Archive for October, 2016



Like Ivan Sen’s Mystery Road and Goldstone, David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water is an elegiac, meloancholic modern-day western in which the strongest element is the milieu. In this case, that is contemporary small-town West Texas, which seems as exotic and lonely to this Sydney-and-Los Angeles based critic as the red desert of Sen’s films.

This is not just a bank robbery movie but one of the subset of bank robbery movies where the robbers really hate the banks. The twist here is that everyone else does too, in a way that couldn’t be more 2016. It’s not that the leather-faced, unironically cowboy-hat wearing, armed-to-a-man denizens of this world are on the robbers’ side; they just hate the banks more.

Chris Pine and Ben Foster play the robbers with an axe to grind; they’re brothers, and one is calm and thoughtful, the other wild and dangerous (guess which is which and you’ll be right; these two have not been cast against type). Jeff Bridges, in a role I suspect will garner him a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Oscars, plays the Ranger pursuing them alongside his deputy, played by the always entertaining Gil Birmingham, who has the dryest delivery in movies.

The sad, dusty towns against which this classically-oriented story play out are breathtakingly evocative, as are the bodies and faces of all the Texans we meet along the way. It’s its own universe. Details are tremendously revealed through an almost perfect union of character and dialogue: when questioned by Bridges, one old timer says that the brothers were “lean, like cowboys.” That’s enough of a concept for a movie of its own.

Mackenzie, working from a script by Taylor Sheridan (who also plays a lean cowboy), parses out the main characters on a fascinating slow-drip feed, keeping us in a perpetual state of languid suspense. The story is evocative of classic westerns but offers surprising twists and turns, all built on careful construction of character. There’s a spare but extremely apt original score by – yes! – Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who are drawn to dust, obviously.

This is a political film shot through with a quiet but deliberate anger. The banks in these old towns are brighter and cleaner than the wrecks surrounding them: after all, they’ve got all the people’s money. And guns – well, guns are everywhere. Every man in the film has one, mostly concealed. Dramatically, it ties the film to John Ford, John Wayne and the classic American West. Ideologically, it’s terrifying.

This is an excellent film and will probably feature in a few categories at the Oscars – besides Bridges for Supporting Actor, I’m thinking Screenplay and possibly Best Film. See it.



Recent documentaries about musical artists have increasingly followed a few well-worn paths. Out and out ‘we lost them too early’ tragedy (‘Amy,’ ‘Kurt Cobain, Montage of Heck’) the slow motion self-inflicted car crash (‘DIG,’), variations on the Lazarus theme (‘Anvil,’ ‘Searching For Sugarman,’ ‘Buena Vista Social Club’). To his credit, Mat Whitecross’s largely absorbing Oasis documentary ‘Oasis: Supersonic’ seemingly avoids these conventions as a badge of honour. No one dies, no one is institutionalised, and no one in sight succumbs to either mental illness or drug addiction. It is also arguably a film missing the intensely charismatic and prodigiously talented central figures usually seen as mandatory requirements of the genre. No salivating, starry eyed and obvious depictions of tortured genius found here.

Applying the now familiar audio commentary edited with stellar archival footage template of executive producer Asif Kapadia (‘Senna,’ ‘Amy’) the film covers a limited period in the band’s existence, from formation to their seemingly triumphant ‘height of their powers’ Knebworth concert in 1996.  It’s a good decision that (like Ron Howard’s recent and similarly structured ‘8 Days a Week’) allows a shorter, more easily digestible period to speak more broadly about the bizarre and overwhelmingly bonkers phenomenon that was Oasis. While at times straying a little too closely to well worn shaggy dog non fictional tropes, Kapadia and Whitcross largely succeed in revealing just how unlikely and contradictory Oasis always were.


As we see early on (and hear through some quite remarkable audio almost as it unfolds) here was a band signed to a major label after their first gig, with an existing backlog of original material fitting comfortably on one hand. Immediately hailed as saviours of British rock, they were national icons within months, with an international following by the end of the year.

What is revealed are two characters (the film focuses almost exclusively on Noel and Liam) of quite immense contradictions. Imbued with an almost parodic sense of self-belief, there’s a certain unclassifiable verve, swagger and hypnotic energy about the young Gallaghers as they go about their early career. Whitecross’s approach to capturing this undefinable quality shared by both Gallagher brothers is to edit portions of Noel and Liam’s interview audio with surreal Terry Giliamesque cartoon sequences that accompany their more outlandish recollections. It’s a quite brilliant film making decision, with the sequences playing like a kind of Lancastrian Ralph Steadman comic, as the Gallagher’s stream of consciousness anecdotes ramble on, finishing each other’s sentences and almost behaving at times as one hybrid narrator.


