Happy New Year. Hope you guys had a great festive season. I know I haven’t been seen too much on this site and around the place of late. Life continually getting in the road. I am actually intending on catching up on my outstanding Worth Watching posts over the next 6 weeks or so (eight months of movies and TV to write about!) because I have been taking notes the whole time. Also planning to get a top 10 of the year list up sometime this month (if you’ve written yours, hit me with a link in the comments, would love to read it).
But as I was at my dreaded first day back in the office the other day, I realised that I had never shared the details of my new(ish) podcast with you cool people. I’m up to 25 episodes now of Driving home from the cinema reviews. It’s a short (generally about 10 minutes) review show on whatever I’ve just seen. Hopefully you guys will give it a shot. You can find all the episodes here and on iTunes of course. Some of my favourite episodes in particular are Episode 25 – The Last Jedi, Episode 18 – The Girl with all the Gifts, Episode 14 – Battle of the Sexes and Episode 10 – Ali’s Wedding so perhaps start there. Give it a listen and subscribe if you dig it.
Let me know what you think. I know I listen to some of your podcasts already, but if you have one then share a link below so I can be sure to check it out.
Peace to you all.
There is perhaps no more iconic filmmaking duo than Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, collaborating from the very late 30s all the way to the early 70s. Relatively early on in their partnership, they developed I Know Where I’m Going (1945), a class focussed romance that melds the pretty stuffy with the quite progressive, and some great location filmmaking.
The film focusses on Joan Webster, played by Wendy Hiller, as she travels from London to an island in the relative middle of nowhere, to marry her richass fiancée. Of course things don’t go smoothly and she finds herself stuck on the mainland, within viewing distance of her beloved’s island, but unable to get there. Here she spars repeatedly with the (apparent) everyman Torquil MacNeil, who is also aiming to get to the island. The setup is a pretty typical upper class person stranded with, and falling for, ‘regular folk’, kind of deal. And despite a few wrinkles, that’s more or less how it plays out. Though there are some pretty avant-garde sequences used early on, to suggest here marriage is to a company not a person, and focusing in on the idea of her selling out her identity for that. The character of Joan is a major positive too, adding something a little different, especially in the very contemporary way she interacts with the men around her. Which makes the general averageness of the plot even more disappointing. It’s quite stuffy, with various social visits being trudged through. You can see what Powell and Pressburger are doing, setting up a version of society to bore her and for her to rebel against. Straight into the arms of her new love interest obviously. But it’s all quite tiresome getting there. The schmaltzy romance stuff is similarly received, constant close-ups and longing looks. However the story does have some nice notes of how fate intervenes in our lives, often to very positive ends.
Toward the end, those themes of class do re-emerge, now with quite a sharp edge to them. Joan’s selfishness and impatience comes flooding out and she is very willing to exert her economic power over the lower classes to get what she wants when she wants it. A lot stronger an element than the love story guff, which is only bearable due to the performances. Overall the film is really about her embracing her ‘true class’ rather than another man. Though not in as negative a way as that suggests. The film looks really great. The location shooting, full of fog and moors is used to great effect. It really feels like these locations are bearing down on the characters and influencing their lives in a meaningful way. There is some beautiful framing, the use of light shadow and fog really helping to take advantage of the great locales. It’s an incredibly strong aesthetic. Some of the scenes at sea also really effectively use the location available. There is some great rear-projection work that turns them into quite intense action sequences. The visual effects never distance you from the action. The opposite in fact as it realistically almost induces sea sickness. Really effective. Plus there are whirlpools which are always rad.
Verdict: The strength of I Know Where I’m Going lies not in the plot, but in the way it is brought to life. The location shooting, sea-based sequences and above average acting help to elevate the film beyond the plodding details of the story. Stubby of Reschs
With Blade Runner 2049 (2017) in cinemas now, all the kids (and me) were revisiting Ridley Scott’s original. Long famous as much for the director’s endless tinkering and various cuts, it feels like of recent years people have started to actually consider the final product, and rightly position it as one of the better sci-fi films of all time.
Once forced to endure the horrors of the theatrical cut as part of a university course, the director’s cut of Blade Runner (1982) is now the only one for me. Who knows what the differences are except for the scrapping of the abysmal Harrison Ford voiceover and the total flipping of the ending’s tone, but that’s enough for me. Actually just canning the voiceover would be enough, there’s argument to be had about which ending is superior. The film follows Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard, employed as a Blade Runner to hunt down synthetic replicants who have been banned from earth. The film is small for a sci-fi flick, and the story beats can essentially be reduced to a crime story. A fair amount of the film is just Deckard running down clues. It’s a slow burn, not heavy on plot and taking place in a pretty confined setting (as in a single city, not multiple worlds or galaxies). These genres are melded visually too, subtly evoking noir films through lighting and weather, and directly referencing the genre through costuming elements. It is these aspects that put the visuals over the top, and to this day it is a remarkable looking film (even on the shoddy VHS copy I watched). One element of the film that is perhaps underappreciated are the excellent action sequences. The early rain soaked chase as Deckard hunts a female replicant who has escaped him encapsulates everything the film is going for. On a stylistic level at least, if not thematically. A dour vibe is lent to the sequence through the weather, Deckard gets his weariness from Ford and there’s some surprisingly good gun battling and chase elements through the crowded, polluted streets shrouded in a neon glow that oppresses as it illuminates.
Discussion around the film so often focusses in on whether or not Deckard is himself a replicant (driven in large part by the change to the ending in the director’s, and subsequent, cuts of the film). However the assertion that Deckard is a replicant is not all that supported by the text, aside from the insertion at the ending. And the film’s main thematic concern – what it is to be human – is a strong focus without attempting to answer the question of Deckard’s nature. Indeed this focus on the constitution of humanity is present from the opening text crawl right through to the excellent final showdown. We all love Harrison Ford. But he doesn’t have the greatest range and here he slips into a bit of an Indiana Jones as spacecop territory. The real star performance-wise is Rutger Hauer as replicant Roy Batty. Hauer is just a raw physical presence here, but somehow communicating that with a level of subtlety. His line readings from some of the best parts of the script certainly help in that regard. He carries the key end sequence that is the film’s high point. A bravura, extended showdown that eschews wild action beats for a mental and even spiritual confrontation. It is rightly iconic. Batty’s dialogue and philosophy, plus the reserved arch beauty of the shooting provide the artistry. Deckard copping a real beating (most notable the symbolism laden nail through the hand) provides the brutality. It’s a heady mix. Just how alive Batty is in the face of death, the bliss of feeling rain on his face, even if he is not ‘real’, is the most affecting element of the film. Moreso than any of the supposed ‘human characters’, playing into those considerations of what it is to be human, and if that even matters all that much.
