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Paper Planes

Paper_PlanesI think I need to begin this post with a warning: I may gush a little. This is simply one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Maybe I say that a lot, but it doesn’t make me like it any less. There’s a great deal of skill involved in balancing plot with character development, balancing pathos with humour and balancing light with dark. The creators of this film have done all three brilliantly.

Paper Planes is focused on Dylan, a 12-year-old who lives with his grieving father on a dilapidated farm near the fictional town of Waleup in Western Australia. When a strapping, visionary student teacher introduces him to the world of competitive paper plane-making, he enters that world with enthusiasm and brings a balance of humility and determination with him, which helps to draw his father back to life.

Ed Oxenbould‘s portrayal of Dylan is the linchpin for this brilliant film, and his ability to balance energy and pathos is remarkable for a 13 year old actor. He is supported well by Sam Worthington, whose character is sullen throughout without being entirely flat, which is quite an achievement. And light relief is all in the hands of the brilliant Deborah Mailman, who adds just the right spice to the mix.

The plot is largely predictable, but doesn’t suffer for it. Even the best of the humour is available in the trailer, so if you don’t like character and aren’t interested in their journeys, then maybe you shouldn’t bother with this film (if that’s the case, why would you watch films at all anyway?). The fact is, this is a light-hearted story that really gets to the guts of what life is about.

And more importantly, perhaps, this film is a testament to growing maturity in Australian storytelling. While it is distinctly Australian in character, it refrains from either romanticising or demonising the bush, and there’s barely a skerrick of cheap and nasty ockerism. There’s a hint of romanticism about Sydney (something I’ll never understand, having been liberated from Sydney myself), but what it does best is pitch a national identity that is quietly confident, but nonetheless cautious. I don’t think we’ve done that very much before.

I’m even willing to forgive some very substantial continuity errors, the biggest of which I can’t mention as it would spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it.

If the opportunity presents itself, don’t miss this one. If you’re the teary type, take tissues. If you like a good laugh, don’t put the popcorn in your lap. But either way, see it.

 
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Posted by on Sunday, 11 January 2015 in Arenamedia, Australian Film, Film

 

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Big Hero 6

big hero 6In the opening moments of this film, I loved its playfulness and cross-cultural references like the name of its location in San Fransokyo and the Asian touches on the Golden Gate Bridge. The animation grabbed me immediately, and it was easy to engage with the characters. Of course, you’d expect that from these guys. Disney are masters of the dramatic arts and know how to play them to commercial advantage, and they’ve built an empire on engaging audiences across ages and cultures.

The film concerns Hiro, a young robot enthusiast who develops a brilliant new concept for robotics in order to gain a scholarship for his brother’s university. He succeeds, but the death of his brother and the theft of his concept present a need to turn from Hiro to hero before he takes up his place in academia.

The cross-cultural elements are particularly interesting, and on the surface at least, reinforce the values of multiculturalism. But I just felt uneasy as I started to notice cultural stereotypes creeping in. Despite a broad brush being applied in the races of the animated characters, it can be observed with some objectivity that all the notable Asian characters were nerds, all the characters with political, financial or academic power were Anglo-Celtic, and the muscles belonged to the African American. Not racist by any means, and the way in which these characters contributed to the functioning of the symbolically-hybridised San Fransokyo is a respectable image, but really, Disney? Is it necessary to reinforce these stereotypes? Could you not just shake it up a little bit? For the kids? Maybe?

To their credit, there are some strong, understated female role models here. The gender balance is better than the race balance, and the catchphrase “woman up” is one I hope will resonate with my daughters. The film is also very strong in character development. Though one of the characters dies early in the film, his presence remains palpable throughout, thanks to the treatment of the central character, whose grief is brilliantly established and expressed.

This really is an excellent film. It has a unique and engaging story, well-developed characters and beautiful animation. But I just feel that little bit uncomfortable with the way it reinforces stereotypes, so I have some hesitation in praising it too highly.

 

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Paddington

paddingtonIt’s not always that I manage to get lost in a film, and this one took me by surprise!

Halfway through this year, as my daughter’s tenth birthday approached and I was living in the antipodes, I popped (I literally cycled) over to Harrods and found a copy of Michael Bond’s famous novel and a Paddington teddy bear. I then rode with that bear over to Paddington Station and snapped his picture with a Great Western train, and popped them into a parcel for my girl in Melbourne. And to find shortly afterwards that Studio Canal was about to release a major film just meant that I could share this a little more with my daughter.

