There are many Beach Boys fans out there and I suspect that these days there are even more Brian Wilson fans. So a biopic like Love and Mercy (2014) seems a no-brainer. Thankfully though, this film for the most part eschews the tired structure and beats of the music biopic.
There is no attempt to cover Wilson’s life from cradle to grave. Instead the film flits back and forth between two periods of Wilson’s life. In one, Wilson is played by Paul Dano, as he progresses from teen surf-pop hearthrob, to “Pet Sounds”/”Good Vibrations” sheer musical genius, to man struggling with a multitude of demons. In the second part of the film Wilson, this time played by John Cusack, is under the hold of rogue psychiatrist Eugene Landy (played with cartoon villain glee by Paul Giamattti) and finds hope through Melinda Ledbetter played by Elizabeth Banks. The narrative is a little patchy and occasionally it pitches into the other story thread just as you were getting really engrossed by the first. Despite those quibbles though, it is such a relief that the story is told with an attempt to tell something different to the biopic norm and to really get deep into the details of two parts of Wilson’s life. The film also ends on a totally pitch perfect note. As the credits roll, so does a live performance of Wilson singing the song that the film takes its name from. Not his most famous track, but the simple beauty of it pierces through and reaffirms that all the horrible things that took place in the film, all the exploitation of a mentally ill man, happened to a real person. A really beautiful person with really beautiful art inside of him.
So much of the attention that Love and Mercy has attracted has focused on Paul Dano and John Cusack. With good reason as well, they are both excellent. It is Dano who grabs you first. His paunch and haircut are the perfect mimic of Wilson circa “Pet Sounds”. Dano is such an incredible actor that he immediately recalls Wilson, but thankfully does not simply lazily impersonate him, instead building the aura surrounding the musical genius, through his wild and utterly brilliant work in the studio. Conversely, Cusack as Wilson jars initially. Partly it’s because we have already seen Dano, so the initial reaction is a simple ‘that dude looks nothing like Brian Wilson’. But if anything, Cusack’s performance is even better than Dano’s. Without overplaying it or resorting to histrionics, Cusack conveys a broken man. One ravaged by mental illness who is desperate for a way out and sees it in Melinda. One who has creative brilliance and heart, but it is buried under decades of abuse. As good as both of those men are, for me this is Elizabeth Banks film. She is an utter star in it, taking what could have been a side character and turning her into the powerhouse heart of the film. An emotional, strong and resilient woman who literally saves the life of one of the greatest musicians of our time.
Verdict: Anchored by three strong performances from Dano, Cusack and the incredible Banks, Love and Mercy is well worth your time, especially as it does away with at least some of the formula you may expect. An affinity with the music of Wilson or the Beach Boys may help to engage you, but it is certainly not a prerequisite. Stubby of Reschs
Tangerine (2015) was one of two official competition films that I saw at the Sydney Film Festival. The film was shot entirely on an iPhone 5, a fact that frankly filled me with a fair bit of trepidation. For every interesting stylistic experiment we see released, it feels there are three or four gimmicky flicks that just look ugly.
Thankfully on that front the trepidation was unfounded. The film looks surprisingly good, dynamically shot, avoiding too much (or indeed really any) gimmicky shaky-cam. And indeed, the use of the iPhone is more than just a gimmick in this case. Director Sean Baker elected to use the everyday piece of technology in order to help put the inexperienced cast more at ease with what was going on. Initially the performances do feel a touch stilted. But I think it is actually more part of the audience getting used to the dialogue. It is not the overwritten, honed-to-perfection pitter patter we are used to. Rather, this feels authentic, the characters seemingly talking in their own voices, using their own lingo in conversational rhythm which is true to life, if not always true to cinematic convention. The use of the iPhone adds an additional layer of authenticity as well, with the grainy finish of the shots (that are never distractingly low in quality) feeling like it suits the story perfectly. The film doesn’t look boring either. The toying with shooting technique feels refreshingly playful, rather than being the point of the entire experience. Some scenes set to energetic music feel like really great music videos while the camera is sped right up in a couple of sequences to enhance what is taking place onscreen.
