Interview – Jordon Prince-Wright: The Decadent and Depraved

Rhys Pascoe

A five-year production from pen to paper to premiere, The Decadent and Depraved has been making waves with audiences across the state since its big unveiling last December. The first idea came about while director Jordon Prince-Wright was still at high school. Twelve months later, Prince-Wright pitched the idea to co-director Axel August, with whom he had recently completed a short film.

The rest, as they say, is history, and now the directorial duo are knee-deep in a winding regional tour that intends to showcase the film to as wide and as varied an audience as possible. Not just a hit here at home, The Decadent and Depraved has been garnering acclaim overseas as well, recently receiving five accolades from the Los Angeles Film Awards.

Taking a break from the regional tour, Prince-Wright – a self-described underdog from Morley Camerahouse – took some time to chat with Hooked On Film about the production of WA’s biggest independent film to date.

“We were filming while I was 19 and 20, and a lot of people were telling me it wasn’t possible,” Prince-Wright said. “I didn’t really know what was involved, but I did know what was involved, if you know what I mean. It was a real learning process on set.

“I initially envisaged The Decadent and Depraved as a showreel piece – that’s what I set out to make. It turned out to be one hell of a showreel piece and sort of snowballed from there. What started as a quirky Western turned into a full-blown feature film.

“It was halfway through shooting, while I was sat on the verandah of this big manor house in Yalgoo with the 200 cast and crew, that it actually hit me. It was a real ‘holy crap’ moment – what have I gotten myself into.”

The Decadent and Depraved Teaser Trailer from Prince-Wright Productions on Vimeo.

 

Hooked On Film: The traditional Western isn’t something we see much of nowadays, nothing like the volume of the classic studio era – what prompted you to dive into this genre?

Jordon Prince-Wright: I grew up watching classic westerns as a kid. The old black and white films of John Wayne were my childhood, as opposed to superheroes and cartoons. I grew into more spaghetti westerns and high content rating western films, as I grew older. So the western genre has always been a genre I’ve been fond of and adored. In saying this, I watch many other genres, but anything that is not set in today’s era and is a period piece is definitely my forte.

I mean I’ve been getting offers to direct and produce other films since high school, all of which are period pieces, so the reputation for what I am good at is out and the next film coming up is going to be even closer to my heart, not only because it’s a WWI film, but also because it’s based on a true story of Western Australians from regional WA who went to the Somme and the Western Front.

HOF: The Decadent and Depraved takes a distinctive genre – the Western – and supplants it into a local setting. Was it a challenge to take the rich American iconography – Stetsons, spurs, and bandoliers – and give them a distinctly Western Australian spin?

JPW: I had the upper hand with all the amazing locations up north. Once we were there and looking at the amazing wide shots with the red dirt it was distinctly Australian. When WA people see that on screen, they know right away that it’s WA. We’ve got a lot of the stereotypical stuff in there – the spurs, the hats – but it still looks like WA.

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HOF: A core theme of the film is “upholding morality in an immoral world”. Can you tell us about any classic Westerns that may have inspired The Decadent and Depraved? Or maybe something else entirely?

JPW: I love my old school films; The Magnificent Seven, Sergio Leone films, John Wayne. I would say names like Yul Brynner, John Wayne, Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen and my friends in school wouldn’t know who they were. I would even go to school dressed as a character from a western and they would ask if I was Woody from Toy Story!

The thing is, all those characters in those films were in a way ‘one layered’ and to the audience it was simple separating the protagonist from the antagonist. Yet when you really look into it, I always would question why both were committing murder and stealing while roaming the vast landscape. What made their choices any better than the other? Both were killing for what he believed was right. With The Decadent and Depraved, I really wanted to blur the lines between good and evil with my characters. Throwing them into a world of corruption just made that all the more real.

HOF: A key consideration during the shoot was minimising the need for ‘CGI tricks’ and preserving that gritty Western aesthetic. Why?

JPW: I have a real love for old school cinema. With this film, throwing in camera tricks and CGI would have ruined some of the classic storytelling I was looking for. They didn’t have them back in the old days, so we weren’t going to cheat.

Also, it’s a western. As an audience member going to see a western, or any period piece for that matter, I am going to see something ‘real’, to be transported into a whole new world, and I think CGI in a way ruins it as we are just creating a world in a computer as opposed to putting thought and energy into actually recreating in real life.

In The Decadent and Depraved, there were no replica firearms. All of them are original 1860s firearms, all of which fire black powder with no CGI tricks. The actors are riding horses and the stunts are real. When you combine this with shooting in -5°C and rain, it all creates an epic aesthetic, which is something the entire cast and crew endeavored to get right.

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HOF: How important was it to uphold historical accuracy and authenticity on this production?

JPW: Our job as filmmakers is to entertain. We can make people think, laugh, cry and jump in their seats, but it all comes back to being entertained. If you’re not entertained as an audience, the film most likely won’t stick with you. It probably sounds obvious when you state it, but sometimes I think filmmakers get so roped into making their film exactly how they envisioned it or how it must be exactly historically correct that they start to lose the audience. Therefore, yes the backbone of the story was to keep this historically correct, but when we felt we needed to, we pushed the boundaries. I think this has paid off extremely well in entertaining those who would not normally watch or be entertained by a genre like this.

HOF: There are some truly stunning WA landscapes featured in the film – what was the scouting process like when you’re such remote locations?

JPW: Long story short, at the premiere of my previous short films, the Shire of Yalgoo were present, as I had got them on board with Red Dirt a few years ago. At that premiere they asked what was next – of course I mentioned the western and what I was after. A few weeks later they flew Axel and I up, and away we went looking for locations. Before you knew it I had neighboring shires contacting me about their possible locations, sites, landmarks that we could use the film, and it all just flowed from there.

HOF: You’ve been touring the film around rural Western Australia over the last few months, from Cue and Leonora to Yalgoo. What has the response been like from the locals?

JPW: It was the scariest thing ever. We had WA’s largest premiere. Lots and lots of people. I can’t remember the premiere at all, actually. It’s just a blur. These were the guys who had a hand in making the film, whether that means helping us out in kind or shooting in their backyard – literally, because their backyard is this huge rural station.

In Yalgoo, 80% of the audience was indigenous and some of them were in tears at the end of the film. They were so overwhelmed and emotional. In Cue we had 200+ people all dressed as cowboys – that was one hell of a night. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, you get to Sandstone and they all bring a plate of food, real country-like. In Esperance, they were laughing at things that I didn’t think were funny. It’s really interesting seeing what different audiences respond to.

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The Decadent and Depraved will screen at Orana Cinemas in Kalgoorlie, Busselton, Albany and Geraldton on Wednesday August 29 as part of its ongoing regional tour. Visit www.princewrightproductions.com/screenings for more information and to book.

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Movie Review – Hereditary

Trauma-inducing, nerve pounding, soul shredding satanic fun for the whole family.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

When the reclusive grandmother of the Graham family passes away, strange things begin to happen to her descendants. Her daughter Annie (Toni Collette) attends support groups where she reveals the troubles her family has faced and her strained relationship with her son Peter (Alex Wolff). After a bid to get her introverted daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) socialising more with Peter ends in another horrific demise, Annie’s family deteriorates further. Much to the disdain of her sceptical husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), Annie attempts to communicate with her daughter through séances, and in the process unravels some dark and terrifying secrets about the Graham family ancestry.

It’s often interesting to reflect on the marketing campaigns behind independent horror films. Looking back at the trailers for first-time feature director Ari Aster’s Hereditary makes it seem like an event packed to the brim with moments designed to make viewers jump out of their seats – in other words, a mainstream horror crowd. In reality, there’s approximately one, maybe two jump scares total in Hereditary. Those more accustomed to independent horror will likely expect the slow burn and favour of disturbing imagery over things going bang, while a more casual viewer could be in for an unexpected shock. In that sense, perhaps the marketing team behind Hereditary are geniuses; deliberately misleading a larger crowd into seeing a film that will truly disturb and rattle them to the core.

Aster’s jaw-dropping debut is a difficult beast to define. In some senses, it feels like a patchwork threaded together from things we’ve already seen; there’s the haunted house sensibilities and ritualism of mainstays like The Conjuring and Insidious, and the oppressively patient atmosphere and satanic phenomenon of A24’s last horror hit, The Witch. But uniquely, Hereditary feels only half of a horror film; it builds immense tension doubling as a distressingly dysfunctional family drama.

At the film’s beating heart is the great Toni Collette, who goes against her quirky mum type from the likes of Little Miss Sunshine and United States of Tara. Here she’s one monster of a matriarch, making herself deeply sympathetic as she copes poorly with the agony of losing both her mother and daughter, while simultaneously revealing herself as terrifyingly unstable.

As is usually the case with films like these, it’s best entering Hereditary knowing as little as possible about what’s about to unfold. It’s yet another stunning debut from a director to watch, and another triumph from the ever-creative A24.

Hereditary is available in Australian cinemas from June 7 

Image courtesy of Studiocanal

Movie Review – Disobedience

Sebastian Lelio’s lastest feature looks at what happens when your sexuality and religious beliefs don’t align.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

When Ronit (Rachel Weisz) receives word that her father has passed, she returns to the Orthodox Jewish community from which she was shunned as a child. While paying respects to her father, a revered rabbi of the community, Ronit comes to learn that her former childhood friend and lover Esti (Rachel McAdams) has married her cousin Dovid (Alessandro Nivola). Ronit and Esti soon rekindle their old romance, leaving Esti and Ronit both questioning their faith and the paths their individual lives have taken.
Once again, director Sebastián Lelio explores people living on the outskirts of their community and struggling with their identity in the world. Similar to Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman (2017), which explored a transgender woman coming to grips with the death of her boyfriend, Disobedience is a close inspection of sexuality that is deemed to have no place in organised religious communities.

Lelio has managed to capture the bitterness that exists between old lovers, the suffocating presence of family and religion, and the testing of faith in a way that doesn’t prescribe right or wrong, but instead asks why things have to be this way. It explores the sense of duty that people have, and the depths that some feel this duty to the point that they can’t be themselves without fear of disappointment and banishment.

Bringing this story to life is a cast of outstanding calibre. Weisz plays the disenchanted Ronit with excellence as the character deals with the loss of her father and the unforgiveable nature of the Orthodox community. Nivola too is brilliant as Dovid, a man who has been shown the kinder side of the Orthodox community and struggles to understand Ronit and Esti’s defiance of “what is right.” Nivola has the ability to be silent, but speak volumes all at the same time, and I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing this role as perfectly as he does.

Finally, McAdams as Esti is the stand out for me. Her haunting portrayal of a woman who has to make a choice between her faith and her sexuality is a memorable and gripping performance. Frequently underused as an actress, McAdams has been given the opportunity here to really act, and for me, she doesn’t disappoint. Her portrayal of Esti is unexpected, but at the same time, what you’d expect from the character. She is quiet as the dutiful wife, and rarely speaks out of line, but there’s a quiet determination in her eyes that fuels her actions throughout the film.

For the most part, the film is intimate and poignant, however, there are a couple of moments that could have been executed better. For one, the sex scene between Esti and Ronit is overdone and put together in a way that doesn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the film. It fails to express the release of sexual tension between Esti and Ronit, which has been steadily building since Ronit’s arrival. Instead, it comes across like a cheap lesbian porno.

I’d still recommend the film, however. While the themes of love and religion aren’t anything new, Lelio uniquely tells a familiar story in an unfamiliar setting. It’s a film that will stay with you long after you’ve seen it.

Disobedience is available in Australian cinemas from June 14

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

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

Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 2018

C’est La Vie! The Alliance Francaise French Film Festival has returned for another year, so why not head out to Perth’s independent cinemas, indulge in some wine and cheese, and experience the latest and greatest of French films? We checked out a few of the films on offer so you can decide what might tickle your fancy:

See You Up There  (Au Revoir Là-haut)
Michael Philp & Elle Cahill

See You Up There chronicles the lives of two men, Edouard Péricourt (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) and Albert Maillard (Albert Dupontel), who meet on a WWI battlefield and become inextricably tied to one another. After Péricourt becomes horribly disfigured, the pair return to Paris and survive by selling fake war monuments. As the pair become rich, it soon becomes apparent that great wealth brings great attention, and that they can’t keep hiding from their past.

Shifting from the hollowness of war and post-war poverty, to the extravagance of the Roaring 20’s, the filmmakers have done everything in their power to accurately portray the two extremes; beautiful cinematography illustrates the chaos and desperation of war, while the production design captures the dandiness of the 1920’s.

The comedy throughout is appropriately dark, with writer/director and lead actor Dupontel not shying away from the realities of post-war exploitation. Despite this, he makes sure to let in a little slapstick and farce, emphasising the film’s 20’s aesthetic.

Yet despite its comedic veneer, See You Up There carries an often unspoken darkness, and is never shy about addressing the roots of its characters’ poverty. That uncanny balance is what makes the film stand out.

March 2018 - AF French Film Festival See You There


Ladies (De Plus Belle)
Josip Knezevic 

Too often we forget about those who survive a battle with cancer and the challenges they face in picking up the pieces of their lives afterwards. This is where De plus belle comes in, a story about a breast cancer survivor learning how to rebuild. Florence Foresti plays Lucie Larcher, a single mother who has just had a double mastectomy and is struggling to regain the confidence she once had. When she meets Clovis (Mathieu Kassovitz), a smooth-talking bachelor, her self-image and beauty is put to the test as she struggles to feel beautiful in the way that he sees her.

Never has there been a more appropriate time to describe a movie as ‘just fine’. Des Plus Belle isn’t terrible, but neither is it great. The story is original enough, and explores the definition of beauty, as well as society’s perception towards breast cancer survivors. The acting is solid, with nice performances from both of its leads, but does it get to me emotionally? No. Does it fell like a captivating drama? No. All in all, it’s just fine.

 

Could this have been a great movie? Sure. But I think to do so, it would have required taking a lot more risks, but then again, I don’t believe this was the type of film it was striving to be. No, it just wanted to be a simple, heart-warming affair, and that it does achieve. It’s enjoyable enough, but it doesn’t push the envelope.

March 2018 - AF French Film Festival Ladies


Golden Years (Nos Années Folles)
Zachary Cruz-Tan 

André Téchiné comes from the same rich stock that flavoured French cinema in the ‘60s and ‘70s, telling stories about the human condition and filming them as if they were songs. His latest, Golden Years, addresses the human condition like so many of his others, but it plays less like a song and more like a demo track with missing verses. It’s quite a confounding experience.

From what I could tell, Golden Years unfolds out of order, which wouldn’t have been so much of a problem if it wasn’t trying to examine the mental and sexual ramifications of appearing as the opposite gender to save your life.

In the film, Paul Grappe (Pierre Deladonchamps) escapes from a shelter while recovering from war wounds and gradually loses his identity after dressing up in his mother-in-law’s old frocks. He sells his body to soldiers back from the front, alienates his wife, Louise (Céline Sallette), and eventually feels more comfortable in stockings than boots.

What happened here? Where did Paul go? Did he always have crossover tendencies, or was it just the war? Nothing’s ever quite clear. Téchiné instead snips off large portions of important events so that what we’re left with are all the uninteresting middle bits and none of the punchlines. No man stays dressed as a woman for no reason. I’m sure Paul had a good one. We just never find out what it was.

March 2018 - AF French Film Festival Golden Years


The School of Life (L’école Buissonière)
Michael Philp

It’s not hard to pull School of Life apart. It’s full of well-worn tropes, twists that you can see from a mile off, and at times it feels like several different stories crudely sewn together. It begins promisingly enough – there’s a hint of a discussion on vegetarianism that you just hope will go somewhere – but by the third act it’s clear that none of that potential is going to be handled well. Information is revealed seemingly at random, rivalries disappear, and a romance appears with all the passion of a box being ticked.

And yet it insists on being too sweet and charming to dismiss entirely. Totoche (François Cluzet) is the biggest culprit of this. An endearing take on the forbidden father figure, Totoche is a poacher with a knack for inventions and the perfect foil for Borel (Eric Elmosnino), an uptight gamekeeper obsessed with catching him. You could make an entire film out of those two playing cat and mouse and it would be wonderful. For a little while, School of Life is that film. What a pity it feels the need to grow up.

March 2018 - AF French Film Festival School of Life


Images courtesy of Alliance Francaise French Film Festival, StudioCanal, Arp Sélection and Umbrella Entertainment. 

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

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 – Brigsby Bear

Brigsby Bear is endearingly sweet and earnest. Shame, then, that a lack of care brings down what would otherwise be a fine, lovable film.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Michael Philp

James Pope (Kyle Mooney) is approaching 30. He lives with his parents (Mark Hamill, Jane Adams) in an underground bunker, locked into a routine of study and watching the one TV show available to him – Brigsby Bear. A new episode, filled with age-appropriate life-lessons, has turned up every week for the past 25 years, and James has built his entire world around it. That is until the police burst in and arrest his “parents” for kidnapping him as a child. Naturally lost and socially awkward, James sets out to find new friends and give Brigsby Bear the finale it deserves.

Brigsby Bear’s intentions are apparent within minutes of James exiting the bunker. Asked for information on his captors, James calls them “A little older, and boring, I guess.” He’s spent the last 25 years only speaking to two people, and he apparently knows nothing about them. You could call that a plot-hole, but it’s just the film diverting you away from things it doesn’t care about, namely real emotional depth. Sure, Brigsby knows that it needs some level of emotion, but it’s clearly more in it for the fun of watching James make new friends.

Credit where it’s due, the film is good at that stuff. James’ new relationships are delightfully positive and free of cynicism. You’ll wait for the penny to drop – for someone to take advantage of the poor soul – but it never happens. Everyone’s purely interested in helping James in their own way, and that makes the film at least enjoyable to watch. It strains credulity sometimes (no exploitation at all?) but if you can look past that you’ll have a good time.

On the other hand, there’s a darkness at the heart of Brigsby that it just doesn’t want to deal with. The film wants to acknowledge the truth of James’ situation, but it has no idea how to, so it settles for pointing and then running away.

That’s the lack of care that drags the film down. Everyone’s so happy, and James is so awkwardly endearing, that Brigsby thinks a lack of emotional detail doesn’t matter. But that detail is what carries the best of its peers. Judged against the giants of indie film – Little Miss Sunshine, for instance – Brigsby falls disappointingly short. It just doesn’t care enough about its characters, not even James. Brigsby would rather smile and bask in childhood nostalgia than deal with its main character’s pain. Maybe in a few years, the filmmakers will have the skill to do both, but right now they only seem capable of smiling.

Brigsby Bear is available in Australian cinemas from October 26 

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures 

Movie Review – The Only Living Boy in New York

Get ready to roll your eyes and endure another insufferable upper class New York family – and this time they aren’t even generous enough to be interesting.

 

⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

The youngest of a wealthy New York family, Thomas Webb (Callum Turner) has just graduated college and is trying to find his place in the world. His best friend Mimi (Kiersey Clemons) does not reciprocate the romantic feelings he has for her, and his father (Pierce Brosnan), a renowned publisher, does not feel his son’s writing is worthy of his business. Thomas finds solace in the words of wisdom spouted from the alcoholic author W.F. (Jeff Bridges) who has just moved in next door, though even he can’t comfort Thomas when he learns that his father is having an affair with an attractive mistress (Kate Beckinsale).

Well, try though he may have, it looks like director Marc Webb is a confirmed one-hit wonder. After the funny, witty and original (500) Days of Summer he’s flailed around and failed to recapture his magic in both the tentpole blockbuster arena (The Amazing Spider-Man) and the indie comedy-drama world (Gifted). The final nail in the coffin is The Only Living Boy in New York, a “classy” Bourgeois drama that reeks of an attempt to emulate Whit Stillman, Woody Allen and Peter Bogdanovich, but, sadly, isn’t half as clever as it thinks it is.

In smugly assuming he’s outsmarted his audience (he hasn’t), he’s on a completely different wavelength, rendering the majority of his characters unlikable. For the most part, it feels like we’re attending a fancy dinner we weren’t invited to, only to be forced to stand in the corner and look on, while desperately wanting to leave.

Amidst all the pseudo-intellectual ramblings, a first-rate cast falls flat on its ass. Unfortunately, most of this is down to the “boy” at its centre – the relatively unknown Callum Turner. He doesn’t quite fit the role, and lacks chemistry with most of the more experienced actors he’s working with; a fatal flaw, given that he’s the only one to interact with the rest of the film’s characters. Given that he does little to earn our sympathies over his arc (or lack of), it’s hard to justify investing time in his story.

In fact, every player in this tedious chess game suffers a similar lapse in likability that becomes increasingly infuriating – most gratingly, the hazy motivations of the mistress and Mimi’s jealousy when Thomas moves on, despite condemning him to the friend-zone beforehand. To its credit, Only Living Boy tries to make things deeper with a twist at its climax, but it’s one that stretches and feels a bit ridiculous – not to mention that it’s hardly an original one. The stars we know at least do what they’re reliable for; Bridges, Beckinsale and Brosnan are respectively gruff, seductive and charming, but there’s plenty of better places we can see them.

Those wanting to feel a bit classier seated in a cinema might get a kick out of this, but it seems unlikely anyone else – even the snobby hip crowd in its aim – will enjoy this meandering misfire.

The Only Living Boy in New York is available in Australian cinemas from September 12

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 

Movie Review – Final Portrait

Stanley Tucci reflects artist Alberto Giacometti’s frustratingly slow painting process with a film that moves at roughly the same pace.

 

⭐ ⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

Based on the memoir of James Lord (Armie Hammer), Final Portrait follows the author’s experiences with famous Swiss painter Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush). Lord expects to sit for a portrait over the course of a few days, but this soon stretches into weeks as it becomes clear that Giacometti’s artistic process isn’t as straightforward as originally thought.

Written and directed by Stanley Tucci, the film manages to move at a pace that matches the events unfolding. As Lord becomes more frustrated with Giacometti’s perfectionism, the film starts to slow down more and more, concentrating on the finer details of the main characters and their surroundings. Similarly, as Lord believes the sitting is coming to close, the film starts to ramp up speed again. It’s a clever technique that heightens your emotions.

Tucci’s real skill lies in his ability to direct his actors. Armed with a strong cast, Tucci has made the most of their experience to deliver incredible performances. Geoffrey Rush is a stand out as the neurotic and insecure Giacometti; his embodiment of the ageing artist living a misunderstood Bohemian lifestyle is considered and unapologetic. His French co-stars, Sylvie Testud and Clémence Poésy, feature as the two women in his life, competing for his attention and affections, beautifully balancing one another with their contrasting characters that each demand sympathy. Meanwhile, Tony Shalhoub’s turn as Giacometti’s brother brings comic relief and a grounded feeling to an otherwise crazy film.

The production design is also worth a mention. Giacometti’s studio is a wonder to behold; it perfectly encapsulates the personality and mindset of the artist. With a mess of clay, unfinished sculptures, cigarette butts and not an ounce of space available on the various table tops, it’s a wonder there’s room for Lord to be able to actually sit for his portrait.

The film as a whole is a frustratingly slow one, but also poignantly funny. It gives a real insight into Giacometti and his internal battle of trying to achieve perfection in his art, with the understanding that nothing is ever “finished”. Beautifully directed with an extremely talented cast, it just comes down to your level of patience as to whether this film is for you or not.

Final Portrait is available in Australian cinemas from October 5 

Image courtesy of Transmission Films