Movie Review – Their Finest

Their Finest is a charming film about filmmaking. Pity it has to take place during the war.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Just as Nazis make for reliable movie villains, World War II movies seem to be all the rage now among independent filmmakers. As I attended the screening for Their Finest, the cinema ran the trailer for The Zookeeper’s Wife, a film in which Jessica Chastain tries on a Polish accent and Daniel Brühl is once again in his Nazi pyjamas. It’s a sign o’ the times that now, when The States are firing missiles across borders and ISIS is essentially an invisible enemy, we should find solace in movies about war.

That’s the awkward position Their Finest finds itself in. It’s a picture set against the second World War, but aims to assuage our concerns that a bomb might go off while you’re watching it. It’s surprisingly light-hearted, considering the body count it dials up as the minutes tick by. It’s also thoroughly unfocused, flitting between genres like a starving dog suddenly given three bowls of grub to choose from.

Gemma Arterton plays Catrin Cole, a Welsh lady living in London with her artist husband Ellis (Jack Huston). She gets a job as an assistant screenwriter for the film division of the Ministry of Information, where she meets Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), a passionate writer commissioned to pen the next propaganda film in an attempt to spur the Brits on to victory.

That’s not the confusing bit. It would’ve been simpler if that’s all Their Finest had been about. Instead it cobbles itself together so it becomes part comedy, part war movie, part romance story and part satire on American film consumerism, the self-righteousness of actors and the film industry in general. Oh, and it’s set in 1940, so of course it’s also a feminism piece, with both Ellis and Tom throwing masculine superlatives around like misogynistic Frisbees. The many parts actually work quite well on their own, but as they come together they manufacture what is otherwise a slightly disjointed whole.

Plots about issues as dark as war have to be handled with care, especially if it’s going to be a comedy. I, for one, don’t think there’s much to laugh about when a bomb explodes and we’re left with horrifying images of mangled corpses, but Their Finest somehow manages to slip in wry one-liners even as characters are brought in to identify the bodies of their fallen friends. Yes, the line may have been funny, and I might have laughed a bit, but I felt guilty for doing so.

At the end of the day, Their Finest’s heart is probably in the right place, and there are wonderful performances all round; Miss Arterton is particularly buoyant. It just needs more focus, more reverence for its grim subject matter. It’s a sweet, harmless ride, but in the grand scale of the World War, it all ends up seeming just a little bit silly.

Their Finest is available in Australian cinemas from April 20 

Image courtesy of Transmission Films

Movie Review – Frantz

François Ozon returns to the screen with an intimate examination of national pride, exclusivity, racial tolerance and love.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

There are basically two groups of war movies: the ones that have lots of buildings and people blowing up, and the ones that are about the stories in between things blowing up. Rarely do you come across a film that’s both (Schindler’s List and Downfall are masterful exceptions). François Ozon’s languid Frantz sits comfortably in the corner of the latter group, taking place after the Great War and during a period of tumultuous regrouping for the losing side, which were, of course, the Germans. It’s basically a war movie with very little war.

Ozon narrows his focus to the Hoffmeisters – a good-spirited but fractured elderly couple whose son, Frantz (Anton von Lucke), has been killed in France – and Anna (Paula Beer), Frantz’s would-be future wife. Together they mourn their loss, blaming all of France for Germany’s dead. One day, a Frenchman called Adrien (Pierre Niney) wanders to their doorstep, claiming to be Frantz’s best pal, offering peace and good will. At first, the Hoffmeisters are doubtful, but they soon suspect that Adrien speaks the truth, and for a brief moment they wine and dine as if their son has returned.

Much of Frantz hinges on Adrien’s honesty. It’s clear he’s concealing hidden truths about his seemingly random appearance, but Niney is clever in turning Adrien’s questionable conscience into a performance of immense pathos. The first half of the film is about him. The second is about Anna. Both characters have to rise above the anger of their compatriots to see each other as they really are. Sounds heavy and impenetrable? Well, you don’t go to a French/German film for exploding robots.

