Thursday, 19 January 2017

FILM REVIEW: LION



Transmission Films

Just as the childhood song always insisted, it is indeed a small world - one made even smaller by the rise and reach of the internet and social media. You can survey the streets of a foreign town without ever leaving your home; make friends with people in other countries, talking face-to-face via your computer screen; reconnect with school chums you haven't seen since you graduated.

The world is a small and amazing place, but in the 1990s it was a little less of both. More so for a young boy from a small village in India.

With no phone and no internet, 5-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawal) didn't even know his mother's name when he became separated from his family; accidentally whisked cross-country by train and forced to fend for himself.

A series of almost unfortunate events lead to Saroo being adopted by the Brierlies (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham), a couple from Tasmania: an island state of Australia and, for all intents and purposes, at the bottom of the world.

Growing into a fine young man (played by Dev Patel with a near-perfect Australian accent), and having enjoyed the privileges of a Western upbringing, including cricket, sail boating and college, Saroo still has an emptiness inside; a longing for home and family. Not that he was ungrateful to his adoptive parents but the heart wants what the heart wants. And thanks to the internet, he was able to go in search of the family he lost.

Adapted by Luke Davies from Saroo Brierly's autobiography, A Long Way Home, the major problem with Lion, an impressive debut feature from Garth Davis, is that the second half of the film -- where the adult Saroo searches for his family -- is less interesting, less involving than the first half. Alternatively, we're right there, emotionally invested as young Saroo tries desperately to return to his mother, brother and sister.

Perhaps that is because of the 'child in peril' dynamic (and the irresistable cuteness of Sunny Pawar) rather than any fault of Dev Patel's fine performance. Rooney Mara (as Saroo's girlfriend), Wenham, and especially Kidman are also good in the second half of the film. And any quibbles or misgivings are washed away by the film's emotional climax.

It may be a small world after all, but Lion has a big, big heart.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

FILM REVIEW: JACKIE



eOne Films

Grief is a private affair, or ideally should be, and is experienced as individually as the number of mourners. One person may wail with tears while another may remain silent, seemingly unmoved.

How then to grieve when the eyes of a nation, and the world, are upon you?

Pablo Larrain's Jackie is a study in grief, both public and private, as the First Lady Jaqueline Bouvier Kennedy (Natalie Portman) mourns the loss of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. Set in the lead-up to, and immediate aftermath of the 1963 JFK assassination, and culminating in the president's funeral, Jackie, penned by Noah Oppenheim, is a mix of both fact and fiction as Mrs Kennedy conducts an interview just a week after those historic events.

Summoning a reporter (Billy Crudup) to her home, the First Lady is hoping to establish her husband's legacy and control the media narrative as it relates to her. And the interview, and its contents, are very much on her terms. As combative as the process may be, the reporter's text is at the mercy of Mrs Kennedy's red pen.

And Larrain and Oppenheim are as factual and fanciful as Jackie herself: everything that happens behind closed doors in this film may be fiction but it's no less compelling or believable for that. A mix of history, newsreel and 'what ifs', Jackie seems to be detail-perfect even if it isn't the real thing.

The same could be said of Portman's performance. She may not pass as the First Lady's doppelganger but Portman nails the woman. From the designer wardrobe to that distinct voice, the aesthetics -- and Mrs Kennedy was all about aesthetics -- are spot-on. But Portman also gives her an emotional depth: the histrionics of a grieving widow are leavened by a porcelain-like stillness and the ferocity of a lioness.

Portman's commitment and Larrain's outsider perspective (it's the Chilean director's first English language film) refute both imitation and hagiography. It's a warts-and-all biopic where emotional truth trumps historical fact.

Monday, 9 January 2017

MY 5 LEAST ANTICIPATED FILMS OF 2017



While it's easy to list all of the films we're excited for in 2017, I thought it would be fun to cast an eye over some films that, on paper, don't look all that promising. Of course, you never know how these things might turn out (though I'm pretty sure when it comes to #2), and I'm happy to be proven wrong (here's looking at you, #4!). Here then are just five films I'm not the least bit pumped for in 2017.

1. Baywatch - Out May 11

No, I don't know either why we have a film version of what was once the most watched TV show in the world but that's studio filmmaking for you in the 21st century. No David Hasselhoff (presumably there will be a cameo), instead we have Zac Efron doing his sexy doofus bit, and Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson doing whatever his bit is (it ain't sexy no matter what People magazine says). Notably, while the women in this film wear those tight one pieces, the guys are wearing baggy shorts: sorry peeps, no Speedos or visible penis lines on this beach. If it has some of the same self aware humour of the Jump Street films then it could work, but for now I'm more inclined to believe this reboot is drowning not waving, and I'm happy to turn a blind eye.

2. Transformers: The Last Knight - Out June 22

I have seen all four of Michael Bay's Transformers films and have hated all four with increasing fervor. These films are awful, and I have no reason to doubt this fifth installment -- featuring Nazis, and Anthony Hopkins cashing a cheque -- will be any different. Presumably the Nazis are on the side of the evil Decepticons? Or has Bay had time to re-edit in the wake of the US presidential results and the rise of Neo-Nazis? Don't want to disappoint those poor, overlooked middle Americans now, do we.

3. Cars 3 - Out June 22

Yes, I have dared to name a Pixar film. But we all know that Pixar's Cars franchise is all about selling merchandise and nothing to do with filmmaking. Even the Academy knows that this is Pixar spinning their wheels: Cars didn't win the Animated Feature Oscar in 2006, and its 2011 sequel wasn't even nominated. Hey, maybe I just don't like anything related to automobiles? I mean, I don't have a car, my license or even know how to drive. No, that's not it. The Cars (and Transformers) films just plain suck.

4. Murder on the Orient Express - Out November 23

When it was announced that Kenneth Branagh would direct an adaptation of perhaps Agathie Christie's most famous whodunit, my worst fear was that Branagh himself would play Hercule Poirot. That fear has since been proven correct. As a fan of David Suchet's incarnation of the Belgian detective, whom he portrayed on television for some three decades, it's going to take a lot of convincing to be won over by Branagh's (presumably hammy) interpretation. Like the 1974 Sidney Lumet directed version (which somehow received a lot of awards love; Albert Finney's turn as Poirot is particularly awful), Murder on the Orient Express boasts a prestige cast. Here's hoping like that film, this Orient Express isn't derailed by those big names hamming it up.

5. Jumanji - Out December 26

Psst! Come a little closer and I'll tell you a secret: I don't think The Rock is all that. And know, I don't believe, ironically or otherwise, that his inclusion makes any film better. So if that is the sole reason for this remake (or is it a reboot?) then count me out. No doubt the CGI animals will be far more convincing then in the original (though they were pretty impressive at the time), it's the humans who have me most doubtful: Kevin Hart and Jack Black are not my cup of jungle juice.

Monday, 19 December 2016

FILM REVIEW: LA LA LAND



eOne Films

If Damien Chazelle's previous film, the Oscar-nominated Whiplash, was a depiction of the pursuit of artistic excellence taken to the extreme, then his latest (just his third feature) is a sunshine-and-lollipops look at artists pursuing their dreams: a Hollywood fairy tale refracted through a prism of song and dance, hyper-colours and a seemingly endless supply of sunny days.

Opening in winter (the film's story unfolds over 12 months), Chazelle sets the tone with a one-take opening number set on an L.A. bridge during a traffic jam. That's where our protagonists -- aspiring actress, Mia (Emma Stone), and jazz pianist, Seb (Ryan Gosling) -- briefly meet cute.

That meeting, however, isn't friendly but the pair will meet two more times, and the third time's the charm with romance ensuing. La La Land is thus a typical boy-meets-girl story, albeit one interspersed with song, as both struggle artistically -- Mia suffers rejection after rejection at various auditions, while Seb's dream of owning his own club means having to sell-out his jazz purist ideals -- before achieving success.

Success, of course, breeds success but it also kills romance, with their sunshine-y relationship souring as a result.

That said, La La Land isn't particularly deep or emotionally resonant. What it does have is charm: Stone and Gosling's chemistry (it's their third on-screen pairing) radiates off the screen. The perfectly-matched pair sell the romance even if Chazelle can't quite achieve the bittersweet ending that he's going for.