The opening night film of the recent Melbourne International Film festival was the Spierig Brothers’ Predestination (2014). For such a massive festival, it is great to see a home grown genre flick getting the honour of being the first film up. Whilst it is not quite perfect, you can definitely see why the organisers thought that this film would be a great conversation starter to get things going.
Hybrid genre pictures are growing in popularity recently and the early stages of Predestination, combining sci-fi and crime elements, is a really good example of the form. There is an arch voiceover, time travel and a sense of classical crime fiction with the lone cop, gradually edging closer to the crime as he works the clues and chases down leads. It takes place (for the most part) in a 70s New York that feels more like the 50s with a hardboiled feel dripping from the dialogue. Then all of a sudden there is a shift in the film as the action slows and a bar conversation flashback takes up a really lengthy period of time. I would say a good half an hour which is a lot in a taut film like this one. Initially I was a little perturbed by this. I was enjoying the sci-fi crime jazz so much and I didn’t sign up for a drama, even though it is pretty compelling. But like many bold choices, I think it just takes a little bit of time to acclimatise to the unexpected shift. Indeed I think the decision makes the film a stronger one and if not that, it definitely makes it a more interesting and compelling one. Even so, whilst watching the film I was missing the time travel fantasticalness that I thought I was buying a ticket for. Don’t fret though because it comes thick and fast in the last section of the film. I am not going to pretend I entirely understood of the plot turns and ramifications. I think it would be really tough for anyone to pick them up first time through. But I actually don’t see it as a bad thing to be challenged in that way and I would happily watch the film again soon to try and pick up what I missed.
The big name on the cast list, returning for his second film with the brother directorial team after Daybreakers (2009) is Ethan Hawke. Over the past five years or so, Hawke has had a filmography probably as interesting as anyone’s and he does a great job here as the main temporal agent who carries a fair bit of the film. Hawke is great, but the real star is Australian actress Sarah Snook who carries probably an equal overall load but who definitely does more of the emotional lifting. I have seen Snook in a couple of things before, but she is totally transformative here. She shows exceptional range encompassing sassy all the way through to totally and utterly vulnerable. Part of that is due to the nature of the character that Snook plays which I can’t really go into without entering spoiler territory. But you would have to think that this performance will surely break Snook’s career into much bigger things. Well if there is any justice it will. Not only have the Spierig Brothers managed to draw quality performances out of their two leads, they have also delivered a film with very high production values. The film looks so slick and it is great to see an Australian film being set in New York that succeeds in making you feel like you are in that place.
Predestination has the kind of story that will have you thinking you know where it is taking you, before it flips on you. Without feeling cheap too which is nice. With two really wonderful central performances from Snook and Hawke, plenty for you to think about and the chance to see two young genre directors continue to hone their craft, this is one you should definitely support on the big screen if at all possible.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
As you can see, July turned into a pretty hectic watching month for me. An absolute Weeds marathon with my partner as well as a bunch of new releases left me with a whole bunch to write about here. Share your thoughts on these in the comments section below.
- Before Sunrise (1995), Richard Linklater – This is a schmaltzy concept that really shouldn’t work. Somehow it does though. Naturalistic performances from Hawke and Delpy along with fantastic dialogue help a lot. Tis charming to see such a high concept idea pulled off with zero pretension. Really captures that awkwardness of new love, or the possibility of it at least. Ethan Hawke’s goatee is absolutely rubbish in it though.
- Before Sunset (2004), Richard Linklater – In my opinion this improves on the first film and is actually something of a modern day classic. The device to bring the two main players back together is really clever as is the dealing with the conclusion of the first film. Again the dialogue is one of the chief joys. I am not sure how much is scripted and how much is improvisation. Incredible how the film picks the characters back up but also perfectly captures the time passed. I just watched the entire film with a smile on my face that these two characters had been reunited.
- End of Watch (2012), David Ayer – This didn’t cause much of a stir on release, but I think it should have. As a gritty, ‘day in the life’ look at life as a cop, I have not seen many better. The handheld style worked for me, it gave the film a real jolt of immediacy. The cops are not simplistically cast as heroes. At times they abuse their power. But the film sets out to present the events rather than to editorialise them. Searing stuff.
- This is the End (2013), Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg – Whilst I did not enjoy this as much as most, it is still an enjoyable enough way to while away a couple of hours mindlessly. It is a little too clever for its own good and heaps of jokes fall flat. But enough meet their mark and the cast is charming enough too. Also features comfortable the greatest musical outro I’ve seen, a device which is generally pretty tired.
