Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Loving (2016) film review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, March 13, 2017

Kong: Skull Island (2017) film review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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