Wednesday, 26 November 2014
Doting father and husband, Matthew (Ryan Reynolds), leaves his sleeping daughter alone in his truck while he ducks into a roadside diner. When he returns, she is gone and instantly his world is destroyed. Struggling under the weight of loss, suspicion and guilt, his marriage breaks down. Through all of the heartbreak and turmoil he never loses hope that he’ll find his missing child. Eight years later, with the help of local police, a girl who matches his daughter’s description is sighted on the internet. With his daughter found to be held captive, but her actual whereabouts unknown, Matthew is in a race against time to save her.
Thanks to Icon Film Distribution, we have double passes to THE CAPTIVE to be won. Keep an eye on our Twitter feed (@TheLennoXFiles) for shout-outs for your chance to win. Note: open to Australian residents only.
Only at the movies December 4.
Tuesday, 25 November 2014
Two very different films about the evils of two forms of media, new and old, Jason Reitman's Men, Women & Children, and Dan Gilroy's Nigthcrawler, examine the relationships between the medium and the audience and discover a similar root cause: people.
MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN (Paramount Pictures), adapted by Reitman and Erin Cressida Wilson from the book by Chad Kultgen, is a multi-narrative, multi-character study of the internet and its impact on human relationships among a group of white, middle class Texans.
There's the decline of sexual interest between a married couple (Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt) leading to adultery; meanwhile their 15-year-old son (Travis Tope) has become addicted to online porn. Then there's the father and son (Dean Norris and Ansel Elgort) coping with the hole left by the departure of wife and mother; the son quitting the football team and finding solace in the online gaming community). That same boy has also begun a fledgling romance with a girl (Kaitlyn Dever) whose mother (Jennifer Garner) tracks her every online movement, privacy be damned.
There's also another mother (Judy Greer) who is pimping her teen daughter (Olivia Crocicchia) through a private website in pursuit of her daughter's stardom. It's not pornographic, but one man's swimsuit catalogue is another's j.o. material, and, as mother and daughter soon find, once it's online there's no controlling it or how it is received.
Each of these stories asks -- without necessarily accusing -- if the internet is responsible for these issues or merely exacerbates them. Perhaps it's Reitman's refusal to make a declarative statement one way or the other, the film's much too earnest and not nearly light enough approach (save for Emma Thompson's anthropological voice-over narration), or simply the fact that a film about people on computers, tablets, and smartphones hardly makes for gripping viewing which renders Men, Women & Children only fitfully engaging.
Some stories and characters are more intriguing than others (to wit, more DeWitt!), while the lack of diversity -- apparently only white heterosexuals go online -- is also strikingly odd for a film set very much in the now.
After this film, and the somewhat unfairly maligned Labor Day (2013), Reitman may need to consider re-teaming with writer Diablo Cody, responsible for two of his better films, Juno (2007) and Young Adult (2011), and simply lighten up.
Pitch black but no less enjoyable for that, Dan Gilroy's NIGHTCRAWLER (Madman Films), his feature debut after a successful screenwriting career, looks at the declining standards in television news through the eyes of Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), novice cameraman and veteran sociopath who uncovers the world of freelance crime reporting on the night-time streets of Los Angeles and thinks, why not me?
An opportunist in need of work and hungry to succeed (Gyllanhaal thin and looking in need of a decent meal), Louis takes to his new career with relish, encouraged by the attentions of news producer, Nina Romina (Rene Russo), who senses Louis may not be playing with a full deck of cards but hey, he shoots good shit. And eager to impress -- and make more money selling his footage -- Louis, accompanied by his intern, Rick (Riz Ahmed), goes to greater, riskier and, yes, illegal lengths to get the money shot.
Nightcrawler is entertaining, gripping and not the least bit believable but Gyllenhaal is on fire: at once repellent and magnetic, and creepy as all hell. Louis Bloom has a dark heart and possibly no soul which, in the film's biggest, saddest joke makes him perfect for TV journalism.
Of course, the media has been skewered on film before, and much better than it is here. But then TV has never had a rival such as the internet before; competing for immediacy, authority and, above all, the audience. And as Nina knows and Louis soon learns, no one ever went broke appealing to the lowest common denominator.
Both films, each in their own and less-than-successful ways, seem to suggest that it's not the medium but the messenger and the audience who are at fault for the corrupted signal. Much like politicians and superheroes, we get the media we deserve.
If that's the case, we might want to take the opposite advice of Tim Leary, 1960s counterculture icon, and turn off and tune out. Or at the very least, log-off for an hour or two a day and be a little more judicious with our your viewing habits. (Oh, and delete your browser history.)
Thursday, 20 November 2014
The opening scene of The Dark Horse is reminiscent of Scott Hicks' 1996 Oscar-winner, Shine: a mentally fragile man wandering the streets mumbling and rambling walks out of the rain and into a store, impressing patrons with his skills. Not on the piano, as was the case in Shine -- where Geoffrey Rush as David Helfgott tickled the ivories and went on to win a statuette -- but on the chessboard.
The man is Genesis (Cliff Curtis) who was once a chess prodigy but whom life has inflicted many a defeat upon; the former champion now man-child is a patient at a mental health facility. But a return to chess will be his redemption, and will also serve to inspire a younger generation in The Dark Horse, which could be dubbed a feel-good film albeit the kind that leaves bruises.
For while writer-director James Napier Robertson's film has plenty of light moments -- provided mostly by the wide-eyed yet troubled kids whom Genesis comes to inspire; coaching them to a national chess tournament -- there's plenty of dark too. Not just Genesis's mental health issues but the fraught relationship with his elder brother, Ariki (Wayne Hapi).
Ariki is the head of a gang which he hopes to see his son, Mana (James Rolleston), initiated into before his ailing health leaves the young boy fatherless. But the same Maori mythology which Genesis uses to inspire his young chess charges has been corrupted into a toxic ethos of machismo by the gang, which provided a family for Ariki when he was himself a boy and left to his own devices after his younger brother's removal into mental care.
But Genesis can see it is not the right path for his bright and inquisitive nephew; Mana already struggling in the early stages of his initiation at the hands of the gang's second-in-command, Mutt (Barry Te Hira). Relations inevitably turn ugly between the brothers in the tug-o-war for Mana's welfare.
You'll no doubt know Curtis from countless Hollywood roles where he usually plays the police officer or bad guy of indeterminate ethnicity but you'll barely recognise the New Zealand actor here. With his shaved scalp and pot belly, the handsome actor has eschewed vanity to portray the troubled hero. And he succeeds, by keeping the physical tics to a minimum but keeping Genesis's bruised yet hopeful heart on permanent display.
And the film's heart is on display too, even as the story becomes as muddled as Genesis in the third act, where the various dramas -- the chess tournament, Mana's future, Genesis's health -- compete for your attention and emotions. Robertson's moves may not always be judicious but the result, while no check mate, is a sweet victory all the same.
Wednesday, 19 November 2014
Although billed as a satire of Hollywood, David Cronenberg's latest film mostly uses that setting -- with its superficial, self-involved people and self-made heroes and charlatans -- to examine the empty and dysfunctional lives of some of those who call L.A. home: picking at the scars of their familial bonds and inherent psychosis for comic and dramatic effect with mixed results.
Agatha's scars are on show for the world to see. Newly-arrived from Florida, Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) was disfigured by burns suffered in a house fire in her youth. She wears long, black gloves in the L.A. sun to hide most of the wounds but they are visible on her neck. And only less visible, just beneath her wide-eyed facade -- she's Twitter friend's with Carrie Fisher! -- are the mental and emotional wounds which she's come to Hollywood to heal.
Agatha's famous connection lands her a job as the chore-whore for Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), an actress whose phone rings less and less now that she's reached middle age. Havana has her sights set on playing the role made famous by her infamous mother, who died young and beautiful (and in a fire no less), and who has begun haunting Havana as a result of some deep therapy sessions.
Those sessions are with Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), a successful self-help guru with a high-powered clientele, and a wife, Christina (Olivia Williams), who plays stage mum to their teenage son, Benjie (Evan Bird). Benjie is also seeing ghosts, partly because his success as a child star has lost some of its gloss following the onset of puberty and a stint in rehab for substance abuse.
And there's also Jerome (Robert Pattinson), a struggling actor-writer who pays the bills driving a limo. But one suspcets Pattinson's role in Maps To The Stars has been included merely as a none-too-subtle reference to his previous collaboration with Cronenberg, where he played a Wall Street hot shot who spent the majority of that film (Cosmopolis) being driven round in a luxurious town car.
These lives become more and more messily entwined as history rears its ugly head and truth will have its day. Blood will out -- figuratively and literally -- in Cronenberg's film, working from a screenplay by Bruce Wagner, but it's only sporadically fun; the Hollywood name-dropping and pot-shots not nearly enough to counter the story's increasing darkness as almost every character's pysche begins to give way under the burden of the past.
Not surprisingly, Julianne Moore is 'best in show' in Maps To The Stars. You could almost feel sorry for her tragic screen heroine as she descends into old age (as defined by Hollywood), obscurity and madness if it weren't for the fact that Havana Segrand is as venal and selfish as they come; her delight in winning a coveted role as a result of tragic circumstances revealing her stunted emotional maturity and the depths of her self-absorption.
Not for nothing Moore won the Best Actress prize at Cannes earlier this year, and Havana Segrand receives her gong too in the film's most inspired, funny, unsubtle and shocking moment. And Cronenberg's film boasts all those elements but rarely in unison and not nearly consistently enough. Maps To The Stars, while never dull, also never leads to a satisfactory destination.