Film Review – Nymphomaniac Vol. I & II

Posted in Uncategorized on April 9, 2014 by Reel Review Roundup

Nymphomaniac Vol. I & II

Directed by: Lars von Trier

Starring: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Stacy Martin

Four stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Seeing both volumes of Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac saga back to back is quite an experience. While probably not his preferred way for audiences to see his work (there is a 5.5 hour full version floating around), chopped in half with footage removed was the closest we got in its theatrical release. Wishing to see the closest thing to von Trier’s vision, I buckled in for the full ride (there was an option to view the second volume another day).

I am still torn by this decision. Having underestimated how thought-provoking it would be, both volumes viewed in such close proximity was mentally exhausting. Two two hour-films felt like a full day of movie marathoning. A 10-minute intermission was far too little time to absorb the events and themes of volume I before heading back in to experience volume II. However, had I opted for a next day viewing of the second part I would have felt like I was cheating. Maybe I should have just re-thought seeing them on Friday night after a long work week.

The weight of what goes on and what is explored in von Trier’s flashback filled story of the experiences of self-diagnosed nymphomaniac Joe (played at different ages by Stacy Martin and Charlotte Gainsbourg) is fascinating, fulfilling, overwhelming and challenging. The first half begins with a beaten Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) being found in an alleyway by soft-spoken and academically minded good Samaritan Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard). Seligman takes her back to his small apartment to care for her and the pair proceed to exchange tales, her life experiences that got her to this point of physical abuse and him, metaphors that mirror her stories.

She tells of losing her virginity to a no-hoper Jerome (Shia LeBouf) and later in life the power struggle between them when  she ends up working for him, the sexual tally game she would play with her friend, in which whoever slept with the most men on a train ride won a bag of chocolates (this is where Seligman’s unusual, yet fitting fly fishing metaphor comes) and her relationship with her father.

Her sexual encounters range from the brief, to daring to awkward. One of her regulars, a married man with kids, rocks up on her doorstep one day with a packed bag wanting to move in with her. Uma Thurman offers a stunning performance and a major highlight in the four-hour running time as his wife, who follows on his heels with their children to tour them through the location of his infidelities.

Joe’s obsession takes dramatic turns as she dabbles in experimentation: a pair of well-hung, non-English speaking African men who quarrel about how they will have sex with her in a hastily organised threesome and underground meetings with a mysterious man (Jamie Bell) with a penchant for the violent of domineering style of kink. Some of her actions may be to the detriment of the health and safety of those close to her.

Less interested in shocking his audience with audacious twists or imagery, von Trier’s hyped up sex scenes were (at least in this version) frank and at time graphic, yet maturely handled in a non-sensationalist way. Close ups and montages of genitalia, whether in a state of arousal or not, have a textbook feeling to them. It feels more like school sex education footage than pornography. Despite all the thrusting, pumping and heavy breathing, and there is quite a bit of it, these are some of the most un-titillating portrayals of sexual intercourse, which perfectly reflect the character’s state of mind and attitude towards sex. For Joe, these encounters are experiments, an urge fulfillment.

Perhaps it was the fatigue setting in but the second half, which deepened Joe’s psychology and raised the stakes (she goes to irresponsible lengths to “get it on”) was surprisingly emotionally aloof. When we should be feeling a deeper connection to this complex individual, I felt at arm’s length. At times, I felt that I should be feeling devastation, some sort of gut punch. Yet, I did not. However, it did not impede my appreciation and even enjoyment of this exploration of themes and ideas that are rarely tackled. This is one rare occasion in which I am keen to see the deleted scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor.

 

Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 2014

Posted in Uncategorized on March 16, 2014 by Reel Review Roundup

11.6

Directed by: Philippe Godeau

Starring: Francois Cluzet, Bouli Lanners

Three and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Setting itself apart from the abundance of heist films, 11.6 (referring the millions of Euros brazenly stolen in this based on fact story) keeps certain details close to its chest. While the Ocean’s 11, 12 and 13 films, among others, make a point of uncovering each detail in the complex plans to steal money, gold jewels (or whatever) from highly secured bank vaults or casinos (or whatever), 11.6 is hazy on methods.

Toni Musulin (Francois Cluzet) is stuck in a menial security job, protecting loads of cash as it is transported in an armored truck, he is in a deeply unhappy relationship with his wife and his boss is a jerk. After 10 years of loyal service going un-reciprocated (the final straw is a simple request for leave that is not granted), he decides to “stick it to the man” by stealing 11.6 million Euros on one of his transportation trips.

Toni’s plight is perfectly captured in the first half of 11.6 – if perhaps slightly overdoing how down trodden and miserable he is. After a few scenes, we get it, but 11.6 tends to keep showing us. Then, after so much time is put into fleshing out his world, we are suddenly  kept at arm’s length while he plots and plans his heist. While this keeps the mystery alive and the audience on its toes, it is difficult to remain emotionally invested in the character.

11.6 captures the story with cold, steely cinematography – this is certainly not intended as a light and breezy Ocean’s knock off. Director Godeau is aiming for realism here, and for Toni’s surroundings to reflect his state of mind not a slick, glossy version of events. As a thriller it is sluggish, but it still keep you hanging on until the end.

Mobius

Directed by: Eric Rochant

Starring: Jean Dujardin, Cecile De France

Three stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Just like its “nobody is who they seem” characters, Mobius, is also a bit of poser. Acting like a steamy thriller but without the steam or the thrills, it is trying to convince us that it is something that it isn’t. And for the most part, we are under its misleading spell.

Providing the appropriate amount of international flavour, the Monaco set story has Russian secret agent Gregory (Jean Dujardin) recruit financial trader Alice (Cecile De France) to entrap businessman Ivan (Tim Roth). Her job requires her to get close to Ivan who is, understandably, suspicious. but while she is acting like a potential lover to him, Alice and Gregory find themselves attracted to each other.

Pairing the absurdly handsome Jean Dujardin and the seriously sexy Cecile De France should have resulted in fireworks. When this low-key, slow burn story promises big bangs but only offers up a couple of mild pops, it is the cast that hold our attention. The three keys actors give it their best go, but the pacing is slow and the storytelling lethargic with little payoff. But at least we are rewarded with a shirtless Dujardin.

Read my review for Bright Days Ahead here.

11.6, Mobius and Bright Days Ahead screen as part of the Perth Alliance Francaise French Film Festival, which runs from March 18 to April 6. For more titles, information and the full schedule, go to http://www.affrenchfilmfestival.org/

Film Review – Vampire Academy

Posted in Uncategorized on March 8, 2014 by Reel Review Roundup

Vampire Academy (M)

Directed by: Mark Waters

Starring: Zoey Deutch, Lucy Fry

Half a star

Review by: Julian Wright

Uber bitch Regina and her Plastics would rip Vampire Academy, a Mean Girls inspired teenage vampire flick, to shreds. They would not hesitate to paste unflattering head shots of these blood sucking characters in their burn book and scribble down the most heinous thing they could think of. They would be outraged to think that these blonde, airheaded but smoking hot vampire teens, who try to make “cool” teen phrases happen, were modeled after them. If they all went to the same school, these vampires would not be allowed to sit with the Plastics.

The plot heavy beginning plays like the opening of a serial, catching us up in the story of two teenage vampire runaways. Half vampire, half human and guardian in training Rose (Zoe Deutch) and her friend who she must protect Lissa (Lucy Fry), a vampire princess, escaped from their isolated school and have been on the run for a year, living incognito in the city. We learn they were in a horrendous car crash at some point which claimed the lives of Lissa’s parents, the besties are psychically linked and that there are three types of vampires. And that is just the first 10 minutes. All that is missing is a “Last week, on Vampire Academy…” voice-over.

What would usually take about half a film to explain and explore is rushed through with lightning speed and will leave your head spinning. Before you have a chance to let any of this sink in, the girls are captured and whisked back to the isolated Vampire Academy where the girls, the headmistress and any other supporting character they come into contact with speak in exposition (“explain it all” dialogue rivals the far more complex Inception, where it is actually warranted). Thickening the plot is a bitchy classmate, a nerdie newbie and someone leaving bloody threats for Lissa.

This film struggles with conveying plot, which it thinks is super confusing and complicated, assuming that the audience, most of whom have already read the books, wont be able to follow it. In actual fact, this all boils down to who has the hots for who. Yawn. Being a Mean Girls/Twilight mash up, the girls spend the majority of their time pining for high school hotties. Adding an ick factor is Rose’s crush on her teacher.

From the director of Mean Girls, Mark Waters and adapted from the books by his brother Daniel Waters who wrote the sharp and unapologetically pitch black Heathers, Vampire Academy is dripping with potential, none of which is realised. It ends up being the complete opposite of what you might expect from the pedigree involved, with neither the wit or high school insight of Mean Girls or the edginess of Heathers.

Had the brothers been aware of the camp value of this scenario, this could have been a hoot, particularly with some of the cringe worthy dialogue that the actors have to struggle through. Instead of playing up the innuendo and suggestive dialogue, this is played with an embarrassingly straight face without even a hint of a wink to the audience. It is hard to believe that the Waters didn’t know what they had when Lissa says to her crush in a small chapel retreat “This was my special place before it was your special place.” At least it offers some unintentional laughs.

If candy canes were being handed out, Mean Girls would get four (“You go, Glen Coco!”) but there would be none for Vampire Academy.

Film Review – Last Vegas

Posted in Uncategorized on February 7, 2014 by Reel Review Roundup

Last Vegas (M)

Directed by: Jon Turtletaub

Starring: Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline

Three and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Old people are making a comeback. Sly, Arnie and pals are blowing up the screen with The Expendables franchise, Willis, Mirren and Malkovich are taking similar action in RED. Streep continues to be nominated annually for an Oscar. Are we finally fed up with the saturation of toned and tanned young starlets, with their cellulite-free thighs and wrinkle free faces? Or are we finally prepared to face and embrace our mortality? Anyone who saw and survived the harrowing Amour can surely handle anything age related now.

Serving as another outlet for the elderly to shine once again on the big screen – and as an FYI to the Hangover series that people over the age of 35 also like to get loose and messy in Sin City  – Last Vegas gathers some of Hollywood’s most talented, but less-frequently utilised gents for some tongue in cheek humour and to wax lyrical about the aging process.

At a funeral for yet another friend that has passed, 60-something Billy (Michael Douglas) proposes to his 30-something mid-life crisis girlfriend. And to the raised eyebrows of friends and family, she gallantly accepts.  Their big day is to be held in Las Vegas so Billy gathers his three best mates since childhood Paddy (Robert De Niro), Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline) for one last wild night of freedom…but only after their nanna nap.

There is tension between Billy and Paddy and Billy hopes to make amends, and the others bring along baggage too; Archie had a stroke and is being smothered by his son and Sam’s spark has gone from his marriage. The men try to recapture their youth, by indulging in clubbing, sexy young women and gambling, before the Grim Reaper comes tapping them on the shoulder.

The name of the game with Last Vegas is fun, which the cast and director have plenty of. And it is contagious. The first half is fuelled by laugh-a-minute gags and spot on comic timing by the capable cast. There is a hint of dramatics in the final moments in which Paddy reveals his greatest fears about aging. It is a poignant and honest moment, and Douglas is heartbreaking, that comes perhaps too far in the parade of grinding, scantily clad young bodies and crotch-thrusting humour. But better late than never. Last Vegas is a rare chance to face our fears of the inevitable – sagging skin, liver spots and receding hairline – with a helping of humour to soften the blow.

Film Review – Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Posted in Uncategorized on February 4, 2014 by Reel Review Roundup

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (M)

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

Starring: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley

Two stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Like something dragged out of a forgotten 1990s archive, or a copy of a copy of other, better CIA thrillers, Kenneth Branagh’s attempt to rejuvenate Tom Clancy’s famous character (after The Sum Of All Fears failed to spark much interest) plays like something we have seen a hundred times before. There is a distinct sense of deja-vu that hangs over this personality-less, lackluster spy film as it lumbers from one familiar sequence to the next.

After recovering from a war injury, Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) is recruited by Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) to the CIA as an analyst in the wake of 9/11 -his cover is as a compliance officer at a stock brokerage . When he discovers that stock figures are not adding up over at a Russian sister-company, he is soon jetted off to Moscow for field work where he is promptly made the target of the worst, most unsuccessful assassin in film history.

Ryan soon suspects that company head honcho Viktor Cheverin (Kenneth Branagh) is planning to pull the economic rug out from under USA. With little experience, Ryan is placed in a position of life and death. An added obstacle is the arrival of Jack’s suspicious fiance Cathy (Keira Knightley) who has not been made aware of his chosen career and thinks he is having an affair.

What starts as a likable retread of familiar spy tropes (it feels like a trip down memory lane) with the charming Pine a watchable screen presence, soon becomes a chore of unimaginative, soulless and unbelievable story developments. Branagh rushes through his introduction to Ryan as if with his finger on fast forward as, within minutes, he goes from uni student to army officer to injured war hero to recovering paraplegic. A failed attempt at shorthand – so much information and potential character development is treated as an inconvenience.

Later, the haste and ease in which the CIA incorporate a civilian into their dangerous operation  to retrieve highly classified and secure information is laughable. Meanwhile, Branagh, as the villain, looks like something Mike Myers would have had a field day making fun of with his Dr Evil character in the Austin Powers film. The only thing this cliche character is missing is a cat to stroke. Branagh may have wanted to launch a new re-booted Jack Ryan franchise, but all he has succeeded in doing is running it into the ground. fortunately for Pine, he is attached to the far superior Star Trek re-boot.

Best of 2013

Posted in Uncategorized on January 2, 2014 by Reel Review Roundup

Reel Review Roundup’s Best Films Of 2013

It has been pointed out to me that there is a distinct “penile” theme to my best of list. Perhaps Michael Fassbender launched a trend by exposing his lengthy member in 2012′s Shame, because this year we saw more wang on the screen than we have seen in the last 10 years combined. And three of those penis featuring films ended up on this list. Coincidence, I swear. But if you want to go looking for themes in a list, you might also notice a couple of James Franco-related entries. The prolific actor/director has been so busy lately that something was bound to stick. In case you are wondering why critically acclaimed films such as Blue Is The Warmest Color,  Short Term 12, Nebraska, Her and Fruitvale Station are not on here, it’s not because I have turned my back on quality films, it’s because I haven’t seen them yet. Here are the ones I have seen, and loved:

10) Stories We Tell – actress/director Sarah Polley rummages through the skeletons in her family’s closet and films it for everyone to see. But this is much more than someone with a camera airing their dirty laundry. Playing with the techniques of documentary film making, Polley examines how we perceive our family and the blurred line between truth and perceived truth. By the end, Polley’s candid family feel like our family.

9) Django Unchained -in true Quentin Tarantino style, a serious historic event is fictionalised and given a revenge fantasy spin. And yet it is one of QT’s most mature work (alongside Jackie Brown). QT shows that there is merit in recapturing the horrors of slavery and giving it a popcorn spin for a moving and though provoking blockbuster. His biting script and stellar cast (Christoph Waltz scored his second Oscar under QT’s direction) allow for deeper appreciation on re-watch.

8) Cloud Atlas – a flop upon USA release, a super delayed Australian release, three hours long, multiple story lines. Cloud Atlas came with some baggage. It was epic, ambitious, and not only an achievement in cinema, storytelling, design, editing, make up, acting (I could go on), but it was the cinema event of the year. Sometimes confusing, but it all comes breathtakingly together. A reminder why we love cinema so much.

7) White Reindeer – you know those feel good family Christmas-themed movies that leave warm fuzzies? This is the antithesis. Yet, it sustains a sharp sense of humour as a woman comes to terms with the infidelity and death of her husband at Christmas. Her journey of self discovery is filled with some of the most memorable scenes of the year. And the reveal of her new stripper friend’s real name – one of the best lines of the year.

6) Before Midnight – this trilogy just gets better and better with each installment. Linklater, Hawke and Delpy tapped into something universal (not once, but three times!) as we catch up with this couple every nine years and watch their relationship blossom, develop, evolve and sometimes take a dive. Making us feel like our own lives have been used to inform this story, this makes the uncanny achievement of having something that everyone can relate to.

5) Stranger By The Lake – an eerie thriller set at a secluded and picturesque French lake that is used by gay men to engage in anonymous sex. One reckless young man flirts with danger as he continues a sexual relationship with a man he witnessed drown a lover. Focusing on this gay sub-culture uncovers universal truths about relationships in general, one-night stands, sexual gratification, lust and how it can blur ones rationality. Simply presented but stunningly evocative.

4) Spring Breakers – a group of small town college girls dream of the glitzy, drug and alcohol fuelled experience of spring break, but as the old saying goes: be careful what you wish for. At times repetitive, this tale of girls going really wild is a comment on teenage rebellion gone wrong and a trippy, nightmarish mirror held up to scantily clad American teens who have been desensitised by violent video games and movies and their debaucherous habits.

3) Gravity – my chair arm rests had never been gripped so tight, my breath never held so many times nor my jaw rested on the floor for so long during a film before as rookie astronaut Sandra Bullock overcomes every conceivable obstacle to make it back home to Earth after a debris shower renders her stranded in space. Clunky dialogue aside, this is a ripper thriller and a moving journey of human resilience and determination.

2) The Final Member – I laughed, I cried, I cringed. I experienced so many emotions watching this quirky and, most importantly, non-judgmental documentary about the world’s only penis museum and its curator’s search for the one specimen he does not have – a human penis. It’s also about the two men desperate to be the donor of that human specimen. This is a moving and heartbreaking story about completion, validation, achieving your dreams and for someone in this scenario, when that dream does not come true.

1) Interior. Leather Bar. – James Franco’s fascinating, meta, multi-layered 60 minute feature film slash mockumentary slash vanity project slash experiment documents his attempt to recreate the reportedly graphic scenes eliminated from William Friedkins’ Cruising, staring Al Pacino. Endlessly thought provoking, I had this film tumbling around in my mind for weeks after seeing it as Franco tackles the little discussed or explored topic (in film, anyway) of the representation of homosexuality in films and society’s reaction to it.

Honourable mentions:

The Act Of Killing

Amour

West of Memphis

Laurence Anyways

Zero Dark Thirty

Frances Ha

A Gun In Each Hand

Much Ado About Nothing

Burn

You’re Next

Worst of 2013

Posted in Uncategorized on December 30, 2013 by Reel Review Roundup

Reel Review Roundup’s Worst Films Of 2013

Compiling this end of year list, I noticed my taste in films had slightly shifted. I may have softened a bit. Instead of rolling my eyes and making gagging noises at popular worst of picks A Good Day To Die Hard, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and Movie 43, I found myself forgiving their downfalls because of how much they made me laugh. And if I am laughing, I am having a good time, so they managed to avoid a place on this list. I’m just as surprised as you are. For me, the identity-free fifth entry in the declining Die Hard series was an overblown hoot. How I laughed at all the implausibilities, impossible close calls and over the top action. Hansel and Gretel won me over with its tongue in cheek approach – how else would you approach it, though?! And Movie 43 had me in hysterics for some skits. Sure, not all of them were funny, some downright bad – but where else are you going to see Hugh Jackman with a scrotum on his face? Here are the ones that I could not excuse:

10) The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones – I’ve never said “what the heck?!” so many times during one film. But those moments in this incoherent young adult novel adaptation are the only things that make the 130 minute running time barely survivable. Repeated exposition, pants-less introductions, over-zealous lovers and wretched dialogue are what killed this envisioned franchise before this chapter even ended.

9) Jobs – man-child Ashton Kutcher baits Oscar with all his might in a are dramatic role as Steve Jobs. He makes a lot of speeches, but we are all very aware that he is just acting.

8) Runner Runner – everything about this supposed thriller that delves into the world of online gambling is so incredibly dull. Dull script, dull performances, dull direction. This isn’t even bad enough to be funny. It’s just dull.

7) Red 2 – a thrill-less, laugh-less action/comedy. Oh dear. A shameless cash grab sequel to a moderately successful and amusing comic adaptation, in which not even those on screen seem to be very invested.

6) Goddess – an Australian wish fulfillment fantasy musical gone awry. It says it wants women out of the kitchen and achieving their dreams, but when this housebound housewife gives it a go, she can’t cope. Talk about mixed messages. A very confused film.

5) Adore (aka Adoration) – an intriguing set up: two middle aged women who have been best friends since forever both begin an affair with the others strapping 18-year-old son. Daring to open an icky can of worms and explore it, Adore dissolves into a mess of bad scripting and horrible acting. Perhaps this topic is un-explorable, because all it ends up being is laughable. Doesn’t help that this eventually plays out like an R-rated soap opera.

4) Diana – Another Naomi Watts misfire (luckily I didn’t mind her skit in Movie 43, otherwise there would be three of her 2013 releases on this list). Horrible guess work is done on a relationship Princess Diana had with a surgeon before her death, concocting embarrassingly bad dialogue, painting the princess as a fruit loop and piling on the schmaltz like it was going out of fashion.

3) Pain and Gain – some say this is Michael Bay’s biggest achievement; a satirical comedy with its sights on a handful of iron pumping airhead criminals. I didn’t see the satire. All I saw was a group of homophobic, misogynistic muscle men who’s only comeuppance is for their crimes, not their horrendous attitudes.

2) Dead Man Down – subtlety is a word not found in Dead Man Down’s dictionary – a scarred character whose self esteem has plummeted due to her appearance, is a beautician. Groan. Her relationship with a hitman, whom she blackmails into killing them an who disfigured her, is dramatically incoherent. They bond over Tupperware, for goodness sake.

1) Lords Of Salem – the most boring, obvious, pointless smorgasbord of “horrific” and “unsettling” imagery is enough to put you to sleep when it is trying to terrify. The more times Rob Zombie goes behind the camera, the less likeable his films become.

Dishonourable mentions:

Texas Chainsaw 3D

Broken City

A Haunted House

Parker

Riddick

Lovelace

The Counselor

Lincoln

Carrie

The Lone Ranger

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