation of the past and his ignorance at how well his life has tuned out. Yet, as the film is ultimately from Kate's point of view, the frustration that one feels towards Geoff is exactly how Kate or anyone in her position would feel.

While 45 Years is indeed an intriguing film, it is not overly enjoyable because of it's sombre subject matter. The film can be enjoyed for it's beautiful landscape shots of the quaint English countryside, but it doesn't feel like an overall enjoyable experience and is more interesting than enjoyable. It will also not be particularly entertaining as such for some as it is rather subtle and the revelations made by the characters and their character development happens very gradually through the film. However, one cannot deny it's power to provoke thought about marriage and relationships in general.

45 Years shines a light on marriage and how fragile trust is in a relationship at any stage. Driven by strong performances by Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, the film is dispiriting, but nevertheless thought provoking.


Monday, February 8, 2016

Spotlight (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 128 minutes
Director: Tom McCarthy
Writers: Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy
Cast: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Liev Schreiber, Brian d'arcy James, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup, Gene Amoroso, Jamey Sheridan, Neal Huff

Spotlight is now showing in Australian cinemas and is distributed by eOne.

Absolutely engrossing and the stunning example of story driven tension, Spotlight is a superb film with an incredible screenplay that brings to light terrible issues while not actually telling a story about them.

In 2001, members of The Boston Globe's Spotlight team were given the assignment of looking into allegations of child molestation by Catholic priests within the city and determining whether there was any evidence of a pattern among them. What they discovered over the year that they spent investigating and speaking to the victims was sufficient evidence of a cover up within the church on a much greater scale than they or anybody else could have ever imagined.

Spotlight is ultimately not a film about the actions of the Catholic Church and it's priests, although it will no doubt stimulate thought and conversation about the subject. It is a film about the journalists who were part of the Spotlight team and how they came to expose the cover up. So at it's core, Spotlight is essentially about investigative journalism and how it has the power to increase knowledge and awareness and bring about change.

Tom McCarthy's film is in the same class as All The Presidents Men, the 1976 film about the reporters who uncovered the Watergate scandal. Like All The Presidents Men, Spotlight will become a film for all journalists and journalism students to watch as it is not only an example of extremely good investigative reporting, but it is also what all journalists strive for, which is to put the pieces together and uncover something that nobody else has. Of course All The Presidents Men and Spotlight are extreme and very rare examples of what journalists can achieve, yet they remain inspiring for those who are in the profession.

The power of investigative journalism is at the heart of Spotlight, but again the actions of the Catholic Church are brought to light in the process. It is impossible not to be moved by the revelations that the Spotlight team make over the course of their investigation, but the wonderful thing is that it is not the witnessing of these atrocious acts that bring about emotion. It is all in the dialogue spoken by those who uncover the shocking information and by the victims telling their stories. There are no confronting visuals of the actual acts of molestation in the film. This may be comforting to some, but the truth is that the imagination can conjure up mental images that are just as frightening.

This is what makes Spotlight such a brilliant piece of work. It is not a film with a great deal of action, but it is it's story and dialogue that are so powerful that they create emotion, tension and suspense by themselves. The outcome of the investigation is inevitable, yet there is still a build up with a sense of heightened tension leading towards the conclusion.

While the film's strength lies in it's screenplay, it's visuals help support the story and say the things which aren't being verbalised. The investigation by the Spotlight team takes place over the course of a year and this time period is shown with the cinematography involving the changing of seasons. Visually, the film is very neat and refined. One particularly special moment of the film is at Christmas time, when all the main characters are shown in a montage that expresses how they are feeling accompanied by the sounds of children singing a Christmas carol. It is a rather haunting moment.

Spotlight is essentially about the team of journalists who uncovered something truly incredible and were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for their work. However, the film does not glorify the individuals or make them out to be heroes. They were just people going to work each day and doing their jobs. Despite this, the cast of Spotlight all give strong and memorable performances. Mark Ruffalo gives the most passionate performance as Mike Rezendes. His character's commitment demonstrates how the deeper into the investigation he got, the harder it was to not get emotionally involved. Michael Keaton stars as the head of Spotlight, Walter Robinson and gives a strong performance, but it is not one that requires much emotion or variation.

As Sacha Pfeiffer, Rachel McAdams gives the best performance of her career thus far. Her character develops the most throughout the film as she is the one who had the greatest connection to the church beforehand and her internal struggle while she sympathizes with the victims is rather moving. Stanley Tucci gives a very interesting performance as Mitchell Garabedian and although he is rather hostile, is intriguing to watch and has a great deal of character.

Spotlight demonstrates not only the power of investigative reporting when all the pieces come together, but how suspense and emotion can be achieved by superb storytelling and direction.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Deadpool (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 108 minutes
Director: Tim Miller
Writers: Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza (character), Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (screenplay)
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano, Stefan Kapicic, Brianna Hildebrand, Karan Soni

Deadpool  opens in Australian cinemas on February 11 and is distributed by 20th Century Fox. To be released in the United States on February 12.

Deadpool is essentially Marvel making fun of itself and it's legion of superhero films while at the same time telling a conventional superhero story about an unconventional superhero. The result is hilarity at the hands of an individual who is the type you were told by your parents not to laugh at so not to encourage them, but is the amusing and welcomed breath of fresh air into the Marvel realm.

Life seems to be going well for Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds). He's turned his life around to be with the love of his life, Vanessa (Morena Baccain), but everything falls to pieces when he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. In his desperation, he accepts an offer to be the subject in a number of tests that he hopes will cure him. Instead, he  becomes part of a horrible illegal scheme left horribly scarred by the sadistic Ajax (Ed Skrein), but he is also cured of his cancer and left with the ability to self heal from any injury. Wade uses his new found powers to re-establish himself as the red suited anti-hero, Deadpool and makes it his quest to track down Ajax, who he believes has the power to cure him from his scarring.

There is no quality that people admire more than the ability to poke fun at and laugh at oneself, and this is what makes Deadpool such a success. However, the film is not an actual spoof as much as it is the story of an unlikely and unconventional hero which just happens to have a great deal of superhero related humour written into the screenplay. This good-natured jab at oneself is evident right from the opening credits when the laughs swiftly begin rolling in and it is undoubtedly the best and most hilarious opening credits one will ever see. From there on in, superhero genre films are mocked in every way, including the stereotypical characters and their recurring characteristics and the predictable cinematography. Ryan Reynolds even makes fun of himself and his past endeavour as the Green Lantern. What is interesting is that the story of Wade Wilson is rather typical of the type of film Deadpool is making fun of, but it is the execution of this story that makes one forget this and focus on the original aspect of the screenplay.

Deadpool attempts to briefly tackle heavy subjects during the film including the desperation a terminal illness places on the individual and family members and the exclusion of those who are physically different (the latter being typical of an X-Men film which Deadpool is like the black sheep cousin to). However, with the brevity of these subjects there is no room for emotion and in a film that is as satirical as this it is probably just as well because any hard emotions would seem out of place.

As a result of the lack of emotion, the performances in the film cannot be judged in a regular fashion and if they were all would seem lack lustre and mediocre at best. However, Ryan Reynolds has been given the chance to resurrect the character he played in 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine and he takes full advantage of making Wade Wilson/ Deadpool a memorable lead character with his often inappropriate, but exceptionally witty sense of humour. Reynolds' character this time around is not a replica of the one we saw in Wolverine because with X-Men: Days of Future Past in 2014, the Marvel universe was able to be undone (even though there is still a reference or two in Deadpool to the 2009 film). Reynolds has made the character of Deadpool completely his and even though the saying is overused, he is a superhero like no other. He is basically the character you would hate in real life, but have a fantastic time watching on screen with his black humour and clever one-liners, many of which were ad-libbed by Reynolds.

As one may be able to predict from the marketing of the film and the MA15+ Australian rating (R rating in the USA), Deadpool is a particularly grown up Marvel film and is not to be confused with being a family superhero film. There is a high level of profanity and is rather sexually explicit, though not quite as crude as the marketers would have you believe. It is also spectacularly violent with gut-wrenching injuries and much blood and gore as a result of well choreographed samurai sword and gun fights. However, in these moments the film is particularly well shot and edited with impressive production design and CGI, especially in the final scenes. The film's dark sense of humour is reflected in it's quirky, but clever pairing of music and particular violent scenes.

It is such a cliché to say that Deadpool is a superhero film like no other, but that is exactly what it is. Story-wise it may reflect a film we have seen a great many times, but at the same time it knows it and relishes in laughing at itself and letting everyone else do so also.


WARNING: Trailer does involve strong language

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Steve Jobs (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 122 minutes
Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: Walter Isaacson (book), Aaron Sorkin (screenplay)
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogan, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlberg, Katherine Waterston, Sarah Snook, Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo, Perla Haney-Jardine
Steve Jobs was released in Australian cinemas on February 4 and is distributed by Universal Pictures.
Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs breathes new life into the much told life story of the technological pioneer with his eclectic direction of Aaron Sorkin's crisp and creative screenplay setting this film apart from those that have come before it.
There has been much written about the man who is considered by many to have been the genius behind our current age of technology with such achievements to his name as co-founder and CEO of Apple and the development of innovative products including the iMac, iPod and iPhone. With over a dozen films to date which feature Jobs  (including features and documentaries), this 2015 feature film brings with it a point of difference with it's mode of storytelling that makes it anything but a straight-forward biopic.
Steve Jobs is a film sliced into three by what are seen as three of the most important and pivotal nights of Jobs' career. These nights are the launch of the Apple Macintosh (1984), the NeXT computer (1988) and the iMac computer (1998). During each of these moments in time, Jobs (as portrayed by Michael Fassbender) is faced with not only the pressures of ensuring that his presentations achieve the desired outcome for his products, but the pressures imposed on him by the people who have had a great impact on both his professional and personal life.
The mode of storytelling adapted in Steve Jobs is indeed intriguing and this is what sets it apart from other films which aim to document the life of Jobs. Unlike others, this film only focuses on a 14 year period of his life with references to his earlier life to explain his character. As one has come to expect from an Aaron Sorkin screenplay, Steve Jobs is extremely dialogue driven and incredibly witty. From the opening moments of the film, the delivery of the stunning dialogue by Michael Fassbender as Jobs, Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman and Michael Stuhlberg as Andy Hertzfeld is enthralling and thoroughly entertaining.
However, the fact that this film is so dialogue driven and not so much action driven may not be enjoyable to some as it will not feel as though much happens and that there is no real suspense or ongoing tension. This is also a result of the film being divided into three segments, as it is not traditional storytelling and therefore there is not one singular climactic moment of conflict and resolution.
Another example of how Danny Boyle's film is not like its predecessors is that it is not a reliable point of reference for the life of Steve Jobs, but it does not seek to be so. Steve Jobs is a film representing the life of Steve Jobs rather than documenting it. In other words, the events and discussions which take place are only based on reality. For example, Jobs and Steve Wozniak were indeed at odds with each other, but they did not have a public confrontation the way it was depicted in the film. In fact, there isn't a great deal in Steve Jobs that occurs the way it did in reality and the majority of scenarios are fictitious. Not only this, but there are many important aspects of Jobs' life omitted from the film. In the name of cinematic art, one can understand why Sorkin chose to pen this story of Steve Jobs the way he did. It is an interesting and entertaining portrait of a complicated and intriguing human being told in a creative way and using exquisite cinematography to enhance it. However, it should not be used as a point of reference for Jobs' life and Jobs aficionados will be unimpressed.
The depiction of Steve Jobs in Boyle's film has come under fire from those who knew him as they believe it is not a favourable representation of the man. However, Michael Fassbender's performance is wonderful. His Steve Jobs is a strong character who is able to control and command every scene in the film. His character is one who is not always likable and not overly glorified, which is always a challenge in biopics and a welcomed change.
Fassbender is supported by a cast who all give fine performances. Kate Winslet plays Jobs' right hand woman, Joanne Hoffman who stands by him throughout his trials and tribulations and she is his voice of reason. Winslet gives an exceptionally strong performance and the chemistry between her and Fassbender is wonderful. Michael Stuhlberg and Jeff Daniels both give solid performances and Katherine Waterston is very good as the mother of Jobs' child.
Steve Jobs defies the rules of the biopic by way of it's unique and commendable method of storytelling. There is great appreciation to be felt for the stunning dialogue written by Aaron Sorkin and the wonderful deliverance of it by the cast.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Carol (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 118 minutes
Director: Todd Haynes
Writers: Patricia Highsmith (based on the novel "The Price of Salt"/ renamed "Carol" by), Phyllis Nagy (screenplay)
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler, Jake Lacy, John Magaro

Carol is now showing in Australian cinemas and is distributed by Transmission Films. Now showing in the United States and distributed by The Weinstein Company.

