RSS

Category Archives: Film

Mary Magdalene

Landscapes and coastlines reminiscent of southern Australia give this film a grounded feel that exceeds most other depictions of biblical stories. Even the perspective lent to this story by looking at it through the eyes of Mary of Magdala puts me in mind of the strong and courageous women of the Australia Henry Lawson depicted.

In this harsh environment, Mary’s voice emerges subtly and beautifully over the course of the film. Rooney Mara depicts her with a graceful sensibility that builds in courage and awareness as the story progresses.

The male disciples appear as little more than a contentious rabble, much like the church they founded. They tend to follow Jesus about, rather than travelling with him, which is a different way of depicting them than I’ve seen in the past. They argue with each other, ignoring him largely, and it is Mary who points out after Jesus’ resurrection that in their fervour they’d forgotten to listen to the man they — rather pretentiously — called teacher.

This film, though, is more than merely a feminist reading of the gospel. Jesus certainly isn’t depicted here as a feminist, and nor is he depicted as omniscient. Instead, the messiah is shown as a man who was accessible and responsive to others; one aware of the people around him and open to a greater understanding of their experiences. This, really, should be central to the Christian faith: while denominations of the church continue to argue amongst themselves about petty nonsense like whether to worship on Saturday or Sunday or whether vegetarian Catholics should take communion or whether queer people should be treated like human beings, this film depicts a Christ with ears as well as a mouth. It shows him as a man listening: in all my years listening to a myriad of teachings about Jesus, I’ve never once heard a sermon about the example he set as a listener. And yet the gospels, both canonical and apocryphal, frequently depict him listening.

I feel that this film depicts the events of the gospel — canonical, apocryphal and fictional — in a wholly engaging and enlightened manner. And most importantly, it does so from the perspective of one of the most important participants in the events themselves. Truly enlightening and exciting.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on Sunday, 18 March 2018 in British Film, Film, Porchlight, See Saw Films

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Call Me By Your Name

I don’t like slow. I’m pretty sure I don’t like slow. But this film is slow. And I liked it.

It’s a summer in the early 1980s, and for some inexplicable reason a hunky Yank named Oliver turns up at an academic’s house in northern Italy and stays for the summer. As you do. For some reason the family speaks English with an American twang, and Oliver seems to understand Italian far better than he speaks it. The son in his mid teens, Elio, vacates his bedroom for Oliver, sleeping instead in an adjoining bedroom, which, apparently, is unsuitable for Yanks, given their delicate temperaments. And this exposition takes at least half an hour. Did I mention the film is slow?

I mean, any slower and I’d have popped out for a three course meal in the middle and probably not have missed any significant plot points. And yet, I stayed engaged. This surprises me. Usually I want the film to move, but I really didn’t mind the slow and steady building of character layers, the quiet, lounging nature of their days or the inconsistent progression of the central characters’ relationship.

Oliver and Elio connect, then disconnect. They approach an equilibrium, then are thrown off. Elio acts out, as teenagers are wont to do; Oliver doesn’t come home, as hunky Yanks are wont to do. Slowly (I did say it’s slow, right?), the unbalanced nature of this character development endears these two uncharming characters to me. I feel Elio’s angst as he recognises his attraction to Oliver, and I accept Oliver’s resistance to his own attraction.

This is, perhaps, one of the most endearing and relatable aspects of the characters: their internalised homophobia is something I recognise in myself. At no point in this film (and there was plenty of time to include it), does any other character make a homophobic comment. The only place homophobia appears is within the gay characters themselves. Elio’s parents push the couple together; other members of the community never pass any comments on their sexuality; and yet, the central characters resist their urges not only because of the age gap but because of their perceptions of right and wrong. It’s a deeply endearing process that breaks my heart.

SPOILER ALERT: Now, if you keep reading this post, you will encounter comments relating to the ending. If you’ve not seen it, stop, watch, and then carry on. The only reason this film is worth writing about is because of a magical moment of cinematic genius at the end, so I’m writing about it.

