Saturday, 6 January 2018

The Disaster Artist Review

Based on true events, The Disaster Artist starts in San Francisco 1998 with aspiring actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) meeting the kooky and mysterious Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) in an acting class. The reserved Sestero is instantly drawn to the fearlessness and passion of Wiseau and the pair become fast friends, soon deciding to move to Los Angeles where Wiseau has another apartment to further pursue their acting careers. The pair find it increasingly difficult to follow their dream with Greg's talent agency failing to supply him with any work and Tommy constantly baffling casting directors with his bizarre accent/ demeanour. Frustrated with this, Tommy decides to make a movie for him and Greg to star in in and what follows is the making of 'the best worst movie ever made'.

For those who haven't seen The Room (2003) it's hard to explain exactly what the film is, and interestingly The Diaster Artist doesn't try to explain it all that much. Sure, Robyn (June Diane Raphaelfloats the theory to the rest of the cast during a lunch break on set that the film is semi-autographical and that the characters of Lisa screwing Wiseau around is a metaphor for life itself, but The Diaster Artist doesn't focus on this. Rather, and thankfully so, it focuses on Wiseau's passion for cinema and for life and how this passion created a successful cult film against all odds. 

James Franco is perfect as Tommy Wiseau, so much so that you watch him like one watches Wiseau's actual performance in The Room - perplexed but intently intrigued and unable to look away. And Dave Franco holds his own as Greg Sestero, a character that could have easily become an unlovable straight-man in comparison to Wiseau, but manages to remain loving and authentic. Much like the focus of the plot, the film is greatly benefited by the talent involved in its making, and again, their passion for The Room and wanting to tell its story. James Franco directed, produced and starred (not unlike Wiseau himself in The Room). There's a wonderful short series of interviews from stars such as Kristen Bell, Adam Scott and J.J Abrams at the beginning of the film that feels out of place in the overall picture become again celebrates the films message of passion and belief in cinema that it's hard not to enjoy. The film itself is also packed with well known faces like Bryan Cranston, Zac Efron, Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen.

While at the end of the film we know little more about Tommy Wiseau, which may disappoint some, we know a lot more about the origins of The Room, and the strong friendship that created it.

Rating: 3.5/5

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Call Me By Your Name Review

During the summer of 1983 in Northern Italy seventeen year old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and his parents await the arrival of an American graduate, Oliver (Armie Hammer), who his father has invited to live with them for the summer to help him with his academic paperwork in return for him giving notes on Oliver's novel. Elio is initially annoyed by Oliver's presence - he has to give up his room for Oliver and the visitors carefree attitude draws the attention of Oliver's friends (especially the females).

Gradually, though, Elio begins to warm to Oliver and tension between them becomes clear - but of what type? Animosity? The desire to be like one another? The desire to be with one another? This is not made clear until over a third of the way through the long film, where while during a trip into town  Elio reveals to Oliver that he doesn't know anything about the things that really matter. Oliver asks him why he's telling him this, and he he's thinking what he thinks Elio is saying they can't talk about such things. It's a frustrating watch because these characters saying what they truly want to say, and everything they do say can be easily misconstrued. It's a testament to the film that it mimics reality so well in this sense but also detrimental to the audience in understanding the special connection Elio and Oliver seem to develop after this point in the film.

From here the film becomes slightly more comprehensible and relatable when Elio makes a move on Oliver after showing him his secret swimming spot and Oliver turns him down, telling him he wants to be good. The rejection is painful and Chalamet is excellent at portraying a young boy first obsession with a love he seemingly can't have. But as soon as the pain starts to sink in, Oliver gives in to the teens' advances and the rest of the film follows their whirlwind but ultimately temporary romance. It's a shame because there's a lot to be explored from both characters of wanting something that they shouldn't have, the thought process of finally deciding to cross the lone, the idea of age transcending love, and the ramifications of such an affair but ultimately the film seems more concerned with celebrating their love, as demonstrated by a powerful conversation Elio has with his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) before the end of the film. And this is fine, but it perhaps makes it a little less entertaining by the time Elio and Oliver get together.

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Review

7 months after the rape and murder of her teenage daughter Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) hires the use of three run-down billboards located near her home and the site of her daughter's death. Frustrated with the police's lack of progress in identifying the criminal she pays her them to read "Raped while dying", "And still no arrests?", and "How come, Chief Willoughby?" The police view this is a personal attack and thus begins a war between a grieving mother and a conservative small town police department.

As always McDormand is great in the lead but her role is more subdued here than one might think from the initial plot. As the film progresses Mildred begins to fade into more of ensemble of intriguing small town characters, particularly that of the Ebbing police department. Chief Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is never portrayed as the villain he could he here, nor does Mildred's character hate him, but the fact she has no closure regarding her daughters death. The news that he is suffering from terminal pancreatic cancer adds another interesting dimension to his and Mildred's game of trying to best one another, but is also hinders the films ability to show truly enraged characters and therefore to emotionally move the audience as much as the film could have.

The closest we get is openly racist and seemingly incompetnet Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) who snaps after a particularly fatal blow for the Ebbing police department and brutally assaults Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones), the advertiser Mildred is paying to maintain the billboards. Unfortunately, what the film excels at in creating three-dinmenisonal characters is also its downfall. We see the fervent passion of love and hate from both sides of what turns out to be mostly a series of misunderstandings and minor differences, but ultimately all the characters still remain human enough to be understood and related to by the and receive redemption by the films end.

Rating: 3.5/5

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Lady Bird Review

It's 2002, and Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), who goes by the name of Lady Bird, is a senior student in a Catholic high school in Sacramento California. She's started applying to colleges and is eager to attend one far away from home as possible, preferably on the east coast in New York much to her mother Marion's (Laurie Metcalf) dismay.

Lady Bird is not a likeable character, perpetually switching between being completely self-absorbed and spouting every single thought that comes into her head and profound philosopher beyond her years. Ronan is capable in the role but the writing borderlines on parody (and maybe that's the point), and Lady Bird's interactions also leave one wondering whether or not she may have a social disorder.

While the film focuses on Lady Bird's relationship with a number of characters it focuses on that of her mother Marion, which also suffers from a strange sense of polarising absurdity. One minute Marion is letting Lady Bird and her drunk friends raid the kitchen late on Thanksgiving night or picking Lady Bird up and consoling her after her regrettable de-flowering, the next, the pair are squabbling while clothes something, and in the final act scenes of the film aren't even talking at all. Laurie Metcalfe is solid as Marion, it would have been very easy for her to become the bad mother of the story, so it's too her testament that she remains relatable, if a little critical, which is more than can be said for Lady Bird. But again this polarity raises the question of parody so it's hard to know what you are seeing when you watch the film. Is this supposed to be a harsh and realistic portrayal of a mother daughter relationship? Or something more heightened for dramatic purposes?

Ultimately the film does pay off on Lady Bird's growth into a more stable and relatable woman, particularly in one scene where she makes the decision to leave her new popular friends who are ditching prom, to find her old friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) and attend it with her. It doesn't feel particularly earned though, nor does her success in applying to schools after the minimal effort and distractions the film shows her having throughout.

Rating: 3/5

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049 Review

Re-watching a film right before a sequel is sometimes a bad decision. On the one hand it ensures you're up to speed with everything that's happened before jumping back into the franchise's world again. On the other hand it means there's more opportunity to draw comparisons and discrepancies. I don't regret re-watching Blade Runner before going to see 2049, but unfortunately for me it meant 2049's validity was put into question almost immediately when the entire premise of the original - that replicants can only live for four years - became superfluous in 2049's opening crawl, stating the Nexus 8 generation of replicants (somehow created around the time the first film look place) have no live span. And once you start to question the validity of a film's continuity the suspension of disbelief is hard to get back.

So when K's (Ryan Gosling) investigation into the bones he discovers hidden by another older model replicant indicates the robot had carried to birth a child you have to just take a breath and go along for the visually breathtaking ride and not think too hard about it. That's a shame though, because much like the original, there are some interesting ideas here, about identity, memory, morality and love but they get lost in translation. Instead of pondering these themes you're trying to uncover 2049's puzzling mystery: who is the child to the replicant and the human, and why does everyone want it so badly? It's a welcome addition to the more straight-forward narrative of the original, but again, there's too much going on to fully enjoy it - which is really quite a feat for a film you can also describe as slow-paced.

Gosling is fine, but he's outshone by the late arrival of Harrison's Ford's Deckard, and he basically suffers from the same problems Harrison had with Deckard in the first film but in reverse. Ford had to play a human that you could potentially believe was a robot, whereas Gosling must play a robot that you just might think is human. Ana de Armas and Robin Wright both perform well, but their characters are mostly unnecessary filler, particularly Armas's Joi whose hologram characters existence confuses me. Sylvia Hoeks is the standout as the beautifully menacing replicant Luv, assistant to the underused Jarrod Leto's Wallace, head of the Wallace Corporation.

If you liked the first film, it's highly likely you'll enjoy 2049 even though it's a highly more convoluted version of the original.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Gypsy 1.1 Review: The Rabbit Hole

I have an interest in psychology, and as such, I've always enjoyed watching therapist characters on television. I've always been adamant the best part of The Sopranos was Tony's therapy sessions with Dr. Melfi, and more recently several characters on Hannibal proved just how entertaining these characters can be to watch. It's surprising, then, that something like Gypsy hasn't come along earlier. While it's being dubbed a 'psychosexual drama/ thriller' I propose that it's something far simpler - a character drama, and not in the This Is Us sense.

Series with therapists often risk becoming boring because a fundamental part of their job - therapy sessions - involve a lot dialogue being spilled out like exposition. The audience aren't being shown anything, there is no action occurring, and so it a lot more difficult to keep people entertained when two characters are just sitting in a room. What allows fictional psychologists to become so interesting is that they don't do much talking in their sessions - they listen - so while whatever character spills out their lives problems to them the therapist can remain relatively enigmatic.

Enter Jean Holloway, a New York psychotherapist played by Noami Watts. She initially seems competent at her job, telling her elderly patient Claire Rogers that she needs to respect her daughter Rebecca's boundaries. Jean receives several calls from her own mother throughout the episode which she promptly ignores and one can't help but think that Claire might become a stand-in for Jeans own parental problems. Later at a staff meeting a colleague is telling her and some others about his patient who is planning to propose to his girlfriend, but he's anxious because he is still cheating with his co-worker. Jean is quick to say that he should't marry her when another co-worker tells her, 'that's not for us to decide, we're here to address his issues, not make his decisions.'

And so Jean is revealed to be more than an average therapist. It becomes increasingly evident that she wants to get involved in her patients lives, and that she has done so before, her husband Michael (Billy Crudup) asking, 'you're not getting emotionally involved again, are you?'. Whether it is to help them, or for own personal interests (professional or otherwise) remains to be seen, but I can already she Gypsy being one of those enthralling series in which we continuously watch its lead in Jean, make increasingly bad decisions, but yet we can't look away, and sort of hope she makes the wrong choices for our entertainment.

Jean literally goes down 'The Rabbit Hole' in this episode, stalking (it may seem a harsh word, but it's clearly what she's doing, and assumedly her behaviour is only going to get more questionable as the series progresses) her client Sam's ex-girlfriend Sidney while she works at the coffeeshop. We know from Sam's therapy session that he's still taking the break-up hard 8 months on, and so the questions is, why does Jean assume the alias of 'Diane' the writer and befriend Sidney? Is it to get Sidney's side of the story, a more balanced opinion? Sam certainly loses a lot of audience sympathy when Sidney reveals his clinginess. Or is Jean intrigued by the way Sam is obsessed with Sidney? Did she go to 'The Rabbit Hole' to find out who this amazing woman was for her herself? Did she go because she herself has never loved someone that much (she seems restless with her husband Michael), or being loved that much? It's Jean's enigmatic motivations that will continue to make Gypsy an intriguing series to watch, so when instances like Sidney brushing her hand over hers evokes a question in both the character and the audience, 'why is she here?'. 

Despite Jean's elusiveness there is still a lot of talking throughout the aforementioned therapy sessions. Sam tells her he went to return some of Sidney's things under her guidance, which she knew having almost been spotted by Sam at the coffeeshop. But Sam goes on to tell her about Sidney's dead father leading him to think she has trust issues, and ironically, Jean is shocked. Sam's revelation contradicts a story Sidney told 'Diane' about her father being in prison - and suddenly Gypsy has highlighted something very important. Just because there's a lot of talking, it doesn't mean anything is actually being said. Sidney has lied to either Sam or Jean, or even both, and just when both Jean and the audience thought they were starting to grasp her character, we are now uncertain of everything. Gypsy's tagline is 'Who are you when no one is watching?' and it highlights what most already know. We are us, yes, but we are also different versions of oursleves depending on who we are with, for better or worse. Jean is obviously a character still changing, as we all do throughout our lives, and it'll be interesting to see where Sidney's arrival takes her.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Oz Comic-Con 2017: Sylvester McCoy

Had a long but fulfilling weekend at Oz Comic-Con this past weekend. Started off early Saturday morning with my first panel being Sylvester McCoy at 11.00am. I was joined by my great uncle and my second cousin, who are huge fans of Lord of the Rings (he plays Radagast the Brown in The Hobbit films). I went to see him for his portrayal of the seventh Doctor (1987-1989). Everyone has 'their Doctor, the one that made them fall in love with the series and him and Colin Baker are mine, having watched their series on VHS as a young child after it was cancelled. It was a very fun panel, McCoy very spritely for a man of 73 went into the audience himself with the microphone to ask questions, his hat and and cane very reminiscent of his Doctor's hat and umbrella, in case anyone in the audience didn't know who he was.

He says his most memorable moment from Doctor Who occurred while shooting scenes for 'Survival' in the desert and one of the actresses dressed up as Cheetah Person, unable to stand the heat, stripped down to her underwear and went over a sand dune, essentially walking off set. He also noted that his favourite part about Doctor Who was working with all of the great British actors. Coming from theatre it was good to see friends, new and old alike, that also did a lot of stage acting before working on Doctor Who.

On that infamous cliffhanger in the first episode of the 'Dragonfre' story, he says he doesn't exactly know how the scene became so ridiculous, referring to an episode in which his character hangs off the cliff made of ice with his umbrella. He says it made sense in the script but things often got lost on the editing room floor, on this occasion he seems to think an entire episode's worth of material was condensed from a four to a three part story, but they left the scene in because is was literally a good cliffhanger despite no longer making any sense in the context of the episodes. You can see the cast and crew discussing it here:

On if he any creative control over the character he revealed that he was initially surprised how violent his character was sometimes, assuming this heroic Time Lord would use more logic and reason to defeat his enemies. As such, a lot of the more action driven sequences were handed to his companion Ace, mentioning this scene in 'Remembrance of the Daleks'.

On if he could wear any other Doctor's costume he said definitely not Colin Baker's (the Sixth Doctor), which he actually had to wear when he started on the series after Baker had a falling out with the series. He said he thought Christopher Eccleston's Doctor (the Ninth) had a pretty good costume, and he praised the actor for successfully bringing back the character of Doctor Who in a cool and more accessible way, rather than the posh iterations he was previously portrayed as, his northern accent being a large part of that.

On whether he has a favourite TARDIS interior he admits he doesn't really see the difference between a lot of them, going on to say that the police box set used for the exterior of the time machine definitely always looked - and smelt - the same, jokingly saying he definitely thinks some crew members would use it as a toilet while they were shooting on location.

When asked that constantly popular question of whether or not he thinks there will ever be a female Doctor, McCoy says no. He thinks Doctor Who is such a financial success for the BBC that they'd be too afraid to do it now, but that it's something they could have tired to do back in the original run when there was more creative freedom and not so much executive meddling.

On Doctor Who's cancellation in 1989 he says he didn't really know it was done until after the fact. He had initially signed on for two seasons and Patrick Troughton (the Second Doctor) had told him to not to do more than three (a sort of unspoken rule of the series, especially since it's revival with three of the last four incarnations only doing three seasons, and seven of the twelve only doing three overall). During his second season they asked him to sign for two more seasons, he was reluctant, but rather than leaving after two seasons and being responsible for ending the series he agreed to another two - only for the BBC to put the series on hiatus after his third season, practically cancelling the series. He went on to compare the situation with his more current work on the recently cancelled Netflix series, Sense8. He said the Wachowskis told him his role as 'The Man of Hoy' would be expanded in the series' third season only to find out that it had been cancelled. He has yet to be contacted about returning in the two-hour movie Netflix has announced to finish the series.

McCoy recalls that as revenge for his unwillingness to do something like that the writers gave him an incredibly long speech in which the Doctor basically talks a Dalek to death in the same story.

He also went on to discuss what he tried to bring to the role, saying that when he started as the Doctor the series had been running for 25 years so it had lost a lot of its mystery. He wanted to bring that back and explore the sadness of a character that had lived that long and whether he was a good person. But he also noted the vital need for the series' comedic aspect to balance that out.

On the success that is Doctor Who he says he still surprises him how popular the series is. He goes to countries like Brazil and Sweden that have never even aired the series, so he expects his appearances to focus on The Hobbit, but then majority of his fans are Doctor Who fans. He says that good word of mouth and the arrival of the internet have ensured that the series lives on, even its old incarnations.

Catering to the Australian audience, McCoy, noticing a questioners strong accent remembers how a famous Australian he worked with on The Hobbit, Cate Blanchett, would often let her 'bogan' slip out. He recalls when they were standing together on the red carpet for The Hobbit, about to meet Prince Harry, that he told her not to say anything stupid. Prince Harry passed Blanchett without a hitch, but when he asked McCoy what it was like working with Peter Jackson his response was: 'I didn't like him that much. He made sure I was always covered in shit.'

On rumours that he didn't like working with Sebastian the hedgehog on The Hobbit - he says they're absolutely true! When he first went onto the set it was just him and Peter Jackson and his amazing treehouse, he had a blast, but once the CGI hedgehog was added in everything changed. He took it all away from me basically, he joked, he stole my thunder. He thought when they were shooting he couldn't believe who much screen time he was getting, only to be upstaged by a computer generated hedgehog upon the films release.

That wasn't the only difficulty McCoy had with special effects on set, noting that during one scene in which he is riding on HORSES on a completely green screen the directer had to remove some padding to get a particular shot, but once the shot was complete the padding wasn't put back on and McCoy fell off. Luckily, shooting in New Zealand he appreciated how good at rugby they were, praising a crew member who dived and prevented him from hitting his head on the ground.

And speaking of McCoy's head, he revealed that he was up for another Lord of the Rings role in the original trilogy - that of Bilbo Baggins. He said what was most annoying about not getting that role was that they made the actor who played Bilbo, Ian Holm, where a wig that looked exactly like McCoy hair. He joked that he tried to convince them they'd save money on wigs had they cast him instead.