UnknownDriving around Los Angeles, there are only two films being advertised on the city’s billboards. This is astonishing, because this is the movie capital of the world and there is normally shit going on – usually. But there are only two, and one of them, Cinderella, which is what you think it is – a huge Disney live-action remake – occupies about an eighth of the available ad space. Everywhere else – and I mean everywhere else – every billboard from Hollywood to West LA, from Santa Monica to the Deep Valley – is advertising a flick called GET HARD.

The billboards bend over backwards (not literally) to tell you what the film is: It’s Will Ferrell as a White Man going to prison, and Kevin Hart as a Back Man training him to survive once incarcerated. The tag line – “An Education in Incarceration” – was probably also the pitch. And the supplement posters – those cheaper ones that are placed on hoardings, trying to look “street cool” but obviously no less Studio than the big ones – are everywhere. You can’t turn around in Los Angeles without being aware of this film. And it’s ruining the brand of the film with every turn.

It’s bad. The fact that this film – which has a perfectly decent “hi-concept” premiseinfiltrates my eyes everywhere I walk, drive, turn – is annoying. I have no idea how heavily it’s being promoted in other cities, but in Los Angeles, it’s absolutely bonkers. Why? Why possibly take up every billboard? Isn’t seeing the name – and the actors – and the concept – of the film seven times a day enough? Does it have to be seventy times a day?

The last time I remember a film being this plastered all over LA was the Zach and Downey road trip flick Due Date. Lest anyone forget. Overkill is overkill.

banner-the-second-best-exotic-marigold-hotel-film**1/2 (out of five)

If you liked The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, there’s more of the same for you here. Indeed, The Second Best Exotic Marigold is the very definition of an unnecessary sequel, and its title tells you the truth straight up. It’s the second best.

Happy to bring back the characters from the first one (who survived), the film barely bothers with plot. Instead, it creates a wee batch of usually romantic dilemmas in order to keep our beloved older English thesps bouncing around a batch of unbelievably beautiful Indian locations. Warning: do not go to India expecting it to look like it does here. There are not burning candles around every corner.

Richard Gere is thrown into the mix (eliciting mini-orgasms from some of the Grand Dames of the English Theatre) as a silver fox looking to write his first novel, and possibly for love. Indeed, he falls for someone so hard, so quickly that you’re surprised they didn’t whack a booooiiiiinnnnggg! on the soundtrack. His speech in the middle of the film, to the object of his affections, is a deeply terrible piece of writing, but Gere gets through it, I’m sure with his paycheque in mind. (He gets through the de rigueur Indian dance number at the end, too, looking truly young amongst the British Senior Acting Luvvies).

Look, they’re all doing it for the paycheque, or perhaps for a passage to India, and to hang out and talk about when Gielgud farted in the fourth act of Lear. It’s a crass cash-in, but these old thespians are charming as hell, and the movie coasts breezily by on that alone, which is just enough.

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**** (out of five)

How do you explain a talent like J.C. Chandor, who seems to come to feature filmmaking fully-formed in 2011 with Margin Call, the best financial thriller – and best non-documentary film about the Global Financial Crisis – ever made? Who then takes on the challenge of a “one-man movie” with 2013’s All Is Lost (Robert Redford on a sinking boat) and makes it work – incredibly well? Who then makes a seriously excellent, wintry, highly literate and seriously foreboding drama like A Most Violent Year, thus hitting three for three as both writer and director of all?

The answer, of course, is that Chandor, a true auteur, is young (41) and is of a generation who has been able to achieve enormous film literacy. Each of his films is unique and original but they’re reflections of films he’s seen: Margin Call is his Wall Street, All Is Lost his Castaway, and now A Most Violent Year his version of a New York crime drama, massively influenced by The Godfather and Once Upon A Time In America, especially in cinematography (Bradford Young, who also shot Selma). Chandor and his collaborators show evidence of enormous understanding of the language of cinema, and his control of his craft – even as he challenges himself dramatically with each new film – is remarkable.

A Most Violent Year follows a morally good business man, Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) and his slightly more ethically dubious wife and bookkeeper Anna (Jessica Chastain) as they try to grow their heating oil business in the boroughs of New York City in 1981. Up against them is the fact that all their rivals are corrupt or criminal, one of them is violently stealing the oil from his trucks by hijacking them, an industry-wide criminal investigation is about to snare him in its net, and the whole city is aflame with crime – 1981 was New York City’s “most violent year” on record.

The film isn’t actually particularly violent, but it’s infused with massive levels of cold dread and foreboding, and is never less than thoroughly compelling. Exquisitely acted, scripted and shot, it’s a major work for discerning adults. I loved it, and J.C. Chandor is now firmly in my list of directors whose work I will always see. Actually, make that “auteurs” – his writing is every bit as good as his direction. He’s the real deal.

A MOVIELAND “in deep” discussion of A MOST VIOLENT YEAR: https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/in-deep-a-most-violent-year/id668507582?i=336475014&mt=2

Jupiter Ascending

Posted: February 22, 2015 in Uncategorized

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***
(out of five)

You get a lot of movie for the price of your ticket with The Wachowski’s Jupiter Ascending, a crazy, fun, infuriating, difficult, fun, bonkers, expensive, fun, ludicrous, romantic, fun flick. It is flawed but is full of… fun. I had a great, cheesy time.

Jupiter Jones (surely a movie character has been called that before?) cleans bathrooms, until a half-man / half-dog zips her off into the greater universe because she’s… well, the Queen of the Universe. By birth. She doesn’t know it. Obviously. Who does?

Mila Kunis, one of the most beautiful people in the universe, plays Jupiter, and Channing Tatum, one of the most beautiful people in the universe, plays the dog. Together, they max the screen out on beauty, and, ultimately, it works.

The film is full of cool ideas, really strange characters, and endless cool design. It’s a CGI-fest, but not necessarily an annoying one. The Wachowskis know how to go big. This one is huge. And it’s fun, fun, fun. You’ll forget it the moment it’s over, and the story is ludicrous, but it’s… pretty awesome, at a very popcorn level. Eddie Redmayne delivers the campest, most ludicrous performance of the year, and it’s great. If you live in a marijuana-legalised state, go crazy.

Citizenfour

Posted: February 16, 2015 in Uncategorized

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****1/2 (out of five)

Laura Poitras’s Citizenfour is vital, urgent, and breathtaking, not necessarily because of any razzle-dazzle in the filmmaking, nor in any spectacular conceit, nor due to any incredibly detailed argument. It is brilliant because it captures an intimate moment of history that will reverberate through the ages; a moment that would not have been captured had not a connection been made.

That connection was between Edward Snowden, Poitras, and journalist Glenn Greenwald. When Snowden decided to become a whistleblower he made a very canny decision: not just to contact his favourite journo but also his favourite documentary filmmaker. Thus, we have the whistle, blown, but we also have this incredible document of the whistle being blown, as it is being blown.

This is history in front of your eyes, from the most intimate perspective: about eight days of Snowden in a hotel room in Hong Kong, giving his acquired documents to Greenwald and Guardian journo Ewen MacAskill, then splitting for Russia. Not a re-creation, not a construction: Poitras’s camera in the hotel room as everything goes down. You see Snowden on email with his long-time girlfriend as she realises he’s never coming home; you see the human rights lawyers arriving to take up Snowden’s case; you see Snowden deciding how to leave the room, and disappear into a future that he has no idea about.

It’s thrilling, unbelievably thrilling. Even though we know Snowden is safe in Moscow (at least for now), the sense of danger (and paranoia, a huge theme of the film) is tangible. There’s a dazzling sequence where Snowden looks out of his Hong King hotel window, and Poitras shows what he’s seeing twice, which is a pretty Hong Kong Square. The first time, we get the sense of Snowden’s self-imposed imprisonment: he’s been in that room for a week (like Julian Assange has been in that Ecuadorean Embassy for some years now), and can’t simply venture out into the pretty Square; the second, we get the sense that the Square could be swarming with people wanting to snatch Snowden away – to who knows where. After all, the crimes he’s accused of are terribly punishable.

Snowden himself comes off as hugely intelligent, hugely ethical, and hugely likeable. I would want to be his friend if he wasn’t exiled in Russia. There is no sense of him seeking self-promotion – what kind of self-promotion leads you to exile? – but only of moral responsibility. Indeed, you just wonder why more people haven’t come forward about the necromancies of the NSA; perhaps it is only fear.

This film is full of incredibly intelligent, brave people, to the point of making one feel a little inadequate. It’s an international spy tale told in (almost) real time, and it’s the truth. Snowden’s leaks really put the US Administration into a scrambling, blubbering mess, and caused international outrage, and so they should have. Alex Gibney’s Wikileaks: We Steal Secrets was a brilliant film about Wikileaks and Julian Assange, but Poitras’s film is like an incredible photograph, capturing a singular moment in history. She was invited to be there by Snowden so, in some ways, it’s not her brilliance on display; the fact that Snowden chose her, however, is evidence of her brilliance on display. Regardless, it’s the documentary of the year. Amazing.

