Movie Review – Secret Scripture

Vanessa Redgrave and Rooney Mara deliver two very strong performances of one woman at two very different times in her life, and the horrific events that were designed to break her.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

The Secret Scripture, based on the novel of the same name by Sebastian Barry, focuses on the story of Rose McNulty (Vanessa Redgrave and Rooney Mara), a woman who has been institutionalised for over fifty years. When the institution she’s at has to relocate her, Dr Stephen Grene (Eric Bana) is requested to go and conduct a psych evaluation of her. As he proceeds to evaluate her, Dr Grene is drawn to her story and begins to realise she may not be the mentally deranged old lady that everyone makes her out to be.

The Secret Scripture is a beautifully shot film with a theme that seems highly relevant to the going-on’s of today. Cinematographer Mikhail Krichman captures the beauty and severity of the Irish landscape with the same perceptive lens as he did in the 2014 Russian drama Leviathan. The wide shots of the Irish landscape are both beautiful but harsh, with a dangerous undertone, not unlike the town Sligo, where the film is set.

The situation Rose finds herself in is not too dissimilar to what a lot of females are currently speaking out against, making this film both extremely relevant, and, I fear, just as likely to be excluded from the awards season due to the current controversy plaguing Hollywood.

Redgrave plays the elderly Rose very well, convincing you at the beginning that she is genuinely mad, but its her gradual insistence about telling her story to Dr Grene that shows the strong resilience Rose has to just give up and give in to the situation she’s been put in. Mara plays the younger Rose, and is ethereal as always, with the younger Rose wearing her resilience and quick-wit as a shield to the unwanted attention she receives from the small, gossipy Irish village people. Her fall from a headstrong, confident young woman into the emotionally battered shell that she ends up becoming is heart breaking to watch, particularly as she doesn’t give up easily.

Another standout was Theo James, who has come a long way since his Divergent days, giving a convincing performance as Father Gaunt. He manages to charm the audience before revealing his darker intentions later in the piece. Bana also gets a honourable mention for playing Dr Grene with a certain delicacy, but his character’s story was really secondary to Rose’s so he didn’t get enough screen time to really make an impact.

The only let down in this whole film for me was the ending. The film moved at a pace which was steady, carefully breaking down and detailing the events that lead to Rose being committed. However, it then proceeded to wrap up the entire film in 15 minutes, which just wasn’t enough time to properly analyse the crucial points which led to the big reveal at the end. The clunky ending gave the feeling that director Jim Sheridan was cautious of time, but I would have much preferred for the film to go on that little bit longer so the pace was maintained and the ending felt much more rounded and complete.

Overall Sheridan has done another great job at exploring a character that is positioned on the fringe of society, and the destructive nature in which human beings deal with those who are slightly different or unwilling to conform. There are some stellar performances from the cast, and the story is one that gives hope, even if it means simply waiting for the right time.

Secret Scripture is available in Australian Cinemas December 7

Image courtesy of Transmission Films.

 

 

 

 

 

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Movie Review – The Man Who Invented Christmas

A stocking stuffed with quite a lot of wrapping paper, The Man Who Invented Christmas struggles to get through its own excess.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Michael Philp

The thing about The Man Who Invented Christmas (TMWIC) is that you’ve seen most of it before. A respectable chunk of the film is a straight adaptation of A Christmas Carol – the same story you’ve been hearing since you were a child. It’s nice, it’s heart-warming, it’s a classic, and it’s been adapted dozens of times, sometimes with more panache than on this occasion (A Muppet Christmas Carol remains a personal favourite). So the first knock against TMWIC is simply that its version of A Christmas Carol isn’t all that special. The second knock is that the other story it’s telling – how Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) came to write A Christmas Carol – is both overstuffed and dull. Not exactly a winning combination.

