Review – Shadow in the Cloud (2020)

Director: Roseanne Liang

Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Beulah Koale, Taylor John Smith, Nick Robinson, Callan Mulvey, Benedict Wall, Byron Coll, Joe Witkowski

When approaching a patently absurd film like Shadow in the Cloud,rather than asking whether or not it is going be good, the better question is whether or not it is going to be the right kind of stupid. Because there is a right kind of stupid. We enjoy different films in different ways. While some want us to lean in and immerse ourselves empathetically, presenting us with believable scenarios and relatable characters, others need us to sit back and embrace the fiction. When a film with an incredible, silly premise thinks it is the former it can be tiresome and disengaging. But when it possesses the self-awareness to know it is the latter, to wink at its audience, allowing filmmakers and audience alike to embrace the absurdity, then the stupid can become sublime. It’s a balance that the Fast and Furious franchise managed to find by its fifth instalment, and one that the genre-bending Shadow in the Cloud nails instantly.

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Review – Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

Director: Patty Jenkins

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal

In a year that has been, for obvious reasons, almost entirely devoid of genuine blockbusters, Wonder Woman 1984 emerged as a Christmas present for moviegoers desperate for some good, old fashioned, big screen spectacle. Warner Brothers decided, having sat on the film since its originally slated June release date, to take the plunge and simultaneously release it in cinemas and on their streaming service, HBO Max. As a beacon of hope and goodness in a genre largely populated by cynical wise-guys, it is fitting Wonder Woman is the character to try and draw audiences back to the multiplex. She’s the right hero for now. Unfortunately, Wonder Woman 1984 isn’t quite the right film, struggling to recapture the magic of the original.

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Doctor of Movies’ Top Ten of 2020

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As it was for many, 2020 was a disaster for cinemas. Doors were closed for much of the year and even when they opened, the major studios’ reluctance to release their big properties into a compromised theatrical market left them light on product. Depsite this, it has actually been a pretty good year for movies. The space created by the near total absence of mega-blockbusters allowed those small and mid-level films which had found a home on streaming services to enjoy more of the spotlight than they might have initially expected. 

While the demands of reworking curriculum on the fly for online delivery meant that I didn’t get to write as many reviews this year as I might have liked, I still got to see plenty of films. Here are my top ten for 2020…

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Video Analysis – Breaking Down the Classical Hollywood Style

While a year of pandemic induced teaching online has resulted in slightly less time for writing reviews here, it has seen me recording a lot more lectures and playing with the creation of video resources, doing on video what I’d usually be doing in the classroom.

Here is one in which I break down the Classical Hollywood or Continuity Style by analysing the opening scene of The Maltese Falcon.

Review – Rams (2020)

Director: Jeremy Sims

Starring: Sam Neill, Michael Caton, Miranda Richardson, Asher Keddie, Wayne Blair, Leon Ford

Who would have thought that a remake of a quirky Icelandic film about shepherds could end up being the film to best encapsulate the experience of 2020 in Australia? With Rams, a remake of Grimur Hakonarson’s 2015 film Hrútar (which is Icelandic for ‘Rams’), screenwriter Jules Duncan and director Jeremy Sims have managed to not only make the story feel organically of this place, but also very much of this time. 

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Review – Tenet (2020)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Starring: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, Dimple Kapadia, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Himesh Patel

Tenet

Christopher Nolan has been the biggest name in blockbuster filmmaking for about a decade now. As arguably the only director in the world able to mount big budget blockbusters that aren’t based on comic books or best selling young adult novels, he is no stranger to a bold and high stakes release.  However, his latest film, the temporal thriller Tenet, is seemingly the most important film of his career. Not for what it means to his trajectory but for what it means for the industry as a whole at this precarious moment in history. The Hollywood studios are caught between a rock and a hard place. Cinemas have reopened in many markets but not in others. Even where they are open, it is not known whether audiences are yet comfortable with the idea of returning to them en mass. As such we have seen studios caught in a holding pattern, sitting on their big releases unsure of the viability of releasing them into the present market. Someone had to be first to take the plunge and that was Warner Brothers. Tenet is the first legitimate blockbuster to be released into the Covid era theatrical market and will serve as a test case for whether theatrical distribution is an economically viable option for Hollywood in the immediate future. It’s an absurd weight to place on any film, particularly one as complex as Tenet.
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Review – Onward (2020)

Director: Dan Scanlon

Starring: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Mel Rodriguez

Onward

After a recent emphasis on sequels, with Toy Story 4, Incredibles 2, Cars 3 and Finding Dory all coming out in the last four years, Pixar is returning to original storytelling with Onward. Co-written and directed by Dan Scanlon, who previously helmed Monsters University (another Pixar sequel), Onward fittingly offers escapism and adventure at a time when everyone is housebound and in dire need of distraction.

Transferring high fantasy to the present day, Onward transports us to a magical world which has lost its magic. A brief prologue describes how long ago this world had been full of wonder, adventure and, most important of all, magic. But magic was hard to master so as time passed the world turned its back on it in exchange for the convenience of science. Thus, we find the town of New Mushroomton, a sprawling suburbia much like our own, except that it is inhabited by elves, centaurs, cyclopses and pixies, and has somewhat of a feral unicorn problem. Continue reading

Review – Extraction (2020)

Director: Sam Hargrave

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Rudhraksh Jaiswal, Randeep Hooda, Golshifteh Farahani, Priyanshu Painyuli, David Harbour

Extraction

With the exception of prestige productions like Roma and The Irishman, original movies from streaming companies have tended to be viewed as the contemporary equivalent of the old straight-to-video release. But with the world’s cinemas forced the close their doors by Covid-19 and Hollywood holding back their big budget releases in the hope of being able to recoup some of their investment down the track, Netflix, Amazon and the like find themselves the only show in town. The result is that a film like Extraction, a generic actioner which sees former Marvel stunt coordinator and second unit director Sam Hargrave making his directorial debut, ends up with more eyes on it than it might have otherwise anticipated.  Continue reading

Review – Little Women (2019)

Director: Greta Gerwig

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Eliza Scanlan, Timothee Chalament, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper

Little Women

Before she made Lady Bird, the coming-of-age drama that put her on the map, Greta Gerwig had already written her adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Despite there already being six film adaptations of the novel, not to mention numerous television movies and mini-series, and the knowledge that no one would back an unproven director to make it, Gerwig felt that was still something vital in the story of the Marsh sisters and a 21st century audience warranted its own telling of the tale. With Lady Bird’s Oscar-nominated success giving her the chance to prove it, on both counts it appears she was correct. Continue reading

Review – Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)

Director: Cathy Yan

Starring: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ella Jay Basco, Ewan McGregor, Chris Messina, Ali Wong

Birds of Prey

Despite being almost universally panned, the one element of 2016’s Suicide Squad which was consistently singled out for praise was Margot Robbie’s performance as Harley Quinn and it didn’t take long before plans for a spinoff for her character began. That film has arrived in the form of Cathy Yan’s Birds of Pray: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn. Riding the first wave of female-led superhero blockbusters, this surprisingly violent and profanity-laden film offers a counter to the high ideals of Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, instead peddling empowerment through fun and irresponsibility.  Continue reading