Verdict: This is kind of beautiful sci-fi filmmaking. Thought provoking without being unnecessarily cerebral in its plotting, incredible noir-infused visuals and underrated action. Well worth a look, even in the face of the underwhelming sequel. Pint of Kilkenny
Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face (1960) is one of those films that seems to have cultural impact and name recognition that outweighs how many people have actually seen it. Selected imagery from the film has found fame outside the classic film bubble, but reducing the film to that overlooks its worth as a fantastic, stylish genre mashup.
Generally speaking, it takes time for a movie to fully captivate. The web needs to be weaved so to speak. But somehow Eyes Without a Face pulls you right into the mystery from the first few minutes. That’s a difficult thing to achieve. But through shot composition and overall mood driven by the scattered score, a car trip that just feels a little off lures us in. From there the film builds into a crime-horror hybrid that recognises that both mystery and shocks are important to overall success. Doctor Génessier has a real Doctor Frankenstein vibe about him as he yearns for the ‘mad-scientist’ solution to his daughter’s mutilation in a car accident. That probably makes the film and the character of the doctor a touch more whimsical than it is. The film examines how actions that can be grounded in supposed love, can be violent, misogynist and inexcusable. Indeed protestations of love can be used to excuse heinous thoughts, words and deeds. There is great mystery in the way the face of Christiane (the doctor’s daughter) is kept from the camera. This culminates in a literal unmasking that perhaps does not have the Phantom of the Opera (1925) level impact it was aiming for. As for the horror side of things, well for starters the film features one of the greatest masks in film history. Talking Jason or Michael Myers level of simple, terrifying iconography, though perhaps with more thematic weight to it, when considered in light of the focus on patriarchal possession of the female body. The doctor is imposing blankness and uniformity onto his daughter’s body against her will. A body he also touches and manipulates throughout the film without seeking her consent.
Also on the horror front, the film features a sequence of grossness that I didn’t believe existed in film until at the least the 80s. A slow, considered scene of a face being surgically peeled off. This main surgery sequence is methodical, almost silent to emphasise the gravity of what they are doing as a scalpel deliberately runs underneath face skin. These people are literally peeling a face off! And here, unlike in a lot of films, the audience really feels the impact of that and is forced to consider it. A lot of the great style of the film goes to the horror. In another sequence, documentary style still ‘mug-shots’ are used to show the rejection and failing of Christiane’s face transplant. Again this melding of documentary into the horror film for added impact and authenticity feels way ahead of its time. It is also measured and services the themes of the film, rather than just using gross photos to shock the audience, as it is sometimes used for such as in Adam Green’s otherwise pretty excellent Digging up the Marrow (2014). The final shot of peace after the chaos is a horror staple and Eyes Without a Face closes with one that is meaningful and almost physical in the way it soothes jangled emotions wrought by the 90 minutes that precede it.
It is quite amazing the grossness Eyes Without a Face creates quite simply through the well-executed practical effects. A thin mask, good acting, camera placement, shot length and positioning of the characters, all combine to make the scene difficult to watch because of its penetrative ickiness. Part of what makes this scene work so harshly watching it in 2017 is that we as an audience are so used to CGI for something like this. So when practical effects are used so well, it feels almost extra real. There are also a lot more subtle ways that the film injects unease into the audience than face peeling. The shot composition throughout is creepy, even when showing something mundane. It’s often symmetrical, an over-curated vibe playing into the surgical overtones of the film. This also speaks to the control of the doctor over all the characters, as though the films aesthetic is similarly restrained by him. The score is a wonderful mixed bag. A lot of it recalls Bernard Herrmann’s work for Hitchcock – scattered, jarring and disconcerts the viewer into a state of trepidation. But there is also a distinct sense of Wizard of Oz (1939) at various moments, potentially using some of the same music.
Verdict: The way that this film combines the mystery and horror genres makes it a must see. There’s a complexity to the themes and technical brilliance here which is filtered through simple, yet totally effective, style and stark early cinema grossness. Pint of Kilkenny
One of the conscious choices I made at MIFF this year was not to discount repertory screenings. In the past I’ve been obsessed with only seeing new films. But I want to focus more on film fest ‘experiences’ and not just see films simply because they are new. Especially given how strong some of the repertory options at MIFF this year were. My older films fitted into two distinct streams. Firstly I’ll cover the two films I caught from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas’ Pioneering Women programming stream. Then the three I managed at the Astor’s all night ci-fi marathon.
Undoubtedly my best experience of the festival was the screening of The Big Steal (1990) on 35mm. Director Nadia Tass was in attendance, as were cast members Claudia Karvan and Damon Herriman. Ben Mendelsohn also sent a quite hilarious introduction tape for the screening. Which was the perfect way to kick off a screening of what is one of the very best Australian comedies ever made. It’s a sweet high school love story with crime and heist elements. It’s also very reflective of Australian society, in particular class differences and the migrant experience. An exceedingly young Mendo is one lead, the head of a charming crew of teenage boys, also including Herriman and the utterly hilarious Angelo D’Angelo. Karvan is the female lead and even at this early age she brought a real complexity and presence to her character. Steve Bisley is perfectly cast as the hilariously sleazy second hand car salesman you will heartily root against. It was so great to see this with a huge crowd who constantly erupted with laughter and were totally invested in the film. Particularly what must be cinema’s only Volvo vs Holden Monaro chase sequence. A classic Aussie comedy and a teen film to rival basically any others. This is a little tough to track down, but I know it’s streaming on Ozflix and perhaps a couple of other places too. See it. Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
The other film I caught as part of the Pioneering Women programming stream was Broken Highway (1993), a tough look at toxic Australian masculinity directed by Laurie McInnes. The plot involves a package, a dead mate and a trip to rural Australia. This was a dense watch, perhaps not well suited to the festival grind. There is a flatness to the action that feeds into the bleak vibe and an aimlessness to the plot that almost hints at a noir vibe. Though I do feel that the lack of attention on the storytelling front in the end plays against the film, obscuring the thematic goals a little. Focuses on this contest of masculinity. Men hurling accusations that the other is scared, as if to be scared is the worst thing possible. The film is shot in beautiful black and white widescreen while the dialogue is really well written, meaningful with a snap to it. There are some great performances. Claudia Karvan as a blunt and quick witted young women. Her range as a young actress was made readily apparent by the two films I saw her in at the fest. David Field is great as the villain of the piece, all lean physicality with his menacing, snarling performance. A film I appreciated, but was not totally enamoured with. Would certainly like to see it again. Schooner of Reschs
The first film I caught when arriving at the Astor for the all night sci-fi marathon was the mythical Nothing Lasts Forever (1984). This film features SNL alumni including Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd as well as Zach Galligan, most famous for appearing in the Gremlins films. The sci-fi weirdness contained in the film was so far from what the studio thought they were getting for their money, it has barely been seen in the 30 odd years since it was made. The film takes place in a draconian future where entry into, and everyday life in, Manhattan is controlled by the Port Authority. The result is something totally unique, that whilst is far from a masterpiece, is the kind of film you can’t help but watch with a big smile on your face. It’s unsurprisingly funny in an elevated and absurdist way. There’s some funny, adorably shonky, futuristic imagery, such as NY skylines with a single animated dome. That example sort of encapsulates the charm on display here. Even when it descends into awkwardness or amateurishness (or both at the same time), you will always be having a good enough time to persist with it. Pint of Kilkenny
It’s pretty much a given that watching a film with a big, enthusiastic festival crowd will improve the experience. But it is quite possible that The Visitor (1979) was an exception to the rule. The film played far too comically. And certainly some of that is down to filmmaking craft and performances. Not all of it though, and it is hard not to get caught up in a rambunctious crowd erupting in laughter at what is unfolding on the screen. The film is wild in every facet. Visually it opens with dust clouds and hooded figures, the plot involves an evil kid and shitloads of bird attacks, whilst the cast includes the likes of John Huston, Lance Hendrickson, Glenn Ford and Sam Peckinpah(!). Especially early on the sci-fi weirdness really shines through, helped along by some creepy flourishes on the soundtrack. It’s a mix of tonally worthwhile and unintentionally hilarious, though as the film progresses the balance shifts more to the latter. The evil kid performance is deliciously hammy and John Huston battles very hard. In terms of genre it’s a definitely a very horror imbued sci-fi if that’s your thing. There are certainly parts of this to like. But it does get a little too unintentionally funny and there are just so so many bird attacks. I have no idea what was up with them. Oh and the last half hour is basically unwatchable. Schooner of Carlton Draught
Tetsuo the Iron Man (1989) is an infamous film that I had heard whispered about on podcasts and in general conversation. So after the above film I took a nap to steel myself for what was to come. I tweeted afterwards that 5:30am is as good a time as any to watch the film, but that I never needed to see it again. I’m not sure I agree with the second part now, a month or so removed from the experience. The film plays like a gruesome cyberpunk Frankenstein filtered through punk rock. Aesthetically there is a lot going on. The achievement on a small budget, editing and practical effects as Tetsuo gets less and less human and more and more machine is just incredible. It is incredibly gross, at least for the first half. After that he becomes so much of a machine that it is no longer as visceral or cringy body horror as the early parts. And there is a rape/murder scene in the middle that is difficult to describe and truly horrific to watch. But there is just something about the vibe of the film and the craft that went into it that makes this really worth a watch. The narrative is barely worth mentioning, totally avant-garde. Though even at 70 minutes, this feels a little overlong. Stubby of Reschs
I was lucky enough to dash to the Melbourne International Film Festival for a weekend trip this year. I thought I’d write a couple of festival diaries, with paragraph long reviews of everything I saw. First up it’s the new films I saw, with the repertory films to follow within the next week.
