The Wolfpack (2015) has a documentary pitch to make film buffs swoon – a group of brothers are essentially locked away by their father in a New York apartment, with only a massive movie collection to expose them to the outside world. Sounds like some whimsical documentary fun right… not exactly.
At its heart this is an absurd story, but also a very sad and confronting one. And director Crystal Moselle does not shy away from those confronting aspects. The film focuses on six brothers, who for a vast majority of their lives have been kept inside their New York apartment only allowed out a handful of times a year, if at all. There are moments that highlight the power of cinema, one brother remarks on cinema that “it makes me feel like I’m living… magical.” But the film refuses to be twee on that front. Rather than craft a trite narrative about the transformative power of the medium we all love so much, The Wolfpack shows that even that cannot overcome the brutal experience of being trapped in a controlling situation of domestic control. This is less real-life Be Kind Rewind (2008), more story of horrific domestic abuse and overwhelming control. The experience of these young men (and their barely mentioned special needs sister) is quite confronting, ruled by an iron-fisted, most likely mentally ill, patriarch. By the time the film is made, the boys have come to regard their father with contempt, repeatedly expressing their incisively negative viewpoint of him. Though their mother is still pretty enamoured with him and this contrasting of attitudes functions as a comment on domestic abuse to be pondered by the viewer. As does the impact this upbringing has had on the brothers, as they attempt to reach out into the world, but are hamstrung by their past. One of them eloquently expresses the universal fear of being so ignorant of aspects of the world that he will not be able to handle it. It’s universal, but obviously of much greater concern for him than most of us.
However for all its positive qualities in terms of theme, The Wolfpack is a bit of a mess really. There is a struggle to lay out the narrative of the film at all clearly. Perhaps caught in two minds between the crowd-pleasing positive impacts that a love of film has given these brothers, with the reality of their situation, it does not entirely succeed at delivering either coherently. Surprisingly I found the power of cinema focused aspects to be the least interesting, with the more troubling domestic aspects being much more interesting. It is a little frustrating to see interesting roads the film could have taken hinted out but then not taken – the mother’s story is the most interesting but not a focus and the connection between the movies the boys watch and the course of their life could have also been expanded upon.
Verdict: The Wolfpack is a different film to what the synopsis would suggest, both more confronting and less assured than anticipated. Unfortunately, though there is a lot of power captured in this film, it is not captured in a clean, clear way. Stubby of Reschs
If you’re on the internet, which you probably are, you are most likely aware of the storm brewing around Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). The film is being widely derided, whilst fanboys are making utter fools of themselves as they spread hilarious conspiracy theories that Marvel are paying off critics to trash the film. Frankly this is a movie which is neither good enough nor bad enough to be receiving that much attention.
It is worth noting that Batman and Superman don’t directly do battle til a long ways into the film. Until then the action is quite siloed with the Supes side of things (Clarke Kent, Lois, the Daily Planet, Lex Luthor) rarely interacting with the Batman side of things (Bruce Wayne and Alfred). That siloed construction certainly shows. The writing of these two large elements feels totally separate, and one of them (the Batman side) is realised a lot more successfully than the other (the Superman side). The film does a decent, if simplistic, job of establishing Bruce Wayne’s emotional involvement in the events of Man of Steel (2013), though this perhaps does not influence the story throughout as much as it could have. This new Batman is effective enough overall. Whilst there is nothing truly new about how the character is written or presented, I do like the mythical ‘caped crusader’ dimension to him as the film begins. And the dynamic between Affleck and Jeremy Irons, as Bruce/Batman and Alfred is better performed and written than anything on the Superman side.
On that front, the narrative for Superman and Lois just does not sit right. It feels like we are just joining at a random, arbitrary point, with no arc being created or explored. The attempts to bring a political/geopolitical aspect to the story through this narrative are also daft and really add no depth thematically, or interest story wise. On an emotional level, the dynamic of Clark being Superman and also being with Lois is really badly and flippantly written. There should have been some emotional weight to be explored. But instead there is one moment of tension and then Clark hops in the bath with all his clothes on to solve it or some shit. Tellingly, for me at least, the strongest period of the film is the last third when these silos break down. Aside from the parts involving Lex Luthor, the story builds nicely to the finale in an exciting way. The big eventual battle between the two leads features some cool imagery and the fight tells a good story through action, something that is not a strong suit of the film as a whole. Plus they commit for the most part to a ballsy conclusion, though one which is ever so-slightly undermined when you consider a particular story beat earlier in the film.
My major concern with the film going in was the Dawn of Justice subtitle, fearing this would be a half-baked pseudo Justice League film. Thankfully I think they get this right. Wonder Woman is the only character introduced in the film in any real detail and she is the best part of the entire flick. Gal Gadot slays in this movie. She looks the part and the character is written with the perfect amount of sass that thankfully never reaches the point of feeling over-contrived. Plus the simple hyping of the stand-alone film through a single photograph is a really clever way to do it and has me rather excited.
Along with the scattershot storytelling, another major letdown with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is that it does not look particularly good. The effects range from the passable to distractingly bad. Whilst there is little flair in the costuming or design of the piece. I have already forgotten what the Batmobile particularly looked like, whilst the suit Affleck wears for most of the film is similarly forgettable. Though the bulked up helmeted version he wears into the final battle is at least a little unique. The lack of design originality unfortunately extends to a late villain as well who looks exactly like an orc. On the score front, there could not be a more zeitgeisty crew on duty than Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, but they deliver a pretty disappointing effort. There are some good musical moments late on, but so much of the first half score is overbearing and annoyingly soaring.
The performances are solid throughout. Gal Gadot is the real standout as Wonder Woman, owning that role in a way that many may have not predicted. The other main leads are good too, Affleck succeeds in the thankless place of being a new Batman too close to an iconic one. Amy Adams is good too whilst Henry Cavill is decent, getting by on the fact that damn he looks so much like Superman aye. But oh lordy, Jesse Eisenberg is beyond terrible as Lex Luthor. Obviously that is not all on him. Someone told him to deliver the performance in that manner and the character is written as a wholly unsympathetic brattish, entitled Daddy’s boy. Not to mention the speeches about the nature of God etc that are just beyond tired. But part of the blame rests with the actor and his annoying riffing on Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Verdict: Batman vs Superman Dawn of Justice is a case of the good, the bad and the Luthor. Some elements are excellent (everything Batman and especially Wonder Woman), some are bad (the Superman elements) and then there is the downright ugly (Eisenberg’s performance as Lex Luthor mainly). Generally I would not delineate elements of a film so much. But they are that disparate in the film and it is when they cohere that the film is at its best. Stubby of Reschs
In the current online film commentary culture, there is no more prevailing influence on fandom than the Star Wars franchise. Even more particularly is the undying love and borderline obsession many writers have with Star Wars Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Which is quite strange given the film is not very good and a totally pale imitation of Star Wars (1977).
One of the major issues with the film is on the story front. Whereas the first film was a reimagining of classic story structures infused with the occasional dash of originality, this film, especially early, is large part interminable love story. The soapie style dialogue and Leia/Han shenanigans clunk badly, mainly because they are drearily written with no spark whatsoever. Not to mention that this is all part of love-triangle predicated on a premise I’m not sure can ever hold up on re-watch once you are aware of all the revelations that the trilogy contains. It is made to feel even worse because it is contrasted with the friendship between Luke and Han that is fully established and expressed in a way by the two characters that actually feels genuine. So the human stuff is meh for the most part. The saving grace though is the development of Vader as the villain at the heart of these films. Here he continues to establish himself as a legitimately evil, throat constricting dude. Not to mention we get to glimpse him under the helmet for the first time which is totally badass. The story does pick up a little once the main parties split, with Luke pursuing training with Yoda whilst Han and Leia do their own thing. In part this is merely based on the fact that the love triangle elements are relegated so we do not have to endure the worst elements of the dialogue. It’s a shame that overall the story is not quite there, because there are some really interesting psychological aspects to what is going on, especially in Luke’s relationship with the dark side.
The film also makes plain some issues that were hinted at in the first film, perhaps due to the fact this one does not have the same simple, yet forceful narrative structure to get by on. There is no real depth to the world building which is glaring here. It’s simply just the odd cool creature or a different landscape. A procession of worlds with surface level quirks essentially, no mythos underlying that. The ship design holds up better, perhaps because we are really just after stuff that looks rad rather than anything deeper. The design relies on riffing on both classic sci-fi ideas and expanding on what we saw in the first film. That said, the combat does not have the same weight as that in the first film. It is especially hurt by an over-computerised sheen (though as with all things Star Wars, who knows if it looked that bad in the original release). Plus there is a severe lack of good set pieces in this movie, which overall lacks in the cool action stakes. The music is still totally brilliant though and it helps to make the best moments of the film pop. Think the tune that heralds Vader’s arrival every time, a conceit that could have gone totally wrong, but thankfully enhances that character’s presence greatly.
Verdict: The Empire Strikes Back is not all bad, but frankly a fair amount of it is. And given its current reputation it’s frankly hard not to consider this one of the most overrated films of all time. The film sorely misses the classicism and especially clarity of the first film’s storytelling. And it’s a bummer, because this film contains one of cinema’s all-time iconic moments. But unfortunately it just exists in a not very good flick. Schooner of Carlton Draught
February was a rare perfect month for me, including a pretty wide variety of new releases and some older films too. Carol was the standout and I can’t imagine it not being on my top 10 of the year when I come to write it. Everything else, whilst good, totally pales in comparison.
