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!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Lion (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 118 minutes
Director: Garth Davis
Writers: Saroo Brierley (adapted from the book "The Long Way Home" by), Luke Davies (screenplay)
Cast: Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Nicole Kidman, Sunny Pawar, Abhishek Bharate

Lion opens in Australia on Thursday January 19 and is distributed by Transmission Films. Now showing in the United States and distributed by The Weinstein Company.

Based on the extraordinary true story of Saroo Brierley, Lion is incredibly moving, heartfelt and rewarding. It embraces it's themes of identity, obsession and family, while also not being afraid to show the raw emotions behind each of these by making the most of it's phenomenal cast.

In a small Indian town in 1986, a young boy by the name of Saroo (portrayed by newcomer Sunny Pawar) boarded an empty train which took him 1900km away from his hometown and his family. After arriving in Calcutta with no way of knowing how to get home, he braved the dangerous streets before ending up in an orphanage and being adopted by Sue and John Brierley (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham), an Australian couple from the island of Tasmania. 25 years later, Saroo (now portrayed by Dev Patel) is haunted by the ghosts of his past despite living a comfortable and happy life in Australia. He attempts to try and find his way home with the help of Google Earth and embarks on a journey that becomes an all encompassing obsession.

Saroo Brierley's story, as told in his 2013 book "The Long Way Home", is so unbelievable and inspirational that it seems as though it was just destined to be made into a movie. For this reason, it would have been too easy for the filmmakers to purely rely on the story to draw emotion and make it work. However, Lion finds it's strength not just from it's story and Luke Davies screenplay, but also from it's beautiful cinematography by Greig Fraser, haunting musical score by Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O"Halloran and the truly remarkable performances by it's cast.

Lion is not afraid to wear it's heart on it's sleeve. It allows the emotion of the story and it's characters to be shown openly and this in turn allows you, the viewer, to feel openly while watching it. You can feel yourself outwardly expressing your sympathy by frowning in pity for little Saroo as he navigates his way through the Calcutta train station. Young Sunny Pawar plays the character with such endearing innocence that he is heartbreaking as well as heart-warming. You return the smiles from the characters on screen with your own and cannot hold back tears when they are also in tears. It is a tremendous achievement for a film to be able to have so much control over it's audience and at the same time, still allow the audience to feel comfortable.

Saroo Brierley's story may not be one which everyone can relate to, but the themes that are at play as part of the film will strike a chord with many. Lion is at it's core about identity. It is not unusual to hear stories about adopted children who wish to find out more about their birth parents and the circumstances of their early life. This is because they feel the longing to find out who they really are and achieve closure in the process, much like Saroo in this case. He is torn between his Indian heritage and his Australian upbringing and feels that by finding his family, he will be able to close that door in his past. This quest to find that missing piece of himself becomes his obsession, as it takes over every aspect of his life. His mind is so preoccupied that he starts to lose himself inside his obsession.

It is during these moments when the obsession with the unknown takes over in the film that Dev Patel truly shines. From his first moment on screen in the Tasmanian waters, Patel is an absolute joy to watch. He completely embodies the young Australian man (with an incredibly convincing accent) who is struggling to find out who he truly is and disappearing into his long restrained pain and torment. Patel is truly magnificent in the final scenes of the film and leaves a lasting impression with his superb performance.

The third theme is that of family, which is seemingly obvious considering the story. In particular, the film looks at the bond between Sue Brierley and her sons, Saroo and Mantosh (Divian Ladwa). Lion is a tribute to mothers everywhere, but in particular to those who have adopted children and love them unconditionally. Nicole Kidman does beautifully in representing these mothers and gives an incredible performance as Sue Brierley.

Lion is an incredibly beautiful and moving piece of cinema that is emotional in the most comfortable, gratifying and uplifting of ways.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

#Top10...with Damien Straker

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

This week we talked to Sydney based film-lover and critic, Damien Straker. Here's what Damien had to say....

I have been writing for the website Impulse Gamer ( for six years now, which is a website dedicated to both films and video games. I would recommend that any serious film fan place themselves onto a media list. It’s a great opportunity to see films for free and write or talk about them, and you will also find likeminded people with whom you can enjoy the movies. I hope that by sharing these ten impressionable films that people will have insight into what types of films I like and be encouraged to read more of my writing on the website.

