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 

Movie Review – The Lovers

In his latest film, Azazel Jacobs explores the murky labyrinth of relationships.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

The Lovers starts with two affairs; one tenuous and volatile, the other filled with passion. The two perpetrators, husband and wife Michael (Tracy Letts) and Mary (Debra Winger), live in the same house, sleep in the same bed, but do not share in each other’s lives. They live in a marital dead zone, exchanging pleasantries and furtive glances, and have probably tried every remedy in the book to eliminate the chasm between them. Nothing has worked, and now they exploit the only remaining option: throwing their emotional resources into the arms of another.

This is the setup of Azazel Jacobs’ new film; written like a sitcom, but given the attention and care of a profound domestic drama. Michael and Mary are likeable enough, but chemistry between them has long since flown out the window. Michael is seeing a ballerina on the side (of course she’s a ballerina) and Mary is seeing Aiden Gillen. Neither knows the other is cheating, but their marriage has been so chaste for so long I suspect they’re wise to each other’s acts. The film complicates things a little with the arrival of their son Joel (Tyler Ross), who has come visiting from college with his new girlfriend (Jessica Sula).

The Lovers is a decent film with two great leads and a mishmash of supporting players. Melora Walters as the lithe ballerina Lucy is nothing but quirky, clingy and kinda ditzy. Gillen seems able to pressure Mary into leaving Michael and nothing else. Surely the main criteria for committing adultery is that your new partner must be more interesting than the one you’re cheating on, right? Both Lucy and Robert (Gillen) are so characteristically one-dimensional their only redeeming feature must be sex, and yet they seem about as sexual as rotting logs. So, are Michael and Mary simply cheating out of desperation? Who knows, really?

Like the best movies about difficult subjects, The Lovers treats romantic estrangement with maturity and compassion. Yes, occasionally it plays for laughs and develops ludicrous situations for its doomed couple, but it understands the simple truth that relationships, whether it’s keeping them together or apart, are never easy. And something as innocent as a mistaken morning kiss is enough to reopen Pandora’s box.

The Lovers is available in Australian cinemas from September 7 

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures 

Movie Review – Gifted

Witness a seven-year-old embarrass your intellect as she solves complex math problems and makes an idiot out of everyone she meets in this year’s dumbest smart movie.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Desperate for the niece he’s raised as a de facto guardian to have a normal childhood, Frank Adler (Chris Evans) enrols seven-year-old Mary (Mckenna Grace) in a public elementary school after years of home schooling. On her first day, she impresses her teacher Miss Stevenson (Jenny Slate) with her incredible mathematical talent, prompting the principal to suggest Frank take her to a private school. Frank refuses, which attracts the attention of his cold and calculating mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan). Believing Mary is in need of a strict education regime, she takes her son to court in a custody battle for who should become the young girl’s guardian.

After fumbling around in blockbuster territory with his not-so-Amazing Spider-Man duology, Marc Webb has wisely scaled down and stepped back into the indie comedy-drama field that made him prolific. Well, sort of. Gifted is not without its merits, but that wit, originality and intuition that made (500) Days of Summer stick in the mind seems to have been lost while Webb was busy web-slinging. Gifted is simple, straightforward, and nowhere near as remarkable as the young girl at its centre.

To be fair, there is plenty to commend about Gifted. Mckenna Grace already has a longer filmography than some seasoned actors ever will. She brims with natural charisma and is easily the film’s standout, effortlessly making us laugh and feel for her. Frank is another everyman for Chris Evans, and hardly a stretch of his talent, but it’s refreshing to see him in a role more vulnerable than Captain America for a change, and his chemistry with both Grace and Jenny Slate saves what could have been a bland and banal father-figure.

There is an interesting trick or two towards the end of the film and the courtroom drama, though brief, remains the most engaging segment. But everything else leading up to this is borrows to heavily from every cliché in melodramatic tearjerker in history.

Good intentions drown in a suffocating dose of sickly sweet schmaltz – scenes where Mary sits atop Frank’s shoulders, trading lines about family values that could be straight out of a Hallmark gift card are gag-worthy. It’s not enough for Mary to be clever; she’s able to solve renowned equations that have puzzled the world’s greatest mathematicians for years. All of this might have a little integrity were it to have some basis in reality or even on a particularly inspired book to give it some believability, but as an original, it’s pretty ridiculous.

The fine performances, occasional clever moments and tearjerker bits (manipulative though they are) keep this watchable enough. But, like learning algebra, don’t expect it to have a profound impact on your life.

Gifted is available in Australian cinemas from August 31

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 

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