Batman’s Enduring Cinematic Legacy

Rhys Graeme-Drury

Since swooping onto the scene in Detective Comics #27 in 1939, Batman (or the Bat-Man as he was originally known) has appeared in countless graphic novels, radio and television serials, animated series and blockbuster movies.

Aside from possibly Sherlock Holmes, Batman eclipses pretty much any other literary character under the sun for sheer flexibility. Across nearly eight decades in our collective cultural zeitgeist, the Caped Crusader has shown himself to display immense aesthetic, tonal, narrative and thematic malleability, from the original black-and-white TV serials starring Robert Lowery right up to the present day iterations such as Christian Bale and Ben Affleck.

More so than other superheroes like Superman, I would argue that it’s Batman who displays the greatest variance with regards to appearance, form and overall approach, all whilst staying true to the core iconography and values that define and underscore the character. Even on the most extreme ends of the spectrum, like Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin or the more recent animated The LEGO Batman Movie voiced by Will Arnett, Batman is still instantly recognisable as Batman.

Unlike Spider-man (teen drama) or Captain America (spirited wartime patriotism), you never really know what you’re going to get with Batman. One moment he’s leading Christopher Nolan’s grounded Dark Knight trilogy, and the next he’s a kid-friendly blockhead in The Lego Movie. On one end of the scale you have a punchy, brooding Batman who prowls the streets of a drab, sprawling urban jungle. On the other hand is a colourful, zippy Batman who is quick-witted, immature and maybe just a little bit sassy when the mood takes him.

Filmmakers the likes of Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher and Zach Snyder have also had the chance to imprint their own idea of what the Dark Knight should look and sound like. With Burton, Batman became an imposing exaggeration of comic book peculiarity and Expressionist inspired tech; in the hands of Schumacher, Batman was a commercialised action figure garnished in garish neon; presently with Snyder, Batman is a hyper-masculine gym junkie crossed with a mass murderer who hungers for torture and destruction.

The differences don’t begin and end in the realm of cinema; in just the past few years we’ve seen a multitude of different versions of Batman in video games, kid’s animation and even network TV. Even when Batman is thrust into a totally different era in comic books like Gotham by Gaslight or Batman Beyond, the hallmarks are all there. It’s a never-ending deluge of Batman that covers pretty much every age bracket and taste, all whilst remaining instantly recognisable and understandable.

Unlike Superman who comes from outer space or Spider-man who is lucky enough for a magic spider to nibble his neck, Bruce Wayne doesn’t have superpowers. Other than being crazy rich, Batman has endured with readers of all ages across the last 75 years because it’s easy to see ourselves in his selfless quest. Through training, discipline and bravery, we too could be like Batman – if only we also had a spare fortune lying around that is.

No need for a magic ring or lasso; just grim determination and the will to succeed and survive at all costs. Bruce Wayne takes tragedy (the death of his parents) and turns it into his motivation to be something better, stronger and greater. It’s a desire that transcends borders or race.

Despite the ups and downs of storytelling quality, Batman remains popular because he remains a hero we can imagine ourselves as, irrespective of that fact that he might be made of Lego or have ridiculous nipples on the outside of his suit. A symbol in both fiction and real-life, his enduring cinematic legacy is one ironclad iconography, and those identifiers remain universal, even when everything else about the character is subject to change and trends.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

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Does winning an Oscar actually matter?

Winning an Oscar is great and all, but is it really all that it’s cracked up to be?

 Rhys Graeme-Drury 

The annual awards circus is upon us once again. Numerous red carpets are being rolled out to receive reams of bedazzled famous faces, all of whom are hoping to drive home with a gilded statuette resting on their laps.

We place a lot of value on those who have walked away a winner on Oscar night – just ask Leonardo DiCaprio. For years the Internet yearned for Leo to finally nab one – and then he did in 2016 so we all collectively rejoiced and laid the dank memes to rest.

Apparently, an actor or filmmaker can’t claim to have truly arrived until they score an Oscar statue of some kind. Right? Eh, not exactly.

Even though it’s all very exciting and generates a lot of gossip, the Oscars aren’t actually good for all that much (and this is coming from someone who gets invested every year and is genuinely still upset that Eddie Redmayne beat Michael Keaton back in 2015).

Across its history, the Academy Awards have made a habit of routinely shunning some of the best and brightest talents and minds of the era – which sort of defeats the purpose of rewarding those who produce the best films, surely?

Filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick, Brian De Palma and Alfred Hitchcock have famously never won anything for their directorial efforts, with the latter losing out in the Best Director category on five separate occasions. Kubrick’s entire catalogue only took home a single Oscar win; 2001: A Space Odyssey won Best Visual Effects in 1969. For those of you playing along at home, that’s the same number of Oscars as Tim Burton’s 2010 remake of Alice in Wonderland and Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour. So it’s not like the Academy is a great barometer of quality and lasting legacy, huh?

The same could be said for actors; Bill Murray has never won an Oscar, but do we view his filmography with any less reverence? The same can be said for umpteen actors and actresses from across the decades. For many people, Harrison Ford is the literal embodiment of sharp and sophisticated Hollywood stars. He is Han Solo, Indiana Jones and Jack Ryan in the flesh – we don’t need the Academy to tell us Ford is a living legend, he has crafted that legacy without their adulation.

The same goes for Gary Oldman, Edward Norton or Joaquin Phoenix; they’re back catalogues speak for themselves. Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Annette Benning and Sigourney Weaver have all been denied Hollywood’s highest honour – but that hasn’t hindered their standing as some of the most talented actresses to grace our screens.

Some may think that winning an Oscar is also guaranteed to usher in a string of professional riches for the lucky winners, but too often that isn’t the case. Hunger Games sensation Jennifer Lawrence has racked up a surprising number of nominations (four) and one win at the tender age of 26 but it wasn’t until recently with Passengers that she was given a bigger slice of the pie than her male co-stars, financially speaking.

You only have to glance at the list of the highest paid actors across the industry today to see that those raking in the most cash aren’t necessarily those who took home the most awards. Robert Downey Jnr routinely makes in excess of $50 million for each Avengers performance whilst Johnny Depp is still throwing on funny hats and making bank despite never winning an Oscar. Meanwhile I don’t see Disney or Marvel throwing $10 million at Mark Rylance or JK Simmons, the two most recent winners in the Best Supporting Actors category.

Essentially, what I’m trying to say is, it doesn’t matter whether La La Land scored four, fourteen or zero nominations; what matters is how it is making audiences feel. The same goes for Moonlight or Manchester by the Sea or any of the other films nominated this year.  After the cameras inside the Dolby Theatre have gone out on February 26 and all the very famous people have gone home, regardless of who won or not, these films will continue to captivate and enthral audiences long afterward.

Films like Sing Street, The Witch, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Midnight Special all characterised my cinema experiences in 2016 but didn’t get a look in at the Oscars. Should I feel any less moved by their characters or narratives because they can’t claim to have been ‘Oscar nominated?’ No, of course not. Films mean so much more than just handing out trophies and racking up stats; we can leave that sort of thing to sports thank you very much.

Rather than taking a snub personally, just brush it off with a shrug. So what Amy Adams didn’t get nominated for Arrival? That doesn’t change how moving and powerful her performance was. Who cares that Sing Street didn’t get any love for Best Original Song? It doesn’t mean I don’t still love that soundtrack to pieces.

Don’t get me wrong; awards season is a lot of fun. But it’s also a lot of meaningless and banal bullshit that ultimately shouldn’t change how we view art or place value on what something made us think or feel.

Enjoy the Oscars, lap up the glamour and laugh at all the gaffes – but don’t forget that there is a whole myriad of wonderful films out there whose enduring qualities don’t change regardless of who wins or loses on the night.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 

Movie Review – Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

Fool us once Burton, shame on you…fool us nine consecutive times…shame on everyone!

⭐ ⭐
Tom Munday

Hooked On Film recently compiled a list of the best Tim Burton-directed movies without Johnny Depp and/or Helena Bonham Carter. It was a small list, for sure. Indeed, his better movies avoid Depp and Carter’s white-faced antics in favour of depth and resonance.

Sadly, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children sorely misses the spark set by Burton’s earlier works. Based on Ransom Riggs’ book of the same name, the movie kicks off with 16-year-old nobody Jake (Asa Butterfield) living a sad existence in Florida. With his parents lacking care, Jake gravitates to his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp). After tragedy strikes, Jake goes to his grandfather’s childhood homestead in Wales. However, an army of monsters and overlords, led by neon-eyed baddie Mr Barron (Samuel L Jackson), are hot on his trail.

Burton, at the beginning of his career, created acclaimed fantasy-family works with darkness, depth and delights. Over the past decade, several useless remakes have tarred his reputation. In true Burton tradition, Jake falls down a rabbit hole into a fluffy, whimsical parallel universe. This time around, our protagonist finds a school filled with superpowered beings, led by Miss Peregrine (Eva Green).

In a Burton picture, the real world is disdainful. His human characters are always unlikeable and two dimensional. These scenes do little but express Burton’s impatience – yearning to get to the wacky otherworldly counterparts. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is no different. In fact, it’s a patchwork of tried and true Burton clichés.  At the very least, the production design, score and cinematography carry Burton’s latest feature throughout every cringe-worthy, sappy second.

The movie begins promisingly. Jake and Abe’s relationship convey Burton’s finer touches. Sadly, as Jake becomes more involved, useless exposition and world building bog down Jane Goldman’s screenplay. Almost every scene is ‘tell’ instead of ‘show’. Instead of building stakes or character development, the majority of the dialogue explains the rules of this time travelling, magical world. Going further into the void, the narrative becomes a blur of silly names and overcomplicated plot points. The final third is particularly lazy; devolving into a clunky, CGI-laden fight sequence between our magical factions. Indeed, the further down the rabbit hole it goes, the more of a mish mash it becomes. Even Butterfield, Green, Jackson, Rupert Everett, Ella Purnell and Judi Dench can’t make this behemoth interesting.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a joyless, flavourless jumble of Burton’s oeuvre. The once brilliant and imaginative filmmaker is now a shell of his former self. Like M. Night Shyamalan, this once-great talent takes promising material and delivers uneven stories, poor performances, tacky visuals and laughable moments. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is available in Australian cinemas from September 29

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

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

Christmas Cracker Review – The Nightmare Before Christmas

While not exactly overflowing with yuletide cheer, The Nightmare Before Christmas settles in with its comfortable mix of naughty and nice.

Zachary Cruz-Tan

The Nightmare Before Christmas makes for an unusual Christmas movie, despite having the holiday name right there in the title. There is no Christmas cheer. No elves dashing about trying to meet deadlines. No carols. No reindeer going clippety-clop over rooftops. There’s only gloom, grotesques, and fortunately, a lanky skeleton man who just wants to do something good with his life.

Strangely enough, that’s what it takes to hit the mark, and in doing so the movie captures the spirit of Christmas more succinctly than, say, The Santa Clause (1994). Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon), chief party planner of Halloween Town, has grown restless, jumping through the same hoops year after year for children’s amusement. He wants to do something meaningful, but doesn’t know what. That is, of course, until he discovers Christmas Town and decides on a whim to abduct Santa Claus and bring cheer to children all over the world in his stead.

Yes, his method might be frowned upon, but Jack has never had a purer intention. Inhabiting a stop-motion world filled with magnificent visual delights, Jack learns what it takes to be truly merry and, not unlike the Grinch who stole Christmas, finds a warmth within his soul.

The Nightmare Before Christmas has always reminded me of The Addams Family. Both have grown so comfortable in the presence of the macabre that anything that does not resemble horror or death pokes at them like an unsolvable puzzle. It’s always amusing to watch Jack dole out his own vision of joy, misguided as it may be, and it serves as a very simple reminder that for those who still believe, Santa’s job is not as easy as it looks. Jack has to find this out the hard way.

Images courtesy of Buena Visa International & Roadshow Films 

Christmas Cracker Review – Batman Returns

Leather catsuits, penguins armed with rockets…this must be Christmas in Gotham City, courtesy of Tim Burton.

Rhys Graeme-Drury

Burton’s second stab at the Caped Crusader – 1992’s Batman Returns – is a perfect hybrid of the flamboyant superhero genre and the dark gothic imagery we’ve come to associate with his vivid filmmaking style; the dark knight before Christmas, if you’ll pardon the pun.

If you’ve only sat through Christopher Nolan’s sleek Dark Knight trilogy, the absence of gritty realism in Burton’s spin may surprise you. The film begins with a pseudo-Biblical sequence where newborn Oswald Cobblepot is abandoned by his parents, and floated downriver into the grim sewer system beneath Gotham. Soon after, a bedraggled nerd named Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) is brutally murdered and resurrected as a leather-clad, bullwhip-wielding aggressively-sexual psychopath who refers to herself as Catwoman.

The plot is equally as bonkers; Cobblepot (Danny DeVito) wants to run for mayor, discredit Batman (Michael Keaton) and also destroy Gotham using an army of missile-armed penguin commandos. In on his plan is conniving industrialist Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), a character who looks like he just stepped out of a 1920’s German Expressionist film – and with a surname like that, who can blame him?

Amongst the zany action and enchanting score by Danny Elfman you half-expect Santa Claus to fly in on his bat-sleigh and save the spirit of Christmas; although, I think they only included that scene in the Blu-Ray special features. Some things are just too silly, even for Burton.

Images courtesy of Roadshow Films

Top 5 Films for Halloween

Trick or treat! Lock your doors and board up your windows – it’s time to grab some candy and settle in for a sensationally spooky ceremony of cinema…

Corey Hogan

Boo! Just kidding. But seriously, it’s that time of year again – Halloween, a holiday of Gaelic, Welsh and Christian origin and influence. Originally dedicated to remembering the dead; the holiday has evolved to encompass all things nerve-shredding, blood-curdling, bone-chilling and downright terrifying.

Holidays are always thematically rich, thus, much like Christmas, the spooky season has a way of inspiring filmmakers to craft twisted, artistic and often brilliantly imaginative stories; some of which have cemented themselves into pop culture legend and are now essential annual viewing.  After a lengthy binge-watch, I settled on five that best capture the wicked spirit of the year’s freakiest festivity.

1. Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
Director:
Michael Dougherty
Starring:
Anna Paquin, Brian Cox & Dylan Baker


While not a particularly amazing film, Trick ‘r Treat earns a spot for its original narrative inventiveness and sheer atmosphere – you’d be hard pressed to find a film overflowing with Halloween decadence more than Michael Dougherty’s debut horror anthology. Set amidst a typically American neighbourhood on All Hallow’s Eve, it intertwines four genre-specific stories – Dylan Baker’s school principal reveals his child-killing tendencies, Anna Paquin’s self-conscious virgin is stalked by a vampire (again), Brian Cox’s holiday-hating shut-in is haunted in an other-worldly home invasion, and four curious kids uncover the mystery surrounding a school bus massacre taking place thirty years ago that very night. Though a little too comical and OTT to be taken seriously or truly terrify, Trick ‘r Treat is an entertaining blend of horror sub-genres that makes for ideal Halloween party viewing.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMoiNyyXSwU


4. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Director:
Robert Mulligan
Starring:
Gregory Peck, Robert Duvall & Frank Overton

A slightly unconventional pick on an otherwise spooky list – Robert Mulligan’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s ground-breaking novel is, on the surface, a courtroom drama for the most part. Admittedly, only a small part around the end of the film actually takes place on Halloween, but there are countless underlying horrors surrounding the town of Maycomb, Alabama that make this endearing classic too rich to exclude.

Events unfold through the eyes of the Finch children in the early 1930’s, as their father Atticus (Gregory Peck), a town lawyer, is appointed to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman, much to the outrage of the racist locals. The exposure to aggravation, hatred and evil that cause a loss of innocence in the children, as well as the mystery besieging the reclusive Arthur “Boo” Radley (Robert Duvall) create an unnerving tone throughout; though its ultimately uplifting messages of acceptance and speaking out against prejudice still resonate strongly today, and cement its position among cinema’s finest. Plus, Scout Finch’s ‘Ham’ costume is one for the ages.

Halloween in Maycomb: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FROgIia2cb8


3. The Tim Burton Theory: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), Corpse Bride (2005) & Frankenweenie (2012)
Director:
Henry Selick, Tim Burton & Mike Johnson
Starring:
Chris Sarandon, Johnny Depp & Winona Ryder

It may be cheating to include three films in one spot, but Tim Burton’s trio of gothic, Halloween-themed stop-motion animated features go hand in hand as frightful fun for the whole family – albeit, probably a little too dark for younger children. Incredibly detailed hand-crafted figures and sets are brought to life (and death) by Burton’s twisted storytelling and Danny Elfman’s madcap scores; though perhaps most interesting is the popular theory connecting each film (and other Burton originals, including Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands) via their main character and their pet dogs.

Victor, the young boy who reanimates his deceased dog in Frankenweenie, is the younger version of Victor from Corpse Bride (who reunites with his dog in the Land of the Dead), who eventually passes away and becomes Jack Skellington of The Nightmare Before Christmas (now the owner of a ghostly canine). There are, of course, numerous holes that prevent this from becoming much more than a theory, but it does add an extra level of intrigue to some sumptuously eerie animations.

The Tim Burton Theory: http://screennamemissing.tumblr.com/post/70270352326/all-of-tim-burtons-original-films-are-connected


2. Donnie Darko (2001)
Director:
Richard Kelly
Starring:
Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone & Drew Barrymore

Brilliant and complex, Richard Kelly’s mind-bending masterpiece works on every level it is brought to – deeply unnerving supernatural horror, coming-of-age high school tale, pitch-black family comedy, intricately philosophical time travel puzzle, bleak apocalyptic thriller – Donnie Darko has enough substance to fill multiple movies, and appeal for every generation of viewers. On October 2, 1988, Jake Gyllenhaal’s troubled teen is warned by the elusive Frank (cinema’s most iconic bunny) that the world will end in roughly 28 days. With its sinister atmosphere, fully realised characters, fascinating story and superb soundtrack and score, Donnie Darko is a cult classic and Halloween staple. The famous Director’s Cut is essential to understanding what exactly is going on, but the theatrical version remains ideal for its purely genius ambiguity.

The Halloween Party (“Love Will Tear Us Apart”): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQ3819f5kS8


1. Halloween (1978)
Director:
John Carpenter
Starring:
Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence & Tony Moran


Could it really have been anything else? So prominent it was allegedly responsible for the decline in use, and eventual removal of the apostrophe from the word Hallowe’en, John Carpenter’s magnum opus is the original slasher flick (save maybe Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). The deceptively simplistic plot finds Jamie Lee Curtis’ innocent teen stalked by an insane asylum escapee who returns to his home town on Halloween with little motive other than a significant blood thirst. A monumental mask, screeching score and influx of the “scream queen” formed a blueprint for future horror filmmakers, and today Halloween’s legacy stands tall. Spawning seven sequels and two Rob Zombie re-imaginings, an induction into the National Film Registry for cultural preservation, and endless discussion, analysis and debate amongst film critics and professionals – it remains the ultimate Halloween movie.

Classic trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHuOtLTQ_1I

Happy Halloween from Hooked on Film!


Images courtesy of Buena Vista International, Warner Bros, Universal Pictures, iamag.co, Walt Disney Motion Pictures Studios & Umbrella Entertainment

Movie Review – Black Mass

Despite a directionless script and broken moral compass, Black Mass marks a turning point in the faltering career of Johnny Depp.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

When you think about Johnny Depp, what springs to mind? You’re most likely imagining an assortment of wacky characters and silly hats surrounded by gothic melodrama, right? Well, prepare to have that image shattered by Black Mass, Depp’s first film in a long while that dispenses with flamboyance, and instead focuses on intense character drama.

From director Scott Cooper, Black Mass is a biopic about James ‘Whitey’ Bulger (Depp), one of Boston’s most notorious gangsters during the late 70’s and early 80’s. It’s a classic tale of rags to riches that sees Depp headline an impressive cast that incorporates Benedict Cumberbatch as Whitey’s senatorial brother William, Joel Edgerton as John Connolly, a crooked cop inside the FBI, and Dakota Johnson, Whitey’s long-suffering wife Lindsey.

This might not be Depp’s first foray into the gangster genre (he previously teamed-up with Michael Mann to play the iconic John Dillinger in 2009’s Public Enemies), but it is his most fascinating. By eschewing his trademark larger-than-life characters for something more muscular, Depp disappears into the otherwise conventional role, and makes it one of his most memorable in years. Dripping with malice, and driven by a voracious thirst for blood, Whitey is a cookie-cutter character whose motivations and arc are substantially elevated by Depp’s unsettling performance. The tension skyrockets whenever Depp strides onto screen; you’re never quite sure whether he’s going to hug someone, or shank them.

Meanwhile, hot on the heels of his outstanding directorial debut in The Gift, Edgerton continues to excel with another compelling and nuanced performance. Connolly is the character with the most depth here, and Edgerton sinks his teeth into the role with aplomb; cunning, intelligent and increasingly desperate, Connolly’s frantic efforts to cover his tracks make for some of the films lighter moments, whilst the domestic drama at home with his wife Marianne (Julianne Nicholson) keeps the tension tightly wound.

However, two great characters aren’t enough to save this film from sliding into mediocrity; despite his compelling lead duo, Cooper fails to breathe life into a flat screenplay that fizzes to an unsatisfying and muted finale. After starting strong, the final third of this film felt disappointingly unambitious, and we’re left with an underwhelming conclusion where all the loose ends are resolved through conventional “where are they now?” credits.

Furthermore, I felt that the film lacked a clearly defined emotional anchor; Depp and Edgerton may give brilliant performances, but at the end of the day they’re still unlikeable people doing immoral things. Devoid of an honest do-gooder to put them in their place, the film feels desperately bleak and hollow; Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott and Corey Stoll are the closest we get to “heroes”, but they’re left to float around on the periphery saying little and doing even less.

As a result, the film loses steam somewhere in the middle and never recaptures it. Black Mass isn’t a bad film; it just doesn’t quite know how to fit all the elements together to make a satisfying whole. Depp’s performance alone makes this film worth a watch, but don’t expect the narrative to transcend the tight confines on the genre. And the less said about Cumberbatch’s gawky Boston accent, the better.

Black Mass is available in Australian cinemas from October 8th 2015

Images courtesy of Roadshow Films

Quick Picks – Cinderella & The Book of Life

Movie Review – Cinderella

The necessity for yet another reimagining of a fairy tale favourite notwithstanding, Sir Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella sticks to formula, but affixes gorgeous visuals, dazzling production design, and a flawless cast.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Review by Corey Hogan

Cate Blanchett as the evil stepmother in Cinderella

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this live-action refurbishment of Disney’s classic rags-to-riches fairy tale by costume drama connoisseur Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, Hamlet, Thor), is how completely unsurprising it is. Rather than attempt to re-imagine and inject grit into a beloved story (Snow White & the Huntsmen and Maleficent among the recent offenders), Branagh’s film is refreshingly traditional, and far more successful as a result. You know the tale; sweet, pure Ella (Lily James) is forced into a miserable life of slavery by her evil stepmother (Cate Blanchett) after the tragic passing of her parents, until the day she meets her Prince Charming (Richard Madden) and sees her escape to a life of majesty; if only she can woo him at his royal ball with a little help from her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter).

The standout here is, predictably, Cate Blanchett, relishing her villainous role with a wicked glee, though detracting nothing from the rest of the excellent cast. Newcomer Lily James fits Ella like a glove (or glass slipper), physically perfect for the imprisoned princess, and sharing a crackling chemistry with Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden as the king-to-be. Branagh and regular cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos infuse impeccable visual beauty and class to the tale, the ball scene in particular is a stunner, consequently making this a more than justifiable reiteration. The film is not for everyone of course; a tad slow at times, and thankfully free of gender politics, and other hot-button modern topics, but appealing to anyone looking for a film that delivers exactly what you’d expect it to.

Cinderella is in Australian cinemas as of Thursday March 19th
Images courtesy of  Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

 


 

Movie Review – The Book of Life

This vibrant and energetic film is like a picture book, albeit one with a fairly standard story that’s strengthened by standout visuals.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Review by Zane Alexander

Manolo and Maria in The Book of Life

Exploring cultural beliefs around The Day of The Dead, this Mexican animated film produced by Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), is recounted by a museum guide to some bratty schoolkids as a kind of cautionary tale. The story is pretty basic; a wager for control of the otherworldly realms, between what amounts to God and the Devil, over which of two boys will grow up to marry the girl.

Deservedly Golden Globe nominated for Best Animated film, it breathes life into the genre with unique and visually captivating animation. The marionette-style look is something akin to Tim Burton doing Pinocchio, with the heavenly “Land of the Remembered” a ghoulishly colourful fiesta, and the hellish “Land of the Forgotten” a treacherously grey-scaled landscape.

While it’s a feast for the eyes, it’s a famine for the ears. The variant accents from the diverse voice cast of Latin American and Hollywood actors results in a Mexywood mish-mash, while the inclusion of American pop songs further confuses the source material, stripping it of authenticity. If its aim was to teach its target audience about the culture, then more traditional elements would have been a better choice.

There’s also a fine line between chivalry and misogyny, and this film delicately walks it, as the boys fight over the prize of the girl. This is thankfully outweighed by other more suitable themes, such as being kind to animals, doing what is right, and ultimately being true to oneself. If only the film could have followed its own advice.

The Book of Life  is in Australian cinemas as of Thursday April 2nd
Images courtesy of  20th Century Fox

Movie Review – Big Eyes

Much like how the world unknowingly overlooked artist Margaret Keane, so too has her Tim Burton-led biopic been mostly forgotten by critics and audiences alike.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Review by Cherie Wheeler

From meek and mild, to the mouse that roared – Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) was once the quintessential kept woman of the 1950s; a wife and mother oppressed by fear, and dominated into submission, with no way to independently survive in a society monopolised by men. It is for this reason that she allows her charming, yet egomaniacal husband Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) to claim her dark and intriguing portraits of children with disproportionately sized, orb-like eyes, as his own. For years Margaret upholds this façade, and becomes a social hermit locked away in her secret studio, meanwhile Walter is catapulted to a height of fame akin to that of Andy Warhol as sales go through the roof.

It completely and utterly baffles me that this film has endured such apathy from all fronts. Adams may have taken home a Golden Globe, but the Academy chose to omit Big Eyes from every potential category. In Australia it has suffered release delays, as well as poor takings at the box office, and so I am left to ask; what the hell is going on here, as in my opinion, Big Eyes may just be Amy Adams’ greatest film yet.

The Times (UK) refers to her performance in this film as “quietly extraordinary” and honestly, I could not have expressed it better myself. Her performance may not be an overt explosion of emotion like Lupita Nyong’o’s Oscar-winning, harrowing screams in 12 Years A Slave, but her understated, highly convincing depiction of Margaret Keane is just as, if not more, impressive. Whilst Waltz is credible in his representation of Walter’s demise into a raving lunatic consumed by greed, I was often left to question the character’s motivations, and the scale of his emotional responses, which detracted from the film as a whole.

Not since Ed Wood  (1994) has Burton ventured into the biopic domain, having established his idiosyncratic style in fantastical films such as Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Corpse Bride (2005). The subject matter of Big Eyes is relatively ordinary by comparison, but Burton never exploits a scene in order to impose his style; instead he allows the story to speak for itself, then dusts it off with a few eccentric touches to give the film an edge. He creates a very glamorous, almost fairy tale-like version of San Francisco in the late 50s through the use of highly structured, symmetrical shots combined with a rich colour palette, and there is also a cheeky nod to Edward Scissorhands (1990) with a copycat shot that shows a neat, suburban street lined with near identical homes.

From the very first shot of the film Burton had me hooked; the camera slowly zooms out of the tear-stained eye of one of Margaret’s most iconic paintings to gradually reveal the entire portrait in a beautiful long take – then BAM – a machine sputters to life, and copy after copy of the same painting is spat out into a nice, fat pile, and instantly, the magic of the moment is lost. I’m not sure if I’m reading meaning that was never intended from Burton, but there seems to be quite a few Hitchcock references in the film; an opening credit sequence commencing on an eye, closely followed by a shot of the Golden Gate Bridge (Vertigo), interjected by Amy Adams with Janet Leigh-like blonde hair, driving down a long highway with a distressed expression (Psycho)… well, intentional or no, I dig it.

My only real disappointment in this film is the score from long time Burton accomplice Danny Elfman. He employs some funky, percussive jazz chords here and there, but for the most part, his composition is filled with an obvious selection of instruments arranged in a most generic way. Burton clearly wished to avoid burdening the film with his customary flamboyance, most likely due to his personal affection for Margaret’s work (he has previously asked her to recreate Helena Bonham Carter and his Chihuahua on canvas), however I feel that the score was stripped a little too bare.

Overall, I think Big Eyes is a triumph for Burton, and a refreshing departure from his usual work. I have always loved his style, but it was beginning to become a bit monotonous with recent productions such as Dark Shadows failing to bring anything new to the table. Although a little too Hollywoodised at times, I am still inclined to award Big Eyes with four stars, as despite the minimal attention it has been paid, it is certainly worth a watch.

Big Eyes is available in Australian cinemas from Thursday March 19th

Images courtesy of Roadshow Films