Movie Review – The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Dark, twisted and hilarious. Yorgos Lanthimos continues to grow in strength with his disturbing latest film, The Killing of A Sacred Deer.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic

It seems the pattern of disturbingly good films by Yorgos Lanthimos continues to increase in range. For those familiar with his films of Dogtooth and The Lobster, Lanthimos’s latest film, The Killing of A Sacred Deer, also explores a dark concept but with a twisted sense of humour. Once again, these two genres are balanced effortlessly throughout and the finish product is yet another masterclass from the director.

Colin Farrell stars in the lead role and is unfortunately placed into another caliginous scenario that sees him tested in different strengths. Without giving away the film’s main trick, Farrell plays a father of two with a loving wife, and is put to make an extremely difficult decision that will end up affecting the family dynamic forever.

Aside from watching the situation unfold as Farrell battles to resolve his dilemma, the entire universe Lanthimos creates is intriguing. From the very moment the film begins, you get the sense of unnatural behaviour just by the dialogue between two characters and this unease never leaves the screen.

It’s an almost like an entirely different world of humans, but they’re just not very human like. At least to what our society is used to. Great examples of this are the astute observations and over politeness each character exuberates. It’s just unnatural and purposefully executed as a subtle commentary on society. But moreover, it’s all awkwardly hilarious.

This is why I love Lanthimos’ films. Not only are they simply exploring a compelling dark concept, they’re quite funny at the same time. Most of these jokes comes from being in such unique situations that other films can’t make, because they’re simply not in the same position. Numerous times a character would say something in such an unusual but nonchalant way that it becomes hilarious to watch. And when it came moments of humour that were of the darker taste, these were executed flawlessly and without overstepping boundaries. Indeed, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a fine piece for showing that the art of black comedy in 2017 is alive and well.

My only gripe with the film is that it is a bit of a slow burn and it can feel particularly sluggish at times. Especially within the middle third, where you’ve been introduced to the setup and are simply waiting for it to hurry to the climax. Part of this feels like it could have been edited or reworked to have more going on to keep interest, like in The Lobster.

But again, this is a minor complaint. The film is acted perfectly, with veteran actors of Farrell and Nicole Kidman as his wife particular standouts. Though the cinematography isn’t of anything scenic or picturesque, it does well to capture the darkness and unnatural tone on characters that the film clearly aims towards.

For lovers of The Lobster and black comedy films with unique and interesting concepts, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a fantastic film and one sure to be on top ten lists for this year.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is available in Australian cinemas from November 16.

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment 2017

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Movie Review – Murder on the Orient Express

Hollywood once again recycles that which need not be recycled, in Kenneth Branagh’s take on Murder on the Orient Express.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

I see no other way to approach a review of a movie like this than to compare it to what’s come before. Its history is too deep. Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express has been adapted to radio; into a 1974 feature by Sidney Lumet starring Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot; a 2001 TV movie with Alfred Molina in the role; and of course as an episode of the distinguished ITV Poirot series. It has even been remade in Japan. Now comes another version, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, and I find myself simply incapable of finding the right words to recommend it.

This is an adaptation that works on the fundamental level, which means it has a sound plot, supreme technical prowess and performances that befit its ludicrously high-profile cast. It is a movie that can be seen and appreciated in about equal measure without being spectacular. Whether it holds up as a faithful Christie adaptation I will leave to her loyal fans and scholars to determine; as a gripping murder mystery, it is neither gripping nor very mysterious.

To discuss the plot would be to grind against the very grain of Christie. Her stories are designed to unfold chronologically, so that we pick up hints and clues and slowly piece together the unfathomable puzzle along with her great detectives. The less we know going in the better. Murder on the Orient Express remains her most famous probably because of its claustrophobic setting (the length of a snowbound train), its immense cast of characters and the degree to which misdirection is employed to keep us guessing.

But all these are assets of the original story, not of this film. Branagh is perhaps a finer actor than he is a director, and he puts on a brave face as Poirot, but his film lacks in ingenuity and freshness. I can’t think of a single reason to see his version and not the Lumet classic, which had Finney scuttling down the corridors of the train like a frenzied crab. Branagh’s Poirot is unusually calm and chipper, which might have been a fun new take on the part if he had buckled down and took it to the edge. Poirot, like Sherlock Holmes, is a character of extremes. A detective of unusual intelligence who is easier to admire than befriend. To play him as anything less than a feverish snob is to miss the point.

Around him is assembled a cast of veritable class, which includes but is not limited to Michelle Pfeiffer as an uppity American socialite; Willem Dafoe as an Austrian professor; Daisy Ridley as Miss Mary Debenham; Leslie Odom Jr as the handy doctor; Penélope Cruz as a faithful servant of the Lord; Judi Dench as the Princess Dragomiroff; Johnny Depp as the despicable businessman Ratchett; and Josh Gad and Derek Jacobi as his staff. Any more and I suspect the train would’ve toppled off the ridge.

Pity, then, that such great talent should go unchecked by a story as rich as this. Everyone plays their parts as if they know the end before the beginning. There is no thrill, no embracing the unexpected. It’s all just cogs turning in rhythm to the screenplay, which can be fatal for a mystery like this.

So I leave you rather nonplussed, unable to praise Orient Express enough to make you go see it, unable to exploit its weaknesses enough to turn you away. I don’t prefer it to some of the earlier iterations, but I suspect if you’ve never heard of Poirot and his impossible moustache, or perhaps even Christie, this movie might do the trick. But just barely.

Murder on the Orient Express is available in Australian cinemas from November 9.

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox 2017

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.

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 – A Bad Moms Christmas

Christmas will soon be upon us and along with it a new batch of seasonal films for the whole family – or sometimes just for the adults. A Bad Moms Christmas offers a variety of crudity and vile humor that aims to be as gross as it does shocking. If only any of it was remotely funny.


Josip Knezevic

Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn reprise their roles from the first Bad Moms (yes I can’t believe they made a sequel as well), but this time they’re met with their equally bad counterparts – their own mums. It seems like this will be the trend for this year’s Christmas movies, with the upcoming Daddy’s Home 2 set to do much of the same thing, just with the opposite sex.

A Bad Moms Christmas seems to take the most basic form of monkey humour but branches it out to a platform that we haven’t seen before; motherhood. We don’t expect mums to be seen in such a light and that’s what’s meant to make it funny. It was the same reason Bad Santa was so popular but making something original doesn’t necessarily make it automatically hilarious. A bad joke is a bad joke, no matter how you polish it, and this is ultimately where the Bad Moms franchise is lacking.

Dialogue about penises or vaginal waxing feel only thrown in as an attempt to gather up laughs from shock value. Reactions of “oh my god I can’t believe a mum just said that, she’s not supposed to say that hahaha” are heavily relied upon throughout, but this doesn’t make the jokes genuinely hilarious. Soon enough, this whole routine becomes just tiresome. When humour that isn’t based off vulgarity does arrive, they’re mostly predictable from moments ahead of time or are simply yet another eye roller. This coming from a man who loves dad jokes. But maybe not just of the bad mum’s kind.

Aside from the humour, the overall plot follows a formulaic affair that, whilst touching on some heartfelt moments, isn’t anything special enough to be considered good. Not only have you seen the same moments in other Christmas films but they’re executed so much better elsewhere. And I’m not just talking about the classic Christmas flicks of Home Alone and The Santa Clause; Bad Santa manages to become a better antihero to enjoy on-screen. This is because his character is as believable as he is heartbroken and funny. He’s a nice balance between the bad that we can laugh at and the good that we ultimately sympathise with.

None of these aspects are found in A Bad Moms Christmas. What we are left with is another poor excuse for a chick flick that represents another missed opportunity for a genre that continues to add cheesy Christmas movie after cheesy Christmas movie. In a time where focus on women empowerment is at the forefront of so many films this year, A Bad Moms Christmas is a failure for many of those powerful leading examples and for women in general. Mums do amazing things for us and unfortunately, in this case, they deserve better.

A Bad Moms Christmas is available in Australian cinemas from November 2.

Image courtesy of Roadshow 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

Movie Review – Arrival

Denis Villeneuve prods at the mysteries of the far reaches of space by grounding his alien movie firmly in Montana: the land of open prairies and nosey militants.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

For someone who is convinced we’re not alone in the universe, Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is about as close as I will get to first contact with an alien race. Brooding and utterly tense, it plays on our collective history of aliens in books, TV shows and movies. It plants a seed of apprehension in our minds before reassuring us that all is okay – not all foreigners come to Earth and immediately want to incinerate famous landmarks. Some of them might just want to talk.

And how do they talk? That’s the magic of Arrival, which develops a written alien language that resembles coffee stains, and contains – we are told – complete sentences in perfect rings of squid ink. It’s the equivalent of us instantly writing a sentence with both hands, from the outside in. We’d have to know precisely what we’re going to say before we even think it. These aliens not only think fast, but have completely revolutionised the laws of space, time, and the physical world.

I say all this not to sound drab, but to highlight just how fascinating this alien species is, and how convincingly Villeneuve’s CGI team assembles them out of pixels. The creatures look like massive skeletal hands that reach down from smoky heights, and their craft – of which there are twelve, scattered across the globe at random – looks like a massive granite surfboard that moves without any visible source of propulsion.

But then the awe and majesty of these larger-than-life creatures is expunged with a melancholy and often confusing human angle that involves time travel and loss, effectively sidelining the aliens from their own movie. Amy Adams plays Louise, a linguistic professor who once helped the army translate Farsi so well she has become their prime candidate to meet with the aliens and decipher their cryptic coffee messages. Her partner in crime is a dorky-looking Jeremy Renner, a physicist of some kind who later breaks the code miraculously while Louise suffers a mental breakdown.

And then there are the biggest players in alien movies: the United States Army, led by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker). Always prepared, always prejudiced, always ready to shoot first and never ask questions. Arrival’s greatest achievement is holding off on the automatic rifle fire till about three-quarters of the way through the film. In a lesser movie, bullets would’ve been flying over the opening credits. We all fear what we don’t understand. Well, the US army appears to understand very little, indeed.

Look, Arrival is masterfully put together and Villeneuve once again makes a movie that doesn’t treat its audience like a bunch of buffoons, but just once I would’ve liked to sit through an alien mystery without having to worry about love affairs and meddling CIA agents and uncooperative Chinese generals. Arrival grips you in the beginning and well through its middle chunk, but loses the courage to see its brilliant premise to the end. It relies unfavourably on human beings behaving like all human beings do when faced with interplanetary crisis, by responding first with paranoia and then with all-out aggression.

Arrival is available in Australian cinemas from November 10

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Elle

Paul Verhoeven and Isabelle Huppert examine the complexities of rape and ignite French cinema with their troubling findings.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Isabelle Huppert once again plays a hardened woman faced with unthinkable circumstances. At 63, her role in Paul Verhoeven’s chilling Elle demonstrates her complete confidence in herself. She plays Michèle Leblanc, an esteemed businesswoman suddenly engaged in psychological warfare with a hungry rapist. But the repercussions are unprecedented, and Huppert convinces me once and for all that there is no mountain she cannot summit.

This role, in this film, can be played by no other actress. Hollywood stars would seek a desperation from within to try and balance the shock of rape with vindication. The effect would fall flat. Huppert is ideal because her Michèle is past all that. She transforms the character into a conflicted realist. Observe the almost routine way she deals with the aftermath of her assault. No panic. No overt anger. She sweetly disposes of the shattered kitchenware and neatens up. Hollywood Michèle would’ve laid on the floor weeping in self-pity till the movie decided to switch scenes.

But Michèle is not flippant. Rape has affected her deeply, only she’s not entirely sure what that means. And neither are we. The film seems to play fast and loose with expectations on how to deal with such trauma, but the characters in Elle are built from different stock. They don’t play the game the way we’d like them to.

I wouldn’t dream of revealing the identity of the attacker, but his presence is a powerful reminder that danger lives in plain sight. Both he and Michèle know the rules of their game – of which Michèle unwillingly becomes a participant – and plan their moves and countermoves like stoic grandmasters locked in a sudden-death showdown. Their resulting “relationship” might seem odd to some viewers, but it is the logical outcome for such confident opponents.

The movie is about sex, both consensual and forced, between friends and lovers, committed and adulterous, but not in the way you might think. This isn’t a vulgar film. Michèle’s life is surrounded by temptation; indeed, she seems to draw in every male around her simply by looking at him. What’s her play here? Huppert excels in exhibiting raw sexual energy almost on instinct. Michèle’s mistake is thinking she’s the only one in control.

All this is superbly handled by Verhoeven, who proved with RoboCop (1987) and Total Recall (1990) that bludgeoning violence is the new frontier. Elle is undoubtedly his most sensual film. Dark, weighty, ominous. There’s less violence and more dialogue. It uses peripheral characters and subplots to thicken the soup without altering the taste. It speaks about rape as an individual’s hardship, not as a mass idea open to widespread discussion. It affirms the notion that no response to rape can be uncomplicated. Michèle is strong and mature enough to understand what has happened to her. It is therefore her choice to proceed as she sees fit, except no one, not even herself, would’ve predicted what she’d do.

Elle is available in Australian cinemas from October 27

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Movie Review – The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven delivers good feelings and professional entertainment value, but does little to distinguish itself from its formidable forebears.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

The worst scene in The Magnificent Seven comes right at the end; undoing what the rest of the movie worked so hard to achieve. The point of this story – first envisioned in Kurosawa’s sprawling masterpiece, Seven Samurai (1954), later reimagined in countless other tributes and remakes (including Pixar’s A Bug’s Life) – is selflessness in the line of honour. The samurai were honourable warriors, bound by bushido. Cowboys were bound by their egos. What they shared in common was the rejection of self-gain. The 1960 Magnificent Seven understood this. This new Hollywood remake, directed by Antoine Fuqua, tacks on a closing scene that converts its guns-for-hire into immortalised heroes, effectively gut-punching itself.

And what a pity that is, because the rest of it feels like a solid Western. It’s not limp or dated. Its production values are convincing. It comes meaty, ready for a fight. In an age where filmmakers favour CGI shortcuts, Fuqua has made the right decision to root his film in solid ground. The town of Rose Creek is actually there, built with wood and nails. Explosions are rigged and timed. Stuntmen tumble off rooftops and plough through windows. Physical action gives the movie weight and visual depth, a leisure that’s no longer easy to come by.

Denzel Washington plays Sam Chisolm, the Yul Brynner character from the original remake, and doesn’t so much chew up the scenery as stand back and admire it. Washington is always reliable, but here he seems too passive to be the leader of a troupe of gun-slinging, macho monkeys. I can’t remember a single impressive thing he does in the entire film.

Elsewhere, the cast tries to be as diverse as politically and financially possible. It introduces a Korean knife-thrower (Lee Byung-Hun); a Mexican outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) in full cabrón mode; and throws in a Comanche archer (Martin Sensmeier) for good measure. The problem is, by the time the big old gunfight thunders its way around the corner, none of these “interesting” characters do anything worth noting. And the gunfight, as impressive as it is, resembles a chaos party hosted by anarchy. It’s hard to tell what’s happening, and to whom. There are so many bad guys for our heroes to gun down that you might begin to suspect they’re growing out of the soil like potatoes.

But for what it’s worth, this Magnificent Seven is a good, harmless time. The interplay between the characters is often electric and the way the screenplay whittles down the ensemble cast shows restraint and diplomacy. It is, however, still a movie that need not have been made. But it has, and we’re neither better or worse off for it. I just wish the final scene had been omitted. It reeks of studio interference. I don’t want to have to wait for a home release to catch an alternate ending.

The Magnificent Seven is available in Australian cinemas from September 29

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures