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.Continue reading
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.
Starring: Anyone and everyone from the history of Australian cinema and politics
In the 1920s, Soviet filmmaker Lev Kuleshov conducted a series of experiments in which the same image of a neutral male face was screened alongside different images. A bowl of soup. A child in a coffin. A reclining woman. In each instance the audience interpreted the neutral expression in a different way. The man was hungry. He was sad. He was lustful. From these experiments came one of the foundational principles of cinematic language: the meaning of shots was not static, but changed based on how those shots were arranged. This principle of meaning creation, and in particular recreation, through juxtaposition is used to startling effect in the explosive mashup piece Terror Nullius. Continue reading
Director: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, LilRel Howery
You have to go back to The Blair Witch Project to find a horror film that has caused as much of a critical stir as Get Out. The debut feature from writer-director Jordan Peele, best known as one half of the sketch comedy duo Key and Peele, has become the surprise hit of the year, having already grossed $215 million worldwide off a budget of only $4.5 million, and has been almost universally praised as one of the year’s sharpest movies.
Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams) have been dating for five months. The time has come for Rose to take Chris upstate to meet her parents, but the prospect has him wary. You see, Chris is black, and Rose, who is white, hasn’t thought to mention this to her family. Even though it has been fifty years since Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and Rose assures him that both her parents voted for Obama, Chris still thinks it could be an awkward surprise. Continue reading
Director: Stephen Frears
Starring: Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg, Rebecca Ferguson
Gosh it must be fun to be Meryl Streep. The most celebrated screen actress alive has reached a point in her career where she can seemingly do whatever she wants. Not one to take herself too seriously, she appears to pick whatever projects look like fun while still producing top notch work. She has shown us she can sing with Mamma Mia!, Into the Woods and Ricki and the Flash, and now, with Florence Foster Jenkins, she has shown us, when needed, she can also sing terribly.
When gifted young pianist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) is hired to play accompaniment for heiress Florence Foster Jenkins’ (Meryl Streep) daily singing lessons, he has no idea what he has got himself into. A socialite and patron of the arts, Florence is a lover of music, who just happens to be the worst singer in the world. Continue reading
Director: Christopher Guest
Starring: Zach Woods, Sarah Baker, Tom Bennett, Parker Posey, Susan Yeagley, Chris O’Dowd, Michael Hitchcock, Jane Lynch, Ed Begley Jr., Fred Willard, John Michael Higgins
As writer-performer of This is Spinal Tap, and writer-director-performer of Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind, Christopher Guest is undoubtedly the godfather of the mockumentary (despite his open disdain for the term), and as such, the patron saint of modern television comedies like The Office, Modern Family and Parks and Recreation. So the announcement that he would be returning to the feature mockumentary for the first time in over a decade with the Netflix original film Mascots was met with excited anticipation. Unfortunately, after a long wait, Mascots doesn’t show us anything we haven’t seen before.
As the title might suggest, Mascots concerns those large fluffy characters who dance around at sporting contests to fire up the crowd. More to the point, it concerns the people behind, or rather inside, those characters. Continue reading
Directors: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Starring: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish, Stephen Kunken
Alzheimer’s is the cruellest of diseases. You lose your memories, your personality, and ultimately yourself. Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s Still Alice does not shy away from challenging nature of this subject matter. Coming from a novel by neuroscientist Lisa Genova, and with Glatzer himself suffering from a neurodegenerative disorder (ALS), this is an honest and highly personal film.
Dr Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) is a brilliant woman. An influential linguistics professor at Columbia University in New York, she is a powerful and confident intellectual. Shortly after her fiftieth birthday she starts to experience mental blanks, occasionally forgetting words or appointments. Suspecting something isn’t right, she visits a neurologist where, after some tests, she gets the diagnosis: early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Alice has a husband, John (Alec Baldwin), a medical researcher, and three children; Continue reading
Every year when the Oscar nominations are announced there is much made of the surprises and snubs. Everyone puts in their two cents worth about what they got right and what they got wrong, and then it all happens again when the awards are presented. But very few people actually know how the process works. How are the nominees selected? How are the winners determined? Allow me to try and shed some light on the mechanisms of the Academy Awards. Continue reading
Director: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Robert Redford
It was once said that all a film needs for drama is two people having a conversation. Writer/director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) seeks to prove that one of those people is redundant in his second feature, All is Lost, the tale of an ageing man alone at sea.
Our man is on a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean when his yacht collides with a shipping container that has fallen off a cargo ship. With his communications and navigational equipment ruined and his vessel taking on water, the resourceful man finds himself fighting to survive and at the mercy of the ocean.
All is Lost is a minimalist film. There is no fat on it. The film starts at the moment that the Virginia Jean starts to take on water and it finishes at the moment that we discover his final fate. It is a film unburdened by context and backstory. We know very little about this character outside of his immediate circumstances. We don’t know why he is out there. We don’t know if he has a family or not. We don’t know if he is a good person or a bad person. We don’t even know his name. All we know is that he is a human being and he is fighting for his life. And you know what? That is enough. That is all we actually require to care about this man and become invested in his situation. In a time where every reality television contestant comes complete with a tragic backstory of a hurdle they’ve overcome, a relative with terminal illness or a child they’re hoping to inspire, all designed to manipulate the emotions of an audience and cynically tug at their heart strings, it is refreshing to see the way that Chandor trusts his audience. He trusts his audience to care without needing to over-emotionalise the situation.
As the film’s lone character – credited simply as ‘Our Man’ – Robert Redford is compelling to watch. With no other characters to talk to, he hardly speaks a word in the film. Chandor’s faith in the audience to work things out for themselves means he doesn’t resort to having the character talk to himself. Nor does he include a narration to explain what he is thinking and feeling. Instead it is up to Redford’s face and his actions to do the talking. Where a more insecure actor may have given into the temptation to overact, Redford maintains an incredible subtlety. Our man is stoic and unemotive, which makes those moments when his resolve does break all the more powerful. But despite this stoicism we can always see that his mind is working, that he has a plan. It is a masterful performance from a Hollywood legend which should see him in the mix come award season.
All is Lost screened out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival this year, with Redford receiving a standing ovation for his performance. It is the type of film that is more likely to make its presence felt at film festivals than at the box office. The nature of Chandor’s film means that it is a less commercially attractive prospect than last year’s lost at sea film – the equally brilliant Life of Pi – but it is a powerful piece of filmmaking which really sticks in your mind.
Rating – ★★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Starring: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Mae Whitman, Melanie Lynskey, Paul Rudd
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming-of-age story set in the early 1990s. Emotionally scarred Charlie has always felt invisible. He’s always been on the outside looking in. On his first day of high school he is already counting down the days until it’s over. But when he is taken in by a group of equally misfit seniors, he finds himself in a situation he has never been in before, he has friends, and through them he is able to take the first steps towards putting his past behind him.
Chbosky wrote the cult, young-adult novel of the same title in 1999, and made the rather bold decision to direct the film adaptation himself, despite his experience as a director being limited to one film almost two decades ago. However, his bold decision really seems to have paid off.
While there is a certain level of pretentiousness in their desire to be alternative, it still has an incredible authenticity. For example, the fact that Sam takes such pride in her good taste in music, yet along with Charlie spends the whole film trying to identify David Bowie’s ‘We Can Be Heroes’ seems to ring true of an eighteen year old know-it-all who despite her best efforts still has enormous gaps in her knowledge and experience. That authenticity is really important. So much of contemporary hipster culture is artifice, simply adhering to a set of conventions in order to be cool, even if they are a non-traditional set of conventions. If that was all The Perks of Being a Wallflower work was it would be an incredibly frustrating film, and this group of teens would probably come across as obnoxious and unlikeable. But it isn’t. There is an authenticity to their lifestyle. Their alternativeness doesn’t come from a desire to identify as being different. It comes from the acceptance and embracing of the fact that they are different. Whether as a by-product of their sexuality (Patrick), or as a result of childhood trauma (Charlie) or abuse (Sam), their lives have conspired against them to make them outsiders. Yet they manage to find a place with other different people (the inclusion of The Rocky Horror Picture Show as one of the group’s defining activities speaks volumes).
The performances of the film’s leading trio are fantastic. Logan Lerman’s is impressive as Charlie, providing the film’s emotional centre in a part that either makes or breaks the film. Lerman manages to make Charlie instantly likeable despite his closed off and troubled personality. As Patrick, Ezra Miller provides a fun and flamboyant character without forfeiting his humanity. Emma Watson delivers a career-changing performance which may well become her post-Harry Potter calling car – which is important for her career given that was a decade’s worth of employment she gained on the basis of being a talented ten year old.
There is one element in the story which distracted me. Charlie is a freshman (first year of high school) while the rest of his friends are seniors (final year). That is quite a sizeable age difference for a school context, but it is never really suggested in the film that this is in any way unusual. It is simply not an issue. Yet in real life it would be an issue. Why would a bunch of eighteen year olds want to hang around with a fourteen year old?
Some critics have complained that this film lacks originality, and it is true that there isn’t really anything here we haven’t seen in some form before, but a well-made coming-of-age story will find a way to connect with audiences and it is no surprise that The Perks of Being a Wallflower managed to sneak onto a few best films of 2012 lists. It’s a gem.
Rating – ★★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean