Sunday, 30 September 2012

James Dean


Many of you will know (because it says so in my Twitter biography) that I am obsessed with the late American actor, James Dean. Why does a woman from Generation Y care about a man born in 1931? I'll tell you why…

Today marks the 57th anniversary of James Dean's death. He was just 24-years-old when he was killed in a car accident on his way to a car racing competition - a hobby he did in his spare time when he wasn't acting. He had worked on Broadway, studied at The Actors Studio alongside Marlon Brando and Paul Newman, and made several films before his untimely death. But Dean had a starring role in just three films - East of Eden, Rebel Without A Cause and Giant. Interestingly, only East of Eden had been released at the time. Rebel soon followed, and then finally, Giant was also released into cinemas in 1956. Nonetheless, the world mourned Dean's tragic death on September 30, 1955 and many flocked to the cinema to see his final two films.

Thanks largely to his role in Rebel (we all know the famous red jacket, white shirt and blue jeans ensemble), Dean became an icon and a hero for youth around the world. He represented the lonely, tortured, sad, misunderstood and moody. He epitomised the meaning of the word "cool" while also being seen as a sensitive and quiet thinker. What Kurt Cobain was to youth in the 90's, Dean was to teenagers in the 50's.

Dean's image can be seen today on everything from posters to mugs, clocks, license plates and lunch boxes, yet his career was so short. While the lustre of other fantastic actors of his generation have begun to fade for many youth of today, Dean's iconic status remains. He is accessible to youths because they can still relate to him.

I learnt about Dean when I was a teenager. I watched his films and was amazed at his acting ability. Every nuance, every body movement down to the tilt of his head was powerful to watch. He acted with his whole body and used his expressive face to show pain, anger, sadness and fear. He wasn't the first actor to act this way, but Dean was the best at doing it. I re-watched the films many times, not even paying attention to the other actors or the plot, but just watching Dean and his every quirk. My fascination with the actor ran deeper after that. I read every book I could find about Dean, trying to understand him and how his experiences affected his acting.

Dean had no idea he would be an icon and poster boy for youth struggling to find their place in the world. However, his legacy lives on today because youth will always need someone to look to for inspiration and understanding. Whether rightly or wrongly, Dean's memory has long been flying that flag. He played tragic anti-heroes on film and somehow became a tragic anti-hero in real life.

Dean once said, "If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, if he can live on after he's dead, then maybe he was a great man." Indeed.

Here's a look at some of his best work:

East of Eden (1955)



Rebel Without A Cause (1955)



Giant (1956)



What's your favourite James Dean film?

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Looper


WRITTEN BY: Rian Johnson
DIRECTED BY: Rian Johnson
TARRING: Joseph Gordon Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Pierce Gagnon
ATING: 4.5 stars

Looper is basically what happens when you mix Terminator, Inception and X-Men together. Trust me when I say it will probably blow your mind. It's very hard to make a good film about time travel. They inevitably present a series of plot holes and unanswerable questions. Often, that can be distracting because we need to accept the conventions of a science fiction film before we can immerse ourselves in it to enjoy it. But, Looper cleverly answers most of these questions and actually makes sense. The film is exciting, original, well thought-out and satisfying.

Thirty years from now, time travel will be invented but outlawed. In 2044, hit men called loopers work for a crime syndicate in 2074. Anyone they want killed is sent back in time and the looper's job is to shoot them dead. The person vanishes from 2074 and the looper disposes of someone who technically doesn't exist. But, when the syndicate tries to "close the loop" on Joe (Bruce Willis), they send him back for his younger self (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to kill. But the older Joe has a happy life with a wife (Qing Xu) and doesn't want to die. Soon, he and his younger self are on the run from the 2044 criminals, led by Abe (Jeff Daniels). While older Joe tries to track down an enemy from the future, younger Joe takes refuge on a corn farm where Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon) live. He also plans on finding his older self and killing him, as originally planned, in the hopes that his boss's thugs don't kill him. The plot gets a lot more complicated than that, but I don't want to give away any spoilers.

Even though Gordon-Levitt and Willis don't look alike, they actually do in this film thanks to make-up and prosthetics. This is also a testament to Gordon-Levitt's acting ability. He acts like Willis and it's convincing. Willis is also perfectly cast in his role, while Daniels is impressively menacing. Blunt plays a good tough farm woman and protective mother, but it is Gagnon who deserves the most praise. He is quite simply amazing, especially for his young age. I hope he is one child star who manages to stay drug free and sane in Hollywood. He could have a very bright future.

My only criticism was that there was one scene where this intelligent and complex film was almost belittled into a Bruce Willis action film. I love watching Willis kick arse as much as the next Die Hard fan, but this was not the film for that kind of ridiculous action. It's a more serious action film than that. In fact, the gruesome blood level was outstanding in Looper. A few people around me seemed to squirm during some gross scenes. I also found the film a bit slow-paced in a few scenes, but even that is a minor criticism because there is so much information thrown the audience's way that the slow pace probably helps to absorb the complex plot.

It's not everyday you watch a film with no real good guys and still get gripped by the story and action. If you had never heard of writer/director Rian Johnston before Looper, you'll be sure to remember his name now.


Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Mental


WRITTEN BY: P. J. Hogan
DIRECTED BY: P. J. Hogan
STARRING: Toni Collette, Rebecca Gibney, Anthony LaPaglia, Liev Shreiber, Lily Sullivan
RATING: 1.5 star

For a film based largely on real life events, Mental was too weird to be believable. Australian writer/director P. J. Hogan, who gave us Muriel's Wedding, had an unusual childhood. Family members with various mental illnesses and an unusual, mentally unstable role model were among the people that shaped Hogan's early years, and it seems they continue to influence and inspire him today. He has used the roller coaster of emotions that go with mental instability as a platform to explore mental illness - including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder and others - in a funny and serious way. Mental should have been a fantastic film. It has an impressive cast, a good idea and it means well. Unfortunately, Mental lost the plot and did not work at all.

The film opens with Shirley Moochmore (Rebecca Gibney) singing the title song from The Sound of Music. We learn that Shirley may be mentally unstable and her five daughters think they might be too. But the family is trying to protect their public image because Shirley's husband Barry (Anthony LaPaglia) is running for mayor. He sends his wife to a mental institution and finds Shaz (Toni Collette) hitch-hiking on the side of a road, and brings her into his house to care for his children. But there's something not quite right about Shaz. While she helps the girls embrace their own "crazy" it seems she might actually be the one is who is "mental" and needs saving.

I thought Mental was going to end about five times before it finally did. That's how disjointed and messy the storytelling was. Without a clear idea about what the plot was, you never quite knew when you had reached a resolution. I also got bored with the constant moral lesson being preache
d that we are all a little bit "mental" and that's what makes us great. However, it wasn't all bad. The shark analogy and Sound of Music references were good, although they sometimes went too far. Speaking of going too far, there is one scene which involves menstrual bleeding on white couches that was both disgusting and unnecessary. There was also a rape reference, which was so offensive, I nearly walked out. There is no way to make rape funny.
The best aspect of the film was the acting. Everyone gave fantastic performances including a singing, dancing and unusually overweight Gibney who carried the first part of the film. The girls who play her children including Coral (Lily Sullivan), Michelle (Malorie O’Neill), Leanne (Nicole Freeman), Kayleen (Chelsea Bennett) and Jane (Bethany Whitmore) were also very impressive. It's hard to believe this was Sullivan's first film because she was great. Sam Clark, who plays Coral's love interest, was also fun to watch, as was Deborah Mailman who provided some great laughs. LaPaglia also gave a solid performance, while Collette seemed to be channelling one of her United States of Tara characters. But it was Liev Schreiber who stole the film with his flawless Australian accent playing Coral's boss, Trevor Blundell.

I really wanted to like Mental. It's obvious that the issue and bizarre semi-autobiographical story of Hogan's childhood affected him greatly and this is an important film for him. He said he made this film for Australians. Unfortunately, it appears he tried a little too hard to make light of a serious issue and left us with a confusing, weird and ultimately uninspiring film.


Sunday, 23 September 2012

On The Road Competition


Here's your chance to win one of five double passes to a special “book to screen” event for On The Road, directed by Walter Salles.
Luna Leederville will host the event on Friday, September 28 at 6.30pm. Following a screening of the film (starring Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley and Kristen Stewart) a panel including film, media and literary experts will discuss the adaptation of Jack Keouac's classic novel to film.
To enter, simply email alistreviews@yahoo.com explaining in 100 words or less what you love most about Kerouac's book?
Winners will be contacted via email and will have their tickets mailed to them. Entries close 12pm Wednesday, September 26.


Thursday, 20 September 2012

Bait 3D


WRITTEN BY: John Kim, Russell Mulcahy
DIRECTED BY: Kimble Rendall
STARRING: Xavier Samuel, Martin Sacks, Julian McMahon, Sharni Vinson, Phoebe Tonkin, Lincoln Lewis, Dan Wyllie.
RATING: 3.5 stars

Remember the cute Asian kid Data (Jonathan Ke Quan) in The Goonies? There is one scene in Bait 3D where it felt like I was watching that kid all grown up and still making odd inventions. We're all aware of shark suits, but what about one made out of a shopping trolley? Well that's just one of the outrageous things we are presented with in Bait 3D. If you love shark films, you'll probably love Bait 3D. It's not a good film, but it is certainly an enjoyable film. There is everything you expect from a shark film - namely, attractive people being killed off one by one in inventive ways - and in this film, it all happens in a supermarket. Brilliant.

Set on the east coast of Australia, Bait 3D tells the story of a group of people trapped in a supermarket and it's underground car park after a freak tsunami traps the shoppers with two massive Great White sharks. Among those stranded is former lifeguard Josh (Xavier Samuel) who is mourning the death of his best friend to a shark a year earlier, which resulted in a break up with his fiancé Tina (Sharni Vinson). There is also a policeman named Todd (Martin Sacks) and his shoplifting daughter Jaimie (Phoebe Tonkin), armed robber Doyle (Julian McMahon) and a slightly psychotic man named Kirby (Dan Wyllie), as well as a few others.

My main criticism of the film is the awful acting. I understand that in this type of film the acting is allowed to be terrible, but not to the extent that it is distracting. When someone's partner is killed by a shark and they overact with their screams, it's fun and funny. But, when the actors appear awkward, that just puts the audience off. I also had a problem with the accents. I couldn't tell if the characters were American or Australian because just about everyone jumped between accents at some stage, except for Sacks who was perhaps the only one actually acting in this film. My other problem with this film was that there were to many characters and too many survivors. I would have liked a little more character development and more gruesome deaths.

In some ways, it's a shame that so many modern day shark films seem more like spoof films than horror films. It's as if film-makers think there's no way to compete with Jaws and so they have no choice but to make a B-grade film. I am in no way critical of these films because bad shark films are to me what bad zombie films are to other people. But, it would be nice to see a serious film about sharks that can scare you without making you laugh at its ridiculousness. Sharks are a very real threat, and they do scare people, so why not have more films that explore that truth?

Despite, my criticisms of the film, Bait 3D doesn't pretend to be anything it's not. It's funny, ridiculous and suspenseful - everything you want in a shark film. So, just enjoy it.


Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Ruby Sparks


WRITTEN BY: Zoe Kazan
DIRECTED BY: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
STARRING: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina
RATING: 3 stars

You know when you think you've got a great idea for a story and you plan the beginning out in your head and it seems really good, but then you get stuck and have no idea how to end it? Well that's what seems to have happened to writer/actress Zoe Kazan when she wrote Ruby Sparks.

Calvin (Paul Dano) is a young novelist many consider to be a “genius” following the success of his debut novel. But now he is struggling with writer's block and "can't even get laid" in his dreams. At the suggestion of his psychiatrist (Elliott Gould), Calvin writes a single page and soon he has a breakthrough, creating a character named Ruby (Kazan). One day, Calvin finds Ruby in his house. He thinks he's going crazy, but soon realises she is very real and whatever he writes about her becomes a reality.

The first half of this film was very good. We're presented with a relatively original idea and the dialogue is excellent. It's witty, quirky and entertaining. Unfortunately, that all unravels in the second half before the film descends into a much darker story. Suddenly, the film goes from being a comedy to a more serious film as Calvin starts to take advantage of his power over Ruby. The final 15 minutes drag on and the conclusion is both unsatisfying and makes no sense at all. This wonderfully magical film is suddenly sprinkled with the magic of a Hollywood ending that threatens to ruin the film.

Some of the most fun scenes are when Calvin proves to himself and others that Ruby is real, like when he is sitting at a cafe trying to ignore Ruby and when he and his brother Harry (Chris Messina) test her existence by making Ruby do random things like speak French. The fun in these scenes is largely due to Dano's performance. He is like an awkward, young Woody Allen. He also has great chemistry with Messina and Kazan who both give great performances too. Kazan is not a traditional leading lady, but she's definitely "the girl next door" type. Brief roles have also been given to Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Steve Coogan and Elliott Gould. However, none of them were really given a chance to shine. Bening and Banderas in particular seemed to be there just because they're famous actors and their scenes as Calvin's mum and step-dad added very little to the story.

The directing team that brought us Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris) try their best with this film, but there's little they can do to save a plot that spirals out of control. Let's not forget that Kazan comes from Hollywood royalty. Her grandfather is legendary director Elia Kazan (East of Eden, On The Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire). She has big shoes to fill and while Ruby Sparks is a commendable effort, she's still got a long way to go.


Sunday, 9 September 2012

On The Road

WRITTEN BY: Jose Rivera
DIRECTED BY: Walter Salles
STARRING: Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Tom Sturridge, Kirsten Dunst
RATING: 4 stars


On The Road is one of the world's most famous modern literary novels. It inspired a generation of artists, writers, songwriters and thinkers. It challenged youth of the 50's to not search for an explanation as to why we exist, but rather, how to exist. Since then, readers have continued to be inspired by Jack Kerouac's book, which was written in 1951 and published in 1957, and based on his own experiences with friends on several road trips. So, it makes sense that a film should be made to explore the beat generation including the intellectual conversations, jazz music, drugs, sexual exploration, poetry, and of course, the journey on the road. It is a difficult story to adapt to film, and there have been many false starts since the book was published, but finally a poignant film has been made that will satisfy fans of the novel.

Sal Paradise (Kerouac's character played by Sam Riley) is a 25-year-old aspiring writer struggling with the recent death of his father. He meets Dean Moriarty (based on beat poet Neal Cassady and played by Garrett Hedlund) a charming and adventurous ex-convict, married to 16-year-old seductress Marylou (based on LuAnne Henderson and played by Kristen Stewart). Sal and Dean bond instantly and decide to go on several road trips over the next four years. Representing so many disenchanted youths in post-World War Two America, the trio begin a journey of self-discovery and freedom. Along the way, they meet several interesting characters who all seem to gravitate towards Dean. The only problem is that Dean is more lost than any of them.

