August turned out to be another fairly busy month on the film front. Patchy though, there were a lot of films I did not dig this month. 2015 releases were the focus, running the gamut from perhaps the best big budget film of the year so far, to more stuffy dramatic dross in a year that has seen its fair share. Be sure to share some thoughts in the comments section below. Also, this is a very late worth watching entry. Training for my first half marathon and getting ready for the impending arrival of my first child, has taken up plenty of my time (both delightful pursuits).
- Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (2015), David Wain & Michael Showalter – What an idiotic delight. Love how some of them are clearly older, but they stick with the pretence that this is a prequel. There is something so endearing about seeing Josh Charles rocking three popped collars, and the show as a whole actually. They did so well to get this cast back together, many are huge names now. New additions such as Michael Cera and Chris Pine revel in the silliness as well. Bradley Cooper is having a great time yucking it up. Utterly, deliriously joyful.
- The Big Lebowski (1998), The Coen Brothers – I don’t quite see the hype on this one, but I’m also not the hugest Coen Brothers fan in general. The astutely written script is very wordy, but also very funny with some eccentric storytelling. The performances, especially from Goodman, Bridges and Buscemi are really excellent. There is a quite formal construction to the narrative underneath the silliness. For all the clever wordiness, it was actually the more slapsticky moments that stood out a little for me.
- Girlhood (2014), Celine Sciamma – So refreshing to see a film set far outside the world of what we usually see onscreen. The film is at its best in its refusal to embrace the orthodoxy of what we expect from characters. The central character of Marieme is one of the most complex I have seen in a while. Film does not always flow as well as it could have, and it does feel like there were too many endings. In fact the main story seems to finish like 40 minutes from the end and the rest feels a little tacked on. But it’s great as a portrait of sisterhood and just a little lesser when it moves on from that.
- Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015), Christopher McQuarrie – I’ve never really warmed to this series at all. But this is my kinda spy film. It’s serious, but doesn’t take itself too seriously. There is nothing too revolutionary, but it borrows happily from the best of the genre. Really just a succession of very good set pieces strung together, some of which (the underwater one, Cruise hangin off a plane) will live long in the memory. And then it ends on a boldly ‘small’ feeling note that feels so original in an era of huge samey climaxes. Simon Pegg’s presence works better here than in past films, whilst Rebecca Ferguson is the clear star.
- The Gift (2015), Joel Edgerton – Almost an unbearably tense film. At times plays like a horror flick, mostly a good thing, though I could have done without the jump scares. It’s a little wordy and slow to get going. Bateman is excellent, especially in the second half. This is probably his strongest dramatic performance. Edgerton has done very good work here. In his debut, the directing is serviceable, but the writing is excellent and responsible for a large part of the tension. Perhaps his best performance too. His character Gordo the Weirdo is difficult to pin down thanks to his performance and it makes the film. Love the old school thriller vibe to the sountrack, which heightens the genre elements.
- Sawdust and Tinsel (1953), Ingmar Bergman – Damn pretty. The framing and shot composition. Interesting tone, both absurd or heightened, but also grounded on a very strong emotional basis. A story of how theatre folk look down on circus folk. It’s an interesting Bergman entry rather than an all together essential one. Dreams, flashbacks and fantasies are all weaved in with the main narrative. At times a tough watch. Bergman not afraid to denigrate these characters in pretty blunt ways.
- The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (2014), Tom Harper – Does a good job, through sound and set design, of situating the story in WWII. Which is a great setting for a horror flick. Doesn’t just feel like window dressing either, but influences the narrative. There’s a reason big scary houses, lamps and staircases are horror staples and they all frighten here. Cool to see a female lead and Phoebe Fox is fine in the role, but her character lacks the magnetism of Daniel Radcliffe who really elevated the first. It certainly lacks some of the filmmaking polish and storytelling clarity of the first too. But the film gets by on its iconography.
- Last Cab to Darwin (2015), Jeremy Sims – Really excellent. Not sure why this has not gotten more love. The ‘road to death ‘ plot is conventional, but the relationships eschew convention and any shred of tweeness. Euthanasia angle is handled well for the most part. But it’s the relationships and commentary on Aussie identity that are where the film totally excels. Michael Caton has never been better, whilst Mark Coles Smith and Ningali Lawford are also really great. I don’t usually go in for guitar driven scores, but Ed Kuepper does an incredible job here.