The main plot of the film follows transgender sex worker Sin-Dee, who has just been released from prison, only to discover her boyfriend is having an affair with a ‘fish’ (a derogatory term in the trans community for a cis-woman). What follows is essentially a day long journey to try and find this woman and confront Sin-Dee’s boyfriend. Along for the ride is her friend Alexandra, an aspiring musician trying to keep Sin-Dee from getting herself into too much trouble, whilst attempting to drum up support for a gig she is playing that night. In terms of writing, the film is really well done. It elicited many a laugh from the big audience at the State Theatre, predominately through the building of characters and getting the crowd to love them or their approach to life. There is also a subplot involving an Armenian/American cab driver, who pays for sex with Alexandra and Sin-Dee. On the surface, an Eastern European family man frequenting transgender sex workers feels like it could be an overwhelmingly cloying narrative strand. It never plays out like that though. It is a really well written part of the film, and we get a sense of his journey beyond the span of this single day. He is also part of some of the best scenes in the film, including a sex scene in a carwash that is loaded with meaning to the plot. The result is that the film has three main characters to feel invested in and want a positive outcome for. There is an occasional emotional element that does not entirely ring true with what has come before. But that is a minor storytelling quibble in a narrative that is dominated by an original approach.
Verdict: Sharply shot and with a level of lightly drawn authenticity that is pretty rare, Tangerine is one of my most recommended films of the festival. To wrangle the elements together to something that looks so great without ever feeling the slightest bit gimmicky, is a pretty darn good achievement by Baker and co. Stubby of Reschs
I saw the second screening of Hsiao-hsien Hou‘s The Assassin (2015) at the festival. The reaction to the first screening was not particularly appreciative. So much so I did give some vague thought to bailing on my screening.
I hung tough though and was rewarded in my view. One major criticism of the film is that the plot is far too oblique. It is difficult to argue against that accusation, but it was just not a hindrance to my enjoyment of the film. Occasionally I just zoned out and enjoyed the experience of being at the festival and having these stunning images paraded in front of me, which was a joyful experience. This is certainly not traditional martial arts cinema. It has a slow and deliberate pace and the action sequences are relatively rare. When they do come, they are slower than the freneticism so emphasised by many of the biggest crossover stars of the genre. But there is such a deep level of thought in each one. The actions and moves of each character actually reflect the character and their predicament. The manner in which the combatants fiercely battle for control of the situation, desperation seeming to seep out of the screen, is something really rare. This approach to action plays into the tempo which is another major strength of the film. It takes its time to build both a strong visual sense and to tell the story, the long scenes strongly delineated from each other, causing the audience to pause and gather themselves before the film moves on.
The Assassin is an utterly glorious looking film. There is a prologue shot in black and white, awash with shadow and contrast. It initially feels a shame when the film switches to colour. But Hou is able to elicit the same splendour from the new approach, with imagery popping off the screen. Even simply just sitting back and admiring the painting like composition of the shots is a treat. Seeing the brilliant choices of where to place the camera, admiring a shot from behind the camera, there is a lot to be gained from soaking in those scenes. There is a clean simplicity to the design which is maintained throughout the film. Even just simple costume touches, like the badass assassin being dressed all in black, making her instantly recognisable feel like they add a lot. There is a soundtrack that never feels intrusive but which adds to the feeling of being immersed in another time and place. Not to mention adding an exclamation mark where one is required – the swooshing of a blade as it slashes a throat for example. Conveying theme through action sequences is difficult, but here the role of human sentiments in warfare/martial arts is front and centre. Much of this comes from the fight scenes, though it is also prevalent in the plot and the evolution of the teacher-student relationship through the film as well.
Verdict: Plot-wise, there is no denying The Assassin is dense going, perhaps unnecessarily so. Having said that, it really didn’t bother me too much. Perhaps I was blinded by just how damn pretty the pictures were and the film containing some of my favourite martial arts scenes ever. Pint of Kilkenny
As one part of this year’s event, Sydney Film Festival director Nashen Moodley delivered a focus on South African cinema. The only film of this program stream I managed to catch was Necktie Youth (2015) from young director Sibs Shongwe-La Mer.
The film focuses on a group of young affluent Johannesburg residents, going about their relatively shallow day to day lives, though with a pall cast over them following the suicide of a friend a year earlier. A suicide that was live streamed online no less. The film sets up the stark social strata of present day South Africa with a clear good and bad side of the tracks. Most of the film is spent with wealthy youth, essentially whiling their day away, drinking, smoking drugs and having sex. Some of the film consists of the various characters recounting memories of their dead friend direct to the camera. This allows a contrived air to seep into some of the film, dropping into cliché where there had been an aggressive lack of it before. There is also a struggle in that many of the characters in the film are really unlikeable, which when combined with some sections having that contrived feeling, means that some of this is a bit of a slog. Overall though, the story is not afraid to show the toughness that life can bring, to lay it out in the open before the viewer. It is at times an unflinchingly tough watch. It finishes on a bold note too. One that shocks initially and then leaves you contemplating the structure of the film and how the story came to be told.
There are some incredibly striking sequences in the film. It is shot in black and white which somehow makes the film feel more realistic, placing the viewer on the street with the characters without distraction. On a number of occasions Shongwe-La Mer employs the technique of having a succession of beautiful shots scroll through the screen whilst someone delivers something approaching a soliloquy via voiceover. Dialogue pieces such as these are incredibly hard to write, but they never feel tiresome or like they are trying to hard to convey a depth that is not there. At times they feel like a rapper at the top of his game, delivering an artistic, rapid-fire summation of life. But they always progress the story and the characters, never just being there for the writer-director-star to show off his chops. Overall the writing is both the major strength and weakness of the film. The quality of the writing in regard to the characters varies quite a lot. The best ones feel totally natural and engaging. But others feel overtly scripted and stilted. So when the film is following what I guess you would call the two lead characters, September and Jabz, it is utterly engaging and the writing so sharp that just chilling with them going about their day is worthwhile. Unfortunately the sections of the film focused on other characters feel like a chore in comparison.
Verdict: The best sequences of Necktie Youth were amongst the best I saw at the Festival. Unfortunately the writing is not able to maintain this level of excellence for the entire running time. But the lasting impression, due to the creative quality of what is on offer, is that Sibs Shongwe-La Mer is a talent to keep an eye out for. Stubby of Reschs
All the hallmarks are there for Goodnight Mommy to deliver as a classically infused horror film. A mother returns home with a nightmarishly bandaged face, leaving her two children to question if this woman is really who she says.
Goodnight Mommy is very much a film of two halves. It opens rather moody and slow, remaining that way for a good portion of its running time. The focus here is on the mother’s erratic behaviour and the suspicion of her children, though for the most part in a low key manner. As the tension eventually mounts, the film shifts into an at times hard to watch, torture porn influenced last act. Especially in the first half, the film relies heavily on creating an ominous atmosphere. Unfortunately though the writing and narrative, aside from the wonderfully universal premise, are unable to build the atmosphere required to really chill. It’s unfortunate too, because when the film focuses more on visceral imagery, it creates some confronting stuff. There are a couple of sequences involving cockroaches that had the crowd squirming as well as an extended, brutal confrontation that it is perhaps difficult to see coming. These sequences got a great reaction, from a pretty big crowd with a few walkouts and a lot of people avoiding eye contact with the screen.
The film looks lush and expansive, helped along by the fact it was shot in 35mm (a fact raptourously cheered in the credits). There is a classical style to the visual approach, and even the very modern house where much of the action takes place in is shot in a way that makes it feel like a gothic haunted mansion. The sound design similarly takes what feels like a classic Hollywood approach, amplifying everyday sounds and tones so that they take on new, ominous meanings. Thematically the film touches on notions of motherhood and identity. Though not as much as you may expect and these are forsaken later in the film by a twist that feels rather familiar and which undercuts much of the interest. It is one of those twists that forces you to reevaluate everything that had come before it, which is not an entirely positive exercise and makes this a less interesting film.
Verdict: Goodnight Mommy looks incredible with classical stylings abounding. At times these stylings transfer over into the storytelling, but too often the requisite creepy atmosphere is not well drawn enough, resulting in a relatively limp experience. Schooner of Carlton Draught
Many people will recall the original version of 54 (1998), and even more will recall the theme song “If you could read my mind” which was a huge hit. Well now 54: The Director’s Cut (2015) has surfaced and gotten a fair bit of festival buzz. Let’s face it, Director’s Cut is more often than not a meaningless term. But from what I understand, this truly does reinstate director Mark Christopher’s more sexually complex original vision that was butchered by the studio.
Having never seen the original release, I was not entirely sure what to expect from this director’s cut, or even if it was worthwhile for me to see. Turns out that it really was a worthwhile film to make time for at the festival. For starters, this version of it is a bit of an interesting experiment. The film quality differs wildly between the sequences in the original release and those new to the director’s cut. As such, each new sequence is loudly announced by a pronounced drop in film quality. Whether or not this was a budgetary issue in putting out this version, or a conscious choice, the result is that the film feels almost experimental, a commentary on the concept of director’s cuts. At first the technique did not work at all for me, taking me out of the world of the film. That never really changes, but the announcing of the new scenes by the end of the film had me leaning a little closer to the screen, anxious to see what the studio had vetoed the first time around, in the knowledge that it would either be interesting in and of itself or at the very least, worthwhile to ponder more.
The very New York centric story follows Shane O’Shea, played by Ryan Philippe. At the start of the film, Shane moves from the much more suburban Jersey, to New York. There he finds himself right in the middle of the hottest club in the 70s, Studio 54, run by Mike Myers’ drug addled Steve Rubell. On one level the film tracks Shane’s fun and disco coming of age alongside the ups and eventual downs of the club. But it’s also about a societal awakening, a breaking down of barriers of sexuality, a time when a new paradigm was fast overtaking the tired old one. Though this pace would obviously slow, as we are still facing some of these tired old attitudes and perceptions today. The characters encompass sexual fluidity and ambiguity that is rarely seen in mainstream film and this is clearly something that has been re-emphasised by this cut. Thankfully too, because it is what sets the film apart from more conventional coming of age stories.
Ryan Phillipe seems to be a relatively maligned dude, despite the fact he has done good work in films such as The Lincoln Lawyer (2011) and Stop-Loss (2008). But this is certainly his best performance. He nails that late-teen awkwardness, wanting to party and experiment but not being sure how. The character is a really well constructed and written one, the audience sympathising with his naiveté no matter how daft some of his life choices occasionally appear. Selma Hayek and Breckin Meyer are also good as the young couple who are Shane’s guides through this very new part of his life. They show him the ropes, invite him into their homes and prove staunch allies no matter what. Mike Myers and Neve Campbell were probably the biggest names on the cast, though their roles are smaller than the marketing of the time would have you believe. Both are good though, especially Campbell as a star who threatens to sweep in and provide the film with a much more conventional third act.
Verdict: Has this new cut of the film unearthed a long lost, stone-cold classic? No. But it does deliver a coming of age story you rarely see (read a bisexual one basically). It also delivers laughs, great music and the odd heartbreaking moment. A worthy watch, both for those who have seen the previous cut and folks like me who come to it having never seen the originally released version. Stubby of Reschs
The first film I saw when attending the Festival itself this year, was Corn Island (2014), which promised unique scenery and deliberate drama. The buzz from the first screening was strong, leaving expectations relatively high for this one.
Corn Island tells the story of an old man working a seasonal island on a river in a disputed region of Europe. He works this island in the hope of being able to grow enough corn to feed him and his family for the rest of the year. On the tiny island he is joined by his granddaughter, who helps him to work the plot of land. The film works best as a piece of agrarian portraiture. There is something scenic and intensely interesting about seeing them work. The scenes of the two of them slowly building a shack to live in, sowing the corn and tending to the crop that is so important to them are the most beautiful and effective of the entire film. Occasionally director George Ovashvili shows the entire island in a wide shot. It is tiny really and these shots reinforce the fragility of this tiny piece of land and its importance to this man.
