Sunday, November 18, 2018

A Star Is Born (2018) film review

Year: 2018
Running Time: 136 minutes
Director: Bradley Cooper
Writers: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper and Will Fetters
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga. Sam Elliot, Andrew Dice Clay, Rafi Gavron, Anthony Ramos
A Star Is Born is now showing everywhere thanks to Warner Bros Pictures and Roadshow Films in Australia. 

2018's A Star Is Born has a lot to love. In a film that receives ticks for outstanding in many areas, it is a gritty and powerful portrait of two talented people falling in love while also dealing with fame, jealousy and addiction in the public eye. It is a tremendous achievement in both film and music and to say it is a solid directorial debut by Bradley Cooper would be an understatement.

However, the film is problematic and not as a result of the production itself. It's downfall lies in the inherent nature of the film being the fourth cinematic version of A Star Is Born. One can understand why A Star Is Born has been revamped every few decades as it's formula is a winner with movie-goers. Everybody loves a story about a bright young thing who wants more than anything to find fame and fortune, only to find it to not be as it seems. The film and music industry is constantly changing so the film can be completely redone in a new fashion every few decades.

With Bradley Cooper's A Star is Born, we see the focus shifted to the 2018 music industry; a digital age where struggling singer, Ally (expertly played by Lady Gaga) is plucked from obscurity by a country music star, Jackson Maine (Cooper), who see's something in her that others have not. Again, it is a story that is easy to get excited about as society loves tales from the world of entertainment. It also has the inspirational element for people like Ally, who are struggling to find success and the takeaway from the film is that that success can come when you least expect it as long as you take every opportunity you can. Ally's first live performance of "Shallow" is a perfect depiction of a dream coming true in slow motion. The song, which is a sure thing for an Oscar nomination, not only shows two people falling in love thanks to the power of music, but it is a pivotal moment of the film and everything comes into focus and shows how every little detail of a dream coming true is important.

Yet, the 2018 film has it's problems that the earlier films did not and it is because of the changing times that we can see these problems. A Star is Born suffers from a severe lack of female characters, with Lady Gaga's Ally being the only real female character besides the stagehand, Gail who appears for two minutes. Neither Ally nor Jackson have any females in their families. Ally's whole life is governed by her family, in her job, in her marriage and in her career. In addition to this, the narrative (which has been inherited from earlier films) means that she has a man to thank for her career as Jackson was the one who gave her her break. Her manager, Raz Gavron (Rafi Gavron) also controls her solo career and her rise to fame.

To call 2018's A Star Is Born sexist would be far too simple and a compulsive conclusion to jump to. There are definitely sexist elements. For example, there is no reason Ally should be the only female character of worth. However, it is a credit to the film that they do include gay and transgender characters. Yet the sexism of the narrative is a different matter. There is the idea that Jackson may be able to help propel Ally to stardom, but who is actually the strong one? She is strong to stand beside him in his weakest moments, be his rock and stand up for him when no one else will. So if it is a relationship of give and take, is sexism really part of it? Or is the career aspect of their relationship sexist?

Then there is the other unfortunate part of the narrative which is perhaps an unintentional, but nevertheless unsettling representation of the entertainment industry. Despite the fact that we are living at a time where the industry is experiencing the effects of the #metoo movement, there is a long way to go as the business of both music and film has been run by men for so long. We see in A Star Is Born how all the music executives and decision makers are men and while from the outside this looks horribly sexist, it is an unfortunate reality which is in the process of being changed and still has a long way to go. This is not something someone watching the 1937 version of A Star Is Born which focused on Janet Gaynor's Esther wanting film stardom would have even considered as a notable part of the film, as it was just an accepted part of the industry and seen as normal.  However, current events have made us see things differently. Cooper could have adjusted this, but would it have been realistic if he did?

Despite these inherent problems, A Star Is Born is still a superb film that is emotional and hard-hitting. It does not shy away from the destructive nature of addiction and shows in graphic detail how it impacts the individual and their family. Cooper directs himself flawlessly as he gives a believable and gritty performance of not just a star in trouble, but a man who feels helpless and ashamed within himself. Lady Gaga gives a performance which many will see as reflective of her own rise to fame, but her Ally is far more than that. She is a woman who many will relate to as she is often plagued by her own guilt of doing what is good for her or what is good for the person she loves, and a woman who cannot help but love someone who does not love themselves. More than that, she turns everyone who was ever on the fence as to whether they are a fan of her as a singer into a true fan with her outstanding and memorable live performances throughout the film.

A Star Is Born is it's own worst enemy at times by bringing forward the problems of the entertainment industry and it's original story, which Bradley Cooper would have felt an obligation to remain true to. Yet it is hard to hold too much against it when it truly is an incredible and memorable film for everything it does so right.


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) film review

Year: 2018
Running Time: 141 minutes
Writer/Director: Drew Goddard
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemswoth, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Nick Offerman, Xavier Dolan

Entertaining and delightful at face value and excellent beneath it's surface,  Bad Times at the El Royale is a rare gem of cinema that turns deception into a stunning and enjoyable piece of art. With it's array of superb performances and it's nostalgia-charged production, this film says a great deal more than it does on it's already fascinating surface.

Written and directed by Drew Goddard, the film starts off by deceiving it's audience into believing that they will be watching an Agatha Christie-esque story set in 1968 play out on screen. A group of strangers arrive in a seemingly deserted hotel on the California-Nevada border that was once the scene of many a party of the Hollywood elite, but now only contains the ghosts of it's glory days and a sinister and sleazy atmosphere thanks to the retro lighting, dark corners and a bell boy (Lewis Pullman) who is never quite present.

We are introduced to each of these mysterious travellers and, as is unfortunately human nature, judgement is swiftly passed on each one of them as we note their flaws and attempt to guess what their story is. Bad Times at the El Royale does look like a typical thriller, so that is what our minds have been trained to do when watching such a film. However, once Jon Hamm's egotistical salesman, Laramie Seymour Sullivan reveals himself to be quite the opposite, the story quickly reveals each of the characters and their situations to be quite different than what we assumed and that is when the film reveals itself to as far as possible from a Christie novel.

Bad Times at the El Royale is unpredictable in the most unpredictable of ways. The screenplay is not only well constructed with spectacular character development and an intriguing and suspenseful story, but it also presents us with something of a realisation about ourselves. Bad Times at the El Royale does something very few genre films do and that is it makes us stop and question the relationship between what means we use to solve a mystery and how judgemental we are as humans. We are so quick to predict the motives of the characters based on what we see them doing, their professions, how they talk and how they are dressed, that it is only time that reveals that things really are not as they seem and there are very few characters are what they seem. In addition to that, there are so many complex personalities that also make you question what makes a good person or a bad person, and does it all just depend on circumstance?

It is a brilliant method of deception by Goddard, but it also reminds how we pass judgement on everyone we meet. It is a horrible part of human nature to base judgement on first impressions and it often takes something, such as Bad Times at the El Royale to remind us of this.

However, the associated guilt of this realisation is almost welcomed as Bad Times at the El Royale is so well done. At it's 2 hours and 21 minutes running time, it is a roller coaster of a film with a steep ascent for the first hour to build suspense, followed by fast paced twists and turns. The incredible production design of the El Royale is absolutely mesmerising.  Yet, it is Cynthia Erivo as struggling, down on her luck singer, Darlene Sweet that is completely and utterly spellbinding. Erivo owns every scene she is in and with her own hand, almost brings the film into the musical genre. Like a performance in such a genre, she not only has an amazing singing voice, but she is able to portray her character through song as well as her dialogue.

The film also benefits from star performances by Chris Hemsworth, who once again proves his versatility by becoming a terrifying Charles Manson-like manipulative. Lewis Pullman also gives a head-turning performance as the bellboy, Miles Miller, a character who is one of the true surprise packets of the film.

Bad Times at the El Royale is whole load of fun and a true creative joy. It makes the unforeseeable link between how we watch a thriller and how our minds work as humans and does it in entrancing fluorescent lighting style.


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Vision Films presents the feel-good, award-winning film that celebrates differences, RANDY’S CANVAS

Vision Films and Sugar Baby Entertainment are proud to present Randy’s Canvas, the new, uplifting fictional feature film about a young man with autism who discovers love for the first time in a confusing world. Through his incredible art, Randy and the world come to understand that what makes him different does not define who he is. Director Sean Michael Beyer’s thoughtful and inspirational film took top honors at the 2018 Autfest International Film Festival winning Best Film and Best Actor and has been praised by Autism Activist, Dr. Temple Grandin, and Autism Speaks as being a “sweet, heart-warming tale, portrayed beautifully”.

Starring Adam Carbone (Dude Food with Sean and Sometimes Adam, Another Tango), Scout Taylor-Compton (Rob Zombie’s Halloween, The Runaways), Kevin G. Schmidt (Cheaper by the Dozen, The Butterfly Effect), Massi Furlan (Live By Night, Supernatural), Michael Emery (Bone Tomahawk, Shameless), Richard Riehle (Office Space, Glory) and Marycarmen Lopez (Queen Sugar, Tragedy Girls), Randy’s Canvas is now on DVD/VOD with all profits going to benefit the charity The Autism Project.

Randy (Adam Carbone, Best Actor, AutFest 2018) is a young man with autism who aspires to be an artist. Curator Maurizio D’Oro (Massi Furlan) notices his talent and opens many doors for him, including the chance to study with the renowned art professor, Hausdorff (Richard Riehle), and to have his work shown in a gallery. When Randy falls in love for the first time, his life begins to spin out of control as he tries to deal with a roller coaster of emotions and first-time experiences. With the help of his new classmate Cassie (Scout Taylor-Compton) he learns valuable lessons about friendship, emotions and acceptance.

Randy’s Canvas is now available on Digital for an SRP $4.99 - $9.99 Rent or Buy across all platforms and to Buy on DVD for $12.99.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Big Take (2018) film review

Year: 2018
Running Time: 83 minutes
Writer/Director: Justin Daly
Cast: James McCaffrey, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Zoe Bell, Bill Sage, Dan Hedaya, Robert Foster, Oksada Lada

The Big Take has a limited theatrical run at Cinema Village in New York City from September 7-13. Available on DVD and Digital on September 4.

Justin Daly's The Big Take is an intriguing, thrilling and original piece of cinema that is mesmerisingly atmospheric and an exceptional debut film from a filmmaker who is not afraid to take courageous creative chances.

At the centre of an elaborate plan by Vic (Slate Holmgren) to get money to fund a film by screenwriter, Max (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) is Hollywood actor, Douglas Brown (James MacCaffrey). Brown is under the impression that he is being blackmailed in order for a damaging video of himself not to be shown in public, but he is really part of a crazy scheme by Vic to fund a film and make himself a producer. However, Brown has access to people who can easily discover who Vic and Max are and when a visit by private investigator, Frank Maniscalpo (Dan Hedaya) to Max and his wife, Oxana (Oksana Lada) goes horribly wrong, things start to turn nasty for everyone involved. 

The Big Take  is a highly impressive directorial debut by Justin Daly. It is evident that he has a strong sense of who he is as a filmmaker and is uncompromising in the execution of his first film. Daly's style of direction is not unlike that of a younger Quentin Tarantino as The Big Take has an atmosphere reminiscent of that of Pulp Fiction. However, the screenplay (also written by Daly) cannot be compared to the 1994 film as it is a highly original piece of work. 

It's creativity in the darkly comical narrative allows for a heightened sense of suspense and unpredictability which is supported by a soundtrack that not just enhances the atmosphere, but excites and intrigues. The reason it is so intriguing is that types of music are matched with landscapes that it would not usually be associated with in film (such as reggae accompanying the image of a motorcycle on the streets of Los Angeles), but unexpectedly works so well.

It's flowing dialog is superbly written for the screen and delivered with ease by the impeccable cast. Ebon Moss-Bachrach as the unassuming Max who is the star of the film. James MacCaffrey's Douglas Brown is the Hollywood stereotype which people love to hate right from the word go, but Max is the underdog who could be the real hero of the film that everyone barracks for. He is the relatable writer trying to make his way in the tough world that is Hollywood and trying to get people to take notice, so when trouble in the form of attention comes his way he doesn't question it. Zoe Bell is also a standout as the girl who is way scarier than she initially seems, Edie.

The Big Take explores the side of Hollywood where people will do absolutely anything and question nothing to finally get their big break. Justin Daly breaks into the filmmaking scene with incredible power and is without a doubt one to watch in the future.


Saturday, June 9, 2018

Oceans 8 (2018) film review

Year: 2018
Running Time: 110 minutes
Director: Gary Ross
Writers: Gary Ross and Olivia Milch
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Mindy Kaling, Awkwafina, Richard Armitage, Dakota Fanning
Oceans 8 opens in Australia on June 7, 2018 and is distributed by Roadshow Films. Opening June 8, 2018 in the United States and distributed by Warner Bros.

Review by Nicki Newton-Plater

Oceans 8 is here to remind us that the female reboot is not just alive and well, but it is striving in it's  perfect health.

With the male dominated Oceans trilogy having lost it's legs and tiring out over a decade ago, Gary Ross along with co-writer Olivia Milch have revived the franchise with the same thrills we found with the original, but with a little more designer chic. 

Oceans 8 is joyous to watch as eight of entertainment's powerful female voices portray eight strong women who are even more interesting to watch than their male counterparts and far better dressed. The ladies team together to take on the impossible task of stealing one of the most expensive pieces of jewellery in the world during the glitz and glamour of the world famous Met Gala. The outcome of the heist may be extremely predictable and therefore not as suspenseful as it should be, but the organisation of the perfect crime is incredibly entertaining in it's fun and intelligent execution. 

While Sandra Bullock's Debbie Ocean, Cate Blanchett's Lou, Anne Hathaway's Daphne Kluger and Helena Bonham Carter's Rose Weil are the characters that are the most fleshed out, each lady has their own set of unique and distinct character traits and each is celebrated. The film speaks volumes about how there isn't one right way to be a strong woman and that being strong and independent doesn't mean belittling men nor does it mean said woman has to be physically powerful. The cast is diverse and embraces the beauty in minority groups, with specific focus on those in New York City. 

However much of a pun it may be, for some Oceans 8 may tend to flow a little too well with it not being overly intense or emotional. However, others may embrace this. The film is incredibly entertaining, easy to watch and enjoyable, especially with Blanchett's witty and well-timed dialogue and Hathaway's hilarious return to her comedic roots as a spoilt, pretentious socialite. It is a feast for the eyes with the outstanding costume design by Sarah Edwards of the ladies enviable wardrobes and Met Gala attire and exquisite production design by Alex DiGerlando. The recreation of the world of the prestigious Met Gala is aesthetically pleasing in every way with it's glamorous ambience, high-end fashion and overflow of A-list celebrities.

Oceans 8 is a whole load of fun and the type of reboot we crave where the filmmakers use the original as inspiration and not a chance to rehash a worn out story. 


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Black Panther (2018) film review

Year: 2018
Running Time: 134 minutes
Director: Ryan Coogler
Writer: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (based on the Marvel comics by), Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole (written by)
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis

Review by Debbie Zhou

The Marvel Universe has often plodded through a predictable chain of movies, but in comes the newest addition, Black Panther – a triumphant wake-up call to the primarily white-casting of the superhero genre. It marks a step in the right direction for Marvel, right off their more playful and thoughtful efforts with ambitious filmmakers, such as Taika Waititi in 2017's Thor: Ragnorok. This time, there's a more serious approach at play, and director Ryan Coogler confidently takes the reins with a wholehearted embrace of African cultures and experiences, and empowers his protagonists with agency and a unique story.

Black Panther places T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) as the newly-appointed King of the African nation, Wakanda, following his father's death. As King, T'Challa is given the powers of Black Panther, deriving from the alien metal vibranium. This special metal is engineered into the entire country, providing them with ultra-modern advanced technologies which enables the population to power their cities – that not even “progressive” Western first-world countries could imagine.

This is a vision of Afro-futurism in its sheer beauty. The scale of Coogler's invention onto the Marvel stage derives not only from the epic landscape and technological wonder of Wakanda, but his meticulous attention to detail. He focuses on the smallest elements which evoke a sense of identity to the Wakandan people – down to the intricacies of African dress, rituals and music (the heavily-percussive and vocal score by composer Kendrick Lemar stands out); it ultimately fuels a prideful connection to a culture that we are rarely gifted the chance of seeing on our screen in such magnitudes.

And there are some fantastically crafted sequences that come from this total encompassing image of diversity, crafted by Rachel Morrison (she is the first female Oscar-nominated cinematographer). The action sequences are shot with rapid intensity, and in particular – a casino scene stands out in its fluidity, through its use of tracking shots. Here, the female protagonists, Nikia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) , are empowered through their fierce movements – the framing and focus of the story becoming integral to fully owning their characters as T’Challa’s true allies and warriors. Shuri (Letitita Wright), T’Challa’s younger sister, is also a nice addition to his circle – whose innovation and intelligence powers the use of vibranium in astonishingly new ways.

The story's antagonist is Erik Killmonger (played by the always reliable Michael B. Jordan), although Klaw (Andy Serkis) sets the stones for the brooding villain to step his feet into Wakanda. But in this Marvel story, T’Challa’s sole dilemma is made more complex: it doesn’t derive purely from a need to defeat a villain, he also faces the challenge of living up to his Father’s legacy and questioning whether change is necessary.

Killmonger is one of the more interesting villains Marvel has created, and Coogler actively attempts to reflect the underlying social and racial problems of America through his character. By incorporating the African-American experience, there's a bitter anger that dictates Killmonger’s actions; the exclusivity of vibranium means that those marginalised in other societies cannot access it. But while the contextual settings hands him over the perfect justification for his acts, Killmonger is quickly tossed to the side as a one-note villain (a Marvel trope) in the third act – where his actions become tyrannical, and his unreasonable abuse of power makes his personality lose nuance and authenticity.

Still, with Black Panther – Coogler has presented us with a section of the Marvel universe that reduces its white characters into supporting roles and instead, elevates its black protagonists on a platform which enables them to fight for their beliefs and their cultures. And for that ground-breaking act, it is most likely the best Marvel film yet.