Friday, 20 October 2017

Loving Vincent

By Jackie Raphael

4 stars

Many people already know the story of artist Vincent van Gogh, however this film has a unique approach to telling his narrative. Loving Vincent focuses on the death of the artist by following Armand Roulin (Douglas Rooth), son of van Gogh's friend and postman Joseph Roulin (Chris O'Dowd), as he tries to deliver the last letter van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk) wrote to his brother. While on this journey, he begins to investigate the complex man's death.


What makes this film unique is that it is done entirely through paintings. More than 100 artists painted the scenes and the attention to detail is amazing. The way they captured van Gogh's paint strokes and brought it to life through film is brilliant. The characters are all based on real people in van Gogh's life, who he actually painted portraits of. Director's Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welshman beautifully captured the essence of the real life people and mixed it with the characteristics of the actors. The directors also created seamless transitions to flashback sequences. While the constant motion of the paint strokes hurts the eyes a little bit, it is worth seeing the first fully painted animation feature on a big screen.


Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Snowman

By Angie Raphael

2.5 stars

A film is always less enjoyable when the audience can correctly guess who the villain is well before the half-way mark. The Snowman, which is based on the novel by Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø, is too predictable and even slightly boring in some parts. Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) is a detective who starts working with junior investigator Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) on a mysterious serial killer case in which the murderer always leaves behind a snowman. If it were not for Fassbender's appeal, the film would have struggled even more to sustain its two-hour running time. Charlotte Gainsbourg is also credible as Harry's ex-partner and Ferguson is solid too. Unfortunately, J. K. Simmons gives an over-the-top performance as a mysterious rich man. Meanwhile, watching Val Kilmer on screen is a little heartbreaking given his health issues, which have affected his appearance and voice. He is a great actor but his performance as a detective in another jurisdiction is hindered. The Snowman was shot in Norway, but the Norwegian language is not used at all, which is a shame. There are better thrillers worth seeing than The Snowman.


Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Home Again

Jackie Raphael

2.5 stars

I expected a quality romantic comedy from Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon on the back of the Emmy award-winning Big Little Lies, but Home Again was a let down. The film is about Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), who has recently separated from her husband Austen (Michael Sheen) and decides to start over by moving back to Los Angeles with her two daughters. While celebrating her 40th birthday, Alice meets young, homeless filmmakers Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Job Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolf), and agrees to let them stay temporarily at her pool house. Writer/director Hallie Meyeres-Shyer has essentially created a bad film version of Full House. The premise had potential, but unlike Full House, the three men who move in and become quasi co-parents do not really have a proper reason behind each of their actions throughout the film. While Harry and George have semi-structured characters, Teddy seems to have been thrown into the plot without any personality or individual story line. The supposedly romantic "cupboard" scene is cringe-worthy and lame with a terrible transition, while the climactic fight between two characters lacks logic. There is also a Hallmark film style ending with a scene that drags out. While Home Again was still fun to watch, it was unfulfilling.


Saturday, 14 October 2017

Brigsby Bear

By Angie Raphael

4 stars

Original, funny and heartfelt, Brigsby Bear is like a quirky ode to creativity and filmmaking. James (Kyle Mooney, who is also a co-writer with Kevin Costello) has lived in a bunker for 25 years, unaware that the people he calls his parents (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams) are actually his kidnappers. His only source of entertainment and education is a children's television show called Brigsby Bear Adventures, but he is devastated to learn upon his freedom that his abductors created the program and no one else has ever seen it, so he embarks on a filmmaking adventure of his own. Director Dave McCary has struck a great balance with the tone of the film, and the 1980s vibe that has become recently popular again is effective rather than showy. Mooney is excellent in the lead role, playing James with equal sensitivity and humour. The supporting cast is also good, especially Greg Kinnear as a detective who once dreamed of being an actor, and Matt Walsh who plays the real father struggling to help his son assimilate. Claire Danes has a small role as a psychiatrist and Andy Samberg has a random but entertaining cameo. Brigsby Bear is an indie film that celebrates filmmaking and pop culture, and is a joy to watch. 


Thursday, 12 October 2017

Happy Death Day

By Angie Raphael

3 stars

This comical teen slasher is not as clever as Scream or outrageously silly as spoofs like Scary Movie. Happy Death Day falls somewhere in the middle as a horror-style Groundhog Day. This latest release from Blumhouse Productions, which gave us brilliant films like Get Out and Split, has some thrilling and funny moments but director Christopher Landon fails to hit every mark. Selfish college student Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) wakes up hungover on her birthday in Carter's (Israel Broussard) dorm room, then tries to go about her day as usual, but that night she is murdered by someone wearing a baby mask. Tree then wakes up and must repeatedly relive the day until she can solve her own murder. Along the way, she deals with a her annoying sorority sisters, the needy jock who she dated once, a professor she is having an affair with and her grieving father. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is that the protagonist is both the stereotypical “dumb blonde slut” who gets killed off early and also somehow the “virtuous heroine” of the story. The problem with Happy Death Day is that writer Scott Lobdell establishes the premise quickly but then fails to explain why this horror is happening to Tree. The resolution is also nonsensical. It is not enough to just poke fun at the slasher genre. To be truly successful, Happy Death Day needed to be smarter and make more sense. 



Wednesday, 11 October 2017

The Mountain Between Us

By Jackie Raphael

3.5 stars

Academy Award nominated director Hany Abu-Assad has done a wonderful job of adapting the book by the same title, The Mountain Between Us. The story follows two strangers, Alex Martin (Kate Winslet) and Ben Bass (Idris Elba), as they attempt to get home after a plane accident leaves them stranded on a snowy mountain. Stunning cinematography captures the gorgeous landscape and depicts the remoteness of their situation.

The plot is rather predictable and there are many convenient moments, but the audience is engaged by the the great chemistry between the actors. While there is some good character development, it could have been pushed further, not just for the sake of the audience but for the bond of the characters themselves. There are three particularly lame moments in the second half of the film and an overuse of unnecessary flashbacks, but there are also some gripping moments throughout that will have you gasping.

It was great to have Elba use his natural accent, and while it would have been nice to have Winslet use her British accent too, she nailed the American accent as always. Both performances were strong, which added to the enjoyment of the film.


Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Breathe

By Angie Raphael

4 stars

We often take for granted some of the world's greatest inventions, such as technological advancements that have helped the severely disabled. So watching a dramatisation of the true story about the man who showed everyone that disabled people could live happy and full lives is exactly the kind of uplifting film we need to remind us about the power of the human spirit. Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) was an adventurous young man, newly married to Diana (Claire Foy), and they were expecting their first child when he was struck down by polio and became paralysed. 

Breathe is the kind of thoughtful biographical romance that enriches your life despite the story lacking dramatic plot twists and turns. William Nicholson has written a compassionate script that actor-turned-first-time-director Andy Serkis handles with equal sensitivity. Breathe is especially empowering for people living with a disability, which may be due to Cavendish's son, Jonathan, being a producer on the film. Garfield, who must act solely using facial expressions for much of the film, gives a powerful performance and is well supported by Foy, whose character is far more than just a devoted wife and carer. The main criticism of Breathe is the heavy hero worship that prevents the film from showing some harsher truths about what the family must have endured. Breathe is also almost two hours long and could have been improved with some editing, but the story flows quite well. The cinematography also excellently captures the vast landscapes. Breathe is a heart-warming film and some viewers may even require tissues.


Monday, 9 October 2017

Blue

By Angie Raphael

3 stars

This is a heartbreaking Australian documentary that shows the confronting truth about the damage humans cause to oceans and marine life all over the world. Some of the shocking footage includes dead sharks that have been butchered, seals trapped in nets, and birds spewing plastic that has been lodged in their system and causing them grief for too long. It is easy to ignore the effects of plastic on the environment but Blue shines a light on the problem and shows the harsh reality. The film follows several conservationists and the efforts they are taking in different parts of the world to combat issues such as industrial scale fishing, habitat destruction and pollution. This is an important documentary by writer/director Karina Holden that will hopefully inspire viewers to make changes in their own lives.


Thursday, 5 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049

By Angie Raphael

4 stars

French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve is one of the most exciting modern filmmakers and his unique style elevates this sequel of a beloved classic to a new level. Blade Runner 2049 is about two hours and 40 minutes long, which may bother some viewers, but Villeneuve's cinematography choices, working with director of photography Richard Deakins, are exceptional. Fans of the 1982 film will lap up the attention to detail in this sequel, which is set about 30 years after the events of the original. The story centres on Officer K (Ryan Gosling), who discovers a secret that leads him to search for former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who has been missing for decades. Screenwriters Michael Green and Hampton Fancher further explore the philosophical notion of what it means to be human, and Blade Runner 2049 feels like a fresh piece of science fiction for anyone who may not have seen the first film.

By now, everyone knows Gosling as a master at playing the brooding leading man, and in this film he again successfully carries the responsibility of commanding the audience's attention. Ford looks appropriately haggard but there are times when he seems almost irrelevant to the story aside from the excitement of seeing Deckard again. Importantly, the women in the film are complex and fascinating. Ana de Armas gives a bittersweet performance as K's adored Joi, while Sylvia Hoeks is an excellent adversary, who is far more interesting than her boss Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). Robin Wright also has an intriguing role as K's supervisor Lieutenant Joshi, but we only get to scrape the surface of her personality and motivations. There is some nostalgic enjoyment to Blade Runner 2049 and fans of the original film will not be disappointed.


Monday, 2 October 2017

Top 10 Heath Ledger Film Roles

By Jackie Raphael

As we approach the 10-year anniversary of Heath Ledger’s death, it is the perfect time to celebrate his wonderful talent. There is an upcoming CMCS Conference Panel focused on Ledger in December and this month the exhibition Heath Ledger: A Life in Pictures opens in Perth.

Here is my list of his top 10 film roles:

1) The Dark Knight (2008) – In his greatest role, Ledger fully transformed his appearance and voice to the extent that he was unrecognisable as The Joker. He definitely deserved the Oscar.

2) Brokeback Mountain (2005) – A role that impacted social norms. One of the first leading men to portray a homosexual romance in a drama. For a film with such minimal dialogue, it certainly has some memorable quotes. Ledger in particular stands out for the way he transformed himself for the character, including the way he mumbled and walked.

3) Candy (2006) – Sex, drugs and poetry. Ledger’s depiction of drug addiction was amazing in this role. In particular, Ledger’s performance during the shower scene when he is going through withdrawal and the heartbreaking hospital scenes really show his talent. While the slow-paced movie probably would not make my overall top five Ledger films, his acting brought it up the list for his best performances.

4) 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) – His first Hollywood film where he won everyone’s hearts as the charming and rebellious Patrick. This movie is more than just a teen romance. As an adaption of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, it is witty and fun. Ledger also showed us he could not only act, but also sing. Out of all of Ledger’s films, this is the one I enjoy re-watching the most.

5) The Patriot (2000) – The perfect person to play Mel Gibson’s son. This film is tragic and beautiful. Ledger brought a sweet innocence to his character through his boyish charm. While the movie is a bit too long, there are many emotional moments throughout.

6) Casanova (2005) – With Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo, Johnny Depp as Don Juan, Ledger made the perfect charismatic Casanova. This film is quite clever with Ledger’s character taking on various personae.

7) A Knight’s Tale (2001) – A quirky medieval romance filled with jokes, jousting and dancing. While this film could have been trimmed back in terms of the side characters, every scene with Ledger is a joy to watch. He conveyed the pride, strength and idealism of his character perfectly.   

8) Ned Kelly (2003) – I love the way the film captures the Australian landscape and animals. The great cast was led by Ledger, who embodied the loveable, misunderstood outlaw perfectly. He brought strength and sensitivity to the character. He also did a great job with the Irish accent. 

9) Lords of Dogtown (2005) – Ledger committed to the role with his hair, false teeth and costume. But most importantly, he nailed the voice of real-life surf shop owner, Skip.

10) Two Hands (1999) – Rose Byrne and Ledger have great chemistry in this film. I wish these two talented Australian actors could have reunited on screen again. The movie also keeps you intensely on edge throughout with all the drama and violence. 

Honourable mention: 

Monster’s Ball (2001) - The only reason it does not make the top 10 is because Ledger does not have a starring role. Halle Berry won the Oscar for this highly intense film, however I believe Ledger stole the show with his line, “I always loved you.” And that is why we will always love Heath Ledger.



Sunday, 1 October 2017

The Only Living Boy In New York

By Angie Raphael

3 stars

This coming of age story would have made a great novel. Unfortunately, as a film, writer Alan Loeb has weaved too many wordy references and commentaries, leaving director Marc Webb to tell the audience what is happening rather than showing it. The Only Living Boy In New York is only about 90 minutes long but still feels unnecessarily drawn-out. The “plot twist” was also too obvious. Thomas Webb (Callum Turner) is a young man in love with Mimi (Kiersey Clemons), who seems to be playing hard to get, so he starts taking advice from his quirky neighbour W.F. Gerald (Jeff Bridges). But when Thomas learns his publisher father Ethan (Pierce Brosnan) is having an affair with freelance editor Johanna (Kate Beckinsale), he worries it will destroy his mother Judith (Cynthia Nixon), and he gets caught up in an odd romantic web. The film is elevated by its solid cast and the chemistry is convincing among everyone. The soundtrack is also enjoyable, as is the New York scenery. The Only Living Boy In New York is good but not exceptional.


Friday, 29 September 2017

Flatliners

By Angie Raphael

2.5 stars

People often wonder why Hollywood bothers with remakes. A film is either a memorable classic or not worth reworking. Flatliners, which was a surprise success in 1990, falls into the latter category and yet screenwriter Ben Ripley and director Niels Arden Oplev proceeded with a remake anyway. The film centres on five medical students who experiment with briefly stopping their hearts to experience the afterlife, but they soon realise there are dangerously haunting consequences to their actions. To the film's credit, it does modernise the story to some extent by making it more culturally diverse and less sexist. The entire experiment is a woman's idea (Ellen Page) after the tragic death of her younger sister, and two other women (Nina Dobrev and Kiersey Clemons) are also relatively complex characters, with one hiding a deadly secret and the other struggling academically to live up to her mother's expectations. Meanwhile, the men are less interesting. James Norton plays the typical good-looking rich boy, who has a boring sub-plot involving an ex-girlfriend, while Diego Luna plays the only student not willing to risk his life but the audience disappointingly only gets a glimpse into his personality and background. Kiefer Sutherland, who starred in the original, also has a small role in this version, although it is a total waste of his talent. Flatliners has a few spooky moments, helped by the music and sound effects, but the film is too long and some of the dialogue is woeful, which distracts from the thrills. I have no doubt the Flatliners reboot will be forgotten soon enough.


Thursday, 21 September 2017

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

By Jackie Raphael

3.5 stars

While it is not as good as the original, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a lot of fun. It is no surprise that Colin Firth's charming character survived being shot in the first film and Taron Egerton returns as the loveable Eggsy. When the Kingsman headquarters is destroyed, the remaining members turn to the allied US spy organisation called the Statesman. The members are made up of Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges and Pedro Pascal. Julianne Moore also joins the cast as the villain, Poppy, and does a wonderful job.

Unfortunately, Berry is underused and was given a one-dimensional character. Elton John also makes a cameo appearance, but they over did it, taking away from the humour. Tatum was not very believable in his role, he just made me want to laugh every time he was on screen. I think they tried to fit in too many new characters and did not give enough opportunity to develop them.

The film is rather long, but maintains the audience's engagement. There is a great use of music throughout and some good action scenes, however some of the effects were too fake. Director/co-writer Matthew Vaughn has set it up for a third film, which I'm sure fans will be excited about.


Thursday, 14 September 2017

American Assassin

By Angie Raphael

2 stars

Lame title, equally weak film. American Assassin is long, somewhat boring and so scientifically wrong it is laughable. The film has a decent concept to work with but the script by Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz is over the top and messy, especially towards the end. Based on one of more than a dozen novels by Vince Flynn, American Assassin is about Mitch Rapp (Dylan O'Brien), who is a young man devastated by the death of his fiancee at the hands of terrorists. Rapp becomes a vigilante seeking revenge until CIA deputy director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) convinces him to become a counter-terrorism operative under the tutelage of veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), and together they go on a mission to stop the villainous Ghost (Taylor Kitsch). 

I have not read the book series so I cannot compare the film to the novel, but the screen adaptation is cringeworthy and clunky. It is such a shame because the cast is made up of a solid group of actors, including O'Brien whose career is worth following, Kitsch who is always loveable even as the bad guy, and Keaton who has enjoyed a well-deserved resurgence in recent years. Unfortunately, they all seem to give a half-hearted performance and the highlight of the film was when Keaton (probably unintentionally) used his Batman voice. Lathan and Shiva Negar, who plays another operative, at least portray strong women but there is little time given to character development for either of them. Meanwhile, perhaps in an attempt to distract audiences from the poor script, director Michael Cuesta showed a lot of graphic violence throughout the film. Many action films can get away with being ridiculous, but the team behind American Assassin seem to take the story too seriously to be enjoyable in that way. It is mostly a waste of time. 



Tuesday, 12 September 2017

From Naples With Love (Troppo Napoletano)

By Angie Raphael

3 stars

Often silly but always fun, From Naples With Love is a joyful family comedy about childhood crushes. This Italian film also offers a sweet representation of Naples that may inspire travellers to explore the famous city. Ciro (Gennaro Guazzo) is an eleven-year-old boy trying to navigate his first big crush on schoolmate Ludovica (Giorgia Agata) with the help of his geeky psychologist Tommaso (Luigi Esposito), who soon finds himself falling in love with the boy’s gorgeous single mother Debora (Serena Rossi). Writer/director Gianluca Ansanelli has created a heart-warming tale akin to Liam Neeson's storyline in Love Actually mixed in with a slice of Little Miss Sunshine. Some scenes are over the top but Guazzo is a delightful young actor and carries the film well.

* From Naples With Love (Troppo Napoletano) is screening at the Italian Film Festival


Thursday, 7 September 2017

It

By Angie Raphael

4 stars

Stephen King's novella The Body, which was made into the coming-of-age 1986 film Stand By Me, will forever be my favourite adaptation of his work because it is both hilarious and poignant. But the latest adaptation of his horror novel It, definitely has a Stand By Me vibe, with surprisingly good laughs and a core group of young characters that are complex and entertaining. For anyone unfamiliar with the spooky tale, It is about a group of bullied youths fighting a clown monster named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), who feeds on the fears of children every 27 years. Skarsgard is just as terrifying and creepy as Tim Curry was as the villainous lead in the famed 1990 mini-series. But it is the scenes with the children that are the most enjoyable to watch, especially Sophia Lillis as the strong-willed girl in the group, Finn Wolfhard as the motor-mouth joker, Jaeden Lieberher as the stuttering brother of a boy who goes missing, and Jeremy Ray Taylor as the chubby geek. Director Andy Muschietti steers the lengthy film strongly and keeps the thrilling moments consistent throughout. The 80s fashion and music, such as repeated references to New Kids on the Block, are also effective. Writers Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman have kept the story relatively true to the concept of the novel but there are some significant changes that fans of the book will notice. The film is also set up conveniently for a sequel, which will delight fans wanting more. 


Friday, 1 September 2017

The Hitman's Bodyguard

By Jackie Raphael

3.5 stars

We can never have enough buddy films and while The Hitman's Bodyguard is no Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, it is still a lot of fun. Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is the bodyguard tasked with protecting the jailed hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), who must give evidence against the villainous Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman) to ensure his wife (Salma Hayek) is released from prison. Reynolds and Jackson have great chemistry and there are consistent laughs throughout the film. However, there are times where the soppy conversations between the pair become too ridiculous. The film has a great soundtrack and fantastic action scenes, with director Patrick Hughes taking the production to several distinct countries, including the Netherlands and England. The Hitman's Bodyguard did drag on a bit and some jokes were repeated too often, but overall it is an enjoyable film.



Thursday, 31 August 2017

Gifted

By Angie Raphael

3.5 stars

There is little originality to Gifted but it is the kind of film that will repeatedly tug at the heart strings until you are on the verge of tears. At its core, Gifted is about the universally relatable love of family, and particularly the bond between a father and daughter. It also raises interesting questions about parenting styles. Frank (Chris Evans) is a single man raising his niece Mary (Mckenna Grace), but when her school realises she is a maths genius, he faces a custody battle with his mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), who wants to nurture Mary's gift instead of giving her a “normal” childhood. Writer Tom Flynn expertly develops the relationship between Frank and Mary with several funny and poignant moments, which director Marc Webb astutely executes. Evans and Grace are adorable together and their relationship is convincing. Grace is especially brilliant, particularly in one heartbreaking scene of perceived abandonment. Duncan is also impressive as the English grandmother with good intentions but questionable methods. Rounding out the main cast are equally strong performances from Jenny Slate as Mary's kind teacher and Octavia Spencer as Mary's motherly neighbour. Gifted is unlikely to be a box office hit but anyone who does see it will be completely sucked into the emotional roller coaster. 


Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Ali's Wedding

By Angie Raphael

3.5 stars

This romantic comedy is not perfect but it is the film Australia and the world needs right now. No overt political or religious statements are made in Ali's Wedding, but anyone who wants to learn more about Islam and the peaceful, family-orientated Muslim society in Australia should definitely see this film. As a Christian Lebanese-Australian, even I found parts of this film (sometimes embarrassingly) relatable. Like The Big Sick, this film is an eye-opener for anyone with questions about cultural hurdles many Muslims and people with non-Western backgrounds experience growing up in the Western world with parents still stuck in their traditional ways. It also hilariously shows how well Middle Eastern people do actually embrace Australian culture, especially the passion for AFL and cricket. Furthermore, there is still very little representation of people of colour and diversity of cultures in Australian film and television, so Ali's Wedding is refreshing. The film challenges racial, religious and gender stereotypes, but does it in a fun and engaging way.

Based on a true story, Ali's Wedding is about Ali (Osamah Sami, playing a version of himself), who wants to make his Muslim cleric father Mahdi (Don Hany) proud by becoming a doctor, but Ali does not do well enough in his exams and his true dream is (hilariously) to play a terrorist in a film. He also wants to be with Australian-born Lebanese medical student Dianne (Helana Sawires), but Ali has been promised to another woman. So, he lies and cheats until it all becomes too much for him to juggle duty and his own desires. Sami, who also co-wrote the film with Andrew Knight, is charming and has good chemistry with the delightful Sawires, while Hany adds gravitas to the film. Director Jeffrey Walker, known for his television work, clearly has no problem transitioning to film and the music throughout is also excellent. Ali's Wedding is so heart-warming and funny, it is no wonder it is already a multi-award-winning film.



Thursday, 24 August 2017

Terminator 2 in 3D

By Jackie Raphael

5 stars

How do you make a near-perfect film even better? Re-release it in 3D! Many films have tried 3D restoration over the years but sometimes it adds very little to the experience and is often just a technique to make more cash. Perhaps money was the key driver for re-releasing James Cameron's 1991 classic Terminator 2, but regardless, the 3D effects are fantastic. While 3D technology is frequently used as a gimmick in other films, Cameron always uses it as a tool to enhance the viewing experience and make the audience feel like they are in the scene with the characters. As the creator of Avatar, the first feature film to be shot in 3D, Cameron certainly knows how to use the technology to add to the action sequences. I watched Terminator 2 when I was far too young, so I cannot remember a time before I loved it. I was skeptical of the 3D release, but it actually does make the film aesthetically stronger. Whether you have seen the film 100 times or never before, it is worth enjoying on the big screen in 3D. It is only in cinemas for one week, so take the opportunity while you can.







Wednesday, 23 August 2017

American Made

By Angie Raphael

3 stars

This "true crime" comedy is a fictionalised version of the life of infamous pilot Barry Seal (Tom Cruise). In this story, he flies drugs, money and guns between Latin America and the United States while working for the CIA in the 1980s. American Made is an extraordinary story and yet the film is a little boring and superficial at times, which is the fault of screenwriter Gary Spinelli. Despite being a comedy, it lacks enough genuine laughs. But to Spinelli's credit, he keeps the relatively complex story easy to follow with a linear plot and voice over storytelling from Seal via a videotape confession. Director Doug Liman has re-teamed with Cruise following their success with Edge of Tomorrow, and Liman adds some strong stylistic elements to the film. Cruise clearly enjoys being back in the cockpit two decades after Top Gun but Seal is no Maverick, and sadly, neither is Cruise. The upbeat soundtrack is excellent and the fashion is mostly good too. The archive footage used throughout is also quite effective. I would love to see a mini-series fully explore Seal's story, it would surely be more satisfying.



Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Girls Trip

By Angie Raphael

3.5 stars

There are moments in Girls Trip that are so funny I was close to tears, but other scenes went too far with the crude humour. Nonetheless, the film certainly has some original gags. For example, I do not recall ever seeing a Hollywood film discuss the sexual act of "grapefruiting" before, although perhaps more sensitive viewers will wish that had remained the case. There are other hit-and-miss moments too. A dance-off and a sequence where the women get their drinks spiked with strong absinthe are entertaining, but a scene involving public urination fails to hit the mark. Unfortunately, the film also offers a mixed message about feminism despite the best intentions.

The Flossy Posse are former college friends including self-help guru Ryan (Regina Hall), celebrity gossip blogger Sasha (Queen Latifah), divorced nurse and mother Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) and aggressive motor-mouth Dina (Tiffany Haddish). They get together for the Essence Festival in New Orleans, but things start to unravel when Ryan is forced to deal with her cheating husband Stewart (Mike Colter). Hall plays the straight character, while Pinkett Smith and Latifah are both very funny, but Haddish has the most outrageous and raunchy lines. Importantly, the friendship between the quartet is believable. Viewers will also enjoy spotting the many performers making cameos in the film including Sean "Diddy" Combs, Common, Mariah Carey and Ne-Yo. For a very simple story though, Girls Trip did not need to have a running time of two hours. That was just sloppy of director Malcolm D. Lee and writers Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver. Nevertheless, Girls Trip is still a fun film to see with a group of friends.


Friday, 18 August 2017

Logan Lucky

By Angie Raphael

3.5 stars

This hillbilly heist film has a strong principal cast and cameos, many laughs and a clever twist at the end. Out of work coal miner and single father Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) recruits his one-handed brother Clyde (Adam Driver), hairdresser sister Mellie (Riley Keough), imprisoned criminal Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), and Joe's two idiot brothers Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam (Brian Gleeson) for an ambitious heist during a NASCAR race. Tatum and Driver are an unlikely duo but they are great together, while Craig is a scene stealer in a hilarious role and Farah Mackenzie is adorable as Jimmy's daughter. Smaller parts for Katie Holmes, Seth MacFarlane, Sebastian Stan, Hilary Swank, Jim O'Heir and others are also memorable in their own way. Director Steven Soderbergh has teamed up with first-time screenwriter Rebecca Blunt for this buddy action-comedy. While it is not as slick as some of Soderbergh's previous work, such as Ocean's Eleven, it is still entertaining. The story is not supposed to be believable so avoid grappling with some of the ridiculous moments and just let each scene wash over you. Logan Lucky is a little long and unoriginal, but it is an amusing popcorn film.



Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Dark Tower

By Angie Raphael

2.5 stars 

I often complain about directors being self-indulgent with overly long films. But director/co-writer Nikolaj Arcel should probably have added 15 minutes to The Dark Tower's 95-minute running time to flesh out the story and further develop the villain's background. Based on the book series by Stephen King, The Dark Tower is about last gun slinger Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), who is trying to stop Walter “The Man in Black” O'Dim (Matthew McConaughey) from bringing down the Dark Tower, which holds the universe together. Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is the child from Earth with special prophet powers who may be the key to either stop or help Walter. Elba's magnetic charm hugely improves the film and Taylor is also decent in his first feature role. But McConaughey seems uncommitted and his character is one-dimensional, which is a shame because Walter could have been a much more exciting villain. The final act is also messy and rushed. The Dark Tower is full of references to King's work, which fans will delight in noticing, but they will likely be disappointed with this film adaptation.


Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Elvis is Underrated

By Jackie Raphael

I realise the title of this post may perplex you. Elvis Presley is of course an icon, known as The King of Rock. While his music is widely celebrated, his films are often mocked. Some say they are all the same, his characters just change occupations slightly. I disagree. Sure some were similar, but that was certainly not Elvis’ fault. As we know, the studio dictated what he could do. Even still, among the 31 acting roles, he managed to touch many people over the decades. 

My mother partly learnt English by watching Elvis films, so as you can imagine, I grew up with a lot of Elvis in my life. Now the next generation is also being inspired by his swaying hips, deep voice and dreamy eyes. Even, my six-year-old niece has a little crush on Elvis. I hope in this new world of streaming and downloading that Elvis films are still found by the new generation. They are unlikely to fall upon the films as I did growing up with them appearing constantly as midday films. Now, everything is available at the click of a button, but you need to know what to search for. 

I am writing this post in celebration of his life on the 40th anniversary of his death. The best way to celebrate, of course, is to watch one of his many great films.

Here are my top 10 Elvis films:

1) Girl Happy - Always makes this girl happy! Elvis accidentally falls in love with the young woman he is meant to keep an eye on for her dad.

2) Fun in Acapulco - diving, circuses, a cute child ... what more could you want?

3) Clambake - a fun movie about fortune and love.

4) Love Me Tender - a tragic cowboy film. One of his best acting performances. 

5 ) Frankie and Johnny - based on a poem allegedly inspired by a true story. This film is about a woman who shoots her man. Great songs and fantastic costumes.

6 ) Follow That Dream - a goofy, loveable role for Elvis. The bank scene is especially hilarious.

7) Jailhouse Rock - a classic that helped form much of his identity today.

8) GI Blues - he makes a bet to win the girl, but who can deny Elvis in uniform?

9) Girls Girls Girls - singing and sailing is a great combination. 

10) Easy Come, Easy Go - a fight for treasure. This film is worth watching just for the yoga scene.


What are your favourite Elvis films? 


Sunday, 13 August 2017

Killing Ground

By Angie Raphael

3.5 stars 

If you ignored TLC when they sang the lyrics “Don't go chasing waterfalls”, perhaps you will heed the warning from writer/director Damien Power, whose first full-length feature Killing Ground is absolutely chilling to watch. It may not be the most original story, but this Australian film expertly plays up the idea of having a tranquil and isolated place turned into a creepy and dangerous situation. The story is told in a non-linear way, which adds some intensity as the sub-plots build and finally merge. Young couple Ian (Ian Meadows) and Sam (Harriet Dyer) are going camping. When they arrive at their destination, they find another tent already set up but no sign of its owners until they find a toddler wandering alone, which sets off a chain of harrowing events. What makes this film so unnerving is that the concept is plausible and it is not something many Aussies want to think about. The cast is solid but the villains, played by Aaron Pederson and Aaron Gelnane, are especially impressive. It is also great to see Sam being strong rather than a damsel in distress. One thing is certain – Power does suspense well. 


Thursday, 10 August 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

By Angie Raphael

3 stars 

With a poor film title and a woeful performance at the US box office, I was apprehensive about seeing Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, but I was pleasantly surprised. The film is a visual feast and the action sequences are great. The story definitely needed some improvement, but I do not understand why the film flopped so badly. Far worse films have done better. Based on the comic book series Valerian and Laureline, which partly inspired Star Wars and has some obvious similarities, this is an ambitious film by French writer/director Luc Besson. When a dark force threatens the diverse metropolis of Alpha, special operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Deleveingne) go on a mission to save the city of a thousand planets. Unfortunately, DeHaan is hardly believable as the lovable rogue he portrays, but he does have decent chemistry with Delevingne. Clive Owen is a fantastic actor but his evil character was one-dimensional and it is a waste of his talent. Rihanna and Ethan Hawke are also very random additions to the film. Valerian and the City of a Thousands Planets will probably attract a cult following and the special effects are memorable, even if aspects of the tale and dialogue are weak.


Wednesday, 2 August 2017

The Big Sick

By Angie Raphael

4 stars

Striking the right balance between humour and tragedy, The Big Sick is original and surprisingly relatable. Based on the true story of how writers Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani met and fell in love, this is a film especially enjoyable for anyone who has ever tried to navigate a relationship with someone from a different cultural background. Kumail (Nanjiani playing a version of himself) is from a strict Muslim Pakistani family that wants to arrange a marriage for him, but he wants to be a stand-up comedian and date a woman of his choice. He does not tell them about his blonde non-Muslim girlfriend Emily (Zoe Kazan), but when she has a serious health scare Kumail is forced to make some life-changing decisions. Nanjiani may not be Hollywood's typical leading man but he is great in this film and has good chemistry with Kazan too. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are also welcome additions as Emily's concerned parents with their own relationship issues to deal with, while Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff are a great pairing as Kumail's intrusive and traditional parents. Director Michael Showalter could have tightened a few scenes but The Big Sick is still one of the best romantic comedies in a long time. 


Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Wind River

By Angie Raphael

4 stars

There is one brutal scene in particular in Wind River that is so disturbingly confronting that I am still not quite over it. The story itself is not particularly unique, but it is the way writer/director Taylor Sheridan slowly reveals the tale that is so powerfully memorable and quite devastating. Whether he has done it intentionally or not, the film also bears relevance to current social issues about sexual violence. Wind River is about wildlife officer Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), who stumbles upon the body of an 18-year-old woman, who has been raped and left in the snow at an Indian reservation. Rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is out of her depth in the wintery climate and needs Cory's help to solve the crime. 

Gil Birmingham, who plays the victim's grieving father, is the stand-out actor in the film and Renner also gives one of his strongest performances. Olsen is good too, but her character is often a damsel in distress.‬ Jane is a fish out of water, which provides a few lighter moments in an otherwise very dark film, but for all the dialogue suggesting she is a strong and smart person, her actions are actually sometimes a bit too stupid. She does however have a few moments where she outdoes the men around her. Sheridan also weaves in a few too many impassioned speeches and it is doubtful these characters would actually speak that way. But he does keep the pace and shocks of the story moving quickly. The cinematography also beautifully captures the isolation and natural wonder of the Wyoming wilderness. You can almost feel the tortuously freezing temperatures depicted on screen. Wind River is a very good crime thriller.


Thursday, 27 July 2017

A Ghost Story

By Angie Raphael

3.5 stars

There is nothing scary about this ghost film but it is beautifully haunting and melancholic. A Ghost Story is about a man (Casey Affleck) who dies and continues to “live on” as a ghost in the home he shared with his partner (Rooney Mara), even after she moves on from the house. It is at times heartbreaking but also bittersweet. Writer/director David Lowery keeps the film short at about 90 minutes but the scenes are tense, often lacking dialogue and sometimes drawn out, which might put some people off. This is a surprising indie film with a white-sheeted ghost that looks childlike and comical but somehow it makes the film all the more powerful. The existential meaning behind the ending is also worth debating


Wednesday, 26 July 2017

War For The Planet of The Apes

By Angie Raphael

4 stars 

Each film in this series has touched on a slightly different aspect of the broader theme about scientific interference. This instalment delves further into social issues, drawing on parallels with current real life wars and politics. War For The Planet of The Apes is layered with emotion, thought-provoking and packed with action. The film begins with a brief summary of what transpired in the previous instalments before launching into a massive battle scene between the apes and human soldiers. After the apes suffer a significant loss, Caesar (Andy Serkis) seeks revenge and justice while also trying to avoid becoming the savage that humans believe the apes to be. 

Every scene is intricate in its detail and has a purpose, although sometimes director/co-writer Matt Reeves pushes the message and full circle moments too far. As a result, some scenes involving Amiah Miller, who plays a mute girl befriended by the apes, feel repetitive and the film is about half an hour too long. But watching Serkis do just about anything is such a mesmerising joy. If you never previously jumped on the bandwagon demanding his motion capture acting be recognised at the Oscars, this film might get you onboard. Meanwhile, Woody Harrelson is a formidable foe playing a Colonel who is such a horrible and unredeemable villain. Steve Zahn also provides a few laughs playing a former zoo ape, but the film perhaps needed more light moments. War For The Planet of The Apes is a fitting end to this blockbuster franchise and it is difficult to see where else the story can successfully go. 


Atomic Blonde

By Jackie Raphael

3 stars

This film has action, sex and violence, but Atomic Blonde does lack originality. It is based on the graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and tells the story of undercover agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), who is sent to Berlin in 1989 before the wall came down, to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover “the list”. While director David Leitch did a good job in terms of cinematography and use of the 1980s soundtrack, the plot itself was much like any other action film. More effort could have been taken to have costumes that better reflected the period, but there were subtle elements in the fashion.

Theron’s accent slipped several times, which was distracting, however her acting overall was strong and she is believable in the role. James McAvoy, who plays another spy deeply entrenched in Berlin, was amazing as always, in particular during a scene where he was being beaten and screaming in pain. There is a lot of gruesome violence throughout, which drew gasps of enjoyment from the audience. Leitch’s experience as a stunt double and coordinator was evident in the way he directed many of the highly-skilled and powerful fight sequences. The pace of the film was good, although it could have been slightly shorter.