Selma

Posted: February 15, 2015 in Uncategorized


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**** (out of five)

Like its lead character, Ava DuVernay’s Selma is a methodical, thoughtful, careful, patient, intelligent, and extremely well-spoken film about a major subject – the gaining of the black vote in the United States in the 1960s. Not a biopic of Dr. Martin Luther King, it is instead a focussed study of the birth of a piece of legislation – resembling Lincoln in this regard – and, like that film, contains a lot of politics, back-room dealing, decision-making and compromise. In other words, politics. It’s a film about Martin Luther King as a political animal, the theories and tenants of peaceful protest as he applied it to protests in 1965 – in particular the march from Selma to Montgomery – and his relationships with his allies and enemies, and in particular Lyndon B. Johnson, who could be both at the same time.

The film crackles with absolutely fantastic dialogue (screenwriter Paul Webb, his only film credit!) It is also full of crackerjack performances, led by David Oyelowo as King, but with excellent turns by Tom Wilkinson as Johnson, Wendell Pierce (Bunk!) as Reverend Hosea Williams, Tim Roth as a truly repellant Governor George Wallace, and Omar J. Dorsey as James Orange. But there are so many actors in this movie – Dylan Baker as J. Edgar Hoover (how good is that for casting!), Giovanni Ribisi as Lee White, Oprah Winfrey, Common, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Stephen Root, Cuba Gooding Jr… all great, and contributing to a huge mosaic.

DuVernay has a lot to deal with, and if the film has a flaw it’s with the pacing; there are set-pieces, but much of the film is back-room politics, and some of these scenes, despite the dialogue always being fresh, are more successful that others. Any of the scenes with King and Johnson are good, and there is a spectacular scene between Wilkinson as Johnson and Roth as Wallace, all the more so because, well – both those guys are British, yo!

Oyelowo is spectacular as King, getting huge moments in the big speeches but also perfect in his quieter scenes, always trying for the best possible course of action, always trying to see the wood for the trees. Here is an actor you can see thinking. Again, he’s a Brit. You never notice. He gives a perfect performance, one of the best of the year. Carmen Ejogo is also excellent as Coretta Scott King, and their scenes together, which basically show that King was fallible, are powerful. But this is a movie where you come for the politics, stay for the politics, and then are moved to tears at the end. It’s amazing it’s been this long for this story to hit the Silver Screen. It’s hit it well.

Kingsman The Secret Service

Posted: February 5, 2015 in Uncategorized

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**1/2 (out of five)

There’s a lot of spitfire razzle-dazzle but barely any wit, panache or charm in Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman The Secret Service, a huge bloated misfire of a movie that sits like a spew stain on the impeccable jacket of Colin Firth’s body of work. While the bounteous fight sequences have verve and style, the rest of the film does not.

Vaughn has stated that he wanted to make a “love letter” to the spy films and series he loved from the 60s and 70s, including the Flint movies, the films featuring Harry Palmer, The Avengers (the television show), The Man From UNCLE and the Bond films of Connery and Moore. But the film he has delivered feels like none of those. Instead, the most powerful resonance it has is, in tone, style, structure, script, pace and design is Kick-Ass. Vaughn has not made a 70s spy caper, but a Matthew Vaughn film, and easily his worst.

The lack of anything resembling a true laugh line or visual gag is a huge problem, but that wouldn’t matter if there was an underlying, easygoing wit, which there isn’t. Everything just looks like it’s trying way too hard. Firth, as superspy (and super fighter) Harry Hart, is terribly uncomfortable in the role, possibly because he was hoping to have some dry bon mots to deliver that never materialised. He’s stuck having to sip scotch in lieu of being actually suave (and god forbid he gets a chance to be sexy – there’s nothing sexy in the film whatsoever, which is completely the opposite of what’s going on in all the films and shows Vaughn claims to be honouring: they were all about being sexy).

An origin story of how a young man (Taron Egerton, who will at least get a career based off this) is inducted into the titular secret service, the film is neither a parody of its genre nor the claimed “love letter” to it. It’s actually, and ultimately, just a substandard entry to the field, which really bottoms out as it name-checks the others (Bond, Bourne, even Bauer from 24), reminding you that they all do this much, much better.