February 25, 2016

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The Revenant

Director: Alejandro Inarritu

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Forrest Goodluck, Melaw Nakehk'o

Synopsis:

1820’s American Wilderness. The frontier. Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) is a scout, hunter, and father of a young Pawnee boy named Hawk. While working with fur traders, he is severely injured and left for dead by a traitorous member of his group, John Fitzgerald (Hardy). Determined to enact revenge, Glass must navigate a hostile land, a ruthless winter, and warring Native tribes in his quest to survive, and exact vengeance on Fitzgerald.

What’s boss?

Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance as Hugh Glass. While grating, or even a little bit painful to watch at some points due to his harsh circumstances, it is a performance to be commended for its depth and detail, and I can't have anything other than admiration for him. From all reports, Leo was pushed very hard by the director (Inarritu) to get as grounded and believable a performance as possible (Inarritu insisted the film be shot in narrative sequence, for example). He frequently speaks in the native language of his son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), in the film, and although I am no expert on pronunciation and accents regarding Native American languages, I certainly enjoyed hearing it, and thought it gave us a real hook into the depth with which Hugh and his son care for and love each other. I continually felt his character's struggle, and the weight with which he had to operate within this world. He captured the precarious balance between life and death being only ever moments away perfectly, in my mind, and along with some grizzly sequences, gave me an understanding of the choices in play when one has to survive out in the wild, while trying to remain determined in achieving an objective.

The other thing that struck me in the film was the wonderful cinematography. Meticulously crafted and selected shots take you into the expanse of the American Wilderness (although, a large portion of the film was shot in Canada and Argentina), giving us unfettered access to the physical toil of the characters as they make their way through the chaos of nature.  

What’s crummy?

Not much. There are a few plot holes that I can forgive pertaining to small but important threads in the story, and even though Tom Hardy appears to be an ancestor of Bane from The Dark Knight, most things have been rigorously thought through, and not much seems out of place. The good outweighs the bad too much for me to want to worry about it beyond the brief mention I have given it here.

Who’s boss?  

Alejandro Inarritu as Director. Inarritu directed critical hit, Birdman, and established himself as a director of unique vision. Drawn to stories that follow themes to do with redemption, or returning from obscurity (from the dead even), he is always asking philosophical questions- who are we? Who am I? Am I relevant? He questions our reality, and what inspires us to continue living, and the value we place on 'things'. I still prefer Birdman as a film overall, but it is fair to say that Inarritu has a well thought out, unique style of film making, that is steeped in a deep love for storytelling and a massive work ethic. His films are detailed, nuanced, visceral, and he seems capable of changing the scope and scale of his worlds without too much trouble.

Who’s crummy?

There was a tree that didn’t do a very good job being a tree. Seriously, I can’t really fault the performances, given the levels with which all the performers went to portray their characters. I've made a brief mention about the increasingly repetitive vocal style of Tom Hardy characters (The Dark Knight, Lawless, now The Revenant) which I find frustrating at times, and consequently I find myself not caring or investing enough in his characters- however, he is a good actor, these are choices that the director obviously helps with or endorses, and what he does in this film, ultimately, serves the story very well.

What’s similar?

If you like frontier type movies that explore human connection to the land, freedom, and the human condition when placed in extreme circumstances in nature/war/with each other- then I would recommend seeking out ‘The Last of the Mohicans’, ‘A New World’, or ‘Apocalypto.’

The Revenant is a harrowing tale of survival spurred on by vengeance, in a land full of nature's most chaotic extremities. Through the action, we see a subtle and nuanced look into the emotional destruction enacted upon Native Americans by European settlers, foreshadowing the future and continuing deconstruction of culture. This inevitably holds a mirror up to us, and our own past, present, and future. Are we the good people we think we are? Or more importantly, are we the good people that we want to be, and should be? This is an immersive film experience, one which I highly recommend. Definitely not one for the kids, so please pay good attention to the MA15+ Rating. 

Sac Score: Supersac + Tubesac

Written by Rod @ Lovesac

Let Rod know your thoughts on the film in the comments section below.

May 29, 2015

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Mad Max: Fury Road

Why are we doing another Mad Max?  Don’t we have other stories to tell?

Director: George Miller

Writers: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris

Stars: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult.

IMDB Synopsis: In a stark desert landscape where humanity is broken, two rebels just might be able to restore order: Max, a man of action and of few words, and Furiosa, a woman of action who is looking to make it back to her childhood homeland.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the cult status of Mad Max you need not watch the first films to enjoy Fury Road.  That said, if you wanted to be familiar with several infamously gruesome scenes and one liners in Australian Film, then it’s worth doing a u-turn; especially for Mad Max 2.  If there’s proof that sequels can be better than their predecessors, MM2 is a worthy example.  What is most striking about these early films is the dystopian vision created by George Miller and Byron Kennedy (18 August 1949 – 17 July 1983) and that realisation is driven home in Mad Max Fury Road.

Unlike the first films Mad Max (FR) was shot in Namibia, and the environment is stunning.  Visually, the creative team deserve praise.  The film is rife with chunky steampunk designs and a theatrical spiritualism that bounces off the desolate landscape.  This tribal aesthetic is reflected by the high-octane characters and oppressive society that now dominates this Earth.  The War Boys are a wonderful creation.  Unlike the goons from most action films, they strive with purpose to enact their master’s commands for honour and spiritual transcendence.

The lead actors, Charlize Theron (Imperator Furiosa) and Tom Hardy (Max Rockatansky...yes he has a surname) work well together.  There’s a credible on-screen chemistry that isn’t stifled by emotive wish-wash, or selfish capital “A”- acting.  Hardy’s quixotic performance is equally matched by Theron’s passion and dexterity.  Nicholas Hoult (Nux) pushes himself into new territory convincingly and - though her screen time is small - Melissa Jaffer (Keeper of the Seeds) shines bright.  The rest of the cast work hard to make little of a bare script, and those who weren’t seasoned performers struggled to convey anything but effort.

Even though this film is thematically rich it lacks an investment of those ideas and fails to provoke introspection which could have elevated the experience beyond a gripping thrill ride.  But if you’re looking for a circus on wheels, Mad Max (FR) delivers it in spades.  Big rigs and pumped-up off-road junkers roar across the terrain - chaperoned by sonic accompaniment (of course!) - while their passengers do battle at high speeds.  Miller employs a huge stunt team to choreograph an outstanding array of action sequences and Junkie XL orchestrates an energized soundtrack guaranteed to reverberate around your body long after the film has finished.

Mad Max (FR) is already a success at the box office and it will certainly clean up at all the future Australian film award celebrations.  Our return to Mad Max shouldn’t be met with scorn.  It has the potential to inject a much needed boost into our film industry - especially in the current climate.  Despite falling short of some emotional depth, this theatrical release gives cinema-goers what they want; a furious unapologetic road trip of redemption.

Ray @ Lovesac

RATING: Moviesac + Minisac

[Ratings are based out of our 7 sizes of Lovesac: Kidsac, Gamesac, Playersac, Pillowsac, Moviesac, Supersac, BigOne.  The bigger the Lovesac - the more we love the film.  Accessories are used as markers in between sizes/ratings: Tubesac 1/4, Cubesac 1/2, Minisac 3/4. ] 

 

March 31, 2015

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Pleasantville

Who would want to live in a town called Pleasantville?  The kind of place where everyone is smiling; where rescuing a cat is the only emergency; and every shot you make in basketball (from anywhere) will cleanly swish into the hoop?  Sounds sweet-as, bro.

  

Director: Gary Ross

Writer: Gary Ross

Stars:  Tobey Maguire, Jeff Daniels, Joan Allen, Reese Witherspoon, William H. Macy

IMDB Synopsis: Two 1990’s teenagers find themselves in a 1950’s sitcom where their influence begins to profoundly change that complacent world.

The very name, ‘Pleasantville’ suggests a place free from the horrors we’re exposed to on a daily basis (how wonderful!).  In this fictionalised cookie cutter colourless world, life is ‘swell’ for everyone.  That is until one fateful night in the real world (and future), David (Maguire) and his sister, Jennifer (Witherspoon) - with the help from a mysterious Tv repair man (Don Knotts) - are transported into a classic 1950’s Tv program and assume the in-show siblings Bud and May-Sue Parker.  David who is an avid fan of the program understands the fragility of this world completely, and warns Jennifer to ‘play along’ until they can find a way to return to ‘real life’.  Jennifer’s rebellious side gets the better of her as she instigates a sexual relationship with her in-show squeeze Skip Martin (late, Paul Walker).  This single action shatters the illusion for the folk of Pleasantville and starts to divide the town into the curious and the resistant; those who want to know what else exists outside of the shared knowledge of the town, and those who want to fight for things to stay the same.  What’s more is that for every new discovery a character makes or new challenge an individual overcomes, a brush of colour is introduced into the tonal surrounds.

The use of colour in the film is wonderful.  Against the drab grey-scape, colours explode like fireworks in the night and carry with them a similar majesty.  The production design by Jeannine Oppewall is impressive and the music by Randy Newman adds a deft Disney-esque touch so that even the most threatening of circumstances (eg - characters experiencing rain for the first time) are often humourous.  

Beyond the convivial veil lies deeper echelons of social commentary.  Ross (Big, Hunger Games) exposes these themes delicately and doesn’t linger on them either, so there’s no overwhelming sense of didacticism at work.  Instead he focuses largely on the broad and yet simplified concept of change.  “Change is scary for everyone, as is complexity, contradiction, and an uncertain future. But hopefully, what the film says or deals with is that you have to address all those things” [1].


Performances by William H. Macy and Joan Allen trump the efforts by other cast members, though they all serve character and function well.  It’s a solid film and a wonderful creative expression by Ross who has many notable screenwriting credits under his belt.  It’s refreshing to find a film that is equally accessible to a younger audience without the need to glorify violence, language and sexuality.

Ray @ Lovesac

RATING: Moviesac + Minisac

[Ratings are based out of our 7 sizes of Lovesac: Kidsac, Gamesac, Playersac, Pillowsac, Moviesac, Supersac, BigOne.  Accessories are used as markers in between sizes/ratings: Tubesac 1/4, Cubesac 1/2, Minisac 3/4.  The bigger the Lovesac - the more we love the film.] 

[1].  Gary Ross. (1998). Interview w/Joshua Klein. A.V.Club.

February 25, 2015

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Jupiter Ascending

WARNING: This review may contain spoilers.

Jupiter Ascending (J.A.) has all the trademark calling cards for a stock-standard sci-fi adventure, but with the Wachowskis at the helm, could it be the next Matrix?  

Directors: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski

Writers: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski

Stars: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmaine, Sean Bean

IMDB Synopsis:  In a bright and colorful future, a young destitute caretaker gets targeted by the ruthless son of a powerful family, who lives on a planet in need of a new heir, so she travels with a genetically engineered warrior to the planet in order to stop his tyrant reign.

This is quite possibly the most inaccurate and incoherent description of a film in the past few years.  J.A. is a horrendous cinderella story.  We follow Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) - named so by her space-infatuated father who dies tragically in a robbery (or police raid?).  She works as a cleaner for some rich family, unbeknownst to her that she is actually space-royalty.  She gets hunted by three potential space-heirs who seek the inheritance of Earth; either for personal glory, fortune or the ever elusive commodity ‘time’.  Why Earth?  Because it’s a human-farm and humans have such tremendous space-market value!  Absorb one today!

Conceptually the Wachowskis have an alluring imagination.  Their potent combination of futuristic bio-tech designs and vivid sci-fi-fantasy universes are always pleasing to the eye.  So too is their ability to direct engaging and offbeat action sequences.  But this film showed some serious flaws in their capabilities as writers.  So bad you can see actors struggling with their dialogue (often so poor, it’s laughable).  Some moments are so cringe-worthy it demands turning away from the screen to avoid being doubly assaulted. Performances are flatter than Saturn (look that one up).  Almost every supporting cast member is woeful. Our leading lady (Kunis) did extremely well at taking ‘counter girl’ from Forgetting Sarah Marshall into space. Recent Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne, was terrible.  His inability to connect to dialogue and his emotional deluge was excruciating to watch.  Channing Tatum (Caine Wise) and Sean Bean (Stinger Apini) were the only notable performances (sort of).  

 

The story of Jupiter Ascending is not without some conceptual merit.  The backbone has strength, but the vertebrae is out of alignment and the flesh isn’t worth harvesting.  Michael Giacchino is a talented composer but the union between film and score was marred by over-emphasised triumph and grandiose. On top of all this excellence (!) was a flimsy love interest between Jupiter and her renegade protector, Caine (Tatum).  It's better to leave it at that.  

J.A. is not worth seeing at the cinema.  And it's not an encouraging film for young people (particularly young women).  There's no heroic character arc for Jupiter at all.  She's merely helpless against the power and control of others at almost every turn.  Now where's the blue pill?

Ray @ Lovesac

RATING: Gamesac + Tubesac

[Ratings are based out of our 7 sizes of Lovesac: Kidsac, Gamesac, Playersac, Pillowsac, Moviesac, Supersac, BigOne.  Accessories are used as markers in between sizes/ratings: Tubesac 1/4, Cubesac 1/2, Minisac 3/4.  The bigger the Lovesac - the more we love the film.] 

January 13, 2015

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Whiplash

Writer: Damien Chazelle
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Production company: Blumhouse Productions, Bold Films, Right of way films
Distributed by Sony Pictures.

One of the more gripping films I have had the pleasure of watching in recent times. Intensely gripping, as in it literally forced my body to move at certain points, and with the incessant tapping of my feet, and shuffling in my seat, I can only say it is a fortunate thing for the rest of humanity that I saw the movie by myself… But Jazz will do that to you.
Whiplash is the story of young drummer Andrew Neyman, played by Miles Teller, who is accepted into an elite music academy, known as the Shaffer Conservatory- the best and most prestigious music school in the USA. One day, while practising at the academy on his own, Andrew is stumbled upon by infamous academy teacher Terence Fletcher, played by J.K Simmons. Terence is both feared and admired by the student population, and so his appearance in front of Andrew is both exciting, and unnerving. Andrew plays a piece on his drum set for Terence, and so begins a student teacher relationship that is, at its core, asking the question of what it takes to create artistic genius. What would you do to create it?

The movie has an appeal to anyone who has strived for perfection in something, but in particular, I think anyone who has trained at an Arts based institution, where your every move is critiqued, questioned, maybe even undermined, will find this movie an interesting critique in and of itself into how an artistic discipline is created. It asks pertinent questions on how far is too far when pushing someone to be their best.

The music of the film is Jazz, it is what is taught, studied and played -and like Jazz, the film is not always moving to a beat that appears normal or safe at first listen. The performances are the same, with Miles Teller, as Andrew, proving again that he is more than just your affable smart arse, he is in fact a person of substance who can really draw you in to the obsessive nature of someone who is trying to be the best at something and the sacrifices that come with making certain choices. The character of Andrew wants to be the next ‘Buddy Rich’, and we see the kind of behaviour unfold that might happen when someone chooses to walk down that path. Similarly, J.K Simmons delivers a commanding performance as the uncompromising teacher Terence Fletcher, who will do and say anything in the belief that it is the constant challenging of one’s ability that will, through some ritualistic baptism of fire, elevate the best to the status which they deserve.

While I will agree that some of the films associated tactics require some suspension of disbelief, I would also remind critics of the film that just because you don’t believe someone would ‘do things like that’ to another person, doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. Indeed, go and ask someone who studied at NIDA or WAAPA what is the most severe thing you’ve seen a teacher say or do to a student, and you might, in fact, learn something new.

Whiplash is charming, thrilling, unnervingly amusing at points, and is a remarkable and unique achievement in film making. The supporting cast is terrific, with a suitably understated performance from Melissa Benoist as Andrew’s suffering love interest, and Paul Reiser (of Mad About You fame) as Andrew’s Dad, who is perceived (wrongly in my eyes) as a failed writer wanting his son to succeed, but not if the cost is too great. I acknowledge that the film may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but lovers of films with originality and a unique voice will enjoy it for its uniqueness alone, I believe – so if you are yet to see it, make a point of doing so.

Rod @ Lovesac

RATING: Supersac

[Ratings are based out of our 7 sizes of Lovesac: Kidsac, Gamesac, Playersac, Pillowsac, Moviesac, Supersac, BigOne.  Accessories are used as markers in between sizes/ratings: Tubesac 1/4, Cubesac 1/2, Minisac 3/4.  The bigger the Lovesac - the more we love the film.]