A delayed train trip meant that I was not able to kick off my festival with Abbas Kiarostomi’s 24 Frames (2016) as originally planned. Some frantic changing of tickets and running from the train saw me taking in The Idea of a Lake (2016) instead. The film takes place in two time periods. The contemporary one focuses on a pregnant Ines, while flashbacks of her reminisces of childhood holidays by a lake make up the other half of the film. For the most part the contemporary aspects of the film work well. In particular the building of two key relationships of Ines’s – with her mother and brother. Whilst those relationships are deepened by the flashbacks, the relatively aimless wistfulness of the holiday sequences does not add a lot overall. From a storytelling perspective, the two parts don’t particularly inform one another, though they do on a thematic level. In addition, on two occasions as the film is settling into a rhythm, the director incorporates fantastical elements, which totally jars you out of the tone of the film. And they are not persisted with, making their presence strange anomalies. There is too much going on here. Which is a shame because the simpler contemporary familial aspects and the performances are really worthwhile. Stubby of Reschs
There is a fair bit of buzz around Loving Vincent (2017). Understandable too when you consider it is the first ever oil painted animation, consisting of around 70,000 individual paintings made in the style of Van Gogh. And the visual gimmick is truly stunning, not just the novelty of how it looks, but the way it moves feels totally new too. The score from Clint Mansell is also excellent, showing range for the composer who is probably one of the most in demand in the world. But for all the incredible visuals and music, the film is kind of ruined by the storytelling. What initially seems like an interesting choice to set it a year after Van Gogh’s death, quickly just descends into the same old biopic bullshit, just told through flashbacks. And the film is attempting some weird pulp detective true crime mash-up that is a truly strange narrative to anchor these technical feats too. It’s not just that the story feels like a strange fit, it’s also that it is a rote and inconsequential feeling investigation. Also just how closely it hews to crime fiction conventions – there are re-enactments, deep discussion of motive and running down of leads. It just does not work in the world of this film. You will want to see some of Loving Vincent for the remarkable visuals. Unfortunately due to the storytelling choices, you will have most likely had enough after 20 minutes or so. Schooner of Carlton Draught
Usually I focus my festival selections on films that I will otherwise struggle to see or that won’t open for a long time. So The Lost City of Z (2016) seems a strange choice given it opens in a couple of weeks. But it appears to be opening in a quite limited run, and at least when I booked my tickets, was not playing in Canberra. In any case, this was my only film in the beautiful Forum Theatre, so I was happy I caught it. The film looks beautiful too, no doubt helped by the festival’s projection expertise. It was shot on location and on film, both novelties these days. And this approach feeds into a classical, adventure style vibe. The film is evocative in the way it presents men leaving their families for years on end to fight wars and advance themselves, whilst also questioning whether that was necessarily fair to their families or even just the best thing in general. The obvious issue with this genre of filmmaking is that it reflects a colonialist, white saviour worldview. To its credit the film tackles this quite explicitly, acknowledging the fear amongst some Brits that what is found on these expeditions could upend their place in history and even the meaning of their god. Though the nobility of our hero and his crew, and their missions, is never questioned. As for our hero, Charlie Hunnam has a great presence in the lead while the supports, led by Sienna Miller and Robert Pattinson, are all excellent. Though the film has very traditional tendencies in genre and theme, it does not hew close to the expected story beats. Which results in a slower and more considered tale of obsession than I was expecting. Beautiful, well acted, and highly recommended. Pint of Kilkenny
A trip to MIFF this year wasn’t even on my radar until Terrence Malick’s A Voyage of Time (2016) was announced. With the scarcity of imax locations in Australia (Melbourne may actually be the only one), I realised that this may well be my only chance to see my favourite director’s passion project on an extremely big screen. There is something a little overwhelming about the film. Not surprising given it aims to encapsulate everything from the birth of the universe onwards in only 45 minutes. Malick does a good job of somewhat grounding the film. Firstly through the voiceover addressed to “my child”, then by quickly getting to a vision of earth that is familiar to us and referring to it as “our home”. The voiceover (delivered by Brad Pitt in this cut of the film) functions as a reasonable anchor for the imagery when it is kept relatively straightforward. It does delve, less successfully, into some Malickian philosophising, but that is actually relatively rare. The visual craftsmanship is stellar. There is the incredible creativity of the universe-creating forces that we first glimpsed in The Tree of Life (2011). But there is also a lot of incredible sharp natural photography. And it is all delivered on a screen that was almost overwhelmingly large in the best way. I mentioned that this is the shorter cut (a 90 minute one also exists) and I can’t decide what I thought of the length. It does feel like it skips huge chunks of time (even huger than the concept inherently requires), but as taken as I was with the film, I had probably had enough by the time the end credits rolled. In the end, I loved this film. The visuals are quite simply beyond incredible and if you can catch it on an imax screen, I think it is a pretty essential film/festival going experience. Pint of Kilkenny
Expectations for Todd Haynes’ new film Wonderstruck (2017) are sky high. It is hard to keep hype to a minimum when your last film was Carol (2015), one of the greatest love stories ever put on film. This film is a real struggle though, a ho-hum tale of childhood and familial mystery that neither intrigues nor entertains. The film unfolds over two timeframes (1920s and 1960s I think), with mirroring storylines of a deaf child searching for their family. And much of it unfolds as tritely as that sounds. There are small things to like in both narrative streams. There is some playful interaction with silent film culture in the earlier one and the young lead Millicent Simmonds in that section gives the film’s best performance. Whilst there is a budding friendship in the later part that provides brief glimpses of the childhood joy the film was sorely lacking. The combination of the two timeframes also lays layer upon layer of mystery on top of one another in a way that is vaguely satisfying. Interestingly the film is based on a book by the same novelist who provided the source material for Hugo (2011). Like that film, there has been mention that this is a film for kids. I can’t really imagine kids getting much out of this one though. It is dry, feels long and has precious little of the kinds of brightness and excitement that Scorsese’s film managed to do a roaring trade in. Whilst it is hard to tell, I get the impression that the film did not play particularly well with the packed festival audience either. It felt like a flat reaction to what I found to be a pretty glib and uninspired ode to childhood. Schooner of Carlton Draught
I finished off my festival with Eliza Hittman’s excellent second feature Beach Rats (2017). Hittman is able to convey a number of really specific facets of the life of the main character Frankie. He lives in a part of Brooklyn that feels a world away from the trendy depictions we are used to. He is a discovering his sexuality. Hooking up with older men online. Navigating a relatively aimless late teen/early 20s existence of drink and whatever mild drugs him and his mates can get a hold of. His crew of mates, presumably the beach rats of the title, hang out at the beach and play handball all day. Technically the film is really creative. It is really nicely shot giving a sense of life at a ground level. There is a grain at warmth to the shooting too, not sure if it was shot on film, but there are hints of that. A lot of the storytelling and internal life of Frankie comes from the editing too. Especially in the way his sex scenes with men and women are contrasted. The film is perhaps slightly overlong. But as a unique coming of age and an individual film about sexuality, this is well worth a look. Pint of Kilkenny
April was a huge #52FilmsByWomen month for me, the biggest since I started doing that last year. And female directed films provide the best (Queen of Katwe, The Edge of Seventeen) and worst (Twilight, Gang of the Jotas) of the month. Outside of that there was a bunch of excellent genre releases that are heartily recommended.
- Maggie’s Plan (2015), Rebecca Miller – There is such a spark here from Greta Gerwig which is very refreshing if all you’ve seen her in lately is Noah Baumbach films. The film jumps straight into the plot, with her character wanting to become a single mum. The script excellently reflects a life of parenting and academia. Though there is a jarring leap forward where it becomes a different film. One I didn’t love for much of the second half. Best when it focuses in on Gerwig’s character, her struggles and interactions.
- The Last Airbender (2010), M. Night Shyamalan – Found there was definitely more to like here than not. Dig the fantastical worldbuilding and vibe. It looks great for the most part. The performances are pretty decent overall and I particularly love Dev Patel here. He’s totally hamming it up. The fight scenes are logical and easy to follow, which is rare for a fantasy film. Look it’s clunky as all get out and thematically schmaltzy. But I had fun and am a little devastated the huge sequel setup never came to be.
- Scream 2 (1997), Wes Craven – Opens with a brilliant super bloody and brutal sequence in a cinema. Even if the rest of the film never reaches those heights, this is still a Craven film well worth your time. It also has one of cinema’s most iconic final girls in Sydney. The acting is really solid, especially from Courtney Cox and Neve Campbell who conveys the trauma she’s going through really well. The script is funny and smart, managing to still create real tension despite the humour. Thankfully the meta engaging with the concept of a sequel stuff is nice and doesn’t grate. Great long sequences of characters being stalked and preyed upon.
- Barbershop (2002), Tim Story – Loved this film. Essentially plotless for the first half hour, but the riffing and setting up the vibe of the neighbourhood and the place the barbershop has in it is great. A place of community and learning. Neatly shot with some cool use of close-ups. The performances are excellent. Cedric the Entertainer, so often annoying, gives such a fun and deep turn. And Eve should be in everything.
- Green Lantern: First Flight (2009), Lauren Montgomery – Doesn’t fuck around. Has the ring within three minutes. Plays like an absurd cop film – Sinestro the crooked hardass and Hal the bewildered rookie. Pretty basic plot. But despite the general crappiness of the Green Lantern gimmick, the action is pretty solid. Though the end sequence is a bit of a mess.
- Almost Adults (2016), Sarah Rotella – Starts a little rough, the script especially and the acting is a touch patchy. But after a little while it finds its groove and tone. Pretty funny in a well observed early-20s kind of way. Also good on the process of coming out and how hard that is, even if it goes ‘smooth’. Pretty fun this film. Really good comedy. Winning performance by Elise Bauman.
- Witness (1985), Peter Weir – The Amish connection sounds daft on paper. But actually provides an interesting cultural clash, particularly in their lack of interest/desire to be involved in laws. Weir really directs the shit out of this in a visual sense. Has a great score too. Also this Harrison Ford may be the best Harrison Ford and the supports are all really excellent too. A cracking, simple crime film with some great texture overlaid from the Amish/cultural clash stuff. And whilst the love story is a little forced. It handles the ‘from two different worlds stuff well. A seriously great crime film.
- The Edge of Seventeen (2016), Kelly Fremon Craig – This film reminded me how great teen films can be. The fun voiceover and charismatic performances from Hailee Steinfeld (who is simply amazing here) and Woody Harrelson help to give the film a charming teen vibe. Fuckin funny. Nails the awkwardness and doubt of being a teenager. This is really good. A fuckin great script. Very, very funny. Awesome soundtrack that complements the film without being forced. So damn watchable too. I loved it.
- Tank Girl (1995), Rachel Talalay – Immediately sets up a very unique tone – cheeky voiceover, animated interludes and the like. Love the performances here. Lori Petty’s slightly off-kilter look and delivery. Malcolm McDowell doing hammy, OTT menacing better than basically anyone else. The sci-fi visuals have a low-budget charm and bring a light post-apocalyptic aesthetic to the screen. The buddy dynamic between the boisterous Petty and the geeky pragmatic Watts is fun. Trippy as fuck too.
- Deidra and Laney Rob a Train (2017), Sydney Freeland – A really fun mix. Two put upon female teens as the leads, surrounded by comedic parents, cops and teachers. Asleigh Murray and Rachel Crow are excellent as the train robbing sisters of the title. Playful turns, but ones that make their plight realistic. It’s a little light on plot and tension. But there is a unique and quirky, though not overdone style that makes this a great watch.
- Barbershop 2 (2004), Kevin Rodney Sullivan – It starts with some of the best opening credits I’ve seen in a long time. Overall it perhaps lacks some of the spirit of the original, hamstrung by a too similar plot. And the humour is not as fresh, feeling a touch forced. But it also has its own charms. There are some looser, sillier bits of humour that land. Plus the characters are great and the relationships develop from the first film.
- Queen of Katwe (2016), Mira Nair – The performances suck you in early. Oyewelo, N’Yongo and newcomer Madina Nalwanga are all excellent. As does the sense of place (Kampala Uganda). Film has all the sports film beats, but because it is an individual sport, they organically form a character study. Her self-doubt, her overconfidence. That up and down journey rings true. Also sketches out some nice gender, and especially class, issues. The film is happy to meander occasionally too. Not subservient to plot. I really dug this one.
- Namour (2016), Heidi Saman – A touch unfocused, most of it feels like set-up. But in a kind of nice way. A sketch if you will. Portrait of an Arab-American family, and by extension that segment of society. A complex, somewhat untrustworthy character at the centre of things which maintains interest, even when there are some noticeable story holes.
- Embrace (2016), Taryn Brumfitt – You can tell that Brumfitt is not a filmmaker by training. But she is fuckin inspirational which overcomes that. Quite confronting in its own way – laying bare how so many people think of themselves. She also speaks to a really great range of people. The film does a good job of giving those stories room to breathe too, not editorialising too much.
- Bridget Jones Diary (2001), Sharon Maguire – A really sharply written and funny script. Almost a touch heightened or surreal. Zellweger is perfect. Fully formed character. Film makes some good points on the societal expectations placed on women. Thankfully this is a film that never forgets to be fun. Some of the romance elements are a touch undercooked. But the characters and performances (including a great Hugh Grant one) carry that.
- Jason Bourne (2016) Paul Greengrass – Feel that I like this series less than most, but this film more than most. This has the clearest storytelling in a series that’s the perfect example of getting way overcomplicated. I’m a big Greengrass fan too. He is great at constructing these long, multifaceted chase sequences. A really nice piece of the characters arc brought to life, with the thematically resonant decisions he’s making. And Matt Damon is really good at drawing all that out.
