2017 Alliance Francaise French Film Festival

Bonjour Perth! The 28th annual French Film Festival is in town for the next few weeks screening at Cinema Paradiso, Luna on SX and The Windsor. We sampled a few of the films on offer.

Tomorrow

Riding on a crest of environmental documentaries comes Tomorrow: a passionate, yet humble look at the positivity global contamination can bring.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

03 March - AFF Tomorrow
You know how the Western genre has become so saturated that, to stand out, it has to come with unique selling points? Like, look – it’s cowboys and aliens! The Environmental Documentary has more or less reached a similar crisis, with each new film threatening to re-tread what the other has said. It’s no longer enough to complain about fossil fuel emissions and global warming – a new angle is required.

Tomorrow provides that angle. Helmed by Mélanie Laurent and her filmmaking comrades, this immensely informative documentary shifts our attention from a dying Earth to a world that can be rightfully repaired and re-energised through solidarity, networking, and positive thinking. It’s great that more households are converting to solar power, but is that enough? Tomorrow posits broader change, change that is already happening in towns and cities throughout the globe. Urban families are micro-farming. Counties have introduced self-contained currencies to benefit small businesses. Schools in Finland place education ahead of status, and their children are better for it.

All this is meant to be encouraging instead of disheartening, and it is. Tomorrow makes me want to convert my backyard into a vegetable garden. It makes the microcosm I live in seem unclean and harmful, and that I should do something to purify it. Leo DiCaprio’s Before the Flood told us what the billionaires are doing. Tomorrow is a bit different – it’s about you and me, and the good we can do from the ground up.


Planetarium

Rebecca Zlotowski’s supernatural period drama offers a wonderful respite for insomniacs.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

03 March - AFF Planetarium
Planetarium follows two American sisters who are believed to possess the supernatural ability to communicate with ghosts. Laura (Natalie Portman) and Kate (Lily-Rose Depp) Barlow, cross paths with André Korben (Emmanuel Salinger), an eccentric French filmmaker, while performing their travelling séance roadshow in pre-WWII Paris. Captivated by their ethereal connections, Korben invites the girls to live with him while they produce a movie centred on their show, but his interest soon transforms into something a little stranger and disconcerting.

Much like the séances it depicts, Planetarium is a vague and obscure dreamlike ritual that disentangles itself from the anchor of time, stretching two hours into what feels like a bottomless eternity. Maybe this elongated, formless structure is intentional; it could mirror Laura and Kate’s ambling and directionless lives or – at a stretch – the lingering limbo of European geopolitics on the eve of war.

Whatever director Rebecca Zlotowski was aiming for with Planetarium, I don’t feel like much of it congealed into a cohesive whole. There is a collection of interesting ideas here; the middle act transforms into a strange pseudo-sexual experience with Korben supposedly navigating beyond the veil to meet with his deceased wife while using Kate as a vessel.

But a lot of these ideas hang in isolation, disconnected from other ideas that waft gently in and out of the film. It certainly doesn’t help that both Portman and Depp are so reserved in their performances; distanced from genuine warmth or deep emotion. We could have had something special on our hands, if only the rest of the film was as captivating as the production and costume design.


In Bed with Victoria

A quirky concept tackled in a completely mundane way.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Cody Fullbrook

03 March - AFF Victoria
Struggling to raise two daughters while being embroiled in two court cases, one of which involves exposing her own personal life, Victoria Spick (Virginie Efira) is attempting to juggle her personal and professional life.

What could have been a humorous and completely original film about an attempted murder case with the only witnesses being a dog and monkey – which actually does happen – In Bed With Victoria wastes too much time on romantic storylines, tarot readings and other things I’ve now instantly forgotten.

Like all films focusing on lawyers, the most interesting and intense moments are the court scenes, and although rarer than I would have liked, they show the same clinical function and form that I’ve come to appreciate.  Even when it’s just a friend of Victoria’s defending her in court against allegations of colluding with a witness, the delivery is passionate yet sensible. An appropriately slow scene with Victoria enduring the end of her case after overdosing on drugs shows exactly what In Bed With Victoria should have simply been about. A stressed woman handling a peculiar court case.  Nothing more.