"I'm charting the correlation between what the characters say and how they really feel"

This early piece of dialogue said by the film loving character of Dannie (as portrayed by John Magaro) is a wonderful interpretation of Todd Haynes' Carol which is written into it's screenplay by Phyllis Nagy. It is not so much in what the characters say as what they show that is the heart of the this deep, beautiful and visually stunning film. The portrayals of these extraordinary and memorable characters by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara ensure that Carol is not just a film about forbidden love, but a story of self discovery and acceptance through our relationships with others and chance encounters.

1950's New York City: Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) lives a life that may seem fine from the outside, but she is left unfulfilled by her job at a department store when she aspires to be a photographer and also within her relationship with her boyfriend, Richard (Jake Lacy) who very much wants to make Therese his wife. A chance encounter with the older and more sophisticated Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) takes Therese's life in a different direction as she and Carol begin a close friendship which turns into something far deeper and emotional. The two travel on an idyllic road trip together, which comes to an abrupt halt when Carol receives word that her husband (Kyle Chandler) plans to use information about her and Therese against her in a court action that will result in her being denied a relationship with her beloved daughter.

Carol is not just a story of a love affair between two women, it is a story about a twist of fate or simple event that see's your life take on new meaning and direction. In this film, it is the simple glance between Carol and Therese before they meet that symbolises the changing of Therese's life and the start of her leaving behind her unsettled and awkward self to understand who she really is. It is also an incredibly nostalgic experience, both visually and by way of the mentality of the times. While the love between two people of the same sex is very much accepted in today's society, the 1950's were much less accepting and unforgiving. It can be quite distressing to see the way in which the character of Carol is treated by her husband and family and how she is not considered to be a fit mother by way of her sexual orientation, as well as the methods they employ to try and change her. This does seem distressing by today's standards, but it is an imprint of the way society thought in the 1950's and what was deemed acceptable.

However, the nostalgia of the film is far more attractive in it's stunning visuals. The recreation of mid-century New York City is wonderful and incredibly atmospheric. The costume design by the acclaimed Sandy Powell is absolutely exquisite. The costumes are not only a fine representation of the time period, but they also are very character specific and, as is the case with Therese, they change to represent the development and change of character throughout the film. The cinematography by Edward Lachman is equally intriguing and works to give the film it's nostalgic edge along with it's wonderful use of colour. Lachman frames the main characters in certain shots in such a way that makes sure one is not distracted by anything that is not relevant to subject at hand.

The result of the marriage between Todd Haynes' direction of his two leading ladies and Phyllis Nagy's screenplay is phenomenal. Throughout the film there are some absolutely superb and memorable lines of dialogue which are relatable even if one is not in the same situations as the characters. One particularly beautiful quote from Rooney Mara's Therese is "I don't know what I want. How could I know what I want if I say yes to everything?"

Even though Carol is set in the 1950's, it is considered a modern idea to say yes to everything and have this open you up to a world of opportunity. Yet, Therese verbalises here that saying no is just as important as saying yes, as saying yes too many times does not distinguish your character or shape you as a person. The exquisite dialogue is not only accompanied by, but strongly supported by the simple actions of the characters that are not exaggerated, but speak louder about what the characters are feeling than words. A brief glance or a touch of the hand that does not linger says a great deal more about what they are feeling than their words say, but works together with what they do say to create greater emotion and understanding.

Both Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara give incredible performances which are worthy of their Academy Award nominations. Blanchett's performance is intriguing as the older woman who displays the strong characteristics one would associate with the more powerful and experienced half of a couple. Yet she is also a very fragile woman who, as one finds out as the film goes on, is not as emotionally strong as she appears to be.

Even though Blanchett portrays the title character, Carol is just as much Rooney Mara's film. Mara shines as the young Therese who is unsure of her place in the world until she meets Carol. She has a pixie-like quality which makes her incredibly endearing and likable. She is a character many will see themselves in a she is trying to fit into what she believes society would have her be, but is destined to live a more meaningful existence.

On the surface, Carol is a beautiful film with it's nostalgic images and classy cinematography. Yet underneath it is just as beautiful with it's relatable themes that accompany an already deeply emotional story.