While Bigelow's film was action-heavy (including what is, to this day, arguably the best foot-chase in cinema history) it was also heavy on pathos and empathy, and that's exactly why it worked. The bromance between Utah and Bohdi was the hinge on which the film hung, the pulse-pounding, scorching action sequences were secondary. We watched one man's enlightenment via the criminal he was trying to bring down which meant his moral quandary in the final reel was all the more heartbreaking.
So along comes cinematographer Ericson Core's revamp of the much loved modern classic and in this climate of remakes, revamps, reboots and rehashes it'd be easy to dismiss this big-budget endeavour as a simple cash-in.
And you'd be right to. Because that's exactly what it is.
A remake in concept only, the 2015 POINT BREAK has Utah as a former extreme sports superstar, now an FBI recruit who infiltrates a group of socially conscious poly-athletes who are fulfilling a voyage of the soul and playing Robin Hood with financial institutions property as they go (diamonds or money, nothing's safe).
Cue 100mins of extreme sports footage with some pesky plot stuff stringing them all together. When the action sequences come (and they come often) there's no denying they are suitably spectacular. Whether it's out-running a landslide on motorbikes or free-falling through $200-million dollars one mile above the earths surface, Core's camera is surprisingly present capturing the practical set-pieces with a vibrancy and velocity strangely lacking in today's CGI-heavy action films.
The reality helps to lend credibility to the numerous sequences but unfortunately they don't amount to much when we just don't care for anyone involved. As Utah, Aussie Luke Bracey has the emotion depth of an after-dinner mint and his new team of poly-athlete friends are, sadly, little more than cannon fodder that barely have names. Even our own Teresa Palmer, in her first role since giving birth, is little more than eye-candy with no movement whatsoever unless, that is, moving from bike shorts to bikini to naked in the three scenes she turns up in.
If there is a sliver of saving grace its Edgar Ramirez's reimagining of Patrick Swayze's Bohdi. He inherently has a sexy, Latino swagger that is immediately engaging, particularly when he's being all spiritual and insightful, but a handful of broad cliches about our purpose in the world or our lack thereof become tedious which leaves...cool stunts?
The biggest loss is the bromance between Utah and Bohdi. Bigelow nailed the unspoken love affair between cop and criminal, the bonding of souls sharing something enlightening and magical. It meant that we understood Utah's decisions to pursue in the name of the law or the conflict of leaving the badge behind. Without that bond the film would be nothing. Like Core's effort. There's no heart here and as a result there's no interest. Which is a shame, because in the right hands we could have had a decent remake, but Core isn't the man for the job.
Glenn also reviewed Point Break. You can compare notes here.
The problem is that with each new project, now arriving every other year, the potency of his films diminishes considerably. It seems Malick has less and less to say the more he exorcises what's in his head.
Here the titular Knight is Christian Bale who plays Rick, an executive involved in LA's film business in some capacity (it's never explained, the people around him seem to have the important conversations while Rick longingly stares out his window) who travels between LaLa Land and Vegas, sharing hotel rooms with models and strippers and revisits 6 former flames and...that's about it.
The two hour running time is largely taken up with a drifting camera that shoots Bale's back as he looks up at the clouds, looks up at statues or slowly walks into large impressive rooms with beautiful women, the likes of which most of us will never see ourselves.
KNIGHT OF CUPS, much like Malick's oeuvre on a whole, is an exercise in the cultivation of mood and dynamic editing - Narrative be damned!
The story (what there is of it) is propelled by the juxtaposition of images, from the neon-soaked Vegas Strip to the sun-soaked beaches of Santa Monica, the lens creeps along, searching out details and fleeting moments, but there's only so many wistful shots a viewer can take before it becomes as infuriating as it is beautiful.
Slivers of dialogue key us into any given scene but those wishing for a playful raconteur will be left pulling their hair out; no sooner do we hear the words than we get a smash-cut that takes us to another point in space and time and another shot of Bale staring at the concrete.
It would be all too easy to class KNIGHT OF CUPS as 'experimental'. It may well be, but the problem is the film smacks of film-school ambitions; a loose script (if any script whatsoever), a wandering, toe-shuffling, mopey 'protagonist', dreamy soft-focus shots of the sun breaking through trees or morning dew on a leaf and a ponderous love interest inspecting a handful of sand like she's never seen such a thing, all of it accompanied by impenetrably vague, whispered, pseudo-poetry.
And we've seen it all before. Bale plays the same guy Ben Affleck played in TO THE WONDER and both of them play the same guy Sean Penn played in THE TREE OF LIFE; a depressed, detached modern man, looking for the meaning of this whole mess in the cracks of painted walls or the spinning of windmills in the desert. Talent like Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman are wasted, their skills and efforts reduced to thousand-yard stares while wearing billowing silk dresses on the foreshore.
Perhaps it's time Malick takes another hiatus until he has a thesis to explore. Or maybe he's the bravest man working in Hollywood today and simply doesn't make films like anyone else and should be celebrated... Who knows?
Now almost fifteen years later comes the sequel that no one asked for. After a disastrous attempt to adapt the film into a television sitcom, as well as a few other very lacklustre films, Nia Vardalos returns to familiar territory and brings the old crew back together for yet another big fat Greek wedding. With a moderately amusing trailer preceding its release, my expectations were suitably low. I was hoping for an equal, but anticipating a dud.... and yet the strangest thing has happened. Vardalos has delivered a film that surpasses the original in several ways. Simply put, MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 is wonderful.
The story catches up with Toula and Ian, whose marriage has been neglected amongst the never-ending weight of work, parenthood and their overbearing Greek family. Faced with the heartbreak of losing their daughter to a New York university they attempt to reconnect and rekindle the romance that seems to be lost, while being unwillingly swept up in an overblown family crisis. Her parents discover that their marriage has been unofficial for fifty years and so the entire mob pull together to throw another wedding.
The story sounds insipid... and it is. The plot itself is a loose retread of the first movie and it certainly does lack the unexpected quirk of the original. The audience is now in on the joke and had the makers not played their cards right it could have gone south very quickly. But where this sequel triumphs is with its much stronger emotional anchor. Most of the retrospective gags were poured into the trailer and audiences will be delighted to discover an entire movie full of new material and a stronger dynamic. The jokes which are recycled have been tweaked and recalibrate with endearment. The characters and relationships are wonderfully written and superbly performed. Director Kirk Jones, along with Vardalos (who wrote it), has placed more emphasis on the characters this time around and the slapstick aspects have been toned down. There's also a great opportunity for a third film that they'd be crazy to ignore.
Nia Vardos and John Corbett have a natural chemistry, which is easy to watch, but most surprising of all is the rapport between Michael Constantine and Lainie Kazan as Toula's parents. This is very much their film, and all of their previous eccentricities have been finessed for an unexpectedly sincere emotional anchor. They are two consummate performers (and legends of the screen) and their commitment to the characters will melt the hearts of the coldest patrons. I may or may not have teared up (I did).
MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 offers more of the same, and then successfully surpasses its predecessor with a clever story, a well written script and a remarkable final act that skilfully brings three storylines into one heartwarming conclusion. Oh and did I mention that it's very damn funny??
I wasn't a fan of MAN OF STEEL (as a matter of fact, I hated it) and I would best describe it as 145-minutes of tedious garbage. Therefore my expectations for BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE were exceptionally low. With that said, and despite my distaste for the previous film, I was prepared to enter into this follow up with an open mind. And for the first twenty minutes I felt a wave of reassurance wash over me. I thought “Holy shit, this is great!” It picks up in final moments of MAN OF STEEL and depicts the mass of destruction and devastation suffered following Superman's battle with Zod. At this early point the story was presenting the human cost to super-heroism and offered a surprisingly grounded take on the genre. Enter Lex Luthor and it all turns to shit.
Through misrepresentation in the media Batman doesn't like Superman and Superman doesn't like Batman (wallah, we have a title). Lex Luther brings them together while hatching up an evil scheme to destroy Superman - because, well, that's what Luthor does – and so begins a long and arduous tussle between two of the world's most iconic superheroes that plays out like two gorillas beating their chests at the zoo. Cue lots of spiffy digital effects, that would qualify BVS for a “Best Animation” nom at the Oscars, and we're left with a sloppy mess of testosterone.
There is simply too much going on in this movie for there to be any actual creditability and given that director Zack Snyder practically killed the Superman legacy in MAN OF STEEL it was reasonable to assume that he wasn't going to resuscitate it. It is what he does to the BATMAN legacy that is heartbreaking. The movie practically ignores Christopher Nolan's wonderful DARK KNIGHT efforts and presents us with a thinly developed, one-dimensional character. Aside from a few random throwaway lines, and the ruins of the Wayne Manor, there is no correlation between Ben Affleck's Batman and Christian Bale's Batman. It's a shame too because Affleck is genuinely good.
Return players from MAN OF STEEL offer limited support and serve little purpose. Aside from Amy Adams as Lois Lane, there isn't much need for the others. People may argue that their presence is important for continuity and decisive plot points, but I would argue semantics. The story would have travelled on with out them. Laurence Fishburne, Holly Hunter and Diane Lane are wasted talent. The newcomers to the franchise(s) are wasted too - most of all Jeremy Irons. We're talking about an Academy Award winning actor who is relegated to less than fifteen minutes of screen time with little more than a few flimsy catchphrases. And of course that leaves Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor; an epic example of poor casting. I would consider Eisenberg to be one of the least versatile actors in Hollywood right now, and if you've seen him in one film then you've seen them in all. What you get is Lex Eisenberg and it's awful.
If you've paid any attention to the marketing then you will know that Wonder Woman makes her long-awaited theatrical debut. I'm sure that geeky fanboys will be creaming their shorts about her role in the film, but if ever there was a character out of place, it's her. Her inclusion in BATMAN V SUPERMAN is dumb. Her costume design is lame and her backstory is hasty and underdeveloped. And if you have half a brain you will understand the film's DAWN OF JUSTICE subtitle and know precisely where this flick is headed. “Boy I can't wait for that one” he said with sarcasm.
BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE is a cut above MAN OF STEEL - and the first act is something to behold - but the rest is a messy, bloated crossover with a misplaced dedication to style... and zero enthusiasm for it's characters.
ZOOTOPIA is the 55th film from the “Disney Animated Classic” series, which these days is confusing when all of the Disney animated films blur stylistically. What began with SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DRAWFS in 1937 was once a transparent string of traditionally animated films that wove a rich tapestry of magic right through to the “Renaissance” era of titles like THE LITTLE MERMAID, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, ALADDIN and THE LION KING (to name some). And then things got digital and computer animation changed the game. Suddenly Pixar arrived on the scene and Disney found themselves producing alternative animated films that were no longer categorised alongside the classic titles that preceded. Therefore none of the Pixar films (TOY STORY, THE INCREDIBLES, RATATOUILLE, INSIDE OUT etc) are classed as “Disney Animated Classics”. But hey, that crap is for the aficionados and all that matters is the quality of the product.
ZOOTOPIA is exceptional. Set in a human-less society where animals are cultured and civilised, the film tells the simple story of an audacious young rabbit, Judy Hopps, who defies the odds to become a qualified police officer – an occupation typically given to the largest creatures. She ignores her detractors and pushes forward with a steely determination, only to be faced with further discrimination with in the force itself. When she inadvertently crosses paths with a charismatic street hustler she finds herself at the centre of the city's biggest investigation. Without any support from her colleagues or loved ones she sets about solving the case and proving that anything is possible.
The first thing that struck me about ZOOTOPIA is how terrifying this concept is. I am sure the exclusion of humans is merely a means of telling a fun and fanciful story, and yet with a few discrete comments within the film it could be assumed that the animals rose up and destroyed mankind. The characters are referred to as “evolved” and similarly to PLANET OF THE APES we are reminded that they were once wild. In fact their primitive history of being “hunters” and “prey” makes the timeline and the fate of humans ambiguous. But hey, I'm sure that Disney would rather us accept this as a alternate universe and so we'll just ignore the horrifying implications.
This is perhaps the most “adult” film I have seen from Disney's Animated Classics series. The plot structure and narrative are derived from adult-orientated genres and various winks throughout the film reference some very mature media. There's a BREAKING BAD reference that, while predictable, defied belief. I kept thinking to myself “There's opportunity here but there's NO WAY they're going to reference it... hang on, WHAT? THEY JUST DID!”. And good on them. Kids wont get that stuff and it gives the grow-up audience something extra tasty to chew on.
The script is on-point for the entire duration of the film, from a hilarious opening sequence right to the zinger of an end-scene. The dialogue is smart and punchy and every scene is riddled with solid gags that never inhibit the narrative. The characters are wonderfully conceived with immaculate attention to detail and perfectly paired voice talent. With so many creatures from the animal kingdom occupying the screen, the writers have ceased every opportunity to be clever and outrageous, and the seemingly infinite range of species has given them a powerful platform to address some very serious and topical issues.
Bigotry, intolerance, racism, sexism, discrimination and injustice are all themes that are blatantly laced throughout ZOOTOPIA, and yet despite these issues being obvious, the film never comes across as overtly preachy. It holds a mirror up to our face and reminds us of our own senseless nature... yet it does so with intelligence and fancy. It also addresses media manipulation and fear-mongering, and to be honest I was both overwhelmed and overjoyed that a light-hearted family film would be so intrepid. From Disney of all people (the makers of SONG OF THE SOUTH... sorry, I had to reference it).
You wont hate your own human existence after seeing ZOOTOPIA but you might question your own fallacies for a moment... and that can't be bad.
Pee-wee Herman makes a triumphant return in PEE-WEE'S BIG HOLIDAY, which in all honestly, is basically a retooling of PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE. Produced exclusively for Netflix (by Judd Apatow) the new movie recaptures the charm and innocence of the character, and avoids the divisive adult themes that made the previous film, BIG TOP PEE-WEE miss its mark. Pee-wee is back and is as loveable as ever. With his childish arrogance and heart of gold, he leaps off the screen as though time stood still. There's always been an wonderful underlying creepiness to the character, and the fact that he hasn't appeared to have aged in over 20 years is what's creepiest of all. Even with an inch of make-up, airbrushing and neck pins (seriously, check this out), Reuben's reprises the role with perfection and hasn't lost his touch.
When Hollywood actor Joe Manganiello rides into Pee-Wee's hometown the two of them form an instant bromance. Joe invites Pee-wee to his birthday party in New York and insists that he travel by road to discover the world and “live a little”. And so begins a cross-country adventure that, while very familiar, is full of oddities and hilarity.
Pee-wee's first film is an undeniable masterpiece of absurdist comedy. It was unlike anything that had come before it and Pee-wee's outrageous persona was unique and fresh. The strength of that movie was Tim Burton's direction. His high-concept fantasy stylings presented a child-like world that complimented Pee-wee's man-child ways. And so where PEE-WEE'S BIG HOLIDAY lacks in fantasy production aesthetics, it makes up for in absurdity. The film forewarns the audience of its senseless intentions with an opening scene that will raise eyebrows and confuse people. It's a smart kick-off that sets the bar for all of the oddity and lunacy that follows.
The chemistry between Reubens and Manganiello is strong and Manganiello casts aside his rugged reputation and embraces his inner-child. His was an unlikely piece of casting, but clearly a smart one. The rest of the cast are serviceable, although the rest of the support characters are sporadic and randomly placed. Much of Pee-wee's journey is structured in blocks. Each scenario is a means to the next, with all of the various encounters acting as stepping stones to the final act. A couple of these scenes miss the mark, but most of them work. It's fun.
The fan in me wishes that the narrative had taken a less recycled direction, but the uber-fan in me is overjoyed to have Pee-wee back. It doesn't matter that the movie retraces familiar ground. The comedy is still on-point and the loveable characteristics are as effective as ever. Netflix seems to be the perfect destination for a movie like this, and with any luck it will lead to a few more instalments. PEE-WEE'S BIG HOLIDAY is a fun and fanciful family film that will welcome a new generation of fans while embracing the legions of long-standing ones. Welcome back old friend.
LONDON HAS FALLEN sees the entire ensemble cast return to face another round of terrorists who, this time, have launched an attack on London the likes of which has never been seen before. And so within the first fifteen minutes the audience is treated to a non-stop bombardment of massive set pieces and the elaborate digital destruction of London. In fact the entire content of the theatrical trailer for the film is dealt with before the actual story even takes shape, which is a blessing for the audience as it gets all of the stodgy CGI bullshit out of the way.
What follows is a cringe-worthy gun-totin' shoot-em-up piece of ultra American patriotism that is likely to give Donald Trump the hard-on of his life. This is 100% American “good guys” versus “middle eastern bad guys”. It isn't politically correct and it makes no apologies. At one point our hero looks a terrorist in the eye and says “Go back to Fuckheadistan!” before putting a bullet in his face (or a knife through his head... or severs his spine... or one of those things). That's the level of America-Fuck-Yeah that we're dealing with and the movie couldn't care less about anyone's finer feelings. And that makes it so much damn fun!
Gerard Butler returns as secret service agent Mike Banning, who serves as President Asher's (Aaron Eckhart) personal bodyguard. Together they run from bullets and mow down the bad guys using automatic machine guns with never-ending supplies of magazine cartridges. With the earlier sloppy scenes of mass destruction out of the way, the rest of the action is well handled. The narrative moves at a breakneck pace and the impact is substantial. It is a violent and messy 100-minutes that never relents, and relishes every bone-crunching moment.
Butler has commanded the role with a confidence that was unassuming in the first film. He seems most comfortable in this brand of character, which he has been pushing for the past 10-years. With films like MACHINE GUN PREACHER, LAW ABIDING CITIZEN and GAMER under his belt, he is securing himself a position in the Hollywood Action Star hall of fame. In LONDON HAS FALLEN he also brings a cocky sense of humour, which was absent in OLYMPUS, and gives the movie a much more frivolous quality.
The other return players include Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Radha Mitchell and Melissa Yeo, but aside from Freeman and Bassett, none of them serve any purpose to the story. Forster delivers the occasional “Oh my God” and “Son of a Bitch” and Yeo (Academy Award winning actress, I might add) sits in the wings for the entire duration, looking like a stunned mullet and muttering only one single whispered line. Talk about a total waste of talent. Nevertheless their combined calibre is undeniable and their faces help give credence to the new level of absurdity that LONDON HAS FALLEN has to offer.
I suspect that the critical response to this film will be pitiful. It will be torn down and passed off as American propaganda and berated for being cliched – and so what? This is the same breed of action movie that came out of the 80s when American was #1 and Chuck Norris was their only hope! Well now they've got Gerard Butler; the most Scottish American hero of them all, who kicks ass and had fun doing it (alongside his Iranian director Babak Najafi, I might add).
When John snaps and reaches his threshold he signs her in to a facility that he cannot possibly afford. Then faced with an impossible choice of finding money or letting his mum die he turns to a local crime boss and soon finds himself committing a reprehensible crime.
GLASSLAND packs a wallop and you don't even realise it's full impact until it's over. On the surface it is a drawn-out performance piece with a straightforward narrative, but as the characters develop the story unfolds and it becomes an ugly and sinister portrait of poverty, mental health and exploitation. Although more subtle with its themes GLASSLAND lives in that soul-destroying place where films like THE WAR ZONE, NIHL BY MOUTH and TYRANASAURUS already reside.
Toni Collette and Jack Reynor give two outstanding performances that constantly rival each other, and just as Reynor delivers a phenomenon piece of acting, Collette steps in and raises the bar with a monologue that wipes the floor with his. It is a power-play that alternates throughout the entire film, unbeknownst to either of them, and makes it a truly absorbing and heartbreaking viewing experience.
There is little to be said for the technical aspects of GLASSLAND with its modest and simplistic production design. Shots are held on the characters for lengths of time, exploring the pain within the silence, and almost the entire film is shot in close-up. It is a controlled use of the camera that provides a level of intimacy that demands honesty and perfection from the performers. Toni Collette is one of the most gifted actresses of her generation, and it is these small independent films that showcase her strengths. She outdoes herself here, and much of that is thanks to Reynor's impeccable counter-act.
Sadness, heartbreak, disenchantment, anger, joy and hope. If you're as susceptible to performance and storytelling as I am then be warned that you're going to run this emotional gamut too. GLASSLAND is an understated gem.
TYKE ELEPHANT OUTLAW is one of those gut-wrenching animal welfare documentaries that rightfully argues that humans are scum. It presents a tragic story of human arrogance and a cruelty that is hard to comprehend. Using an incredible amount of real footage, Australian directors Susan Lambert and Stefan Moore explore Tykes story through first-hand accounts and witness testimony. Former handlers, patrons from the event and people from both sides of the Animal Welfare debate provide personal stories that reveal the savageness that took place behind the striped curtain.
We see barbaric beatings, insufferable conditions and the psychological torment of these majestic animals and yet there are still those unfathomable humans who ague that it's all in the name of “fun”. How these cretins can front-up and argue their case to camera is beyond me. They personify human stupidity and there's no other way to put it. And of all the former handlers and circus workers only one shows any signs of remorse. She tears up and confesses that there's a special place in Hell reserved for her. All of the others argue that they “loved” their animals and truly believe that they treated the creatures well.
The film doesn't break any new ground, nor is it trying to. It is a simple account of one elephant's story, using it's last day alive as the foundation. Possibly funded by animal welfare groups (I didn't follow the credits) it is a film about education and awareness. It had a clear and rightful agenda and it succeeds in drawing attention to a practice that is still performed in some parts of the world. The film's narrative is simple and clear. All of the featured people are given equal time and opportunity to speak freely to define their position, and at no point do the filmmakers set out to demonise anyone. They let the subjects to that themselves, and it is the industry that takes the full brunt of the film's bias... again, rightfully so.
Tyke was a gorgeous animal. A highly intelligence creature of the wild who decided, on that fateful day, that she was done with humans. She broke free of her oppressors and chose to be an elephant. It is a breathtaking display of courage, defiance and basic animal instinct... and for that she is clearly the hero of this film. May her story continue to change the world.
A young woman has a car accident in a rural area and wakes up locked inside a cellar with two men. The older guy is a conspiracy theorist who built the fall-out shelter in preparation for doomsday, but unaware of any so-called invasion the girl suspects that not all is as it seems. Trapped together with several years worth of supplies the three of them begin to feel the effects of containment and tensions escalate. To say more would venture into spoiler territory and so the rest is for you to discover.
This is an effective minimalist horror film that relies on atmosphere and suspense to hold the viewer's attention. The one-set location gives it a claustrophobic overtone and the constant uncertainty of what is unfolding makes it an absorbing mystery that exploits Hitchcockian themes. As a stand alone film, which the original script was, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE holds up only to a certain point. But by associating it with the 2008 film they have added an extra layer of intrigue, that offers an original and exciting new approach to the conventions of the “film franchise”. And so I find it absurd and frustrating that the writers would go out of their way to dissociate it by reiterating the fact that it does not occupy the same universe or timeline as CLOVERFIELD. They needn't say that at all and the film damn well COULD fit in nicely with the previous events and the title of this quasi-sequel would make more sense (so writers, shut the fuck up).
The cast of three are solid with John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead taking the reigns and filling the vacuous elements with compelling and provoking characters who constantly second-guess each other. John Gallagher Jr plays the third guy, though his character provides little to the story aside from filling the space. He's good, but his character isn't developed enough to herald any high praise. With a taught script and a notably effective pacing, the film's stifling environment never hinders the momentum and the various plot developments are both exciting and frightening.
I suspect that 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE will frustrate and disappoint a lot of viewers, and if that is the case then the onus is on the creators for being so ambiguous. To Paramount Pictures's credit they have made every effort to prepare the audience's expectations by creating a marketing campaign that ties it with CLOVERFIELD, but with a press release that contradicts these efforts, the film is more likely going to kill any hopes of further instalments.
It is a new Australian drama set in a small logging town and it tells the story of a man's homecoming, where he returns to a community full of secrets and scandal, most of which revolve around his family. It is a sticky web of deceit that threatens to ruin not only the lives of those at the centre, but also those surrounding it.
It's a film full of excellent performances and there cannot be any criticism levied at the impressive cast. Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill and Miranda Otto all give sincere turns, while Ewan Leslie and Odessa Young deliver two hair-raising powerhouse performances that stand amongst the best of the year. THE DAUGHTER is without question a performance-driven film and the pool of talent demands attention.
What troubles me about it is unidentifiable, although there is a frustrating sense of self-importance about it. I have struggled to write this review for so long because I didn't want to levy criticism unjustly, and yet time is ticking and the conclusion I have come to is that it simply rubbed me the wrong way. Obviously being vague is unfair to the filmmakers and so I would encourage you to see it. After all Australian cinema needs our support, right?
And that's partly where my reproval lies. We are constantly told that Australian cinema is in trouble. That we, the audience, are to blame for the lack of diversity and quality. And yet our industry is so inwardly focused that so many Australian films are made for the in-crowd while the average movie goer remains ostracised. THE DAUGHTER falls under that “artsy-fartsy” banner, where industry people will congratulate each other and herald it as a triumph, while the typical movie goer is more likely to piss it off as “wanky”.
If it weren't for the accomplished performances and impressive production design the film would be little more than an artistic episode of [insert title of any day time soap opera]. The plot is contrived and the revelations are obvious. Without directly dropping any spoilers I will say that more consideration and creativity could have been given to the film's title. And don't get me started on the editing.... oh boy. Almost every scene concludes with the next scene's dialogue overlapping, like an unwanted narration upon every beat. Perhaps they were attempting to establish a fluency, but all that's achieved is maximum annoyance.
There is a lot of technical merit to the film. It's cinematography and colour designs are stunning, and the mountainous forestry landscapes are remarkable... but with that in mind I should note that the 2014 film FELL already covered this aesthetic so brilliantly, leaving THE DAUGHTER as something familiar and repetitive. And when you consider Australian drama such as BEAUTIFUL KATE, JINDABYNE, OYSTER FARMER and the countless other art films, it's clear to see where our industry's true struggle lies. Do we have an identity crisis? Why is the funding being poured into these low-earners when the stats show that the audience wants stronger genre-based entertainment?
Thank God for MAD MAX and ODDBALL. These are the type of Australian films that we'll be recalling in years to come. THE DAUGHTER is more likely to end up collecting dust at the local public library.
It is a Canadian animated adventure based on a novel of the same name. Set in a sea port town in Nova Scotia in the 1950s it tells the story of a mysterious sailer who bares a striking resemblance to an infamous pirate who died several centuries ago. He arrives unannounced in the small town of Grey Rocks and befriends the son of a windowed inn-keeper. With an unexplained supernatural ability to recount historical sea-faring stories (with absolute clarity) the old man sets about helping the young boy and his mother to fend off the bully-tactics of a wealthy landlord. The old man's motive remains ambiguous, however there is clearly a reason for his arrival, and the Grey Rocks Inn holds the key unlocking the mystery.
PIRATE'S PASSAGE is something special. It is an animated film with a strong focus on story, and so good is the screenplay that it could have just as easily been a live-action film. It turns out to be a passion-project of Donald Sutherland, who was first gifted the novel by Matthew McConaughey in 2008. Upon reading the book he immediately read it again and within a matter of weeks he had set about turning into a film. As well as staring in the film he also produced it and wrote the screenplay... and the result is one of the most understated and sincere animated films I have seen in a long time.
The animation itself is pristine with a combination of traditional cell animation and carefully blended computer composites. The foggy sea-port atmosphere is captured beautifully with lovely washed out colours and a subtlety orchestrated sound design. Combine the visual excellence with equally strong dialogue and you end up with a film that recalls the darker films of Disney as well as that wonderful era when director Don Bluth dominated the animation world with his gritty flair for storytelling.
Donald Sutherland's stamp is all over the film too, which is evident in the less-is-more approach to the dialogue. The characters only talk when it is necessary for them to do so. Every word spoken is a means to developing the characters and progressing the narrative, and the material isn't dumbed dumbed down for children. The adults cuss and there is no shortage of rum (which is freely offered to the child protagonist), and themes of murder and treachery are addressed with an unadulterated directness that adds to the film's integrity. An avid Sutherland fan might also be perceptive to some of his cheeky potty humour, which is very nicely dropped in for good measure.
If you have Netflix then do yourself a favour and watch PIRATE'S PASSAGE. It's a hell of a lot better than PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and it will cast your mind back to a time when family-friendly animation was risky.
What follows is a lowbrow adventure through the bowels of Hell that suggests a strong BEETLEJUICE influence and showcases a who's who of celebrity voices.
Nick Swardson leads the ensemble of players which includes Bob Odenkirk, Danny McBride, Susan Sarandon, Rob Riggle, TJ Miller, Mila Kunis, Jennifer Coolidge, David Koecher, Brian Posehn and Michael Pena. It's a stellar cast and their contributions to the film are wonderful. Odenkirk is particularly hilarious as Satan - a flamboyant poser – who has a constant hard-on for a super sexy angel (played by Sarandon).
HELL AND BACK is a magnificent looking film and were it not for the overkill of vulgarity I would praise it for breaking the kid-friendly mould and presenting adults with a stop-motion picture of their own. Sadly the film is crammed with so much vulgarity that it becomes a one-joke movie, where the humour falls flat before the first act ends. The writers have attempted to be edgy but they've ultimately churned out a desperate attempt at being politically incorrect, which has disrespected what is irrefutably incredible animation artistry.
It breaks my heart to see something that looks so incredible being let down by such a misguided script. All of the voice talents are fantastic too, and it's a shame that they've been given such stodgy, stale and crass dialogue to work with. There are moments of hilarity and some genuine laughs to be had, but the LOL's run thin and the impact of the animation suffers severely. What a wasted opportunity. In fact, come to think of it, the whole narrative and structure of the film is almost identical to the incredible 2005 film MIRRORMASK... and so perhaps go and watch that instead. That'll teach these smarmy writers!!
The film takes place on a distant desolate moon, where a mercenary is stranded following a daring prison break on a nearby planet. Before long he discovers that he isn't alone and that there is a vicious creature lurking in the shadows. With a sentient computer as his only companion, he begins to learn the true nature of the planet and the horrifying secrets it beholds.
From that synopsis you may conclude that ARROWHEAD is a film that relies heavily on the tropes of the genre, as well as convention and cliché. And you would be correct. Despite the ambitions of O'Brien and his crew, there is no denying that the film is something of a patchwork of influences. From THE THING to PITCH BLACK and PLANET OF THE APES to the most obvious 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY. And yet despite the basic concept and premise being contrived, the importance of this new film lies with it's technical significance.
The film represents a brand of filmmaking that is sorely lacking within the Australian film industry. While it's true that we do often venture into strong genre territory, the sad reality is that we rarely do it without foreign investment and assistance. Jesse O'Brien's ARROWHEAD is a bold cinematic sci-fi that sets the challenge for future filmmakers. It proves that with little money, a lot of talent and a dogged determination, such things are possible right here at home.
I am hesitant to dwell on the film's shortcomings, but for the sake of an honest review I will take a moment to discuss them. Narratively speaking, the film is a mess. Very little of the story makes any sense and I would hazard a guess that multiple viewings will continue to stump viewers. Things happen that seem to contradict established ideas and there is an obvious problem with continuity, which in fairness is masked with a deliberately convoluted plot device. I could feel the whole writing process throughout the film, which made for an unfortunate disconnection with the story. I can't help but wonder whether or not O'Brien knew where the film was heading at the time he was writing it. The other major issue is the film's running time. Despite ARROWHEAD only being 90 minutes long it felt much longer, and it could have done with a 15 to 20 trim. The story stagnates with several unnecessary false-endings and it would have been a much more fluent and cohesive film with a little more restraint.
Nevertheless ARROWHEAD is an amazing-looking film and marks the arrival of an important filmmaker. Jesse O'Brien demonstrates a similar sensibility and technical virtuosity that we saw a decade ago with Neill Blomkamp's debut DISTRICT 9, and there is no question that will likely have the major studios eating out of his hand over the next few years. Having a debut film as visually incredible as this speaks for itself. The accomplishment is colossal and it compensates for whatever shortcomings lie within. I can't wait to see what O'Brien does next.
The film tells the true story of - what is considered to be – the greatest small boat rescue in the history of the American coast guard. An oil tanker breaks in half during a severe storm with 33 crew members stranded as it slowly sinks. They race against time to stall their inevitable fate, with one engineer taking charge and thinking outside of the box. Meanwhile the coast guard sends out a four man crew in a motored lifeboat with orders to breach the treacherous and impenetrable sea bar, where the odds of survival are stacked against them.
Of course the film is based on a true story and obviously they survive. The predictability of the film is irrelevant because, after all, it's a Disney film... and a heroes story. I am sure that THE FINEST HOURS will attract the usual cynics and detractors, who prefer realism over extravagance, but those who appreciate adventure with a heavy dose of romance and charm will lap up every moment of this stunningly executed and beautifully cinematic experience.
Chris Pine and Casey Affleck lead each side of the story. Pine takes control of the rescue, while Affleck commends the crew onboard the stricken ship. Both embody a classic Hollywood bravado that was once governed by the likes of Kirk Douglas, Steve McQueen and Burt Langcaster. They fully comprehend the film's nostalgic qualities and remind us what movie stars used to be all about. The supporting cast is good with players like Ben Foster, Graham McTavish and Holliday Grainger all lending understated performances that allow the leads to dominate the screen. The one unfortunate piece of miscasting is Eric Bana as the callous Coast Guard commander. His southern accent is forced and he struggles to match the quality of talent around him. That is the result of poor casting and bares no reflection on him as an actor. Nevertheless his role is small enough for the rest of the story to overshadow.
All throughout the film my mind was cast back to some of Disney's greatest adventures such as THIRD MAN ON THE MOUNTAIN, 20 000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and TREASURE ISLAND, and my imagination was captured by its seamless combination of action, drama and camaraderie. I felt exhilarated by what was unfolding on screen and I was reminded of how I reacted to so many epic films as a child. Disney may have glazed over the story and delivered it in a highly stylised fashion, but that's what they do best and the result speaks for itself. THE FINEST HOURS is a fitting tribute to the men who inspired the story and it honours their legacy with a film that will reach millions of people to help tell their tale.
If you take the time see this film in cinemas (and I recommend you do) then be sure to accommodate a reasonable degree of lenity. Embrace its majesty and cinematic awe, and remind yourself that this is what Disney does. It's wonderful.