Director: Shane Black
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Yaya DeCosta, Kim Basinger
With screenwriting credits including Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight, Shane Black has built a career on sharp, hard, funny buddy mysteries. The apex came in 2005 with his directorial debut, the criminally under-recognised mystery thriller Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, which also marked an important stepping stone in the career resurgence of Robert Downey Jr. A decade later, after a detour into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man 3, Black is back doing what he does best with another hard-boiled buddy-noir, The Nice Guys.
In 1977 Los Angeles, porn star Misty Mountains is killed in a car accident, with some suspecting suicide. Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a private detective, as well as being a single dad and a drunk. Not above taking advantage of grieving clients, he doesn’t flinch when he is hired to investigate the case by the star’s aunt, who is convinced she has seen her alive since her supposed death. Continue reading
Director: Russell Crowe
Starring: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Yilmaz Erdogan, Jai Courtney, Dylan Georgiades, Cem Yilmaz, Ryan Corr
Next year marks the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign, a First World War campaign which is for many a formative moment in our national history as it marked the first time that Australians fought as ANZACs rather than as part of the British military. With such a significant milestone on the horizon it is no surprise that we are seeing a return of Gallipoli to our screens, both big and small, with the latest offering being Russell Crowe’s directorial debut, The Water Diviner.
In 1919, in the aftermath of the Great War, Australian farmer Joshua Connor travels to Gallipoli to recover the bodies of his three sons who never returned from the campaign. All three were lost on the same day, 7th August, 1915. But after recovering two of the bodies he discovers that one of his boys was taken prisoner by Turkish soldiers, and with the help of Major Hasan of the Turkish army he attempts to trace the whereabouts of his remaining son.
The Great War marked the first time that attempts were made to recover and identify the bodies of fallen soldiers. The film’s story was inspired by a single line in a letter from a Colonel in the Imperial War Graves Unit which noted that an Australian man came to Gallipoli searching for his sons’ graves. However, from there the film takes some obvious dramatic license in telling this ‘true story.’ The title The Water Diviner is a reference to Joshua’s ability to locate the groundwater needed to run his farm in the punishing climate of the outback. Divining water is one thing – as strange as it sounds there are plenty of people who swear by the effectiveness of dowsing, as it is also known – but watching Joshua use this same method to locate the spot where his sons’ bodies are buried in the battlefield is quite a leap for an audience to take.
The Gallipoli campaign received its definitive cinematic treatment in 1981 with Peter Weir’s Gallipoli, but with The Water Diviner Crowe manages to bring a new perspective to this much mythologised moment in Australia’s history. The Water Diviner offers a far greater focus on the Turkish experience of the battle than has previously been offered to Australian audiences. This engaging of a different perspective starts as simply as acknowledging that the Turks don’t even call the site Gallipoli. Major Hasan reminds us that while 10,000 ANZACs fell there, 70,000 Turks lost their lives. On top of this, even in 1919 the war was not yet over for the Turks. As the rest of the world breathed a sigh of relief, the Turks were fiercely defending their territory as the Greeks carved away at the Ottoman Empire. As we watch the uneasy cooperation between Allied and Turkish military in the aftermath of the war we see both sides coming to terms with what has occurred. As Lt-Col Hughes concedes, “I don’t know if I forgive any of us.”
Alongside this exploration of Turkey in the aftermath of the war is an entirely unnecessary romantic subplot which sees Joshua making eyes at Ayshe, the woman who runs the hotel he is staying at in Istanbul. She is also grieving having lost her husband in the war, a fact she has not yet confessed to her son Orhan. This rather trite romantic subplot is nowhere near as interesting or engaging as the rest of the film and results in an uncomfortable clashing of tones, with one story being quite sombre and serious and the other being at times light and whimsical.
