Saturday, 24 June 2017
Earlier this year I posted about my Least Anticipated Films of 2017, so in a bid to counter that negativity -- and as we reach the halfway point of the year -- I thought I'd select some of the films I'm really looking forward to seeing in Australian cinemas between now and New Year's Eve.
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES
20th Century Fox
No reviews as yet but the early word from media screenings for this third installment of the Apes reboot is pretty darn good. With the Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011, and then Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in 2014, Fox showed they were capable of creating blockbusters with smarts. They also proved that motion-capture performances can be truly amazing. Seriously, how good is Andy Serkis as Caesar? Will this be the film that -- finally -- lands him an Oscar nomination? Matt Reeves is again at the helm as the apes and humans are once again headed for war.
Winning the Audience Award at the recent Sydney Film Festival, this Australian comedy looks set to be the local breakout hit of the year. Co-written by actor, writer and comedian Osamah Sami (with Andrew Knight; Hacksaw Ridge, The Water Diviner), it is based on a true story from Sami’s life. After a reckless lie sets off a catastrophic chain of events, Ali (Sami), the son of a Muslim cleric, finds himself caught between his sense of duty to his family and following his heart. The film also stars Don Hany, Ryan Corr and newcomer Helana Sawires, who plays the Australian-born Muslim Osamah would prefer to marry and not the arranged bride of his parents' choosing. My Big Fat Muslim Wedding? Sounds like an invitation too good to pass up.
BATTLE OF THE SEXES
20th Century Fox
There are as many good films about tennis as Anna Kournikova has singles titles, so while Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (the creative team behind Oscar-winning Little Miss Sunshine) have a low net to clear, my hopes for Battle of the Sexes to be aces are pretty high. Emma Stone plays Billie Jean King and Steve Carell is Bobby Riggs, two American tennis greats and opposite ends of their careers in 1973, and opposite sides of the fight for sexual equality, when they decided to go head-to-head on the tennis court. From the trailer, the film certainly gets the 1970s look right, and, promisingly, it will also touch on King's sexuality. (I'm also hoping the film shows Riggs' first man v woman match; where he kicked the ass of one-time Australian tennis great, now loudmouth bigot, Margaret Court.)
One of the delights of recent years was the first big screen outing for the much-loved book and TV show Paddington; the Peruvian bear with a penchant for marmalade and a knack for getting into trouble in his adopted London home. Perfectly voiced by Ben Whishaw, and supported by humans Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville and Julie Walters, Paddington 2 again sees the bear in the sights of a not-so nice Londoner; Hugh Grant taking up the evil mantle left by Nicole Kidman in the first film. It will be interesting to see if the Brexit vote has impacted the world of Paddington -- the first film was very much about an immigrant finding a new, welcoming home in London -- but if it has the same warmth, charm and British sense of humour as the first, then Paddington 2 should be a treat.
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
I haven't read the novel by Andre Aciman, but the glowing reviews following the Sundance premiere of Luca Guadagnino's adaptation (penned by James Ivory) of this gay coming of age tale -- as well as the overwhelmingly positive response from its Sydney Film Festival showing (jealous!) -- has made Call Me By Your Name my most anticipated film for the remainder of 2017. There's already awards buzz for this sun-drenched tale set in early 1980s Italy, where the teenage son of a professor falls for his father's intern (Armie Hammer). Timothee Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg and Hammer, seemingly gifted his best role since 2010's The Social Network, have all been praised for their performances. Now if someone could just make my dream project -- Armie Hammer as American tennis legend Bill Tillden -- that'd be great.
Saturday, 3 June 2017
It's 1979, and in a post-Vietnam, post-'summer of love', feminist-era Santa Barbara, Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening) is coming to terms with a brave new world.
The single mother is also coming to terms with an adolescent son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), on the cusp of manhood and what exactly that means for the both of them. How does she raise him to be a good man? And how does he assert his independence away from her?
The former question sees Dorothea enlist Abbie (Greta Gerwig), her arty tenant, and Julie (Elle Fanning), a neighbour and slightly older friend and confidant of Jamie, in her cause. For Jamie, it means testing the waters and pushing the boundaries; breaking curfew, and occasionally Dorothea's heart, in a bid to see just what he can get away with whilst determining what kind of man he wants to be.
Written and directed by Mike Mills (Beginners, 2011), 20th Century Women celebrates the roles that women play in shaping the men we become, and more specifically, the mothers who sacrifice so much to give their children the best possible tools for making a positive mark on the world.
The performances (including Billy Crudup as a New Age handyman lodger) are uniformly good, with Bening and Gerwig the standouts.
It may not pack the emotional punch of Beginners – Mills' autobiographical tale of his father's late-in-life coming out and simultaneous battle with cancer, though it does boast some of the same stylistic flourishes – but 20th Century Women is affecting nonetheless.
Thursday, 1 June 2017
Roadshow Films/Warner Bros.
About 14-months ago, I wrote about how awful Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice was. The second of Zack Snyder's DC Extended Universe films, after the disappointing Man of Steel (2014), BVS was a dimly-lit, over-long mess of a film with one saving grace: Wonder Woman.
But did Wonder Woman look impressive simply by virtue of being surrounded by shit? And how would Gal Gadot's Amazonian princess fare when forced to carry the weight of her own film on her muscular shoulders?
The good news: Wonder Woman is not terrible. In fact, it's quite good. And in terms of DCEU films, it's arguably the best so far. A low bar to hurdle, to be sure, but the film, director Patty Jenkins (2003's Monster), and Gadot do so with all the determined grace you'd expect of a warrior princess.
Jenkins, and screenwriter Allen Heinberg, have obviously used Captain America: The First Avenger (still one of Marvel's best efforts) as both inspiration and their template; its world war setting, unconsummated romance, and an at-first naive hero who fights for what they believe is right and not simply for what is ordered of them are all from that other film's playbook. (Even one character's sacrifice at the end of Wonder Woman is either an homage to, or a blatant rip-off of The First Avenger's final moments.)
But Wonder Woman is its own film, too. From Themyscrica, the secret island home of the Amazons ruled by Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) -- and where her daughter, Diana (WW's actual name), is trained for combat by her aunt, General Antiope (a fierce Robin Wright) -- to the muddy trenches of No Man's Land and the battlefields of World War I, Jenkins creates two very distinct but wholly believable worlds.
Those worlds collide when Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes his plane off the Themyscrican coast and is rescued by Diana, who is given an immediate introduction to the dangers that mankind presents when German soldiers storm the beach. It's 1918 and Trevor, a US spy who, having gone undercover behind enemy lines, has escaped from the Germans with the notebook of so-called Dr Poison (Elena Anaya). She has been developing a biochemical weapon to win the war and help General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) prevent the signing of the Armistice.
Tales of this great war, and the possibility that it is Ares, the god of war and sworn enemy of the Amazons, orchestrating it, ignites Diana's sense of justice and piques her adventurous spirit; accompanying Trevor back to London ("It's hideous!") and then on to the Front, where Diana witnesses firsthand man's cruelty towards his fellow man. It's also the film's best set piece: Wonder Woman rising from the trenches, going over the top and single-handedly taking down a German battalion. She then liberates a nearby village with equally impressive force.
But in spite of the superhuman heroics, in Wonder Woman we have an identifiable heroine. She may be a warrior princess and daughter of a god, but Diana also has a child-like wonder; a curious nature that has her thirsting for knowledge. She also has a very strong sense of what is right and what is wrong. And she's still learning. As much as Jenkins' film is a big screen coming out for Wonder Woman, it's also Diana's coming of age tale.
Unfortunately Jenkins can't avoid the third act curse of the superhero film: a GCI-heavy, low stakes showdown between heroine and villain. (Spoiler alert: Wonder Woman doesn't die.) But in spite of this bloat and wobble, Wonder Woman manages to stick the landing. And we won't have to wait an eternity to see her again: Diana will be back, alongside her fellow superheroes, in Justice League later this year.
Here's hoping we don't have to wait too long to see her front and centre of her own film again, now that we know Gadot and Jenkins are both well and truly up to the task.