Movie Review – Phantom Thread

Being a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis certainly requires years of patience, fortunately they make it worth the lengthy wait. 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan 

Famous London fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is renowned for his incredible garments tailor-made for high society people. His creative genius stems from his notoriously controlling and massively obsessive-compulsive personality; each activity of his day follows a strict regime down to the tiniest detail. Any slight disturbance or disruption can unhinge Reynolds completely, unleashing his temper and aggressive nature. When he meets a waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps) on a trip to the countryside, he pursues a relationship, but once she moves in with him, her more impulsive, emotional behaviour clashes with his ordered world, and a great power play begins.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s distinguished career has given us great variety with ensemble comedy dramas about porn’s golden era (Boogie Nights), a mosaic of depression in L.A. (Magnolia), and a drug-fuelled crime caper (Inherent Vice). He’s explored the extreme highs and lows of gambling (Hard Eight), a mental illness love story (Punch-Drunk Love), the monsters of greed and corruption in the old west (There Will Be Blood), and the seductive horrors of joining a cult (The Master).

Once again, PTA goes into completely new territory with Phantom Thread. His second collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis comes at the ten-year anniversary of their masterpiece There Will Be Blood, making Phantom Thread one of the most anticipated period piece gothic romances ever.

PTA’s unpredictable storytelling and filmmaking methods are on full display here, and the result is something compulsively watchable. The trailers and posters have wisely revealed little of the plot; it is best to head in with a blank slate and let the intoxicating beauty of PTA’s version of a 50’s London wash over you. Complete with stunningly recreated costume work (consider designer Mark Bridges a strong bet for the Oscar) on dazzling 16mm-shot film, Phantom Thread is essentially a slow-burning, unique spin on the eccentric older male prodigy and his younger female muse trope, but again, its curiosities are best discovered for oneself.

On top of the fact that PTA and DDL’s last team-up gave us one of the greatest cinematic masterpieces of the 21st century, Day-Lewis has announced that this will be his curtain call from acting. He has, of course, threatened retirement in the past, and given his films are more infrequent these days than even Paul Thomas Anderson’s, it’s difficult to know what to believe. But if this is to truly be his swansong, he’s bowed out with a brilliant performance that’s not his usual show eruption, but instead a contained masterclass in restraint.

As Reynolds Woodcock, he brings obsessive compulsive genius to a new level; a mad tyrant wrapped in a calm, charismatic personal charm – that is provided his strict daily routine goes exactly as planned. It’s entirely possible that Day-Lewis has decided to leave us with a performance that mirrors his own creative process, given his famously intense preparation and methods in completely embodying his characters.

And then, there’s an even bigger surprise. As both the light of his life and bane of his existence, newcomer Vicky Krieps perfectly forms the yin to DDL’s yang as his young lover Alma. It’s no mean feat for an unknown actress to share the screen with a legendary actor and match him compellingly. Though Lesley Manville earned the Supporting Actress nod (also deservingly, as Reynolds’ subservient sister), Krieps is the true powerhouse and driving force of a deliciously twisted romance for the ages. As DDL’s career ends, hers begins – it’s quite poetic.

If there’s one niggle it’s the somewhat impotent outcome to their magnetic relationship, though it’s a conclusion to be debated rather than scorned. And that’s how PTA, DDL and VK leave us; deep in thought and certain of only one thing – that this is a triumph for all involved.

Phantom Thread is available in Australian cinemas from February 1

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2018

Advertisements

End of Days For Daniel Day-Lewis?

Zachary Cruz-Tan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2018

Moving Forward: How Will Hollywood Police Sexual Misconduct?

Elle Cahill

Back in October, tinsel town’s illusion of glitz and glamour was shattered when multiple women accused heavyweight Hollywood producer and Weinstein Company co-founder Harvey Weinstein of sexual assaults that dated back to the 1990’s. Ever since, a growing number of women have added to the accusations against Weinstein, which has led many to making claims against other Hollywood veterans for similar behaviour.

Hollywood has long been plagued by filmmakers who have toed the line when it comes to inappropriate sexual behaviour, but the response to today’s accusations varies greatly to transgressions that have happened in the past.

Weinstein was fired from the Weinstein Company almost immediately, although he continues to deny any wrongdoing. After Kevin Spacey was accused of making sexual advances towards actor Anthony Rapp when he was just 14 years old (Rapp is now 47), Spacey was dropped like a hotcake from Netflix original series House of Cards, and was also replaced by Christopher Plummer in Ridley Scott’s current release All the Money in the World, just mere weeks before it’s premiere.

Woody Allen, on the other hand, was accused of paedophilia by his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow roughly a quarter of a century ago. Since then, he has gone on to release more than 25 films (almost 1 per year), and has been nominated for numerous film awards, including his Oscar win in 2012 for Midnight in Paris.

Roman Polanski is another filmmaker who has continued to work in the film industry despite pleading guilty in 1979 to raping a 13-year-old girl, and fleeing the United States to avoid sentencing. An additional five women have since made accusations against him for raping them as children.

The reactions to these perpetrators are largely misaligned, and while this may have something to do with the timing of the accusations against them, the fact is no one should be quietly slipping under the radar. If some filmmakers and actors are being pulled from projects, like director Brett Ratner, who has been dropped by Warner Bros. Studios, then shouldn’t all those accused of sexual misconduct be removed from projects? What’s more, who determines if or when these offenders should be given the opportunity for forgiveness and be permitted to work in the industry again? These are two important questions that need to be answered, and fast.

And what about the women who have been sexually assaulted? The media has mostly focused on the perpetrators, while all but ignoring the victims. Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino’s careers were ultimately derailed by Weinstein, which has been supported by director Peter Jackson who was personally encouraged by Weinstein not to work with either actress. What compensation will they receive for his actions and the destruction of their livelihood? What about the female comedians who CK Louis decided it was appropriate to masturbate in front of? What possible compensation could they receive to make his actions forgivable? And what about long time offenders who have long been forgotten about, like Allen and Polanski? Is now the time we call them out for their past behaviour, or is it too little too late?

The questions surrounding the issue are endless, but there are three major problems that need to be dealt with in the imminent future. First, the notion of the “casting couch” – where an employer demands sexual favours from an employee in return for career advancement – needs to cease. It’s old, out-dated and disgusting. Second, there needs to be an understanding throughout the industry that no other person has the right to another person’s body without that person’s express permission, and this then needs to be reflected in mainstream entertainment. Finally, there needs to be available support, not only for the victims, but also for those who are in danger of committing sexual assault and it needs to be provided without judgement or persecution.

Hollywood has a great responsibility here. How it chooses to proceed and deal with these issues will surely impact how other industries deal with similar situations. It’s a lot of pressure, so let’s hope they get it right.

Image courtesy of Netflix & House of Cards 

Kathryn Bigelow: Eclipsing the boys at their own game

Tom Munday

Even today, female and minority actors, writers and directors  still find it difficult to break into A-list status. The studios play it safe, with pre-established properties and major projects regularly given to white, male directors. Of course, filmmakers like Steve McQueen and Lee Daniels buck the trend, however, fewer female directors are given first chances, let alone second or third ones. With the glowing success of this year’s Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins could lead a new, welcome trend for different voices in Hollywood.

Another much-talked-about movie coming to Australian cinemas later this year is Detroit. Detroit provides a capsule in time, depicting the excruciating events of the 1967 12th Street Riot. Commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the incident, the movie sparked outcry, with many discussing director Kathryn Bigelow’s stance on issues in black America and police brutality. Several lashed out, claiming society did not need this brought back into the spotlight, however, the majority praised the movie for drawing shocking parallels between 1967’s America and today’s.

Bigelow is nothing short of a fighter, a director unafraid to tackle Hollywood politics and topics of immense discomfort. Her career began with dashes of pure escapism and genuine thrills. She directed Willem Dafoe in his first starring role in 1981’s The Loveless before going to helm cult vampire flick Near Dark in 1987. Both films showcased her potential, but it was 1991 action-thriller Point Break that gave her that first big shot at stardom.

For the uninitiated (spoilers ahead), the plot of Point Break sounds almost out-of-this world unrealistic. The movie sees former college football player turned FBI agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves, at his most clueless looking) going undercover to track down a gang of bank robbers touring California, known for wearing ex-president masks while committing their crimes. Utah, while surfing the state’s biggest breaks and diving into surf culture, comes across local legend Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) and his crew of fun-loving misfits. Of course, the crew turns out to be the criminals that Utah and the FBI are hunting down.

For a movie with such a silly plot, Point break has inspired twenty years of buddy-action flicks and over-the-top action. In fact, if you look closely, 2001’s The Fast and the Furious has almost the exact same plot. Bigelow turns what could have been straight-to-video-quality material into a fun, balls-out action-thrill ride. Yes, indeed, many aspects are wholly conventional. It would not be an action-thriller from the era without the attractive lead actor falling in love with the wrong woman and making enemies with a threatening badass. However, Bigelow’s stellar direction gave Reeves and Swayze the tools to deliver charismatic performances. Most importantly, the movie’s action sequences have stood the test of time. One in particular, a foot chase between Reeves and Swayze’s characters in the second act, has twists and turns copied by very action director since (and parodied by Edgar Wright for Hot Fuzz).

After Point Break, Bigelow delivered only a handful of new output. It was 2009 that gave Bigelow another crack at superstardom, with war-drama The Hurt Locker striking a chord the world over. The movie sees Jeremy Renner play a bomb disposal expert who ventures into Iraq numerous times to carry out his job. Renner’s character, Sergeant First Class Will James, must look out for colleagues Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), both still recovering from their former superior’s horrific death in the field.

The first set piece alone is a masterclass in action filmmaking. The opening sequence establishes the movie’s level of suspense and dread, putting us right in the characters’ position. During their operation, the scene cuts between our main characters and different people watching it all take place. It all builds to one iconic shot – Guy Pearce’s character running away from the scene while a bomb is detonated on the street. The tension only increases from there, with similar sequences unveiling just how nerve-wracking their lives are. The movie never shies away from the truth, with our lead characters dicing with death for a living.

After The Hurt Locker’s Oscar-winning success, many anticipated Bigelow’s follow-up feature. In 2012, she re-teamed with writer Mark Boal to chronicle the biggest manhunt in human history. Zero Dark Thirty focuses on the investigation into Osama Bin Laden’s whereabouts. Set between September 11, 2001 and Bin Laden’s eventual demise, the movie follows Maya (Jessica Chastain) on interrogations, operations and discussions with key leads before turning to Seal Team Six for help with the final part of the decade-long mission.

Like with The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty is a tense, nail-biting and ultimately unforgiving look at one of modern history’s most important times. Bigelow’s direction never gets in the way, with her and Boal providing an honest, objective version of events. Maya’s journey is 110% relentless, with the director putting herself and the audience in the lead character’s shoes. Like Bigelow in Hollywood, the lead character wrestles with difficult situations while surrounded with male colleagues on a regular basis. Maya goes out of her way to rise above expectations, get everyone on her side and get the job done with aplomb. Bigelow stitches every set-piece, conversation, and detail together seamlessly throughout an overwhelming two and a half hours.

Despite not having an extensive filmography, Bigelow is proof that directors of different ages, genders, races etc. will bring varied perspectives to a project. She’s not just committed to each movie, she finds new angles and choices to the tables that most would not have even considered.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 

 

Still Kicking – Aging Actors

With so many incredible talents now hitting their twilight years, it’s no wonder there’s more films offering roles to mature aged actors… but is that the only reason for the rise in films centred around older characters?

Josip Knezevic

Last Vegas, Dirty Grandpa, Grudge Match

These films are a clear reminder that Robert De Niro will happily do any script put in front of him, regardless of how terrible. At this point, it’s safe to say he probably doesn’t even have an agent anymore, because how could someone allow him to make so many questionable choices?

Nevertheless, De Niro isn’t the only veteran actor still churning out films these days. Actors such as Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, Michael Caine and the ever-magical Maggie Smith don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon thanks to a rise in films centred around, well… old characters. But why is that? Is it purely to appeal to an older demographic? Or do these actors feel the need to keep continually adding to their already extensive filmographies? The answer is more complicated than you’d think.

Inevitably, it comes down to the film in question. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel boasts an ensemble cast featuring the likes of Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson, who are all over the age of 60 and are esteemed actors in their own right. The film follows a group of pensioners moving to a retirement hotel in India… and that’s it. No really, that’s it. Clearly this isn’t going to attract your average millennial, but baby boomers can relate to not only the actors, but also the situations they experience.

A more recent addition is the Zach Braff directed remake Going in Style, starring Freeman, Arkin and Caine. The film is centred around this trio of retirees who plan to rob a bank after their pensions are cancelled. Unlike Marigold Hotel, this film has a much wider scope. By playing on the well-known heist format and the action comedy genre, it’s able to appeal to a broader audience. It’s obviously not going to win any Academy Awards, but it’s a crowd-pleasing film that’s a good excuse for these actors to keep working.

Speaking of which, there’s also an increased number of award-winning films, or at least very well-crafted ones, offering up meaty roles for older actors. Nebraska and Blade Runner 2049 immediately spring to mind, featuring Bruce Dern and Harrison Ford respectively. While Blade Runner 2049 is set for release near the end of the year, Dern’s performance in Nebraska earned him an Oscar nomination. Though it’s unlikely Ford will be offered the same honour, this big budget blockbuster still has the potential to reach the heights of the classic prequel.

At the end of the day, the movie making business is only concerned with entertainment and profitability. In many cases, only the latter is considered. It seems veteran actors are less fixated on the box office takings of their films because there’s no need for them to be concerned anymore. When you’ve had an impressive career spanning decades, nothing can erase your legacy, no matter how many horrendous pieces of shit you make (looking at you De Niro…). For these more experienced actors, making films is about working in an industry they’ve loved their entire life and not slowing down while they still have energy in their legs. Sometimes these films work out. Sometimes they don’t.

Image courtesy of Going In Style, Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Beauty and the Beast

Bill Condon returns to blockbuster filmmaking with his take on a treasured Disney classic, pitting a gorgeous dame with a really hairy companion.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

If you’re going to remake a classic you have to make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and with the best possible intentions, not because a bunch of pot-bellied studio execs have decided it’s the “in thing” to do. I blame Cinderella (2015) for this. Oh yes, that remake was a big success and I adored Lily James in the lead, but its triumph proved only one thing: that Disney has found a new creative source to plunder. Itself. Soon, a company that used to crack down on copyright infringement with the tenacity of Mufasa will have cloned every movie in its revered collection for no other reason than profit. Bravo.

This year they give us a live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, one of the most loved classics to come out of the Disney Renaissance, and all I can really say about it is “Hmmm…”. No, it’s not terrible, but it’s not astounding either, and I feel it should have been. The original Beauty and the Beast was one of the first animated films to introduce digital illustrations; this new movie consists mostly of digital illustrations and boasts a Dan Stevens who falls into that all-too-familiar trap of spending the majority of the film concealed behind prosthetics and motion-capture accoutrements. Like Oscar Isaac’s Apocalypse, the Beast is a stunning achievement in makeup and CGI but terribly vacant as an actor’s performance.

But then this Beauty and the Beast remake isn’t about performances or actors (though Emma Watson as Belle has rarely looked more angelic); it’s about doing what’s been done before, with more sophisticated technology and bigger egos. And about trying to be progressive by (pointlessly) turning a couple of characters gay. It also relies inordinately on our nostalgia for the original animated version. All the songs we’ve come to love are here, played out in vibrant and vigorous set pieces, and indeed they are where the film truly sparkles. Once the plot settles down and dialogue begins to spar with itself, everything simply feels like a recitation of the original. Scenes of drama act as little more than rickety bridges connecting one musical number to the next. There are new songs written and sung specifically for this remake, but they feel out of place and tend to spell out characters’ emotions instead of allowing the audience to ascertain them for itself.

Am I being pedantic? Possibly. It’s hard not to be when reviewing a movie that shouldn’t have existed. It’s no secret that I’ve grown immensely sceptical about the state of Hollywood, with its well of remakes, sequels, prequels, reboots and adaptations, and to know that Disney will be falling in line by converting a great many of its masterpieces doesn’t fill me with much joy.

Don’t get me wrong – for what it is, this Beauty and the Beast just about gets the job done. It is supremely passable and had the girl sitting next to me in buckets of tears. But when an expensive remake comes out and does nothing but make us pine for the original that inspired it, you’re not starting down a new and exciting path; you’re taking a few steps back and tripping over your own feet. Cinderella and The Jungle Book (2016) were happy exceptions. This one isn’t as happy.

Beauty and the Beast is available in Australian cinemas from March 23

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Movie Review – Gold

The man behind the McConaissance makes his most monstrous transformation yet – but is it enough to make Gold glimmer?

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

In the 1980s, down-on-his-luck businessman Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) throws the last of his money into a partnership with geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) to dig for gold in the uncharted jungles of Borneo. The jungle is indeed a goldmine, and Kenny soon finds himself skyrocketing to the top; envisioning a big future for himself and his girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard). Being at the top isn’t as golden as it seems though; as years pass and the empire grows, a whole manner of complications threaten to send everything unravelling.

Gold left me wondering; have we reached the end of the McConaissance? The once unbearable king of crappy rom-coms turned Oscar winner and Hollywood’s most exciting character actor appears to, quite disappointingly, be on his way to putting out the fire he ignited across the screen just a few short years ago. The dreadfully dull The Sea of Trees was the first stumble, followed by the similarly plodding Free State of Jones, and if Stephen Gaghan’s Gold isn’t quite strike three, it does come awfully close to toppling over the actor’s dramatic career.

There is of course a strong argument to be made against this; McConaughey still happens to be the best part of each of these films. And Gold sees him back in fully transformative, awards baiting action. Physically, businessman Kenny Wells is McConaughey at his most unattractive yet – the mere sight of the formerly hunky dude sporting a giant gut, balding mullet, protruding crooked teeth, and sweating while he knocks back glasses of whiskey and chainsmokes is a shock, worthy of something in between a laugh, gasp and awe. His commitment to the role is remarkable, but Kenny’s characterisation by writers Patrick Massett and John Zinman is a little questionable.

The pair don’t seem quite sure how exactly to paint Kenny, so the ugly exterior of the man often ends up contradicting the man himself. Kenny does have his ugly moments; drunkenly fighting with Kay, putting riches before her needs and getting into shouting matches with the people who try to buy him out. But he isn’t a man entirely consumed by greed; he flicks inconsistently and erratically between doing anything for a glittering nugget to making sacrifices for his girlfriend and their future, and never involves himself in the dirty scams happening right under his nose. Kenny’s mismatched nature could be due to the amount of alcohol clouding his vision, but he just isn’t a compelling a protagonist (or anti-hero?).

In fact, the film itself is so obviously trying to imitate the success of films like The Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle and The Big Short; borrowing so heavily from each that it rarely manages to do its own thing. It’s a shame too to have Stephen Gaghan – the man who once gave us eye-opening films like Traffic and Syriana – return to directing after more than a decade and deliver something far too dramatized and too loosely based on real-life CEO David Walsh’s exploits. It all feels like an Oscar bid, but ironically, it lacks that golden polish.

Though it has all been done better before, McConaughey saves Gold from bereavement and does make it somewhat entertaining, even with the story fighting him at every turn. Let’s just hope he starts choosing his scripts a little better.

Gold is available in Australian cinemas from February 2

Image courtesy of Studiocanal 

Movie Review – Patriots Day

How soon is too soon? That’s the question that will be continually swirling around your head as you watch Patriots Day.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Patriots Day casts Marky Mark as a fictitious average Joe named Tommy Saunders – a disgraced cop who rises to the occasion when tragedy strikes during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. The film then follows the events as they unfolded in real-life, depicting the citywide manhunt and media storm surrounding the attack.

Patriots Day is the kind of movie where every character swigs Budweiser, plays Call of Duty and barracks for the Red Sox. Each scene is coated with the same thick, sticky layer of saccharine Americana that we’ve come to expect from the likes of director Peter Berg.

Granted, there is a really touching epilogue that attempts to recalibrate the film as a more sensitive docudrama – complete with talking heads from survivors and witnesses – which sends the film out on a high. The message of joining arms and running into danger to help others is really sweet too, but it feels very conflicted with the chest-thumping, flag-waving film that Berg also feels compelled to tell.

If it wasn’t already evident, I’m very torn on what to think of Patriots Day. On the one hand, it’s a heartfelt tribute to the victims and the city of Boston as a whole. Berg, Wahlberg and all involved seem eager to ‘get it right’, so to speak. The filmmaking, editing and cinematography all range from good to genuinely great, and the bombing itself is a visceral scene that plants you in the moment and shakes you to the core. We see it through the eyes of those who were there, making the film a surreal, emotional and sometimes haunting experience.

On the other hand, it’s a fantasy yarn that turns actual, recent tragedy and suffering into glossy, misty-eyed myths. It’s the kind of film that I can imagine Donald Trump sitting down to watch right before signing another round of executive orders banning anyone vaguely foreign from setting foot in ‘the real America’. Maybe that’s unfair; maybe I’m letting politics get in the way of something that is purely for entertainment value.

At the end of the day, nothing can take away from the fact that Wahlberg has now put in two genuinely great performances in the last six months. Unburdened by politics, Deepwater Horizon definitely did it better – Patriots Day is a bit more complicated.

The rest of the cast – JK Simmons, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon and Michelle Monaghan – do what they can with what their given while Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor serve up another memorable score. Sorry Patriots Day; I know your heart is in the right place, but I think we’re all a little burned out on hearing about great America is right now.

Patriots Day is available in Australian cinemas from February 2

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 

Does winning an Oscar actually matter?

Winning an Oscar is great and all, but is it really all that it’s cracked up to be?

 Rhys Graeme-Drury 

The annual awards circus is upon us once again. Numerous red carpets are being rolled out to receive reams of bedazzled famous faces, all of whom are hoping to drive home with a gilded statuette resting on their laps.

We place a lot of value on those who have walked away a winner on Oscar night – just ask Leonardo DiCaprio. For years the Internet yearned for Leo to finally nab one – and then he did in 2016 so we all collectively rejoiced and laid the dank memes to rest.

Apparently, an actor or filmmaker can’t claim to have truly arrived until they score an Oscar statue of some kind. Right? Eh, not exactly.

Even though it’s all very exciting and generates a lot of gossip, the Oscars aren’t actually good for all that much (and this is coming from someone who gets invested every year and is genuinely still upset that Eddie Redmayne beat Michael Keaton back in 2015).

Across its history, the Academy Awards have made a habit of routinely shunning some of the best and brightest talents and minds of the era – which sort of defeats the purpose of rewarding those who produce the best films, surely?

Filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick, Brian De Palma and Alfred Hitchcock have famously never won anything for their directorial efforts, with the latter losing out in the Best Director category on five separate occasions. Kubrick’s entire catalogue only took home a single Oscar win; 2001: A Space Odyssey won Best Visual Effects in 1969. For those of you playing along at home, that’s the same number of Oscars as Tim Burton’s 2010 remake of Alice in Wonderland and Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour. So it’s not like the Academy is a great barometer of quality and lasting legacy, huh?

The same could be said for actors; Bill Murray has never won an Oscar, but do we view his filmography with any less reverence? The same can be said for umpteen actors and actresses from across the decades. For many people, Harrison Ford is the literal embodiment of sharp and sophisticated Hollywood stars. He is Han Solo, Indiana Jones and Jack Ryan in the flesh – we don’t need the Academy to tell us Ford is a living legend, he has crafted that legacy without their adulation.

The same goes for Gary Oldman, Edward Norton or Joaquin Phoenix; they’re back catalogues speak for themselves. Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Annette Benning and Sigourney Weaver have all been denied Hollywood’s highest honour – but that hasn’t hindered their standing as some of the most talented actresses to grace our screens.

Some may think that winning an Oscar is also guaranteed to usher in a string of professional riches for the lucky winners, but too often that isn’t the case. Hunger Games sensation Jennifer Lawrence has racked up a surprising number of nominations (four) and one win at the tender age of 26 but it wasn’t until recently with Passengers that she was given a bigger slice of the pie than her male co-stars, financially speaking.

You only have to glance at the list of the highest paid actors across the industry today to see that those raking in the most cash aren’t necessarily those who took home the most awards. Robert Downey Jnr routinely makes in excess of $50 million for each Avengers performance whilst Johnny Depp is still throwing on funny hats and making bank despite never winning an Oscar. Meanwhile I don’t see Disney or Marvel throwing $10 million at Mark Rylance or JK Simmons, the two most recent winners in the Best Supporting Actors category.

Essentially, what I’m trying to say is, it doesn’t matter whether La La Land scored four, fourteen or zero nominations; what matters is how it is making audiences feel. The same goes for Moonlight or Manchester by the Sea or any of the other films nominated this year.  After the cameras inside the Dolby Theatre have gone out on February 26 and all the very famous people have gone home, regardless of who won or not, these films will continue to captivate and enthral audiences long afterward.

Films like Sing Street, The Witch, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Midnight Special all characterised my cinema experiences in 2016 but didn’t get a look in at the Oscars. Should I feel any less moved by their characters or narratives because they can’t claim to have been ‘Oscar nominated?’ No, of course not. Films mean so much more than just handing out trophies and racking up stats; we can leave that sort of thing to sports thank you very much.

Rather than taking a snub personally, just brush it off with a shrug. So what Amy Adams didn’t get nominated for Arrival? That doesn’t change how moving and powerful her performance was. Who cares that Sing Street didn’t get any love for Best Original Song? It doesn’t mean I don’t still love that soundtrack to pieces.

Don’t get me wrong; awards season is a lot of fun. But it’s also a lot of meaningless and banal bullshit that ultimately shouldn’t change how we view art or place value on what something made us think or feel.

Enjoy the Oscars, lap up the glamour and laugh at all the gaffes – but don’t forget that there is a whole myriad of wonderful films out there whose enduring qualities don’t change regardless of who wins or loses on the night.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 

Top 5 Australian Films of 2016

Corey Hogan

If you’re still one of those people who writes off Australian film out of “cultural cringe” or fear that you’d simply be paying for big screen versions of Packed to the Rafters, then boy, are you missing out. Every year our local industry is increasing its repertoire with better and better releases; lately, much of it is even surpassing cinema from the rest of the world. Why bother with the disappointment of countless Hollywood sequels, remakes and reboots when there’s so much original content being made in our own backyard?

That said, what better way to celebrate Australia Day than to check out some of 2016’s best Aussie films? Last year was a colossal showcase for the great things our filmmakers are capable of, and if we keep releasing such excellent films it won’t be long until the industry is a force to be reckoned with across the globe.

5. Girl Asleep

08 August - Girl Asleep
Australia’s own Wes Anderson emerged last year in the form of writer/director team Matthew Whittet and Rosemary Myers, though the pair somehow managed to out-eccentric even Anderson with their bizarre coming-of-age oddity Girl Asleep. It’s basically Moonrise Kingdom on meth. Like a feature-length Tame Impala music video, every single shot is a dreamy, perfectly framed visual marvel that proves more than ever that our home-grown technical prowess can easily rival international counterparts, even on a micro-budget. The characters may be stereotypes, but they’re perfectly cast, especially young Bethany Whitmore, making a breakthrough as the titular girl. It’s awfully quirky, almost overbearingly so, but for anyone who can deal with this it’s a short and sweet sensory delight, and likely a new favourite for the alternative crowd.

Read more

4. Red Dog: True Blue

red-dog-true-blue
Red Dog is probably one of the last films you’d expect to get a follow-up – with its titular pooch tragically biting the dust at the end, where else is there left to go? Director Kriv Stenders’ answer is backwards – to the days when Red was just a pup named Blue, up to all sorts of mischief with his young owner (Levi Miller). Unlike most prequels, True Blue actually feels worthwhile, cleverly narrowing its focus to a single setting and just a couple of characters. It’s great fun, highly entertaining and once again ultimately heart wrenching, but in an uplifting way; one for dog lovers everywhere.

Read more

3. The Daughter

03 March - The Daughter
The quarrelling family drama is a long-time staple of Australian cinema, and in some ways Simon Stone’s debut does channel classics like Lantana and Jindabyne. But the sheer operatic volume of strife, contorting twists and juicy secrets breathe a new life into the genre, and make The Daughter a familial storm for the ages. Stone rewards patience, with a brooding unease hanging overhead throughout the film’s slow build as a man (Paul Schnieder) returns to his rural Australian home to witness his father (Geoffrey Rush) remarry to a younger woman, culminating in explosive showdowns and a bleak finale as he unearths some deep, dark secrets. The cast is to die for too, also including Sam Neill, Miranda Otto and breakout star Odessa Young.

Read more

2. Down Under

08 August - Down Under review
Divisive is certainly one way to put Abe Forsythe’s pitch-black comedy Down Under. To some critics and audiences, it was making light of a taboo event (the 2005 Cronulla riots), and many found it difficult to follow an ensemble of such violent, hate-filled characters fuelled by xenophobic impulses. But they missed the point – Forsythe wants us to step back and deduce these characters and their actions, and deconstruct the abhorrent beliefs that are stilled ingrained in Australian culture; boldly, he shows that both sides of the coin are both equally capable of brutality. On top of its strong messages, it’s suspenseful, shocking and incredibly compelling – and it’s bloody funny. A biting and timely satire.

Read more

1. Goldstone

07 July - Goldstone
Indigenous writer/director/editor/composer/cinematographer Ivan Sen must be some kind of filmmaking miracle worker. Pulling off all of the above simultaneously on his sequel to Mystery Road, Goldstone is a rip-roaring blend of neo-Western, mystery thriller and balls-out action, all under the guise of an art film. Australia has a new icon in the form of Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pederson), whose investigation of a missing woman in a desolate town far removed from reality stirs up massive repercussions. David Wenham and Jacki Weaver have an absolute ball as the sinister inhabitants of Goldstone, as does Alex Russell as Pederson’s buddy cop. Darkly comical, beautifully shot, and packing more punch than most major Hollywood releases of last year, it’s a true crime that Sen was so largely ignored at the last AACTAs – but then again, how often do awards shows really get it right?

Read more


Images courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment/Kojo Group, Roadshow Films, StudioCanal and Transmission Films