Films About Race That Don’t Involve Slavery

Corey Hogan

It’s been over a year now since the Academy Awards copped flak for apparently ignoring black films and filmmakers. But truth be told, most films tackling race that earn the Academy’s attention all involve slavery (12 Years a Slave, Django Unchained, Lincoln etc.) – which almost feels like a self-congratulating, forced apology for the same issue over and over. When thinking of films involving racism and racial issues, the slavery-based are often the first to come to mind, but there are many excellent pieces of cinema that cover a massive range of other race concerns, both current and historical. We’ve been treated to several this year alone with great range to them – uplifting (Hidden Figures), modest (Loving) and creative (Get Out). There’s so many great films out there that tackle race in different ways –  here’s just a few of them!

Do the Right Thing (1989)

05 May - Race Do The Right Thing
Just about all of Spike Lee’s films centre around racial issues in some shape or form, but none made as big of a splash as his breakthrough Do the Right Thing, a film that pulls absolutely zero stops in picking apart racial profiling. Set in a massively diverse Brooklyn neighbourhood, racial tension is slowly building between the African-American and Italian-American members, with Chinese families, white cops and a mentally disabled man dragged into the brewing storm. Young black man Mookie (Spike Lee) works at the Italian Sal’s (Danny Aiello) pizza shop. Things are civil until one of Mookie’s friends demands a black celebrity be included on Sal’s all-white Wall of Fame. Sal refuses, causing an outrage in the community that explodes in violence on the hottest day of the summer.

Lee opens a dialogue about whether or not violence is truly the right response to injustices – particularly those started by violence themselves – and invites the audience to decide what exactly “doing the right thing” is. He’s unafraid to show just how racist anyone can be either, no matter their own skin colour. The montage in which each race brutally impersonates the other is gold.

Racist stereotypes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLYTObRhcSY


American History X (1998)

05 May - Race American X

Edward Norton has probably never been better than his ferocious portrayal of a skinhead coming to his senses in Tony Kaye’s shockingly unflinching American History X. Teenager Danny Vinyard (Edward Furlong) writes a paper for his history class on his older brother Derek (Norton), a former Neo-Nazi and white supremacist gang leader who, after a three-year prison sentence for brutally murdering two black men, realises the error of his ways. Once released, he becomes determined to prevent Danny from following in his footsteps.

Kaye’s success is in his refusal to be preachy. He lays out the raw hatred of the skinhead in all its gory glory, while also boldly humanising them. Effectively switching from black and white in Derek’s homicidal days to colour in his reformed state, Kaye suggests the importance of learning from the actions and consequences of leading a hate-filled life, and that redemption is always an option within grasping range.

Derek gets violent: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOzR5Jnd6bU


Mississippi Burning (1988)

05 May - Race Mississippi Burning
The most significant cultural leap in racial equality since the abolition of slavery was the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s; a massive operation to end segregation and create legal security for black people across America. Mississippi Burning explores the backlash and protest this movement faced, and how the mindset of many can remain unchanged as society progresses around them. When three civil rights activists go missing in Jessup County, Mississippi, two FBI agents (Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe) are sent in to investigate, but find themselves very unwelcome as the town residents, police and the Ku Klux Klan retaliate.

The post-slavery geographical divide remaining through America is evident, though director Alan Parker finds a moral conscience in the few honest and unprejudiced townspeople, black and white, who suffer horrific fates for speaking out. The complications, grief and torment faced by everyone involved in the movement on either side of the coin are streamlined to give an idea of what was faced by people of all perspectives throughout the era.

The burning cross: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbXTl0WX4RE


District 9 (2009)

05 May - Race District 9
No, seriously. While it might feature illegal aliens in the most literal sense, Neill Blomkamp’s ingenious metaphor for the apartheid – South Africa’s institutionalised racial segregation system throughout the latter half of the 20th century – couldn’t be more authentic. An extra-terrestrial race that appeared over Johannesburg a few decades ago is now confined to a refugee camp, and forcibly evicted and relocated by a military company hired by the government. Wikus (Sharlto Copley), a bureaucrat, is exposed to technology designed to return the species to their home planet, causing war between the emigrants and government.

Though the latter half evolves into traditional science-fiction, much of the set up cleverly analyses real racial concerns through this alien species. They’re treated inhumanely, forced to live in barely-sustainable conditions, given a derogatory eponym (“prawns”), and meet remorselessly violent ends if not cooperating with their regime. It’s a thrilling take on what human refugees undertook in South Africa’s toughest times.

Prawns get evicted: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXHzOkAY9qo


Get Out image (c) 2017 Universal Pictures
Additional i
mages courtesy of United International Pictures, Roadshow Films, Village Roadshow Corporation & Sony Pictures 

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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 – Collateral Beauty

Not since Christmas with the Kranks has a holiday movie felt so vapid.


Zachary Cruz-Tan

Collateral Beauty is such a tortured soul. It’s a movie that desperately tries to mean well, despite having the most pea-brained premise I’ve ever come across. It’s a story for the holidays that’s so fundamentally flawed it ceases to be touching and accidentally stumbles into the realm of absurdist comedy, while Will Smith, Kate Winslet, Edward Norton and the rest of the cast cling on to professionalism with witless smiles.

But I say dump professionalism and fire your agent, because no actor should have to grin through a film like this. It’s convenient for convenience’s sake, then becomes something else entirely, maybe spiritual, or supernatural. I can’t tell which because no one in the film seems to have any clue what’s going on. And for all its sentimentality, it’s surprisingly mean-spirited and dreary, with a group therapist, played by Naomie Harris, offering such advice as “You lost a child. Your mind will never be fixed”.

The one who needs fixing is Howard Inlet (Smith), an advertising executive whose daughter succumbs to a rare illness. No one knows what happened to his wife and now he spends his days reclusive and mentally vacant, writing angry letters to Death, Time and Love, cycling around the city while his three partners (Winslet, Norton and Michael Peña) scramble to keep their foundering company afloat. Desperate to sell, the partners hatch a fiendishly stupid plot to discredit Howard by hiring three actors to play physical incarnations of Death (Helen Mirren), Time (Jacob Latimore) and Love (Keira Knightley), convincing him of his insanity. But that’s not enough. They call in a private investigator to record Howard’s outbursts and digitally remove the actors so that Howard will appear to be arguing with himself, not realising it’s almost impossible to erase something from a video without Chroma keying a green screen.

Will Smith is undeservedly brilliant as Howard, while the rest of the cast is either underused or underplayed. We see their lips moving and their eyes shifting about, but even the great Kate Winslet turns up with nothing more than a flicker behind her seasoned face. I don’t blame her, though – with material this cheesy, I’m amazed she turns up at all.

This is an unintentionally hilarious movie about serious issues, with a closing scene that’s nothing short of infuriating. What are the odds on the ridiculous twist involving Howard and his conveniently available group therapist? There’s convenient and then there’s just plain dumb. Collateral Beauty has an a-list cast and a big heart, but, man, is it dumb.

Collateral Beauty is available in Australian cinemas from January 12th 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

 

Oscar Nominees & Predictions 2015

By Cherie Wheeler

The Academy sure doesn’t waste any time; mere days after the conclusion of the Golden Globes ceremony, the nominees for the 2015 Oscars were announced. Most of the nominations mimic the selections for the Globes fairly closely, with only the occasional addition or substitution. Here’s a rundown of the major movers and shakers, as well as my predictions for how each of the Best Picture nominees will fare (scroll to the end).

No surprises; as expected, Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game dominate almost every category.

The switch up; Foxcatcher was a notable snub for Best Picture, despite receiving the equivalent nomination at the Golden Globes. Its absence makes way for Clint Eastwood’s modern war tale American Sniper. As the Globes split the most outstanding films of the year into two categories according to genre, less deserving productions, such as Into The Woods, were able to sneak in, and gain a nomination. The Oscars, on the other hand, are not forced to privilege comedies and musicals over higher calibre films, therefore the critically acclaimed Whiplash is now in the running to win Best Picture.

A preference for psychopaths; the lovely Amy Adams may have taken home Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes, but the Academy has shown no such love for her portrayal of artist Margaret Keane in Big Eyes. Instead, it has recognised Rosamund Pike for her performance in Gone Girl.

Heroes before weirdos; the Globes were prepared to stand up and acknowledge Jake Gyllenhaal for his performance as an eccentric video journalist in Nightcrawler, but he has been completely overlooked by the Academy. In his place for Best Actor is Bradley Cooper for his role in American Sniper as true life Navy SEAL Chris Kyle.

Under appreciated; there was a lot of fuss when Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken failed to rustle up a single Golden Globe nomination, and whilst it has once again missed out in the major categories, the Academy has given the film a few nods of approval in terms of its cinematography and sound design.

 

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Movie Review – Birdman

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This Golden Globe winner soars far beyond your typical cape-and-tights superhero movie with Michael Keaton spreading his wings in what could be the comeback of the century.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Review by Corey Hogan

“The whole film and mythology of the character is a complete duel of the freaks,” claimed Tim Burton while discussing the theme of his 1989 classic Batman. “It’s a fight between two disturbed people.”

Twenty-five years on, the star of that film brings new meaning to this in his highly self-aware (and now Golden Globe-winning) turn in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s brilliant black comedy Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Michael Keaton is Riggan Thomson, a washed up Hollywood actor most famous for his former role as superhero Birdman, and now struggling to reinvent himself by writing, directing and starring in an adapted play on Broadway. This proves difficult on the days leading up to opening night as he deals with the casting of an excellent but wildly unpredictable method actor (Edward Norton), his recovering addict daughter and assistant (Emma Stone) and many more complications from perhaps the year’s finest ensemble cast (also includes Zach Galifinakis, Andrea Riseborough, Naomi Watts and Amy Ryan). Adding to this is Thomson’s own deteriorating mental state as the voice of Birdman continues to torment him…

Birdman is a rare delight of a film that works on every level. Multilayered and incredibly complex beneath its darkly humorous surface, it represents a departure from the gloomy tone of Iñárritu’s previous films (21 Grams, Biutiful) but maintains their brooding character ramifications to inject new life into the worn out meta subgenre. From Thomson’s career mirroring Keaton’s own choices in his time as Batman, to his alter-ego’s booming voice not unlike the Dark Knight himself, the film is wrapped in a deliciously self-aware super-suit.

Michael Keaton is a complete revelation as Riggan Thomson/Birdman. Last seen confined to background roles in last year’s dreadful Robocop and Need for Speed, Keaton is welcomed warmly back to his first lead role in more than six years; a comeback that bears another parallel to Riggan’s struggle to match his former glory. Unlike Keaton however, Riggan is a deeply disturbed individual; the voice of Birdman forever ridiculing his attempts at maintaining artistic integrity and encouraging him to instead sell out and become Birdman once more.

Also threatening his mental state is the fact that the production is falling apart around him, largely thanks to an almost equally excellent Edward Norton sending up his own “difficult to work with” reputation. The rest of the cast does a stellar job as each piece of the play, particularly Emma Stone as Riggan’s neglected daughter facing a similar existential crisis.

As a technical feat of filmmaking, Birdman is on a par with fellow Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. Rather than creating a CGI world, the dazzling effects of the film are mostly practical with Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki giving the film the appearance of one long, uninterrupted shot. We float down the halls of the theatre, and soar through the streets of New York with actors drifting in and out of shot as a purely percussion score booms around us, delivering the illusion that we are a part of the play, and its inner-workings.

Hovering so intimately allows us to invade the personal space, and mindset of the characters, most amusingly Riggan as he unleashes fits of rage using hallucinated (or are they?) telekinetic powers. Warned that using this style of filmmaking could potentially destroy any comedic timing, Iñárritu has taken this as a challenge, and produced a comedy that is drawn from the extensive style as we lurch from one disaster to the next, adding yet another layer to a cake already thickly coated in symbolism and contemporary commentary.

To analyse any further would be to ruin the experience of the film; the fun is delving into each brilliant level with your own admiration, and being left thoroughly thought-provoked, and utterly breathless. I may cop some flak for awarding my first film reviewed a near-perfect score, but Birdman is about as close to perfection as movies get; this is pure heroin for cinephiles. If only more superhero movies could be like this. Four and a half stars.

Part 2 – Golden Globe Nominations – Best Comedy or Musical

By Cherie Wheeler

Continuing with our coverage of the nominees for the 2015 Golden Globes, here’s a look at the five films that are in the running to win Best Picture in the Comedy or Musical category.

1. Birdman
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Starring: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zack Galifianakis and Edward Norton
Release Date: January 15 2015
Other Nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Edward Norton), Best Score, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone), Best Actor Comedy or Musical (Michael Keaton) and Best Screenplay

Click image to view trailer

Similar to Richard Linklater, Alejandro Inarritu is one of the most unique and intriguing filmmakers of the twenty first century, and he is definitely Linklater’s most fierce competitor for the Best Director award. This Mexican film director has produced some awe-inspiring, and truly beautiful films over the years, including Babel (2006) and 21 Grams (2003), and Birdman is everything you could hope for and more from Inarritu.

In Birdman, Michael Keaton plays over the hill actor Riggan, who was once famous for his portrayal of an iconic superhero, and in a bid to reclaim his former glory, he agrees to take part in a Broadway production. Riggan turns out to be his own worst enemy, and his family struggle to support him in this last ditch attempt to make something of himself. It’s fantastic to see Keaton back on the silver screen doing what he does best, for the first time in a long time, and he is certainly the frontrunner for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical.

2. Grand Budapest Hotel
Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Willem Dafoe, F Murray Abraham and Jeff Goldblum
Release Date: Available now on DVD and Bluray
Other Nominations: Best Director, Best Actor Comedy or Musical (Ralph Fiennes), Best Screenplay

Click image below to view trailer

The Grand Budapest Hotel follows in the footsteps of all of Wes Anderson’s prior films, and exudes his trademark quirky style. The story revolves around the exploits of the hotel’s eccentric concierge Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and his lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) after the death of one of their wealthiest patrons (Tilda Swinton).

Weird and wonderful films by Wes Anderson have previously garnered Academy Award nominations, including The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Fantastic Mr Fox (2009) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012), but astoundingly, this is the first time he has ever been recognised by the Globes. My fingers are crossed for Anderson to win Best Screenplay, but he may be knocked out by Gillian Flynn for Gone Girl. If anyone has a chance to defeat Michael Keaton for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical, it is definitely Ralph Fiennes in his portrayal of the witty and sophisticated, yet slightly unhinged Gustave.

3. Into The Woods
Director: Rob Marshall
Starring: Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick and Emily Blunt
Release Date: January 08 2015
Other Nominations: Best Actress Comedy or Musical (Emily Blunt),Best Supporting Actress (Meryl Streep)

Click image below to view trailer

The latest of countless fairytales reimagined by Disney, Into The Woods sees Rob Marshall and Johnny Depp reunited after working together on Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in 2011. Marhsall has a short, but significant list of films to his name, including Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) and Chicago (2002), and I suppose Disney believed he would once again bring his magic to the screen when selecting him to direct Into The Woods.

A baker and his wife (Emily Blunt) must procure iconic, magical items from traditional fairytale stories, including Red Riding Hood, Jack & The Beanstalk, Cinderella and Rapunzel, in order to lift a curse cast upon them by an evil witch (Meryl Streep). You can almost always guarantee that whenever Meryl Streep completes a film that she will receive a nomination for her performance, and this is her 29th nomination for a Golden Globe.

The Best Supporting Actress category is quite weak this year with some questionable nominees including Keira Knightley for The Imitation Game and Emma Stone for Birdman, and unlike many of the other categories, there is a clear standout to take out this particular prize, which is Patricia Arquette for Boyhood. I sincerely doubt that Emily Blunt will win Best Actress Comedy or Musical as she is up against the likes of Amy Adams for Big Eyes, and Julianne Moore for Maps to the Stars.

4. Pride
Director: Matthew Warchus
Starring: Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West and Ben Schnetzer
Release Date: Available on DVD and Bluray soon
Other Nominations: N/A

Click image below to view trailer

The real surprise nomination at the Golden Globes this year is English comedy and true story Pride. The title suggests exactly what this film is about; a group of gay people wanting to shout about something. What the title doesn’t tell you, however, is that the shouting is not about anyone’s sexuality, but about solidarity. We thoroughly enjoyed this heart-warming film when it was released in Australian cinemas earlier this year in October, and we are touched that it managed to receive a nomination, but sadly, we doubt that it will take out the prize. The award for Best Comedy or Musical is really a race between Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel.

5. St Vincent
Director: Theodore Melfi
Starring: Bill Murray, Naomi Watts and Melissa McCarthy
Release Date: December 26 2014
Other Nominations: Best Actor Comedy or Musical (Bill Murray)

Click image below to view trailer

St Vincent is the feature film directorial debut of Theodore Melfi, so it is pretty impressive that he has managed to rustle up a Best Picture nomination. The film follows a little boy who is dealing with the recent divorce of his parents when he finds unlikely companionship in his antisocial, self-absorbed, and at times indecent neighbour; a war veteran by the name of Vincent (Bill Murray). This role is absolutely perfect for Murray, and is a nice way for him to end the year, after his disappointing performance in The Monuments Men back in March. Having said that, Ralph Fiennes and Michael Keaton are probably a little too strong for him to beat for the Best Actor Comedy or Musical award, and the other nominees, Joaquin Phoneix, and Christoph Waltz, finish off this really strong category.

As the Golden Globes split the feature film nominees into Drama and Comedy or Musical, it tends to allow for some fairly average films to sneak in and gain nominations, whilst other more deserving films are left out. I don’t believe that St Vincent, Pride or Into The Woods will be recognised by the Academy Awards in the Best Picture category, which allows for a maximum of ten films to be nominated. Instead I believe that other films that have been snubbed by the Globes, such as Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, will be nominated at the Oscars.