Boy Review

Boy is a 2010 comedy-drama film which is the highest grossing New Zealand film of all time! 

Plot 

In 1984, Waihau Bay, New Zealand, we meet Boy (played by James Rolleston). Boy is an 11-year-old fan of Michael Jackson who lives on a rural property with his gran, a goat, his younger brother, and many young cousins. Gran soon leaves Boy alone for a week, where he must look after his family whilst juggling school. However, soon Boy’s jail-bird father Alameinn (played by Taika Waititi ) appears with some of his friends in tow who stay at the house whilst they search for long buried treasure, where whackiness ensues.

Review

Even as a cynic, I could not help but smile even before the title of the movie appears.

 

The environment of Waihau Bay and its inhabitants are wonderful. A beautiful environment and community on the other side of the world that still cannot hide from the influence of 80’s America pop culture.

 

Even though Boy’s background and situation is quite grim, it is amazing how the movie handles this subject matter in such a tasteful and sweetly comedic way. The balance between comedy and grim reality is balanced perfectly, so that the audience is aware of Boy’s situation, while at the same time are protected from it through the characters’ innocence and naive perspectives of their own lives.

 

The young cast are brilliant in that they embody their characters completely. This may be due to the fact that they are not-well-known actors, however, Rocky truly conveys a sensitive soul, Boy’s friends are honestly comedic and Boy himself does a fantastic job in successfully treading a fine line between innocent naivety and arrogant adolescence.

 

The use of cartoon imagery and surreal dream sequences convey the tool of dream escapism, from both the point of view of Boy and Rocky. Such dreams, though childish, run parallel with Boy’s father and friends who ‘play’ as a gang, give each other nick-names and have dreams of grandeur of their own.

 

Boy’s father Alameinn is played by the movie’s writer and director, Taika Waititi, who gives a wonderful performance. Extremely sweetly comedic, he is as childish and naive if not more so, then Boy and his young friends and family. A man caught in a state of arrested development, Waititi plays an odious character that is very easy to emphasise and laugh at; this is no mean fete. It is refreshing that Waititi does not abuse his role as the film’s writer and director and plays a character who does not overshadow the young lead but instead, balances and assists him, serving as the comedy side-kick or straight man when the scene demands it. With such strong support, it is Boy who is undoubtedly the star of the show and Rolleston holds it on his young shoulders extremely well.

 

This is a far more successful movie than Waititi’s earlier effort, Eagle vs Shark, which aimed to deliver similar quaint, off-beat humour whilst covering similarly grim circumstances with the same cross media techniques. However, Eagle vs Shark’s characters, especially Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Concords fame, whilst playing similarly immature and selfish characters, were not likeable in the slightest and therefore did not gain empathy from their audience. It seems that Waititi has learned a lesson or two from this experience and has made noticeable and pleasing improvements with Boy . Perhaps such characteristics are more easily digestible when represented from young characters, especially ones who pull their adult counterparts into line. 

 

Rating

In some places it seems that the jokes and visual gags try a little too hard, and the ending is quite abrupt. These are very minor criticisms though. A sweet movie that covers some very grim situations, this movie will have you smiling throughout. Now if I can just find an 80’s Tron tank-top like Boy wears in the movie and my life will be complete.

3 EGGS  OUT OF 5

Check out the film at IMDB, see what Margaret and David have to see, and check out the trailer.

Luke McWilliams September 2010

Wall Street Review

Wall Street  is a 1987 American drama film, directed and co-written by Oliver Stone.

Michael Douglas won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Gordon Gecko, and the film has come to be seen as the archetypal portrayal of 1980s excess, actually inspiring people to work on Wall Street!

The movie’s sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is to be released this month.

Plot

We follow junior stockbroker Bud fox (played by Charlie Sheen) who, in order to get ahead of the game, is desperate to work with his hero, Wall Street legend Gordon Gecko (played by Michael Douglas). Bud has an interview with Gekko, where, in order to impress, Bud leaks some inside information about the company his honest, blue-collar unionist father works for (played by Martin Sheen). Soon Bud has Gecko as a client. In order to keep and impress him however, Bud soon finds himself under Gecko’s unscrupulous wing, where 80’s excess effortlessly flows to him (including Daryl Hannah), as well of plenty of wackiness.

Review

This movie is a perfect example of Hollywood in the 80’s: it is a high-concept cautionary morality play, with good and evil patriarchal figures tugging on Bud Fox’s soul, similar to Charlie Sheen’s role in Platoon.

