Thursday, 29 December 2016

Best and Worst Films of 2016

In a year that was great for independent cinema and biopics, but not so much for comedies and sequels, here are our top 10 best films and five worst films of 2016.

ANGIE'S LIST:


BEST FILMS


1) Spotlight –  an important true story about child abuse that also emphasises the value of investigative journalism.

2) Captain Fantastic – striking the right balance between drama and comedy, this film about an unconventional family is thought-provoking, has beautiful cinematography and a strong cast. 

3) Hacksaw Ridge – a gripping and graphic depiction of World War II, telling the true story of a soldier who wanted to be a medic but refused to carry a weapon.

4) Mustang – a brutally honest, shocking, educational and culturally aware coming of age story about five sisters in Turkey who are forced to be married off one by one.

5) Room –  based on a novel, this suspenseful film about a young woman held captive in a shed for several years with her five-year-old son will make you cry and laugh.



6) Me Before You – based on the best-selling novel, which was inspired by a true story, this film will leave you in tears and has been one of the most tragic, heartfelt and controversial films of the year, exploring the life of a quadriplegic man. 

7) Trumbo – this biopic telling the story of famed screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who was blacklisted by studios during a time when Communism was feared, shines a light on an artist who was forced into the darkness for a long time.

8) Deadpool – there have been a few good superhero films this year but this one was particularly refreshing in its originality and has consistent obscene humour, graphic fight scenes and a fantastic soundtrack.

9) Art of The Prank – flawed, but hilarious and interesting, this documentary chronicles the adventures of notorious artist and activist Joey Skaggs and shows how frighteningly malleable the media can be.

10) Zootopia – a creative and insightful film with endearing characters, stunning animation and layered with important messages about equality and racial issues.


Honourable mentions:
The Jungle Book
Love and Friendship
I, Daniel Blake
Star Wars: Rogue One 
The Revenant
Trolls


WORST FILMS


1) Angry Birds Movie
2) My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2
3) Zoolander 2
4) Spin Out
5) The Legend of Tarzan 


JACKIE'S LIST:


BEST FILMS


1) Room – a disturbing plot that stays with you and fantastic performances.

2) Me Before You – a thought-provoking and touching story.

3) Trumbo – an interesting reflection on history with great performances.

4) Spotlight – an unbelievable true story with amazing performances.

5) Bridget Jones's Baby – a wonderful addition that brought laughter and joy to 2016.

6) The Light Between Oceans – a film that leaves you reflecting on ethics.

7) Star Wars: Rogue One – never enough Star Wars and it has an unexpected ending.

8) La La Land – a beautiful contemporary film that pays homage to the past.

9) The Jungle Book – visually stunning and worth the update.

10) Deadpool – an original and funny approach to the superhero genre.



Honourable mentions:
Hell or High Water
Sing
The Revenant 
Eddie The Eagle
Captain American: Civil War



WORST FILMS


1) Angry Birds
2) Zoolander 2
3) The Legend of Tarzan 
4) High-Rise
5) Underworld: Blood Wars




Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Lion

By Angie Raphael

I am calling it extremely early, but Lion will certainly be one of the best films of 2017. This bittersweet and emotional roller-coaster will have you gripped from the outset and will probably leave you in tears by the end. It is such an important film too, raising awareness about the plight of lost children in India, as well as encouraging further discussions about adoption in Australia. Adapted by screenwriter Luke Davies from Saroo Brierley's autobiographical account, Lion opens with five-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) who gets lost in India thousands of kilometres from home. He faces many scary obstacles before being adopted by Australian couple Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John Brierley (David Wenham). Decades later, Saroo (Dev Patel) searches for his Indian family.

Adorable young Pawar has never acted before but he carries almost the first half of the film and gives one of the most engrossing performances ever by a child. Kidman, who has two adopted children of her own, has spoken publicly about her connection to the story and it shows on screen. Meanwhile, Patel's Aussie accent is almost as good as Kate Winslet's turn in The Dressmaker. Director Garth Davis has also done a wonderful job of capturing India's vast terrain and bustling city life, in stark contrast to Tasmania's coastal beauty. Lion runs for about two hours but the time flies by and this amazing true story will remain in your thoughts long after the film is finished.


Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Jackie

By Angie Raphael

This film provides a snippet into the life of Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) in the days after the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson), in November 1963. It explores how the first lady dealt with her grief and trauma while trying to comfort her young children and shape her husband's legacy. Although Portman does not look much like Kennedy, she is captivating to watch and no doubt deserves an Oscar nomination if not the win. Peter Sarsgaard is also very good as Bobby Kennedy and the depiction of their relationship is interesting. The costumes and set designs are also exquisite, especially the recreation of the White House and Lyndon B. Johnson's swearing in as the new president onboard Air Force One. Director Pablo Larrain is meticulous with every scene. Unfortunately, given its subject matter, Jackie is such a depressing film and teaches us nothing particularly new about the Kennedy family. Nonetheless, it is worth seeing for Portman's performance alone. 


Tuesday, 13 December 2016

A United Kingdom

By Angie Raphael

Based on a true story, A United Kingdom is about Prince Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) from Botswana, who causes an international political commotion in the late 1940s when he marries Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), a white woman from London. If you are unfamiliar with the history, it is really quite shocking to see the lengths taken to stop Khama from becoming the king and to keep the deeply in love couple apart. There were a lot of issues going on at the time, particularly South Africa introducing apartheid. Writer Guy Hibbert carefully explains the political ramifications of each decision made by the protagonists and antagonists so it is never too overwhelming or difficult to follow. Director Amma Asante, who created the equally moving Belle a few years ago, also keeps the intensity consistent throughout. Olyelowo delivers some moving speeches and Pike is also very good in her staunch role, but at times their chemistry was lacking, which is disappointing given the entire story hinges on the powerful love between their characters. A United Kingdom did grow on me the more I thought about it and it really is an important story worth adapting to film.


Monday, 12 December 2016

Red Dog: True Blue

By Angie Raphael

With so many action-packed blockbusters filling cinemas these days, it is great to unwind with an innocent and simple film from time to time, and Red Dog: True Blue is about as heartfelt as they come. This prequel to the beloved Red Dog explores the relationship between the puppy and his first owner, Mick, played by the very talented Levi Miller in the younger years and Jason Isaacs as an adult. Writer Daniel Taplitz produced a tight script exploring themes of love, family, friendship and Aboriginal culture. Director Kriv Stenders also beautifully captured Western Australia's expansive north and the film looks just as good as any Hollywood production. It probably was not necessary to make this prequel and it may not be quite as emotional as the original, but Red Dog: True Blue is a feel-good film for the whole family. 


Friday, 9 December 2016

La La Land

By Jackie Raphael

The musical is nostalgic, quirky, romantic and surprisingly dramatic. It tells the story of Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) a jazz pianist and Mia (Emma Stone) an aspiring actress, who are both trying to fulfil their career dreams. The pair fall in love and are forced to choose between their work and relationship. While this plot is nothing new, the way in which Whiplash director Damien Chazelle tells the story is quite unique. The cinematography is beautiful and the music plays a pivotal role in setting the tone of the film. As always, Gosling and Stone have wonderful chemistry and show off their amazing skills in acting, singing and dancing. My main critique is that the film is a bit too long and has some unnecessary moments. I highly recommend you watch Rebel Without a Cause and Casablanca before seeing this film to fully appreciate the way in which La La Land pays homage to these classics. The film strikes a wonderful balance between the past and present. I left the cinema wanting to dance on the streets.


Thursday, 8 December 2016

Office Christmas Party

By Jackie Raphael

This Christmas film is definitely not for children but it certainly is a lot of fun. Hopefully you have never been to a Christmas party quite like the one depicted in this film. When uptight and cranky chief executive Carol (Jennifer Aniston) threatens to shut down one of her company's branches, which is run by her brother Clay (T.J. Miller), he and his colleagues Josh (Jason Bateman) and Tracey (Olivia Munn) decide to throw a Christmas party to land a deal that will ensure everyone gets to keep their jobs. Several things go wrong throughout the party, which results in some rather ridiculous and hilarious scenes. Bateman was as charming as always, while Aniston was convincing as the tough boss. Miller was very well suited to his wild and quirky character, while Kate McKinnon was brilliant as the no-nonsense human resources manager. However, Munn was often trying too hard to be sexy and cool. Office Christmas Party has consistent laughs throughout, although the ending is a bit over the top. It is not as good as similarly toned films like Horrible Bosses, but if you enjoy that style of humour you should be entertained.


Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Sing

By Jackie Raphael

Cute animated animals singing classic hits is always a great idea. Mixing that with a lot of heart and some solid character development, Sing is a fun film for any age. The film follows the journey of a koala named Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), who creates a singing competition to save his crumbling theatre. Each finalist has a unique story as to why they want to win the competition, adding depth to the plot. The impressive cast includes Reese Witherspoon (Rosita), Seth MacFarlane (Mike), Scarlett Johansson (Ash), John C. Reilly (Eddie), Taron Egerton (Johnny) and Nick Offerman (Norman). Their wonderful performances brought the characters to life, especially in Johnny's storyline. While there is an element of repetition towards the end of the film, it is relatively well-paced. The soundtrack will have you bopping in your seat – one young girl at my screening was even dancing in the aisle.


Thursday, 1 December 2016

Allied

By Jackie Raphael

This espionage film is essentially a dramatic version of Mr and Mrs Smith with a splash of Casablanca. Set during World War II, Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) is a Canadian intelligence officer who meets French resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) in Casablanca. The pair pretend to be married for a shared mission but eventually a real romance blossoms. The plot is not particularly original and there are some unnecessary Hollywood moments, however Allied also has some suspenseful and action-packed scenes, and wonderful costumes. Pitt and Cotillard have great chemistry too. Overall, it was an enjoyable film, which thanks to the tight writing of Steven Knight and expert direction of Robert Zemeckis, never lags during its entire two hours.


Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Up For Love

By Angie Raphael

The definition of “charisma” in the dictionary should be accompanied by a picture of Jean Dujardin. In Up For Love, the dashing Frenchman lays the charm on so thickly that it is easy to get swept up in the 95-minute film without realising until afterwards that it lacks much substance. This remake of Corazon de Leon, by Argentinian writer-director Marcos Carnevale, has a simple premise. Successful lawyer Diane (Virginie Efira) gets a call from wealthy architect Alexandre (Dujardin), who has found her mobile phone, and after a flirtatious conversation they decide to meet for a drink, but Diane is shocked to learn Alexandre is only half her height. As they embark on an unexpected romance, the couple must endure criticism from friends, family, colleagues and strangers. Some of the jokes are a bit gimmicky, like the running gag about Alexandre's son's dog, but others are more successful. While the film is supposed to be a light comedy, it would have been more effective to have a poignant message about the central issue.


Thursday, 24 November 2016

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

By Jackie Raphael

This film provides an interesting perspective on war and the after-effects on the people involved, whether they are on the frontline or left worrying at home. It tells the story of teenager Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) who returns home from Iraq with his squad for a victory tour after heroic video footage of him in action spreads in the media. Lynn struggles with wanting to stay at home with his sister (Kristen Stewart) and a cheerleader (Makenzie Leigh) versus returning to battle with his team, led by Dime (Garret Hedlund). 

Alwyn and Hedlund were definitely the stand-out performers in a cast that also included Chris Tucker, Vin Diesel and Steve Martin. Alwyn certainly gave a heartfelt performance, while Hedlund provided many of the surprising laughs. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is still considered a drama but it includes action and comedic relief throughout. Unfortunately, there are some lame moments and questionable body doubles for an extended scene involving Destiny's Child. But overall, the film leaves the audience reflecting on brotherhood and the ethics of war.



Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Trolls

By Jackie Raphael

The colourful and cute animation is obviously targeted at children but Trolls is enjoyable for all ages. This fun and inspiring film is about a village of peaceful trolls who are invaded by bergens, who believe they need to eat trolls to be happy. When several trolls are kidnapped, Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and the reluctant Branch (Justin Timberlake) go on a journey to save their friends from the evil Chef (Christine Baranski). The all-star cast also includes James Corden (Biggie), Zoey Deschanel (Bridget), Russell Brand (Creek), Gwen Stafani (DJ Suki), John Cleese (King Gristle Sr) and Jeffrey Tambor (King Peppy). The whole cast did a wonderful job at bringing their characters to life and singing many classics such as Hello and True Colours, plus the original hit Can't Stop The Feeling by Timberlake. Unfortunately, there were too many false resolutions but the final solution was a nice ending. The film leaves you wanting to sing, dance and find your inner happiness.


Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The Founder

By Angie Raphael

I was worried The Founder was going to be a giant advertisement for McDonald's, but in some ways it is actually the opposite and the film remains compelling for its entire two hours. This dramatisation of the true story, written by Robert D. Siegel and directed by John Lee Hancock, shows how travelling salesman Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) schemed his way into gaining control of the McDonald's brand from innovative brothers, Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch), in the 1950s to create the global empire we know today. The film has an inconsistent tone, at times being a somewhat critical expose of how Kroc took advantage of the brothers and exploited other people, but at other times celebrates the fast food chain. Keaton has a lot of fun with the lead role, especially as Krok becomes more sinister. Offerman and Lynch are also very good in their sympathetic roles, while B.J. Novak is appropriately sly as the man who sends Kroc down his truly nasty path. Unfortunately, the female characters, played by Laura Dern and Linda Cardellini, had very little to do. With the film passing some degree of judgment on Kroc but not really against McDonald's, some viewers might walk out of the cinema deterred from eating at the chain again, while others might head straight for a drive-through on the way home.


Thursday, 17 November 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

By Angie Raphael

I should preface this review by mentioning I have never seen a Harry Potter film, nor have I ever read any of the books. Perhaps if I were more familiar with the franchise I would have enjoyed Fantastic Beast and Where To Find Them a little more, but as it is, I still found some enjoyment in J. K. Rowling's world, as created by director David Yates. Set in New York in the 1920s, this spin-off centres on writer Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who must battle an evil force that threatens to expose the wizard community to the rest of the world. Redmayne grounds the film well and he is well supported, especially by Dan Fogler as Newt's sidekick, a wannabe baker named Jacob Kowalski. The film drags on towards the end, as if Yates did not quite know how to wrap everything up, but there are some cute and spooky characters, some surprisingly thrilling action sequences and a story that young audiences can get swept up in. Now, maybe I should give the Harry Potter films a chance.


Tuesday, 15 November 2016

I, Daniel Blake

By Angie Raphael

Sometimes you watch a film to escape the world for a couple of hours but sometimes a film holds a mirror up to its audience, shining a light on the harsh realities of life. I, Daniel Blake is probably the most heartbreaking film of the year, but its message is very important. Middle-aged carpenter Daniel (Dave Johns) needs state welfare until his doctor gives him the go-ahead to return to work, but runs into difficulty dealing with bureaucrats. Along the way, he meets single mother Katie (Hayley Squires) who is also struggling with the complicated benefits system. The sympathetic characters provide a window into the difficult lives of people who depend on government support to make ends meet and the hurdles decent people often face. Johns is compelling but it is Squires who has some of the most emotionally devastating moments. To balance out all the heavy drama, writer Paul Laverty has thrown in some beautiful family moments and some humour throughout. Director Ken Loach also keeps the pace steady and it is no wonder the film won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Bring tissues and an open heart for I, Daniel Blake. You may even feel the urge to start giving back to your local community afterwards.

* Luna Palace Cinemas is providing Foodbank WA bins at Cinema Paradiso and Luna on SX during opening weekend for people to make donations.


Thursday, 3 November 2016

The Light Between Oceans

By Angie Raphael 

This is a bittersweet and thought-provoking story that poses an interesting question about the rights of parents. The story, based on the novel by M. L. Stedman, is about lighthouse keeper Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) and his wife Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander), who are living off the coast of Western Australia when a row boat washes up to shore with a dead man and a crying baby inside. They make the difficult decision to raise the child as their own, not realising the heartache they are causing the girl's biological mother Hannah Roennfeldt (Rachel Weisz). The performances are fantastic, especially from Fassbender, Vikander and Weisz, who each have some powerfully emotional scenes. The child actors were also a joy to watch. However, while I understand the Aussie accent would have been somewhat different in the 1920s, there was an odd mix of accents throughout the film, even within the same family. It was quite distracting at times. It is also a shame that no one in the cast was able to properly pronounce the name of the town, Albany. Like director Derek Cianfrance's other films, such as Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond The Pines, The Light Between Oceans is slow to start and the pace never really picks up, but it is a sweeping drama that explores heartfelt themes of love, loss and family. 


Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The Accountant

By Angie Raphael

Ben Affleck's autistic anti-hero may not be at the level of his good friend Matt Damon's Jason Bourne, but The Accountant is entertaining enough. The layered plot centres around Christopher Wolff (Affleck) who works for some shady people when he is enlisted to investigate a robotics company, which is where he meets fellow accountant Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) who first noticed something not quite right about the books. Meanwhile, treasury crime director Raymond King (J.K. Simmons) and analyst Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) work to identify and locate the accountant. The character development of the protagonist elevates the film and the series of flashbacks in which the audience learns about his upbringing and form of autism are some of the most fascinating scenes in the entire film. There are also a few good laughs and a couple of good twists along the way, but the final one is a little too convenient and almost ruins the film.  




Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Hacksaw Ridge

By Angie Raphael

Mel Gibson has been sidelined in Hollywood for a long time over his much-publicised personal issues, but it seems people are finally ready to welcome him back as the great director he is. Hacksaw Ridge tells the amazing true story of American soldier Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) who wants to be a medic during World War Two, but due to his strong religious beliefs, does not want to carry a weapon or kill anyone. The film is very graphic and violent but it depicts the intensity of war appropriately. There is also a sweet romance and some funny moments to lighten things up. The film is garnering Oscar buzz already and Garfield will probably be nominated. Vince Vaughn, Luke Bracey and Hugo Weaving are also impressive, as are the remaining mostly Australian cast telling this heroic American story. That all being said, the film is not perfect. Some of the effects are sub-par and some of the “romantic” dialogue by writers Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan is cringeworthy. Hacksaw Ridge is more than two hours long but the film is gripping and ends with brief interviews with some of the real-life people involved, which leaves an even greater impact on the audience.






Thursday, 27 October 2016

Doctor Strange

By Jackie Raphael 

This film does not live up to the others in the Marvel franchise, however it is still enjoyable. The story centres around arrogant surgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who has a car accident that affects his hands, so he seeks help from the universe of mystic arts. The film has a strong cast and great use of humour throughout. Chiwetel Ejiofor (Mordo) and Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One) were particularly strong, while Mads Mikkelsen (Kaecilius) was a convincing villain. However, Rachel McAdams is underused in her role as Dr Strange's love interest. The plot was not as well developed as it could have been, with many convenient moments and a few nonsensical scenes. However, Doctor Strange is well-paced and has some Inception-like special effects. It is also worth seeing for how it ties in with the forthcoming Thor film. Stick around until all the credits are over because there are two intriguing clips to watch.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Keeping Up With The Joneses

By Angie Raphael

There are a few funny moments in this espionage comedy but screenwriter Michael LeSieur seems to run out of ideas midway through the plot, leaving a predictable and barely memorable film. Jeff Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis) and his wife Karen (Isla Fisher) live in a quiet cul-de-sac in the suburbs until one day, spunky undercover spies Tim (Jon Hamm) and Natalie Jones (Gal Gadot) move in next door. The talented cast elevate the film somewhat, especially Fisher who is always a scene stealer. There is also some good action sequences including car chases, explosions and physical fights. Keeping Up With The Joneses is a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours but it is really just a B-grade version of Mr and Mrs Smith.



Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Cafe Society

By Angie Raphael

The chic fashion and glorious 1930s set design are the best aspects of this latest Woody Allen film. Cafe Society is about Bronx man Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), who moves to Hollywood and falls in love with Vonnie (Kirsten Stewart). She is the secretary of his uncle Phil Stern (Steve Carrell), who is a prominent agent, but their relationship is a bumpy one. Later, Bobby returns to New York where he runs a nightclub with his thug brother Ben (Corey Stoll), which they tailor to high society customers. While there are a few good laughs, the film lacks the level of wit typically expected from an Allen film. The protagonists are also unlikeable, so it is difficult to feel much sympathy for them. Cafe Society is visually lovely but will not go down as one of Allen's best.


Thursday, 13 October 2016

Hell or High Water

By Jackie Raphael 

Writer Taylor Sheridan was widely praised for his debut feature film Sicario and has followed it up with another clever and detailed script, while director David Mackenzie has used it to craft a modern Western buddy film. Set in Texas, brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) are on a mission to rob several banks to save their family farm. What makes this film unique is that there are two buddy relationships explored. The first is between the close brothers and the second is between the officers chasing them down – Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham). The character development is strong and the banter brings some welcomed humour throughout the drama. While it is far from the likes of Thelma and Louise or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Hell of High Water still does the genre justice. 


Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Deepwater Horizon

Jackie Raphael

This film from director Peter Berg boasts an impressive cast including Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Kate Hudson, Gina Rodriguez and Dylan O'Brien. Deepwater Horizon is based on the true events of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. This tragic story is told well through the perspective of the people working on the offshore drilling rig. The film is filled with action, which looks fantastic, but also simplifies the technical aspects of the story so it is understandable for all audiences. While there is one scene that acknowledges the impact the oil spill had on the animals in the area, it would have been good to explore this more in-depth and create a stronger message about environmental issues that resulted from the spill. The film ends with a beautiful tribute to those who lost their lives in the tragedy and leaves audiences with plenty to think about. 


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.


Tuesday, 16 August 2016

High-Rise

Based on J.G. Ballard's novel, High-Rise is about Dr Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) who moves into a luxurious apartment skyscraper and starts spending time with the eccentric tenants, including single mother Charlotte (Sienna Miller), documentary filmmaker Richard Wilder (Luke Evans) and his pregnant wife Helen (Elisabeth Moss), and enigmatic architect of the building Mr Royal (Jeremy Irons). But soon the tenants find themselves caught up in a class power struggle within the confines of the building and everything starts to take a twisted turn. Working in the film's favour is the set design and use of music, especially a reworked version of ABBA's SOS, which is rather haunting. Hiddleston, Evans and Irons give the strongest performances, but Miller is as forgettable as ever. Overall, Ben Wheatley's two-hour film has a strong message about capitalism and the ugly side of human behaviour, but the story is bizarre, boring and too pretentious to be truly engaging.


Friday, 12 August 2016

Sausage Party

Taking the Toy Story concept to the extreme, words like “lewd”, “crude” and “politically incorrect” only begin to describe Sausage Party. But what else did you expect from the team that brought us This Is The End and Pineapple Express? Frank (Seth Rogen) is a sausage in a supermarket dreaming about the day he will be purchased by a human, believed to be a god, so he can finally go to “the great beyond” and consummate his relationship with his bun girlfriend Brenda (Kristen Wiig). But when Frank realises what actually happens to food, he makes it his mission to enlighten the other food in the supermarket. 

Surprisingly, there is actually a good moral to the story. The film tackles issues including race, religion and gender in quite a clever way. The cast is also a collection of talented comedians, including Nick Kroll as the villainous Douche, as well as Bill Hader, Craig Robinson, Paul Rudd, Michael Cera and Jonah Hill. Even Salma Hayek gets a great role as a sexy lesbian taco, while Edward Norton's voice is almost unrecognisable as a neurotic Woody Allen-like bagel and James Franco is a stoner in one of the few human roles. Unfortunately, the film lacks enough really big laughs unless your preferred sense of humour involves toilet jokes. Nonetheless, you have to admire the originality of Sausage Party. 


Thursday, 11 August 2016

Bad Moms

While Bad Moms may lack an original plot, it has plenty of unique and memorable laughs thanks to co-writers/co-directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who also penned The Hangover. But most importantly, the film has a positive message for all parents. Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis) is struggling to juggle her career with motherhood and the task seems all the more daunting when she is constantly being judged by several stuck-up mums, led by PTA president Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate), until Amy decides to ditch her responsibilities and have some fun. Kunis is sweet and surely relatable to so many mothers, while Kathryn Hahn and Kristen Bell are hilarious as Amy's only friends at the school. There are only a few men in the film but Jay Hernandez definitely fulfils the all-important eye candy quota for this chick flick, playing a widower raising a child alone. Bad Moms is hardly an exceptional piece of filmmaking, especially with an ending that is all far too convenient, but it is an entertaining way to spend 100 minutes with fellow mums, grandmothers and aunties when you need a break from your own children.  


Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Suicide Squad

It may be funnier than Batman vs Superman and the soundtrack is entertaining, but Suicide Squad struggles with its narrative as writer/director David Ayer tries to cram in too many new characters, leaving several of them as unappreciated sidekicks. Suicide Squad is still a good film, but it is not the superhero blockbuster it promised to be and may be a victim of its own hype. Picking up shortly after the events of Batman vs Superman, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis being wonderfully wicked) gathers a team of imprisoned super villains to fight a greater evil. For all the attention given to the Joker (Jared Leto), he only had a few scenes, although they were pivotal moments. Leto is very good in the manic role but Heath Ledger's legacy as the Joker remains intact. The Joker's girlfriend, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), is such a difficult character because she is essentially a victim of domestic violence with serious mental health issues, but is expected to carry most of the laughs in the film. Robbie does her best at being cutesy, which she is very good at, but some of her comedic timing is off and her American accent remains a problem. Deadshot (Will Smith) is probably the most in-depth character and he is very good in the role. I am not suggesting you skip Suicide Squad, I am just warning you to lower your expectations.  


Monday, 1 August 2016

As It Is In Heaven 2: Heaven On Earth

More than a decade after the Oscar-nominated As It Is In Heaven became an international success, the sequel picks up where the first film ended. Swedish soprano singer Lena (Frida Hallgren) is pregnant with the child of world renowned conductor, Daniel Dareus, and tries to continue his legacy following his death despite the hurdles she faces in her community. As It Is In Heaven 2: Heaven On Earth tries to capture that same heartfelt emotion as the original film but falters along the way with a weak plot that drags on for more than two hours. There are a few quirky characters who spark some interest and Hallgren is a good lead, but the film fails to truly tug at the heartstrings in the way director/co-writer Kay Pollack probably hoped and expected.  


Sunday, 31 July 2016

July Film Releases

I was away in July so I am catching up on some releases I missed.

The Legend of Tarzan
The graphics are decent and Alexander Skarsgard is an impressive-looking hero, giving Tarzan more sophistication than ever. Unfortunately, the plot was predictable, some dialogue was very embarrassing, Oscar winner Christoph Waltz was reduced to a caricature villain and Margot Robbie's accent wavered with just about every line.



Our Kind of Traitor
More of a thriller than an espionage tale, Our Kind of Traitor is nonetheless an enjoyable film based on John Le Carre's novel. While on holiday, English couple Perry (Ewan McGregor) and Gail (Naomie Harris) befriend the mysterious and charismatic Dima (Stellan Skarsgard), who is actually a money launderer for the Russian mafia, and soon they become entangled in his world. Skarsgard is superb as the boisterous villain, while McGregor and Harris give more understated performances. Our Kind of Traitor starts to follow a common formula, but it is a fun journey.

  
Love and Friendship
Based on Jane Austen's short epistolary novel titled Lady Susan, this film is a laugh-a-minute comedy of manners. Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) is a widow on a quest to find her daughter the perfect match while also enjoying a few dalliances of her own on the side. For those not particularly fond of Austen's usual wit, Love and Friendship has the addition of being almost as risqué as Oscar Wilde's work. Unlike many of Austen's most beloved heroines, Lady Susan is selfish, devious and manipulative, yet somehow she remains oddly lovable. The costumes are splendid and there is great use of music throughout. Unfortunately, writer/director Whit Stillman rushes the ending. At only 90 minutes long, Love and Friendship could have been improved with a few more scenes showing the development to the final resolution. But perhaps that was just me not wanting it to end.



Star Trek Beyond
The latest film in this franchise is unnecessarily slow to start but eventually picks up the pace with a few good laughs along the way thanks to Simon Pegg and Doug Jung taking on the writing duties this time. Each of the protagonists has their moment to shine and the camaraderie among the cast is clear. Idris Elba is menacing as the villain and it is bittersweet to see Anton Yelchin playing Chekov for the last time. Star Trek Beyond could have been trimmed in parts but the effects are solid and Trekkies should be happy.  


Saturday, 30 July 2016

Louder Than Bombs

This is a compelling family drama with a fascinating character study, but it seemed to build towards some kind of twist or revelation that never came. Louder Than Bombs is about a father (Gabriel Byrne) and his two sons (Jesse Eiesenberg and Devin Druid) and how they confront their very different feelings and memories of their dead wife and mother (Isabelle Huppert), who was a famed war photographer before she was killed in a car crash. The performances are all very good and Norwegian director/co-writer Joachim Trier has a great way of telling the story through flashbacks and different points of views. Louder Than Bombs is Trier's first English-language film and it is a solid effort, but there was scope for it to be so much more.


Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Jason Bourne

When the original trilogy came to an end in 2007 fans were left wanting more. Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) might have finally remembered his identity but there was definitely more to be explored with the mysterious character. It took almost a decade but with director Paul Greengrass back on board, Jason Bourne is the film fans have been wanting. Bourne has been living off the grid when hacker Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) contacts him with information about his father. Soon, the CIA is on their tail as Bourne tries to learn more about his past. The story and character development are solid and the action sequences are entertaining. Thankfully, there is no shaky camera footage this time either. Damon remains convincing in the lead role and Alicia Vikander is an excellent addition to the franchise as an ambitious member of the CIA. Tommy Lee Jones is also very good as the slimy CIA director and Vincent Cassel is a horrifying killing machine. This fourth film in the franchise (forgetting the mediocre outing starring Jeremy Renner) is not just about money-grabbing. Jason Bourne is one of the most rewarding action films of the year.  


Friday, 24 June 2016

Mustang

It is rare to see such a brutally honest and culturally aware coming of age story on screen, which makes Mustang such a treat to watch. It centres around five sisters living in a conservative town in Turkey. One day, they are caught innocently playing with boys at a beach and it causes such a scandal that the girls are locked up in their home and forced to be married off one by one. Directed and co-written by Deniz Gamze Ergüven, the film is raw with emotion and depth, exploring issues of sisterhood, rebellion and sexual awakening. It shocks and educates the audience, while also being quite funny in some moments, and it is never predictable. The young cast is wonderful, especially Günes Sensoy who narrates the story, and their relationships feel as real and natural as possible. Mustang is a unique and satisfying film that could easily fly under the radar for most film fans, but is definitely worth seeing.