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.