Aardman Animations – The Kings Of Claymation

Elle Cahill 

“Get off me cheese! Get off!”

When I was young, my mum would jokingly say this line while flapping her hands at us kids when we touched something we shouldn’t have. Needless to say, I was brought up on a healthy diet of Aardman Animations, first with the Wallace and Gromit short animations, and then their first feature film Chicken Run  – which is also endlessly quote-worthy.

Now, nearly 30 years since they first released Wallace and Gromit’s A Grand Day Out, their latest creation Early Man is due to hit cinemas. Despite its humble beginnings in Bristol, UK in 1972, Aardman Animations has continued to make breakthroughs, not only for stop-motion animation, but also for computer animated films, commercials and television programmes, all whilst staying true to their English roots and love of clay.

Founded by Peter Lord and David Sproxton, it wasn’t until 1976 that they produced their first piece of professional work. They continued to do small commissioned pieces of animation work for television programmes until 1989. After recruiting Nick Park in 1985, they were commissioned by Channel Four Television to create a series of five-minute animations called Lip Synch. This inspired the creation of similar content using clay figurines and stop-motion, including Park’s 1990 Academy Award-winning short film Creature Comforts.

From this point Aardman Animations cemented themselves as the leader in stop-motion animation. Their second Wallace and Gromit short film in 1993 The Wrong Trousers also went on to win the 1994 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, as did the third film A Close Shave which took home the same award in 1996.

Aardman Animations have continued to go from strength to strength. Whilst their output doesn’t match that of larger animation studios like Pixar and DreamWorks, they have continued to have box office success with each new offering – well, with the exception of 2006’s Flushed Away, but let’s sweep that one under the rug.

Aardman aren’t afraid of embracing new technology, and despite their love of the traditional clay aesthetic, the company’s willingness to test and adapt to new technology has kept them in front of their competitors. This can be seen more in their advertising division where, for example, they recently made VR projects for Google and BBC. Once tested in their advertising work, they will often integrate new technology into the making of their feature films in any way they can.

It’s this natural embrace of new technology that has also helped Aardman to be fearless in their different business pursuits. Apart from being the first British content producers to partner with iTunes, they also established a deal with YouTube where they made all their work available on the video sharing site, and in return YouTube regularly monitors and removes any videos of Aardman productions that aren’t uploaded by them. Another business milestone for Aardman was when they managed to crack the Chinese market in 2010 with their popular children’s show Shaun the Sheep, despite China’s resistance to Western content.

Aardman Animations continues to push the boundaries of what’s possible with stop-motion animation with each new film. They currently hold three Guinness World Records, including the record for the largest stop-motion animation set, and most plasticine used in a feature film (Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit used 2,844.9 kg of plasticine). To this day, Lord and Sproxton continue to have large creative roles in Aardman content and are the main driver’s behind ensuring that Aardman are always embracing new and upcoming technology. This formula certainly seems to be working for them, so it will be interesting to see where Aardman continues to move in the future.

Image courtesy of Aardman Animations & United International Pictures from Wallace & Gromit’s The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005). Source: IMDb 

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Movie Review – Human Flow

An emotional rollercoaster on a treacherous journey; Human Flow puts a face to a worldwide epidemic, tracking various groups of migrants around the globe.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

In his latest documentary Human Flow, famed Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei explores the growing epidemic of displaced migrants around the world. With Weiwei and his crew right on the front lines, we are thrust deep into the midst of the global refugee crisis, gaining access to the stories of individuals we would normally only see on the other side of the fence.

As you would expect, Human Flow isn’t exactly easy viewing. It’s heavy stuff that gives a voice to those who are desperately seeking a better life. When these people reach a dead end in their journey, and begin to doubt whether they should have risked everything to flee in the first place, it’s absolutely tragic. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of children involved in these journeys, and seeing them behave as everyday kids in horrible conditions really drives home the universality of being a kid.

But it’s not only it’s subject matter that makes Human Flow such a powerful and emotionally driven documentary; it’s also beautifully crafted, with stunning cinematography that captures all angles of the refugee lifestyle. Drone shots encapsulate the harsh landscapes and provide an inside look to war torn areas not often seen on film, while steadicam shots show the sheer size of the crowds journeying cross-country. There’s even footage from Weiwei’s phone that provides a more intimate perspective of the camp life.

Weiwei appears on camera himself during a couple of interactions with his interviewees, and even in these brief glimpses we get the sense that he genuinely cares about these people and this rampant issue.