Well, it hardly needed this kind of personalisation, as it turned out. A simple but playful approach to telling the story makes this film very relatable and engaging. Add some brilliant performances by some remarkable actors and it is truly something special.

Hugh Bonneville is essentially just reprising Lord Crawley in his role as Mr Brown, but Sally Hawkins, who plays his wife, is just brilliant. The children are likewise splendid, but I have come away in awe at Nicole Kidman‘s transformation into Millicent. I was in some doubt about whether it was Kidman or not, her transformation was so thorough.

It’s very rare for me to tear up in any film, so it was a surprise to do so in this one, which is definitely not a tear-jerker by any stretch of the imagination. The film’s setting in the part of London where I spent several happy months living this year, and the truism it finishes on that “anyone in London can fit in”, really sang to me. And although the practicalities of life drag the romance of any place violently down to earth, this film manages to capture much of London’s charm without really whitewashing it. Although, I could be terribly biased!

But whatever way you look at it, this is simply a great story told with vitality and boldness. Rarely does any film manage to tell a story as well as this one does, so it really shouldn’t be missed.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 31 December 2014 in British Film, Film, Studio Canal

 

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Fury

furyWorld War Two movies really should be sold by the dozen. I mean how many times can we just keep rehashing this? With the 70th anniversary of the end of the war less than a year away, principally between Hollywood and Europe, it seems, from a cursory search of IMDB, that the rate of production regularly exceeds 40 feature films per year, with no sign of abatement. And despite the severity of the Asia-Pacific Theatre, we are predominantly focused on Europe.

So I didn’t really go to see this film because I thought it would be something remarkable or special or even noteworthy. There’s a new WWII movie for just about every week of the year. I just felt like going to the cinema, and this one was on at the right time.

And really, that’s about how this one should be valued. It’s not a bad film by any means. It has a strong plot, interesting characters, great explosions, confronting gore and just the right amount of novelty (I’ve never seen a tank battle portrayed quite like this before). It has some profound  little lines like “Ideals are peaceful, history is violent”, which are included subtly enough for my taste, and in some way justify the bordering-on-extreme degree of violence depicted here.

And that’s really all there is to it. There is no attempt to glean any new insight into humanity from the species’ darkest days. No spark of genius or flash of brilliance. There’s some valour, perhaps, but really, when we’re churning out so many films on this theme, there is absolutely nothing remarkable about this film.

So I don’t know why I’ve made any remarks at all…

Except to comment that maybe, just maybe, it would be good to start issuing licences for people who want to make films about WWII, or some kind of system that gives us an indication of whether this is just regurgitation or whether there’s something new to be said. I certainly think that there is more to be learned from this period in human history, and I’m very keen to see Angelina Jolie’s upcoming foray, but still… filmmakers, please; can we just explore the humanity of war a little more?

 
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Posted by on Monday, 1 December 2014 in American Film, Columbia Pictures, Film

 

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Scandalous Boy

scandalous boyScandalous Boy is a brave piece of work with the ostensible objective of realigning western perspectives on homosexual love. It makes its point very clearly, and possibly succeeds as a polemic, but largely fails to deliver the pathos I yearn for from the stage.

It is principally the true story of the love between the emperor Hadrian, and Antinous, his Greek eromenos, but it is framed in a twenty-first century setting with the statue of Antinous coming to life in modern Australia to tell his story. He wants to assert for us that he is not the “shameless and scandalous boy” Christian historians have claimed he was, and assert the appropriateness of his choices and actions in a pre-Christian Roman Empire. He punctuates this by comparing modern and ancient attitudes to public nudity, but kindly dons a pair of sequined hotpants to relieve our discomfort.

Yes, it’s one of those history plays. Set in ancient Rome, but using the language of modern Australia, replete with references to Hollywood’s Golden Age and punctuated with the homo-pop vocals of Kylie Minogue and the like. Had I realised it was one of those, I may well have opted for Supa‘s production of La Cage aux Folles for my Golden Drink Voucher expenditure this week, but that’s just the way the marble crumbles I guess. It nonetheless delivers a striking story that is valuable for a modern audience and finely pointed as a polemic for an Australian government struggling to follow its people’s leadership.

David Atfield’s script unfortunately doesn’t deliver the emotional punch necessary to make this story fully relatable. The dialogue feels forced and its distinctive modern vernacular doesn’t help as much as I think Atfield hoped it would.

But I think the greatest fault lies in the narration. It leaves no space whatsoever for subtext. Every thought, every motivation, every thing the characters don’t say, is described to us, rather than shown to us. There is simply no space for intuition, and this, mounted so firmly in an Australian context, makes the play feel just too preachy.

Surprisingly, though, this doesn’t completely ruin the play. The characters retain some capacity for engagement and I really did care what happened to them, I just wanted to care more. I wanted to feel their pain rather than merely being aware of it.

Had Atfield followed the Golden Rule and shown us, rather than told us, I think perhaps this would be a very moving play that could, perhaps, just change a mind or two. As it is, it is simply affirming of the LGBTIQ polemic in an Australia that still discriminates between loves.

The character of the audience left no doubt in my mind that, on the night I went at least, Atfield was preaching to the choir (if you’ll pardon the Christian metaphor). The audience, well over 90% male, seemed to hurl itself outside at interval so they could all suck back a cancer stick; I have never seen The Street Theatre’s foyer so empty during interval with a full house! And on their return one of them was kind enough to call out “okay, quiet now” for us as the lights dimmed, because apparently none of us knew what that meant.

The unfortunate reality is that too much of the audience was probably attracted by the promise of the naked Ethan Gibson, and while they may be encouraged by this polemic to fight for the rights of the LGBTIQ community, I just think that the story deserves a more diverse audience than this is likely to attract.

Regardless of my misgivings, I am grateful to David Atfield, his cast and the creatives behind this brave production for staging it. Antinous’s story is one that should be told more often.

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What the critics are saying:

 
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Posted by on Friday, 21 November 2014 in Canberra Theatre, Street 1, The Street Theatre, Theatre

 

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Gone Girl

gone girlEvery now and then a movie comes along that just hits all the right notes. For me, when this happens it is usually a film that defies categorisation. Gone Girl is such a film.

Engaging, endearing and focused turns to confronting and unnerving as this two hour adventure unravels. Just as you feel you’re approaching a defined denouement, the film takes a wild turn and plunges you back into uncertainty. It is very cleverly crafted to ensure that you know just enough to want to know more, but not enough to sit comfortably.

The film clearly presented its marketers with lots of challenges. It defies categorisation into a genre. It has multiple climaxes. It can’t be said to be “Film X meets Film Y”. And it twists like a cut snake. The resulting marketing guff that claims this story gets at the heart of a modern marriage, then, is hardly surprising. Of course it does nothing of the sort, but it does present one of the most intense and surprising films I’ve ever seen, regardless.

Ben Affleck is at his most intense, striking an excellent balance of pathos and not-really-giving-a-shit. His prevailing presence in the first substantial trajectory of the plot overshadows Rosamund Pike, who, when she gets a chance to shine, genuinely takes over as the lead character; the gone girl. Her performances truly hinge on what the audience doesn’t know, and the mystery in her character becomes the focal point as the film approaches its unnerving end.

Yes. If you like a nice and tidy conclusion to the plot, give this one a wide berth. But for a couple of hours on a roller coaster, you can’t go far wrong.

 
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Posted by on Tuesday, 21 October 2014 in American Film, Film

 

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The Two Gentlemen of Verona

2014-08-23 USA 026asI was lucky enough to be able to sit in Central Park this afternoon and enjoy Barefoot Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona. I really can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than lazing about in a park while a bunch of very talented performers work very hard to entertain me!

Hard work is exactly what it looked like. The area they were performing in was a particularly busy area of the park, and contrary to the image New Yorkers like to project of their favourite open space, Central Park is not by any means an oasis of calm in the middle of the city’s bustle. To be heard, they had to compete with a loud concert barely 100 metres away, constant helicopters and sirens, and the occasional heckler. But they handled all of this with aplomb, especially Michael Pettey, in the role of Proteus, who improvised marvellously when a particularly rowdy bunch suddenly noticed that he was performing and announced it for all and sundry.

The rest of the cast also delivered an outstanding performance, and although I did struggle to hear above the hubbub of the park, I did manage to follow this play, which I was not very familiar with beforehand.

Courtney Moors also impressed with her portrayal of Silvia. The pathos in her responses resonated brilliantly above the hubbub of the park, and I was certainly taken along with her in her pursuit of Valentine (played by James Kivlen).

In all, a great way to encounter such a fun little play, and a great performance.

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 23 August 2014 in American Theatre, Theatre

 

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