You may have heard somewhere around the internet that a little trailer dropped over the last 24 hours. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015) is probably the biggest film event of the past 30 years, so their was much anticipation for it. On the absurdly small chance you haven’t seen it, check it out below. It’s been surprising how little smug dismissiveness there has been towards the trailer which is so rare these days. But you can see why, it is a pretty enticing piece of work. I like it a lot. Visually it feels exactly like a sequel to the original trilogy should. There are flashes of storm troopers, lightsabers and droids, to get all the old fans giddy with excitement. Now if I can somehow avoid endless spoilers for the next year and a bit, I will go into this one with a high sense of anticipation. What do all you folk think about it?
I have been whinging about it pretty endlessly, but in case you managed to avoid all of that, I have had a busted back for much of the past couple of weeks. I returned to work a few days ago, but before that I was relegated to the lounge room floor, unable to sit up to write or go to the cinema. As much as I love lazing around watching movies, being able to nothing else for that extended a period of time is enough to test anyone’s resolve. Luckily though, I stumbled upon the first season of Rick and Morty (2013) which has been a total highlight and allowed me to well and truly keep my sanity.
Somehow this show managed to pass me by until now. It’s created by Dan Harmon, the somewhat controversial genius behind Community and is essentially a reimagining of the Back to the Future trilogy, which is my favourite film series of all time. For all that though, the show is better than I could have imagined and one of the most hilarious pieces of television I have ever seen. It is so smart, the vulgarity (which general comes from Grandad Rick, a terrible influence) is actually funny and it brings high concept sci-fi ideas to each episode. The odd(ish) couple at the centre of the show really provides everything it needs. Rick is one of those classic animated characters of the past couple of decades who brings the huge laughs with his zaniness, crudeness and substance abuse programs – think some form of variance on Bender, Homer Simpson and Cartman and you are on the right track. But in young Morty, the show has a straight man who is also hilarious as well as providing the real heart of the show. He is a somewhat awkward teen, going along with his grandad’s incredibly dangerous space-based adventures to win his favour. But as the season progresses, the character really grows into a keen offsider and at times potential leader himself. You never feel like he is just there for the character of Rick to bounce off, Morty is an equal partner and elevates the show a lot. Hopefully that continues, because often the shows featuring some of those characters I mentioned above, fall back on the cheap knowledge that the audience will crack up at whatever one character says and does, instead of building up a satisfying cast.
We are in something of an extended golden age for TV cartoons. Obviously kicking off with The Simpsons, but also featuring so many others such as Futurama, Bravest Warriors and heaps more. Rick and Morty holds its own with any of those. And for a film or sci-fi buff it may even surpass them, nailing clever references throughout. There is one episode that functions as an extended parody of an Elm Street, and there was something I found totally side-splitting about the way that the Freddy Krueger character called everyone “bitch”, just as he does in the actual films. There are also extended references to Jurassic Park (1993), Inception (2010) and basically every other big sci-fi property of moderately recent times. I only rarely watch commentaries on TV shows and films. But I can’t wait to revisit these episodes with the commentaries from Dan Harmon and occasional special guests such as Matt Groening, that are on the Aussie blu-ray release.
Verdict: Rick and Morty plays like the love-child of Futurama, Back to the Future and the best bits of South Park that you never realised was missing from your life. If you have the slightest interest in any of those things, the work of Dan Harmon or just truly hilarious sharp comedy, then give this show a shot. Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
During the time I was totally engrossed in the Canberra International Film Festival, three posters piqued my interest for massive upcoming films. No doubt you have already seen them, but just in case I thought I would share them here with a few thoughts about them. What binds them together for me is the interesting or ‘classic’ design in this world of bland sameness for movie posters and the fact that they achieve their purpose of getting me really excited for the films they are promoting. Which strangely, very few posters actually do these days.
The first poster is for In the Heart of the Sea (2015), a film that unlike the other two, was not on my radar at all until I saw this. I love this design so much. As a kid, whales were equal second along with deadly Australian animals (a wide field), behind dinosaurs as creatures that absolutely fascinated me. I think that is part of the reason this really resonates with me, as they have done such an ace design of conveying the sheer size of the behemoth that lurks below. I’ve not always been the biggest fan of Ron Howard’s work but this poster (hell and Brendan Gleeson) will probably get me through the cinema door.
