Sex, Drugs & Violence In Film: A Brief History

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Corey Hogan 

Most of us see someone get killed, have sex, curse or pop drugs in the films and shows we watch nearly every day, and we barely bat an eyelash. This is what we’ve come to expect of the media we consume. It’s no wonder it takes a truly volatile film to shock us. But it’s taken media a very long time to reach this point. Throughout history, a war has waged between filmmakers and their determination to put their vision, no matter how obscene, to the screen. Here’s a brief rundown on some of the events and films throughout history that pushed those boundaries and shocked people to their core.

1890’s – 1920’s

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Since the very dawn of film, people have tried to capture shocking or lewd images for the screen, and people have protested these and ushered in censorship. One of the very first films ever shown commercially to the public was Thomas Edison’s The Kiss in 1896, an 18 second clip of a couple nuzzling and locking lips. This stirred outrage in moviegoers and the Roman Catholic Church – since kissing in public was prosecuted at the time – and the “threat to morality” was met with the first demand for censorship.

Film controversy continued to heighten in the 1910’s, with the first pornographic films introduced and a surge of pro-war propaganda as World War I commenced. D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, though a landmark of film history for its innovative storytelling, was of course met with great contempt for its racist content and glorification of the KKK. Protests and riots broke out, with many activist groups condemning the negative influence of movies, especially on the youth, and their glorification of violence and obscenities.

1930’s – 1950’s

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The few decades produced some of history’s best-known films – Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, All About Eve, The Wizard of Oz, Singin’ In The Rain and so on. Studios were soon huge, though their films found a formula, and usually avoided explicit content in order to market to as wide an audience as possible. Understandably, people saw movies as escapism during wartime; with real horror happening in the world, no one needed to be reminded of it in the cinema. And yet there were still filmmakers willing to experiment and push the boundaries.

All Quiet on the Western Front used brutal scenes of soldiers being gunned down as an effective anti-war message, and was recognised by the Oscars for turning violence on its head. Conversely, the original Scarface wound up banned in several states for its graphic (for the time) shoot-outs and supposed glorification of gangsters. Sex remained suppressed in mainstream cinema as it did in public places, until the 1953 raunchy comedy The Moon is Blue dubiously used prohibited words like “virgin”, “seduce” and “mistress” and depicted mainstream characters preoccupied with sex for the first time, paving the way for open-minded attitudes in film.

1960’s – 1980’s

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By the sixties, society’s morale was beginning to relax more. A number of efforts to get films censored or banned were rejected by state and federal courts, now that people were not only more care-free and open-minded; many were anti-establishment and advocates of freedom of speech, especially with the presence of the Vietnam War and its backlash. People were experimenting and artists were too, and refusing to back down when authority came knocking. In 1966 Michelangelo Antonioni chose to release Blow-Up without an MPAA seal rather than cut its nude scenes, with other directors following his lead. In response, the MPAA introduced the X-rating, forbidding anyone under 16 from entry.

Not that it really mattered, since such content in film had now become so commonplace. Drugs were shown not only without judgement, but also portrayed as fun in everything from Easy Rider to Sid and Nancy. The great Stanley Kubrick made his mark not without controversy; Lolita raised the underage issue by depicting a romance between a pubescent girl and middle-aged man, and the gleeful ultra-violence of A Clockwork Orange appalled viewers so much that Kubrick himself withdrew it from circulation. Midnight Cowboy became the first and only X-rated film to win the Best Picture Oscar, and mainstream thrillers like Straw Dogs and The Last House on the Left were now completely unafraid to use graphic rape as plot points.

1990’s – Present

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With visual media now a key component to Western lifestyle, desensitisation to what once shocked audiences was only inevitable. Martin Scorcese, Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino made the blood-soaked, profanity-laden films that defined the 90’s, while the likes of Trainspotting, Requiem for a Dream, Enter the Void and others built their plot around explicit drug use. The most popular horror films belonged to the “torture-porn” subgenre; with over-the-top gory hits like Saw, Hostel and Wolf Creek were designed to empty the contents of audiences’ stomachs rather than have them cowering behind their seats. HBO’s rise saw to adult content becoming a mainstay on television too; now the most popular shows on television (namely Game of Thrones, among countless others) feature a steady stream of horrific murder, graphic sex scenes, nudity, incest and rape.

