The Big Sick (2017)

The Big Sick first caught my eye in Empire magazine, when I realised that this inspiring true story turned rom-com featured Kumail Nanjiani as well, himself. This stark contrast from other retold true stories brings a powerful warmth, wit and depth to his character in a sincere parallel to the truth upon which the film unfolds – making The Big Sick one of the most amazing stories told this year.

Kumail Nanjiani is a young Pakistani stand up comedian from Chicago, who spends his days performing, meeting eligible Pakistani girls (not by choice) and showcasing his love for Pakistan through one-man-shows in his local theatre. During one particularly dry gig, Kumail meets his match in Emily, played by Zoe Kazan. However, Kumail’s traditional Muslim family are unaware of his romance, and continue to press for an arranged marriage with other local Pakistani girls. Mention of the next development in the film should not come as a shock, considering it’s The Big, Sick, after all and the publicity campaign is heartily in Emily’s unfolding medical crisis – but do not fear because it’s nothing like the weepie Me Before You or The Fault in Our Stars. In fact, this dramatic crisis brings a beautiful display of superior storytelling as we follow Kumail as bedside vigil alongside Emily during the entire process. Ultimately, what unfolds is a unique story of faith, commitment and passion wrapped in the fabric of a modern love.

One of the most wonderful things about The Big Sick is the husband and wife duo that brought their story to life, Kumail Nunjiani and Emily V. Gordon. Almost parallel to the real events that conspired in their own relationship, the storytelling gravitates to the passion and honesty of the living breathing masterpiece (that is their story) that brought this film to life. The sharp, intuitive and witty scripting delves into a lot more than you would naturally expect from a rom-com, diverting into almost another genre in itself. The modern love, age-old prejudices, religion and commitment knitted into real life romances come alive in this film, in a way that is both as profoundly deep as it is profoundly entertaining. I’ve watched a lot of comedies, but I haven’t laughed out loud like this in a long time.

The undeniable on-screen chemistry that grows between Kumail and Zoe is the cherry on the top of the cake, in a story that reaches out of a cross-cultured romance into the turmoil of our world to bring a shining beacon of hope. In this way, The Big Sick does more than make you simply think, it draws together people, our community, to become better people with more compassion for others. No wonder this is the film everyone is talking about. Don’t miss your chance to revel in its magic – you won’t be disappointed.

Rich in emotional honesty and equal parts moving, The Big Sick successfully infuses the traditional rom-com formula with a modern sensibility.”

★★★★★

IMDb – 8.1/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 98%

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

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“The filmmakers think little of the emotional and intellectual connection fans already have with this property, and have put all their chips on the aesthetic.” Vulture

“Ghost in the Shell struggles to dig below the surface of its thought-provoking concepts and bring real depth to its striking visuals.” Screen Rant

The simple fact of film is how could you possibly improve what is considered to be one of the greatest predecessor films? The groundbreaking 1995 original Ghost in the Shell, directed by Mamoru Oshii was to many viewers … a masterpiece. The influence of the anime sensation reached far outside its die-hard fanatics and instead made a mark on the prominence of Japanese film making in the West. The much talked about remake with Scarlett Johansson bombed at the Box Office Weekend, not to mention its current predicament standing face to face with a $60 million dollar loss.

The line between humans and machines is blurred. In a time when we expect jobs to disappear to machines in coming years, this idea doesn’t sound so absurd. Ghost in the Shell takes place in a future where cybernetic enhancement isn’t simply routine, but it is widely accepted. Humanity is enabled with technological abilities that far outweigh real life, allowing them to survive harrowing accidents or abolish alcohol poisoning with a silver liver. Major Mira, played by Scarlett Johansson, is rescued in the wake of a refugee attack that left her so gravely injured that only her brain survived. Government-funded Hanka Industries grasps the opportunity to give Mira’s brain a new life by inserting it into a completely artificial body – she’s the first of her kind. The perfect blend of mind and soul (Ghost), Major Mira is coupled with astounding advantages in agent work.

The cerebral element and extraordinary pacing of the original anime scared off the non-Japanese audience in its release. Yet, the film’s worldwide cult success developed later with the video release and gradual word of mouth. This cannot be the same result with the live-action Hollywood Remake, so director Rupert Sanders has evidently dialed down the introspection, dialed up the action and tweaked the plot to resonate with an ‘orphan come hero’ plot us Westerns eat up like a juicy burger. But yet, he could not help but grapple with the knotty philosophical questions couped up in cyber-implants and human souls, because at the end of the day that’s kind of the big idea behind the film.

It is clear to any viewer, that the predominant selling point of the film is its absolutely breathtaking visual impact, that draws you away from the comfort of the theatre to a world of holographic advertisements the size of skyscrapers, robot fashioned geisha’s and mechanical body parts. Peel back the neon and artifice and underneath is a concrete jungle of cyborg shops and street dealers peddling implants – its thrillingly sensational. But here most importantly, Sanders pays a generous tribute to the original anime, drawing out the themes and ideas that grew so beloved by viewers. Particularly well, Ghost in the Shell marries the original impressive physicality of the leading lady with the emotional vulnerability and real life determination of Scarlett Johansson. Johansson has proven to be a mesmerising actress time and time again, bringing intelligence and fearlessness to every aspect of her work, and this time she sells the philosophy of the film with the depth of the human identity.

Of course the visual beauty of Ghost in the Shell is parallel to a weaker narrative than its overwhelmingly successful predecessor, but it carries an authenticity and thought provoking nature that differentiates this film from the rest.

★★★☆☆

Imdb – 6.9/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 46%

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

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All monster films fall into two kinds of categories – one that takes its time to reveal the monster and one that shows you the monster straight away. The star of this show is front and center for the entire 118 minute running time. We’re all accustomed to the mighty King Kong from Merian Coopers’ 1933 original all the way to 2005’s Jack Black reboot, there are just way too many spiels to list. But you’ll be happy to know this remake is engaging, mesmerising and Tom Hiddleston (I’m sold).

Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ reset of the Kong legend returns to 1973, as the last American troops are pulling out of Vietnam. Colonel Packard, played by Samuel L. Jackson (I’m sold sold), is reluctant to leave the battlefield, suspended in an existential crisis as the war draws to a close. Packard’s right-hand man Chapman, Toby Kebbell, looks forward to returning home to his son, as do all of the other helicopter squadron members do. But on the other side of the world, Government representative John Goodman relentlessly pursues a hollow-earth theory expedition on Skull Island. A land mass perpetually overcast by violent storms, there is no limit to what could be discovered. He hires James Conrad, Tom Hiddleston, to be the skilled tracker on the mission to chronicle any findings, and piggybacks on the helicopter squadron to discover monsters, bombs and a grizzly John C. Reilly (Step Brothers).

Vogt-Roberts and the film’s screenwriting trio play out the occasionally troubling conflicts of Vietnam on the backdrop of a panicked survival group attempting to escape a forbidden island. The period setting throughout Skull Island is based on an appealing soundtrack by the stooges and Jefferson Airplane, but the updated man-vs-beast conflict of previous King Kong tales roots in the blood-soaked anxiety of war. The cycle of war is astonishing, and superbly written – unlike anything you’ve seen in any other King Kong film. The island is richly bathed in colour of both natural and post-production, but this unique style sets it apart from any modern re-imagining. Designs are impressive, creations are emotive and breathtaking … it’s showy … but it works.

Skull Island takes on the role of mixing in memorable actors in even the smallest parts of the film. Few of the characters are built upon more than an introduction or a rapid-survival failure. John C. Reilly is particularly spot-on, with a mix of mania and sorrow, in the middle of an extravagant tale of monsters. Goodman is a selfish deadpan, Jackson derails with his eyes fuming with rage and Larson delivers a kind of kindness and compassion that causes Hiddleston to run around in gas masks for her. The cast is sensational really, and in my opinion a great combination for an epic spiel like this one.

Perhaps the most satisfying part of Kong comes after you’re done reeling from the fun of the film. This definitely won’t be the last we see of this fantastic ape, but it’s the kind of messy enjoyable throwback that will leave you wanting more.

★★★☆☆

Imdb – 7.1/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 79%

Oscar Predictions & Winners 2017

In Australia it is currently exactly 1 hour and 20 minutes until the Academy Awards begin, and I am perched on a bench outside the glorious New Farm Cinema filled with expectation for what is soon to unfold. My mind is buzzing with excitement for all of the wonderful films I’ve seen leading up to the ceremony, and I cannot wait for the deserving winners to be revealed!

Here are my predictions!

Best Picture – Manchester by the Sea, which I believe should win for being an outstanding film .. yet we all assume La La Land will take the victory.

WINNER: Moonlight

Best Director – La La Land’s Damien Chazelle deserves this one.

WINNER: Damien Chazelle – La La Land

Best Actor – Denzel Washington will probably win this one for Fences over Casey Affleck, but either way they both deserve an Oscar.

WINNER: Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea

Best Actress – Isabelle Huppert deserves this one, but neck and neck with Emma Stone that is.

WINNER: Emma Stone – La La Land

Best Supporting Actor – Mahershala Ali hit it out of the ballpark for his astonishing performance in Moonlight.

WINNER: Mahershala Ali – Moonlight

Best Supporting Actress – Viola Davis will get this one hands down.

WINNER: Viola Davis – Fences

Best Cinematography – Silence was beautiful, and so were many other nominees in this category, but as most of us predict, La La Land will be victorious.

WINNER: La La Land

Original Screenplay – Manchester by the Sea (of course)

WINNER: Manchester by the Sea

Adapted Screenplay – Moonlight deserves this one, but Lion is right behind it.

WINNER: Moonlight

Best Animation – Zootopia really nailed if for me as one of the best kiddie movies ever.

WINNER: Zootopia

Best Editing – La La Land

WINNER: Hacksaw Ridge (Go Australia!)

Best Documentary – O.J. Made in America

WINNER: O.J. Made in America

Best Foreign Film – The Salesman

WINNER: The Salesman

Best Production Design – A tie between Arrival and La La Land.

WINNER: La La Land

Best Costume Design – Jackie, or front-runner Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

WINNER: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Best Documentary Short – The White Helmets

WINNER: The White Helmets

Best Original Score – La La Land, but Lion was spectacular too.

WINNER: La La Land

Best Song – City of Stars from La La Land, a beautiful and deserving piece that destroyed by heart.

WINNER: City of Stars – La La Land

Make Up and Styling – Star Trek Beyond

WINNER: Suicide Squad

Best Animated Short – Piper from Pixar was the best!

WINNER: Piper

Best Live Action Short – Silent Nights

WINNER: Sing

Best Sound Editing – Hacksaw Ridge blew me away with its sound editing, fingers crossed.

WINNER: Arrival

Best Sound Mixing – Hacksaw Ridge or of course La La Land.

WINNER: Hacksaw Ridge (Go Australia!)

Visual Effects – Deepwater Horizon was superb, but I think The Jungle Book will take this one because I had to watch it 3 times when it came out, and each time was better!

WINNER: The Jungle Book

Of course, we all know La La Land will take out many awards, and a girl can dream about Manchester by the Sea taking our top prize, but this year has been sensational and I’ve seen some of the best pictures yet! Everyone here deserves an Oscar for their amazing work, especially the front-runners.

Updates will follow as the Awards ceremony unfolds. I’m popcorn and heart ready. ✌

Silence (2016)

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Silence, this religious epic, a dream project of director Martin Scorsese for decades, is somewhat difficult and unwieldy, as well as a bit gory, but it’s also magnificent, beautiful, and masterful.” – Common Sense Media ★★★★★

This is what makes Scorsese’s film so radical, and so unlike many other movies about religion: It’s actually art.” – The Atlantic ★★★★★

Returning to the ideas that haunted his whole career, Martin Scorsese delivers a film of grandeur and great fervour about Christianity, martyrdom and the silence of God. Sacrifice in the service of the greater good beckons to the ambiguous heroism of one man reaching a future of earthly peace and comfort, in the midst sin and humiliation. Martin Scorsese takes a fearless plunge into deciphering the silence of God in the midst of human suffering, drawing out a passion project of incomprehensible faith and power.

Following the 1966 passion novel by Shusaku Endo, Silence pays its small tribute to the extremely profound influence of Portuguese missionaries who risked their lives to bring the word of God to 17th century Japan. Andrew Garfield, with his eyes filled with fervour, stars as Father Sebastian Rodrigues. Adam Driver, his somewhat starved body resembling an ascetic saint, co-stars as Father Francisco Garupe. These two young Portuguese priests, fierce and full of determination, journey east to Japan in search of their missing mentor Father Cristovao Ferreira, played by Liam Neeson. Senseless rumours drain the village of his apposition to the Christian faith, but when Rodrigues and Garupe arrive in Japan they quickly realise just how viciously Christianity is being suppressed. What unfolds is a gruelling story of relentless faith under ruling samurai who are mercilessly committed to flushing out hidden Christians, any way they can.

Within Martin Scorsese’s’ creative collaboration with Jay Cocks, who also wrote The Age of Innocence, the script doesn’t wallow in the violent visuals, but rather utilises them as a way to reflect the horror of religious persecution. The introduction of doubt is the propeller of the film, considering 2 hours and 40 minutes of spirituality is unlikely to sell to an audience of Marvel Comic Universe-ites. In particular, Liam Neeson is phenomenal in reflecting his character’s reconciliation of conviction and doubt about God, in choosing to suffer with mankind instead of ending its suffering. This is the heart and soul of the film. But all of the performances in Silence are sensational, each character grabbing onto this intense, sacrificial dedication that pulses through their very veins. As Scorsese mentioned, “Silence is about the necessity of belief fighting the voice of experience.” And there is no doubt that Scorsese maintains a rigorous fix on the complexity of faith, refusing to temper with the film’s harshness with any form of sentiment. But to most visionaries’ delight, issues of this complexity are not designed to go down easy, but instead, they are entitled to live and breathe in the cinema air.

But if I can add a personal comment from a Christian point of view, something baffles me about the way faith wavers under pressure, even though martyrdom is so prominent today. *Spoiler alert* I hated the ending – I think he should have died for his faith.

But if I can add a personal comment, from a Christian point of view, something baffles me about the way faith wavers under pressure, even though martyrdom is so prevalent today. *Spoiler Alert* I hated the ending – I think he should have died for his faith.

The price for your glory is their suffering.

Silence is a technical, visual and soulful marvel with editing capacities that effortlessly overlap into pure cinematic art. No one with the genuine belief of the power of cinema should miss this epic creation of essential filmmaking from the modern master – a man who embodies the images he puts on screen.

… “I pray but I am lost, am I just praying to silence?

★★★★★

Imdb – 7.5/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 84%

 

Hell or High Water (2016)

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“Taut, tense and burnished by Jeff Bridges at his best. This is a deceptively simple tale of Texan cops and robbers that drags the Old West into the modern age.” – Empire ★★★★☆

It took a while to notice that David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water had made the list of Best Picture nominees at the Academy Awards this year, while we were so overwhelmed that Martin Scorseses’ Silence and Tim Miller’s Deadpool had lost the race. Here comes a throwback to the dusty rambling glories of Hollywood new wave Westerns, inspired by Depression-era thrillers, to reveal arguably the most understated and contemporary socio-political film of last year. That’s a mouthful.

Brothers Toby, played by Chris Pine, and Tanner, played by Ben Foster, first arrive at a remote Texas Midland Bank branch to rob every penny they can fit in their sacks. They make off with some loose bills, and proceed to rob every other bank in the region. Here, Toby is the mastermind, conveying his sincere and potent grievance from the foreclosure on the mortgage of his family property. But of course, with the death of their mother and an oil discovery on the property, Toby is infuriated with immediate eviction and recruits ex-prisoner older brother Tanner to help earn the property back. It’s the story of cowboy’s and Indians – onetime kings of the plains now suspended in a place where both are pushed to near extinction, and what evolves is greed, pain and utter heartlessness.

David Mackenzie’s direction makes the robbery sequences bubble with jolts of extravagant yet realistic violence, getaway action and car chases, on the backdrop of dusty plains. The casting of each character enhances the regional colour and tone of the film, drawing out incredible performances from Chris Pine and of course the highly praised Jeff Bridges. The present day atmosphere and lack of open-carry laws, mixed in with rowdy cowboys creates an amusing and unpredictable vigilante of local distress. But the script is notably the most powerful in this film, and the exchanges are superb in a film so entirely thick with it. The low-key humour, the poignant loneliness, the undercurrent teasing, Hell or High Water is nothing like anything you’ve seen before.

Hell or High Water is talking, character and western backdrop thick. Riding on the back of films such as No Country for Old Men, it draws out weathered storefronts, abandoned pastures, rusted farm equipment and oil derricks on the premise of a film set to define regional identity. Only enhanced by an overly impressive score, Hell or High Water is pleasant but not extravagant, and a delight for anyone with a soft spot for Texas.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 7.7/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 98%

Meeting Colin Gibson

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Meeting Colin Gibson, the mastermind production designer and art director behind Babe, Happy Feet, The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert and of course the epic Mad Max: Fury Road last night, got me thinking about the enormous scale of film productions. After earning himself an Academy Award and a BAFTA for his achievement in Production Design on Fury Road, Colin Gibson has propelled himself into the limelight – but little do people know about the countless hours he spent perfecting his breathtaking designs.

When we fall into comfy cinema seats, surrounded by the warm aroma of cinema popcorn, the obnoxious slurp of overpriced drinks or the heartbeat of moviegoers overflowing with anticipation for what is about to unfold, we pay little attention to the people that delivered us to this very spot. Whether the finished product we see on screen is mesmerising, powerful, shameful, hilarious, pointless or entirely wonderful, there was a crew of hundreds working day and night on its arrival.

I’d like to draw your attention to the epic Avatar (2009), which employed over twenty companies to work on Special Effects alone, and within those companies hundreds of driven, worn-out and relentless artists. Or perhaps Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) which cost the studio $378 million dollars. Did you know that it took 100 craftsmen to build the the cave seen alone? Or that it took 900 pieces of manufactured costume pieces to create the film’s wardrobe? Whether its animation, action, fantasy or drama, ever single piece of film is more than just shots on a screen, but it is pure art. Woven together by almost countless numbers of individuals who’s common goal was to create a mesmerising production (or to pay their taxes, but we’ll assume the first.)

Colin Gibson began his career working on many film projects for free, just for the sake of it. He composed sets and props and design pieces to fill the bill of the visionary director, the one whom often gains most of the praise for the film anyway. So today I would like to challenge you, whether you are strapping yourself in to watch the Oscars on Sunday (or Monday aussie time) or you’re heading out to catch the latest blockbuster spectacular, pause to consider the people who made their dream a reality. Who like George Miller and Colin Gibson, worked many years and many hours on drawing a dream into a storyboard, into reality, into the hearts and minds of millions of people. Think about the people who made it all happen, take time to appreciate the credits that signify the pitter patter of feet leaving the cinema, and honour the musicians, production artists, drawers, producers, actors, actresses, artists, writers, composers, sound technicians, costume designers, make-up artists, editors and directors. Each and every one of them poured their life into your cinematic experience and the least they deserve is a little recognition, perhaps more than a pay check in the mail. After all, this isn’t just cinema, this is art that will last many lifetimes we may never know.

Rant over.