5 Films That’re So Bad They’re Good

Gather your mates, crack open a few bevvies and revel in some of the best worst movies ever committed to film.

Rhys Graeme-Drury

There are good films; there are bad films; then there are films that are simply so bad that they have transcended terribleness and transformed into something good again.

This exclusive club is populated with all manner of strange B-movies, cult classics and botch jobs that have garnered widespread appreciation once they’ve hit the shelves.

From the realm of the weird, wacky and downright woeful, I’ve cobbled together some of my favourite bad films that I still not-so secretly love.

The Happening (2008)

08 August 2017 - Bad Movies The Happening
Even though The Happening isn’t M.  Night Shyamalan’s worst film (an accolade belonging to his adaptation of The Last Airbender), it is possibly his strangest.

What is so strange about The Happening, I hear you ask? Well, why don’t we start off with the premise; this is a 90-minute B-movie where the primary antagonist is essentially a gentle breeze that causes people to top themselves in increasingly inventive and gruesome ways. It should come as no surprise that this absurd concept has little to no ability to sustain itself over the runtime, and instead becomes hilarious as people are run over by rogue lawnmowers or eaten by tigers.

What makes The Happening even more amusingly absurd is the decision to cast a perplexed Mark Wahlberg and a dead-eyed Zooey Deschanel in its lead roles; a pair that couldn’t be more mismatched if they tried. Both sleepwalk through Shyamalan’s creaky script and deliver some of the best worst line readings ever committed to film. Remember guys, the only way to survive is to stay ahead of the wind.


Batman & Robin (1997)

08 August 2017 - Bad Movies Batman and Robin

Batman & Robin is the crowning jewel of atrocious 90s blockbuster cinema. It marries the worst Batman (sorry George Clooney) with neon-soaked set design, action figure-inspired costumes, a Saturday morning cartoon script and some of the worst puns ever cooked up.

However, as any pun aficionado will gleefully tell you, the worse they come, the better they are – and Batman & Robin is no exception. The pun master himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger in the role of Mister Freeze, essentially speaks in nothing but puns that revolve around anything cold; ice to see you, break the ice, cool party, stay cool, everyone chill – you get the idea.

The insanity doesn’t stop there; Uma Thurman’s Posion Ivy gets in on the pun action, Alicia Silverstone’s Batgirl shows up just in time for a studio-mandated third act costume switch (got to get that action figure money!) and director Joel Schumacher struggles to hide the homoerotic undertones. He repeatedly fills the frame with close-ups of Batman’s leather-clad butt and sculpted breastplate, the latter of which is fitted with erect bat nipples, naturally.

Best seen as a group and with copious amounts of alcohol, Batman and Robin is infinitely watchable owing to its ability to entertain and baffle in equal measure.


2012 (2009)

08 August 2017 - Bad Movies 2012

Roland Emmerich has built a career out of staging cataclysmic, end of the world events and framing them with compelling human drama, such as in Independence Day and, to a lesser degree, The Day After Tomorrow.

However, Emmerich proved three isn’t always the magic number when he tried to triplicate the success of the aforementioned films with 2012, a film that used the popular myth of the Mayan doomsday calendar as a springboard into wall-to-wall destruction for an arse-numbing two-and-a-half hour runtime.

With John Cusack front and centre, 2012 imagines what would happen if the entire world was to spontaneously undergo a string of increasingly destructive natural disasters, from tsunamis to volcanic eruptions and devastating earthquakes. Filled with terrible visual effects, the most ludicrous plot humanly imaginable and some of the most annoying characters this side of The Bachelor, 2012 is one of those films that makes you question if anyone green lighting projects in Hollywood has an ounce of sense – they spent $200 million on this?

Yes, indeed they did ­– and you owe it to yourself to chuck it in the Blu-ray player and soak in its awfulness as soon as physically possible.


Face/Off (1997)

08 August 2017 - Bad Movies Face Off
Let’s be honest, most of Nicolas Cage’s back catalogue falls into the ‘so bad it’s good’ category – Con Air, The Rock, The Wicker Man and Knowing spring to mind – but its John Woo’s strangely acclaimed sci-fi action film Face/Off that earns its place on my list for its absurd premise alone. An FBI agent (John Travolta) undergoes a face transplant to assume the identity of an international terrorist (Cage), but the plan goes awry when that same terrorist undergoes the same procedure to impersonate the FBI agent. Hilarious hijinks masquerading as a genuinely serious action movie ensue.

Few films boast a premise as utterly ridiculous as Face/Off – that two people could get matching face transplants is nonsensical in itself, not to mention the fact that the rest of their body, posture and mannerisms wouldn’t change and would give the game away in an instant. But it’s the baffling screen presence of both Cage and Travolta – both charismatic enigmas in their own right – that sells us on the concept and makes it worth watching, even if at its core it’s an amazingly bad film.


The Room (2003)

08 August 2017 - Bad Movies The Room
The Room isn’t just a bad movie; it’s the all-conquering cult leader of bad movies, complete with an ardent and insatiable following of lunatics. Starring, written, directed and even funded by Tommy Wiseau, The Room’s zealous fans are to this day enamoured by its myriad of unconventional quirks, which include, but are not limited to glaring continuity errors, odd storytelling choices, clunky writing and some of the most amateur performances this side of a primary school nativity.

The Room plays to packed out cinemas – including Perth’s own Luna Leederville – on a regular basis, with audiences encouraged to actively recite lines, heckle the actors and fling plastic spoons at the screen. Such is its level of infamy for terribleness, a film about its troubled production process – titled The Disaster Artist and starring James Franco and Seth Rogen ­– is set to arrive later this year.

Images courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox, Roadshow Films, Sony Pictures and Valhalla Holdings 

Interview: Rob Livings – Two People

Thomas Munday 

Two People has, in every sense of the term, something for everyone. A twenty-something girl (Liberty Hills) takes some time out from domesticity to wander bars and comedy stores in Northbridge alone. She strikes up a conversation with a comedian (Nick Pages-Oliver) and after missing the last train home, the two begin an elongated conversation throughout the middle of the night.

Director, editor and co-writer Rob Livings peaks into the average twenty-something’s mind in this low-budget, walking-and-talking feature that was shot over four nights in the Perth CBD and Northbridge. Filmed in black and white, Livings and co’s latest utilises the budget, gear and location at their disposal to a desired effect.

Livings chatted with Hooked on Film about his cast, production challenges and how one night can change our lives.

TM: How did you conceive of the idea for the film?

RL: With Two People, I don’t think it was ever intended to be what it became, we were just like ‘let’s try and make a feature for nothing and we’ll just do it overnight, a couple of nights a week and figure it out as we go and do it in an improvised fashion’. We just held a little meeting about it, everyone was keen and then it just went from there. So, it was very much – ‘Let’s get together, shoot it chronologically and see what happens’.

It’s a very simple idea but it was a matter of whether we could pull it off the way we wanted to, we were like: ‘Let’s shoot it multi-cam, let’s treat it so when we’re editing it’s just dumping in a timeline’. There’s so many ways to move quickly in production, but there is not many ways to make a film quickly in post-production, so let’s try and find a way to find an answer for both of those.

TM: How was it to go from shorter-form projects to feature filmmaking?

RL: Switching to feature film was good, but it was just more targeting a new way of making a movie, so fully improvising the dialogue, going against what you learn in film school – basically, taking what you’ve learned from a technical aspect and throwing away everything else and building over. It was really fun and exciting to do something different, – shooting at night when no one is around. It was like Northbridge became this canvas we could do whatever we wanted with.

TM: A lot of the movie feels realistic, how much was scripted before filming and how much was improvised on set?

RL: Every bit of dialogue is improvised, we knew we had a start and we had an ending. We knew where we were going to be shooting because we had access to certain places. The film was set around who we knew and what we had and that’s kind of the point when you’re working for no money, you’ve just got to make the most of what you’ve got.

This film was very much a ‘make it up as you go’, but just let’s get to that ending and let’s get to the finish line however we need to. If things were steering in one direction we’d make sure they went back the other way. I’d say 90% of it happened whilst we were filming and the 10% was planned so it was very, very loose and I was just happy to see where it took us.

TM: How does Perth stand out as a good movie setting?

RL: I love Perth and like everyone in Perth. People have complained about the quiet nature of Perth many times. I think Perth works really well, I would encourage people to shoot at night here because there is literally no one around so you can kind of just create this world if you go to the right spots. For me, in this film they seem like they are alone and on their own, even within the bar there is a couple of people there. That whole quiet nature of Perth really works to people’s benefit, so you don’t have to deal with sound issues or the issues that you might have in a busy city like Sydney or Melbourne.

TM: This movie relies entirely on interaction, why is human behaviour so pertinent to drama, comedy and cinema in general?

RL: I think you can be your own character, anyone can reference with it. The characters in this film are so realistic and so down to Earth. I know that’s something that might push some people away, they might not want to relate to real life; they might want to go in there and watch something that takes them out of what is going on, but it is interesting to see people in this vulnerable state where they are willing to kind of open up. Well, at least, Liberty’s character was vulnerable whereas Nick’s was a bit more guarded. That’s just two different types of people and when you put them together it’s an interesting situation.

Image courtesy of Rob Livings 

Movie Review – The Trip to Spain

Paris Can Wait, indeed – Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are back to show us once again how a real road trip foodie movie is done.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

Once again playing heightened versions of themselves, funnymen Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are commissioned for a third series of restaurant reviews – this time in a road trip across Spain. As the pair soak in the sights and enjoy a delicious selection of varied food and drink, their banter is business as usual as they indulge in sing-alongs, poke fun at each other’s careers, ruminate on aging and their mid-life crises, boast their own trivial knowledge of the country and, of course, attempt to one-up each other over who can do the best celebrity impersonations.

It seems crazy to think that one of cinema’s most consistently and reliably entertaining trilogies (quadrilogies, if you count Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story) could consist entirely of the improvised arguments of two British comedians and very little else, but Michael Winterbottom’s third freeform, fourth-wall destroying entry in The Trip series is a typically hilarious ride, even if The Trip to Spain does begin to show signs of self-indulgence and a clever premise wearing thin.

Edited down from a three-hour miniseries to a two-hour movie like before, this streamlines the best bits of Coogan and Brydon’s adventure into a pacier ride that doesn’t quite overstay its welcome. Anyone familiar with the previous movies will know the formula; the week-long binge of bickering around historical landmarks and gourmet meals, in between which the men deal with their personal issues involving their children and the women in their lives, all the while attempting to remain relevant as actors and writers.

But like many continuing series, this does suffer a little from diminishing returns. The first Trip was so fresh and funny because Coogan was reluctant to take Brydon along and spend a week with him. He was the somewhat straight man irritated by Brydon’s more eccentric persona, giving them a perfect odd couple dynamic. It’s still sort-of here, but now the two seem to have grown into quite good friends – at one point Coogan, uncharacteristically, is unable to contain his laughter at one of Brydon’s bits; a betrayal of the superiority complex he’s held over Brydon until now. They’re still great fun to watch together, but they can never reach the same brilliant antagonism they once shared.

Also doing the film a disservice are its attempts at dramatic elements, of which there are more than ever before. Appearing in the latter half, these moments fall flat from clear scripting, making them at odds with the in-the-moment main meat of the movie. It’s an admirable effort to keep things fresh, but it’s too big a clash with the giddy tone of the improv that has gathered this series a following. The ending, too, should have been left on the cutting room floor; it’s far too abruptly outlandish and unbelievable for an otherwise entirely realistic trilogy.

But these are relatively minor quibbles for a film that’s impossible not to like, particularly if you’re a fan of the actors and their previous trips. It’s an irresistibly cruisy and pleasant vacation, with plenty for the eyes to feast on and even more to laugh at.

The Trip to Spain is available in Australian cinemas from August 3

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment 

 

Movie Review – War for the Planet of the Apes

Matt Reeves delivers a fitting film regarding the fate of the planet in what is hopefully the final installment of a splendid reboot trilogy.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Here, at last, is a big Hollywood movie that puts its $150 million budget to work and reaps the returns. All the money seems to have gone into creating the most believable CGI apes the world has ever seen, but, being a war movie, there are also explosions, gunfire, and in a key moment, an avalanche. The skill of all these effects is so superior we don’t even notice them. Instead, we’re trapped by the charisma of Caesar, the chimp that begins as a prophetic militaristic hero and later evolves into a leader with biblical responsibility.

War for the Planet of the Apes is a crowning achievement, not just as a blockbuster to fill multiplexes but as a definitive seminar on the human condition. This is a compassionate film that is bookended by battles and filled in the middle with quietness and reflection. It is often sparse, but never empty. There is a certain kind of commendation reserved for movies bold enough to string together extended scenes in which the only dialogue must be read on screen while computer-animated apes gesture frantically in sign language without boring us to tears.

The situation between the über intelligent apes and the equally protective humans has disintegrated into all-out war. Caesar (a phenomenal Andy Serkis in motion-capture) maintains a stronghold in the forest but hears of a land of milk and honey that rests comfortably away from the terrifying gaze of The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), a rogue commander who has had to make horrific decisions in his past and will no doubt have to make more before the movie’s end. The plot is essentially a quest of vengeance, after The Colonel mistakenly assassinates members of Caesar’s clan. But there is a grander scheme at play here; a fight for survival that will determine the balance of power on the planet. It’s all very serious stuff.

Director Matt Reeves, who established the tone of this franchise going forward with 2014’s utterly brilliant Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, approaches the grim material from a place of warmth. I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt so strongly for a character composed of pixels, yet Caesar is entirely gripping as the commander-in-chief of a species destined for peace. In the hands of Andy Serkis, he emerges as a well-worn figure of respect and stature; a keen tactician with a heart of gold and a face chiselled out of strife.

Harrelson is equally impressive as the anguished foe, fearful that a mutation in the disease, which nearly exterminated the human race, will drop him down a rung on the evolutionary ladder. Some humans are already exhibiting sub-intellect behaviour, like the little girl Nova (Amiah Miller), whose presence in the film is a neat little warning that the only way for humans to coexist with the animal kingdom is if our higher thinking is severed.

This is that rare blockbuster in which all the pieces fit snugly together and the entire picture makes perfect sense. It may not be as fresh as Rise of the Planet of the Apes or as emotionally complex as Dawn, but why should it be? There is a magical moment in which Nova crosses a military courtyard to feed undernourished prisoners, in full view of station security, and somehow manages to evade capture. It is a gentle touch, a powerful miracle of war, and one of the best scenes in one of the best movies of the year.

War for the Planet of the Apes is available in Australian cinemas from July 27

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

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

Movie Review – Atomic Blonde

Charlize Theron adds a spoonful of oestrogen to the spy game in 80s Cold War action flick Atomic Blonde.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Adapted from a 2012 graphic novel called The Coldest City and directed by David Leitch (John Wick) Atomic Blonde thrusts killer queen Charlize Theron into a jam-packed Cold War espionage thriller set in 1989 during the final days of a divided Germany.

Playing a British intelligence agent called Lorraine Broughton, Theron’s mission appears rather simple on the surface. After a fellow MI6 agent is killed in East Berlin by the KGB, Lorraine is dispatched to retrieve a valuable list of codenames that could be fatal in the wrong hands. To achieve this, Lorraine must learn to work with Percival (James McAvoy), a fellow British agent based out of Berlin, as well as a mysterious French operative called Delphine (Sofia Boutella), who of course has her own agenda.

The first thing you notice about Atomic Blonde is that it looks incredible, with a capital I. The cinematography is luscious and the production design parades a potent concoction of wall-to-wall neon. Shades of hot pink, vivid aqua and deep crimson bring the period setting to life, from pounding Berlin nightclubs to graffiti-strewn back alleys. Striding through it all is Theron, who cuts a striking figure with an assortment of commanding costume designs and inventive framing,m. She does an excellent job of carving through the intricately choreographed fight scenes, which echo John Wick and Netflix’s Daredevil by using minimal edits and maximum punchiness.

The soundtrack, much like Baby Driver last month and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 before that, is the icing on the cake. Wholeheartedly embracing its colourful setting, Leitch furnishes the film with a soundtrack of 80s bangers from the likes of Depeche Mode, New Order, Queen, The Cure and Public Enemy.

While it excels in a visual and visceral sense, I had a hard time wrapping my head around some of Atomic Blonde’s more convoluted plot machinations. Lorraine’s mission behind the Berlin Wall involves a crop of rival agents, a clutch of codenames (Spyglass? Satchel?) and more twists, turns and reversals than a snake lost in a maze.

By the time we reach the rather ludicrous final act, Atomic Blonde had wrapped itself in more knots than a pair of iPod headphones that have been shoved into your pocket. To call its final ten minutes confusing is an understatement as it unloads a ton of reveals, like a Scooby Doo villain wearing not one or two but three masks over his face.

Unquestionably an exercise in style over substance, Atomic Blonde is not the home run for which many were hoping, but it’s also not a complete strike out. Theron, Boutella and McAvoy make for an interesting trio of spies, even if the criss-crossing plot supporting them is loopier than it needs to be. Still, it’s a great showcase of Theron’s ability to headline a film and the hand-to-hand stuntwork and fight choreography is second-to-none.

Atomic Blonde is available in Australian cinemas from August 3

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2017

Movie Review – A Monster Calls

Internal struggles and painful honesty make J.A. Bayona’s fairytale much, much more than your average boy-and-his-monster story. Bring tissues.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Things are not going well for twelve-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall). He’s frequently bullied at school and is having to face the prospect of moving in with his overbearing, grouchy grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), as his own mother (Felicity Jones) is dying from terminal cancer. To top things off, he experiences nightmares every night, in which the tree from a nearby graveyard becomes a towering monster (a mo-capped Liam Neeson) headed his way. The monster, however, reveals its intentions are to tell Conor stories, which he must interpret to help him come to terms with his mother’s illness.

It’s difficult to pinpoint who exactly J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible) has made A Monster Calls for. Based on the novel by Patrick Ness, who also wrote the screenplay, it’s coming-of-age outline would suggest that it is geared toward a younger audience, but its dark themes of grief, guilt, anger and coping with impending death are perhaps a bit too heavy and mature for kids. However, it’s fantastical and fairytale stylings, as well as its point of view of an adolescent boy could limit its appeal to adults. And yet Bayona’s film, which could be labelled the work of a visionary, has elements that will resonate with viewers of all ages.

Like his first two films, this is as breathtakingly beautiful as it is devastating – it’s without a doubt Bayona’s most visually accomplished film to date. He blends three visual mediums together to envision his fable, and the results are enormously effective and rewarding. There’s the live action, captured in exquisitely soft golds and greys by director of photography Oscar Faura, warming and cooling to fit the many moods the film goes through. There’s extraordinary CGI work from Félix Bergés and Pau Costa, whose monster is an incredibly detailed and jaw-dropping spectacle to behold, a far more ingenuitive and convincing tree-being than Guardians of the Galaxy’s Groot. And there’s some truly stunning traditional animation that brings the monster’s stories to life; inspired by the illustrations of Jim Kay (who crafted the drawings we see Conor and his mother penning in the film), these sequences are like water paintings come to life, and are a hypnotic and grandiose feat.

Combined together, they make a unique and magnificent experience, but unlike most effects-driven monster movies, they work in harmony and exist to serve the confronting nature of the film’s narrative; despite their grandeur, they never once consume or overtake the characters or their ordeals.

Young Lewis MacDougall, in only his second film role following Pan, is a real revelation here; not only is he given the responsibility of carrying an entire film, he’s tasked with displaying the kind of perturbation on screen – constant grief, anger, fear and despair – that most films wouldn’t dare burden a child actor with. He’s robust and more than game, and worthy of the twelve award nominations he’s picked up for his breakthrough performance.

At times, the messages of A Monster Calls can feel heavy-handed, even a little forced. The monster’s stories, which often deal with good people capable of bad things, and bad people capable of good things, seem to push the idea that there are no good or bad people, only people. How these fit into the scheme of the story is a little ambiguous, even morally questionable; ultimately it’s down to the viewer to decide. But these are minor squabbles; forget Kong: Skull Island, this is without a doubt the monster movie of the year. One can only hope Bayona will breathe the same magic and life into his next project – a shift to the realm of the Hollywood franchise for the Jurassic World sequel.

A Monster Calls is available in Australian cinemas from July 27

Image courtesy of EntertainmentOne Films

Movie Review – A Ghost Story

Pretention be damned – less a film than a feeling, the emotional experience that is A Ghost Story is positively haunting.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan 

A young couple, dubbed only as C (Casey Affleck) and M (Rooney Mara), see their not-so-perfect suburban life meet its end when C is killed in a headlong collision. He awakens in his afterlife as a ghost, still in the living world, yet invisible to everyone around him. Unable to cease existing, he seeks to connect with his wife – a journey that will take him to the end and beginning of time.

There’s not a trace of conflict in A Ghost Story. There’s barely a plot, and save for a handful of exchanges and one weighty, thought-provoking monologue, there’s very little dialogue. There are no visual effects in creating C’s supernatural apparition – Casey Affleck quite literally wears a bed sheet with eyeholes cut out of it – and much of the film consists of long, lingering scenes in which his spirit simply stands and watches life go by in all its significance and insignificance. And yet, David Lowery’s (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon) miniscule passion project is bold, profound and possibly the best film of 2017 so far.

Made in secret on a shoestring budget cobbled together from what Disney paid him for Pete’s Dragon, Lowery’s big ideas transcend money limitations and the shackles of traditional storytelling to form a breathtaking and masterful rumination on love, life and death, memory and time, existence and its meaning (or lack thereof) and much, much more. It’s so shockingly simplistic in its execution that budding filmmakers everywhere are no doubt kicking themselves that they didn’t think of it first.

Something so artful is, naturally, not going to appeal to everyone’s tastes. It’s going to be a non-event for anyone who expects structure and showiness in their cinema, and is likely to frustrate with its meandering and drawn-out nature. But hopefully most will be able to absorb the richness and beauty that perpetuates its seemingly inconsequential moments.

C’s journey takes turns as simultaneously funny and sad as he’s confined to his house and forced to watch generations pass and new tenants shack up. A fellow ghost next door (who as the credits reveal is, strangely enough, played by a certain pop star everyone except Jerry Seinfeld would recognise) communicates amusingly with C, but tragically reveals that it can’t remember who it is waiting for. This melancholy of being unable to do anything but wait truly resonates, with Lowery cleverly framing in a 4:3 letterbox with rounded edges – not unlike a polaroid – giving that claustrophobic feeling that reflects the ghost’s own sense of being trapped for eternity.

Granted, there’s not a great deal of acting one can do from beneath a bed sheet, but Casey Affleck makes C’s odyssey endearing and hypnotic, attesting to the strong work he and Rooney Mara do when they share the screen in human form. And at the heart of it all is Daniel Hart’s mystic, synth-heavy score that perfects that cosmic feeling. You’ll leave cathartic, satisfied and enlightened; Lowery has done proud A24’s continuing reputation for releasing today’s most interesting films.

A Ghost Story is available in Australian cinemas from July 27 

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment 

Movie Review – Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan serves up another masterpiece in his scarily authentic capturing of Operation Dynamo.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

It’s May 1940. The Allied forces of Britain, France, Canada and Belgium have been rapidly driven back across Europe by the ruthless German army, and now find themselves encircled on a stretch of beach called Dunkirk. 400,000 soldiers are practically in sight of safety, but, without a fully mobilised navy to carry them across the English Channel, are under threat of persistent bombing and shelling. A flotilla of civilian vessels is commissioned to ferry the soldiers home, but time is running out as the Germans steadily tighten the noose and advance on the beach.

It is this colossal military disaster (Winston Churchill’s words, not mine) that visionary writer/director Christopher Nolan tackles in Dunkirk, his tenth feature film. Using an ensemble cast of British actors (Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance), Nolan plunges the audience into the midst of the action at a moment’s notice. For 106 minutes and across three brilliantly staged threads, Dunkirk is wall-to-wall tension and existential dread that holds you in its firm grasp.

It does this by composing its story across a trio of intersecting and overlapping timelines; one told across a week, the second a single day and the final a mere hour. They all begin at the start and come together briefly at the end, which ensures the film always has something happening and actions in motion.

There are no rousing speeches and no soaring fanfare; Nolan eschews longwinded exposition or lengthy character backstories, with some reflecting the harsh namelessness of wartime by simply being called something like Shivering Soldier, as is case of Murphy’s character.

Remarkably, this is one war film where the enemy is not once glimpsed in the flesh. And yet, despite that, the Germans are a persistent presence – from the first frame through to the very last, they cast a long shadow over everything. Nolan imbues the film with a trickling sense of dread that soaks into every frame, so that even though the enemy is never seen, their aura is never absent.

In a technical sense, Dunkirk personifies exemplary. The throbbing soundtrack, once again courtesy of frequent collaborator Hans Zimmer, employs blaring horns and sheer noise to rattle your bones. An almost omnipresent ticking stopwatch underlines the impeccable sound design, which places you in the moment. Every bullet carves the screen and lands with a deafening thud; every dive from a Stuka bomber pierces the air like a shrieking banshee. It’s a terrifying aural and sensory assault from which the audience is unable to escape, much like the stranded soldiers around which the film revolves.

Nolan’s slavish pursuit of authenticity in Dunkirk is just one in long list of commendable aspects. Is it his magnum opus? It’s simply too soon to say, and with a filmography that also boasts The Prestige, Inception and Memento, it’s a question that is practically impossible to definitively answer. However, it is undoubtedly his most haunting and his most visceral, and you owe it to yourself to seek out the largest screen possible to soak it in.

And yes, for the One Direction fan who somehow found their way onto this review; Harry Styles does look pretty perf in camo.

Dunkirk is available in Australian cinemas from July 20

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Volvo Scandinavian Film Festival 2017

Why does the Norway navy have bar codes on the side of their ships?

So when they come back to port they can… Scandinavian.

Terrible jokes aside, the Volvo Scandinavian Film Festival is back in Perth from July 20 to August 2. Here’s a snapshot of some of the films on offer!
A Conspiracy of Faith

A Conspiracy of Faith is a dark crime thriller that isn’t afraid to tackle difficult issues of child abduction, religion and tensions that exist in rural communities.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

07 July 2017 - Scandinavian FF Conspiracy of Faith

When a message in a bottle washes up on the shore of rural Denmark, detectives Carl Mørck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and Assad (Fares Fares) start investigating the case. The note appears to be written by a child and they soon discover that there is a history of child abductions amongst religious cults in the area. When two children go missing in similar circumstances, the pair must race to find out who the abductor is before the two children become his next victim.

A Conspiracy of Faith is a film that’s visually beautiful and soft, almost as if you’re in a dream. The content, however, is nightmarish, and literally gives you shivers thanks to its spectacular performances.

Standouts include Olivia Terpet Gammelgaard, who plays one of the kidnapped children, and Pål Sverre Hagen who plays the abductor Johannes. Terpet Gammelgaard’s quiet tenacity makes you even more fearful for her fate, while Sverre Hagen’s turn as Johannes is powerful and frightening as he comfortably shifts between personas to get what he requires. There’s a quiet evil that lurks behind his friendly façade and it only grows more menacing as the film progresses.

The film has many more admirable qualities, such as its brilliant soundtrack that provides a real stillness at some points, then a thick blanket of tension and suspense at others. A Conspiracy of Faith tackles a lot of tough topics such as religion and faith, child abduction, indoctrination, and nature versus nurture, which are all handled with an amazing sensitivity; this is a film that will stay with me, and I encourage all to go see it.


Magnus

Magnus is an intriguing documentary charting the rise of Magnus Carlsen; a charismatic Norwegian chess prodigy who eventually became the world champion in 2013.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Kit Morris

07 July 2017 - Scandinavian FF Magnus
Magnus chronicles the story of an underdog who overcame great odds to become top of his game; Magnus Carlsen became a Grandmaster at just 13 after playing ten chess games blindfolded. Once labelled the “Mozart of Chess” he is known as a prime athlete in the chess-playing world.

Whilst rightly attempting to tap into the intuitive mindset and lateral thinking behind this ancient game, Magnus stumbles by showcasing an excess of game footage, which may alienate casual viewers that are not familiar with the rules. Players within the documentary speak in technical jargon about chess, which may not make for enthralling viewing, but it does add a degree of quirkiness. Director Benjamin Ree portrays his subject as a child genius who grew up with modesty, and deliberately avoids focusing too much on Carlsen’s personal life.

Chess is a wonderful game, but it’s not for everyone, much like this documentary.


Little Wing

Linnea Skog strives to deliver a strong performance as a restless 12-year-old, but the material fails to make full use of her potential.

⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

Frustrated by her mother’s inability to function as an adult, 12-year-old Varpu (Linnea Skog) learns to drive a car and takes off in the middle of the night to search for her estranged father. The journey doesn’t exactly go as planned and Varpu has to decide whether to persist in the search for her father or to go home defeated.

Linnea Skog is without a doubt an incredible actress; she plays Varpu with a maturity and steely determination that makes you sympathise with her situation. Unfortunately, the adults around her are too over the top, and this is where the movie starts to give way. From her mother who climbs into her bed every night like a child needing to be comforted, to an abused pregnant woman that Varpu comes in contact with along the way, and finally her father, you’re left to wonder how a young girl can have the misfortune of being constantly surrounded by such socially damaged people.

There are some details in the film that just don’t make sense, and some of the actions contradict the personalities of the main characters. In the end, the film wraps everything up a little too nicely, making you question whether the characters grew from this experience at all.

It’s an interesting snapshot of one girl’s adventures, and would make for a great story in the pub, but on screen it fails to develop into anything of note.

Volvo Scandinavian Film Festival 2017 runs in Perth from 20 July – 2 August 

Images courtesy of Palace Films & Volvo Scandinavian Film Festival