Though tolerable with a few funny lines, In Bed With Victoria’s characters and storylines are far too basic and plodding for me to think about recommending it to anyone.


Images courtesy of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 

In Perth from March 15 to April 5: https://www.affrenchfilmfestival.org 

Movie Review – A Few Less Men

This Aussie comedy sequel no one asked for may be flogging a dead corpse, but surprisingly it isn’t quite dead on arrival. Only just, though.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan 

Immediately following David’s (Xavier Samuel) farcical wedding (the events of A Few Best Men), his honeymoon plans are put on hold when his drunken friend Luke topples off a cliff and is crushed to death by a rock. David and his remaining friends, Tom (Kris Marshall) and Graham (Kevin Bishop), board a plane to return Luke’s body to England, but things naturally go awry when Graham accidentally causes the plane to crash land in the middle of rural Western Australia. The boys must now find their way to Perth carrying the corpse, depending on the colourful characters of the outback they come across, before missing Luke’s funeral and facing the wrath of his violent cousin Henry (Ryan Corr).

Australian cinema has become a truly respectable entity, especially these past few years, consistently releasing content that rivals the best of Hollywood’s recent offerings. And yet, every once in a while, there still seems to be an incessant need to drop all standards and fart out a mindless, lowbrow raunchy comedy to appease the masses. Why a sequel to 2011’s A Few Best Men was thought necessary is perplexing, given its forgettable critical reception and lukewarm box office takings.

On the bright side, A Few Less Men is definitely an improvement on its predecessor. It’s still completely braindead, of course, but in shaking off the single setting and ensemble nonsense of the first film, it finds firmer ground as a ridiculous road trip, focusing on the mismatched dynamic of its three leads – now essentially Australia/England’s Hangover trio. Each has a more clearly defined role in the group – the straight man (David), the sex-obsessive (Tom), the moron (Graham) – so each bounces off the other and gives a neater flow to their reactions in the many zany situations they find themselves in.

The plot of Dean Craig’s script (who also wrote Death at a Funeral) is essentially an afterthought; all that really matters here is what ludicrous character the boys will be forced to seek the help of, or what is going to go wrong for the boys next. The supporting cast are clearly having a ball with their eccentric weirdos – Chloe Hurst’s horny backpacker, Lynette Curran’s 70-year-old sexual deviant, and Shane Jacobson’s Norman Bates-esque crossdresser all raise amusing hell for our trio. But it all becomes a bit too repetitive, fizzling out and becoming tiresome as the frequent finding and losing Luke’s body out of stupidity becomes numbing. And despite a well-intentioned emotional scene near the end, it’s impossible to become invested or feel anything in a story so relentlessly silly.

It’s a scrappy affair, but raunchy comedy aficionados should be satisfied enough with all the corpse boners, granny shagging, pants shitting and penis-shaped coffins. It’s unlikely to win any AACTAs, but there are enough cheap laughs to make for a modestly amusing, switch-off-your brain time. Maybe just down a few beers first.

A Few Less Men is available in Australian cinemas from March 9 

Image courtesy of StudioCanal

Interview: Chloe Hurst – A Few Less Men

Corey Hogan

It’s probably the oldest cliché in the book; chasing your dream in the city of stars itself, Los Angeles, and leaving your life behind to make it big on the silver screen. But it’s another thing entirely if you’re actually achieving that dream, like 26-year-old Perth girl Chloe Hurst is currently. Skipping the humble beginnings most up-and-comers are forced to endure, Chloe’s been on a consistent roll since relocating; kicking off in New York with Broadway smash hits, then landing film roles opposite massive stars like Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe and Stephen Baldwin. In between her Hollywood acting, she’s taken a trip back home to appear in the sequel to the 2011 Aussie/British comedy A Few Best Men – now A Few Less Men. It’s safe to say Chloe’s blown that cliché out of the water.

I talked to Chloe about everyday life amongst the biggest names in film, the different experience of working at home on A Few Less Men (her very first Australian film) and her continuing dream run.

HOF: For starters, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what got you onto the performance and filmmaking scene?

CH: Sure! I’ve been in performing arts since I was a kid, but mainly doing theatre, musical theatre and stage stuff actually until about two years ago, when I went on a trip to L.A. to visit for two weeks from New York; I’ve done I think nine films back to back ever since. It’s definitely been a journey, and I guess the transition from stage to screen is sort of what I’m going through at the moment, and I’m loving every second of it.

HOF: You’ve had an impressive run in theatre with massive productions like Into the Woods and A Chorus Line, how have you found the transition from acting for the stage to acting in film?

CH: The actual process for me – I’ve been working with a lot of incredible coaches who’ve helped along the way, but the biggest difference I’ve found is the transition from New York to L.A., not necessarily the work aspect of it. That shift was huge in terms of lifestyle, but in terms of the work… I’m just surrounded by incredible people that are doing incredible things, and I think when you’re in good hands it makes that transition so much easier because you’re sharing the experience with these pros who have done it for years. In that respect I just find that I’ve been really lucky that I’ve been thrown into the hands of incredible professionals that have ten times the amount of experience I do, and I’m just learning every day from them.

HOF: There’s obviously a huge difference between performance work in Australia and work in L.A., what makes it that way? How does the process differ?

CH: For me, my only experience of working in Australia is A Few Less Men; most of my work has been in America! So this is actually my first real, professional experience with Australian film, and I loved every second of it. Being in my home town and shooting the film was a dream come true, and obviously I’d love to do more and more and more of that. And just seeing how passionate the Aussies are about what they’re doing, their work ethic is incredible. I think often with these big Hollywood sets… they do this all the time; they follow a protocol, they have routine and rules to stick to, whereas I feel like in Australia the energy on set and the excitement to be doing what they’re doing every day is just contagious. Like I said I haven’t had much experience in Australia, so this was such an incredible first introduction to how Aussies work and the comradery that’s created on set is totally different; it’s much more of a family aspect rather than a business. I think we’re all super supportive of each other creating these awesome things and just getting the best out of people from a personal, artistic point of view.

HOF: How did you become involved in A Few Less Men? What latched you on to a production back in Australia?

CH: So I auditioned from L.A., I caught wind that there was this film shooting in my home town called A Few Less Men, and I’d heard about the first one but I hadn’t actually seen it before auditioning. I sort of knew the cast that was attached, and even just being given the scenes that I auditioned with, I could see the comedic aspects of it, and I just thought it was written so incredibly well that I was actually laughing when reading the script – I always think that’s a great sign for a comedy. So I actually put myself on tape out here, and funnily enough one of my best friends Saskia (Hampele) was also taping herself for it from out here, so she came into my audition to read with me, and it turned out the two of us actually booked Lisa and Angie, the two best friends that are travelling in the film together. I think a part of the audition process, having her in the room and reading with me and bantering off each other like that; I feel like sending that across is probably what got us both the roles, so we were both in it together from the very beginning.

HOF: You play Lisa, who is (sort of) a love interest for Tom (Kris Marshall). Tell us a bit about the character.

CH: She’s a fling. She’s not far from me in real life I’d like to think, except perhaps a little more forward and sexual [laughs]. I basically intercept the boys; I’m on this big road trip with Saskia’s Angie in the film and we come across the boys stuck in the middle of the desert, and we take them to this party that I think ultimately resembles a Burning Man type festival. It leads to… I guess you could call it love at first sight with Kris Marshall? I try to get involved with him and proposition him for a threesome and divert their journey; they’re on a mission and we prevent that from happening, we’re giving them an ulterior motive.

HOF: How did you find working opposite all these funny actors like Kris Marshall and Kevin Bishop? Is comedy your thing?

CH: My cheeks were sore every single day; I could not stop laughing with these boys. I can’t even explain to you… they are, I think, the funniest people I’ve ever been in a room with at the same time. And when you get to develop that while shooting seriously, it only gets funnier. They are the kindest, most genuine men, and they are just a scream… what you see in the film is just so similar to what you see on set. Comedy is not my strength at all; I’m working on it at the moment actually, I’m doing an intensive class out here in L.A. just to be as good as these boys at comedy.

I was certainly intimidated to begin with working with Kris; we met, and five seconds after saying “Hi I’m Chloe, nice to meet you,” we filmed the scene where we were making out and doing… you know… [laughs] all of a sudden our tongues were doing each other’s throats. So that was certainly my first experience of being thrown in the deep end, but if anything we got the awkwardness out of the way first, so that was great.

HOF: You were in Shane Black’s The Nice Guys last year, how was it acting with such a prolific director and huge stars like Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe?

CH: I’m still speechless to this day. I think Shane’s casting and directing… he’s a genius, as a writer, as a director, as a mentor, he’s just so incredible. And to get to work with people like Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe… that’s what I mean when I say I’m learning from the best of the best, they take you under their wing and guide you and it’s the reason they are so successful. They’re just the most humble people.

HOF: You had the starring role in the indie film Scarlett, could you tell us a bit about that?

CH: Yeah! Scarlett is a film with Stephen Baldwin and myself from last year which came out… I think it’s doing a state by state release in America at the moment, so it’s come out in Texas, and Colorado I believe so far. That was my first feature film ever, and to play the title role in a film with so little experience was certainly a big responsibility on my part. Of the one hundred page script I think I had about ninety of dialogue, so it was a big responsibility on my part, but I absolutely loved every second of it and would greet the challenge again with open arms. And obviously to work with Stephen Baldwin on your first film… so I was picking his brain for advice, and I got to take away so much from that that led to things like The Nice Guys and now A Few Less Men.

HOF: You’re a bit of a fashion icon too on top of your acting. What do you enjoy the most, or does it all sort of play off each other?

CH: You know, it does play off each other; I’m certainly much more of an actor than a model, I’ve been so blessed to be able to model as my side job all these years. I joke about how modelling is my waitressing, which most actors end up having to do at some point, and I’ve been very blessed that modelling has been that for me. In terms of being a fashion icon… wow. That’s like… that’s a big call. I was flown back last year to be the ambassador of the Perth Fashion Festival, and that was an incredible experience. I basically got to meet a lot of local Perth designers that I’m still in discussion with now, because obviously I want to support where I’m from and the fashion people that are coming up in the world from Perth. I just think there’s nothing better than being supportive of the people who are trying to do their best with what they’ve got or where they’re from; I will always be so supportive of Australian fashion.

HOF: You’re based in L.A. now of course, but would you take the opportunity if more roles in Australia presented themselves?

CH: Yup. Yup, hands down. I struggle everyday living so far away from the people I love the most, so any opportunity to be brought closer to them and still be able to do what I love is a dream for me. I also love what Australians are doing with scripts and films and companies like StudioCanal are obviously being really supportive of the film industry over there, and I want to be a part of that. Like I said A Few Less Men is my only experience so far in Australian film, and I would love to grow that over the next few years, and after that as well. Fingers crossed!

HOF: I guess that brings us to what’s next for you. Are you working on anything at the moment; are there any projects on the table?

CH: So this is actually a really interesting year for me, I got my green card for the US so that in itself has opened a lot of doors over here. It’s pilot season, so I’m currently on the hustle and grind auditioning back to back for TV shows; because I’ve never worked in TV that’s something that my team and I are working on together to try to achieve this year.

A Few Less Men is available in Australian cinemas from March 9 

Image courtesy of StudioCanal

Movie Review – Jasper Jones

Jasper Jones is certainly one of the stronger Australian films that we’ve seen in recent years, but it falls just short of achieving the status of beloved classic.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½  
Cherie Wheeler

Appearances: we’re all very quick to judge one another by what we see on the outside, and how this fits in with society’s expectations, but what really goes on behind closed doors can be a very different story.

It’s these sorts of prejudices and secrets that fuel the story of new Australian film Jasper Jones – based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Craig Silvey. Set in the 1960’s in a fictional, rural Western Australian town, Jasper Jones follows 14-year-old Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller), who inadvertently becomes tangled up in the town mystery surrounding the disappearance of Laura Wishart. The finger is immediately pointed at mixed race outcast Jasper Jones (Aaron L. McGrath), who enlists Charlie’s help to prove what really happened to the beautiful girl next door, but the deeper Charlie digs, the darker the truths he uncovers. This all becomes further complicated by Laura’s younger sister and object of Charlie’s affections Eliza (Angourie Rice), Charlie’s overprotective mother (Toni Collette) and dangerous town hermit Mad Jack Lionel (Hugo Weaving).

In trying to cover so many storylines – often shifting in tone from light and humorous, to foreboding and thrilling – Jasper Jones does become an uneven viewing experience at times. It explores almost every possible theme associated with a small Australian town in the 1960’s, from the Vietnam War to the corruption of those with power, and this often detracts from the core conflict. For me, the enigma of Jasper Jones is the most intriguing and engaging part of the story, so I found deviations to frivolous scenes such as a community cricket game to be enjoyable, yet slightly annoying distractions. Additionally, drawn out moments of Charlie considering all the clues bring the pacing of the film to a grinding halt.

Similar to Fences, I think more could have been done to fully transform this narrative for the screen. As an example (mild spoiler alert), when Jasper first approaches Charlie for help, we’re provided long takes of the pair skulking throughout the town, with a voice over from Levi Miller expressing Charlie’s uncertainty and rationale behind following Jasper – someone he barely even knows. There’s a lot of telling and not a lot of showing going on, and I feel these scenes would have had far more impact and would have been far more credible if the audience had already been introduced to Jasper and how he is perceived by both Charlie and the rest of the town.

Having said all that, this doesn’t mean that director Rachel Perkins (Bran Nue Dae) has done poorly. On the contrary, there are some outstanding dramatic scenes sprinkled throughout the film that allow the all-star cast to shine. Hugo Weaving and Aaron L. McGrath steal the show in an intensely moving confrontation, while Susan Prior, who plays the mother of Laura and Eliza Wishart, packs a real emotional gut-punch during a crucial moment. Toni Collette is on fire from start to finish with her usual authenticity and sincerity, and Levi Miller (Peter Pan, Red Dog) and Angourie Rice (These Final Hours, The Nice Guys) are often left to carry the weight of the film and do so satisfactorily.

Backing up the high calibre performances is stunning production design that brings the era to life most convincingly, and the gorgeous cinematography really shows it off. Overall, Jasper Jones is a welcome addition to the repertoire of Australian film, but it’s not quite the absolute knock-out I was hoping for.

Jasper Jones is available in Australian cinemas from March 2nd 

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment

Rooftop Movies – Program 3

Chantal Victor

Summer is always the best time of year in Perth and with all the heat, visits to the beach and backyard BBQ’s also comes the outdoor cinema experience. Rooftop Movies in Northbridge offers the perfect set up for everything from that first Tinder date to a night out with your mates. So, grab a drink and a pizza and enjoy the city skyline before you settle onto a comfy beanbag for your movie of choice.

The team at Rooftop have created the ultimate program for those wanting to catch all the latest blockbusters like Rogue One and Passengers, but if you feel like a cult classic, don’t worry -they’ve got you covered; The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Mighty Ducks are all on the agenda as well.

Program 3 runs until February 5, but don’t fret, a new program will be announced on their website on January 24: https://www.rooftopmovies.com.au/program/

For your chance to get free tickets to Program 3, check out our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/hookedonfilm 

Image courtesy of Rooftop Movies & Sebastian Photography 

Movie Review – The Light Between Oceans

The austere beauty of the visuals and the quiet strength of the performances are at times overwhelmed by the predictable melodrama at the centre of the film.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Charlie Lewis

With his rugged jawline and haunted, piercing eyes, Michael Fassbender was born to be filmed looking pensively out to sea. It is a talent that Derek Cianfrance’s sweeping tear jerker The Light Between Oceans (based on M.L Stedman’s novel) regularly calls upon.

Fassbender plays Tom Sherbourne, a WWI veteran who takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock off the coast of Western Australia. The purposeful solitude of this role is all he wants after the horrors of the Western Front. When he is forced to talk to other people, he is terse and quiet, until the person he’s talking to is Isabel (Alicia Vikander), a local girl who punctures Sherbourne’s world like a sunbeam through overcast skies. The pair eventually marry and after their initial idyll, fate imposes more hardship and loss on two people who have had enough of both to fill several lifetimes.

The early sequences in The Light Between Oceans are lyrical and affecting, particularly as Tom and Isabel fall for one another; their chemistry glows against the perpetual gloom of the island’s austere terrain. Tom’s self-loathing survivor’s guilt and Isabel’s determination to create something better for them drive the most consequential moments of the film.

But as the misfortune and cruelty pile up, the film severs the connection between us and the characters. They gradually cease being the recognisable humans we fell in love with, and become silent targets for punishment. By the time the film snaps back into focus, the damage is done. The distancing is furthered by the casting. I welcome the peppering of Australian character actors (Garry McDonald, Jack Thompson, Bryan Brown) and I understand, without approving of, the decision to cast three non-Australian’s in the biggest roles, but the combination is distracting.

Still, for all its broad melodrama and unmistakable Oscar bait tendencies, The Light between Oceans delivers stirring imagery and giddy yet understated romance early on.

The Light Between Oceans is available in Australian cinemas from November 3

Image courtesy of eOne Films 

Interview: Michael Caton-Jones – British Film Festival

Rhys Graeme-Drury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Vendetta Films

Movie Review – American Honey

Possibly the most poignant American road movie since Easy Rider.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Teenager Star (Sasha Lane) seems to have very little in her impoverished life, as evident when we meet her scrounging around for food in dumpsters to feed the kids of the white trash family she squats with. So when she happens upon a group of energetic and similarly proletarian teens, and is propositioned by their flirtatious leader Jake (Shia LaBeouf) to join them as they travel across Midwest America, there’s nothing to lose. She enters a world of homeless but happy kids doing everything they can to survive while still partying as hard as possible along the way. An explosion of highs and lows, mixed with the emotions and impulses of growing up await Star on the open road.

It’s difficult to pinpoint what kind of a film Andrea Arnold’s (Fish Tank, Wuthering Heights) American Honey is, since it’s really more of an experience; a kinetic painting of youth enthusiastically splashed against a canvas of economic disparity. Though the odd bit of traditional storytelling peeks around the corner here and there, with a sort-of romance between its two somewhat star crossed leads, most sense of a narrative structure is completely AWOL. This is a montage of raw moments, a haze of hormonal feelings pulsating in and out to the throbbing rhythm of its pop and rap soundtrack. Coming of age may be nothing new, but Arnold’s vision of it is unique, vibrant, hypnotic and infectiously optimistic.

Working in her standard 4:3 aspect ratio combined with guerrilla handheld cameras, Arnold keeps things at an incredibly intimate and private scope, really giving the illusion that we’re with the kids in their impetuous travels. We’re granted a contrasting look at the opposing ends of America’s class scale, which speaks wonders but never passes judgement; both the rich and the poor are shown to be capable of equal virtue and malice. Most refreshing is its portrayal of a generation too often partnered with cynicism; these are simply young people making the most out of life that they can with an inspiring amount of ambition and idealism.

Andrea Arnold supposedly stumbled upon Sasha Lane at a beach while on spring break, and her idea to have her film led by someone unfamiliar with acting is a hugely effective one. It doesn’t feel like acting really – Lane just is Star, going with the flow and simply being a teenage girl as life washes over her. On the other hand, we’ve all been aware of Shia LaBeouf for quite some time, which is where he defies all expectations, giving what is likely his best performance. He’s unlike he’s ever been before here – a shaggy, complex bundle of messy energy tied up in a rat tail – and it’s abundantly clear that he’s having much more fun here than he did in any studio film.

An intensely visceral and gleeful juncture of growing up in poverty, American Honey is possibly the most poignant American road movie since Easy Rider.

American Honey is available in Australian cinemas from November 3

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

Movie Review – Doctor Strange

Just when everyone thought superhero movies were getting dull, Scott Derrickson brings us Doctor Strange.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Every time a superhero film is announced I heave a sigh of dismay, and yet I keep walking out of Marvel movies filled with the same delight I used to experience as a kid slumped in front of the television watching action cartoons. Marvel have found that key formula; that fountain of youth to keep their movies eternally fresh. In a time when terrorism is omnipresent, presidential candidates are bigger than rock stars, and DC Comics would rather feature grumpy old ranchers protecting their cows instead of true heroes, Marvel rightfully remembers that superheroes are supposed to save people, and enjoy doing it.

