Category: Film

Film review: Twist

A modern retelling of a Dickens’ classic with a little extra twist.

By Narelle Wood

In this remaking of Charles Dickens’ classic, directed by Martin Owen, Twist offers a fresh ending that addresses issues of exploitation, and provides some consequences for bad behaviour.

Filmed in a style that is something more akin to a Guy Richie action film in parts, the opening sequence follows a fast-paced parkour action sequence. This sets up not only the modern retelling, but the intrigue and misadventure that ensues. Owen’s direction slows throughout the film, replaced by an action-inspired soundtrack to help create a sense of urgency.

Young Oliver (played by both Samuel Leakey and Finley Pearson), all though brief in appearance, captures the naivety, sadness and grief that produces the older, wiser and self-sufficient Twist (Raff Law). With a disregard for authority and a need to belong and survive, Twist meets and befriends Dodge (Rita Ora), Batesy (Franz Drameh) and Red (Sophie Simnett), and is introduced into the seductively comfortable but manipulative underworld that Fagan (Michael Caine) has created. Fagan soon sees Twist’s potential as an advantage to his crew, and the sense of family offered by Fagan soon becomes apparent to Twist. The remake plays up the heist and thievery nature of the Oliver Twist original with interactions between Fagan andBill Sykes (Lena Headey) providing a glimpse into the real danger in the world these characters inhabit.

Stripped of the song and dance numbers the fans of the musical will be familiar with, the grit and devastation is at times more pronounced. The overt nature of some of the manipulation and, well to put it bluntly, grooming, I found to be a little uncomfortable, especially in contrast to the lighter feeling attempts at ‘street cred’ through the use of graffiti and parkour. The contrast between the street and the underworld was perhaps a little too great, making the twist ending plausible but perhaps a little bit too light.

There are some other points of unevenness, but I think it’s to be expected when you play with the very familiar storyline that is Oliver Twist, and put the experience of Caine and Headey up against the younger cast of Law, Ora, Drameh, and Simnett. That’s not to say these young actors don’t do a fabulous job, they absolutely do, just that Caine and Headey play the characters with an unquantifiable ease.

This is probably not going to hit the mark with die-hard Dickens traditionalists, but it is an interesting look at this previously dark children’s tale. It’s a grim tale with a lighter and satisfying ending.

Now showing.

Film review: Wrath of Man

Liver, lung, spleen, heart 

By Sebastian Purcell

Wrath of Man, directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Jason Statham (both the Fast and Furious and the Transporter franchises), is a pulsating thriller that oozes influences of James Bond, the Joker’s bank heist (The Dark Knight) and Sherlock Holmes.

‘H’ a quiet and mysterious new security guard for Fortico, a private armoured cash truck company, shocks co-workers as he saves his crew during a heist. With a score to settle and a personal hunt for those who took the most valuable thing from him, revenge and greed promise to lead to irreconcilable and devastating outcomes.  

Wrath of Man is a remake of the French film Le Convoyeur (Cash Truck). Ritchie directs with film noir references, dark, low lit scenes, often composed through doorways, offering partial views to the audience, obscuring the totality of the scene playing out, adding to the sense of anticipation. The score composed by Christopher Benstead compliments this, heavy and largely unrelenting, moving between resemblances of a beating heart or punctuated throughout like the heavy gun fire unloaded throughout the film.

The film certainly commands attention, and is split into four acts, each titled and while not necessarily in order, the film is cohesive and coherent, and is well paced as edited by James Herbert. The narrative is logical, but neither emotional nor unique, trading on the Oceans 11 / Sherlock Holmes style; describe a mission in the planning phase as it’s being carried out, which ultimately does the work for its audience rather than being clever or innovative. 

While the action scenes, of which consume almost the entire runtime, are captivating and the performances of a relatively large ensemble cast are serviceable, they are almost entirely lifeless. Statham is stoic, inhuman like in the face of grief and gives an action man performance making it a rather two-dimensional performance. The most tragic of events are given little more than an afterthought. They serve as a plot point and motivation for Statham rather than anchoring the narrative or performances in any emotional strength. Additionally there’s no light and shade, the minimal attempt at humour is confined to locker room banter. 

Man of Wrath is a polished Hollywood, action-packed thriller, with twists and turns aplenty. It’s suitable for mature audiences (MA15+), especially those who are fond of Ritchie’s cinematic style.

In cinemas from April 29, 2021. 

Film Review: Night Shift

A multi-dimensional exploration of the human condition

By Ross Larkin

Few nations are as adept at storytelling as the French, who consistently unearth the interesting in the everyday and find meaning in the unexpected. 

Night Shift (also known as Police) is one such example. At first glance, perhaps an unusual crime drama. On further inspection, however, a multi-dimensional exploration of the human condition, with virtually no reliance on the likes of gunfights, murder or explosions, often synonymous with such a genre.

Three police officers are saddled with transporting an illegal Tajikistani immigrant to the airport for deportation. En route, however, they learn of the man’s past and the conditions he was initially fleeing, and find themselves conflicted as to whether sending him back is morally acceptable. 

As one might expect from French arthouse tropes, the foundation is thoroughly established with much character development and emotional examination well before the arc of the story takes shape.

Knowing our three officers prior to their predicament, and understanding how and why they have such varying viewpoints on the subject become essential aspects to the success of the tension and conflict, as they come to loggerheads over the immigrant’s fate. 

Director Anne Fontaine avoids the temptation of excessive sentimentality and rather, allows her viewers to consider all sides and ultimately share in the conflicted perspectives. Even by the end, one isn’t quite sure how to feel, or what the full truth entailed, which are arguably the key ingredients to a satisfying and thought-provoking cinematic experience. 

Virginie Efira, Omar Sy and Gregory Gadebois play the three starkly different cops, combining subtle angst amidst moments of high-pressure strain with the utmost realism and poise. Likewise, Payman Maadi as the immigrant, conveys a world of emotion in very few words, only adding to the escalating tension. 

As one unexpected moment leads to the next, and no outcome seems off the table, Night Shift will undoubtedly have viewers in intense anticipation of the conclusion, the stakes all the higher due its naturalistic approach, believable context and very relevant and significant subject matter.

Night Shift is screening as part of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival at a variety of cinemas across Melbourne until the 31st of March. For tickets and session times go here: https://www.affrenchfilmfestival.org/ 

Photo courtesy of Studiocanal GmbH/Thibault Grabherr

Film Review: Then Came You

A delightful piece of escapism

By Narelle Wood

Then Came You, written by Kathy Lee Gifford and directed by Adriana Trigiani, is a slow-burn romance, set amongst the spectacular scenery of Scotland.

Howard (Craig Ferguson) is the owner of a Scottish Inn that has been in his family for generations. Annabelle (Kathy Lee Gifford) is a bereaved American, embarking on a world tour in the wake of her husband’s passing. From the moment they meet the chemistry and the inevitable clash of cultures, tastes and dreams are all evident. Howard is determined to keep the Inn working and part of his family, while Annabelle is ready to find new dreams, lamenting those dreams she once had and abandoned in pursuit of a different kind of life. Gavin (Ford Kiernan), Howard’s best friend, cuts a clownish figure but plays the wise truth telling confidant to both Howard and Annabelle, especially when it starts to become clear that Howard’s and Annabelle’s bickering is symptomatic of an increasing affection for each other.

Gifford’s take on a later in life romance is refreshing. It’s understated, and while the banter is full of double entendre and miscommunication, there is a maturity and wisdom that is seldom seen in films of this genre. Even with the inclusion of Clare (Elizabeth Hurley) there are clear points of conflict and the two women are very different, but Gifford does not trot out the tired trope of two women fighting over of a man, and finds another resolution. The direction by Trigiani matches the pace of the storyline beautifully, except for one moment about three quarters the way through the film. I’m sure this moment was supposed to be a homage to a past era or film, but it was one that was lost on me and I found that it only managed to disrupt what until that point felt like a gentle walk through the Scottish countryside with a couple of friends who happen to be falling in love.

While there is a lot understated about Then Came You, the scenery is certainly not; the green sweeping mountains, the Scottish Lochs, and the small Scottish roads lined with the sheep make this film worth watching even if you’re not a fan of love stories. It’s a delightful piece of escapism, that’s heart-warming and calming without being too overly sentimental.

In cinemas now.

Film Review: Cosmic Sin

A sci-fi film with a social conscience

By Nicola Sum

We are living in a time of protest. A level of activism, essential to our sense of community, continues to play out around the world. What of colonization? What of intention? Too much drama? Welcome to the grand scale of Cosmic Sin; a sci-fi meets social conscience film, filmed in 2020 against the backdrop of the global pandemic.

Director, Edward Drake, explores ideas of civilizations, cultures and erasures through a human versus aliens scenario. In 2524, mining companies claim planets, a global alliance looks for first contact (FC incidents) and back on earth we still drive SUVs on motorways. Sorry!

An FC incident on a faraway planet leads General Ryle (Frank Grillo) to gather his specialist team, headed by Ford (Bruce Willis), Goss (Perrey Reeves) and Tieve (Costas Mandylor). As the team engage the FC survivors, it becomes apparent that the aliens have plans for an invasion. Goss quotes her own thesis, “To kill a culture is to kill the very idea of creation. It is a sin against the cosmos”. Ergo- operation Cosmic Sin is launched, or as Ford puts it “Better them than us”.

The storyline is a mix of some poetic scripting, some intimate chatter across the main characters, and many scientific references to all things quantum – displacement, bomb, leap and so forth. Much kitting out later (courtesy of Hex Morris for his Icarus suits), and with some cool special effects (supervised by Ian Duncan), the rogue team go to war on the remote planet. The rest is for watching with a warning from the parasitic aliens about erasure of our species.

Ford leads with the confidence of his past experience, while Braxton, played by Brandon Thomas Lee, is the counter-balance of the promising young soldier. There are moments of mood shifting humour in the character of Dash (Corey Large, who also co-wrote this with Drake) and much serious-faced decision-making from Ryle.

Watch this for sci-fi entertainment. Watch it for the drama of war. Watch it because it is aiming to hold a mirror to our discourses of kingdoms, colonies and liberties. Not necessarily all in that order or that heavy a fashion, but the film is trying to say something, and it’s worth a listen.

In cinemas now.

Film review: Wrong Turn

Hipsters embroiled in hiking horror for not heeding warning

By Margaret Wieringa

Wrong Turn, directed by Mike P. Nelson, follows the adventures of a group of city-dwelling hipsters, heading out to hike the Appalachian Trail. As they embark on their adventure they are warned by the unfriendly small-townsfolk to stick to the marked path. Yet seemingly immediately, they deviate to visit a Civil War site and the horrors start. When you leave the road, you end up in the territory of The Foundation, a strange community who live far removed from modern society. And when you meet The Foundation, you don’t leave; alive or dead.

The Foundation members dress in camouflage – not the army pattern type, but covered head to toe in greenery topped with animal skulls. This is their home, and the audience is challenged about whether the barbaric snares and traps set up to protect their land from strangers are justified. Certainly, the interloping hikers are set up to be annoying and privileged, the opposite of the earthy, hard-living Foundation folks. It’s hard to be sympathetic to the plight of rich kids searching for an “authentic” experience, though it’s also hard to fall on the side of a group who have unwritten, unspoken rules and barriers and an inflexible method for justice. I struggled to side with either, which made me, at times, less invested in the outcome than perhaps I should have been.

I’m not a great horror film watcher; I’m really far too much of scaredy-cat. Right from the start, the soundtrack had an intermittent, disturbing drone which had me on edge. As the sequences became choppier, the discordant music and speedy camera movements nearly did me in. Add to that the intense, wide-eyed fearful stares of Charlotte Vega and Adain Bradley (playing Jen’s boyfriend, Darius), and the sudden, sharp and extremely graphic action sequences, and I was left with a horror film which I actually thoroughly enjoyed.

My recommendation is that you don’t watch Wrong Turn immediately before going camping. That was probably not my smartest decision. I can only hope I make it through without discovering a strange, cult-like group of folks living on the outskirts of Melbourne, though the film has given me some handy hints on how I might survive.

Wrong Turn is currently screening in cinemas across Australia.

Film Review: Escape and Evasion

A story of survival on the battlefield and of the mind

By Sebastian Purcell

Seth (Josh McConville) returns home from a mission in Myanmar after losing not only his fellow soldiers but also one of his best friends. Seth’s transition to life at home, becoming a father again, is punctuated by the series of PTSD episodes he experiences. Driven by the guilt he feels for the loss of his men and his actions, he is confronted by Rebecca (Bonnie Sveen) for answers about the death of her brother and Seth’s best mate Josh (Hugh Sheridan).

