Monday, 26 September 2016

The Magnificent Seven

By Angie Raphael

This remake is basically a straight-up western of yesteryear with modern cinematography. The film centres around seven gunmen who are gradually assembled by ringleader Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) to help a poor town against the villainous Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). The team of unlikely heroes includes card trickster Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), Mexican tough guy Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), former Civil War shooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), Asian knife-throwing expert Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) and exiled Comanche Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). The film by director Antoine Fuqua is fairly good, but probably unnecessary. I cannot accept remaking a film for modern audiences who refuse to watch the classics. Besides, John Sturges' well-known 1960 film is already an adaptation of The Seven Samurai from 1954. What works in The Magnificent Seven's favour is the talented and multicultural cast. It is also the final film for composer James Horner, who wrote seven pieces before his death. But overall, The Magnificent Seven is drawn-out and predictable. 


Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Snowden

By Angie Raphael

If you never paid much attention to Edward Snowden in the media and you missed the documentary Citizenfour, the film Snowden is a good dramatisation of his story with the basic information covered. Told through a series of flashbacks but rooted in June 2013, the protagonist (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is staying in a Hong Kong hotel where he shares thousands of classified NSA documents with journalists Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo), Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson). Director and co-writer Oliver Stone portrays Snowden as a little too noble and good to be true. It is still a work of fiction based on a true story, so it does not have to be objective, but some balance would have made Snowden a fuller film. Gordon-Levitt gives an understated performance, while the supporting cast is very good including Rhys Ifans, Timothy Olyphant and Nicolas Cage. Unfortunately, Gordon-Levitt's chemistry with Shailene Woodley, who plays Snowden's girlfriend, feels forced. The real Snowden's appearance at the end shows his endorsement, but the film is a little too long with a running time of about two hours and 15 minutes. Nonetheless, if people are not freaked out enough about personal security, Snowden serves as a stark reminder. 


Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Spin Out

By Angie Raphael

While films like The Castle epitomise many of the things we love about Australia, Spin Out seems to focus on aspects of our binge-drinking, bogan culture that many of us would perhaps rather ignore and the results are somewhat embarrassing. Spin Out centres around the annual Bachelors and Spinsters party in a country town and how the various young people interact with each other. Some of the sub-plots are mildly entertaining, including the main romantic storyline involving Billy (Xavier Samuel) and Lucy (Morgan Griffin) who are best friends unable to express their true feelings for each other. But the film, written by Edwina Exton and Tim Ferguson, and directed by Ferguson with Marc Gracie, has a predictable plot and very few laughs for a comedy. It relies heavily on stereotypes, has too many cringeworthy moments and some eye-rolling dialogue. I want to encourage people to see Australian films, but unfortunately this is not one worth recommending. 


Thursday, 8 September 2016

Sully

By Angie Raphael

Most people will remember the day in 2009 when a bird strike forced a plane to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River in New York. It was amazing none of the 155 people onboard died, and the captain was hailed a hero by the passengers and media. But he still had to face a gruelling investigation from the National Transportation Safety Board amid claims he should have returned the plane safely to LaGuardia Airport. It is that issue, which Sully explores in an adaptation of the captain's autobiography. Tom Hanks plays Chesley Sullenberger convincingly and Aaron Eckhart is also very good as his co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles. However, writer Todd Komarnicki produced a messy narrative structure and it affected the momentum. Just when the action picks up, the film suddenly goes to a flashback. An experienced director like Clint Eastwood should know better about keeping the flow going. There are also a couple of insensitive moments when Sully has nightmares and visions of a plane crashing into buildings. The September 11 terrorist attacks may have been 15 years ago, but it hardly seems necessary to include scenes like this just to make the point that Sully is haunted by what happened on the Hudson River. Nonetheless, it is great to see a film depict a victorious story about a plane's emergency landing and the power of community spirit.


Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Bridget Jones's Baby

By Dr Jackie Raphael

The much-loved Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) returns to our lives with the third instalment in the franchise. This time, she is pregnant but is unsure who the father is after a week of debauchery. While Bridget Jones's Baby has several nods to the previous films, it still brings an original plot and fresh laughs. Of course, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) is by her side and a wonderful new addition is brought to the story - Jack, who is played by the charming Patrick Dempsey. No matter how much you may love Darcy, Jack makes a formidable romantic opponent, as they battle for Bridget's affection. The film also works Hugh Grant's rakish Daniel into the story in a clever way. The chemistry between the cast members is fantastic. Fans of the original film will certainly enjoy seeing Bridget onscreen again. 



Monday, 5 September 2016

The Confirmation

By Angie Raphael 

Beautiful in its simplicity, The Confirmation is a sweet story about the important relationship between a father and son. Eight-year-old Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher) is spending the weekend with his alcoholic carpenter dad Walt (Clive Owen) while his mom Bonnie (Maria Bello) goes on a Catholic retreat with her new husband. But things go off to a bad start when Walt is given an eviction notice and his toolbox is stolen, which he needs for his next job to pay his rent. So the pair spend the weekend trying to find out who might have stolen his tools. The film is poignant but also very funny. Anthony is a good boy suddenly exposed to violence, guns and drugs during his bizarre weekend with his father. But along the way, the protagonists bond in an important way. Lieberher is an impressive young actor, building quite a resume for himself after appearances in films such as Midnight Special and St Vincent. Owen is always great to watch and the pair work well together. Patton Oswalt also has a fun role as meth user and thief Drake, who contributes to the pair's wild misadventures. Writer/director Bob Nelson, who wrote the acclaimed 2013 film Nebraska, has made an endearing film with some memorable performances. 


Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Nerve

By Angie Raphael

At the very least, everyone between the age of 13 and 25 should probably see this thrilling and provocative film, which serves as a cautionary tale about teenagers seeking instant fame. Nerve holds a mirror up to young viewers to depict a frightening truth about the excessive use of social media and phone apps. It may be completely fictitious, but it makes some important points about the direction youth culture is headed. Based on Jeanne Ryan's novel, Nerve is about introverted high school senior Vee (Emma Roberts) who, in an attempt to come out of her shell and have some fun, starts playing an online game of dares, and meets Ian (Dave Franco) along the way. But as the dares escalate in intensity, Vee soon starts being manipulated by an anonymous community of “watchers” and it all becomes far too dangerous. Franco and Roberts knew each other before making this film and their comfort with each other boosts their chemistry. Aspects of the story are definitely far-fetched and the ending is a bit of a mess, but directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman keep the film tight at about 95 minutes. Most importantly, Nerve is surprisingly entertaining and shows how out of control peer pressure can become, especially with technology at everyone's fingerprints. 


Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Sunset Song

By Angie Raphael

Modern film fans might feel like Sunset Song lacks relevance and originality in 2016, but the epic novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, from which it has been adapted, was quite powerful in 1932. Set in rural Scotland before the start of World War One, Sunset Song is about Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn), who lives on a farm and must battle a tyrannical and violent father, and societal pressures to be free and happy. Gibbon's book somehow managed to be an empowering coming-of-age story while blending heartache, tragedy, war, sexuality and complex familial relationships. What Chris is forced to endure is really quite remarkable and it was always going to be tough to do the novel justice on-screen. Director Terence Davies has used lighting and music to great effect throughout the film to set the changing mood and Deyn gives a wonderful performance. Sunset Song is more than two hours long and the second half does feel laborious in parts. Nonetheless, it is becoming rare to see stories like this on-screen, so Sunset Song should be appreciated for doing that. 


Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The Carer

By Angie Raphael

It would be easy to dismiss The Carer as a film for “old” people, but there is some substance to the tale and it is perhaps equally appealing to fans of acting, theatre and Shakespeare. Sir Michael Gifford (Brian Cox) is a famed actor living his final years as a recluse in the English countryside while battling Parkinson's. Aspiring Hungarian actress Dorottya (Coco Konig in her film debut) is hired to care for Sir Michael and soon the pair begin to form a strong bond, despite the disapproval of Sir Michael's daughter (Emilia Fox) and housekeeper (Anna Chancellor). Like Sir Michael, Cox is widely revered and gives a very impressive performance, especially in his final scene. He and Konig also share some enjoyable banter throughout the film. Unfortunately, while The Carer is sweet, its story is neither original or as engaging and emotional as similar films like Intouchables.  


Monday, 22 August 2016

Captain Fantastic

By Angie Raphael

Striking the right balance between drama and comedy, Captain Fantastic is a thought-provoking tale with beautiful cinematography and a strong cast. Written and directed by Matt Ross, Captain Fantastic is about Ben (Viggo Mortensen) and his family of six children who have retreated from modern society and capitalism to live in the wilderness. They hunt for food, go rock climbing, read a lot, play music together like the von Trapp family and celebrate Noam Chomsky Day instead of Christmas. But then their mother, who has been in hospital for a few months, dies and the family is banned by her father from attending the funeral. Knowing his wife was a Buddhist who would rather be cremated and have her remains flushed down a toilet, Ben and the children embark on a family road trip to fulfil her wishes. 

Mortensen is captivating and carries the two-hour film almost perfectly. The young cast members around him are also talented and each is given adequate screen time. Some may view Ben as a cult leader, but it can also be argued his influence over his children is not drastically different to any other parent. His children are educated, although not with conventional schooling, and they have important life skills that other youths do not have. Concurrently though, they are deprived of a childhood in some ways because they are treated more like soldiers and are not shielded from the harsh realities of life. Ultimately, Captain Fantastic is an engrossing film that raises a lot of questions worth debating.