The second, less successful, strand of the story focuses on the blossoming of the man’s granddaughter into womanhood. The writing is far less assured here, clumsily establishing the innocence of the girl by having her carry a doll a girl her age would have long ago discarded (and one which predictably gets discarded later on in the film in a piece of overblown symbolism). The script then proceeds to foreshadow what is in store with her character, especially the way she is shot on occasions, the symbolism of the doll and how her dress changes especially a headscarf she dumps early on. But then after this somewhat clumsy setup, Ovashvili rushes through the actual meat of the situation to render it meaningless really. The film is almost dialogue free, but the dialogue that does eventuate is not particularly good. Some characters are sketched well in this human side of the story – the boorishness of the young soldiers is spot on for example. But it is any time that Ovashvili tries to go much deeper, such as the over protectiveness of the grandfather and the discussions they attempt to have regarding her ‘blossoming’, that he loses the material.
One of the first ways in which Corn Island establishes the confined world it is set in is through the naturalistic sound design. As the old man ferries supplies across to the island, birds chirp loudly, the paddle sweeps through the water and we hear his footprints marking his temporary home. It sets up the idyllic, quiet nature of the place where the man is free to work. It’s an idyll that is very effectively broken later in the film by the buzz of a military outboard motor. Despite the film feeling almost portrait like, it is not shot in an at all stagnant style, with noticeable edits and varying shot lengths bringing attention to the man’s weather-beaten face, the scale of his work or the specific task he is undertaking. By making the film slightly more dynamic than he could have, Ovashvili makes the slower scenes much more easy to absorb and therefore effective. Perhaps the best moment of the human side of the story comes at the conclusion, when the understated agrarian elements of the story culminate in a heartbreaking sequence as the old man’s island and crop are literally washed away. But once again, there is a misstep as the film ends on a contrived note, with overbearing music soaring a little too much.
Verdict: As a piece of agrarian portraiture, Corn Island is top class festival fare. Unfortunately the writing and execution of the human side of the story is a major let-down, making for a good, but far from great overall experience. Stubby of Reschs
When selecting the films to watch at a festival, I try and get a nice balance between researching my options in depth and leaving space for surprise. That balance was spot on with Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room (2015).
Having heard of Maddin but not seen any of his work, the promise of classic cinema homage was enough to get me through the door. What was not at all expected was that this would be one of the funniest films I had seen for a long time, the material delivered with a deliriously silly sense of humour. Right from the very old fashioned, flickering subtitles, The Forbidden Room screams its love and appreciation for both classic Hollywood and just classic storytelling more broadly. The constant riffs on, and invocation, of both B-movie genre cinema and silent film initially feel a little too much. But once you settle into it, stop trying to ascertain exactly what is going on and just embrace the ludicrousness of it all, you are in for a treat. The humour in the film comes out of the absurdity of these old fashioned forms of storytelling, the ridiculousness of genre convention and writing that results in the funniest intertitles you are ever likely to see.
Films that are as experimental as this in their construction and storytelling generally get tiresome, especially if they are over 90 minutes long. Despite the fact that it could have been a reasonable amount shorter, you never get restless throughout The Forbidden Room. The visuals are so bold, the homage so loving and the intertitles so hilarious that the viewer is constantly engaged. This is a totally different B-movie homage to any other. It examines these beloved old genres in detail. Toying with the exoticism of classic adventure tales and the schlocky imagery (exposed brains) of horror films, all whilst embracing and elevating the stylistic conceits of these genres. In addition to all that, there is a narrative to the film that it is possible to tease out, unlike much experimental cinema. It’s a silly one and a not very deep one, but it’s there nonetheless. And the freewheeling absurdity of the plot construction, a loving set of babushka dolls where silly little vignettes tumble out of each other, is one of the chief charms of the film.
Verdict: Plenty have found the experience of The Forbidden Room a taxing one. It wasn’t for me though, the film is far too silly, funny and wittily written for that. A hilarious cacophony of images. Pint of Kilkenny
May turned out to be a good month viewing wise. There were a couple of new releases I really liked, including some that were much better than anticipated. I also checked out some classics for the first time and broadly speaking, got a very pleasant surprise when I revisited the early Fast and the Furious titles. There was also plenty of The Stath. Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments below.
- Kumiko the Treasure Hunter (2014), David Zellner – I dug this film a lot and there is plenty to unpack. Kumiko is a top character to spend time with, an outsider or even just someone ill at ease with where they find themself. But here is a fearless adventurer who will do something about it. It’s a really good central performance from Rinko Kikuchi, never making the character feel more simplistic or complex than it should. It does lag a touch, especially in the second half. But it’s really not a plot driven film, so any issues on that front slide by fast. It’s works nicely as a film about film too – the way the fantasy of film can inspire and delude, often both at the same time.
- Safe (2012), Boaz Yakin – Ah, The Stath as a former cage-fighting cop. This is a deliriously silly film with a script as monumentally dumb as that premise would suggest. There’s a child The Stath ends up protecting, some Chinese gangsters, some Russian ones and some crooked cops. There are also gunfights, fistfights and car chases which is all fast paced and slickly shot. The Stath is really good and the film is much better when he’s onscreen. He can emote just enough to work well as an action star.
- Unfriended (2014), Levan Gabriadze – My expectations were low, but damn this is an effective little horror flick. It’s super short, but that’s a good thing, allowing the visual conceit of it all playing out on a skype call to be maintained. Taut filmmaking that doesn’t overstay its welcome, helped along by generally good performances. I found this genuinely terrifying and quite troubling too. I don’t think it’s making any grand statements about teens and social media. Rather, it’s using those issues as a fresh way to tell a teen horror narrative. One of the scariest films I’ve seen at the cinema in quite a while.
- Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), George Miller – Immediately more ambitious and artistic than the first film, though the canvas Miller is painting on is so much bigger it’s hard to compare the two. The car stunts that the series is so famous for step up big time here. Much of it is almost wordless and slow bordering on meditative, which wouldn’t work for a lot of action films. Mostly ones not spearheaded by George Miller. There were some aspects of it that didn’t quite work tonally for me. I’m thinking of the boy with the boomerang, some pretty campy stuff that has dated quite badly and a general lightness in tone. Despite thinking there are some moments in this beloved classic that are actually quite bad, it is still an exceptional film in one of action cinema’s greatest franchises.
- Spy (2015), Paul Feig – Hell of a lot of fun, as a spoof with a cast of McCarthy, Statham, Law, Byrne, Janney and more should be. Nails a couple of very funny set pieces. There is a great scooter chase and one of the better comedic fight scenes you’ll see takes place in a kitchen. Great to have a whole bunch of really good female characters too. McCarthy’s characters are getting a little samey. But she is a hilarious performer and this film is no exception.
- The Fast and the Furious (2001), Rob Cohen – Lol. It’s a film about a street-racing crew using their mad driving skills to steal DVD players. In comparison to the overblown hype the series has become, this feel is charmingly stripped back. It’s stereotype heavy (Japanese dude playing a playstation before the race), but it’s nothing too bad. The script is fun and action centric, quippy without trying too hard. I have become jaded by the later entries in the series. Can’t believe how fun a dumb little action flick this is. Even Vin Diesel is decent! And there is a real weight and stakes to it, so the film actually has some emotion.
- 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), John Singleton – A very cool reintroduction of Paul Walker’s Brian. A semi-mythical street-racer in need of cash. They cover the loss of basically the whole first cast well. Tyrese is a worthy addition and is funny whilst not being the total caricature his character has become. You still feel he’s a character with serious force despite the wisecracks. The old buddies dynamic between these two works quite well. This is a nicely stylised film in an action filmy way and it never looks fake even in the OTT racing sequences. Great set-up, with the characters being recruited by the FBI to bring in some baddies and have their past crimes erased. Overall, a good balance of fun moments and intensity.
- The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), Justin Lin – There’s some pretty frank stuff here. Rich kids getting off, poor kids being shipped off to Tokyo and father issues abounding. Bow Wow is actually a pretty charismatic dude. He should be in more. Similarly Lucas Black in the main part has a gritty charm and is a cool character. As is Han, and you can see how he went on to become a fan favourite. This is perhaps the strongest of the series storywise, though it falters a little with the overly computerised presentation of the driving scenes. Though it’s cool they’ve introduced drifting as a new driving style. There’s something nicely low-key about the narrative and it ends with a great set-up for the future films.
- Shield of Straw (2013), Takashi Miike – Miike seems to be increasingly moving away from his hyper-violent reputation. This kicks off with a simple crime/gangster film premise – family of a murdered child takes out an ad offering a massive reward for the murder of her killer. At times it lays it all on a little thick and it’s a touch repetitive. But the simplicity gets it through. The sassy female cop is a good character, a single mother looking for a promotion. It all plays out like a high concept horror film idea played as pretty serious crime procedural. There’s some cool action beats mixed in, some well shot gunfights and it’s all pretty well acted.
- Orange is the New Black Season 1 (2013), Jenji Kohan – An awesomely diverse cast – transgender, African American, Latino. Portrays a lot of narrow minded attitudes that pervade prison institutions and the ideology behind them. Uses flashbacks to dig deeper in a satisfying way about why these women committed the crimes they did. The story of Laverne Cox’s Sophia is especially affecting. Kohan’s shows seem to be characterised by having a heap of really strong characters and cool performances from little known people. The writing is whip smart, touching on a whole range of issues without ever losing narrative momentum. Taylor Schilling is really good in the lead role. Her character is not as strong as others, but she takes you on the emotional journey. There’s a fair bit of intense shit going on here. Prison’s a depressing fuckin place and even though there are some fun moments, the show never lets you forget that.
Not Worth Watching:
- Crank (2006), Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor – This is terrible, cheap and shoddy stuff. After a cool start, with The Stath waking up drugged to the teeth to a DVD saying “Fuck You” on it; this collapses in a heap. It looks appalling and like it was shot on a phone which doesn’t help. There is zero nous or craft to the butt dumb storytelling and it throws in some homophobia and an awful rape scene too which far outshines the moderately fun moments, which you could count on one hand.
- Fast & Furious (2009), Justin Lin – Seriously, WTF is with the naming conventions in this series. It’s immediately apparent from the very first truck sequence where CGI predominates, that this is going to be different. And by different I mean worse. Looks like a PS1 game. It all feels a little misjudged too. The Han timelines don’t make much sense and a major character (who is in the film) just happens to be killed off onscreen and we are informed by someone getting a phone call… electric storytelling that. This is where the series starts trending down, and all the hallmarks of the later films are here – appalling script, cheap looking, noticeable product placement, big, glossy and dumb.
If you only have time to watch one Orange is the New Black Season 1
Avoid at all costs Crank
I’ve been working on my Worth Watching May edition, where I was originally intending to share my thoughts on Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). But I couldn’t contain my gushing to acceptable lengths. So here is a ‘short long’ review of Miller’s crackerjack film.
What a great fuckin movie Mad Max: Fury Road is. Such a radical departure from basically everything else, it’s a little hard to talk about. Almost plotless, yet with great stakes, speaking to the quality of the writing. It dispenses with exposition almost entirely and manages to tell everything it needs through action. It’s a rip roaringly feminist ride and fearless about showing the human body in all its forms, which is definitely something to be celebrated. Miller is clearly an artist unwilling to compromise and man it shows. The downside is that he does not make anywhere near enough films. The upside is that when he does, they turn out like this.
Basically everything is pitch perfect, especially stylistically. The film looks amazing, but also original. It’s not Hollywood sheen, it’s Miller doing whatever the fuck he wants and it looking like some apocalyptic comic book splash page dreamscape. There’s still the practical effects bite. But CGI is blended in seamlessly and elevates the breakneck action. This allows stunts that could never be pulled off safely in practical terms to make it onscreen, without ever falling into the Fast and the Furious trap of veering into sheer silly impossibility. That willingness to embrace technology whilst still recognising the benefits that these films have always garnered from the crushing physicality of practical effects is one choice that a lot of directors would not have been able to make. And it is perhaps the most important one to the success of the film. Theron’s Imperator Furiosa and Hoult’s Nux characters are ones for the ages and it’s the former that drives the plot, setting the events in motion. She is a character that little girls will want to be. At least once they are allowed to see the film. Hardy’s Max is works well as an almost wordless foil to her leadership.
Verdict: You have already seen this right? Miller has returned to the series after all these years and made a better film than any of the others. More please. Longneck of Melbourne Bitter