Thursday, April 27, 2017

Rules Don't Apply (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 127 minutes
Director/Writer: Warren Beatty
Cast: Warren Beatty, Lily Collins, Alden Ehrenreich, Matthew Broderick, Annette Bening, Candice Bergen, Martin Sheen, Haley Bennett, Taissa Farmiga, Ed Harris, Alec Baldwin, Steve Coogan, Oliver Platt

Rules Don't Apply is now showing in selected Australian cinemas and is distributed by 20th Century Fox.

In his long awaited directorial return, Warren Beatty commits the ultimate filmmaking sin with Rules Don't Apply...he makes known his obsessive hero worship for his leading man who he is, not surprisingly, also portraying.

According to the 2010 biography "Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America" by Peter Biskind, Beatty has long been an admirer of Howard Hughes and his legacy, as he claimed that he saw much of himself in Hughes. The prospect of a film based on Hughes' life has long been a dream project for the Oscar winning director and with Hollywood's ongoing obsession with the eccentric billionaire, the film was always been on the cards for Beatty. Rules Don't Apply is a different take on the Howard Hughes story and much more of a narrative than a biopic, as his story intercepts with that of one of his contract girls, Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) and driver, Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich).

The film opens with a direct quote from Howard Hughes himself:-

"Never check an interesting fact"

This is also ollowed by the disclaimer that names and dates have been changed (eg. the dates of Hughes' marriage to Jean Peters and the case of Hughes' against though who claimed to have written an authorized biography). In other words, Rules Don't Apply is fan fiction on a grand scale. What is terrible is that it is blatantly obvious how huge an admirer Beatty is of Hughes. Even without knowing Beatty's background and having prior knowledge that he compares himself in a favourite light to Hughes, his love affair with the man he is playing and directing is so crystal clear that it is actually painful.

In all honesty this is not a delusional thought on his behalf, as there are several similarities between Hughes and Beatty. Hollywood has long had a fascination with Howard Hughes as a result of his eccentric ways, incredible achievements in aviation, obsessive approach to filmmaking and his long list of romantic liaisons with notable Hollywood starlets. These last two points could also be used word-for-word to describe Hollywood's fascination with Warren Beatty. After arriving in Tinsel Town at the tail end of the 1950's (the same time Rules Don't Apply is set) with a bucket load of both talent and good looks, Beatty had a well known reputation that rivalled Don Juan before he eventually settled down with his wife, actress Annette Bening (who also appears in the film as Marla's mother, Lucy). Yet, Beatty has always been a very highly respected filmmaker and actor, who is a complete perfectionist when it comes to his films (hence why Rules Don't Apply was so long in the making).

Despite the fact that there are obvious similarities between the two Hollywood legends, Rules Don't Apply slips past being a passion project and into the realm of a vanity project. Beatty is so thrilled with playing his hero whom he identifies with that the whole film has an annoyingly egotistical glow to it. Not only does it feel self absorbed, but the production itself is in complete shambles. The editing is incredibly choppy leading to irritation and confusion, the mix of archival footage shot on film and newly shot digital footage in the same scene is distracting and the screenplay is nonsensical.

The film is nostalgic as far as the archival footage and costume design goes, but doesn't quite grasp the charm of the 1950's in Southern California nor does it feel atmospheric the way a film like this should be. Beatty makes his own reminiscence for this era known by superimposing photos of his younger self in young Howard Hughes photos and alongside starlets such as Bette Davis and Jean Harlow (another sign of the Hughes story overlapping his own).

To say that this film had potential is an understatement. Everyone was expecting an incredible comeback by Beatty as this is the first feature film he has written and directed since 1998 and it is understood he has been working on this film for even longer. You can see what he is doing, he is putting a different creative spin on the Howard Hughes story. Yet despite the film being primarily about the enigmatic and intriguing Hughes, one finds themselves wanting to watch a film that is more about the young Marla and Frank than him. A film about these two and the dominance that old Hollywood held over their young aspiring stars every action would have been far more interesting and allowed for a more emotional experience. Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich are definitely the true stars of the film and often come across a great deal more charismatic and interesting than Beatty's Hughes.

Rules Don't Apply is a grand disappointment. It is completely understandable why Warren Beatty would want to make a film about someone he so greatly admires, but in this case his passion has got the better of him and this is a film made for himself more than anyone else.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

"Men of Science Fiction Vol. 1" by Dennys Ilic to be released April 22

This coming Saturday April 22, Cinematic Pictures Publishing will launch their debut coffee table book, "Men of Science Fiction Vol. 1" by renowned celebrity photographer, Dennys Ilic.

The first volume in the "Men and Women of Science Fiction" series , which will have a red carpet launch in Hollywood this weekend, features 123 beautiful photos of some of the most famous and prolific stars of the science fiction genre today, including Edward James Olmos who graces the front cover.

Originally from Geelong in Victoria, Australia, Dennys Ilic says his new book series is a tribute to the genre he grew up admiring and being influenced by.

"Many of these role models have become dear friends and continue to inspire my pursuit and passion as a photographer. In "Men of Science Fiction", I wanted to create something beautiful that could touch the fans in a similar way" explains Ilic. "Something to be enjoyed by both aficionados of the science fiction as well as photography.”

"Men of Science Fiction Vol. 1" will feature exquisite photography from actors of sci-fi television shows and movies including "Battlestar Galactica", "Star Trek", "Hemlock Grove", "The Flash", "Arrow", "Stargate", "Supernatural", "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D", Avatar, "The Shannara Chronicles", "Sanctuary", World of Warcraft, "Falling Skies", "Caprica", Apollo 18, "Smallville", "Daredevil", Pacific Rim Uprising, Dirk Gently, Robot Overlords and I Am Number Four.

Attending the star-studded Hollywood launch on Saturday night will be Ilic himself, as well as Edward James Olmos (Blade Runner 2049, Blade Runner, Battlestar Galatica), executive producer Danny Cannon ("CSI: Crime Scene Investigation", "CSI: NY", "CSI: Miami", "Gotham"),  actor Christopher Heyerdahl (Twilight, "Van Helsing", Hell on Wheels), actor Colin Ferguson ("Eureka", The Opposite of Sex, "The Vampire Diaries"), director Steven S. DeKnight (Pacific Rim Uprising), actor Daniel Feuerriegel (Pacific Rim Uprising, "Spartacus: Blood and Sand", "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D", director T.J. Scott ("Gotham", "Orphan Black", "Bates Motel") and many more.

"Men of Science Fiction Vol. 1" is now available for pre-order here and is $59 +shipping.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Colossal (2017) film review

Year: 2017
Running Time: 110 minutes
Director/Writer: Nacho Vigalondo
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson

Colossal is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed in Australia by Transmission Films.

Nacho Vigalondo's Colossal is a great success for what it represents and what is taking place behind the story as it unfolds on the screen. It is a genre-bending, original black comedy that is incredibly clever and challenges everything that it looks like it is at face value.

When Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is kicked out of her New York City apartment by her fed up boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), she moves back to the quiet, uneventful town where she grew up. Things soon take an interesting turn when she is reunited with her childhood friend, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) and he offers her a job working in his bar. Even more interesting is when a Godzilla-like monster starts appearing, causing havoc and then quickly disappearing in South Korea...and even more intriguing is that this mysterious and catastrophic phenomenon seems to have something somehow to do with Gloria.

Colossal requires a complete suspension of disbelief for it to really work in the eye of the beholder due to the unrealistic nature of the story. Unfortunately, the screenplay is the enemy of the story as it is filled with holes and a whole load of unanswered questions remain at the end. Despite this sounding like all may well be lost with Colossal, it comes as a surprise that you can actually put these rather large faults aside and praise it for the things it gets so right.

On the surface, Colossal looks like just another apocalyptic monster film. Even though it has a rather mediocre execution thanks to the screenplay, it provides something different for the monster/sci-fi genre and it's originality is commendable. Nacho Vigalondo's story may have it's ridiculous moments, but it is ultimately entertaining, unpredictable and intriguing enough to captivate and keep you guessing. It is a quiet, indie film with underlying themes that plays alongside, but at the same time is removed from the blockbuster monster film. This contrast is completely unlike the typical formula we see in such a film and is a refreshing change. By creating this distance between the characters and the actual monster of the film, there is more freedom and opportunity to do something interesting and give the human protagonist more attention.

Colossal captures the nostalgic spirit of old school horror/monster films . These were the films that were set in picturesque small towns that hardly seem sinister to begin with and were as much about the human characters as they were the beast. This film is more about the human protagonists than the actual unnamed monster of the film.

Anne Hathaway, who very rarely puts in an uninspired performance these days, shines as Gloria, who undergoes a transformation during the film from being a broken woman to being extremely strong and capable of anything...clearly. At its core, Colossal is about bullying and how it can take effect on your life in the present and future. Hathaway's Gloria is not only a strong female presence, but the only female character (besides the younger version of herself played by Hannah Cheramy, who has a Drew Barrymore Firestarter moment) and without a doubt the most likable character in the film. She is surrounded by men who take advantage of her by abusing her while she is in her fragile state or are weak and are themselves unable to stand up to those who are bullying them.

Neither Jason Sudeikis nor Dan Stevens play particularly nice characters in Colossal and represent the original bully and the bully that Gloria allows into her life because of the first bully making her believe she doesn't deserve any better. The way the film progresses in regards to Gloria and Oscar is also surprising, as it does not take the usual turn that one would be expecting. When a male and female character meet in a film the way Gloria and Oscar do here in Colossal, it is expected it is to be part of the romantic subplot of the film. However, when it looks as though this is the direction things are heading in, the story is contorted so that it shocks everyone and takes on a completely new life. By the end of the film, the perfect quote that represents Gloria is that which is taken from William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream"......."Though she be but little, she is fierce"

Nacho Vigalondo has refused to abide by any of the rules of the Hollywood monster film genre with Colossal and it is glorious. It uses the genre only to tell an incredibly relevant human story and do so in a creative and thoroughly intriguing way.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Well done MTV...but are we ready for gender neutral awards?

On April 6, the nominations for the 2017 MTV Movie and TV Awards were announced with one glaring difference from other years and other award shows...the acting categories had gone gender neutral.

Both the Best Actor in a Movie and Best Actor in a Show categories this year contain both male and female nominees, a move that has not been seen before in major award shows (with the exception of the Grammys and Britain's National Television Awards). A split right down the middle occurred with the Film nominations with three male and three female actors in contention, while four females were nominated in the Television show category and two males. Although the MTV Awards do not carry the same prestige as other award shows (Academy Awards, Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards, etc.), it is a move that certainly shows a move forward in gender equality in Hollywood and the entertainment business.

While this move for the MTV Movie & TV Awards is a very positive one, it makes one ponder whether the idea could catch on and other award shows follow suit. It would definitely be a strong stand for women and one many would embrace and celebrate. MTV can be commended for making such a strong statement and as the awards are voted for by the public, it would not be a surprise to see Emma Watson, Hailee Steinfeld or Taraji P. Henson voted for as the winner for this reason.

However, could this move by MTV encourage other award shows to become gender neutral?

The answer isn't is not yet.

This has nothing to do with the quality of male and female actors in the business. Talent wise both genders are without a doubt on par with one another. The problem lies with lack of substantial roles available to women in Hollywood, especially in film. This is not a new argument. Mary Pickford said in 1935 "It’s becoming a woman’s world, year by year, almost day by day". This still rings true, but more than 80 years later we are still fighting for gender equality in Hollywood in regards to the number of strong female roles among other issues. We have come a long way, but there is still a long way to go.

Believing that there should or should not be gender neutral acting categories when awards season rolls around has nothing to do with sexism or feminism, it has to do with fairness. While the quantity of these strong female roles is significantly less than that of males, it would make it a great deal harder for females to compete and win an Oscar or any other award with gender neutral categories.

For example, let's look at this years Oscars in the four acting categories. All four categories had wonderful performances by incredible actors, but the two male categories were seemingly more competitive than the female categories. Both the female categories had clear frontrunners for the majority of the awards season with the other eight nominees giving very good performances, but not strong enough to be competition. On the other hand, the male categories (especially Best Performance by an Actor in A Leading Role) went down to the line on the night as a result of the several incredible performances in strong and intense roles.

So this would have meant that this year Casey Affleck would have been directly competing with Emma Stone and Mahershala Ali with Viola Davis. These would have no doubt been intriguing and unpredictable competitions, but one would fear that the actual nomination fields would have consisted more of males than of females.

The good news is that things are changing in Hollywood as we speak....unfortunately just not as quickly as we would like. There may well be a chance in the future to combine the male and female acting categories at prestigious award shows, but that day is not today. If it was to happen, it would most definitely shorten the length of award shows, which would make many people happy. The other argument here is that many creatives prefer not to label themselves as male or female so eliminating gender specific categories is more politically and socially acceptable.

Without a doubt, it is a great move by MTV to make their awards gender neutral and they deserve praise for initiating a giant step towards gender equality in the film world. It may not be time for the bigger and more prestigious industry awards to do the same, but that day is coming.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Book review: "Steve McQueen: Le Mans in the Rearview Mirror" by Don Nunley

Author: Don Nunley with Marshall Terrill
Publication Year: 2017
Pages: 256 pages
Publisher: Dalton Watson Fine Books

"Steve McQueen: Le Mans in the Rearview Mirror" will be released on April 10 2017. If you wish to purchase this book, please do so through Amazon or Dalton Watson Fine Books.

Until recently, the 1970 Le Mans was considered to be nothing more than an enormous critical failure and overly self-indulgent passion project for it's car racing mad star, Steve McQueen. However, the film has taken on a new life in recent years with many considering it to be the most accurate depiction of the sport in cinema. It has become an overwhelming favourite among car lovers and racing fans.

"Steve McQueen: Le Mans in the Rearview Mirror" is a twist on the typical "making of" film book, as told by the film's property manager, Don Nunley. Like the film itself, the book is nothing short of a gift for car racing enthusiasts with dozens of never before seen photographs and large focus on the 24 hour car race and it's legendary drivers. Yet, it has the ability to reach a larger audience with it's insider's glance into a Hollywood film that not only was a box office catastrophe, but was riddled with intense mayhem and deadly scandal.

Don Nunley is the perfect person to tell the story of Le Mans and it's production, as he was there to watch it all unfold. As property manager for the film, he was an integral part of the film and worked closely with director, Lee Katzin and executive producer, Robert Relyea, as well as had plenty to do with Steve McQueen. McQueen was fast approaching his mid-life crisis which was fuelled by the madness of the late '60's, his marriage of 15 years entering it's final curtain call and his fear of the Manson Family coming after him. What should have been a dream project for McQueen, became one which left him with a bitter taste in his mouth and a number of grudges against those who he believed deviously took the film out of his hands. With the burden of it's biggest star, the film was well into production by the time it even had a solid script or female co-star for McQueen. There were no celebratory wrap parties or fond farewells upon completion.....all involved were more than happy to quietly walk far away from the production. It would have seemed inconceivable that it would ever be fondly remembered or find the success in the future it now has.

"Steve McQueen: Le Mans in the Rearview Mirror" has the ability to make one feel as though they really were there on the set watching all the mayhem unravel. People love to hear all the scandalous details about the filming of great films, but Nunley expertly writes with such sincerity that it is clear he is writing to inform and not to sensationalize the film and it's cast. The in-depth look at the production side of the film together with the racing side makes it an extremely thorough, interesting read which appeals to a wide audience. Nunley's style of writing is not particularly casual, but is strong and perfectly easy to read. His descriptive style allows the reader to feel the tension in the making of the film and see in your mind these extraordinary images that the cast and crew experienced first hand on the set of the race itself and of the horrifying, deadly crashes. The extensive collection of stunning and intriguing photographs allow "Le Mans in the Rearview Mirror" to be a book which can be enjoyably revisited over and over.

A word of warning....."Le Mans in the Review Mirror" does not paint Steve McQueen in the most favourable of ways. Devoted Steve McQueen fans out there will not deny that they will enjoy the behind the scenes look at one of his most famous films, but it can be understandably confronting and saddening to hear about one of your idols in such a way. However, it must be remembered that Nunley did know McQueen from previous productions and worked very closely with him on Le Mans so he is someone who knows first hand and also 57 years later has nothing to gain personally from printing these words against McQueen. However, it is definitely admirable how Nunley attempts to rationalize McQueen's behaviour and is quick to recognize the good things he did on set which were a true representation of his character. It would have been desirable to have other members of the Le Mans cast or crew to have quotes during the book to back up Nunley's observations, but considering the film was now made so years ago it is understandable that many of them including McQueen himself are no longer around.

However, the most incredible thing about Le Mans is that despite how terribly it was received at the time, it is today hailed as a classic among film and sport lovers alike and "Le Mans in the Rearview Mirror" explains this phenomenon perfectly. It is not overly common, but also not unheard of for a film to change in regards to it's critical and public perception over time and Le Mans is one of these rare films. Through Nunley's book, we come to understand how and why this has happened. Despite the pains the crew went to to film as much footage of the actual race as they could, it no doubt captured the true essence of the race and the sport and then inserted it into a narrative. Upon release, crowds and critics would have been looking for a strong story that would allow McQueen to give another superstar performance. Instead, they were faced with a realistic and raw piece of film that is now considered a classic for this reason. It sparks imagination and inspiration for it's accurate representation and one comes to understand why people would feel this way by reading the book.

"Steve McQueen: Le Mans in the Rearview Mirror" is a must have for not just any fan of the film itself, but also for any racing fan or car lover.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Ghost in the Shell (2017) film review

Year: 2017
Running Time: 107 minutes
Director: Rupert Sanders
Writers: Masamune Shirow (based on the comic "The Ghost in the Shell" by), Jamie Moss and William Wheeler (screenplay)
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Carmen Pitt

Ghost in the Shell is now showing everywhere and is distributed by Paramount Pictures.

Rupert Sanders' anime to live-action redux, Ghost in the Shell takes a cinematic sci-fi concept that is rather tired and gives it yet another spin. However, with it's entrancing, spectacular visuals and cinematography, the film set's itself apart from the mould by being haunting, mesmerising and entertaining.

Yet, like several other Hollywood films this year, Ghost in the Shell has been shrouded in controversy which has inevitably hurt the film's chance of widely being accepted by fans, praised critically or receiving any spectacular box office returns.

In the not too distant future, our society has become increasingly obsessed with information sharing and as a result, terrorism has now been extended to hacking into others minds. The ultimate weapon has been created by transplanting a human brain into a cyber-enhanced body and the result is Major (Scarlett Johansson), who is the first of her kind. As a new enemy surfaces that threatens those close to Major, the ghost of who she once was in her past life starts to slip into her subconscious and leads her to question everything and everyone she trusts.

Ghost in the Shell acts as both a remake and origins story to the 1995 anime original, The Ghost in the Shell. A concept that worked so well and felt original in the mid-1990's (especially as an animation) unfortunately does not have the same impact in 2017, as we have now seen more than our fair share of Artificial Intelligence films that seek to question their ability to take on human emotions and characteristics. We could argue that if this film had been remade years ago it would have been ground-breaking and as creative as a remake could be, but it still would not have worked for avid fans of the original in regards to the casting of the likes of an actor like Scarlett Johansson.

The casting of Scarlett Johansson in the role of Major is a controversial one, but should not be used as a tool to actually review or judge the film as a whole. This topic is more one for people to discuss the issue of Hollywood white-washing. This is something that has been featured in Hollywood films for it's entire existence since the early 1900's, but in today's society it is more of an issue than it ever has been. In regards to the casting of Johansson, Michael Carmen Pitt, Juliette Binoche and Pilou Asbaek, it is not an intentional insult to Japanese actors or filmmaking. It is, however, a marketing ploy to make the film more accessible to wider audiences. Yet, with the original The Ghost in the Shell being as well known as it is, it is a useless business technique as it may well have been greater accepted by many without a Caucasian Hollywood actress in the lead.

Despite her controversial casting, Johansson is an absolute powerhouse. She has proved herself in the past few years as an outstanding action actor and her role as Major in Ghost in the Shell is physically reminiscent of that in 2014's Lucy and her Marvel persona of Natasha Romanoff/ Black Widow. It is such a shame that with the self discovery aspect to Johansson's character of Major, there is so little emotion written into the film. There is much opportunity to make the film an emotional experience and bring about a debate about the direction technology is heading, but this is left obsolete. Johansson does give a great physical performance, but the screenplay and direction don't support the level of intensity and emotion her character should have.

However, Ghost in the Shell's saving grace is in it's visual production, cinematography and incredibly haunting musical score by Lorne Balfe and Clint Mansell. The film is visually spectacular with it's amazingly detailed production design of a futuristic Tokyo and is made to be especially atmospheric with it's beautiful score accompanying it's incredible images. The cinematography by Jess Hall is also absolutely superb. It is it's outstanding visuals and special effects that make Ghost in the Shell worth watching and actually quite awe-inspiring.

Ghost in the Shell's redeeming features are in it's production, but the film as a whole lacks any emotional depth and wastes the underlying issues and acting talents of Scarlett Johansson...despite whether she was the correct casting choice or not.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Power Rangers (2017) film review

Year: 2017
Running Time: 124 minutes
Director: Dean Israelite
Writers: Haim Saban (based on "Power Rangers" created by), Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless, Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney (story by), John Gatins (screenplay)
Cast: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin, Becky G., Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks, Bill Hader (voice)

Power Rangers is now showing in the United States and Australia. Distributed by Roadshow Films in Australia.