I was not as huge a fan of Pacific Rim (2013) as many people. But that doesn’t mean I am not pretty darn excited for a sequel. Especially since I will never give up hope of a crossover with the re-booted Gareth Edwards Godzilla universe. Pacific Rim 2 (2017) is still an age away, but out of nowhere this little teaser poster surfaced a while back, I think on the film’s official facebook page. It is a testament to how a simple eye-catching image can suck a potential viewer in. I mean what the hell is down that whirlpool? Plus it is orientated in landscape which always provides for a slightly different aesthetic. I would love to be able to avoid all future images and trailers for the film and just go in with this image lodged in my mind. It will never happen of course, but I can hope.
Lastly is the film out of these that I am looking forward to the most – Jurassic World (2015). Jurassic Park (1993) is my favourite Spielberg film and is probably in my top 20 or so films of all time. On top of that, I really like both the sequels. Yes even Jurassic Park 3 (2001). That film has pterodactyls in a frickin glasshouse, I’m not exactly sure what more you could ask for. It’s against this background that I love the simplicity of the below poster, because for fans like me, that classic image has such memorable connotations. Oh I can’t wait for the park to be open again.
Before I get too into this, just to let you know this will be the last Trailer for your Weekend post. I will still definitely post trailers from time to time when something takes my fancy, but I am finding the process of picking one each and every week to be a bit laborious really.
Enough of that though, this week’s trailer is for the drama Selma (2015) which has been garnering a fair bit of hype recently. Any film featuring a historical figure as beloved as Martin Luther King Jr opens itself up to stinging criticism if it gets it wrong, or a fair amount of adulation if they nail it. The trailer looks promising and looks to depict on film a super important part of American history, that when you think about it has not actually been seen on screen all that often. As always with this type of film, the test will be if it can balance historical accuracy yet still make the film enjoyable enough and also not feel like it is a sugarcoated version of true events.
Depending on where in the world you live, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014) has either opened or is just about to. It feels like the film has crept up a little, with less hype than one would expect. Not sure if this is just my imagination or if they are perhaps holding a little something back for the closing bonanza that will be with us next year.
The first two films in the series were for all intents and purposes high concept action films. Both of them were good, though the second one was a marked improvement. The usual course of action for the next film in an uber-successful series with a ready made audience would be of course to turn in more of the same, just a little bigger with a few more bells and whistles. Quite incredibly and refreshingly though, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 eschews the action film structures and brings us a war film. Not only that, it’s a really good and very smart war film. It is a bold move on the part of the studio and the filmmakers involved as it risks alienating people who loved the first two films. Especially since even for a war film it is not a particularly action packed one. The focus here is on the propaganda war being raged in Panem. As such much of the film is deliberately paced, as Katniss and her new allies film clips to help win over the masses. There are a couple of big set pieces, one exceptionally tense toward the end, but the real focus is on the hearts and minds of the everyday people in the districts.
One major criticism that has been levelled at the film is that it is in fact only half the film. It is a little strange that people are so shocked by it given the title. But I can understand the frustration, the story is left unfinished. Having said that, the ending to this film is not actually any more abrupt in terms of the overall storyline than how The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) finished up. It is interesting that although this is a YA adaptation and most of the audience would be expected to be teens, this is a really dark film and is also more adult than probably 90% of films that will be released this year. As for the cast, Jennifer Lawrence is once again exceptional at conveying the inner turmoil and at times vagueness of Katniss. The character is written so well, being simultaneously heroic yet exceptionally torn about her place in the revolution that it needs a performance as good as hers to bring that to life. The film is touchingly dedicated to the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and he, along with Woody Harrelson and Julianne Moore lead the wonderful supporting cast. If anything they feel a little underutilised, though only because they are so enjoyable onscreen rather than any particular narrative deficiencies.
Verdict: Successfully shattering the formulas of the first two films, this is one hell of a smart war film and a truly bold direction for the series to be taken in. It’s the best of the three films in the series so far and will have me lining up at midnight next year to see the conclusion. Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
Related beermovie.net articles for you to check out: Worth Watching March 2012 (includes review of The Hunger Games) and Worth Watching December 2013 (includes review of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire).
This is rather later than usual. I have been writing a little less to recover from the epic CIFF 2014 effort and currently have a sprained joint in my back, which is never fun. That has left me lying on the floor, unable to sit to write or head to the cinema for an entire week now. Anyways that also meant writing this in short little spurts over a few days. A mixed, fittingly horror-centric bag for October. Share your thoughts on all of these in the comments below.
- The Good Wife Season 1 (2009), Robert & Michelle King – It’s a shame how novel a show with a true female protagonist is. Julianna Marguiles is great as the woman re-entering the workplace after 15 years. The show is immediately concerned with gender roles and sexism. Along with the courtroom scenes it has a cool whodunit vibe to go along with it and successfully weaves in a broader conspiracy subplot. Even though it can be a touch melodramatic, the script writing is good throughout.
- See No Evil (2006), Gregory Dark – Everything about this film – marketing, DVD menus, religious overtones, the fact it stars a professional wrestler in character – screams that it is a real throwback. And it is basically the best 1980s Elm Street sequel made this millennium. The set-up is classic – juvenile delinquents are sent to clean up a creepy abandoned hotel overnight on some sort of day release program. Of course nothing could possibly go wrong there. There are some nice touches, the camera is used well to create movement and it is never totally clear who the ‘main’ and therefore final to die character is, which makes for some surprising kills. Highly recommended for classic slasher fans.
- The Good Wife Season 2 (2010), Robert & Michelle King – There are concerns early that this season is going to be overly contrived. A new partner brings with him a new investigator and the battle between him and the firm’s Kalinda is a distraction the whole way through. But it picks up after a slow start. Cary being all of a sudden in the public defenders office makes for a fresh dynamic. And it also deals with big issues quite well, the tense race against the clock death penalty ep is a highlight and cuts to the heart of that issue. The show really benefits from spot-on casting, both amongst the regulars and guest stars.
- Crawlspace (2012), Justin Dix – The director has a pedigree in design and effects work, making it unsurprising that the ‘look’ of this is its strongest aspect. It’s smart enough not to overuse the cool looking gimmick shots. The big scares don’t always land, but the film creates a decent enough sense of tension, with the fast moving combatants and sound design lending a kinetic energy. All this helps to overcome a slight story and dialogue which occasionally clunks.
Not Worth Watching:
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014), Jonathan Liebesman – This is even worse than I imagined a Michael Bay driven turtles film would be. It looks surprisingly cheap and is shot with bullshit angles and shaky cam stuff. Everything is wrong and even worse, nothing is true to the spirit of the turtles and the film dispenses with so much of the mythology. It’s unnecessarily violent and the voices off the turtles are so off. They look garbage too. Worst of all is the objectification of Megan Fox which is just constant and atrocious. We need to put a stop to that shit, in all films but especially those targeted at young people.
- A Lonely Place to Die (2011), Julian Gilbey – Begins with an awesome sense of place in the Scottish Highlands. But following that, the film offers next to nothing. Melissa George turns in a terrible performance and accent. The characters are uninteresting and there is no build-up in terms of atmosphere. It doesn’t look good either, with weird and ill-advised use of slow-mo. It’s a horror film with no sense of build or tension. Such an uninteresting film.
- Annabelle (2014), John R. Leonetti – This is a good example of how a horror film can be utterly terrifying, but still pretty awful. Weirdly (stupidly), the film does not focus on the freakyarse doll that much. The bloated narrative simply feels derivative of a bunch of better Wan and co. movies. All the non-doll centric plot points, which make up most of the movie, are totally standard and unengaging.
- Dracula Untold (2014), Gary Shore – Somewhat refreshing to see an origin story rather than the 4 billionth Stoker adaptation. But the first two thirds of this are terrible. By the numbers character building, lightweight narrative, garbage dialogue and it looks damn ugly too. That last one can mainly be attributed to its reliance on mid-90s standard CGI. Absurdly out of nowhere, the final third becomes a cracking origin story payoff. Just wish there was more of that brilliance in the rest of the film.
If you only have time to watch one The Good Wife Season 1
Avoid at all costs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Sort of like bashing Benedict Cumberbatch, accusing the Marvel films of all being the same has become something that all the cool kids are doing on twitter recently. I can see some merit in aspects of that argument. But in a year when the studio has released the spy-thriller Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) and sci-fi Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), it is a pretty hard argument to maintain. A lot of this griping came about when the trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) came out a few weeks ago. The more rcent, extended trailer is below. What do you guys think of it? I don’t love The Avengers (2012) as much as some people and it’s not my absolute favourite Marvel film. But I am still super excited by this trailer. And I think that is the thing. If you are in to the Marvel Cinematic Universe like me, this trailer will get you really excited. If you don’t care for the films, then there is probably nothing here to change your mind.
One of the things I have found whilst writing this blog, is that it occasionally stops me from re-watching films. I only write about films once on the site, so am more likely to not pop something I loved back in or take another look at something I thought was rubbish the first time around.
This might be a remedy for that. Who knows, it might be the first and only of these. But I grabbed The Cabin in the Woods (2012) on blu-ray the other week, and as I was watching it I started tweeting a few thoughts about it. Don’t worry, this is no live tweet. But just reflections on what viewing the film was like a second time. So I thought that I would share them now and perhaps flesh out my thoughts a little further. There may be spoilers below, so consider yourself warned. Also you’re a fool if you haven’t seen this film yet.
The whole Whitford and Jenkins section of the film is what really sets it apart. I noticed this time around, that’s not just true of the ending, but also of the setup. The way they are controlling everything, the betting pool at the office. That aspect is what keeps the first two acts of the film from simply being the knock-off slasher fare the film is skewering.
This was really stark to me watching this time. I think partially because I had seen Listen up Philip (2014) at CIFF earlier the same night I watched this and that film also is very sharp in its structure. Thankfully this film doesn’t have a stupid chapter structure, like all those films that have been grinding my gears later. But it does have a very extended (longer than I recall) set-up, the ‘typical’ slasher middle section and the final act payoff.
You can only see the third act of The Cabin in the Woods once, which I thought would really impact on my enjoyment second time around. But I was surprised to find that I got almost as much, though something quite different out of it this time.
As someone pointed out to me on twitter at the time, the audience is really a character in the film, which is not how I had thought about it before. Our insatiable hunger for the same horror tropes to be continually fed to us year after year, just like the Ancient Ones.
The last act is searing even on repeat viewing. Just look at some of these screen grabs.
What do you guys think of Cabin in the Woods, and especially any of the pondering I have done above? How did it hold up on a second viewing for you?
There was one name that my twitter feed lit up with throughout both the Sydney and Melbourne international film festivals earlier this year – Xavier Dolan. Five films into his career and the young writer/director/actor seems to have people abuzz, and in this case the film they are talking about is Tom at the Farm (2013).
The film sees the titular Tom returning to his deceased boyfriend’s home farm for his funeral. His boyfriend’s family, for the most part, do not know that he was homosexual and believe that Tom was a work colleague. Tom battles against this and even more so against the menacing Francis, the brother of his lover. There is a lot of atmosphere in the film and it shifts as Dolan wishes it too. For probably the first act or so, there is a pall of grief that hangs over the film. You are not crushed under the weight of it, the film is not actively setting out to make you miserable and remind you of the horror of death. But it is there, and you know it is driving every event and choice that is made by one of the characters in the film. Later, there is a pervading sense of menace, as the relationship between Tom and Francis shifts a number of times. The true nature of Francis is further revealed whilst also being further clouded and changed. This latter shift in character does at first jar, not quite feeling authentic or real to the world of the film. But a combination of quality scriptwriting and performance will make you believe in the end. Similarly the motivations of Tom at times feel totally out of whack. But the strangeness eventually all makes a level of sense and in part you just need to sit and go on the ride that Dolan is taking you. The plot gets there in the end and so do you as a viewer.
Writing about the use of music in film has never been my strength. Someone needs to (if it hasn’t already been done) really break down the way music is used in Tom at the Farm. It is plain that Dolan places a lot of emphasis on the interrelationship between the images on the screen and the music accompanying it. At times the music is bombastic and seemingly ill-fitting with what is onscreen. But it imbues it with so much feeling and atmosphere. The contrasts are also often stark, forcing the viewer to acknowledge and consider the choice that has been made. As a director, this is just one way in which Dolan puts his auteur stamp on the film. I would love to see him make a straight up horror film. The mastery of atmosphere and music chops are certainly there to make a very effective one.
On the writing front, Dolan has the gift of creating complex characters out of what at first feel like they could be ciphers – the mourning boyfriend and menacing homophobe of a brother definitely do not stay that way throughout the film. Their construction is effortless though, Dolan never seeming to be straining for quirk or nuance in the characters, they just gradually evolve into those more complex things. It is fair enough to be dubious of directors who star in their own films, but as an onscreen performer, Dolan is more than capable. His is a passive presence onscreen in this film, but his performance guides that passivity between and into engagement with other characters. As Francis, the menacing brother, Pierre-Yves Cardinal is certainly not a passive character in any way. He may not quite have the acting chops of Dolan but it is still an excellent performance. Cardinal has such a physical presence and has you feeling as if he will be lurking just around every single corner.
Verdict: You know I can certainly see what the hype was over with Dolan. I’m keen to check out the rest of his films now. Whether this is the best place to start, I have no idea, but as a complex, exceedingly intelligent drama thriller, you won’t go wrong if this is your window into the world of Dolan. Pint of Kilkenny
Now we all know that people who deny climate change are idiots. But those people are definitely out there and they get a lot of coverage from mainstream media. Merchants of Doubt (2014) takes a look at who these people are, how they got there and what qualifications they have to be speaking on such matters.
The first thing that Merchants of Doubt does is very comprehensively and effectively paint the similarities between the actions of Big Tobacco and the anti-climate change agenda. It is a telling comparison isn’t it, Big Tobacco being the standard bearer for the horrid deceit of the populace on a global scale, prepared to put the almighty dollar (well at least their almighty dollar) ahead of the health and wellbeing of every human being on earth. That is who the climate change lobby are taking their cues and tactics from. The point is excellently made and whilst it is something you could imagine being true, the film provides a range of rock solid examples of exactly how it is taking place. The issue with the idea in the film though is that it is made well, but the film lingers far too long on the point. I paid for a climate change film, not one about tobacco. Later in the film, there is a similarly long stretch of useful, but distracting information about the fire retardant lobby. The end result is a film that sort of sprawls. Each individual part or speaker is quite interesting. But you get to near the end and you can’t remember who spoke a couple of people ago. It is also a touch boring, because there is a lot of non-vital information that makes its way onto the screen between each nugget of gold.
At times it feels like the world is stuck in a constant, immovable dichotomy on the topic of climate change. For some reason, this issue has become a political one, with progressives on one side rigidly accepting the scientific consensus and conservatives on the other side steadfast in their position, based mainly on pseudoscience and just making shit up, that climate change is a myth. It seems like these positions are two parallel lines of people, with no flow in between. It is telling than that the two best speakers in the film are people who have crossed that divide. One is Michael Shermer, a libertarian professional ‘sceptic’ and the other is a former ultra-conservative Republican Senator whose name escapes me. Both of them make a number of really good points, but I think that they make one key one each that cuts to the heart of why this is still a debate (as a totally different person in the film observes “it is a debate, but it’s not a scientific debate”). Shermer, who attends conservative libertarian debates and boldly sells the climate change message, explains that the real issue is overwhelming tribalism. That is what makes people refuse to engage with new evidence. The senator makes the point that it is not evidence or science that is holding people back. It is fear of change, a fear stoked by those who profit from the status quo, which makes people fearful to see what is really happening. If nothing more, the position of these two conservatives, who do remain proud and rabid conservatives, is a hopeful note, that people will eventually see the scientific evidence that is shining in their face.
There is a very cool stylistic conceit in Merchants of Doubt that functions as an ‘in’ to the film. It is a magician, telling the secrets of how he crafts his illusions, or more accurately the technique of his trickery. The point being made of course is that if you take the sleight of hand and distractions that a close-up magician utilises during card tricks, blow it up to an earth wide scale, what you are left with is the tactical approach of the climate change deniers lobby. This whole conceit is perhaps the best bit of the film and gets an important balance right that the film on occasion veers to the wrong side of. It is exceptionally inventive but it is not too glossy. It functions to enlighten and enhance the ideas of the film, but thankfully does not inadvertently overshadow them at all. It never becomes the focus, it clarifies the focus.
Verdict: Unlike some other docos that have showed at CIFF, this one does not quite transcend its narrow subject material into a broader based appeal. But Merchants of Doubt is still worthwhile viewing for those with an interest in the issue. You may just need to wade through a fair amount of unnecessary supplementary material first. Stubby of Reschs