So, the big question is… was it worth the wait? Well, the answer is probably yes… and no.
Gilliam’s vision for Quixote is a prismatic film-within-a-film-(within a kind of filmic dreamlike reality). If that seems like it would be hard to follow, it’s not really. Adam Driver is Toby, a hack commercial filmmaker working in Spain on a big-budget version of Miguel de Cervantes epic novel, Don Quixote… and things aren’t going well. His belligerent, racist producer, referred to only as The Boss (Stellan Skarsgård) is on his back with demands from the Russian backers and The Boss’s girlfriend Jacqui (Olga Kurylenko) seems to have eyes for him. Then, one night at dinner, a Gypsy (Óscar Jaenada) approaches Toby with a bootleg DVD. It turns out to be Toby’s own student film, made in a nearby village when he was still young and idealistic. Exasperated by where his career has gone, Toby jumps on a motorcycle and sets out for the village to try and rediscover what he believed about art back then. But what he finds is a strange kind of tourist trap memorialising his student film and, most surprisingly, he discovers that the cobbler he cast as Quixote (Jonathan Pryce) has come to believe that he truly is the fictional character. What’s more, this version of Quixote decides that Toby is his Sancho Panza and drags him off on a quest that shifts deliriously between the student film, the world of Cervantes novel and the real world.
This hyper-stew of mixed up storytelling is what Gilliam excels at and, for much of the movie, he manages to navigate the circuitous route from one world to the other. And, as you might expect, the visuals and production design along the way are wonderful especially in the long, climactic scenes of the film (Gillam’s film, not Toby’s). Kudos to Production Designer Benjamín Fernández and Art Directors Alejandro Fernández and Gabriel Liste.
But, sadly, the story (co-written by Gilliam and Tony Grisoni) is often not as compelling as the mise-en-scene and we sometimes end up twiddling our thumbs through the becalmed bits of narrative, waiting for the creative winds to fill the sails again so that the tale may move on. What saves it (mostly) are the outstanding performances, especially from Pryce. It’s almost thirty-five years since Gilliam and Pryce first caught our eye in Gilliam’s exceptional Brazil. Whilst this movie might not achieve the glorious madness of that film, it certainly aspires to it and if it fails, it’s a noble failure. Pryce, on the other hand, excels in the role of Quixote (a far superior effort than his pedestrian role in last year’s The Wife) and Driver’s performance, like Sancho Panza, is all the better for what the Knight of the Woeful Countenance gives him to work with.
I can’t help feeling that the extraordinary baggage that this film carries has an impact on our expectations of it and that that might not be entirely fair. As the unlikely culmination of a thirty year folly, it might not be what we hoped for, but as a film in its own right, it’s bold and ambitious and a feast for the eyes, populated with characters worthy of Fellini, told through marvellous performances by a talented cast and as ambitious in the scale of its storytelling as anything Gilliam has done before. That it falters along the way is disappointing, but it doesn’t stop it from being an enjoyable and entertaining couple of hours. And as far as Gilliam’s career as a filmmaker goes? There’s still a promise here, especially with this particular monkey off his back, that he might yet pull off one last masterpiece.
So, it was with some apprehension that I sat down with my popcorn to see Destroyer. It didn’t take long - not much more than the opening credits - to allay my concerns. Kidman is, indeed, astonishing in this film. But the film itself can take a lot of credit for how well she comes across as the wreckage of Erin Bell, an La Cop who’s lost to booze and guilt and self- recrimination over events from her past that, very soon, we will come to understand.
Director, Karyn Kusama (Aeon Flux, Girlfight) working from a screenplay by regular collaborators Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, delivers this complex story with a sure hand, moving easily and effectively between the present day and the events of seventeen years ago when then, State cop, Bell, is teamed up to work undercover with an FBI agent, Chris (Sebastian Stan) infiltrating a gang of bank robbers led by the cold-hearted sociopath, Silas (Toby Kebbell). The present-day story kicks off with the horribly hungover and unwashed Bell staggering into a murder scene where a bank-dyed hundred-dollar bill on the dead body is a clue that links back to Silas. (Kidman’s performance is so genuine and raw, you can almost smell the stink coming off the character when she enters the scene). What follows is an old-school style cop story as Bell tries to track down Silas and face the demons she left behind all those years ago. The structure of the unfolding narrative sees her go from one former gang member to the other, following the breadcrumbs of clues that she believes will eventually lead her to her nemesis.
The cast is uniformly powerful and gripping. Kebbell is frightening in his narcissistic dominance of all around him. The present day scene between Bell and Toby (James Jordan) is heart-wrenching and the past and present scenes with Silas’ girlfriend Petra (Tatiana Maslany who, herself, gave us a tour de force of multiple roles in the excellent Canadian ScfiFi thriller Orphan Black) have as much pathos as they do tension. In each case, the actors navigate the shift in character between their younger selves in 2001 and their present day selves in 2018 in a way that feels as authentic as it does devastating for the way their lives have been poisoned and ruined (one might even say destroyed) by Silas.
The real surprise here, though, is the screenplay, written by the duo that gave us The Tuxedo (2002), Clash of the Titans (2010) and Ride Along 1 & 2 (2014-16). It’s hard to reconcile that the writers of those slight movies crafted this complex and compelling story that unfolds in a binary timeframe underpinned by a chain of great scenes, one after the other, where characters are quickly and sharply drawn whilst exposition is deftly insinuated into the narrative. It also has a great little twist that makes the structure of the clever storytelling even cleverer still.
What elevates the story, though, from formulaic procedural to intensely human drama is the excruciatingly dysfunctional relationship between Bell and her teenage daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn) who lives with her guardian Ethan (Scoot McNairy). The pain of witnessing her daughter on the verge of destroying her life in similar style to the destruction Bell has brought upon herself is tenderly and sensitively handled and allows Kidman to really demonstrate her acting chops beyond the effect of excellent make-up and a noticeable lack of Botox. I do wonder, though, why such a fuss is being made about Kidman’s acting ability in this role when it comes hot on the heels of her outstanding work in Big Little Lies (HBO 2017). Still, if her recent statement that she intends to give a priority to making work with female creatives gives us more what we see in DESTROYER and Big Little Lies, then the best of her career is yet to come.
In JUST SAY GOODBYE we meet Jesse (Max McKenzie) as a six-year-old (played by Joseph Colangelo) who comes home from school to discover that his mother Olivia (Olivia Nossiff) has overdosed on sleeping pills. Jump ten years to the adolescent about to turn sixteen, living in an untenable situation with his alcoholic father who, since the mother’s death, has been paralysed both figuratively (by grief) and literally (by an accident that has left disabled). Jesse’s a smart, sensitive, sassy-mouthed kid who’s an easy target for the school bully, Chase (Jesse Walters). The only bright light in his life is his best friend Sarah (Katerina Eichenberger) who is understandably infuriated and devastated when Jesse announces that he’s had enough and is planning to end his life at midnight on his birthday.
This is a modest, low budget affair for first time director, Matt Walting and first-time screenwriter Layla O’Shea and, for the most part, they navigate the dangerous territory of this story with a refreshing combination of sensitive insight and wit. McKenzie and Eichenberger are terrific together. There’s a palpable authenticity to their friendship that helps to raise the stakes for both of them when the enormity of Jesse’s plan is revealed. Less effective is the overwrought, mostly one-note character of Rick, Jesse’s seriously depressed father. Whilst we get to know Jesse and Sarah really well in the course of the film, Rick’s development as a character is minimal which feels like a missed opportunity to explore the interior world of the father who is just as vulnerable as the son and on just as self-destructive a path.
As the story progresses, though, the handling of the suicide issue gets a bit wobbly and strays into some dicey areas where I, for one, wanted to see someone take some real responsibility for this kid in serious pain for whom the future seems to have only one deadly possibility. It’s where these stories often fall down, in their determination to keep the issue within the circle of characters in their well- meaning but uninformed ways of dealing with their friend or sibling or child, rather than allowing the characters to act in the way a responsible person might out here in the real world. It’s different if it’s a spy story or a superhero story or a love story or just about any other genre… but here, the risks of allowing the responsibility to the drama of the narrative to supersede the responsibility to the potentially vulnerable person in the audience feel a bit dodgy.
It would be a spoiler to go much further in examining where this film ends up, suffice to say that the subtlety and strength of the character relationships that work so well for the first two thirds of the film seem to fall away in the last act and despite a nice little twist that was unexpected for the impact it has on the story, the final scenes lean more to the cliché than to the profound and as good as the actors are in the bulk of the film, they struggle to maintain the same quality of work through to then end. And the last line in the film really made me wince.
Based on the Mexican folklore of La Llorona, the film tells the story of the Weeping Woman, a spectre who haunts children. Legend has it that she drowned her own kids and was stricken with guilt and grief, and now looks for others to make her own. The story centres around a widow, Anna (Linda Cardellini) and her two children as they become the latest victims and seek the guidance of a local faith healer who has crossed La Llorona's path before. With the help of unconventional religious practices and mysticism, they pull out every trick in the book to banish her.
This is a very poor excuse for a horror movie and its only saving grace is the fact that it's nowhere near as awful as the previous entry, The Nun. Series creator James Wan is on board as producer and although he had no hand in writing this one, his influence is evident nonetheless. In fact first-time director Michael Chaves is so focused on recreating Wan's Conjuring aesthetic that he disregards the narrative entirely, and what he serves up is a cocktail of random flavours. Astute horror fans will recognise familiar moments from other films creeping into the story, such as Evil Dead, Demon Knight and even Warlock for example, and then the rest of the running time is bogged down with painfully inept attempts at suspense. You know what I'm talking about... floor-level camera angles tracking towards big doors, lengthy moments of silence to signal impending jump-scares, and the overused 'she's behind you' trope. The movie is saturated with this stuff and none of it works.
Actress Linda Cardellini - who is best known as Thelma from James Gunn's two Scooby Doo movies, as well as Freaks and Geeks – has had a prolific few years with substantial roles in Green Book, A Simple Favour and Hunter Killer, as well as the upcoming Avengers Endgame, and there is no doubt that her lead role in THE CURSE OF THE WEEPING WOMAN is a significant notch in her professional belt. She is establishing herself as a familiar face and a go-to actress and her on-screen presence is appealing. She delivers a reliable turn as the protective mother to her haunted children, however with an uninspired script and lack of direction she's given very little to do. The kids are decent enough and play the victims well, but the movie's constant attempts to scare the audience dominate the running time, leaving little dialogue to help the players solidify their characters. Raymond Cruz stars as the faith healer who helps the family rid themselves of the curse. Unfortunately his part relies on the audience's knowledge of his Breaking Bad character and is poorly conceived. It's never clear whether his character is supposed to be serious or comical, and – in fact – he comes off like a cross between Max von Sydow's Father Merrin from The Exorcist and William Sadler's Brayker character from Demon Knight.
Suffice to say, THE CURSE OF THE WEEPING WOMAN is a shambles and is an ineffective chapter in the Conjuring franchise. It is a horror movie for people who think they like horror, but actually don't. In other words, it's entry-level stuff and not worthy being a 6th instalment in a well-established cinematic universe. With The Nun and this title going back-to-back, all hopes rest on the upcoming Annabelle Comes Home and The Conjuring 3...
2019 | DIR: WAYNE BLAIR | STARRING MIRANDA TAPSELL, GWELYM LEE, KERRY FOX, URSULA YOVICH | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
The other key ingredient for most Australian films to succeed outside of our shores is international talent. It’s a golden rule that applies to all genres and we’ve seen countless foreign stars light up our screens; Josh Lucas in Red Dog, Terrance Stamp in Priscilla, John Goodman in Dirty Deeds and Patrick Warburton in The Dish, to name but a few. The list is endless and Aussies share a common pride when we see big-wigs from around the world coming all the way Down Under to help tell our stories. The latest local film to grace our screens with a foreign star is Top End Wedding, a romantic comedy directed by Wayne Blair (The Sapphires), starring co-writer Miranda Tapsell (Love Child). The added ingredient in this instance is British actor Gwilym Lee, who recently starred as Brian May in the Oscar-winning film Bohemian Rhapsody.
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Leyre’s newfound penchant for criminal activity stems from a desperate desire to look after her family, a motive Verdú conveys adeptly and which almost justifies how rapidly the situation spirals. However, this is held back by her family simultaneously being the catalyst for the entire mess in the first place: her businessman ex-husband is corrupt, her wheelchair-bound mum constantly antagonises her nurse, and her teenage son Asier (Asier Rikarte) simply makes baffling choices. Without spoiling too much, Asier is the first character in CRIME WAVE we witness committing a crime; I was initially tempted to dismiss how jarring this felt due to it being early in the film, yet the script never offers any development or context for this behaviour. It’s outright uncomfortable how little Asier seems to be affected by his actions, especially when Querejeta allows a darker tone to take over anyway during later pivotal scenes. I’m unsure whether he’s even CRIME WAVE’s most problematic character though, since his friend and classmate Julen (Miguel Bernardeau) has an equally disturbing arc. Julen ostensibly befriended Asier in the first place due to the former’s infatuation with Leyre, an arrangement neither of the boys take issue with for some reason. When Leyre discovers the truth, she is thankfully quick to shut Julen down, but that doesn’t stop him from eventually coercing her into sex when she needs to use him as an alibi. Although Asier’s exact age is unclear, it’s explicitly stated that Julen has been held back in school three times. I’m certainly no screenwriter, but this flimsy explanation doesn’t help his dynamic with Leyre feel any less creepy.
In addition to its non-existent character development and inability to make viewers emotionally invest, CRIME WAVE likewise struggles to form its scattered plot threads into a cohesive narrative. The scene order seems arbitrary at best, with Querejeta and editor Leire Alonso often focusing on elements of the story that can be interesting but fail to justify their existence. For instance, the detectives investigating Leyre have complete backstories and arcs with a suitably grim conclusion I alluded to above. This sequence also shows the most directorial flair of CRIME WAVE’s runtime, yet ultimately feels like it belongs in a different film. Due to this misplaced focus, the third act feels rushed and devoid of logic; characters’ actions are once again confusing due to a lack of context, and at times only serve to explain the events of the opening confessional scene. Perhaps most egregiously though, CRIME WAVE is simply boring: its (largely) uninspired jokes fall flat, while the unlikable characters make it hard to even care what happens. Verdú is the only actor who I would say does her best with the material, but it’s not enough to save this disaster of a film.