But we also regularly glimpse a quite different Noel and Liam. The film seemingly suggests an alternative, far darker explanation for the Gallagher’s now infamous career behaviour and success. One fuelled by an appallingly abusive father, a teenager finding escape and refuge in his bedroom and guitar and a deep rooted, trauma induced contempt for all forms of authority. It’s a revelation that places all the subsequent hyper masculine Manchunian bravado and often ludicrous affectations in a quite different context.

Unfortunately these revelations are largely revealed in the film’s first half, leaving a less engaging and more fawning final few reels. The final 35 minutes is perhaps struck by the same problems that were soon to plague the band themselves. As personalities it was possible, often within the confines of a single sentence to be hypnotised by their brutal honesty, energy and indifference to the expectations of the industry, then appalled by their self aggrandising posturing and cruelty. The public clearly tired of the latter, as the quality of their (always derivative) song writing dipped alarmingly.

Fittingly, the film succeeds in convincing us the Gallaghers were ultimately more aware of their own limitations than anyone. In one of the film’s most revealing moments, Noel confides that he doesn’t really believe anyone involved in Oasis were ‘…the best in the world at anything. When it all came together, we made people feel something that was undefinable. It caught fire and all these people got on board.’

Review (c) Jim Flanagan

Listen to Jim and CJ discuss the film on the MOVIELAND Podcast – click the big CJ avatar on the left.



Elle, based on a novel called O by Philippe Dijan, who also wrote Betty Blue, is Dutch director Paul Verhoeven’s first French film, and features Isabelle Huppert in a performance already being touted as an Oscar contender. It is a mesmerizing, frenzied abomination, a thrilling, propulsively lurid provocation that is simultaneously classy and grotesque, refined and coarse, arthouse and grindhouse. The Hitchcock of Psycho and Frenzy, and the De Palma of pretty much everything, would love it. I did.

Some people won’t. The central conceit of the film – that a woman, Michèle (Huppert), who is raped in her home in the first scene, won’t let the event disrupt the rythms of her life – will appal some, and that’s only the starting point. By the end, the film’s sexual politics, which I won’t elaborate on here in deference to keeping the film’s many plot twists unspoiled, are a viper’s nest. Suffice to say, you are welcome to loathe this film.

Huppert – who is up there with Streep and Day-Lewis as one of the masters of screen acting – is infamous for bringing characters similar to Michèle to the screen, most notably in Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher (2001). Indeed, Michèle is such an “Huppert role” that you’d think it had been written with her in mind, but that wasn’t the case. Initally, producer Saïd Ben Saïd, whose intriguing body of work includes Maps To The Stars, Carnage and De Palma’s Passion, hired American screenwriter David Birke to write an english-language version of the novel, moving the action from Paris to an American city. But Verhoeven has stated that “no American actress would ever take on such an amoral movie”, and, sweeping as that statement is (and given the “level” of actress he’s referring to, being A-List or A-List Adjacent), he’s probably not wrong, given the conversation around sexual abuse going on in the US at the moment. Once Huppert expressed a keen interest in the role, the script was transplanted back to France and French. Thank goodness. It feels right there, and Huppert is the absolute mechanism that makes the whole thing tick.

It’s relentless. I can’t recall a recent movie with so much plot, so many things going on. Each scene piles on more incident, more character intrigue, more development, as if, like a shark, the film would die if it stood still. This is not a bad thing. Despite the film’s extremely polished veneer – of superb acting, top-tier cinematography (Stéphane Fontaine, A Prophet and Rust and Bone) and generally upscale Parisians in a generally upscale Paris – it really is a lurid potboiler, which would collapse under scrutiny, and certainly under the gaze of a university class on feminism.

Is the film, in terms of its sexual politics, an abomination? I don’t know. The fact that Huppert, who is all class, was so keen to be involved offers no answers, because she is obviously drawn to provocative material, and Elle is certainly that. I do know that the film is unbelievably entertaining, engrossing, thrilling and genuinely engaging – the last time I squirmed in my seat so much was during Force Majeur (2014), which I considered the best film of that year. Elle is not on the same level as Force Majeur, which truly had something to say, but it is a gloriously digestible guilty pleasure. Feel free to hate it, but also feel free to love it; I did.



Café Society is arguably Woody Allen’s best-looking movie in colour. The cinematography by Vittorio Storaro and production design by Santo Loquasto depicting the mansions, offices, restaurants, bars and cars of 1930s Hollywood (and, to a lesser degree, an apartment in the Bronx and sundry other NYC locations) combine for a ravishing visual feast. If nothing else, you can just revel in Art Deco for ninety-seven minutes and have a good time.

Luckily, this time around there’s also a cohesive narrative (even if it feels like Woody’s done it many times before) and some zippy one-liners (even if they feel like they’ve been lifted wholesale from early Woody scripts). The script really does feel like it’s been cobbled togther by a computer program, but at least a computer program with access to the Woody archives: if nothing else, there’s no doubt this is a Woody Allen movie.

Jesse Eisenberg does a “7” on the 1 to 10 scale of how much Woody to do as the lead male in a Woody film, a refreshing step-down from the 9 he gave in To Rome With Love (2012). Like John Cusack and Larry David, he’s a good Woody substitute, and this time he doesn’t yammer and stammer. He plays Bobby Dorfman, a young man from the Bronx who’s sent to learn from his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a top of the game Hollywood agent. When he falls for Phil’s secretary, complications ensue.

Besides the terrific cinematography (even better than that of Midnight in Paris), the performances are a delight here. Eisenberg’s character actually gets an arc, gaining confidence and sexual chutzpah in a story that spans years, and Steve Carell and Kristen Stewart, as Uncle Phil and his secretary Vonnie, are both terrific. Carell gives the kind of multi-layered, complicated performance that people like Michael Caine were once able to give in Woody films, when the scripts supported them. And Stewart, often shot in close-up with 30s movie-star intensity, not only nails the material but also a huge and difficult character leap.

It may be Woody coasting on a textual level, but the fact that he’s gone out of his way to make such a technically assured movie is refreshing. I enjoyed my visit to his Café.



Nicolas Winding Refn’s superior follow-up to his painfully pretentious Only God Forgives still suffers from painful pretension, but it goes some way to re-establishing at least a semblance of narrative drive (but not as much as the narrative of Drive); what it does have, perhaps for the first time in his career, is something to say. It’s still style over substance, but there’s actually a little substance.

You might say very little substance, because the focus of his attack is a pretty shallow one – the modelling industry in Los Angeles – and the points he makes are pretty widely known: the girls starve themselves, they talk and think about their bodies in incredibly unhealthy ways, they are routinely degraded and humiliated, and they are asked to lie about their ages. But it’s the ferocity of NWR’s attack that gives his film some bite. At its heart, The Neon Demon is a ferocious, furious satire.

Elle Fanning plays a fresh face in Los Angeles, and it is that freshness that instantly attracts the vultures. A modelling agent (Christina Hendricks) tells her she’s going to be a star; the hottest (and meanest) photographer agrees to give her a test shoot; the coolest (and meanest) designer picks her for his show; the older models (like, three years older) feel threatened; and the nice boy who is nothing but respectful towards her gets tossed aside as she tastes the lipstick of success. But will success be everything she hopes for, or will it destroy her?

In other words, it’s a Hollywood story that has been around since the 1920s (but usually told about actresses, not models) but with a complete NWR aesthetic: neon, eighties-infused synth, outrageously perfect compositions, garishness, vulgarity and (what I imagine is deliberately) on-the-nose dialogue. NWR isolates Fanning as much as possible, assumedly to emphasise the barren loneliness of Los Angeles for the neophyte; if she’s not in a scene with an actual character, she’s on empty streets, in empty rooms. I don’t think there’s an “extra” in the entire film.

As is his wont, late in the film NWR goes overboard, and makes literal (or, to be more specific, makes completely fantastic) his metaphors by going into horror territory. He presents some truly disturbing imagery without ever really turning the thing into a “horror film”; instead, he maintains an atmosphere of dread throughout. In fact, by now, with ten features to his credit, I think we could define NWR’s work as “The Cinema of Dread”. It’s not for everyone, but it’s his.


Ben Affleck gets to play Will Hunting and Jason Bourne in this superhero origin story for adults. He’s Christian Wolff (doesn’t that sound like it’s been someone already?), a math savant on the spectrum who’s also, thanks to some brutal – but prettily sunlit – Asian training rather handy with his fists and other bits. He runs a cheap-looking Accountancy Practice in a strip mall, but it’s really a front for laundering Big International Criminal Money. When Treasury Agent J.K. Simmons follows the money, it begins to lead to Wolff’s rather extravagant set-up.

The best thing about Gavin O’Connor’s film is its tone, which skews towards the adult, with a cool aesthetic of greys and browns and dust and calm light. The rhythm of the editing is controlled rather than frantic, the scenes breathe with characters being allowed to actually have “character moments” (watch Anna Kendrick gesture for Wolff to sit down on a couch – twice!) and the score doesn’t pummel you. The (somewhat over-the-top) all-star cast do a collective good job, with particularly nice work from Jon Bernthal as a complicated rogue for hire. And the story, although ludicrous, has an interior logic, which is what an adult thriller needs.

Affleck’s role is tricky and it’s kind of hard to criticise. Wolff is deeply inward and isolated, so most of the time he’s sullen and remote. But in scenes with Kendrick he valiantly shows a struggle to connect. I don’t know how deeply he and O’Connor took the responsibility of representing autism, but on its own merits, it works. But it’s working, as I say, in the vein of superhero-dom. Besides the insane mathbility and the incredible fist (and firearm) skills, we get a secret lair, double identities, even a shot of identical suits lined up in a closet like Batsuits. Oh, and J.K. Simmons – the meta-textuality of him playing Commissioner Gordon in the same DC universe that includes Batfleck can’t really be denied.



(Warning: Spoilers based on historical events)

I haven’t read Helen Garner’s acclaimed account of the strange and distressing circumstances surrounding young engineer Joe Cinque, his girlfriend Anu Singh and their circle of acquaintances in Canberra in 1997, but I remember it being a book everyone was talking about. It came out in 2004 and focused on the trails of Singh and her friend Madhavi Rao in relation to Cinque’s death. From what I gather, it focused less on the events leading up to that death, which is precisely and solely the focus of this film, so it’s perhaps curious that the film is based on the book, given that its story ends, in a way, where the book’s began. In other words, this film version is not at all a courtroom drama, and readers of the book may be surprised.

Regardless, it’s a fascinating story – and a depressing one. Singh was a deeply troubled person at the time, a law student struggling with her studies, her body image and the workings of her brain. Deciding to commit suicide, she enlisted Rao to help her not only with the mechanics, but also with hosting a “farewell party” – a dinner party to which the invitees knew what they were in for – that is, that the host was going to kill themselves at the end. Their complicity in such a grotesque event beggars belief, and if the story wasn’t true you’d dismiss the fiction as ludicrous.

Canberra plays a big part in director Sotiris Dounoukos’ telling of the story; the film is repeatedly broken up by gorgeous, shimmering images of its greenery, its lake, and the idyllic sight of young students on campus, contrasting deeply with the grim tale going on in Singh and Rao’s cars and various houses, most of which have a definite student aesthetic. It seems to me that the strangeness of Australia’s man-made capital city is emphasised so much to give at least some potential explanation as to how a group of rational – smart! – young people could collectively behave so strangely. This is a weird place, the film seems to say, and this weird thing really happened here. Beyond that – a little frustratingly – there is no attempt to explain the actions of anyone at all, including Singh and, particularly weirdly, Rao. Perhaps it’s this simple: there is no possible explanation at all, beyond a moment of collective insanity. Low-key, adult, disturbing and compelling.




Yet another muddled, over-long Tim Burton fantasia, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children works best as a young love story between Jake (Asa Butterfield, the boy from Hugo, who has grown into a very good looking young chap) and Emma (Ella Purnell), the girl on the poster who’s floating in the air. And the last half hour is a rather excellent extended action sequence. The beginning and middle, however, are laborious.

Jake’s grandad (Terence Stamp!) tells Jake stories of a “home for peculiar children” he attended in his youth. Through some form of time-slippery flibbetigibbit, Jake heads back to said school and gets to gape at the interesting kids, who do the things they do on the poster. That’s another good scene, I suppose, but only five minutes of one. At two hours and seven minutes, that’s one hour and thirty-two minutes of not-good movie to fidget through. Dull.