You should be scared when going to the movies. Some people say that films are just there to entertain us and nothing more. After all, they don’t want to think too hard following a long day of sitting in their cube. What a terrible waste of an artful medium that would be. Movies are indeed about relaxing and can become a social gathering in the same way people use church or join a political party. But how many, with a monocle pasted over their eyelid, have ever walked into an art gallery, raised their paw to their mouth and post-yawn announced: “I’m far too tired for anything dark or challenging. Please repaint that hideous piece”.

Yet despite being an artful medium, films are subjected to popularist standards, where nothing should be too challenging or different. If film is about socialising, sharing the experience with friends and being “entertained”, then what are the types of films that are most likely to do that? They are the ones that will excite and disturb us with images and scenes we do not expect; these can be funny or serious but it’s the films that surprise us that will endure. To relax at the movies is complacency, the same sluggish familiarity that Marvel thrives off where we recognise every beat and time our watches to the downfall of the next moustache twirling villain. We never leave the safety of the past.

Most of the films on my list are dark, very dark—even the funny ones. This is because if film is still an art form, it must be willing to take chances and surprise us with the bleakest and most uncomfortable facets of life. The world would be far more boring and less “entertaining” without moments of risk. If you feel anxious before a movie starts, you’re in for a good time.

10. National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

One of the greatest family comedies ever. It’s about the American Dream and the ruthless means in which a person will achieve their life goals, including providing for their family. It addresses this in the most hilarious and self-depreciating ways. The comedy is black, sarcastic and never sentimental. Even after all these years, it’s disappointing that Wally World remains closed.

9. 12 Angry Men (1957)

A masterclass in film economics. The story runs for roughly 90 minutes, which also allows it to become the tightest and most intelligent of political thrillers. All the clues of the courtroom case are precise and logically constructed and the characters are sharply drawn. It’s an assessment of the power of doubt and analysis.

8. Gran Torino (2008)


This film was a huge box office and critical success for Clint Eastwood. It seems even more pertinent now than it did when it was released in 2008, given how ugly the world has become. The reason for its global success, including here in Australia, is how universal it is. This story of a racist man who learns tolerance is tense, funny and completely timeless. It is applicable to any contrast in cultures and for that it deserves to be applauded.

7. Brokeback Mountain (2005)


A near perfect, subversive Western. Timely themes, beautiful photography and another great ensemble cast. The style of it reminds you of the types of films made decades ago and makes you long for that quality again. This features Heath Ledgers’ best performance, topping even that of the Joker from The Dark Knight because of the difficulty of playing such an introverted, hidden characters. One of the best films I’ve seen in the last ten years or more.

6. The Pianist (2002)


It’s about survival and the moral complexity of being passive to combat. Is it right to stand idle and watch people die in order to protect your own skin? Few modern films have looked at violence in such a confronting and unflinching way. A deeply personal story on display.

5. There Will Be Blood (2007)


It tackles enormous themes (religion and capitalism) with clarity and cinematic flair. It’s also interpersonal, dealing with two men who are more similar than they’d ever care to admit. It possesses incredible attention to detail, particularly in its period setting, and has two of my favourite characters on the screen. It’s hilarious how similar they are and how much they hate each other for that very reason!  

4. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Propelled by its high energy, the film makes time for being both a hilarious black comedy and a tense family drama about obsession. Bradley Cooper’s performance is completely unexpected and affecting. It’s also about the way people use each other but find the positives through their life structures. Jennifer Lawrence has made a lot of films recently but this is still the very best of them and it’s one of the strongest films David O. Russell has made since Three Kings.

3. About Schmidt (2002)

Dear Ndugu…what difference can an ordinary man make in the world? About Schmidt is the perfect mix of humour and tragedy. Its follows a man who doesn’t wish to die alone and has one simple solution: to ruin his daughter’s wedding and win her back! The tone is perfect and the humour always lands. A small, well observed film, led by Jack Nicholson’s career-best performance.

2. Mystic River (2003)

A superb, mature crime thriller that’s also a great character study about damaged childhoods and the power of destiny. It features brilliant performances from the entire cast. It revitalised Sean Penn’s career in monumental ways and finally gave Kevin Bacon his due as a major dramatic actor.  

1. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

This is the very best film I’ve seen since 2004. It is one of the greatest underdogs stories in recent memory and features the most dramatic and unexpected final quarter in modern cinema. The way it shifts into a European-style psychological drama is effortless, touching and unforgettable. It showcases the director’s classic, unfussed shooting style at its very best. Mo chuisle.

Honourable mentions: Donnie Darko, The Virgin Spring, various Terrence Malick films (The Thin Red Line, The Tree of Life), Election, Birdman, Nightcrawler, Amour, The Last Picture Show, Kramer vs. Kramer.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Edge of Seventeen (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 104 minutes
Director/Writer: Kelly Fremon Craig
Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgewick, Blake Jenner, Haley Lu Richardson, Hayden Szeto

The Edge of Seventeen is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed in Australia by Roadshow Films.

Kelly Fremon Craig's directorial debut, The Edge of Seventeen is the perfect fusion of wonderful, witty comedy and that type of horror you only get by watching someone who is way too much like yourself or past self that it is frightening.

Nobody knows more about the divide between the cool kids and the rest more than high school junior, Nadine (played by Hailee Steinfeld). While her brother, Darian (Blake Jenner) is the blessed sibling who "naturally excels at everything", Nadine constantly feels like the outcast and even more so when Darian starts dating her best and only friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). Of course, she overdramatically disapproves of the match and without Krista by her side, Nadine's problems seem to snowball. She finds unexpected solace in her classmate, Erwin (Hayden Szeto) and teacher, Mr Bruner (Woody Harrelson), but she first must learn how to live with herself before she can tolerate those around her.

The Edge of Seventeen is incredibly character driven and it is these characters along with the entertaining screenplay and fine performances that take the film from run-of-the-mill teen flick to something with a much wider appeal. Hailee Steinfeld gives an incredibly inspired performance as Nadine, the sassy, but painfully narcissistic teenager. Despite her misgivings and unfavourable qualities, she is such an accurate representation of a girl of her age that it is actually questionable if you cannot see fragments of your old self in Nadine.

Watching Nadine brings out the same sort of thought process one would have when watching a horror or thriller, but instead of saying "Don't go through that door" or "Don't go up the stairs", you are saying "No no no...don't do that!" and "Don't say that!". Then comes the horrible realisation that even though you are watching Nadine and thinking how terrible her lack of judgment is, you are really having an out of body experience watching yourself as a teenager.

There are plenty of things that come out of Nadine's mouth that will stir memories of things long forgotten for the viewer. For example, Nadine is a virgin and really knows nothing about sex, but talks like she does when she clearly has no idea what she is talking about. Something that everyone will be able to relate to is Nadine saying that she would like to believe that her problems are bigger than everyone else's". From the outside looking in, she sounds incredibly narcissistic, but narcissism is part of being a teenager. At that age, life is so confusing and there are so many new emotions to be felt that it is difficult to understand and grasp the concept that we are not the centre of the universe and that others are feeling similar to us or even worse.

However, one thing that is not quite as relatable and is the one thing we can envy, is Nadine's manner of speech. Her dialogue is cutting, witty and hilarious and this is what gives the film such an amusing edge. Steinfeld shows her wonderful comedic timing in her natural and unforced delivery of this wonderful dialogue and steals and dominates every scene she is in. Her Nadine also embodies the idea that the world views us the way we view ourselves. She see's herself as awkward and tells herself to stop acting so, making it inevitable that she will behave more awkward in social situations.

Despite the film being primarily about Nadine, all of the characters are well crafted and incredibly interesting to watch. What The Edge of Seventeen does so well is that it highlights the imperfections in it's characters, but does not substitute this for their likability. These imperfections merely show that as we grow up, we still never quite figure it all out and that we are never completely rid of bad judgement. This is especially evident in Nadine's mother, Mona (played by Kyra Sedgewick), who one cannot help but feel that she is a bad influence on her daughter. Woody Harrelson's Mr Bruner is far from perfect and is blunt and unrelentless, but still remains a lot of fun to watch.

The Edge of Seventeen is so relatable that it would be frightening if it wasn't so hilarious with it's brilliant screenplay and Hailee Steinfeld's craftsmanship of Nadine.


Monday, January 9, 2017

Passengers (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 116 minutes
Director: Morten Tyldum
Writer: Jon Spaihts
Cast: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne

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

In 2007, the Passengers screenplay written by Jon Spaihts was featured on the Blacklist, which is a list of the year's best scripts that have yet to developed for the screen. Now nearly 10 years later Morten Tyldum has brought Spaihts' screenplay to life.

After watching the film, it is not only obvious why the screenplay was part of the Blacklist, but it is also obvious why it took so long for it to be made. Passengers sounds as though it could be an intriguing enough story, but there is only so much that can be done with it when translated onto the screen. The end result is a film that is fine, but could never really have been something truly special.

In the future when Earth is over-inhabited, the spaceship, Starship Avalon transports 5000 passengers to Homestead Colony to set up the next stage in human existence. Although the journey is to take 120 years and all the crew and passengers are to be in hibernation pods until just before arrival, a malfunction occurs and Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) awakes 90 years ahead of schedule. He is the only being to be awake on the Avalon besides android bartender, Arthur (Michael Sheen), until he is joined a year later by Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). The two have an instant connection, but it is a connection that may not have been made under the most ethical circumstances.

Passengers is really everything it could have been. Morten Tyldum directs it to the best of his ability and both Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence bring as much to the screen as they possibly can. The fault of the film does not lie in the production of it. There was just no possible way that the story could have been developed for the screen without it coming across as mostly unoriginal, only slightly ludicrous and mediocre at best.

The film has been likened to a cross between 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Notebook, which sounds so odd that it sets off alarm bells instantly. While the sci-fi genre is typically able to get away with an escape of realism, the whole concept of Passengers just seems too far-fetched for it to be taken seriously. It is the type of film that one watches knowing that they should be pondering the ethical dilemmas and underlying themes being presented by the characters and their situations, but they are just too far removed to make a connection. There are indeed some interesting ethical questions to be explored there, particularly in regards to Jim and Aurora's relationship origins, but it is difficult for these to become conversation starters when the ludicracy of the story is the film's main talking point

However, Passengers does have some redeeming features. The production design by Guy Hendrix Dyas of the Starship Avalon's interiors is very impressive as they are complex, but neat and linear. There are some truly spectacular celestial moments throughout the film, but it is a shame that they are few and far between. One also cannot fault the film's two stars, Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. Passengers is perhaps the most intense role Pratt has had to date and he maintains the comical demeanor that he has become popular for as well as showing the needed emotions. Jennifer Lawrence gives her consistent all to the role of Aurora and has a great chemistry with Pratt onscreen.

Despite the misgivings of the film, Passengers is still watchable. It is not painful to watch by any means, but struggles to make something meaningful out of something so ridiculously far-fetched.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Allied (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 124 minutes
Director: Robert Zemekis
Writer: Steven Knight
Cast: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Lizzy Caplan

Allied is now showing everywhere and is distributed in Australia by Paramount Pictures.

Robert Zemekis' Allied is undeniably spectacular to look at, but does not have the suspense nor intrigue which such a promising story with it's incredible pairing of Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard deserves.

The year is 1942 and as the war rages on, a Canadian intelligence officer, Max Vatan (Brad Pitt), arrives in Casablanca to embark on a deadly mission with a beautiful French Resistance fighter, Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard). The two pose as a married couple, but they cannot fight the strong attraction they feel towards each other and fall in love. When they return to England and marry, all is idyllic until Max is told that Marianne is under watch as she is believed to be a German spy. If she is found guilty, Max must be the one to end her life.

Allied looks and sounds like something very exciting. The plot is definitely intriguing and the teaming of Robert Zemekis with Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard is thrilling. However, something has really gone amiss with this promise. Allied presents a case where the story is better than the screenplay, as it's execution is rather slow and tedious at times. The film is currently being marketed as and really should be a romantic tale that is laced with intrigue and suspense, but is a disappointment as it falls short of this due to the underwhelming screenplay and an unfortunate and rare flat performance by Brad Pitt.

Pitt is capable of far more than what we see here in Allied. His performance is rather lifeless when it should be intense and full of emotion, especially in the face of uncertainty over his love and life. It seems as though Zemekis has directed him this way so that his performance is more subtle than overtly emotionally powerful, but considering how epic the rest of the film (besides the screenplay) is, Pitt should be able to show up. On the other hand, Marion Cotillard gives her consistent best in the role of Marianne and plays the role of the suspected femme fatale wonderfully.

Besides Cotillard, the saving grace of Allied lies in the visual aspects of the production. The film has been drawing comparisons to Michael Curtiz's classic, Casablanca for it's sense of nostalgia and, more obviously, for it's location. The production design by Gary Freeman is fantastic and shows the North African city in the romantic light just right for the film and is especially atmospheric. Joanna Johnston's costume design is absolutely sublime, especially for Cotillard's Casablanca wardrobe. Her design pays homage to classic film starlets and especially that of Ingrid Bergman (Cotillard's Casablanca lunch outfit which is very much like what Bergman wore as Isla in Casablanca).

Allied has been made on a grand and epic scale with a great deal of promise, but it falls short of it's potential with it's lack-lustre screenplay and unfortunate direction.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Moana (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 107 minutes
Directors: Ron Clements and John Musker
Co-Directors: Don Hall and Chris Williams
Writers: Jared Bush (screenplay), Ron Clements, John Musker, Don Hall, Chris Williams, Pamela Ribon, Aaron Kandell and Jordan Kandell (story by)
Cast: (voices) Auli'i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk

Moana is now showing everywhere and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios.

Disney's Moana is visually exquisite, adorably witty and completely endearing, with a gratifying and realistic view of the ever popular theme of following your dreams.

As the daughter of Polynesian island, Motunui's chief, Moana (voiced by Auli'i Cravalho) is expected to dedicate her life to helping the people on her island in as many ways as possible. However, she has felt a draw to the sea her whole life and as she grows, the pull only gets stronger. When life on Motunui takes a turn for the worse and their food resources start to dry up, her grandmother (Rachel House), tells Moana of a demigod, Maui (Dwayne Johnson) who stole the heart of the island goddess, Te Fiti and without her heart, a lava monster dwells searching for her heart and is the cause of the island's misfortunes. The ocean has chosen Moana to seek out Maui and return the heart to Te Fiti, which would save her island. The journey to do this is not an easy one, but is a chance for Moana to become who she believes she was always meant to be.

Inspired by Polynesian mythology, Moana can be as simple or as deep as you would like it to be, which seems to be a common feature of Disney films in the last decade or so. One of the reasons Disney feature films have remained so popular is that they are widely acknowledged and expected to be enjoyable for both young and older audiences, and Moana is no exception. The story is simple enough on the surface for young audiences to enjoy, but older audiences will be able to understand what the film is trying to say with this warrior princess and her journey.

The character of Moana is representative of that piece inside all of us that is torn between who we want to be and who we are expected to be. It's the hardly original, but still effective message of chasing after your dreams and overcoming your fears that resonates through the film. However, Moana does chronicle the reality of the process of self belief better than other films. We start with wanting to reach a certain goal and neglect thinking about the setbacks that are always inevitable. While we achieve a sense of self belief in order to begin our journey, that belief is likely to be challenged and waver several times and you may have to hit rock bottom before you finally arrive where you are meant to be. The memorable song "How Far I Go" written by Lin-Manuel Miranda works this theme into music beautifully.

It is this representation of self belief as a journey and the construction of Moana's character that make the film perhaps more relatable than most Disney films. Auli'i Cravalho, who voices Moana is the youngest Disney princess as she was 14 at the time of production (she is now 16 at the time of release). Her youth is actually of great advantage to the character as it allows people to identify with her more and the excitement you hear come through her with her dialogue is incredibly endearing. Even the visual aspects of Moana make her more relatable than many of the Disney princesses that have come before her, such as getting her hair stuck in her face when attempting to turn around gracefully. Her chicken friend, Heihei is perhaps the most hilarious princess animal friend Disney has produced, especially considering his first scene involves him trying to eat a rock.

Moana really is incredibly beautiful to watch. The colours used and lighting accompanying it make it absolutely visually exquisite and it completely captures the beauty of the ocean. It really is quite atmospheric. However, while watching the film, one cannot help but feel as though they are seeing similarities between other Disney films. There are remnants of Frozen (and a not so subtle reference when Sven the reindeer has a brief cameo), The Little Mermaid, Mulan and Pixar's 2015 short film, Lava.

Moana is another wonderful offering from Disney that draws on past Disney classics for inspiration, but has a beautiful personality of it's own.