The Changing Face of the Oscars

Michael Philp 

The Oscars have changed remarkably over the past decade. Since the expansion of the Best Picture slot to include up to 10 nominees, there’s been a marked increase in the inclusion – and celebration – of films centred on diversity. This movement kicked up a notch last year with Moonlight’s win, but the Weinstein scandal last October appeared to throw those efforts into sharp relief. Last Monday, it was suddenly a lot more obvious that white men were winning, or even being nominated for, an award over their “diverse” colleagues.

For many of us, this year’s awards felt caught between the Academy’s old habits and the new wave of socially conscious, diversity-focused filmmaking. The Shape of Water won Best Picture, but it was up against mediocre Oscar bait that shouldn’t have had a chance in hell – namely The Post, but also Darkest Hour, and to a lesser extent Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. In previous years those films would have been serious contenders, and Darkest Hour probably would have won, but in 2018 the Academy has begun to move on from the kind of stodgy biopics that have been their bread-and-butter for the past century.

But of course, they haven’t entirely moved on, creating the clear division mentioned above. Everyone knew Gary Oldman was going to win Best Actor, even if the film around him wasn’t up to snuff. “It was a legacy award” went the chant, while an undefined contingent wondered when we might stop needing to say such things, and instead get to celebrate the work that we actually liked.

Which brings me to the films that sat right in the middle of the divide – the ones that half of us liked and half of us railed against. More specifically, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Our review praised it, but, personally, I found it distasteful and crass. No matter what you think of the film, it was fairly obvious why it was up there – if not, the “Times Up” pins, shining brightly against black suits, were a pretty good hint.

It is my sincerest hope that in the future we won’t need such glaring political statements to consider a film worthy of recognition. In the same vein, I hope next year we won’t have to take a mediocre biopic seriously. Beyond that, I hope we’ll eventually move past diversity showcases like Shape of Water (politics is fine, but “diversity is good” feels like such a no-brainer that I hope we outgrow it quickly). These aspects of the ceremony already feel outdated – there are richer conversations to be had, the Academy just needs to grow into them. For instance, in the future, we’ll hopefully see more films from people of Asian and Indian backgrounds. Statistically speaking they should be represented far better than they are, maybe one day we’ll examine that problem.

The divisions that we’re experiencing right now aren’t cause for alarm; they’re part of a natural process of correction. It is not that we shouldn’t celebrate white stories, but that they should have to earn their place, rather than being nominated by default. The Oscars are entering a period where they are hungry for exciting ideas from fresh filmmakers. They no longer blindly reflect the movie-going public, but are instead interested in how films function as modern art. You can criticise that approach as elitist, but I would urge you to recognise that the ultimate goal hasn’t changed – it is still to tell stories of everyday people doing extraordinary things. The difference is that the definition of everyday people has been broadened to include groups other than white men. What a world.

Image courtesy of Kevin Mazur/WireImage
Source: http://oscar.go.com/photos/2018/red-carpet-arrivals-2018/90th-annual-academy-awards-arrivals-129

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

6 Great Biopics About Terrible People

Rhys Graeme-Drury

A lot of biopics are about heroic, influential or lauded historical figures who irrevocably changed the course of history; think Gary Oldman’s turn as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy in Jackie or Daniel Day Lewis’ Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln. While these films are all well and good, I often find the most interesting biopics centre around bad people; those who are divisive, despicable and downright nasty. Boy, I can’t wait for the inevitable Donald Trump biopic once he leaves office – you just know it’s gonna be great.

In honour of Margot Robbie’s new film I, Tonya, which follows the life of American figure skater Tonya Harding, I’ve turned my attention to great biopics about terrible people.

The Program (2015)
Director: Stephen Frears
Starring: Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, Jesse Plemons

It’s the ultimate Icarus tale; The Program chronicles the rise and fall of competitive cyclist Lance Armstrong, offering us an inevitable biopic that’s as fascinating as it is frustrating. With Ben Foster donning Armstrong’s lycra bike shorts, this is one biopic that was overlooked by audiences when it first opened, but it’s examination of Armstrong’s unrelenting urge to win at all costs is compelling, to say the least. The Program goes behind closed doors to reveal the details of Armstrong’s doping efforts, from bullying and intimidating those around him, to the gradual justification of his own cheating. While it does fall into many of the typical biopic pratfalls, The Program does go to great lengths to unpack the headspace of someone able to deceive as Armstrong did.

Downfall (2004)
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Starring: Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, Ulrich Matthes

The ultimate biopic about a bad person; Downfall follows the final days of Adolf Hitler, a man who needs no introduction. Even though it received acclaim upon its release, and a nomination for Best Foreign Language film, I find this film a little problematic as it establishes a shred of sympathy for its subject. Hitler, played with aplomb by Bruno Ganz, comes across as a frail human figure, rather than a terrifying supervillain, which one could argue diminishes the atrocities he ordered. On the other hand, that he can be portrayed as a human yet still invoke evil in his supporters tells us a lot about the era and the setting of Hitler’s Germany. It’s a chilling and compelling contradiction.

Oh, and the film spawned one of the best classic memes of all time. Enjoy.

Steve Jobs (2015)
Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen

02 February - Steve Jobs
How insufferable, self-centred and unlikeable can your lead character be before the audience turns against you? That was the question swirling around my head throughout Danny Boyle’s biopic of Apple cofounder and technological visionary Steve Jobs. Armed with biting repartee penned by Aaron Sorkin, Michael Fassbender’s compelling performance as Jobs pushes audiences to reject him. From his cold dismissal of his own daughter, to squeezing friend Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) out of the business he helped found, it’s a complex portrayal that doesn’t exactly paint Jobs in the best light. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that this film is a riveting watch, and the execution is second-to-none.

The Founder (2016)
Director: John Lee Hancock
Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, Laura Dern

Here we have another money-grabbing tycoon who goes to extreme lengths to screw over honest people and make a fortune – the real American dream. The Founder sees director John Lee Hancock tackle the life and times of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a travelling salesman who uses every ounce of his business acumen to outsmart the McDonalds brothers (Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch) and steal their billion-dollar idea, taking a wholesome burger joint with a quirky process, and turning it into a multinational corporation. Hancock’s film works as well as it does because of this dark, underlying edge and a magnetic, often overlooked performance from Keaton.

The Social Network (2010)
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer

January 2018 - Great Biopics Terrible People Social Network
A film in the same mould as Steve Jobs, David Fincher’s landmark  biopic of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is as close to perfect as you can get. And yet, at its core is another detestable and single-minded upstart who goes to great lengths to alienate everyone around him, landing himself in legal hot water in the process. Eisenberg’s terrific performance is complemented by another ripping script from Sorkin, which brilliantly illustrates the irony of the founder of a social network acting in such an antisocial manner. Systematic and scathing, The Social Network is a collaboration that illustrated the compelling nature of unlikeable people in a way few other films have before or since.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Jonah Hill

Sex, drugs and stock markets; Martin Scorsese’s depiction of provocative Wall Street power broker Jordan Belfort was so gleefully grotesque and raucous that it split audiences down the middle. There were those that revelled in the overblown indulgence, and there were those that despised its glorification of Belfort’s decadent lifestyle. Of course, Leonardo DiCaprio, who gives possibly his best career performance, insists the film doesn’t glamourise Belfort, but instead critiques the society that allowed a man of his ilk to flourish. Whichever side of the fence you sit on, you have to admit – Scorsese, DiCaprio and Margot Robbie crafted a raucous and insatiably good biopic about a whole bunch of truly terrible people.

Images courtesy of Roadshow Films/Roadshow Entertainment (The Wolf of Wall Street), Universal Pictures/Universal Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Australia  (Steve Jobs), Sony Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (The Social Network) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Movie Review – Darkest Hour

Fat suit? Check. Heavy prosthetics and makeup? Check. Actor at the top of his game bellowing some of history’s most famous speeches? Gary Oldman, awards season is all yours.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

World War II is in full swing by May 1940, and Britain needs a new Prime Minister to protect its national security. With the most obvious choice for PM unwilling to take up such a task, the responsibility is handed down to the only other man eligible – Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), the pompous and audacious political head of the Royal Navy. Britain faces imminent invasion with the unstoppable Nazi forces firmly gripping Western Europe, leaving Churchill to face a monumental challenge just days after being sworn in. With his own party conspiring to overthrow him, he must persuade a nation to stand and fight against its overwhelming enemy.

Gary Oldman is one of those actors that has surprisingly never won an Oscar, despite a long, distinguished career filled with consistently terrific performances. It hardly matters anymore, given the Oscars are more concerned with politics these days, but if the Academy still stood for the most exceptional commitments to cinema, Darkest Hour would be Oldman’s Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant moment.

Countless actors have portrayed Churchill – Oldman is the sixth from the Harry Potter films alone – but his performance easily ensures the rest will all be forgotten; even Brian Cox, who appeared in an unfortunately-timed Churchill biopic right before this one.

What bolsters this iteration of Churchill above the others is not a focus on the great things he achieved, but how he achieved these through his fundamental flaws as a human being. Oldman’s Churchill is not an easy man to warm to; he’s arrogant, cranky, rude and quick to create arguments. He shows little respect to his peers, all of whom seem to despise him – with just cause. And yet it’s his unorthodox, contentious ways that get the job done. It’s pure method-in-madness, and Oldman realises the full brilliance of this with a great amount of humour.

As a complete package, Darkest Hour isn’t quite as towering as the man at its core. It could certainly be considered a return to form for director Joe Wright, who stumbled massively when he entered blockbuster territory with Pan. He’s clearly back in his period piece comfort zone, with Pride & Prejudice, Atonement and Anna Karenina being among his better films. Darkest Hour, however, lacks the well-roundedness and accessibility of these crowd-pleasers; it’s competent, but likely to only really pique the interest of those well-versed in the heavy politics and diplomacy of war.

It does, however, work surprisingly well as a companion piece to Dunkirk; while Christopher Nolan‘s film consisted only of the catastrophic events that occurred on the French beaches, this gives us the other side of the coin in what was occurring back home in Britain. Together, the two films form an extensive whole. On its own, Darkest Hour is a good compilation of Churchill’s greatest hits, elevated by a brilliant actor finally earning the acclaim he deserves.

Darkest Hour is available in Australian cinemas from January 11 

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2018

75th Golden Globes – Who Should Have Won

Elle Cahill & Josip Knezevic 

This week saw the Golden Globes return for its 75th year, but what set apart this year’s ceremony was the looming shadow of the many sexual abuse scandals currently rocking Hollywood. While racial discrimination and diversity issues have previously dominated the awards season, this year was wholly focused on the women of the film industry, with the majority of female attendees opting to don black in protest against sexual abuse.

While a serious issue, the stand against sexual abuse did distract from a lot of the award winners, many of which were female driven projects. With all that said, let’s take a look at the winners of this year’s Golden Globe awards.

Best Motion Picture – Drama
Winner: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Who Should Have Won – Call Me By Your Name

Coming-of-age romance Call Me By Your Name ticks almost all the boxes for the makings of a classic film, which should have been enough to edge out murder mystery Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but the winner’s themes of domestic and sexual violence, coupled with a powerhouse performance from Frances McDormand made it a predictable winner. Sorry Armie Hammer, hopefully your dance moves will get recognised at the Oscars.

Call Me By Your Name December 2017

Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Winner: Lady Bird
Who Should Have Won: The Disaster Artist

Although it hasn’t yet hit Australian cinemas, it’s hardly surprising that Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird took home this award, especially after it became Rotten Tomatoes’ best reviewed film for 2017.

On the other hand, it would have been a welcome surprise if Tommy Wiseau finally got some credit for cult classic The Room via The Disaster Artist, which chronicles the making of his notorious film. The Disaster Artist was Hooked On Film’s top pick for the best film of 2017 and another film high on that list was Jordan Peele’s Get Out, which also would have been a worthy winner in this category.

the-disaster-artist-f72066
Best Director
Winner – Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Who Should Have Won – Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk

With Guillermo Del Toro, Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg and Martin McDonagh all nominated for this category, the award winner for Best Director was possibly the most difficult to predict. Ultimately, Nolan’s outstanding work on epic war piece Dunkirk should have taken the honour, but del Toro’s win at least marks a welcome return to the greatness we saw from him back in 2006 with Pan’s Labyrinth.

07 July 2017 - Dunkirk
Best Actor, Motion Picture – Drama
Winner – Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Who Should Have Won – Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman was long overdue for recognition, with countless character transitions making up his long and colourful career, so we were more than happy to see our prediction come to fruition in this category. From the moment the trailer for Darkest Hour was released, his impressive portrayal of Winston Churchill was already making waves. The Hooked On Film review of Darkest Hour will be out later this week, with the film available in Australian cinemas from January 11.

Best Actress, Motion Picture – Drama
Winner – Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Who Should Have Won – Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Frances McDormand’s feisty performance in Three Billboards was always in a league of its own, so it’s no surprise that she took home the award for Best Actress. It should be enough for her to take out the Oscar for the equivalent category, however, beloved favourite of the Academy Meryl Streep could potentially get in her way. At least for now, Streep can take a step back and let someone else enjoy the spoils of victory.

January 2018 - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Best Actor, Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Winner – James Franco, The Disaster Artist
Who Should Have Won – James Franco, The Disaster Artist

Anyone who’s seen The Room couldn’t have imagined a better performance than the one James Franco delivered in The Disaster Artist. Franco stole the show as the infamous Tommy Wiseau, managing to mimic all of Wiseau’s intricate idiosyncrasies and quirky traits. The award was undoubtedly Franco’s for the taking, and even his acceptance speech was a highlight of the evening. I hope you were all throwing your spoons at the TV as he walked up to the podium like we were.

Best Actress, Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Winner – Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Who Should Have Won – Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Much like Gary Oldman, Saoirse Ronan’s performance in Lady Bird looked simply delightful from the moment the trailer dropped. A lot of positive reviews have followed Ronan’s fabulous performance, and we’re looking forward to seeing what else this bright young star has in store for us. Although, we’ll always have a soft spot for our Aussie girl Margot Robbie, who was nominated for her lead role in biopic I, Tonya.

Best Screenplay
Winner – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Who Should Have Won – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Though the critics loved Lady Bird, we had a strong feeling that Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri would steal this one away. With a premise that sounds like its based on a true story, this original screenplay is far more daring than any of the other contenders, with some serious character development and awell-rounded story. Sorry Gerwig, but McDonagh rightfully deserved recognition for this piece of great screenwriting.

Full List of Winners

Best Director
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

Best Film – Drama
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

 Best Actor – Drama
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Best Actress – Drama
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Screenplay
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Film – Musical or Comedy
Lady Bird

Best Actor – Musical or Comedy
James Franco, The Disaster Artist

Best Actress – Musical or Comedy
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Best Supporting Actor
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Supporting Actress
Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Best Animated Movie
Coco

Best Foreign Language Film
In the Fade

Best Original Score
The Shape of Water

Best Original Song
“This Is Me”, The Greatest Showman

Best Television Series – Drama
The Handmaid’s Tale

Best Actress – Television Drama
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale

Best Actor – Television Drama
Sterling K Brown, This is Us

Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy
Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Best Actor – Television Series Musical or Comedy
Aziz Ansari, Master of None

Best Limited Television Series or TV Movie
Big Little Lies

Best Actress – Limited Series or TV Movie
Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies

Best Actor – Limited Series or TV Movie
Ewan McGregor, Fargo

Best Supporting Actor – Limited Series or TV Movie
Alexander Skarsgard, Big Little Lies

Best Supporting Actress – Limited Series or TV Movie
Laura Dern, Big Little Lies

Cecil B. De Mille Award
Oprah Winfrey

Images courtesy of Sony Pictures, Roadshow Films, Universal Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox 

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

Movie Review – The Hitman’s Bodyguard

The Hitman’s Bodyguard is good for a laugh but little else.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Who doesn’t love a good buddy comedy? The Nice Guys, Bad Boys, 21 Jump Street – the list goes on. Not joining those esteemed ranks, however, is Patrick Hughes’ new film The Hitman’s Bodyguard; a clichéd action-comedy that coasts by on the charisma of its two leads, Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L Jackson.

Reynolds plays Michael Bryce, a bodyguard tasked by his Interpol agent ex-girlfriend Amelia (Elodie Yung) with protecting Darius Kincaid (Jackson), a hitman who needs to be escorted safely to Holland to act as a witness in the trial of a Soviet warlord named Dukhovich (Gary Oldman). Reams of faceless bad dudes are trying to stop them, hijinks ensue – you get the picture.

The trifecta of talent fronting the film – Reynolds, Jackson and Oldman – lend significant weight to what is a fairly humdrum plot, even if they’re all cast as versions of their own public persona or characters they’ve played in the past. Reynolds is hapless, sarcastic and adorable; Jackson is foul-mouthed and effortlessly cool; and Oldman is a deranged European terrorist with a facial disfigurement. None of these characters are a stretch for the three, which certainly affords the impression that everyone is simply here to phone it in and cash the cheque – it makes you wonder if Jackson works on commission for every time he drops the F-bomb. If so, he milked it for all it was worth.

Where The Hitman’s Bodyguard flounders is in its scattershot and wildly wayward approach to a little thing called tone. What starts out as a straightforward buddy cop flick soon finds itself getting tangled up in a lot of other narrative cul-de-sacs that sap the energy from the freewheeling vibe; one scene sees Reynolds tortured for information via electrocution, right after which the film launches into a flashback soundtracked by Foreigner, a car chase to Spiderbait and a bareknuckle fist fight to Chuck Berry. Like, pick a lane and stick to it.

The geopolitics, harsh realism and mass graves simply doesn’t mesh with some of the goofier aspects of the film, like singing nuns, farting convicts and meet-cutes to Dancing in the Moonlight by King Harvest. Hughes’ film is firing on cylinders when it’s in Lethal Weapon territory and concerned with the basics; the banter is top-notch and gives Reynolds and Jackson plenty of room to showcase their bottomless wit, even if the narrative spins its wheels and is threadbare at the best of times – at nearly two-hours, Hughes’ film most definitely outstays its welcome by at least 20 minutes.

That’s basically the gist of The Hitman’s Bodyguard; it’s a fun premise that has been stretched into a two-hour movie and milked dry. At a tight 90-minutes, the film would have felt more focused, but in its current form it’s a strangely disorganised, flabby action-comedy that relies solely on the unquenchable charisma of its two leads.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard is available in Australian cinemas from August 31

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

 

Christopher Nolan’s Best Closers

Zachary Cruz-Tan

Since the black-and-white beginnings of Christopher Nolan’s hefty career, he has taken sadistic pleasure in leaving us with closing scenes that have been specifically designed to drive us mad with speculation long after we’ve staggered out of the cinema.

Of course, not all his endings have been confounding. Some have simply been utterly brilliant. With Dunkirk opening this week (bets, anyone, on how it ends?), let’s revisit some of Nolan’s epic denouements.

5. Memento (2000)

07 July - Nolan Memento

How do you end a movie with no beginning? By giving it no ending. Memento is one big WTF moment, with the past and present carved to shreds and spliced back together with a kind of madness only Nolan (and perhaps Michel Gondry) could subdue.

And what better way to keep a lid on the crazy than to have Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) restart his arduous, but ultimately futile quest for justice by arriving at the scene that kicks the entire plot into gear and firmly questioning “So, where was I?”. Leonard’s memory loss has driven him in circles, caused him to commit murder and steal, and now provides his life with an endless cycle of delirium. It’s a perfectly sharp and maddening close.

4. The Dark Knight (2008)

07 July - Nolan Dark Knight
The Dark Knight’s ending upholds the moral integrity of its mysterious hero by confirming once and for all that Batman serves no one else but the entire city of Gotham. Unlike Superman or Marvel’s Iron Man, the Caped Crusader isn’t concerned with fame or recognition, and proves his loyalty to the people by taking the fall for a series of murders he didn’t commit, all in an attempt to salvage the pristine reputation of the victims’ true killer. It’s this kind of self-sacrifice (rare for a superhero of any kind) that prompts Commissioner Gordon’s immortal words “He’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him, because he can take it”. And take it he does.

3. The Prestige (2006)

07 July - Nolan Prestige
If The Dark Knight’s ending was tragic, the final shot of The Prestige is like the discovery of a mass grave (which it kind of is). Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale), two outstanding stage illusionists, have engaged in a deadly cold war, until Alfred unveils an impossible new act that has Robert reeling in the aisles. Robert descends into the murky depths of obsession and devises a solution that’s even better than Alfred’s humble trick, except no one, not even Robert, could’ve predicted the enormity of its consequences. The film closes with a gruesome exhibition of the scale of Robert’s sacrifice: He has to die every night for a few rounds of applause.

2. Inception (2010)

07 July - Nolan Inception
Whether you treasure or despise Inception, you were probably writhing in frustration when it ended. The top wobbled! It did! And yet no one knows for sure, maybe not even Nolan, if Dom Cobb’s climactic redemption and return to his children was all just another dream layer.

Inception’s classic ending works because we buy the rest of the movie and are literally begging for Dom (Leonardo DiCaprio) to succeed. We learn that the top spins eternally in a dream, and so when that final shot lingers painfully on that irritating totem, our eyes are peeled and our senses heightened. It’s masterful manipulation from a truly devilish filmmaker.

1. Batman Begins (2005)

07 July - Nolan Batman Begins
Batman Begins ends in complete perfection, not just as an origin story for the Dark Knight, but as the first chapter of a brilliant trilogy. Set on the rooftop of Gotham’s police department, it introduces the Bat Signal, teases The Joker, establishes the fragile but necessary relationship between James Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Batman (Christian Bale), and sublimely encapsulates all that Batman stands for when Gordon confesses “I never said thank you”, to which Batman simply says “And you’ll never have to” before the music swells and he leaps off the ledge into obscurity. Perfection.

Images courtesy of Buena Vista International & Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Roadshow Films & Warner Bros Entertainment Australia 

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 – Criminal

Much like its title, action-thriller Criminal steals 113 minutes of your life and never gives it back.


Tom Munday

Criminal continues Kevin Costner’s shockingly unsuccessful run of geri-action movies. It’s a movie so boring and woefully developed that it may be one of the worst action movies of all time.

Things kick off with CIA Agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) hiding Spanish hacker Jan Stroop (Michael Pitt) in a London safe house. After Pope is killed by an extremist, CIA supervisor Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) tracks down Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones). Franks, having developed a treatment that can plant memory patterns from dead people into living ones, picks career convict Jericho Stewart (Costner) for the procedure. Jericho must find Stroop before the Euro-trash villains all while zzzzzzz…

Criminal resembles a straight-to-Netflix action-thriller that somehow stumbled into a cinema release. Everything about this production comes off as cheap and
uninspired. Like many underwhelming blockbusters (Survivor, London has
Fallen
), the British-capital setting screams of tax breaks. With about 90% of the budget given to the cast, director Ariel Vromen (The Iceman) and screenwriters Douglas Cook and David Wiesberg (The Rock) are left to fumble with every genre trope under the sun – from sci-fi to spy films. Despite the unique premise, the myriad of plot holes, bloated stretches, and underwhelming answers struggle to even warrant a viewing on a hungover Sunday morning.

Bafflingly, Criminal contains some of the least likeable characters in cinema history. Jericho is a childish brute, willingly beating up and murdering innocent civilians at random. His cruel demeanour, and shoddy treatment of Pope’s wife Jill (Gal Gadot) and daughter Emma, would make anyone long for his violent demise. The movie’s CIA agents, political figures, and medical professionals are idiotic and ill tempered, and struggle to keep up with every twist and turn. Sadly, brilliant actors including Kostner, Oldman, Jones, Reynolds etc. look to be wasting their time and ours.

Criminal contains all of Hollywood’s worst impulses; wasting a strong ensemble and intriguing ideas with a poorly executed and irritating final product. I wouldn’t wish this movie on my worst enemies!

Criminal is available in Australian cinemas from May 26

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films