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. 

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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)
Starring:
Charlie Tahan, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara

09-september-depp-burton-frankenweenie
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)
Starring:
Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito

09-september-depp-burton-batman-returns
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)
Starring:
Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Michael Keaton

09-september-depp-burton-beetlejuice
Beetlejuice
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)
Starring:
Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange

09-september-big-fish
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)
Starring:
Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger

09-september-depp-burton-batman
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 

Hooked Takes On CinefestOZ 2016

Chantal Victor

Sit back and imagine the best party you’ve ever been to, mixed with your favourite film of the year. Add in some beautiful landscapes and a road trip, and there you have it… CinefestOZ 2016! I don’t think I’ve had this much fun while being so busy in such a long time! I know CinefestOZ is that one festival that gets talked about every year, but I never seem to make my way down south to attend because I always have enough excuses not to go. Well, this year I made it my goal to go, and believe me, if there is one event all film lovers should attend its Cinefest!

The festival runs from a Wednesday to Sunday with the Gala evening on the Saturday night where the winning film of the $100 000 prize is announced. This year’s winning film is Girl Asleep, which is certainly a weird film, but once I got to sit in conversation with the creators, everything started to make sense. The festival also delights itself in premiering ground breaking films, and this year I was lucky enough to get a seat to the world premiere of Pulse, an independent Australian feature film about a gay disabled teenage boy who changes into the body of a beautiful woman so that he can be loved.

Even though it rained throughout the weekend, there wasn’t a time when people weren’t either lining up to make it into a cinema or chatting enthusiastically in the foyer about the most recent film they’d seen. As soon as I thought I’d take a quick break and grab lunch I’d catch myself buying another ticket for the next screening. Popcorn became a staple in my diet. One of those unplanned tickets was for the Sydney Film Festival Finalist documentary Zach’s Ceremony, a beautiful film about a boy learning to transition from boyhood into a man, in both the modern world and his ancient culture. The audience got to see a glimpse of the traditional ceremony Zach had to take part in to become a warrior within his culture in loving honour of his grandfather.

My favourite film at Cinefest was Hotel Coolgardie, a very raw documentary of a remote pub in Coolgardie which receives a rotation of foreign travellers every 3 months who work as bar maids to replenish their travel funds. The documentary follows two Finnish girls and how they cope in the outback. At times, I honestly feared for the girls’ safety throughout the film and I didn’t want to look. It sheltered the audience from nothing and made us feel like we were a part of it.

I only got down on Friday night and missed out on all the industry days where aspiring filmmakers got to chat to industry experts, but I managed to squeeze everything out of the festival right to the very end at a side bar at Caves House with a few short films. The South West is a beautiful backdrop for such an eventful week with amazing food and friends. I cannot wait to drive down next year and see what CinefestOZ 2017 has to offer. See you all next year!

Top 5 Dialogue Driven Scenes

Corey Hogan

What makes a movie memorable? Different parts of films seem to stick with people for different reasons – usually it’s the charming characters, the mesmerising visuals, the resounding music or the emotions brought to surface. But while one-liners and catchphrases are commonplace, it’s only while watching a film that we can place ourselves in the middle of a conversation and feel like we’re actually there listening in.

There’s an added tension that permeates the air in most film conversations that gives their dialogue a compelling edge. Here are five scenes that utilise dialogue in a creative and visionary ways to serve their respective films. Note that these are the standout scenes in films predominantly driven by dialogue; there’s plenty from genres all across the board that offer incredibly gripping communications.

Annie Hall (1977)
Director:
Woody Allen
Starring:
Woody Allen, Diane Keaton & Tony Roberts

08 August - Dialogue Annie
Woody Allen seems simply incapable of putting away his typewriter. He’s written and directed a new film almost every year without fail since 1977, and though he’s had towering highs and staggering lows, his obsessive psychoanalysis of the chemistry between a man and a woman has always poignantly deconstructed the way we speak to one another when attraction is in the air. None has done it quite so perfectly since  Best Picture winner Annie Hall.

In the film, Alvy Singer (just one of Allen’s many neurotic Jewish New Yorkers) reflects on his failed relationship with the insecure and somewhat ditzy Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). The most inventive instance of dialogue comes when Alvy and Annie sit atop a balcony, sipping wine and awkwardly getting to know one another. Strictly speaking, it’s a very natural sounding exchange between an unacquainted man and woman that expertly captures the nervous jitters and blurts. It’s an intelligent contrast of the rapid-fire thought process that circulates our minds against the talk we often spew without thinking in an effort to impress someone we like, and Allen is all too aware of how these ungainly conversations play out.

The balcony scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLblwVUEHyw

Hunger (2008)
Director:
Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham & Liam McMahon

08 August - Dialogue Hunger
Empty bellies and smeared excrement fill the Maze Prison throughout the 1981 hunger strike endured by its Irish Republican prisoners to become the centrepiece of Steve McQueen’s deeply challenging debut Hunger. With initial protests foiled by the relentless brutality of the prison guards, Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) leads his fellow captives in an epidemic of starvation as an act of sacrificial faith and devotion to their Nationalist Catholic convictions. Naturally the situation becomes grim and distressing, but McQueen’s filmmaking artistry finds the beautiful in the bleak; particularly when Sands opens his mouth – not to eat, but to unfurl some words and wit.

Though it’s less dialogue-impelled throughout than the other films on this list, there’s a mammoth chunk of Hunger that takes the cake – a near half-hour long stretch dedicated purely to the conversation between Sands and a priest (Liam Cunningham), disputing the morality of the strike. There’s a stunning 17-minute uninterrupted take while the two rattle off each other, the priest trying his best to sway Sands from his suicidal mission.

The morality debate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bq0SETWIO8U

Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Director:
Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth & Michael Madsen

08 August - Dialogue Dogs
The name Quentin Tarantino immediately brings to mind eccentrically groovy soundtracks, highly visceral violence and gore, and of course incredibly iconic, ingenious (and almost always expletive-laden) dialogue. In fact, you could ultimately rationalise every Tarantino film as a string of scenes consisting of long, suspenseful and venomous conversations/monologues punctuated with sudden extreme carnage – which would be undermining their depth and impact, obviously. Each of his films has a dozen scenes that could easily make the cut here, but it’s his explosive debut Reservoir Dogs that introduced us to his unique brand of wicked wordplay for the screen.

And surprisingly, the urgent arguments and chaotic showdowns following the botched heist that make up most of the film are overshadowed by the opening scene – a somewhat calm, completely ordinary diner spread, where the ‘Dogs’ drink coffee and discuss a handful of trivial topics, including the true meaning behind Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”. It’s seemingly extraneous, but weirdly fascinating; plus it successfully sets up the characters, prompting call-backs and making more sense as events unravel.

The diner scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyR4RK0LA_E

The Social Network (2010)
Director:
David Fincher
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield & Armie Hammer

08 August - Dialogue Social
Another master of giving linguistics a prodigious presence on screen, Aaron Sorkin made his name creating and writing some of the most intelligent, relevant and socially conscious television shows in history (The West Wing, The Newsroom). He teamed up with David Fincher in 2010 to deliver his magnum opus – The Social Network, the stunning true tale behind Facebook’s conception and all the legal issues, betrayal and treachery along the way. The real people involved would object to its factual basis, and Sorkin later admitted that much of it was highly dramatised – but when it’s cinema this compelling, who really cares?

It’s a film stuffed to the brim with dynamic dialogue that never once ceases to maintain attention and interest, but the best example again has to be the scene that opens the film. We meet our maker Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) on a date night with his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara), landing in the middle of a debate over SAT’s and final clubs. Erica becomes flustered by his simultaneous discussion of multiple topics, and then promptly dumps him when he insults her without realising it. It brilliantly sets up the genius of the marvellous monster that is Zuckerberg, and is one of the very few scenes that humanises him enough to rationalise his cold backstabbing as an inability to empathise, or possible mental disorder.

The breakup scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlXwTxpC6u0

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Director:
James Foley
Starring: Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin

08 August - Dialogue Glen
The greatest film ever made about the business of sales (yes, even better than Death of a Salesman) also ranks as one of the finest films driven entirely by dialogue. Directed by James Foley from David Mamet’s award-winning play, Glengarry Glen Ross follows four floundering real estate salesmen struggling to reach their targets on the dud leads they’ve been handed. When their manager reveals that the top two sellers will be awarded the promising Glengarry leads and the rest face sacking, the men turn to desperate measures – including a plot to rob the office. It’s the first film to honestly portray the many routines and deceptions used by real salespeople, and the harsh reality they face as a result of their failure.

It’s utterly captivating from beginning to end, with countless brilliant conversations and exchanges unfolding in a mere handful of settings, but anyone who has seen it knows it’s crowning scene – Alec Baldwin’s singular appearance (and possibly the most memorable of his career) as the serpent-tongued motivator sent in by the company owners to motivate the staff into crushing their sales. Admittedly, much of it forms a monologue, with only a few lines from the bewildered workers here and there, but it’s truly one of cinema’s most powerful scenes, unleashed in a tornado of curses and abuse.

“Always be closing!”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEg8TFxVLF4

Other dialogue driven films worth watching: 12 Angry Men, My Dinner with Andre, Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight, Night on Earth, Coffee and Cigarettes, Locke and many more.


Images courtesy of MGM Home Entertainment, Chapel Distribution, Dendy Cinema, Sony Pictures, Umbrella Entertainment, Roadshow Films & Icon Film Distribution 

It’s almost time for CinefestOZ!

Chantall Victor

It’s almost that time of year when film fanatics, Australian filmmakers and industry experts collide at CinefestOZ Film Festival in Australia’s Southwest to view short films, attend workshops and walk the red carpet at feature film premieres. Add in food, wine and great company, and you have the perfect combination for like-minded people to come together. Located in some of the most beautiful wine regions of Western Australia, Cinefest offers a five-day getaway to explore Bunbury, Busselton, Dunsborough and Margaret River.

Here’s some of the highlights to look forward to:

On the opening night, Bunbury will host the Australian premiere of French film Up For Love and will also feature the WA premiere of the Mel Gibson led Blood Father. There will also be a free community screening that focusses on Australia’s female filmmakers and also the premiere of TV series Upstart Crow.

Up For Love
5:30pm, Wednesday 24 August
Grand Cinemas, Bunbury
Get Tickets

08 August - Cinefest 1

CinefestOZ: When successful lawyer, Diane (Virginie Efira) gets a call from the man who found her mobile phone, she is immediately intrigued and charmed. As she and Alexandre (Jean Dujardin) chat and make plans to meet, it becomes evident that the chemistry between them is great. However, when they meet the next day it turns out there may be one small problem. A perfect match in every way but one, will this new couple be up for the challenge?

Blood Father
5:30pm, Thursday 25 August
Grand Cinemas, Bunbury
Get Tickets

08 August - Cinefest 2

CinefestOZ: Action and attitude meets humour and humility as Gibson stars as John Link – an ex-con trying to embrace life on the straight and narrow. When his estranged daughter Lydia is caught up in a drug deal gone wrong, she reaches out to the last man she ever thought she’d need – her father.

Upstart Crow
6:30pm, Friday 26 August
Bunbury Regional Entertainment Centre
Get Tickets


CinefestOZ: This BBC TV series is the latest from comic genius, Ben Elton, which humorously chronicles the life of William Shakespeare before he became famous.

In Conversation: Girl Asleep
8:30am, Saturday 27 August
Deck Marina Bar & Restaurant
Get Tickets

08 August - Cinefest 4
Chat to the filmmakers behind Girl Asleep. CinefestOZ: Navigating puberty in 1970’s suburbia, Greta doesn’t want to grow up. Her mum is embarrassing and her sister disinterested. Geeky Elliott is her only ally. Greta’s surprise 15th birthday party is on track to be the worst night of her life – until she’s flung into an odd fairy-tale universe with a warrior princess. 

Hotel Coolgardie with Q&A
12:00pm, Saturday 27 August
Orana Cinemas, Busselton
Get Tickets

08 August - Cinefest 5

CinefestOZ: Attracted by the idea of saving much-needed travel funds whilst enjoying an authentic outback experience, two Finnish backpackers find themselves the latest batch of “fresh meat” en route to live and work as barmaids at the only pub in a remote Australian mining town. Confronted by a culture of insularity, insults and impunity, and relentlessly harassed and harangued, their working holiday rapidly deteriorates into a test of endurance – as they discover that to meet expectations they’ll need to do more than just pour drinks! Amusing, shocking, and unexpectedly moving, Hotel Coolgardie is a wryly-observed warts-and-all journey into an outback Australia rarely depicted on screen.

There are many other great events to attend from Busselton to Margaret River, with a little bit of everything for everyone. I will be attending from the Friday until Sunday evening so stay up to date with my whereabouts via the Hooked On Film twitter account and come and say hi!

Images and film synopses courtesy of CinefestOZ 2016 & Icon Film Distribution

Movie Review – The Conjuring 2

Saw (2004) director James Wan returns to his horror roots, but fails to conjure up any form of fear for his audience.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Josip Knezevic 

Ever since the release of sleeper hit Paranormal Activity, movies with hauntings and demons have become an increasing trend, yet the quality of these films still lacks. The Conjuring 2 is the latest in this spiritual horror genre, but sadly it’s another addition to the growing list of unoriginal ghost stories.

Continuing on from the legacy of its predecessor, we are thrust once more into the disturbingly creepy world of the Warren family as they investigate the recent disturbances of a new poltergeist in Einfield, England. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return as Ed and Lorraine Warren, who meet an unfortunate 11 year old girl (Madison Wolfe) who appears to be under demonic possession. Based on the supposedly true case files from 1977, the film begs the question why those files were even reopened.

My largest gripe with the film is that it uses the same basic scare tactic almost all horror use – jump scares. The music softens. The camera reveals a shadowy, empty space where you imagine a demon would be lurking. Then following a quick 180 perspective spin, an ear-splitting scream is unleashed… do this over and over again and it becomes a little underwhelming.

The film also suffers from a bloated 134 runtime that fails to shock or awe. Instead, it bores its audience with heavy use of clichéd storylines; family moves into a new home; family experiences subtle, yet growing number of disturbances that are downplayed as vivid imaginations of children; disturbances culminate with a larger show of demonic force leading to the ghostbusters being called in – in this case, the Warrens. But what is the end game of the demon? Not to kill, obviously, as there are no casualties in all this time.

Thankfully, the film makes up for its lack of fear factor and sensible plot with its strong acting and art design. The true heroes of the story are those who worked on the production, especially the exterior shots of the streets of England. The attention to detail within each household is clear to see; you genuinely feel transported back to the late 70’s. If only the same meticulousness were translated to the story.

I don’t think James Wan is necessarily a bad director. My only hope is that he works with someone who can produce a more meaningful horror story in the future; one that isn’t afraid to go beyond mildly taunting its characters. Perhaps he should view It Follows for some guidance.

The Conjuring 2 is available in Australian cinemas from June 9

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Alice Through The Looking Glass

Like its predecessor, Alice Through The Looking Glass squanders its potential with a mediocre story, adding yet another unworthy adaptation to the pile.

⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic 

It seems Lewis Carrol’s beloved classic is still waiting for the day it receives the motion picture it so rightfully deserves. This latest tumble down the rabbit hole sees Tim Burton pass the directing reins over to newcomer James Bobin (Flight of The Conchords, The Muppets) who reunites the original cast members; Mia Wasikowsska as Alice, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen and, of course, Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. Departing from the traditional Wonderland narrative, this installment focusses its attention on the Hatter and his troubled past. Alice is tasked with travelling back in time to alter events in order to save her good friend from a heartbreaking end.

Two themes become apparent throughout the film; the first being that nothing is impossible, and the second being that you can’t change the past, only learn from it. It’s the stuff that Disney films are made of, but Through The Looking Glass falls far short of the greatness of a Disney classic. Bobin completely loses touch with these core messages, and instead the film becomes lost in a sea of bizarre subplots that bear next to no significance in the overall story. For example, an opening conflict between Alice and her mother is completely forgotten until the very end of the film, at which point it is no longer of any consequence.

Thankfully, the film redeems itself through its big budget production and striking visuals. A standout is the character of Time (Sacha Baron Coen); a literal personification with intricate gears and windings.

Overall, the film remains faithful to the wondrous landscape and vivid characters of the source material; upholding Burton’s vision for the most part. Although pretty as a picture to look at, the questionable story downgrades Alice Through The Looking Glass to yet another average viewing.

Alice Through The Looking Glass is available in Australian cinemas from May 26

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures 

Movie Review – Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Much like the military acronym within the film’s title, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a film that will leave you feeling puzzled and confused, but at least you’ll be able to laugh about it.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic

Tina Fey plays Kim Baker, a dissatisfied television journalist who’s seeking a dramatic change of lifestyle. An opening as a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan presents itself, and she is swept into a new world that soon makes her question her desires to leave in the first place. We follow her travels over the years post 9/11 as Kim finds fresh meaning in herself, and pushes her journalistic instincts to the limit. Directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (Focus, Crazy Stupid Love) team up once more, and it seems that they’re slowly making better progress.

Although childish, a lot of humour manages to creep its way into this film and catch you off guard. Given the film’s main setting, however, comedy does seem a bit out of place. This where Whiskey Tango Foxtrot falls down; it isn’t exactly sure what type of film it wants to be. While it has hints of seriousness akin to the Secret Life of Walter Mitty, it also borrows comedy style from Crazy, Stupid Love. On their own, each of these can be effective, but in Fey’s latest film, the two sides never find a balance.

Rather than being clearly defined with a specific theme or idea, the film presents several that linger throughout, but are never fully explored. Instead, we’re degraded to mere observers of these characters as they move from one scenario to the next, without becoming emotionally involved. We see Kim deal with trying to find herself by thrusting head first into dangerous situations, but we never feel her trials and tribulations, and this is what the film lacks.

It may be backed by a fine grade of actors (Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton), but sadly Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is not going to be remembered as a comedy classic. If Requa and Ficarra can focus on blending drama and humour with more finesse, then we may see an improvement from the duo in the future. Till then, enjoy some mindless humour, and see if you can take anything away from it.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is available in Australian cinemas from May 12 

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures 

Retro Review – Predator

1980s action-horror Predator set the bar for blockbuster cinema – a mean explosion-fest with silly one-liners and Arnold Schwarzenegger in top form.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Tom Munday

Sci-fi action-thriller Predator follows the grand-ol’ tradition of revelatory blockbuster defined by threadbare story, character and theme. How does it get away with it? Enter action-star/Governor/woeful husband Arnold Schwarzenegger. The plot concerns Major Alan ‘Dutch’ Schaefer (Schwarzenegger) and his team of tough-guy, spec-ops mercenaries, operators and explosives experts. Tasked by CIA handler George Dillon (Carl Weathers), they head into the South American jungle to recover an official hostage held by guerrilla insurgents.

Like a fine wine, or most 1980s sci-fi action flicks for that matter, Predator gets better with age. Despite the monstrous $98 million box-office gross, the movie received mixed reactions over its thin plotting and general balls-to-the-wall goofiness. Illustrating the power of critics, many reviews, rightfully, gave it a second chance and put it on multiple ‘Best of…’ lists. On a first watch, the film comes off like an exhaustive action-thriller, chock-a-block with 80s-cinema glorious cheese. However, on a second and third viewing, this film is more intelligent, and intelligible, than most contemporary blockbusters.

Devised by Jim and John Thomas under the working-title Hunter, the plot itself relishes in every simplistic element – utilising a less-is-more approach the future sequels/spin-offs sorely lack. The film’s first half is your typical, uber-macho action-thriller with Schwarzenegger and mega-producer Joel Silver’s fingerprint all over it. The team is given specific emphasis, waltzing through the jungle to the tune of misogynistic jokes and kooky one-liners. Our characters have enough depth and distinctive traits to make us care about their impending doom. As the explosions and shootouts kick in, Schwarzenegger’s rippling muscles and sky-high stature highlight his once-almighty screen presence.

Throughout the build-up, the titular, voyeuristic antagonist stalks and adapts to our lead characters. The predator-prey/hunter-becomes-the-hunted dynamic immediately packs a punch with the group discovering the extra-terrestrial’s work; the wreckage of a helicopter and three skinned corpses. The creature’s thermal imaging and cloaking device help ratchet up the tension. As the group turns against one another, the second half lets the beast off the leash.

Made for a meagre $15 million, director John McTiernan – also known for Die Hard and The Hunt For Red October before being jailed in the early 2000s – established himself as a master action-thriller filmmaker with a flair for practical effects and edge-of-your-seat thrills. Developed by legendary effects artist Stan Winston, the Predator is one of cinema’s most recognisable and devastating antagonists. McTiernan’s restraint builds the drama and tension, illustrating – for the most part – Dutch’s fascination with trapping the creature. In the final third – building to an explosive, over-the-top finale – Dutch’s detective/survival skills – “If it bleeds, we can kill it” – and thirst for vengeance help him obliterate the Predator once and for all.

Like many 80s action flicks, the legacy of Predator burns brightly today. The film remains one of Schwarzenegger’s most enjoyable films. His presence fits the tone, effectively bouncing off fellow 80s icons like Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke, and current powerhouse writer/director Shane Black as the team’s radioman. The sequels and spin-offs were met with mixed to negative reactions, with Predator 2, the Alien vs. Predator franchise, and 2010’s Predators failing to live up to their gutsy, gritty predecessor.

Predator screens at Event Cinemas Innaloo on February 12th


Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox