Ten Tiny Reviews, Volume Two.

  1. 20,000 Days On Earth (2014)
    9/10
    This film is brilliant: experimental documentary at it’s best. Interesting conversations with unusual people in amazing settings, all set around a well-told abstract narrative.
  2. Million Dollar Arm (2014)
    5/10
    I actually can’t remember if i finished this film. It’s not the worst film you’ll ever see, but it’s boring, patronising and lacks both charm and interest.
  3. Hail, Caesar! (2015)
    10/10
    Absolutely great, particularly if you know about movie making or enjoy old hollywood films. All the performances are charming and convincing; the sets, costumes and humour are all brilliant. So clever and entertaining, it’s the Cohen brothers at their best.
  4. Joy (2015)
    9/10

    This is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it certainly is mine. A brilliant use of abstract realism, it’s an inspiring biographical story of an entrepreneur which focuses more on the hardship than the triumph and has plenty of stressful moments. It feels like a dream and yet so gritty and raw at the same time. Again, great performances.
  5. War Room (2015)
    7.5/10
    This is not a big budget film, and it’s one aimed at a Christian audience – although I’d recommend that anyone can watch it. It has an incredible message and does a good job of condensing complex human, spiritual and relational issues into a neat narrative without oversimplifying or glossing over them. A unique approach and worth a watch.
  6. Mad Max: Fury Road 
    9/10
    This film is so exciting, the look is unique and so is the soundscape. It’ll have you on the edge of your seat the whole time, immersed in this post appocalyptic wasteland with a glimmer of hope that is literally being raced towards. I loved it.
  7. The Longest Yard (2005)
    2/10
    This is just the worst. I couldn’t finish it. It’s not endearing, it’s unoriginal, and it’s not funny.
  8. Zoolander 2 (2015)
    7/10
    Just after the opening sequence there is one of the best pieces of exposition I’ve seen in any film – a hilarious catch up done through news bulletins – it’s worth watching just for that. This film is a mixture of some hilarious jokes that are pretty much up to the standard of the first film, with a whole bunch of b-grade and vulgar silliness. It’s funny to see Zealander in the context of 2015/6 – some pretty funny observational humour is used.
  9. Erin Brokovich (2000)
    9/10
    This is one of my favourites. Julia Roberts is one of those actors that I always think I don’t like, and then I watch her in a film and remember how great she is. This is a wonderful story and it is really well told. Aaron Eckhart’s character and performance are real highlights.
  10. Daddy’s Home (2015)
    7/10

    This is a funny one if you don’t get your expectations too high and just enjoy the jokes. It’s nice seeing Will Ferrel in this dorky role and Mark Wahlberg is great too. The film is nicely made and there’s lots of funny moments.

 

My Documentary Recommendations For Netflix Australia

Little Hope Was Arson: This is definitely one to watch; it’s beautifully shot, really suspenseful and super interesting. The ending of the film shocked me so much that I almost couldn’t breathe for a minute – it’s really an amazing documentary. It’s at times challenging to some of the Churches, families, some of the attitudes, and the justice system, whilst also beautifully presenting the Gospel at times – well worth a watch by everyone.

The Cove: I was late in watching this film, but finally got there. It’s full-on but well worth seeing. It’s really insightful, even if you’ve seen similar documentaries. It’s engaging – giving backstory and context whilst taking you on a journey with the activists.

Blackfish: This is a really sad and interesting film, I felt a little like it was pushing it’s agenda too hard instead of letting the content speak for itself, but it’s still enthralling, important and well worth a watch.

Jonestown: Paradise Lost: Warning – This documentary features a lot of really bad re-enactments which contain a couple of terrible wigs and one set of fake eyebrows. However, it is a very interesting and sad subject, one that is good to be aware of. It focuses mainly on the final days of Jonestown rather than the years leading up or the biography of Jones. In narrowing it’s focus the film is able to be really specific and pretty insightful – it’s also made up of interviews with some of the key survivors.

The Imposter: I love this because it’s so unique – a great example of how documentary can be artistic and in doing so can enhance the audiences understanding of the content rather than muddy it. If you like a thriller movie, if you don’t even like documentary – watch this! It’s super sad and pretty disturbing but definitley a film to see.

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Schwartz: Another sad one – sorry! This film unfolds like a tragedy play – from the beginning you are forewarned of what’s to come and then you slowly watch it all unfold, with ups and downs, knowing that it’s going to end very sad. However, the film also got me quite excited about the people’s power in protest and the amazing good that the internet and freedom of information can bring.

Girl Rising: Sad again, but definitely the kind of sad where you know that you have a responsibility to watch this, to be aware of what’s going on, and then to do something about it! The storytelling here is also really lovely and effective.

Food Inc: This film is an important one for anyone who eats food. I think it’s so key to be educated about what you’re putting in your mouth and fuelling your body with multiple times a day – and in turn to be educated around the industries that you’re contributing to and the future that you’re creating. This documentary makes it easy for you by presenting a bunch of very engaging and digestible (pun intended) facts, figures and stories.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams: This is a Werner Hertzog film, if you know who he is then I suspect you’ve either seen this or you just put it on your watch list. If you don’t know him: Google. This is not the world’s greatest documentary in itself, but it is about the world’s oldest cave paintings, and it’s Werner, so it’s good.

The Queen of Versailles: This is a different kind of sad, a documentary impeccably well timed as they started filming months before the GFC and then continued well after. These are very real people, at times they are lovely and fragile and you feel their pain, but then their complete lack of perspective and the fact their home is filled with nannies who are poverty and grief stricken (having not been able to see their own children for decades) and pets that are literally dying from neglect – is really quite sickening. This documentary is very insightful and looks at marriage and wealth in an interesting way. I also like that it doesn’t feel manipulative or mean, as far as you can be unbiased – I’d say this is.

Other ones to watch: Kids for Cash, The Central Park Five, Life Itself, Super Size Me, Man On Wire, Bowling For Columbine, Kurt & Courtney, Prohibition, Finders Keepers.

My TV Show Recommendations For Netflix Australia

Friday Night Lights: I like this show, it’s an interesting perspective on small town American culture, drinking culture, Church culture over there and football culture, as well as the family unit. You definitely have to pretend that the students are college age instead of teenagers though, other wise it’s just not believable in any way.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Everybody that I know who has seen this show all agrees that it gets better as it goes on. Don’t give up after the first few episodes because it’s worth persevering. Terry Crews is particularly hilarious…and Cwazy Cupcakes.

Downton Abbey: My husband laughs at me for watching what he calls a period drama version of Days of Our Lives. But I like it! The costumes are incredible and I like the way it weaves in various historical elements.

House Of Cards (American): This is very dark and disturbing, mostly thematically. But the performances are amazing and the story is pretty gripping, less so as it goes on though.

Broadchurch: Again very dark and sad, but more great performances and a well written story.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: This show is very funny and clever in an over the top kind of way, sort of like what Ugly Betty would have been like if it was actually good. There are a few elements of humour that I found a bit uncomfortable though.

Arrested Development: This series is truly hilarious (the recent season less so). A great cast, with so many in-jokes that you yourself will quickly become in on.

North & South: This is a mini series. A really good period drama that is equally about romance, the industrial revolution and unions  – good stuff.

We Can Be Heroes: I love this series. The acting performances from both Chris Lilley and the supporting cast are top class. Warning: if you don’t like politically incorrect then this isn’t for you.

Other ones to watch: Angry Boys, Fawlty Towers, Rake, Upper Middle Bogan.

My Movie Recommendations For Netflix Australia

Boy: This is one of my top films. So funny and so sad at the same time. It’s stylised and yet feels really raw and has such authenticity to it. I love this film and can’t recommend it highly enough.

Guardians Of The Galaxy: GOTG is just good entertainment. It’s funny and engaging, has a good soundtrack and graphics as well as some nice performances.

The Cat in the Hat: This film gets a bad wrap but I think it is incredibly hilarious, and weird. Hilariously weird.

Nacho Libre: See previous.

Big Hero 6: What a beautiful film this is. Sad and sweet and wonderfully animated.

Men In Black 3: A surprisingly good film. With an unexpected twist, great pop culture references and performances, I really liked it

Lord of the Rings Trilogy: It surprises me how many people still haven’t seen this. A really great series of films – they’re epic and enthralling and well worth a watch or re-watch.

The Way Way Back: This one has been overlooked – it’s great! Steve Carrell in a serious role, Sam Rockwell as one of the most charismatic characters ever. And I really liked how teenagers behave like actual awkward teenagers, not just immature adults (I think there’s a difference). This film has an appreciation for every day people and it’s so refreshing.

To Kill a Mockingbird: A classic, worth seeing and seeing again by everyone.

True Grit: I love good westerns and this one is creepy and funny and just good. I highly recommend it.

Michael Clayton: This is another one that’s been overlooked. It’s disturbing and slow moving – a very quiet film; but it’s also really poignant and impacting.

The Hurt Locker: I’m not a fan of war movies generally but this is one of the few that I found to be outstanding. It’s slow but tense and doesn’t glorify war – it’s well worth a watch.

Beasts of the Southern Wild: What a unique film this is. Beautifully shot and the visuals are accompanied by a great soundtrack. It will make you cry though!

Rabbit-Proof Fence: A must see, particularly for Australians. This is a gripping, sad and uplifting story, really well told.

Rain Man: Another classic that a lot of people haven’t seen. Tom Cruise is good and Dustin Hoffman is incredible, it’s a great story.

Shutter Island: Not everybody likes this film, but I do. It’s dark and super scary. I didn’t see the twist coming, I think the performances were good and it’s got a very eery feel achieved partly through the amazing setting and weather.

Shotgun Stories: I am yet to find anyone else who has even heard of this film – but I thought it was brilliant. By Jeff Nichols who also directed Mud and Take Shelter, this is a slow moving, tense and sad film. It’s tough to watch but also really gripping and masterfully told – definitely worth watching (and leave a comment with your thoughts if you see it!)

Gravity: The first time I watched this film I was completely enthralled. The second time I watched it I was hoping to disconnect a bit so that I could think about the editing techniques they had used – I was so enthralled the second time that I couldn’t disconnect and dissect the film! It’s really good.

Wall-E: This is such a charming film, with some good social commentary too. The characters are endearing, the animation is good and again, great pop culture references.

Big Fish: Tim Burton at his finest. This is a unique and interesting story – great integration of fantasy and reality and it’s really beautiful to watch.

Metropolis: It is a very long, silent, foreign, old film – but trust me you have to see it! It’s so engaging and absolutely incredible to look at, the story is great and you’ll find that you connect with the characters despite the afore mentioned aspects. Definitely watch this film.

Up: This film has possibly the best piece of exposition I’ve ever seen. The first few minutes are this emotional and endearing backstory that literally brought tears to my eyes. The rest of the film that follows doesn’t disappoint, it’s really cute and unique.

Bee Movie: This film is another one that gets a bad wrap but I really liked it. I love clever pop culture references (as you may have observed) and this has got heaps, plus good puns and Jerry Seinfeld.

Quick list of other ones to watch: Fair Game, Prisoners, Sideways, RED, The Dark Knight, I am Legend, Minority Report, The Terminator, Rush Hour, Argo, Surrogates, Megamind, Harry Potter Series, Robocop (re-make)The Hobbit, Inception, Interstellar, The Matrix, The Princess Bride, Space Cowboys, Bicentennial Man, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Monsters Inc, Cars, Hercules, Space Jam, Lilo and Stitch, Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Horton Hears a Who!, The Emperor’s New Groove, Jumanji, Monsters vs Aliens, Coraline, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, The Adventures of TinTin, Slumdog Millionaire, Get Smart, Mean Girls, Blended, As Good as it Gets.

My quick list of ones to avoid: The Notebook, The Romantics, Tammy, Meet Joe Black, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Mr & Mrs Smith, Jumper, Out of Time, Armageddon, 17 Again, Life As We Know It, Dodgeball.

 

Film Review: Winter’s Tale (2014)

Preface: 

This kind of film is generally not my cup of tea; I watched Winter’s Tale because I was at home sick one weekend. I wasn’t expecting a lot, but I hoped to be entertained for a couple of hours.

Details: 

Directed and co-written by Akiva Goldsman, this being his first role as director of a film, having previously directed a few television episodes. Goldsman is traditionally a producer and writer, having worked on a mixture of very good (e.g, A Beautiful Mind) and very bad (e.g. Mr. and Mrs. Smith) films. The film stars Colin Farrell and Jessica Brown Findlay; the cast also includes Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly and Will Smith who have all worked with Goldsman before.

My Thoughts: 

Gosh, this is a silly movie. I paused the film early on only to find that despite almost nothing having happened, a whole half an hour had passed and even worse – there was an hour and a half left to go.

The performances are generally okay with the chemistry between Colin Farrell and Jessica Brown Findlay being one of the only interesting and convincing elements in the film. Short appearances from Will Smith and Jennifer Connolly are not good at all- Connolly being uncharacteristically flat and Smith just plain laughable (in his defence his character and dialogue are absolutely shocking).

Some of the special effects are decent whilst others are astoundingly bad- notably the magical white horse’s glowing spirit wings (seriously) were very poorly executed, as were the fake lens fares which apparently link everything in the universe together.

As I’ve mentioned in other reviews – I absolutely love the idea of a film creating a kind of absurdist realism – similar to our reality but with peculiar differences. Winter’s Tale attempts this, but fails very miserably by creating a convoluted world without any substance or interest. There is a lot going on (I think??), some of which is explained through opaque and insufficient exposition. It’s outrageously bold in what it attempts, but there’s so little to back it up, making it shallow and almost funny (but not quite laugh-out-loud, so unfortunately it doesn’t really work on that level either).

Within scenes, edits and shots are placed and timed very poorly, for example in an early scene Farrell urgently needs to escape the advancing gang of armed thugs who appear to be barely metres away, but he meanwhile appears to be extremely slowly trying to tame a placid, stationary horse. One could speculate that the overall edit might have removed content that would have helped the plot to make sense. It does feel like perhaps cuts were made in order to fit it into a running time just short of two hours…but then again perhaps that content never existed.

(mild spoilers ahead)

Lastly and most annoyingly, in a bizarre plot twist the gangster played by Russell Crowe goes to visit the devil whom he refers to as Lucifer, and is revealed to himself be a demon. The devil (Will Smith) makes reference to eternal salvation, miracles and evokes apocalyptic Biblical imagery. The only mention of Jesus however is when Farrell says the name in vain in one of the final scenes. The voice over (from Brown Findlay’s character) ends the film with a bland statement about how ‘the universe loves us all equally’ and how we all become stars when we die.

It would be insulting were it not so witless, completely lacking in charm and totally unintelligent.

Agree, disagree, have something to add or another film to suggest? I’d love to hear from you, so post a comment below.

Film Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

Preface:

I’m not at all familiar with the original short story or 1947 film from which I hear this version differs quite a lot – so I approached the film as a stand alone piece. I thought the trailer looked quite good, but like it may be a little contrived. Also I find Ben Stiller to be a bit hit-and-miss, and I had heard mixed reviews of this film in particular. But I was looking forward to seeing it for myself.

Details: 

The director and star is Ben Stiller, with Kristen Wiig as costar. Also featured are Kathryn Hahn, Adam Scott, Patton OswaltShirley MacLaine and Sean Penn. Written by Steve Conrad, inspired by an original short story by James Thurber, and subsequent film directed by Norman Z. Mcleod. You can read more about the film, cast and crew on imdb.

Thoughts: 

A stand out aspect of TSLOWM is the compositing and also special effects – the integration of fantasy and reality in the story is matched (if not surpassed) by the visual integration of the two. The clever visuals add so much to the humour and help to engage the audience in the world that Walter is experiencing.

The humour is both clever and charming, the characters are endearing and I think fairly realistic. Ben Stiller really proved himself as an effective director of actors, drawing convincing performances from all the cast members – with too many wonderful performances to name.

The scenery is absolutely breathtaking and I am astounded by how a film with so many sweeping extreme wide shots can feel so intimate and personal – it’s expertly shot by Stuart Dryburgh. The colour palette is beautiful, it’s all very human and feels fantastical – but not beyond reach – at all times.

The soundtrack captures so much of the mood of the film, it’s also very current and creates a distinct atmosphere around the experience.

The inclusion of various cultures, geographical locations, intertextual references (Bowie and Benjamin Button are highlights), nature, urban settings and a wide variety of characters and experiences make this film such a rich and enjoyable experience.

Score: 9.1/10

Agree, disagree, have something to add or another film to suggest? I’d love to hear from you, so post a comment below.

Ten Tiny Reviews, Volume One.

Transcendence (2014):

5/10

If you’ve seen the trailer then you’ve got a good idea of what the film’s like. Johnny Depp is great as always but he can’t save this one. It’s a huge concept, treated poorly, without care or consideration by the script. Plot holes and inconsistencies left me thinking – if I’d have presented this script to my high school english teacher she’d have said ‘great idea, now rewrite the draft ten times and then we’ll have a script’.

August Osage County (2013):

8.2/10

This will not be everyone’s cup of tea but I really liked it. Brave casting places Benedict Cumberbatch as a southern American, and puts Julia Roberts and Dermot Mulroney back together in a totally different context to the last film they were in together (My Best Friend’s Wedding -1997). All performances are outstanding. It’s a great stage to cinema adaptation. The plot is enthralling, the drama is very tense and is really effectively broken up with a little black comedy. It’s visually beautiful and painstaking realistic.

Frozen (2013):

8.1/10 There’s a lot of hype around this one and it lives up to it. I found the songs annoying when I heard them out of context but they really work in the film. It’s a great modern take on the disney fairytale, and not in a contrived way at all. The characters are fun and endearing and the plot is engaging and surprising. Definitely worth a watch.

Pitch Perfect (2012):

1/10

Words cannot describe just how bad this film is. ‘Juvenile’ does’t come close to describing the lack of taste and intelligence in the ‘humour’, I didn’t laugh once. The characters and plot are so paper thin and the production is plastic. The dialogue and plot are like a slap in the face. I don’t have much else to say other than that I hated this film. Disclosure: I actually didn’t finish watching ‘Pitch Perfect’ – I was home sick and so I rented it. I got half an hour in before I decided I couldn’t take anymore and turned it off. Then when I couldn’t find anything else to watch I thought ‘how bad can it really be? I’ll just put it back on’, 15 minutes later I turned it off again.

X Men: Days of Future Past (2014):

6/10

I really wanted to love this film, but didn’t. They so obviously wrote the screenplay around which cast members are the most popular at the moment (Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Peter Dinklage…). I’m happy to suspend disbelief and forgive plot inconsistencies in this type of film, but DOFP goes way too far. It makes references to some, but not all, other X Men films, asking you to remember some bits and forget others. And even as a self contained piece it’s so ludicrous that it lacks tension because it’s almost impossible to really engage in the silliness. I didn’t totally hate the film, but I wanted to love it so I was disappointed. It has a great look and some exciting moments, particularly with the character Quicksilver – played by Evan Peters and aided by some great visual effects.

Lions For Lambs (2007):

5/10

Just like Robert Redford‘s most recently directed film ‘The Company You Keep‘ (2012), this film had a lot of promise (starring Meryl Steep and so on), but unfortunately the best way to describe it is BORING. It’s three loosely intertwined stories, the one about the soldiers stranded in the middle of a battle in Afghanistan was interesting and was quite a raw and unique depiction of war. The other two stories lacked any depth or interest and the film felt weirdly like watching a play.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014):

6.2/10

I didn’t want to watch this film, I’m not a fan of Keira Knightley or Chris Pine, but I was pleasantly surprised. Kenneth Brannagh plays a good Russian and does a decent job as director. The action is fairly contained, the characters have depth, and on the modest level that it aims for – it works. I enjoyed the film for what it was.

The Butler (2013):

5.3/10

Watching ‘The Butler’ feels like watching a tele-movie. It’s glossy but not too impressive, some of the performances are not good while others are fairly convincing (Mariah Carey doesn’t set things off to a good start). Probably the most interesting part is waiting for each new president to arrive on the scene so you can see who has been cast in the role. The film brings almost nothing new despite the great true story behind it. It’s not particularly interesting or exciting, it’s just okay.

Shoah (1985):

8.8/10

If you’re in the mood for a nine hour holocaust documentary then this is the film for you. Shoah is a really unique approach with interesting interviews, some revisiting sites, reenacting journeys, with some even filmed by secret cameras. It’s transparent and self aware – even featuring an argument between the director and a translator over the accuracy of the translation. It’s confronting and fresh in it’s perspective. I watched ‘Shoah’ over three sittings. It’s a big ask but I’d really suggest everyone watch it at least once in their life time.

The Artist (2011):

9.8/10

I went to the film with high expectations and I left very happy. This film has so much charm, the cast are absolutely brilliant, the black and white and mostly silent nature of the film work so well and are not pretentious or contrived in the slightest. It captures the feel of Charlie Chaplin films all over again and I think that is so exciting to see in a contemporary film. ‘The Artist’ is so engaging and so endearing, it’s really a cinema gem.

BONUS REVIEW! Closed Circuit (2013):

6/10

Watching this film I said, ‘I can’t tell if Eric Bana‘s acting is bad or if the script is bad’, the reply I got was: ‘I think it’s both’. It’s not a terrible film, again it feels a little like a tele-movie, but it holds interest and has some moments of tension – notably the height of the drama just before the film ends, quite a heart wrenching scene. It’s not the greatest movie you’ll ever see, but it’s fine for a friday night thriller.

Agree, disagree, have something to add or another film to suggest? I’d love to hear from you, so post a comment below.

Film Review: ‘Her’ (2013)

Preface:

From the first time I heard of this film I felt it could go either way for me. I liked some of Jonze‘s previous work – ‘Adaptation.’ (2002), ‘Where the Wild Things Are‘ (2009) and ‘Being John Malkovich‘ (1999). I can’t say I’m a fan of the ‘Jackass‘ franchise though (is anyone else a little weirded out to know he writes a lot of their stuff?).

I had several people recommend the film and I read some very positive reviews, so I was interested to see ‘Her’ for myself.

Details:

Directed and written by Spike Jonze, starring Joaquin Phoenix and the voice of Scarlett Johansson; with an impressive supporting cast featuring Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and Chris Pratt. Cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema (a first time collaboration). Music by Arcade Fire. Edited by Jeff Buchanan (frequent editor for a favourite director of mine – Michel Gondry) and Eric Zumbrunnen (frequent editor for Jonze).

Thoughts:

I did not love this film, it was interesting and yet not at all captivating, but ‘Her’ certainly has elements to appreciate.

The cinematography in ‘Her’ is beautiful, but not classically cinematic in it’s aesthetic, and I think this is a really effective technique here. The lighting appears very naturalistic as does the somewhat desaturated colour grade, the camera angles are slightly awkward and unpretentious and there is really effective integration of digital buildings and signage. All up giving the film an air of near-future, dystopian naturalism.

There is a seediness to the film that I find uncomfortable and unpleasant. In my opinion this is present in almost all Spike Jonze’s work, but is particularly off-putting in ‘Her’. It decreases as the film plays out though.

I find that Spike Jonze is an excellent director of actors – drawing out very effective performances from all cast members. The supporting cast are particularly good, they are given a lot to work with and they make the most of it. Rooney Mara and Amy Adams deserve a special mention for their full, interesting and convincing performances.

‘Her’ is a relatively long film at just over two hours, and it feels long. In a way the dragging-on works: it’s slow, and fairly relentless in making you feel like you yourself are part of the long, complicated and dysfunctional relationship.

At the end of the film I did not care at all about the central relationship – it was somewhat interesting, but it didn’t endear me in the slightest and I didn’t really care what happened, if anything I’d say I prefer that the relationship end. I couldn’t say whether this means that the film was unsuccessful in it’s narrative and characterisation, or if Jonze achieved success in polarising – or perhaps alienating – people around a complex (and probably not entirely unrealistic) concept of intimate human/AI relationship.

Having recently watched ‘Transcendence’ (2014), I found ‘Her’ to be a much more interesting and convincing exploration of the advancement of artificial intelligence – perhaps because it didn’t bite off more than it was willing to chew. ‘Transcendence’ touched on the often evoked concept of humanity creating a god – even ‘replacing’ or making God seemingly redundant via our own creation. But I actually think this idea can be looked at in reverse. For a long time (perhaps all time) humanity has considered itself highly intelligent, informed and moral, so much so that God can at times be rejected because of our inflated sense of our own morality and knowledge. ‘Her’ presents artificially intelligent beings that are basically omnipresent, highly functional and have the ability to become essentially omniscient. I think that recognition of the degree to which AI will potentially surpass us could in fact lead to peoples acceptance of how limited our capacity to experience the huge and complex world around us is, how narrow our world view can be, and how restricted our level of knowledge really is; and as a result lead people to an openness to God. I hope it will.

Agree, disagree, have something to add or another film to suggest? I’d love to hear from you, so post a comment below.

Score: 6.8/10

Film Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Preface

Wes Anderson is probably my favourite director, my all-time favourite film being ‘The Royal Tennenbaums’ (2001). I don’t love every one of his films, but particularly ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ (2009) and ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’ (2004) are big favourites of mine. Anderson’s most recent film before TGBH (that’s right I’m abbreviating it) was ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ (2012). Whilst I thought that film had a lot of charm and I enjoyed watching it, I also thought it felt a bit contrived. It seemed to me that what had been unique about Wes Anderson had become a style that had in recent years saturated popular culture, and I feared he was heading in a direction where he’d just blend in. I loved the previews for ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ and I had heard some very positive reviews, so I went to the film hoping to see Wes Anderson at his best again (but in a fresh way).

Details

Directed by Wes Anderson and starring a huge and hugely talented cast including: Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law, Tom Wilkinson, F. Murray Abraham, Willem Defoe, Jeff Goldblum, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Saorise Ronan, and brilliant young new talent Tony Revolori.

Anderson teams up with some of his regular crew of quirky talent with Robert D Yeoman as cinematographer and Milena Canonaro as costume designer, and for the first time employs Barney Pilling as editor and Stephan O. Gessler in art direction.

My Thoughts

Two of my favourite things in cinema are: to see realism and absurdism combined (think ‘Synecdoche New York’ (2008), ‘Mood Indigo’ (2013) or ‘The Life Aquatic…’), and to see various kinds of animation and/or visual effects integrated with live action. Both were executed masterfully in this film.

I realised half way through the film that I hadn’t taken conscious note of the musical score – it’s perfectly paired with the visuals and the pace of the edit. I’m a big fan of a definitive score (some will disagree but I thought it was a crime Hans Zimmer lost out on the Oscar for ‘Inception’ (2010)), but I also think music can be used unobtrusively, enhancing strong visuals without taking centre stage, and that’s exactly what it does here.

The costume, hair and make-up are Oscar nomination worthy – with Tilda Swinton being almost completely unrecognisable as the lead’s ill fated octogenarian love interest.

Pilling (the film’s editor) has a list of previous credits that include ‘An Education’ (2009) and ‘Quartet’ (2012)- so I wouldn’t have picked him as a natural collaborator with Anderson – but I was completely blown away by the result. I didn’t know who the editor was when I saw the film, but my impression was that it must have been someone Anderson had worked with before, and that they’d really hit the nail on the head this time. I was stunned to find out it was a first time collaboration, and I hope it’s not their last. Some of the shots and sequences are extremely brief, there are also classic Anderson lengthy single angle conversations and wide angle follow shots. The cinematography is brilliant as always, making use of quick zooms, extreme wide shots and capturing the production design perfectly in every scene (can you think of a more exciting set for a Wes Anderson film than a mountain top mansion hotel!).

For really the first time Wes Anderson employs a fair bit of comic violence – not my favourite cinematic tool, but it’s well executed here (sorry about the pun). I think it could have been toned down a little, not that it was graphic, I just thought it seemed a little nasty. But maybe it worked in creating contrast for the more charming characters.

All the performances are exceptional, with Willem Defoe just as repulsive as Jeff Golblum is endearing (to highlight just two). Ralph Fiennes deserves a special mention in a role which is very different for him. Under normal circumstances I’d say a performance like that made the film, but there’s just so much to celebrate in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’.

This film is a completely charming comedy that drew me in without me realising just how immersed I was, and just how much I cared about the characters, until the end. TGBH is a truly great cinema experience, and I’m looking forward to seeing it many times again.

Agree, disagree, have something to add or another film to suggest? I’d love to hear from you, so post a comment below.

Score: 9.9/10 

Film Review: The Monuments Men 2014

Preface

Reviews for ‘The Monuments Men’ have not been great. Toward the end of last year Chris and I had been following the film and looking forward to it’s early 2014 release, but after hearing almost every reviewer and cinema goer say the same thing, the urgency to see the film wore off. What I (and probably you also?) had heard was that the film didn’t afford enough time to any of it’s many characters, and so lacked depth and interest. I think a lot was expected of Clooney, having delivered brilliantly on previous directorial efforts like ‘Good Night and Good Luck’ and just coming from an excellent performance in the hugely successful ‘Gravity’. Last night we got around to seeing ‘The Monuments Men’.

Details

Directed by George Clooney, who also stars along with Matt Damon, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett, Jean DuJardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, Dimitri Leonidas and Bill Murray (to name just a few of the stellar performers). Based on a true events, and on a book. The film follows the recruitment and subsequent mission of a team of art appreciating professionals who endeavour to salvage and return stolen art across Europe as World War 2 comes to it’s end.

My thoughts

I’ll start by saying that I like this film a lot. I disagree with the idea that the audience aren’t given enough time with the individual characters. In my view a great script, effective direction and outstanding performances deliver authentic and highly endearing characters (and not caricatures), with enough hints for you to fill in the gaps on home life and back story, and without any heavy handed exposition.

The casting stands out in this film (with credit to Casting Director Jina Jay and of course George Clooney). Bob Balaban and Bill Murray have only worked together once before (recently too – in ‘Moonrise Kingdom’), they’ll appear together again briefly in Wes Anderson’s latest feature ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, and I sincerely hope it won’t be their last collaboration – what a great pairing. There’s so much heart in this film, and it feels like a lot of that came from the actors’ genuine connection to their characters. Jean DuJardin is as charming, and Cate Blanchett as convincing, as ever. George Clooney and Matt Damon revisit their Ocean’s series roles in new appropriations, but they do it oh-so-well, so I think we can forgive them that. And I could go on – but all the performances are great.

‘The Monuments Men’ is not in the same vein as ‘Good Night and Good Luck’ or ‘The Ides of March’. It’s not an in-depth character study; and I think it’s vital in viewing the film that you take for what it is. The editing retro in style, with jumps in time and location, but it’s well executed and easy to follow. There have been countless deeply serious and reflective cinematic depictions and explorations of World War 2 (many very effective and important). The mass loss of life in such heinous circumstances certainly lends itself to somber cinematic treatment. However ‘The Monuments Men’ manages to be upbeat, engaging, amusing and fun, yet not without being highly reflective, at times sad, and almost never trivialising the serious subject matter. (There was only one moment in the film that I felt did not afford the weight to the subject matter that it deserved. I’ll refrain from discussing it here though, as I think it’s better for viewers to see it and make their own discernment). This film is an excellent piece of communication, exploring the subject matter in a unique way and shedding light on certain elements of war that are often not discussed. Other then the obvious, one truth that I felt was explored painfully, beautifully and effectively was how unglamorous a heroic death can be. It can be very lonely, and with the benefit of hindsight – it could often have been so easily avoided, and outside of the broader context which time and distance provide – I suspect it rarely seems heroic at all to the hero themself.

Second to the major theme of the film (which I will discuss last), is the theme of mate-ship and comradery (American not Australian). Many people will say that the film is cheesy and corny (and it is) but I loved this aspect of it. It’s so refreshing to see masculinity and male friendship centred around men from different demographics bonding over the celebration and preservation of human art and culture, as well as over mutual respect and affection. This is rare, necessary, and good. Although I think it’s worth a mention that associated with comradery and masculinity in this film comes a gratuitous use of faux-cool smoking – it would be nice to see something which has lead to so much human suffering and death not continue to be used as an iconic symbol of cool.

The costuming and production design are all good – archival photographs used in the end credits reveal they are also accurate. The cinematography is also noteworthy – nothing ground breaking, just a really effective use of light and mise-en-scene (credit to Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, who has a list of effective and understated work to his name).

‘The Monuments Men’ is also unashamedly and overtly patriotic. Blatant (and largely unflattering) stereotypes are used to portray the French and the Russians. It’s not nasty, but it’s certainly over simplified in this particular respect.

Lastly I’d like to address the major point of the film- the question ‘Is art worth a life?’ As a Christian I find this an interesting and difficult question. So here’s my thinking on it:     Value measured one for one, no art work could ever equal the value of any single human being (all persons being ‘perfectly and wonderfully made’ ‘in God’s image’). But in this temporary earthly life, is the pursuit of art preservation in a time of ultimate crisis a worthy and noble cause, even to the point of sacrificing one’s life? With a sense of the eternal in mind – I think, yes it certainly can be.

Agree, disagree, have something to add or another film to suggest? I’d love to hear from you, so post a comment below.

Score 7.9/10

Film Review: Standard Operating Procedure (2008)

 

Preface 

I’ve always been interested in Errol Morris, from his causing Werner Herzog to (literally) eat his shoe (well worth a google if you don’t already know about it), to his bringing about of legal justice through the exceptional film ‘Thin Blue Line’ (1988).

In my final year of university we were tasked with taking on a personal research project (as you can read about in other sections of this site). I chose to delve into the black hole that is documentary ethics. As part of my primary research I conducted four interviews with documentary filmmakers. One interviewee spoke about how she had walked out of a screening of ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ because, as she put it, “what Morris is doing is so difficult, ethically…”. That haunting warning along with my existing knowledge of the heavy and unpleasant (to say the least) subject matter, made me put the film in my ‘have-to-be-in-the-right-mood-to-watch-it’ category. Finally, I braved a viewing of ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ a few weeks ago, and I’m very glad I did.

Details 

Directed by Errol Morris, the film interviews US army personnel (sans those still in jail) associated with torture at Abu Ghraib during the recent Iraq war. Music by Danny Elfman and cinematography by Robert Chappell and Robert Richardson.

My Thoughts 

I am a huge fan of using artistic cinematic techniques (be it cinematography, motion graphics, animation, music…) in documentary to help communicate realities effectively and authentically, but without embellishing on or inhibiting the information. This is my goal in documentary making, and Errol Morris has achieved it fully in this film.

Usually I would say I loved and enjoyed a film which I hold in as high regard as I do ‘Standard Operating Procedure’, but these are not terms one would use in this case. The film is confronting to the point of being utterly sickening; it’ll make you angry, sad and disillusioned, but not without purpose. It doesn’t allow the audience to escape the realities, but Morris does space out the most confronting content. And every element is presented visually and sonically in such a captivating way.

Reenactments in documentary are generally notorious for being poorly executed and making the audience squirm, but not so here. Close up, abstract shots of the brutal acts being described give the viewer a distinct sense of being witness to despicable acts- imploring a sense of responsibility to not be complacent and let these things occur. Some slow motion is also utilised with great affect.

Footage and photographs from the actual events are used extensively. There were two moments when I personally had to look away. There is nothing more saddening in life than human beings taunting, harming and humiliating others for the enjoyment of themselves and/or other observers. A lack of dignity, a lack of respect for and treasuring of human life -that’s the opposite of good, it’s evil. I would not say that the use of the footage and photographs was gratuitous, that being said, I can certainly understand and respect the views of those that did find it so. It is too much to cope with, it is uncomfortable, sad and sickening, but it’s a reality and I think it’s something that should not be quickly pushed aside and forgotten. This sobering reminder will hopefully help bring accountability and perspective so that this kind of behaviour doesn’t continue.

Text and motion graphics, such as timelines, are also used incredibly effectively to communicate dry but important factual information like dates. And as usual, the Danny Elfman soundtrack is heavy handed and yet incredibly poignant and effective – adding another facet to the strong voice of the film.

I found Morris conspicuously absent in this film, where I haven’t found him so in other works. It would be easy (albeit somewhat ironic or even hypocritical) to harshly interrogate some of the interviewees, but Morris doesn’t fall into that trap. It’s not necessary to condemn the acts and attitudes out right, this artistic and authentic exploration of the events and people, speaks for itself. ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ has inspired me to look further into Morris’ interview technique; as I remarked while watching the film – ‘how on earth does he elicit such captivating responses from every single personality he interviews?’.

The relevance of the title seems obvious even before viewing ‘Standard Operating Procedure’; but in the final moments of the film it gains a greater weight, with it’s full and stinging significance revealed. The audience are left with stirring sense of injustice, a discomfort with what people can excuse or allow. As angry and disgusted as this film will make you, it’s lack of direct judgement and condemnation of the perpetrators allows for grace and sober reflection. We are all very flawed human beings and it’s scary to think that when people feel there is no accountability, for some there is a capacity to dehumanise each other to such an abhorrent degree.

This is an exceptional film, a triumph for documentary, and a sobering mirror for humanity.

Score: 9/10

Agree, disagree, have something to add or another film to suggest? I’d love to hear from you, so post a comment below.

Film Review: Rush (2013)

Score: 5.8/10

Preface

I had seen that Rush was not a big commercial success and had heard mixed reports – that it over glorified James Hunt, that it was enjoyable even to those who didn’t have an interest in or knowledge of Formula One racing and so on. What may come as a surprise to many is that I do have some knowledge of Formula One and the figures and culture from the sport’s recent history. Further to that it holds a fairly special place in my heart as the reason for my awareness is that my family are huge fans of the sport and in particular the iconic late hero Ayrton Senna, after whom my brother is named (as an aside I highly recommend the Senna 2010 documentary). So I watched the film without high expectations, but with hopes to be able to afford it high praise.

Details

The 2013 film is directed by the legendary Ron Howard and stars the increasingly impressive Chris Hemsworth (as James Hunt) and the equally engaging Daniel Brühl (as Niki Lauda). Supporting performances are given by Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara and a host of other talented actors. Music by Hans Zimmer, Cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle (who frequently works with Danny Boyle and is a big supporter of digital) and written by Peter Morgan.

The narrative explores the rivalry between the two protagonists, beginning with their early days in Formula Three.

My Thoughts

Let’s begin with the filter through which we watch this film. For the most part – a viewer should not be aware of a film’s colour grade, and for me I just couldn’t move past it in watching Rush. It’s like watching a two hour Instagram photo. I understand that they were going for a retro 1970’s feel with blue blacks, plenty of saturation and pale grain. But for me this really didn’t work, the visually vibrant subject matter that encompasses both a fairly gritty reality and a glamourised sport doesn’t require such a heavy handed filter.

The first half an hour (of the two hour running time), plays out much like a trailer. The pace is quick, there is little depth, it’s very flashy but as a viewer I didn’t enter in to the world and so quickly became bored (for those who have seen Jobs (2013), I felt this way about the entire film). First hand narration is used in the early minutes of the film, switching between Hunt and Lauda’s accounts of their early days entering the sport. Whilst I think this technique can work, it’s very ‘now’, I feel it’s become overused and is often a rather lazy way of providing exposition.

Hemsworth and Brühl, along with the supporting cast, all give great performances, but unfortunately the two leads aren’t given enough to work with. With two strong and extreme personalities to portray (the social playboy Hunt and the disciplined loner Lauda, having only their talent and arrogance in common) it would be very easy for them to fall in to caricature, and sadly, in Rush they did. Whilst I do understand that these are extreme personalities, I don’t think they (or their rivalry) were afforded the depth of real characters and experiences. It felt like we were exploring the publicised media version of the heroes and the rivalry, rather than the real life realties. And maybe that was deliberate, but for me it was disappointing.

The cinematography can’t really be faulted in what was presented on screen, but I feel that opportunities to be more creative were definitely missed. With a big budget ($38 million) and one of the most vibrant, exciting and huge sports for subject matter, I was expecting to be blown away by the cinematography. It may be a matter of taste but I think aerial and point-of-view shots were seriously under utilised.

I’m a big fan of integrating animation and motion graphics in film. In Rush, text is used to fill the audience in on who is winning various races. In theory this works as creative exposition, but it didn’t work well on screen for me in this case. It felt really jarring with the surrounding scenes – not helped by the technique being employed inconsistently throughout the timeline of the film.

The last 45 minutes of Rush were engaging, the pace slowed and more depth was explored in terms of character and narrative. But by this point the film had already lost me, and so I didn’t engage in it as much as I would have otherwise liked to.

The sound design (which I’m sure would have been better appreciated in the cinema), is worth a mention as another good point.

Overall I found Rush disappointing. Whilst it was by no stretch a terrible film, it really didn’t soar in many areas at all, despite having great cast, crew and subject matter.

Agree, disagree, have something to add or another film to suggest? I’d love to hear from you, so post a comment below.