Writer and Director Storm Ashwood takes the all too familiar war in the jungle screenplay but overlays the effects of PTSD on returning servicemen. The use of alcohol to mask the pain, suicidal tendencies, inability to integrate and provide support to family are all themes explored. Ultimately the film seeks to reiterate that getting professional help is the most effective treatment; if a tough guy like Seth can accept help, then others can too. Ashwood also makes social commentary on the Australian Military’s role in training soldiers and not victims. Seth’s new mission is now to survive back in Australian suburbia.

McConville provides a committed performance throughout and the complexity he brings to the character is to be commended; displayed through his ability to swap between someone who displays brutal physical strength in a bar fight and survival in the jungle, to the vulnerable and emotional character in the aftermath of PTSD episodes.

The film uses flashback scenes to move the narrative forward and is well edited and paced by Editor Marcus D’arcy. The audience finds out the truth of what happened to Seth and his team as Seth re-lives the trauma and builds a bond with Rebecca. The most impressive scenes are the overlay between Seth’s current world and the trauma he is experiencing, allowing the audience to feel the same Seth’s horror, which, at times is realistically frightening. In saying that, I sometimes found the relationship between McConville and Sveen lacked chemistry, and at times, the physical relationship that develops feels quite forced.

This is an interesting take on a war film, but viewer discretion is advised as there are graphic torture scenes and suicidal material throughout.

Escape and Evasion is out in cinemas March 5, 2020.

Film Review: La Belle Epoque 

Hearteningly Humourous

by Joana Simmons

Revered French director François Truffaut once said: “The cinema is a perfect mix of truth and spectacle.” For the 31st Alliance Francaise French Film Festival (AF FFF) this year, this is proving true. The media night gave a rundown of a few of the 49 films in the program, highlighting that there are more socially charged themes, and the ever loved rom-coms are being given more of a farcical as well as meta, sci-fi twist. The feature for this evening was Nicolas Bedos’ La Belle Epoque, which received a seven minute standing ovation after the premier at Cannes Film Festival, and was an intriguing delight that had me on the warm and fuzzy edge of my seat from start to finish.

The film follows struggling cartoonist Victor (Daniel Auteuil, AF FFF19, Rémi, Nobody’s Boy), as his marriage, career and life is dissolving. His wife Marianne (Fanny Ardant, AF FFF16, Chic!) a psychoanalysis and lover of Freud who is as unhinged as her patients loathe him. As his life is unraveling, Victor meets Antione (Guillaume Canet, AF FFF19, Sink or Swim; and also starring in In the Name of the Land and directing We’ll End Up Together at this year’s Festival), the creative director of a company that recreates to the delightful detail any period in history for clients; whether it is to experience a time they wish they had been alive, or revisit a time and find redemption. Victor chooses to relive 1974, the time when he met Marianne. And so the film delightfully darts between the present day and the hazy 70’s, as through various ways, Victor finds meaning in this time, himself and his relationship.

The film is a splendid blend of cinematic suspension of disbelief, and the hilarity that is raw human existence, which was evident in the chuckles that hung over the audience. There is a complementary soundtrack in the classical and modern style, that suits both the ‘Frenchness’ of the film and the time periods. As viewers, we wish for the catharsis of time travel and resurgence of nostalgia, created by the delightful detail in the design and the way the plot weaves and follows the plight of the complex characters. 

La Belle Epoque is a whimsical and warm watch that offers lessons on love and life in equal measure.

Screening as part of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival at Palace Theatres and affiliate locations, in Melbourne from 11th March to 8th April. Details at http://www.affrenchfilmfestival.org/

 

Film Review: The Peanut Butter Falcon

A feel good adventure film

By Narelle Wood

From the moment it starts, The Peanut Butter Falcon establishes itself as an adventure film, with one of the film’s protagonists, Zak, destined to take us on an interesting, and as it turns out heart-felt, journey.

Zak (Zak Gottsagen) has down syndrome, and with no family or anyone to take care of him, he finds himself living in a retirement home under the watchful eye of Eleanor (Dakota Johnson). After Zak escapes to pursue his dream of learning to wrestle, he meets Tyler (Shia Labeouf), who after some trouble, is trying to escape his life and start anew elsewhere. While Zak and Tyler start to make their way down to Florida, Eleanor is out searching for Zak, eager to return Zak to safety. As with any good adventure story there is a lot to keep Zak and Tyler on their toes; near misses by bandits and boats, some near drownings and some not so friendly gun fire.

While this is an adventure story, likened to a modern day tale of Huckleberry Finn, this is also a story of redemption. Tyler is grappling with his past, and some more recent choices, and it is Zak who quickly helps him get in touch with his more caring side. Eleanor is forced to face up to her part in keeping Zak in less than ideal accomodation; Zak is young, clever and determined to pursue his dreams. And as for Zak, he has an opportunity to learn his limitations and push past more than a few assumptions he has about himself.

Written and Directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, this film captures the way people are able to bring out the best in each other, and that family is sometimes the people you chose. The scenery is beautiful, and Nilson and Schwartz use the setting to their advantage making it an integral part of the adventure, providing refuge, as well as causing some trouble. Similar to the raft the duo travel on for much of the film, the story drifts along with purpose but at an easy pace; if anything everyone seems to come to grips with their personal struggles rather quickly and easily, but this does allow the space for some moments of action at the end of the film.

Labeouf and Johnson are great in their troublemaker and do-gooder roles, but Gottsagen is superb providing most of the films highlights and some laugh-out-loud moments. What’s particularly lovely about the film, is that it doesn’t shy away from exploring the difficulties someone with down syndrome experiences – it raises some significant questions about the way we treat people with disabilities – but the story is also about so much more than this one aspect of Zak’s character.

The Peanut Butter Falcon is a feel good adventure story, and worth watching just to see the Peanut Butter Falcon come in to being.

Now playing in cinemas.

 

Film Review: Bombshell

An outstanding portrayal of three strong, yet vulnerable women

By Narelle Wood

Bombshell is one of the most important films of this era. Not because it deals with the landmark sexual harassment lawsuit involving Fox News, but because it does so in such a nuanced and complex fashion.

Based on true events, the storyline starts with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly’s (Charlize Theron) interactions with Trump during the Republican Primaries of 2015, before introducing Fox journalist Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and fictionalised staffer Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie). We quickly learn of Carlson’s intention to pursue legal action for the sexist behaviour and harassment she has endured during her time at Fox, specifically at the hands of Roger Ailes (John Lithgow). Woven throughout Kelly’s and Carlson’s stories, is the story Pospisil and her quest to move from the production team to on-air talent, and the manipulation and abuse of power that this ambition makes her susceptible to.

Each of these storylines are supported by a wide range of both real and fictional characters, including Kelly’s husband Doug Brunt (Mark Duplass), executive producer Gil Norman (Rob Delaney), research staff (Brigette Lundy-Paine, and Liv Hewson,), Kayla’s friend (Kate Mckinnon), as well as Richard Kind as Major Giuliani and Allison Janney as Robert Ailes’ lawyer, Susan Estrich. The responses from Rupert, Lachlan and James Murdoch’s (Malcolm McDowell, Ben Lawson, Josh Lawson respectively) are also woven throughout as they attempt to navigate between making money and protecting Fox’s reputation. The different characters’ responses range from the straight-down-the-line it should never have happened, to there’s no way it did, and everything in between. All of this highlighting the problematic nature of reporting sexual harassment for the victims – shame, embarrassment, fear, anger, relief, and for some, a loss of job, friends, money and respect.

The story doesn’t unfold in a linear fashion. Director Jay Roach cuts between storylines, and snippets from the past – using some archival footage to do so – to help paint a fuller picture of the events leading up to Aile’s demise. What’s intriguing about the film is that there are moments where the camera angles would traditionally objectify women – focusing on their legs, the tight costumes – but the camera never lingers. In doing so Roach manages to highlight the culture at Fox without assigning blames to the victims, instead he raises some really important questions about the complicit nature of all Fox News employees.

Charles Randolph’s script is intelligent and empathetic, capturing seemingly every conceivable perception, creating characters that are likeable one moment and then challenging to watch the next. Pospisil who is clever and kind is also determined and naïve. Even Ailes is given some redeeming features, which highlights how manipulative, creepy and appalling his predatory behaviour was.

Theron, Kidman and Robbie are outstanding in their portrayal of three strong, yet vulnerable women. Theron is so good as Kelly it could have been Kelly herself on the screen. Kidman captures a quiet and calculated anger, while Robbie, yet again, shows just how damn good of an actress she is. In fact the performances across the film are faultless.

Bombshell is not an easy watch, but a necessary one. While the true events may have started a very important conversation, the film keeps this conversation going and adds some new perspectives, especially in a time when people’s behaviour, and understandings about what is acceptable, are being challenged – and rightfully so.

Now playing in cinemas.