My first film at the 2015 Sydney Film Festival is a straightforward music documentary about Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp the managers and creative guides to The Who. The film, directed by James D Cooper tracks the meeting, friendship, subsequent rise and flame out of the son of a world renown conductor, Lambert and the son of a working class East Ender, Chris Stamp with the backdrop of the creation of the band, The Who. There are interviews with Roger Daltrey, Pete Townsend, Chris’ brother, actor Terence Stamp, long-time friends and most importantly Chris Stamp. Unfortunately Kit Lambert died in 1981. The documentary is interesting to anyone who wants an insight into the beginnings of The Who, 1960s London, the Mod subculture and a look at an unlikely friendship. It is not a ground breaking documentary but, like Good ol’ Freda, the documentary about Freda Kelly, The Beatles secretary, it highlights those behind the scenes of some of the biggest English bands of the 1960s.
Pride (2014) is Director, Matthew Warchus' second film, and he crafts a wonderful British comedy with a strong political and social message. It is a fine line to walk for this seasoned London theatre director and writer as Pride could be written off as a formulaic British comedy, but like The Full Monty and Brassed Off, the laughs are underlined by the humanity of the people involved. Most of the characters are well rounded, however some do border on caricature and stereotype and are used to punctuate a joke. The film has a terrific British cast of unknowns (outside of UK TV) and seasoned actors bringing their 'A' game. The soundtrack will have you up and dancing and here is hoping that the set designers, hair and costume people get recognised for capturing the everyday look of the mid 1980s in the UK. Uncanny. This is an enjoyable movie that will give you insight to a bit of British history that is still being felt today, not only in the small mining towns in Wales and North England, but also in the lesbian and gay community.
The old adage of 'less is more' is proved right with The Terminator. The subsequent sequels, reimagings and reboots seem overblown and self indulgent in comparison and I will say this even of the TV series, The Sarah Conner Chronicles, the reimaging that comes closest to the original in my opinion. Seeing this movie on the big screen for the first time highlighted how all elements of a film, especially action set pieces, need to support the story and not the other way round. The restrictions of the budget ($6.5 million) and the talent of the production team led to special effects innovation with a combination of stop motion and visual effects, and a focus on character and story over expensive technical flash and bangs. Can you believe it? An action science fiction film where there is an emotional anchor. The key element that most blockbusters today are lacking. This is Sarah Conner's (Linda Hamilton) story and her horror at her situation, the terror she feels as a victim and her courage as she takes charge and saves herself by the end of the movie is the journey we go through as an audience member. In my opinion, the audience always needs a surrogate in an action film and a good action movie makes this surrogate the lead or at least the emotional lead (see Marie in The Bourne Identity. Jason is a mechanism and metaphor, which is why the sequels are pretty but not fulfilling as soon as Marie exits). The Terminator sequels make Arnie the emotional anchor and that is where they go wrong. He becomes a collection of fish out of water scenarios punctuated by quotes, not an audience surrogate that works for me, although it seems to work for some.
Like Jaws before it, the lack of budget for The Terminator forces James Cameron to reveal the machine beneath the living tissue incrementally, ratcheting up the tension with well structured suspense. The imagination is more powerful than the real thing. What really struck me while watching the film was how gritty the action sequences were. Each impact is felt. You feel the exhaustion and sweatiness of Kyle Reece (Michael Biehn) and Sarah as they run until they cannot run anymore. And speaking of the two human leads, they do very well in creating a connection in a very short period and selling the heck out of it. So much so that the ending is quite sad. The glimpses of the future are well done and install the sense of doom that ultimately stays with you after the credits role. Not a completely happy ending for this film. It was a great film to revisit and to see on the big screen. And as always it is great to see the Bill Paxton cameo.
This film will become a cult classic for science fiction lovers along the lines of Cube, Dark City, Pi Primer and Jacob's Ladder. This is my prediction. Predestination is one of those rare films in this day and age - a film aimed at adults. I know, I had to take a moment as well. It direct contrast to the summer comic blockbusters, Australian writers/directors, the Spierig Brothers have crafted a stylish time travelling story that delves into concepts such as identity and gender. Predestination is an adaptation of Robert Heinlein's short story, All You Zombies. I have not read the short story or had read or seen anything about Predestination before watching it. All I knew is that it was the latest genre film from the Spierig Brothers, it looked like they were focusing on science fiction this time and it starred Ethan Hawke, who was the lead in their second full length film, Daybreakers (2009). It was a rare gift to go and see a film without the heavy marketing blasting at you giving you sneak peaks (or what I like to call - spoiling the movie before you have seen it). I enjoyed it. It is a good, although it slightly drags in the middle. It is a thought provoking story that rests on the shoulders of the two main actors, Ethan Hawke as the Temperal Agent and Sarah Snook as the Unmarried Mother. Ethan Hawke is good as always, however he is the foil to a fantastic Sarah Snook. It really is a great performance. She shone in the Australian romantic comedy Not Suitable for Children with Ryan Kwanten, and it looks like she is building up an eclectic body of work. Definately someone to watch.
This is the third full length film from twins, Michael and Peter Spierig from Brisbane, Australia. The first was a take on the zombie story, Undead in 2003 and the aforementioned Daybreakers which is about vampires. It is great to see something different, not brilliant, but interesting and with flashes of greatness, whether it is a performance, a scene or the costume design. We need more movies that dare to do this and give us a wider scope of story telling to change up the action/CGI heavy comic book/sci fi summer blockbusters of today.
The latest Marvel movie brings back that retro-futuristic cosmis adventure story made popular in the 1930s by characters such as Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and Dan Dare. It is basically a dime store novel making the best use of CGI giving us some rogue like characters who banter and blag their way through an adventure that just happens to save the day. And there is nothing wrong with that.
I haven't read the comics this movie is based on as I am not an avid comic book reader. I tend to go for stand alone series with a beginnng, middle and end, and this comic is part of that endless story soup (in the comics) that is Marvel. However, I am a HUGE fan of science fiction pulp as I grew up on the trashy 1980s version of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and that Flash Gordon movie, however, this sidetrack into camp did not stop me from finding a reboot of Buck Rogers as a comic (1981) with a forward by Buster Crabbe that I read over and over again. Comic Vine says this comic came to be due to "the success of the Buck Rogers TV show the New York Times Syndicate decided to revive the classic Buck Rogers newspaper feature and to give it a contemporary sci-fi treatment. The feature, unrelated to the television show, offered the artwork of Gray Morrow with scripts by Jim Lawrence. Volume One offers a full two years of the strip with the black and white dailies and full color Sundays." This was only one example of how the popular culture of the late 1970s/early 1980s reinvented the pulp science fiction/adventure stories, which of course is what directly inlfluences not only Star-Lord himself but the tone and attitude of The Guardians of the Galaxy. The movie wears this homage on its sleeve with nods to the original Star Wars Trilogy and Indiana Jones.
There, of course, have been a lot of discussions about other modern science fiction movies of this tradition such as Luc Besson's The Fifth Element and his recent movie, Lucy. In addition to the anticipated Wachowski siblings' Jupiter Ascending - which was delayed from its summer 2014 release to the beginning of 2015 due to fear of failure at the box office (Warner Brothers must be kicking themselves now for that decision). However, if you enjoyed The Guardians of The Galaxy go and watch Joss Whedon's one season wonder, Firefly, and its subsequent follow up film Serenity. It has a group of misfits who are on the fringes of society, circumventing the law to band together and save the universe. Sound familiar? Also try Farscape. Just do, take my word for it. It is also great.
But back to The Guardians of the Galaxy. This movie knows what it is and keeps true to it. I deliberately kept away from any featurettes, extended trailers, and other promotional elements that are very popular in film marketing today that tends to ruin movies for me. I understand why this type of promotion was done, but I find it makes the movie anticlimatic for me. So I recommend going to see this film with as little sneak peaks as possible, get your popcorn and your coca-cola and set your brain to enjoy.
I know the era of DVD box sets is over, but one thing this time of movie marketing did was group movies around a star or theme to sell to people for special occasions such as Christmas or birthdays. These box sets were usually squewered towards male stars and directors with the usual nods to actresses such as Marilyn Monroe or Audrey Hepburn. I suggest a new box set of movies that should be focused around Faye Dunaway. This oscar winner's first screen role was in 1967 in the comedy, The Happening. She did two other movies that same year, a drama for Otto Preminger called Hurry Sundown, and the movie that catapulted her to world wide fame, Bonnie and Clyde. Not a bad start to a career. When Faye Dunaway is written about the article usually focuses on her being difficult on set or in person, I always wonder if the same could have been said about some of her male co-stars and directors and we are dealing with a doublestandard. Who can say. But I am going to focus on the movies themselves. In the suggested box set below you will notice that in all these movies her co-stars are defined as the lead or the co-lead, however these movies would not have been the classics they are without Faye Dunaway. They are just as much her movies as those of her co-stars. So here is the boxset that celebrates Faye Dunaway.
Bonnie and Clyde, 1968
Director: Arthur Penn
Starring: Faye Dunaway and Warren Beattie
The Thomas Crown Affair, 1968
Director: Norman Jewison
Starring: Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen
Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Faye Dunaway and Jack Nicholson
Three Days of the Condor, 1975
Director: Sydney Pollack
Starring: Faye Dunaway and Robert Redford
Director: Sydney Lumet
Starring: Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch and Robert Duvall
Eyes of Laura Mars, 1978
Director: Irvin Kershner
Starring: Faye Dunaway and Tommy Lee Jones
Director: Barbet Schroder
Starring: Faye Dunaway and Mickey Rourke
There has been much discussion about the edits made by Harvey Weinstein and his production company to the South Korean action/science fiction movie, Snowpiercer. The Weinstein Company is of the opinion that changes needed to be made to make the film more suitable for American audiences. Thankfully the Sydney Film Festival sidestepped this issue and made sure that the film seen in Australia was the original cut made by director Bong Joon-ho. Director Bong is known for making genre movies, whether that is horror (The Host in 2006), drama/thriller (Mother in 2009) or comedy (Barking Dogs Never Bite in 2000), and he does each of them with a visual flare and an great understanding of the rules of the genre he is working in. With Snowpiercer, Director Bong works in English for the first time using western actors such as Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell and John Hurt alongside Korean stars of his movie The Host, Song Kang-ho and Go Ah-sung to tell the story of a massive train that circles most of Europe and Asia during and ice age 18 years in the future. All that is left of humanity is on the train compartmentalised into a class system that is ridgely contained and monitored. This film is based on a French graphic novel, Le Transperceneige written by Jean-Marc Rochette and Jacques Lob and it is great fun. Here is an interesting article on the comic. Bursting with eye popping visuals and realistic fight sequences the film hurtles towards its conclusion with a sense of inevitability. Some of the quieter moments lag a little, however this is a minor quibble when watching something that is original and new in a genre that is dominated by sequels and reboots. Here is a social cultural analysis of the movie that I recommend reading after you have seen the movie as it contains spoilers.
Most people will go and see The Skeleton Twins because it stars Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader from Saturday Night Live, and will most probably expect a lighthearted comedy. They may be in for a big surprise as this movie is a gentle drama about an estranged brother and sister (played by Wiig and Hader) who catch up with each other after ten years. There is humour in this movie and it comes out of the wonderful performances and interaction between Hader and Wiig, who really do sell the sibling relationship. As the Craig Johnson, the Director, says below in the clip, they are both playing characters that are very real, and that realism anchors the natural humour and quieter moments in the movie.
This is Craig Johnson's second movie as a writer/director, the first being True Adolescents in 2009 starring indie favourite Mark Duplass. The Skeleton Twins is co-written by Mark Heyman and executive produced by Mark Duplass and his brother Jay, who seem to be producing an mix of movies that are very human with elements of humour and drama. See a list here. Craig Johnson is an interesting filmmaker who will be someone to watch. It is a great film and I truly recommend it.
