The Mountain Between Us (2017)

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Every once in a while you stumble upon something that makes you fall in love all over again, with that irresistible magic that first sparked your passion. Every movie lover can trace their journey back a few years, or possibly decades, to the moment that they first realised movie magic existed. I honestly never thought that Idris Elba and Kate Winslet would take me there, back to that dim little movie theatre on the corner of James and Robertson Street. Looking back now, I realise this is probably a movie I enjoyed a lot more than I “should have” (because in reality The Mountain Between Us has almost altogether flopped,) but I at least hope you can agree that there is nothing not to love about Elba and Winslet on a snowy mountain, battling for survival in what is almost an adventurous romance.

Kate Winslet is the free-spirited Alex, a photojournalist eagerly awaiting her wedding the following morning, while Idris Elba is the straight-laced Ben, a brain surgeon who must desperately operate on a dying 10 year old boy interstate. An impending storm has stranded them both at Salt Lake City Airport, with little choice but to wait out until the morning. With everything at stake, the pair persuade a local charter pilot to fly them across deadly mountain ranges, with little concern for local aviation or the pilot’s failing personal health. And so it goes, a sudden fatal stroke cascades the plane into the snowy peaks of Utah and we are left to pick up the pieces of their extraordinary battle for survival. I don’t have to fill in the gaps here, as I’m sure your mind is already drifting to the many injuries, hypothermia … or maybe even mountain cougars, you’ll see it all.

Kate Winslet once survived a sinking ship in Titanic, and Idris Elba once thrived on the streets of Baltimore in The Wire. There is no reason why these dynamic actors shouldn’t carry enough dramatic weight between them to elevate a trek through the desolate snow-blanketed mountain ranges. But instead, they find themselves floating somewhere between drama and soap opera. But here I’ll attribute Elba’s surprising awkwardness to his first-ever crack at romantic lead, (p.s. just as you might have hoped he is nothing short of dreamy.) Based on the novel by Charles Martin, and propelled by the screenplay collaboration of Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe, who share a wide scope of successful romance films between them, The Mountain Between Us has all of the mesmerising elements to succeed. Add Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad, the visionary behind Paradise Now and Omar (a love story, mind you) and there’s no room for fault. But here the once epic vision fails and instead the beautiful mountains begin to look more like molehills.

Right – but coming back to my dramatic spiel in the beginning. For a reason unbeknown to me, I was enveloped in the charasmatic charm, mystery, drama and unfolding romance, so much so I almost shed a happy tear. The film may have altogether tumbled and it might have been dramatically corny, but my romantic soft spot overcame. So if you’re weighing up whether to watch this one, you need to first consider the pros and cons for yourself in order to really derive a solution. If you read this review and at any moment in time you felt compelled to throw up, I am inclined to tell you that this is definitely not a movie I would recommend for you. It’s so bad that it’s really good!

Here’s what the professional critics had to say … ‘This romantic drama is most compelling as a mild story of survival adventure. Contemporary romances often stumble over the first hurdle: Their dramatic obstacle.’ – Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media or ‘A perfect title for a movie in which neither the subzero temperature nor the romantic heat penetrates more than skin deep.’ – Peter Debruge, Variety

IMDb – 6.2  Rotten Tomatoes – 43%

★★★☆☆

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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%

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%

 

The Great Wall (2016)

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“A hybrid between a historical epic and an action fantasy, The Great Wall manages to be only a passable example of each genre, which makes it less memorable than it had the potential to be.” – Common Sense Media ★★☆☆☆

Matt Damon has earned his merits for action spectaculars with Saving Private Ryan, The Martian and the Bourne films, yet veteran Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou is an action world class master. Following Hero, House of Flying Daggers and the unforgettable 2008 Beijing Olympics ceremonies, Zhang Yimou teams up with the US for the co-production of the century, a whopping $150 million dollar project. And the result in a nut shell? It takes a white Hollywood A-List actor to save the Chinese world.

The Great Wall, a monument decorated with history, prestige and nobility, a place where the walls whisper ancient myths- and this is one of them. Matt Damon is William and Pedro Pascal is Tovar, two 12th century European mercenaries who scope the deserts of Western China looking for mysterious black powder. In the search for riches and fortune, the two best-friends push toward the Great Wall to make a deal, where they are met with a spray of arrows and an immensely organised and colourful Chinese army. Zhang keeps this swirl of colour, light and dizzying action as almost a distraction from the plot, which unfolds miraculously from a plan to escape.

The Great Wall’s action scenes exemplify a sense of fierce determination and precision, a shared responsibility that one will rarely discover in action spectaculars. Not only is the film thrillingly large scale, but it is visually euphoric, an artwork of colour and beauty amidst a prominence of computer-generated imagery. Although the film is often well-choreographed, it is very easy to be seduced by scenes of impersonal warfare and battle. But as the fighting slows down, and the characters evolve, there is little spark between our Caucasian and Chinese performers. But this is simply because The Great Wall is unlike any American blockbuster you’ve ever ever ever seen, and character development is minimally the focus in the inventive and thrilling action pieces that evolve before your very eyes.

I was born into battle.

I have little to say about The Great Wall, other than its fantastic ability to work as an action-adventure spectacular. In this, we see the triumph of the Chinese as sacrificial, determined and relentless warriors, in what can only be described as a tribute to China’s war history. But in the midst of this fierce patriotism is an entertaining blockbuster with eye-popping and breathtaking cinematography – that only follows the simplistic plotting of a Chinese myth. Watch this blockbuster on the biggest cinema screen you can find.

★★☆☆☆

Imdb – 6.3/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 36%

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

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In 2001, the twin towers of the World Trade Centre were an unloved New York City landmark that turned into a complex emblem for torment overnight. In the difficulty of conveying a catharsis for 9/11, films rarely centre on the subject, but rather the individuals whose lives have been tampered by its horror. Jonathon Safran Foer’s 2005 novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, adapted by Eric Roth and directed by Stephen Daldry, ambitiously conveys the horror of loss drawn from the event, and the sentimentality of moving on.

Oskar Schell, played by Thomas Horn, is only eleven years old, yet his prodigiously intelligent, remarkably pacific and technically proficient ways draw out an articulate and seriously solemn New Yorker. His father, Tom Hanks, is a scientist turned jeweller, who cast inexplicable joy and understanding into Oskar’s life, as he struggled to cope with Asperges. On the morning of the 11th of September 2001 Oskar has his very last conversation with his dad, before he disappears into the twin towers for a business meeting – as referred to by Oskar as “the worst day”. Driven by his Socratic enquiries, Oskar sets off on a journey to rediscover his father, and to find himself in the process.

“I regret that it takes a life to learn how to live.”

The film’s premise is engaging and mysterious, drawing out one little boy’s grief to create an impacting and unforgettable story of faith, hope and determination. Illustrated as merely a ripple of the 9/11 attack, Stephen Daldry focuses in on the characters as a raw reflection of the grief and turmoil of the event, and draws hope in finding life after loss. This raw honesty of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is confronting and challenging, yet it conveys a deep emotional connection to the screen and the beautiful story of Oskar Schell, who finds his greatest comfort in shaking his trusty tambourine.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a fascinating, mysterious and awe-inspiring film driven by beautiful close ups and striking characters. Nominated for Best Picture and Critics Choice in 2011, this film is a sensational and moving masterpiece for the ages.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 6.9  Rotten Tomatoes – 46%

Passengers (2016)

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Riding on the wave of its endless space film predecessors, Passengers is shaping up to be the most criticised film of this year thus far. Carried by its happier conception of human nature, Passengers builds on a lively journey of faith and determination but lacks the grit and heart.

Chris Pratt is Jim Preston, a completely ordinary engineer who is emigrating from Earth on a mega-spaceship, in order to start a new life on planet Homestead II – a pure and entirely empty new world. Like the 4,999 other passengers aboard the ship, Jim is sleeping in a suspended hibernation pod, awaiting the 130 year journey to deliver him to paradise. But after an unprecedented meteor whack, he is awake 90 years too early left to wander the spacecraft wide-eyed and panicked .. until (plot twist) he discovers the sparkling Aurora.

Screenwriter Jon Spaihts appears with Passengers as first sole feature credit, after contributing to recent blockbusters Doctor Strange and Prometheus. Here, Spaihts borrows liberally from Kubrick, in their shared love of exploring large creepy interiors. But after exploring Jim’s outrageous ghost house situation, the film has to move on to an inevitable climax – and a rather underwhelming one at that. The glue of the film is undoubtedly in Jennifer Lawrence, as Aurora, who plants her roots cheerfully in her doom. This unfolding love story is credit to the exceptional chemistry between Pratt and Lawrence, thrown against a visually stylish backdrop of space.

Passengers grows on its audience – those of whom are inevitably captured by a large dose of romance and a small sprinkle of space dilemmas. Because of course, as we all know, what is a space film without a mysterious technical malfunction that shatters the very core of humanity. I definitely won’t be going to Earth V2 anytime soon.

★★★☆☆

Imdb – 7.1/10 Rotten Tomatoes – 31%

Jason Bourne (2016)

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This weekend, nine years after the anticipated release of The Bourne Ultimatum,  Jason Bourne hit theatres in what can only be described as a shattering return. This latest iteration reunites Damon with director Paul Greengrass, who displays his mastery of muscular, deafening and frenetically edited action sequences. Co-written with editor Christopher Rouse, Greengrass whisks us to cities all over the world, culminated in an eye-poppingly enormous finale in Las Vegas.

Jason Bourne, reticent and carb-free, hurries through various European capitals – Rome, Athens, London – with the grim determination of a tourist desperately seeking a men’s room with far too much pride to ask for directions. I’m not casting shade on Matt Damon, who looks terrific at 45, with the complete opposite of a dad bod and a residual Will Hunting twinkling in his eye. Jason, for all of his prodigious talent and honed technique, finds himself in a generational pincers grip, squeezed on one side by a self-aggrandising and sentimental boss and on the other side by a tech-savvy millennial rising through the ranks. But if I can simply the plot for you: Jason Bourne is the target of a radical pursuit by heavy surveillance, where his former employers in the CIA track him as if he were the quarry in a high-stakes game of Pokemon Go.

At the heart of it, Jason Bourne is a semi-beloved pop-culture throwback brought into circulation primarily because it’s summer (in the States) and winter (in Australia). Lets face it, aussie’s need something to do, and while the shrimps and the barbecues are extinct, two-hours of make believe paranoia might provide a soothing respite.

Jason Bourne was so bad, it made me retroactively reconsider my love for the franchise…

But not to worry, the thrill isn’t entirely gone, just a little more subdued. Unfortunately, Damon is subdued as ever. Jason Bourne envelopes a uniquely passive action hero, a man who runs on pure survival instinct as he attempts to draw conclusions of his past. But there is also a rote quality to the film, an absence of passion and skill. Just as the initial Damon-driven trilogy wrapped up Bourne’s business but left us wanting more, this sequel offers closure even as it entices us with the possibility of his return.

★★☆☆☆