Movies like this are a dime a dozen and to succeed they must overcome the predictability factor and compensate the audience with the right amount of sentimentality. We love underdog stories because we can relate to the characters. We've seen people rise up against adversity in countless films like COOL RUNNINGS, GLORY ROAD and HOOSIERS, and despite knowing precisely where the film is going and how it will end, these characters represent the good in humanity and give hope to those who struggle.
Such films are always inspired by true events and major creative-licence is taken for maximum impact. EDDIE THE EAGLE is exactly that. It tells the story of Michael Edwards, a British ski-jumper who defied all odds to pursue his dream of becoming an olympic competitor. The narrative of his real-life story is entirely different to what the film depicts, and so it's best to approach this one with a generous suspension of disbelief.
Edwards is played by Taron Egerton, who previously starred in KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE, and if you thought he was good in that film then you are going to be blown away by his performance in this one. He has found - and tapped into - the humility and pride that Eddie personified. His turn as the unlikely hero is humble and kind-hearted, and he oozes sincerity. Were it not for his stellar performance, the film would have unquestionably fallen into the “miss” side of the scale. Hugh Jackman lends his support as Eddie's trainer, a disgraced former champion who seizes his own opportunity at redemption. His character is entirely fictional, which doesn't sit well with me. In reality Edwards accomplished everything single handedly. He silenced his critics all on his own, and to undermined that achievement is disingenuous. Aside from putting an A-list name on the poster, I don't understand the need to fabricate such a character.
Nevertheless Jackman is good and generous amount of ignorance will serve movie-goers well. The narrative is cliched and contrived, and it is exactly what you would expect from the genre.... but it travels its path carefully and works its way towards the climax nicely. The suspense is effective and the Olympic environment is captured well enough. If it weren't for Egerton's wonderful performance EDDIE THE EAGLE would be a take-it-or-leave-it type of movie (thank God for him). The movie will make you feel good and it will give you a nice helping of the warm-and-fuzzies, but if you think you're getting a good look into this fascinating character's life, then think again. You've been given an 'essence' of his story, and that's about it. Google Michael 'Eddie' Edwards afterwards and marvel at his tenacity.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is essentially THE AVENGERS 3 and with the exception of Thor and Hulk the whole gang is back together. Add some newcomers to the team and you've got a royal rumble of superheroes, each flaunting their abilities and vying for the most impressive action sequences.
Following the wake of destruction left behind the Avengers previous escapades, the governments of the world demand accountability. No longer prepared to accept reasonable collateral damage, the United Nations impose a set of sanctions on the private organisation and promise criminal prosecution should the rules be ignored. These new measures cause a division within the group, and when Captain America refuses to tow the line, the scene is set for an inner conflict that will test each of their moral compasses.
Forget the title. This is an all-in adventure, where Iron Man's character development is as significant as Captain America's, and where the others chip in equally. The one major flaw with this Avenger-heavy concept, however, is the absence of Thor and Hulk. Their non-attendance weakens the story and with all players expected to sign an agreement with the UN you wonder how the hell that works without them? Nevertheless when you put that qualm aside the film is a savvy and proficient contribution to a heavily saturated market.
Marvel clearly understand their audience and they're getting smarter with each film. In CIVIL WAR they have begun to examine the moral ambiguity and responsibility that comes with being a superhero. Of course this isn't a new concept, but they tackle these themes better than anyone else thus far. The film does what BATMAN V SUPERMAN was unable to. It successfully scrutinises the moral perimeters and explores the psyche of it's characters. All of the destruction of past films is brought to account and the necessity of such excess is put under a microscope. It's this philosophical aspect that keeps the film on its feet. Without this strength, it could have been a messy affair indeed.
150-minutes is too long for a superhero movie, and CIVIL WAR certainly pushes its luck. In attempting to flesh out backstory, while balancing elaborate set-pieces, the narrative struggles under the weight. Thanks to an audience that demands instant gratification, it would seem that Marvel has compromised some of its integrity by overdoing the action. The film is excessive and the style is uneven. It pinballs between a gritty, washed-out aesthetic to colourful and cartoonish frivolity. That's not to imply that the action is bad... to the contrary. In fact one major set-piece sets a new standard for the genre. It involves an all-on brawl that would seem ludicrous to passive movie-goers, but will connect with comic-book fans on a very personal level. It's the contrast between serious and fun that took me out of the film at times.
Irrespective to those apprehensions, CIVIL WAR is an absorbing entry into the superhero genre that builds upon a strong foundation. The characters are well established and their plight is engaging, and despite being self-indulgent, the action is well executed and wonderfully mischievous. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo have done what Zack Snyder couldn't. Good on 'em.
Matthew Saville is arguably one of Australia’s most sought-after directors. His name is stamped on some of the decade’s most critically acclaimed Australian television, including Please Like Me, The Slap, Cloud Street andWe Can Be Heroes, and his ability to pair stylish aesthetics with strong emotionally-anchored storytelling is exemplary. A Month of Sundays is his fourth feature-length film following Noise, the Graham Kennedy TV biopicThe King and 2013’s impressive crime-thriller Felony.
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With the promise of good pay he signs on and finds himself undergoing rigorous training with a team of young fighters, each of them having been saved from disadvantage in exchange for their loyalty and service. Their objective is to combat drug cartels long the US/Mexican border, but as the training methods become irrational, Mitch begins to suspect an ulterior motive.
Director Charles Burmeister's previous film was COLOMBUS DAY starring Val Kilmer, which was a poorly received film with a troubled production. Outrageous producer interference lead to the film being bastardised and Burmeister learned what it was to be a Hollywood puppet. Eight years later he returns with MERCURY PLAINS and from appearances it would seem that he has control again. This is a much bolder film with an improved execution and a much stronger focus.
The story hits the ground running and the premise is established within the first ten minutes. Before we know it Mitch is thrown into his new environment without any legitimate attempt to build context around his predicament, and little regard for his backstory. The film's rush to the action deprives it from emotional devices that may have given the audience a stronger attachment to the story. It's difficult to sympathise with Mitch regardless of the adversity he's forced to overcome and there's very little compassion. On the flip side, what the film lacks in character depth it makes up for with style. MERCURY PLAINS is a smart-looking movie, with a dusty wind-swept atmosphere and a production design that almost aligns its aesthetic with films like TRAFFIC, EL GRINGO and 2 GUNS.
Eastwood commands the screen with an eerie resemblance to his father, which is almost distracting. Several times throughout the film I kept recalling his old-man's earlier work and the likeness is uncanny. He is certainly his father's son and Scott is proving to be a future star. The remaining cast are all good, although their ensemble lacks any distinct stand-out. They service the story well, but never dominate the screen. The fast pace and taut running time keep film engaging and there isn't a lull in sight. This is definitely a step in the right direction for Eastwood and Burmeister, and I anticipate good things ahead.
Sometimes when watching a movie you can reach a level of bewilderment that forces you to take stock of the situation and remember what it's all about. The fabric of cinema is escapism, and entertainment is the objective... and despite all of the face-palm reactions and “as if” moments BIG GAME is a shit-load of fun.
This strange action-adventure from Finland marks the return of director Jalmari Helander following his incredible Christmas horror flick RARE EXPORTS, and he comes to the party full of ambition and audacity. Set in the mountainous landscapes of Finland the story follows a 13-year old boy sent into the wilderness for two days as a rite of passage. Expecting to hunt deer, he ends up protecting the American President and fighting off international terrorists. Ah huh, that's right. Air Force One is shot down and the bad guys want blood.
Samuel L Jackson takes the lead and delivers cinema's unlikeliest president. There is zero plausibility to his character and yet in a movie like this, it just makes sense. You watch his every move awaiting that euphoric “mother fucker” moment, although his character is unexpectedly wimpish. His co-star is Onni Tommila, the kid from RARE EXPORTS, and he does a top-notch job. He's a micro action hero who leaps off cliffs and hangs from helicopters.... enough said.