Ok, here it is. I picked this film to see at the Sydney Film Festival because it was billed as Chinese noir and I am a huge fan of noir films, books and TV and I have also read some great crime novels set in modern China, by both western and Chinese authors. I was looking forward to seeing this on the big screen. In addition, it won the Golden Bear at this year's Berlin Film Festival. All good on paper. I left the cinema quite depressed. I did not like the movie at all. I am not a fan of the visual style of the movie and it felt that there were three natural endings to the film before it finally ended. Ultimately it was not intriguing enough to me, which is the deathknell for a thriller, especially if it is classified as noir.
It is the story of a down on his luck policeman who teams up with his ex-partner to investigate how the murders of three men connects to the woman who works at the local laundry. There are some set pieces that are reminiscent of a Tarantino film, however they are plot asides that do not really add anything to the story. The main characters are unpleasant and the central romance falls flat as the women in this film are put upon by the men, either physically or emotionally. There are three distinct scenes were a man grabs and forces his attentions on a woman. Each time the woman escapes from the situation, but it is frequent enough to either be reflective of the society that is being depicted or a comment on the characters involved. It is not clear as the movie does not really hold together thematically. Here is an interesting review that goes into more detail about the plot if you are interested.
This is a slight US indie with charming performances and some theories about the modern music industry. I can see this film being marketed as a romantic comedy, but that would be sad as it is more about people just trying to connect rather than a romance. It has a soundtrack that is singer/songwriter driven in the pop/folk genre, which is limiting and very white. There is a nod to Cee Lo Green as a successful rapper, however it is really all about white middleclass hipsters and their music. It is a nice way to spend a couple of hours if you want to relax and just have a movie wash over you while eating popcorn.
Steven Knight is known as a screenwriter for great movies such as Dirty Pretty Things (2002), Eastern Promises (2007) and Closed Circuit (2013). His first movie as writer and director was Hummingbird (2013) with Jason Statham and he recently created and wrote Peaky Blinders, a British historical TV series for the BBC starring Cillian Murphy and Sam Neill as gangsters in Birmingham in 1919. His second movie as writer and director is Locke, a movie shot entirely in a car as the only person seen on screen, Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) drives from the north of England to London one night. Not an easy concept to make exciting, however it mainly succeeds due to an incredible performance by Tom Hardy and the great vocal performances by the other cast members (Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott and Ben Daniels), who manage to convey character through a voice on the telephone. Some elements, such as Locke's back story with his father feels like dramatic license, like it is from a one person play, rather than organic actions and conversations that inhabit the rest of the story. But this is minor and does not take away from a great small movie with a wonderful performance. It is good to see filmmakers and actors taking a risk and making innovative and interesting movies.
In 1973, Chilean-French cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky was asked by French producer Michel Seydoux what film he wanted to make next. Jodorowsky said Frank Herbert's book, Dune without having read it. What follows is two years of development that involves the collaboration of artists, (H.R. Giger, Christopher Foss, Jean (Mobius) Giraud) musicians (Pink Floyd, Magma) and special effects creators (Dan O'Bannon) that results in ideas and concepts that are still being seen today in science fiction movies.
For a movie that was never made, Jodorowsky's Dune has a lasting impact. This documentary opens up the thoughts and inspirations of the men involved in the project as they look back on their youth, their creative impulses of the time and the dreams they have about the power of art as transformative medium. Jodorowsky has a certain cinematic style that I am not a huge fan of, but his vision and drive for this project makes the movie that he did not make the most important cinematic legacy he has. It is interesting to see how the project is felled by the lack of commerciality and the fear of the unknown in Hollywood, and it is especially fascinating to track how these original ideas filtered into Hollywood science fiction films over the next 30 years. Imitation is truly the sincerest form of flattery. This is a documentary for the cinefiles, science fiction fans and lovers of that inspirational and original idea.
This Norwegian film has echoes of the Cohen brother's Fargo, with its unrelenting snow, ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, black humour and murder. Starring Stellan Skarsgard as Nils, an upstanding citizen in a small Norwegian village who keeps a strip of road passable throughout the year, no matter the snow fall. His son is caught up in the business of the drug lords who run the transport of cocaine through the nearby airport and into the city, and is killed. Nils decides to avenge the death of his son.
The film has elements of the darkness of the Scandinavian Noir subgenre from crime fiction, however it is more influenced by the aforementioned Cohen brothers and Quentin Tarantino as the black comedy quota and stylised bloodshed is very high. This is the fourth movie director Hans Peter Moland has done with Skarsgard, starting with Zero Kelvin back in 1995, and the long standing collaboration keeps you in good hands. Even when the comedy gets broad, the film is anchored by a wonderful performance by Skarsgard. His pain and pathos shine through. It is ultimately very straightforward and a diverting way to spend an afternoon. It is a fun take on a plot that we have seen before.
This film is unique because of its structure. It is a fictional account of young boy, Mason, growing up over 12 years, using the same actors in real time. Yes, the film took 12 years to make, and not because of development hell, but because of life. We are introduced to six year old Mason (Ellar Coltrane), his mother, played by Patricia Arquette, his older sister (Lorelei Linklater) and his father (Ethan Hawke) and through vignettes from mainly Mason's point of view, we watch him grow up and go to college. All of this feels natural and compelling eskewing the traditional plot structures of fictional film making in favour of a more documentary style akin to the 7 up series, but without the interviews.
The everyday life, the recognition of familiarity of the conversations between characters draw you in. There is no authorial judgement, just subtle story telling that allows the moment to breathe. Richard Linklater set out to make a movie about childhood (here is an interview about the making of the film), but what he also captures is the life, dream, expectations, responsibilities and adults as well, as we see his parents repeating mistakes, gaining some wisdom, settling on choices and not really changing, no matter how old you get. Patricia Arquette shines as Mason's mother as her story as an adult from a 30 year old to early 40s is just as compelling as Mason's childhood. Ellar Coltrane is wonderful as Mason, his soulful truthfulness inhabits the movie as you see him inhabit this character and you cannot help wonder how blurred the line between Mason and Ellar became over the years. Go and immerse yourself in this film and enjoy. Watch the Q&A with Linklater and the cast at Sundance 2014 below.
The Robert Altman retrospective at the Sydney Film Festival this weekend. The original 35mm prints of eight of Altman's 37 odd movies are being shown in the next few days. The movies are a combination of well known classics and his early less seen films. Introduced by his son, Michael, the retrospective started with four short personal films from Altman that are part of the UCLA Film & TV archive. They were an eclectic mix of story telling and subject matter that were made for pleasure and personal viewing, not public distribution.
Michael Altman introduced each short and talked a bit about his experience working with his father. The night finished off with a viewing of Nashville. Released in 1975 just after the Watergate scandal in the USA, Altman uses the most American of music, country and western music to comment on the loss of hope in the American society at the time. It is a wonderful movie that sig sags you from laughing at a character to sympathy and sorrow for the circumstances they have chosen or find themselves in. With 24 characters, this is a very typical Altman film that follows multiple story strands that flow into one a coherent plot. One of the most interesting elements of the film is the role of women in the music industry and society as a whole. The deliberate male gaze and relationship between the power held by men and the performances that are controlled and constructed by men that are executed by women. Not all characters are in this situation, however there is enough compare and contrast for the point to be made.
If you can see this movie on the big screen, I highly recommend it.
The Australian premiere of John Michael McDonagh's latest film, Calvary, was a special presentation at the Sydney Film Festival on Thursday 5 June at the State Theatre. This acerbic black comedy was well received by the crowded audience. This is McDonagh's second film as a writer and director and second film with lead actor Brendan Gleeson. Like his debut, The Guard, Calvary comments on present day Ireland and the Catholic Church with sharp observations and clever dialogue. McDonagh said that the premise of the movie was to have a good priest (Brendan Gleeson) at the centre of a story. A good priest in a small picturesque village in Ireland, surrounded by people who are not that nice. A good priest in Ireland is not something that comes to mind immediately after scandals such as this one in 2009 that have rocked the country in recent years. McDonagh confronts this raw scar in the opening dialogue of the movie and weaves this confronting and damaging history throughout a seemingly gentle and whimsical movie. This contradiction of tone and content may not work for everyone, however, I think McDonagh walks right up to the line of hitting the point too on the head with dialogue by having such fine actors delivering wonderful performances that delve below the stereotype, cliche or jumble of ticks. I liked it, I liked the beauty and charm of this quiet movie with sharp punctuations. It is well worth seeing.
The Sydney Film Festival opened last night with Nick Cave's 20,000 Days on Earth at the State Theatre. I decided to start my festival with a more traditional look at creativity and the life of times of a well known musician and took in the music documentary, Finding Fela, about Fela Kuti the Nigerian superstar and pioneer of the Afrobeat sound.
As I mentioned before this documentary is structured in a traditional way, highlighting elements of Fela's life in a chronological manner, intercut with interviews of friends and family and the behind the scenes process of the creation of Fela! the Broadway musical about his life. It is about 30 minutes too long and runs out of steam before you get to the latter part of Fela's life and the impact of his imprisonment (due to his political opposition to the Nigerian government), the death of his politically active mother and his belief in local tribal traditions and religion. The kernel of the movie is stated by one of the interviewees, who says that Fela had the voice and the message that came out of a combination of social and political circumstances. Without that context the music would not have been. This is explored like a bit of a history lesson through the hook of the behind the scenes elements of the Fela! musical. I understand why this was used as a hook as it is the way for something that is 'the other' can be explained and interpreted by 'the familiar', but it whitewashes the documentary for me as I am more interested in the contradictory and complex relationship between talent, music, politics and ideology that gives rise to someone like Fela Kuti. There is so much to explore about West African music, society, the impact of colonialism, the wars, the dictatorships, the poverty, the beauty, the people, the issues of a post colonial country in Africa, the rise of AIDS (which Fela Kuti died of in 1997), the patriarchy of Nigerian society. I feel as if it is a bit of an opportunity missed.
It is as if Bill T. Jones, the Director of Fela! the musical became the voice of the filmmakers when he kept referring to Fela Kuti as mad when he could not understand him. As if he accepted a certain amount of what Fela did and stood for and was, and the other aspects he could not accept was put in the madness box and put aside. Was that 'madness' too much 'the other'? Too far away from what a Western audience could understand? Too African? Do we always have to have western musicians like Questlove endorsing the music instead of hearing from other West African musicians about the impact of Afrobeat in their neighbouring countries or even in Nigeria itself?
Ultimately, the documentary does give you a starting point for the exploration of Fela Kuti's music, so I recommend just listening to his music. It is startling and rich, and it may just give you an insight into a time and place in Nigerian culture.
The Cannes Film Festival is massive, and there is copious amounts of coverage not only on the movies showing, but the fashion worn and glamour of it all. To cut through the noise I have turned to The Guardian's film daily videos that feature the newspaper's film critics (Xan Brooks, Peter Bradshaw, Catherine Shoard and Henry Barnes) talking about what they have seen that day. No glamour, just straight talking about what works and does not work for the critics watching the films. and now and again an interview with a director or actor. They are interesting and great to watch.
Recently I watched the 2012 Robert Redford movie, The Company You Keep. It was excellent with a cast that was so rich that even the one scene roles were played by actors such as Sam Elliot and Richard Jenkins. I was immediately reminded of one of my favourite Redford movies, Three Days of the Condor (1975) with its mixture of a chase anchored by beautiful quiet moments.
The movie is based on the 1974 novel, Six Days of the Condor by James Grady, and it is very much of its time with the Cold War backdrop, the lack of trust in the bureaucracy and/or the American government and an element of realism and bleakness that was prevalent in 1970s US cinema. It was filmed on location in New York City giving it immediacy and authenticity. Styles and buildings may have changed over the years, but New York City remains the same. Fast paced, noisy and crowded. It becomes a great supporting character in the film.
Redford plays Joe Turner, a CIA analyst, who finds himself out on his own when he is the only survivor an attack on his office and the mechanicians of his CIA superiors make it dangerous for him to come in from the cold. He kidnaps a stranger, Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway) and coerces her into providing him with a safe place to stay while he figures out what to do next. These are straightforward plot points for the film, but what makes it a classic is the tension that is built because of the situation but also the very realistic reactions of Joe, who finds himself out of his depth. What will make or break the film for you is if you find the relationship between Joe and Kathy plausible or not. This is the element of the story that could have gone awry, however, Sydney Pollack finds an honesty between the two characters and brings out a strong connection between them based on the great chemistry of Redford and Dunaway. Both Redford and Dunaway are great in this film and in the hands of a lesser actress Kathy would have been an aside in the film. Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford worked together on six movies through the 1970s and 1980s andThree Days of the Condor was their third movie together. It is not a partnership between actor and director that is much heralded as Pollack was not seen as an auteur like Martin Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppola, but I think that is a disservice. He is a very good director that made a combination of comedies, thrillers and dramas throughout his career. Possibly his commercial success detracted his critics from recognising how good he was. We are definitely missing the types of movies he made today. There is not much scope for the medium sized budget movie aimed at adults these days.
There are many other political thrillers of this time such as The Conversation, All The President's Men (another Redford and Pollack pairing) and The Parallax View, however Three Days of the Condor brings an element of sex that is lacking in the others. That spark is why the film is referenced in a conversation between escaped thief Jack Foley (George Clooney) and FBI agent Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) in the boot of a car in Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight (1998), another great movie. I recommend watching Three Days of the Condor it holds up and it is a much better than many thrillers that I have seen in the last five years.
I caught up on the first two summer blockbusters for 2014 this weekend. Well technically The Lego Movie came out in February in the rest of the world, but it has only made it to Australia last week because of timing of the school holidays. Just don't mention that the school holidays in Australia do not start until the third week of April so that reason makes no sense and it opens on the same weekend as Captain America - The Winter Soldier, which makes sure it is buried by the Marvel marketing team, also defeats the object of making any money off of this film in the Australian market. So putting aside the fact that Australian film distributors don't seem to have an idea about how kids under 18 years old consume movies and entertainment these days (the target audience for blockbusters) and we accept the reality that the northern hemisphere 'summer' season starts in April and that the rest of the world below the equator follows that logic of programming (branded seasonal changes overcoming actual geographical seasonal changes), we will say these are the first two summer blockbusters of 2014.
I enjoyed both movies, but I was not blown away by either of them. I had deliberately kept away from spoilers/sneak peeks/interviews et el that is now seen as typical marketing for movies nowadays to ensure that I could come to the movies as fresh as possible. Captain America was a great middle movie. It has to make sense within a bigger world of storytelling as well as stand on its own two feet. It did this very well, but you also have to like the characters that they are focusing on in this story. These Marvel movies are just a season of TV on the big screen spanning years with massive budgets that make loads of money. The universe has been built well and we are in the middle of the season where the main characters and their relationships are established and now we bring in new characters to challenge that status quo and move the story along. The middle of the season is always the hardest part of a TV series as it can become overwhelmed, at its worst, and a little bit bloated, at its best. However, as a viewer, you know by the end of the month you are usually through this phase and well onto the end game and the weaknesses do not really stay with you that much if the ending works. With this structure translated to movies leaves us with plenty of time to focus on every bit of what is put up on the screen before the next instalment comes along.
Does Captain America The Winter Soldier hold up to this scrutiny? It does to the most extent because it brings in enough new characters and revisits other ones to ensure that the audience has enough new information to talk about. By not having Hawkeye in this movie and giving Black Widow a necklace that is a silver arrow has caused more conversations on the internet than anything else. Having the SHIELD agents crossing over all the movies makes SHIELD the glue that holds the universe together and then upending that in this film, has been the subject of many an article in the last 48 hours. Introducing The Falcon and Agent 13 adds to the speculation of future stories and how the characters will fit together going forward. Like any series, the plot is the mcguffin to allow us to invest in characters and their relationships, and Marvel understands this very well. They also know that the best way to have an audience invest in a character who will most probably have very little overall screen time but needs to have some gravitas is to cast the right actors. If this series was tried 10 years ago, we would be wading through movies with very expensive 'movie stars'. It would be star driven and the cost of making the movies would echo that. The star would come it their persona, for example, Tom Cruise or Sylvester Stallone, and the audience would connect with the persona and then the story. Marvel has been able to take advantage of this shift away from the star system and the resurgence of great storytelling that has been part of the TV landscape for a number of years and have cast actors from TV who bring familiarity and a character type rather than a persona. For example Alan Dale, who plays one of the World Security Council Members, is known for playing a powerful, sometime shady and machiavellian type of character. Each actor chosen for that council is chosen for the short hand they bring to those scenes. Agent 13 is played by Emily VanCamp who is the star of Revenge. In Revenge she is the hero who is scheming to get revenge for her father's death. Her character has grey areas, but is ultimately who you should trust. She has some great James Bond skills as she is glamorous and can kick some butt. Seems that is exactly what they wanted to get across about Agent 13.
It will be interesting to see how The Guardians of the Galaxy expands this second phase of Marvel movies. Here is hoping that it stands on its own a little bit better than the Captain America sequel. It looks like it has that same formula of casting with Chris Pratt as the most the human looking everyman who is in over his head, Peter Quill. Chris Pratt played Bright Abbott, the sister of Emily VanCamp's Amy Abbott, the female lead of the Greg Berlanti TV series Everwood from the early 2000s. Bright Abbott is the good looking, not so bright, lovable and unintentionally funny guy in the series and Chris Pratt has been playing a variation of Bright Abbott in most of his big roles since then, see Parks and Recreation and The Lego Movie. The Lego Movie is fun and clever as it knows what it is. Lego as a product is its own toy (you can build anything using Lego) and it interprets great popular culture characters and stories (through its Lego minifigures) and this movie shows this very well. The mixture of original Lego minifigures such as the construction worker and the 1980s spaceman with the minifigures from popular cultures such as Batman and Han Solo exemplifies that the story of the everyman over his head character believing in himself and solving the mcguffin is a story that has been told many times before. But that does not mean we cannot enjoy it. The way they cast The Lego Movie was very similar to Marvel's approach. Match the TV actor and their typical character type with the character that they are playing on screen such as Will Arnett as Batman and Alison Brie as Unkitty; and actors who are more known for movies or character acting to be the shorthand for the audience. For example, Morgan Freeman as Vitruvius and Elizabeth Banks as Wyldstyle. The movie does a great job of commenting on corporatisation, conformity and the information saturated Western culture but it is also delivered to the audience in exactly the way it mocks on screen - but that is for another blog post.
However, overall these two movies are good but not great. I liked them but felt a bit empty by the end of the films. I trust that they will get the casting right, but I can't help wanting to watch something a little bit more original and surprising in my blockbuster fare. Will that happen this year? This is the list, it does not look promising, but maybe they will surprise us and Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad will turn out not to be a greedy drug king in Godzilla:
Divergent - the first movie based on a trilogy of books
Rio 2 - animation sequel
Transcendence - science fiction
The Amazing Spider-man 2 - superhero sequel
Godzilla - remake
Dawn of The Planet of the Apes - remake and sequel
Blended - romantic comedy
Ninja Turtles - remake
Jurassic World - sequel
How to Train Your Dragon 2 - animation sequel
Transformers 4 - sequel
Maleficent - remake of fairy story
Fast & the Furious 7 - sequel
X men: Days of Future Past - sequel
Hercules - remake
Jupiter Ascending - science fiction
Guardians of the Galaxy - part of the Marvel universe series of films
The Expendables 3 - sequel.