In yet another 2017 action reboot,  the goofy and self-important Power Rangers attempts to target the teenagers of today, while at the same time unintentionally neglecting their first and loyal generation of fans.

Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) was always the cool kid at school, until a mindless prank ruins his future chances of doing anything incredible while he is still a senior. During his time in detention, he meets the recently outcast Kimberly (Naomi Scott) and eccentric Billy (RJ Cyler). His unlikely new friendships with these two lead the three of them to uncover the site of an ancient alien spacecraft, along with other fellow students Zack (Ludi Lin) and Trini (Becky G.). The five discover that they have been chosen to be the five Power Rangers who are to help Zordon (Bryan Cranston) protect the world from the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). First, they must learn to work together to become who they are meant to be.

Power Rangers, which is based on the 1990's television show "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers", is stuck in a time-warp believing that it is still primarily targeting the same young audience that it once was. However, with taking on a project like this, director Dean Israelite and screenwriter John Gatins have an inbuilt responsibility to also cater for the faithful who were fans of "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" in their childhood. As a result, Power Rangers works rather well as a film for teenagers with it's simplicity, basic dialogue and themes, characters and stereotypes that are relatable for the high school demographic.

However, this clear vision of the filmmakers to make a superhero film about teenagers for teenagers neglects the majority of Power Rangers audience members....those who watched, loved and were faithful to the television show a good 20 years ago. These long time fans will find the film and it's screenplay a little too basic and silly to completely enjoy. While the action sequences are impressive, there are definitely not enough of them to make the film particularly fun or entertaining to adults who are used to watching more challenging action films brought to us by Marvel and DC. However, there are still reasons to believe that this fragment of the audience has not been completely forgotten as there are a number of shout-outs to the original television series, including the famous "It's Morphin time".

What has most noticeably changed from the 1990's Power Rangers is that the 2017 Rangers are more diverse than they have ever been....and this isn't in regards to race. The filmmakers have made sure that all teenagers who feel as though they are out of place in the world feel inspired by watching Jason, Kimberly, Billy, Zack and Trini. The five rangers are all considered misfits as they do not fit in at their school and in a very The Breakfast Club-esque turn of events, are all part of their school's Saturday detention. However, despite their inability to fit in, they all do incredible things. Most notable of these new special qualities are that of Billy having ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and Trini being acknowledged as queer.

While it is absolutely a step in the right direction having a teenage queer superhero, there is too little done with this to make a real impact and truly feel ground breaking. Director Isrealite told The Hollywood Reporter that he wanted the moment that Yellow Ranger Trini subtly reveals to her new friends that she is not straight to encourage teenagers to believe that "That's OK". However, there is so much more that could have been done with this scene and it's aftermath that would have made it much more of a triumph for the LGBTIQ community, especially for it's younger members. In the scene where Trini "almost" makes her confession, it is still unclear whether she has just revealed her true sexual orientation or not. Israelite says in The Hollywood Reporter article that she is still confused and questioning (as many teenagers are at that point of their life), but this part of the scene seems too vague to be considered powerful. Again, it is no doubt that Trini being acknowledged as queer is a very positive step for both the action film genre and high school sub-genre, but it was an opportunity that deserved to be made more of.

Unfortunately for Becky G.'s Trini, her character development is exceptionally weak which is a travesty considering how pivotal her role is to the film and to cinema. The same can be said for Ludi Lin's Zack, as it is Dacre Montgomery's Jason, Naomi Scott's Kimberly and RJ Cyler's Billy who certainly have more screen time and as a result, their characters are dissected a great deal more. Montgomery, Scott and Cyler all do rather well in their roles and know their characters well enough to give convincing and well-rounded performances.

Elizabeth Banks' villainous Rita Repulsa is a great disappointment. When she first arrives into the modern day, she is truly terrifying. If she had kept the same twisted, ancient features she has in her first few scenes throughout the whole film, Power Rangers would have been a great deal more thrilling. However, the longer the film goes on, the more unintentionally comical and weak her character gets with some atrocious lines of dialogue. In her final scenes, she really is nothing more than a 90's young adult television show villain and this does nothing for the film.

The masses who will be flocking to see Power Rangers for a piece of nostalgia from their childhood will be disappointed with what they see. The film and it's story have not grown up with their audience and while there is a slight element of fun in the film somewhere, it is one of the more forgettable reboots and remakes.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Beauty and The Beast (2017) film review

Year: 2017
Running Time: 129 minutes
Director: Bill Condon
Writers: Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Stanley Tucci, Hattie Morahan

Beauty and The Beast is now showing everywhere and is distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.

Disney's second time round with Beauty and The Beast breathes spectacular new life into the much adored classic while always remaining lovingly respectful to the original fairy tale and animated original.

For a film that is so enchanting, whimsical and charming, it is incredible how much criticism and backlash Beauty and The Beast has received right through from it's initial announcement in June 2014 to it's recording breaking release in the United States last week and in Australia this week. While a film that has so far made over $460 million worldwide is clearly not being hurt by any criticism it has received, Bill Condon's Beauty and The Best certainly deserves to be defended from the unwarranted, meaningless and clueless backlash it has received.

While it is based on the original story written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and revised by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, the film is more so a live-action love letter to it's animated older sibling released by Disney in 1991. In the quaint French village of Villeneuve, Belle (portrayed by Emma Watson) is an outsider as even though she is beautiful, she is considered peculiar as she seems happier with her nose in a book than responding to Gaston's (Luke Evans) romantic advances. Her wishes for adventure are answered when her father (Kevin Kline) is captured by the terrifying Beast (Dan Stevens) in his castle and when Belle ventures to rescue him, she offers herself as prisoner in order for her father to be set free. During her period of stay, Belle finds herself strangely and increasingly drawn towards the Beast and she may be the one to set he and the enchanted members of his household free from their damning spell.

When Disney officially announced that it would be remaking one of it's own into a live action film, it was met with a great deal of scepticism. Since then, it has been met with the predictable backlash that occurs when a beloved family classic is remade. Much of the criticism has proved to have been unwarranted since the release of this film, but Beauty and The Beast has also attracted controversy for it's romanticising of Stockholm Syndrome (which is also completely predictable) and it's very brief "gay scene" (if you can even call it a scene). However, Disney deserves praise once again for overcoming the obstacles of the remake and also deserves defence against the controversy.

The inevitable question that had to be asked in June 2014 was "Why would Disney want to remake a near-perfect film?"

It's a valid question. When Beauty and The Beast was released in 1991, it became the first animated feature film to be nominated in the Best Picture category at the Academy Awards. It became an instant Disney classic and still remains a favourite Disney film for many, many people. Remakes are absolutely in fashion at the moment and it's not completely crazy to believe that Disney could have just fallen in step with this fad.

However, this is Disney we are talking about. The empire has had tremendous success turning their animations into live action (eg. Cinderella and The Jungle Book) and expanding the universe of their classics (eg. Maleficent and no doubt the upcoming Mary Poppins Returns). If there is one studio that could pull off this mammoth task of bringing Beauty and The Beast to the world of live action and coming away with a success, it is Disney...and they have delivered. That's not just in regards to the incredible box office earnings thus far either.

Beauty and The Beast is truly an exquisite piece of cinema that is absolutely beautiful to behold. Although it is not as grandly emotional, it is certainly touching and very family friendly. Did it need to be remade? Of course it didn't need to. However, Disney saw that the opportunity was there for it's 1991 film to be remade and use live action thanks to the advances in CGI to create something different and special. The CGI does incredible things for the film and helps to make memorable scenes from the original even more memorable and spectacular (including the pivotal dancing "Beauty and The Beast" scene and "Something There" in the snow). The CGI also brings such characters of Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) and Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) to life and gives them more refined and intriguing features than what we saw in the animation.
Whilst many will argue that this 2017 film is too much like the original, this is simply not true. One only needs to revisit the original to realise that there are many differences. There are many similarities there too, but with live action comes a whole set of new rules which need to be abided by which don't apply as much to animation. For example, character development is far more important in live action than it is in it's animated counterpart. This is a real treat for those who are fans of the 1991 original, as the characters of Belle, Beast and Gaston (to a lesser extent) are opened up. Although her singing voice may not be as powerful as one would hope for this role, Emma Watson does Belle great justice. She personifies what Belle is about and shows how her character truly is a modern girl in a time where she didn't belong. This does admittedly fit Watson's real life persona, but this character trait and her soft, but strong performance as Belle makes her a perfect Disney princess for these times.

The live action also obviously calls for a different mode of direction and bringing several of the musical numbers to life would have been no simple task. Bill Condon's direction of these Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice musical numbers (several of which were also adapted for this film) is superb and although animation can do a great deal with these songs, what live action gives the viewer is definitely more impressive, especially during "Belle" and "Gaston".

One issue that is always brought to light when Beauty and The Beast is spoken of is the presence of Stockholm Syndrome, which is the concept of the captured coming to feel empathy or developing strong feelings for their capturer through manipulation. It was only inevitable that this was going to arise with the release of this film. Also there is it predictable wrath of those who believe that Beauty and The Beast is dangerously sexist as it depicts a woman being captured and abused by a tyrannical beast. Both of these arguments are redundant here. Belle was never actually captured in this film nor in the original, as her father was captured and she demanded a switch. If there are similarities to Stockholm Syndrome (which there are very little when you look at the actual definition), that is the fault of the original story and not of the filmmakers. However, the condition wasn't even acknowledged until the 1970's so it is highly unlikely this was a theme on the intent in the original story. Beauty and The Beast has always been a romantic fairy tale about not judging a book by it's cover and this is the way it should be read.

Finally, the biggest and most controversial talking point in the past week has been the very brief acknowledgement of Gaston's sidekick, LeFou (played by Josh Gad) as homosexual. Several cinemas around the world have banned the film from being shown because of this inclusion. One can only imagine that the large majority of the outraged haven't actually seen the film, as what they are so up in arms about takes up only a matter of seconds in over two hours. There is absolutely nothing in these few seconds of screen time which is damaging, graphic or crude and all you would have to do is blink to miss it. This controversy is a massive overreaction and there are far more important things to be outraged about in this world rather than whether a Disney film has maybe 20 seconds where a man looks lovingly at another man.

Beauty and The Beast has overcome a great deal of scepticism to become a beautiful film that is an enjoyable and stunning companion piece to it's animated original. It's controversy is completely unfounded and should be enjoyed and praised for exactly what it is.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Loving (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 123 minutes
Director/ Writer: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Will Dalton, Sharon Blackwood, Marton Csokas, Bill Camp, Nick Kroll, Jon Bass

Loving will open in Australian cinemas on March 16 and is distributed by Entertainment One.

In another winning turn from writer/director Jeff Nichols, Loving is raw, subtle and endearingly human with absolutely sublime performances by Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton.

The marriage of Mildred (Ruth Negga) and Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) is legendary for it's role in the legalisation of interracial marriage in Virginia and 15 other states in 1967. In 1958, Mildred (who was of colour) and Richard (who was Caucasian) were married outside their home state of Virginia as interracial marriage was not recognised there. The two were arrested weeks later for anti-miscegenation and Mildred was thrown into jail when she was five months pregnant. Upon being released, the court rules that they must leave the state and not be in Virginia at the same time together again. The two continued to fight to have their marriage recognised in their home state and took their case to the Supreme Court.

While Loving is certainly being marketed as a romantic story of love overcoming all boundaries, it is a tremendous relief that it is not atypical of a Hollywood romance film, as the memory of Mildred and Richard Loving does not deserve that treatment. They deserve more than the candy-coating of their story to suit the wider audience. There will be many cinema goers who will disagree with me because adorable and all-encompassing romance is expected in mainstream cinema when the film is about marriage. It would have been far too tempting for the story of the Lovings to be told in such a way as a result.

However, with a writer/director at the helm like Jeff Nichols, this film was never going to be told like this. Nichols (who's past films have included Mud and Midnight Special) is known for his natural and raw method of storytelling and he was the perfect filmmaker to do the Lovings' story justice. The rural Virginian setting of Loving is extremely atmospheric and exquisite thanks to the film's glorious cinematography, but it also perfectly captures the socio-political climate of the southern state in the 1950's which is so very important to the story.

The best thing about Loving is that it does not try to push any of the issues or exaggerate any aspect of the film. The issue of race is not brought up in the film straight away as a way of showing that the Lovings never saw their race as being an issue in their relationship. They knew there wouldn't be a way to marry in Virginia because of the interracial marriage laws, so they travelled to Washington, DC. However, this is the only mention of race being an issue before they are taken into custody in their hometown. Race is a glaringly obvious theme of Loving, but its importance does not need to be emphasised as the issue and story are powerful enough without any help.

The Lovings were obviously quite reserved people who kept to themselves and even though their case was taken to the Supreme Court, they did not choose to appear in person. Despite the stigma that was attached to it, their marriage was not one that was out of the ordinary and this is perfectly depicted in Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton's performances. The two give extremely subtle, but effective performances as the everyday couple who do extraordinary things to make sure they can provide a normal life for their family. Both Negga and Edgerton give beautiful performances and their chemistry is not overly physical, but never lacks power and strength.

Loving is an extraordinary and powerful story about ordinary people wanting their marriage recognised. It is a story that is most effective when approached with subtlety and as naturally as possible. Thankfully, Jeff Nichols has taken the story of Mildred and Richard Loving and done them absolute justice with this beautiful film.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Kong: Skull Island (2017) film review

Year: 2017
Running Time: 118 minutes
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Writers: John Gatins (story), Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly (screenplay)
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz

Kong: Skull Island is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed in Australia by Roadshow Films.

King Kong gets yet another turn on the remake wheel with Kong: Skull Island- an alternate story with astounding special effects and impressive cast who are let down by the mediocracy of it's unintentionally comedic screenplay.

Set in 1971 with a striking visual resemblance and hero-worship of Apocalypse Now, Kong: Skull Island  sees a group of scientists and soldiers make their way into uncharted territory in the South Pacific where several planes have gone missing. It does not take long for the group to realise that they have been fooled and instead sent on a deadly mission to a place where prehistoric terrors rule the roost and the giant Kong is the king.  

It is impossible to make a King Kong film in this day and age on a minimal scale. With the advances that are continuously being made in CGI in cinema, we must accept the inevitable, which is that we are going to see more and more remade action films, particularly ones involving giant monsters such as Kong and Godzilla. So it really isn't a surprise that another reimagining of King Kong has been produced whether it was actually needed or not.

