Movie Review – BackTrack Boys

Australian filmmaker Catherine Scott makes a heartfelt documentary that looks into how troubled kids can be taken in and taught responsibility by caring for and training dogs.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Elle Cahill 

BackTrack Boys is about a rehabilitation program for troubled youths in New South Wales run by straight-talking Bernie Shakeshaft. The documentary follows three troubled kids, Zak, Tyrson, and Rusty who are all part of the Backtrack program, and their journey in and out of trouble as they struggle to take the lessons they learn through the program and apply them to their dysfunctional home life.

Similar to documentaries focused on groups of people like Jesus Camp and Dying to Live, what really makes BackTrack Boys a documentary worth watching are the characters featured. Director Catherine Scott does a brilliant job at drawing out the personalities of the three featured children and the harsh environments they have grown up in, which would have more than likely led them to a life in jail. Whether it be good-natured Zak who has worked his way through the Backtrack program to become a leader; Tyrson who regressed after leaving the program and wound up in jail for a couple of years; and the youngest of the group, Rusty whose foul-mouthed, tall tales are tolerated by the others as they realise he’s just a young kid who hasn’t had the easiest start to life.

The program itself is interesting in that Shakeshaft pairs the kids with a dog that they are expected to train, feed and prepare for local shows in events like high jump wall. The idea is that the dogs don’t judge the kids but instead give them a sense of responsibility. Intermingled in this are campfire heart-to-hearts, where the boys share stories, their feelings and fears when they’re ready to. It’s group theory done in a trusting environment and it’s Shakeshaft straight-talking both around the campfire and in private with the boys that helps them take responsibility for their actions, and more importantly, their lives.

The documentary is beautifully shot and Scott manages to get access to a lot of areas to really capture the kids’ realities (including the juvenile prison). Ultimately the documentary is about second chances and showing that there are alternatives for troubled kids, and that whilst these alternatives might be a bit left of field, they may just be the best circumstances for these kids to learn and grow into responsible adults.

BackTrack Boys  is available in Australian cinemas from October 25 (Western Australia limited release 27th -29th Oct)

Image courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment

Movie Review – Mile 22

Peter Berg returns to fiction for the first time since Battleship… unfortunately, the result is only mildly better.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan 

A CIA black operations team, code named Overwatch and led by James Silva (Mark Wahlberg), locates and shuts down a terrorist operation shipping highly toxic caesium. Several months later, an Indonesian officer Li Noor (Iko Uwais) claims to hold information regarding the last caesium but is only willing to give it up in return for his safe passage out of the country. The Overwatch team is tasked with transporting him through a dangerous city to a safe airplane, before the information he has contained on a self-destructive disc is obliterated.

Peter Berg found his stride as a filmmaker with his last three films. As Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon and Patriot’s Day can attest to, he’s a director at his best when recreating true, high-octane events that forced their subjects into heroic behaviour (that subject, namely, played by Mark Wahlberg). Mile 22 keeps Wahlberg’s heroics, but ditches the grounding in reality, revealing that reality is the key to making a Peter Berg actioner click.

Mile 22 shows some promise throughout, particularly in its opening raid on an incendiary safe house, but the problems begin to show though when we get a proper introduction to our characters. Berg settles for OTT caricatures, all of whom seem to be defined by swearing aggressively.

Only The Raid’s Iko Uwais shines, clearly having put in an enormous effort to choreograph his martial arts sequences – even if they have wound up edited to death. And despite this frenetic editing, the hard, fast, bloodthirsty and very frequent action sequences are engaging. But the guerrilla cinematography does make it difficult to follow what is happening.

The less said about Mile 22’s confused plot the better. It’s practically nonsensical and is derailed entirely by a ridiculous twist ending that defies logic. Disregarding this, it just manages to work as a call-back to the Bourne-inspired gun blazers of yesteryear, with some lightning-paced entertainment value.

Mile 22 is available in Australian cinemas from August 30 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Tom Cruise once again risks life and limb for our entertainment, with death-defying stunts and crazy choreography.

 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

In a world populated with increasingly lethargic spy franchises – we’re looking at you, Bourne – one series has risen above the rest. With each successive entry, the Mission: Impossible franchise consistently ups its game. Its sixth instalment Fallout entertains and astounds from beginning to end, with consummate professional Tom Cruise once again illustrating why he’s the best action movie star working today.

In Mission Impossible: Fallout, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) finds himself on the trail of some missing plutonium after an operation goes south. The retrieval mission sees him paired with burly CIA operative August Walker (Henry Cavill) and parachuting into Paris for a meet with the White Widow (The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby), a broker with her own agenda. It isn’t long before some familiar faces in the form of MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and international terrorist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) crop up –with the former again proving a wonderful ally/nemesis for Hunt.

If the opening hour of Fallout feels like a convoluted slog weighed down by exposition, it’s only because returning writer/director Christopher McQuarrie is taking his time in moving all the chess pieces into place for the riveting final act. When Fallout gets going, boy does it let loose. From a breathless chase through tight Parisian streets to another dizzying dash across London rooftops, the action set pieces arrive one after the other, each more exciting than the last. A highlight is a bathroom brawl where each of Cruise and Cavill’s blows land with a sickening squelch. In a film characterised by vehicular mayhem, it’s this bruising salvo that proves especially satisfying and visceral.

McQuarrie, as devious with the knotted screenplay as he is inventive behind the camera, delights in highlighting Cruise’s commitment to his craft. Each stunt is framed in such a way that there is no denying that it’s Cruise holding the handlebars or dangling from the bottom of said helicopter. But it’s not showy or ostentatious. Complex shots, such as an elongated tracking shot that follows Cruise as he speeds around the Arc de Triomphe, are thrown into the mix casually, demonstrating the competence of the filmmakers at every turn.

Cruise and McQuarrie are a dynamic duo who revel in pushing one another to achieve higher heights with each passing collaboration. It takes a while to kick into gear, but once Fallout starts to roll it doesn’t let up for anything. Simply put, you won’t find a more exciting or daring blockbuster in cinemas this year, or possibly next year for that matter. At least until the next Mission: Impossible film opens. So, sit back, strap in and enjoy the ride.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is available in Australian cinemas from August 2

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures 

Part 1: Revelation Perth International Film Festival 2018

The Revelation Perth International Film Festival is back for 2018! Screening from July 5-18, this is your chance to check out the latest and greatest in independent cinema. Featuring films and documentaries from Australia and all over the world, here’s a snippet of what’s on offer! Stay tuned for another sneak peak next week!

Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion and Disco
Documentary
USA

Sex, fashion and disco – need we say anymore?

Elle Cahill

Revelation FF Antonio Lopez July 2018
Sex, Fashion and Disco chronicles the crazy, wild ride that was fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez’s career. The documentary features interviews from some heavyweights in the fashion and film industry such as Grace Coddington (American Vogue creative director) and Jessica Lange (American Horror Story), as well as wild stories about Karl Lagerfield, Jerry Hall, Grace Jones and Andy Warhol.

Tales are told, and old times are reminisced upon with joy and laughter from an era when sexuality was an experiment and drugs went hand-in-hand with the fashion industry. There are some poignant moments, such as the racism issue in America that drove Lopez away in the late 60’s, and the impact that the AIDs epidemic had on the fashion industry that brought about a sense of seriousness to the documentary, but director James Crump doesn’t delve too deeply into these matters.

Sex, Fashion and Disco is intended to take the audience on a mad trip back in time to a period when irresponsibility was to be favoured, and the fashion industry was at its peak, and it certainly achieves this.


More Human Than Human
Documentary
Netherlands

What does it mean to live in the age of intelligent machines? Two documentarians set out to find out.

Rhys Pascoe

Revelation FF More Human Than Human July 2018
For over a century, science-fiction cinema has heralded a future populated with synthetic robots and artificial intelligence, from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049. In their 78-minute documentary More Human Than Human, filmmakers Tommy Pallotta and Femke Wolting attempt to condense this abundance of ideas into a single streamlined premise; could a robot replace a filmmaker?

In partnership with a robotics lab, Pallotta and Wolting set to work rigging up a ‘camera bot’ that can read faces, frame its subject and pose questions to the ‘interviewee’, which in this case is Pallotta. In parallel to this, the documentarians scour the globe for case studies relating to the current state of artificial intelligence, conducting interviews and learning more about current innovations in the field.

While this pattern – cutting between case studies and the unfolding lab project – helps to structure the film, the two strands don’t always mesh seamlessly. While the main premise is interesting, it doesn’t have the same pull as the varied experiments that are touched on to flesh out the runtime.

All told, this tidy film has something to say about a wide range of technological marvels, and should make even the most ardent technophile feel a little on edge next time they boot up their smartphone or laptop.


Lost Gully Road
Feature Film
Australia

A film about a girl on the run, a bag of money, a spiritual entity, some shady side characters and some flickering lights… confused yet?

Elle Cahill

Revelation FF Lost Gully Road

On the run, Lucy (Adele Perovic) goes into hiding in an isolated house in the middle of a forest. As the days trickle by, she quickly descends into boredom, with her only form of entertainment coming from the once a day phone call from her sister to give her an update on the “situation”. A spiritual entity soon makes its presence known, further adding to Lucy’s paranoia and the feeling of isolation.

This spiritual entity is portrayed in a very similar way to Olivier Assayas 2016’s Personal Shopper, and is further emphasised through flickering lights and voyeuristic POV shots, but it doesn’t quite achieve the thrill or scariness that I think was intended.

Perovic does well with the material provided, particularly during her interactions with the spiritual entity and the physicality she brings to those scenes. Without giving too much more away, director Donna McRae has attempted to use Lost Gully Road to comment on the female experience in a male-dominated world, and the issue of consent. Unfortunately for me, the film doesn’t quite hit the mark, but I can understand what McRae was trying to achieve.


[Censored]
Documentary
Australia

An Australian documentarian goes looking for shocking material of old. Surprisingly, she’s upset when she’s shocked by it…

Corey Hogan

Revelation FF censored July 2018
[Censored] is the hour-long final product of Sari Braithwaite’s delve into Canberra’s extensive archive of clips cut from international films by Australian censors between 1951 and 1978. She presents her findings as an essay documentary and think-piece, slicing thematically linked clips together and intercutting with the rules and regulations of the Australian Censorship Board, commentating with her own opinion on what was deemed unacceptable for audiences back in the day, and what would surely pass without the bat of an eyelash in more modern, unshackled times.

Cinephiles and historians will no doubt revel in the mouth-watering smorgasbord of never-before-seen clips surgically removed from hundreds of films of the era, ranging from timeless classics like Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, to lesser-known gems and even a (potentially) educational video featuring a childbirth. Braithwaite states upon commencing that her goal was to liberate these filmmakers’ artistic visions from the conservative fuddy-duddies intent on muffling creativity. At first, she is true to her word, highlighting the ridiculousness of cutting simple scenes of kisses between couples and verbal arguments that drop a few F-bombs. Soon though, she begins to question the necessity of sex scenes, nudity, and violence – in particular violence against women – and it is up to us as an audience to decide whether we agree with her more contemporary opinion, or if we can appreciate these clips as a time capsule in the context of their films and period.

Personally, I found Braithwaite’s approach decidedly closed-minded and loaded with bias, but no doubt there will be a large crowd who agree with and find poignancy in how off-put she is by the shocking content here. Considering the amount of these taboos we see unabashedly in everything we watch these days, perhaps it’s consuming so much distressing media at once that had Braithwaite sympathising with the censors. However you feel about the topic [Censored] is certainly provocative in one way or the other.

Images courtesy of Revelation Perth International Film Festival 2018

Movie Review – The Gateway

This Perth-produced sci-fi thriller earns a B+ for ambition, but can’t quite make the grade anywhere else.

⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan 

Jane Chandler’s (Jacqueline McKenzie) time is unevenly split between her family and her all-consuming job as a particle physicist on the brink of creating a functioning teleportation device. A breakthrough in her work reveals that her machine does not in fact transport matter, but instead sends it to a parallel universe; a revelation put on hold abruptly when Jane’s husband (Myles Pollard) is killed in a car accident. Overwhelmed with grief and unable to cope without him, she journeys to a parallel universe to bring back another version of her husband – without realising that the universe he is from has dark and violent tendencies.

The term ‘know your limits’ exists for a reason. It’s a rule that applies to filmmakers too; your idea may be bold, but that might not outweigh the resources you have available to you or the cliché-ridden script that embalms it. Someone should probably have told this to director/co-writer John V. Soto (Crush, Needle), whose heart is most certainly in the right place, but really should have been a bit more creative in bringing his sci-fi thriller The Gateway to life.

There’s always juicy potential in a premise that involves teleportation and multiple variations of our universe, and Soto starts engagingly enough with the determined Jane and her lab partner Regg (Ben Mortley) racing against the clock to make their matter-transporting passion project come to life before their executives cut their funding. It might not be such of a problem for international audiences, but right off the bat, the very blatantly Perth setting throws any credibility straight out the window – at least for local viewers. Perth audiences will no doubt scoff at the idea that our government would possibly commission scientists to experiment with the unbelievable, instead of, say, spending tax dollars on more speed cameras. Amazingly, in a film that features reality-hopping and lethal alien tasers, this is the most far-fetched concept.

Soto’s biggest downfall is shooting for that Hollywood blockbuster feel on a budget that is barely a fraction of their cost. As a result, his dependence on visual effects derails proceedings, bleeding the little money the production had into a hodgepodge of tacky CGI. Worse is the poor lighting palette and filters (particularly in the drab dystopia of the parallel world), which gives this the shabby feel of a Syfy Channel original.

Soto should have looked to his micro-budgeted peers for inspiration. Take James Ward Byrkit’s Coherence, for example. On an even smaller budget, it managed to be far more engaging and thought-provoking without the reliance on any visual trickery, simply because it focused instead on making its characters strong and ideas heard. And as a local filmmaker, Soto should have taken a leaf from Ben Young’s book; last year’s Hounds of Love was miniscule in scale and yet enormous in impact and resonance. Bigger is not always better – what’s the point in copying Hollywood when forming our own creative identity is much more interesting?

It’s not all bad of course. Jacqueline McKenzie does her best in attempting to elevate the material, as does Ben Mortley in forming a likable enough partnership. The early mix of science and family stuff fares fine separately; it’s just unfortunate to see it culminate in Myles Pollard doing his best Robert Patrick in Terminator 2 impression to become killer dad and hunt down his family. As tempting as it is to support local productions, the truth is you can see the same elsewhere and executed much more successfully.

The Gateway is available in selected Australian cinemas from May 3

Image courtesy of Rialto Distribution

Movie Review – Ready Player One

Steven Spileberg’s newest film Ready Player One takes us on a thrilling entertainment ride, but you’ll know exactly what’s going to happen from the moment it starts.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Josip Knezevic

At the start of Ready Player One, Spielberg suggests his new movie is intended to present a potential future for Earth in 2044. The society we are introduced to is one that sets aside reality and focuses instead on creating new worlds through virtual simulation. This is known as the OASIS, which if you really want to know, stands for: Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation. I know, it’s a mouthful. The OASIS is the brainchild of game developer James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who’s death provides players the opportunity to gain complete ownership of the game if they can hunt down three Easter Egg keys hidden inside the simulation. Enter stage right, young and ambitious, but hopeless dreamer: Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan).

As we watch Wade hunt down these three magical keys, the film itself takes on a video game feel, and just like most games, Ready Player One follows a classic structure. From the get-go, we all know the hero will rise and inevitably overcome all three levels to ultimately defeat the villain (Ben Mendelsohn) who wants to take control of OASIS for his own evil pursuits. This is all well and good if you’re satisfied with a predictable film and a simple formula, and when you think about it, many of Spielberg’s films fall into this category.

Spielberg is a director who likes telling stories that get wrapped up in a nice little box, with all the conflicts resolved by the end of the film so you’re not left wanting more He’s done this for Jurassic Park, E.T the Extra-Terrestrial and many others. It’s why his films have grossed a stupendous amount of money and is one of the reasons he’s become one of today’s most popular directors. But does this mean he’s a filmmaker who challenges you to think about what his film has to say, long after the credits have rolled? Probably not. He’s not a Stanley Kubrick or a Terry Gilliam.

Nevertheless, I’d still recommend seeing this film. Some of the action sequences are fantastic, particularly in the opening and final scenes. I also enjoyed a lot of the nostalgic references to the 80’s, even though the film is set in the future. Even though it’s cliched and predictable, with familiar plot structures and character tropes, Ready Player One is still a blast and a fun ride.

Ready Player One is available in Australian cinemas from March 29 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 

 

90th Academy Awards

Zachary Cruz-Tan & Rhys Graeme-Drury

Another year, another predictably endless cascade of complaints. Such is the Academy Awards, which this year was more sullen and plain than any other I can recall. Jimmy Kimmel reprised his role as host and deftly shifted the focus of his comedy away from politics (apart from a few initial jabs at Harvey Weinstein) to the Oscars itself – promising a jet ski and vacation to the winner with the shortest speech – and channelled much of his humorous energy on Christopher Plummer, who of course absorbed it with immaculate sportsmanship.

Female empowerment was once again a highlight, with Best Actress winner Frances McDormand commanding the stage and inviting all the female nominees to rise with her. There was also an alarming amount of female presenters, as if the Academy’s idea of equality is to tilt the scale completely in the other direction. But in the midst of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, it was lovely to once again see stunningly simple fashion on display, particularly on Eiza González and in the elegance of Laura Dern (I’d love to know whose curtains Zendaya ripped and threw on herself).

As always, some winners were justified while others were not, and some nominees were completely forgotten altogether. Nine films were nominated for Best Picture, of which perhaps five were truly deserving. I was surprised that Kathryn Bigelow’s utterly masterful Detroit was not favoured in place of Joe Wright’s lukewarm Darkest Hour, a major misstep by the Academy who could’ve made further history by including two women in the Best Director category. In the end, The Shape of Water nudged out Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri for the trophy and its director, Guillermo del Toro, nabbed his very first Oscar.

Oh, and you know who also nabbed a first Oscar? Kobe Bryant. Yes, Kobe Bryant the sportsman, for his contributions to the animated short film Dear Basketball. He now has more Oscars than Alfred Hitchcock and Ralph Fiennes put together. It was the most shocking part of an event that was otherwise rather predictable and safe. But with so much going on right now, perhaps predictable and safe was the right way to go.

Of the winners, none was more deserving than cinematographer Roger Deakins, winning his first statuette at his scarcely believable fourteenth attempt. Taking to the stage with a shaky rock star swagger that wouldn’t look amiss on Mick Jagger, Deakins’ work has been overlooked by the Academy for far too long, and while a lot of the attention was heaped upon hot young newcomers like Greta Gerwig, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that some veterans who were long overdue an award didn’t go home empty-handed. Alongside del Toro and Deakins, Sam Rockwell was honoured for his performance in Three Billboards and of course, British thespian Gary Oldman, whose tearful Best Actor acceptance speech capped off a season filled with accolades.

Surprisingly, 2018 saw the Academy steer away from what one would consider typical ‘Oscar bait’. Aside from Oldman’s bellowing Prime Minister, the bulk of the wins went to genre films and filmmakers such as Get Out, del Toro, Jordan Peele and Blade Runner 2049. Has there ever been a year where genre fare has been so strongly represented?

All told, the 90th Academy Awards were a rather forgettable affair; Kimmel continues to be a solid host, the major categories were under lock and key well before the opening curtain and, with no major gaffes like 2017’s La La Land kerfuffle, the whole thing felt rather pedestrian. Still, maybe that’s what the industry needs; for the focus to remain firmly on the art, rather than controversy and calamity.

Image courtesy of Tinseltown / Shutterstock.com

Where No Tarantino Has Gone Before

Zachary Cruz-Tan

As you may already know, Quentin Tarantino is planning to direct a Star Trek movie, which might’ve been Hollywood’s most shocking news of recent times if Harvey Weinstein had kept his pants on.

Let’s face it, Tarantino isn’t the first name you think of when it comes to space exploration and analyses of the human condition. He’s less Kling-on and more fuck off, even if he claims to have been a Trekker since before his filmmaking days.

It’s a match-up so odd that neither fan base sees it working, and yet, he might just pull it off. Remember when he directed two episodes of CSI and everybody thought it was crazy? His episodes turned out to be the best of the entire show. Imagine what he could do with a property he genuinely has an affection for.

Tarantino’s known for his reverence for his influences, be them Bruce Lee, low-grade grindhouse pictures, gangster movies or spaghetti westerns. His movies are like a collection of cinematic training videos that somehow morph into entities of their own. The same could happen with Star Trek, provided, of course, he knows all its ins and outs, and understands that most Trek fans will not tolerate a single expletive. Apparently he will be granted an R-rating, despite the Trek tenet that vulgarities, violence and hatred no longer exist in the future.

He’s also, quite notably, not a franchise director, having originated all but one of his screenplays. Yes, some of his characters are supposedly linked to others in different movies, but not once has he created a sequel (no, Kill Bill Vol. 2 doesn’t count). If he makes this movie, it would be the first time he’s entered into an established franchise, and this is a franchise whose fans are fiercely loyal. I’m talking converting-their-garage-into-the-bridge-of-the-Enterprise loyal. You don’t want to get on their bad side.

Alternatively, Star Trek could be the little pet project that shows Tarantino has at least some versatility when it comes to style and genre. He’s never attempted science-fiction, and the closest he’s come to making something tame is Jackie Brown (1997), which was about as tame as a crocodile. He’d be more suited to Star Wars, where frenzied action and dizzying swashbuckling are the name of the game, but he’s admitted a preference for Trek, and at the moment Star Wars is too busy shoving porgs down our throats.

Having said all that, as a Trekker and Tarantino fan myself, I’m looking forward to this unusual marriage. Tarantino has a way with dialogue. He’s able to capture that moment when humans are at their most candid. Star Trek is partially built on its pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo; the phaser emitter arrays and the warp nacelles and re-modulating the tachyon guidance matrix and whatnot. It would seem the ideal environment for Tarantino to exploit the juxtaposition between what’s candid and natural, and what’s robotic (though reports indicate Mark Smith has been hired to write). He might even opt for a little self-awareness – I’d love to see Scotty complaining about how complicated his lines always are.

The project is still a little up in the air. Tarantino is meant to develop it with J.J. Abrams, whose own Trek films, while polarising to diehard fans, have sustained the franchise for a new generation. It will be interesting to see where Tarantino can further take the sci-fi phenomenon, or indeed how much of his fanboy personality he will impart. Time will tell. Right now, he’s focused on his feature about the Manson murders, which certainly seems more up his alley.

Image courtesy of Django Unchained, Sony Pictures and Universal Sony Pictures Home Entertainment 

Greatest Directorial Debuts

Josip Knezevic 

With the upcoming release of Andy Serkis’ directorial debut Breathe, it seems appropriate to take a look at some of the most memorable debuts from filmmakers that went on to achieve long and successful careers (hopefully the same can be said for Serkis).

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Best Directorial Debuts Reservoir Dogs
The most well-known film in independent cinema comes from a now equally well-known name in mainstream Hollywood: Quentin Tarantino. Following the life of an undercover cop in his attempt to expose a gang of armed thieves, we see everything except the failed heist that burdens our characters. Instead, we’re left with something even more interesting: the aftermath. Starring a young Steve Buscemi and Tim Roth, and seasoned veteran Harvey Keitel, Reservoir Dogs is a masterclass in maintaining intrigue through dialogue. This is all credit to Tarantino’s intricate writing, with pop culture references, every day observations and horrifying torture scenes set to the sound of a classic rock soundtrack. It’s clear to see that he was bound for success from the get go.

Following (1998)

Best Directorial Debuts Following

Moving from a highly recognised film to one with a lesser reputation; Following was the birth of now uber-famous director Christopher Nolan. Yes, the man who made The Dark Knight, Inception and Interstellar all started with an $6,000 neo-noir crime drama made with friends. Telling a simple story of a young man who unwillingly falls into the criminal underworld immediately demonstrates the suspenseful and thrilling elements Nolan has become known for. It’s smart, it’s clever and it doesn’t take too long at only 70 minutes. Following allowed Nolan the opportunity to continue with his next feature, Memento.

Amores Perros (2000)

Best Directorial Debuts Amores Perros
With a lot of experience in producing short films and commercials, it’s no wonder this director’s debut feature went off with a bang. It seems that Alejandro González Iñárritu had no illusions or self-doubt when it came to making his first film in Amores Perros, which follows three harrowing and powerful stories in the heartland of Mexico City. Appropriately named his Trilogy of Death, alongside 21 Grams and Babel, Amores Perros centres around a simple car accident that connects various individuals, each with their own conflicts that have led them to that exact moment. The title is a pun in Spanish that literally means dogs, but be warned – this film is not for dog lovers, with prominent dog fighting scenes. Iñárritu purposefully uses this to connect the three stories, and whilst it might make these stories difficult to watch, it serves as a reminder of the harsh realities of life in Mexico and the struggles many have faced. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2000, Iñárritu certainly hit the ground running.

Being John Malkovich (1999)

Best Directorial Debuts Being John Malkovich

From the man that co-created Jackass (yes, you read that right) comes the film that also marks the screenplay debut for Charlie Kauffman. Directed by Spike Jonze, who recently won the Academy Award for his original screenplay Her, Being John Malkovich follows an equally unusual concept. It’s one of those films that could possibly be the inspiration for the likes of recent hits such as Get Out and The Skeleton Key as it explores the idea of living in someone else’s body. At only 27 years old, Jonze was handed down the script from a Hollywood director who just so happened to also be his father-in-law, Francis Ford Coppola (you may have heard of him) and from there, his career as a director began. Completely original, well-written and at times even horrifying, Being John Malkovich marked one of the boldest debut films for any director as well as a brave performance from the very man himself, John Malkovich. An absurdly unique piece of independent cinema, but one that’s hardly easy to forget.

Mad Max (1979)

Best Directorial Debuts Mad Max

A debut film list wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t include the most famous Australian piece of cinema of all time, right? At a later age of 38 years, George Miller conceived this post-apocalyptic world of gasoline fueled madness alongside fellow film student and friend Byron Kennedy. Starring an uber young and handsome Mel Gibson, we follow the dark and twisted downfall of mankind into the apocalyptic wasteland that turns Max into the Mad Man we’ve grown to love. Whilst admittedly being slower paced in comparison to its sequels, it’s clear that what it lacks in big budget action, it more than makes up for in its character and set design. It’s raw, it’s gritty and it’s bloody Aussie. Mad Max will forever mark a crowning achievement not only for independent cinema, but for Australian culture.

Reservoir Dogs image courtesy of Dendy Cinema and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Following image courtesy of Next Wave Films, Amores Perros image courtesy of Niche Pictures and Madman Entertainment, Being John Malkovich image courtesy of United International Pictures and Universal Pictures, Mad Max image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Only the Brave

Joseph Kosinski makes the bravest call of all as an action director – setting aside the combustion in favour of the human drama at the heart of it.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), head of the Prescott Fire Department, holds a deep passion for his job and crew, who are tasked with risking their lives regularly at the front line of stopping forest fires spreading and destroying all life in their path. Frustrated at being constantly overruled by Type 1 or “Hotshot” firefighting crews from out of state, he seeks new recruits in an attempt to create Prescott’s own Hotshot crew and takes a chance on anyone willing to put their life in danger – including former drug addict Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), who seeks a means of getting his life together upon learning he is a father. The men grow and become heroes over their years of service, but there strengths will be put to the ultimate life-threatening test by the insatiable Yarnell Hill Fire of 2013.

Joseph Kosinski may only have two features under his belt as a director (Tron: Legacy and Oblivion), but his name on a film alone is already enough to presume what you’re getting into with his work; a visually astounding but emotionally and narratively empty experience. Fortunately he shakes that up with his third feature, Only the Brave. Lightyears away from his muddled science-fiction efforts, Kosinski takes a leaf from Peter Berg’s book and grounds himself firmly back on earth with an intense true tale of human courage in the face of terrifying danger. Like Berg’s macho-machinations, it holds its fair share of flaws, but Kosinski can at least be commended making a valiant attempt at entering “serious filmmaker” territory.

It’s more often than not a ballsy move with adrenaline-pumping films like this to show restraint and focus on character building while holding off the true peril for the finale; here, it works in equal parts to both Kosinski’s strength and detriment. The men of the Prescott Fire Department are a gallant bunch easy to root for; the kind of macho men cinema loves to idolise since they can show their heroic smarts and wits in tough situations, as well as their softer sides for their wives and children. Yet most of them do become bogged down in cliché, particularly in the noble phrases they’re forced to shout, and some barely register beyond their stock-standard assortment of personal issues.

Josh Brolin is the gruff commander married to the job, much to the detriment of his cookie-cutter neglected wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly), who loves him with all her heart, but is naturally frustrated by the amount of time he spends away from her, since she just wants to start a family. Taylor Kitsch does his bland, one-dimensional, just-kind-of-there Taylor Kitsch thing, again proving himself one of the least-memorable working actors as he gives the new recruit a hard time until he needs his help.

Miles Teller’s McDonough feels the freshest, even if he is stuck with the audience-surrogate getting shown the ropes newbie role. He captures the struggle of the rehabilitation and redemption of quitting the crack pipe and stepping up to the challenges of a heroic career, all in the name of proving himself a worthy father to his exes’ newborn girl. The tacked on mentor bond he shares with Brolin sits less comfortably, but it’s hard to complain too much about cliché in something based off an autobiographical account.

Though it does a decent job with its character building, the key element Only the Brave doesn’t truly deliver on is the sense of being in the thick of a pulse-pounding, life-or-death situation; it always feels as though it’s playing it safe and betraying a realistically deadly occupation, never showing true fear from any of its hardened players. This comes at odds with the climactic veer into tragedy, which, thanks to its proverbial trappings lacks the emotional impact it should have. Commendably though, Kosinski handles his tribute to the real fallen soldiers respectfully; combining this with his trademark visual spark, he’s at least on the right track to becoming the “serious filmmaker” he clearly wants to be accepted as.

Only the Brave is available in Australian Cinemas November 30

Image courtesy of Studio Canal PTY LTD.