Human Flow‘s only downfall is in trying to pack too much into two and a half hours. It offers an in-depth look into the international refugee crisis, but it’s almost too in-depth. We get whizzed around the world without being given an opportunity to take a break and really digest what we’ve seen, all of which culminates in a somewhat rushed conclusion.

Although it packs in too much, it still gets across its core messages and demonstrates there is no end in sight for the issues faced by countless refugees. Despite its lengthy run-time, it’s a real eye-opener as to why people all over the world are risking their lives to flee their countries. I’d encourage you to go see it for that education alone.

Human Flow is available in Australian cinemas from March 15 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

The Changing Face of the Oscars

Michael Philp 

The Oscars have changed remarkably over the past decade. Since the expansion of the Best Picture slot to include up to 10 nominees, there’s been a marked increase in the inclusion – and celebration – of films centred on diversity. This movement kicked up a notch last year with Moonlight’s win, but the Weinstein scandal last October appeared to throw those efforts into sharp relief. Last Monday, it was suddenly a lot more obvious that white men were winning, or even being nominated for, an award over their “diverse” colleagues.

For many of us, this year’s awards felt caught between the Academy’s old habits and the new wave of socially conscious, diversity-focused filmmaking. The Shape of Water won Best Picture, but it was up against mediocre Oscar bait that shouldn’t have had a chance in hell – namely The Post, but also Darkest Hour, and to a lesser extent Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. In previous years those films would have been serious contenders, and Darkest Hour probably would have won, but in 2018 the Academy has begun to move on from the kind of stodgy biopics that have been their bread-and-butter for the past century.

But of course, they haven’t entirely moved on, creating the clear division mentioned above. Everyone knew Gary Oldman was going to win Best Actor, even if the film around him wasn’t up to snuff. “It was a legacy award” went the chant, while an undefined contingent wondered when we might stop needing to say such things, and instead get to celebrate the work that we actually liked.

Which brings me to the films that sat right in the middle of the divide – the ones that half of us liked and half of us railed against. More specifically, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Our review praised it, but, personally, I found it distasteful and crass. No matter what you think of the film, it was fairly obvious why it was up there – if not, the “Times Up” pins, shining brightly against black suits, were a pretty good hint.

It is my sincerest hope that in the future we won’t need such glaring political statements to consider a film worthy of recognition. In the same vein, I hope next year we won’t have to take a mediocre biopic seriously. Beyond that, I hope we’ll eventually move past diversity showcases like Shape of Water (politics is fine, but “diversity is good” feels like such a no-brainer that I hope we outgrow it quickly). These aspects of the ceremony already feel outdated – there are richer conversations to be had, the Academy just needs to grow into them. For instance, in the future, we’ll hopefully see more films from people of Asian and Indian backgrounds. Statistically speaking they should be represented far better than they are, maybe one day we’ll examine that problem.

The divisions that we’re experiencing right now aren’t cause for alarm; they’re part of a natural process of correction. It is not that we shouldn’t celebrate white stories, but that they should have to earn their place, rather than being nominated by default. The Oscars are entering a period where they are hungry for exciting ideas from fresh filmmakers. They no longer blindly reflect the movie-going public, but are instead interested in how films function as modern art. You can criticise that approach as elitist, but I would urge you to recognise that the ultimate goal hasn’t changed – it is still to tell stories of everyday people doing extraordinary things. The difference is that the definition of everyday people has been broadened to include groups other than white men. What a world.

Image courtesy of Kevin Mazur/WireImage
Source: http://oscar.go.com/photos/2018/red-carpet-arrivals-2018/90th-annual-academy-awards-arrivals-129

90th Academy Awards

Zachary Cruz-Tan & Rhys Graeme-Drury

Another year, another predictably endless cascade of complaints. Such is the Academy Awards, which this year was more sullen and plain than any other I can recall. Jimmy Kimmel reprised his role as host and deftly shifted the focus of his comedy away from politics (apart from a few initial jabs at Harvey Weinstein) to the Oscars itself – promising a jet ski and vacation to the winner with the shortest speech – and channelled much of his humorous energy on Christopher Plummer, who of course absorbed it with immaculate sportsmanship.

Female empowerment was once again a highlight, with Best Actress winner Frances McDormand commanding the stage and inviting all the female nominees to rise with her. There was also an alarming amount of female presenters, as if the Academy’s idea of equality is to tilt the scale completely in the other direction. But in the midst of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, it was lovely to once again see stunningly simple fashion on display, particularly on Eiza González and in the elegance of Laura Dern (I’d love to know whose curtains Zendaya ripped and threw on herself).

