Saturday, May 27, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) film review

Year: 2017
Running Time: 129 minutes
Directors: Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg
Writers: Jeff Nathanson (story and screenplay), Terry Rossio (story)
Cast: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelairo, Geoffrey Rush, David Wenham, Kavin McNally, Martin Klebba, Stephen Graham, Golshifteh Farahani, Orlando Bloom

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is distributed by Walt Disney Pictures and will open in Australian cinemas on Thursday May 25 and in the United States on Friday May 26.

How did we ever get a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean film?

14 years after we first met Johnny Depp's eccentric buccaneer Captain Jack Sparrow in The Curse of the Black Pearl, the franchise is still plodding along with impressive box office returns, but unable to hold a candle to the original first film. The good news is that while Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales may be blatantly imperfect, it is nevertheless entertaining, enjoyable and a rewarding return to the spirit of the first film.

The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has it's fair share of critics and those who wonder how in the world it got to a fifth film, but it's loyalists understand the fascination with the series and why Jack Sparrow continues to intrigue. One only has to look at the inspiration for the original film to understand it's staying power.

The Pirates of the Caribbean ride at California's Disneyland was opened to the public on March 18, 1967, which was 12 years after the park was opened and it was the last ride which Walt Disney himself had a hand in designing. Despite the New Orleans Square ride being one of the oldest in the theme park, it has drawn steady crowds since it's opening and is still considered by many to be  their favourite Disney attraction. The Pirates ride is by no means the best way to get your adrenalin pumping at Disneyland, but the boat ride which takes you through the wild and scandalous Audio-Animatronic world of the Caribbean never fails to delight park-goers.

The reason for the ride's ongoing success is that the concept and world of pirates has and always will excite and intrigue. Along with that unmistakable Disney magic, this is exactly why the film franchise is still going strong and attracting audiences over a decade later. In recent times, Disney are the only one's who have been able to successfully convey the dark and dangerous world of swashbuckling pirates to the big screen and combine it with the light-hearted humour and enjoyment that makes pirates simultaneously fun and thrilling. They do this so successfully that a fifth film is not surprising nor a terrible idea.
Despite the worry that the franchise was starting to tire, Dead Men Tell No Tales is the strongest in the series since the original film. Depp returns as Captain Jack Sparrow to search for Poseidon's trident with new allies, Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelairo), when an old and menacing enemy, Captain Salazar (terrifyingly portrayed by Javier Bardem) reappears.

The new film is far from flawless with it's complicated story that is initially hard to follow, it's tendency to be goofy rather than funny at times and evident holes in it's screenplay (much like The Curse of The Black Pearl). However, it is nevertheless entertaining, enjoyable and painless viewing. As well as being perhaps the most visually attractive of the franchise so far with it's incredible special effects, cinematography and production design, it rewards the loyal Pirates of the Caribbean fans by building on the stories of past characters (including Orlando Bloom's Will Turner) and giving more background to others, specifically Jack Sparrow and Geoffrey Rush's Captain Barbossa.

While the resounding question is made about whether Pirates of the Caribbean is still relevant, the same is undeniably being said about Depp and his Captain Jack Sparrow. After Depp was nominated by the Academy for his portrayal of the beloved antihero in The Curse of the Black Pearl, the screenwriters for the past four films (including Dead Men Tell No Tales) have given his character many recurring quotes and eccentricities...many of which have become tiresome and lack the amusement they once did. Depp is fine in Dead Men Tell No Tales and truth be told, starts the film a great deal more irritating than he finishes it. However, the inevitable question is whether it is now time for Depp to hang up his pirate hat and say goodbye to Captain Jack Sparrow?

For many the answer would be yes...but there would almost certainly be no other pirate protagonist quite like Jack Sparrow. Love him or hate him, there is no one quite like him and it would almost be impossible to reimagine a character like him to lead future Pirates of the Caribbean films..presuming there will be more. The reason fans will be praying for me is the fact that Dead Men Tell No Tales only scratched the surface of Jack's past and there is so much still to be told.

However, one would also not be disappointed for another film if Paul McCartney was to reprise his role as Uncle Jack, as it is undoubtedly one of the best scenes of the film.

We may not have needed a new Pirates of the Caribbean film, but Dead Men Tell No Tales is a thoroughly entertaining and rewarding experience for those who have stuck around hoping that the franchise is able to return to the glory days of The Curse of the Black Pearl.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Seattle International Film Festival: Yourself and Yours (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 86 minutes
Director/Writer: Hong Sang-Soo
Cast: Kim Joohyuck, Lee Youyoung

Yourself and Yours is reviewed as part of our Seattle International Film Festival coverage by our reviewer on the ground, Anna Chu.

Yourself and Yours, a film by prolific South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo, is an intimate fly-on-the-wall view into the lives of two young people, who seem to know each other, but yet not at all. 

Youngsoo (Kim Joohyuck) is furious at his girlfriend Minjung (Lee Youyoung) after hearing stories about her drinking with other men and without him. Minjung leaves him once she is confronted, which sends Youngsoo into a downward spiral of despair and longing for Minjung but ultimately a realization she is the one for him. However, the journey we take with Minjung is one of possible mistaken identity - is the girl we see on screen her mysterious doppelganger? An identitical twin? Is she actually Minjung?

I left the theater thinking this was going to be a tough story to retell without sounding like I was completely crazy for enjoying it.

In South Korea, female beauty is desired, sought and bought. All things considered, it is probably likely that Minjung has a lookalike hanging out in coffee shops and bars around Seoul. However, it becomes painfully obvious that this is not the case. Minjung is deliberately deceiving these men, pretending to have never met them before. The men she meets explain they're attracted to her innocence, yet she is anything but. It's unclear, even at the end whether it was intentional on her part to pretend she was someone she wasn't, or was she haphazardly swinging a bat at anyone to see if she could finally make contact with a real connection?

I'd never see Hong Sang-soo's films before, but this film I found super interesting. Part improv, part scripted dialog, in a recent Hollywood Reporter interview, he says 'I’ve come to the point where I start with almost nothing'.

This became very apparent to me, as I kept looking for clues to figure out how the movie was going to end. There are things that come into frame - store mottos, a lingering of a store mannequin being undressed - that make you think "what was that for? Do I need to recall this later?" There is a moment in the final scene that catches you off guard, as you got so comfortable with Youngsoo's fantasy scenes. There is a beautiful surprise that it is his reality. That is why I left the film feeling fulfilled- it wasn't a film flailing wildly trying to make a point. Yet what it was I'm still not sure.


Yourself and Yours screened at the Seattle International Film Festival on May 21 and will have encore presentations on Monday May 22 (Majestic Bay) and Wednesday May 24 (SIFF Cinema Uptown). For more information, please see the Seattle International Film Festival website.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

12 Films that should be on your Sydney Film Festival Wishlist

After the lanch of it's always wonderfully diverse and exciting program last week...the countdown is on to the 64th Sydney Film Festival!

The festival, which will run from June 7-18, is growing every year and this year promises to be a greater celebration of cinema and it's magic than ever before. Although the festival itself is one of the oldest in the world, the Official Competition is in it's 10th year and this year 12 films are all in the running for the coveted winner title. This year will see the return of the ever popular Festival Hub and special guests include such names as David Wenham, Ben Mendelsohn, Vanessa Redgrave, Bong Joon-Ho and many more.

With 288 films from 59 countries being shown during this year's festival, there is something for everyone to see. Movie Critical has put together a diverse list of 12 films that should be on your wishlist for this year's festival and even if you feel like all 12 are not your cup of tea, you will be sure to find a couple that will make your festival experience all the more enriching.

#1 The Beguiled
Straight from it's premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, Sofia Coppola's much anticipated The Beguiled will be competing in competition at the Sydney Film Festival. Adapted from the Thomas Cullinan novel of the same name, the film is set during the Civil War at a Southern girls boarding school where a mysterious injured soldier (portrayed by Colin Farrell) arrives and disturbs the peace. The Beguiled has an incredible cast which includes Nicole Kidman, Farrell, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning and holds the promise of being visually delicious and stunningly atmospheric. It is Coppola's first film since 2013's The Bling Ring, which was also part of the Sydney Film Festival that year.

Screenings:  Saturday June 17 (State Theatre)
                      Sunday June 18 (State Theatre)

My Life as a Zucchini is part of this year's Family Films program at the festival and is a must see. Claude Barras' film was nominated for Best Animated Feature at this year's Academy Awards and the Sydney Film Festival will be screening both the French version with subtitles and the English version for younger audience members. This unique stop-motion animation tells the tale of young Zucchini as he finds his way as a recent orphan and deals with important issues in a non-threatening, but realistic way which members of the whole family can enjoy.

Screenings: Saturday June 10 (Event Cinemas George St)
                     Monday June 12 (Casula Powerhouse)
                     Saturday June 17 (Dendy Newtown)
                     Sunday June 18 (Event Cinemas George St)

I Am Not Your Negro is an absolute must see. Raoul Peck's Oscar nominated film is part of the Official Competition and won the People's Choice Documentary Prize in Toronto. The film uses the intriguing works of James Baldwin and the writings he wished to put into his unpublished book regarding black rights. Baldwin's own words are narrated by Samuel L. Jackson and archival footage is used to bring extra meaning to Baldwin's words. I Am Not Your Negro is highly relevant even today. Producer Hebert Peck will be a guest at the festival and will be participating in an extended Q&A following the Tuesday screening.

Screenings:  Monday June 12 (State Theatre)
                      Tuesday June 13 (State Theatre)
                      Saturday June 17 (The Ritz Cinema Randwick)

Australian film royalty, David Wenham makes his feature film directorial debut with Ellipsis, a sweet and endearing love letter to Sydney. The film follows Viv (Emily Barclay) and Jasper (Benedict Samuel) as they get to know each other while taking in the sights of the city from Bondi to Kings Cross. Made in the same fashion as Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise, the film was shot in only ten days. Wenham will be on hand to introduce his film and is also the special guest at the Ian McPherson Memorial Lecture with David Stratton.

Screenings: Thursday June 8 (Event Cinemas George St)
                     Wednesday June 14 (Event Cinemas George St)

After screening earlier this year at Sundance Film Festival, The Little Hours promises to shock with it's ballsy story of raunchy and atypical nuns in a 14th century convent who wreck havoc on their home when a new workman arrives. The Jeff Baena written and directed film has a unique brand of comedy that could either insult or leave people in hysterics with it's notable cast including Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Kate Micucci and Dave Franco.

Screenings: Wednesday June 7 (Event Cinemas George St)
                     Friday June 9 (Event Cinemas George St)
                     Saturday June 17 (Event Cinemas George St)

A film not just for fans of the late and great diva, Whitney: Can I Be Me is a comprehensive and touching look at a talent taken all too soon. Nick Broomfield's (who will also be attending the film festival) latest documentary explores the life of Whitney Houston with never before seen backstage footage and revealing interviews with the woman herself, friends and those she worked with. Of course, it is also a celebration of her music and much of which is included in the film.

Screenings:  Wednesday June 7 (Event Cinemas George St)
                      Friday June 9 (Dendy Newtown)

Rip Tide will be making it's World Premiere at Sydney Film Festival on Saturday June 10 and is the perfect film for young adults with it's focus on the moment you take control of your life and decide who you want to be. Filmed on the Illawarra coast, Disney star Debby Ryan makes her Australian debut in a film that embraces life, romance, friendship and, of course, surfing.

Screenings:  Saturday June 10 (Event Cinemas George St)
                     Monday June 12 (The Ritz Cinema Randwick)

Cate Blanchett absolutely stuns in Manifesto, a film made to honour some of the most influential art manifestos of our time. Blanchett is an absolute chameleon playing 13 different roles from a homeless man to a newsreader in Julian Rosefeldt's film and she was met with overwhelming praise when the film debuted earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival.

Screenings:  Thursday June 8 (Hayden Orpheum Cremorne
                      Monday June 12 (Event Cinemas George St)

Warwick Thornton's We Don't Need A Map is not only the festival's Opening Night film, but also part of the Official Competition. The Southern Cross is an image almost as recognisable and iconic as the Australian flag, but Thornton explores in his documentary the true meaning behind the constellation to the people who have been here longer than us and works to understand it's symbolism. A film that is informative, but also wildly entertaining with a wide range of footage and visuals. Warwick Thornton will be on hand to present his film at the festival.

Screenings:  Wednesday June 8 (State Theatre)
                      Sunday June 11 (State Theatre)
                      Tuesday June 13 (State Theatre)

Also in competition at the festival, The Other Side of Hope is highly relevant as it shines a light on the Syrian refugee crisis. However, Aki Kaurimaki has achieved the incredible task of taking this tragedy and creating a respectful and amusing comedy. His film follows the unorthodox friendship between a Syrian refugee and the manager of a restaurant he finds work in. Sherwan Haji, who plays refugee Khaled will be a guest at the festival.

Screenings:  Sunday June 11 (State Theatre)
                     Monday June 12 (State Theatre)
                     Sunday June 18 (Hayden Orpheum Cremorne)

#11 Okja

The first ever Netflix film to appear at the Cannes Film Festival, Okja is the Sydney Film Festival Closing Night film and one of the only chances you will get to see it on the big screen. Despite the film being shrouded in controversy due to the tense relationship between Cannes and Netflix, Bong Joon-ho's film has been met with praise due to the unexpectedly sweet relationship between a girl and her best friend who just happens to be a super-pig. Also starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton, Okja is a spectacular way to finish your Sydney Film Festival experience.

Screenings:  Sunday June 18 (State Theatre)
                     Sunday June 18 (Event Cinemas George St)

Shot in secrecy, A Ghost Story is a quiet film that looks at love and loss in the most unique of ways. David Lowery's film tells the story of a widow (portrayed by Rooney Mara) who is visited and watched upon by her late husband (Casey Affleck) as she learns to mourn and move on. A Ghost Story promises to be haunting, but beautiful and memorable.

Screenings: Tuesday June 13 (State Theatre)
                    Friday June 16 (The Ritz Cinema Randwick)
                    Saturday June 17 (Dendy Newtown)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Snatched (2017) film review

Year: 2017
Running Time: 90 minutes
Director: Jonathan Levine
Writer: Katie Dippold
Cast: Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Christopher Meloni, Ike Barinholtz, Bashir Salahuddin, Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack, Tom Bateman, Oscar Jaenada

Snatched is now showing everywhere and is distributed by 20th Century Fox.

Snatched is the Mother's Day movie of 2017...and that is not a compliment.

As is the case with Christmas and Valentine's Day, Mother's Day provides an excellent opportunity for distributors to release an event film. Here, it is a film that is an excuse to have a girls day/night out for mothers and daughters to celebrate Mother's Day. That film this year is Jonathan Levine's Snatched, the film that's star power duo of Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn is not enough to distract from the lunacy of the story and overpowering lame attempts of comedy.

The basis for Snatched isn't as ludicrous as the film itself. It shines a light on the tourists (especially women) being preyed upon by human traffickers when travelling in a foreign and unfamiliar country. Katie Dippold's screenplay combines this social issue with the age old theme of family reconnecting, with Schumer and Hawn playing polar opposite mother and daughter pair, Emily and Linda. Despite the dark undertones, the film plays to Schumer's strengths by being a comedy and making light of the situation.

Dippold's screenplay is incredibly disappointing. The path the story takes is ridiculously far-fetched with numerous inaccuracies (such as the locations and distances between them) and gaping holes (including Emily and Linda having all their belongings taken, but are somehow able to make phone calls and know all the numbers they need off the top of their heads). Snatched attempts to be not only funny, but also touching in that chick-flick kind of way...which it fails at miserably as there is nothing to be felt for any of the characters at any time besides irritation.

The first ten minutes are perhaps the best of the film before all goes downhill. The scene between Schumer and Randall Park (who plays her boyfriend Michael) indicates that there may be some great laughs to come with the witty, natural comedy employed in their conversation. The Facebook conversation between mother and daughter is also hilarious. However, once Emily and Linda arrive at their resort destination in Ecuador, the film takes an awful turn. The bright sparks of comedy we see in the first act fade dramatically.

Schumer's usually impeccable comedic timing is lost in this film, as it becomes uncharacteristically irrelevant and overly random (especially her tendency to include a crude sexual joke). As Schumer's last film, 2015's Trainwreck  was an incredible success, one can make the assumption that she works better with her own material and in a more urban setting rather than rural, as we see in the wilderness set Snatched. Her co-stars do little to lift the amusement of the film with Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack portraying pointless characters, Ruth and Barb and Ike Barinholtz's Jeffrey being painstakingly unfunny. In what is Goldie Hawn's first film in 15 years, her performance isn't particularly memorable and it seems as though she coasts through it a little too easily.

Snatched is a terrible attempt at comedy that relies purely and unsuccessfully on the star power of Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn to make any sort of an impact.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Alien: Covenant (2017) film review

Year: 2017
Running Time: 122 minutes
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Jack Paglen and Michael Green (story), John Logan and Dante Harper (screenplay)
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Carmen Ejogo, Demian Bichir, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, Amy Seimetz, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, Benjamin Rigby, Uli Latukefu, Tess Haubrich, James Franco (uncredited), Guy Pearce (uncredited)

Alien: Covenant will open in Australian cinemas on May 11 and in cinemas in the United States on May 12. Distributed by 20th Century Fox.

Alien: Covenant takes the Alien franchise back to it's place of origin and does so in bloody and terrifying fashion which will delight loyalists and confuse and disgust non-familairs.

Ridley Scott's latest is the follow up to 2012's Prometheus, making it the second in the prequel series of the Alien films. Alien: Covenant resembles the Sigourney Weaver led Alien films a great deal more than Prometheus did, which should excite people as Prometheus was criticised by many for how little it resembled an Alien film. However, Prometheus was a smart origins story and more of a companion piece to the franchise rather than a prequel. Alien: Covenant could not exist without Prometheus, as much of it's story is directly connected to it. It goes without saying here that anyone who has not seen Prometheus will not benefit at all from seeing Alien: Covenant as there will be a great deal that is not understood or appreciated.

The newest film in the Alien universe has already been criticised for having too much happening in it and that it should be as simplistic as it's predecessors were. Yet, Alien: Covenant does not pretend to be a straight forward action film. It picking up where Prometheus left off and still attempting to tell the origin story of these horrific extra-terrestrials, while at the same time being suspenseful, terrifying and action-packed.

Unfortunately, at times it does feel as though the film is trying a little too hard to be visually shocking by using as much blood and violence as possible to get the point across and there are several times throughout the film where the CGI isn't as realistic as it should be, particularly in the outer space sequences. Yet the recreation of the aliens using CGI is superb and this is one area that has benefited from having the universe expanded in 2017. 

One of the things that Scott has excelled at since he and screenwriter Dan O'Bannon created the Alien universe back in 1979, is incorporating female empowerment into the futuristic world of horror. Sigourney Weaver played the incredibly bad-ass Ripley in all the Alien films up until Alien Ressurection in 1997 and it is argueably her most iconic role. Ripley was a hero ahead of her time and sadly, it is only now that females are starting to play a more powerful role in action films...although we admittedly still do have a long way to go.

While Noomi Rapace was at the helm in Prometheus as Elizabeth Shaw, it is Katherine Waterston who follows in the footsteps of her and Weaver and plays Daniels in Alien: Covenant. With this film, Waterston continues to impress with her talent and versatility. Her character develops throughout the film by at first seeming vulnerable due to the sudden death of her husband (who is played by James Franco in a not uncharacteristically tiny cameo), but shows how she takes that grief and uses it as motivation to keep those around her from harm. She is strong-willed, the voice of reason and not afraid to get the most dangerous jobs done.

Waterston as the female lead is not the only piece of stellar casting. When Kong: Skull Island was released earlier this year, one of the most disappointing things about it was that it had a fantastic cast who's talents went to waste as a result of a lack lustre screenplay and direction. Alien: Covenant does the opposite. The film makes the most of it's talented cast even though the majority of the characters are underdeveloped and given little to no background. The exceptions here are, of course, Waterston's Daniels and Michael Fassbender's Walter/David. Fassbender does a strong job of playing two different roles and his David is the most interesting character in the film, but his very existence attempts to tackle the now very tired and overused sci-fi theme of artificial intelligence manipulating humans.

Ridley Scott once again does a great job at continuing to make the Alien franchise one that supports female empowerment and makes sure that Alien: Covenant succeeds in doing what it sets out to achieve, which is to entertain and terrify.


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Get Out (2017) film review

Year: 2017
Running Time: 104 minutes
Director/ Writer: Jordan Peele
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, LilRel Howery, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, Lakeith Stanfield

Get Out will be released in Australian cinemas on May 4 and is distributed by Universal Pictures.

Jordan Peele's Get Out is the intelligent, yet terrifying horror we have all been waiting for. Not only does it do the incredible job of successfully combining features of classic and modern day horror, it is especially brave and socially important.

Get Out is something special that breaks through the confines of it's genre and becomes a film that is relevant, entertaining and enjoyable for a greater audience. Peele's story of a young man, Chris (portrayed by Daniel Kaluuya) who arrives at his girlfriend, Rose's (Allison Williams) parents' estate to find that a nightmare awaits him may sound straight forward and even like a somewhat atypical horror/thriller. Yet, what is built into this fairly basic plot makes Get Out a deep, layered and thought provoking film.

The film is one of the most interesting horrors to have been released in years. While the majority of horror films have an easily recognisable villain in the form of a supernatural being, a monster of some description or a psychopath, here it is a group of people characterised by their race who are the villains. Get Out shows people of colour as being the victims and the Caucasians being the villains, which has indeed been the case in many historical events over the years. The reasoning behind this (which is revealed towards the end) is incredibly empowering for people of colour.

However, Peele approaches this in such a careful and creative way that while Get Out is truly inspiring for people of colour, it is not disrespectful or hateful towards Caucasians and does not alienate anybody when it comes to the enjoyment of the film.

The way in which this major and ground-breaking theme has been incorporated into the film is brilliant and creative. Yet, it is not the only thing smart about the screenplay. Get Out is completely unpredictable, terrifying and edge-of-your-seat suspenseful. Throughout the film, anyone watching is just as confused as Chris, who is convincingly and endearingly portrayed by Daniel Kaluuya. There are clues as to who the villain(s) are, but as to why they are actually the bad guys and the reasoning behind it is unclear until just before the final tense and stressful act. When all is revealed, it becomes clear how clever and intriguing the screenplay truly is with all the pieces of the puzzle fitting together perfectly.

On the other hand, Get Out also draws inspiration from classic horror in it's production. At times it is reasonable to question whether the film is more of a thriller than a horror, but it contains far too many combined features that belong to the horror genre for it to be considered otherwise. From the introduction to the evils at work in the opening scene to the orchestration of the final scene, Get Out follows a traditional horror film formula. Adding to it's modern take on classic horror is the dramatic musical score by Michael Abels (which is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho), haunting locations (remote home within the forest as has been seen in many a film over the years) and trance-like, psychedelic dream sequences (although not horror, reminiscent also of Hitchcock's Vertigo).

Get Out is an exceptionally strong directorial debut for Jordan Peele and makes one excited to see what he does next. It is a film that even those who dislike horror can appreciate and enjoy...maybe even have a bit of an unexpected laugh too.