Movie Review – The Death of Stalin

A forgettable film about a memorable dictator; The Death of Stalin falls into the typical pratfalls of ensemble cast comedy.

 

⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

The Death of Stalin is black humour at its finest; following the death of the infamous Soviet dictator, Russian Parliament is thrown into disarray as those closest to Stalin jostle for power. Political drama ensues as alliances are forged, backstabbing occurs, and false promises are made, all in a race to become the next Soviet dictator. It veers on the side of distasteful at times, but anyone who knows even a little bit about the consequences of Stalin’s dictatorship can forgive the film for its on the nose moments.

Steve Buscemi and Simon Russell Beale go head to head as Nikita Khrushchev and Lavrenti Beria respectively as they battle it out for the top spot. These two pull the whole film together; Buscemi’s comedic timing is right on the money, while Russell Beale’s poker-faced delivery offers up the perfect straight man to Buscemi’s funny guy.

Fellow cast members Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin and Andrea Riseborough, provide the right comedic support and equally hold their own amidst all the chaos that is unfolding. The stand-out here is Jason Isaacs, despite his screen time being fairly limited. His character’s bloodlust and willingness to turn on people at the drop of hat has a maniacal quality that makes you excited to see what he will do next.

But as a political parody, there’s nothing particularly new or original going on here. It’s very comfortable territory for writer/director Armando Iannucci, who’s responsible for TV shows like Veep and The Thick of It. Perhaps Iannucci’s over-familiarisation with the genre is his downfall, as overall The Death of Stalin is a forgettable affair.

My other bugbear is setting a film in another country, then having all the characters speak in their natural accents; it’s more than a bit jarring to hear American, English and Ukrainian accents on characters who are all supposed to be Russian. It actually made me question whether Stalin had surrounded himself with American’s before his death. Fact check: he didn’t. No matter the genre, if you’re depicting historical moments based on real people you need to be authentic. This here is just lazy filmmaking.

The Death of Stalin isn’t the best work from any of its comic leads, and while it’s enjoyable enough, it lacks that special something we usually see from Iannucci.

The Death of Stalin is available in Australian cinemas from March 29 

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment

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Top Wildlife Documentaries

Elle Cahill

Wildlife documentaries have come along in leaps and bounds since their entrance into cinema in the mid-1950s. With David Attenborough leading the charge, the genre has developed its own innovative filmmaking techniques. Over time, with the advancement of technology, wildlife documentaries have gained the ability to put us right in the middle of an animal’s natural habitat, allowing us to witness wild behaviour that would otherwise be completely unknown to us.

While wildlife documentaries are regularly produced, those that focus on one species or a lone incident are less commonplace. These are far more intimate documentaries, and the best have the ability to show how animals respond to the presence of humans within their environment.

Here are my top 5 picks for wildlife documentaries with a singular focus.

Virunga (2014)
Director: Orlando von Einsiedel

February 2018 - Top Wildlife Documentaries - Virunga

Virunga is a national park in the Congo that is protected habitat for mountain gorillas. With the encroaching danger of oil companies wanting to drill on the edge of the park, the documentary explains the political history of the area, and puts a microscope on those who are serving to protect the mountain gorillas that rely on this park for survival. While it has more of a focus on its human subjects, Virunga still takes the time to introduce us to the individual gorillas residing in the park and tells us the stories of how they each came under the protection of the rangers. Each gorilla has its own strong personality that shines through interaction with their caretaker André Bauma and one another.

Tyke Elephant Outlaw (2015)
Director: Susan Lambert and Stefan Moore

February 2018 - Top Wildlife Documentaries - Tyke Elephant Outlaw

This is a hard one to watch. Tyke Elephant Outlaw is about a circus elephant that killed her trainer during a circus performance, then broke free into the streets of Honolulu where she was eventually shot dead by police officers.

Directors Susan Lambert and Stefan Moore don’t shy away from showing the live news footage from that day, even down to close-ups of the elephant being shot. The documentary repeats a lot of its vision throughout, but this never makes it any easier to watch.

What lets this documentary down is it’s timing. The incident took place in 1994, so at times it feels like it has been made too late to have any significant impact. Nevertheless, it’s still an interesting, informative and emotionally exhausting documentary.

Kedi (2016)
Director: Ceyda Torun

February 2018 - Top Wildlife Documentaries - Kedi

Kedi is a less serious documentary about the thousands of cats that live on the streets of Istanbul, Turkey. Focussing on just seven cats, we follow each one as they perform their daily routines and survive on the streets.

The documentary mainly consists of observational footage intermixed with interviews with the people who regularly interact with each cat. The cats each have a distinct personality that comes to light as we follow them on his or her adventure. This has to be one of the less emotionally charged documentaries on the list, however that in no way detracts from its charming, and at times, comical nature.

Project Nim (2011)
Director: James Marsh

February 2018 - Top Wildlife Documentaries - Project Nim

Project Nim is the follow up to director James Marsh’s previous documentary success Man On a Wire. The documentary follows the life of Nim, a chimpanzee who is taken from his mother as a baby and brought up as a human child. The experiment, originally devised to see if chimpanzees could grasp the human language through the use of sign language in a human child’s environment, ultimately became an experiment on nature vs. nurture.

Given the ethics that are now involved in using animals in science experiments such as these ones, it is both heartbreaking and bizarre to see the life of this particular chimpanzee play out on screen. Intertwined with Nim’s story are the people who were involved intimately in his life at certain points. The film is made up of archival footage and photos of Nim, but it’s the interviews with the people looking back on the experience that are most interesting, especially in some of the regret and guilt that is expressed now that they are able to view the events retrospectively.

Blackfish (2013)
Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

February 2018 - Top Wildlife Documentaries - Blackfish

Blackfish is one of my favourite movies of all time. The documentary discusses killer whales being held in captivity at entertainment parks like Seaworld and the psychological effects it has on them. The focus is on one specific killer whale called Tilikum, and the numerous incidents that have occurred between him and his various trainers.

The documentary is comprised of interviews with past trainers, witnesses and family members of those who have been involved in accidents involving Tilikum, scientists and professors who study killer whales, and even a gentleman who used to work on a boat capturing the whale calves to be sold to the likes of Seaworld.

Rather than becoming a manhunt for Tilikum, the documentary offers an intelligent insight into Tilikum’s past, and unpacks reasons for his behaviour, all while educating people on killer whales and the detrimental effect captivity has on them.

Virunga image courtesy of Netflix Inc. & IMDb, Tyke Elephant Outlaw image courtesy of ABC Commercial & Honolulu Star Advertiser, see tykeelephantoutlaw.com, Kedi image courtesy of Hi Gloss Entertainment, Oscilloscope & IMDb, Project Nim image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution, Roadhouse Productions & IMDb and Blackfish image courtesy of Madman Entertainment, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Magnolia Pictures & IMDB. 

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

Directors in Pursuit of Creative Control

Josip Knezevic 

Most directors want one single thing: total control. That’s what makes them want to direct in the first place. But while there’s infamous control freaks like Stanley Kubrick and Alejandro González Iñárritu, some take this to another level by writing, producing, editing and shooting their own film, all in the name of upholding their vision.

With writer, director and cinematographer Warwick Thornton’s latest film Sweet Country now in cinemas, I thought I’d shine a spotlight on those that have pursued creative control and produced phenomenal work in the process. To these directors, we salute.

Shane Carruth

Shane Carruth produced, wrote, edited, composed and even starred in his directorial debut Primer (2004) – a time travelling masterpiece made on a shoestring budget of $7,000. His next experimental science-fiction effort Upstream Colour (2013) saw him do it again, only this time he added cinematography to his filmmaking duties.

If you haven’t heard of Carruth or his exploits, Primer explores some of the most realistic possibilities of time travel, while Upstream Colour is… a complicated tale that’s difficult to explain.

Carruth is arguably the master of modern experimental film, and has been described by director Steven Soderbergh as the illegitimate offspring of David Lynch and James Cameron. His next film The Modern Ocean is set to add to his impressive filmography, with stars such as Anne Hathaway, Keanu Reeves and Daniel Radcliffe on board, but let’s hope he can get the job done – the project has been in pre-production since 2015.

Matt Johnson

One of my favourite directors in recent years, Matt Johnson is an eccentric, comedic filmmaker whose skills can be meticulous at one moment, then completely improvisational at the next. Like Carruth’s Primer, Johnson’s first film The Dirties was made on a microscopic budget, but instead of scifi, Johnson went into mockumentary territory, with a script that was almost entirely adlibbed (only key plot points were drafted beforehand).

Johnson produced, wrote, edited and acted in the film, with the latter allowing him to steer each interaction to his will. He continued this formula in his next film Operational Avalanche and his recent TV series Nirvanna the Band the Show, which works perfectly as a canvas for him to run riot with his Borat style of humour. I can’t recommend his work enough; he’s made some of the funniest films of the past 5 years.

Paul Thomas Anderson

Time for someone more mainstream. Paul Thomas Anderson, the multitasking master, is a name synonymous with high standards of filmmaking. He has produced, written and directed 6 films in the last 20 years, from stories of the golden age of 70s porn, to the epic heights of the oil rush in colonial America. His hunt for control was nearly extinguished with his debut Hard Eight, as although it was critically successful, it wasn’t faithful to his vision. To release his original cut of the film, he had to rename it and raise additional funding to complete it.  Thankfully, he had A-listers Gwyneth Paltrow and John C. Reilly on his side, and from that point on, a genius was born. His next film Phantom Thread is available in Australian cinemas soon.

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2018

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.

Movie Review – The Disaster Artist

One of the most anticipated comedies of the year; three Hooked on Film reviewers previewed James Franco’s new film The Disaster Artist, and this is what they thought.

 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐  ½
Michael Philp

 The Disaster Artist is the true story behind the best worst movie known to man – The Room. Dubbed the “all-conquering cult leader of bad movies,” by our own Rhys Graeme-Drury, The Room is a film that has to be seen to be believed. Hilarious, insane, and awe-inspiring, you will think it can’t get crazier, immediately before it tops itself for the tenth time. Astonishingly, the story of its creation is even weirder.

The centrepiece of The Disaster Artist is undoubtedly Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) – the director of The Room and the world’s greatest source of unintentional comedy. A living, breathing rejected Men in Black design, Wiseau is a comedic gift from the heavens. If it weren’t for the pre-show interview, you’d swear he couldn’t be real. Franco is phenomenal in his dedication to the role, mining comedy from even the simplest of interactions. His brother, Dave Franco – playing straight-man Greg Sestero – is equally good, but is overshadowed by the sheer comedic force of Wiseau’s visage.

The Disaster Artist wrings comedy gold from Wiseau’s very existence. James Franco’s performance is a hysterical character study of a man who remains one of the greatest mysteries of our era. When a simple football kick can raise the house, you know you’re watching something special. The perfect follow up to a perfectly imperfect film, The Disaster Artist is easily one of the best comedies of the year.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐  ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

The best thing about The Disaster Artist, I found, wasn’t that it is hilarious and ingeniously referential, which of course it is – it’s that the film melds elements of parody perfectly with shades of sincerity, in the process forming a well-rounded package that is captivating, strange, emotional and uplifting, sometimes all in the same scene.

 This isn’t just James Franco, his brother and some of their mates (Seth Rogen plays a script editor, Zac Efron makes an appearance) pointing and laughing at Wiseau and his abominable cult classic. No, there is authentic affection and earnestness ingrained in Franco’s film; a wholesome genuineness about it.

The prologue, which sees a host of famous faces including Kristen Bell, Adam Scott and J.J. Abrams, take time out of their schedule to gush about The Room, sets the scene perfectly; this isn’t mean-spirited or heckling Wiseau, it’s a sonnet overflowing with affection for everything from terrible cult cinema to those who chase their dreams and fall through the cracks. The screenplay, penned by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, preserves Wiseau’s eccentricities, keeps the narrative tight and ensures the focus remains firmly on his relationship with Sestero and their shared dream of making it big.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic

As the age-old expression goes, what else is there left to say that hasn’t been said already? The Disaster Artist is everything a great comedy does and everything that a sincerely heartfelt film can be. However, more importantly, it’s a film that ultimately acts as a tale and tool for inspiration.

Whilst you can laugh (as almost everyone has done so) at Wiseau’s foolish antics and absurd aspirations for his life, we are given a chance to respect his endless pursuit for his dreams amongst the numerous obstacles in his way. It can be as simple as making a pact, or rather a pinky promise, between a friend, and never failing to protect that asseveration.

It’s about following the path of enduring the pain, where everything around you is telling you you’re wrong and the courage to continue to following it. This is why Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sistero are beacons of hope. Life will not always turn out the way you planned it, but if you want it strongly enough, it will be exactly how you need it. So, fail spectacularly and become a global sensation: that is the story of The Disaster Artist

The Disaster Artist is available at Luna Cinemas from November 30, Australia wide December 7.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 2017.

Movie Review – Three Summers

Three Summers is determined to bring a sunny disposition to the thorniest of political topics.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Michael Philp

Let’s get this out of the way quick-smart: for some people, Three Summers will not be an easy film. It should be – it’s a comedy, after all – but it’s also an unreservedly left-wing perspective on Australia that will rub certain people up the wrong way. It wears its politics on its sleeve in almost every scene, and you’ll either laugh along with it or get frustrated when it (regularly) dismisses conservative opinions. In other words, it’s a Ben Elton film.

Written and directed by Elton, Three Summers is a film about Australia and its stories. Accordingly, it follows a variety of groups at the fictional Westival music festival. There’s the feisty Warrikins (Rebecca Breeds, John Waters); Roland the Theremin player (Robert Sheehan); the Morris dancers led by Michael Caton; Queenie the relentlessly sunny radio announcer (Magda Szubanski); and about half a dozen other plotlines, all converging on the same campgrounds over three years.

It’s impressive just how well Elton manages to juggle it all. Considering the number of ideas he’s throwing around, it would’ve been easy for the film to descend into a preachy soup. Instead, thanks to the extended timespan, there’s always a fresh joke around the corner. Revisiting these characters over multiple years affords us the chance to watch them grow and adjust naturally. A punk band dwindles, an AA meeting grows, and certain events challenge the community dynamic in surprising ways. Through it all, a warmly empathetic optimism brings the disparate groups together.

That optimism is what ultimately ties the film together. Elton himself has made it clear that he wanted to make a nice film – something lovely and warm – and that ethos shines through. Even when the film is confronting Australia’s thorniest conversations – the refugee crisis, Aboriginal marginalisation – it remains upbeat and acknowledges them as decipherable problems. They aren’t just rocks and hard places, they are people, and people deserve love and respect.

With so many stories it’s also inevitable that some of them won’t get the time they deserve. Aboriginal marginalisation, for instance, is a complex topic that is ill-suited to a comedy that can’t focus on it. One of the children wears an ankle-monitor which is played for a single laugh but never properly addressed. That’s practically the definition of lip-service, and it’s not the only instance of it. Elton is sincere in his desire to confront difficult issues, and his attempts are at least commendable, but the problems are also much bigger than he can manage in an already busy film.

Conservatives will bristle, but lefties will laugh at the shenanigans in Three Summers. It’s not a perfect film – Elton would do well to narrow his scope next time – but it’s genuine where it counts. It’s a kind-hearted comedy with some wonderful performances (Szubanski is just lovely) and a gorgeously Australian setting. It’s the perfect film for an outdoor screening on a warm summer’s eve so expect it to remain a mainstay of those events for years to come.

 

Three Summers is available in Australian cinemas from November 2.

Image courtesy of Transmission Films 2017

 

Movie review- Loving Vincent

Vincent van Gogh’s immortal legacy is revived in this visually stunning painted film, but his tumultuous soul is still left in the dark.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz- Tan

Loving Vincent is a spectacular triumph of animation technique and an earnest if somewhat lifeless effort at drama. We are told in opening text that each frame was lovingly hand-painted by over a hundred dedicated artists, and the final result is utterly stunning in its beauty. This is really one of the finest looking animated films I have seen. If only the same tireless conviction was applied to the screenplay.

The method of the plot is not unlike that of Immortal Beloved (1994), in which Gary Oldman played Ludwig van Beethoven as a genius bordering dangerously on insanity. His story was told through the eyes of his friend Schindler, who tried to learn more about the maestro through letters and questioning those who really knew him. Loving Vincent, too, has a letter and lots of questions, asked by Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), a pleasant young chap who intends to uncover why Vincent van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk), a man seemingly content, would shoot himself in a field.

The film, however, lacks the presence and impact of an Oldman-like figure at the centre to propel an otherwise humdrum investigatory procedural with purpose. All the people Armand interviews are like characters from Cluedo, restricted to wary glances and dialogue programmed to paint an untrustworthy portrait of the troubled artist (pun intended). Was van Gogh mad or a genius? Did he deserve to die? How big a part did his brother Theo play? The point I guess is to not find out; that a man whose gift was to create movement and colour on canvas unlike any other before him should not be disassembled like a computer motherboard but appreciated for his richness.

So stories criss-cross and fade into each other, and soon Armand has before him a jigsaw puzzle of a man everybody seemed to know but nobody truly understood. Okay, but to what end? The film is written by Jacek Dehnel and directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, and they do a fine job of making van Gogh a rather mysterious figure, shrouded in the fumes of his oils. But their screenplay just coasts from interview to interview, never stopping long enough to ponder the seriousness of the questions asked. Meetings don’t carry much importance. Armand is sweet but is too easily swept along for the ride. After it all, we don’t come away with much more than when we started.

But this could all be part of a much larger plot by the filmmakers to narrow our attention to the animation, which, in all seriousness, is majestic enough to keep it all afloat. The swirling strokes and vivid colours are almost hypnotic, which isn’t helpful when you have a plot that works like a sedative. But, my word, what a treat this movie is for the eyes. I reckon it could be screened in one of those dark rooms at the art museum with no sound and still move admirers to tears.

Many people will walk out of Loving Vincent with their own questions about van Gogh’s life, which is all well and good. I walked out wondering how many tons of paint was used and why none of the artists who sweated over this film are world famous, because you could extract any frame, put it up on your wall and have yourself a masterpiece. It’s that good.

Loving Vincent is available in Australian cinemas from November 2.

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment

Interview: Rob Livings – Two People

Thomas Munday 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Rob Livings 

Movie Review – A Ghost Story

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

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan 

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Ghost Story is available in Australian cinemas from July 27 

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment