Movie Review – Brad’s Status

Ben Stiller ponders his lot in life in Mike White’s quietly humorous and thoughtful new film. 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) is nearly 50 and has a lot of stuff going on in his melon. His not-for-profit business has stalled, his one and only child – Troy (Austin Abrams) – is heading off to college and his marriage to Melanie (Jenna Fischer) isn’t the excitable romp it once was.

As a result, Brad lies awake at night yearning for what could have been, for the lives he could have led. His mind wanders to those he aligned himself with during college (Michael Sheen, Jemaine Clement, Luke Wilson), who have gone on to enjoy riches and success in the intervening years, forgetting and distancing themselves from Brad and his painfully mediocre existence in the process.

Adrift in suburban Sacramento and surrounded by cheerfully complacent “beta males”, a father/son trip to Boston to look at universities only serves to reinforce these internal inadequacies; Troy, a talented pianist, has a shot at getting into Harvard, a college that outstrips Brad’s own education across town at Tufts. Is that pride, Brad feels, or jealousy?

Written and directed by Mike White, Brad’s Status aligns itself with a familiar feeling deep inside all of us; the competition we feel with our peers and the desire for something greater. A lot of this concern is voiced internally by Stiller as he tosses and turns at night or stares out of a plane window. White’s film spends a lot of its time inside Stiller’s head, partaking in lengthy monologues about paths not taken or grudges left unaddressed.

As a result, Stiller is lumped with a lot of the lifting, as he furrows his brow and shifts in his seat, searching internally for some shred of solace. It’s an impressive performance amongst a collection of impressive performances; his meandering unspoken reveries work in opposition with the concise musings that are said aloud as well as the sulky grunts offered up by his son.

White’s writing is effective (if a little on-the-nose) but the cast make it work, taking the heightened divide between Brad and those he yearns to replicate and running with it. Particularly impressive is Abrams, who manages a level of angst and wisdom only a teenager can muster, and Sheen, as a charismatic contemporary man who has hit it big in Hollywood and married well.

The pacing is suitably slow for a film all about feeling adrift and aimless, but not so much that it lacks drive or structure. In keeping with its themes, Brad’s Status doesn’t offer a rousing finale or a gutful of catharsis; viewers will need to go in search of significance and satisfaction, rather than have it dumped at their feet in the third act. It’s an apt ending, but not one that all will find enjoyable.

Meditative and introspective, Brad’s Status is an exhaustive and achingly honest exploration of anxiety and self-doubt. While it may feel a little familiar, there is joy to be found in its wry humour.

 

Brad’s Status is available in Australian cinemas from November 9.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 2017.

Advertisements

Interview: Michael Caton-Jones – British Film Festival

Rhys Graeme-Drury

They say variety is the spice of life – an oft-repeated adage that Scottish filmmaker Michael Caton-Jones has found to be self-evident over a directorial career stretching nearly three decades.

Having worked with the likes of Bruce Willis, Michael J Fox, Robert De Niro and even a young Leonardo DiCaprio, Caton-Jones knows how to handle larger than life personalities on set, but his more recent work sees him finding pleasure in the finer details of indie filmmaking.

His latest project is Urban Hymn, an uplifting story about a young offender who finds a way out of her less than privileged upbringing through song. With the help of a dedicated and inspirational social worker, it’s a stirring film that is contrasted against the bleak backdrop of the 2011 London riots.

Ahead of its Australian premiere at the BBC First British Film Festival this month, I got the chance to sit down and chat with Caton-Jones about the differences between the Hollywood high life and roughing it on the streets of London for his latest micro budget project.

RGD: How did you first become involved with Urban Hymn? What was it about Nick Moorcroft’s original screenplay that perked your interest?

MCJ: Over the years I’ve come to realise that it’s not subject matter, but specific elements of filmmaking that jump out at you when reading through a script. I’d been looking to shoot something low budget in Britain for a while, as well as something that had strong female characters at the forefront. I grew up in Scotland surrounded by strong female characters and I’ve always viewed women that way.

I was also interested in something that used a lot of music, which I felt presented this great technical challenge that ultimately was an opportunity to show the transcendental power of music. If you have a favourite song or a song that reminds you of a time and a place, it’s has a kind of power. I was interested in making a film that explored that.

And, of course, the social side of it was important. We used to make social realist films in Britain all the time. It’s a style of film that I used to like watching and I see no reason why you can’t be entertained and take in a serious subject at the same time. It was a whole bunch of reasons that came together when I read the script, making it a fairly easy choice for me.

RGD: How does the filmmaking process on a smaller film like Urban Hymn compare with something on the other end of the spectrum, like The Jackal for example?

MCJ: They’re just different beasts. It’s essentially the same job; you have a story and a camera and some actors. The difference is the amount of money you have to achieve something. The more money you have, the more concern there is about the film being commercially acceptable. The film might be easy to sell but it might not be very good, if you know what I mean.

When you’ve got no money, the pressures are different. They’re things like not getting the actor you want or the set how you’d like. It just means you have to think you’re way out of trouble rather than buy you’re way out of trouble.

RGD: Do you have a preference? It sounds like one affords you a greater sense of freedom…

MCJ: Absolutely. As a director, I prefer having the freedom to discover what the film is, rather than being concerned about how it’ll make the money back. You don’t get paid as much and you can’t do as much – but it’s more satisfying in many ways. You can either sprint it or go for the marathon – they’re just different.

RGD: Urban Hymn uses the 2011 London riots as both a catalyst and a backdrop for its uplifting story – why do you think this is an event that is only now being tackled in TV and film?

MCJ: I suspect it takes time to process. To come to terms with what happened and what it means. Britain is still very classist. It’s a class-based society. The simple fact is that it’s much easier to find money to make something like Downton Abbey than it is to make something set on the street where everyone wears hoodies. Only one of those is an acceptable commercial reality to the rest of the world. Sorry for being so cynical! But there isn’t any money in riots.

RGD: Integral to the success of the film is Letitia Wright’s performance as Jaime – was the process of casting Jaime a challenge on Urban Hymn?

MCJ: Casting is 80% of the film. You have to work very hard if you get it wrong; you’re always papering over the cracks.

In the case of Letitia, she originally read for the role of Leanne. I thought to myself at the time “Wow, you’re pretty good” and put her in my back pocket for later. We kept auditioning for Jaime until we met Isabella Laughland and felt she worked well as Leanne. So we flipped the two and it worked out. They got on extremely well. Letitia actually started staying with Isabella during the shoot so they were like best mates by the end, much like the film.

Their dynamic really comes across in the movie. Casting the right people does half the work for you. There are a hundred different ways of standing opposite someone that you’re very friendly with that we, as human beings, can see but not necessarily articulate. It wouldn’t communicate as well had we gotten the casting wrong.

RGD: What does the future hold for you as a filmmaker – what can we expect coming over the horizon?

MCJ: I’m in New York at the moment. I’m just about to start on this low-budget thing that hasn’t been announced yet – so I can’t tell you very much about it! We’re still in the casting process.

Looking ahead, I’m just going to continue to look for projects that interest me. Something with character and emotion. If I can keep making things that are interesting, I’ll be happy.

Urban Hymn is screening throughout Luna’s cinemas at the BBC First British Film Festival in Perth 

Image courtesy of Vendetta Films

Movie Review – Cafe Society

There’s a lot to love in Woody Allen’s rose-tinted love letter to Hollywood’s Golden Era.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) is the youngest son of a Jewish family living in New York City. Overshadowed by his older siblings, Bobby decides to pack his bags and fly west to work at the movie studio where his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell) calls the shots.

It isn’t long until Bobby is smitten with Phil’s secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), an unpretentious young woman who doesn’t care for the glamour of Hollywood. After a crush turns into romance, Bobby and Vonnie’s lives begin to pull them in different directions and they’re forced to confront the idea that this relationship might become ‘the one that got away’.

 A frivolous and effervescent affair that fizzes merrily like a crystal flute of fine champagne, Café Society is a potent mixer of wry irreverence and wistful poignancy that views the good old days and the gorgeous paraphernalia that comes with it through thick rose-tinted lenses. Allen’s screenplay and work behind the camera reveals him to be someone who dreamily reminisces about the past, even if that means sacrificing accuracy for agreeability and predictability. He envisions 1930’s Hollywood as an idyllic and unending cocktail party in a narrative so slight that it might’ve been scribbled onto a napkin.

That being said, I found a lot to love in Café Society; sure, it doesn’t broach any of its adult themes (adultery, murder) with anything sharper than misty-eyed whimsy, but the likeable cast do a fantastic job of balancing this with jovial charm and the occasional shred of sincerity.

Eisenberg slots back into his gawky indie niche with ease; away from the suffocating clutches of blockbusters like Batman v Superman, he excels as the young upstart who falls head over heels for Stewart’s ‘too cool for school’ attitude. Now in their third collaboration together, Eisenberg and Stewart’s chemistry is what gives this film life, even when they’re not sharing a scene – you feel the connection between their characters because the two actors just click so well.

Blake Lively, Corey Stoll, Anna Camp and Parker Posey flesh out a supporting cast that doesn’t have a weak link. Lively is particularly arresting as Veronica, a sultry siren who glides into Bobby’s life whilst Stoll’s slimy gangster is pitched as the comic relief – not that the movie really needed another joker in the pack.

When considering its place in Allen’s erratic late-period filmography, Café Society definitely sits closer to gems like Blue Jasmine and Midnight in Paris than misfires like Magic in the Moonlight. Carefree during most of the weirdly paced middle third, it all comes good in the end with a heartening crescendo that feels moving without being maudlin. Noteworthy for delivering another excellent performance from Stewart, this is one easy, breezy time at the movies that is worth checking out.

Cafe Society is available in Australian cinemas from October 13

Image courtesy of eOne Films

Italian Film Festival 2016

Ciao, bella! The Italian Film Festival is upon us once again. Here’s a brief selection of just some of the films that are on offer.

The Space Between
Director:
Ruth Borgobello
Starring: Flavio Parenti, Maeve Dermody & Marco Leonardi

Bellissimo! What a beautiful way to headline the Lavazza Italian Film Festival with the very first Italian-Australian co-production feature film.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic 

09-september-italianff-space-between
The Space Between highlights a strong debut for Australian director Ruth Borgobello and sets the scene for falling in love in luscious Italian landscapes.

Returning to his hometown in Northern Italy, Marco (Flavio Parenti) takes care of his aging father and tries to overcome the loss of his mother. In spite of being a talented chef, he now works in a dispirited job as a factory worker and is comfortable being uncomfortable. Marco soon encounters a young Australian in Olivia (Maeve Dermody), who’s youthful exuberance wistfully begins to stir life in him once more. Slowly but surely, a deeper friendship grows and both begin to realise what it takes to bridge the gap between loss and love.

Whilst being a somewhat simple story, The Space Between still managed to shock and surprise me. It’s a film best experienced without as little prior knowledge as possible. The process of learning how to deal with loss and to move on to achieving our dreams is an issue at the heart of many, films but one that is dealt a fresh setting in The Space Between. Borgobello cleverly uses the Italian location to relay a subtle cultural commentary, drawing parallels between how the Italian people are suffering similarly to Marco and this is what elevates the film above a cliché.

As a love story, it’s not as witty or captivating as Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise trilogy, for example, however it still remains charming enough to watch. Flavio and Maeve bounce off each other nicely, with particular praises going to Borgobello once more for her hand in the dialogue. It’s one of the more authentic love stories I’ve seen recently and one I wanted to know more about by the time the credits began to roll.

A simple but beautiful story that echoes in the fine cinematography of the Italian landscapes by Katie Milwright, The Space Between is a perfect start to your Italian film festival watch list.


The Confessions
Director: 
Roberto Andò
Starring: Toni 
Servillo, Daniel Auteuil, Pierfrancesco Favino

Murder, silence and paranoia are at play in Roberto Andò’s lacklustre thriller.

⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

09-september-italianff-confessions
The Confessions has a whiff of complex allegory. As I sat watching, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I was missing the point of it all; that the characters, both important and redundant, were concealing truths and ideas that the almost poetic dialogue only hinted at. I was afraid I was letting the film pass me by.

But now that I’ve had some time to digest it, I am certain it is merely a movie designed to bore and confuse. What starts as a murder mystery slowly unravels as a suspense thriller without the suspense or the thrill, and by the end, I had either forgotten half of what everyone had said or I just didn’t care. There is an entire scene involving Lambert Wilson that could’ve ended up on the cutting room floor without anyone noticing.

Toni Servillo plays Father Salus, a priest invited to an idyllic hotel that shall act as the setting for an important economic summit. Also in attendance is Claire (Connie Nielsen), a famed children’s author whose presence at the summit is dubious at best, for she does little except swim and snoop. One of the economists is found dead, and now the others are afraid his dying confession to Padre Salus will lead their devious plot to ruin. What their devious plot is I’m sure I don’t know, but every character treats it with the utmost respect.

The Confessions spends a lot of time with Salus, whose vow of silence is the code the economists can’t crack. I couldn’t crack the movie, which is populated with more characters than it knows what to do with and fails to punch through with a mystery worth our time.


Perfect Strangers
Director:
Paolo Genovese 
Starring:
Giuseppe Battiston, Anna Foglietta, Marco Giallini

Paolo Genovese’s Perfect Strangers is the film equivalent of a rich Italian lasagne with multiple layers of character-driven drama.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

09-september-italianff-perfect-strangers

This hilarious comedy sees three married couples and a bachelor, all long-time friends, get together for a sumptuous dinner party. As the night winds on, one of them suggests that they play a game to test their trust in one another. Each person is required to place their smartphone in front of them on the dinner table. For the entire night, any phone calls and text messages that arrive must be shared publicly with the group. Of course, not everyone sitting at the table is squeaky clean and it soon becomes clear that the seven friends didn’t know each other quite as well as they originally thought.

Perfect Strangers’ strongest element is undoubtedly its award-winning screenplay; perfectly paced and overflowing with razor-sharp dialogue, we’re gently introduced to each character before being teased with secrets that they may or may not be harbouring.

After this slow-burn first half, the surprises land hard and fast, like a chain of dominoes that speed around the dinner table. It’s an impressive build towards a series of twists that subvert expectations without feeling implausible. Most impressive is Genovese’s ability to traverse both earnest sentiment and crushing pathos in this tricky second half; he certainly doesn’t skimp on the gut-wrenching emotion, but underneath it all is a unifying message of friendship, acceptance and understanding in a thought-provoking final scene that ties everything together.


One Kiss
Director: 
Ivan Cotroneo
Starring: Rimau Ritzberger Grillo, Valentina Romani, Leonardo Pazzagli

A realistic depiction of teenage life doesn’t stop One Kiss from being an unfocused amalgamation of similar movies.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Cody Fullbrook

09-september-italianff-kiss

Lorenzo (Rimau Ritzberger Grillo), a foster child, moves to a new town and forms a friendly trio of outcasts, consisting of himself, Blu (Valentina Romani) and Antonio (Leonardo Pazzagli), but as they get closer, tensions rise that begin tearing them apart.