Therefore, with the days of making B grade action films or monster story sequels on a shoe string budget gone, Kong: Skull Island has not surprisingly been blessed with a $185 million budget and done wonders with it. The film is a spectacular visual extravaganza which features a larger Kong than we have ever seen before and he is an extremely impressive creation. Kong's island is inhabited by a number of primeval creatures who are all lifelike and terrifying thanks to the fantastic CGI employed in this film. The action sequences which feature these monsters are especially awe-inspiring visually, yet a little lack-lustre when slotted into the story.

Visually, Kong: Skull Island is everything a blockbuster should be. It's an incredible shame that it's screenplay cannot support it's weight. Unlike it's exterior, the script is of B-grade quality. The dialogue is clunky, predictable and, for the most part, unintentionally funny, as is the case with many of the events in the film. When you are not belly laughing at the lunacy of some of the scenes in the film (such as the Skull Crawlers and the camera flash), complete boredom sets in. Unfortunately this plagues Kong: Skull Island right from the very beginning when you are hoping that things will become more exciting once they actually reach the island. But no.

The screenplay does however, pay homage to the original King Kong story with such inclusions as Kong being restrained by chains and Brie Larson's Mason Weaver being the beauty who tames the beast. Yet, this is the only similarity the female heroine shares with Fay Wray's Ann Darrow in 1933 and again when Naomi Watts played her in the Peter Jackson remake in 2005. Mason is a stronger female character than her predecessors and Larson brings to her a raw, but spellbinding quality with her natural wit and charisma. However, the film as a whole is a waste of her talents, as it is for Tom Hiddleston also. Considering Hiddleston is given top-billing, he is actually given very little to do and a terrible lack of character and character development.

And it's an action movie....needs a bit more sass, wit and entertainment...of course Samuel L. Jackson MUST be part of the cast! In recent times, Jackson has just became a caricature of himself and his mutters of "mother f**ker" and "bitch please" are so sub-standard for any film that he is in that it does not have the desired impact in Kong: Skull Island nor makes him seem as bad-ass as he once did. His performance is just so over the top Jackson-esque that it just encourages one massive eye-roll.

Despite the overwhelming temptation the filmmakers must have felt to use the CGI now available to us, Kong: Skull Island really did not need to be made and it's mediocrity says this loud and clear.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Hidden Figures (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 127 minutes
Director: Theodore Melfi
Writers: Margot Lee Shetterly (based on the book written by), Allison Shroeder and Theodore Melfi (screenplay)
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst, Mahershala Ali

Hidden Figures is now showing in the United States and will be released in Australia on February 16. Distributed by 20th Century Fox.

Like the incredible women in the film, Hidden Figures is smart, entertaining and inspirational. It's a wonderfully sharp film that provides a nostalgic and informative snapshot of history while never neglecting it's responsibility to pay the greatest tribute to it's remarkable heroines.

Set in 1961, Hidden Figures is the widely unknown story of how three extraordinary women overcame the unavoidable obstacles of race and gender to assist NASA in their quest to put men in space and ultimately on the moon. Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), all of who were close friends, made their mark on history in each of their fields at NASA at a time when racial segregation was still in place in the state of Virginia and women still struggled to be taken seriously in the workplace.

Hidden Figures is truly a marvellous piece of filmmaking by director and co-writer, Theodore Melfi. At 127 minutes, it is by no means a short film. However, it is still incredible how much it does and says in this amount of time without seeming heavy or overloaded.

Hidden Figures never once loses focus of it's primary goal, which is to tell the story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. Yet at the same time, the film also provides an intriguing and nostalgic historical imprint of early 1960's in the United States, a time when a great deal of interesting things were taking place. Tensions were high between the United States and Russia and were heightened when Russian, Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. Being beaten by the Russians in such a time did not sit well with the country and especially not with NASA.

Of course, one of the glaringly obvious themes of Hidden Figures is racism and prejudice. In 1961, the state of Virginia was three years away from having segregation abolished under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Even in the film, there is a sense that a change is in the air, but racial tension was very much alive and well. The film works as a reminder that despite growing rights for the coloured in the early 1960's, racism was inbuilt in society so much that it was not often even recognised by whites for what it was. It was just an accepted way of thinking, as was demonstrated by various characters in the film including Kirsten Dunst's Vivian Mitchell. In a memorable exchange between her and Octavia Spencer's Dorothy Vaughan, the following dialogue sums up this notion completely:-

"Despite what you think, I have nothing against y'all"
"I know you probably believe that"

This may look and sound like an insult, but it is not that as it is nothing but the truth. Hidden Figures contains numerous memorable and important pieces of dialogue such as this, but they can also feel as though they were included for people to comment on their importance. This may not sit well with some cinemagoers, but Melfi and Allison Schroeder have achieved their purpose as here we are indeed referring to them.

Yet as much as Hidden Figures is a beautifully made historical picture, it does not forget it's primary responsibility is to highlight the ways Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson overcame seemingly impossible obstacles to achieve incredible things. The screenplay allows for the character development and in depth study of all three of the main characters so that one feels as though they are satisfied with how well they know each of the women. Not only that, but each character has their own unique personality and they have been brilliantly cast in order to make the most of their glorious character traits.

Right from the first scene which the three women appear in together on the deserted road when their car breaks down, you feel as if you are already getting a sense of who Katherine, Dorothy and Mary are and they are all a sheer joy to watch in this scene. Taraji P. Henson is wonderful as Katherine in that she is restrained, but powerful. More importantly, she is relatable and completely likable. Octavia Spencer also gives a strong performance as Dorothy, who is also rather maternal not just around her children, but also over her workers. Janelle Monae is a particular standout as Mary. From that first car scene, one can tell she is the sassy, street smart one of the trio, but not in a way that is unnatural by any means or arrogant. She is great fun to watch and brings a certain sense of "cool" to the film, but in a mature and serious manner so not to take anything away from her achievements.

Hidden Figures is enjoyable and entertaining, but not overwhelming. The brilliance of this is that it does not detract from the enlightening, intelligent and inspiring story of these three incredible women.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Fences (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 139 minutes
Director: Denzel Washington
Writer: August Wilson (based on his play "Fences" and screenplay written by)
Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Saniyya Sidney

Denzel Washington once again steps behind the camera to direct himself in Fences, a film based on the play both he and co-star Viola Davis are no stranger to. And unfortunately, this is the greatest problem with the film.

Despite knockout performances by both Washington and Davis, Fences commits the ultimate stage to screen is obvious. The most successful stage to screen adaptations make people oblivious to the fact that it is an adaptation. In hindsight, Washington would have seemed the obvious choice to direct and August Wilson the perfect choice to write the screenplay, as he also wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning play. Yet, these are perhaps the two biggest downfalls of the film.

Those who did not see Fences on Broadway (which will be the majority of cinema goers) can only imagine how spectacular it would have been to have seen on stage. The best way to sum up the film is in a quote by the film's character, Bono (played by Stephen Henderson):

"Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in. "

Washington's Troy Maxson is an ex-baseball player who despite his sunny outlook on life, is tormented by his past misfortunes. His wife of 18 years, Rose (Viola Davis) has been his tower of strength, but his son, Cory (Jovan Adepo) has felt his wrath more than his love. The family has always kept a strong and happy united front, until Troy brings home an issue from outside their walls and the cracks star to show inside.

Despite the fact that Fences has one major problem as a whole, it does have incredible redeeming features. It is a well-made film, but would have worked better from an entertainment perspective if it didn't look like a play trying to be a film. It is a challenge for a writer to adapt a play for screen and make it seem as though the story was originally made just for this medium. Many films are able to do this well ( eg. The Philadelphia Story, Chicago, Les Miserables, etc.), but Fences cannot hide this fact even though you can tell Wilson's screenplay has tried to. Both director, Washington and Wilson are far too attached to and know too well what works from their previous work on Broadway with Fences. The result is that the film is slow, overlong and lags under the weight of the heavy chunks of dialogue, even though these pieces are delivered brilliantly and are wonderfully written.

While the film doesn't have a wide variety of filming locations due to the nature of the story, it's production design by David Gropman is superb. Fences is wonderfully nostalgic with it's recreation of 1950's Pittsburgh. The time period is replicated beautifully in it's set design of the Maxsons street and house, and with Sharen Davis' costume design.

However, it is the performances by Denzel Washington and Viola Davis that are the champions of the film. Washington directs himself wonderfully, but one can only imagine that it would not be such a hard task as he has played the role many a time before. His Troy is a particularly interesting character, as he continually battles with his inner demons who are tormenting him about his past and missed opportunities. He is particularly likable at the beginning of the film and becomes harder to like as the film progresses showing wonderful character depth and development.

Washington is certainly powerful and undoubtedly perfect in his role, but it is Viola Davis as Rose who is the greatest thing about the film. Even though Washington is a force to be reckoned with, Davis steals the spotlight away from him in every scene she is in. She is such a strong female character who struggles with, but does not give up on her job to keep her family together. With the Academy Awards only two weeks away, Davis is an absolute certainty to win the Best Supporting Female Actor Oscar for this role. There is one scene in Fences where if this had been the only scene that Davis had appeared in throughout the film, it would still win her the Oscar.

Fences is a fine looking film, but is ultimately saved from itself by it's powerful and memorable performances by it's cast.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Manchester by the Sea (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 137 minutes
Director/ Writer: Kenneth Lonergan
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol, Matthew Broderick

Manchester By The Sea is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed in Australia by Universal Pictures.

The stunning and incredibly crafted Manchester by the Sea is as heartbreaking as it is brilliant with it's tale of devastating tragedy intercepting with the absurdity of life.

Janitor Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) ran from his Massachusetts hometown of Manchester to escape his haunting personal tragedy, but he is summoned back when another family tragedy occurs. Upon the death of his brother, Lee becomes his nephew, Patrick's (Lucas Hedges) guardian. Despite his obvious love for Patrick, he is reluctant to move his life back to Manchester and accept a life of pain at the hands of the past.

Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea is not only devastating in story, but devastatingly beautiful as a whole. The atmospheric film set in the coastal New England town masters the art of modern tragedy and the Charles Chaplin quote "Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot" represents the film perfectly.

Manchester by the Sea is brilliantly written and directed by Lonergan as it captures the intensity of never-ending grief, guilt and heartbreak that accompanies a traumatic event, such as the one experienced by Affleck's Lee and his ex-wife, Randi (as portrayed in a stellar performance by Michelle Williams). However, the screenplay emphasises the fact that the absurdity of life does not disappear in tragedy and although humour is lost in the eye of the beholder, it is still there, as is seen in various surprisingly amusing scenes in the film (eg. losing the car and the frozen chicken scene). This inclusion of humour in the tragedy is such an achievement as the film does not lose any of it's emotional impact as a result of these fleeting, but effective moments of amusement. Rather, it adds to the realism and enjoyment of the film.

The film is exceptionally character driven with it's large focus on human interaction and relationships. Casey Affleck as protagonist, Lee Chandler gives an extraordinary performance as the man who has lost all that he ever cared about and despite having tried to move on, cannot do so in Manchester where everyone knows everything about each other. The character development is exceptionally strong with Lee as the film allows us to feel the extent and depth of his change in response to his life-altering events. Affleck is truly remarkable as Lee. He gives an emotionally powerful, yet restrained performance which naturally channels a broken man trying to navigate his way through life and find meaning once again.

Although Michelle Williams is truly heartbreaking as Randi, it is the chemistry between Affleck and Lucas Hedges, who plays Patrick, that is one of the great highlights of the film. Although Lee has been away from his nephew, the two are so alike at times that they clash and at other times they lift each other up. Their dialogue is perfectly timed and often witty and hilarious, but they also share some truly beautiful and heartfelt scenes.

Manchester by the Sea is by all means not the feel good film of the year, but it proves that sometimes even a harsh outcome can be gratifying if the film is crafted with the sheer perfection that this one is.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

Moonlight (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 111 minutes
Director: Barry Jenkins
Writers: Barry Jenkins (screenplay), Tarell Alvin McCraney (story)
Cast: Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monae, Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, Andre Holland

Moonlight is now showing everywhere and is distributed in Australia by Roadshow Films.

Writing about Barry Jenkins' magnificent Moonlight is no easy task.

Moonlight is a stunningly unique and moving coming of age story which is deceptively complex whilst simultaneously being incredibly sweet and simple. It beautifully explores the concept of identity and the ways in which our environment and the people in it shape who we become with incredible performances of wonderful characters by the stellar cast.

The Jenkins directed film tells the story of one boy as he becomes a man and tells his tale in a way that avoids the typical mode of storytelling found in generic coming of age stories. Moonlight is divided into three parts which represent pre-adolescence, adolescence and adulthood and are each titled according to what name our protagonist is called at the time.

Part One: Little

We first meet Chiron, who is currently known as Little (Alex R. Hibbert) as a young boy who is being tormented by bullies and trying to escape. By chance, he meets Juan (Mahershala Ali) who takes him under his wing and gives him sanctuary away from his troubled mother, Paula (Naomie Harris). Even at this young age, Little is showing signs that he may have homosexual tendencies and he tries to make sense of this with the help of Juan.

Part One of Moonlight is a sensational and strong opening to the film and gives us some of the best scenes of 2016 featuring the amazing and memorable characters of Little/Chiron and Juan. The character of Juan, wonderfully played by Mahershala Ali, is so special and it is devastating that he only appears in his fragment of Chiron's story, but this is also understandable and vital to the rest of the film. Ali's performance is incredibly powerful and he is instantly likable, while Naomie Harris' Paula sends waves of pain and torture through you in the best of ways.

The simply beautiful ocean scene is the most important of the film. Not only is it an example of the film's incredible cinematography by James Laxton, but it is where Juan leaves a true impression on Little with the following quote:-

"At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you're going to be. Can't let nobody make that decision for you."

This is the epicentre of the film. Moonlight is at it's heart about the formation of identity and creating that identity yourself, but outside influences encourage you to make this decision. It is also this scene that the colour blue is discussed ("In moonlight, black boys look blue"). The colour plays a large symbolic part in the film by appearing at moments (in the form of lighting, costume, etc.) which are shaping Chiron as a person and he is making a connection.

Part Two: Chiron

In Part Two, we meet Chiron (Ashton Sanders) as a sixteen year old, who is still being bullied at school for his appearance and his now assumed sexual orientation. His mother has plummeted further into her drug-fuelled haze and Chiron is now more her keeper than she being the strong force in his life she should be. He finds a kindred spirit in classmate, Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) who is the only person in his life to bring him happiness and acceptance. However, a terrible turn of fate results in Chiron's trust horrifically being broken by Kevin and setting off a chain reaction of life-changing events.

Part Two is the weakest of the three parts, but needs to be so for Part Three to be as special as what it is. Watching Ashton Sanders' Chiron in this third is incredibly painful as he struggles to navigate his way through this confusing and torturous time, but there really is this incredible tension you feel as a viewer as you sense him head towards his breaking point. The exact moment when Chiron changes the course of his life is captured in the most confronting, graphic and powerful way that is certainly breathtaking.

Part Three: Black

Part Three is the reinvention of Chiron, who is now an adult going by the name of Black (Trevante Rhodes) and unrecognisable with his new, harder persona. He has now become a man of the streets and is very much like Juan, the man he idolised as a young boy. Black has moved away from Miami, but is drawn back when he receives an unexpected phone call from Kevin (Andre Holland).

Part Three of Moonlight is absolutely stunning and emotionally charged. Chiron/Black formed his identity after reaching his breaking point and no longer letting anyone define him. He emotionally shut himself down to everyone in his life, but that barrier is ripped open when he once again hears from Kevin. The scenes in Part Three between Trevante Rhodes as Black and Andre Holland as Kevin are just beautiful. There is so much being said without either of the character's having to use dialogue and the camera picks up on every thought and emotion is exchanged between the two. While Chiron/Black and Kevin are rediscovering each other, it is impossible not to fall in love with the two while watching them.

Moonlight truly is a film like no other and is a sensational piece of filmmaking that restores your faith in love and the human spirit. It is a film that with it's powerful characters and superb cinematography, musical score and underlying themes will not only be greatly studied by film students, but will be loved by cinemagoers for years to come.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Time Between the Oscar Nomainations Announcement and the Oscars- The things which are a given.

And we are off! Welcome to the official start of Oscar season!

Yesterday the nominations were announced for the 89th Academy Awards, which are to be held on Sunday February 26 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. Today, all the talk has been about La La Land receiving an incredible 14 nominations, Meryl Streep once again beating her own record with her 20th nomination, the abolishment of #OscarsSoWhite in glorious fashion and tales of where all the nominees were when they found out the news. Our favourite nominee story is that of Lin-Manuel Miranda, who chose to watch the Roger Federer Australian Open tennis match rather than the nominations announcement.

It's an extremely exciting time for all who live and love film. The nominations announcement is like Christmas morning for film fans and the actual Oscars is the event of the year when you shed a tear at seeing your favourites honoured in the most amazing way possible.

However, what happens during the month between those two days do I put it....interesting to say the least. There are certain things that happen and are talked about that are just a given in every Oscar season I'm not talking about how Hollywood and it's stars prepare for the big night and the parties that take place all week, but the things that you probably didn't even think about that take place every single year without fail.

Take a read and then try not think about this list next time you see an example of one of these!

Those who suddenly appear out of oblivion to have their say on EVERYTHING
Now everyone on social media will know exactly what I am talking about here. These are the people who show no or little interest in film all year until award season...then they all come out of the woods and have to vocalise their thoughts on all the nominees, the snubs, the Academy itself and then...why not....any conspiracy theory involving Hollywood and film because it just seems convenient.

To be honest, these people are generally the type to give their opinion on everything anyway so you shouldn't have too many problems identifying them. However, there is one thing an Awards Cynic will always say that makes them easy to recognise and this is:-

"I don't care about the Oscars, but...."

OK, if you are going to say something relating to the Oscars, you obviously do care enough if you feel you need to say something. If you really don't care about the Oscars, who don't you just roll your eyes and move along?! The internet has given everyone the ability to have a say about what they believe, but Oscars season always see's the appearance of those who are vocal film buffs for a month and really don't care about film for the other 11 months of the year.

These Award Cynics also flock to Twitter during the Oscars telecast to criticise everything about the event. The performances are terrible, the fashion isn't what it used to be, the winners aren't deserving, the host isn't funny.....etc,etc. Their pessimism is so overwhelming that paying attention to them almost puts you off the Oscars yourself...almost.

People start treating films like football teams
This is one feature of award season that I've noticed this year more than others, but it isn't by any means mutually exclusive to 2017.

So we have a pool of nine films in the Best Picture category. Right now, there are clearly two frontrunners and the dark horse. This doesn't sound to different to a football competition really. Seriously, people are either Team La La Land or Team Moonlight, with a few also being Team Manchester By The Sea. And this isn't just film fanatics taking part in this, the media has a large part to play in taking sides.This doesn't sound too bad, but people have been getting so passionate about these teams on social media that it is quite disconcerting.

In one instance, a friend of mine was not a fan of La La Land and was subject to a crazy amount of tweets from fans of the film who weren't happy about her dislike, despite her having justified why she didn't like it. I liked the film, but really...we are all entitled to our opinions and just like a football team we support, it isn't going to directly have any effect on our lives if La La Land, Moonlight or Manchester By The Sea wins Best Picture. And guess what? You can actually like more than one of these films and not base your awards happiness on whether one of them wins!

The outrage over Oscar snubs
This is an absolute given after the nominations are announced. Every year there is outrage from fans and media outlets alike (and last year from Jada Pinkett-Smith regarding her husband) about who has missed out on being nominated and who has received a nomination who shouldn't have. This year most of the Oscar snub talk has been surrounding Amy Adams missing out on a nomination for Arrival.

However, with five places available in each nominated category (besides Best Picture), people are always going to miss out. There have been some true snubs over history, but personally I think the word "snub" is often overused when talking about someone who has missed out on a nomination. Missing out and being snubbed are not the same thing. Sometimes other films or performances were just a little bit better. Yet, saying it was a snub sounds so much better and is always a talking point in the days that follow the nominations announcement.

Those who Hollywood has condemned
This is another source of outrage that seems to happen if not every year, every few years. It's the notion of whether someone who has a past offence is worthy of becoming a nominee or an Oscar recipient. This year this nominee and probable Oscar winner who is the focus of this outrage is Casey Affleck. I'm not going to voice my opinion on whether or not the backlash he is receiving is justified, but this isn't anything new during Oscar season. Woody Allen has been subject to this backlash numerous times. There is also whispers about whether Mel Gibson should have been forgiven and received his nomination for Best Direction for Hacksaw Ridge this year.

Again, I won't give any personal opinions on this, but it is something many other people are happy to do. This is not anything new and often during this time the past lives of nominees get dragged into the spotlight.

The sudden rush to see all the nominees
The cinemas become alive again! Once a film becomes an Oscar nominee, they experience a whole new life at the box office. People rush out to see these films which are approved by the Academy as being award-worthy and therefore certified wonderful (although at the same time, many find out that just because the Academy nominates them, doesn't make them the type of film they will enjoy). Many films are re-released into cinemas once they are nominated for an Academy Award, so while many people will tell you that awards mean nothing, they certainly don't do any harm.

Let the betting begin!
So this is probably the most inevitable of the award season givens. Everyone likes the have a say about who is going to win each of the major awards and many like to hold tipping competitions. My advice is to follow the awards shows (particularly the guild awards) closely, as an upset very, very rarely comes out of nowhere. Avoid betting with your heart, as our personal favourites very rarely win. It's all about who takes the awards along the way.

Happy Oscars season everyone!