- Friday Night Lights Season 5 (2010), Peter Berg – It’s not a good or a bad thing. But this season feels like more of the same. And a little like a show winding down. Expands the circle of characters well. Gives some decent plotlines to secondary characters too – Mindy has some great moments for example. Fells like a mad scramble to wrap up all the story threads. Once again they sorta fumble the state final too. Montage doesn’t deliver and again it looks really glossy. The very ending is a winner though, and satisfies as a close to what came before.
Not Worth Watching
- Begin Again (2013), John Carney – The man behind Once (2006) delivers a film far inferior to There is a decided lack of spark here, despite the cast. Feels very twee, Ruffalo’s early epiphany where he hears music in his head and a laborious shared iPod jaunt around London the some of the worst examples. Occasional flash of life from the script but it is very occasional. The relationships are all basically a cliché. Adam Levine surprisingly impresses on the acting front and his singing stands out. There are some rich ideas, but they are drowned in interminable the setups to get to each good idea. Then they skip over a lot of the best parts in a fucking montage. Dross.
- Project Almanac (2015), Dean Israelite – So hard for a found footage film not to feel contrived. This fails. Boring start, film doesn’t seem to bother trying to hook you. The jargon heavy script is uber dumb, confusing dudes just screaming ‘SCIENCE WORD, SCIENCE WORD’ for intelligence and world-building. The plot is illogical, weighed down by a lack of stakes and so much expository dialogue. Slapdash storytelling feels like an afterthought whilst they don’t bother at all with creating characters for you to care about. I kept waiting for the tension to ramp up but… nope.
- The Man From U.N.C.L.E (2015), Guy Ritchie – Much less fun than it should be, thanks mainly to a really flat feeling plot. Uninteresting characters, despite decent performances especially from Cavill and Vikander. The fact that more character development takes place in the closing credits than the rest of the film gives you a hint as to the issues. The dilution of Guy Ritchie’s style is continuing too, with nothing really telling you the film is one of his. No personal touch. As an accompaniment to action, the score is a high point though, heightening the proceedings in a very classical way. Feels like a lot of potential not realised basically.
- Home (2015), Tim Johnson – I think Dreamworks animation films are often underrated. Not this one though. The made up kiddie language of the alien Boos is annoying beyond imagination. After 90 odd minutes, it renders the film essentially unwatchab;e. The humour is tired – we have seen far better variations on an alien trying to eat CDs or brush teeth in the toilet. Though let the record show I did get a laugh out of how the world is imperilled by someone accidentally hitting ‘reply-all’. Aside from that, this is really dumb stuff. I want to punch this movie in the face.
- The Imitation Game (2014), Morten Tyldum – Tis the year of stuffy, mind-numbing British based biopics. This never quite reaches the ‘heights’ of The Theory of Everything (2014) but is a dirge nonetheless. Starts clunkily with an arrest, an allegation that “Alan Turing has something to hide” and then flashbacks. Cumberbatch is good, and others are decent. But they cannot overcome bland writing, including a succession of attempted twist style reveals that land with a thud whilst the story is told simplistically and in a totally uninteresting way. The explanation of anything complex is so dumbed down, they shouldn’t have bothered. It’s twee crap really, which is unfortunate given how exceptional the true story it is based on is. Everything impactful comes from the real-life history, not the filmmaking which totally fails to convey Turing’s genius.
- Dope (2015), Rick Famuyiwa – Most of this just felt like hipster artifice to me, that obscured some kinda cool stuff. The film only shows heart for a few fleeting moments and they are the best parts. The rest is just silly nothingness with a ‘too cool for school’ artifice about it. There are a couple of great moments – a white dude lamenting he can’t use the N bomb and the main character’s socially conscious Harvard essay. Those moments are actually about something. Film is also guilty of massively wasting Zoe Kraits. She totally shines but goes missing for a good hour or so. A stupid decision.
- Fantastic Four (2015), Josh Trank – Incredible to believe this is as bad as the hype. But from the awfully acted kiddie beginning to a conclusion that feels like an ep of the Power Rangers, this is one of the worst comic book films ever. And there have been some shockers. Not sure where the talk of the first half being decent came from. It’s equally as bad as the second. Though the whole conclusion feels awfully rushed. Storytelling map feels really off balanced. Some mildly ok performances from really talented actors Teller, Mara and Michael B. Jordan. But they are massively hamstrung by the writing, especially the latter who lands the worst of the lines. Y’know, perhaps this is a property ill-suited to film.
If you only have time to watch one Last Cab to Darwin
Avoid at all costs Home
You may have noticed my reviews of the Friday the 13th films stopped rather abruptly. I thought this was a couple of months ago, but was shocked that it has been 12 months. Basically, I was struggling to get my hands on a copy of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993). Luckily for me it reappeared on DVD here not so long ago and I was able to snaffle a copy. This was especially lucky, because this is a cracking slasher entry and continues the strange theme of the later entries in this series generally exceeding the earlier ones.
Right from the start Jason Goes to Hell is a much creepier effort than the rest of the series. The isolated atmosphere is really well done in the prologue style opening, blown light bulbs shading a frightening return to Crystal Lake. The culmination of this prologue is a smile inducing early twist that sets the plot off in a unique direction for the franchise, though it is reminiscent of Shocker (1989) and perhaps one of the Nightmare on Elm Street sequels (but I can’t recall which one). Changing of mythology in a series can really rub people up the wrong way and that has often been the case for me. But this change to the Jason formula felt like a real regeneration. All of the initial set-up is great, moving from Crystal Lake to an autopsy scene that changes up the rhythm you would expect from a slasher, with a literal black heart beating strong. The narrative approach, diverging more than you would expect from the slasher formula, is one of the chief joys of the film. There is some nice reflective ideas, a current affairs program reporting on Jason’s murders, without ever going into over the top meta territory.
One of my major criticisms of this franchise is that the films are not particularly frightening. But this is easily the scariest of the lot. There is far more tension here than any of the other films, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that Jason as we know him featuring less prominently. That lends an unpredictability to the action and narrative that is thankfully not overused by the plot. Tension also comes from the quality of the writing, especially of the characters, which is better than average. We care about these characters more than in most of these films and as a result, care a lot more about what happens to them. None of these films are overly stylish, but Jason Goes to Hell looks and feels better than most of them. There is a charming quality to most of the style, with funky looking camera movements and unnerving angles used, whilst the soundtrack joins Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (1986) as one of the best in the franchise. It is used really well too, foreboding tunes setting up the atmosphere initially and helping enhance the many scares.
Verdict: Jason Goes to Hell is the scariest film in this iconic series, and one of the best too. The narrative conceit feels original, boldly giving us less of ‘Jason’ as we perceive him, but making the story beats feel different to what have come before. And if you don’t know of the final scene in this film, then whatever you do go in cold – it’s a cracker and I wish I didn’t know what was coming. Stubby of Reschs
- Friday the 13th Part VII
- Jason Goes to Hell
- Friday the 13th Part 2
- Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI
- Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
- Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
- Friday the 13th
- Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning
- Friday the 13th Part III
Having a debut film play both Sydney and Melbourne film festivals, as Gayby Baby (2015) did this year, is an impressive feat and bound to generate a bit of buzz. However an ugly media storm around the film being played in schools, leading to a cowardly NSW Government decision to ban it, means that the current limited theatrical release of the film has a lot more buzz behind it than it would have otherwise.
For those international readers not aware, essentially a number of schools had planned to show the film as part of Wear it Purple day. A day designed to acknowledge LGBTI youth, particularly important given the rates of suicide amongst those people. The Daily Telegraph, the main right wing tabloid, found out and went about doing some hatemongering. The peak of this was Piers Ackerman, known to some as Jabba the Hut, bleating about how one of the 11 year old participants was not “normal”. Classy. The conservative liberal state government stepped in, did the bidding of the Telegraph and banned the film. With such horrid pervasive attitudes the norm and endorsed at a government level, it is little wonder that LGBTI suicide rates remain high.
Part of the stated objectives of the filmmakers is to illustrate that people in same sex relationships having kids, has nothing to do with the current swirling and idiotic debate around same sex marriage. Conservative Australian politicians such as Eric Abetz and *shudder* Cory Bernardi constantly raise the point that a child should have a mother and a father during debates on marriage equality. But the simple fact of the matter is that there are a number of avenues for gay couples to have children in Australia, through adoption, “spam” donors (as one of the kids in the film puts it), foster care and other ways. The film begins with images of ‘traditional’ families with statements from some of these bigoted politicians. The film simply focuses in on four different kids with same sex parents. The only way in which the film can be considered political, is if you feel those in same sex relationships having kids is fundamentally political. Otherwise, these are normal kids, each bravely facing up to unique challenges. Whether it be the pressure to perform to get into a performing arts school, the struggle of overcoming learning difficulties, agonising over one’s faith or learning to reconcile a passion for pro-wrestling with the real world (I still struggle with this last one). These kids are simultaneously as normal, and incredible, as other kids. The film also plainly shows the incredible job done by these parents, often stepping in where others had previously fallen away to provide the love, support and nurture required.
Stylistically, director Maya Newell chooses not to insert herself into proceedings at any point, even though as a 27 year old product of a same-sex relationship, she would have undoubtedly brought a great perspective to it. Instead, the children really do get the chance to speak for themselves, conveying four diverse stories. They are great characters, some of them with intelligence and deep thought beyond their years, others with a habit of cracking up the large audience I saw the film with. The approach taken by the film is a smart one. Rather than trying to tell the entire story of the kids or their families, it hones in on one aspect of their personality or one challenge they are currently attempting to overcome. That makes the film more thought provoking too I think. Showing the commitment of one kid’s parents as they attempt to overcome the horrible learning situation he faced in his first 5 years before coming into their care. Or another kid confronting a priest about why he considers his mum (a parishioner) a sin in the eyes of God. These situations will make you recall similar ones from your own life. The main takeaway for me had nothing to do with the fact these kids had same-sex parents. Rather, as a prospective parent the film made me ponder pretty deeply about how difficult it will be to protect and guide my son in the pressures of this world. I can only imagine what it would be like if he had to read that he was ‘abnormal’ in one of the widest read newspapers in the country. Shameful.
Verdict: By presenting four unique stories, Gayby Baby ensures that there will be something you connect with personally in the film. Rather than a thesis or idea being rammed down people’s throats with the film, there is a beauty and normality to it. Or perhaps a beauty in the normality. Showing that these kids face many of the same issues that all others face. And hopefully one day soon they will be the only ones they face. Pint of Kilkenny
Holding the Man (2015) is an Australian drama based on the true story of Timothy Conigrave and his long-term partner John Caleo. The story previously reached the stage in a play written by Conigrave himself, and here it is Neil Armfield of Candy (2006) fame bringing it to the big screen.
The film takes place 70s and 80s Melbourne and Sydney. Needless to say attitudes toward homosexual relationships have changed a great deal in that time. Holding the Man succeeds on some levels at bringing that out, but also falls short on a few key parts of it. The film is quite slow to get going and the pace of the narrative is laborious throughout unfortunately. It struggles to establish a sense of place, the school environment for young gay men never feeling fleshed out or explained. Conigrave and Caleo’s connection and love story is the major strength of the film early on. But just when this is being established really well, the story jumps ahead a decade or so. This calls to attention the major issue with the film’s structure, namely the time-shifts. In a film covering a timeframe as long as this, it is inevitable that they will be required but they don’t work. The initial jump strips away a lot of the power in the love story, which to that point was the best part of the film. There is too much time between the shifts, so you forget if the story has gone forward or back, leaving the viewer (well this viewer), confused. The aspects of the film played with a lighter touch play well. It’s cool to see a funny gay sex scene, where there is not a need to portray it as overtly sexy or serious, whilst the fun times with the university gay rights advocacy group channel the joyful spirit of Pride (2014) for a time.
As well as being a love story, the film also presents the devastating impact of AIDS during this time period. We see this in the connection between Timothy and John, how this evolves as the disease plays a greater role in their lives, but also more broadly, in the depiction of other men with the disease and the hospitals they spend their final weeks. The portrayal of the disease, and its bearing on the men that contract it, is truly crushing. Although it’s a minor part of the film, it is inspirational to see the doctors and social workers, working on the frontline of AIDS services back in the day. At other times though, the film struggles to find the tenderness and emotion that should be so plain. Eventually the film lands that with its finale, but moments throughout the film like the wedding dance between Conigrave and his dad, played by Guy Pearce, which is tender and gets to the heart of the story, are far too rare. If there is one overwhelming reason to see Holding the Man, it is the performance of Ryan Corr. Initially, he does a great job of establishing the world of the film. He is an awkward teenager, seemingly comfortable in his sexuality, though not so much in life more generally (like 95% of teens I guess). There is a mixture of confidence and insecurity in Conigrave and Corr is able to draw both of those aspects out and occasionally combine them in a really impressive way. Aside from some slightly dusty turns in minor roles, the cast is excellent overall. It is so good to see Anthony Lapaglia doing his thing. The dude has gravitas and we don’t see him in enough. Sarah Snook and Guy Pearce are both excellent, as they pretty much are in everything, though both of their characters are very minor in terms of screen time.
Verdict: Even though it’s not really a story that has been told a lot, Holding the Man often feels pretty tired in its telling. However the performance from Ryan Corr is borderline transcendent and worth the price of admission alone, not to mention that the film is legitimately affecting when it manages to eventually find the heart of the story. Stubby of Reschs
“If they kill innocent children and call them al Qaeda,
then we are all al Qaeda.
If children are terrorists,
then we are all terrorists.”
The above is spoken by a Yemeni man, who arrived at the scene of a U.S. drone strike, and it encapsulates much of what makes the Rick Rowley directed, Jeremy Scahill driven Dirty Wars (2013) such an important film. It is a film that Scahill remarks at the beginning is “about the seen, and the unseen”. But most of what it is doing is bringing the unseen to the light where it should be viewed.
Dirty Wars focuses on how the U.S. led ‘War on Terror’ has spiralled out of control, into a worldwide style war. A war that America wages on many fronts, in many different countries. But war has not been declared in a vast majority of them. The film really sheds a light on the clinical coldness of American operations and the overwhelming secrecy in which they are allowed to be carried out. Aspects of the war that on the surface are so surreal they must be conspiracy theories – Obama calling the Yemeni President to ensure a journalist stays imprisoned – are easily shown to be true by Rowley and Scahill. Through some really horrific personal stories, the filmmakers very simply outline the horrors being perpetuated in the ongoing American War on Terror. They talk to people, initially at one site in Afghanistan far from Kabul, where the media rarely roams. The film picks the thread of this secretive American raid with a number of innocent victims, until the whole larger story falls wide open. This is the approach that the film takes in a number of different countries, gaining personal stories into the wrongheadedness of American undertakings.
Scahill’s voiceover is pretty much ever-present and gets the balance right between providing a lot of information, without having it feel like a uni lecture. At times, the imagery onscreen is exceptionally confronting, we see dead children, the acceptable ‘collateral’ damage that the war is bringing. The filmmaking duo, combine to invoke a Michael Moore style approach in some ways, though without a lot of his gimmickry and histrionics (note: I love Michael Moore and his films). But the incendiary passion and determination is there. Rowley is unseen, guiding the film from behind the camera. He leaves the in front of camera work to the charismatic Scahill. Together, the two of them shine a harsh, often embarrassing light on the inadequacy of the American military approach – see for example the commander who can’t be bothered to learn how to pronounce the name of the tribe he is working with on a daily basis. Or the manner in which Scahill is totally fobbed off when he presents damning evidence to congress. Scahill is a great frontman for the material – captivating without ever threatening to overwhelm the material. It is not the most cinematic doco you will ever see. The editing is pretty good, but at times there is a struggle weave together the great info. To find interesting images to match the exceptional story being told through the voiceover. So we are occasionally left with pretty contrived imagery, poignant close-ups of nothing in particular, while Scahill lays down some truths.
Verdict: Jeremy Scahill is a fuckin brave badass, and the film kind of reflects that. It may not be all that cinematic. But it is informative, challenging and a ‘call to arms’ of sorts. Just not the sort depicted repeatedly in this film. Pint of Kilkenny