Movie Review – A Simple Favour

Might not be Oscar material, but it is bloody good fun.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

In A Simple Favour, Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) makes friends with glamorous fellow mum Emily (Blake Lively) at her son’s school. When Emily goes missing, Stephanie becomes determined to find out what happened to her. By utilising her network of followers on her vlog, Stephanie ends up uncovering more than she ever expected…

Director Paul Feig – known for female-led comedies such as Bridesmaids, The Heat and the all-female Ghostbusters remake – makes a departure from overly crude humour to deliver an unexpected new offering. A Simple Favour is a dark thriller with an air of sophistication to it, and this change in direction for Feig is both strategic and welcome.

Lively plays Emily with the feel of an unpolished diamond. She is the epitome of the working mum many aspire to be – elegant, trendy and unapologetic – and Lively seems very comfortable playing the character with a bit of fire. Unlike many of her previous roles that have tended to be a bit sappy and emotionally wearing, her turn as Emily is fierce and daring, and the type of character I hope Lively continues to play.

Kendrick plays Stephanie as, well… Anna Kendrick. But it actually suits this role. Her natural hyperactivity doesn’t become tiresome given her self-awareness and ability to poke fun at herself. Stephanie is the ying to Emily’s yang as a stay-at-home mum whose penchant for cooking and crafts makes her the butt of the other parent’s jokes.

Whilst the film is a thriller, it is filled with moments of dark humour and gutsy punchlines that are both shocking and hilarious at the same time. It’s a nice touch and separates A Simple Favour from the onslaught of thriller novels-turned-films that have graced our screens in recent years, from Gone Girl, to The Girl on a Train and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

A Simple Favour does have its down sides, however. Parts of the story are rushed and there are a few questions that are left unanswered but given the strong character development I was more forgiving of these flaws. The strength of A Simple Favour lies in its ability to portray two contrasting portrayals of what it means to be a mother in today’s day and age. It’s an unexpected delight and I would encourage all to see it.

A Simple Favour is available in Australian cinemas from September 13

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – In The Fade

Given its contemporary relevance, outstanding lead performance and gripping story, it’s damn near criminal that In the Fade was snubbed for a nomination for Best Foreign Feature at this year’s Oscars.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Katja Sekerci’s (Diane Kruger) happy and comfortable family life is torn to shreds when her husband Nuri (Numan Acar) and five-year-old son are killed in a bomb attack on his workplace. Police investigate the possibility of the attack being linked to Nuri’s past drug dealing, but Katja is convinced this is the work of neo-Nazis.

With a title drawn from a song by heavy rock band Queens of the Stone Age (and a score composed by the band’s lead singer, Josh Homme), you can probably already guess the anarchist tone In the Fade sets into. It’s brutal stuff, happening to the kind of people who live on the fringes of society and find comfort in family that exists parallel to drugs, violence and murder. Or at least the family we focus on was once like that, as we see from a prologue in which Katja and Nuri have a joyous wedding ceremony inside a prison while he is incarcerated. There’s no doubting Katja’s unconditional love for her drug-pushing husband.

Picking up six years down the track, they’ve mostly left this life behind for a normal, straight-laced and wholesome family life to give their rosy-cheeked son the best life imaginable. But this hardened criminal exterior and interior still lingers, and comes back in full force in Katja when her son and husband are blown to smithereens. Diane Kruger’s performance after this catastrophic event becomes the bleeding heart and soul of the story; it’s a powerful tour-de-force that shows the realistic evolution of world-shattering grief slowly building to uncontrollable rage and eventually burning vengeance and retaliation.

The second, and most gripping act, is the court case in which Katja fights determinedly with her lawyer Danilo (Denis Moschitto, also excellent) to bring the neo-Nazi couple accused of orchestrating the killing to justice. Courtroom drama aficionados will be euphoric here – it’s an amazingly captivating case with edge-of-your-seat uncertainty of its outcome. Without spoiling too much, the third act is Katja’s own form of justice, and it’s startlingly intense.

In an age where Nazism has seeped back into the cultural eye and violent attacks are still terrifyingly commonplace, In the Fade can’t help but bleed relevance. Intriguingly, it’s Germany holding a mirror to its own product for once, and while the sum of its parts doesn’t quite match Diane Kruger’s sheer commitment, this is a wildly provocative ride.

 In The Fade is available in Australian cinemas from March 8

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment

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

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 

Movie Review – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri offers a strong start to 2018, combining wit and sensitivity in a gritty story about one woman’s mission to find her daughter’s killer.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

What would you do if seven months have passed since your daughter was raped and murdered, but the police have all but given up on finding the culprit? You rent three billboards and put up inciting messages, of course.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an explosive first offering to 2018 about one mother’s determination to bring justice to her daughter’s killer. Frances McDormand completely owns this film as the no-nonsense mother Mildred Hayes, who begins to act recklessly in order to remind the town that her daughter’s case is still unsolved. McDormand’s talent lies not only in her ability to deliver her foul-mouthed, dry-witted tirades, but also in her ability to portray a complicated woman who has deep regrets, and for the first time is at a loss as to how to fix her situation. Her acknowledgement that she and her family aren’t invincible is the most tragic, and her use of wit to mask her awful situation reminds us that often not everything is as it seems on the surface.

Woody Harrelson plays Police Chief Bill Willoughby, who Mildred personally calls out in her billboards, and despite being embarrassed by her accusations, Sheriff Willoughby is sympathetic and humbled, perhaps because he understands what’s it like to realise your own morality. But its Sam Rockwell’s performance as the deeply disturbed Deputy Dixon that stays with you. In these tumultuous times in America, where the people who are supposed to be protecting the public are instead being put under a microscope for being inherently racist and trigger-happy, Deputy Dixon is the embodiment of this current societal issue. He’s a drunk racist, blinded by his own authority and his belief that his actions don’t have consequences.

The only let down of this film is that it could afford to be half an hour shorter. There are moments when it takes unnecessary pauses, maybe to provide a moment of reflection, which completely slows down the pace of the film. The struggle to then get it back on track takes up time that could have been used to hone the film’s overall impact instead.

Surrounded by such a strong cast, Abbie Cornish seems out of place as Sheriff Willoughby’s wife. She looks too young to be married to Woody Harrelson and be the mother of two pre-teen daughters. Her accent is also a sore point, often flickering between the Missouri drawl and her natural Australian tone.

Director and writer Martin McDonagh has delivered a deeply human telling of the parent-revenge story that’s relatable and grounded. Unlike the absurdity of recent parent-revenge films such as the Taken franchise or The Foreigner, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri wrenches at the soul as the story unfolds slowly and painfully. Each character is horrifically flawed, which makes them somewhat refreshing and extremely vulnerable. Ultimately, the film asks what would you do if you were in Mildred’s position, and how far would you go to make people listen to you?

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is available in Australian cinemas from January 4 

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox 

Movie Review – Wonder Wheel

Another year, another Woody Allen film…

 

⭐ ⭐ ½
Josip Knezevic

Much like veteran actor Robert De Niro, Woody Allen can’t stop rolling out one film after the other, and boy is it getting ever stale. It’s been far too long since anything remotely worthwhile came from either one of these Hollywood giants, and both seem destined to repeat their same mistakes, without ever learning from them.

Allen’s latest effort does nothing more than cling to his fading legacy, trotting out his quintessential tics and techniques, without bringing anything new to the table. Set in the 1950s, Wonder Wheel follows failed actress and wife of Coney Island carousel operator Ginny (Kate Winslet) who has an affair with a handsome, young lifeguard (Justin Timberlake). Their romance blossoms at first, but is soon complicated when Ginny’s husband (Jim Belushi) is visited by his estranged daughter who also sets her sights on Mickey.

Whether it be Vicky Cristina Barcelona or Café Society, Allen has developed a bit of an obsession for love triangles in recent times. Treading over well-worn territory, Wonder Wheel quickly becomes predictable and lacks the fire we saw in the likes of VCB.

The only upside here is the faithful recreation of the 1950s Coney Island setting, with its vibrant display of colours and classic costumes. The attention to detail is to be commended, especially during the beach scenes filled with countless extras.

Meanwhile, Winslet and Belushi deliver solid performances, making the most of what they’ve been given for their respective roles. Although Timberlake is suitable for the strapping, young man type, he isn’t given any form of character arc to work with.

Overall, Wonder Wheel is less of a wondrous spectacle and more of a tiresome affair. Allen needs to ditch the love triangles and either get back to exploring new and interesting concepts (Midnight in Paris) or dive back into complex character studies (Blue Jasmine).

Wonder Wheel is available in Australian cinemas from December 7 

Image courtesy of EntertainmentOne 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

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 

Movie Review – Lion

Where in the world is Saroo’s family? It seems like an insane miracle, but the true story of how an Indian boy found his long-lost family using Google Earth is extraordinary stuff.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan 

Five-year-old Indian boy Saroo (Sunny Pawar) follows his older brother Guddu to work one day, determined to help out his poor family in any way that he can. While awaiting Guddu’s return, Saroo accidentally winds up on a decommissioned train that strands him in Calcutta, 1500 miles from his home. Saroo spends several months trying to survive on the streets, until he is sent to an orphanage and eventually adopted by a Tasmanian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). 20 or so years later, an adult Saroo (Dev Patel) lives a happy life with his adoptive parents and attends a Melbourne university with his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara); but there he learns of Google Earth, a tool that could finally help him put to rest the memories that haunt him and locate his long-lost family.

Garth Davis’ (Top of the Lake) big-screen debut Lion isn’t the most substance-heavy contender this awards season. In fact, a film about anyone clicking around a map on their computer screen in a seemingly futile attempt to find their place of birth doesn’t sound all that compelling on paper. Lion’s beauty is in its simplicity though, and smartly, Davis’ sharp centre of focus is on one universally spoken language – emotion, and human connection. The primal need to belong runs through it like a current of raw empathy, while the younger Saroo gives it its heart and the older Saroo its soul.

The first half of the film, set in India, is utterly fascinating, thanks mainly to the casting of young Sunny Pawar. There’s a natural whimsy in his big, expressive eyes; the perfect balance of fear and curiosity as he’s whisked away to lands far from anything he’s familiar with. Since his only spoken language is Hindi, Davis apparently had to develop a kind of sign language to communicate with the young actor.

Davis doesn’t stave away from the harsh reality of the situation Saroo finds himself in; forced to scrounge in the trash for food and sleep on cardboard in filthy subways. And yet, his vision of India is never not without an enchanted quality. A kind of romanticism is captured in Grieg Fraser’s sparkling cinematography, making it truly believable that Saroo would hunger to return here later in his life.

The second half, twenty years on from Saroo’s adoption and new life in Hobart, does admittedly falter compared to such an intriguing setup. Though Davis and his team have done their best to split up Saroo’s Google Earth-hopping and inject as much dramatic weight to it as possible, there’s no denying the loss of pacing. That’s not to say Lion isn’t still gripping, though. A scruffy-haired Dev Patel is the best he’s been since Slumdog Millionaire, with a spot-on Aussie accent and a complex blend of desperation to tie up the loose ends that have lasted a lifetime, and fear of seeming ungrateful to his adoptive parents. Any of his scenes shared with his loved ones (especially Nicole Kidman, back on truly fine form) are top grade. The ending, though manipulative, is heartfelt, uplifting and well-earned.

What could have been a cynical ploy for Google Earth is instead a tender, investing experience; one that will find big things for everyone involved.

Lion is available in Australian cinemas from January 19th 

Image courtesy of Transmission Films

The 74th Golden Globes Awards

Cherie Wheeler 

Ah, the Golden Globes: always the bridesmaid, but never the bride. It’s the awards show that consistently impresses with its spectacular musical numbers and self-aware comedy – just take a gander at this year’s epic parody of La La Landbut sadly, no amount of glitz or glamour has ever been adequate for it to step out of the shadow of the Academy Awards…

And why is that? After 74 years, the Globes are still considered to be a peg below the Oscars when it comes to prestige. In the past, you probably could’ve put this down to its dual recognition of film and television, but the line between these two has never been more blurred.

Cinema no longer rests upon a high pedestal from which it can stare down its nose at the small screen. Sure, the rise of online streaming has played a major part in this, but the content quality gap began to close long before the existence of Netflix. Over the years we’ve seen an ever-increasing number of shows employ higher calibre writing and directing than the average film. Actors are no longer branded by one platform or the other – often flitting between long and short form projects.

Just take a look at this year’s nominees for Best Drama Series: Game of Thrones, Stranger Things and category winner The Crown all possess a strong audience following and a high production value that can compete with almost any film equivalent. But having said that, how can you possibly compare the greatness of Stranger Things to that of Moonlight (Winner: Best Motion Picture – Drama), for example? It’s an utterly ridiculous proposition. These are two entirely different beasts. So is this where the Globes lose credibility – in trying to cast an even spotlight on such vastly different productions?

For instance, how is it possible that the harrowing portrayal of a rape survivor (Isabelle Huppert, Elle. Winner: Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama) can be considered worthy of equal praise to a nostalgia-addled waitress with questionable singing and dancing skills (Emma Stone, La La Land. Winner: Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy)?

I’m not completely dismissing the concept of splitting the awards categories according to genre, because it does have some merit. When Marisa Tomei took home the 1993 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in My Cousin Vinny, it was believed to be a mistake, but who’s to say a comedic performance requires any less skill than a dramatic one? That’s not the issue at hand. It’s the fact that we generally see a far greater number of outstanding films within the realm of drama than that of comedies or musicals.

But one week after this year’s Globes, is anyone discussing this imbalance? Not at all. What everyone remembers from that night is Meryl Streep and that sobering, emotional gut-punch of a speech. And isn’t what she had to say far more significant than who wore what or who got what trophy?

At the end of the day, that’s what the best films manage to do: cut through all the superficial bullshit to drive home a powerful message. So perhaps perception is wrong. Maybe the Globes have actually transcended the Oscars without us even realising.

Last year the Academy Awards had the world squabbling over the lack of diversity in Hollywood. With films like Moonlight, Fences and Hidden Figures collecting Golden Globe nominations, we’ve barely heard a peep on the subject this year, and no one seems to care that there were next to no Asian or Hispanic faces in the running for awards.

While the 2016 Oscars took the spotlight off its nominees and became shrouded in a dark cloud of negativity, the 2017 Globes have taken us above and beyond the film industry to acknowledge something of far greater importance than movie magic. All that’s left to do is wait and see what this year’s Academy Awards have to offer.

Full List of Winners

Best Supporting Actor
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Nocturnal Animals

Best Original Score
La La Land

Best Original Song, Motion Picture
“City of Stars,” La La Land

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis, Fences

Best Actor, Musical or Comedy
Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Best Screenplay
Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Best Animated Film
Zootopia

Best Foreign-Language Film
Elle

Best Director
Damian Chazelle, La La Land

Best Actress, Musical or Comedy
Emma Stone, La La Land

Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
La La Land

Best Actor, Drama
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea 

Best Actress, Drama
Isabelle Huppert, Elle

 

Best Picture, Drama
Moonlight

Best Actor, Television Drama
Billie Bob Thornton, Goliath

Best Actress, Television Series Comedy or Musical
Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish

Best Television Series Comedy or Musical
Atlanta

Best Performance by an Actress In A Mini-series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Sarah Paulson, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story

Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Hugh Laurie, The Night Manager

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Olivia Colman, The Night Manager

Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Tom Hiddleston, The Night Manager

Best Actress, Television Drama
Claire Foy, The Crown

Best Television Drama
The Crown, Netflix

Best Actor, Television Series Comedy or Musical
Donald Glover, Atlanta

Image courtesy of eOne Films