Movie Review – A Fantastic Woman

A powerfully authentic depiction of trans issues, foreign film A Fantastic Woman is not easy to watch, but it is definitely worth it.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Michael Philp  

Watching A Fantastic Woman, one gets the sense that the people involved have been waiting to get this ball rolling for a while now. It shows in the ease with which Daniela Vega – herself a trans woman – embodies the character of Marina, and the care that all parties bring to depicting her struggles. The challenges Marina faces feel personal and resonate deeply, creating a sense of cathartic empowerment, with a confident spirit finally being given the spotlight it deserves.

Marina is a singer and waitress in Santiago, Chile. She lives happily with her older lover, Orlando (Francisco Reyes), who we see first, scrambling to find travel tickets he had planned to surprise Marina with. He will never find them. That night, Orlando suffers an aneurysm and dies in hospital, the swiftness of his death underscoring the degree to which Marina’s life is about to be ripped apart. Within hours, Orlando’s family emerges to reclaim him from Marina’s “grasp” and sweep her under the rug using whatever means necessary.

Orlando’s family are something else. If Marina’s character arc seems stunted it’s because they hold her back, sometimes literally. Son Bruno (Nicolás Saavedra) lets himself into Orlando’s apartment, an act that dismisses Marina without needing to say a word. Worse yet is ex-wife Sonia (Aline Küppenheim), who seems “nice enough” until she calls Marina a chimaera and starts using her birth name. If you don’t understand how misgendering someone can be abusive, you haven’t met Sonia; she makes it an art form. Inevitably these slights escalate, reaching their peak with an atrocious act of physical abuse that’s hard to watch.

This escalation is the heart of A Fantastic Woman. You can see it in Marina’s eyes when she speaks to cops at the hospital – she knows that these things are never simple or benign. The cops are just the beginning. Vega brings these experiences to life with authenticity and subtlety. She’s met people like this before, she knows how degrading they can be, and her performance benefits immensely from that first-hand knowledge. It’s empowering just watching her work.

Director Sebastián Lelio is important here as well. He shows himself in select sequences that blur the line between fantasy and reality. A windstorm pushes Marina down until she’s almost parallel to the sidewalk, leaf litter smacking her in the face. Later, a nightclub melts away to give her one last dance alone with Orlando. These breaks from reality express Marina’s grief and frustration in a way that she never could. There are admittedly one too many of them, but their purpose is always clear and admirable, and they are never less than beautiful.

As a powerful portrait of a unique soul, A Fantastic Woman is worth your time. It has an uphill battle for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, but there’s enough meat here for the Academy to give it serious consideration. It’s a gracefully told story, and Vega is magnificent in bringing her own experiences to the table. With luck, this will be the beginning of a new era in representation. With stars like Vega and directors like Lelio, that can only be a good thing.

A Fantastic Woman is available in Australian cinemas from February 22 

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

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Movie Review – Finding Your Feet

Following a recent rise in Hollywood films about retirees getting a new lease on life, the British are now jumping on board to bring us their own old age comedy.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

When Sandra (Imelda Staunton) discovers her husband has been cheating on her with a friend, she flees to her estranged sister’s house. Faced with the prospect at having to start again when she should be reaching retirement, Sandra blindly follows her sister on her day-to-day adventures and realises that it’s never too late for new beginnings.

Staunton flourishes, as always, in the role of highly-strung snob Sandra. She shows glimpses of a woman who is on the edge of losing control, suggesting Sandra has been unhappy for a long time, but is equally unaware of the depths of her unhappiness. Celia Imrie, who plays Sandra’s eccentric sister Bif, is charming as always, and her comedic timing is a thing of brilliance. Timothy Spall gives Sandra’s love interest a beautiful softness that isn’t often seen from him, making him the standout of the film, and the character you’re rooting for in the end.

