Detroit

Directed By: Kathryn Bigelow
Written By: Mark Boal
Starring: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Anthony Mackie, John Krasinski

Detroit opens with a series of detroit-jpganimated Jacob Lawrence paintings, used to escort an abridged history lesson in African-American tribulation. Accompanying text tells of the post-World War African-American migration from the south of the U.S to the north, the job discrimination and residential segregation that followed, the prejudices which tainted legal discourse for black folk living in areas of white law enforcement. The sequence establishes the U.S, Detroit specifically, as a racial pressure cooker by the 1960s, its eventual eruption to be the focus of the film’s forthcoming action. That same sequence also closes with the posing of a question which will loom over the picture for its duration, providing a constant tap into viewer terror Continue reading “Detroit”

Murder on the Orient Express

Directed By: Kenneth Branagh
Written By: Michael Green
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Michelle Pfeiffer

“There is something about a tangle Murder-on-the-Orient-Express-poster-1of strangers pressed together for days with nothing in common but the need to go from one place to another” remarks the director of the ornate passenger train the Orient Express. Similarly, there is something about a tangle of mega big-name stars, pressed together on a set and sporting variously exotic accents as they find themselves enraptured in one of the world’s most famous whodunits.

True, Murder on the Orient Express doesn’t “press” its stars together as much it could (it is unadvisedly, by its conclusion, rather a one man show) but this is an epic tangle, one which in its mere assembling provides an inherent cinematic thrill. For what purpose would one Continue reading “Murder on the Orient Express”

Thor: Ragnarok

Directed By: Taika Waititi
Written By: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Kyle (based on the Thor comic books by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby)
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo

It’s long been a distinguishing thor_ragnarok_posterfeature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that comedic flair which underpins those lavish, CG fuelled action set-pieces and stirring melodrama. Ever since the effortlessly charismatic, incessantly zany, and quick-with-a-quip Robert Downey Jr. first donned the Iron Man suit in 2008, and with it fostered the rise of an entire studio and 16 resulting films, Marvel has long hung their hat on their ability to deftly blend tones of light and dark. Even when the Universe’s hottest commodities squared off in a calamitous brawl with mass political ramifications and which, somehow, along the way conjured near-tear jerking affect (2016’s Civil War), Marvel and their team of passionate writers and enthused Continue reading “Thor: Ragnarok”

The Snowman

Directed By: Tomas Alfredson
Written By: Hossein Amini, Peter Straughan and Soren Sveistrup (based on the novel The Snowman by Jo Nesbo)
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Val Kilmer, J.K. Simmons

Perhaps The Snowman was always IjMDP4adestined to disappoint given the talent involved. In front of the camera: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, J.K. Simmons, Toby Jones, Charlotte Gaunsbourg. Behind it: Tomas Alfredson (a proven hand at wrestling thrills out of complex subject matter, hence Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), the legendary Martin Scorsese as producer, Scorsese’s long-time cohort Thelma Schoonmaker editing, and a source material with a mountain of big screen prospects to match its popularity, the Norwegian crime/thriller novel of the same name by Jo Nesbo. But The Snowman doesn’t just disappoint by the high expectations it invites, it disappoints by any standard— a confused, tensionless mess that never hangs together Continue reading “The Snowman”

Happy Death Day

Directed By: Christopher B. Landon
Written By: Scott Lobdell
Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Rachel Matthews, Ruby Modine

One could hardly imagine a more hdd-teaseronesheet-5940d0221309f-1benevolent slasher film than Happy Death Day. There’s very little slashing for one, hardly a skerrick of blood to be found on its canvas. In fact, our protagonist and sole victim can’t even be killed, not for good anyway. And the story is more concerned with edgy teen humour, coming of age epiphanies and fluffy college romance than it is with body counts or butcherings.

This approach isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. In fact, it’s one of the principle allures of Happy Death Day, a film whose mere title serves as a confession of absurdity and whose mechanics are assuredly light, up-tempo, and free of cynicism. It’s more a teen comedy with a whodunit inflection and a few horror tropes sprinkled Continue reading “Happy Death Day”

Song to Song

Directed By: Terrence Malick
Written By: Terrence Malick
Starring: Rooney Mara, Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett

Terrence Malick’s latest feature e8be62e095687ae524e8a56dae199c7c--song-to-song-ryan-gosling-michael-fassbenderSong to Song poses a stifling conundrum: play as a more conventional melodrama and better serve the story, albeit at the forfeiture of that marvelled Malickian aesthetic. Or, preserve that unique aesthetic, stand apart from the crowd, but alienate your audience. Malick, as a point of interest, opts for the latter, and his film suffers for it.

Seldom is it stated that a movie should be more conventional, especially of someone like Terrence Malick, whose artistry, boldness and singularity behind the camera will be cherished and studied for centuries to come. But Song to Song is an indulgence, its director apparently too concerned with flexing his avant garde muscle to craft an accessible, or feeling, narrative.

That narrative ostensibly regards the Austin music scene, the film often returning to the knolls and backstage settings of festivals littered with stars playing themselves—Iggy Pop, Patti Smtih, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, even a bizarrely unhinged Val Kilmer, who takes to amplifiers with chainsaws and hacks at his hair with scissors onstage. But there is very little musical performance in this film, or even talk of it. The industry, rather, serves as a backdrop through which our three principles meet—stars-in-her-eyes Faye (Rooney Mara), up-and-comer BV (Ryan Gosling), and an all-powerful record producer Cook (Michael Fassbender).

These three form a love triangle. Faye sleeps with both men, Cook in the hope of jump starting her music career, BV out of something more genuine. Meanwhile, those same two men establish a successful working partnership together, before BV begins to suspect that Cook might be taking advantage of him.

Much happens between these characters: many tears, many fights, much laughter, significant tragedy, great heartache. Malick might have told an engaging story with them if he had played it straighter and allowed these performers the room to breathe and texture their characters. The performances are strong, but so obtrusive is Malick’s style, so relentlessly impressionistic is his approach, that we never seem to catch more than the emotional residue of each scene. It’s like watching someone attempt to recreate a dream they had experienced months prior. Malick, we’re led to believe, must see the world as one never-ending montage, so vague and disjointed his vision is.

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It has fast become a cliché to remark that Malick’s films play like extended fragrance commercials, but it’s difficult to offer a more tonally truthful summation of Song to Song: a glowing, alluring surface; big name stars on show; glamorous; wallowing in its own cryptic, artsy-ness; ultimately visual gobbledygook. Perhaps a two-hour music video would be a fitting comparison?

There are emotional outlines that we can pick-up on. We know that there is genuine affection between Faye and BV, occasionally even feel it. We know that Cook is animalistic in both his sexual hunger and his hedonism, occasionally even sense it. There is a certain visceral energy permeating the film. But all we see and directly experience is a series of decontextualized images: seemingly random laughter, seemingly random pirouetting, seemingly random piggy backing, seemingly random sexual encounters, and excessive naval gazing— Malick as ever content to fawn over his reliably stunning vistas, lavish settings and attractive stars, Emmanuel Lubezski deftly capturing that dreaminess and trademark Malickian golden sunlight that for so long has defined the director’s pallet. For a time Malick’s visual style might even distract us from the hollowness of the exercise.

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Every movement and gesture is treated as though it’s defining, something to be relished, the director ducking and weaving between his characters with dexterous camera work, attempting to immerse his viewer in their frenzied lifestyle. Cook experiences a devastating loss, a mother’s heart is broken, Faye falls out with her father at a gas station, BV sobs (in the only scene that conjures true affect) as he picks crumbs off his father’s limp, bed-ridden body which awaits death. These things happen, each under the guise of being tantamount to each concerned party. And they ought to be, that would certainly be the case in a more conventional drama, but with hardly a trace of the necessary connective tissue between these scenes to situate them within a larger story, to give them larger purpose, we are merely left with a collection dramatic sketches.

There is something to be said for marching to your own rhythms, to be instantly identifiable by your approach, to subvert the customs of cinema in this age of patterned storytelling. There’s more to be said for telling a story that reaches its audience. We should care, because we want to, given the pieces that are in play, but we can’t.

As if to illustrate the point, Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman are also in this film. They turn up, look pretty, get briefly involved with BV and Cook respectively, and then they cease being in the film. Two of the most decorated actresses working, three Oscars between them. They come. They go. We forget them. They didn’t matter.

Rating:

1.5/4

Blade Runner 2049

Directed By: Denis Villeneuve
Written By: Hampton Fancher and Michael Green (based on characters from the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick)
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright

Consider the dangers inherent in BR2049_Key_Art_(US)_-_8.24_1200_1851_81_sreviving a property such as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner for purposes of a sequel. Scott’s 1982 science-fiction noir is now seminal, a touchstone not only of its genre, but of its medium—to make only a great film using its name wouldn’t be enough. Think of the corporate traps a Blade Runner sequel must navigate—whilst critically one is playing with fire, financially one can’t help but worry that the name is being revived in the mere hope of it serving as a blank cheque, such are the plaudits Scott’s sci-fi talisman has amassed in the decades since its initial release; it’d be tempting to merely ride that reputation’s laurels.

Blade Runner 2049 isn’t that kind of sequel though. From it’s opening frames, 2049 moves with Continue reading “Blade Runner 2049”

Battle of the Sexes

Directed By: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Written By: Simon Beaufoy
Starring: Billie Jean King, Steve Carell, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Andrea Riseborough

Before Mayweather and Battle-of-the-Sexes-Australian-PosterMcGregor, there was another inter-promotional, glorified sideshow sporting bout, one that had a lot more riding on it than sheer prize money. It was a tennis match, contested in 1973, to a live crowd of thirty thousand plus and a viewing audience of 90 million, to this day the most viewed clash in the history of the sport. It was played between 55-year-old hall of famer Bobby Riggs, and then reigning women’s world number one, 29 year old Billie Jean King. Ostensibly the prize was $100,000, winner takes all. In reality, King was fighting for women’s equity in the sport, carrying the torch for women across the world entire who had been pegged back for their Continue reading “Battle of the Sexes”

Mother!

Directed By: Darren Aranofsky
Written By: Darren Aranofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier mother-posterBardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer

The first thing we see in Darren Aronoksky’s Mother! is those titular letters being scrawled onscreen in cursive, the arrival of the exclamation mark punctuated by the playful ping of a typewriter’s bell. Next, in extreme closeup, we see a face, one we aren’t familiar with, enveloped in flames, the skin in the process of blackening and melting. Then, a man places a crystal on a pedestal as the decrepit, debris laden structure in which he stands regenerates into a beautiful house.

The man is to be known only as Him (played by Javier Bardem), and he lives alone with his significantly younger wife (Jennifer Lawrence, she is known as Mother) in an isolated, overly spacious Continue reading “Mother!”

Victoria and Abdul

Directed By: Stephen Frears
Written By: Lee Hall (based on the book Victoria and Abdul by Shrabani Basu)
Starring: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Adeel Akhtar, Michael Gambon

On an innocuous day in 1887, a victoria-and-abdul-posterseemingly random Indian clerk was suddenly whisked away to London to participate in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations. His name was Abdul Kareem, and he was to merely present her majesty with a commemorative coin before seamlessly retreating into some far corner of the palace. “Don’t make eye contact with her!” Adbul is belligerently instructed by the Queen’s chief courtier. But when the moment comes, eyes do meet, a slight smile is made, and Abdul Kareem lands at the centre of the Queen’s platonic affections, where he’s to remain for the next 13 years.

It’s a cute and pleasant tale of unlikely companionship at the heart of Victoria and Abdul Continue reading “Victoria and Abdul”