- Weeds Season 2 (2006), Jenji Kohan – Some of the plot points require a suspension of belief. But the central storyline of this season is gripping and builds to one of the best season finales I can recall. The show is unafraid to take on some pretty controversial subjects. Not always successful with it though, the storyline of a boy being sexually assaulted in a brothel is bungled. But every single character is really fully formed. Even the bloody kids are complex and interesting whereas usually they are totally neglected. My favourite season of a show I love.
- Weeds Season 3 (2007), Jenji Kohan – Starts a little slow after the incredible finish to season 2. But the dialogue is incredibly written and this is probably the funniest season to date. Plus the show continues to create the most interesting characters, including the peripheral ones. This is a really bold and open show, which is to be applauded.
- Mud (2012), Jeff Nichols – A little strangely for a simple film, I suspect this will open up with repeat viewings. The two young blokes are fantastic, especially Tye Sheridan who plays Ellis. I dunno what happened with Matthew McConaughey, but a couple of years ago he decided to stop wasting his talent and has been killer ever since, including here as the grizzled Mud. This is not, as has been suggested, a Huck Finn story. But it is definitely informed by that world.
- Ping Pong (2012), Anson & Hugh Hartford – A pretty intelligent doco. This focuses on a seniors table tennis tournament, but draws out a lot of other ideas in the process. Focuses on ageing and cultural difference and especially addresses and challenges the way we think about the care of the elderly in our society.
- Weeds Season 4 (2007), Jenji Kohan – This season kicks off with an extended cameo from the always awesome Albert Brooks. The show continues to take a mildly absurdist look at plenty of issues including a really well done euthanasia angle. Once again it doesn’t hold back at all and goes some really interesting places. Also mixes it up a little, almost turning into a drug running thriller and really begins to examine what is right and wrong about a life of crime. However in this season, the stories of the various family members do begin to feel a little disparate.
- Weeds Season 5 (2009), Jenji Kohan – The show remains clever at slightly reinventing itself whilst maintaining what drew fans to it in the first place. This season it gets better at balancing the disparate narrative storylines of the characters. It also introduces yet more peripheral characters that become firm favourites and make the show as a whole more interesting.
- The Heat (2013), Paul Feig – This is probably my favourite comedy of the year so far. I actually laughed a lot which I rarely do in comedies these days. Melissa McCarthy is possibly the best comedic performer going around at the moment and whilst Sandra Bullock has less to work with, she is a worthy foil. The heartfelt stuff is perhaps a little less successful, but thankfully there is not that much of it and the jokes keep coming thick and fast.
Not Worth Watching:
- Grown Ups (2010), 2010 – Don’t even ask me why I watched this. I was sick and it was clearly affecting my brain. Possibly the most terrible collection of characters ever – you want to slap each and every one of them. Literally within 3 minutes of putting this on, I was reconsidering my lifelong aversion to not finishing a film. Fumbles its good theme of how life can get away from you spectacularly. If sexism and unoriginal jokes about the elderly and physical appearance is your thing, you will have a blast.
- Man of Tai Chi (2013), Keanu Reeves – This truly terrible film is, aside from a couple of cool fight scenes, a complete and utter failure. Keanu Reeves gives one of the absolute worst performances I can recall. And the film shows him to be a pretty talentless director. Kinda cool to see a different martial art onscreen, but it does not get the film very far. Attempts and fails miserably to say something about our celebrity and reality TV obsessed culture. An absurdly bad film.
- Monsters University (2013), Dan Scanlon – Pixar are officially in a funk. Who knew the prequel to such a full of life and creative film could be so tepid. The narrative is a bland amalgam of every average college & high school flick you have ever sat through. Also, none of the highly unique design of the first film is on display here. Possibly my biggest disappointment of the year so far.
- Man of Steel (2013), Zack Snyder – Many will disagree but I found this a real bore. The flashbacks throughout are just origin story tick the box. Whilst the Krypton sequences are well realised, what follows is too slow and not meaningful enough. You think things will pick up when Supes dons the cape. But they don’t really, unless you count endless destruction with no real rhyme or reason as things picking up. Supes and his super foes are so super it proves quite hard to stage a grounded fight scene. I’m also not too sure what the very intentional invocation of 9/11 is meant to achieve. I do think the performances were pretty good though. Henry Cavill has the potential to be a long term Supes and Amy Adams is really good.
If you only have time to watch one Before Sunset
Avoid at all costs Man of Tai Chi