Archive for December, 2015

The 2015 Movieland Awards

Posted: December 30, 2015 in movie reviews

Movieland Awards Laurel

Best Original Score:

Rich Vreeland aka Disasterpiece, It Follows

DownloadImageDirector David Robert Mitchell has collaborated with composer Rich Vreeland (here credited as Disasterpeace) to achieve a fantastic, spookily 80s synth score and matched it with supremely effective, off-beat cinematography by Mike Gioulakis, who subtly but incredibly creepily apes all the great spooky moves of the great horror films of the 70s and 80s, including the slow zoom in, the slow zoom out, the fish-eye lens, and – my favourite and deployed twice – the 360 degree pan. You can tell all these creatives – and boy are they creative! – spent an enormous amount of time talking about, and probably watching, their favourite horror films. Due diligence is in full evidence.

Best Production Design:

Colin Gibson, Mad Max: Fury Road

Every simple cutaway shot, every prop, every strange growl and weird squeak reveals a richly textured and highly specific cinematic universe. The stage is set, the chase is on, and 200 unique, incredible, mind-boggling vehicles careen across the desert.

Best Cinematography:

Andre Turpin, Mommy

The film is exquisitely photographed (André Turpin, cinematographer), which is all the more astonishing considering that it’s shot in 1:1, an aspect ratio I’ll warrant you’ve never seen in a cinema. Dolan often uses slow motion in a beautiful, tasteful way, and the music is gorgeous and present.

Best Edit:

Margaret Sixel, Mad Max: Fury Road 

Don’t listen to the already often repeated cliché that it’s a two hour car chase. Like any good movie, Fury Road has its ebbs and flows, a three act structure, and a storyline to be excited by and characters to care about. There is emotion, there are gargantuan stakes, and a very moving emotional connection is made between Max (Tom Hardy) and Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron).

Audacity Award:

The Tribe

The Tribe by the Ukrainian writer-director Myroslav SlaboshpytskiyMiroslav Slaboshpitsky’s jaw-droppingly original horrorshow is shot in 34 long takes, performed entirely in Ukranian sign language without subtitles by non-professional deaf actors, features extremely explicit sex and violence and a cast of unlikeable characters involved in, among other things, running a teen prostitution ring from the halls of their school. It’s also unerringly gripping and quite brilliant.

 

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Drew Goddard based on the novel by Andy Weir, The Martian

6-ways-mars-could-kill-matt-damon-in-the-martian-475703There are so many things – again, clichés – that could have been in this movie that simply aren’t. No wife and child back home to fret and cry, no President concerned about getting re-elected, no relentless reporter determined to get the big scoop, no Russian space program using NASA’s screw-up to score points on the international scene, no frivolous crap. And it’s funny. It has way more laugh-out-loud moments than many a Hollywood “comedy”, and they all come from an authentic place, arising organically from situation and character. I saw the film with a Sunday crowd of civilians and they were vocally loving it. Some of the laughs had legs, rolling and extending, filled with surprised delight – no one expected this sci-fi tale to be so funny, so joyous.

Best Original Screenplay:

Xavier Dolan, Mommy

The film is about many things – it’s got deep thinking embedded at every level: script, production, post-production – but the primary theme that resonated with me was how we create our own universes. Mother and son construct a life together, and it’s totally at odds with society, as represented by their neighbours and the public places they visit. But it works for them. I felt a great sense of self-analysis: how crazy is my little family? How crazy – or sane – is anyone?

Ensemble Performance Award:

Magic Mike XXL

3047999-poster-p-1-pony-magic-mike-music-supervisorChanning Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez and the absurdly deadpan Kevin Nash play five male strippers travelling from Tampa, Florida to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to participate in a male stripper convention. Along the way they have fun, and so do we. That’s it. That’s totally it. But what fun we have! These guys are an incredible delight to hang out with, and the talent they represent is unbelievable. Each can spin a joke, a character, an outrageous dance move – and they all look like their bodies were sculpted by Michaelangelo in his ab period. It’s ludicrous how much ease they display, while obviously presenting such deep reserves of natural skill and immense rehearsal.

Best Supporting Performance by a Woman:

Imogen Poots, She’s Funny That Way

shes-funny-that-way-imogenAs our lead hooker with a heart of thousand-carat gold, Imogen Poots once again reigns supreme, gifting her every scene, line and moment with life, spontaneity, energy and comic precision. She’s a serious star, and I bet Woody’s kicking himself he didn’t cast her first.

