FILM REVIEW: FIFTY SHADES OF GREY (2015)

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Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan

Synopsis: College student Anastasia Steele has to interview Billionaire Christian Grey for one of her papers. After their meeting begins a journey of passion, desire, love and pain…lots of pain.

The popular erotic fiction novel Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James has been long in development and after four years of speculation finally makes it to the big screen. It has taken long to develop due to its source material, I have not read the novels however it is common knowledge that the books delve into the ideas of S&M quite deeply and a feature film would not be able to translate word to screen without appearing in a XXX theatre. The filmmakers including director Sam Taylor-Johnson decided to tone down the sex and bondage and concentrate on its two lead characters Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. Unfortunately the two lead characters aren’t that interesting and what is left is a mediocre pilot episode for a series that could have been a lot better on cable television such as recent book adaptations; Game of Thrones, True Blood and Dexter.

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The film overall is essentially a will they or won’t they pull back and forth between Christian and Anastasia. Anastasia meets Christian, in a particularly awkward scene which shows the lack of experience of actors Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan. Thankfully the actors eventually grow into their roles and the film does get interesting when we discover Christian’s darker side and Anastasia’s curiosity in it. The film is slick and glossy throughout and the sex scenes are well executed and harken back to the 90’s erotic thrillers Basic Instinct and Sliver. However the film has nowhere to go, with little plot other than Christian and Anastasia’s will they or won’t they all we are left with is….nothing. The abrupt ending can only lead to further sequels but doesn’t satisfy the casual viewer looking for a self-contained story involving introduction, conflict and resolution. Instead we get introduction, conflict and cliffhanger. Which as I stated earlier could work well for a pilot episode of a television show but unfortunately I expect more from a feature film. The film reminds me of the Twilight franchise with the awkward female lead falling for the brooding and dark male lead. However even the first Twilight film had a side mystery which kept the casual viewer interested. This film simply follows its two leads and expects the audience to buy into their twisted romance. I didn’t.

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The film overall looks great with glossy cinematography and sensual lighting throughout. The director does his best with the material he has. The two leads begin awkwardly but grow into their roles by the end. For fans of the novels only.

Rating: 1.5 Stars

FILM REVIEW: BIRDMAN (2014)

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Riggan: Just find me an actor. A good actor. Give me Woody Harrelson.
Jake: He’s doing the next Hunger Games
Riggan: Michael Fassbender?
Jake: He’s doing the prequel to the X-Men prequel.
Riggan: How about Jeremy Renner?
Jake: Who?
Riggan: Jeremy Renner. He was nominated. He was the Hurt Locker guy.
Jake: Oh, okay. He’s an Avenger.
Riggan: F – k, they put him in a cape too?

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough and Amy Ryan.

Synopsis: An aging actor who was once famous for playing the superhero ‘Birdman’ struggles to regain relevance when he attempts to adapt a play based on Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

A visually compelling and emotionally resonant motion picture from director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. I loved Inarritu’s first two films Amores Perros (2000) and 21 Grams (2003) however he lost me with Babel (2006). His first two films had a gritty visual style and fractured structure that resonated with the films themes of desperation, longing and failed dreams. However he went too far with Babel, which turned into two hours of depression porn. I’m happy to see that just like his lead character Riggan Thomson he has made a comeback with this important and relevant fable on celebrity culture, superhero/blockbuster cinema, arthouse cinema and his original themes of desperation, longing and failed dreams. The film is very meta not only for its director but also its lead character Riggan, who was once in a successful superhero franchise (Birdman 1, 2 & 3) just as its actor Michael Keaton (1989’s Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns). Keaton has always been a wild and charismatic lead actor and revealed a manic spirit in his first successful film 1988’s Beetlejuice. Keaton recaptures this manic energy and also adds a level of gravitas by knowing his history with the real life Batman franchise. He gives the character an extra level of reality with his casting.

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The film revolves around Riggan trying to make a comeback by adapting the Raymond Carver play What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, however his own hubris comes in the way as everything starts falling apart including the set, actors and his own fragile mind. Riggan continuously hears voices in his head from the character he once played, Birdman. Birdman believes that Riggan shouldn’t bother with this play, no one cares and he won’t be able to make it as a true actor. He tells him to take the check and star in another Birdman film which is what the audience really wants. No one cares about theatre and broadway. He may be right in this day and age of the superhero blockbuster. The film is a real time capsule of cinema in 2014 and is a savage attack on the entire superhero genre and how it is destroying true art. This is only one of the themes as the film also tackles age, father daughter relationships, art versus commercial, internet and viral marketing, actor’s egos, and the fall of success. It is a bold and powerful film.

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The real star of the film for me was cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. The film is made to look as if it is all one shot and this is breathtaking to behold. The amount of work from actors to crew (especially the stage handlers) is amazing as the camera pulls in and out of Riggan’s room, to the stage and to the streets of New York. The films distinct look is remarkable and will be talked about for years to come. I haven’t even mentioned the impressive performances from Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough and Amy Ryan. The film is quite the masterpiece and is clearly one of the best films of this decade.

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Rating: 4.5 Stars

SUMMER MINI-MOVIE REVIEWS

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It’s been a great summer here in Melbourne and being a secondary school teacher means I get a nice long break over christmas and january. I decided to take a break from blogging too. However I did watch a lot of movies on my break and wanted to share my opinions on them. So I culled them altogether and made a list of all the films I watched and briefly what I thought of them. Hope you enjoy. Happy 2015 everyone.

 

Horrible Bosses 2 – 1 Star

A plodding sequel which tries (and fails) to recapture the magic of the far superior original. Jason Bateman, Jason Sudiekis and Charlie Day seem to be in it purely for the paycheck.

Boyhood – 4.5 Stars

Watching a life unfold before your eyes was quite breathtaking. Richard Linklater’s 12 year journey through a young mans life becomes a cinematic masterpiece which shows how special time is and how although it changes it also somehow remains the same. Moments seize us we don’t seize them.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 – 3.5 Stars

Although it drags and could have been condensed into one film instead of two, Mockingjay Part 1 is still a thrilling sci-fi vision of the future which parallels 2014 with its depiction of media, war and politics. Also the only popular franchise with a strong female lead that I haven’t seen since Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The Equalizer – 3.5 Stars

Denzel Washington stars as a brutal vigilante and seriously kicks ass! An enjoyable action film in the vein of Schwarznegger and Stallone 80s classics.

A Madea Christmas – 2 Stars

An enjoyable Christmas flick with corny messages. One for Tyler Perry fans only.

This is Where I Leave You – 2 Stars

Four siblings deal with the death of their father during a seven day Jewish ritual which their mother enforces. The film is a cliched family drama filled with melodramatic twists and turns which is pretty forgettable once the credits roll. Includes an all star cast including Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll and Jane Fonda

Dumb and Dumber To – 2 Stars

An enjoyable comedy sequel that takes place twenty years after the original. It shows as Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels have aged a lot. However there characters Lloyd and Harry are still dumber than ever enjoying prankish each other over doing anything meaningful with their lives. This sequel follows the structure of the original and finds the two on another road trip this time to find Harry’s biological daughter. The film has some fun moments and good lines however doesn’t come close to the classic original.

Bad Words – 3 Stars

Enjoyable comedy in the style of ‘Bad Santa’ where a foul mouthed middle aged loner makes friends with a young indian boy who is picked on by his parents and kids at school. Jason Bateman directs and stars in as a man who has found a loop hole in a children’s spelling bee tournament and has mysterious motives as to why he wants to ruin the competition for the children and their parents.

Belle (2013) – 3.5 Stars

Excellent period drama dealing with the complexities of race during Victorian England. Based on the true story of the painting Belle featuring a black young lady and a white young lady in that time appearing as equals. During the story of this young girl we also get a side story dealing with a ship delivering slaves that killed them all to claim insurance. Brilliant performances from everyone including Tom Wilkinson and especially Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the title character.

Nightcrawler – 4.5 Stars

A shocking and biting look at our current news media. I thought Gone Girl captured this perfectly however this film shows the true ugly side of news journalism and the depths people will go to have a story for the 6 o’clock news. Featuring brilliant cinematography of the LA night and an award calibre performance from Jake Gylenhaal this is one of the bests of 2014.

The Longest Week – 1 Star

A shallow and uninspired film starring Jason Bateman. It uses the style of Wes Anderson and Woody Allen however doesn’t ever come even close to their brilliance. It revolves around an unemployed 40 year old writer living off his parents fortune who all of a sudden begins to lose it all. Set in the beautiful New York City (of Woody Allen’s imagination). Also starring the beautiful Olivia Wilde. Directed by Peter Glanz.

Life Itself – 5 Stars

An inspiring documentary about one of my idols, the late great film critic, Roger Ebert. The film explores Eberts life, his rise through the newspaper Chicago Sun-Times where he became a popular film writer to his television days with his film critic partner/sworn enemy Gene Siskel. However the film truly shines in the scenes dealing with Eberts cancer ridden body and his inspiring effort to keep writing and critiquing although his body continues to restrict him. He shows how you can continue pursuing your passions no matter what life has dealt you. A truly inspiring film about someone who has truly inspired me not only in writing but also in being a good human. This has become one of my favorite films.

Brick Mansions – 2 Stars

Enjoyable action film starring Paul Walker in one of his final roles before his tragic passing. The film has a convoluted plot involving a futuristic housing project which the government is trying to destroy. The story is clearly borrowed (ripping off) the far superior Robocop however it does contain many breathtaking action scenes involving parkour.

Sabotage – 2 Stars

A highly violent crime drama starring Arnold Schwarzenegger involving a group of DEA agents who are more like mercenaries who start getting murdered due to a bust gone wrong and $10 million in missing cash. I enjoy director David Ayer’s brutal style however this is for Schwarznegger fans only.

The Babadook – 4 Stars

What is it with horror films and creepy kids? The Shining, The Exorcist, The Sixth Sense all have kids you don’t want to have as your own. It reveals a primary fear for everyone either being a child or a parent dealing with the horrors of our world is a real horror that can touch us all. On top of that this film is made in Australia so I don’t have that Hollywood air of fantasy to distance myself from the horror, this could be my neighbour! This film is scary for all of these reasons but also it is a very well made and confident horror film. From the acting, directing, cinematography, production design and sound design this is a very polished film. It reminded me a lot of The Sixth Sense; a single mother dealing with her troubled child and losing all control and hope as events unfold around her.

The Interview – 4 Stars

Seth Rogen and James Franco’s controversial latest film is one of their best and most hilarious. The film centers around Franco’s Dave Skylark a popular talk show host (who is also completely vain and insipid) who manages to score an interview with the nefarious dictator Kim Jung Un. Seth Rogen plays his producer who joins him on his journey to North Korea. Before they embark on their trip they are intervened by the CIA and Agent Lacey (the gorgeous Lizzy Caplan) tell them they have to assassinate Kim Jung Un. The film takes no prisoners and isn’t afraid of completely destroying Jung Un’s image. Jung Un is hilariously played by Randall Park. All of the set pieces throughout are hilarious and although Franco is so over the top with his performance I still found him funny. Rogen again plays himself but his chemistry with Franco is priceless. This is the best comedy I’ve seen all summer

Penguins of Madagascar – 3 Stars

An enjoyable action comedy featuring the Penguins from the Madagascar films. Although they weren’t in those films much they were clearly the highlights of those films and became such fan favorites that a spin-off was made. The film revolves around the Penguins Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private as they get into misadventures involving a crazy octopus (voiced by John Malkovich) out for revenge on the Penguins. The film is filled with thrilling and hilarious set pieces that will entertain children and adults alike.

Tusk – 4 Stars

A highly disturbing film from writer, director and podcaster Kevin Smith. This film is like a cross between The Human Centipede and The Pink Panther films with Smith’s witty dialogue thrown in. Smith has matured as a director the visuals and editing are used to great effect to build mood and horror. The film is his most personal in years. It centers around a podcaster, Wallace Brighton (Justin Long clearly a stand in for Kevin Smith) who ends up in Canada trying to interview a reclusive storyteller for his podcast. However what he discovers will destroy his life forever. The film is very disturbing (do not watch while eating). However I enjoyed it for its go for broke attitude, Smith’s enjoyable dialogue and the actors involved. Michael Parks delivers a haunting and insane performance and Genesis Rodriguez is strong as Wallace’s girlfriend who goes on the hunt for him. There is a surprise cameo in the third act which is pretty distracting at first and possibly belonged in another film but once you accept it you can go for the ride.

John Wick – 3.5 Stars

An enjoyable action revenge flick with the great Keanu Reeves also making a comeback. Ex-hitman John Wick is retired and widowed when he runs into a spoilt mobsters son during a stop for petrol. He then goes on a war path to get revenge for his beloved dog and car. The film is filled with exciting action sequences with Reeves showing off his physical skills unseen since the Matrix trilogy. One of the best action films of 2014.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – 3 Stars

A pretty lackluster end to the Hobbit trilogy. The film mainly revolves around the lead dwarf Thorin attaining the castle and gold and being corrupted by his treasure. Other factors weigh in such as the men who defeated Smaug the dragon, the elves and the orcs who also wish to claim the wealth of the castle. An enjoyable ride however it never goes beyond the original trilogy or even the far more enjoyable ride of the previous film.