Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


Why won’t audiences embrace new space operas? John Carter of Mars, Jupiter Ascending and now Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets all met tepid to disastrous box office responses in most national markets, all but assuring an unlikely franchise future. Meanwhile, any old Star Trek or Star Wars film will make at least $500m and the “good” ones will crack  $1billion. Franchise Fever is self-perpetuating.

In the case of Valerian, it’s a great shame, because it’s a really fun movie with a couple of very appealing characters we could gladly follow through multiple adventures. Based on director Luc Besson’s childhood favourite comic strip Valerian and Laureline, this infamously expensive (c. $190,000,000) extravaganza is colourful, eccentric and cool, full of sublime design, eccentric set-pieces and easy-going humour. It’s also – contrary to many US reviews – completely “comprehensible”. If you can’t follow the plot of this, stay away from Personal Shopper.

That plot concerns space-soldiers Valerian and Laureline investigating a genocide, a cancerous energy force at the centre of a gigantic space station, and the protection of the last surviving remnant of a powerful species. Both lead actors are new to me. Dane DeHaan, as Valerian, has an enjoyably mischievous twinkle and a cool deep voice that may actually be an homage to Keanu Reeves vocals in The Matrix. Cara Delevingne, as Laureline, is much more impressive. There’s no available evidence here as to whether she’s ready to play Broadway, but she’s absolutely across the performance style required for this surprisingly specific genre. This isn’t “hard” science- fiction, it’s popcorn Sci-Fi, light and sweet and fun, and Delevingne hits her beats with aplomb. In some ways, Laureline is the Han Solo to Valerian’s Luke Skywalker – more gutsy, faster with a quip, more charismatic generally – and Delevigne gives a Harrison Ford performance, whereby a scowl, an eyebrow or a shifty look to the left can raise a gentle laugh.

Besson – who has supposedly wanted to make this film for decades – directs with utmost professionalism. The film looks great – sleek, polished and seamless – while also distinctive, favouring intriguingly bold close-ups, vibrant angles, and a humongous assortment of creatures who all feel more like good-ol’ animatronics than CGI (whatever the actual case may be). This is a  “blue-sky” film, suitable and probably best appreciated by kids (“of all ages”), and the tone is merry.

My biggest quibble is with the story’s framing device of Valerian asking for – and desperately wanting – Laureline’s hand in marriage. Laureline and Valerian are so child-like (or at least, teen-like), and their relationship is so chummy, that they feel far more like sister and brother than potential lovers. Their chemistry isn’t sexual, it’s familial. One doesn’t want them to kiss, one wants to see ‘em give each other noogies.




Posted: June 7, 2017 in Uncategorized

It’s the Opening Day of the Sydney Film Festival and here are my ten picks! Thanks to my colleagues at – Lawrence Lim, Bruce Dawson and Sam Ryan. While you’re there, check out some of their excellent other programs.

Also, have you heard of Patreon? It’s how you can make a tiny monthly pledge to support Film Mafia.

With hours before the Oscars, here are some of our reviews and/or discussions of nominated films:




JACKIE with Paul Byrnes:

HELL OR HIGH WATER with Paul Byrnes:

LA LA LAND with Paul Byrnes:

HIDDEN FIGURES with Miriam Capper:

Oscar Preview 2017

Posted: February 25, 2017 in Uncategorized
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Instead of a written assessment of this year’s nominations, check out my Oscar Preview and Predictions on SKIPI TV!

Your comments always welcome.


Posted: January 23, 2017 in movie, movie reviews, reviews, Uncategorized
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The folk at Illumination Entertainment, a French animation house, have had a stellar run of late. They made Despicable Me and its sequels and Minions off-shoots, as well as The Secret Life of Pets. So they are in the Billion Club and then some.

Add another. Their latest, Sing, has made a quarter bil and counting. DVDs, sequels and merch will push it into billion on its own in years to come. Sacre blue!

Their style is more ramshackle, eccentric and, well, French than Pixar or Dreamworks, and Sing is no exception. A Koala tries to save his foreclosed-upon theatre by hosting a singing competition. Various animals compete. Matthew McConaughey plays the Koala, which suits his hucksterish persona, and there are a lot of pop hits – across all decades – referenced, with a fair few sung in their entirety by hippos, lllamas, porcupines, pigs and others. It’s all incredibly colourful.

This was the first feature film I took my not-quite-yet three-year-old daughter to at the cinema. She made it through the whole thing and loved it. That’s rave enough. For my money, the middle act, lacking songs, dragged a bit, and the concept of not having enough money to save one’s property seemed to me to be a boring – and hopefully alien – concept for teeny kiddies (Princesses, you’ll notice, don’t carry wallets). But the animals are cute, the songs great, and… well, my daughter loved it, so yours probably will too.


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

Australian Release Date: 12 January 2017

Jackie, a film about the preparations for John F. Kennedy’s funeral as experienced by his widow Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (Natalie Portman), is a relentlessly sad hundred minutes, a close-up dissection of one person’s intensely painful grief combined with unique, almost unimaginable pressure. Fuelled by a baroque string-heavy score by Under The Skin maestro Mica Levi, the film, directed by Chilean Pablo Larrain (No, Neruda) has almost unbearable extra resonance in these waning days of the Obama administration. As in this film, (at least I feel like) we are in mourning for the loss of a kindly, wise father, and scared of the brash, unpredictable one waiting on the doorstep.

Larrain and cinematographer Stephane Fontaine (Captain Fantastic) shot the film on Super 16mm, instantly giving it a grain (and aspect ratio) to complement the period. They are aided by astonishingly effective production and costume design, and by Portman’s tremendous performance.

It can’t have been easy. Being confined to the hours between her husband being shot and seeing him put in the ground (outside of a framing device, an interview with a reporter a week later), Portman’s Jackie is not just in grief but in shock. She’s drinking, popping pills and smoking a million cigarettes. More than anything, she is alone. The next President is sworn in in front of her while she still has her husband’s blood on her face, the Secret Service think her plans for a funeral are an insane risk; essentially, her existence in the White House is a burden to a lot of men in suits who’d prefer the grieving, strong-willed widow to just float away quietly.

She will not. Constantly referencing the three other presidents murdered in office, she insists on a State Funeral to rival a British Monarch’s coronation (or, much more specifically, Lincoln’s own funereal procession). Her motivations are complex and vexing to anyone who isn’t her, being everyone – even Bobby Kennedy, one of her only allies, and played admirably by Peter Sarsgaard. She has one other true ally, her Social Secretary Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig, showing not one iota of Brooklyn hipsterism) but Nancy’s a girl’s name, and this is a man’s world. Even the journalist interviewing her, and trying as hard as he can to be empathetic (Billy Crudup), cannot help but reveal the underlying, inbuilt, horrendously demeaning sexism of the time.

The themes are big but the focus is tight as a drum; Larrain and Fontaine keep their nearly-square, unyielding frame tight on Jackie’s face, on her limbs, at one point – somehow achingly revealingly – her seemingly fat-free, spiny back while she has a shower, the first since the event that shook America and the world. The water runs over that nobbled back, that tight, white skin, that tiny frame, awash with her husband’s blood that remains matted in her stylish dark hair.

Best Film:



Set in a roomy Texas house on Thanksgiving and taking place entirely within that day, Krisha is a serious, creepy, ambitious, moving, uncompromising and wholly successful cinematic work. Krisha, played by Krisha Fairchild, Shults’ aunt, returns to the bosom of her family – played almost entirely by members of Shults’ own family – for the holiday. The trouble is, under the welcoming surfaces, everything is cracked, and as the day progresses, the glass starts to splinter. It’s seemingly simple yet, in just 83 minutes, enormously, profoundly compelling and quite terrifying.

Best Direction:

Trey Edward Shults, Krisha

The film was shot in Shults’ parents’ home in nine days for around sixty thousand dollars, but it is fully realised as a piece of cinema, with bold, elaborate cinematography, astonishing creepy original music by Brian McOmber, and absolutely superb acting that deliberately combines pure naturalism with a heightened style as the film demands. It has won sixteen major awards including the Grand Jury and Audience Awards at South by Southwest and was nominated for the Critics Week Grand Prize and the Caméra d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Best Feature Documentary:

David Farrier and Dylan Reeve, Tickled


If the definition of a good film is one that keeps you wanting to know what happens next, Tickled is among the greatest ever made. You cannot look away. Don’t drink a batch of water, coffee, beer, whatever before you go in, because woe-be-tide you have to go to the toilet and miss a moment. This is breath-taking stuff.  I want it to be nominated for Best Feature Length Documentary at the next Academy Awards. That may sound like a long shot, but only because of the subject matter’s inherent weirdness. In terms of proficiency and engagement, Tickled is an instant classic, one that will appear on “Top 50 Documentary” lists forever.

Best Lead Performance by a Woman:

Hayley Squires, I, Daniel Blake


The scene that got me crying takes place in a food bank. Thankfully, I’ve never been in one. But thankfully, too, they exist. The scene is a masterpiece – a perfect confluence of script, direction and acting, particularly and specifically by Hayley Squires, who plays Katie, a young single mother of two befriended by Daniel Blake (UK stand-up Dave Johns), a carpenter who, after a heart attack, is finding it impossible to get out-of-work benefits from the Kafkaesque clutches of the bureacratic State. All this, of course, in a hardscrabble Northern (English) town.

Best Lead Performance by a Man:

Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic

img_0191Thematically massive, tonally bold, determinedly non-formulaic and featuring a preternaturally perfectly cast leading man at the top of his game, Matt Ross’ second feature film as writer/director is one of the best of the year. Viggo Mortensen – and, once you’ve seen the film, you cannot imagine anyone else in the role – plays Ben, the father of six kids living off the grid in the mountainous forests of the Pacific Northwest of the United States. He’s brining them up with a philosophy combining intense survival skills, intense physical training, intense learning (his eldest speaks six languages) and intense moral introspection. Ben is intense, and so are his incredible spawn.

Best Supporting Performances by a Man:

Ralph Fiennes, A Bigger Splash and Hail, Caesar!

_ABS5434.NEFFiennes, whose out-of-the-box comic performance in The Grand Budapest Hotel gave Luca Guagagnino the clever idea to cast him in his loose remake of 1969’s French film La Piscine, gives us something we’ve never seen from him before, with gusto and huge energy. His character Harry is a big big character and Fiennes gives a big big performance that is spellbinding and – the cursed cliché of the film critic – revelatory. And in Hail, Caesar!, he shares (with Alden Ehrenreich) the funniest scene of the year.

Best Supporting Performance by a Woman:

Lucy Boynton, Sing Street


John Carney’s Sing Street is a total delight from start to finish. It is also a completely engaging, hugely romantic love story. Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, as Conor, and Lucy Boynton, as Raphina, are superb; Boynton in particular will be a massive star by next year, mark my words. Like Carney’s Once, the film crackles with the excitement of discovery: Walsh-Peelo and Boynton, like Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová in the earlier film, will, quite simply, steal your heart.

Ensemble Performance Award:

Captain Fantastic


The kids are all – well, fantastic. George MacKay, as that eldest with the six languages, is one of those “I can’t believe he’s English!” English actors – I recognised him from an excellent little Brit Mini-Series called The Outcast (2015) after getting past the likelihood that, despite appearances, he probably wasn’t Mortensen’s actual son – he’s that well cast. And Annalise Basso and Samantha Isler are tremendously believable as spookily precocious sisters. The scene in which one of them (I’m not sure which!) gives her own take on Lolita is worth the ticket on its own. And the rest of the supporting cast are perfect. Frank Langella, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Ann Dowd, Missi Pyle, Erin Moriarty – I mean, come on. They’re all superb, and even when they’ve only got a scene, they contribute a multi-dimensional character. It’s really rather remarkable.

Best Original Screenplay:

Matt Ross, Captain Fantastic

Road trip movies are inherently episodic, but Ross’ astonishingly rich script allows each stop along the way to contribute to the film’s larger thematic texture with deeply satisfying construction. Indeed, the rhythms of the film are so singular that you are almost upbraided (well, I was upbraiding myself) for trying to predict them. The road in this road movie is not the length you expect, and doesn’t lead you where you may possibly think it will. Don’t try to out-guess this film; you can’t. It’s pretty plain that Ben’s extreme parenting methods are going to come into question, but exactly how they are questioned – and answered – is the stuff of near-genius screenwriting.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

David Birke, Elle


It’s relentless. I can’t recall a recent movie with so much plot, so many things going on. Each scene piles on more incident, more character intrigue, more development, as if, like a shark, the film would die if it stood still. This is not a bad thing.

Audacity Award:

Abe Forsythe, Down Under


On the eleventh of December, 2005, a hot sunny Sunday, a series of racially-motivated attacks at Cronulla Beach in Sydney lead to some pretty serious national shame and soul-searching. Now, finally, a filmmaker has examined the incident – as a comedy. It’s a brave, brazen and bold move, and it pays off mightily. Writer / director Abe Forsythe’s last feature was the deliriously funny Ned Kelly spoof Ned way back in 2003. That film was a gag-fest in the vein of Airplane! or The Man With Two Brains, but Down Under has much more serious concerns. It’s an extremely angry film, spewing vitriolic rage at the kind of people who spew vitriolic rage. Basically, it’s a war on idiots, of every ethnic stripe.

Best Edit:

Julia Bloch, Green Room


Joins the canon of “under siege” movies – Rio Bravo, Assault on Precinct 13, Night of the Living Dead, The Mist, From Dusk Till Dawn, Panic Room, Home Alone etc – not with louder bangs, scarier invaders or more bloodshed but with originality, wit and subversion. As the story hits the most essential beats this sub-genre demands, the screenplay and direction and editing surprise us with off-beat timing and unusual methods: people die at odd times in odd ways. It is jarring only in that it upsets the rhythms we’re used to: it bucks formula even as it adheres to it, and vice versa.

Best Cinematography:

Chung-hoon Chung, The Handmaiden

img_0201There is an excellent series of YouTube videos about filmmaking called Every Frame a Painting. I kept thinking of that delicious phrase during The Handmaiden, Chan-wook Park’s exquisitely beautiful new potboiler. Every shot is stunning, and many are breathtaking. It’s the gorgeous movie of the year.

Best Production Design:

Mark Tildesley, High Rise

img_0204[Director Ben Wheatley’s] coup de theatre is to set the film not in “the future” but in the future as a film director working in 1975 might be able to visualise it. Thus it’s both “futuristic” and retro, with sideburns, wide ties and big moustaches accompanying concrete bunkers out of Logan’s Run. It’s a brilliant conceit brilliantly realised on the production design side; the “high rises” themselves look exactly as I’d always imagined them (the novel is one of my all-time favourites).

Best Original Score:

Brian McOmber, Krisha

The film was shot in Shults’ parents’ home in nine days for around sixty thousand dollars, but it is fully realised as a piece of cinema, with bold, elaborate cinematography, astonishing creepy original music by Brian McOmber, and absolutely superb acting that deliberately combines pure naturalism with a heightened style as the film demands.