There are still films that cause a stir every few years. Though satirical, Stone and Tarantino’s Natural Born Killers supposedly inspired a number of copycat murders in real life; similarly, David Cronenberg’s Crash, about a couple who became aroused by causing car crashes, created concern over fetishising something heinous. Larry Clark’s Kids and Ken Park came under fire for their unsimulated sex scenes between teenagers, as anything with graphic sex – 9 Songs, The Brown Bunny, The Dreamers, Blue is the Warmest Colour – often does. Extreme sexual violence – Irreversible’s prolonged rape scene, Antichrist’s genital mutilation and A Serbian Film’s necrophilia – remains a walk-out prompter. And let’s not get into The Human Centipede trilogy.

Studios will always cut and tone down content to secure as large an audience as possible, while independent producers maintain artistic freedom – hence why something supposedly erotic like Fifty Shades of Grey appears so tame and shows so little in its sex scenes, while Nymphomaniac is unrelenting in actual shots of penetration. Though filmmakers have always strived to tear down the boundaries of what is possible to capture on film, it seems most audiences remain comfortable with milder content and the occasional thrill. But with the readily available internet pornography, violent video games and access to any film or TV show at the click of a button, who’s to say how long it is until extreme sensationalism has pushed to its absolute limit?

Images courtesy of Roadshow Films, David W. Griffith Corp. & Epoch Producing Corporation, Universal Pictures, Chapel Distribution & MGM

The Marriage Between Video And Stage

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Cody Fullbrook 

For you fellow Australians who call Perth home, you may have attended some shows at this year’s Fringe Festival in which numerous venues across the city annually host performers from all over Australia and beyond. What surprised me above all else, excluding the price of the food, were how many shows used advertising videos that cycled through social media, with shows themselves implementing video into their acts.

Over the last few years there has been a noticeable increase in pairing video and stage.  But, why?  Or should I be asking, why not? It’s an important question to ask.

With our ever-growing technology, it would be unwise not to tap into its potential to improve a show’s entertainment quality, but also to reach a larger audience. Comedians like Louis C.K. and Australia’s own Tom Gleeson have sold their stand-up specials online, where customers may download the video recording for a surprisingly cheap cost, compared to seeing them live.

Netflix has a sizeable selection of stand-up comedy, and even musicals like Oklahoma and Shrek The Musical can be bought on YouTube. Most interesting of all were the recent productions of Peter Pan and Grease which were performed as stage musicals, but filmed live and immediately sent to broadcast television.

Everyone is on YouTube now. Audiences and even other artists seem to look down on performers with virtually no social media presence, and for those that do have one, the rapid style of online marketing can gradually bleed into their act’s presentation. Why shouldn’t the viewers want to see video cutaways during a live stand up show?  It’s not only what they’ve grown up to expect, but it’s how they learned the show existed at all.

The Perth Fringe festival had key examples of shows that utilised projectors, such as John Robertson: The Dark Room, Sonny Yang VS Fringe and Chase. Even larger artists like Bill Bailey and Wayne Brady have used screens to add to their performances.

There isn’t a marriage between stage and video so much as a shotgun wedding.  Many artists seem obligated to use video, not because it’s a necessary and desired addition, but because they know that watching someone on stage doesn’t draw as many people nowadays. Everyone is on their phone, constantly barraged with fast advertisements and cutaways. All art must adapt or perish.

In a few years, we may look at implementing video into stage shows the same way we currently view lighting designs. Expected and essential. A simple static shot of a specific terrain can instantly set the scene for a play. Comedians can use visual aids to assist their jokes. Even circuses can project episodes of The Simpsons if we get bored of watching someone twirl fire for 20 minutes.

Pander Express: China in Hollywood

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Rhys Graeme-Drury

The Great Wall – the biggest, most expensive movie ever made in China – is now in cinemas and heralds the start of the latest chapter in the continually evolving cinematic relationship between America and China.

Does it signal the start of a string of success or is it another carriage on the pander express that sees America continue to blunder its way onto Chinese cinema screens?

Before we answer that question, let’s circle back around and examine why China is so important to Hollywood in the year 2017.

Firstly, China is the second-largest global box office after the United States. Somewhere in the region of 40,000 movie theatre screens open in China every day to cater for the flourishing throngs of moviegoers in a country with a population that has bypassed 1.4 billion and continues to climb.

Secondly, a growing Chinese middle class means more disposable income and a greater awareness of international media, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Hollywood studios are eager to tap into a market that isn’t just big, but getting bigger all the time. In 2012, the Chinese government lifted restrictions on American content, allowing at least 34 non-Chinese productions to be screened in cinemas there each year, a number significantly larger than in the past.

The floodgates have opened so to speak; China is like the hot new kid in school that everyone wants to be friends with – but more often than not, attempts to cater for Chinese audiences aren’t as successful as America would like, appearing more like pandering than a genuine effort to satisfy.

Movies like X-Men: Days of Future Past, Transformers: Age of Extinction and Independence Day: Resurgence have worked to include big name Chinese actors in their narratives; Fan Bingbing, Li Bingbing and Angelababy respectively.

In a 2014 article about Transfomrers: Age of Extinction, professor Ying Zhu argued that Li Bingbing’s role was “so perfunctorily inserted into the film that [it] amounted to nothing more than another type of incoherent product placement” and that claimed that Chinese audiences found this kind of “special China delivery” patronising.

That didn’t stop the film from raking it in at the box office. At the time, it went on to become the highest-grossing film in China with an estimated $320 million, thanks to the casting of Li, the reams of Chinese product placement and the fact that the entire third act takes place in Beijing and Hong Kong.

Conversely, the success of a film in China can sometimes salvage lacklustre takings domestically; just look at 2016’s Warcraft, which made more money in China during its first week ($159m) than Star Wars: The Force Awakens did in its entire run. In the United States, Warcraft was considered a bomb, earning only $47.4 million in total compared with the $220 million it made overall in China. What was the secret to its success? Over half of World of Warcraft players live in China, essentially making the film a slam-dunk to an existing audience base that rushed out to see the game come to life.

Which brings us neatly back to The Great Wall, the biggest film ever produced in China. Intended to achieve an even split of appeal for American and Chinese audiences, the film has garnered a lot of negative attention since the trailer arrived last year. Choosing to ignore that the film is fronted by a big Chinese director, a mostly Chinese cast, a Chinese storyline and locations, as well as pulling from the country’s rich history and mythology, most online commenters have dragged the film down for its inclusion of Matt Damon in the lead role.

What they fail to realise is that Damon’s inclusion isn’t to tarnish Chinese history, but to pander directly to American audiences instead. As someone known the world over, Damon is actually opening the film up to American moviegoers who might not give the film a second glance if it didn’t have a known-name on the poster.

Which is exactly what this is all about; in an increasingly globalised world, Hollywood studios are eager to do exactly that – please everyone. They want to have their cake and eat it too by appealing to Chinese audiences without alienating Americans…or visa versa. They’re simultaneously trying to navigate diversity, tokenism and whitewashing without treading on anyone’s toes; an act proving increasingly impossible when every casting decision or set location is examined under a microscope.

The Great Wall isn’t the rousing success it could have been – but it is an interesting development in America’s increasingly curious attempts to court China. Where the industry goes next will surely continue to raise eyebrows and pose question marks, especially as audiences become increasingly aware of their attempts to find a perfect middle ground.

Image (c) Universal Pictures (2017) 

Movie Review – The Great Wall

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First we had Trump’s Mexican wall, now we have Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall – walls are getting a really bad wrap lately, huh?

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Rhys Graeme-Drury

The plot of The Great Wall is so slight it can be summarised on the back of a napkin; essentially, Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal play two European mercenaries journeying east in search of ‘black powder’ when they stumble across the titular wall and thousands of brightly coloured soldiers lining its parapets. Drafted into the fighting force by Commander Mae (Tian Jing) when a horde of vicious monsters attacks, they must learn to work with and trust in the disciplined Chinese soldiers if they are to survive.

Presumably this simplicity was intentional to allow for the film to easily translate across both Western and Chinese audiences; unfortunately, it only serves to render the narrative inert, the dialogue flat and the characters one-dimensional.

The Great Wall peaks very early and never recoups after the opening salvo of action. The plot starts with nothing and goes nowhere, with none of the dull characters undergoing anything even closely resembling an arc. The second act in particular struggles as the film essentially starts with an eye-popping battle and doesn’t have the energy or material to sustain itself as it meanders through a sluggish pool of exposition.

Damon is woefully miscast and is given next to nothing to work with. He adopts a strange accent that at best can be described as Irish and at worst sounds like nothing else on this planet. Pascal plays his funny sidekick but is afforded a string of clichéd and forced one-liners you’ve heard a billion times before. The entire Chinese cast don’t fare much better; other than Jing, the rest of the Chinese army are cannon fodder for the generic green beasts to chow down on.

The only thing that works in The Great Wall’s favour is the costumes; the colourful, ornate suits of armour stand out against the drab backdrops and flat CGI. The primary colours may make them look a bit like Power Rangers but at least they’re intricate and layered, which is more than can be said for the story or the characters that inhabit them.

If history is your jam, your local library or bookstore will have plenty of interesting books about China you can read. If monsters are your thing, there are a wealth of more exciting monster movies out there worth your money. Hell, even if Matt Damon is your thing, there are reams of much better Matt Damon films you can watch where he gets the chance to inhabit a character rather than some broadly-sketched white saviour stereotype.

Ambitious but rubbish, Zhang’s The Great Wall unfortunately doesn’t live up to its name and will cause audiences to wish they had buried their noses in a stuffy history book instead.

The Great Wall is available in Australian cinemas from February 16

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2017

Top 4 – Tropfest 25

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Cherie Wheeler 

Around this time last year, we were all left shell-shocked by the threat of Tropfest becoming extinct, but 12 months later, against all expectations the festival has endured. Sensitive topics of lawsuits and the mysterious disappearance of millions of dollars have all be swept under the rug… and maybe that’s a good thing. With the behind-the-scenes controversies shoved firmly into the shadows, this year the spotlight has been rightfully turned to shine on the competing filmmakers for the 25th anniversary of Australia’s largest short film festival.

Tropfest celebrated its quarter of a century in style, with a televised event held at Parramatta Park where the 16 finalists were screened. This year’s short films had to incorporate a pineapple as part of Tropfest’s tradition of the signature item, and as always, there were varied interpretations of this; from subtle inclusions, to cringe-worthily obvious plugs.

Overall, this year’s top short films were a bit hit and miss; some of the weaker productions made me question whether many filmmakers even entered the competition, given the ambiguity surrounding the festival’s continued existence. On the bright side, however, there was a notable number of female filmmakers among the top crop, with roughly half of the finalists directed or produced by women.

Despite being a bit of a mixed bag, of those short films that did hit the mark, there were some truly outstanding displays of storytelling. So without any further ado, here’s my top 4 from this year’s finalists.

4. THE WALL
Story by Nick Baker
Animation by Tristan Klein

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It always blows me away when amateur film festivals produce high quality animations. With absolutely stunning 2D visuals that bring to mind the early films of Georges Méliès, The Wall is like a children’s picture book for adults. Inspired by the plight of today’s refugees and Trump’s absurd proposal for a Game of Thrones-esque Mexican wall, Nick Baker’s short animation tells the tale of an elderly grandmother trying to survive in a tough reality. Narrated with a mystical quality by David Wenham, and supported by an emotive score from Helen Jane Long, The Wall does fall into slightly preachy territory in its final third, but its bittersweet ending more than makes up for this.

Going Vego was another animated finalist that at first appeared to be for children, but had very strong adult themes. Although boasting some amusing dialogue and excellent comedic timing from the voice talent, The Wall just pipped this one at the post in my humble opinion.


3. TALC
Directed and shot by Jefferson Grainger

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In the short runtime required by Tropfest, this mini documentary only just gets to scratch the surface of what could potentially expand into a much broader narrative. Living alone in the outback, Talc is a deeply intriguing artist with a very strong worldview. At times, it’s difficult to tell whether he’s completely insane or a total genius… perhaps he’s both, but Jefferson Grainger’s exploration of this real-life character does not judge or manipulate opinion. It simply presents this incredible man through a beautifully shot and edited journey that will leave you deep in thought as you consider Talc’s fascinating theories and way of life.


2. SERVICE UPDATE
Produced & Directed by Olly Sindle

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“I smile, you smile, the whole world smile”.

These are the words of Carl Downer – a Jamaican man who has carved an unexpected career out of bringing joy to any who cross his path in the London Underground. Service Update, like Talc, is another gorgeously shot documentary that’s based around a compelling character. While Talc intrigues, Service Update is imbued with the glorious feeling of pure, unadulterated happiness. It’s a viewing experience that will leave you grinning from ear to ear, as if you’ll actually float away out of your chair from the sheer elation. Carl Downer is a beautiful soul brimming with love for his job, other people and life in general. His story is a definite mood booster if there ever was one.


1. THE MOTHER SITUATION
Written & directed by Matt Day

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The winner of Tropfest 25, and also my top pick, The Mother Situation is easily the most cinematic of all the finalists. Starring experienced Australian actors Sacha Horler (Offspring), Harriet Dyer (Love Child) and also writer/director Matt Day (Rake) – this short film is really in a class of its own. It’s a little unfair, really. Tropfest has always been a showcase of amateur filmmaking by emerging storytellers, and these three are well-seasoned in comparison to some of the other entrants. But Matt Day’s script is so fucking fantastic that it’s hard to sit here and complain too much. Channelling similar vibes to 2014 winner Granny Smith, The Mother Situation is a black comedy that’s best watched with as little knowledge of its concept as possible. Find it. Watch it. Enjoy it. That is all.

Another dark comedy to reach the finals was Meat & Potatoes, but while it featured some great banter between its leads, and some wonderfully absurd situations that bring Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet to mind, it just falls short of my top 4, despite being the runner up of the whole competition.

Images courtesy of tropfest.com.au 

Movie Review – Hidden Figures

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Hidden Figures is a bolt out of the blue – a riotous crowd-pleaser that is just too darn good to ignore.

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Rhys Graeme-Drury

Awards season is too often reserved for sombre and contemplative dramas; this year we’ve been treated to thought-provoking and emotionally-heavy films like Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea and Fences, all of which are great in their own right – but sometimes you just want something that puts a spring in your step and a smile on your face.

If you think I’m talking about La La Land, you’d be much mistaken. Arriving like a bolt out of the blue, it’s Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures that is the biggest, brightest and most charming surprise of Oscar season.

Hidden Figures is the story of a team of African American female mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US space program; Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), a gifted math wiz, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), a driven leader and programmer and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), a bright and gifted engineer. Together, these three women strived to break free of the societal shackles imposed upon them and radically change the path of the Space Race.

Spearheaded by a trio of fantastic performances, Hidden Figures takes a little-known story that deserves to be told and makes it something you aren’t likely to forget for a long time. Henson, Spencer and Monáe are all brilliant in their own right, bringing depth, humour and individuality to their characters.

Henson shines in the lead; having not seen her in much before now (I don’t watch Empire), I was mightily impressed by the extent of her range. She shows that she can do it all. She’s funny, endearing and heartbreaking – sometimes all in the same scene.

Spencer is great too; her role is more assertive and strong-willed, but she too gets a round of lines that bring the house down. Personally, I would’ve given her awards nomination to one of her two peers, but I can see why the Academy went for her performance – she’s already a winner for The Help and has that all important cred. The breakthrough performance is without a doubt Monáe as Mary Jackson; her wit and comedic timing takes the film to another level.

The supporting cast are firing on all cylinders too; Kevin Costner and Kirsten Dunst play in opposition to our lead trio and their arcs are satisfying to follow. Mahershala Ali is fantastic also – he’s just a bundle of pure charisma that wafts through the film spreading charm. The only actor who doesn’t get a lot to work with is Jim Parsons; he essentially gets stuck with playing an angrier, more racist version of Sheldon Cooper and spends 90% of his scenes seething in the corner and giving Henson some serious stink-eye.

A peachy keen crowd-pleaser that is hard not to like, Hidden Figures is the plucky upstart in this awards race. A raft of wonderful performances give this remarkable true story an effervescent fizziness that everyone from ages 8 to 80 will appreciate.

Hidden Figures is available in Australian cinemas from February 16

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Movie Review – Fences

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If you’re looking for light and frivolous entertainment – this ain’t it. Tackling a broad spectrum of themes including race, responsibility, love, betrayal, sacrifice and pride, Fences is mighty heavy viewing, but the outstanding craftsmanship from all involved makes the long slug worth it.

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Cherie Wheeler

On the surface, Fences may seem like a simple film; set in 1950’s Pittsburgh, it follows the everyday trials and tribulations of an African American working class family. But rather than casting a wide net over the era, Fences instead chooses to drill down on its subject matter by placing its characters under a microscope. The result? A highly complex film that will leave you emotionally exhausted.

Predominantly contained to a single setting and driven almost entirely by dialogue, it’s easy to recognise the origin of the source material. Based on the 1983 play of the same name by August Wilson, the film adaptation has been a long time coming, with Wilson having penned most of the screenplay before his death in 2005. His masterpiece has been left in safe hands, however, with heavyweights Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in the lead roles, and Washington also handling directing duties.

Having previously brought to life the characters of Troy and Rose Maxson in a 2010 reprisal of the play, Washington and Davis slip on their respective roles like a second skin. If I could describe their performances in one word it would be authentic. Raw emotion explodes across the screen with utmost sincerity, especially from Davis. Not once did I find myself questioning these characters, their actions or their motives – everything is gut-wrenchingly believable. At times, I felt as though the screen had dissolved away entirely and I was actually standing alongside them in the backyard of their quaint little suburban home.

While the film’s authenticity is largely owed to this dynamic duo, there is a lot of support from the remaining cast members. Youngest performer Saniyya Sidney is a revelation, as is Mykleti Williamson, who plays Troy’s tender-hearted, yet mentally damaged brother with perfect finesse. Even during moments when members of the ensemble are not the focus of the drama at hand, each of them are still actively engaged in the scene. From the slightest glance or facial inflection, each performer communicates the exact thoughts and feelings of their character toward the situation, adding further tension to the conflict.

Backing up these powerful players is the stunning production design from David Gropman (The Hundred- Foot Journey, Life of Pi). From the textures of the costumes, to the attention to detail in the set – every inanimate object bears the signs of hosting this fractured family and witnessing their interactions over the years. Much like the characters, every element is battered and beaten up; frayed at the edges and falling apart, yet somehow surviving. There’s a beauty in the peeling paint, the weathered bricks and the gnarled, lopsided trees, just like the flawed people who inhabit this home.

Speaking of imperfections, my one quibble with this film is its inability to transform into a truly cinematic experience. Wilson’s hand in both the original script for the stage and the adapted screenplay is a bit of a double-edged sword. While he’s preserved his material, he hasn’t allowed it to evolve for the screen and the result is a film that walks and talks like a play.

With an unnecessarily long runtime (2 hours and 19 minutes), Fences can become a bit of a strain to sit through, especially with so much dialogue. Denzel’s fast-paced deluge of words roll off his tongue like a boxer pounding at a punching bag, and it can all become a bit overwhelming. This works in a way, as words are Troy’s weapon of choice, and in rarely leaving the dilapidated Maxson home, you’re able to experience the oppression felt by these characters, but overall it makes for tough viewing.

Fences is available in Australian cinemas from February 9

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

What Not To Watch This Valentine’s Day

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Gone Girl (2014)

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Rhys Graeme-Drury

Valentine’s Day is a manufactured Hallmark fantasy realm of sunshine designed to sell bouquets of roses, mountains of chocolate and giant teddy bears that won’t fit through the front door. In film, that kind of sparkly fairytale is reserved for saccharine adaptations of Nicholas Sparks novels.

David Fincher’s 2014 thriller Gone Girl is the antithesis of this. It builds up the illusion of love, marriage and idyllic suburban harmony before shattering it with a jackhammer, forcing a gigantic rift between our expectations and the cold harsh reality. It takes a giant steamroller to the classic white-picket fence storybook home and flattens it.

At first glance, Rosamund Pike’s Amy Dunne feels like the ‘cool girl’ that every romcom wants you and your partner to fall in love with during a romantic Valentine’s sofa sesh. She’s funny, sexy, fiercely independent and outgoing; nothing fazes her and understandably, Ben Affleck’s Nick Dunne is smitten. But years into the relationship, when the fairy dust wears off, their love is shown to be a lie and the whole mirage starts to collapse in on itself.

If you’re looking to get lovey or lucky this Valentine’s Day, best steer clear of Fincher’s uncompromising appraisal of gender politics and the delusion of domestic bliss. It’s ugly, uncomfortable and bloody. In other words, not something that is going to appropriately set the mood on February 14 when you’re trying to get your groove on.


Eraserhead (1977)

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Zachary Cruz-Tan

Now, unless you’re dating someone who thinks dead flowers and sex in a graveyard are acceptable Valentine’s gifts, you might not want to choose Eraserhead as a prelude to all the tender love-making, because in this movie, a whole fried chicken oozes blood and begins to dance on a dinner table like that creature at the end of Spaceballs.

But Eraserhead is a sucker punch for couples anyway, because what it’s really about is poor parenting. Jack Nance plays Henry, a father imprisoned by an alien infant that resembles a diseased turkey, whines all day, and eventually explodes. He is perpetually plastered with an expression of intense sobriety and coasts through life completely unmoved. It’s not exactly a training video for fatherhood.

Then again, neither are any of David Lynch’s surrealistic nightmare concoctions. You could play Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, or even The Elephant Man and still end up with no sex on Valentine’s. But Eraserhead is the criminal mastermind; surely the strangest, most perturbing examination of human frailty. It’s a movie I wouldn’t even want to watch with myself.


District 9 (2009)

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Cody Fullbrook

District 9 is more likely to instigate a political discussion than intimacy, and even then it’s going to be a solemn conversation that’ll put you off your Ferrero Rochers, even more than people exploding into bloody chunks.

Even brutal horror movies can have your partner huddle into you, or even excite them with the gore. Although not a horror movie, District 9 has a protagonist, Wikus, who undergoes a slow, grotesque transformation into an alien “Prawn” that is simply too intricate to be viscerally satisfying. His skin peels off, his fingernails crack apart and he vomits black fluid.  Since all these events are specifically happening to our protagonist, each instance is too personally sickening.

Not only does Wikus yell, lie and patronise “Prawns”, including a child, but he is also berated by his boss, a mercenary, a gang leader and even his alien friend, Christopher, who he later knocks out. Even his caring wife’s desire to see her husband is barely a side plot, disregarded too often to inject much, if any, romance into a story more preoccupied with the savage actions of a terrified, shapeshifting victim. District 9 is a good movie, but completely lacks any joy or warmth to bother snuggling up to.


A Serbian Film (2010)

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Corey Hogan

There is no conceivable way you could do any worse than Srdjan Spasojevic‘s classic romantic comedy A Serbian Film on Valentine’s Day. It’s one of the most notoriously heinous and morally depraved cinematic atrocities ever committed to celluloid.

It follows Milos (Srdjan ‘Zika’ Todorovic), a retired porn star who lives happily with his wife and son, but still needs to pay the bills somehow. He’s coaxed back into acting one last time; offered an opportunity to star in an “art film” with the promise of a payout that will secure his family’s future. Milos signs the contract and only learns what he’s agreed to far too late – an extremely demented and reprehensible snuff film – and there’s no way out without endangering his life and his loved ones.

The bottom of the barrel in the bowels of human decency is scraped and splashed across the screen here in graphic detail – brutal murder, paedophilia, necrophilia and more things far too disturbing to mention here are all served up on a blood-soaked, gore-drenched platter. Whatever metaphor for Serbian government and propaganda Spasojevic claimed his film to be about is lost in a nigh on unwatchable explosion of sin. It’s banned in a number of countries around the world, including Australia, so you’d really have to go out of your way to make A Serbian Film your Valentine’s viewing.

Recommended only for scaring off a bad date as fast as humanly possible (though chances are they’d report you to the authorities afterwards).


Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox, Chapel Distribution/Umbrella Entertainment, Sony Pictures, Accent Film Entertainment

Movie Review – Fifty Shades Darker

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The people behind this series wouldn’t know kinky if it strapped them to a bed, gagged them and spanked them with a wooden paddle.


Corey Hogan

A short while after Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) left him for his controlling, sadistic behaviour, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) forces himself back into her life, promising no more rules or punishments if the two resume their relationship. Ana is resistant at first, but is soon seduced back into his world of high-class luxury, extravagant recreation, and of course submissive sexual relations. But trouble is always brewing in paradise, and soon re-emerging figures from Christian’s past and Christian’s own struggle to contain his violent nature threaten the reconvened relationship.

The second “highly-anticipated” adaptation of E.L. James’ poorly-written erotica for the menopausal is, as anyone with half a brain would expect, just as bad, if not worse than its moronic predecessor Fifty Shades of Grey. And yet the titillating premise, once famous for coaxing a blush or a giggle out of the schoolgirl in everyone, has now become an unstoppable money-printing force like the sparkly-vampire nonsense from which it (unsurprisingly) drew inspiration.