The most staggering thing of all is the prestigiousness amongst the supporting cast. Jim Broadbent, Ray Stevenson, Felicity Huffman, Ted Levine and Victor Garber all join the fun and it begs the question – why? I can only assume that they signed on based on the critical acclaim of RARE EXPORTS. With the film's total budget of $10M it certainly wasn't the money that attracted them. None of them are particularly good they spend most of their time acting inside a poorly crafted government crisis room.
Where BIG GAME works is in its style. It's shot beautifully and even the hokiest of green-screen effects have a strange fanciful allure. Gratuitous lighting designs and an overuse of fog-machines give the movie a fairy-tale quality that sling-shots it into the stratosphere of heightened-reality. It's difficult to dislike this cheeky oddball adventure and my recommendation is to leave your common sense at the door. Bust open a packet of chips, down a few brews and enjoy the shit out of BIG GAME!
Kodi Smit-McPhee stars as a dissociated teenager trying to navigate his way through life. He has shut himself off from the world and rejects the help of his mother. Despite regular therapy sessions he struggles to find the direction he so desperately needs, but when he crosses paths with a homeless busker he discovers a subversive world of alcohol and drugs, and meets a girl who helps him put his life into perspective.
The story is simple enough, and were it to be told in a simple way its impact would be lost. Thankfully director Michael Johnson uses every trick in his book to create what is best described as an experimental artistic expression. Music by Jonsi & Alex (from Sigur Ros) sweeps across most of the film, with other alternative outfits such as Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Sonic Youth and Blouse helping to create a kinetic atmosphere. With a strong marriage of sound and vision the style of film blends with the narrative and makes for a transcending experience.
Kodi Smit-McPhee is excellent in the lead and he delivers a heartfelt performance that showcases an impressive emotional range. The supporting cast also strong, with Danny DeVito's turn as the unassuming psychologist being an obvious standout. His screen time is limited to two scenes, however, his on-screen presence is unmistakable and his role provides a pivotal maker-point for the young character's journey.
ALL THE WILDERNESS is an unfeigned drama without any pretensions and avoids all of the sappy melodramatic trappings. It stirs reminders of titles like THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER and AUGUST RUSH, and impresses with its mixed bag of stylistic tricks.
Following the critical acclaim of his previous film Mud, director Jeff Nichols returns with an unexpected science-fiction thriller that borrows heavily from a multitude of influences while presenting a unique and compelling story that grips the viewer from the outset. [CLICK THE IMAGE ABOVE TO READ FULL REVIEW AT THE REEL WORD.]
Set in the 17th century a family is banished from their community for the crime of conceit, and are forced to resettle alone in the remote wilderness. Their farm is failing and all hope of prosperity seems lost when suddenly their woes are confounded by the disappearance of their infant child. Believing it to be the work of Satan, the two grief-stricken parents spiral into a state of madness and believe a witch to be amongst them. And so begins a nightmarish descent into psychosis and paranoia.
I saw the film in a full cinema and the divide amongst the audience was palpable. Those without the historical knowledge made themselves known to the rest of us. They would laugh at the New English dialect and scoff at the character's acceptance of the divine. The fact that these people were watching THE VVITCH at all was hard to comprehend and the only logical assumption is that they were expecting a generic run-of-the-mill horror film (as opposed to the existential art film that it is)... The rest of us were thoroughly engrossed.
This is a dark and deeply disturbing film, saturated with despair. Its images are confronting and, at times, repulsive, and it is a story without light. The performances are outstanding, with the children being particularly good, and it is an astonishing feat to have them deliver such sincerity from a complex dialogue that rivals that of Shakespeare, not to mention the maturity of the themes and situations they're asked to convey.
THE VVITCH is director Robert Eggers' debut feature film and one that ought to cement him a place amongst cinema's greats. His whole approach to the film is audacious and contradicts what popular culture would demand of such a story. He avoids the tacky cliches, and yet relies on some very traditional ones, and with an authentic and unforgiving environment he has crafted an original and terrifying horror film that recalls the nightmarish work of Argento and Polanski.
The running time is long and the narrative would benefit from some ruthless cuts. With 10-minutes stripped from it, the film would be as close to immaculate as anyone could expect. It is nevertheless one of the most disturbing and atmospherically consuming films I have seen in a long time. It is an experience that lingers long after the credits roll and one that becomes more potent upon reflection.
This is not an exceptional film, mind you. Nor is it an inspired one. For the most part it adheres to the conventions and treads familiar territory. But with a few refreshing subversions and an incredibly stylish production design, it passes the test and proves to be an effective, no-nonsense thriller.
Kate Siegel plays Maddie, a deaf and mute writer who lives alone in a secluded house. When a masked man appears at her window she must rely on her remaining cognitive senses to defend herself and keep the psychopath out. And that's it. A simple story with a new level of intrigue.
Director Mike Flanagan strips away the genre and takes a minimalist approach. With his lead subject's disability he has given himself alternative methods of suspense. Along with Maddie, the audience is exposed to silence. Very little is spoken throughout the film and at times the sound is dropped entirely. The effect is surprisingly tense. Without the revealing sounds of footsteps or creaking floor boards we find ourselves at the mercy of the maniac and unable to sense his whereabouts. This is a clever and welcome trope that gives HUSH an upper hand on its rivals.
The story hits the ground running with the terror kicking off almost immediately. With an understated and restrained score, along with a controlled and fluent cinematography the film wastes no time and establishes itself as a taut thriller. Neither of the lead performances are exceptional, but they are efficient and acceptable.
Where HUSH falters – ever so slightly – is in its writing. There are moments in the final act that fall victim to cliché, and a few unnecessary fantasy sequences threaten to undo the suspense. Thankfully these moments pass and the narrative picks itself up and brings things to a satisfying conclusion. It's violent, surprising and a little bit unconventional at times. It's not a perfect film but there's certainly a lot worse home-invasion flicks out there.
It's streaming exclusively to Netflix so if you have the service, you've got nothing to lose. Check it out and see for yourself.
In the cover of darkness a VHS smuggling ring would traffic American films into the country, which where then overdubbed and duplicated. The ringleader was a man called Teodor Zamfir and his operation would become one of the most significant influences on the eventual uprising and revolution. Films such as Rocky, Beverly Hills Cop, Missing in Action, Pretty Woman and thousands of other titles became a window to the world. Illegal movie nights all over the country would see dozens of people crammed into single room apartments to watch poor-quality videos dubbed into Romanian by one solitary woman, Irina Nistor. Unbeknownst to her she would become the voice of freedom and the unofficial spokesperson for The West.
CHUCK NORRIS VS COMMUNISM is a Romanian documentary that looks back on that era and explores the significance of the illegal VHS trade. With first-hand accounts and beautifully staged reenactments, the film is a nostalgic recollection, which presents a celebration of the power of film.
Director Ilinca Calugareanu has brought together an entertaining assortment of characters who provide talking head testimony and recall their youth with equal measures of joy and sadness. They share amusing stories and recall their favourite films, and with such emotive expression they explain how the American culture - as seen through movies - gave them the hope and the determination to fight for their freedom. Also featured are the real life protagonists themselves, whose voices guide the story and provide insight into the dangerous trade. Their stories are incredible and the documentary provides an ongoing narrative through reenactment that puts the viewer right there amongst it. The result is a compelling history lesson that is as exhilarating as the movies it discusses.
The structure and overall direction of CHUCK NORRIS VS COMMUNISM is as accomplished as I've seen in recent years. Every detail is carefully ordered as to build an aura of mystery, and as the narrative enters its final act, various personalities are revealed. By this time I found myself so invested in their story that an overwhelming sense of relief and awe washed over me. It is a true story with heroes, and they are the unlikeliest of characters.
