Movie Review – Bad Times at the El Royale

Devilishly unpredictable and fiendishly fun, Bad Times at the El Royale – pleasingly – doesn’t live up to its title.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan 

In 1969, four strangers – a priest (Jeff Bridges), a singer (Cynthia Erivo), a vacuum cleaner salesman (Jon Hamm) and a mysterious young woman (Dakota Johnson) – check into the El Royale, a hotel that sits directly on the border of California and Nevada. But no one is really what they appear and everybody holds a secret. On this fateful night, a bag of stolen money, a charismatic cult leader (Chris Hemsworth), and the sinister voyeurism behind the scenes at the El Royale brings these strangers’ hidden motives and connections to a violent revelation.

Writer and director Drew Goddard’s twisty mystery Bad Times at the El Royale feels kind of like a mish-mash of two fairly recent films. The first is Goddard’s own The Cabin in the Woods. His latest shares its tongue in cheek genre-deconstructing and near-perverse god’s eye peering into his characters.

The other is Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, which very similarly gathered unfamiliar people with skeletons in their closets in one tight-knit location, only to ramp up the tension and let things explode in an unpredictable, bloody mess. It’s possible that Goddard saw this and thought “maybe I can do better” – if he hasn’t succeeded, he’s at least equalled in raw entertainment, thrills and intensity.

Squeezing together a delicious cast, Goddard keeps up the intrigue by not allowing us to know who is about to check out when, giving us that true ‘anyone can die at any moment’ sense that Game of Thrones made its name with. Needless to say, not everyone makes it through this wild night, but every actor manages to make an impression. The real delight is Broadway singer Cynthia Erivo in what will undoubtedly be her breakout role.

Bad Times is truly an experience that demands to be seen knowing as little as possible. Though it purposely leaves at least two of its key questions unanswered, the ride up until then is rollicking. Filled with moments of unbearable tension, laughs, and some genuine emotion – not to mention beautifully shot on 35mm film with Panavision lenses – Bad Times is, ironically, a seriously good time.

Bad Times at the El Royale is available in Australian cinemas from October 11 

Also screening as part of  the RoofTop Movies Program 1 on Nov 15 & Nov 24.

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox 


Where No Tarantino Has Gone Before

Zachary Cruz-Tan

As you may already know, Quentin Tarantino is planning to direct a Star Trek movie, which might’ve been Hollywood’s most shocking news of recent times if Harvey Weinstein had kept his pants on.

Let’s face it, Tarantino isn’t the first name you think of when it comes to space exploration and analyses of the human condition. He’s less Kling-on and more fuck off, even if he claims to have been a Trekker since before his filmmaking days.

It’s a match-up so odd that neither fan base sees it working, and yet, he might just pull it off. Remember when he directed two episodes of CSI and everybody thought it was crazy? His episodes turned out to be the best of the entire show. Imagine what he could do with a property he genuinely has an affection for.

Tarantino’s known for his reverence for his influences, be them Bruce Lee, low-grade grindhouse pictures, gangster movies or spaghetti westerns. His movies are like a collection of cinematic training videos that somehow morph into entities of their own. The same could happen with Star Trek, provided, of course, he knows all its ins and outs, and understands that most Trek fans will not tolerate a single expletive. Apparently he will be granted an R-rating, despite the Trek tenet that vulgarities, violence and hatred no longer exist in the future.

He’s also, quite notably, not a franchise director, having originated all but one of his screenplays. Yes, some of his characters are supposedly linked to others in different movies, but not once has he created a sequel (no, Kill Bill Vol. 2 doesn’t count). If he makes this movie, it would be the first time he’s entered into an established franchise, and this is a franchise whose fans are fiercely loyal. I’m talking converting-their-garage-into-the-bridge-of-the-Enterprise loyal. You don’t want to get on their bad side.