Lorenzo and Blu become the first members of the group and the first 30 minutes of One Kiss is solely dedicated to them mucking around together.  Their rebellious antics almost become the film’s entire plot until Antonio is dragged in just because Lorenzo thinks he’s cute.  The connection between the two boys quickly overshadows Blu as a character, and after an unwarranted sexual action, a conflict finally forms with Lorenzo and Antonio.  This occurs well over an hour in, leaving Blu to mope in the sidelines with her own unrelated issues.

It’s clear that One Kiss should have been about a stern sportsman attempting to resist the advances of another boy in school.  The ensuing awkwardness between them feels sincere and could have easily carried the film, and since the title is based on a later encounter with them, that appears to have been the movie’s intention.  It’s a shame the viewer has to wade through so much of Blu and Lorenzo’s shenanigans to get to the meat of the story, and even after enduring that, its melodramatic climax is completely uncalled for.

One Kiss displays great chemistry between the three friends, especially with their concerned parents, but its fuzzy story and egocentric main characters remind me too much of high school.


The Italian Film Festival screens at Cinema Paradiso in Perth from September 22 to October 12

Images courtesy of Palace Films

Alfred Hitchcock Film Festival – Vertigo

Doused in lust and obsession, Vertigo remains one of cinema’s defining mystery films by revealing Hitchcock’s darkest fantasies.

Zachary Cruz-Tan

Vertigo is possibly the greatest of Alfred Hitchcock’s films because it succeeds at being an effective psychological thriller as well as a careful study of his filmmaking approach. In the movie, Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) becomes obsessed with the woman of his dreams and shapes her into an object of his desires. Hitchcock was notorious for choosing blondes as his leading ladies; fetishizing them in objectifying costumes and ultimately humiliating them at the hands of controlling men. You could almost use Scottie as a reflection of Hitchcock’s fixation.

This dichotomy is perhaps the reason Vertigo remains so disturbing. In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked it as the best mystery movie, and in 2012, Sight & Sound magazine named it the best film of all time, just ahead of Citizen Kane. Why not Notorious? Or Rear Window? Or Psycho? Those were great films about horror and paranoia, but Vertigo is more in harmony with its director.

I won’t go over the plot. You either know it or you don’t, in which case its surprises are best left for you to discover. Vertigo, however, is less about plot and more about the imprisonment of its characters. Scottie’s obsession with Madeleine (Kim Novak) is an entrapment, and Madeleine’s subsequent love for Scottie binds her to a man who only thinks he shares the same feelings. Both characters tumble ever downward into loneliness and despair, and Scottie, who spends the entire film trying to overcome his irrational fear of heights, succeeds at the cost of his twisted fantasy.

If it sounds like a dour, unforgiving tragedy, it is, but Hitchcock is a master of his tools, and in Vertigo he manages to strike intrigue, while Stewart’s subversive, edgy performance makes Scottie a thoroughly captivating individual. Stewart was known for playing the implausible hero – like L.B. Jefferies in Rear Window – but in Vertigo he is transformed. He still retains much of his natural charisma, but it’s sullener, tuned down, toned up. He creeps into the picture as a man torn apart by himself, and he is absolutely fascinating to watch.

The female characters are, of course, victims of Hitchcock’s gaze. Both Madeleine and Midge (Scottie’s college friend, played by Barbara Bel Geddes) subject themselves to humiliation and demise, but by the time they realise it, the plot has twisted so tightly around itself that there is no escape for anybody. This magnificent play on lust, obsession and guilt is what gives Vertigo a backbone. A plot of games to last through the decades.

But the movie is also a technical marvel. It is perhaps most remembered for pioneering the “dolly zoom”, a camera technique in which the lens zooms in while the physical camera tracks back, creating the illusion of compressed space around an unchanging subject. It was a visual phenomenon popularised by Spielberg’s Jaws in 1976, used to highlight acute fear. In Vertigo, its use is more fundamental but no less effective; as Scottie stares down from great heights, the ground rushes up to greet him.

One of the great joys about Hitchcock’s oeuvre is that you’re never short of a masterpiece. Here is a director who made more than fifty films; around half of them observe humanity from behind a door of fear and mistaken identities. They’re always about more than what they’re about. Spellbound was more than just proving a man’s innocence. Notorious was more than just uncovering Nazi secrets. And Vertigo is certainly about more than a fear of heights. By uniting so many strands of his life into 120 minutes of personal agony, Hitchcock has crafted one of the most enduring films of all time.

You can catch Vertigo on the big screen at Windsor Cinema Monday 1 August & Sunday 7 August

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Alfred Hitchcock Film Festival – Psycho

Equal parts revolutionary and risqué in its time, Psycho has gone on to embed itself in our collective cinematic lexicon and reshape horror for over half a century.

Rhys Graeme-Drury

Think Alfred Hitchcock and you think Psycho. It’s arguably Hitchcock’s zenith, arriving at a point where the English auteur had already made a name for himself as the master of suspense with thrillers North by Northwest and Rear Window. But with Psycho, the director steered his career, and legacy, into newer, altogether bloodier waters that shocked and outraged audiences at the time.

It’s a film that, at first, bears all the hallmarks of a quintessential Hitchcock film; the gorgeous blonde in Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane coupled with the voyeuristic menace and underlying mystery of unsettling motel owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). Where Psycho catches you out is the infamous shower scene in which the director rips the rug out from underneath the audience and flips the narrative on its head.

3 minutes long and composed of over 70 angles and 50 cuts, the shower scene famously took over a week to piece together. Constrained by the choice of using black and white, the production crew employed the use of chocolate syrup to emphasise the contrast of the dark blood on the stark white bath. It’s also a sequence that posed a lot of issues for Hitchcock with the censors who were worried about the shocking violence and the nudity.

In fact, censors opposed a lot of Hitchcock’s choices during the production process, but thankfully the director held firm. The film is now infamous for the numerous milestones it lay down en route to attaining iconic status with cinephiles the world over. It marks the first time that a toilet was depicted flushing onscreen (how scandalous!) as well as reaching new levels of depravity by showing Sam (John Gavin) and Marion sharing a bed in the opening scene, despite not being a married couple (for shame!).

Tasked with preserving the central mystery surrounding Norman’s overbearing mother, Hitchcock was also forced to engage some inventive camera techniques, such as the odd, overheard shot used to frame the murder of Detective Arbogast (Martin Balsam). The intricate pulley system that ran parallel to the stairs and sat atop the hallway, thus concealing the secret, achieved the desired effect, but it took weeks to prepare and test.

In fact, preserving secrecy and mystery was an important part of the distribution process. Trailers told audiences that Psycho was a film that had to seen from the beginning, or not at all. Even after the film had hit theatres, Hitchcock was adamant that latecomers should be denied entry, citing that they wouldn’t receive the full experience. It’s a shame that this practice isn’t still upheld! Nowadays we’re used to films like The Force Awakens being shrouded in secrecy, but not even JJ Abrams is that stringent on the secrets, particularly with social media causing spoilers to spread like wildfire.

They might seem cute by 2016 standards, but the boundaries that Hitchcock pushed on Psycho certainly titillated audiences at the time. Initial mixed reviews were cast aside as reams of people flocked to see what all the hullabaloo was about. This in turn caused numerous publications to reconsider their verdicts; Time Magazine’s lukewarm appraisal was famously altered to include superlatives such as masterly following the larger-than-expected box office takings.

Not even a slew of sequels, a misguided shot-for-shot remake and a spin-off TV movie have diluted the lasting impact of Psycho. Looking back, the film isn’t just a singular work of art that caused a storm. Through Psycho, Hitchcock redefined the horror genre, practically spawning what we now call the slasher in the process. Who can say that the careers of Wes Craven, John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper would have been as ripe had it not been for the legacy of Psycho?

You can catch Psycho on the big screen at Windsor Cinema Friday 29 July & Sunday 7 August

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures 

Revelation Perth International Film Festival – Part 1

It’s that time of year again! Get ready for the weird and the wonderful at this year’s Revelation Perth International Film Festival. Here’s a snippet of what’s on offer!

High-Rise

Come for a naked Tom Hiddleston, stay for the heavy-handed commentary on capitalism.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

07 July - Revelation FF High-Rise

High-Rise stars Tom Hiddleston as Robert Laing, a dapper middle-class doctor who moves onto the 25th floor of a cutting-edge apartment block located on the outskirts of London. Laing soon finds himself trapped between a rock and a hard place; you see, the building is a rather blunt allegory for society, with the wealthy upper class sitting on top and the poorer have-nots struggling to escape the rigid social hierarchy. Like chickens trapped inside a coop, the shit travels downward and resentment soon begins to bloom amongst those unfortunate enough to be caught in its path.

Sitting somewhere between Snowpiercer and that episode of Community where the whole campus devolves into a parody of a futuristic dystopia, Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise is a complex mixture of both shocking violence and menacing satire.

The cinematography from Laurie Ross is gorgeous; he perfectly captures the unsettling contrast of filth and glamour through some fantastically dark and macabre compositions. Along with Wheatley’s direction and Amy Jump’s devilish screenplay, the sick, twisted tone of JG Ballard’s 1975 novel is surprisingly well replicated on the big screen. The lavish production design from Mark Tildesley ensures that High-Rise is one of those rare films where the physical setting is its story; each floor and room has a distinctive texture that informs the audience of its wicked occupants.

The film does fall into some unfavourable trappings at times, such as the use of ‘sexposition’ to hold our attention during prolonged periods of set-up. Except, it isn’t really warranted – with a central concept as compelling as this, the only purpose it serves is to luridly flash Hiddleston’s perfectly sculpted bum at the camera.

Hiddleston tackles the mayhem with the same sincerity one would usually reserve for Shakespeare, whether he’s making small talk over cocktails or spit roasting a dog on his balcony. Sienna Miller and Elisabeth Moss are great as two of Laing’s neighbours, whilst Luke Evans’ violent upriser Wilder is suitably unhinged and unpredictable.

It’s hard to define the appeal of High-Rise; the metaphor is a little blunt and the acting often strays into goofiness, but much like the aforementioned Snowpiercer, its technical prowess is too rich and gorgeous to ignore. Not everyone will derive enjoyment from Wheatley’s potent mixture of skin-crawling violence and writhing sex orgies, but the confident lead performance from Hiddleston and the sheer volume of colour and atmosphere that the production exudes will enchant art-house audiences if nothing else.

High-Rise screens at Luna On SX Wednesday 13 July & Luna Leederville 16 July 


Demolition

OK, seriously, has anyone else noticed how hard Jake Gyllenhaal has been trying for an Oscar nomination lately?

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Josip Knezevic 

07 July - Revelation FF Demolition

Demolition is yet another great example of the subtleties Gyllenhaal can bring to any performance. While his latest film might not be on the same level as Nightcrawler or Prisoners, it still provides a very worthy character study.

Following the life of Davis Mitchell (Gyllenhall), the story takes an introspective look into how an extraordinarily successful business man deals with grief. Director Jean-Marc Vallee, who brought us the great Dallas Buyers Club, sets Davis up with a romantic counterpart in a mysterious young woman (Naomi Watts) and together things begin to unfold. One of the strangest films I’ve seen of late, Demolition is an interesting blend of drama, comedy and romance, but I’m not sure it works as well as it potentially could.

If it weren’t for the powerhouse performances of Gyllenhaal and Watts, with the welcome addition of Chris Cooper in a supporting role, then I doubt I would have been able to stomach the abrupt shifts in tone throughout. These shifts are so frequent that it feels like watching the longest ever game of ping pong personified as a movie. One moment there’s a hilarious and uplifting scene, then the next spirals into a downfall of dramas. I was left unsure of what to think, and more importantly how to feel.

Vallee does a good job of highlighting the instability of Davis, synonymous with the title, as he becomes fixated on destroying objects around in him in attempt to learn how they were made. It’s a clear metaphor of how wherever he goes, he is tearing relationships apart due to his inability to connect with his emotions but it feels like that message isn’t reinforced enough.

It’s quite the puzzle but at least it’s a puzzle that’s still enjoyable to watch. There are some great moments of humour in this film even if they feel inappropriately placed. My best summary of trying to encompass what this movie represents is that of a famous stadium being purposefully demolished to make way for something else. It’s meant to be melancholic but at the same time you can’t help but smile in its destruction and in the end that’s what the film’s title is trying to allure towards. If you like Gyllenhall or a quirky character study, go see Demolition.

Demolition screens at Luna Leederville Wednesday 13 July 


Images courtesy of Revelation Perth International Film Festival 

Great Britain Retro Film Festival – Part 2

Josip Knezevic

Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

What if the end of the world could be started by the push of a button?

05 May - GBRFF P2 - Dr Strangelove

When it comes to political satires, you can hardly beat Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove; a hilarious yet tense drama that pokes fun at its subject matter and isn’t shy to delve into its underlying seriousness.

Peter Sellers puts on a masterclass of acting by dwelling into three characters; Captain Mandrake, President Muffley and Dr Strangelove, with the latter being his finest. The film explores the predicament facing the U.S President who is tasked with stopping a madman from unleashing a thermal nuclear war on Russia. The trick here being that the madman is in turn a general within the Royal Air Force who has gone insane with conspiracy theories against the communist regime. It’s the Cold War that could have been, and one that never ceases to make you smile.

No matter how insane or convoluted the plot becomes, Dr Strangelove remains believable as it has deep seated relevance. Nuclear war was almost a reality, and today, it is still a possibility. What makes the film brilliant, however, is the subtle, yet hilarious undertones throughout. You can’t help but smile at the escalation of each disastrous situation, even as the circumstances of the characters deteriorate each time.

Whilst it might not make everyone burst out laughing in comparison to traditional comedies , Kubrick’s film is in a class of its own. It’s sharp, witty, and rooted in a fully realised fictional world that could still be our future.

Dr Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is screening at Windsor Cinemas on May 25. 


Zachary Cruz-Tan

A Passage to India (1984)

David Lean entertains, and provokes thought with his last film of a career that’s literally spanned the globe.

05 May - GBRFF P2 - Passage to India

Misunderstanding is at the heart of David Lean’s final film, A Passage to India, a parable that’s vast, but deeply intimate in the way it addresses – and sometimes casts aside – the firmly-rooted prejudice that poisoned the uneasy Anglo-Indian relationship of the 1800s and early 1900s in India. It is a movie about looking, listening, sympathising, believing. That’s hard to do when neither side of the relationship is willing to trust the other.

The success of A Passage to India is founded on the tension between the two races, but its scope is small; at least by David Lean standards. Lean’s idea of a movie was not about dialogue, character or plot, but about the imagery. The way the movie looked and felt; its energy. To him, the story lay within the pictures. In the buzzing humidity of The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), for example. Or in the heat of the sun in Lawrence of Arabia (1962).  A Passage to India is minute in comparison, but its themes are no less expansive.

Peter O’Toole was Lean’s first choice to play Richard Fielding, the romantic hero of the English side, but the part shifted to James Fox instead. Alec Guinness makes several Obi-Wan Kenobi appearances as the serenely prescient Professor Godbole. All of the characters are humanistic; none of them are played falsely. They are a powerful testament to Lean’s almost supernatural ability to set his movies in the furthest corners of the globe and still makes us care deeply about the tiny little people that inhabit them. A Passage to India may not be Lawrence of Arabia, but it’s as fine a swansong as any director could wish for.

A Passage to India screens at Windsor Cinemas on May 24


Images courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, MGM Home Entertainment/Chapel Distribution/Greater Union Distribution

Great Britain Retro Film Festival – Part 1

Corey Hogan 

The Ladykillers (1955)

Five shady crooks. One elderly landlady. A million dollar bank robbery. The outcome = murder? Get ready to have your ribs tickled and your morality questioned at the Great Britain Retro Film Festival!

05 May - GBRFF P1 - Ladykillers - Copy

Professor Marcus (a pre-Obi –Wan Kenobi Alec Guinness) responds to a room-for-rent advertisement posted by sweet old Mrs. Wilberforce (Katie Johnson), who warmly embraces Marcus and his string quartet band (Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers and Danny Green) practicing their music in her house. Unbeknownst to her, these musicians are in fact a gang of crooked criminals plotting to rob a bank and use the naïve old lady to help carry out their heist. Unfortunately, Mrs. Wilberforce eventually catches on to their wrongdoings and threatens to alert the authorities, leaving the gang with no other choice – deciding which one of them it will be who kills Mrs. Wilberforce.

You might be familiar with this one; the Coen Brothers remade it in 2004 with Tom Hanks, which, while enjoyable, was possibly the only film that could be considered a “lesser effort” from the siblings. Perhaps it’s because Alexander Mackendrick’s original continues to exude a wonderful Technicolor charm of its era that simply cannot be replicated in a modern sensibility – it’s delightfully absurd, and both warmer and wittier than most slapstick outings have any right to be.

There’s also a dark streak uncommon in films of its day, a risky factor that injects dramatic and suspenseful depths between its gut-busting raucousness; you can’t hate this loveable bunch of yahoos, but their contemplation to end the life of this innocent elderly lady is a genuine moral conflict. No doubt this helped pioneer and shape the history of the black comedy genre.

The crooks are each selfish, yet exorbitantly unique in personality, giving the gang an oddball vibe that reverberates with effective goofiness. It’s easy to forget that Alec Guinness had such a huge presence across both British and Hollywood cinema before his most beloved roles in Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars; his slimily deceptive leader of the criminals here proves what a range the great actor had (and impeccable comic timing). The dynamic of the group earns a lot of laughs, with Danny Green’s daft turn as clumsy thug One-Round in particular standing out – amazingly, Peter Sellers doesn’t quite make the impact he did later in his career – but Katie Johnson’s cuddly, nagging Mrs. Wilberforce steals the whole show; put simply, she’s the perfect grandmother caricature.

With an impressive visual aesthetic and an interesting twist of fate, The Ladykillers holds up strongly as a seminal classic comedy. The tea party scene alone raises more chuckles than most comedic fare of late.

Screening Fri 13 May & Sun 22 May at Windsor Cinema


Chariots of Fire (1981)

Still standing on the podium and knocking other sports films off its perch, Chariots of Fire prevails with its transcendent themes, powerful characters and pounding music.

05 May - GBRFF P1 - Chariots of Fire - Copy

An all-time classic of the sports genre, Chariots of Fire is based on the true story of two British track athletes competing against one another in the 1924 Olympic Games. Both possess a natural talent for running, though their motivation stems from different life experiences. Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), used to copping Antisemitism as a Jewish student amongst snobby scholars, runs as a means to overcome prejudices and prove himself to his naysayers; while Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), a son of Christian missionaries and devout member of the Church of Scotland, believes his gifts are a divine blessing and sprints to promote the glory of God.

Never has running been so rich and compelling, nor has it since Hugh Hudson’s Best Picture winning triumph. Chariots’ hefty themes of intersecting faiths, clashing world views and opinions, and meaningful competition hold up strongly and give the film intellectual depth, but these play second fiddle to the façade of the racing itself. Hudson has a masterful eye in orchestrating his races to make them blisteringly exciting; lingering for as long as humanly possible at the countdown to each race for nail-biting suspense and composing each shot with a deft grace.

David Watkin’s cinematography is sumptuous, but the MVP here is Greek composer Vangelis, whose Oscar-winning synthetic score is now a pop-culture staple. The iconic theme song – which you’ll recognise from just about every slow motion running scene ever – bookends the film over shots of the trainees jogging along a windswept beach. It immediately gets the blood racing and the heart pounding, lifting spirits to a high that few films ever reach. Occasionally schmaltzy at times, Chariots nonetheless remains a crowning champion of sports films, and a timeless testament to the glory and defeat of competition and the resilience of the human spirit.

Screening Fri 13 May & Thu 19 May at Windsor Cinema


Images courtesy of Studio Canal, Twentieth Century Fox,  Fox Columbia TriStar Pictures, Warner Bros 

Spanish Film Festival 2016

The Spanish Film Festival returns to Perth on April 21! Here’s just a few of the films on offer. Find out what to see and what to avoid!

Sidetracked
Las Ovejas No Pierden El Tren

04 Apr - Spanish FF Sidetracked

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Sidetracked follows a trio of middle-aged couples as they navigate relationship struggles and strife. Luisa (Inma Cuesta) and Alberto (Raúl Arévalo) have moved to the country to have their second child in an idyllic spot, but their rambunctious sex life is paying the price. Alberto’s brother Juan (Alberto San Juan) is struggling to keep pace with his new girlfriend Natalia (Irene Escolar), a woman 20 years his junior; meanwhile, Luisa’s sister Sara (Candela Peña) is clinging to the hope that her new beau Paco (Jorge Bosch) walks her down the aisle, even though he’s not so sold on the idea.

Álvaro Fernández Armero’s latest film doesn’t exactly break new ground for its genre, but the talented and charismatic ensemble go some way to expanding the otherwise thin plot. Arevalo’s struggling writer Alberto enjoys the most compelling character arc as his directionless career and dwindling love life cause him to seek new challenges amongst the film’s gorgeous rural backdrop. The oddball chemistry he shares with Luisa affords the film some of its more compelling dramatic scenes.

On the other hand, Sara and Paco’s one-note subplot is missing some key emotional beats; the former simply comes across as a slightly unhinged bridezilla who doesn’t know when to quit. ArImero (who also serves as screenwriter) stages the comedy around familiar social situations and awkward conflicts, but an undercurrent of humour surrounding Spain’s recent economic slump as well as modern dating traps keeps the film feeling fresh and relevant.

Much like love itself, Sidetracked is sometimes awkward, ugly and uncomfortable, but you get out what you put in, and if you arrive wanting something open, honest and often entertaining, this film is for you.


Innocent Killers
Asesinos Inocentes

04 Apr - Spanish FF Innocent Killers

⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Gonzalo Bendala’s Innocent Killers is in the tradition of crime films with tunnel vision. It is so focused on getting its story right that it doesn’t do much of anything else, which, if we’re talking about film as an art form, should include the bare necessities like character development, engaging dialogue and general coherence. This is a well-crafted movie for someone with ADHD needing a quick fix.

Maxi Iglesias plays Francisco Garralda, a college student who’s in too deep. His apartment (that he shares with his seemingly senile father) is about to be foreclosed on, and he owes a lot of money to Julián (Vicente Romero), an auto-mechanic gangster who’s more auto-mechanic than gangster.

Francisco has flunked his final psychology exam again. He can’t have that. He tries to bribe his worrisome professor Espinosa (Miguel Ángel Solá) to doctor his grade. Espinosa agrees on one condition – oh, but I wouldn’t dream of telling you what he has planned. If you’ve seen Billy Wilder’s splendid Double Indemnity (1944), you might be in on Espinosa’s secret, after shifting the focus from murder to redemption, though you might not care enough to do so.

I know I didn’t care at all. Who would’ve thought that something as simple as Innocent Killers’ plot could take as long as 95 minutes to unfold? And it unfolds all right, in a manner most unpleasant. It convolutes in such a way as to incite puzzlement, to the point where I had no idea what was happening to poor old Espinosa, and why Julian was in the picture at all. This is a strange film indeed, and the cloying, almost insulting ending doesn’t do it any favours.


Nothing In Return
A Cambio De Nada

04 Apr - Spanish FF Nothing In Return

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

Director Daniel Guzmán’s Nothing In Return is a snapshot of the life of Dario (Miguel Herrán), an almost 16-year-old boy whose life is unravelling at the hands of his parents’ very messy divorce. Heavily neglected and facing trouble with the law and expulsion from school, Dario runs away to be taken in and put to work by shady mechanic Caralimpia (Felipe García Vélez). Now fending for himself, Dario and his best friend Luismi (Antonio Bachiller) refuse to let their difficult situation ruin their summer; though their increasing temptation to solve all their problems by stealing could lead to some serious consequences and life lessons…

Films like The Squid and the Whale and A Separation show us a hard-hitting deconstruction of a divorce in process; Nothing In Return uses it only as the kick-off, instead seguing into the impact of the divorce on the sole child of the marriage and turning it into a twisted coming-of-age tale. It manages to be very entertaining in the process, effectively blending comedic banter and brash endeavours with high-stakes drama and. Herrán and Bachiller share an impressive chemistry as the pair tackle regular teenage matters – sex, girls and drinking; and the irregular – carrying out heists and high speed police chases. There are themes of uniting different generations through loneliness, though it comes up a little short; if only Dario’s parents were fleshed out a little more, this would be a rich and completely fulfilling experience.


Images courtesy of Spanish Film Festival 2016 and Palace Films