TMWIC opens to Dickens coming off the high of a tour of America. Cut to a year and two flops later: Dickens is broke and needs a hit to get through Christmas. His publishers laugh at him when he suggests a Christmas story. “It’s October, you haven’t written anything yet, and nobody cares about Christmas!” They say, being the savvy business people they are. Dickens stubbornly ignores them and decides to risk everything to self-publish the novel. In the process, characters such as Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) come alive through Dickens’ thoughts and begin tormenting him. To triumph, Dickens is forced to wrestle not only with his characters, but also the inner demons they represent.

Dan Stevens does solid work here. His Dickens is energetic and conflicted – pushed and pulled by both outer and inner forces, he is perpetually bouncing between problems – and Stevens does admirable work keeping everything centred. Likewise, Plummer is a reliable source of amusement and is devilishly delicious as Scrooge. Avoiding the temptation of passivity, Plummer keeps his Scrooge engaged in the act of torturing his creator. Plummer’s dynamic with Stevens is perhaps the film’s saving grace and is certainly its most well-developed aspect. If only the filmmakers had focused in on that, we might’ve had something recommendable.

Instead, we get an abundance of subplots that dull the film, like running a knife across a rock. Some of them – like William Makepeace Thackeray – just need snappier editing to liven things up. Others – like Dickens’ nephew, the inspiration for Tiny Tim – should be jokes instead of entire scenes. These would be minor quibbles if there weren’t so damn many of them. There are at least three different subplots that desperately need trimming, and one that needs to be deleted entirely. Those stories come at the expense of the main one, killing its momentum and making you wish the film would go back to the mediocre version of A Christmas Carol.

You can praise TMWIC’s production design (it’s quite lavish), and performances (universally solid), but you’ll find it hard to praise the film they’re in service of. Quite simply it doesn’t serve them back. Charles Dickens’ life should make for an entertaining film, but unfortunately, this Christmas story isn’t it.

The Man Who Invented Christmas is available in Australian Cinemas November 30

Image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution.

Movie review – Wonder

Refreshingly detailed, Wonder is a joy for both adults and pre-teens alike.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Michael Philp

It would be reasonable to be wary of Wonder. The trailers have sold it as two hours of Jacob Tremblay teaching the world to be nice – pure schmaltz, in other words. That’s a shame because the film goes out of its way to not be that. Admittedly, a large portion of it is still overly sweet, but it counterbalances that with a thoughtful approach to character and world-building. The world does not revolve around Tremblay’s August “Auggie” Pullman, and thankfully neither does Wonder.

Auggie is a ten-year-old boy living in New York with his family: his mother, Isabel (Julia Roberts), his father, Nate (Owen Wilson), and his sister, Olivia (Izabela Vidovic). Auggie suffers from Treacher-Collins Syndrome, which has left him with significant facial deformities. He is the kid you can’t look away from, and he knows it. When the film begins, Auggie is preparing for his first year of elementary school, having been home-schooled for most of his life. Wonder follows him through most of that year and all of the challenges it presents, like new friends, enemies and science lessons.

But, and this is key to the success of the whole thing, Wonder also follows Olivia through that year, giving her a fully realised character arc that’s probably as detailed as Auggie’s. From her perspective, Auggie is a sun that everyone else revolves around – an attention vacuum that threatens to swallow their family whole.

If you want to get meta, Auggie is the low-hanging fruit that these kinds of films get fixated on – easily marketable, designed from the ground up for emotional manipulation – at the expense of their other characters. Wonder is better than that. Rather than blind itself staring at Auggie, the film wisely decides to spend long stretches away from him and his problems. Wonder dedicates substantial screen-time to exploring the planets orbiting Auggie, and it has crafted every single one of them thoughtfully enough to make them worth that time.

At its core, Wonder is about perspective. Auggie’s favourite holiday is Halloween because it allows him complete control over how people see him – it is the one day of the year where he can be Boba Fett instead of “the plague,” as the bullies insist on labelling him. You’ll find these details both textually and sub-textually, and they exemplify the humanity at the centre of Wonder. Adults, keep an eye out for some of the more subtle ones; the film rewards you for doing so.