Alternatively, Star Trek could be the little pet project that shows Tarantino has at least some versatility when it comes to style and genre. He’s never attempted science-fiction, and the closest he’s come to making something tame is Jackie Brown (1997), which was about as tame as a crocodile. He’d be more suited to Star Wars, where frenzied action and dizzying swashbuckling are the name of the game, but he’s admitted a preference for Trek, and at the moment Star Wars is too busy shoving porgs down our throats.

Having said all that, as a Trekker and Tarantino fan myself, I’m looking forward to this unusual marriage. Tarantino has a way with dialogue. He’s able to capture that moment when humans are at their most candid. Star Trek is partially built on its pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo; the phaser emitter arrays and the warp nacelles and re-modulating the tachyon guidance matrix and whatnot. It would seem the ideal environment for Tarantino to exploit the juxtaposition between what’s candid and natural, and what’s robotic (though reports indicate Mark Smith has been hired to write). He might even opt for a little self-awareness – I’d love to see Scotty complaining about how complicated his lines always are.

The project is still a little up in the air. Tarantino is meant to develop it with J.J. Abrams, whose own Trek films, while polarising to diehard fans, have sustained the franchise for a new generation. It will be interesting to see where Tarantino can further take the sci-fi phenomenon, or indeed how much of his fanboy personality he will impart. Time will tell. Right now, he’s focused on his feature about the Manson murders, which certainly seems more up his alley.

Image courtesy of Django Unchained, Sony Pictures and Universal Sony Pictures Home Entertainment 

Greatest Directorial Debuts

Josip Knezevic 

With the upcoming release of Andy Serkis’ directorial debut Breathe, it seems appropriate to take a look at some of the most memorable debuts from filmmakers that went on to achieve long and successful careers (hopefully the same can be said for Serkis).

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Best Directorial Debuts Reservoir Dogs
The most well-known film in independent cinema comes from a now equally well-known name in mainstream Hollywood: Quentin Tarantino. Following the life of an undercover cop in his attempt to expose a gang of armed thieves, we see everything except the failed heist that burdens our characters. Instead, we’re left with something even more interesting: the aftermath. Starring a young Steve Buscemi and Tim Roth, and seasoned veteran Harvey Keitel, Reservoir Dogs is a masterclass in maintaining intrigue through dialogue. This is all credit to Tarantino’s intricate writing, with pop culture references, every day observations and horrifying torture scenes set to the sound of a classic rock soundtrack. It’s clear to see that he was bound for success from the get go.

Following (1998)

Best Directorial Debuts Following

Moving from a highly recognised film to one with a lesser reputation; Following was the birth of now uber-famous director Christopher Nolan. Yes, the man who made The Dark Knight, Inception and Interstellar all started with an $6,000 neo-noir crime drama made with friends. Telling a simple story of a young man who unwillingly falls into the criminal underworld immediately demonstrates the suspenseful and thrilling elements Nolan has become known for. It’s smart, it’s clever and it doesn’t take too long at only 70 minutes. Following allowed Nolan the opportunity to continue with his next feature, Memento.

Amores Perros (2000)

Best Directorial Debuts Amores Perros
With a lot of experience in producing short films and commercials, it’s no wonder this director’s debut feature went off with a bang. It seems that Alejandro González Iñárritu had no illusions or self-doubt when it came to making his first film in Amores Perros, which follows three harrowing and powerful stories in the heartland of Mexico City. Appropriately named his Trilogy of Death, alongside 21 Grams and Babel, Amores Perros centres around a simple car accident that connects various individuals, each with their own conflicts that have led them to that exact moment. The title is a pun in Spanish that literally means dogs, but be warned – this film is not for dog lovers, with prominent dog fighting scenes. Iñárritu purposefully uses this to connect the three stories, and whilst it might make these stories difficult to watch, it serves as a reminder of the harsh realities of life in Mexico and the struggles many have faced. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2000, Iñárritu certainly hit the ground running.

Being John Malkovich (1999)

Best Directorial Debuts Being John Malkovich

From the man that co-created Jackass (yes, you read that right) comes the film that also marks the screenplay debut for Charlie Kauffman. Directed by Spike Jonze, who recently won the Academy Award for his original screenplay Her, Being John Malkovich follows an equally unusual concept. It’s one of those films that could possibly be the inspiration for the likes of recent hits such as Get Out and The Skeleton Key as it explores the idea of living in someone else’s body. At only 27 years old, Jonze was handed down the script from a Hollywood director who just so happened to also be his father-in-law, Francis Ford Coppola (you may have heard of him) and from there, his career as a director began. Completely original, well-written and at times even horrifying, Being John Malkovich marked one of the boldest debut films for any director as well as a brave performance from the very man himself, John Malkovich. An absurdly unique piece of independent cinema, but one that’s hardly easy to forget.

Mad Max (1979)

Best Directorial Debuts Mad Max

A debut film list wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t include the most famous Australian piece of cinema of all time, right? At a later age of 38 years, George Miller conceived this post-apocalyptic world of gasoline fueled madness alongside fellow film student and friend Byron Kennedy. Starring an uber young and handsome Mel Gibson, we follow the dark and twisted downfall of mankind into the apocalyptic wasteland that turns Max into the Mad Man we’ve grown to love. Whilst admittedly being slower paced in comparison to its sequels, it’s clear that what it lacks in big budget action, it more than makes up for in its character and set design. It’s raw, it’s gritty and it’s bloody Aussie. Mad Max will forever mark a crowning achievement not only for independent cinema, but for Australian culture.

Reservoir Dogs image courtesy of Dendy Cinema and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Following image courtesy of Next Wave Films, Amores Perros image courtesy of Niche Pictures and Madman Entertainment, Being John Malkovich image courtesy of United International Pictures and Universal Pictures, Mad Max image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Luc Besson is a Girl’s Best Friend

Zachary Cruz-Tan 

Hollywood may be progressing, or haphazardly fumbling its way, toward a more gender-balanced work ethic, but one cannot shrug off the itchy feeling that it’s trying too hard. Flipping beloved all-male classics into all-female remakes is a cheap and glib way of making a statement. Suddenly erupting with female-led historical biopics and fantasy epics seems like an expedited way of apologising for decades of underappreciated women on screen. It’s too much too soon; some things just need time.

But out of this cloud of muddy guilt there are a few whose consciences can remain clear. Luc Besson, like Quentin Tarantino, has always believed, since his formative years, in the raw charisma of that second X chromosome. Some of his best films have been about strong, confident women.

His most enduring female figure is unquestionably Nikita (Anne Parillaud), a savage killer exacting lethal justice on the world in a decade where beautiful women were playing little more than scantily clad sex magnets. Nikita, yanked from death’s door by the government and reconditioned into a hardened assassin, proved to a global audience that women were capable of executing a “man’s job” with just as much skill. She carved open a new arena for cinematic women, one soon inhabited by the likes of Trinity in The Matrix (1999).

Almost immediately after the success of Nikita, Besson directed four movies with formidable women in quick succession: 1994’s Léon: The Professional, 1997’s The Fifth Element, Joan of Arc in 1999 and Angel-A in 2005. Léon, of course, toyed precariously with notions of child violence and paedophilia, with Jean Reno’s titular hero fawning over the thirteen-year-old Natalie Portman while he taught her the assassin’s trade. It did, however, act as a springboard for Portman, whose razor-sharp performance propped her up against the veteran Reno and quite nearly stole the entire film.

Both The Fifth Element and Joan of Arc starred Milla Jovovich, who was married to Besson at the time. The Fifth Element does a sneaky thing; its hero is ostensibly Bruce Willis, with his questionable blonde hair and clumsy machismo, but it is really Jovovich’s Leeloo who has the strength and gumption to rescue the world. Leeloo, who is basically the indestructible re-materialisation of alien DNA into a messianic figure, would later serve as Besson’s template for Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), a hero who becomes so powerful she need only glare at you to set your hair on fire.

The cinematic landscape of today begs for filmmakers like Besson. Audience appetite for relatable, fun, confident on-screen women has never been more voracious. All-female gross-out comedies are fast becoming hip. Doctor Who recently dominated television news with an earth-shattering announcement. People will pay to see intelligent women kick ass, especially when they look so much better doing it than men. Atomic Blonde is currently playing and looks very much like something Besson would think up. He, of course, is too busy with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, the new romping sci-fi epic filled with blistering visuals and unlikely heroes. How Cara Delevingne slots into Besson’s army of leading heroines is anyone’s guess, but I suspect she won’t be someone you want to mess with.

Image courtesy of Palace Entertainment Corporation & Madman Entertainment 

Movie Review – Baby Driver

Edgar Wright’s sixth film is a complete delight, packed with music, action, and revved to the brink.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Baby Driver is a slam-bam roller-coaster ride filled with pop tunes, screeching tyres, machine guns and, of course, lots of kisses. It’s the kind of heist movie that isn’t so much about the heist as about the people who execute them. They’re a mishmash of assorted character types, some deluded, some tragic, some just plain nuts; but they’re all necessary. This is a crazy, thoroughly enjoyable movie by a director who’s in full command of his craft and totally revelling in it.

It starts with a bang: a high-speed getaway after a bank robbery. The driver is none other than Baby (Ansel Elgort), a sunglasses-wearing, jacket-loving young chap whose motor skills are so good he makes the Fast & Furious crew look like L-platers panicking at a roundabout. He also has a thing for music. Lots of music. 24/7. It is the beat to which his life grooves.

Much is made of the soundtrack – indeed, it punctuates just about every line of dialogue, every scene change, every gunshot – but I was more enthralled by the sheer audacity of Wright to marry so many influences into a bubbling cauldron of cinematic delight. Like all his movies, Baby Driver is written with meticulous precision. It draws its narrative from Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011). It steals romance from Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Baby has mummy issues, just like Peter Quill from the Marvel movies. And yet none of it feels unoriginal. By rooting the character drama so firmly in the innocence of its leading couple, Baby Driver becomes something uniquely its own. A kind of modern day fairy tale told through a lens of crime.

Kevin Spacey plays Doc, the chauffeured gangster who recruits Baby and orchestrates his devilish schemes; he is reliably intimidating and droll. The two best performances belong to Jamie Foxx as Bats and Lily James as the diner waitress Debora. Foxx eerily blurs the line between acting and real life. His trigger-happy, psychotic thief is so convincingly bonkers I suspect Elgort and the rest turned up to work each day wearing Kevlar. He is the volatile variable Wright flings into the cauldron, content to let him steer the story as he sees fit. Next to him, the vengeful Buddy (a manic Jon Hamm) seems almost domesticated.

But it’s not enough that these characters are broadly drawn and impressive; what they say and how they say it is often what keeps the entire machine oiled. Wright has a knack for words, not in the same way as, say, Quentin Tarantino or Wes Anderson, but his dialogue has a way of kidding itself. Watch how a conversation in a car about code names and real names becomes almost poetic. Or another in which three bad guys have to wear Halloween masks of Mike Myers instead of Michael Myers. Or how Wright shrewdly slips in a reference to Monsters, Inc. (2001). It’s kinda bewitching.

I have enjoyed all of Wright’s pictures. There’s an energy about them. A certain charm that runs from the page to the screen. It is clear he is a visual storyteller, a director not content to explain his ideas but to showcase them through cinematic technique. He is the grand puppeteer. He has all the strings. He knows exactly what they do, and not for a second does he ever tug the wrong one.

Baby Driver is available in Australian cinemas from July 12

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Today’s Top Cinematographers

Corey Hogan

They say a picture says a thousand words – so a moving picture must have a hell of a lot to say. Cinematography is often one of the aspects of filmmaking to slip past your average movie-goer. That’s not to say it goes unnoticed; it’s just that most people are simply unaware of the spell being cast upon their eyes by the director of photography.

The practice of envisioning, framing, lighting and staging a shot is an incredibly monumental task. We’re spoilt with the sheer magnitude of beautiful looking films produced today, and with new technology constantly introduced, the sky truly is the limit. There’s a massive selection of genius cinematographers, but here are five of the best currently working behind the camera.

Robert Elswit 

Perhaps the most important trait to have as a director of photography is the ability to adapt with ease to whatever might need to be visualised. Robert Elswit has that locked down, effortlessly gliding from low budget independent comedies to high profile action extravaganzas. He’s known for collaborating well ahead of production with the film designers to nail down the look of a film, and for giving actors plenty of space and time in a shot in case improvisation is required.

Since the 80’s Elswit has worked with a huge variety of directors, which has no doubt led to his resourceful manner. His slick, shiny gloss is easily spottable in spy flicks Tomorrow Never Dies, Salt and The Bourne Legacy, and his creative eye for places to stick a camera has stunningly captured the insane stunts undertaken by Tom Cruise in the two most recent Mission: Impossible films. That same polish transcends to thrillers like The Town and Nightcrawler, and helped achieve the gorgeous black and white contrasts of George Clooney’s Good Night and Good Luck. But his best work is in his collaborations with the brilliant Paul Thomas Anderson, of whose entire filmography (save The Master) he’s served as cinematographer for. Clearly it’s here he’s learnt most of his lessons; the masterful tracking shots and perfectly symmetrical imagery are now an Anderson staple, looking no better than in Elswit’s Oscar-winning There Will Be Blood. Elswit is next heading into the Indonesian jungle for the Matthew McConaughey adventure Gold.

Robert Richardson 

There might not be anyone alive who captures history quite like Robert Richardson, no matter how twisted or surreal his collaborating director is spinning it. Richardson’s work could be considered experimental, especially given the sheer photographic range and progression he’s shown since his early work in the mid-80’s, but it’s his daringly bold risks that have earned him three Academy Awards and allowed him to frequently collaborate with some of the finest auteurs in the business – and amazingly, keep his own voice while doing so.

Richardson carved a name for himself alongside Oliver Stone in his very best years, envisaging the thick green jungles of Vietnam for Platoon and the steely courtrooms of JFK, as well as accentuating the psychedelic music trip of The Doors and the hyperkinetic brutality of Natural Born Killers. His shift from gritty realism to cartoonish ultraviolence came with his pairing with Quentin Tarantino for Kill Bill. He is responsible for the significantly different look in Tarantino’s new films compared to his old ones – look no further than Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained. And his period pieces with Martin Scorsese are possibly Richardson’s most avant-garde, but there are no historical epics out there that look quite like The Aviator or Hugo.

Richardson is the perfect fusion of old and new; an innovator of the way we view history. Forever unpredictable, it’s exciting to think of what he can still bring to the medium – he just resurrected the forgotten 70mm Ultra Panavision for The Hateful Eight, and will return to the 1920’s with Ben Affleck next year for Live by Night.

Claudio Miranda

Unlike the other directors of photography on this list, Chilean cinematographer Claudio Miranda doesn’t have a large and prolific filmography dating back a few decades behind him – but that’s what is all the more impressive about his work. While it takes most DoP’s a dozen or so films to hone their skill, Miranda has completely come into his own in a mere handful of projects, proving himself a master of seamless CGI environments and scooping up a slew of awards – including an Oscar – by only his fourth feature.

Starting as a gaffer for David Fincher on Se7en, The Game and Fight Club, he made history when Fincher promoted him to cinematographer for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; nominated for the first Oscar-eligible feature to be filmed entirely digitally. Since then his specialty has become realising computer-generated worlds. While Joseph Kosinski’s films have lacked narrative substance, both Tron: Legacy and Oblivion are absolutely breathtaking domains to be lost in. But his masterpiece is easily Ang Lee’s visionary Life of Pi. Despite being filmed in a simple shallow pool against a blue screen, Miranda’s vision showcased a most beautiful survival-at-sea tale in all its horror and wonder, and proved once and for all that it is possible to feel strong emotion towards something made entirely by computer.

He’s yet to match the pure imaginative quality of his award winning effort, but as long as his digital designs continue to drop jaws, the future is bright for Miranda. Following last year’s Tomorrowland, his keen eye will be seen again with Kosinski for something a little different – the upcoming Granite Mountain, based on the true tale of the men who fought the Yarnell Hill Fire.

Roger Deakins

British-born Roger Deakins is perhaps the best known professional cinematographer today, but surprisingly he’s still yet to be awarded an Oscar for his colossal impact – despite a whopping thirteen nominations, including two in one year for the gorgeous post-modern Westerns No Country for Old Men and The Assassination of Jesse James.  This could simply boil down to bad luck; he’s often overshadowed by a more buzzed-about picture, particularly rivalled in recent years by the man of the moment Emmanuel Lubezki.

Deakins’ range spreads across an array of different genres, but his name alone immediately conjures up masterful images of shadowy figures against desolate, dangerous landscapes, as evidenced in these shots. He’s the Coen Brothers go-to guy, having worked with them twelve times. He’s also a regular for Sam Mendes, with whom he delivered by far the best-looking Bond film Skyfall, and Denis Villeneuve, whose harrowing thrillers Prisoners and Sicario might not have had quite the same edge if not for his eye for green-and-grey tinted dread. Not content with sticking to live-action however, he’s also served as visual consultant on some of the most sumptuous animated features to grace the screen, including WALL-E, Rango and both How to Train Your Dragon movies.

Up next he’ll be stretching his talents to a new realm again with Villeneuve’s highly anticipated Blade Runner sequel; it’s simply mouth-watering to think of the potential Deakins has in sci-fi. And surely it’s only a matter of time until his four decades of influence on the industry are given the recognition warranted by the Academy.

Emmanuel Lubezki

Nicknamed “Chivo” by his peers, Emmanuel Lubezki now holds the record of earning three Academy Awards back to back, and for once it’s safe to say that these are well deserved. Hailed as a true innovator of the medium, Lubezki is acclaimed for his extensive and unbroken tracking shots.

Chivo has worked with some of the best in his career – Tim Burton (Sleepy Hollow), Michael Mann (Ali) and the Coen Brothers (Burn After Reading) – but his best work by far has come through his regular collaborators, Terrence Malick, and fellow Mexicans Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu. With Malick, he’s visualised the dream-like philosophical ponderings of To the Wonder and Knight of Cups, and the awe-inspiring conceptualisation of the beginnings and meaning of existence in The Tree of Life. He’s envisaged most of Cuarón’s films, most impressively his genius sci-fi thrillers – the criminally underseen Children of Men and the exhilarating 3D space rollercoaster Gravity. And most recently he’s teamed up with Iñárritu, delivering the seemingly uninterrupted single take of Birdman and possibly the most devastatingly beautiful reflection of nature ever seen in film with The Revenant.

The films Chivo selects are always divisive in opinion (and what art isn’t?), but there’s simply no denying the effectively orgasmic imagery he’s gifted the world of film. Next he reteams with Malick for Weightless, a tale of obsession and betrayal against the music scene in Texas.

Images courtesy of Dendy Films, Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Universal Pictures,  Hoyts Fox Columbia Tristar Films, Roadshow Films, Twentieth Century Fox, Guo Films Distribution, Sony Pictures & Icon Film Distribution

Top 5 Late Bloomers in Hollywood

Zachary Cruz-Tan 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

04 Apr - Late Bloomers Jackson

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

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

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

04 Apr - Late Bloomers Lynch

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

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

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

04 Apr - Late Bloomers Waltz

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

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

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

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




Movie Review – The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight is a true Quentin Tarantino treasure, complete with a plethora of blood splatters, fun performances, sparkling dialogue, and picturesque visuals.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Tom Munday

Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight follows a troupe of despicable, monstrous outlaws on a mission from hell. It kicks off with a severe blizzard, set to bowl over bounty hunter John Ruth’s (Kurt Russell) chances of sending his captive/target, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to the gallows on time. Picking up fellow gunslingers Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) on the road, the group takes shelter in Minnie’s Haberdashery overnight. However, Warren soon suspects fellow inhabitants Bob (Demian Bichir), Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern) of sinister intentions.

The Hateful Eight suffered several setbacks over its three-year development stage. After the script leaked back in early 2014, Tarantino came close to cancelling the project. Instead, the rebellious filmmaker took the idea, developed new ideas, and came roaring back. Like with Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight lets Tarantino off the leash. His latest pays homage to cinema’s heyday, defined by the original cut featuring an overture and intermission. At a whopping 167 minutes, however, the theatrical version still shows off Tarantino’s inescapable vision.

Going out of his way to shoot in 70mm Panavision, separate the story into six chapters, and hire Ennio Morricone to compose the filmmaker’s first orchestral score, it’s hard to ignore Tarantino’s influence over The Hateful Eight. Like preceding projects, the filmmaker’s latest paints a shocking, unique take on a violent era of history. Beyond the spectacular visuals, this western-drama discusses themes relevant to the past, present, and future. Throughout the first half, in particular, the film’s focus on post-Civil War racial tensions mirror Tarantino’s thoughts on today’s socio-political climate. Peppered throughout, full-length conversations – between Union (Democratic) and Confederate (Republican) characters – raise tensions within the story’s small, claustrophobic settings.

Constructed, and directed, similarly to a stage play, the film delivers a subdued approach to its Agatha Christie-style mystery plot. The drama, like our characters, relies primarily on the confines of Ruth’s stagecoach and Minnie’s Haberdashery. Thanks to Tarantino’s searing dialogue and purposeful direction, the tension builds unconscionably in the second and third acts. Despite the limited settings, Tarantino’s style, aided by Robert Richardson’s cinematography and Fred Raskin’s editing, makes every frame feel wholly cinematic. However, in the second half, the film trades dialogue for unnecessary slo-mo, screams, and blood splatters.

The film’s cast of half-forgotten character-actors makes the most of the opportunity. Jackson caps off a stellar 2015 after Age of Ultron and Spike Lee hit Chiraq. As Tarantino’s muse, Jackson provides a familiar, but worthwhile performance as the lead/critical detective figure. Russell returns to the big screen with style, still holding onto his rugged good looks and charismatic swagger. Roth and Bachir, in particular, whistle and wheeze through over-the-top, caricaturish performances. Bit players Madsen and Dern embellish their disgusting character types. Most importantly, Leigh and Goggins deliver dynamic, standout performances as the least trustworthy two of the bunch.

The Hateful Eight is a gleeful concoction of the beginning (Reservoir Dogs), middle (Kill Bill), and climax of Tarantino’s cinema career. The auteur’s vision may be overwhelming, but his writing and direction make all the right moves.

The Hateful Eight is available in Australian cinemas from January 21st 

Images courtesy of Roadshow Films

88th Academy Awards: The Nominees Are…

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

Corey Hogan

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


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

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


2016 - 01 January - Oscar Nominees Leo

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


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


2016 - 01 January - Oscar Nominees Quentin Tarantino

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


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

Happy betting!

Full list of nominees:

The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed

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

Boy and the World
Inside Out
Shaun the Sheep Movie
When Marnie Was There

The Hateful Eight
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant

The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant

The Big Short
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant

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

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

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

Embrace of the Serpent
Son of Saul
A War

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

Bridge of Spies
The Hateful Eight
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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

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

Bear Story
Sanjay’s Super Team
We Can’t Live without Cosmos
World of Tomorrow

Ave Maria
Day One
Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)

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

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

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

The Big Short
The Martian

Bridge of Spies
Ex Machina
Inside Out
Straight Outta Compton

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

The 73rd Golden Globe Awards

Zachary Cruz-Tan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Full List Of Film Winners

Best Motion Picture – Drama
The Revenant

Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical
The Martian

Best Director
Alejandro G. Iñarritu, The Revenant

Best Screenplay
Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs

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

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

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

Best Original Score
Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight

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

Best Animated Feature Film
Inside Out

Best Foreign Language Film
Son Of Saul (Hungary)

Images courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures