Movie Review – Red Sparrow

Jennifer Lawrence seems content with scaring away her legions of fans lately – and it’s probably the best career move she’s ever made.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

After a disastrous leg injury ends her career as a renowned Russian ballerina, Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is propositioned by her uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) – a member of the Russian intelligence – to undertake a dangerous job in exchange for her mother’s medical care. The task – seducing a politician and stealing his phone – goes horribly wrong when he rapes Dominika and is slaughtered by a fellow operative. With no witnesses permitted to this murder, Dominika is given two options; face execution, or train to become a Russian agent known as a Sparrow, using her beauty to seduce her targets.

We’ve entered a new phase of J-Law’s career and boy, is it interesting. Gone it seems are the safe, crowd-pleasing days of The Hunger Games and David O. Russell Oscar-bait. In two foul swoops, she’s alienated her legions of adoring fans and divided critics right down the middle; first with last year’s harrowing mother!, now with the equally challenging espionage thriller Red Sparrow. Neither film does what a standard Jennifer Lawrence vehicle says on the tin, but frankly, it’s the most exciting work she’s done since entering the public eye with Winter’s Bone all those years ago.

Anyone entering Red Sparrow expecting a female-friendly spin on Bond or Bourne is in for a rude shock. It’s slow-paced, talky, and drawn-out in its unravelling plot across two-and-a-half hours, punctuated with tough-to-watch scenes of graphic torture and sexual violence. Director Francis Lawrence, also taking a sharp 180 turn after helming three quarters of The Hunger Games franchise, is gritty and completely uncompromising in his raw on-screen brutality that will no doubt put many off. It’s extreme, but it’s not excessive; it’s always at the service of the dense story.

Refreshingly, it’s also perhaps the only major release film in recent history to present and handle sexuality confidently and maturely. After too much of the childish antics of Fifty Shades, it’s rejuvenating to see a blockbuster unafraid to embrace its sexual themes and show-all, from the unflinching nudity to the realistic and often taboo desires of its characters. Some of the best moments take place as Dominka is conditioned to become a Sparrow in the classroom of Headmistress “Matron” (Charlotte Rampling), who is clearly having a blast as she ruthlessly orders her students to bare all and perform acts one would normally keep private.

Lawrence herself may not be the most convincing Russian girl at surface-level, but she does well to maintain an accent and mannerisms, and her consistently fringed hair certainly helps complete the illusion. One could consider her performance to be brave – and not just because she bares her naked body full frontal. Given the trauma she must have faced with her privacy invaded a few years back (yes, I’m talking about the nude photo leak again), it’s surprising how confidently she embraces a role that objectifies her body in tight outfits and sees her beaten, bruised, raped and pummelled, and that she can still make her character seem powerful. It’s sinister stuff.

Of course, these positives can’t distract from a few glaring flaws, as entertaining a ride as it is. The plot isn’t as complex as it thinks it is or wants to be. It also suffers as it grows progressively ludicrous, with one far-fetched betrayal and plot twist after the other in the third act. Tonal issues aside, this is token dark, oppressive cinema that knows no boundaries in an age of juvenile, Disney-fied multiplexes; it’s wickedly confronting. Let’s pray J-Law continues to give her sensitive fans and critics the middle finger.

Red Sparrow is available in Australian cinemas from March 1

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Advertisements

Movie Review – mother!

The tagline “You have no idea where this movie will take you” says it all – mother! more than earns its exclamation mark.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

A nameless woman (Jennifer Lawrence) lives a life of peace and tranquillity in an isolated country home with her similarly anonymous poet husband (Javier Bardem). Their days are leisurely passed with her painting and renovating the house while he works on his written masterpiece, until one day a stranger (Ed Harris) appears on their doorstep looking for a place to stay. The wife is unimpressed when her husband gladly accepts, and less so when the man’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) turns up to board with him. The stranger’s bizarrely rude and erratic behaviour, and its influence on her husband is just the beginning of her torment: there’s many, many more unwelcome guests to come as all hell breaks loose.

“What the fuck?!” is something you’ll no doubt be exclaiming, or at least thinking a number of times throughout Darren Aronofsky’s mother! That’s right, the master of stressfully intense character dramas is back, and well and truly on form again after the disappointment of Noah. His latest rivals even Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan as his most viscerally extreme, WTF force of nature.

Like those cinematic nightmares, mother! puts its central character through a metaphorical meat grinder, continuing Aronofsky’s recurring motif of naïve women suffering for their optimism and hopeful attitude. It’s slow building, with Aronofsky creating a sanctuary for his two lovers before infesting it with the unpredictable couple that infect their paradise. It’s then that the house becomes oppressive and claustrophobic, practically imprisoning… to say much more would spoil it, but it’s safe to say this is some of the most batshit crazy stuff to come out of a studio film.

It seems almost a shame that its director and star confirmed it as a Biblical allegory, since it really feels like there could be multiple ways to interpret this purposefully ambiguous thrill ride. Aronofsky destroys cinema conventions and genre while twisting them into and abominable horror and satire, while spiritually condemning human beings for their sins; namely their chief sin of existence.

Scaling back to another level though, it’s tempting to view this as a metaphor for the struggles of fame and how destructive and toxic it can be on its subjects. The swarms of people that invade the house have no sense of personal space, secrecy or morality, and are capable of doing awful things to the people they supposedly worship, coming off very much like crazed paparazzi and fans. It’s all too appropriate given that Jennifer Lawrence is at the centre of all this; having faced a similar invasion of privacy as her nudes were leaked a few years ago, it’s no doubt she’s channelled much of her own stress and horror into her performance.

Which brings us to J-Law herself. She’s spent most of her relatively short career in the tween-pleasing feminine heroes of The Hunger Games and X-Men, and roles in self-indulgent David O. Russell Oscar-bait. Finally, she seems to have grown out of the annoying “so-quirky-and-relatable” persona and matured into a real actress, delivering on the excellence she promised way back in Winter’s Bone. Here, she confidently handles the rollercoaster of emotions as hell is unleashed upon her. Lawrence famously cracked a rib while hyperventilating in the film’s climactic scenes; it’s not hard to see why.

Upsetting, shocking, brilliant, abhorrent… there’s thousands of words that could be used to describe Aronofsky’s technical masterpiece of mayhem, but simply, it’s unlike just about anything else out there. There’s no questioning that this is a love it or hate it experience, but regardless of opinion a stunned silence is no doubt guaranteed. That, and exclaiming “What the fuck?!”

mother! is available in Australian cinemas from September 14 

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

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 – Passengers

Muddled messaging and an uneven script hamper an otherwise solid sci-fi romance in Passengers.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury 

What would you do if you were stranded in space for your entire life? That’s the question posed by Passengers, an original sci-fi film directed by Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) and starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt.

The film opens aboard the Avalon, a sleek spaceship careening through the cosmos. It’s mission is to safely transport 5000 passengers to a remote colony over 120 light years away. However, two of the passengers, Jim Preston (Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Lawrence), awake from their sleep pods 90 years too early and are faced with spending the rest of their lives in solely each other’s company. Together they must find out why they woke up and save the ship from destruction.

Passengers is a strange film; it poses a lot of tough moral dilemmas, but chooses to not offer a definitive answer in fear of shackling its own broad appeal. It structures its narrative in such a way that the conventional plot twist is traded for ongoing dramatic irony. Rather than framing the premise as a thriller or a horror, Passengers is an intimate romance for the first two-thirds before transitioning into a full-blown disaster action movie in the final 30 minutes. It’s a bit of mess to be honest.

Strangely, it’s also a movie where the entire marketing campaign is framed around concealing a key plot detail. Every trailer has kept something pivotal underwraps, instead choosing to focus on the action-heavy third act. At best it’s a clever ploy; at worst it’s straight-up misleading and deceitful.

Even with a plot riddled with so many fundamental flaws, both Pratt and Lawrence shine. They share tangible chemistry that offers the occasional flash of brilliance amongst the haphazard narrative. Lawrence in particular is great, showing that outside the X-Men series, she has undeniable acting chops that really sell the more emotional beats.

It’s very difficult to talk about Passengers without revealing the big twist that effectively takes the wind out of its sails, which is a crying shame because most of the other technical aspects are stellar. Thomas Newman‘s score is superb and you can bet your ass I’m going to be listening to it on repeat. The cinematography is eye-catching; the production design is sleek and distinctive. Almost every aspect of the movie is polished and pleasing – except for the plot. With some tweaks, maybe it could have worked better – but the finished product is an odd breed that tries to be too many things and forgets the moral implications of its actions.

Passengers is available in Australian cinemas from January 1st , and if you feel like spoiling yourself to a lovely screening outdoors Roof Top Cinemas will be screening Passengers on February 5th.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – X-Men: Apocalypse

Bryan Singer’s fourth X-Men movie is exactly what it is: the fourth out of four.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

X-Men: Apocalypse is a conundrum; a reflection of the superhero genre that is neither pithy and smart, nor very boring. It’s a strange film indeed; one that thinks it’s pushing forward into new territory, but is really just regressing in the most futuristic way possible. This is the ninth film in the series, and it feels – in many areas – like the first. Or at least the first of a new line of movies that will forever recycle its limbs like a gecko chasing its own lopped-off tail.

This is the fourth superhero movie of the year, and the third to feature an all-star juggernaut cast that goes crash-bang-boom against itself. The first was terrible – a grim, washed-out explosion-fest that had the charm of a nasty itch. The second was perhaps one of the greatest superhero movies I have seen. The third is simply confused. Like all the X-Men movies, Apocalypse is a farmer who has no idea how to round up his sheep.

There are so many characters here that I gave up counting after 233. There’s Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner); Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Storm (Alexandra Shipp); the teleporting Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee); Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence); Angel (Ben Hardy); Quicksilver (Evan Peters); a lot of newbies; and of course Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who have been locked in a personal struggle since time immemorial. You’d think that after 16 years these characters would’ve advanced beyond the dour socio-political differences that govern their lives, but no – here in 2016, after nine films, Xavier and Magneto are still arguing over apples and oranges, and it seems to be sucking the mirth out of everyone else. Next to the X-Men, Captain America and Batman look like cheerleaders on spring break.

The plot has been issued and recycled more times than I care to count; an all-powerful mutant called Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), whose powers apparently include sewing, returns from a 5,000-year-old crypt to wreak havoc upon the Earth in a manner most unpleasant, which today means tearing it to bits using CGI tricks. The X-Men must once again unite to remind all the children just how very important teamwork is.

The movie races past exposition like a bullet train. There are so many characters and storylines that need screen time; I imagine Bryan Singer spinning them all like plates on poles, only this time, the plates are starting to crash.

Many of the subplots make little sense, and the movie’s big idea of progress is Xavier losing his hair. Yet for all its blindness, the movie is embarrassingly entertaining. It is proficient, confident filmmaking, at least in technical terms. The action is loud and absurd, like any good superhero movie. The acting is supremely serviceable. It’s great, sardonic fun. It just isn’t one of the X-Men’s better outings.

For goodness sake, someone shove these characters into the next millennium. Look at Captain America: Civil War. See where those characters have gone, are going, and will go. There’s a new horizon waiting for them. Xavier and his band of unmerry men have been tumbling around in the same forlorn universe for over a decade. Give them a break. They’re already going bald.

X-Men: Apocalypse is available in Australian cinemas from May 19

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Top 5 Late Bloomers in Hollywood

Zachary Cruz-Tan 

Not all actors are fortunate enough to be a Shirley Temple or Drew Barrymore. Some not even a Jennifer Lawrence. No, for these five fine players of the screen, success – and a certain amount of fame – has arrived late in life. None of them are below success, of course, but fate can sometimes deal a strange hand. Still, better late than never.

Ken Jeong
Breakout: Knocked Up (2007)
Age: 38

04 Apr - Late Bloomers Jeong
Ken Jeong’s known now for his quick-fire outbursts and canny ability to turn comedy into farce, usually by behaving crudely effeminate. But before his acting career began he was a qualified physician, and vigorously pursued stand-up comedy.

He appeared several times as guests on TV shows, including The Office and Entourage, but it wasn’t till his first film role as Dr. Kuni in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up (2007) that Jeong reached a wide, welcoming audience, one that fell politely into his manner of comedy. He then appeared in The Hangover (2009), noticeably as a naked Chinese mobster, and landed a stable role in the TV comedy Community.

His career may not be as diverse as his effete ways would seem to suggest, but Jeong’s ability to walk on set and turn the production on its head is a skill sorely lacking from many comedic actors working today.


Alan Rickman
Breakout: Die Hard (1988)
Age: 42

04 Apr - Late Bloomers Rickman
The key to this article is not talent or age, but opportunity, and Alan Rickman, an actor of fine talent and ripe age, was presented perhaps the best opportunity, starring as the sinister Hans Gruber in John McTiernan’s Die Hard (1988), a role that enveloped Rickman’s penchant for deep tones and snide asides. It remains his strongest performance among many strong performances, and is notable for his cool control of a character who’s not meant to carry John McClane, but accompany him.

Rickman was forty-two by the time Die Hard crashed into his career, having spent many of his younger years traipsing about the curtains and modest cameras of British stage and television. And yet his career in acting seems fully formed, robust and everlasting, as if he had been a Hollywood mainstay for eons.

Rickman is most remembered now for his long-enduring turn as the wizard Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films (which may account for his ubiquitous popularity), but my favourite performance of his has to be from Galaxy Quest (1999), a role of tremendous versatility and personal depth. He was also downright hilarious.


Samuel L. Jackson
Breakout: Pulp Fiction (1994)
Age: 46

04 Apr - Late Bloomers Jackson

The term “breakout performance” is loose and interchangeable, but in Samuel L. Jackson’s case, it applies most strictly to that one film that propelled him beyond the celebrity stratosphere. In 1994, aged forty-six, he starred as Jules Winnfield in Quentin Tarantino’s seminal picture Pulp Fiction, and it is not only his best performance, it is also the one that proves you don’t have to be young to be cool.

Yes, Jackson had previously appeared in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing (1989), Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990) and Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993), but none of those films offered him the position he needed to stretch his legs. Pulp Fiction not only accommodated him, it elevated him to a kind of divine ambassador of the arts. It was an explosive role, and Jackson’s career since only speaks volumes for the kind of skills he can bring to the table, given the correct film.


Jane Lynch
Breakout: Glee (2009-2015)
Age: 49

04 Apr - Late Bloomers Lynch

Charting a career path not unlike that of Ken Jeong, Jane Lynch started out touring the American TV scene, including appearances on Judging Amy, 7th Heaven and Arrested Development.

I remember her most fondly as the lecherous store manager in The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), but fame reached her at 49-years-young, playing domineering cheerleading coach, Sue Sylvester, in Glee. Before long, her face was plastered all over television screens and TV guides. Granted, she didn’t opt for high profile leading roles after that, but her choice to remain low-key, lending her voice to a number of animated shows and feature films, shows she isn’t fully concerned with fame, but rather with the opportunities it provides. Smart move from an esteemed lady.


Christoph Waltz
Breakout: Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Age: 53

04 Apr - Late Bloomers Waltz

Entering as the oldest bloomer on this list, Austrian-born Christoph Waltz follows in Kevin Spacey’s footsteps as being able to turn any villainous role into one of grand heroism.

Overflowing with German and Austrian films throughout his lengthy career, Waltz was discovered by Tarantino and offered a role as Colonel Hans Landa of the SS in Tarantino’s war fantasy, Inglourious Basterds (2009). He was fifty-three. It was an astounding performance and an inspired casting decision, landing Waltz Golden Globe, BAFTA and Oscar wins for his efforts (a feat he accomplished again in another of Tarantino’s films, Django Unchained).

He has since largely played bad guys, excelling in chilling deliveries and a carefree swagger, most recently opposing Daniel Craig in 007’s latest, Spectre (2015). Waltz is set to star again as a villain in Warner Bros’ The Legend Of Tarzan, and if he brings more of the same, we can expect a villain that’s both vile and incredibly likeable. Not an easy combination to pull off.


Images courtesy of Universal Pictures International, Fox Columbia TriStar Films, Roadshow Entertainment, 20th Century Fox and Network Ten

 

 

 

Alicia Vikander – The Woman from S.W.E.D.E.N

Tom Munday

Breakout stars come in two kinds: those who hit the big time with their first film (Lupita Nyong’o), and those who bubble under the surface for years (Brie Larson). Alicia Vikander was the ‘it’ girl of 2015, starring in almost every second film to critical acclaim. The 26-year-old actress’ career trajectory has taken turns most performers could only dream of; working under esteemed directors and alongside A-list acting royalty over just a couple of years.

Like fellow 20-something stars including Jennifer Lawrence, this Swedish actress takes chances, throws herself into many confronting situations, and has never been afraid of the spotlight. She is already Hollywood’s most accomplished actress under 30, with a grace and presence different to any blonde bombshell, action-badass archetype, or Keira Knightley/period-piece type.

In the early 2010s, two films, A Royal Affair and Anna Karenina, showcased Vikander’s raw tenacity and talents in a limited space of time. The actress, learning Danish over two months and immersing herself in the main cast and crew to perfect her dialect for the first of these two films, wished to become a part of the production more so than standing out as the ‘talent’.

Placed on the BAFTA shortlist after A Royal Affair, the actress outlined an all-star cast in Joe Wright’s re-imagining of the Leo Tostoy classic. Playing naïve lovebird Kitty, the actress overshadowed Keira Knightley in her first English-language project. Vikander’s momentum continued to pick up steam, starring in key roles in docudrama The Fifth Estate and war-drama Testament of Youth. Opposite everyone from Benedict Cumberbatch to Bill Condon, her on-screen presence has become difficult to ignore.

Her performances in three 2015 films, in particular, showcase her phenomenal range, charm, and respect for the craft. Her most-talked-about role is as human-esque cyborg Ava in Ex Machina. British writer/director Alex Garland’s sci-fi flick provided Vikander with one of the year’s most challenging and thought-provoking roles. Thanks to phenomenal visual effects, along with co-stars Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac, she portrays a soft, delicate balance between human and machine.

In contrast, her role in spy flick The Man from U.N.C.L.E. took a swift turn from her preceding roles in dramas and think-pieces. Stealing scenery from Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, her character is a potent mix of boisterous and determined. Throughout the film, her endearing charisma elevates the familiar material. Her dramatic and comedic sides harmonise with the film’s light-hearted tone.

Most recently, her Oscar-nominated performance in The Danish Girl proved she could overcome being the best thing in a polarising film. Eclipsing Oscar-winning leading man Eddie Redmayne, Vikander portrays her real-life character with subtlety and punch. Her character, forced to watch her husband transition from male to female over several decades, is a tough, relentless role for any actress. Peppering the overwhelming dramatic moments with touches of humour and sarcasm, she comes into her own throughout the film’s confronting journey.

Vikander’s run of projects of varying genres, scopes, and pedigrees is only growing stronger. Upcoming Australian drama The Light Between Oceans sees her star opposite real-life partner, and fellow A-lister, Michael Fassbender. Tulip Fever will push her into a different stratosphere, playing opposite veteran acting titans Judi Dench and Christoph Waltz. She will then star opposite Matt Damon in the 5th Bourne flick.

Images courtesy of Universal Pictures 

88th Academy Awards: The Nominees Are…

Forget Christmas, it’s Oscar season! Time to hit the multiplexes for the best films of the year, just in time to argue over who’s going to take home the little golden man…

Corey Hogan

With the Golden Globe Awards done and dusted, we’re left to anticipate the big one – the Oscars; Hollywood’s single most prestigious awards show, and highest honour filmmakers can aim to achieve. As usual, the nominees are mostly what we’ve expected, with a few surprises and snubs here and there. But who can we bet will take home that shiny golden statue?

IÑÁRRITU (OR THE UNEXPECTED DOWNFALL OF FRONTRUNNING TWICE)

2016 - 01 January - Oscar Nominees Revenant PosterWeighing in at an impressive twelve nominations, The Revenant leads the pack this year with Best Picture and Best Director nominations for Alejandro G. Iñárritu; two awards that would seem guaranteed were it not for the fact that the Academy very rarely honours the same recipient two years in a row – and Iñárritu is still hot off his win for Birdman last
year.

That means it could be anyone’s game, with this list tougher to nail down to one clear victor. At one point buzz surrounded Spotlight and Room, though that seems to have subsided a little, and a few expected show ponies – Carol, Steve Jobs – have been surprisingly omitted. In their place are atypically blockbuster fair The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road, whose popularity may yet see them atop the heap. Plus, it’s great to see Aussie George Miller earn a Best Director nod.

THE WOLF OF AWARDS-SEEKING

2016 - 01 January - Oscar Nominees Leo

It’s the most talked-about thing every time Leonardo DiCaprio appears on screen in recent years – “Just give the man an Oscar already!” It seems this year the cries, the jokes, and the memes may finally be silenced, with his outstanding portrayal of the bear-ravished broken man in The Revenant. There’s no McConaissance, or any other truly serious threat to dethrone him either. The only potential upsets come in the form of Eddie Redmayne’s transgender turn in The Danish Girl (though he did win last year) and Matt Damon’s Golden-Globe grabbing astronaut from The Martian, but you can place likely bets on Leo at long last.

STREEP OUT OF THE SPOTLIGHT

There’s no Meryl Streep to steal the limelight this year, and it’s delightful to see a couple of fresh-faced actresses earning recognition. Brie Larson appears to be the strongest bet for her acclaimed performance in Room, though she could yet be trumped by the equally impressive Saoirse Ronan’s Irish spark in Brooklyn.2016 - 01 January - Oscar Nominees BrooklynAlongside them are veterans Cate Blanchett (Carol) and Charlotte Rampling (45 Years), making this a truly difficult bet to pin down – then, of course, there’s the obligatory Jennifer Lawrence nod, this time for the critically so-so Joy. She’s a fine performer, but it’s starting to reek of a little Academy favouritism.

THE UNGRATEFUL EIGHT

2016 - 01 January - Oscar Nominees Quentin Tarantino

A surprising snub comes in the form of one of modern cinema’s most influential figures – Quentin Tarantino. While his films are often too radical to earn the biggest awards, he is almost always recognised in the Original Screenplay category, having previously earned two Oscars for his writing. He’s been denied this year for The Hateful Eight, perhaps due to some of the controversy surrounding it – the script was leaked online before production began, and Tarantino verbally blasted Disney in a recent interview – or, perhaps it simply doesn’t have the bite of his previous works. We shall have to wait for its release to see.

THE BIG SNUBS

2016 - 01 January - Oscar Nominees Straight Outta ComptonWith a limited number of spaces available in each category, a number of worthy contenders will naturally end up getting left out. Straight Outta Compton copped one measly nod for its screenplay, but another musical biopic has been entirely ignored – the terrific Love & Mercy, featuring Oscar-calibre performances from supporting actors Paul Dano and Elizabeth Banks. Kristen Stewart (Clouds of Sils Maria), Michael Shannon (99 Homes) and Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation) could all have received Best Supporting nominations, and it’s a surprise to see The Walk and Everest left off the Best Visual Effects list. Finally, a handful of great documentaries have been omitted – Cobain: Montage of Heck could sub in for Amy, and Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief perhaps hit home a little too hard for some loopy celebrities…

Happy betting!

Full list of nominees:

BEST PICTURE
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Room
Spotlight

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Anomalisa
Boy and the World
Inside Out
Shaun the Sheep Movie
When Marnie Was There

CINEMATOGRAPHY
Carol
The Hateful Eight
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Sicario

COSTUME DESIGN
Carol
Cinderella
The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant

DIRECTING
The Big Short
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Room
Spotlight

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)
Amy
Cartel Land
The Look of Silence
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)
Body Team 12
Chau, beyond the Lines
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness
Last Day of Freedom

FILM EDITING
The Big Short
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Spotlight
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Embrace of the Serpent
Mustang
Son of Saul
Theeb
A War

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Mad Max: Fury Road
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared
The Revenant

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)
Bridge of Spies
Carol
The Hateful Eight
Sicario
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)
“Earned It,” Fifty Shades of Grey
“Manta Ray,” Racing Extinction
“Simple Song #3,” Youth
“Til It Happens To You,” The Hunting Ground
“Writing’s On The Wall,” Spectre

PRODUCTION DESIGN
Bridge of Spies
The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)
Bear Story
Prologue
Sanjay’s Super Team
We Can’t Live without Cosmos
World of Tomorrow

SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)
Ave Maria
Day One
Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)
Shok
Stutterer

SOUND EDITING
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Sicario
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

SOUND MIXING
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

VISUAL EFFECTS
Ex Machina
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)
The Big Short
Brooklyn
Carol
The Martian
Room

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)
Bridge of Spies
Ex Machina
Inside Out
Spotlight
Straight Outta Compton

Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox, Roadshow Films, Transmission Films, Sony Pictures and Universal Pictures. 

The 73rd Golden Globe Awards

Zachary Cruz-Tan

These award shows have almost become a mockery of themselves, haven’t they? Year in, year out, hundreds of the most over-privileged celebrities stride through ornate doorways, draped in Versace this and Louis Vuitton that, sporting tuxedos of tremendous panache, and always a pseudo-respectable smile of elegant grace, as if the world owes them their preposterous salaries.

This year’s Golden Globes prolongs this attitude towards the show by tugging British comedian Ricky Gervais by the scruff of his neck back into the hosting spotlight and allowing him, it would seem, to write in as many lewd and underhanded jokes as he wants. Whether you admire Mr. Gervais or not, you have to at least admit that he, like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, fits the mould of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association like a gloriously rank, slightly ill-fitting glove. And he is hilarious in the part.

His opening monologue alone made me laugh more than The Martian. “Shush”, says he. “Shut up, you disgusting, pill-popping, sexual deviant scum. I want to do this monologue, and then go into hiding”. From then on it was a slew of stabs and whimsical slashes at the film industry, its employees, and the ridiculousness of the entire event (“Remember that if you do win tonight, no one cares about that award as much as you do”). Is he crude? Of course! No one attends or tunes in to a ceremony hosted by Gervais expecting to be serenaded with nursery rhymes.

As for the awards themselves, well, what can I say? As an ardent student of film, and a mindless masochistic slave of glamorous reality television, I arrived at the show with my own briefcase of the names and movie titles I had hoped would pull away with the wins. It was a rather perplexing experience, however, because most of the material up for nomination has yet to be screened in cinemas across Australia, so I found myself rooting for familiar faces while pulling the “gracious loser” smile at the movies I hadn’t yet seen.

I was quite delighted to see the stalwart George Miller up there for Best Director, and Sly Stallone creeping back into the programme with his nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Creed. I thought the Cecile B. DeMille award presentation to Denzel Washington, led by Tom Hanks, was eloquently moving, and Washington’s subsequent speech malfunction to be the humorous encapsulation of all that these sorts of shows have become about.

Some presenters killed it – America Ferrera and Eva Longoria in particular. Others botched very hard – Jonah Hill should keep that cheap teddy bear hood in case he ever wants to step outside his house. The results, while completely out of my hands, were perhaps less than satisfactory.

Among the deserved winners were Pixar’s Inside Out for Best Animated Feature, and Leonardo DiCaprio for his exhausting appearance in The Revenant. Mad Max: Fury Road, while not being a real threat to win Best Motion Picture, should have graced George Miller with the directing trophy, being, after all, the truest director’s film of the year (the award went to Alejandro Iñarritu instead).

It was great to see Stallone win again, as it was to see Kate Winslet walk away with a smile. The Revenant won the biggest prize of the night, and while the world might swoon at her feet, I’m personally lethargic at the sight of J-Law walking up those steps yet again.

I’ve neglected the TV department somewhat, because I haven’t seen a solid 98.6% of the nominees, but Mr. Robot and Mozart In The Jungle nabbed the highest honours.

Alas, another Golden Globes is at an end, and, with the exception of Mel Gibson looking perpetually spooked to be in front of a crowd, it is not unlike every other Golden Globes that has come before. Gervais entertained me. I sporadically hurled chairs at the screen. Tarantino deepened his grave. And while I’ve made myself sound very unprepared to tackle this event, I must concede that no amount of research would have made it any less self-indulgent. I would’ve loved for Fury Road to have won Best Picture, but as a notable critic tweeted, the Golden Globes are completely irrevenant when it comes to predicting the Oscars.

The Full List Of Film Winners

Best Motion Picture – Drama
The Revenant

Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical
The Martian

Best Director
Alejandro G. Iñarritu, The Revenant

Best Screenplay
Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs

Best Performance In A Motion Picture – Drama
Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Actress: Brie Larson, Room

Best Performance In A Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical
Actor: Matt Damon, The Martian
Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, Joy

Best Supporting Performance In A Motion Picture
Actor: Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Actress: Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Best Original Score
Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight

Best Original Song
“Writing’s On The Wall” by Sam Smith, Spectre

Best Animated Feature Film
Inside Out

Best Foreign Language Film
Son Of Saul (Hungary)

Images courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures 

Boxing Day Bonanza Review

As is the annual tradition, our cinemas will be flooded with many new releases on this Boxing Day, so to help you decide on the right one, here’s a selection of what’s on offer:

JOY

A terrific performance from Jennifer Lawrence injects sporadic bursts of brilliance into an otherwise run-of-the-mill effort from David O. Russell.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury


Based on the life of Joy Mangano, an American entrepreneur and struggling single mother, Joy is the third collaboration between Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and writer/director David O. Russell. It follows the titular inventor (Lawrence) and her dysfunctional extended family as they bicker and build a business empire from nothing after designing the original Miracle Mop.

A slightly misshapen first act sees Russell stumble through some ham-fisted flashbacks charting Joy’s formative years, and the cast suffer with some awkward reverse aging as a result. However, things come good later when home shopping network exec Neil Walker (Cooper) steps onto the scene and Joy begins to establish herself outside the constantly squabbling family home.

Regardless of whether you love or hate her kooky off-screen persona, it’s hard to deny that Lawrence is a performer that can act the pants off any movie she appears in. Here, the talented young Oscar winner really comes into her own and infuses this otherwise humdrum rags-to-riches tale with the same intensity and emotional range we saw in Silver Linings Playbook or American Hustle. With no shortage of memorable ‘Oscar reel’ moments, her assured performance keeps the film on course during its rockier, more unfocused detours.

However, when all is said and done, Joy feels just a little too familiar and safe to become a truly memorable entry in Russell’s distinguished filmography; it may be based on a remarkable true story, but all the melodrama and legal wrangling builds to a conclusion that asks, “is this a story that needs to be told?” Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as resoundingly positive as you’d hope.


THE GOOD DINOSAUR 

Pixar seldom puts a foot wrong, and even when it does, it delivers something that can easily trounce its competitors.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan


The Good Dinosaur is a pleasant family film, pieced together with bolts of warmth and charm. It is about a young dinosaur who is washed away in a flood from his family farm, and must somehow claw his way back, through storms and dust, with newfound allies, against raging foes. It is animated with some of the most breathtaking visuals Pixar has ever produced, and while its story is sweet, I can’t help but feel disappointment.

This isn’t one of Pixar’s better efforts. It is too cute. Too simple. Too broken down for the kids. It lacks the bite that parents, who no doubt have to sit through the picture along with their children, can latch on to, and ends up being little more than images of well-drawn caricatures hobbling and bobbling across the screen.

The hero, Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), has very little pluck to root for. The tyrannosaurs are fun, but misplaced additions to the story as buffalo herders – mimicking the vegetarian sharks in Finding Nemo (2003). And the best character is a small feral boy (Jack Bright) who finds home.

All at once, The Good Dinosaur seems to be several distinct short films, welded together by its sublime animation. Does it do its job? Yes. Could it have been more? Certainly. But there is no doubt that this is a wonderful movie for children.


YOUTH

Leave the kids to see The Good Dinosaur; Youth is this holiday’s grown-up feast for the senses, and emotional meditation for the mind.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan


From Paolo Sorrentino (director of the Academy Award-winning The Great Beauty) comes Youth, a beautifully bizarre comedy-drama about two aged best friends (Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel) on vacation at a majestic hotel in the Swiss Alps. Here they reflect back on the success and failure of their lives, pondering what it all meant, and what little there is left to come – or so they think, as familial complications arise, and internal struggles surface, leading to the realisation that retirement may indeed be more problematic and consequential than whatever has come before it.

Youth may be the perfect film for the post-Christmas celebration comedown blues – or the film that worsens it, depending on your perspective. Though disguised as an offbeat (but nonetheless hysterical) comedy, there’s some very dense symbolism at play; a hefty amount of metaphysical meaning beneath its surface that will undoubtedly be far too much for some viewers, particularly as it deconstructs family ties, relationships and old age around a time so kin-oriented. Others who can put up with darkly blunt revelations, and sudden jumps between dream-like imagery and reality are in for an enormously rewarding experience, one that will perhaps cause them to look again at themselves and their own family – from the young to the old.

It’s confronting, but also boasts some of the most exquisite scenery of the year, thanks to Luca Bigazzi’s amazing cinematography, and phenomenal use of lighting. You’ll wish you were there with these characters, if perhaps not sharing some of their distressing experience. Youth may bring back that hangover headache, but it’s a brain-straining exercise well worth enduring.


The Suffragette

Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette is a beacon for all crusading women, but in crusading it loses a bit of itself, and forgets its purpose.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan


Suffragette works less like a parable and more like a mallet, consistently pounding away at the egos of men; reminding them that they were once grotesque, prehistoric monsters that got their kicks from stealing humanity away from women. If it were a parable, it’d have been soft-spoken, but assertive. After seeing Suffragette, however, I felt ashamed to be male.

Suffragette’s plot follows Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) as she clambers up the social ladder towards a future of political equality in 1920s lower England. She is aided by Violet (Anne-Marie Duff) and Edith (Helena Bonham Carter), two foot soldiers of the rising suffrage movement, who are so zealous they wear years of imprisonment on their bosoms like medals of war. It’s a rousing undertaking, but the movie, directed by Sarah Gavron, betrays its cause by muting it down into a series of inconsequential rebellions, finally ending on a note that’s mournful, but otherwise inconclusive. What have the women in this movie learnt by the end? What have they achieved? If it’s equality, they haven’t succeeded. Not yet at least. Is Suffragette designed to merely be a metaphorical vessel for truth and liberation?

The movie lacks a sensitive touch in a way that can penetrate the minds of both women and men to become a lesson for all. The cinema was filled with middle-aged activists and a younger generation of women eager for a crusade. Their presence filled the hall with a great feeling of power, as if a protest would suddenly erupt from the seats and march its way out the door. This feeling was so strong, in fact, that when the end credits rolled, everyone applauded, and I wanted to hide away in a dark corner and hope no woman would ever find me.


Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, StudioCanal & Transmission Films