Not everything works though. Wonder’s quality noticeably dips with an unnecessary school trip to a nature reserve. The trip is an attempt to bring the bullies into the light, but by the time it arrives the film is already pushing its runtime. Worse still, there’s a concussion scare that instantly fizzles out, leaving a weird shadow over a scene that’s supposed to be positive.

You can’t call Wonder sugary – that implies an emptiness that the film works hard to avoid. Yes, it’s a sweet film, and it is a little on the nose sometimes, but it has a strong foundation. It cares about people and giving them the time they deserve. Because of that, the film is probably better suited to children of Olivia’s age rather than Auggie’s. They are the ones that will appreciate the depth of thought put into the characters, while younger ones might struggle with the run-time. Still, Wonder’s message of empathy will resonate with all ages, and for that, it deserves to be seen.

Wonder is available in Australian cinemas from November 30

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 2017.

Movie Review – Lucky

A fitting send-off for a fine veteran actor.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic

 

2017 has been an unfortunate reminder of how time slowly comes for us all, even for those actors whom we so dearly love to watch on screen that that to imagine a world without them would simply be too disheartening. Harry Dean Stanton was one of those deaths that came all too soon, and at the ripe old age of 91, his final film Lucky, serves as a fitting end and no doubt a grim personal reflection for the actor.

The film follows the life of Lucky, a 90-year-old atheist who struggles with the idea of his imminent death amongst those who appear more joyful and content at their old age. Immediately, such a storyline resonates with its lead actor in Stanton but whilst it appears to be a heavy hearted affair, Stanton manages to add enough humour to make it pleasant to watch. He’s even joined by life friend and longtime collaborator David Lynch, who plays his best friend and the chemistry the two share is worth a watch to say the least.

What Lucky does well is telling its message raw and upfront. There are moments where Stanton delivers a lamenting monologue with such unflinching delivery that it stands out as both a highlight of the film and him as an actor. He’s a stubborn, cynical old man who knows he’s going to depart soon and is afraid of what lies ahead. He’s scared shitless, as he says, and this is what makes him human. You sympathise for his plea instead of turning away from what could have been delivered as an arrogant atheist. It makes you appreciate the life you want to live out for yourself and in turn gain the respect to the elderly that you might have forgotten to hold.

Whilst these ideas are great and tell an important outlook on life, they’re not exactly very original. There are plenty of other movies that deal with the same subject but do so far better. Synecdoche, New York and Mary and Max ring a bell and unfortunately Lucky simply can’t compete with the best. Overall, it works simply as a nice slow burn of a movie with a deep-hearted message. Instances between Lynch and Stanton are great, and Lucky himself has a few witty moments and remarks that make you smile but aside from that, it’s not much else.

You know essentially what you’re getting yourself into when you come to watch the trailer, but this doesn’t have to detract from the experience. Lucky is still a well-made film. It’s acted to a tee, it’s executed with aplomb from a technical standpoint and it ultimately holds an important message. If only it’s storyline could have been more interesting with more going on, but perhaps that’s the point director John Carroll Lynch wants to show.

Lucky is available in Australian cinemas from November 16 (Perth- November 23).

Image courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment.

Movie Review – Tulip Fever

Tulip Fever burns slower than it takes for a tulip to grow and bloom.


Elle Cahill

It’s 17th Century Amsterdam and a wealthy Dutchman, Cornelis Sandvoort and his wife, Sophia, are having trouble conceiving. Despite the young wife’s fears that her much older husband will soon divorce her, he pays for up-and-coming artist Jan van Loos to paint their portrait. As he paints the couple, van Loos quickly falls in love with the young Sophia and they start a passionate affair.

There is a lot going on in Tulip Fever, and for the most part it’s hard to keep up with all the different storylines. For almost every character that is introduced in the film, we are given a sliver of their story without any real development, both from a story and character perspective. I counted a total of seven storylines, which is too big a number to fit into a 105-minute film, particularly when the film is also trying to set up the historical backdrop of the tulip mania that took over Amsterdam in the 17th Century, and plays a large part in the overall story.

Tulip Fever has a phenomenal cast including Judi Dench, Christoph Waltz, Alicia Vikander, Tom Hollander, Jack O’Connell, and many more, but director Justin Chadwick fails to utilise their full potential. Dench effortlessly steals every scene she’s in as the head nun of a local parish in charge of growing the tulips for auction, as does Waltz in his portrayal of husband Cornelis Sandvoort, who genuinely loves Sophia (Vikander) and wants to do right by her but is desperate for her to deliver an heir. Hollander also get’s an honourable mention as the sleazy doctor who brings moments of comic relief to an otherwise contrived plot. But this is far from being their best work and feels like a huge waste of talent.

The most interesting part of the film is its attempt at exploring the tulip mania. While it fails to truly show the significance of the mania, it helps establish the film’s setting, and also give a basic insight to the craze that overtook Amsterdam. Unfortunately, like the rest of the film, it gets muddled up with all the concurrent character arcs and fails to bring anything other than tulips to the story.

There is some beautiful cinematography by Eigil Bryld, particularly when Sophia’s on the beach at various points in the film, but most of the time these scenes feel overly indulgent.

Tulip Fever is a real slow-burner that has a lot going on across the various storylines without any proper development taking place. Its failure to pick a central character leaves you feeling confused at the end, as you’re not invested in any of them. I also can’t tell you who or what the antagonist is in this film because it’s never properly identified. This film should serve as a warning as to what happens when indulgence trumps quality.

Tulip Fever is available in Australian cinemas from November 23.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 2017.

 

Movie Review – Justice League

DC takes two steps forward and one step back on its bumper team-up tentpole, Justice League.

⭐ ⭐  ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

After fours years, just as many films and a hype train large enough to tow a small planet, DC and Warner Brothers hastily arrive at their Avengers moment in Justice League, a crossover event that sees established superheroes like Ben Affleck’s Batman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman team up with fresh faces such as The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher).

Their mission is to stop Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds), an ancient interdimensional demon from uniting three ‘mother boxes’, shiny Rubix Cubes with the power to destroy all life on Earth when joined as one.

Having undergone a troubled production, the expectation going in is that Justice League would be a mess, visually, tonally and narratively. Unfortunately, those fears appear to have been well-founded for the most part; Snyder’s third swing of the bat isn’t a miss on the scale of 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but it’s hardly the home run many fans were hoping for either.

Narratively, cowriters Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon (the latter of whom also directed a few reshoots after Snyder departed following a family tragedy) cobble together a passable plot that is markedly more straightforward than its bloated predecessor.

This streamlining is a good thing; rather than getting bogged down by mythology, Justice League (with Whedon offering some of his trademark quips) affords its central five heroes time to interact. Batman and Wonder Woman don’t see eye to eye; Cyborg isn’t a fan of Flash’s silliness. It endears us to their cause, making the abysmal CGI throwdown in the third act at least tolerable.

Visually, Justice League isn’t great. The VFX lacks polish and an overreliance on green screen is abundantly clear once the heroes jet off to face their ultimate foe in the final act. The reshoots and last minute tinkering hasn’t done much to help in this department.

The cast is a mixed bag as well; Affleck swings between suave and narcoleptic; Gadot is equal parts a radiant beam of sunlight and a thrilling whirlwind of ferocity; Miller is a jittery and sarcastic millennial who can’t sit still; Fisher is stoic and only afforded a hint of depth; and Momoa’s Aquaman is an insufferable X Games bro with milky white contacts and a penchant for surf lingo – it comes as a surprise that he doesn’t throw a single shaka.

Even the score is a hodgepodge of intersecting leitmotifs, as Danny Elfman throws everything but the kitchen sink into the mix; Hans Zimmer’s uplifting Man of Steel theme and Junkie XL’s thunderous Wonder Woman cues overlap with John Williams’ original Superman theme and Elfman’s own 1989 Batman score. The result is clunky and disjointed – a summation that extends to most of Justice League, to be brutally honest.

And so, we arrive at the end. Things are more hopeful, the status quo has shifted once again and better things to come are teased. But it does beg the question, how long can audiences go before the crippling mediocrity (save for Wonder Woman) lastingly cripples DC’s efforts to ape Marvel? Justice League sees the former lean into the latter’s formula heavily, and it signals a shift in the right direction, albeit a slow one. Once again I find myself whispering under the breath – “maybe the next one will be better…”

Justice League is available in Australian cinemas from November 16.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 2017.

Movie Review – Goodbye Christopher Robin

Simon Curtis’ Goodbye Christopher Robin does its job but definitely arrived with the ambition to do more.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Goodbye Christopher Robin assembles all the elements of a great historical drama, but somehow fails to fit them together. It’s never quite as cohesive as it’s meant to be. It’s touching and sad, supremely shot, beautiful to look at, but forgets the piece that completes the picture. And quite surprisingly, Margot Robbie turns in a high school performance that should’ve been eaten by her dog.

But the film raises interesting questions. We follow A. A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson), who we know will create Winnie The Pooh, as he returns to London after fighting in the Great War, still haunted by nasty flashbacks that are triggered by innocuous balloon pops. He needs a sanctuary in which to continue his playwriting, so impulsively shifts his family to the countryside, where his young son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), who prefers his nickname Billy Moon, frolics amongst the trees with his stuffed toys and his watchful nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald) is ordered to stay away from his busy father.

Naturally, circumstances arise that leave Billy alone with Milne. So the two begin to bond and before long Milne has created a children’s character based around his own son and his somewhat-imaginary friends. Seems harmless enough. But the fearsome genteel nature of the Milne’s makes them incapable of comprehending the impact of super stardom on a child who is not prepared for it. Billy is dressed to resemble the Christopher Robin of the Pooh books and is shoved into radio interviews and publicity photo shoots as the real thing. “He needs to grow up!”, asserts Olive. “He can’t do this!” “He seems to be doing it quite well actually”, replies his mother.

The film is written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Simon Vaughan, and the duo pay less attention to their dialogue than the relationship between father and son. Did Milne intend to hurt his son? Of course not. But then, looking at Milne, does he know what hurt is anymore? Yes, you could say the war shook him up real bad, but surely it’s the stoic Englishness of the time that ruined an otherwise beautiful relationship. In a household that doesn’t permit crying, how do you find out when someone’s in pain?

The irony of course is that tragedy had to happen for the world to be introduced to one of the happiest characters of all time. Winnie The Pooh charmed countless children across the world but had to break apart a family to do it. It’s this fractured logic that forms the centre of Goodbye Christopher Robin, and not the war, the countryside or Winnie The Pooh.

Later we get to see an older Billy Moon (played by Alex Lawther), after having been abused by schoolmates for his fame. He’s broken and resents his father for using him to create an empire, trotting off to fight in a war his father fought to prevent. It’s poetic how history is doomed to repeat itself.

These are all the parts of the movie that work, and I enjoyed the way young Tilston embodies all that is cheerful. Without him I suspect the movie would’ve been flat. As it is, it’s only moderately bumpy, not putting a foot wrong but not exactly sprinting down a tightrope.

Goodbye Christopher Robin is available in Australian cinemas from November 23.

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox 2017.

Movie Review – Detroit

With Detroit, Kathryn Bigelow once again commands us to examine ourselves and the atrocities we claim to have overcome.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐  ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan 

Detroit is an examination of prejudice. It is set in the 1960s during a period of riotous relations between blacks and whites, but refuses to address the roots of the problem. Instead it shifts the focus of racism to the system, to a biased judicial court that ultimately trickled droplets of hatred down to its law enforcement. It is well known how aggressive the Detroit police department was. Fuelled by misguided moral righteousness, groups of cops became dangerous. This is a confronting film, as all films that require us to look inward are.

At the centre of Detroit are two young men; one black, one white. One an aspiring Motown singer, the other an enthusiastic beat cop. Both men are brought together by a silly prank that goes wrong, in what turns out to be an evening of endless police brutality and torture driven by racism, superiority and retribution.

These scenes, that take place at the Algiers Motel, dominate the middle hour or so of the film, and are specifically designed to test our comfort levels as the cop, Philip Krauss (Will Poulter), leads his partners on a repulsive interrogation crusade to determine the prankster who opened fire on the National Guard patrolling the streets a few minutes before. I can call it “repulsive” because I know what the cops did that night was wrong. The dangerous thing is that Philip knows it’s wrong too, but enjoys his position of power too much to let it become an issue. Like the Nazis, if he believed what he was doing was right, why try to cover it up?

Eventually the night goes south, which leads to a court trial. Here is where director Kathryn Bigelow broadens the story by putting the entire judicial system on the stand. The jury is all white. The judge is white. The lawyers are white. White men are being convicted and the only witnesses are black men and white women, neither of whom has any civil power. The key to Detroit is the framing that not every white person in 1960s America was racist, but the many who were crippled everything the US constitution stood for.

Bigelow films her movie like a hybrid between drama and documentary. Snippets of actual footage is occasionally spliced into interludes, and much of Barry Ackroyd’s camerawork is handheld and reasonably shaky. The result is not unlike Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, in which the viewer is pulled right into the world of the filmmaker and is forced to confront horrific events without the option to look away.

Among the other players is John Boyega’s security guard Melvin, who delivers peace offerings while his fellow man is beaten into submission, and finds himself at the wrong place at the wrong time, torn between loyalty and self-preservation. Hannah Murray and Kaitlyn Dever play the two white female witnesses who don’t see colour, believe in fair treatment but are still harassed for fraternising with the enemy.

I have not said much about Larry (Algee Smith), the young Motown singer. He was present at the Algiers Motel, is a central figure, but doesn’t contribute heavily to the fabric of the plot. He is instead a controversial and lamentable reminder that not every black man in the ‘60s wanted revolution. Some just wanted to turn a blind eye, sing in the church choir and survive. Seriously, though, who could blame them?

 

Detroit is available in Australian cinemas from November 9.

Image courtesy of Entertainment One Films 2017.

 

 

Movie Review – Three Summers

Three Summers is determined to bring a sunny disposition to the thorniest of political topics.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Michael Philp

Let’s get this out of the way quick-smart: for some people, Three Summers will not be an easy film. It should be – it’s a comedy, after all – but it’s also an unreservedly left-wing perspective on Australia that will rub certain people up the wrong way. It wears its politics on its sleeve in almost every scene, and you’ll either laugh along with it or get frustrated when it (regularly) dismisses conservative opinions. In other words, it’s a Ben Elton film.

Written and directed by Elton, Three Summers is a film about Australia and its stories. Accordingly, it follows a variety of groups at the fictional Westival music festival. There’s the feisty Warrikins (Rebecca Breeds, John Waters); Roland the Theremin player (Robert Sheehan); the Morris dancers led by Michael Caton; Queenie the relentlessly sunny radio announcer (Magda Szubanski); and about half a dozen other plotlines, all converging on the same campgrounds over three years.

It’s impressive just how well Elton manages to juggle it all. Considering the number of ideas he’s throwing around, it would’ve been easy for the film to descend into a preachy soup. Instead, thanks to the extended timespan, there’s always a fresh joke around the corner. Revisiting these characters over multiple years affords us the chance to watch them grow and adjust naturally. A punk band dwindles, an AA meeting grows, and certain events challenge the community dynamic in surprising ways. Through it all, a warmly empathetic optimism brings the disparate groups together.

That optimism is what ultimately ties the film together. Elton himself has made it clear that he wanted to make a nice film – something lovely and warm – and that ethos shines through. Even when the film is confronting Australia’s thorniest conversations – the refugee crisis, Aboriginal marginalisation – it remains upbeat and acknowledges them as decipherable problems. They aren’t just rocks and hard places, they are people, and people deserve love and respect.

With so many stories it’s also inevitable that some of them won’t get the time they deserve. Aboriginal marginalisation, for instance, is a complex topic that is ill-suited to a comedy that can’t focus on it. One of the children wears an ankle-monitor which is played for a single laugh but never properly addressed. That’s practically the definition of lip-service, and it’s not the only instance of it. Elton is sincere in his desire to confront difficult issues, and his attempts are at least commendable, but the problems are also much bigger than he can manage in an already busy film.

Conservatives will bristle, but lefties will laugh at the shenanigans in Three Summers. It’s not a perfect film – Elton would do well to narrow his scope next time – but it’s genuine where it counts. It’s a kind-hearted comedy with some wonderful performances (Szubanski is just lovely) and a gorgeously Australian setting. It’s the perfect film for an outdoor screening on a warm summer’s eve so expect it to remain a mainstay of those events for years to come.

 

Three Summers is available in Australian cinemas from November 2.

Image courtesy of Transmission Films 2017

 

Movie Review – Jigsaw

Despite dying all the way back in Saw III, Jigsaw is back for an eighth twisted and gruesome game after a lengthy absence.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

More than a decade has passed since John Kramer, a.k.a. the Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell) – the man notorious for kidnapping people and putting them in traps that force them to mutilate themselves to escape death as a means of creating a newfound appreciation for life – and his circle of successors all met grisly ends. The violence has ceased, until now; as police shoot down a petty thug, a triggering mechanism is activated and sets in motion a new game played by five people trapped in a remote barn filled with diabolically lethal things at every turn. Mangled bodies start turning up, and as the investigative team, including Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and forensic doctors Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) and Eleanor Bonneville (Hannah Emily Anderson) dig deeper, all the evidence points to the late Jigsaw as the perpetrator.

It wasn’t too much of a stretch to predict that 2010’s Saw 3D was never going to be The Final Chapter as it claimed; nothing in Hollywood, especially in the horror genre (and especially one of the horror genre’s highest-grossing franchises) ever stays dead anymore, so by that logic Jigsaw was always inevitable. The good news is that its source is one of the genre’s most inventive, if not for the faint of heart series, and despite it having narratively driven itself into a dead end, this belated eighth entry manages to breathe a bit of new life into its corpse, doing its many fans justice and pulling off a few neat tricks of its own.

Taking the reins from its Australian creators James Wan and Leigh Whannell (who remain as producers) is, appropriately, another Aussie horror filmmaking duo, The Spierig Brothers (Daybreakers, Predestination). Their biggest adjustment to proceedings is the visual style – gone is the grainy, low-grade camerawork, grungy bathrooms and rust as far as the eye can see, updated with slick cinematography and, for the first time, shiny and new-looking killing instruments. The Spierigs are aware that audience expectations have changed since Saw last soaked our screens in blood, and so the story deviates from the usual formula too; we follow the police investigation equally as much as the victims of the latest game, veering slightly away from the torture-porn trappings that later entries became and closer to the psychological thrills of the first film.

Which is not to say that Jigsaw isn’t gory; there are new traps here that rank up there with the series’ stomach-churning best, from the body-shredding spiral blade contraption to the flesh-cutting laser collars – fans can rest easy with the amount of blood and guts spilled. Pleasingly, after being sidelined for so long, the iconic Jigsaw himself takes centre stage once again, with the mystery of how exactly he has returned forming the core of the plot. Bell still dominates in his signature role, and the story that once again explores his backstory alongside his legacy makes a franchise that felt all out of places to go feel like it actually has plenty of fresh directions to take us in.

Updates aside, this is still quintessentially Saw, which does mean it shares the series problems too; most of which usually boil down to its writing. Though tricksy, it’s always relied on quite a large suspension of disbelief given the huge coincidences that cause everything to fall into place just right and push each plot point into place, and Jigsaw is no different. Again, the twist ending is awfully contrived and frankly ridiculous if you put even a smidgen of thought into it.

But though it doesn’t quite reach the franchise high point, Jigsaw surpasses a good portion of the sequels and exceeds expectations; though it won’t win Saw many new fans, and its potential as a series reboot remains to be seen, this is an interesting and satisfying enough long-awaited follow-up.

Jigsaw is available in Australian cinemas from November 02

 Image courtesy of Studio Canal Australia 2017