2015 / Director. Camille Delamarre.
Review by Shaun Crawford.
We didn't ask for it but we got it anyway. In an era of endless reboots, remakes, reimaginings, retoolings and restarts, it's no surprise that Frenchy Fantastique Luc Besson has given us another instalment of his bizarrely popular TRANSPORTER series which started back in 2002.
Following a largely unknown tv reboot he has opted to jump back to the big screen and dispose of the square-jawed pomme Jason Statham in lieu of pretty-boy pomme Ed Skrein to play Frank Martin, the titular Transporter, a high-end, ex-military, special-ops mercenary living in France who specializes in, well, transporting stuff; packages, people, whatevs.
A leisurely visit from Frank's father (Ray Stevenson) turns catastrophic when Frank is hired by Anna (Loan Chabanol), and her posse to help orchestrate a rather elaborate bank robbery. Throw in a Russian gangster, a coupla car chases and women in lingerie and you have yourself another eurotrash thriller from the makers of other eurotrash thrillers like Taken and From Paris With Love.
Corey Yuen's original Transporter was daft; an uneasy mix of action and humour that looked the biz but was as hollow as an Easter egg. Louis Letterier's sequel was even moreso then came Oliver Megaton's threequel which was one of the worst films of the year.
On paper, then, rebooting the series probably sounded like a good idea and, as is the unrelenting trend, Besson & Co. have opted for a darker approach. Gone are the laughs (at least the intentional ones) which have been replaced by a grittier tone and a gloomier palette. The sun-soaked french vistas have been replaced by rain-slicked streets and neon-lit nightclubs. The hokey play-it-for-laughs direction has been rerouted, the classification on the poster has taken a leap and the violence has got a bit more crimson.
The question is, is it worth it? - Certainly the tone fits better with the theme and the action is a bit more bone-crunching but the biggest problem isn't the aesthetic, it's just about everything else. Skrein just isn't a Statham. It's easy to dismiss Statham as just another meat-head but his one-dimensional charm is sorely missing here. Skrein is so baby-faced and slight it's hard to buy him as anything other than a prep-school frat-boy let alone a globe-trotting mercenary. There must have been some very real on-set concerns the crew would trip up on his umbilical cord. Even the usually reliable Ray Stevenson phones it in an is completely miscast as the playboy father. An action-man in his own right (See the underrated Punisher: Warzone and Outpost) he's brittle and stiff here toying with women and going for gags.
If there is a highlight its the peppering of action sequences, but even then a 90min action sequence a good film not make. In the end one cat help but think 'just because you make 'em Besson, doesn't mean we have to like 'em'.
2016 / Director. Rob Letterman.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Lets get the comparisons out of the way. If you were to take JUMANJI, SMALL SOLDIERS and MONSTER SQUAD and shove them in a nutri-bullet, the puree would be GOOSEBUMPS. This new family-friendly fright-fest is a nostalgic celebration of the creature-feature b-movies that kids flocked to at matinee screenings in the days before XBOX and iPhones. It is a fun, fast-paced adventure that requires a childish disposition before it can by fully appreciated.
Rather than making a film out of any one of the hundreds of books from author RL Stine, the movie goes for that classic royal-rumble approach, with a fantastic assortment of some of Stine's most iconic creatures being unleashed upon the world all at once. When a teenager moves next door to the famous children's author RL Stine, he befriends Stine's daughter and soon discovers all of the Goosebumps manuscripts kept under lock and key. When he dares to open one of stories he releases a gigantic abominable snowman. Soon Stine's most famous creation, Slappy the Dummy, is also released and sets upon a diabolical plan to unlock every single book and set loose a menagerie of monsters.
And so begins a super-fun adventure that will frighten the hell out of kids, while taking them on a rollercoaster ride of a good time. In a true throwback to some of the wonderful scary kids flicks of the past (such as GREMLINS and SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES) GOOSEBUMPS gives a lot of credit to its target audience and dishes up a platter of genuine scares, while padding the reactions with a childish sense of humour. Even as an adult, I was surprised (and thrilled) by how scary some of these creatures were. From a blood-thirsty werewolf to a giant limb-shredding insect... not to mention the uber creepy killer-clown and, of course, the evil sadistic ventriloquist puppet. This movie is the stuff of nightmares for kids and it makes no apologies.
The movie's biggest let down is the casting of Jack Black. It's not that his presence is unwelcome, but rather the fact that he carries some weird-ass accent throughout the entire film. I have no idea what type of accent it is, but it sure as heck does sound fake. Putting that aside, he does bring a youthful sense of frivolity to the story and never overshadows the teen characters.
The production value is solid wth some unique and original set-pieces that lend the story an added sense of fantasy. The GCI creature designs are brilliantly realised and the monsters blend in with the live action seamlessly. In fact every dollar of the film's budget is on screen and it's a much better looking movie than I was ever expecting it to be. If GOOSEBUMPS had of been made in the 80's you would expect to see Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante's name slapped on the poster. It's the type of film they used to make and it's the type of movie we need more of.
Kids will lap this one up, and I'm sure many adults will bulk at it. I would encourage all grown-ups to leave their pretensions at the door and approach this one as if they were kids. What would your twelve-year-old self think of GOOSEBUMPS? Mine loved it.
2016 / Director. Adam McKay.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
“@#$&%#$!@$*)^$##@!*!!” says my brain after watching THE BIG SHORT. I am not a business man and any talk of finance does my head in. The writers of this gobsmacking true story know it, and they play on the fact that people like myself struggle to comprehend the complexities of the financial sector. And so rather than presenting a straight-forward narrative they have broken all the rules and delivered an unconventional, and subsequently engaging, true account of the 2007-2008 Financial Crisis.
The story follows four financial outsiders who independently identify the pending crisis within the home-loan sector, while all of their peers ignore the information and continue to swindle American home owners. In a perpetual state of disbelief they attempt to bring the looming disaster to attention and are laughed out of every office. The film's title refers to a credit-default-swap, which the four key players invest in to undermine the system and expose the criminals working at the top, which as it turns out, is almost everyone.
If you tuned out during the last paragraph, or it made you feel woozy, then welcome to the club. Just about everyone who sees THE BIG SHORT will not have a single damn clue what's really going on, and yet director Adam McKay cleverly deploys a series of techniques to present the information in laymen’s terms. Most of the characters cross the fourth wall mid-scene to break things down to the audience. The same characters will also throw to popular celebrities, who will explain the situation in elementary ways. At first I thought that this structure would be distracting, but as it turns out, it's a stroke of genius.... and to think this is from the director of STEP-BROTHERS, ANCHORMAN and THE OTHER GUYS. The result is a terrifying indictment of the American banks and the criminal frauds who wrought the system. It will infuriate almost anyone who sees it.
To sell the story, the film enlists an impressive ensemble of players who each give convincing turns. I doubt that any of them had a full comprehension of what they were doing or saying and yet they all deliver absolutely persuasive performances. The credit list includes Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt and Christian Bale, who are all excellent. However the knock-out performance comes from Steve Carell, who gives the film its emotional core and represents the morality of the whole damn catastrophe. There are also some worthy bit-performances from Marisa Tomei, Melissa Leo and Tracy Letts, as well as celebrity cameos who shall remain nameless for now.
THE BIG SHORT is an alarming expose that will outrage anyone who sees it, and it explains the world economy to us regular folk as basically as it can. It is well written, confidently directed and brilliantly performed. It is sure to garner many accolades and will probably will lots of awards... but will it make a lick of difference to the world it's so passionately condemning? No way. To criminals at the top will continue to live a lavish life, while so many millions of others hit rock-bottom. It's heartbreaking.
2015 / Director. Khao Le.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Documentaries have been made about Walt Disney but we are yet to see a legitimate biographical feature film detailing his life and career. We got a glimpse into his world through the wonderful SAVING MR BANKS, but even then, the focus was on MARY POPPINS and not him directly. It took this very small, modest and humble film to finally capture something of his life's work.
As the title suggests WALT BEFORE MICKEY is a low budget independent film, which chronicles the early years of Walt Disney's career. Beginning with scenes depicting his childhood obsession with drawing characters the film quickly leaps forward to the creation of his first animation company “Laugh-O-Grams”. We then follow Disney through his trials and tribulations as he struggles and fights to make a name for himself. Facing financial ruin and sabotage from competing companies he enlists the business-smarts of his brother Roy and together they forge a reputation for being the premiere animators in Hollywood.
The first striking quality of the film is its production design. With an unpretentious recreation of Mid-Western America in the early 1920s and an effective era-costume design the film looks lovely and recalls the magnificent television qualities of the Kevin Sullivan productions of the 80s (ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, LANTERN HILL). It is also cast well with Thomas Ian Nicholas baring a striking resemblance to Walt and Jon Heder also having a likeness to Roy Disney.
It is a film that aims high, but falls short. There's a lot of sincerity on display, and all intentions do seem to be earnest - but sadly the script just isn't very good and so many details are lacking. There's a lot of information within the years covered by the film, and yet so little of it is shown. The mechanics of Disney's creativity is brushed over and the methods and techniques are entirely ignored. We go from Walt having a brilliant idea to it being fully realised. Huh? What? How, exactly, did he learn how to create a moving image and how did he produce a physical product? He carried film canisters in his hands throughout the film and yet there's no apparent understanding of how he made that happen. Such details are important to this chapter of his life but the film lacks the depth and understanding to fully represent these ingredients. The story also moves forward between weeks, months and years without any clear definition, and this sloppy type of storytelling lessons the integrity of the man and his work.
The makers of WALT BEFORE MICKEY brought a lot technical filmmaking skills to the table and created a great-looking film, and perhaps if they'd pursued a mini-series format they may have had less time restraints and more flexibility to flesh out the story. But as it stands, the life of Walt Disney is still waiting to be told properly. It certainly deserves to be.
2016 / Director. Quentin Tarantino.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
I don't know how, or exactly why, Quentin Tarantino films have become events. With each one comes an extensive promotional campaign and an equal measure of anticipation. As a teenager I was besotted with his work but as the years roll by my enthusiasm continues to wane. Don't get me wrong because I love his work and I revisit most of his titles regularly... however, the impact of a new Tarantino film just isn't what it used to be for me.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT is his latest and most ambitious film to date. Adhering to his reputation for retrocentricity (did I just make that word up?) he has lived up to his reputation for delivering cinematic throwbacks by not only delving into a classic genre but by also shooting the film in a stunning 70MM presentation. This fact alone does give legitimacy to it being an event film, and to see it projected so gloriously onto the big screen was something special to behold. Those who make the effort to attend one of the “roadshow screenings” of this 70MM version will be treated to a wonderful overture and a welcome intermission, as well as additional footage shot exclusively for this version.
Of course the elation of seeing this film presented in 70MM was maintained throughout its entire three-hour duration and I would encourage all to make the time to see it. It is also worth the price of admission for its amazing production design and the stunningly insatiable score by the legendary Ennio Morricone. THE HATEFUL EIGHT is, without a doubt, a feast for the senses. But is it any good? As far as I'm concerned... not really.
Three-hours is a lot to ask of an audience when the bulk of the film adheres to a single set-piece formula and relies on dialogue to carry the narrative. Tarantino's obsession with format has been detrimental to his overall story and he has delivered little more than a western retelling of RESERVOIR DOGS. While the characters are great and the performances are exceptional, the dialogue is bloated and full of pretension. This is Tarantino's ego on a platter and THE HATEFUL EIGHT is a long-winded exercise in self-indulgence.
There is no stand-out performance here, with every player in this impressive ensemble as strong as each other. They all teeter on the edge of being caricatures thanks to Tarantino's strained dialogue, however they successfully keep the necessary weight and believability to keep it from becoming too ham-fisted.
What a shame. A MUCH shorter running time could have made all the difference. In fact if it were closer to one-hundred minutes then he could have had a masterpiece on his hands. Unfortunately as it stands THE HATEFUL EIGHT is probably my least favourite Tarantino film and I can't imagine myself revisiting it any time soon.
2016 / Director. David O Russell.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
JOY is NOT a remake of the 1977 pornographic film about a female rapist (thank heavens) however it does does share that whole female empowerment thing.... so there's that!
It is a loose recollection of the true story of Joy Mangano, who became a powerful entrepreneur following her invention of the Miracle Mop. It was by no means the overnight success that headlines would tout it, and this new film from David O Russell pastes together a collage of her life and follows the hardships that came with bringing her product to market.
It is an odd film, but it is a hypnotic and inspiring one. The first half is structured in a chaotic and patchy way that presents Joy in a stifling home environment surrounded by an unstable family who all depend on her. From an agoraphobic mother to an irrational father, and a jealous sister... everyone in her life provides an obstruction and with no business smarts or financial stability she perseveres with a steely determination to overcome monumental odds.
Jennifer Lawrence is magnificent. Aways an impeccable actress, she has outdone herself this time around. Her investment in this character is full-hearted and she has delivered one of her most convincing performances to date. This Joy-ride (sorry) we go take with her, as an audience, is a volatile one with a gamut of emotions. Despite the frustration of every other character being painfully annoying, Joy lights up the screen and I found myself experiencing all of her emotions. Her highs and lows. Heartbreaks and elations. It's a tour de-force performance from Lawrence that is encapsulated in the film's very title.
David O Russell is a filmmaker who seems to be constantly evolving, and while his recent films are less edgy and provocative to those from the 90s, he is exploring deeper territories with much more maturity and constraint. His collaboration with Lawrence is an alliance that obviously serves both of them sell and hopefully it will endure for years to come.
The film does suffer a few shortcomings along the way, such as an unnecessary narration and a few impetuous character resolutions, but such things are inconsequential. They don't bring the film down and are easily overlooked in favour of excellent performances and compelling storytelling. The way in which O Russell has taken a typical rags-to-riches story and fleshed it out with some unconventional structural techniques makes it a refreshing movie-going experience. I wonder how many viewers he lost throughout the first act, with his intentionally disorderly plot device? Just as Joy persevered through her most trying times, the viewer is asked to take that journey with her and is made to wade through a series of anarchic circumstances. It's a cleverly manipulative piece of filmmaking that is very rewarding.
2015 / Director. Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
THE REVENANT opens up with an astonishing sequence that immediately accosts the audience with a stark and relentless confrontation, and makes it abundantly clear that we are in the hands of a maestro. The director is Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose previous film BIRDMAN won last year's academy award for Best film. That film showcased a precisely choreographed cinematography, which elevated what was an otherwise simple premise. He has applied the same method to this new film... on a much grander scale.
In the cold mountainous winter-land of North America, a party of fur-trappers are ambushed by natives and over thirty men are killed. With the indians on their trail the surviving men flee into the wilderness, leaving behind the valuable pelts that would have secured their income. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, a man with a half-cast son, and Tom Hardy plays Tom Fitzgerald, a merciless man who shuns authority. When Glass is mauled by a grizzly bear, Fitzgerald offers to stay behind to watch over him until help arrives. With no intentions of keeping his word he murders the son and leaves Glass to die in a shallow grave.
And so begins a long and arduous tale of revenge. And I do mean long. The story was based on a true account and was previously adapted in the 1970 film MAN IN THE WILDERNESS starring Richard Harris. There is no question that it is a compelling story, and Iñárritu's style certainly does capture the brutality and isolation of the landscape. The frigid environment is beautifully shot, with a variety of styles used to alternate between the majestic awe of the region and foreboding harshness that makes captives of the characters. The bitter chill transcends the screen and casts a shivery frost across the viewers. It is, in every technical regard, a stunning film.
Unfortunately THE REVENANT's undoing is its duration and pacing. This is a long film; much longer than it needs to be and it feels longer than it actually is. At a 156 minutes it overstays its welcome by at least 30 minutes (if not more) and the strong first act, along with the the bold final act, book-end what feels like a dozen middle acts. Clearly it is a survivalist film as well as a revenge western-thriller, and so it is necessary to present a realistic series of events. However, Glass's story would have been more emotive were his methods of survival reduced to only those, which expedite the story.
On the flip-side, fortunately the film boasts an ensemble of excellent performances, with DiCaprio delivering yet another knock-out performance. In my mind he is one of the most accomplished and consummate actors of his generation and THE REVENANT is highly likely to earn him an Oscar nomination. Tom Hardy, on the other hand, delivers more … um, Tom Hardy (with a pinch of young Jon Voight). I like the guy and he does offer a commendable counter-balance to DiCaprio's character, but his performance feels contrived. The supporting cast is excellent with Will Poulter and Domnhall Gleeson (son of Brendan Gleeson) giving the film its sense of humanity. Domnhall is popping up everywhere at the moment (EX MACHINA, FRANK, THE FORCE AWAKENS) and he's clearly on his way to becoming an A-lister. Lucas Haas also appears in the film, although his role is relegated to the background and his presence seems like a huge waste of talent.
Watch THE REVENANT for its brilliant technical accomplishments and an amazing lead performance. Immerse yourself in its textures and its beauty and embrace its savagery.... but be warned, that it's a strenuous film that demands your patience.
2015 / Director. Larry Abrahamson.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
ROOM is a confronting and gruelling film that deliberately stifles the senses and evokes an internal response. It is claustrophobic, yes, but above all else it is exquisitely beautiful. In fact as I walked out of the darkened cinema and into the bright light of day I felt emotionally drained. I had given myself over to the characters to such an extent that I didn't want to leave them behind, and as I drove home I recounted their story over and over in my mind.
The film is based on a novel and adapted by its author Emma Donoghue, and it tells the story of a mother and son who live as captives to a sick pervert in a highly secured garden shed. With reenforced sound-proofed walls and a vaulted door keeping them in, there is no possibility of escape. The woman has spent seven years inside the tiny room while her son, the result of her rapist captor, is entering his fifth year in isolation. The room is all he knows and he has no comprehension of an outside world.
Director Lenny Abrahamson's previous film FRANK was a dramatic story of mental illness disguised as a quirky comedy and while ROOM bares little narrative resemblance to it, it does demonstrate Abrahamson's same keen ability to present stories that are masked. The thematic similarities lie within the deeply layered structures and as the stories progress, he masterfully peels away each layer to reveal the next.
The story itself is, regrettably, familiar and ROOM feels like an amalgamation of recent headlines, and with so many of these cases in recent years the film may as well be a true-crime story. Whether it was inspired by Joseph Fritzel, John Jamelske or Ariel Castro (or any of the other horrible examples) the film looks beyond the sensationalised tabloids of these crimes and examines the psychological trauma that the victims endure, before and after.
The cast is phenomenal with two lead performances that are worthy of whatever accolades come their way. Brie Larson is incredible as the mother who is determined to maintain her sanity for the sake of her son, and she delivers a turn that is multifaceted and all-consuming. The son is played by Jacob Tremblay, who transcends the screen and gives us one of the most precise and endearing child-performances I have seen in years. If this kid doesn't bring a tear to your eye then I would check your pulse if I were you (just to make sure you have one). The supporting cast are great too with Joan Allen and William H Macy bringing an added measure of weight.
At times heart-wrenching... at times amusing.... and also incredibly thrilling... ROOM is a sublime film that takes the viewer through a gamut of emotions and ultimately proves to be a rewarding and fulfilling movie-going experience, and is the film that Atom Egoyan's THE CAPTIVE should have been but never came close go being.
ROOM opens in Australian cinemas on January 28, 2016.
2015 / Director. Ericson Core.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
So many people had made their minds up to hate the POINT BREAK remake long before they would ever see it. Of course it was this unsettling trend amongst movie-goers, to encourage disappointment, that had me eager to see it for myself. I dig the original film. It's a cool snap-shot from the nineties and it holds up relatively well. So is a remake necessary? Heck no (when are remakes ever necessary?)... but on the other hand I was never precious about the movie either and so the thought of a remake didn't bother me.
Sadly there is little I can relay to you in its favour. I gave it an open mind, which is more than I can say for others, but the truth is that its a fundamentally flawed and overly ambitious act of desperation that falls well short of its mark. – Mild Spoiler Alert - Right from the cheesy opening scene that goes for that whole “CLIFFHANGER” tragedy moment I was instilled with an ominous feeling and suspected that the overzealous naysayers had it right.
To the film's credit it is not a direct remake. In fact the narrative is removed far enough from the 1991 original that it would have played much better as a stand-alone movie without the unavoidable expectations of its title. Johnny Utah's back story has been changed from an inexperienced surfer to a seasoned extreme-sport professional and Bodhi is now an eco-warrior chasing a mythologised series of extreme challenges that promote a message of conservation. Utah, as in the original, must infiltrate Bodhi's circle to bring them down and in doing so he is faced with a series of blurred ethical lines.
The new back-stories to the characters are the first of many mistakes. The whole eco-warrior aspect is stupid and feels like a desperate attempt to make the movie relevant to current social standards, whereas Utah's professional extreme-sport background removes the characters's struggles to connect and infiltrate the group. The script is awful, with truly cringe-worthy dialogue and the overall structure of the narrative is about as simplistic as it gets. There's actually very little to the storyline at all and the entire film feels more like an extreme-sport highlights package.
The stunts are mostly impressive but without a tangible narrative to give them weight they all seem excessive and much too far-fetched. Not to mention the augmentation of the actual stunt footage with the characters interactions is sloppy. There's a lot of lazy green-screen work at play and the continuity blunders are the stuff of legendary drinking games. Where the action in the original film was plausible within the realms of its story, the action in this remake is entirely dumb and unlikely. From an overindulgent avalanche scene to a ridiculous monster-surf sequence, it's a hodgepodge of style over substance (where the style isn't even stylish).
The performances add insult to injury with the only person worthy of praise being Edgar Ramirez as Bodhi. I actually think he's better than Patrick Swayze was in the original, however he's up against a blockade of mediocrity where no amount of excellent on his part can salvage a damn thing.
POINT BREAK is the remake that everyone wanted to hate from the outset.... and damnit, they were right (and I hate this movie for that).