 

The technical aspects and acting are all spot on. Director Oliver Stone wanted to shoot the trading floor as if he was swimming with sharks, incorporating a claustrophobic feel of fevered action. Tremendous work went into the authenticity of the stock-broking world, in terms of physical trading. Actual traders were brought in to coach actors on the set on how to hold phones, write out tickets, and talk to clients. Actor Charlie Sheen participated in a six-week course to study a cross section of young Wall Street business people, and Michael Douglas was given breathing lessons so that he may deliver his lines faster with ‘repressed anger’.

 

The movie has all of the hall-marks of a Tom Cruise vehicle; a young talented hot-head who has a crisis of confidence, resolves it, and saves the day; i.e. – an air force pilot / cocktail waiter/rally-car driver/lawyer/soldier/spy loses his confidence, gets it back and saves the day.  Not surprisingly, Cruise was in fact Oliver Stone’s first choice for the role of Bud Fox, however Charlie Sheen was already confirmed to star as the character.

 

The DVD transfer is fine however it is the iconic 80’s suits, style and music that represent the excess off the 80’s while also making the lifestyle all the more attractive. It is very easy to understand why the Gordan-‘Greed-is-Good’- Gekko character is now a pin-up boy of capitalist America – a charming villain whose moral corruption is excused due to his financial success, a bit like Donald Trump in The Apprentice. Michael Douglas and the movie’s director Oliver Stone are still stopped in the street and thanked by traders for ‘inspiring’ them into getting them into the game!

 

Apparently the film’s bookend Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps has the Gecko character side-lined again with a young up-and-comer (played Shia LaBeouf ) which may be a shame, considering that audiences just want to see more of him. I would love to see a movie that fully explores the character, instead of having him as a one dimensional evil plotter, with it being simply titled Gecko, a la Rocky Balboa, Rambo and Hannibal. In a way, the excellent American Psycho did do this, exploring the yuppie 80’s male psyche albeit in a surreal, extremely darkly comedic way.

Rating

As much as I enjoy Wall Street , I still cannot excuse the extremely corny, “Who am I?” line delivered by Charlie Sheen while looking over the balcony after the essential 80’s montage that shows his rapidly growing wealth

4 OUT OF 5 TRADING BONDS

Check out the film at IMDB, and check out the trailer.

 

Luke McWilliams September 2010

Podcast - 17 September 2010 - Boy, Wall Street (the original) and Hidden plus interviews with Carolyn Mueller and Katie Ryan

Join Luke McWilliams, Liam Jennings, Steven Robert and Felix Barbalet as they review

  • Boy
  • Wall Street (the original)
  • Hidden (Cache)

 plus interviews with Carolyn Mueller, director of the Canberra Short Film Festival and Katie Ryan, CSFF finalist.

Beneath Hill 60 Review

Beneath Hill 60 is a 2010 Australian war film directed by Jeremy Sims and written by David Roach. The screenplay is based on an account of the ordeal written by Captain Oliver Woodward, who is portrayed by Brendan Cowell in the film.

Plot

Set during World War I, we follow mining engineer Oliver Woodward (played by Brendan Cowell) Called away from beautiful sunny Queensland, and a burgeoning romance, Brendan is quickly put to work in the dark and horrible trenches to lead the 1st Australian Tunneling Company underneath a German bunker at the notorious Hill 60.

Before he can go back to his idealic life in Queensland with the girl he left behind (Marjorie, played by Bella Heathcote), Brendan must first lead his men through the dark horrors of Hell.

Review

The film’s score by Cezary Skubiszewski is great and the cinematography by Toby Oliver is fantastic. The visual landscape of the barracks, aided by CGI are convincing. I would have liked a little more visual ingenuity to fully realise the underground surroundings, to experience the cramped conditions and to have a clear, working-map of where everything lay, a la David Fincher’s Panic Room and Fight Club. This would help in fully exploiting the tension of the situation/s that the men find themselves in. As it is, I was not as involved in these key scenes as much as I would have liked.

One key scene of mention is when Oliver and two of his men make a night-time mission to detonate a German tower. This is by far the most enjoyable, suspense filled scene of the movie and works extremely well.

The atmosphere of comradeship and good-old fashioned digger, Aussie larrikin matehip is well captured here, both its positive and negative side. Brendan Cowell is especially good in this role; Brendan has a curious look that you can’t quite read, a slight amused look covers what is on his mind.

The acting is however uneven. We are treated to some great monologues describing certain minor characters motivations for joining the war, but then some other characters do not come across as convincing. This however may be due to the fact that the same actors have populated Australian screens for so long that Australian audiences will, unfairly, have difficulty accepting them in different roles. In this sense, along with some of the dinky-di-Aussie accents, some of the many characters were difficult to connect with.

Rating

A good solid effort is let down in part by uneven acting and a homage or completion of a theme in Gallipoli, the greatest Australian War movie. In this attempt, the emotional climax is lessened, even more so by a relatively poor CG money shot.

A solid 3 mining tunnels out of 5

Check out the film IMDB, see what Margaret and David have to say, and check out the trailer..

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Luke McWilliams September 2010

 

 



The Killer Inside Me Review

The Killer Inside Me is a 2010 American film adaptation of the 1952 novel of the same name by Jim Thompson, directed by Michael Winterbottom.

Plot

We follow Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford (played by Casey Affleck), a law enforcer of a small Texan town, as he is asked by his superior to move along a prostitute, Joyce (played by Jessica Alba) who has recently set up shop. Despite his orders, and the fact that he has a girlfriend (played by Kate Hudson), Lou forges ahead with an affair. An opportunity soon arises however to get revenge on the person he suspects had his brother killed a few years earlier. Soon the Deputy launches into a plan of murder and cover-ups, and the depths of his insanity are slowly revealed.

Review

The violence against women in this movie is extremely graphic and unsettling. While the film shies away from the visual depiction of violence towards men, it shows the violence directed towards women in a visually and aurally graphic way.

The main character graphically kills the people he loves the most. One can argue this is due to his not believing he deserves happiness, or because of a perceived link between love and violence, sex and death.

One must look and wonder at what the intent of the movie was. Was it to highlight violence committed against women, which has been depicted deeper, from an individual, historical and sociological point of view, and less graphically (although still very disturbing) in the Millenium trilogy of books and films, or was it to tell a pulp crime- fiction story?

If it is the latter, the director has responded to critics of the Sundance opening of the film that the world presented in the novel is a ‘hyper reality’, and that it is not realistic, due to the movie’s pulp origins and also due to the fact that the story is told from the disturbed first person’s point of view; the movie’s protagonist\antagonist. If that is the case, why present the story and its violence so realistically? Sin City was extremely violent, but was presented in a hyper-stylized way, celebrating its hard-boiled, grim graphic-novel origins which were a hyper-stylized throw-back to film noir, hard-boild pulp fictions in the first place. The Killer Inside Me takes a story from a pulp magazine and presents it in a very realistic way, with only a few posters and the intro sequence tying it in with its pulp origins.

This adaptation may be highly faithful to its source material, however, as Stanley Kubrick has said, the source material is “the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind.” If this is the case, should the film then be more of a character study of the character’s motives and intent, rather then concentrating on the violence of his actions, especially towards women? The Silence of the Lambs was a brilliant study of not one, but two criminally insane minds, building tension and horror without the need to show any graphic violence. American Psycho holds a similar theme as The Killer Inside Me in that it is a concentrated first-person perspective of the main protagonist/antagonist but it was also a fantastic character/psychological study and a satire of the 80’s yuppie male with a brilliant performance from Christian Bale.

Through flash-backs we learn the psycho-sexual cause of Lou’s mental illness (critics may argue that it isn’t), and we experience his calculating self-preservation, much like Mat Damon’s Tom Ripley in The Talented Mr Ripley. Unlike Ripley, Lou holds no perceived guilt over his actions, as he does not hold himself responsible for them. Lou merely reacts to the world around him, painting himself a victim to circumstance and chance.

In relation to the violence, Jessica Alba said the following:

“It’s a Jim Thompson novel about a sociopathic killer who’s a coward! I think the detail that went into the killing of the women is actually showing how weak he is, because he’s preying on the people who loved him the most. I think a lot of people also want everything to be shiny happy people, and they want killing to be a sexy guy with his shirt off blowing guys’ heads off. This just shows how horrifying it is, which is responsible, actually.”

And Casey Affleck in turn;

"I hope there's room for discussion around this film, and room for people to tell us we're being irresponsible," he said. "But to me, irresponsible is when you have a movie where 300 people get killed by robots, and none of it matters, none of it registers. In this movie, we wanted the violence to seem real, and the victims of violence to seem real. I think we've been very responsible in how we approached the violence. I wouldn't have done the movie otherwise.”

The film is shot beautifully, with fantastic performances all round. Casey Affleck is amazing in his role, and Simon Baker is surprisingly terrific as the county attorney who is highly suspicious of Lou (I’ve hated Simon Baker ever since his character slept with Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada.........maybe I should just get over it). Jessica Alba’s performance breaks your heart, and it is interesting to see Kate Hudson in a relatively less glamorous role that we are used to.

A highlight of the film is the representation of the burden of evidence to charge, and convict, one who is found guilty of a crime/s . Because there is a lack of evidence against Lou, he cannot be charged for his crimes. However, as the tight knight community rightly knows, there is a difference between one being found ‘not guilty’ of a crime and one being ‘innocent’, much in the same way as Johnny Depp’s character discovers in the movie, Rear Window.

Rating

This is an odd film because it is exceptionally well made, well acted and looks beautiful. Even though Lou does not completely understand his responsibility of his actions, the beautiful look of the film (the shots of remote landscapes, the 1950’s urban and city architecture, costumes all shot in hot daylight) are not enjoyed due to the unease that we as an audience feel as a result of such actions. We are successfully made privy to the happiness and beauty that surrounds the main character, but are saddened that it is so out of reach for him. Like Scott Pilgrim, The Dark Knight and, to a lesser extent Shutter Island, this is a film that transcends its pulp origins. It is just a shame that, unlike the above mentioned films, its pulp content was not evolved to match a more specific intent and therefore focus the film’s reason for being.

Due to the technical craftsmanship of the film, I give it 2 fedora hats out of 5, however, due to the harrowing, misguided and surprisingly gratuitous graphic scenes of violence against women I cannot recommend watching it.

Check out the film at IMDB, see what Margaret and David have to say and check out the trailer..

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Luke McWilliams September 2010

 

Podcast - 10 September 2010 - The Killer Inside Me, Beneath Hill 60 and Dear Zachary plus an interview with Marisa Martin

Join Luke McWilliams, Liam Jennings, Steven Robert and Felix Barbalet as they review

  • The Killer Inside Me
  • Beneath Hill 60
  • Dear Zachary

 plus an interview with Marisa Martin, of Enemies of Reality Media about the Canberra Short Film Festival and other local film news.

Brothers Review

 

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Brothers   is a 2009 American-British drama-war-thriller film directed by Jim Sheridan. The film is a remake of 2004 Danish film Brødre directed by Susanne Bier. Both films take inspiration from Homer's epic poem The Odyssey.

Plot

The film follows Sam (played by Tobey Maguire), a Marine captain, and bad-boy Tommy Cahill (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who are brothers. We meet Tommy as he is released from jail for armed robbery, and we soon see Sam embarking on his fourth tour of duty to Afghanistan, leaving behind his high school sweetheart, Grace (Natalie Portman), and their two young daughters.

Tommy’s family soon receive news of Tommy’s death. In Tommy’s absence, his brother Sam supports Tommy’s wife and children in their collective grief. However, when Tommy unexpectedly returns home very much alive, whackiness ensues.

Review

There are great performances all round in the movie, although admittedly it is a little odd to see such young looking actors in parent roles with young children.

The casting for Tobey and Jake is very good. The audience really does feel Tobey’s character’s  sense of mental trauma, and we expect him to lose control at any moment. We, like the family depicted, feel at ease with Jake’s character on screen and miss him when he is absent. As a reformed bad-boy trying to-make-good to the family that he has let down in the past, you can understand why the bad-boy is so attractive.

One could argue that Natalie’s emotional response to hearing prematurely of her husband’s death as being a tad too understated, however, this could just be the actor’s choice as the character would have undoubtedly have been prepared for receiving such inevitable news from past tours.

The only real letdown was the redundant narration at film’s end which annoyed an otherwise subtle and emotional revelation.

The director for the remake decided to make the film more about the brother’s relationship with each other then the emotional attraction to Tommy’s wife. This is a good move as it keeps a clear focus of the film’s intent.

One may argue that this was again an exercise whereby Hollywood again ‘ruined a fine movie’. I prefer the wording of the remake’s writer; that he and the director had  discovered the ‘bones’ of a great story. Certain characters have had their backgrounds more fleshed out, giving their entwining familial relationships more weight. A bigger budget has given the film a more cinematic style and attracted a beautiful score and, of course, a swath of young, good looking stars.

Rating

Brothers is a very satisfying film. Toby Maguire has done a fine job portraying a stable family man who suffers trauma as a result of his experiences in war. This was a much more satisfying study of the psychological effects of war on soldiers and their families than The Hurt Locker as previously discussed on the Movie Club.

I loved Jake Gyllenhall’s character and could completely understand the attraction that Tommy’s family had for him during such an emotionally vulnerable time.

The lead character’s intertwined past with their marine father is completely relate-able and understandable. The story served as a foreboding parallel of what happened during the brother’s early family years with a father who had returned from Vietnam.

Apart from the unnecessary short narration at film’s end, Brothers is a solid movie viewing experience.

4 brothers out of 5

Check out the film at IMDB, check out the trailer, and see what Margaret and David had to say about the original.

 

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Luke McWilliams August 2010

The Ghost Writer Review

 

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The Ghost Writer is a 2010 politica; thriller film. It is adapted from the novel, The Ghost by Robert Harris. Directed by Roman Polanski, the screenplay was written by him and Harris.

Plot

 After the death of a ghost writer who was writing the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (played by Peirce Brosnan), Ewan Magregor’s anonymous ghostwriter agrees to complete the manuscript.

The ghostwriter flies out to Lang’s beachfront mansion to work on the project behind high security in the middle of winter. Unfortunately, the day he arrives, Lang is accused of war crimes. Lang faces prosecution by the International Criminal Court, and all of his staff are subject to reporters and protesters swarming to the island mansion. Amongst all of this, the ghostwriter continues his work, uncovering along the way that perhaps his predecessor’s death was not as straight forward as he was thought to believe.

Review

The movie has a great, classic thriller feel, like the recent The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. However, it also has unnecessary, old-fashioned sentiments.

The ambience is fantastic: a large office window shows a wintery ocean-front setting which depicts the natural and humanistic chaos outside the steely confines of a mansion. Such unsettling imagry and sound reminds of another great classic thriller Shutter Island.

The performances are unfortunately uneven; Kim Cattral is a wispy female, not unlike Mia Farrow’s performance in Rosemary’s Baby, and has an air of film Noir about her, such as Evelyn in Chinatown. Dressed in white, she is contrasted ( although her prowess is subverted) with the dark hued, femme fatal Ruth Lang (played by Olivia Williams), the backbone of her husband, the Prime Minister. Olivia delivers a surprisingly unconvincing performance in a scene of supposed vulnerability. Perhaps Roman has a perception of women in film that resonates.

There are also some choice camera angles throughout the movie, and the lens lingers too long, almost making sure that the viewer captures every little nuance the actor is giving, which is completely unnecessary, and patronises the actor’s performance. From research in comparison with the book, it is surprising that Polanski chose to actually downplay some scenes that would have played very cinematically.

The score is almost darkly comic. I would have preferred a much more intimidating, straight thriller score, given the context, in the mold of other recent films Shutter Island and Inception which both used amazing, menacing, bombastic scores which had as much presence and personality as any other actor on screen.

As mentioned above, it is surprising how the film bears away from use of technology. When The Ghost Writer tries to use a computer with a USB key, all hell breaks lose. Instead, The Ghost Writer must engage in the practical, textural feel of the original manuscript. Characters labor over it, feel it with their fingers and almost enjoy the physical pleasure of touching it. Such use of manuscript-texture reminds me of The Ninth Gate and the supernatural powers that are within the pages of a book.

As The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo demonstrated, research through means of computer can be just as textile, whilst also conveying the sense of a ghostly observer, someone who is dabbling with people’s lives from another sphere of existence. Also, the use of computer data can just be just as hard to trace and hold as a ghost. Cinematic research montages can be delivered with both mediums, but layers of a computer screen imposed over the researcher is far more cinematic than following text on a manuscript. In this sense it may be unfair to call this film old fashioned, but it is warranted here.

There are great allegories of ghosts here; Ewan’s unnamed character is haunted by his predecessor, finding his spirit within the pages of his manuscript, his clothes and the furniture in his room. Ewan prefers spirits rather than wine, and, whilst being an anonymous ghostwriter, holds a certain amount of power over the very public figures. The theme of the Ghost within the Machine could have given another metaphor if technology was not presented in such a phobic way.

The film has a strange dark comic humour; delivered in Ewan’s performance, the score, filing of scenes and some script choices. Ewan’s performance aside, I would have preferred a much more straight approach given the success of the recent, and superior above-mentioned thrillers.

Rating

The Ghost Writer is unfortunately, disappointingly and irritatingly flawed in the sense that it is a good movie, a great visual experience but it could have been so much more. There are many editing and acting choices that take away from the film, in both logic and quality. Like the superior The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, however, this movie has compelled me to read the novel and think of what may have been.

3 pages out of 5 

Check out the film at IMDB check out the trailer, and see what Margaret and David (and Ewan) have to say.

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Luke McWilliams August 2010

Podcast - 3 September 2010 - The Ghost Writer, Brothers, Ichi the killer plus an interview with Canberra Short Film Festival winner Britt Arthur

Join Luke McWilliams, Liam Jennings, Steven Robert and Felix Barbalet as they review

  • The Ghost Writer
  • Brothers
  • Ichi the killer

 plus an interview with Britt Arthur, writer and director of 'My Uncle Bluey' which won the 'Best National Film' category at the 2009 Canberra Short Film Festival