 

Best Supporting Performance by a Man:

Benicio Del Toro, Sicario 

sicario-benicio-del-toro-530x283Second-billed Benicio Del Toro, as a shadowy advisor to Josh Brolin’s shadowy advisor, gives a perfect Del Toro performance (as opposed to a ludicrous Del Toro performance); The Bull has got his groove back. If this film pops up in the Oscar nominations – and it very well might, especially for cinematography, direction and original screenplay (Taylor Sheridan) – expect to see Del Toro get a nod. He’s simply awesome.

Best Lead Performance by a Man:

Paul Dano, Love and Mercy

loveandmercy_filmreview_splash650Dano has been quietly achieving greatness for about a decade now. Completely invisible outside of his work (when was the last time you saw him in a gossip column, on a red carpet, or misbehaving on Twitter?), he has held his own with Daniel Day Lewis and Toni Colette, among others, and picks and chooses his roles carefully – so much so that they seem to pick him. Lord knows no-one casts him because he sells cinema tickets, so there’s something else afoot – he’s the real freakin’ deal. And despite his superb body of solid work, none of his previous roles compare to his Brian Wilson, a performance he has crafted so carefully that the real Brian Wilson, viewed on YouTube, may seem less authentic than Dano’s portrayal.

Best Lead Performance by a Woman:

Anne Dorval, Mommy

mommyIt it also possibly the first movie to seriously look at how ADHD truly affects those that have to deal with it; indeed, possibly the first movie to take ADHD seriously as a subject. There are shades of characterisation in this film so delicate and sublime they make you want to weep. I teared up for the first time – for how much humanity was on display – at the one hour and five minute mark. But then I laughed for a long period, before the drama hit me again.

Best Feature Documentary:

Matthew Bate, Sam Klemke’s Time Machine

Sam_Klemkes_Time_Machine_stillMatthew Bate found a subject – in this case, an American man whose most extraordinary characteristic was that he’d accumulated thousands of hours of day-to-day footage of himself over decades – and crafted an extremely funny, wise, moving, profound and highly original “weirdo gonzo doco.” Astonishingly watchable and unforgettable.

Best Direction:

George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

George Miller, supposedly directing not from a script but from 3,500 storyboards he has created over the last decades with Brendan McCarthy (2000 AD), Mark Sexton and Peter Pound, has delivered one of the most kinetic, energetic, vibrant and thrilling action movies ever made. Like Gravity of a couple of years ago, and Avatar before that, Fury Road is a game changer, one of those films that has your jaw on the floor and your head spinning as you wonder just how in the world this thing possibly got made.

Best Film:

Mad Max: Fury Road

FURY_ROAD_gallery_cover

It was only about six or seven minutes into Mad Max: Fury Road that I knew that I’d be seeing it again in a matter of days. It was a couple of minutes after that when I realised that this film was going to look freaking spectacular in 3-D (I was watching it traditionally). I was already getting excited for my second viewing not ten minutes into my first. Fury Road is everything you want from a Mad Max film. It’s got the action, the cars and the characters; more importantly, in allegiance with the first three films – and especially The Road Warrior, the classic of the series – it’s got the weird vernacular, the Australian-ness, and the complete commitment to its own unique and totally insane universe. It may have cost a studio hundreds of millions of dollars, but it still feels home-grown, hand-made, and completely deviant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jennifer-Lawrence-Joy-Movie-Poster*** (out of five)

David O. Russell’s latest end-of-year collaboration with Jennifer Lawrence feels like a project that seriously lost its way along the production line. Lawrence plays Joy, a divorced mom of two trying to keep a mad suburban (New Jersey?) household together: her ex-husband lives in the basement; her mother lives (literally) in her upstairs bedroom, addicted to soap opera; and her dad has arrived on the doorstep, hurled out by the women he left her mother for, and needs to move in. Observing all this, and providing (extremely sparse) narration is Joy’s grandma, Mimi.

Mimi is played by Diane Ladd, and that narration, Ladd’s prominent billing, and a major plot development signal that, once upon a time, the relationship between Joy and her was meant to be the dominant one in the film. But along the way Mimi got sidelined, and now barely registers, a ghost on the margins of this frenetic household. A wispy Ladd can’t hope to compete with Robert De Niro as Joy’s dad Rudy, either, but Joy and his relationship is meandering rather than dramatic. Likewise, a competitive, at times toxic relationship between Joy and her half-sister Peggy (Elisabeth Röhm, in a very strange performance) sputters and spurts. The film keeps shifting focus, or, more bluntly, keeps dropping the dramatic ball.