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan return to their acting graveyard, and their chemistry is still as absent as their sense of dignity must have been when they signed on to these roles. But the lack of spark really stems from the greater problem that these are non-characters they’re forced to inhabit, and try as they might, they just can’t make them interesting. Johnson gets off easy (heh); being the surrogate role for audiences to imagine themselves in, she just has to look doe-eyed, ask questions and do whatever Christian says. Still, it’s disappointing to see her back in this void of charisma, undoing the chops she proved herself capable of in A Bigger Splash and Black Mass.

Dornan, however, is forced to embody an incredibly exaggerated and unrealistic female fantasy, and once again this delusion comes at the expense of any shred of consistency and believability to his character. In an embarrassing attempt to give reason to his sadistic side, we’re shown flashbacks of him witnessing his crack-addict mother dying as a boy (huh?). It’s as clear as mud. One minute he’s stalking Ana and threatening any guy who looks twice at her, the next he’s taking her on boat rides and stuffing metal pleasure balls inside her. It’s so ridiculous he may as well have “damaged” tattooed across his forehead.

Between the eye-rolling and, again, much-too-tame sex scenes, the rest of the overly long runtime is padded out with melodrama that even the least subtle daytime soap opera would shake its head at. The bland script and dialogue soon segue from unintentionally hilarious to utterly mundane; never once delivering the “Darker” promised by the title.

This series knows it has a fan base, and there’s nothing on this earth that will be able to stop it from being a box office smash. It’s peculiar; in a world now so adamant on pushing strong female characters and empowering women and their independence, something’s amiss when the most popular series for women fantasizes a rich, handsome man to take care of every need and desire, and have total authority and control over everything – and that extends much further than just the bedroom. It begs the question… what do women want, really?

Fifty Shades Darker is available in Australian cinemas from February 9th 

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2017

Movie Review – Silence

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After five decades of magnificent films, Scorsese finally delivers his truest, most inward-looking epic of all.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Silence is a prolonged, laborious hike up the foothills of religion, and in the hands of any other director, it would have become far too difficult to complete. But Martin Scorsese is a master, and in his care the movie becomes something of a spiritual ordeal – a call to the faithful as well as a savage reflection on prejudice and suppression. It’s easily one of his finest works.

Andrew Garfield plays Father Rodrigues, a young enthusiastic Jesuit priest from Portugal who has come to the far reaches of Asia to spread the word of God. After hearing of his teacher’s disappearance in Nagasaki, Japan, he joins a colleague, Father Garupe (Adam Driver), in a quest to find him.

The largely Buddhist Japanese shogunate of the 17th Century aimed to purge the nation of foreign beliefs using methods akin to the Crusaders and the Spanish Inquisition. But their aim was not so singular. Instead of trying to convert believers, they resorted to mass killings, personal humiliation and the breaking of spirits. Scorsese lays all this terror out for us to witness, in scenes that play out in agonising patience, almost as if for us to acknowledge our own guilt. Christians are crucified on the shore and made to drown in the rising tide, or wrapped in bamboo and burnt alive or thrown into the ocean. Scorsese doesn’t aim to disgust us; he wants to open up a dialogue, a chance for us to evaluate the power of the human spirit in the face of severe oppression.

On this level, Silence is a wondrous achievement. Scorsese’s films often deal with flawed characters seeking redemption. This was true of Travis Bickle, Jake LaMotta, Henry Hill, Edward Daniels and even Georges Méliès. Silence finally acts as their anti-salvation, a troubling idea that redemption does not exist. That no matter how hard you try, how steadfast your faith, you can be broken in more ways than one.

The movie is based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Shûsaku Endô, and Scorsese spent 25 years trying to bring it to the big screen. In terms of aesthetics and themes, it reminds me of the powerful Roland Joffé film, The Mission (1986), in which Robert De Niro played an ex-con who repents his way into the Christian monastery. But that movie was made in a heartbeat; it doesn’t bear the labour of passion Scorsese brings to Silence, a film so rich in personal conviction it stands to be compared to the intimacy of Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993). Though not as harrowing as Spielberg’s masterpiece, Scorsese asks the same questions about humanity and leaves the answers blowing in the wind.

Yes, Silence may be too long for many viewers and not gory enough for Scorsese’s diehard fanatics, but it enters a place few of his films do: the soul. And with any good movie, it’s not always about what you see on screen but about the discussions you have with yourself as you leave the cinema.

Silence is available in Australian cinemas from February 16

Image courtesy of Transmission Films