The storyline isn’t anything new or particularly exciting, but it is successful in managing to balance the fine line between the lighter and more sombre scenes. Finding Your Feet isn’t afraid to shine a light on the difficulties of getting older and reaching a point when the presence death becomes a very real fixture in your life. Each character deals with the death of loved ones, or the approach of their own death, and each moment is dealt with sympathetically and sensitively. Played against this is the film’s humour, which not only pokes fun at the concept of growing old, but at old versus new attitudes. Some of the characters have embraced societal changes, whereas other characters are very much stuck in an old-school way of thinking and seeing the two types play against each other also creates some very funny moments.

Finding Your Feet is a quintessentially English film that is led by an incredible cast. What the story lacks in originality is made up for by a cast who manage to hit all the right notes in a story about death and love, proving that it’s never too late to start again.

 Finding Your Feet is available in Australian cinemas from February 22 

Image courtesy of eOne Films

Movie Review – The BBQ

An underdog sports movie devoid of tension, The BBQ gets by on charms alone.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Michael Philp

The BBQ will inevitably be compared to The Castle – as all Australian comedies must be – but that contrast seems inappropriate for a few reasons. Chief among them is the fact that where The Castle put a family’s home on the line, The BBQ only endangers a few reputations – and it doesn’t even seem to care about them very much. Ironically, the biggest problem with The BBQ is that the stakes aren’t high enough.

The main reputation on the line is Darren “Dazza” Cook’s (Shane Jacobson). A barbecue addict, Dazza loves telling people he’s related to Captain Cook – the supposed creator of the barbecue – and hosting community get-togethers, much to his wife’s chagrin. After Dazza gains national attention for giving the community food poisoning, Dazza’s work enters him into a cooking competition – a bizarre decision that the film barely bothers to justify. Weirder still, the company simultaneously recognises that Dazza doesn’t actually have the skills to win the competition, so they send him off to be trained by The Butcher (Magda Szubanski), a Scottish woman with a grudge against the front-runner, Andre Mont Blanc (Manu Feildel).

There’s a Karate Kid formula at work here, delivered with delightful colour. Szubanski is particularly memorable, bringing a gruffness to her Miyagi that contrasts brilliantly with Jacobson’s overwhelmed Daniel. The mid-point of their training schedule – where an actual Japanese master (Kuni Hashimoto) teaches Dazza to identify wagyu beef – is easily the high point of the film. At its best, The BBQ is proof that clichés don’t matter if you execute them with skill – tell a story well, and you’ll have your audience enthralled regardless of how many tropes you’re using.

It’s a damn shame then that outside of that formula, The BBQ doesn’t tell its story well, despite having an astonishing five credited writers. Even with all of those people editing the script, it somehow fails to produce any real stakes. The few it has are paper thin and poorly thought out. Dazza’s main incentive to win is two-fold: he wants to prove to his wife that he’s good at what he does, and he wants to humiliate his rival, Mont Blanc. Except Dazza’s wife doesn’t care how good he is, she’s angry that the barbecue takes time away from the family. And Mont Blanc is a foreigner who is doing the competition for publicity, which he gets either way.

What might’ve worked better is if Dazza’s style was built around honest, community barbecuing, something the marketing suggests, but not the film itself. That simple change would contrast him to the pretentious foreigner and put the value of community on the line. Instead, Dazza’s training focuses on high-end cooking that clashes with his suburban setting. Dazza loves feeding people, but you can’t feed a community with wagyu beef, and that disconnect is something the film never addresses. That kind of thinking is the difference between a great film and an average film. For all its wonderful colour and humour, The BBQ is the latter, and that’s a damn shame.

The BBQ is available in Australian cinemas from February 22 

Image courtesy of Label Distribution

Most Anticipated Films of 2018

Josip Knezevic

2018 is set to be a very impressive year! While I could write a small novel on the potential highlights, here’s just a few of 2018’s most anticipated films.

Avengers: Infinity War

You can’t talk about the year’s most anticipated films without mentioning what will most likely be the most ambitious Marvel film to date. Fans can’t seem to get enough of this stuff, happily rocking up to the cinemas year in and year out. While almost every Marvel film after the first Avengers was one too many for me, I’m secretly hoping Infinity War will bring back that giddy feeling I had while watching the original.

Infinity War faces a big challenge in having to balance a wide range of leads and personalities, with everyone from the Black Panther to Guardian of the Galaxy‘s Rocket Raccoon to be featured. If directors Anthony and Joe Russo get it right, as they did with Captain America: Civil War, then we’re in for a treat. Let’s pray they can pull it off!

The Predator

Before I went digging through the Internet to put together this list, I wasn’t even aware that a Predator (1987) sequel was headed our way. With Shane Black taking on writing and directing duties, I’m pretty excited to see the resurgence of my favourite action film, especially after the woeful 2010 reboot Predators. There isn’t a lot of detail out there on where the film intends to go in terms of narrative, but nevertheless, this is easily the most anticipated action flick of the year. Please be good. Please be good. Please be good.

The Irishman

Featuring the return of Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel and Al Pacino, The Irishman could be the most epic gangster movie of the past decade. Based on the life of mob hitman Frank Sheeran, The Irishman is set to be Netflix’s largest ever investment in a feature film. Considering Netflix recently put $90 million into Will Smith‘s action flop Bright that doesn’t mean much, but it will be interesting to see whether Netflix opts to do a cinematic release, particularly given Scorsese’s reputation. Either way, hopefully The Irishman will be everything we’ve been wanting to see since 2006’s The Departed, even if it doesn’t ended up reaching us until 2019.

The Incredibles 2

February 2018 - Most Anticipated Incredibles 2
With the original released way back in 2004, all of us are wondering why it’s taken this long for the arrival of a sequel. The Incredibles left us hanging in an unresolved battle, making a sequel an obvious move, and yet unnecessary instalments for other films have instead been pushed out in the meantime (e.g. Cars 3). Not much is known about what the second film will entail, but that hasn’t stopped me from setting my expectations incredibly high… here’s hoping it will reach those and then some.

Untitled Deadpool Sequel

Though the first Deadpool was not without it’s flaws, it was a gigantic leap in breaking down Hollywood studio barriers to releasing an R-Rated film. I can’t wait to see our favourite narcissistic anti-hero take to the screen again this year. What made the original so successful was its brand of humour, and its clear Ryan Reynolds knows it and enjoys it just as much as we all do.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Take one look at Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) in character as Freddie Mercury and you’ll be immediately hooked by the prospect of this biopic. Though production has been stalled and in contention for several years, with Sacha Baron Cohen showing interest in the lead role at one point, Bohemian Rhapsody is looking to be the biopic of 2018. Set to take place throughout the years of Queen’s early days up until their triumphant performance at 1985’s Live aid, let’s hope this film does the late front man proud.

 

Solo: A Star Wars Movie

Yes, another Star Wars movie is upon us. Given the polarising reactions of the last film, and the growing saturation of the series, my feelings towards this next one are mixed. On one hand, the character of Han Solo is by far the most enjoyable and fun to watch, plus this latest film features Donald Glover as a young Lando Calrissian. But when all is said and done, we’ll probably just get yet another Star Wars flick that fails to live up to the original trilogy.

 

Isle of Dogs

February 2018 - Most Anticipated Isle of Dogs

Wes Anderson. Japan. Dogs…

Isle of Dogs has me sold from the get go. I can’t wait for this one to be released – the thumbnail for the trailer alone looks like an art piece with various meticulously dressed dogs. Everything about it signals Anderson’s style, making it the most anticipated independent feature for 2018.

Images courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures & 20th Century Fox 

Movie Review – Insidious: The Last Key

 A poor copy of James Wan’s signature style, The Last Key will suffice when there’s nothing else on Netflix.

 

⭐ ⭐ ½
Michael Philp

It’s been seven years since the original Insidious stormed the box office. A carnival ride that never felt cheap, Insidious was surprisingly good and made director James Wan the closest thing modern horror has to a household name. In the intervening years, the series has churned out two other films, and Wan has moved from classical horror (The Conjuring) to blockbuster fare like Furious 7. Sadly, the Insidious franchise has failed to move forward in his absence. Instead, it’s become steadily more derivative and frustrating, with The Last Key representing the lowest point of Wan’s well-imitated style.

Following the events of Insidious: Chapter 3 (a prequel to the original film), Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) receives a call for help from her childhood home in Five Keys, New Mexico. Initially reluctant, Elise is drawn in by the desire to right the wrongs she witnessed (and ran away from) as a child. Tagging along are her now permanent sidekicks Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), still as annoying as ever. Once there, Elise digs into her past to confront a demon she accidentally freed as a child – Keyface.

The thing about The Last Key is that it’s noisier than it is scary. Aside from a few genuine shocks, director Adam Robitel seems content to blast sound in place of actual horror. A ghost moves down a hallway? Better shred those violins, that’ll make people jump! Akin to a high school bully who punches people for flinching, Last Key’s tricks are exhausting. Making matters worse is a sequence midway through the film where Tucker uses a microphone with horrendous feedback. The charitable view would be to call the sound design unnerving, but it ends up being more painful than scary.

Wan became famous for walking the audience through his haunted houses and letting them become familiar with the layout before populating it with ghosts and ghouls. Last Key doesn’t need that because the house looks exactly like every other one in the franchise. Robitel hasn’t created a new space; he’s just borrowed the same basement and closet that Wan had so much fun with in the first two films. We’re going through the motions here – the bed, the hallway, the door – it’s all been done before and far better elsewhere.

Where Last Key does differentiate itself is in its subtextual concerns – namely abuse and how silence perpetuates it. Keyface physically locks people’s voices and souls away, and (partially) thanks to Elise he’s been doing this for a while now. There’s rich thematic ground there to explore how both individuals and institutions turn a blind eye to real world ghouls, but unfortunately, Robitel fails to see that potential and instead keeps throwing frustrating noise scares at you.

We live in the era of #timesup and #metoo, but Last Key isn’t thoughtful enough to be included in that conversation. As it stands, it’ll do fine as something to pass the time when it inevitably arrives on streaming services, but will ultimately end up remembered as the low point of the Insidious franchise – the last gasp of a series that was running out of breath two films ago.

Insidious: The Last Key is available in Australian cinemas from February 8 

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Classic Review – The Seventh Seal (1957)

Sixty years on, The Seventh Seal remains one of Sweden’s proudest treasures and one of cinema’s greatest films.

Zachary Cruz-Tan

The seventh seal refers of course to verses from the Book of Revelation in which God remains silent in heaven before judgement descends upon Jerusalem. And so, The Seventh Seal, one of Ingmar Bergman’s most lasting films, is about a knight who has just returned from the Crusades and grows bitter because God, in all His infinite wisdom, refuses to answer his prayers. It’s an uncompromising film that explores silence, loneliness, crisis of faith and perhaps most importantly, death.

In the film, death takes the form of a cloaked man with a cold white face, played with a cool detachment by Bengt Ekerot. He tells the knight, Antonius Block (Max von Sydow), that he has been at his side “for a long time” and has come to finally claim him. Antonius, stubborn and curious, invites Death to a game of chess, providing one of cinema’s most iconic and enduring images. If the knight prevails, death will pass him by. The game is returned to throughout the movie.

It’s fitting that death should hover over life in the shape of a lanky man during the period in which The Seventh Seal is set. The mood is hopelessly grim. The Crusades in the Holy Land are putting everyone’s faith in doubt, as is the Black Death, which is ravaging most of Europe.

It is a time when no one has the medical expertise to explain the plague, and so the afflicted, along with those who survive in small groups, believe it is the Lord’s reckoning. There is a scene in which Antonius and his squire, Jöns (the well-established Gunnar Björnstrand), attend an outdoor matinee that is interrupted by a procession of flagellants, and the monk who leads it suddenly erupts into a tirade of condemnation. It is a powerful scene that quite clearly depicts a religion on the brink of implosion. In almost every instance, Bergman reminds us that death is inescapable.

The core of The Seventh Seal lies in the fact that Antonius knows what Bergman is trying to teach us. He plays chess with Death not to escape his fate, but to postpone it, so that he can fulfil one good deed before the end and find meaning in his life. This he does, in the form of the actor Jof (Nils Poppe) and his innocent family, whose lives Antonius bargains for. In this way he is very much like Kanji Watanabe, the old man in Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952), who learns he has cancer and decides to perform one significant act before he dies.

Bergman, who grew up under the strict fist of his religious father, would continue to deal with faith and God well into the latter half of his career, with films like The Virgin Spring (1960) and Through a Glass Darkly (1961). But The Seventh Seal remains his most immediate confrontation with God. It made stars of Max von Sydow and Bibi Andersson (who plays Jof’s wife and was dating Bergman at the time), and is widely considered one of the finest films ever made despite falling into obscurity in recent years.

Today it lives on in tributes and parodies, like the pictures of Charlie Chaplin and Michael Curtiz. Images of a scythe-wielding, hooded Grim Reaper can be found everywhere, from movies by Woody Allen to Peter Hewitt, the latter of whom quite memorably made Death play Twister. But it’s a little sad that Seventh Seal has been diluted for comedy. Here is a movie made very much in the mind of its director, filled with all his doubts. The magic of The Seventh Seal is that by the end, there is no closure, not for Bergman, not for us, and certainly not for Antonius Block. Such is faith.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Entertainment, IMDb & Svensk Filmindustri (SF)

Movie Review – Black Panther

Black Panther may not be Marvel’s best origin story, but it’s definitely one we all have to see.

 
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

I hate to have to pull up the DC Extended Universe when talking about Marvel, but I’m sorry, the comparisons are inevitable. Here is a movie that will do for the black community everywhere what Wonder Woman (2017) did for women, but while the exhilarating romanticism of our first blockbuster female superhero has already been washed away by the stench of Justice League (2017), Black Panther arrives at a time that could not be more crucial for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the world in general. This is an important film, if not necessarily a great one.

As an origin story, Panther is neither a success nor a failure. It just is. But inherent within this fable is an abundance of joy and innovation; it’s a tried and tested story of a prince who has to fight for his throne, set against a mouth-watering backdrop of an Africa that has been bisected by tradition and the ultramodern.

That is what really works here – the film’s energetic production design. The fictional kingdom of Wakanda is cradled somewhere in the mountains and visually sealed off from the world by some kind of force field, so we’re treated to mud huts and goat farmers before the camera swoops through the barrier to reveal an eye-popping futuristic utopia of towering spires and flying vehicles. It’s a place where the new is built upon the foundations of the old – it can be seen from the magnificent costumes to the graffiti that adorns an underground research lab. We get the sense that this is a city born from African soil and raised in its complex culture, not in the memory banks of a visual effects artist’s computer, and it’s splendid.

But the plot, it must be said, is rather ordinary. We are reacquainted with Prince T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), who, after his father’s untimely demise in Captain America: Civil War (2016), has to assume the throne and ensure the precious vibranium metal that accelerated Wakanda’s growth remains secret from the rest of the world. But there is dissent in the ranks and the emergence of a foreign foe, who has been selling vibranium on the black market for years in an attempt to finally reach the mythical El Dorado and claim the kingdom as his own.

There are deep pockets of delightful moments, as when Black Panther tears through a car chase in South Korea, but for some reason many of the fight scenes take place in near darkness, and it doesn’t help that our hero’s costume is 98% black.

The large cast, in which I counted only two white men, is populated by quite an effective range of personalities, from Danai Gurira’s formidable warrior Okoye, to Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa’s enchanting younger sister who is apparently proficient at everything, including spinal surgery. Unfortunately, Michael B. Jordan’s villain is awarded pathos and a profound backstory but ends up shouting “BURN IT ALL!” and “I AM YOUR KING NOW!” a whole lot, y’know, like a bad guy. He seems more like a brutish nuisance than an emotional nemesis.

Black Panther is nevertheless a success. It’s entertaining and confidently directed by Ryan Coogler, who has left enough doors open so that we may all discuss his movie’s relevance. What’s left now is to see what Marvel will do next, because it’s imperative, after such a momentous step into the light, that these pioneering characters not be hustled back into the shadows by their white counterparts. They’ve proven they can hold their own.

Black Panther is available in Australian cinemas from February 15

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

In Perspective: The Notebook

Elle Cahill 

Valentine’s Day is the one time of the year when it’s considered (mildly) acceptable to indulge in romantic films. As one of the most popular romance films, The Notebook starts to make the rounds, appearing in cinemas like Rooftop Movies for Valentine’s Day specials. So, what is it about The Notebook that has made it one of this generation’s most well-known romance films?

It’s an epic love story

The Notebook follows the love story of Allie (Rachel McAdams) and Noah (Ryan Gosling) who meet as teenagers and embark on a summer fling in the 1930s. Despite their class differences, they fall deeply in love, only to be torn apart by Allie’s wealthy parents. Noah and Allie go their separate ways, with Noah being enlisted for World War II and Allie becoming engaged to another man, but a chance sighting of Noah in the paper sees Allie seek out Noah for closure.

Just like the romance films Gone With the Wind, One Day and Up, the two lead characters spend a large proportion of the film apart, coming together at different parts of their life. It reinforces the “soul mate” idea and infinite love, making for an epic love story that covers the lifespan of these two characters.

The two leads have natural chemistry

Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling have a natural chemistry that makes the entire film that much more believable. McAdams gives Allie a certain feistiness and a headstrong quality that makes her completely irresistible, and more importantly, memorable. Gosling gives Noah a cheekiness that offsets some of Noah’s more serious qualities, and turns him from an obsessive sap into an endearing romantic.

Much like Casablanca and Titanic, the success of The Notebook rests not only on how convincing the two leads are in their role, but also in their more human moments that show relationships aren’t always puppies and rainbows.

The roots of the story are cemented in tragedy

Like all good romance films, a bit of tragedy goes a long way, and The Notebook has plenty of tragedy. The film is interwoven with the story of Duke and Miss Hamilton, two elderly people living in the same retirement home. Miss Hamilton has Alzheimer’s and Duke reads Noah and Allie’s story to her every day. It’s not hard to see that Miss Hamilton was once an intelligent, wealthy woman and the tragedy lies in her fading memory.

Tragedy also exists as Noah devotes his time to building Allie’s dream house, whilst Allie prepares to marry another man. Similar to Romeo and Juliet and Brokeback Mountain, audiences spend the film rooting for the lead couple, hoping that they can overcome many obstacles to find their way back to each other.

Nicholas Sparks’ Midas touch

2002’s A Walk to Remember brought attention to author Nicholas Sparks, but it was The Notebook that put his novels on the map. Since then, several of his novels have been turned into films, with one being released every year since 2010. His films attract big name actors competing in very similar storylines, save for a few key details altered here and there.

Luckily, The Notebook was made early enough to escape becoming part of the overkill that Sparks films now exist within, and was unique enough at the time to garner the right attention. The story has a lot of purity and heart to it that prevents it from becoming overly corny and sappy, but it will always be a divisive romance film that will have some reaching for the Kleenex, and others trying to contain their eye rolls.

Image courtesy of New Line Cinema, IMDb and Roadshow Films 

Movie Review – Fifty Shades Freed

Like an impotent lover that never really attracted you in the first place, the Fifty Shades trilogy limps to an unsatisfying climax that leaves you feeling dirty and ashamed.


Corey Hogan 

Though their relationship pushes the limits of what normal people might consider healthy, average girl Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and kinky billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) finally tie the knot and get married in Fifty Shades Freed. Their obnoxiously extravagant honeymoon is cut short however, when word that Ana’s former boss/stalker Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) has been spotted snooping ominously around Grey Enterprises. Drawn back to Seattle, their relationship is tested once more, with Hyde’s interference spelling the end for the two lovers and their friends and family.

So, here we are at last at the end of the Fifty Shades phenomena that grew from humble beginnings as Twilight fan fiction-turned mummy porn back in 2011. If you’ve followed the series up to this point, then chances are you fit into one of two categories of people; the legions of adoring female fans playing out their fantasy of being swept off their feet by a rich hunk, or the so-bad-it’s-good movie enthusiasts scoffing at the woeful acting, dialogue and general preposterousness of the entire situation.

In that sense, Fifty Shades Freed is business as usual, though this barely half-assed final chapter doesn’t even have the courtesy of remaining consistent in its unintentional hilarity. Instead, it gets the laughably un-erotic sex scenes out of the way early on to focus on things literally no one watches these movies for – the mundanities of a kinky relationship succumbing to dull, everyday married life routine. It’s painfully boring, and a bit depressing to think that all exciting, spontaneous partnerships are doomed to flatline and centre on unsexy things, like renovating houses and starting a family. No wonder divorce is so popular.

In a poor attempt to spice things up a bit, a subplot involving Ana’s aggressive ex-boss Jack Hyde is badly integrated into the main story and could be accused of derailing it, were there anything resembling a plot in the first place. Straight out of a Z-grade action movie, Eric Johnson is dreadful as the motivation-less, cliché antagonist, doing stock bad guy things like breaking into the Grey household and holding a knife to Ana’s throat (why, exactly?), and kidnapping Christian’s sister for a $5 million ransom (huh?). It’s maddeningly nonsensical, but at least gives the filmmakers an excuse to cram in an incredibly lazy car chase sequence.

Meanwhile, our mismatched leads bring their happily-ever-after to its climax with the same lack of flair we’ve come to expect. Dakota Johnson looks even more bored than we are, no doubt relieved she can finally leave Anastasia’s dumbfounded expression behind and continue working with directors like Luca Guadagnino. Jamie Dornan at least has The Fall to back up his claim to a career in acting, because his wooden performance as Christian Grey could be mistaken for impersonating someone with autism, were he not so buff and handsome.

So… what else is there to say, really? We’re treated at the conclusion to a montage of clips from Ana and Christian’s most “romantic” moments across the trilogy, right from their meeting at the very beginning. It puts into perspective just how forgettable this journey has been, and confirms that it was never really the story or characters that had any impact on society, it was the idea itself; a kinky wet dream that somehow escaped the trappings of erotica novelisations to cross into the mainstream consciousness. Love it or loathe it, Fifty Shades has shaped and impacted modern culture, for better or worse. At least this one manages to get the title right – we’re finally freed from restraints of one of history’s most atrocious franchises.

Fifty Shades Freed is available in Australian cinemas from February 8 

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2018

Top Wildlife Documentaries

Elle Cahill

Wildlife documentaries have come along in leaps and bounds since their entrance into cinema in the mid-1950s. With David Attenborough leading the charge, the genre has developed its own innovative filmmaking techniques. Over time, with the advancement of technology, wildlife documentaries have gained the ability to put us right in the middle of an animal’s natural habitat, allowing us to witness wild behaviour that would otherwise be completely unknown to us.

While wildlife documentaries are regularly produced, those that focus on one species or a lone incident are less commonplace. These are far more intimate documentaries, and the best have the ability to show how animals respond to the presence of humans within their environment.

Here are my top 5 picks for wildlife documentaries with a singular focus.

Virunga (2014)
Director: Orlando von Einsiedel

February 2018 - Top Wildlife Documentaries - Virunga

Virunga is a national park in the Congo that is protected habitat for mountain gorillas. With the encroaching danger of oil companies wanting to drill on the edge of the park, the documentary explains the political history of the area, and puts a microscope on those who are serving to protect the mountain gorillas that rely on this park for survival. While it has more of a focus on its human subjects, Virunga still takes the time to introduce us to the individual gorillas residing in the park and tells us the stories of how they each came under the protection of the rangers. Each gorilla has its own strong personality that shines through interaction with their caretaker André Bauma and one another.

Tyke Elephant Outlaw (2015)
Director: Susan Lambert and Stefan Moore

February 2018 - Top Wildlife Documentaries - Tyke Elephant Outlaw

This is a hard one to watch. Tyke Elephant Outlaw is about a circus elephant that killed her trainer during a circus performance, then broke free into the streets of Honolulu where she was eventually shot dead by police officers.

Directors Susan Lambert and Stefan Moore don’t shy away from showing the live news footage from that day, even down to close-ups of the elephant being shot. The documentary repeats a lot of its vision throughout, but this never makes it any easier to watch.

What lets this documentary down is it’s timing. The incident took place in 1994, so at times it feels like it has been made too late to have any significant impact. Nevertheless, it’s still an interesting, informative and emotionally exhausting documentary.

Kedi (2016)
Director: Ceyda Torun

February 2018 - Top Wildlife Documentaries - Kedi

Kedi is a less serious documentary about the thousands of cats that live on the streets of Istanbul, Turkey. Focussing on just seven cats, we follow each one as they perform their daily routines and survive on the streets.

The documentary mainly consists of observational footage intermixed with interviews with the people who regularly interact with each cat. The cats each have a distinct personality that comes to light as we follow them on his or her adventure. This has to be one of the less emotionally charged documentaries on the list, however that in no way detracts from its charming, and at times, comical nature.

Project Nim (2011)
Director: James Marsh

February 2018 - Top Wildlife Documentaries - Project Nim

Project Nim is the follow up to director James Marsh’s previous documentary success Man On a Wire. The documentary follows the life of Nim, a chimpanzee who is taken from his mother as a baby and brought up as a human child. The experiment, originally devised to see if chimpanzees could grasp the human language through the use of sign language in a human child’s environment, ultimately became an experiment on nature vs. nurture.

Given the ethics that are now involved in using animals in science experiments such as these ones, it is both heartbreaking and bizarre to see the life of this particular chimpanzee play out on screen. Intertwined with Nim’s story are the people who were involved intimately in his life at certain points. The film is made up of archival footage and photos of Nim, but it’s the interviews with the people looking back on the experience that are most interesting, especially in some of the regret and guilt that is expressed now that they are able to view the events retrospectively.

Blackfish (2013)
Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

February 2018 - Top Wildlife Documentaries - Blackfish

Blackfish is one of my favourite movies of all time. The documentary discusses killer whales being held in captivity at entertainment parks like Seaworld and the psychological effects it has on them. The focus is on one specific killer whale called Tilikum, and the numerous incidents that have occurred between him and his various trainers.

The documentary is comprised of interviews with past trainers, witnesses and family members of those who have been involved in accidents involving Tilikum, scientists and professors who study killer whales, and even a gentleman who used to work on a boat capturing the whale calves to be sold to the likes of Seaworld.

Rather than becoming a manhunt for Tilikum, the documentary offers an intelligent insight into Tilikum’s past, and unpacks reasons for his behaviour, all while educating people on killer whales and the detrimental effect captivity has on them.

Virunga image courtesy of Netflix Inc. & IMDb, Tyke Elephant Outlaw image courtesy of ABC Commercial & Honolulu Star Advertiser, see tykeelephantoutlaw.com, Kedi image courtesy of Hi Gloss Entertainment, Oscilloscope & IMDb, Project Nim image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution, Roadhouse Productions & IMDb and Blackfish image courtesy of Madman Entertainment, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Magnolia Pictures & IMDB.