As a directorial debut, The Water Diviner does not blow you away, but it represents the sort of competent handling of the material you would expect from a man who has been an active collaborator for much of his 25 years as an actor. While some of its narrative elements are a bit naff, The Water Diviner’s invitation to consider the sacrifices made on both sides of this conflict makes it a notable contribution to the ever expanding exploration of the Gallipoli campaign.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen The Water Diviner? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Ray Winstone, Douglas Booth, Anthony Hopkins
Darren Aronofsky is one of contemporary filmmaking’s true auteurs. A unique and interesting cinematic voice, when it was announced that he would be following up his surprise hit Black Swan with an adaptation of the story of Noah’s ark, a story which had apparently fascinated him since his childhood, there was little doubt we were going to get a film which was unlike any depiction of this story we had seen before.
Noah, is an audacious and bold piece of filmmaking, and while uneven it is more ambitious than most films which draw on Biblical stories, which tend to play it safe. The film presents the story of Noah not as a Biblical history, but rather as a mythology – a pre-historic great flood mythology is part not only of the Judeo-Christian tradition but many of the world’s religions. As such, the film takes on an aesthetic that is more akin to the fantasy genre than the historical epic. This is particularly evident in the depiction of ‘the Watchers,’ Aronofsky’s take on the Nephilim (fallen angels mentioned briefly in the Genesis text), which are shown as giant, Ray Harryhausen-esque rock creatures.
As is to be expected, the film has been attacked by some conservative Christian circles for its lack of Biblical accuracy (as is also to be expected, many of its most vocal opponents will openly admit they have not seen the film that has so offended them). They do have a point. At times Noah bears little resemblance to the Genesis account. Aronofsky has himself described the film as “the least biblical biblical film ever made.” But it begs the question whether in this situation biblical accuracy matters? Aronofsky’s film is not at all attempting to make a theological statement. It has no evangelistic agenda. It is neither seeking to persuade nor dissuade its viewers of the truthfulness of the story or the authenticity of the Genesis account.
If Noah is evangelistic about anything, it is environmentalism rather than theology. Aronofsky engages with the story of Noah not as a biblical story, but as one of Western society’s foundational narratives. He employs the standard practice of refocusing a well-known story in order to shine a light on a particular relevant issue. Aronofsky’s Noah thus becomes a film about stewardship and dominion. Noah and his family, descendents of Seth, believe humanity is tasked by the Creator – Noah always uses the moniker “the Creator” instead of God, the Lord, etc – to be stewards of creation and they aim to tread lightly on the Earth. “We take only what we need, what we can use,” Noah instructs his children as they pick food from the ground. The rest of humanity, descendents of Cain, whose murder of his brother Abel is depicted by the film as the defining moment of humanity’s corruption, believe the Creator has given them dominion over the Earth and it is theirs to plunder and use. In this film it is as much the way that humanity has treated the creation as it is the way they have treated each other that prompts the Creator to wipe the slate clean and start again.
While not a typical epic, Noah is still an impressive visual experience. The film carefully combines computer generated material with some impressive sets. The ark itself is an imposing structure – a monolithic, wooden box nothing like the traditional boat shape usually represented. All of the film’s animals are computer generated, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. Aronofsky also employs some interesting and arresting aesthetic devices. Noah recounts the creation story to his family, and his words are accompanied with a flickering time-lapse imagery, which is very effective.
Russell Crowe is strong in the title role as a character who is supposed to challenge us. On the one hand, we see him as an honourable figure, one who protects his family in a hostile world and seeks to live a righteous life. He sees a vision from the Creator and he is obedient. Yet as we sit inside the ark with Noah and his family and hear the cries for mercy from those on the outside as the floodwaters rise, we wrestle with Noah’s complicity in this genocide. Then when he comes to doubt the vision he has seen, and question whether it is indeed his family’s responsibility to repopulate the Earth or whether they are simply to shepherd the animals through this period and then themselves die off, he becomes quite a threatening figure to his wife and children, and Crowe is able to convincingly move from powerful guardian to threat. It is a controversial but very interesting characterisation.
Noah has its problems, it is a bit uneven and at times its environmental agenda is overplayed, but you will struggle to find a bolder, more ambitious and thought provoking blockbuster.
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne
After successfully resurrecting the dormant Batman franchise with his Dark Knight Trilogy, DC Comics and Warner Brothers turned to Christopher Nolan with a far greater challenge: Superman. At a time when audiences seem to prefer their heroes flawed, either with a sense of damage and menace (Batman) or an overly well-developed ego (Iron Man), was there still a market for an idealistic boy scout in a blue suit who fights for truth, justice and the American way?
Whereas the last attempt to resurrect the franchise, Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, tried to follow on from the Christopher Reeve series, Man of Steel takes us back to the beginning. Rather than working chronologically, the film jumps back and forth, relying heavily on flashbacks to fill in the story of how Kal-El became Clark Kent and then Superman – a handy device to avoid the usual origin story problem of requiring the audience to wait too long before Superman starts being super. No sooner has Clark learned the truth about his heritage, he is called upon to protect his adopted home from invaders from his ancestral home, with the banished Kryptonian military leader General Zod mounting an invasion of Earth, with the intention of establishing it as a new Krypton.
The “invaders from outer space” nature of the threat in Man of Steel makes it feel more akin to Transformers or Independence Day than other spandex-clad superhero movies. That is the biggest difference between this and previous screen adaptations: Man of Steel is a science-fiction movie rather than a fantasy. It looks like a science fiction movie, with the ice-crystal set designs of the Christopher Reeve films abandoned for a design seemingly more inspired by Ridley Scott’s Alien, and it sounds like a science-fiction movie, complete with terrible dialogue about world engines, codexes and Phantom drives.
Like many a Superman adaptation before it, Man of Steel flirts with the allusion of Superman as a Christ figure – an ironic tradition given the hero was the product of Jewish creators Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster. Our hero’s father, Jor-El, tells his son, “You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you. They will stumble. They will fall. But in time they will join you in the sun. In time you will help them accomplish wonders.” The Christ allusions in Man of Steel aren’t as overt as they have been in the past – in Superman Returns he was “the light to show them the way,” literally sacrificing himself for the sake of humanity only to be resurrected a couple of days later – instead preferring to focus on the idea of Superman being a symbol of hope.
With Nolan acting as producer, directorial duties were given to Zack Snyder, who is known for his highly stylised use of digital effects in films like 300, Sucker Punch and Watchmen. While he sticks to a pretty simple aesthetic here, his experience with digital effects results in the most visually impressive Superman film yet made, with the little touches – like the way you see the sound barrier being cracked when Superman flies away – being more impressive than the huge effects we are used to seeing in this kind of movie.
A big movie like this one presented as an epic story needs a big-time cast to carry it. British actor Henry Cavill makes for a good Superman, with the appropriate combination of broad chest, chiselled jaw and trustworthy eyes. Amy Adams gets more to work with than past Lois Lanes, with her incarnation of the plucky journalist being courageous, resourceful, and finally intelligent enough to be able to recognise the object of her affection even when he puts on glasses. But it is the depth and quality of the supporting cast which really helps to give the film an epic quality, with the likes of Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner and Lawrence Fishburne all putting in solid supporting turns.
While it is certain to perform strongly at the box office, ultimately Man of Steel runs into the same issues that Superman stories always seem to: that the build-up is more interesting than the climax. In this case the interest is in the existential journey of a young Clark Kent who is trying to work out who he is, why he is here and what he should do with his abilities, and in the way people respond to him and what he represents. But an adventure story climax requires a level of threat that is hard to muster when your hero is practically invincible. In this case he has an adversary who is equally invincible, and watching two of them hitting each other starts to get a bit tedious after a while.
Rating – ★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Tom Hooper
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Samantha Barks, Aaron Tveit, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen
Les Misérables first appeared on stage on the West End in 1985 and in the 27 years since it has become one of the most successful musicals of all time. That said, it was still a bit of a risk for Tom Hooper to announce it as his next film project after winning an Oscar for The King’s Speech. It was always going to be a high profile event film, and let’s face it, history has shown us that when you get a big budget musical wrong it can be really, really bad. Hooper assembled a great cast lead by Hugh Jackman – amazingly making his first movie musical despite his strong musical pedigree. But early critical reviews were mixed. Some called it a mess, others heralded it as one of the year’s best. So I was really keen to see it for myself, particularly as I saw the stage production in London earlier in the year and loved it.
The big experiment with Les Misérables, and again part of what made it a risky project,was having the actors sing live. Usually when you make a musical one of the first things you do is get the cast into a recording studio and record an album. Then a couple of months later when it is time for the shoot, the actors simply lip-synch to the mastered recording. With Les Misérables, Tom Hooper decided that he wanted his actors to sing live on each take. The major advantage of doing it this way is it frees up the actors creatively. When you record the songs in advance, the actors are forced to make many of their acting choices well before getting on set, and once on set they are restricted by the necessity of matching up with the recording. This would be far from ideal for a musical like Les Misérables where so much of the emotional crux of the story is delivered through song. This greater level of freedom in performance for the actors has resulted in a musical which is not necessarily as brassy and robust as the stage show, but packs an incredible emotional punch.
This different approach was then complemented by the way the musical numbers have been shot. Unlike a traditional musical, Les Misérables only features one heavily choreographed number, the comical ‘Master of the House’ performed by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter’s grotesque tavern owners. The other numbers are shot very simply, often in close-up. The beauty of this approach is you get to see characters faces, something you don’t get on stage. Les Misérables is a very tragic, very emotional story, and the impact of being able to see the faces of characters as they sing is quite powerful. Never is this more apparent than when Anne Hathaway sings ‘I Dreamed a Dream,’ shot entirely in one shot, a medium close-up.
Hugh Jackman was always the logical choice to play Jean Valjean. With his baritone voice, his award-winning musical theatre experience, broad chest and handsome features, Jackman seems born to play the part. As Valjean, he carries much of the emotional weight of the film and he does it admirably, imbuing the character with a real strength and masculinity. The film’s other clear stand out is Anne Hathaway as Fantine. She delivers one of the most gut-wrenching performances you will ever see, demonstrating her versatility in a year which also saw her playing Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises. While Jackman will be in the mix come award season, Hathaway can start deciding where she wants to put her Best Supporting Actress Oscar now.
One of the big questions in the lead up to the film was the singing ability of Russell Crowe. Everyone knew Jackman and Hathaway could sing, but the fact that Crowe used to have a band, Thirty Odd Foot of Grunt, not to mention his old Russ le Roq days, didn’t have people convinced he was the right man to tackle the demanding role of Javert. This concern was not helped by the fact that his voice was notably absent from a couple of the early trailers. As it turns out, he does alright. His voice is nowhere near as full as some of the others in the film, but you get used to it. He definitely looks the part, and still manages to give some emotional depth to the character.
Hooper’s film is a very faithful adaptation of the musical, plus the requisite new song, ‘Suddenly,’ so that they have something to submit for Award consideration. This faithfulness means that if there was anything in particular that irked you about the stage musical, it still will in the film. In my case, it is the fact that Cosette and Marius are still really boring. It also means that, as is the case with many film musicals, the critical reception will be varied. Musicals are really divisive. People tend to like them or they don’t and if you are someone who can’t get behind the concept of a musical, you’re never going to enjoy one. Even people who like movie musicals may struggle with this one as the ratio of dialogue to song is much closer to an opera than to a normal movie musical. So with a film like this it is difficult to make a general judgement. Instead, I can only speak as a person who enjoys musicals, and who particularly loves this one. I thought it was brilliant.
Rating – ★★★★
Review by Duncan McLean