Firstly, a disclaimer: a few trolls and contrarians aside (and, depending
on which blogs you frequent and/or ‘newsletters’ you subscribe to - racists),
everything you’ve doubtless already heard or read about Steve McQueen’s film of
Solomon Northup’s 12 YEARS A SLAVE is true. I can only agree with all of the
completely-deserved superlatives flying around, and try to add a few thoughts
that I’ve not yet come across.
It is a faultless
achievement - a magnificently judged, beautifully photographed, superbly acted,
mesmerizingly timed, poetic masterpiece.
The cast, led by the magnificent Chiwetel Ejiofor (CHILDREN OF MEN, DIRTY PRETTY THINGS and SERENITY, finally getting his
well deserved front-and-centre moment) and supported by the likes of Michael
Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, astonishing newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah
Paulson, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, Garrett Dillahunt, Scoot McNairy, Afre
Woodard and Brad Pitt (who was also one of the film’s producers) are superb.
Save for Fassbender’s hypocritical and conflicted brutal plantation owner, the
characters are painted with straightforward brush strokes, but each delivers
gentle contrast to the bigger picture.
Behind the camera too, it feels like every crew member is on
top form – the look, sound, and feel of the film, McQueen’s steely tone and
spacious pace are all astonishingly well measured.
This is another film from McQueen about men struggling to
overcome a loss of control in their circumstances (imprisonment in HUNGER,
addiction in SHAME) – in 1841, free man Solomon Northup was lured from his home in
Saratoga, New York, to work as a musician in Washington. Duped, he literally
woke up in chains, robbed of everything including his own name, and there wasworse to come. But unlike McQueen’s
previous two protagonists, Solomon isn’t imprisoned as a result of his actions,
beliefs or impulses. He is kidnapped, which results in him being ‘owned’
illegally, which gives him a much stronger sense of both hope and righteousness
within his nightmare, and as such McQueen has a new approach, and new ground to
tread. This is his most uplifting film.
Also (and I would love to hear McQueen’s thoughts on this),
one crucial aspect will resonate long after Solomon’s account is over – the
kidnapping itself. Despite a flawlessly presented period setting, the people
smuggling operation he falls victim to operates simply and in similar ways to that which are still successful today, setting up an electrifying link to the
present. Depending on who or where you are, you may be set thinking about those
poor souls still today are sent to beg on the streets of Europe's biggest tourist cities, or the
women and children forced into sexual slavery virtually anywhere, or any number of vile and cruel alternatives operating in different parts
of today's world. That pivotal, yet almost invisible sequence reverberates
through the rest of McQueen’s film, making it not just a film about that
stained period of the United States' history, but about all those
injustices still going on right now, right under our noses.
This isn’t a story
to walk away from feeling good that slavery ended – for hundreds of thousands,
it didn’t, and it doesn’t. That McQueen and his company have managed to package this a wholly accessible work of art is all the more amazing; something beautiful, elegant and dignified has been crafted from ongoing disgrace, shame and horror.
12 YEARS A SLAVE opens
January 30 in Australia, and February 6 in New Zealand.
Let’s be honest: the trailer for GRUDGE MATCH isn’t great,
and I can tell you here and now (January) that the poster will make it onto any 'worst
photoshop jobs of 2014' lists you care to look for come December. With that in mind, expectations weren’t terribly high,
but – surprise, surprise, this is actually a fairly accomplished, level-headed
and even at times charming comedy.
We’re informed that thirty-odd years ago, the rivalry
between boxers Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) and Billy ‘The Kid’
McDonnen (Robert DeNiro) was one for the ages. They met in the ring twice, each
winning one match, and before the third could happen, Sharp walked away from
the sport – to reveal the reason why, as slight as it may be, might spoil things. Dodgy
entrepreneur Dante Slate Jr. (Kevin Hart) however, sees dollars in their still
running feud, and is desperate to get the two fighters, now in their 60s, back
in the ring. He succeeds of course, and as the countdown to the fight
approaches the pair must not only lose their unwanted wobbly bits before going wrinkle to wrinkle.
There’s nothing particularly surprising plot-wise: it’s
basically once-removed from ROCKY BALBOA with jokes (mostly old guys belittling each other and
themselves) and the added perspective of the opponent. DeNiro still has trouble doing
broader humour, but comfortably emotes a vain, lascivious jerk finally becoming
a better man via unexpected contact with estranged family. If anything, it’s
Stallone who feels the more natural comedian, seemingly more comfortable dishing
out droll one-liners – although he does have the evergreen presence of Alan
Arkin to work with.
The ROCKY and RAGING BULL
references are wisely few and short (maybe Stallone learned his self-referencing lesson
after TANGO & CASH, DeNiro his after ROCKY & BULLWINKLE). In fact it soon becomes apparent that casting these two with their famous boxing
movie pedigrees isn't entirely for novelty's sake; by the time the fighting
scenes kick in, the duo's still-evident skills still impress - not necessarily in terms of suspension of disbelief, but as an aspect
It stumbles over a few hurdles - its look, for example: presumably in an effort
to run with the ageing, warts-n-all feel of the script, director Peter Segal
(50 FIRST DATES, GET SMART) and cinematographer Dean Semler (MAD MAX 2, DANCES
WITH WOLVES) have chosen a dull, muted look for their Pittsburgh setting - fine
for the outdoor stuff, but the interiors look strangely, noticeably drab, which
leads to noticing that the camera blocking is weird, and the mind begins to
wander, yada yada yada. It doesn’t weigh the film down to any great extent, but
it is there
But it also gets a lot right – it may at no point be
spleen-rupturingly hilarious, but it offers enough consistent laughs, and
there’s a warmth to it that makes Segal’s film, once it gets going, easy to like.
GRUDGE MATCH is released on January 24 in the UK, and January 30 in Australia and New Zealand.
During last year’s Hollywood Reporter director’s roundtable
interviews, Quentin Tarantino intimated that he might soon give up making
movies, stemming from a belief that filmmaking is essentially for the young,
and his uncertainty that he can maintain the quality of his work into old
age. The second part of those concerns
may or may not be true, but Martin Scorsese – now in his early 70s - has
delivered a timely example to blow away the ‘young man’s game’ bit.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is not the work of your average
septuagenarian movie director – but then, it’s not the work of an average
director full stop. An adaptation of the memoir of American stockbroker Jordan
Belfort, who in the 1990s willfully, gleefully defrauded his clients out of
more than $100 million, it positively fizzes with an energy that most filmmakers
would struggle to sustain for ninety minutes. Scorsese manages it for twice that time, and he makes it seem effortless; it’s like the most
outrageous, debauched and frequently hilarious party you’ve ever been to, and
it’s taking place on a smooth-riding bullet train.
White collar crime might seem like new territory for
Scorsese, but it doesn’t take long for familiar themes and traits to become
evident – Belfort, who became a celebrity on the back of a Forbes article meant
to expose him as a villain, fits right into the pantheon of Scorsese antiheroes-who-end-up-as-celebrities, alongside Travis Bickle, Rupert Pupkin and (fellow
real-life mess) Jake LaMotta.
Shift focus and you can also see THE WOLF OF WALL STREET very
soon being remembered as the final (perhaps?) volume in Scorsese’s unofficial
“How We Did It: Great Organised Crimes Of The 20th Century, As
Narrated By The Perpetrators” trilogy [don’t
think that’ll fit on the box set – Ed], alongside GOODFELLAS and CASINO - not necessarily for its superficial stylistic similarities, but because it’s that good. Essentially another perfect
sequel, it’s everything you enjoyed about those previous works, but with more
than enough variance of subject and tone to warrant another story in this
It excels on every level, but particular praise is deserved
for screenwriter Terence Winter (THE SOPRANOS, BOARDWALK EMPIRE), who makes a
virtue of never over-explaining Belfort’s almost unfathomable sociopathic messiah complex, and
longstanding master editor Thelma Schoonmaker for always keeping the
aforementioned bullet train ride fully comprehensible.
In front of the camera, despite an incredible ensemble -
Jonah Hill and Rob Reiner in showier and very, very funny roles, Margot Robbie and Kyle Chandler in less flashy (no pun intended, Miss Robbie) but no less solid support, plus the pleasant surprises of Jean Dujardin, Joanna
Lumley and a legendary ten minutes from Matthew McConaughey – but this is
Leonardo Di Caprio’s show from start to finish. He’s working to full reach, and
he’s never been better - especially a riotous scene involving antique
One question I had going into the film was “why go after
this relatively small fish, when you could go after the big story?” After three
riveting hours and with the knowledge that Scorsese and Schoonmaker had to
wrestle THE WOLF OF WALL STREET down to that running time, the answer became
pretty obvious: this examination of just one of these greedy bastards is a far
better fit for a feature film; the sheer amount of amoral financial
fuckery going on at Goldman Sachs, Lehmann Brothers, Bear Stearns et al. is a
long-running HBO series in waiting. Hopefully it will be every bit as funny,
angering and mesmerising as this, potentially the best film of 2014.
WARNING: This review contains plot spoilers, but DISCLAIMER: The plot is really pretty stupid, so it doesn’t
matter all that much.
If the last decade of big-budget filmmaking has taught us
anything, it’s that if your franchise is in trouble (or simply laying dormant
and the rights are due to expire), head back to square one. Batman; Spider-Man;
Bond; Star Trek… get it right, and the public will cease their ‘not another
reboot/origin story’ eye rolling and all will be forgiven.
So with that in mind, the latest attempt at franchise defibrillation is Tom
Clancy’s beloved C.I.A. analyst-turned-field agent Jack Ryan. This is
Paramount’s fifth outing for the gifted operative (after THE HUNT FOR RED
OCTOBER, PATRIOT GAMES, CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER and THE SUM OF ALL FEARS), and
the first not based on one of the late Mr. Clancy’s books, but a complete
resetting of the Ryan character into a post-9/11 world.
This in itself isn’t a bad idea – the world of espionage
(even pre-Edward Snowden/N.S.A. scandal, which in fairness broke after the
wheels for SHADOW RECRUIT were well in motion) has never been more fertile for movies, as the web of lies, allegiance and betrayal gets ever more complex and tantalising for fiction.
It feels all the stranger then, that David Koepp and Adam Cozad’s screenplay is constantly trying to retrofit SHADOW RECRUIT to the template of the long-extinct Cold War era of Jack Ryan 1.0. The villainous plot is
spearheaded by Viktor Cheverin (Kenneth Branagh, who also directs when he's tired of chewing the scenery), a Russian
high financier with ties to the Kremlin (of course) and who is hell-bent on
destroying the US economy via a cunningly-timed terrorist attack.
Which brings us to SHADOW RECRUIT’s biggest weakness: its
politics are really, really dumb. Not
hateful or offensive - just dumb, in two particularly major ways:
First, it wants us to
believe that political ideology trumps personal - or at the very least,
corporate - greed. Cheverin practically
glows with hatred for the US, (although besides some cursory mention of taking
flak from an American grenade during his tour of the Russian war in Afghanistan, we’re never sure
quite why), and longs with a positively Chekhovian melancholy to restore Mother
Russia to her former glory – I take it this inferred glory is the pre-USSR
Russian Empire, because my reading of Soviet History is that most people didn’t
really dig it – hence all those folks pulling the Berlin Wall apart with their
bare hands the minute they weren’t going to get shot for trying. My point is,
this is the exact inverse of how we now know the super-rich work, regardless of where they are from: free market
capitalists out doing it for the glory of their nation of birth? Tell that to
Rupert Murdoch. A billionaire taking orders from a politician? Pull the other
one – it’s owned by the Koch brothers; You find me a multi-billionaire who
gives a shit about borders and patriotism, and I’ll sit you down and tell you a
Secondly, the filmmakers cherry-pick their history. Jack exists pretty much as a direct result of 9/11, and yet
in a 2013 where the Global Financial Crisis hasn’t happened – indeed, he’s
spent ten years undercover as an economic analyst for the C.I.A. working ON FUCKING
WALL STREET! Nice work, Jack! Way to see that market crash coming and save the
day! As if that weren’t enough,
halfway through the film he explains in the simplest possible terms the worst
outcome for Cheverin’s plan: that *gasp!* the US could be plunged into a second Great Depression! And exactly what do you
think most of America has been struggling through since 2010, Mr. Ryan? How
about you take a trip to say, Detroit? Or even closer, to Schenectady in your
home state of New York, instead of permanently surrounding yourself with Wall
Street pinstriped wankers?! It’s such a
glaringly stupid error, and one that could have been fixed by changing a single line
in the screenplay.