Joy invents a mop and gets involved with the early days of the Home Shopping Network, run by eager beaver Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper, very earnest). This happens halfway through, and for a while the movie picks up, and indeed, in one sequence that’s the equal of anything Russell (and Lawrence) has ever done, it soars. Then, like a clipped eagle, it spasmodically jerks and loses its direction again, ending in a kind of plonking mess.

Nevertheless, Lawrence makes it watchable, and often charming. She’s in every scene and, through sheer force of will and talent, she pulls you through. I feel Russell’s script wasn’t ready, and he relied on Lawrence to do what she’s done – save the movie. That’s a heavy burden and an unfair one. It’s a shame, because with her operating at this calibre, and on such an original idea, the ingredients were ripe for something truly special, rather than meandering, inconsistent and jerky. It’s worth seeing, but it’s not worth awarding.

Best and Worst of 2015

Posted: December 22, 2015 in movie reviews

TOP TEN

heres-how-the-insane-vehicles-were-created-in-mad-max-fury-road.jpgMad Max: Fury Road

Miller is up there with Kubrick, Spielberg, Cameron and Jackson as one of the great conceptualists working on the largest possible scale. This film is the work of a singular balls-to-the-wall visionary.

Mommy

There are moments of sublime beauty that remind me of Scorsese and Tarantino, but directly proportional to their tonal temperature. As those guys can shoot a cold and funny murder, Dolan can shoot a warm and touching moment with no forced sentimentality whatsoever – and that is hard.

Love and Mercy

Deeply investigates the relationship of creativity and mental illness, the obsessive need for artists to please their fathers (and father figures), and, indeed, what it means to be a creative person.

CitizenFour

It’s thrilling, unbelievably thrilling. Even though we know Snowden is safe in Moscow (at least for now), the sense of danger (and paranoia, a huge theme of the film) is tangible.

Going Clear – Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Author Lawrence Wright did the hard yards, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t awesome. It’s a must-see.

The Martian

It’s a feel-good romp with lashings of science, a sci-fi flick with laughs, an ensemble comedy, a crowd-pleasing blockbuster.

Bridge of Spies 

Heaven in the dark, an extraordinarily well-calibrated historical drama from storytellers par excellence, Steven Spielberg, the Cohen Brothers, and young Matt Charman.

Heaven Knows What

Excellent junkie-lovers-in-New-York flick. Find it on demand.

The Tribe

Ukrainian festival favourite about a shool for the deaf with criminal tendencies. Find it on demand.

Sam Klemke’s Time Machine

Matt Bate’s awesome “weirdo gonzo doco” about one ordinary American’s relentless self-documentation. Find it on demand.

BOTTOM FIVE
absolutelyanything5-xlargeAbsolutely Anything

Lord knows how and why anyone agreed to make this script into a projected image, but a projected image is all that it is.

The Walk

Don’t see The Walk. See Man On Wire instead. And if you’ve seen Man On Wire, see it again instead of seeing this completely redundant, ham-fisted, embarrassing (and boring!) re-telling of the same story.

Man Up

It’s not funny ironic, it’s not funny straight, it’s not funny anything.

Spy

Everyone looks strained, confused or downright desperate.

Burnt

Great chefs may be horrible, arrogant, violent, self-centred, pretentious, egomaniacal dickheads, but that doesn’t mean we want to spend an hour and a half with one.

Star_Wars_7_VII_Drew_Struzan_Official_01**** (out of five)

J.J. Abrams’ homage to the first Star Wars film – the one that took our collective breath away, the one that defined our childhoods – takes “fan service” to new heights, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Charting a very similar course – plot-wise, character-wise, milieu-wise – as the 1977 film (aka A New Hope), it will be very, very familiar to an enormous amount of expectant fans.

Each character from the first film finds a colliery in this new adventure, which feels more like a reboot of the franchise than a continuation of an urgently necessary story. Luke Skywalker is rebooted as Ray (Daisy Ridley), who finds a cute R2-D2-like droid on her desert land, just as Luke did; this droid, known as BB-8, carries a secret message, as R2-D2 did; ultimately this message must be projected, and form a plan of action for a cast of characters including a roguish, darkly handsome, wise-cracking Han Solo-like pilot, Poe (Oscar Isaac). So far, so seen before.

But that’s the point. Every frame of this film is designed to raise goosebumps of nostalgia, and so we not only get the main cast of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill returning (along – yay! – with Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca), we also get the chess set, a rough-and-tumble intergalactic tavern, and the Millenium Falcon – a lot of the Millenium Falcon.

It’s all tremendous fun, and Ridley is a true find. She holds the film together, and, despite not being born when the first film was made, she gets the appropriate acting style down pat, a style that passed from George Lucas to Mark Hamill and froze there in time. She’s perky and bright and strong and wilful and deeply pretty without looking like a movie star. She’s the girl next door, if you live on a desert planet and feel the stirrings of the force.

John Boyega, as a Stormtrooper with a conscience, serves as a substitue Princess Leia to Ridley’s Luke, while Leia herself, despite now being a general, is really given a whole lot of nothing to do. This is not the case with Ford and Mayhew; Han Solo and Chewbacca get a lot of screen time and a lot of jokes (which are all actually funny). Old and curmudgeonly, they’ve become an intergalctic Statdler and Woldorf. Adam Driver is surprisingly believable – given his deep attachement to hipsterism – as a dark-armoured baddie.

It’s the funniest Star Wars film, perhaps, or at least, it has the most jokes (you get the feeling that a lot of the funny stuff in the first film just happened, like when Obi-Wan manipulated a Stormtrooper’s mind – was that really funny on the page?) It looks and feels – remarkably so – like a Star Wars film, and looks and feels most, as I keep saying, like the first one. Because, really, it kind of is the first one, or at least a riff on it, like a really good cover version with the lyrics updated but the melody unchanged.

TRUTH

Posted: December 5, 2015 in movie reviews

Truth_2015_poster**** (out of five)

After a rocky start that doesn’t even try and sugar-coat a massive dose of exposition, Truth gains gravitas and excitement as it goes along, ultimately becoming a truly gripping fact-based journalistic thriller featuring, for my money, Cate Blanchett’s career-best lead performance. After a poor economic outing in the US, this excellent film has been dumped into very, very few cinemas in Australia with essentially zero promotion. I recommend you seek it out.

Blanchett plays Mary Mapes, who was a gun (US) 60 Minutes producer in the early 2000s, with a huge notch on her belt in the guise of a revelatory story she did with Dan Rather on that program exposing the horrendous abuse at Abu Ghraib. Here, Mapes and Rather (Robert Redford) assemble a crack team (Topher Grace, Elisabeth Moss and Good Ol’ Dennis Quaid) to uncover and present a story questioning George W. Bush’s military training (which allowed him to conveniently skip going to VietNam). Things go right before they go very, very wrong.

There are about five weirdly bad moments in this film – cheesy camera / music combinations, oddly terrible lines of dialogue, misplaced sentimentality or “on-the-nose”-ness – but in general it’s fantastic. It examines these almost fantastical events with precision and balance: even though the screenplay (by first-time director James Vanderbilt) is based on a book by Mapes about the affair, it hardly paints her as a saint, and her motives, methods and professionalism are all put to the test and treated as fair game. Indeed, her faults are laid bare.

I’ve seen enough of Rather in documentaries, clips, awards shows, episodes of American 60 Minutes and so on to know that Redford is doing a spot-on portrait. He gets the vocal style, the physicality, and the intangible character aura that makes Rather Rather. Redford is a deeply skilled actor in the subtle style (check out his Sundance Kid and All Is Lost as a double feature to see a career of achievement in an afternoon) and Rather is right in his wheelhouse. Rather and Mapes visited the set (the film was shot in Sydney but is set in various US locales) so Redford and Blanchett had direct access to their primary sources. It shows.

Vanderbilt – who wrote Zodiac, which is all anyone needs to be able to say about themselves – explores so many major themes in his uncompromising screenplay that your head is abuzz as the credits roll. This is a dense, very intelligent film for adults who aren’t afraid to think; tragically, I suspect that is why it’s being practically tossed out with the garbage rather than given the major (and indeed Awards-baiting) release it deserves. I haven’t seen Carol yet, but Blanchett should be on every Oscar-speculating list for her work here.

A huge roster of local (ie non-LA resident) Australian actors fill out the landscape of the film’s many supporting characters, while Stacy Keach, Bruce Greenwood, Dermot Mulroney and, for some reason, the rather drab John Benjamin Hickey (in the film’s only non-essential role) all made the trip down under to grace this very fine, thought-provoking film. Highly recommended, and hurry if you want to see it at the cinema, because it smells like they’re planning to bury the Truth.