The long road to Oliver and Elio finally acting on their urges jars splendidly with the immediate nature of sex and dating in this century. That slow development is entirely foreign to younger generations, and to have it depicted in this manner is a valuable cultural record if nothing more.

But it is more. And as much as I rail against the slowness, as much as I just want something to happen, the languishing nature of the plot here leads to one beautiful moment of cinematic bliss. It begins when Oliver leaves to return to America: I felt the pain of that separation like it was my own. And it wasn’t just lovers: saying goodbye like that has been part of my life since I was 11 when a slew of deaths and departures began for my family. The gut-wrenching numbness depicted here could have been mine. And the moment when Oliver tells Elio that he’s getting married, the finality of that moment; the internalised homophobia inherent in the act; and most of all, Elio’s silent, howling alone-ness echoed in my heart like they were my own.

There, at that moment, is the genius of this film. The slow slow build, the euphoric collision of love and lust, and the sudden wrench of separation culminating in absolute despair resonate with my experience. And I sat in awe at how this film took me there so subtly, so deftly, so firmly.

Would that I had the talent of James Ivory Luca Guadagnino to recognise the value of slow.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on Wednesday, 24 January 2018 in Cinéfracture, Film, French Film, Frenesy Film Company, Italian Film

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Greatest Showman

Rarely does a film come along that I can praise without reservation or qualification, but this is one. So much so that it’s barely worth writing about.

What do you say about a film that hits the mark on character, balances it with plot and inspires us to be our best selves?

Nothing. Just watch the damn film. Annually at the very least. Forever.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on Wednesday, 3 January 2018 in American Film, Film, Twentieth Century Fox

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

God’s Own Country

It might be being promoted as a “British Brokeback”, but apart from an agrarian context and some primal and near-violent sex scenes, God’s Own Country shares little in common with the groundbreaking American epic.

Brokeback Mountain was created at a time when the west was only beginning to understand gender diversity, and it portrayed a romance that was hindered by both law and societal expectations. God’s Own Country, on the other hand, is set in an England that is both legally affirming of homosexual partnerships and increasingly open to them culturally. The films, therefore, sit beautifully together as a study of thematic progression.

Set near Bradford, in England’s north, the story follows a young man whose father is increasingly unable to manage the farm. An Eastern European farmhand is hired to assist with lambing, and he proves to pretty damn good with his hands in more ways than one.

Now, from an Australian perspective, I do have to point out that there seems to be one rather gaping plot gap: thoughout the film, a large town is visible in the background of many farm scenes, yet for some reason, the lads are sent to spend several days camping in an abandoned hayshed presumably to be nearer the livestock needing attention. How on earth this farm can be large enough to require a sleepout is beyond me (the town is visible from both the hayshed and the homestead), but it is essential to the plot, as this is where the romance begins, so I did have to consciously suspend my disbelief at this incongruity.

Disbelief suspended, I was deeply moved by the brilliant performances of Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareanu. Gutteral, earthy and completely unlikely as a couple, the pair evoke great pathos, and unlike Brokeback Mountain, which suffers from the two-thirds-through “when will this end?”  illness, God’s Own Country is compelling throughout.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on Monday, 4 September 2017 in BFI, British Film, Film

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Macbeth

macbethI fear I may be less impressed by this film than I should be.

The fact is, I think it’s very true to Shakespeare’s intentions. Had the muse of fire that we know as the cinema been invented during his lifetime, I expect this is very much how he would have imagined his play. A very Scottish Thane, rather than a slightly Gaelified English Lord, is met in battle, defeating King Duncan’s enemy in a bloodbath. He meets witches on the heath as it snows, and his wife is met in a rustic wooden cottage in a tiny village. When the king arrives, he stays in a tent. There is no hint here of English imperialism; Shakespeare’s English fable is as it should be: foreign.

In this aspect, the film distinguishes itself. It avoids the unfortunate assumptions of English and American producers which lead to a hybrid English/Scottish aesthetic, and presents The Scottish Play as if it were actually Scottish.

The performances also: spectacular! Fassbender is the quintessential Macbeth: astute, hirsute and when needed, a brute. He mixes genuine humanity with resolute barbarity. Marion Cottilard, too, is as conniving and “full of direst cruelty” as she ought to be, until her husband’s unerring barbarity tips her over the edge.

But still, I find myself craving a little more imagination. This is the Macbeth I read in high school and at university. I teach this Macbeth. It is the standard Macbeth. The Macbeth with factory fittings, or you might say, it is a Macbeth in original, mint condition. I don’t dislike it, but it’s hardly worth noticing.

At least with Geoffrey Wright’s film I thought it was disappointing. This is worse. Macbeth is protrayed absolutely perfectly, as is medieval Scotland, and I don’t care. I should care: Justin Kurzel, the film’s Australian director, should have given me a reason to care! I paid £14, an absurd sum, to be made to care, and yet, I don’t care. This is a perfect film for teaching Macbeth, unfortunately, and will probably be with us for many years to come as a result. I’m not unhappy about that. I just don’t care.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on Wednesday, 25 November 2015 in British Film, Film, See Saw Films

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Burnt

This post contains minor spoilers. Not enough to ruin the film, but more than I would usually give, so proceed at your own risk!

burntBurnt is one of those great little films that really gets around your prediction instinct. The plot, in a way, is really quite predictable, but it disguises itself exceptionally well.

Essentially, the film is based on the formula for an action film. It utilises the late twentieth century chronotope of the gruff and superficially unpersonable hero, but casts him as a chef with a questionable history of drug use and alcoholism, determined to prove his value, in this instance, by attaining a third Michelin Star.

Bradley Cooper, of course is the perfect man for the job. Cooper embodies the masculine stereotype, but both his manner and his filmography allow him the leeway to delve into more unexpected waters, particularly as a sensitive and relatively accepting human being.

He is supported in this endeavour by much more nuanced casting. As a heroine, Helene (Sienna Miller) makes a shrewish entrance and, though following a similar trajectory to Shakespeare’s Kate, develops in a much more textured manner to matching Cooper’s Adam. Daniel Bruhl completes a love triangle, with his character Tony engaging with Adam’s obnoxious quest out of an unrequited love. His depiction of this character is exciting in being so understated. Neither his appearance, nor his portrayal of Tony rely on gay stereotypes, and it is refreshing to see such a subtle portrayal of a queer character, especially when the character’s orientation is a key element of the plot.

Burnt may not be a brilliant film, it may not boast spectacular dialogue or a unique plot arc, but it does surprise with some beautifully drawn characters and the perfect ending.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on Monday, 9 November 2015 in American Film, Film, Weinstein Company

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Seeing Spectre with Cineworld’s stingy designers

cineworld

Cineworld Hammersmith’s decaying facade

Ordinarily, I write about plays and musicals and films. I have been known to write about writing, and about developmental work, and once or twice I have even written about a cinema. As far as I can remember, I’ve only written about cinemas with historic value, but on this occasion, it’s because a cinema has actually distracted me from the film I’ve gone to see by their sheer bald-headed stupidity.

The cinema in question is Cineworld Hammersmith. I’ve been to this cinema on a number of occasions, even though the first time I noticed it, it was shut and in such a state of disrepair that I thought it abandoned. Nonetheless, I have seen three films here, in three of their auditoria. The first two were not terribly remarkable. They lacked carpet, and had something of the feel of a hospital ward, and they have quite small screens. But other than that they were vaguely tolerable, as long as the film was good.

But tonight I was in auditorium 1 for a screening of Spectre. This being the film’s first week, and given the popularity, auditorium 1 was larger than the others I’ve visited. It was also busier. My seat (allocated) was between two other patrons, which was not surprising. What was surprising was that, when attempting to sit in it, I found the distance between the armrests was narrower than the width of my pelvis.

Now, I have sat in many seats. Some have been narrower than others, some higher, some have been more wobbly, some have been more comfortable. I have, in developing countries in South East Asia, found more than once that my ample western posterior was too much for their flimsy plastic chairs. I have also found, quite regularly, on aeroplanes and buses, seats where the distance between the seat back and the back of the seat in front is shorter than the length of my femurs, which is not terribly comfortable, as I am not equipped with joints at any point in my femurs. But never, in almost four decades on this planet (and the last two with a fully-developed pelvis), have I encountered a seat with fixed armrests that are closer together than the distance between the extremities of my pelvis.

