Monday, 29 July 2013
When on the eve of your summer vacation, your mum's boyfriend informs you that he thinks you're a 3 (out of 10), you could be forgiven for thinking its going to be one of the most memorable summers of your young life, if for all the wrong reasons.
14-year-old Duncan (Liam James), with his hang dog expression, certainly looks like a young man destined for the gallows; his death row digs taking the shape of the summer beach house of Trent (Steve Carell), the douche-y boyfriend of his mum, Pam (Toni Collette). Trent's self-obsessed teen daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin), is a fellow inmate.
But as in most coming-of-age films, this is the summer that will change Duncan's life; the summer that he meets someone special. No, not a girl -- although Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), the blonde neighbour and daughter of gregarious lush, Betty (a scene-stealing Allison Janney), is not without her appeal -- but a man.
Well, a man-child. Owen (Sam Rockwell), the manager of the local water park, may be suspended in adolescence but he is the exact kind of male role model Duncan, whose own father is M.I.A, is in need of. Carefree, immature and yet deceptively sage, Owen is the kind of mentor/big brother/cool uncle we all wish we had when growing up, and Rockwell imbues him with just the right amount of his manic charm in a winning performance.
But it's young Liam James who carries the bulk of the film, and he does so admirably. It helps that he is close to Duncan's age (unlike so many American teens played by 20-somethings), with his slight frame and freckled face exuding vulnerability whilst he tries admirably, like most teen boys, to stifle every emotion bar anger.
Thankfully, The Way, Way Back is free of wisecracking or hindsight voice-over narration. Kudos to writer-director team Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (the pair, who have small roles as water park employees, scripted 2011's The Descendants), who have wisely chosen to allow the audience to experience everything as Duncan does, in the moment and at face value.
And while The Way Way Back may not have the emotional authenticity of another recent coming of age film, 2012's wonderful The Perks of Being A Wallflower, it's not without its feels. While we've not all been in Duncan's exact situation, we've certainly all been teenagers at one point and there's much to identify with and relate to in this young man's unforgettable summer, one that will leave you with fond memories too.
Wednesday, 24 July 2013
Fresh from the 2012 success of Magic Mike, director Steven Soderbergh takes another look at innocence and the American dream corrupted with Behind The Candelabra, based on Scott Thorson's autobiographical account of his six-year relationship with the one-time highest paid entertainer in the world, Las Vegas piano man, Liberace.
Thorson (Matt Damon), an animal handler on film sets with dreams of becoming a veteranarian, is blindsided when he's introduced through a mutual acquaintance to Liberace (Michael Douglas) in the late 1970s. It's not exactly love at first sight but Scott is enamored with both Liberace's talent and his life of luxury. Liberace seems to be smitten, too, and it's not too long before Scott, one-time foster kid, becomes son, lover and protege to the entertainer, moving into his Las Vegas home.
And yes, there will be sex. Soderbergh, Damon and Douglas don't skimp on the explicit nor the intimate nature of Thorson's and Liberace's relationship, so those who are grossed out at the mere thought of Damon and Douglas making out, you'd best brace yourself for plenty of it and in various states of undress.
Not that Behind The Candelabra is a tawdry, seedy expose of the life of a closeted celebrity (yes, the fans actually thought Liberace was straight!). But much like Soderbergh's Magic Mike, it's an age old tale of how a cocktail of fame, money and drugs, consumed whilst living life in the fast lane can up-end the highest of flyers: absolute hedonism corrupts absolutely. Not surprisingly, the party ends in the early 1980's with the onset of the AIDS virus.
Filmed for American pay-for-view network HBO but released theatrically in most other parts of the world, Behind The Candelabra doesn't suffer any for being a "TV movie". The production, set design, and art direction all top-notch, gaudily depicting a world where everything that glitters may well indeed be gold but not necessarily a fairy tale. Kudos, too, to the make-up team who not only subtly age the actors but "rejuvenate" them post-plastic surgery (Rob Lowe's funny-scary surgeon is the stuff of nightmares).
And the costumes? If you can't have fun with Liberace's wardrobe (and the late 1970s-early '80s generally) then you're not really trying. And Ellen Mirojnick seems to have had a ball, whether it's one of Liberace's on-stage numbers (a white fur coat with a train to rival any royal wedding gown) or one of Scott's barely-there swimming costumes.
But it's the acting which makes Behind The Candelabra a winner. Damon, despite being almost two decades too old for the role, perfectly captures Thorson's wide-eyed innocence and his transformation from adoring young lover to embittered ex.
And Douglas manages to make Liberace both the camp, flamboyant showman that we know he was whilst also grounding him in a reality as an ageing man, as vain and vulnerable as anyone and whose demons could not be bought off by fame or riches but merely held at bay for so long. (The ensemble also features solid turns by the likes of Scott Bakula, Dan Ackroyd, and Debbie Reynolds as Liberace's mother.)
Depending on your point of view, Behind The Candelabra is either Soderbergh's first foray as a director into television or his cinematic swan song. Either way, it's an entertaining missive heralding the end of an era and the beginning of something new and exciting.
Monday, 22 July 2013
20th Century Fox Films
Confession: I am not a Hugh Jackman fan. He has yet to convince me in any film role to date. Not even in Les Miserables, where he played Jean Valjean and sung his way to an Oscar nomination, could he win me over. And while I'm not about to concede defeat, I'll readily admit that I did not hate The Wolverine (like I did its predecessor, 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine), and as a non-fan, I'll suggest this is probably as good as Jackman gets.
The Wolverine, the latest X-Men cinema outing, is the sixth time Jackman has donned the metal claws and mutton chops to play Logan, a.k.a Wolverine, a mutant with an admantium skeleton and burdened with both immortality and a hero complex. Haunted by the death of his love, Jean (Famke Janssen), (a spoiler if you haven't seen X-Men: The Last Stand) and mocked by his own immortality, Logan has chosen to hide himself away from the rest of the world where he can do no harm (unless you happen to be a local hunter who pisses him off).
But Logan is tracked down by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a sword-wielding nymph whose come to escort our hero to Japan at the bequest of a dying old man. That's billionaire Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), who befriended Logan in the dying days of WWII immediately following the nuking of Nagasaki; the two holed-up in an underground prison where Logan was being held as a Japanese POW.
Some 60-odd years later, Yashida, riddled with cancer, wants to repay Logan for saving his life by granting him his mortality, which is to say, extracting from him that which makes him immortal and implanting it in his own body. Oh, the hubris of the rich!
But as tempting as that offer may seem, Logan refuses his dying friend's request and before he can say 'sayonara', the old man is dead, the Yakuza crashes the funeral, and Logan, whose regenerative powers seem to be slipping, is forced to become the protector of Mariko (Tao Okamoto), Yashida's granddaughter and heir, who would seem to be the target of evil forces both outside of and from within the House of Yashida.
So ensues an action adventure criss-crossing Japan (shot both on location and here in Sydney, Australia) involving said Japanese Mafia, ninjas, bullet trains, love motels, and a toxic-tongued villainess named Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova).
And if there's one thing to be said in favour of The Wolverine, the near-to-last and arguably least of the 2013 U.S. summer blockbusters, it's that its female characters -- Mariko, Yukio and Viper -- are not weak. Mariko is no damsel in distress, Yukio can kick ass with the best of them, and Viper, despite her skin-tight apparel and wicked tongue, has no use for men unless they're paying her (to kill, that is).
And Jackman's not bad either. He has the requisite amount of beef cake, hard ass and scowl-y but he also manages to give Wolverine a sense of humour, even if it's less frequently deployed than his admantium claws. What Jackman, director James Mangold, and screenwriters Mark Bomback and Scott Frank, don't do is spend too much time dwelling on the theme of mortality which is a shame given it is the first time in the Wolverine character's film history that he's actually had to face the very real possibility of his own death.
Not that death will visit Wolverine any time soon. The next X-Men film, Days of Future Past, which sees the younger cast of 2011's First Class combine with the alum from the original X-Men trilogy, will hit cinemas in 2014. And no doubt there will be another solo outing by Jackman's lone wolf; a superior sequel will no doubt be paid in kind by the character's and series' fans at the box office.
Tuesday, 16 July 2013
Warner Bros./Roadshow Films
By Guest Reviewer Aaron Smith
Before there was Amityville, there was Harrisville. Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingstone and Lily Taylor) are confident that a move to the small, countryside town of Harrisville, in the state of Rhode Island, will bring a healthier and happier way of life for themselves, and their five daughters.
It’s 1971 and the Perrons risk their limited finances to secure a sizeable waterfront property featuring a large and charming old farm house. Sure the house is a fixer-upper, but it’s more important to them that their new home has fresh air, privacy, and space for the girls to run around with the family dog, Sadie. What they didn’t bargain on (it certainly wasn't in the brochure) was the dark and malevolent entity that begins to make them feel very unwelcome.
If it all sounds familiar, that’s because we’ve seen many similar horror films, including The Amityville Horror (1979). The commonality with these two stories isn’t just that the name of the towns end in ‘ville’. It’s that both stories can be found in the case files of real life paranormal investigators, the Warrens.
Ed and Lorraine Warren (here played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) claimed to have investigated over 10,000 hauntings during their career. Ed, a World War II US Navy veteran and former policeman, became an author and lecturer in demonology, working closely with wife Lorraine, a self-professed clairvoyant. Together they founded The New England Society for Psychic Research in 1952.
Many of the cases that the Warrens investigated have been featured in documentaries, such as Discovery Channel’s A Haunting, and books written by themselves and others. They pioneered modern methods of paranormal detection utilising the technology of the time, such as photography and video triggered by sudden thermal changes in the environment.
An earlier case (and our introduction to the Warrens) involving Annabelle, a possessed doll with a penchant for crayons, is creepily amusing. The Warren’s family house (they also hve a daughter, Judy, played with wide-eyed innocence by Sterling Jerins) contains a secured room for the storing of haunted artefacts and religious items gathered from past cases. Better that they are kept under their supervision, rather than go back out into the world to cause harm. (Annabelle gets locked in a glass cabinet within said room, never to cause mischief again – they hope!)
Director James Wan (Insidious, Saw, and the soon-to-be released Insidious Chapter II), and writers Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes (The Reaping), do a terrific job intertwining the stories of the two families. Having the focus on suspense rather than gore was much appreciated. Respect and real affection is shown towards all of the characters, and the subject matter. And while all cast members give impressive performances, not surprisingly it’s Vera Farmiga as the compassionate and generous Lorraine who is a stand-out.
So, too, the look of the film. The 1970’s retro styling of the opening credits sets the tone for the whole film, with outstanding set design and costuming giving the film an authentic look. Special mention must also be made of cinematographer, John R. Leonetti, who is able to seamlessly make the audience feel as though they are there in the house experiencing the danger beside the Perrons and Warrens. My favourite sequence, involving a change in the weather and a bed sheet, still gives me chills. Is awards attention for Mr. Leonetti too much to ask?
There's also fun to be had spotting references to other, older horror films, like Poltergeist, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Child’s Play and Candyman. And while the climax wrapped things up a little too conveniently, I'd highly recommend The Conjuring to anyone who enjoys a good old fashioned scare.
Friday, 12 July 2013
Giant robots fighting giant monsters! What's not to like? Well, plenty if you're no longer in touch with your inner 10-year-old, the one who once delighted in playing with his dinosaurs and Transformer toys, pitching them against each other in titanic battles to the death.
Mexican director Guillermo del Toro is obviously very much in touch with his inner child, but the key to your enjoying his blockbuster, Pacific Rim (penned by Travis Beacham), is just how much you are. A good litmus test: if when you saw the trailer for the film -- which does indeed have giant robots (Jaegers) fighting giant monsters (Kaiju) -- you're reaction was, "Cooool!", then Pacific Rim is probably for you. Conversely, if your reaction was "WTF!" (or just mere indifference), then I'd suggest you go with that instinct and give the film a miss.
The Kaiju are reptile-like creatures which have found their way to Earth through a trans-dimensional fissure in the floor of the Pacific Ocean, sporadically emerging from the sea to wreak havoc on the mainland. To combat this threat, the world's superpowers developed the Jaeger program: giant robots designed to kick the Godzilla-like beasts' asses, and operated by two human co-pilots in some mind-melding virtual reality-esque system known as 'Drifitng'.
But even as the Kaiju attacks begin to occur more frequently, the powers-that-be have decided to wind down the Jaeger program and put their faith in building giant walls along the world's major coastlines. In one last hurrah, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), head of the Jaeger program, plans to use his remaining Jaegers (from China and Russia (whose pilots would appear to be mutes), Australia (whose pilots, sadly, are not) and the U.S.) to take the fight to the Kaiju and nuke the shit out that fissure.
Key to this mission is recalled Jaeger pilot, Raleigh (Charlie Dunnam), who abandoned the program following the death of his co-pilot and brother five years earlier. Raleigh is eventually teamed with Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), a protege/ward of Pentecost, whose eagerness to fight the Kaiju stems from a childhood trauma (revealed in flashback and easily the film's best moments).
There's no denying the spectacle of Pacific Rim when Jaeger and Kaiju go mano a mano off the coast of Alaska or Hong Kong (though the underwater battle sequences in the third act render the protagonists somewhat indistinguishable), but exhilarating it is not. For the most part I was bored, not helped by the spectacle coming at the expense of the human element.
None of the characters succeed beyond being mere cardboard cut-outs and the actors (which include Clifton Collins Jr., Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, and a cameo-for-cameo's-sake Ron Perlman) aren't required to do much more with them than that description entails. Hunnam, star of TV's Sons of Anarchy, and who looks a lot like Channing Tatum grew his hair out, provides the beef cake and little else; Kikuchi, an Oscar nominee for Babel (2006), manages to fair better (i.e. she actually emotes).
But Idris Elba fares the worst, in turns grumbling and speechifying to little effect (it takes a special director to elicit a sub par performance from Elba so kudos for that, del Toro.) And the less said about the American (Max Martini) and the Brit (Robert Kazinsky) actors playing the Australian father-and-son Jaeger team the better (they're Ocker accents enough to make Alf Stewart cringe).
But I won't deny there's fun to be had with Pacific Rim, if indeed you remain in close contact with your 10-year-old self; all the better if you happen to be a 10-year-old. While the trailer gave off a Transformers versus Godzilla vibe, it's by no means as dumbed-down as Michael Bay's sledgehammer-of-stupid-to-your-face franchise nor as silly as the 1998 Roland Emmerich version of the Japanese monster (and if anything, del Toro has lowered the bar for Gareth Edwards' take on Godzilla, releasing in 2014).
Those who were amped for the latest by the director of the Hellboy films should be well pleased with Pacific Rim. For those who prefer the del Toro of Pan's Labyrinth (2006), I simply wouldn't bother. Trying to get my inner critic to 'drift' with my inner child was a battle I just could not win.
Tuesday, 9 July 2013
"Better to be a bird of my tongue than a beast of yours," fires back Beatrice (Amy Acker) at her frien-emy, antagoniser and possible soul mate, Benedick (Alexis Denisof), in the first of a series of on-going verbal stoushes between the two in William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.
And perhaps there was no better tongue (bird or beast) to adapt the Bard's comedy of romantic entanglements and manipulations than writer-director, Joss Whedon. The creator of hit TV shows Buffy and Angel, and the more cult-ish Firefly and Dollhouse -- not to mention the helm's man of the highest-grossing film of 2012, Marvel's The Avengers -- has a flair for witty vernacular, delivered at rapid fire pace, and generously distributed amongst an ensemble of players.
There's no Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy) or David Boreanaz (Angel) (or sadly, The Avengers' Robert Downey Jnr and Gwyneth Paltrow) among Much Ado's ensemble -- plucked from a selection of Whedon's film and TV casts and working for next to nothing on the film which was shot over various weekends (and in black on white) at the director's home, and all on the hush-hush -- but that doesn't make the experience any less entertaining.
The plot of Much Ado is concerned with the impending nuptials of young lovers, Claudio (Fran Kanz) and Hero (Jillian Morgese), daughter of Leonato (The Avengers' Agent Coulson, Clark Gregg), whose house is not only hosting the wedding but playing prison to three traitors, one the brother of Leonato's best friend, Don Pedro (Reed Diamond).
Those three prisoners (Sean Maher, Riki Lindhome, and Spencer Treat Clark), in a somewhat distracting sub plot, plan to foil the wedding by poisoning Claudio's mind about the virtue of his bride. At the same time, Leonato, his daughter and guests decide to play a game at the expense of the cynical, love-doubting duo of Beatrice and Benedick; allowing each to believe the other is in love with them and seeing if, or rather, how quickly the romantic seed takes to bloom.
And Much Ado About Nothing is very much about Beatrice and Benedick. One can imagine the pair were perhaps the prototype for the 'sparring lovers' films made famous by Katharine Hepburn and the likes of Cary Grant and Spencer Tracey with their comic collaborations in the 1940s and '50s (though Acker is physically more Audrey than Katharine, and Denisof, though terrific, is no Cary Grant).
The black and white cinematography (by Jay Hunter) certainly gives Whedon's Much Ado a screwball, rom-com vibe of old, and the slapstick and physical comedy employed by Acker and Denisof has its charm amplified by its disarmingly playful innocence. (Special mention must also be made of Nathan Fillion (star of Firefly and now TV's Bones), who, as Leonato's head of security, makes an ass of himself and effortlessly steals each of his scenes in the process.)
I've never read Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, nor seen any of the previous film versions -- the most recent being Kenneth Branagh's 1993 adaptation starring himself, and then-wife Emma Thompson, as the sparring couple, as well as Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves -- and it didn't much matter. The iambic pentameter may take a little adjusting to, but the barbs and especially the laughs hit their targets in equal measure: funny is funny, whatever the language.
And Much Ado About Nothing is one of the funniest, most charming films of the year. Get thee to a theatre, post-haste.
Monday, 8 July 2013
20th Century Fox Films
The buddy cop movie is nothing new (Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop, Rush Hour to name but three) but they're almost always male. Even with the advent of Cagney & Lacey, the 1980s US TV show about two female police officers, the female buddy cop movie has yet to break the cinema glass ceiling in quite the same way it has on the small screen let alone in real life.
That's not to say there were never any good-to-great female buddy comedies. In the same years that Cagney & Lacey ran on TV, Better Midler teamed with Shelley Long (Outrageous Fortune, 1987) and Lily Tomlin (Big Business, 1988) to quite wondrous effect. Midler also starred with Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn in the 1996 hit, The First Wives Club, which saw sisters doin' it for themselves (similarly, Tomlin, along with Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton, did it in Nine To Five in 1980).
More recently, the runaway hit Bridesmaids (2011) put paid to the ridiculous notion (if it ever really existed at all) that women aren't funny. The female ensemble comedy, led by Kristen Wiig, showed women behaving good and badly, and equalling -- and often besting -- their male counterparts, whose comedy antics over the last decade seem to be stuck in a man-child, gross-out rut.
Bridesmaids director, Paul Feig, is at the helm of The Heat, a female buddy cop movie penned by first-time screenwriter, Katie Dippold, which sees two polar opposites -- super-efficient FBI Agent, Ashburn (Sandra Bullock), and subtle-as-a-sledgehammer Boston cop, Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) -- forced to work together to bring down a drug cartel. Their unifying common ground: upholders of the law. Their common enemy: sexism.
And there are some interesting ideas at play in The Heat, particularly in relation to how women are treated and, in turn, respond in a predominantly male work environment. McCarthy's Mullins commands fear but not respect, while her dress sense and personal hygiene not only repels people but any risk of being sexualized by her male colleagues (not that Mullins is sexless; we encounter a couple of her broken-hearted one night stands).
Bullock's Ashburn is an over-achiever which means she's very good at her job but seems oblivious to the fact that her success makes her male colleagues look bad and feel threatened. That, of course, isn't Ashburn's problem -- as is often the case, it's the men's -- but there's no 'I' in team, and they already have one in Dicks Only Club (however small).
Not that Feig and Dippold are too preoccupied in hammering home the feminist message as the two comediennes go about breaking down doors, more so literally than figuratively. When neither officer is taken seriously by their commanders (one played by Oscar nominee, Demian Bichir) and removed from the case, they essentially go rogue with Ashburn encouraged to loosen up and Mullins, already armed to the teeth, to smarten up.
And as you'd expect (though not as much as you'd hope), Bullock and McCarthy bring the laughs, particularly in the film's second half where Mullins' obnoxious ways make way for some humanity, and Ashburn removes the by-the-book stick from her ass. But be warned: there's a tonne of language and the occasional graphic violence (including a do-it-yourself tracheotomy and a knife to the thigh) which may shock fans more accustomed to Bullock's The Proposal or McCarthy's Mike & Molly personas.
Focussing on the comedy, The Heat is nowhere near as funny as last year's buddy cop movie, 21 Jump Street. That's not a boy versus girl thing just a mere buddy cop comedy comparison (give me Melissa McCarthy over Jonah Hill any day, I say).
But it's never easy being the first (just ask former Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard), and if The Heat inspires a female buddy cop movie sub genre then that's something (I guess). There's already talk of a sequel to The Heat, and we can only hope that next time out the rest of the vehicle is as sound as the female duo driving it.
Wednesday, 3 July 2013
Walt Disney Studios Films
After successfully teaming up on the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films and the Oscar-winning animation, Rango, director Gore Verbinski and leading man Johnny Depp no doubt thought combining the two -- a rollicking, blockbuster adventure and a slightly off-kilter western -- would be equally as rewarding.
Thus we have The Lone Ranger, a 149-minute refashioning of the classic TV and movie hero (first appearing on radio in 1933) who dons a black mask, rides a white horse named Silver, and is accompanied everywhere by his Comanche sidekick, Tonto; riding across the post-Civil War American Old West and righting wrongs wherever they find them.
The film is an origin story, recounted by an old Tonto (Depp) to a young boy who, in 1936, encounters Tonto as a sideshow exhibit in a travelling carnival. The old man may no longer have his wits about him but we eventually learn that he never really did; Tonto's mind damaged at a young age by his guilt and the greed and avarice of the white man (for all its faults, Verbinski's film doesn't skimp on the atrocities committed by the settlers and the US military against the Native Americans).
Tonto arrives via train and in chains at the same time that lawyer, John Reid (Armie Hammer), returns to his home town, greeted coolly by his US Marshall brother, Dan (James Badge Dale), and noticeably warmer by his sister-in-law, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson). But before long the Comanche and the lawyer will become reluctant partners in their pursuit of the outlaw Butch Cavendish (an oily William Fichtner), the man responsible for Tonto's mental anguish and who kills John's brother.
Through near death and vengeance, a hero is born. A hero, mind, who isn't particularly well equipped for the ways of the West. John Reid is a man of letters not guns; he often refuses to carry let alone fire one. Kind of like Batman. (Contrast that with the US cavalries eagerness to shoot first and ask questions never.) Yet together, John and Tonto make for a formidable team and close enough to one functioning man.
There are other sub plots involving the railway (a pet project of Tom Wilkinson's snarling industrialist, Latham Cole), and the mining of silver. And there's Helena Bonham Carter, too, as a brothel madam with something under her petticoats that really goes off! But Bonham Carter, who has a mere two scenes in the film, is just one of the many distractions, plot convolutions and drawn out set pieces which contribute to The Lone Ranger's runtime and not its 'pro's' column.
Indeed, the third act (or 'the last of the big set pieces') of The Lone Ranger involves two trains hurtling in the same direction with an assortment of the film's various characters alternating between the two. I lost track of just who was on which train, and I'm not sure it made much of a difference: like the two hurtling trains, the destination of Verbinski's film is never in doubt, it's the roundabout way we get their which is incidental.
That said, Depp and Hammer make for an enjoyably loopy couple though not quite as much fun (or anywhere near as homoerotic) as Robert Downey Jnr and Jude Law's Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (even as much as composer Hans Zimmer's score makes nods to those films). And in some way to ward off the inevitable (and perhaps not unwarranted) cries of racial insensitivity aimed at Depp playing a Native American, he and Verbinksi have beefed up the role of Tonto: he may be the sidekick but Tonto doesn't play second fiddle to anyone.
Sadly, Depp's performance can't elevate The Lone Ranger in the same way he did the first of the 'Pirates' films, and the film doesn't even come close to the kooky, ornery antics of Verbinki's Rango. You may not be able to shake the ear worm that is the William Tell Overture (which, as the iconic Lone Ranger theme music, makes an inevitable if incongruous appearance late in the piece) but you'll have a harder time than a geriatric Tonto recalling the rest of the film.
Monday, 1 July 2013
Now Showing Sydney/Melbourne in limited release
After waiting some seven years for his previous film, 2011's The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick's follow-up arrives almost prematurely. Having made only 5 films over a 38-year period, Malick's To The Wonder seems positively rushed; premiering at the Toronto Film Festival in 2012 and arriving in Australian cinemas (well, a handful of them) just two years after the Palme d'Or winning The Tree of Life.
And while not meaning to look a gift horse in the mouth, perhaps Malick is a director who is best served by taking his time. For while beautiful to look at (kudos to cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki), this meditation on the elusive nature of love, its ebbs and flows, and the unpredictability of the heart feels both incomplete and inconsequential.
Non-fans of Malick's previous film (and there were many) will find little (other than a shorter running time) to dissuade them of their frustrations and doubts this time around. And even those who were fans (myself included) of his epic study of love, life and the universe in The Tree of Life will have their patience sorely tested. For while we have the same stylistic principles -- stunning imagery of the natural and man-made world, swelling classical music, and whispered dialogue -- there's very little for one to actually grasp.
Trading the epic for the intimate, To The Wonder is, at its most basic, a love triangle: Neil (Ben Affleck) meets and falls in love with Marina (Olga Kurylenko) whilst in Paris, and invites her and her young daughter, Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline) to come live with him in Oklahoma. And they do, but the romantic fervour between the two soon wanes, and the young girl longs for Paris and her friends.
When Marina decides she and Tatiana will leave when her Visa expires, Neil rekindles a relationship with a high school flame, Jane (Rachel McAdams), but this ends just as abruptly as it began when Marina decides she cannot live without him, and returns from Paris to live with Neil.
All three actors are under-served by Malick, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if the rumours that the director didn't use a script but merely discussed the idea of a scene with the actors before shooting proved to be true. Affleck is the worst served, required to do little more than look pensive and masculine as the women in his life twirl and twirl (there's a lot of twirling in this film!) around him. (Here's hoping the recent Oscar-winner for Argo used his time on set as a directorial masterclass, in both what to do and what not to do when making a film.)
Kurylenko, on the other hand, receives the lion's share of screen time and Lubezki's camera loves her. And she is lovely. I've never noticed before just how beautiful this Ukranian-born actress (from Quantum of Solace (2008) and this year's Oblivion) is. But beauty for beauty's sake does not a great film make.
The film also features Javier Bardem, playing a local priest, Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), who can no longer feel God's love. He still administers to his faithful but even they can sense his discontent; one parishioner tells him he needs some excitement, another prays for him to find joy. I'm not sure if this character and storyline were an after thought or taken from another of Malick's story ideas, but it feels disconnected from the main story, especially as Father Quintana has little interaction with Marina and Neil.
That Malick is currently in post-production on not one but three features (two scheduled to debut later this year, the other in 2014) does not bode well, certainly not if To The Wonder is an indication of the director working at maximum capacity. Malick will turn 70 this year, and one can't help but wonder if the man has suddenly been made aware of his mortality; realising that he has so much more to say and possibly not all that much time (heaven forbid) left to say it?
Cinema needs filmmakers such as Malick, a visual poet and philosopher who dares to dream big and feel deeply. And while we all lament that we have to wait years between films, I prefer the wait to the alternative: a beautiful though less substantial offering.
To The Wonder isn't without merit, and worth seeing on the big screen if only for Lubezki's imagery, but it's minor Malick (and yes, I can appreciate the irony in that near oxymoronic statement). Then again, given the current state of filmmaking and distribution, that we get any new Malick film at all is something to wonder at, even if the film isn't some kind of wonderful.