- Goosebumps (2015), Rob Letterman – I used to devour these books as a kid and this captures the spirit of them pretty well. It takes too long to get into it and the male protagonist is the blandest character in the film. But once it gets going it’s a pretty creepy load of meta-fun helped by effects that suit the film perfectly. The character of R.L. Stine inserted into the film is a pretty inspired way into the adaptation, even if Jack Black never entirely lands that performance. It’s Odeya Rush in the female lead who gives the standout turn. A throwback to when they still made good family adventure films in the 90’s.
- Inside Man (2006), Spike Lee – All the technical elements are here. A really well written heist film that is snappily shot, full of cool angles and cuts. Not to mention how good the cast is. A young Chiwetel Ejiofor sizzles alongside Denzel, Jodie Foster, Clive Owen etc etc etc. But the toying with structure detracts a little from the intrigue of the narrative. Overall it descends a little into standard bank robber territory, in part cause the experimental flourishes don’t work so well. But even as a standard genre flick, it’s an above average, exceptionally acted one.
- Jack Irish: Dead Point (2014), Jeffrey Walker – As far as crime on TV goes, these telemovies are pretty slick. Irish is a good character well brought to life by Guy Pearce. The writing helps. Balancing him being just the right of down on his luck with clear, believable motivations. It’s well shot and makes especially good use of the Melbourne locations. And of course Aaron Pederson is the absolute best. So watchable.
- 1971 (2014), Johanna Hamilton – Knew nothing about this doco going in. Chronicles a radical group’s file theft from a small FBI office through the words of those involve. Concerned with govt surveillance and shows how nothing has really changed. Great historical document of very ordinary folks disrupting the Vietnam War. Also shows the pretty seismic historical actions their actions set off. The presentation is a touch flat but the passion of those involved shines through.
- Carol (2015), Todd Haynes – A love story captured so perfectly, in a wholly unmanufactured way. Exquisitely shot on 16mm, the grain perfectly suiting the film and the photo-like composition. Performances are all wonderful. Chandler is good in a tough role, but Blanchett and Mara could not be better. Love is so hard to capture onscreen cause it’s intangible, hard to pin down. But somehow this quite simple film does just that. A familiarity to how their love grows. The film travels along and then all of a sudden by they end you’re utterly invested. Sorta perfect.
- Deadpool (2016), Tim Miller – It’s not revolutionary, but at least it’s a comic book film that feels a little different. Plus I laughed a whole heap at the idiocy of it. A good use of Reynolds charm and talents. It’s a nothing story but it looks decent and the leads are all good too. The little team-up is played for fun, rather than as yearning for shared universe potential. Is cool to see a legit hard R, stylistically fuckin violent comic book film.
- American Mary (2012), The Soska Sisters – A pretty provocative title when you think about it. The film succeeds in large part because of the cool aesthetic – grimy underground surgery table, stark costuming. It’s hard to buy Mary’s initial casual jumping into body-modification surgery for a quick buck. Not so much the later jump where the film veers into rape-revenge territory. It’s a tough watch. Visceral. Perhaps too much so, as that element finds it hard to ponder the interesting ideas. Katherine Isabelle is great in this with realistic charm and bravado.
- The Intern (2015), Nancy Meyers – This is slow to get going. De Niro, whilst seemingly more engaged than usual, does not go down smooth as a blundering old dude. Whilst the business-speak laden early scenes with Hathaway are awkward. But as soon as those two get together everything pops a little more. It’s a gentle film, with a pretty patchy script that rocks a range of tones and some surprisingly crass moments. But the leads have a great, totally platonic chemistry between the two of them and their patter shines. There’s’ some good gender stuff too.
- Seventh Son (2014), Sergey Bodrov – Has a real 80s throwback vibe. More of a rollicking adventure film than a fantasy one. Looks kind of decent when they are not bothering with crappy CGI. A great cast bringing the awesome silliness. Awfully plotted, though in an endearingly bad way. Much like Jeff Bridges’ on-point quip game.
- Obvious Child (2014), Gillian Robespierre – Jenny Slate is awesome. She is really good at the emotional stuff and at conveying that late 20’s point in life. Not a huge amount of substance to the film. But it’s really well acted and good supports help to maintain the tone. Not really the ‘abortion rom-com’ as advertised, rather it makes a couple of nice, very valid points but aside from that it’s just part of the story. Endearing.
If you only have time to watch one Carol
If you only have time to watch two Obvious Child