Some
of the cast members, including Hedlund and Stewart, had been linked to the film for years before it was made. Hedlund is perfect as Moriarty. He oozes the sex appeal and charisma that drew so many people to the real man. I've long been a fan of Hedlund's and if this powerful performance does not get him more film offers then Hollywood is blind. Stewart was 20-years-old when she made On The Road in the midst of the Twilight hype. But in this film, she shows audiences that she can be more than a damsel in distress. She is brave and daring in the role and is sure to surprise people with her performance. Riley is also impressive as Kerouac's alter ego, while Kirsten Dunst portrays a heartbroken yet strong Camille (Moriarty's second wife) very well. Her character is based on Carolyn Cassady who is today aged 88. Sturridge also steals some scenes as Carlo Marx (based on poet Allen Ginsberg). There are also small but interesting roles given to Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi and Terrence Howard.
My main criticism of the film is that it is far too long. It does not need to be more than two hours. There were several scenes that dragged on and needed some editing, although you can't fault director Walter Salles for wanting to share the varied landscape that included New York, Denver, San Francisco and Mexico. Fans of the novel will also be critical of some aspects of the story. However, for such a detailed novel, the film actually does a good job of depicting the most important aspects of the story. By the end of the film, some may be wondering what the point is because there isn't a clear beginning, middle and end. But, On The Road is an unconventional story. It's a chapter in the lives of real people. It's not supposed to be conclusive because life is not like that. My advice is, read the book and then watch the film.


Saturday, 1 September 2012

Best and Worst Film Dads

As the famous conclusion to Mrs Doubtfire says, there are all sorts of different families:

“Some families have one mummy, some families have one daddy, or two families, and some children live with their uncle or aunt. Some live with their grandparents, and some children live with foster parents. And some live in separate homes, in separate neighbourhoods, in different areas of the country, and they may not see each other for days, or weeks, months, even years at a time. But if there's love, dear, those are the ties that bind, and you'll have a family in your heart forever.”

That speech makes me cry every time. On that note, in honour of Father's Day, here is my list of the best and worst film dads.

TOP 20 BEST FILM DADS:

1) My Father The Hero – Andre
Not many dads would agree to pretend to be their daughter's lover so they can impress a boy. This hilarious romantic comedy starring Gerard Depardieu and a young Katherine Heigl is a great film about the lengths a father will go to help his daughter, no matter how ridiculous or potentially dangerous it might be. Here's a quote from Andre: “I've been walking around here with you the past few days. They think I'm child molester!” And here's a classic clip:



2) Mrs Doubtfire – Daniel Hillard
A father dressing up as a woman so he can see his children while he goes through a nasty divorce with their mother is perhaps a little extreme, but with Robin Williams in the role you're sure to laugh – a lot.

3) The Lion King – Mufasa
It's been nearly 20 years since Mufasa died protecting his son from a stampede, and I'm still angry about it. I cry every time. You win, Disney, well done. Here's a quote from Mufasa: “ Simba, let me tell you something my father told me. Look at the stars. The great kings of the past look down on us from those stars … so whenever you feel alone, just remember that those kings will always be there to guide you. And so will I.”

4) John Q. – John Quincy Archibald
A father whose insurance won't cover his son's heart transplant, takes the hospital's emergency room hostage until the doctors agree to perform the operation. Heartbreaking film starring Denzel Washington.

5) I Am Sam – Sam Dawson
A mentally impaired father fights for the custody of his seven-year-old daughter. Sean Penn gives the performance of his career in this film that is sure to bring tears to your eyes. If this film doesn't make you feel love, I don't know what will. Here's an emotional clip:


6) Three Fugitives – Ned Perry
This is a hilarious and endearing film starring Martin Short and Nick Nolte. On his first day after being released from jail for 14 armed bank robberies, Lucas (Nolte) finds himself caught up in someone else's robbery. Ned Perry (Short) needs the money so that he can keep his daughter, Meg, and get her the treatment she needs. But the police think Lucas helped plan the robbery, so the trio become fugitives.

7) Nick of Time – Gene Watson
Johnny Depp plays an ordinary man who must kill a politician to save his kidnapped daughter.

8) Three Men and a Baby – Michael, Peter and Jack
Three bachelors are forced to take care of a baby left on their doorstep by one of the guys' girlfriends. Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg star in this hilarious and often awkward film with some great one-liners. Here's a clip:



 
9) Annie – Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks
It's not every day a billionaire adopts an orphan, unless you're part of the Jolie-Pitt family. This classic film based on a comic strip and a Broadway play stands the test of time.

10) The Sound of Music – Captain von Trapp
Christopher Plummer plays a naval officer and a widower. He also has seven children. Sure the old captain is a little gruff in the beginning but that's just because he's sad and doesn't know how to raise his children. Luckily Julie Andrews is around to fix that problem and help make Captain von Trapp a great father who risks everything to save his family from the Nazis during World War Two.

11) Father of the Bride – George Banks
Steve Martin stars as George Banks – a man who loves his daughter so much, that he doesn't want her to grow up and get married. It's something all fathers can relate to. There is also a Spencer Tracy version of this film if you prefer the classic. Here's a clip:
 
 

12) To Kill A Mockingbird – Atticus Finch
This is the kind of father you can learn a valuable lesson from. Atticus is a lawyer during the Great Depression in America's south, who defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge. Beautiful story. Everyone should read the book too.

13) It's A Wonderful Life – George Bailey
Jimmy Stewart's most memorable role. He plays a man who chooses self-sacrifice for the well-being of his family and town. It almost destroys him until an angel shows him what life would be like if he never existed. A good film about the meaning of life.

14) The Last Song – Steve Miller
Greg Kinnear plays a dad who allows his children to believe he ran out on them when in fact their mother had an affair. Through a summer, he reconnects with his children just in time before tragedy strikes their family.

15) Love Actually – Daniel
Liam Neeson's character is mourning the loss of his wife but his stepson is also trying to woo a girl at school, so of course, he puts his mourning on hold so he can help his son win the girl. So sweet. Here's a clip:



 
16) The Castle – Darryl Kerrigan
Arguably Australia's favourite fictional dad, Darryl Kerrigan, played by Michael Caton, takes on an airport and the government when he goes to the High Court to fight for his family's home. It is un-Australian not to love this film. “It's the vibe of the thing”.

17) Big Daddy – Sonny Koufax
He may not have started out as father material, but through the course of the film, Sonny Koufax learns a valuable lesson about caring for a child. I'm going to make an unpopular comment here and say that I think this is Adam Sandler's best film.

18) 10 Things I Hate About You – Walter Stratford
Based on William Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew (a classic you should all read and see performed on stage at some point) Walter Stratford loves his daughters so much he doesn't let them date and he makes them wear a fake pregnancy belly to show them the consequences of unprotected teenage sex. Hilarious! A great performance from Heath Ledger in this film too. Here's a ridiculous quote from Walter: “I've got news for you. I'm down, I've got the 411, and you are not going out and getting jiggy with some boy, I don't care how dope his ride is. Mamma didn't raise no fool!”

19) Dirty Dancing – Dr Jake Houseman
He may have put “baby in a corner” but Jake Houseman, played by Jerry Orbach, is still a good dad. After all, he did help Penny when she got “in trouble” and after his reluctance to let Baby (Jennifer Grey) hang out with Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze), he finally comes around to the idea. As he says, “When I'm wrong, I say I'm wrong.” Here's a clip:



20) The Godfather – Don Vito Corleone
Arguably the most famous Mafia don and patriarch, Vito Corleone, played by Marlon Brando, values family above all else. Sure, he's technically a “bad guy” but he's still a good dad. As he says, “A man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man.”



TOP 5 WORST FILM DADS:

1) Star Wars – Darth Vader
It's kind of awkward when you find out your enemy is your father.

2) The Shining – Jack Torrance
Sucks when your dad goes nuts and starts killing everyone. Here's a clip:



 
3) This Boy's Life – Dwight Hansen
Robert De Niro plays an abusive father in this film based on the memoirs of Tobias Wolff. Leonardo DiCaprio gives an amazing performance too.

4) American Beauty – Lester Burnham
Dads should never, ever fall in love with their daughter's friends.

5) The Breakfast Club – everyone's dads
These dads represent all the dads who may not be obviously evil, but either don't care or judge the actions of their children too harshly. It's also one of John Hughes' best comedy classic from the 80's. Here's a clip:


 
Who are your best and worst film dads?