- The Scent of Green Papaya (1993), Tran Anh Hung – Delightfully shot with a smoothness to the visuals. Music plays a big part in the characters’ lives which is a point of difference. Quite gentle, at times cute storytelling. Sweet and true to life in its own way. Not all that much is the love story I was expecting. Notions of servitude and some very gentle touching on class issues more of a focus.
Not Worth Watching
- In a Valley of Violence (2016), Ti West – I’m a fan of both modern westerns and the films of Ti West I’ve seen, so this was a big disappointment. Starts pedestrian and really never elevates beyond that. The dialogue is bad, feeling like people are speaking as they do in 2017, while the stakes feel too low. The performances are also weak with only John Travolta really revelling. Ethan Hawke is ok but his character is averagely defined. Hollow. Feels like kids mucking around on some abandoned Western sets.
- Ratchet & Clank (2016), Jericca Cleland & Kevin Munroe – Maybe slightly less annoying than anticipated, but still pretty annoying. Looks ugly. Like a PlayStation game funnily enough. Quite charmless and there is nothing to the sci-fi elements aside from parroting much better sources. The characters grate badly too.
- Money Monster (2016), Jodie Foster – A disappointment. Clooney playing a bro-ey, no-substance host of a money show is a great fit. And there is some really nice patter with Julia Roberts. But the hostage situation on live TV thing feels a little contrived. And the ‘99%’ themes play tired. It’s not a total write-off. Jack O’Connell is really good, as he seems to be in everything. And when it trends a little absurd it works better. But the characters don’t stack up and the messaging becomes a little silly.
- I Spy (2002), Betty Thomas – There is decent chemistry between Eddy Murphy and Owen Wilson here, though neither of them are stretching themselves whatsoever. But the vibe of the whole thing is a little cheap and shoddy. Also goes some off-colour places with some jokes about mental illness, sexual assault etc. More dumb than mean spirited I guess.
- Red Riding Hood (2011), Catherine Hardwicke – Woah this is bad. Cheaparse lookin medieval sets. A weird sheen to everything. Gary Oldman delivers a mess of a performance. Truly craptastic allusions to whether torture is moral etc. Seyfried naturally has some spark and presence to her. But all that does is make everyone else look even more shit in comparison. The incorporation of the fairy tale it is named after is tame and adds nothing. There’s something that stops it from being totally awful. But not by much.
- Twilight (2008), Catherine Hardwicke – As clunky as filmmaking gets. Voiceover exposition and Instagram teen emotion bullshit. Shoddily done. Ugly editing and shooting, plus a poor script. A couple of performances (Stewart and Kendrick) rise to the heights of being ok. But Robert Pattinson who is generally very good, plays this role terribly. The execution of the vampires and the level of connection in the main romance is utterly stupid. Really really bad.
- Gang of the Jotas (2012), Marjane Satrapi – Very low budget. Stilted to the point of being amateurish. Aiming for this madcap, fish outta water escalation vibe. With the mafia involved of course. But it’s just silly. Lacking setup or story or something. Script is horrid. Notion that these guys would go to any trouble to help this woman, is silly as presented by the script. An unwieldly attempt to combining serious drama and caper shenanigans.
If you only have time to watch one The Edge of Seventeen
Avoid at all costs Twilight
GLOW (2017) hit Netflix a few weeks ago so the gushing about how great it is has passed us by. But this hard-working (sort of) Dad only just finished and feels the need to chime in with some love for it.
GLOW focusses on Alison Brie’s down on her luck actor Ruth as she tries to make it in 1980s LA and ends up joining an upstart all female wrestling troupe. That’s what the show focusses on initially in any case. As the series progresses, more and more of the supporting cast (almost all women) are folded to the forefront of various storylines. Particularly Debbie, the star of the show and Ruth’s former best friend, played excellently by Betty Gilpin. I fell in love with this show basically from the garish neon credits onwards. The show slaps on a proud feminist badge early on which certainly didn’t hurt the appeal. The storytelling is a little slow to get going. But from episode five or so onwards, I was totally hooked. This point also coincides with where GLOW makes its unabashed, innocent love of professional wrestling very clear as Brie starts playing a staple Russian heel. The show explores how wrestling is a very simple, pure form of stripped-down storytelling, in both good and bad ways. The preparation of the show within a show breaks down the questions and process of a storytelling approach that is focussed on “stereotypes not backstory”.
As much as the show is an ensemble, there is no doubting that Alison Brie is the star here. My main familiarity with Brie is from her excellent work in Community (2009-2015), but she is showing a lot of range here. Her performance is winning and hilarious, whilst the writing of the character makes her feel real and deeply flawed. There’s a weight to what she is doing here without it ever feeling overwrought or heavy handed. One criticism of the show that I have heard is that too much emphasis is placed on Marc Maron’s character Sam and his issues. It’s a fair comment and that focus does take away somewhat from some of the awesome wrestling women. But it also provides variety to the storytelling as the women go about their training. In future seasons, when the show within the show is up and running, perhaps it won’t be necessary to have such a heavy focus on Sam.
The entire cast of female wrestlers are brilliant. Both in the writing and performance. Special mention of real-life pro-wrestler Awesome Kong who plays Tamme aka Welfare Queen in the show. In her wrestling days, Awesome Kong was a genuine game-changer in terms of what a women’s wrestler looked like and could do in the ring. Given in this season she shows that she can hold her own on the performance front, I’m hoping she’ll be at the centre of plenty of season 2 as there is (presumably) more and more wrestling action. It is so great to see such a wide variety of female bodies and characters onscreen and performing in an athletic manner. Thematically the show picks up on this late in the season with a focus on the connection between wrestling and the ownership of women’s bodies. The athleticism of wrestling is all their own, no matter their background or current situation.
Verdict: Once it gets going mid-season, GLOW is an unstoppable combination of things that don’t usually go together – a sincere & serious affection for the world of pro-wrestling, stunning performances, consistently funny writing, a huge range of excellent female characters and extended showbiz making-of plotting. It also leaves us just as the show is going into production, meaning there are almost limitless places that the show can take us in season 2 and beyond. There’s an exultant quality to the show that I definitely want more of. Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
I feel a little daft posting these so late. But really they don’t lose much by me doing so. All of these films are still out there somewhere for you to see. March was generally pretty positive, with some good to great new releases and some excellent Middle Eastern #52FilmsByWomen entries being the pick of things. I feel a little daft posting these so late. But really they don’t lose much by me doing so. All of these films are still out there somewhere for you to see. March was generally pretty positive, with some good to great new releases and some excellent Middle Eastern #52FilmsByWomen entries being the pick of things.
- Kong: Skull Island (2017), Jordan Vogt-Roberts – Very Big, very dumb and quite fun. The cast goes a long way toward that with Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston and Thomas Mann all nailing it. John C. Reilly is decent too, saving a character that could have been abysmal. The film looks really good, though I could probably have done with more Kong and less of all the other monsters. In terms of plot, it’s stock standard, though I thought the attempts to make it a Vietnam War film were pretty tame. Overall mildly distracting, no more, no less.
- The Gunfighter (1950), Henry King – The direction, and gravitas-laden performance from Gregory Peck, immediately set up a mythology around the character of Jimmy Ringo. It’s a classic, focussed western tale with great interplay between the characters. Has a lot of those classic western themes going on, especially the struggle between family and the gun. Also when to ‘hang it up’. Though there is a disappointing sense of inevitability to how it all finishes up.
- Keanu (2016), Peter Atencio – Haven’t seen too much of Key & Peele but I loved this. One of the better film comedies of recent years. There’s a cool odd-couple vibe to their characters and both grow really nicely through the film. The film is always engaged with race, but the laughs come from a wide variety of sources. Funny as shit and insightful.
- Mustang (2015), Deniz Gamze Ergüven – A brilliant film. An excellently established portrait of overriding moral conservatism at a societal level, contrasted with the individual spark of the girls. The film flows really nicely. Not plot heavy but still engaging and has stakes. Very good at expressing heightened moments of joy against a torrid backdrop. Technically the cinematography is bright and really reflects each scene whilst the nice brooding score adds weight throughout.
- Somewhere in Time (1980), Jeannot Szwarc – Starts with an awesomely creepy moment – an old woman comes up to Christopher Reeve and implores him to “come back to me”. Reeves is exceedingly charismatic. He fills the screen and physically embodies his character. His performance really carries the film and what could have been an awkward tone. This works really well as a magical realist love story. The time travel elements are explained in-depth but never weighed down with rules. And there’s a great tension to how these elements will resolve themselves.
- Family Plot (1976), Alfred Hitchcock – Late Hitch with a really great ensemble cast. A very different vibe from the director. Crime-comedy in genre terms with hints of farce. There’s a car chase sequence here that’s madcap in a way very unlike anything else the director has ever done. But at the same time very tense. I love how the film and plot just unfold and it’s here that the director’s trademark control really shines. Barbara Harris and a very young Bruce Dern stand out performance wise. It also has a really nice John Williams score that merges nicely with the director’s approach.
- Kung-fu Master! (1988), Agnes Varda – A really interesting thematic exploration of motherhood, with a main character who is a ‘bad mum’. For complex reasons sure, but the interrogation of her heart-wrenchingly poor decisions gives the main drive of the film. She undertakes an affair with a young teenager, the same age as her daughter (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, a remarkable performer even at this age). Deeply disconcerting, the way she treats him as both a little boy and lover.
- Moonlight (2016), Barry Jenkins – Quite simply: as brilliant as advertised. The script is masterful. Each act uniquely bringing the character to life at a different age. The acting is excellent with the three Chirons all succeeding in bringing what the script is doing to life. There’s something quite masterful in the way Jenkins gets the three sections to interlock and inform one another. Flow of the characters throughout is special. Feels as though it is some form of American classic. Uniquely situated as a film about African American homosexuality.
- Logan (2017), James Mangold – A hell of a film. Focused. You can feel it – my jaw dropped, my fists clenched. Deeper emotional complexity to the main character than any comic book film ever. This is the first realistically vulnerable superhero we’ve seen on screen. Three incredible performances – Jackman, Stewart and newcomer Dafne Keen. Feels both small and meaningful. Refreshing contrast to the MCU with a self-contained story and uniquely sparse worldbuilding. Great, extra bloody, action. And villains that actually fit the aesthetic of the film. Really excellent score too.
- Mascarades (2008), Lyès Salem – Algerian film with a great sense of life from the get-go. Liked it a lot. A couple of great female characters. But also some very silly slapstick that comes out of nowhere. Tonally flicks a switch half an hour in. Thematically about pride and saving face within your community. The thrill of being accepted even if you know it’s a shallow acceptance. Also the hilarious heightened consequences of a lie that spirals out of control.
- Wadjda (2012), Haifaa Al-Mansour – Beautifully simple world and character building. Builds this very clear patriarchy, anchored in casual misogyny all round. Such a great, cheeky outlook on life from the main teen girl character. Interesting to consider the parts of this that are universal, and those that are quite Saudi specific. Profile of a young hustler, a schemer. An unfeeling, teen edge to her at times. I adore this film. Especially the second half which is a ripsnorter. A character study of a character I adore.
- Les astronauts (1959), Walerian Borowczyk & Chris Marker – Trippy music and cool bleep bloop sound design. Marker’s technique and aesthetic employed to suggest Melies’ style sci-fi. Cartoony space exploration fun. Visually mixes in high art and silliness.
- Captain Abu Raed (2008), Amin Matalqa – Really nicely composed, both in terms of story and visuals. A character that you really like too. Elderly cleaner becomes a cult hero with the local kids when he convinces them he’s an airline pilot and recounts tales of adventure. Charming, but goes some dark places toward the end. But these two opposites nest together well. Love the unlikely friendship between Noor and Abu Raed. Resolves the different story threads really well with a quite emotional ending.
- Son of Babylon (2009), Mohamed Al Daradji – Takes place in Iraq just after the fall of Saddam. Incredibly desolate, sparse expanses of earth. Conveys very well the early days of the occupation and what that would have felt like. In essence it’s an Iraqi road movie. Captures nicely, without forcing, the ethnic factions and sectarianism of Iraq.
- Paradise Now (2005), Hany Abu-Assad – Two amiable but aimless friends are willing (?) suicide bombers. Really well performed, especially from the two main dudes. An interesting love interest and the occasional nice aside about cinema. The simplicity in the portrayal of prepping for the bombing makes it quite stark. Harrowing. Examines notions of normality and if it’s even possible for that to exist in Palestine. Weaves the emotional, spiritual and political into the plot level of things really well.
Not Worth Watching
- The Long Riders (1980), Walter Hill – The stunt casting of real life brothers is cool. But the film never really immerses you in the world of the old west. Sets and costuming feel really thin and there’s no real weight to anything that happens. Feels like it skips over a lot of the plot, almost skim-reading. Dennis Quaid is unrecognisably young and quite good, whilst Randy Quaid proves that he was never a good actor. A shaggy dog of a film. Wastes a really good Ry Cooder score too.
- Waterworld (1995), Kevin Costner – The first 20 mins or so of this are maybe 90% tops and 10% wild, wild missteps. But by the end that has basically reversed, descending into an inexplicable mess of references and actions that make no sense in the world of the film. Prospects of being a ‘good-bad’ film are hampered by Costner’s character being a misogynist asshole and his emotional arc is dumbfounding. Women are just treated awfully throughout. Which I’m sure they would be in a dystopia, but I don’t think that’s what the film is aiming for. It looks bloody beautiful though, can see why it was so prohibitively expensive. Also I wanted more giant sea monster. So much more.
- A Private Collection (1973), Walerian Borowczyk – Quite literally a tour of ol mate’s smut collection. Gross. Male gazey puppets through to him just rotating old nudey paintings on an easel. Dude gives off a pretty creepy vibe. Though not sure how to avoid that when you just standing there talking about your porno collection whilst hiding your face. Vaguely illuminating about the depiction of sexuality through the ages. Too creepy though.
- Psychohydrography (2010), Peter Bo Rappmund – Shows promise early, but interminable. The use of photos feels contrived here and lacks the ‘animation’ of other films that have used the same technique. Doesn’t tell a coherent story about water flow (or anything else). Though there is the occasional cool piece of haunting, unique imagery. A real battle to get through.
- Equity (2016), Meera Menon – Cool to see a financial crisis story told through the female lens. But it struggles to ever look and feel like anything more than an average TV show. Clunky script never manages to integrate the story strands. And the writing is not strong enough to pull off the shocking big picture intrigue stuff.
If you only have time to watch one Mustang
Avoid at all costs Psychohydrography
Get Out (2017), the most hyped horror release of the year, emanates from an unlikely source – Jordan Peele of Key and Peele sketch comedy fame. On the basis of this first directorial effort, even though he initially seemed like an unlikely horror maestro, let’s hope he has a bunch more ideas stashed away because I want to see them all.
Peele has talked of being a horror fan and you can see the affection for the genre early on. A bunch of clever allusions to classic horror plant the seeds beautifully for what is to come – the unfriendliness of suburbia, a boarded up basement, psychologists with ominous skills. The film also uses (very clever) jump scares early on to put the viewer firmly on edge. This is very effective because even the ‘straight’ plot that unfurls early still just feels a little off. Adding in these sharp moments of terror only emphasises that feeling. But for all this riffing, the romantic weekend away to meet your girlfriend’s parents feels like a unique setup. Especially given how genuine the relationship between the two leads feels. And the traditional family history aspect to the film’s setup is given a wrinkle when a family anecdote about a beloved grandfather being beaten by an African American sprinter is recalled. The nature of the threat in the film evolves and escalates from a feeling of not being quite welcome, to more overt forms of mental and physical control.
Someone on my facebook posted that they were now scared of white people after watching Get Out. After my initial shock that this person was only now becoming scared of white people, I began to feel that it was a pretty decent distillation of the movie’s thematic concerns. Or concern, because racism (though different dimensions of it) is really the full focus of what is taking place, and there is a whole lot to break down on that level. Peele examines racism in the film in both subtle and more obvious ways. Which is not to say the latter are bad in any way. One of the film’s best sequences is where the film quite directly invokes notions of African Americans being property and the way that racist mindset classically manifested itself. Even just from an optics point of view, the film abounds in scenes of many white people in the frame with a single African American person. In addition, the intersection of class with racism is a focus as the film takes place in a very upper class environment. Here Peele skewers the notion of reverse racism with the most privileged lamenting some perceived physical or societal advantage being held by people of colour generally. The film never stops to make any of these points, nor does Peele needlessly draw attention to them. They are not hidden away but are organic to the story, and frankly organic enough to contemporary society that they never jar.
So much of what Get Out does well is as a result of the script, which juggles a lot of different elements very well. The racial themes are incorporated into and reflected by the plot. And it also brings to life both very grounded and quite supernatural forms of horror, without either jarring. Unsurprisingly the film uses humour well, with some very funny moments lightening the mood but never undermining it or the very real horrors of the film. There’s lots of humour but the film is in no way a comedy. Peele is adept enough behind the camera to scare the viewer in different ways – slow creepiness and visceral fast jump scares accompanied by a burst of noise. Both of these scared the shit out of me at different times, usually accompanied by the incredible atmosphere of the score, which is adept at accentuating the two very different types of horror. The performances across the board are excellent, especially from the leads Daniel Kaluuya and Alison Williams, as well as LilRel Howery as a comedy relief TSA agent. In addition to those, Catherin Keener and Bradley Whitford pull off tricky, key supporting roles as Williams’ Rose’s parents really well.
Verdict: This is an incredible film. A thematically rich riff on classic horror from a voice that feels totally new. It’s also fuckin terrifying, always a good selling point for a horror flick. It’s also one of the first screenings I attended where there was a genuine spontaneous outburst of applause during the film, which was very well earned. Longneck of Melbourne Bitter