I admit I am slightly on the tall side. I exceed the average height of men in the United Kingdom by more than ten centimetres (that’s just shy of four inches in the Old Scale). So my kneecaps are accustomed to being compressed by small seats, and I’ve learnt to sit at funny angles to compensate for stingy designers. The widest part of the human hip structure is known as the intertrochanteric width. The average for most humans is just shy of 30 centimetres. My own intertrochanteric width (I’ve checked, since encountering Cineworld’s seats) is precisely 31.3 centimetres, and the distance between the armrests in auditorium 1 at Hammersmith is, apparently, 31.2 centimetres. I know this because, upon my first attempt to sit in seat B7, I didn’t quite fit. It took me three attempts, the last of which involved substantial downward force, which was not altogether pleasant for the patrons in seats B6 and B8.

How an organisation in a relatively-advanced country like the United Kingdom can fail to recognise the need for armrests to be positioned at a distance that can accommodate above average intertrochanteric widths, I do not understand. It would make sense that a person who gets paid to design seats for humans should be at least slightly familiar with the average, as well as the outlying, intertrochanteric widths of human beings. They should also have some familiarity with the biological composition of human beings. While the femur is attached to the rest of the skeleton in a manner that permits its owner to adopt an angle that compensates for the stinginess of bus and plane seat designers, I can assure you the pelvis is not. My intertrochanteric with is fixed, and though I may be able to squeeze some of my extra flesh through these very stingy seats, it makes for a very uncomfortable film viewing experience.

Daniel Craig in a seat wider than Cineworld's.

Daniel Craig in a seat wider than Cineworld’s.

It seems to me that, when making a booking for a seat in auditorium 1 at Hammersmith, Cineworld’s website or staff should warn patrons that the seats in this auditorium are only suitable for people with average or below average pelvis widths, so as to reduce the embarrassment for those of us who are slightly wider than the average human.

So, given the immense distraction these seats provided, I can only say that Spectre is quite an engrossing film, as there were one or two occasions when I almost forgot that Cineworld’s ridiculous attempt to provide a seat was making me uncomfortable. Daniel Craig’s performance was not in any way squishy, and he seemed to have substantially more elbow room in his Aston Martin than I had in my seat. Ben Wishaw was as dreamy as ever, and seemed to have plenty of space in his seat in the gondola, even when he was beset by many tourists. I think the film is worth a look, as long as you can find a seat to sit in that doesn’t make you feel like you’re about to explode with rage at the idiocy of the person who made it. I give this film four out of five well-proportioned seats.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on Wednesday, 28 October 2015 in Film

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Suffragette

suffragetteSuffragette is the story of a fictional woman in early twentieth century London, who becomes involved with the Suffragette movement to enfranchise women in the United Kingdom. Maud Watts is an ordinary mother, working in a laundry to help make ends meet. We see the journey she takes as she goes from merely supporting suffrage, to actively and militantly campaigning for it.

This technique of using someone who becomes involved in a movement to illustrate how people interacted through history is one I appreciate. I think it provides a view of history that is easier to relate to, and is possibly more accurate as it doesn’t present history merely through the eyes of leaders.

In this instance, the ploy is largely successful. It is easy to empathise with Maud, especially as her son is taken away from her. But it is this element of the plot that somehow gets lost along the way. One minute she is a mother, and the next she is just a suffragette, and her son is neither seen nor mentioned again.

From a feminist perspective, perhaps there is nothing wrong with this. But the purpose of creating this fictional character as a lens through which to view history is to humanise the story. The tragedy of losing such a precious relationship could not be understated, and its impact on the protagonist should not have been overlooked. It is at this point that the film goes from being brilliant to being somewhat clinical, and having the feeling of a docudrama, rather than a film.

The dialogue, nonetheless, is brilliant throughout, and demonstrates an impeccable skill. Carey Mulligan’s performance as Maud is professional and engaging.

I just wish the writer, Abi Morgan, had stuck more doggedly to her initial approach.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on Wednesday, 21 October 2015 in BFI, British Film, Film, Film4, Pathe

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Last Cab to Darwin

Last CabOkay, I’m a bit late. I recall wishing I had the time to go see this on stage a few years ago, and in recent months I again thought it looked like an interesting film. How I underestimated it!
.
The story of a cabby from Broken Hill who finds himself with terminal cancer and an abrupt prognosis, this film resonates with some of the deepest anxieties of humanity. When the Northern Territory legalises euthanasia, he hoofs it in his cab across the desert to end his life on his own terms.
.
This is a brilliant road movie, certainly one of the best I’ve ever seen. It succeeds in portraying some deeply flawed characters with empathy and keeps them at the centre of the story despite the political nature of the theme. This is probably the film’s greatest strength. It could have ended up being something of a polemic, but it remains grounded by its earthy and endearing characters who are never out of focus.
.
I ended up seeing Last Cab to Darwin in an aeroplane flying across Australia, and it turns out that’s the perfect context. I whipped up my window blind afterwards and watched Kangaroo Island pass underneath as the plane made its way out over the Bight, just the right time to whistfully ponder the beauty and ugliness of life. Australia’s outback offers the perfect metaphor for this; majestic in its grandeur and vicous in its relentless trajectory towards death and destruction.
.
Be afraid, it seems to say, but stay on the road. I hope when my journey ends, I don’t have to make a decision like this, but I’m also sure I’d make the same one. I just hope our governments can manage to keep their worthless noses out of my bloody business.
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on Thursday, 8 October 2015 in Australian Film, Film

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Holding the Man

holding the manTimothy Conigrave’s autobiographical story of his love for John Caleo has turned into one of the finest Australian films ever produced. In fact, I should strike the Australian from that sentence, as it’s really one of the finest films ever produced in the world, but having seen it, I’m rather more proud to be an Australian than I was yesterday, so it’s staying.

Adapted for the stage (and subsequently the screen) by Queanbeyan playwright Tommy Murphy, Holding the Man follows the story of Tim and John from when they meet in high school and Tim pursues John. The story follows their love through homophobia, infidelity (of sorts), moderate success and finally AIDS. The characters are portrayed skilfully by Ryan Corr as Tim, and Craig Stott as John. Despite a strange, forced accent from Corr (he insists on pronouncing every T as if he were dining with the queen and it annoyed me throughout), their performances are truly impeccable.

The film matters in a sociological sense because it is set against the backdrop of the changing Australia of the late seventies through early nineties, which was when the bulk of social attitudes about the rainbow community shifted. And yet, despite the significance of these political shifts, this story is firmly grounded in the experience of the two men at the heart of this tragedy. And therein lies its greatest strength.

If you really hate spoilers, you might want to stop reading now, but really, the ending is clear from the very opening moments of the film, anyway. It is rare, I think, that this tactic works, but this is certainly one of the circumstances in which it serves well for keeping the story on track and focused. One of the benefits of knowing that John dies is that as the film delves into some very dark places the audience doesn’t question whether he will pull through. And because we know he is going to die, we are able to concentrate on the way in which the characters deal with their circumstances. It really is very strategic storytelling, and shows a master of the art was at work.

Despite the darkness of this story, this film is, at its heart, a celebration of love. It truly demonstrates a spectacular skill on the part of Tommy Murphy, to delve into such dark plotlines with such pathos and not lose sight of the heart of the story, which was the love between the two protagonists. Few writers can manage this with such dexterity.

I simply cannot recommend this film highly enough. Get it. Watch it. Share it.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on Wednesday, 26 August 2015 in Australian Film, Film, Goalpost Pictures

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Paper Towns

Paper TownsThis year, two films with names starting with the word paper have impressed me. I’m not sure what to make of that. I’m not even sure what I should make of the fact that two films with names starting with the word paper have been released this year. Nonetheless, it seems to be a good formula, because both of them are bloody brilliant.

Paper Towns is an American Indie film, and if there’s any negative generalisation you can make about American films, American Indie films are the exception that proves the rule. American films sacrifice plot intrigue for dramatic licence. American Indie films don’t. American films have superficial characters that barely even remind you of humanity. American Indie films don’t. American films make a lot of money at the box office. American Indie films don’t. Okay, that last one wasn’t negative, but you get my drift. Want to understand the American psyche? Spend some time with their Indie offerings and you’ll encounter the sweet, sour, ugly, beautiful soul of America.

Paper Towns delivers a deeply engaging plot centred on the protagonist’s crush on his neighbour, a girl who develops a habit of disappearing. It’s a kind of coming of age story, kind of a road movie, kind of romantic comedy, but, as with all good Indie films, it defies categorisation.  Its characters really get under your skin. They’re characters you can really care about, drawn with such a fine verisimilitude that you don’t even notice the archetypes being presented. Antagonists, too, are never left to wallow in the audience’s antipathy, but they come to life as fully developed characters worth as much respect as protagonists, if not as much love. Stories like this are rare.

This is genuine storytelling. I have seen a lot lately that doesn’t quite engage me as I wish it would, but this just held me enthralled from beginning to end.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on Wednesday, 15 July 2015 in American Film

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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.

 
Leave a comment

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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.

 
Leave a comment

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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?

 
Leave a comment

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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.

 
Leave a comment

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Boyhood

BoyhoodI feel very generous. I’ve just donated three hours of my life to one of the most vain films I’ve ever encountered.

It sounds good in theory: make a film about adolescence and use the same actor throughout, but film it over twelve years so that the physical changes are naturalistic. In reality, it just doesn’t cut it. And not just because it’s too long.

When Richard Linklater appeared on the screen at the beginning and said hello to the cinema chain we had just entered and told us the name of the film we had just bought tickets for, I thought it was just a little marketing stunt. It wasn’t until halfway through I realised that this film is not a story but an exercise for its creator.

The problem is there’s no point to the film. It’s a fiction, but it’s so confused about what it’s about that it’s not really about anything. There are a series of events, some fortunate and some less so. The adolescent journey is depicted naturalistically from the boy’s transition from childhood into adolescence to his transition from adolescence into adulthood, but there is little to tie this story together as a coherent story. It just goes from one episode to another, often skipping over major events in the plot.

Judging by the title, the film should be about the boy. For the most part it follows the awareness of the boy, but occasionally it diverts from that rule. It spends more energy, I think, on his parents, and the theme of parenting, but then it loses this plot thread by the end because it goes back to the boy from the title.

The thing is, as much as I was bored most of the time I spent watching, the characters are still engaging. I’d prefer it if I could just dismiss it as a boring film, but it’s not boring; I wanted to know what happens, because the characters, particularly Ethan Hawke as the father and Patricia Arquette as the mother, are absolutely fascinating. The boy, played by Ellar Coltrane, was likewise completely enthralling.

It’s just that nothing much happens, and it takes three hours for this nothing much to happen to these fantastic characters.

I think this one got bitten by the novelty bug, and instead of a story it became a mere exercise in film making.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on Sunday, 20 July 2014 in American Film, Film, IFC Productions

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

12 Years a Slave

12 years a slave12 Years a Slave is one of the more interesting examples of films to take slavery as its theme in the last couple of decades. There is a preponderance of films about the American Civil War, but the era that went before it and the circumstances leading to the war are not so well documented.

12 Years a Slave certainly redresses this. As the story of a free black man from New York set in the antebellum of the American Civil War who is enslaved in the south for twelve years (ta-da!), it clearly demonstrates a cause for the United States to grapple with the question of slavery in the 1860s, and in so doing fills a void in the dramatic canon on the subject.

The film is beautifully shot, and though it oversentimentalises in the way most American films do, and occasionally glosses over the plot in favour of a clever turn of phrase, I can almost excuse these ills given the nature of the subject matter and the skill of the screenwright and director.

The performances of the many well-known white actors in this film are likewise worthy of praise. Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender and Paul Giamatti in particular provide a splendid bed for Chiwetel Ejiofor’s chilling performance as Solomon Northrup, and the equally empathic Patsey played by Lupita Nyong’o.

But what I am most fascinated by is the persistence of the recent obsession of Hollywood with slavery. The theme is certainly relevant, with slavery continuing in many parts of the world today, and slavery bears some comparison with other social justice issues, but that doesn’t seem to be the motivation and I don’t quite know what to make of it.

What seems most interesting about this modern slew of films about the American slave trade is that it stands alone, seemingly as a purely historical fascination, these films being almost entirely backward-looking. No allegories seem to be being made to more modern struggles like feminism or marriage equality, though they’d be easy references to make. The filmmakers seem to be ignoring the more recent practice of slavery, which continued well into the twentieth century even where it was ostensibly banned (for instance, Queensland and the British outposts in southern Africa), and more oddly in those places where slavery has continued into the twenty-first century.

These films don’t seem to be making much of a stand against modern slavery or against any modern societal ill in the way that stories such as The Crucible clearly denounced the persecution of Communists in the 1950s. They seem to sit merely as a historical account, and although they reinforce the anti-slavery position of the United Nations, they seem to be have little point beyond this, so I am surprised at the continuation of the theme.

Regardless of the reasons for these films, their quality is stunning. I just hope they find a purpose if they’re going to keep making them.

 

 
2 Comments

Posted by on Saturday, 15 February 2014 in American Film, Film, Regency Enterprises

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela

Ram-LeelaOkay, I might have a reason to like Ram-Leela that gives me a bit of a bias, but I simply haven’t enjoyed a film this much in ages. Colourful, engaging, and full of life, this film captures the attention and the heart.

Bollywood has not been high on my list of priorities, but this film could well change that. Their energy and obsession with colour has always fascinated me, but the plots can be pretty ordinary. Since Ram-Leela borrows the bulk of its plot from England’s foremost dramatist, it can hardly be said to suffer from this illness. 

Based roughly on Romeo and Juliet, Ram-Leela begins with the familiar style of Bollywood. It is not long, however before it delves deeper into the characters and their backstory than is customary, and the challenge becomes to recognise Shakespeare’s characters in those in front of us.

This is not, however, a straightforward transliteration. In transplanting the story to India, the plot required some major reconstructive surgery. It takes some interesting turns that are not quite what I was expecting, and in the second act I was beginning to think the plot had diverted completely from Shakespeare’s when it finally resolved back into the familiar run.

This is where I really found myself fascinated. Some of my readers may be aware that some years ago I was involved in writing and directing a re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet in which the lovers live and rather than finding a happily ever after they find they don’t really like each other quite as much as they thought they did. Ram-Leela looked for a while like it might head down a similar path, but it didn’t, and I breathed a sigh of relief in a way.

I can’t think of a more interesting experience than seeing this film in the heady mix of cultures I am experiencing here in Timor-Leste. It just sits beautifully in this eclectic place and should not be missed.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on Sunday, 1 December 2013 in Film

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Filth

filthI’ve been a big fan of films that play hard and fast with psychosis over the years, and Filth is, I think, one of the best. It keeps you on your toes trying to figure put the difference between reality and the subject’s experiences, but it doesn’t do this at the expense of character and plot.

The protagonist here, Bruce (James McAvoy), is brilliantly portrayed with incredible pathos and drive. Apart from an unfortunate lull in the third quarter, which many films suffer from, he drives the plot forward brilliantly.

The super-plot is both straightforward and innovative. Frank is in line for promotion, but so are several other detectives in his Edinburgh unit. By setting them up, he manages to move himself up the ladder, building the likelihood of promotion by a steady process of elimination. His plan goes well until his own psychosis gets the better of him.

McAvoy is supported, though, by a cast of well-developed characters, all of whom are brilliantly relatable and portrayed by great actors.

The spectre of Trainspotting is heavy in the air with this film. There are familiar sequences and phrasing, but the whole is a unique and engaging story that warrants a second look.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on Monday, 25 November 2013 in British Film, Film, Steel Mill Pictures

 

Tags: , , , , ,