There are other niggles, too: Jack has a chronic back injury, which we are frequently asked to forget, but that's difficult when Branagh and co. have made such a big deal of it in the first act. In the first half of the movie (by far its strongest), Jack is a believably exceptional analyst. In the second half, he makes the lightning fast leap to being a super spy, finding a terrorist cell in real time from a plane 40,000ft. in the air. In the big climactic fight/chase, Jack makes a bizarre, Sterling Archer-esque choice (purely for the sake of upping the action, but still...) They're
minor distractions at the time, but they certainly begin to add up.
However - despite
my ranting up to this point, it's not all bad. It’s well shot and cut, the action sequences are
slick and the performances (despite what they sometimes have to work with) are
all fine. Pine again proves highly adept in the young-hero-coming-of-age
role, Costner is playing Jack's mentor as a man with plenty to hide (which bodes well for the future), and Keira Knightly does well in a largely thankless role.
This is a story that would be much better served set in 1983 rather than 2013, but it has its moments. Maybe in a post-Bourne and SKYFALL world, you could argue that it doesn’t quite have enough of them, but there’s just enough to hope for a much
JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT is released on January 16th in the US, Australia and New Zealand, and on January 24th in the UK.
Like any film geek I'm a sucker for a great poster, and when so many modern movie poster designs range from average, tired and formulaic (faces photoshopped over landscape) or just outright awful (dodgy photoshop cut-outs), it's always refreshing to find something that's genuinely eye-catching, well thought-out and appropriate to the film it represents.
I'll attempt to put up my favourites as and when they come to hand, and might even put up some classics every now and then just for the hell of it.
We begin with John Curran's TRACKS: a terrific new Australian film about Robyn Davidson's epic solo desert trek in the 1970s. I'll be posting more about this in the coming weeks, ahead of its March 6 Australian release (April for UK and NZ).
BEYOND OUTRAGE (or, as it screened at the Brisbane International Film Festival last year, OUTRAGE BEYOND) has opened in a limited release in the US. This review is edited and expanded from a first reaction festival blog post onempireonline.com
When Takeshi Kitano’s OUTRAGE played in Cannes 2010, I left the cinema underwhelmed. It seemed as though the filmmaker was struggling for fresh ideas, as if he was doing it for the fans but his heart wasn't really in it. With that in mind I approached BEYOND OUTRAGE with caution, but was soon amazed a stonking return to form. Put it this way: I now feel I have to go back and re-watch the first film to make sure it was Takeshi, not myself, who was having a bad day - such is leap in quality (as I remember it) between the two films.
Of course, it's worth bearing in mind that a lot has happened in the world in the three years between OUTRAGE and BEYOND OUTRAGE. Organised crime is a major part of the world's economy, and the deepening of the global financial crisis has rattled a lot of cages, legitimate and otherwise, aloowing a lot of fascinating and yes - often outrageous - events to emerge up to public view.
BEYOND OUTRAGE picks up three years after its predecessor. The Sanno Yakuza syndicate
has continued to build on its huge power base, to the point where they have just assassinated a senior political figure. This is a step too far for the police,
who give detective Kataoka (Fumiyo Kohinata), a man who is neither completely orthodox nor trustworthy, license to stir the pot and shift the
balance of underworld power away from Sanno.
Meanwhile, there are grumblings amongst the gangsters themselves, particularly of
younger members being promoted hastily and ‘unfairly’ simply because they bring
in more money. At this early stage, it feels like Kitano will start doing what
we waited the entire first film for him to do, and examine the Yakuza in the same way that Johnnie To looked at the Triads with his superb ELECTION movies: dealing with tradition and the discipline of honour
in changing times, and just who the real crooks are these post-GFC days. Unfortunately, that particular arc isn't explored as completely as I would have liked, but it
nonetheless sets BEYOND OUTRAGE hurtling along.
Kataoka has no shortage of dangerous ways to needle the precariously balanced organisation, and many of these fail, until he plays the ace up his sleeve: bringing back the betrayed Otomo (Kitano) seemingly from the dead to exact his revenge in all directions.
As he ages, Kitano only becomes more wonderfully unreadable as an actor, and
Otomo might be the most badass onscreen senior citizen of the decade (and that includes Machete, and the cast of The Expendables). Although BEYOND OUTRAGE ultimately doesn’t quite
deliver on the potential of its first act set-up, there’s enough energy, bite
and trademark Kitano gallows humour to have it sit in the “better than
the first one” column - considerably and comfortably so.
For the list of films I did not see in 2013, please see the previous post. Now onto the happy stuff...
ELEVEN PARTICULAR FAVOURITES OF 2013
RUSH / MR. PIP
Two very different films with one thing in common: I really
wasn’t expecting to like - let alone love - either of them. RUSH had pretty much
set itself up for failure with an awful trailer, but the film itself somehow managed to eschew most of those pre-flagged clichés, and handle those that made it in very well indeed. Throw in career-best
performances from both Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl, and great
support from 27%er Christian McKay, and it had me at “big balls”. MR. PIP meanwhile, came
as a complete surprise, managing to
be by turns touching, beautiful (the imagined scenes from Great Expectations, done in a
Pacific Island production design, are particularly ingenius), brutal
and unflinching - not at all what I expected from a Walden Media production; bravo to them and all involved for taking the chance, and I hope it ends up on the Australian high school curriculum.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
I must get down to the bookies and put money on Matthew
McConaughey winning an Oscar in 2014. I’m just not sure if it’s going to be for
his supporting turn in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (which I’ve not yet seen of
course, but c’mon - his bit in the trailer positively radiates “awards
contender”) or his leading role here as fiercely heterosexual HIV victim Ron
Woodroof, who took on Big Pharma to dubiously-yet-justly source ‘unapproved’ medicine for his disease. McConaughey has been great in a rash of stuff in recent years, but DALLAS BUYER'S CLUB is one of the few where the rest of the film has been as strong as his
I noticed quite a few people felt Alfonso and Jonas Cuaron
laid the metaphor on a little thick whilst leaving the plot a little thin with
GRAVITY. Personally I didn’t mind either: given the sheer audaciousness of the
rest of the production – the constant floating camera and terrifically
effective use of 3D (it’s the best post-conversion I’ve seen), I was quite
happy not being too taxed by an overabundance of story detail.
With my disdain for OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN now on the record,
thank your chosen deity for BLUE RUIN also hitting screens in 2013. This quiet
American indie is the anti-OHF, centering around the unexceptional Dwight
(Macon Blair) who takes his opportunity for much dwelt-upon revenge with little
knowledge or thought for the consequences of his actions - or even specifically
what those actions will be. Writer/director/cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier
barely puts a toe wrong throughout as the ripple effect of Dwight's tragic choices begin to kick in. BLUE RUIN stayed in my head longer than any other film of last year. It has real potency, and somehow reminded me of the equally excellent WINTER’S
BONE. I hope it garners, however gradually, the same recognition and praise.
ALAN PARTRIDGE: ALPHA PAPA
Sure, it should have been called HECTIC DANGER DAY, CHAP OF
STEEL or COLOSSAL VELOCITY, but even with the lesser choice of title I laughed
more at Alan’s big screen outing than at any other film last year:
Phillip Glass’ Koyaanisqatsi playing over shots of Norwich; “Why do you sit so
close to the wheel?! I can steer with my balls!”; Pan left, revealing
paparazzi; “I’m awful sorry I done a shit in a box...” You get the idea.
ZERO DARK THIRTY
Lest we forget Kathryn Bigelow's bin Laden-hunting behemoth released back in January.
It may have fallen out of the public consciousness somewhat since the end of the 2013
awards circuit, but Bigelow’s abrasive dramatisation hasn’t diminished at all. Sure, it has to condense the years-long
story and distill a myriad of real-life players into types, but it cleverly avoids jingoism (even if some of its characters don't), and I found the little-cited
scene where a lowly admin bod finds the intelligence the CIA needed all along - and which they’ve been torturing
poor bastards for months for – in an archive, to be a particularly pleasing
Sadly, this astounding documentary about the Egyptian
uprising of 2011 and its struggle - still very much ongoing – seems to be being overshadowed by the similarly amazing (by all accounts) documentaries THE ACT OF
KILLING and STORIES WE TELL. However,
there may yet be every chance of THE SQUARE ending up on people’s 2014
list. The initial cut of the film was shown at Sundance in January. The version
I saw in November had been recut with additional footage after another turn of
events in Egypt. As I was watching that
cut, the Muslim Brotherhood (who at the film’s end had control of the
government) were being outlawed as a terrorist organisation after another upheaval - so as with Egyptian political stability, so too is THE SQUARE seemingly a work in progess. As for the existing
cut, it’s a masterful example of knowing exactly who and
what to capture in the frame amidst abject chaos.
TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE
I’m going to be writing more on this in the very near
future. In the meantime, just take all of the superlatives you’ve been hearing
about it as true.
Trust Paul Greengrass to take one of the most tense
thrillers of the year, and elevate it into an even-handed, intelligent, complex
humanitarian think-piece and also
one of the most tense thrillers of the year. Highlight? Phillips, near the end,
finally going into shock: Hanks’ best scene ever.
There are those who will write off Ron Fricke's follow-up to BARAKA as another 'glorified
screensaver', but that's their loss. I can understand how some might have to will themselves to start
watching, but I implore everyone to give SAMSARA a chance: the bigger the screen, the better. I love the gentle, masterful
editing. I love the colour (and I’m almost colourblind). And I love the space it gives you to absorb it.
harmonic, potent and profound, sometimes even disturbing - but it’s never dull. Not for a second. There isn't a single shot that is anything less than
fascinating, often because it will have been filmed in a part of the world
that we rarely look at. So yes, it’s ‘exotic’, but in the best way. I liked
BARAKA a great deal, but to me SAMSARA is better in every way. However
tentatively, it’s one of the greatest sequels of all time.
Yeah. *Nods, pushing
spectacles up nose.* Think about it…
(VERY) HONOURABLE MENTIONS:
BEHIND THE CANDELABRA
THIS IS THE END
THE WORLD’S END
LIFE OF PI
WHAT MAISIE KNEW
PAIN & GAIN
THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES
THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY
ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE
AND I'LL EVEN KICK OFF AWARDS SEASON:
Jennifer Lawrence attempts to open a tin of mints at press conference.
FAVOURITE YOUTUBE MASHY-UPY THING:
What does the fox say...?
FAVOURITE SHORT FILM:
I didn't see nearly enough short films in 2013, but thankfully Matthew 'Garth Marenghi' Holness put his brilliant, spot-on pastiche A GUN FOR GEORGE up on YouTube (or at least someone did - I hope this is legal and official). I'd been waiting ages to see it, and I certainly wasn't disappointed. Fingers crossed this is only the beginning for Terry Finch on screen...
I've yet to properly read why so many found what I thought was Ridley Scott's best film of the last ten years to be so objectionable. I think it to be a fresh, left-of-centre look at American drugs trade (and I do mean all of the Americas), and the class war going on between the continent's North / South divide.
OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL
Not a perfect film by any stretch, but I still don't understand where all the bile directed at Sam Raimi's gallant sequel came from. Sure, James Franco still isn't certain of himself around so much green screen and Michelle Williams' Glinda isn't much of an improvement on Billie Burke's performance in the first film, but Rachel Weisz and particularly Mila Kunis give it their all, making for what I found to be solid, irony-free, straight-down-the-line family entertainment.
WHITE HOUSE DOWN
If you read my previous post, you pretty much get my feelings on this by now.
MOST AWKWARDLY CROWBARRED-IN PIECE OF PRODUCT PLACEMENT:
You might think THE INTERNSHIP would be the obvious choice
for this, but I’m disqualifying it on the grounds that it’s not really product
placement when you’re paying for the entire movie; that makes it strictly
speaking a large, expensive commercial, rather than your product placed in
someone else’s movie. Instead, the award goes to The Backstreet Boys (who
wouldn’t you know it, just happened to have a ‘best of’ album and tour to plug
that summer) for their awkward insertion into THIS IS THE END. Well done, Sony
MOST PROMISING NEWCOMER
Tom Holland, for THE IMPOSSIBLE and HOW I LIVE NOW
After a long, dull streak of TRANSFORMERS movies (each with
less and less heart), Bay changed gears with PAIN & GAIN. Who knew the man
BEST & FAIREST
Steve Coogan, for finely executed double duties (co-writing and performing) on two
of my favourites: ALAN PARTRIDGE: ALPHA PAPA and PHILOMENA, as well as a fine
supporting turn in WHAT MAISIE KNEW.
Also, I managed to go the entire year without
seeing his scrotum on screen. Just.
In 2013 I saw Matthew McConaughey in MUD; THE PAPERBOY; KILLER JOE (which I
didn’t particularly like, but he was great in it) and DALLAS BUYER’S CLUB. In
related awesomeness news: I don’t see that run of great performances slowing down in 2014.
And that's it for 2013 in review. Thanks for at the very least scrolling to the bottom, and please do stick around in the year ahead. Hopefully my writing will improve (or at least become a bit less rusty), and we all might just learn something. Coming soon: Reviews of HER, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, and BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR.
If there’s one thing you can never find around New Year, it’s a film list. With that in mind, I’m going to go completely out on a limb here...
FIRST THING'S FIRST: IN THE INTEREST OF FULL DISCLOSURE
It never fails to surprise me - looking back over the
release schedule at the end of the year, seeing just how many films I missed.
So before you think “Hey, what about…” consult this list of things I could possibly
have seen in the last year, but for whatever reason didn’t.
These are the films that received notably high praise or
deep scorn across the year that I can’t yet fairly comment on - I’ve chopped
out what I regard to be the middle ground – the stuff that didn’t seem to
bother people one way or the other:
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
THE ACT OF KILLING
STORIES WE TELL
THE SELFISH GIANT
SHORT TERM 12
BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR
ALL IS LOST
THE GRANDMASTER (Weinstein cut)
TOM AT THE FARM
I’M SO EXCITED
I GIVE IT A YEAR
A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD
HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS
JACK THE GIANT SLAYER
G.I. JOE: RETALIATION
SCARY MOVIE 5
THE BIG WEDDING
THE FIFTH ESTATE
MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES
METALLICA: THROUGH THE NEVER
BATTLE OF THE YEAR
SAVING MR. BANKS
OLDBOY never did get a theatrical release in Australia. I also managed to be overseas for the entire theatrical run of what many are calling the best ‘Australian’ film of the year, THE ROCKET, while the following will hopefully all screen in my part
of the world sometime in 2014:
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
BIG BAD WOLVES
A FIELD IN ENGLAND
WALKING WITH DINOSAURS: THE MOVIE
AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS
SUNSHINE ON LEITH
WE STEAL SECRETS
Right, let’s get a bit of grumbling over and done with:
FIVE DISAPPOINTING MOVIE EXPERIENCES OF 2013
I love Guillermo del Toro and wish he was a part of my
direct family, but after a trailer campaign so exciting it made me physically
giddy, seeing the final film was as crushing as being sat on by a Kaiju. The visual
effects team can be singled out for praise, and Idris Elba and Rinko Kikuchi
escape largely unscathed, but that’s about it. I left the theatre actually
shocked by the lack of any depth or wit amid PACIFIC RIM’s procession of
clichés. And who cast a Yank and a Brit as the Australian father/son team? I
wouldn’t have minded, but for each attempting an accent as eardrum-puncturingly
lousy as the other. Was Alan Dale (a Kiwi, but that would still work)
THIS IS 40
These days I go into Judd Apatow’s movies pretty much
expecting them to be overlong, but THIS IS 40’s problems started way before the
cutting room. Everyone involved is so nice, so how did they manage to create
such horrible characters? Mean, moaning, vindictive, and in a time when people
in America are living in tent cities, they’re worried about having to downsize
from their mansion of a house with two luxury cars. You know: arseholes. It
wasn’t all bad, but I’d gone in hoping for so much more.
TO THE WONDER
I’m very pro-Malick, so watching TO THE WONDER failing
to do for ‘love’ what TREE OF LIFE had done so successfully for, well, ‘life’,
was painful. Given Malick’s elliptical approach, it’s difficult to see where
the problems begin, but I’d start with poor Olga Kurylenko being unable to find
a way to express happiness beyond whirling like a dervish every two minutes. On
the other hand, I imagine this movie to be an honest and accurate representation
of what happens when you spend longer than a five-minute montage with Manic
I admit I’m no fan of Harmony Korine, but I honestly went in
to this with an open mind. I wanted this to be the one that would turn it
around. Not the case. I could literally cut SPRING BREAKERS’ running time in
half and not lose a single second of plot or subtext. That’s how bloated and repetitive (literally repetitive: lines of dialogue are actually frequently
re-spoken for no good reason) this tedious cinematic wank is. There’s only one
reason to watch: James Franco’s scuzzy, low-rent gangsta Alien. The rest is
waffle being woefully misjudged as satire by a perennially overrated hipster
who genuinely seems to believe what his characters are doing is ‘cool’.
OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN
I’ll keep this as brief as I can, but I've got a lot to rant about OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN. I said at the top that I don’t like to think of
movies in terms of best or worst, but every now and then a film comes along
that’s so mean, so vile, so grubby...
RED DAWN (1984); INVASION USA; RAMBO II & III – I love
‘em all, but a lot has changed since their day. It’s not so much that OLYMPUS
HAS FALLEN didn’t notice as, like the drunk obnoxious dickhead who gets his ass
kicked the night before and learned nothing from the experience, this film
willfully fantasises of what it will do differently next time. And it seems
adamant in wanting there to be a next time.
Sure, Antoine Fuqua’s film is lousy on every technical level. Got your script
checklist handy? Good:. Crowbarred insertion of backstory? Check. Clunky exposition?
Uh huh. Relentless doling out of every genre cliché? Yup. Shot of the American
flag falling from the White House, at the mid-point? Boo ya. Sledgehammer-subtle
dialogue? You betcha. Even the wannabe DIE HARD one-liners suck: “Let’s play a
game of ‘fuck off’ – you go first.” My pleasure.
OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN is stupid enough, but not self aware
enough, to be parody. It’s the sort of thing you expect to see moments of as ‘the
movie within a movie’, where the studio executives are tearing their hair out
because they think they’ve got an irredeemable stinker on their hands and
nobody knows what to do about it, ala THE PLAYER. But no, this is all too real,
and it’s not joking.
The CG effects (and there are a lot of them) fare no better,
and uniformly look like they’ve been done in-house at the SyFy channel. The
score sounds like it’s been assembled from an archive of generic, royalty-free
tracks filed under “A Bit Like Hans Zimmer”. This is not what people should be
seeing - or hearing, for that matter - when they hand over $17.50 for what they
expect will be a blockbuster popcorn movie.
These are, however, merely the disappointments, which is no
crime. But OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN plummets further, and was the one film of 2013
that I found actually offensive. It’s so
culturally insensitive – not just to Asians (any Asian character who isn’t an
EVIL terrorist is dead by the beginning of the second act), but to a good many
Americans. It’s a sad, pathetic, racist chunk of non-ironic escapism engineered
to appeal to that ultra-macho corner of America’s ego that’s never quite been
able to properly deal with loss and grief, and I pity the cynical minds that
engineered and executed it
The fact that this cinematic turd out-grossed the utterly
superior WHITE HOUSE DOWN (same movie with less racism but more irony, humour
and effects budget) actually saddens me, and no-one involved with OLYMPUS HAS
FALLEN should be proud of that fact. Shame on you all – especially those who
didn’t really need the money.