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Movie Review: Made in Australia

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I first met Matthew Victor Pastor on a train station platform in Melbourne, perhaps seven years ago, when he was a film student. Since then, Pastor has gone on to create several award-winning short films, as well as his self-exploratory full-length feature, Made in Australia, which won Best Guerilla Film at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival 2013.

Made in Australia is a tell-all autobiographical tale that engulfs the viewer with its rawness and intimacy. We are compelled to keep watching this downward spiral of colliding relationships almost out of a sense of voyeurism and horrified curiosity. The lines between fact and fiction are blurred, as some actors, or “players”, portray themselves, including Pastor, his Hong Kong amour Janice Keung, and his parents.

Pastor takes the viewer on his coming-of-age story. From the opening scenes of Janice, naked and sobbing in a bathtub, and Pastor, standing nude on a beach with all his imperfections in front of the camera, the viewer knows at once that this is a film that won’t hold back. We travel with him from his present-day relationships back to the Hong Kong of several years ago, and to his tumultuous affair with an older woman. The film explores themes of humiliation, “losing face”, identity, the collision of Western and Chinese cultures, and the full spectrum of human emotion. Pastor doesn’t shy away from showing the messy, bitter nature of intimate relationships, and the way they fall apart.

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Pastor plays himself commendably. He has a manner that is wonderfully self-deprecating and yet, somehow, narcissistic and over-dramatic. His youthful character, who gives way to all his emotions, runs into traffic impulsively, and shouts out unrealistically melodramatic phrases almost as though he just wants to see their effect on the other, contrasts with the reserved, composed, sad, and fascinating Janice, who has a story of her own that we only glimpse in pieces.

One of the best moments of the film was a freeze-frame in the midst of heightened tension, when Pastor’s voiceover states “people act very strange when they lose face”. Pastor prods at the Asian phenomenon of “losing face,” ie. losing respect, dignity, sense of self-worth, but never really pursues this theme further. The film has several of these moments that hint at more powerful themes but ultimately zooms back in to the tale of the protagonists.

I enjoyed the patient, tense editing of Made in Australia and the wonderful use of silence, static and basic colours. The gritty feel of Hong Kong was also conveyed through detailed shots of apartment blocks, abandoned lots, discarded rubble, views of the bay, hotel rooms, elevators and little details inside the apartments.

Overall, Made in Australia is a striking debut film that is brutally honest and bursting with lust and emotion. It’s an interesting exploration of the lies we tell ourselves and others, and the various faces we wear in the hope of achieving happiness. Pastor has a clear obsession with personal stories, emotions to the brink of madness, and relationships. He tells his own tale unflinchingly.

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

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What can I say about this movie? Rotten Tomatoes has already given it a 92% rating, and who can argue with that cinematic authority of spoiled vegetables? If you’re looking for a big, fun adventure in space, then get yourself a ticket to the 10th instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, stat.

I must admit I’ve been waiting for this movie for months. A ragtag ensemble of interstellar heroes, somewhat scruffier and edgier-looking than the clean-cut Avengers in their capes and spandex, reluctantly banding together to defend the galaxy to the classic tunes of Blue Swede’s Hooked On A Feeling…what more could one desire?

Guardians of the Galaxy tells the story of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a kid who gets abducted from Earth in 1988 by a gang of space pirates called the Ravagers and ends up becoming a carefree, womanising, wandering thief. After stealing a very important orb that attracts the attention of bad guys Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) and Thanos (Josh Brolin), a very big dude with a very big jaw who sits in a very big floating chair, Quill falls in with several other misfits: a green-skinned lethal assassin and daughter of Thanos, Gamora (sci-fi screen queen Zoe Saldana); a genetically engineered super-smart raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper); Rocket’s devoted sidekick, Groot the living tree (Vin Diesel); and Drax the Destroyer, a tattooed muscleman hell-bent on revenge (Dave Bautista). Karen Gillan also plays a key role as Nebula, sibling rival of Gamora, a bald and blue-skinned fighting machine.

Guardians manages to pull off a perfectly wonderful mash-up of rock classics and science fiction which, along with the grungy-looking interior of Quill’s spaceship, and the futuristic but gritty technology, gives the movie a great sense of nostalgia and realism. It’s a rollicking, fast-paced adventure that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

There’s nothing much new or unpredictable about the story of Guardians. Frequent jokes tease mildly at heroic stereotypes but the plot ultimately doesn’t stray far from the sugary, upbeat staple of big budget productions. The highlight of the movie is almost certainly the delightful prison break scene. The visual effects, fight scenes and fantastical locations with grungy place names are also commendable. The final battle and resolution, though, fall a little flat.

What makes the movie worthwhile are the characters. Quill, also known as Star-Lord (mainly to himself), is a planet-hopping, rascally scoundrel of the Han Solo type, but more quick-witted than he seems. Gamora, unfortunately allotted the role of the “token girl” in the team, holds her own as a character with an intriguing past. The irritating, cynical and hilarious Rocket is also surprisingly poignant. Drax definitely had the best one-liners and impressive pan-faced delivery. And Groot—well, everyone falls in love with Groot: wholeheartedly sweet and innocent whilst being able to smash a dozen men against a wall with one twisty arm. Each of them have hints of a fascinating backstory.

My only quibble with sci-fi blockbusters is the relative sparseness of female characterisation. Gamora fills the shoes of the Strong Female Character well, but apart from her, the only women are Nebula, Nova Prime, Quill’s sickly mum and the bed-haired girl in a T-shirt whose name Quill couldn’t remember.

Nevertheless: lots of laughs, lots of action, and a feel-good romp through the galaxy. Worth a trip to the cinema.

Movie Review – Her (2013)

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Theodore’s moustache is possibly the most disturbing thing about this film.

Just kidding. Apologies in advance if this review is a bit of a thought-splat. I’m a bit out of whack due to my sleep cycles being out of whack due to the World Cup. On to the real review!!!

Her is a movie written and directed by Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Where the Wild Things Are) and released in December 2013. I would probably describe Her as a science fiction film in essence, though the screenplay unfolds with the melancholy patience of a self-reflective drama.

The year is 2025. Theodore Twonbly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a sensitive, socially isolated man coming to terms with the breakdown of his marriage to his childhood sweetheart, Catherine (Rooney Mara). He finds solace and understanding in the unlikely form of his computer operating system, an artificial intelligence designed to respond and develop uniquely to each user. Theodore’s operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) has a female voice and personality, and calls herself Samantha. Over time, Theodore finds himself falling in love with Samantha…and she, believe it or not, with him.

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Jonze has crafted a smart and subtle film that surprises viewers gently. You can approach this movie from so many angles and find so many questions–I think each person takes away something different depending on their own life experiences and biases. What role does technology, especially in our modern and progressive world, have in intimacy and relationships? What role does it play in perpetuating, or possibly increasing, loneliness? Is it right to regard someone else’s joy as false, when they are not hurting anyone? What boundaries may we place on love and intimacy, and how fluid will those boundaries be in the future? Is it possible for an artificial intelligence to love, to comprehend its own fate, to become exponentially more than what it was designed for?

There are some memorable moments in this film. The scenes of commuters encapsulated within their private, technology-dominated worlds strike a chord, as do the flashbacks of tender moments with Catherine. The dialogue between Theodore and Samantha is sweet without being sickly, and there are some complex ideas thrown in here and there which I did not contemplate too deeply given that I watched this movie at 2am in the morning post pizza and Maccas. Scarlett Johansson’s voice brings the perfect balance of sweet, sexy, perfectly empathetic and caring, and just the slightest bit frightening. The way that Jonze crafts a tangible relationship between the two is impressive.

The aesthetic of Her is modern and pleasing to the eye. Everything is bright and preppy. Everyone dresses like a Google employee. It’s a believable imagining of the world just a few years from now, and the way that technology might seamlessly interface with our lifestyles.

I found this movie different, a little unsettling, and subtly powerful in that it stays in a back corner of your mind and niggles and never fully goes away. Worth watching!

Edge of Tomorrow (2014) – Grace.C

Check out my review of Edge of Tomorrow (2014) on the awesome movie review blog, Filming You In!

FILMING YOU IN

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Edge of Tomorrow
is fast-paced and punchy. It’s headlined by two big names: established action hero Tom Cruise and rising English star Emily Blunt. There are robotics and giant swords and glowing alien special effects. But let none of the flashiness detract from the fact that this movie is the essence of science fiction. It takes an interesting premise and asks: what if…?

Based off the Japanese novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka (which I desperately need to get my hands on), Edge of Tomorrow depicts an Earth that has been at war for five years with aliens called Mimics. William Cage (Cruise) is a major in the United States Army who shies away from the frontlines and prefers media relations—he talks of heroism and victory and encourages people to enlist in the fight against the Mimics.

Through a couple of unwise choices, Cage ends up stripped…

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Movie Review – X-Men: Days of Future Past

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What is with the onslaught of sci-fi/action/adventure movies coming out lately?

Not that I’m complaining, but…physically, I can’t keep up! Robocop, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Transcendence, Amazing Spider-Man 2, Godzilla, Edge of Tomorrow…One of my online course instructors pointed out that most people are fans of science fiction without even realising it, and it’s true: science fiction and fantasy movies constantly dominate the box office.

I struggled to find the time to fit in a viewing of X-men: Days of Future Past, but I wanted to see this movie so much that with much dedication we squeezed it in between work, food, sleep and more work. We chowed down our dinner. We bought a banana choc top (the best kind) and marched into the theatre with a sense of great anticipation. I had thrills. This was movie-watching excitement at its best.

Last decade I followed the X-Men 1-3 movies with enthusiasm, and more recently I thought First Class was a well-made exploration of the early lives of Professor X and Magneto. (Origins and The Wolverine were both a little disappointing in different ways, although the latter had a decent standalone story.)

So how did I find X-Men? Well, my expectations were pretty sky high, and it’s safe to say the movie didn’t disappoint.

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Pros:

  • Decent action scenes. You get thrown into the action pretty much straightaway. Before you even really know what’s going on, there are flaming people and element-shifting robots having a punch on. Don’t worry about feeling confused though, because the movie is ridiculously easy to follow: the characters explain every plot point and change of motive as they go along, which I’ll mention further below…
  • Amazing special effects. I could point out a few scenes here but it’s better if you just watch it :)
  • Interesting new heroes. Of course, along with half the internet, I have to gush about Quicksilver (Evan Peters), the super speedy kid who gets recruited to help rescue Magneto, and his scene-stealing performance. Although I was really doubtful when I saw the pre-release pictures, I ended up really liking the way they styled his character: the silver hair, goggles, Pink Floyd t-shirt and space-age jacket. It suits his personality and doesn’t try too hard. I also must mention Blink (Fan Bing Bing), who can teleport herself and others through these awesome pink portals. Also she’s Asian and has purple hair and green eyes.
  • A solid storyline: go back in time, stop a pivotal event. They didn’t make things too fancy, though it could have got convoluted with the collision of past and future. It felt a bit Inception-y towards the end there.

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Cons:

  • Clunky dialogue in certain scenes. This goes hand in hand with the point I made above about having characters reiterate every step of the story. It didn’t leave much to the imagination. A couple of conversations had me cringing a little when they felt too forced.
  • A couple of plot inconsistencies…which I wish I could discuss but cannot without spoiling!
  • Generally corny jokes. The genuine laugh out loud moment was, of course, the slow-mo scene. Best.
  • Featuring fewer female leads. Really, it was only Mystique who got a kick-ass role :( Jennifer Lawrence, why do you get to be so awesome?

If you want to clarify the timeline of the X-Men Movie Universe, here are a couple of links to check out (spoiler alert – watch the movie before you click these!):

Official Fox tie in website: http://www.25moments.com

X-Men Movie Visual Timeline: https://imgur.com/a/B2M1n

 

Dark Shadows

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SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE.

I had high hopes for this movie. Johnny Depp transformed by a witch’s wrath into a vampyre, dug out of his coffin 200 years later, returns to his home endowed with some brilliantly wicked supernatural powers to restore the Collins family to prosperity. The trailer was playful, dramatic and a little dark. Plus, an impressive cast roll: Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham-Carter,  Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach from the Watchmen movie) and Chloe Grace Moretz (the delightfully foul-mouthed Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass). And to top it all off, it’s directed by Tim Burton.

Unfortunately, Dark Shadows proved too theatrical and far from satisfying. Firstly, the hair and make-up. Did Angelique really have to be straw-blonde? Did Johnny Depp really have to be daubed such a plastery shade of white? Perhaps. But it was tacky.

There were so many characters in this story who, at first, seemed fascinating. Their individual stories could have easily been drawn out into intriguing segues without detracting from the overall narrative. Instead, the supporting characters were used as props. Conflicts between family members were introduced and never resolved. Carolyn, instead of resolving her relationship with her mother, transforms into a werewolf in the last few minutes of the movie and has a punch-up with the witch – um, what? Victoria Winters, who apparently had a traumatic childhood imprisoned in a mental asylum, turns up at the Collins manor, a doe-eyed, sweetly-spoken waif whose only purpose is to fall madly in love with Barnabas. And Roger Collins? He just…leaves? I guess so.

Overall, the pacing of this movie was out of step. As I watched, I was wondering what the point of this or that scene was, and when something substantial was going to happen. And then, suddenly, it all happened at once. And then the movie ended. With a cheesy ending.

A couple of hours of lighthearted, gothicky fun. I wouldn’t watch it again.

5/10

Movie Review: Chronicle

While I’ve got the ball rolling…let’s do another quick movie review!

Chronicle is a superhero movie with a twist. It asks: what would really happen if ordinary people got superpowers? Would they instantly transform into the next Spider-Man? Would their traumatic early life events truly spur them on to a personal quest to set right the wrongs in the world?

The movie’s tagline, “Boys will be boys,” is pretty appropriate. Three high school kids who suddenly acquire telekinesis will, in all likelihood, pull some (damn hilarious) practical jokes, levitate Lego and play footy in mid-air. I mean, who wouldn’t?

The movie may seem predictable from the trailers but the point of Chronicle isn’t first and foremost to shock you out of your seat. To me, it was more of a tragedy. The elements of downfall are already in place from the beginning. Everything is constructed for eventual demise. In that sense, there is something almost myth-like or Shakespearean about the story. It is a little ironic that in one of the earlier scenes, Matt mentions “hubris” to Andrew, and is jovially shocked when Andrew doesn’t know the meaning of the word.

I thought that the three main characters were perfectly cast, and it was a good choice to pick relatively unknown actors. Casey was a little bit of a token blonde girl, but altogether not too boring.

I have only one warning about this movie: the camera-work is incredibly shaky. It follows in the footsteps of other “found-footage” films such as The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield. The style works well in this case, but if you’re not de-conditioned by a long history of playing first-person games, then try not to make the mistake I made of eating a big meal right before sitting six rows from the front of the cinema.

Verdict: Refreshing, satisfying, well-cast, nauseating to the uninitiated.