Dreaming in a Single Take

Michael Philp

*Warning: Mild Spoilers Ahead*

After recently seeing Watch The Sunset at the Revelation Film Festival, I found myself fascinated by the way it and other one take films (Victoria and Russian Ark) come across as dreamscapes. This is mostly because of their format, as their material couldn’t be more disparate – Ark is a 2002 Russian historical art-house film, Victoria is a 2015 German drama, and Sunset is a 2017 Australian drug-drama – and yet the single-take format gives them all a certain hazy, dream-like quality that unites them.

To be fair, there’s an entire school of film theory that sees movies as dream substitutes, but certain characteristics of single-take films exacerbate that comparison. Some of them are superficial – the constant movement of the camera can be used to hypnotic effect, and often mimics human vision – but others offer insight into cinema in general. If it’s true, for instance, that audiences tend to blink in time with scene breaks to minimise information loss, then it stands to reason that during a single-take film they will be blinking less. In other words, information overload is inherent in the format because there are no clear, predictable breaks.

Because of that reality, it’s easy to get lost in the films. Every moment flows into the next until it’s all just a blur and you’ve forgotten the steps it took to arrive at the destination. That’s particularly important for Victoria, where the main character falls in love, snorts cocaine, helps rob a bank, steals a baby, and watches all of her new friends either die or get arrested, all in the space of two real-time hours. When you write it out like that, the film undoubtedly reads closer to a dream than real life. I’ve omitted connective tissue, but only because it’s so unimportant that it was mostly left up to the actors to improvise. Sunset’s production echoes that sentiment, with the creators stating during a recent Q&A that it too was mostly improvised. This approach produces films that steadily move between set-pieces and rarely stop to look back.

Ark is a perfect example of that concept. Filmed in an enormous museum, it uses rooms as scenes to showcase particular time periods and ideas. Its narrator is implied to be a ghost and its characters whisper and float between conversations and visions, all of which results in a hypnotic drone of a movie. I don’t think any other film works this well at putting you to sleep, and I don’t mean that as an insult, it’s just the way the film is. The sum of Ark’s parts is so quietly rhythmic and relaxing that I admire anyone who doesn’t feel sleepy while watching it. For Victoria, only its vibrant dialogue – and the bank robbery – save it from that trap.

But that statement doesn’t really do Victoria justice. It implies that the film has no higher ambition than simply telling a good story, and that just isn’t true. Director Sebastian Schipper seeks more than just dialogue followed by a bank robbery; he wants to make a comment on youth and recklessness and to do that he needs to insert himself into a film whose ethos is passive observation. That might seem contradictory, but his decision to do it anyway, and the manner in which he does it, is what hammers home that these films are dreamscapes rather than dramas with a gimmick.

Which begs the question – couldn’t they have just filmed these movies  normally? That would’ve been easier, less dangerous, and given them more opportunity for creative license. Those arguments aren’t wrong, but they ignore the benefits of the format. When you film in a single-take, you produce a swirling vacuum of a movie, drawing your audience in. Victoria’s climax is devastating because the film locks the audience in its world for two straight hours and by the end of the movie, you feel just as disoriented as the title character. That’s the power of a single-take film – you forget that you’re watching a film in the same way you forget you’re dreaming, and that means the narrative can go to incredible places.

There is depth to the single-take format, but it takes a skilled director and crew to bring it out, more so than most film styles. The difficulties associated with its production are too great to make it more commonly used, but that just means the few films that have achieved the feat are gems. I highly recommend seeking out all three of the films I’ve mentioned, they are, for the most part, rewarding experiences, and together form a fascinating genre that I look forward to other filmmakers exploring in unique ways.

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox


The Formidable Woman of the Screen

Zachary Cruz-Tan

I don’t remember a time when women didn’t play a big part in the movies for me. Even as I was growing up and cinemas everywhere were filled with The Matrix (1999), Trinity always seemed the most dangerous. She kicked the most butt, slipped into some of the most ridiculously fetishistic costumes since Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, and always appeared to be in control. She was never a puppet of the plot, always its impetus (until, of course, she fell in love with Neo and the writers decided to turn her into the Lois Lane of the franchise…).

Now we live in an age of constant social and political scrutiny, thanks to the handy availability and widespread reach of the Internet. African-Americans are having their say about race and brutality. The LGBT community continues to be vocal, maybe even more so. There has never been a greater push for gender equality, which I think is essential, but in the movie world, this can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, more female actors are leading films in roles of great stature. On the other, studios are succumbing to pressure to turn every male-centric box office success into an oestrogen-fuelled copycat. We’ve already had Ghostbusters (2016). Still to come: Ocean’s Eight (because apparently Ocean’s Eleven would require more actresses than Hollywood can spare).

There is a difference between respecting the female character and tossing her around like a football. Remakes like Ghostbusters do nothing for the cause, because they are about nothing and could just as easily star men, while films like Hidden Figures (2016) desire to do more for women by understanding their strengths and playing to them. Consider the power of the scene in Hidden Figures where Janelle Monáe fights for the right to study in a segregated college in 1960s Virginia. And then turn to Melissa McCarthy bouncing around like a balloon trying to subdue a proton rifle. Yes, one is historical drama and the other is physical comedy, but respect is universal. And respect is, after all, what all this is about.

But is this current female enlightenment such a big deal? Have we forgotten Beatrix Kiddo, or Ellen Ripley, or Dorothy Gale? Or the movies of Alfred Hitchcock, like Notorious (1946) or Psycho (1960), that seem to be about men, but are told through a feminine lens? Perhaps not. We are all aware of the great women of the past, how they practiced their craft – sometimes in harsh company – and inevitably shaped the present by opening doors once thought to be sealed. But Hollywood believes in repeating a winning idea until it has been done to death, and then repeats it some more. So it has boarded the feminism wagon because it thinks it must, and fails to find the balance between respect and farce.

2017 has already seen its fair share of female-centric releases, with Their Finest and Ghost in the Shell. The Zookeeper’s Wife, starring Jessica Chastain (perhaps Hollywood’s most prominent crusader) is currently in cinemas, and Alien: Covenant opens this week. Yet to arrive is the much-anticipated Wonder Woman, which will see the iconic comic book character receive her first solo treatment on the big screen.

What excites me about these films is that they seem organic. They are not ideas that pander or condescend, or that are daft in their conception. Many people will enjoy the silliness of Ghostbusters and Ocean’s Eight, but to gaze up and come away from a movie feeling truly inspired and entertained by a formidable female performance is perhaps worth that much more.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Life

Is this the unofficial prequel to Venom?

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic 

You only need to catch the trailer for new sci-fi Life to see how much it borrows from classic space horrors like Alien and Doom. It begs the question as to why this film was ever even made, but thankfully it does pack a couple of surprises that make it somewhat refreshing.

In Life, a crew on board the International Space Station find evidence of extra-terrestrial life. A soil sample taken from a Mars space probe begins growing into a multi-celled organism and soon our A-list crew members – Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson and Jake Gyllenhaal – must work together to survive and protect human kind.

Where Life excels is in its first half. The dramatic opening scene connects you with the characters while perfectly setting up the introduction of the new alien species. From there the story keeps you invested as the scientific discoveries unfold and you learn about the organism along with the crew. You get the sense that this is exactly how this scenario would play out if it ever happened in real life.

But from there everything begins to fall apart. Life quickly becomes the film that’s been done many times before, with mindless action scene after action scene. It becomes painfully predictable and leaves you to question the logistics of its action sequences as well as the motivations of its characters.

Overall, the film is a decent enough entertainment piece. There are some genuine gross-out horror moments backed by fantastic sound design and the alien creatures are relatively unique. If you’re a die hard sci-fi fan, then Life is definitely for you, but if you haven’t seen the classics, you’re better off staying at home and looking them up on Netflix instead.

Life is available in Australian cinemas from March 22

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures 


Movie Review – The Boss Baby

An extremely energetic film with not much substance.  Bring the kids, but be ready to browse your phone.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Cody Fullbrook

Imaginative only child, Tim Templeton (Miles Christopher Bakshi), has his life thrown into chaos when his new baby brother (Alec Baldwin) is dispatched. Not born – dispatched. He investigates the decreasing love for babies in this modern age; a deceptively real issue nowadays, and one which could have been handled more genuinely if the baby wasn’t, you know, wearing a suit!

When talking about any movie, it’s important to know that the audience is easily grasping its message.  The Boss Baby’s message is simply “love is important”.  A passable moral, at least when paired with an engaging story, but the problem is that the concept of love is never explored here.

We’re constantly made to feel stressed about our two protagonists stopping the villain (Steve Buscemi) from making people love puppies more than babies, but it’s unclear as to what exactly is going to happen if they fail to stop him. And if they succeed, all they’ve done is prevent the villain’s plan to catalyse the problem. Not cause it. So, even when they win, the issue still exists.

The Boss Baby’s length and pacing is fine and, while never terribly confusing, Tim and the baby’s actions to achieve their goals are just as vague as the goals themselves. Astral projecting pacifiers, immortality milk and a team of Elvis impersonators all progress the story in appropriately comical ways, like all comedies should, but almost all the tension is constantly sapped from the story when you can assume they’ll have a magical gadget to fix any problem, and that includes literally using Tim’s imagination to beat someone in a sword fight.

Alongside the hysterical image of a baby having Alec Baldwin’s voice, the worlds Tim creates is the highlight of The Boss Baby, easily rivalling the colourful energy of Inside Out and The Lego Movie.  In fact, after seeing all the film’s bizarre events mesh seamlessly with the vibrant imagery in Tim’s head, I assumed The Boss Baby would have a reveal similar to The Lego Movie, where the plot was simply the active imagination of an innocent child who, in his own way, learns how to handle having a baby brother. But, no. There was a rocket ship filled with puppies, a skateboarding bodyguard in a dress and babies come from a factory in the sky.  These things all happened. That is reality. Accept it.

For better and worse, The Boss Baby is just plain silly.  Its lively animation and humour make it a fine movie for children and maybe even young teenagers, made even better with the terrific chemistry and voice acting between Bakshi and Baldwin. Older viewers, however, will find the message and overall plot less than substantive.

The Boss Baby is available in Australian cinemas from March 22

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Crazy Star Wars Theories

Cody Fullbrook

Whether it’s Boba Fett surviving the Sarlac Pitt, Han Solo having a wife or the last member of a skinny robot quartet hacking into the second Death Star, Star Wars has an ocean of stories buried in the expanded universe.  Since many of these stories have been wiped clean and stored in the legends category, it has given the universe a degree of narrative flexibility, opening the floodgates for many fan theories.  Here’s several of my favourites.

What If…Jar Jar Binks Was A Sith Lord?

“You know, I find that Jar Jar creature to be a little odd.”

It took a surprisingly long time for the idea Darth Jar Jar Binks to even appear.  The prequels were well over a decade old before Star Wars fans toyed with the concept of the bumbling gungan covertly manipulating the minds of those around him, covering his malicious intentions with his infamously silly persona.

The “evidence” of this are key moments in Episodes I and II, mostly involving subtle lip and hand movements, alluding to Jedi Mind Tricks.  These are easily boiled down to casual gestures and character designs that coincide with his general alien goofiness, but also consider that it was him who convinced the senate to provide Chancellor Palpatine with Emergency Powers, allowing the construction of the army sleeper agent clones.  Combining all the pieces together paints a very malevolent picture of the floppy eared klutz.

What If…Obi-Wan And Padme Were Secretly Dating?

“She seems to be on top of things.”

Attack Of The Clones is a mixed bag for many Star Wars fans.  I’m sure I’m not the only kid who watched Obi-Wan’s investigative adventure while fast-forwarding Anakin and Padme’s romantic scenes.  Remember; nothing wins a woman’s heart like pretending to get trampled to death, mass murder and casually advocating for a dictatorship.

Although not even slightly hinted at, viewing the prequels as if Obi-Wan and Padme are in a secret relationship adds immediate depth to their actions, most effective of which is Padme’s realisation that the two men she loves are going to kill each other and it’s all her fault.

What If…Luke’s Second Lightsaber Was Qui-Gon Jinn’s?

“Ah, yes.  A Jedi’s weapon, much like your father’s.”

Many find it confusing that The Force Awakens revealed Maz Kanata possessing Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber, but what I find stranger is why so much focus is on one lightsaber when Luke used two?  One was lost with his hand and a green one was then used throughout Episode VI.

A deleted scene from Return Of The Jedi shows Luke finishing his construction of this second lightsaber, but since that footage didn’t make it to the film, a new theory emerged which, I feel, adds a depth to the films that connects them in a quick, simple and beautiful way.

We never get to see what happened to Qui-Gon’s lightsaber after he was jabbed by Darth Maul, and even though it’s a shame Anakin’s lightsaber was sliced away from Luke so soon, given its lineage, this theory repairs that.  Since Obi-Wan died in Episode IV, Luke was never made aware of any other trinkets inside that box at Kenobi’s home on Tatooine, so maybe after returning there to warm up a bit after Hoth, Luke comes across another lightsaber.  A green one.

What If…Mace Windu Survived?

“The oppression of the Sith will never return.  You have lost.”

One of the most prevalent theories within Star Wars is the loser of a battle intentionally failing for a secretly higher purpose.  Mace Windu’s survival of a seemingly fatal fall can only live on in the expanded universe.

Considering the theory of Mace Windu avoiding a messy splattering onto Coruscant’s chrome street floor, he joins characters like Grievous, Dooku and Asajj Ventress, who can do little but play within the cracks of the movie saga, resulting in stories that must be intrinsically less interesting than the films, lest they accidentally overshadow them.

Windu’s story has the potential of being extremely solemn, serving as a fly-on-the-wall perspective, with a lone Jedi observing Order 66 and forcing him to hide away from it all without hope.  He would live a short, nomadic life and die a quiet, unceremonious death.  Honestly, it’d make a gritty comic book.

The timeline of Star Wars covers thousands of years and there are stories covering every nanosecond of it. Star Wars may never truly end as much as it’ll simply re-invent itself, allowing interesting theories to rise and fall.  For now, let’s just keep wondering who Snoke is. Face it. You’re probably all wrong.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

9 Films To Look Out For This Oscar Season

Rhys Graeme-Drury 

Ah, awards season – the time of year when everyone becomes an expert on red carpet dresses and pretends to know the difference between sound mixing and sound design.

All kidding aside, the latter quarter of 2016 and early 2017 promise to enthral us with some particularly juicy cinematic gems, and to help demonstrate I’ve picked nine movies that you should keep your eyes peeled for over the next few months.

Hackshaw Ridge
Director: Mel Gibson
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving
Genre: Drama
Release: November 2016

Mel Gibson
’s 2016 renaissance continues with his return to the director’s chair in Hacksaw Ridge. A gritty WWII drama that recalls the extraordinary true story of an American field medic (Andrew Garfield) who saved 75 men during the Battle of Okinawa without firing a single shot, Hacksaw Ridge is Gibson’s first directorial effort in over a decade and could signal his return to the elusive awards season winners circle.

Filmed right here in Australia, Gibson’s film received a standing ovation at its premiere at the Venice Film Festival and is filled with a host of talented Aussies like Hugo Weaving, Teresa Palmer, Rachel Griffiths and Sam Worthington. Buoyed by positive reviews, could Hacksaw Ridge follow in the footsteps of award-winning war films like Saving Private Ryan and Flags of Our Fathers to scoop a handful of Oscar nominations?

Director: Denis Villeneuve 
Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker 
 November 2016

Making its debut at the Venice Film Festival to rave reviews, this acclaimed sci-fi is set to send French Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve stratospheric. The movie follows Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist who is drafted by the US military following the arrival of a fleet of monolithic alien spaceships.

Villeneuve has been overlooked by the Academy thus far (2015’s Sicario being a notable snub) but Arrival has been generating a lot of buzz on the film festival circuit, particularly concerning Adams’ central performance and Villeneuve’s work behind the camera. Expect this one to pop up in a lot of the technical categories.

La La Land
Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, J.K. Simmons
Release: December 2016

Pop quiz – what’s the one thing that Hollywood loves more than sequels and ringing cash tills? If you guessed ‘prestige pictures about the film industry’, you’re right!

Hollywood goes loopy for films about films; I mean, just look at recent Best Picture winners like The Artist, Argo and Birdman. It should come as no surprise then that Damien Chazelle‘s new movie La La Land is getting rave reviews from all corners of the web and is hotly tipped to scoop up all sorts of statuettes come Oscar night.

La La Land sees Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone partner up once more for a smooth, sweeping romance set against the backdrop of studio-era Hollywood. Stone has already won the Best Actress Award at Venice and the film scooped the People’s Choice Award in Toronto. This one could have the legs to go all the way to a Best Picture win.

Director: Jeff Nichols 
Joel Edgerton, Ruth Neggs, Will Dalton 
January 2017


Jeff Nichols already blew our minds earlier in the year with soaring sci-fi road movie Midnight Special; now he returns with an all-together more heartfelt and personal love story in Loving.

Starring Australia’s Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, the film follows Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple who’re sentenced to a lengthy prison sentence in 1950’s Virginia following their outlawed marriage to each other.

However, rather than following the Supreme Court case in minute detail, writer-director Nichols has endeavoured to showcase a more imitate side of the story by focusing on how discrimination and prosecution affected the day-to-day lives of Richard and Mildred. Reviews have thrown around superlatives such as ‘gentle’, ‘stirring’ and ‘understated’, making this something of a quiet underdog in an already chock-a-block awards season.

The Birth of a Nation
Director: Nate Parker 
Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller 
Genre: Drama
Release: February 2017

One of the most talked about films this awards season is The Birth of a Nation – and not for all the right reasons either. After emerging as the talk of the town at Sundance, this drama about a 19th Century slave revolt, which is co-written, co-produced, directed by and starring Nate Parker, has since been overshadowed by rape allegations from 1999 against Parker.

The subsequent handling of said allegations hasn’t done the film any favours, but if we attempt to separate the art from the artist, The Birth of a Nation can be considered a timely and poignant examination of America’s past that could still factor into awards season this year. Whether Oscar voters see it that way is another story entirely…

Director: Martin Scorsese 
Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver 
February 2017

Set in 17th Century Japan, Silence follows two Portuguese priests facing persecution and violence whilst searching for their mentor and propagating Christianity. If that sounds like a drag, consider this – it stars Liam Neeson, Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield. Still not convinced? What if I told you that Martin Scorsese directed it?

Okay, now you’re listening. Truth is, we don’t know much else about Silence. Aside from being a passion project of Scorsese’s for the last 20 years, the whole production has been kind of quiet (pun intended), and even though it’s slated for release in February next year, we still haven’t seen a trailer! Plus, the film hasn’t been touring the festival circuit.

Nevertheless, I’ve included it on this list because, y’know – Scorsese. Hopefully we’ll learn a little bit more about the movie in the coming weeks.

Director: Pablo Larraín  
 Natalie Portman, John Hurt, Greta Gerwig
Genre: Biopic
Release: TBA


After stepping away from the limelight for a few years, Natalie Portman is now eyeing up her second Best Actress statuette with her starring role in Pablo Larraín’s heartrending biopic about Jackie Kennedy.

The Academy sure does love a good biopic (The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything and The King’s Speech are recent examples that spring to mind), so Jackie shouldn’t face a lot of opposition when it comes to racking up those sweet, sweet nominations. Not only that – Jackie Kennedy is a tragic icon of American history and by all accounts Portman brings her to life with aplomb, cutting a strikingly forlorn figure on the screen. The supporting cast pulls in the likes of John Hurt, Greta Gerwig, Peter Sarsgaard, Billy Crudup, John Carroll Lynch and Richard E. Grant.

Director: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Trevante Rhodes, Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris
Genre: Drama
Release: TBA


Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, Moonlight is an ambitious film that follows an African-American man who is struggling with staying true to himself, as well as the challenges of coming out to his family, across three periods of his life.

Starring the likes of Trevante Rhodes (who plays adult Chiron), André Holland, Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali, Moonlight has been garnering praise as it tours the northern autumn festival circuit, screening at Telluride, Toronto, New York and London.

Billed as “a timeless story of human connection and self-discovery” this could be one indie gem that has enough momentum to chug all the way to the centre stage of the Dolby Theatre. Although it doesn’t currently have an Australian release date, the first quarter of 2017 would be a safe bet.

Director: Denzel Washington 
Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Mykelti Williamson
Genre: Drama
Release: TBA

Denzel Washington has made the move back behind the camera for his third directorial effort in Fences. Set in 1950s Pittsburgh, the film follows a retired baseball player (also played by Washington) who now works as a garbage man and is struggling to provide for his family.

Adapted from an acclaimed stage production, the film focuses heavily on race relations and the evolving African-American experience in 50’s America. Both Washington and co-star Viola Davis starred in a 2010 revival of the play, making their familiarity with the material an encouraging sign. Davis even took home a Tony Award for her work on the project. Put all this together and you’ve got an early lock on both Best Actor and Best Actress nominations, possibly even a shot at the Best Director category for Washington.

Images courtesy of Icon Film Distribution, Roadshow Films, eOne Films, 20th Century Fox, Transmission Films, A24, 

4 Films That’ll Make You Shed A Tear… Or Twenty

Josip Knezevic

Do you feel like you need to take a moment, let it all go and bawl your eyes out? Well, you’ve come to the right place! These four films are guaranteed to delve deep into your human side and touch your emotions like they’ve never been touched before. And with that melancholic introduction out of the way, let’s get on with the list. In no particular order…

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)

Dear Zachary takes the cake as one of the most powerful yet underappreciated films. Written and directed by Kurt Kuenne, this is the saddest film I have ever seen. I don’t want to mention anything else and risk giving it all away, but running at only 90 minutes, this movie will truly take you on an emotional rollercoaster. The fact that it only took $20,000 at the box office is an injustice to the film community. Thankfully, it’s on Netflix now so you have no reason not to see this film – that is unless you don’t want to die a little bit on the inside. A tremendous film and one of those rare 10/10’s. Go see it.

Her (2013)

There’s a reason why Her won the academy award for best original screenplay; it’s a film that is well ahead of its time. Centred around the life of a lonely, introverted man (Joaquín Phoenix), Her explores his new love with the world’s first artificial intelligence operating system. Anyone who refers to this film as the one about the guy who falls in love with his computer, is simply downgrading it to a level that is unworthy of the greatness of writer/director Spike Jonze. It deals with relationships from every aspect, and you’ll feel like you’ve experienced the full highs and lows of one by the end of it. I love everything about this movie from its futuristic landscapes to its way of making you feel the present.  Another 10/10 film.

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)


Grave of the Fireflies by writer and director Isao Takahata comes from one of the best production companies in the world, Studio Ghibli. Although almost 30 years old, Grave of the Fireflies still holds up as a serious tear jerker. The premise is based on the lives of two children in the final months of the Second World War in Japan. Yet again, set at only 90 minutes long, this film doesn’t stray away from its dark subject matter for a moment, and whilst seemingly appearing as a children’s film, it is far from it. That’s all I’m going to say about it to avoid spoiling it further.

Mommy (2014)

Written and directed by promising Canadian filmmaker, Xavier Dolan, Mommy tells the story of a mother struggling to control her delinquent teenage son. Shot with a handheld camera, in a 1:1 aspect ratio, the film represents a completely unique experience; one that doesn’t serve as a pretentious work of art striving to stand out. The reason behind Dolan’s choice to shoot in such a ratio becomes depressingly clear throughout the film. It’s a very smart choice, in fact, everything in this film feels smart and fully realised to the point where you almost wish it wasn’t because the outcome is brutal to watch. Even if you think you can see something coming, the next second you’ll be proven wrong. A beautiful film with powerful performances from its three central actors. 

Images courtesy of Sony Pictures, Sharmill Films, Madman Entertainment & Oscilloscope  

Can Netflix beat the Hollywood studios at their own game?

Netflix and Amazon are drastically changing the film distribution system. Could it spell disaster for the old guard?

Rhys Graeme-Drury

Something seismic occurred at the Sundance Film Festival earlier in the year; for the first time, the biggest players with the deepest pockets weren’t the usual studios like Fox and Weinstein. No, this year it was streaming services like Netflix and Amazon that made headlines by forking out tens of millions for a raft of independent films, outbidding the traditional powerhouses and firmly announcing their arrival onto scene.

No longer satisfied with outclassing most TV networks with high-quality shows like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and Narcos, Netflix and their US-based rival Amazon Prime now have their sights set on beating the major film studios at their own game, threatening to turn the industry on its head in the process.

At the festival, Amazon outbid Fox and Universal by forking out a whopping $10 million for Manchester By the Sea, a drama starring Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams that is already tipped to be a strong contender come the Oscars. Meanwhile, Netflix bid $20 million for Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation. They lost out in the end to Fox, but the fact that they got involved in the bidding war didn’t go unnoticed; Fox’s winning bid was the largest in Sundance history.

At the moment, most films (like Birth of a Nation) will still choose to go the route of a traditional theatrical release, but Netflix and Amazon’s increasing eagerness to muscle in on awards season does beg the question of how this will impact the industry five to ten years down the track.

The upside is that independent filmmakers are finding it easier to get their movie in front of global audiences. Properties like The Fundamentals of Caring (which stars Paul Rudd, Selena Gomez and Craig Roberts) and Tallulah (Ellen Page, Allison Janney), which were scooped up at Sundance this January, have already been available on Netflix for months. Furthermore, access to these new release movies isn’t hidden behind a premium paywall; they’re all included in a standard Netflix subscription.

Beaming directly into millions of homes across the world, these independent films find themselves in a win-win situation. They scored a deal that recouped their production costs and are available to be streamed at any time, anywhere by umpteen subscribers. Score one for the little guy, right?

However, how does this trend impact more mainstream cinema? Probably not a great deal at this stage, but it certainly raises the question – at what point are we going to see blockbuster films make their debut on a major streaming service? How long is it going to be before a tentpole film, like a Jurassic World or a Jason Bourne, forgoes the theatre entirely and seeks a larger audience at home on Netflix?

Bear with me here, because that might seem like quite a leap – but think about it. We’re at the stage now where a major studio film opens every fortnight, sometimes two or three in the same week. Naturally, some of these are going to bomb – and hard. This year alone we’ve had Warcraft, Ghostbusters, The BFG, Independence Day: Resurgence and Alice Through the Looking Glass (amongst others) all flunk at the box office, struggling to find an audience amongst crowded multiplexes. Could these movies have fared better if they’d steered towards streaming, or even split the difference by going both routes?

Be honest, what sounds more appealing – a cosy night on sofa with your significant other or a costly jaunt to the local movie theatre? One is filled with blankets, candles and all the comforts of home; the other sees you standing in queues for ages, forking out for tickets and snacks and, worst of all, being forced to deal with the general public. Who wants that?

Even if it seems unlikely right now, this hypothetical future is a worryingly real proposition that could spell doom for cinema owners and the major studios. That being said, cinema chains aren’t going quietly into the night. The increasing prevalence of VMAX (or Cinemax) screens with Dolby ATMOS surround sound and Gold Class theatres are their answer to this quandary; bigger screens, a more immersive experience and an inviting domestic setting is striving to make the movies a more attractive option for film fans.

Bringing this back to my original point, I don’t think it’s going to be too long before Netflix, Amazon or even their Aussie equivalent Stan are going to be producing blockbuster movies that are unmissable and eagerly anticipated.

Cast your mind back to where they were five years ago; an exclusive political drama starring Kevin Spacey seemed like a quaint novelty at the time, but now Netflix and Amazon’s original programming rivals HBO, AMC and FX. If they can challenge those guys, who says they can’t take on Hollywood at it’s own game too?

Image courtesy of Netflix Inc. 

Movie Review – Storks

Following the success of the Lego Movie, Warner Bros. Animation Group continues to soar.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Chantal Victor

Nicholas Stoller’s most recent film Storks is far beyond what I expected from the man who brought us Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him To The Greek. Under the wing of Warner Bros, Stoller brings us a beautiful animation that shows the true joy a baby brings to a family.

We all know how babies are brought to a family, right? A white stork finds a tiny human and delivers them to their expecting parents in a blanket. As easy as that. Well, imagine a world where the storks decide to become the next local post office and babies are no longer the usual parcel.

Tulip (Katie Crown) was the last attempt at delivering a baby to a set of parents. Unfortunately, her homing beacon gets destroyed, leaving her as the only human in a stork-run business up at Cornerstore.com. She has worked in the factory her whole life, but as her 18th birthday comes near the boss wants to get rid of her. Junior (Andy Samberg), the top delivery stork, struggles to fire her and instead shifts her to another department. Meanwhile, the Gardners are a lovely family with everyday struggles. Their son is always fighting for their attention and his solution is easy: order a baby brother. Tulip finds the order, leading to a great adventure.

At first I was a little concerned with how the storyline would keep all audience members interested for 89 minutes, but the child-filled cinema kept laughing and tearing up right to the last minute. The film balances some great funny moments, with the complications many families face in today’s life; from parents being too busy to spend time with their children, to how siblings can possibly fill the void.

Having not heard of this film until very recently, I went into the cinema with no expectations and was able to sit back and enjoy it. Although not quite the next Pixar craze, Warner Bros has brought us a decent slice of entertainment. It’s a fantasitc film for the kids these school holidays, or just a light-hearted, happy movie for adults, if that’s what you’re looking for!

Storks is available in Australian cinemas from September 22

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Top 5 Depp-Less Burton Films

Zachary Cruz-Tan

Tim Burton developed a storytelling language in the 1980s that quickly consumed his films. He employed visuals that were immediately striking but also lingered in our minds. His characters, often disempowered and lonely, lived in worlds that sought their demise. To live in a Burton film was to live in constant isolation, entangled in a visual style that sent chills to the bone.

He collaborated with Johnny Depp on eight movies, forging a professional partnership as recognisable as Leone and Eastwood, or Kurosawa and Mifune. As Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children approaches, however, I look back on the Burton films over the years that have found their way into our collective consciousness by leaving Depp out of the picture.

5. Frankenweenie (2012)
Charlie Tahan, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara

I would be remiss not to include a Burton stop-motion production. Stop-motion has been around as early as the 1900s, and fuelled the special effects of action classics like King Kong (1933) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980), but Burton’s uncanny marriage of the morose and finely-tuned physical craftsmanship pioneered a fresh flavour of entertainment.

Frankenweenie, his latest stop-motion effort, is both endearing and morbid (a dog actually gets run over by a car). It harkens back to the golden age of Hollywood monster movies and finds the right notes to bring it down to a level comfortable for kids. It may not be as seminal as Corpse Bride (2005) or Burton’s creative brainchild, The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), but Frankenweenie can be admired simply for its dedication to puppetry perfection.

4. Batman Returns (1992)
Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito

Infinitely darker and more intense than its predecessor, Batman Returns is also clumsier and more camp, featuring a Penguin (Danny DeVito) who somehow learns English and violence from a colony of waddling birds, who grow up to be terrorists. But this moody sequel is wicked fun, almost bordering on horror territory.

Like Batman (1989), the film doesn’t work as a Bruce Wayne biography – we never learn how or why he chooses to become a superhero – but its images are unforgettable. The towering Christmas tree in downtown Gotham releasing a swarm of bats. The Penguin bouncing and jiving in his remote-control Batmobile. Michelle Pfeiffer’s fetishistic bondage costume and customary whip. If the first film established the arena, this one dumbs the characters down and amps up the atmosphere.

3. Beetlejuice (1988)
Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Michael Keaton

can be considered the genesis of Burton’s vision; a dark, grisly supernatural gimmick combining stop-motion with grotesque imagery, three short years after the suburban whimsy of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. What starts off as a genial romance between Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis quickly degenerates into a series of props, costumes and visual trickery. Heads pop off. Eyeballs fall out. Backyards are replaced with vast desert dunes. It all looks fantastic.

And that, I suppose, is the point with Beetlejuice. Content with a boilerplate screenplay that didn’t favour human emotions, Burton focused instead on creating scene after scene of innovative and screeching designs, aimed, of course, to scorch themselves in the back of our minds. By the end of the movie, we are branded, and not just by the memory of Baldwin and Davis as clueless ghosts, but by Michael Keaton’s astonishingly vulgar turn as one of Hollywood’s most treasured demons.

2. Big Fish (2003)
Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange

Quiet. Powerful. Tragic. Big Fish means different things to different people. Either you hold its hand and allow its family drama to drag you down with it (as it did me), or you admire it from a distance and lament Burton’s lack of visual energy. There’s much to treasure in the designs of the characters, to be sure, but Big Fish tells a story that’s broken at the heart and in desperate need of mending. Its visuals aren’t the point.

There’s a hint of Life of Pi (2012) about its ways. The film tries to reunite a son with his estranged father via a string of outlandish – and repeated – fables about the father’s life as a young carnie. Either you believe them, or you choose to put your faith in the whispered words of truth. Big Fish isn’t as ambiguous as Pi, but its firm grasp on the dynamics of family is what punches you hard in the gut. If you allow it.

1. Batman (1989)
Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger

If Beetlejuice was the genesis of Burton’s trademark style, his 1989 adaptation of Batman is the racehorse that breaks for the finish. Before Batman, everyone’s idea of the caped crusader was Adam West waving a finger and instructing kids to remember their geography. The film noir detective of the comics was lost. Batman does away with the geography and the campy underwear and reintroduces a harder, more troubled hero.

Bound by twisted edifices and an overall feeling of claustrophobia, Burton’s Batman is unequivocally damaged. Michael Keaton brings both Bruce Wayne and his alter ego some much needed humanity, and reassures us that under that cowl breathes a man, not a public service announcement. Add to that a sparkling performance by Jack Nicholson as a Joker that’s actually scary and you’ve got a formula that works even today. It lacks a proper origin story, but one could certainly argue that without Batman, Henry Cavill might’ve had to share Batman V Superman’s poster with Adam West.

Images courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Roadshow Films, Chapel Distribution, Sony Pictures