As always, some winners were justified while others were not, and some nominees were completely forgotten altogether. Nine films were nominated for Best Picture, of which perhaps five were truly deserving. I was surprised that Kathryn Bigelow’s utterly masterful Detroit was not favoured in place of Joe Wright’s lukewarm Darkest Hour, a major misstep by the Academy who could’ve made further history by including two women in the Best Director category. In the end, The Shape of Water nudged out Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri for the trophy and its director, Guillermo del Toro, nabbed his very first Oscar.

Oh, and you know who also nabbed a first Oscar? Kobe Bryant. Yes, Kobe Bryant the sportsman, for his contributions to the animated short film Dear Basketball. He now has more Oscars than Alfred Hitchcock and Ralph Fiennes put together. It was the most shocking part of an event that was otherwise rather predictable and safe. But with so much going on right now, perhaps predictable and safe was the right way to go.

Of the winners, none was more deserving than cinematographer Roger Deakins, winning his first statuette at his scarcely believable fourteenth attempt. Taking to the stage with a shaky rock star swagger that wouldn’t look amiss on Mick Jagger, Deakins’ work has been overlooked by the Academy for far too long, and while a lot of the attention was heaped upon hot young newcomers like Greta Gerwig, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that some veterans who were long overdue an award didn’t go home empty-handed. Alongside del Toro and Deakins, Sam Rockwell was honoured for his performance in Three Billboards and of course, British thespian Gary Oldman, whose tearful Best Actor acceptance speech capped off a season filled with accolades.

Surprisingly, 2018 saw the Academy steer away from what one would consider typical ‘Oscar bait’. Aside from Oldman’s bellowing Prime Minister, the bulk of the wins went to genre films and filmmakers such as Get Out, del Toro, Jordan Peele and Blade Runner 2049. Has there ever been a year where genre fare has been so strongly represented?

All told, the 90th Academy Awards were a rather forgettable affair; Kimmel continues to be a solid host, the major categories were under lock and key well before the opening curtain and, with no major gaffes like 2017’s La La Land kerfuffle, the whole thing felt rather pedestrian. Still, maybe that’s what the industry needs; for the focus to remain firmly on the art, rather than controversy and calamity.

Image courtesy of Tinseltown / Shutterstock.com

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 

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)

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 

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. 

End of Days For Daniel Day-Lewis?

Zachary Cruz-Tan

Who knows if Daniel Day-Lewis will actually retire? He’s been teasing the idea for years, but he can’t seem to resist a promising screenplay, which is precisely what has drawn him out of a five-year hiatus since playing Abraham Lincoln in 2012. He’s a man infamous for taking substantial breaks between projects – having starred in only three films in the last eleven years – and now that his apparent swan song, Phantom Thread, is playing across the country, it might be a good time to pore over his sparse, but rather fine career.

It’s a career built upon astounding records, many of which may not be broken in our lifetime. He’s won Critic’s Choice awards, BAFTAs, Golden Globes, Screen Actor’s Guilds, Satellites, and perhaps his most impressive triumph: three Academy Awards for Best Actor (winning for Christy Brown in My Left Foot [1989], Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood [2007] and the titular president in Lincoln [2012]). He’s also the only actor in history to have won the Big Five twice (Academy Award, SAG, Golden Globe, BAFTA and Critic’s Choice for There Will Be Blood and Lincoln).

But awards are merely the gold stars on top of good grades. To earn the grades in the first place requires a devotion to the craft, and a kind of perfection of skill; qualities Day-Lewis exercises with abandon. He’s what you might call a smart man’s method actor, sinking entirely into roles without the drug addictions or drastic body changes. Instead he absorbs his characters from the inside out, assuming new identities like a master criminal.

His early work in The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) and the unusual comedy Stars and Bars (1988) is masterful – particularly as the fractured Tomas in the former – but it doesn’t really prepare you for what’s to come. In fact, it’s not till his devilish turn as Bill Cutting in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002) that his face, his speech and his very person becomes unrecognisable. This was the first time Daniel Day-Lewis truly got lost inside the body of another.

His greatest performance, and my favourite, is as oil tycoon Daniel Plainview. Hunched, raspy and totally self-serving, Plainview is the kind of ego-centric movie villain that grips you in a way that almost makes you sympathise, even though there’s nothing to sympathise with, like Michael Corleone in The Godfather II (1974). From his ruthless upbringing of his adopted son, to the mental and spiritual abuse dished out to poor Eli Sunday, Plainview is a character of unbelievable evil, and Day-Lewis is particularly good at jutting out his chin, raising a derisive eyebrow and lashing about with his superior accent. It is, rather ironically, a delight to watch him.

And then the real Day-Lewis gets up to speak at the Oscars, with his pristine face, platinum hair and dignified English-ness, and no one anywhere can believe it’s the same man. He has worked with some of the finest directors of our time, delivered some of the most memorable lines and ended it all without so much as a wave to the crowd. For him, the job’s done, like a long day at the office – there’s nothing to talk about.

Apparently, the filming of Phantom Thread left within him a great sense of sadness, which became a compulsion to stop acting. He’s made such decisions before but has always been drawn back out into the light by screenplays that offer him one last hurrah. Maybe it was another chance to work with Paul Thomas Anderson, or that Phantom Thread, in which he plays a fashion designer in 1950s London, finally returns him to his English roots, but he seems assured now that it’s over. The man could do it all – comedy, violence, drama, even musicals. Let’s hope he carries retirement with as much grace.

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2018

Where No Tarantino Has Gone Before

Zachary Cruz-Tan

As you may already know, Quentin Tarantino is planning to direct a Star Trek movie, which might’ve been Hollywood’s most shocking news of recent times if Harvey Weinstein had kept his pants on.

Let’s face it, Tarantino isn’t the first name you think of when it comes to space exploration and analyses of the human condition. He’s less Kling-on and more fuck off, even if he claims to have been a Trekker since before his filmmaking days.

It’s a match-up so odd that neither fan base sees it working, and yet, he might just pull it off. Remember when he directed two episodes of CSI and everybody thought it was crazy? His episodes turned out to be the best of the entire show. Imagine what he could do with a property he genuinely has an affection for.

Tarantino’s known for his reverence for his influences, be them Bruce Lee, low-grade grindhouse pictures, gangster movies or spaghetti westerns. His movies are like a collection of cinematic training videos that somehow morph into entities of their own. The same could happen with Star Trek, provided, of course, he knows all its ins and outs, and understands that most Trek fans will not tolerate a single expletive. Apparently he will be granted an R-rating, despite the Trek tenet that vulgarities, violence and hatred no longer exist in the future.

He’s also, quite notably, not a franchise director, having originated all but one of his screenplays. Yes, some of his characters are supposedly linked to others in different movies, but not once has he created a sequel (no, Kill Bill Vol. 2 doesn’t count). If he makes this movie, it would be the first time he’s entered into an established franchise, and this is a franchise whose fans are fiercely loyal. I’m talking converting-their-garage-into-the-bridge-of-the-Enterprise loyal. You don’t want to get on their bad side.

Alternatively, Star Trek could be the little pet project that shows Tarantino has at least some versatility when it comes to style and genre. He’s never attempted science-fiction, and the closest he’s come to making something tame is Jackie Brown (1997), which was about as tame as a crocodile. He’d be more suited to Star Wars, where frenzied action and dizzying swashbuckling are the name of the game, but he’s admitted a preference for Trek, and at the moment Star Wars is too busy shoving porgs down our throats.

Having said all that, as a Trekker and Tarantino fan myself, I’m looking forward to this unusual marriage. Tarantino has a way with dialogue. He’s able to capture that moment when humans are at their most candid. Star Trek is partially built on its pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo; the phaser emitter arrays and the warp nacelles and re-modulating the tachyon guidance matrix and whatnot. It would seem the ideal environment for Tarantino to exploit the juxtaposition between what’s candid and natural, and what’s robotic (though reports indicate Mark Smith has been hired to write). He might even opt for a little self-awareness – I’d love to see Scotty complaining about how complicated his lines always are.

The project is still a little up in the air. Tarantino is meant to develop it with J.J. Abrams, whose own Trek films, while polarising to diehard fans, have sustained the franchise for a new generation. It will be interesting to see where Tarantino can further take the sci-fi phenomenon, or indeed how much of his fanboy personality he will impart. Time will tell. Right now, he’s focused on his feature about the Manson murders, which certainly seems more up his alley.

Image courtesy of Django Unchained, Sony Pictures and Universal Sony Pictures Home Entertainment