Saturday, 31 October 2015

P.S. Sicario

Sicario is an assiduous, pulsating work of art, a graphic feature of inspired technical verve, tense and satisfying with rounded performances, charged dialogue and unusual utility of its lead character. With his latest feature, director Denis Villeneuve breaks into the main frame of action cinema - his previous efforts, Enemy, Prisoner and Incendies - terrific works easily overlooked by main audiences, a precursor to his most accomplished film of yet. Sicario, meaning "hitman" in Mexico, illustrates FBI agent Kate Macy's (Emily Blunt) rude awakening to the CIA's unorthodox methods of operation in utilising one drug lord to take down another.  The feature is brilliantly reminiscent of the the precision of A Most Violent Year and the technical nuance of the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men, with scene-stealing villain played by Benicio Del Toro, comparable to No Country's own Anton Schigurh. Although ebullient and masterly in its execution however, Sicario cannot be deemed faultless, ambiguity is intended in this feature but it almost oversimplifies its content and threatens to undermines its integrity.  The element of originality fades in and out, at times forsaken in place of entertainment. Ultimately, the feature identifies as a traditionally structure cartel movie with well-established genre traits presented in a superb tech package: components of aerial camera work perfectly complemented with a heavy, ominous score. Villeneuve creates in Sicario a film enigmatic, brash and beautifully unrelenting, far from inspired but prolific nonetheless.


Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Visual & Sound Diary: In the Mood for Love (2001)

Wrapped in an illustrious blanket of dangerous colour and melody, In the Mood for Love is a dreamy cinematic escapade. Beauty drips from each intrepid detail as the camera glides about, intoxicating its audience with the appeal of intimacy devoid of touch, superseding not desire but sex. Aching in its lustful quality and tortuously enticing in its soft restraint, love is captured not within the limits of a melodramatic story, but fleshed out in all its rawness and urgency, allure buried thick in suggestion and movement. Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai's features are classically highly stylised works, appreciative of the paltry, transient quality of dialogue. Instead, he builds pictures resonant in their form, tone and feeling, rebelling against the standards of strongly narrative driven, 30-shots-per-minute sweeping romantic epics. Wong Kar-Wai reminds audiences of the intensity of emotion without event or tragedy. In the Mood for Love is set against the backdrop of a 1960s Hong Kong in an exiled, nostalgic Shanghainese community of narrow alleyways of walls of waxed posters, tiny, cluttered apartments and steaming noodle stalls by night. It tells the tentative tale of a man and women who move into neighbouring apartments with their spouses and grow close over respective suspicions of their partners' infidelity.

The exceptional qualities of the moving imagery are created of not one but two cinematographers: loyal collaborator Christopher Doyle responsible for the iconic slow-motion moving shots while the long shots detailed with fleeting beauties exhibit the handiwork of Taiwanese DoP Mark Lee Ping Bin. The distinctive styles of the filmmakers blend seamlessly into one. The seminal slow-motion montages are heightened by composer, Shigeru Umebayashi's, Yumeji's Theme, blatantly taken from Seijun Suzuki's 90s Japanese independent film, Yumeji. The reuse of an original score crafted for another movie entirely is almost unheard of, but when its cinema giant Wong Kar-Wai behind the camera, the rules of film shall bend. The result, of course, is only the making of a quintessential slow-motion sequence, a vibrant, elegant specimen studied to death at any film school. Drenched in the romance mystery nuance of Alfred Hitchock's Vertigo and the stream of consciousness quality of Andrei Tarkovsky's Mirror, the picture thrives on a consistent visual ambiguity which takes no pleasure or concessions in the idle or the pretentious. The spouses are seen only in silhouettes and heard as convenient voices, the man and woman are never shot in the same frame until the second half of the film. Emotional distance, variance and romantic longing are things to be visualised, not minimised to spoken word. Love has never been depicted so far from the sentimental yet so close to the tangible. Who would've suspected the most romantic film of the 21st century to be an ode to, of all forms of the love, the unrequited and unconsummated kind? 

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Visual & Sound Diary: American Beauty (1999)

A sharply observed social satire, American Beauty is irresistible in its visual diligence, each frame is flagged with vibrant red imagery, the score a spectral body of melodies, signalling the tonal shifts into the character's psychedelic fantasy. Noted for its acidic humour and rich contextualisations- American Beauty is the quintessential antithesis to the classic suburban drama. It mocks the "American dream", the middle-class suburban cage that entraps adults into a life of routine, depression and dangerous comfort. It entails detailed, electric characterisations of real living people but illuminates each with flagrantly original ideas. American Beauty chronicles the tragedy of ordinary life, the dull and uninspired life lead by the working middle-class, those locked down with conditioned obligation, the conventions and superficiality of sedated living. The film can't exactly be pinned as anti-patriotic, but it is a piercing challenge of the generally accepted standards of a contented lifestyle rooted in mediocrity. However, Mendes' social satire isn't all sharp criticism and dark sarcasm, the feature is sparingly laced with simple moments of pure desire for generic goals of happiness, love and fulfillment. And this is exactly what distinguishes American Beauty from other social satires. It is easy to denounce social norms and mock the standards by which most people live, but Mendes goes further with fervent encouragement of active attempts and pursuits for individualistic gratification.  

In crafting my visual and sound diary entries I have always accentuated the imagery over the music but composer Thomas Newman's understated, ethereal score in American Beauty simply bears greater significance than the spectacular work done by DoP Conrad L Hall in Sam Mendes' debut feature. Newman's score is a dynamic expression of its charged content, integral to the achievement of a balance between tone and story, so that his concepts are both rationally based but also emotional in its pursuit. His compositions range from the curiously percussive to the beautifully simple and unadorned piano pieces. Cinematographer, Conrad L Hall, takes great pleasure in shooting dull, painfully basic set designs - bland office rooms and high school hallways, but can just as easily glamourise and enrich these same landscapes with subtle hues of a representative colour, so that every frame serves as an iconic reminder of a landmark film.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Racing Extinction

Documentaries are about achieving an artful balance of persuasion via engaging testimonials, revelatory visuals and the undeniable pleasure of enlightenment. On one end of the spectrum, documentaries which sensationalise events, told with skewed perception and rely on shocking, bizarre imagery - are bias to a fault, sceptisism inevitably invading the audience. But failure to dramatise events for the sake of entertainment results in a stale retellings, the attention of the audience wanes. However documentaries which strike this balance behold beautiful and terrifying powers. They have audiences believing in conspiracies, illuminated by horrible histories, inspired into activism. They can persuade viewers to change their lifestyle, their awareness, their diet. These films are infectious in their conviction and pure in their vision. It is director, environmentalist and photographer Louie Pshioyos who clearly appreciates this - his fascination with the storytelling utility of cinema and its use as a  "weapon of mass construction" is clear. His 2012 docu-drama, The Cove, illuminated our screens with the iconic image of a blood-filled cove, revolutionising the modern documentary genre and went on to become one of the most widely-viewed and awarded documentaries in the history of cinema. Racing Extinction, built on the same potent ambition and avant-garde technical niche, is a sobering tale of a human reality and the ugly future with awaits those selfish and ignorant to its severity.

Racing Extinction throws light on all of the environmental truths most people try to ignore. Director Louie Pshioyos addresses human impact on a faltering environmental by illustrating the grand plan to salvage our dying planet including the small but wonderful ways individual activists have sought change by using their own talents and then highlights the various operations which undermine its entire cause. In many ways, Racing Extinction is a look at Psihoyos own environmental awakening-  how he became conscious, then angry in his conviction and now driven in his pursuit for a future. He champions awareness and action, identifying our current environmental state as a war zone, the apathetic and greedy are the enemies and for once the impending apocalypse upon our loss has some realism attached to it.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Visual & Sound Diary: Fanny and Alexander (1982)

Director: Ingmar Bergman
DoP: Sven Nykvist
Music by: Daniel Bell

Prolific Swedish director Ingmar Bergman was a visual master, an auteur who worked closely with his faithful cinematographer Sven Nykvist in crafting, if not elaborate colour schemes then dancing shadows of black and white, investing heavily in elaborate production design to achieve his visions. His works range from savage medieval fables and nostalgic road trips to indulgent depictions of identity crises, dying days and the angst of betrayal. His filmography may vary widely in content and story but all of his features explore common concepts of religious faith, sexuality, death, insanity and family. An ever-present yet subtle fantasy element often teases intrigue from the audience, the dialogue is consistently unusual and intuitive and like most excellent films, Bergman's bare a lasting legacy, its retrospective charm particularly strong. 

Fanny and Alexander, sitting at almost 5 hours in length, is Bergman's magnum opus: a sprawling summation of the director most consequential ideas. Fanny and Alexander follows the lives of its two young title characters, who are wrapped up tightly in a curtain of familial comfort. A lively Christmas showcases the large and loving Ekdahl family, each link of the family tree affords a rich array of subplots. The once secure fate of Fanny and Alexander takes a sharp turn when after the sudden death of their father, the children's mother makes an impassioned choice of independence by remarrying into a family of the church. Digital manipulation of imagery and sound is conservative and elementary, Bergman choosing instead to organically create sights for the benefit of the audience, constructing
generous and indulgent sets of parties, plays, wakes and weddings. But Bergman's films were the result of not his exclusive love for visuals but of the marriage between music and imagery. Many of his films showcase an indulgence and infatuation with classical music, from Bach to Chopin, Schumann to Beethoven - the filmmaker evidently favoured romantic and baroque era pieces. For the accompanying music I have selected the opening piece by German composer Robert Schumaan, the second movement to his celebrated, quintessential Piano Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 44.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Visual & Sound Diary: Apocalypse Now (1979)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
DoP: Vittorio Storaro
Composer: Carmine & Francis Coppola

Winner of both Best Sound and Best Cinematography at the Oscars in its year of release, this entry to my Visual & Sound Diary requires little justification. The 70s was arguably the most significant decade of American cinema and director Francis Ford Coppola riding in on the New Hollywood wave, managed to close the legendary decade with the greatest war film ever created to this day. Many of the most respected filmmakers have tried their hand at depictions of naval, air or land battles. The result is an array of war movies, each in a distinguished style. Such examples include Steven Spielberg's classic epic Saving Private Ryan, the vague and poetic The Thin Red Line, invariably spawned from the twisted mind of Terrence Malick, Quentin Tarantino's comedic, indulgently violent Inglorious Basterds and of course the unflinchingly brutal Platoon by Oliver Stone. But Coppola's feature, chronicling a man's mission to terminate a rogue US colonel in 1970 Vietnam, supersedes any of these features in place of the ultimate military film. More revelatory, more engaging, more appreciative and exploitative of its cinematic medium, Apocalypse Now is a vivid glimpse into wartime beauty, that summative genre piece which encapsulates perfectly, the singular qualities of war cinema.

Ceremoniously saturated and strangely hallucinatory, Apocalypse Now subtly captures both the physical toll and the mental degradation of soldiers thrown into the violent light of established warzones. Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro utilises spectral imagery to illustrate the unconventionality of the Vietnam war. Perceptions of reality waver in mesmeric ways, the intense humidity traps the soldiers in a deep, idle haze as they travel through Vietnam to Cambodia, experiencing varying sights of air raids, the elaborate destruction caused by a napalm sortie, bridges under attack, a Playboy concert, tribes and villages alight and a Cambodian temple, inhabited by the worshippers of the US colonel, acting as a demigod. It is the feature's narrative arc which distinguishes its unique style, as the key characters of the feature are, for the large duration of the film, merely moving through the conflict.They are, like the audience, mere observers of the hellish landscape and are rarely ever directly involved in combat. Hence, a somewhat dream-like disconnect exists between the viewer and the violence. Striking visuals are accompanied by a stately pop and rock soundtrack with entries such as Shirley and Lee's 50s track "Let the Good Times Roll", The Rolling Stones "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and the classic "Ride of the Valkyries" in the iconic napalm, air raid sequence. Apocalypse Now is a regal film, a hypnotic synchronisation of image and sound.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Visual & Sound Diary: Ida (2014)

Director: Paweł Pawlikowski
DoP: Łukask Żal, Ryszard Lenciwski
Composer: Kristian Eidnes Andersen

Ida is the product of cinematographers Zal and Lenciwski's love affair with still photography, elaborate framing and natural light manipulation. Darkly moving and silently potent, the feature depicts the hybrid world of 1960s Poland, still scarred by the German occupation of World War II, a time of new world meets old. A trainee nun's exposition to a corrupt, superficial world blossoms in the wake of jazz concerts, young musicians, her worldly and wild aunt, a harsh woman wrapped in cynicism and vanity, and the discovery of the savage history of her late family. The stoic title character Ida is the less intriguing of the two key characters, her aunt Wanda is an evocative figure, both politically and personally. The film panders to the audience's desire to see Ida encounter the intricacies and brutality of the world outside her own by compressing them into the character of her volcanic aunt. For this, an undeniable charm invades the feature, the film afflicted by simple beauties which would, in any other realm, be considered guilty pleasures if not for its religious, political and emotional heft. 

The directors of photography emphasis the backdrop over the subject, faces drift about in the corners of each shot. Each scene is achieved by a single shot, the camera ever static. The visuals are strikingly sharp and vivid, an appreciation of detail is apparent. Moving images stun in variety: from tired parties to baron hospital rooms, stained glass windows, graves, ghost towns, dark forests, baths, places of worship, suicides and slow dances. The imagery is directly reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman. It carries the sentiment of Wild Strawberries and  echoes the religious prowess of Bergman's God's Silence trilogy. Musical contributions are sparse in Ida, the score holds off completely until the end. In this manner, the film is laced with technical symbolism. The cathartic conclusion to the film is marked by the introduction of music and the abandonment of still photography. The imagery whilst austere is hardly mundane. The film illustrates Post-War Poland in a vibrant light, as an era of vivid artistic revolution. The music I wanted to pair with the imagery was "Transcendence" by elusive Dutch composer Jochem Weierink but it is still unavailable to the public. Instead i've selected "Ich Ruf Zu Dir Herr Jesu Christ" (I call to You, Lord Jesus Christ) by Alfred Brendel. 

Monday, 6 July 2015


A formula is beginning to take shape amongst acclaimed foreign features. The directional styles of Russian drama Leviathan, Aghar Farhadi's The Past and now Estonian-Georgian feature Tangerines echo each other, their resounding similarities a distraction from their storytelling integrity. Such familiar traits include the use of minimal editing, careful, naturalistic dialogue and mundane goings-on, interrupted by jarring, sensationalist events. They test the viewer's patience, an implied promise of lurid payoff always lingering at the back of our minds. The general intention of this stylistic choice is to assert that such destructive events of suicide, brutalities of civil war and political reverence are jarring, events that can never be expected in the mundane sensibilties of everyday life. This formula is evidently suffice to solicit an Oscar nomination but striking content, the Academy makes clear, is only a baseline requirement. Critics argue greater artistic license should be exercised to distinguish these features, noting the unusual photographic techniques of Ida, the emotional prowess of Blue is the Warmest Color and the decorative, expansive scope of The Great Beauty. So in answering the question of whether this new formula detracts from the quality of the feature? In terms of originality it does devaluate the viewer experience but Tangerines does well in compensating its predictable narrative with absorbing dialogue and a palpable chemistry between rich, layered characters.

Tangerines captures the simple life of an ageing Estonian immigrant, Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak), during the violent conflict of Soviet Russia's dissolution in 1992. He and another immigrant farmer, Margus (Elmo Nüganen), remain in Georgia with the intention of harvesting a final crop of tangerines. But the war advances rapidly, violent conflict befalls on their very doorstep and Ivo takes in two wounded soldiers from opposite sides, Ahmed (Giorgi Nakashidze), a Chechen, and Niko (Mikheil Meskhi), a Georgian. Gratitude and respect for their peaceful saviour keeps bloodshed from inside Ivo's home, vow as they may that once they have recovered and step outside of Ivo's household oasis, war will proceed. 

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

DEAR AFI: Please Consider Rolf de Heer

To the Australian Film Institute,

I would like to make a recommendation for the 2015 recipient of the Longford Lyell Award. Australian filmmaker Rolf de Heer has made numerous invaluable contributions to Australian screen culture, particularly in the sorely underrepresented realm of Aboriginal cinema. His films have sensitively portrayed Aboriginal culture so that it may appeal to and beguile even international audiences, being well received at numerous international film festivals including Cannes Film Festival and Venice FIlm Festival. These films have shed light not only on the rich and cultivating history of Aboriginal culture in such features as "Ten Canoes" but also the tentative modern condition in his recent work "Charlie's Country". His endeavours have also featured a most unique collaborative stream with renowned Australian actor David Gulpilil, the result being resounding pieces of cinema which ring true to Aboriginal custom, illustrating the manner in which colonisation has shaped its contemporary condition. His works have illuminated the all-encompassing faculty of cinema as a means of educating audiences on multi-faceted issues which plague society today and which yield no simple solutions.

Rolf de Heer strives and succeeds to creating not only important films but films which provoke and stimulate its audiences into appreciating native Australian culture. He has fostered significant interest and attention to a salient sector of Australian culture, serving as both reminder and inspiration. For Rolf de Heer to be presented with the Longford Lyell Award would be a timely recognition of his singular efforts to an area of cinema at risk of being marginalised.

I hope that you will consider Rolf de Heer for this honour as both an appreciation of his enrichments of Australian cinema and an encouragement to continue his endeavours. He may not be the only patron of Aboriginal cinema but he is surely its most qualified and dedicated guardian.

Kind regards,


Saturday, 27 June 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

The fourth instalment to the Mad Max series, a vigorous reboot of the cult franchise, is an irresistible Western car-chase fever dream, adorned with a delicious, persistent slick of grit and stamped with a brimming, big-budget ego. With smooth and captivating confidence, Mad Max: Fury Road is the holy grail of summer blockbusters, of franchise instalments, of fandom parities. Make no mistake, the feature is tightly secured in its action genre, but perhaps it is the determination to emphasise every genre trademark in zealous rapture that wins over the audience. However atypical and oddly original the feature may be, it is nevertheless recognisable - gas is burned, prizes come in the form of beautiful women and the threat of death lingers near, with terror perpetuated by the ruthlessness of a wretched villain. But only the subtlest and darkest comedic relief is offered, absent are the lingering gags and useless, flimsy character traits to memorise and play on. Only a strong narrative powered by an angry cathartic score and engaging, exorbitant warfare engage the audience with aggressive exuberance. It may not be subtle but it is nonetheless a winning, symphonic recollection of derisive elements thrown together with dubious abandon. 

In the harsh, post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max, women, fuel and water are valuable commodities, harvested and monopolised by the greedy, grotesque cult leader, Immortan Joe. Setup sequences portray this dystopian realm to harbour only the most primitive, brutal type of living - all sanctity of human life is forgone- sexual slavery of women is rampant, men are mere blood-bags for the road warriors and breast milk is gathered systematically from obese women. One-armed road warrior Furiosa seeks to escape the hellish citadel with Immortan Joe's five wives by traveling through the desert wasteland, in hopes of reaching an oasis, the "Green Place".

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Top 13 Films of 2014

An all-encompassing, eclectic year in film, 2014 brought audiences a range of unexpected joys and bitter disappointments. Christopher Nolan delivered Interstellar, a spectacularly spirited but ultimately oversimplified rendition of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Darren Aronofsky polarised critics with his biblical epic, Noah, visually stunning but falling short everywhere else. Tedious, banal British bios The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game played about in the limelight, warranted by little merit. The year was far redeemed however, by a strong league of independent films, foreign films, (surprisingly) Australian films and arguably the most fun and openly flippant Marvel movie to date, Guardians of the Galaxy. Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater entered the big award leagues for the first time with The Grand Budapest Hotel and Boyhood respectively. 

From over 50 films and 26 reviewed, below are the top 13 films responsible for my insanity in the year 2014.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Visual & Sound Diary: The Tree of Life (2012)

Visual & Sound Diary is a weekly feature where I explore a chosen film of distinctive cinematography and musical composition via the score, soundtrack and stills. 
Click play on the link supplied of the selected music and scroll through the images. Be reminded and inspired of the cinematic splendour. 
Note: the last shot is my pick for the best shot.

The experience of watching a Terrence Malick film is a visceral one, akin to being immersed in dream. What Malick endeavours to achieve in the making of a film is not to craft a satisfying, insightful narrative, but rather to capture a sensation, an atmosphere.  Ever ambiguous, sparse on dialogue, captivating in both its visuals and enticing use of sound-mixing, The Tree of Life is a revelation. Malick, in abandoning the standards of conventional storytelling, leaves much to the free interpretation of the viewer. Afflicted with poetic and philosophical ambitions, the film depicts a middle-aged man searching through his childhood memories, grappling with the death of his younger brother and his tumultuous relationship with his parents. However, this is a deceptively simple synopsis - the film is beyond description: it is a sprawling exploration of life's meaning, of evolution, humanity, an aesthetic vision of epic proportions. Fluid and strange, the feature drifts momentously in its narrative scope, from the deeply personal introspection of a childhood recollection to the grand imagery of the birth and evolution of living creatures.

Malick's vision is largely achieved due to the transcendent craftsmanship of celebrated cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and the experimental efforts of special effects master Douglas Trumball. Many of the evolution sequences are generated not by computer manipulation  but through the speculative use of liquid chemicals, smoke and fluorescents as Trumball once did with science-fiction greats 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind  and The Blade Runner. The fluid, aerobic camera-work principal to the construction of the reverie optimises the use of framing using doorways, light manipulation and silhouettes. The film is furthered by the ethereal score, marvellously composed by Alexandre Desplat, a haunting operatic representation of the feature's grand scope.

Friday, 3 April 2015

P.S. Nightcrawler

A terse, intelligent, fast-paced thriller, Nightcrawler dazzles its audience with modern visuals of metropolitan lights and vivid crime scenes, and the intense, jarring dialogue between intriguing characters of elaborate eccentricities. The feature is no doubt elevated by an acutely harrowing yet captivating performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, whom is beyond recognition as the neurotic, psychopathic camerman, crazed by ambition. Nightcrawler entails the relentless endeavours of Los Angeles thief, Louis Bloom, as he develops a skill for capturing valuable footage of crimes and accidents around the city. Bloom plays into the game of news footage sale, establishing relationships with news director, Nina Romina (Rene Russo), rival freelance cameraman Joe Lader (Bill Paxton) and his naïve, underpaid assistant Rick Carey (Riz Ahmed). Gyllenhaal's performance as "Lo"signals his most attentive, provoking work since Donnie Darko, a true and indisputable return to form. Lo is man afflicted by a borderline animalistic desire for accomplishment, plagued by a shocking, lurid moral ambiguity. The admirable precision in which the character is portrayed, is the feature's most striking feature. By some disappointing contrast, the film manages only to imply the compelling attributes of its curious supporting acts, but inherently fails to dive into their motivations, only a shallow understanding of the characters capable of being achieved by the audience. It is the believability of Nightcrawler's story arc which risks the loss of viewers approval - the film at times strangely absurd, credibility momentarily sacrificed for entertainment value.


Thursday, 12 March 2015


A stylish, expedient cinematic implement, montages are typically overused and often poorly executed. The most common of montages are time-action sequences, simply a collection of artless clips cut together with a blaring pop song of a strong synthesising beat, masking all dialogue and used only to signify time progression. But in Wild, we find the rare composition of a film constructed as a montage itself, a fluid presentation of events, of reality, intercepted by the contents of our minds. And the result is spectacular. Flashbacks are cut together roughly with only their remembered, natural sounds, the noises of that atmosphere and those words and that rain. Chronology is all but abandoned, the film a colour-lit mosaic of nightmares, memories, motivations, events and actual thoughts, so by seeing into her convoluted mind, we can best understand all that is Cheryl Strayed. This is deeply personal cinema: you will soar with her triumphs and suffer through her losses. Spirited and moving, but never cloyingly sentimental, Wild is a visual, fervent feast and a dark mediation of life's heaviest, most potent moments.

Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) is a woman built on the unwavering, ever-present love and strength of her mother, Bobbi Grey (Laura Dern). So when Strayed's mother is lost abruptly to a short fight with cancer, chaos transpires. Once an intellectual, vibrant woman Strayed succumbs to short-term pain relief. She grips onto anything, whether it be drugs or meaningless sex, that will allow her to forget, to dream, to live subconsciously, to never experience the full punch of life. Devout of hope, her marriage dismantled, Strayed embarks on a 1000-mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in a bid to "walk herself back to the woman her mother thought she was", alone, with no experience but every intention to have this physical struggle bring an end to her mental one. 

Saturday, 21 February 2015

87th Academy Awards: My Picks (Ranked)

The 87th Academy Award nominations may be considered the most controversial this decade. Expected nominations lacking include The Lego Movie for Best Animated Feature, Nightcrawler for Best Feature and Best Actor, Selma in the Best Actor category and Gone Girl in pretty much every category. The disproportion of nominations for Selma is indeed puzzling and as usual, the Foreign Language Film category being as wide as is, can please no one.  

The ceremony, to be held on the 22nd of February, will mark the conclusion of the awards season. Below are my preferences for each category. 

Note: Unfortunately, a number of nominated documentaries, animated features and foreign films have not yet been released in Australia.  I also failed to see Unbroken, Inherent Vice (released next month) and The Judge. (Although I did suffer through Into the Woods for the stylistic categories)

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

P.S. The Imitation Game

The mundane, crowd-pleasing The Imitation Game is at best a well-organised, cliché-ridden feature, every narrative turn expected and each actor, playing caricatures rather than characters. The feature boasts a nuanced basis story, compelling events of military endeavours and stratagem, the secrets of a genius cryptologist, Alan Turing, prosecuted for his sexuality, and of course, his revolutionary method of decryption. But these elements are underplayed and the insignificant, petty emotional strings are pulled far too often. The film manages to diminish a complex, brilliant man down to a mere stereotype genius. What The Imitation Game presents is not a real person, hardened by discrimination and exclusion, layered, real and shaped by forward vision and intellect in a backward society. The Alan Turing of the feature is a grossly oversimplified being, capable of being digested in one phrase: a  socially-inept, well-meaning polymath. The Imitation Game is no more than lazy, unsatisfying filmmaking disguised as a refined biopic by enlisting Britain's finest actors and adding some dull, pseudo-intellectual dialogue. Cumberbatch prevails as the feature's single redeeming features (as well as the more than competent score by Alexandre Desplat) even Kiera Knightley falters in her role, perhaps due to the lack of inspiration supplied by her thin, prosaic character. The Imitation Game is a formulaic, substandard piece, positioned as a big red dart aimed straight for the Oscars, utterly forgettable and actually infuriating in its lack of insight and wasted potential. 


Saturday, 7 February 2015


In the realm of modern cinema, the gritty and unembellished, the ugly and brutal belong in the milieu of Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. His "death trilogy" (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel) is a study of tragedy, citing lost, wasted and harried love as its aggressors and exposing the debilitating grief which follows. Hence, his latest entry into the Oscar race may come as a thing of surprise. Birdman, whilst not so far removed from his usual angle of the unromanced and diselusioned, is an entirely novel form of realism. The characters of Birdman are complex, cynical creatures yet idealistically hopeful, the assurance of "it'll be fine" lingering blackly over their trained lips. The ambitious feature is also both a notable comedic effort, the dark humour casual yet indisputably clever, and a technical marvel, the entire flick filmed of one fluid, unbroken shot. A spirited creation to add to a resume of primarily dark works, Birdman is the perfect example of a director being rewarded for taking risks in his work and reaching for elements outside of his expected capacity. Birdman is that rare combination of both escapism and insight - whatever type of movie-going experience you desire, Birdman will fulfil it.  

Captured in seemingly, a singular shot, Birdman tells of former iconic movie superhero Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), who is attempting to stage a return to performance art via writing, directing and starring in his own Broadway production. The days leading up to the opening night of the show is nothing short of a mad struggle as his lead actor is injured and his neurotic, egomaniac of a replacement, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), proves to be more of a challenge than a talent or saviour. His cynical fresh-out-of-rehab daughter, Sam (Emma Stone) offers up little help as his production assistant and notorious New York Times critic,  Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan), has already blacklisted the show, even before the curtains are drawn on opening night.  

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Film Location Expedition: The Piano

A few months back I created a new feature which explored the cinematography and the score of select films, a feature I dubbed my "Visual & Sound Diary". In one particular entry I delved into the world of Jane Champion's Palme d'Or-winning The Piano. I attempted to recreate the incredible, distinctively eerie atmosphere by putting together the iconic images, a brief interlude describing its allure, its magic and a clip of the piano piece "The Heart Asks Pleasure First". On a recent trip to the scenic, wildly beautiful north island of New Zealand, I had the opportunity to visit the very places where Champion shot this transcendent film, the isolated, ghostly Karekare Beach and the sunlit spectacle Piha. 

You can view my Visual & Sound Diary entry on The Piano here.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Two Days, One Night

Minimalistic and realistic, the films of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are noted for what they are not. The Belgium film-making duo employ only the simplest cinematic tools; absent are the slow-motion shots, the montages, the music, extravagant set designs and ensemble casts. Their films are beautifully stripped-down, the features feel as though they are created of a single camera man and actor engaging in intimate shoots. A true film of the Dardenne brothers is recognised for its unrelenting patience and their latest feature Two Days, One Night, starring the effervescent Marion Cottilard, is no exception. True to form, the flick is based purely on real life challenges ranging from financial difficulties to mental illness, insecurity and self-doubt to the constant challenge of maintaining human connection. I cannot note Two Days, One Night for its cinematography nor its score - the film is shot most simplistically with handheld cameras and as for its score - well its non-existent. Even Cottilard appears bare-faced for the cameras, her raw performance all that is needed to win over this audience. What this feature essentially reveals is the sad but hopeful truth that individuals survive by everyday triumphs and the enduring contentment which it accompanies. 

Two Days, One Night chronicles three days in the life of a young Belgian mother, Sandra (Marion Cottilard) who works as a labourer in a solar-panel factory. After taking a prolonged leave of absence after suffering a nervous breakdown, Sandra's colleagues are given the option to each receive a ¢1,000 bonus if they agree to make Sandra redundant. In the following few days, Sandra is persuaded by her husband to take a trip to individually visit each of her colleagues in hopes of convincing them to forgo the bonus so that she may remain employed. The significant issue at hand is that Sandra progressively begins to doubt not only her chances but her entitlement to the position.  

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Force Majeure

"Compelling premise" is a phrase I use to describe many a film. In a competitive film industry, an interesting, provoking story arc is an invaluable selling point. Swedish flick, Force Majeure captivates and beguiles its audience like no film this year. Achingly uncomfortable, the feature incites unusual thought and discussion of the postmodern marital relationship and much like the Fincher's Gone Girl, it is laced with cynicism, spiked with realism and presented in a harrowing, perceptive glory. The film sustains beautifully with a dry, idiosyncratic humour, biting social commentary and dynamic, stylistic production and staging. This critique of Force Majeure will stand at an odd contrast from my last review on Testament of Youth where I insistently praised the traditional style of the film. Unlike the conventional vigour of Testament, Force Majeure profits continuously from its sheer originality, the perplexing, oddly confrontational tone of the film will twist through your mind and rest comfortably in its darkest corners. One question is guaranteed to linger on the lips of the audience as they exit the theatre- "what would you do?". 

Force Majeure, in its most literal sense, refers to an unavoidable incident, a "superior force", which is precisely the type of event which cleanly replaces the delicate balance of one swedish family with certain anarchy. When I refer to the "balance" of the family, I mean to cite its conceptual dynamics, more specifically the uneasy power play of its members. The film is no standard natural disaster flick. The disaster here wreaks ruin in the most unusual way. During a ski holiday in the French Alps, a family is enjoying a meal on a rooftop restaurant when they are graced with what initially appears to be nothing more than a natural spectacle, a small, "controlled" avalanche. But as the formidable mass of snow nears, panic rises and the dear father of the family, Tomas, reassuring his family only moments earlier, is nowhere to be seen. Reliable mother Ebba, clings desperately to her children and in many fruitless attempts, calls out persistently for her husband. But soon, the snow settles, the impending disaster never occurs, giving way to embarrassment and an ugly reality, as the sheepish father returns to the dining table and resumes his meal.