Frantz is definitely a slow-burn, patiently allowing its characters the room to explore their emotions and calculate their actions. Anna is a strong, forgiving woman; Beer’s performance is one of delicate timing and restraint. Adrien, conversely, is more unhinged, freewheeling, impulsive. But this isn’t an Along Came Polly kind of match up. There are no jokes about spicy food and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Anna and Adrien are introduced to each other by a tragedy and there is an air of the macabre that settles upon them. Indeed, Pascal Marti’s breathtaking black-and-white photography sometimes feels like a visual eulogy, and there are many scenes set in cemeteries. Frantz may be about two young people moving on with their lives, but its DNA is made up of death.

Even when Frantz falters, it does so with grace, keeping the drama firmly centred on the people who matter. This isn’t a groundbreaking film about war, or even about human dynamics, but it’s thoughtful and charismatic, and many times, that’s enough.

Frantz is available in Australian cinemas from April 13

Image courtesy of Sharmill Films 

Movie Review – Denial

The Holocaust: fact or fiction? Even if you’re pretty sure you know the answer, Denial is still a gripping look at the two scholars who actually took to the courts to settle that question.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz), an American historian and professor of Holocaust studies, is interrupted in the middle of a speech by David Irving (Timothy Spall), a famed British Nazi Germany academic whom Lipstadt has labelled a Holocaust denier in her new book. After she refuses to debate Irving publicly on the topic, he sues her for libel. With a crack team of renowned lawyers behind her (including Tom Wilkinson and Andrew Scott), she enters a widely publicised case with the potential to cause massive historical ramifications and sway the consensus on whether or not the Holocaust actually happened.

Though most of the audience it attracts no doubt already knows the outcome of the incredible court case, writer David Hare (The Reader) and director Mick Jackson (The Bodyguard) still manage to wring a great deal of suspense and intrigue out of the famous Irving v Lipstadt and Penguin Books lawsuit in Denial. In fact, the core court scenes are interesting and engaging enough to be ranked among some of cinema’s greatest courtroom dramas. The rest of the film certainly works hard to live up to matching these scenes in engrossment, but doesn’t always reach the same high.

Though a level of emotional connection is certainly necessary to the screen, especially when covering such a sensitive subject, emotion ends up being a peculiar Achilles ’ heel for Denial. Oddly, the cold, informative court proceedings are far more interesting than the scenes in which characters are given the chance to express how they feel about the situation, since more often than not their strong emotions turn them blind to rational, logical thinking.

This particular problem is embodied by Lipstadt herself; Rachel Weisz is great in the role, lathering on a thick Boston accent, but her character often frustrates, ironically due to how strongly she feels about her Jewish ancestry. She’s unable to form arguments when put on the spot by Irving, brushing it off as “not needing to defend truth”. She frequently goes against the advice of her lawyers, attempting to call on Holocaust survivors as witnesses despite their warnings, and can barely contain her pride or anger throughout proceedings as everyone else around her manages to keep a straight face. There’s also her assertion that Irving is attacking her because “she’s a woman”, which, while potentially valid, feels a little too shoehorned in to appease today’s audiences.

Her team of lawyers are the real heroes here, particularly Wilkinson’s Richard Rampton, who conjures up some genius rebuttals to Irving’s admittedly convincing arguments. Timothy Spall shines as the scowling historian, especially in court where he’s allowed to present his evidence against the Holocaust without bias. Elsewhere the film is a little too quick to condemn him as treacherous and villainous; perhaps rightfully so, but it’s tempting to think that this could have been even more provocative and compelling if both sides were given equal contention.

Despite its emotional flaws, Denial is incredibly absorbing to watch. A trip to Auschwitz part way through creates a sombre atmosphere and helps to ground the situation in a sobering reality, reminding us of just what these two intellectuals are squabbling over. The handling of the hearings alone is enough to make Denial a welcome entry to the courtroom drama genre.

Denial is available in Australian cinemas from April 13

Image courtesy of EntertainmentOne Films 

Movie Review – Colossal

A weirdly wonderful multilayered monster mash just stomped into cinemas. And it’s not Godzilla.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Gloria’s (Anne Hathaway) seemingly cushy life is unravelling at the seams. She simultaneously loses her job and is dumped by her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) due to her unhinged alcoholism and general reckless disregard towards life, forcing her out of his New York apartment and back to her hometown. Here she reconnects with old school friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) who helps her to get set up and begin rebuilding her life. Unexpectedly, news reports of a giant monster destroying Seoul suddenly surface, and Gloria eventually comes to the realisation she is connected to and in control of it, and that her pointless life may in fact have a huge effect on the world.