The film has a very specific focus, and anyone wanting a detailed account of the Romanian Revolution will be disappointed. That story is, indeed, a tragic moment in time and thousands of lives were lost in the uprising. What CHUCK NORRIS VS COMMUNISM does is celebrate the people's triumph and explores the seeds of their insurgence. The power of film inspired an entire nation of people to want more out of life and this is an exceptional piece of filmmaking. Outstanding!
Here are some definitions as found on Urban Dictionary:
1) The act of lubing and slipping a 9-volt battery (perferably of the Energizer brand because they keep going and going) into one's own anus or the anus of an unsuspecting other while performing fellatio.... nope, this film isn't about that!
2) When a dog (or any animal or even an unruly spouse) has an itchy anus and proceeds to drag it on the ground to soothe the burning anal itch.... nope, not that either.
3) Method of sex wherein two are loving in a bathtub while employing a glow-in-the-dark rubber. Depending on where you call home - i.e. marshy locale - you may want to poop in the tub after eating something especially disagreeable to your intestines.... errr, no.
Okay so while those aforementioned scenarios are begging for the Hollywood treatment, I still have no fucking idea what ELECTRIC SLIDE is.
So lets just focus on the story. It is loosely based on the true crimes of Eddie Dodson, a flamboyant robber who held up over 60 banks in the course of a few months. With money owed to every crook in town he takes to the bandit lifestyle like a rockstar and becomes addicted to it. With the cops closing in, he grows even cockier until it all spirals out of control.
The film endured a long and arduous development with Ewan McGregor and Carey Milligan attached to star before dropping out when pre-production was taking too long. Jim Sturgess and Isabel Lucas stepped in and took over and as a consequence the creditability of the film suffered. I am a big Sturgess fan and I am, perhaps, more forgiving of his work than others. I enjoy his on-screen presence and would love to see his Hollywood status higher than what it is. Having said that, I honestly couldn't buy into his performance in ELECTRIC SLIDE. With a painfully feigned eccentric accent, he offers a performance that is better described as a caricature. He isn't helped any by the presence of Lucas, who is unequivocally one of the least talented actresses of a generation.
Thankfully their performances are given a nudge by three unexpected players. Patricia Arquette, Chloe Sevigny and Christopher Lambert lend their support and, while Arquette and Sevingny's roles are relegated to extended cameos, Lambert's turn as a ruthless crime boss is a welcome return to form. With his recently performance in the Coen Brother's HAIL, CAESAR! it is great to see him take to the screen again.
The early 80's period production design feels ever-so-slightly forced. With the blatant tackiness of AMERICAN HUSTLE and the confined restrains of THE KEY MAN, it alternates between being excessively indulgent to cleverly refined. The result of this is a mish-mash of ideas that never quite gel.
On the plus side, the soundtrack is excellent and the cinematography is inspired. There are lots of delicious tracking shots and wide angles set against infectious music that creates moments, which could easily be isolated as music videos. For its technical style alone ELECTRIC SLIDE has its merits. Had the performance been reigned in, and more attention been given to the factual aspects of the real life story, then we would have been discussing a very compelling film. Sadly, as it is, it misses the mark.
There is so much more to Dodson's story, such as his close friendship with Jack Nicholson, and his life could have made for a wonderful bio-pic.
For the entire duration of the film I kept thinking “hurry up and die?” and to quote the film itself her character is a “bigoted, blinkered, cantankerous, devious, unforgiving, self-serving, rank, rude, car-mad cow”. Want more? Okay... “which is to say nothing of her flying feces and her ability to extrude from her withered buttocks turds of such force, that they land a yard from the back of the van and their presumed point of exit.”
So clearly from the humour of that quote, she is a character upon which we are supposed to loathe. Her name is Miss Shepherd and she is a mysterious old woman who lives a hermit life inside an old dilapidated van on a suburban street in London. Her reputation precedes her wherever she goes and a local playwright, Alan Bennett, has the misfortune of her squatting on his property (squatting in an unlawful occupancy sense... dear God, not the other!). What began as a neighbourly gesture turned into 15-years of living hell as she filled his yard with rubbish, squalor and human waste.
LADY IN THE VAN is a grotty story, that is surprisingly unconventional and very endearing. And its effectiveness comes down to a strong and long-established foundation amongst the creatives. Writer Alan Bennett wrote the original story based on his own experience, which was adapted for the stage in the late 90s, starring Maggie Smith. She later reprised the role for a BBC adaptation in the 2009. Furthermore Bennett previously worked alongside director Nicholas Hytner on THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE and THE HISTORY BOYS. And so their latest collaboration is the product of a strong working relationship and a complete understanding of the material. Add some bold and unorthodox methods of storytelling and we're left with a unique and thoroughly enjoyable film.
Maggie Smith's character is repulsive and delightful in equal measure and I would argue that this is one of her most sincere performances to date. She commands the screen with authority and every unsavoury moment is delivered with the relish a child might get from pranking their headmistress. My reservations towards her onscreen presence were quickly forgotten and I found myself besotted with her cranky old antics and unwavering hostility towards others. Alex Jennings is also excellent and he matches Smith's performance with a character arc that is refreshingly esoteric. I felt the murmurous of confusion amongst the audience as the script persistently defied conventions and pushed against the fourth wall.
THE LADY IN THE VAN is an odd one and there's no question about that. It is precisely what you might expect, but also entirely different to what you may anticipate. No doubt that won't make any sense to you and so you'll just have to see it for yourself. I highly recommend it.
Helen Mirren stars as a high ranking colonel in charge of a major global operation to capture the most wanted terrorists in the Middle East. From her command post in Sussex, England, she coordinates the mission alongside the American air force in Nevada and ground troops in Kenya, and finds herself in a unique position to launch an air strike that would take out all three major targets, as well as two imminent suicide bomb attacks. What was to be a simple and decisive action becomes complicated when a civilian child walks into the target-zone and puts the mission into a precarious state of political and ethical unrest.
It is a compelling and thoroughly engaging military thriller that examines modern warfare and presents compelling arguments for both sides of the discussion. Throughout the course of the events the question of proportion is constantly reiterated. Is one child's life worth sacrificing for the sake of preventing an attack that would potentially kill hundreds? As the story unfolds the audience is kept in a perpetual state of uncertainty while the various levels of command argue over the moral, legal and political consequences. Meanwhile the window of opportunity to strike is increasingly narrowed and the likeliness of a preventable terrorist attack is increased.
Mirren is joined by a solid lineup up support players, none which share any screen time. Alan Rickman - in his final on screen performance - is outstanding as the higher ranking Lieutenant General overseeing the operation from a London conference room alongside key government figures. He commands the screen with a subtle authority that is at times as chilling as it is compassionate. Aaron Paul plays the American drone pilot tasked with pulling the trigger, and struggles with the moral implications of personally killing a child under strict orders. Barkhad Abdi follows up his terrifying performance in CAPTAIN PHILLIPS with an antithetical performance as an undercover agent on the ground, who must find a way to put eyes inside the terrorist compound.
Director Gavin Hood has kept the film effectively contained and maintains a constant level of tension throughout its 102-minute running time. He divides the film amongst four points of operation and pin-balls between them effortlessly. He also presents an in-depth look at modern warfare, and technical operations that prove to be so incredible that you question where fact and fiction actually blur. The technology used for this chilling intelligence operation is staggering and it is both scary and reassuring to know that such incredible capabilities exist.
EYE IN THE SKY is a simple premise that facilitates a complex discussion. In fact is plays out similarly to films like FAIL SAFE and DETERRENCE, but rather than taking a strong position, it puts the onus of morality on the viewer. The engagement of direct action is not as simple as “do” or “don't” and the consequences of either side are as equally catastrophic. What a fucked up world we live in, huh!?