Doctor Strange is a superhero movie that returns the Marvel Cinematic Universe to its cheerful beginnings. The core story regarding The Avengers has become very sombre – Iron Man and Captain America are about one wrong look away from tearing each other’s heads off. Doctor Strange shuts all that noise out and plays its own game, which comes with its own rules and consequences, and my word, it’s something else.

As a visual feast for our poor eyes, this is perhaps the greatest of all the Marvel movies. Things happen here that my most deluded fantasies could not conjure, and there is a final showdown along the streets of Hong Kong that plays with the logical parameters of time and space in a way that makes the best Star Trek episodes look frightfully linear. I’ve seen computer graphics employed masterfully in great films before, but the effects in Doctor Strange take the rules of our world and bend them out of reality. It’s what we all want good CGI to do: help the filmmakers tell a story, not tell it for them.

As a superhero concept, Doctor Strange is a success. How could it not be? Here is a character who has lived on paper (and on some TV screens) since the 1960s. He should know his way around a 120-minute movie by now. And while his destiny – unknowing everyman becomes messianic saviour because he is essentially the Chosen One – borrows heavily from many older heroic tales, Benedict Cumberbatch balances the surprise of learning about his fate and the well-worn experience required to battle demonic apparitions in the Dark Dimension with as much stoic panache as humanly possible.

As a movie that tells an unfolding narrative, however, Doctor Strange is a little less impressive. Strange basically follows in the footsteps of every arrogant jerk turned likeable pal, with Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson) from What Women Want and Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) from Bruce Almighty serving as likely role models. Even his transformation via magical intervention is repeated. The rest resembles Star Wars outfitted with the folding buildings from Inception, or rather what Star Wars will become before the end of 2019. It all still works, though. I just wish the parallels were a little more askew.

Nevertheless, Doctor Strange is pulsating proof that Marvel seldom steps wrong and that their grip on their comic properties is so sure-footed they’ve managed to wait eight years before radically shifting the dynamics of their franchise. While DC is fumbling just to stand, Marvel keeps us guessing, keeps us satisfied, and ensures our astral projections remain spiritually aligned.

Doctor Strange is available in Australian cinemas from October 27

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures 

Movie Review – Boys in the Trees

Are you sick of Australian movies just being about normal blokes in suburbia?  What if we add ghosts ‘n stuff!?

⭐ ½
Cody Fullbrook

Corey (Toby Wallace) and his douchebag friends spend their high school graduation smoking, drinking and bullying school outcast, Jonah (Gulliver McGrath).  Later that night Corey finds Jonah, and out of guilt he walks him home, initiating a surreal trip of memories and regrets.

The two boy’s time together is plagued with absurdity.  Spooky houses, creeping shadows and a man in a white suit have no clear relevance to anything.  The actor’s stilted line delivery is somewhat forgivable since they’re working with pretentious lines like “there’s worse things than falling”, but the odd imagery and Jonah talking like he hopped out of Lewis Carroll’s head creates a foggy story that is constantly uninviting.

The strangeness of the journey is only matched by the boy’s chemistry which arbitrarily fluctuates as Jonah acts snarky then pitiable before switching back. It’s only when Corey interacts with his friend, Jango (Justin Holborow), that Boys In The Trees shows some sparks.  They share a sincere, movie-saving final scene and all their interactions are bursting with energy. Justin play Jango with such confident menace that it’s believable he may end up having a life as grim as the Star Wars character of the same name.

Everyone else, however, doesn’t get enough screen time to show much personality, including Corey’s wannabe girlfriend, Romany (Mitzi Ruhlmann), and his downtrodden father (Terence Crawford).

There was a complete failure to amalgamate three separate stories of Halloween scares, childhood reminiscence and a teenager standing up for himself, and with too much attention focused on pseudo-symbolic moments, the film is never scary, nostalgic or empowering.  With a narrative as messy as it is vague and a plot twist too heavily hinted at to be surprising, Boys In The Trees isn’t worth anyone’s time.

Boys in the Trees is available in Australian cinemas from October 20

Image courtesy of Mushroom Pictures