The lawsuits surrounding it suggested otherwise, but Colossal is wholly unique. Godzilla’s parent company’s attempts to sue for plagiarism wound up unsuccessful, and rightfully so, as writer-director Nacho Vigalondo’s (Open Windows) kaiju comedy is about as far away from your typical monster mash as it gets. It’s pretty damn near unclassifiable in fact; marketed as a sort of quirky indie romantic comedy (with city-levelling creatures), it’s all of these things and none of them.

Instead, Colossal constantly subverts expectations and continually takes surprisingly dark turns, winding up a metaphor-heavy meditation on the consequences of alcoholism, violent behaviour and harbouring ugly, hate-filled feelings. There’s a colossal amount of substance to chew on here (pun intended), and a tight-knit cast of deep, complex characters who range from (and slide between) sympathetic and truly detestable. Vigalondo’s most innovative move is keeping the human drama front-and-centre; this element winds up far more chaotic and destructive. Huge spectacle is avoided unlike any other creature feature, making the stakes much more intimate yet concurrently grand in ramifications; like every approach to the film it’s unusual, but it’s massively absorbing madness.

Anne Hathaway, who, after her Oscar win became the subject of a strange amount of hate, looks set to shrug off that career slump she’s been stuck in the past few years. Gloria is deeply flawed and very much her own worst enemy, but Hathaway gives her charm and humour that makes it easy to flip instantly between laughing at her situation and pitying it. The desire to see her better herself is always there, and she’s giddily watchable as she attempts to work out why her inner demons have manifested themselves as a literal monster.

Surprisingly though, it’s Jason Sudeikis who’s given the real meaty stuff to work with. Smug jerks are his specialty, but here he’s on an intense new level that steers much of the film’s unpredictable turns and shocking revelations. It’s difficult to discuss without giving too much away, but it’s very likely the best performance he’s ever delivered.

Though it won’t break the box office like its kaiju kin, it deserves that kind of recognition; it’s enormously creative, monstrously original and colossally entertaining.

Colossal is available in Australian cinemas from April 13

Image courtesy of Transmission Films

Movie Review – The Fate of the Furious

Fast cars, ludicrous stunts and dumb dialogue – exactly what you’d expect from a Fast and Furious movie!

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic

The Fast and The Furious franchise has returned for its eighth instalment, only this time it must continue its legacy without star lead Paul Walker. Walker’s absence set up quite the emotional impact in the previous movie, so I was curious to see where the series would head next. To my surprise, the series seems to be heading in the right direction… somewhat.

In The Fate of the Furious we re-unite with our beloved Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) who’s honeymooning with wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). A mysterious woman soon appears and lures Dom into becoming a hired terrorist, leading him to betray all those close to him. It’s up to our revhead compadres to figure what’s happened to the old Dom and save the world. Screw the C.I.A, who else would you trust, right?

Once again, the theme of family is a major player in this latest film. It’s been prevalent throughout the entire franchise, but while this is an important conceptual torch to bear, it only needs to exist in the background. We’ve seen the exact same situation in Fast 6 when Letty turned on her family. Now that we’re up to movie number eight, it’s kinda like beating a dead horse.

What makes a franchise everlasting is its ability to produce a range of memorable entries. With Harry Potter, the early films were a joyful introduction to the wizarding world, while the last films were far darker in tone. Each film in Fast and Furious feels like the same story just set in a different location around the world.

As the franchise unfolds, the one redeeming factor is that each new film grows in scale and strives to outdo the last. In the early days, the films were all about street racing, then drifting and then bank robberies. This has progressed to tank battles, the world’s longest airplane chase and driving Lamborghini’s from skyscraper into skyscraper. It’s ridiculous, but it’s what I fucking love. You can’t help but enjoy the spectacle, and thankfully The Fate of The Furious continues this to greater lengths.

This is ultimately why I would recommend seeing this on the big screen. The action sequences are mindless, but great to watch, and comic relief characters such as Roman (Tyrese Gibson) allow for some genuine laughs.

If people love something so much that they’re prepared to keep coming back again and again, why then would The Fast and the Furious bother to change its formula? But to become a truly great franchise, it needs to go beyond following a simple formula and be bold in its storytelling. I’m hoping for a ninth installment that either ventures into new territory thematically, or at least continues to amp up the level of ludicrousness in the action sequences. But for now, it’s time to enjoy some submarine car chases.

The Fate of the Furious is available in Australian cinemas from April 13

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2017

Fading Stars: Why A-List Status Counts For Nothing

The archetypical Hollywood movie star is dead. We live in a post-movie star world where A-listers mean next to nothing in the grand scheme of what floats and what sinks.

Rhys Graeme-Drury

Twenty years ago, people flocked to see a certain film based on whose name was splashed across the poster in the cinema foyer. Think Arnold Schwarzenegger movies like True Lies, End of Days or Total Recall, all of which were sold with merely a name and a face. Come see this movie, the poster screamed – it has Arnie in it. At the time, that was all some people needed to know. The same could be said for stars like Tom Cruise, Will Smith or Tom Hanks, who could all carry a movie on name and name alone.

Cut to 2017 and we’re faced with a very different situation. Who can honestly say they have the same pulling power nowadays? If box office results are anything to go by, hardly anyone does. Instead it’s all about franchises and adaptations.

In the last month alone, we’ve seen two major blockbusters hit cinemas that aren’t major properties; Daniel Espinosa‘s space horror/thriller Life and Rupert Sanders‘ anime adaptation Ghost in the Shell. Both movies have struggled to generate excitement in terms of ticket sales during their limited cinema run; three weeks ago, Life debuted at fourth on the US box office chart, behind Beauty and the Beast, Power Rangers and Kong: Skull Island. Not too shabby, but look at what sits ahead on the list; known properties that have been rebaked and repackaged.

Something like Life, riding a wave of critical praise and a wall-to-wall world press tour, would have made a killing at the movies 20-25 years ago. Headlined by two hugely popular, respected and dare I say attractive male co-leads (Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal), it ticks all the right boxes for success.

Now, let’s talk about Ghost in the Shell. It’s only been in theatres for a matter of days and sites like Polygon are already calling it one of the biggest flops of the year. And admittedly, the signs don’t look good. In its opening week, Ghost in the Shell made just $19 million in the US. Against a reported budget of $110 million, that’s not a good start. It’s barely enough to cover ScarJo’s paycheck.

It might seem like these two examples are just isolated instances pulled from a couple of fairly hefty months at the movies. But they’re not – it’s an emerging trend that has seen a lot of major studio releases simply squashed even if they have a major A-lister among their ranks.

In the last 12 months, movies like Passengers, The Great Wall, Live by Night and The Accountant all failed to illicit more than a shrug at the box office despite each being headlined by major actors like Jennifer Lawrence, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.

Like this list, Ghost in the Shell had its hopes and dreams pinned to a major star (in this case, ScarJo) as its headline actress. Sure, one could argue that the original anime is in itself a known property with an built-in audience, but I would wager Mr Average Joe on the street isn’t readily acquainted with relatively niche Japanese anime. It therefore follows that the studio and those working on the film are banking on one thing – audiences showing up because they want to see ScarJo kick butt as an emotionless cyborg.

What we’re seeing more and more nowadays is a lack of interest in the movie star. Scarlett Johannson or Matt Damon or Jake Gyllenhaal aren’t enough to sell a movie just by themselves any more. You need to start with an existing idea and then introduce a name actor to the equation to build hype.

Look at it this way; did people turn out in droves to see Beauty and the Beast because of Emma Watson or because they love the original? The box office receipts for Noah and The Bling Ring a few years ago would argue the latter. Is Ryan Reynolds the reason that Deadpool went gangbusters or was it an odd synergy of actor and character coming together? Other recent flicks starring Reynolds suggest the latter; literally no-one remembers Mississippi GrindSelf/Less and Criminal.

Similarly, did audiences flock to see Logan because it stars Wolverine or Hugh Jackman? People want to see Jackman as Wolverine; they want to see Reynolds as Deadpool. The highest paid actor right now, Robert Downey Jnr, faces the same problem. Audiences will only to pay to see a movie where he plays Tony Stark; the most recent film he tried to headline (2014’s The Judge) fell flat and he doesn’t have anything else that isn’t Marvel on his plate until 2019.

Of course, there is always going to be the odd outlier that defies all logic; the best recent example would be Jordan Peele‘s smash hit horror Get Out, which is due to hit Australian cinemas next month. It’s an original idea that Peele wrote and directed himself and stars zero A-list actors. 99% on Rotten Tomatoes and $140 million at the US box office are practically unprecedented and quite literally record-breaking.

But for every success story, there is another five or six that reveal the harsher truth – hiring a big star to spearhead your potential blockbuster doesn’t count for much unless they’re playing something or someone pre-existing. Ghost in the Shell and Life aren’t the first, and won’t be the last – but right now they’re the two major casualties tumbling down the order in a box office landscape increasingly uninterested in original ideas starring attractive people.

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Rising Australian Stars

Corey Hogan

If you’re a regular reader of Hooked on Film, then you certainly don’t need to be reminded that the Australian film industry has become a powerhouse in recent years. Australia has always been known for its endless stream of acting talent ready to export to the city of stars and beyond: Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Geoffrey Rush, Toni Collette… sometimes it feels like there’s more Aussies in Hollywood than Americans. Our invasion looks set to only grow from here, especially with so much up and coming talent.

Here are three local actors who you soon won’t be able to stop hearing about. And here’s the catch – none of them have reached their twenties yet. It’s enough to make anyone look back and think, “damn, what the hell have I done with my life?”

Odessa Young

2016 - 01 January - Looking For Grace
A quick glance at nineteen-year-old Odessa Young’s filmography might seem a tad underwhelming; there are just a handful of short films, guest roles on TV series and two features to her name. But this is what makes Young’s career so impressive. The few roles she’s had have made such a splash that the teenager has skyrocketed to one of Australia’s most promising up-and-comers. Her scene-stealing performances as the titular characters of both Looking for Grace and The Daughter have mesmerised; the latter of which earned her an AACTA award, ranking her alongside seasoned greats like Jacki Weaver and Cate Blanchett.

Young now has a whopping list of projects on her plate this year –  another two local short films, two TV series and a shift to Hollywood for high-profile thrillers Assassination Nation and Sweet Virginia.

Angourie Rice

04 April - Rising Aust Stars AR
Sixteen-year-old Angourie Rice kicked off her career in Perth with the aid of her director father (Jeremy Rice, Cloudstreet) and actress mother (Kate Rice, Ocean Star). Her fame has now surpassed them both; starting with a number of shorts and commercials, Rice attracted attention with her role in Zak Hilditch’s post-apocalyptic short film Transmission. So pleased with her work, Hilditch kept her on as the female lead in his similarly-themed feature film These Final Hours, which enjoyed such a healthy festival run that Rice was almost immediately exposed to (and swept away by) Hollywood.

After lending her voice to the animated Walking with Dinosaurs, Rice cracked the big time in a starring role next to Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in Shane Black’s The Nice Guys, and returned home again for another lead in this year’s Jasper Jones. Next up? Only Sofia Coppola’s new film The Beguiled, and an entrance to the unstoppable Marvel universe in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Levi Miller

Another young actor appearing seemingly out of nowhere and skipping straight to stardom, Levi Miller has shown he holds the charisma and charm to carry entire films on his shoulders – pretty amazing for a fourteen-year-old. Leaping from a mere extra role, to guest starring on popular shows Terra Nova and Supergirl, to playing the one and only Peter Pan in Joe Wright’s reboot Pan, Miller has crossed that bridge to Hollywood and achieved in a couple of years what most actors take a lifetime to barely crack.

Granted, Pan was a critical and commercial failure, but it’s done nothing to stop Miller, who’s atoned for this by leading two Australian films in the last six months alone – the prequel Red Dog: True Blue and Jasper Jones. Miller’s back to Hollywood next, for Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of the classic science fiction novel A Wrinkle in Time.

Image courtesy of  Madman Entertainment, Palace Films & Roadshow Films 

Movie Review – CHIPS

Humourless, disorderly and just plain ugly – you really don’t want to watch CHIPS, trust me.

Rhys Graeme Drury

From Charlie’s Angels to Starsky and Hutch and 21 Jump Street, Hollywood loves to dig into the past and resurrect dusty 70s and 80s TV shows and give them a raunchy 21st Century spin. Sometimes it works (the Jump Street movies are a hoot) and sometimes it doesn’t (that Dukes of Hazzard thing with Jessica Simpson) – and then there is CHIPS.

I want you to close your eyes and picture the least funny film you can imagine, where each scene is a joyless, jumbled mess of disjointed editing, harried plot details and distasteful, putrid humour. That movie you’re picturing in your head doesn’t even come close to how offensively bad Chips is. To paraphrase the great Roger Ebert, CHIPS doesn’t just scrape the bottom of the barrel – it doesn’t even belong in the same sentence as the worst barrels imaginable.

Hang on a second; I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s circle back to a brief plot synopsis, shall we? Not that it really matters – telling a coherent narrative isn’t just secondary in Chips, it’s situated somewhere outside the top ten when it comes to what really matters to writer, director and co-lead actor Dax Shepard.

As I said, CHIPS is based on a cute 70s cop show about the California Highway Patrol ,(hence the bafflingly nonsensical acronym for a title). Shepard plays Jon Baker, a retired motorcycle stunt rider who enrols in the CHP to win back the affection of his visibly disinterested and disloyal wife Karen (Kristen Bell, who is Shepard’s actual wife in real-life – haha, so meta – this film has so many layers!)

Jon’s partner is undercover FBI agent slash legit sexual predator who needs to be locked up Frank ‘Ponch’ Poncherello (Michael Peña). When Ponch screws the pooch and shoots another office while attempting to foil a heist, he’s placed undercover alongside the hapless Baker and together they need to learn to work together and end the string of heists. Hilarity ensues, presumably.

If only that were the case. Alas, CHIPS doesn’t just fail to entertain as an action-comedy, it pretty much fails in any and all respects. The narrative, as I mentioned, is incoherent at best. For a film with such a simple setup, there are at least a dozen too many characters.

The villains are sketchy (by which I mean they have zero motivation or genuine logical thought for anything), the heroes are either dim-witted douchebags or straight-up sex pests and the reasons for us to care are practically non-existent. The editing is terrible, the action is limp and scenes just lurch from one unfunny joke to the next with no purpose or driving force. I’ve genuinely never seen a major studio film as poorly structured, shot and edited as CHIPS. Worst of all, the humour is just plain mean. Jokes are made at the expense of gay people, people with disability, people with Crohn’s Disease, women in general – the list goes on and on.

If you’ve gotten this far and are still considering checking this film out, you deserve every second of excruciating pain coming your way. You have been warned.

CHIPS is available in Australian cinemas from April 6

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Smurfs: The Lost Village

Our favourite little blue creatures are back on the big screen, but it’s starting to wear a little thin the third time around.

⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic

Unlike the previous Smurf films, Smurfs: The Lost Village focuses on the most unique of these blue critters; the only female smurf, aptly named Smurfette (voiced by Julia Roberts). In a village filled with male Smurfs who each have a defining trait, Smurfette begins to feel out of place. Unlike her fellow villagers, Smurfette was created from a piece of clay by the evil wizard Gargamel (voiced by Rainn Wilson) and so she lacks a singular special skill. Naturally, this leads her on a journey to discover her identity. Throw in the possibility of other Smurfs existing in a place unknown and you can see exactly where this story is going…

What’s truly great about The Lost Village is the smooth 3D animation. Everything flows seamlessly, but it’s the large colourful displays during the action set pieces that shine the most. The scene where the Smurfs encounter a group of dragonflies is particularly noteworthy; each creature has been meticulously designed with unique colour traits. As a childhood fan of these characters, I can confidently say that the Smurfs translate well from their original hand drawn cartoon to CGI animation… but sadly, this is where the good stuff ends.

While I enjoyed the focus on Smurfette’s character arc, it felt as though the story lost (pun intended) it’s meaning along the way. What began as an interesting decision to tackle identity and one’s purpose in life, slowly shifted to basic storytelling: a village is found, Gargamel plans to capture the village, Smurfette and her friends must stop him… and that’s pretty much it.

Not only do you know how it’s all going to end, but the journey along the way is far too unoriginal to be even remotely engaging. In this sense it reminds me of the new Power Rangers, but where The Lost Village outshines that particular mess is in its character dynamics. There’s some well-crafted interactions between Smurfette, Clumsy, Brainy and Hefty that have hilarious outcomes. It’s just a shame that the relationships between these characters lose any sense of depth against a plot that doesn’t lend itself to exploring these little personalities.

There are reasons why we ultimately love children’s films. It’s because they’re not just films for children. We can still get the same feelings watching The Lion King now as we did 20 years or so ago. It’s why we’ll pay money again to see a live-action imagining of an animated film we’ve loved for decades. This is where The Lost Village is lacking. Parents, take your kids to see The LEGO Batman Movie instead. They’ll enjoy it. You’ll enjoy it. It’s a much better result for all.

Smurfs: The Lost Village is available in Australian cinemas from March 30

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Batman’s Enduring Cinematic Legacy

Rhys Graeme-Drury

Since swooping onto the scene in Detective Comics #27 in 1939, Batman (or the Bat-Man as he was originally known) has appeared in countless graphic novels, radio and television serials, animated series and blockbuster movies.

Aside from possibly Sherlock Holmes, Batman eclipses pretty much any other literary character under the sun for sheer flexibility. Across nearly eight decades in our collective cultural zeitgeist, the Caped Crusader has shown himself to display immense aesthetic, tonal, narrative and thematic malleability, from the original black-and-white TV serials starring Robert Lowery right up to the present day iterations such as Christian Bale and Ben Affleck.

More so than other superheroes like Superman, I would argue that it’s Batman who displays the greatest variance with regards to appearance, form and overall approach, all whilst staying true to the core iconography and values that define and underscore the character. Even on the most extreme ends of the spectrum, like Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin or the more recent animated The LEGO Batman Movie voiced by Will Arnett, Batman is still instantly recognisable as Batman.

Unlike Spider-man (teen drama) or Captain America (spirited wartime patriotism), you never really know what you’re going to get with Batman. One moment he’s leading Christopher Nolan’s grounded Dark Knight trilogy, and the next he’s a kid-friendly blockhead in The Lego Movie. On one end of the scale you have a punchy, brooding Batman who prowls the streets of a drab, sprawling urban jungle. On the other hand is a colourful, zippy Batman who is quick-witted, immature and maybe just a little bit sassy when the mood takes him.

Filmmakers the likes of Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher and Zach Snyder have also had the chance to imprint their own idea of what the Dark Knight should look and sound like. With Burton, Batman became an imposing exaggeration of comic book peculiarity and Expressionist inspired tech; in the hands of Schumacher, Batman was a commercialised action figure garnished in garish neon; presently with Snyder, Batman is a hyper-masculine gym junkie crossed with a mass murderer who hungers for torture and destruction.

The differences don’t begin and end in the realm of cinema; in just the past few years we’ve seen a multitude of different versions of Batman in video games, kid’s animation and even network TV. Even when Batman is thrust into a totally different era in comic books like Gotham by Gaslight or Batman Beyond, the hallmarks are all there. It’s a never-ending deluge of Batman that covers pretty much every age bracket and taste, all whilst remaining instantly recognisable and understandable.

Unlike Superman who comes from outer space or Spider-man who is lucky enough for a magic spider to nibble his neck, Bruce Wayne doesn’t have superpowers. Other than being crazy rich, Batman has endured with readers of all ages across the last 75 years because it’s easy to see ourselves in his selfless quest. Through training, discipline and bravery, we too could be like Batman – if only we also had a spare fortune lying around that is.

No need for a magic ring or lasso; just grim determination and the will to succeed and survive at all costs. Bruce Wayne takes tragedy (the death of his parents) and turns it into his motivation to be something better, stronger and greater. It’s a desire that transcends borders or race.

Despite the ups and downs of storytelling quality, Batman remains popular because he remains a hero we can imagine ourselves as, irrespective of that fact that he might be made of Lego or have ridiculous nipples on the outside of his suit. A symbol in both fiction and real-life, his enduring cinematic legacy is one ironclad iconography, and those identifiers remain universal, even when everything else about the character is subject to change and trends.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films