May 262016
 

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In cinemas this week: The Nice Guys, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Alice Through the Looking Glass.

The Nice Guys – Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a down-on-his-luck private eye in 1977 Los Angeles. Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is a hired enforcer who hurts people for a living. Fate turns them into unlikely partners after a young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) mysteriously disappears. Healy and March soon learn the hard way that other dangerous people are also looking for Amelia. Their investigation leads to some dark places as anyone else who gets involved in the case seems to wind up dead. Shane Black doesn’t quite recapture the form of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but Gosling and Crowe make a great hapless PI team, and it is consistently funny throughout, even if it doesn’t dig too deeply into the seedy ’70s California underworld. Further thoughts at the link.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople – Raised on hip-hop and foster care, defiant city kid Ricky gets a fresh start in the New Zealand countryside. He quickly finds himself at home with his new foster family: the loving Aunt Bella, the cantankerous Uncle Hec, and dog Tupac. When a tragedy strikes that threatens to ship Ricky to another home, both he and Hec go on the run in the bush. As a national manhunt ensues, the newly branded outlaws must face their options: go out in a blaze of glory or overcome their differences and survive as a family. Equal parts road comedy and rousing adventure story, director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows) masterfully weaves lively humour with emotionally honest performances by Sam Neill and Julian Dennison. Can’t wait to see this one. Taika Waititi’s films are always a treat, and Julian Dennison is a brilliant young actor.

Alice Through the Looking Glass – After slipping through a mirror, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) finds herself back in Underland with the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Her friends tell her that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is depressed over the death of his family. Hoping to save his loved ones, Alice steals the Chronosphere from Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) to travel into the past. While there, she encounters the younger Hatter and the evil Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). An improvement on Burton’s dire effort, but a few of the performances and some inventive sets/effects aside, its pretty lackluster stuff. Sam’s review at the link.

Weekly Recommendation: The Nice Guys is worth a look for sure, but we expect our highlight to be Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
May 252016
 

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The Nice Guys, a mass-audience ’70s California-set PI noir, is the latest film from writer/director Shane Black. It teams up two mismatched private eyes trying to make a connection between a dead porn star and the disappearance of a young woman. While it never reaches the heights of an Inherent Vice or LA Confidential, of which the influences are clear, it is entertaining throughout because of the winning collaboration of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, and excellent support from young Australian actress Angourie Rice (These Final Hours).

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May 232016
 

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Alice Through the Looking Glass picks up three years after the events in Alice in Wonderland. Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has spent the last 3 years on the high seas, exploring the world in the same way her father did before her. She returns to London to find her mother in a financial bind, and her standing in society very much changed. Just when she is about to lose hope, she spots the blue butterfly Absolem (Alan Rickman) who leads her to a magical mirror back to Wonderland.
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May 232016
 

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Twenty one films competed for the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, making it one of the biggest, and, according to many critics who attended the festival, one of the strongest fields in recent history. Overnight the Jury, presided by George Miller (director of Mad Max: Fury Road), selected the award winners.

From a star-studded lineup of films it was Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann that received consistent raves from critics and became the clear favourite for this year’s Palme. Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, Jeff Nichols’ Loving, Kleber Mendonca Filho’s Aquarius, and Christian Mungiu’ The Graduation all received very positive reactions. Paul Verhoeven’s Elle caused a storm on the second-to-last day, drawing many speculations that it would win and/or star Isabelle Huppert would win her third Best Actress award. Andrea Arnold’s American Honey was more divisive, but was also believed to be a very strong contender. Of course, there were films that copped it from the Croisette crowds. Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper, Nicolas Winding Refn The Neon Demon, Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World and Sean Penn’s The Last Face, were aggressively booed, with the latter pair widely regarded as two of the worst to screen in the competition. There was barely a whisper for the latest Dardenne Bros film The Unknown Girl, and subdued response to Pedro Almodovar’s Julietta. 

But, various Jury Grids yielded different results, and amongst all of the online chatter it became impossible to predict just who would win this year. The Cannes Jury selections were surprising, to say the least. All we know is that we’re excited about all of these films, and hope to have the opportunity to see them all at some point this year.

Here is a list of all of the winners:

Palme d’or

I, Daniel Blake, directed by Ken Loach

Grand Prix

Juste La Fin Du Monde (It’s Only the End of the World), directed by Xavier Dolan

Jury Prize 

American Honey, directed by Andrea Arnold

Best Director (tie)

Christian Mungiu, Bacalaureat (Graduation)

Olivier Assayas, Personal Shopper

Best Screenplay 

Asghar Farhadi, Forushande (The Salesman)

Best Performance by an Actress 

Jaclyn JOSE in Ma’ Rosa, directed by Brillante Mendoza

Best Performance by an Actor

Shahab Hosseini inForushande (The Salesman), directed by Asghar Farhadi

The Jury of the CST also awarded the Vulcan Award of the Technical Artist to Seong-Hie Ryu, for the artistic direction, with great inspiration, for The Handmaiden by Park Chan-Wook

May 212016
 

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After watching the Goosebumps Movie earlier in the year, and enjoying the nostalgia kick, I had an urge to locate my entire childhood collection of Goosebumps books. After hours of searching my parents’ house I found 40 of the original 62 boxed up in their attic. I definitely owned more than this, but either they remain boxed up and undiscovered, or I sold them off to a second-hand bookshop. Whether the ones I held on to were credited as my ‘favourites’ I cannot recall.

So, with all of these in front of me, I decided to put adulthood on hold and take a trip back to simpler times – a childhood where saving my pocket money for the new Goosebumps book was what I cared most about. A few books in I was hooked, and vowed to re-read all 62. I tracked down ways to read the ones I was missing and now, 10 weeks later, I have finally done it. Each book took me about 50-60 minutes to read, and I was covering 5-8 per week.

Over the course of 1992-1997 Scholastic released a new Goosebumps book at a rate of close to one every month, so author R.L. Stine was churning them out pretty quickly. And he has continued to churn them out with the Give Yourself Goosebumps, Goosebumps Horrorland series and others. Now, whether they were written in order is a fascinating question, and the chaotic inconsistency in fresh ideas and writing quality is what has made this journey a strange one.

It is hard to gauge exactly how old I was when I was in peak Goosebumps obsession. I think it must have been 1996, when I was 8. I don’t think I read any after 1998 – I feel like I had moved onto The Hardy Boys and Harry Potter books by then – but I find it interesting that I read most of them when I was aged 7-9. By age 10 I suspect I had grown out of them. Almost all of Stine’s protagonists were aged 12, though I realise now that he wrote them younger than that. My memory of most of them in 2016 was next-to-none, so I felt like I was starting on a blank slate. Plenty offered surprises, while others that I recall enjoying ended up being amongst the most awful. Back then they would have all been awesome, but I am not sure how well they will go down with kids these days.

I will admit, I hit some hurdles. About two-thirds of the way through this project I started to lose sight of the light. It became a chore. As the quality took a nosedive, the recurring formulas became tiresome, Stine’s worst tendencies were less effectively hidden, and the ideas dried up, I struggled to digest them. For most of the #30+, there was nothing there, but I was becoming desperate to make it to the end and put this foolishness behind me. But, rarely one to leave things unfinished, I persevered. I am glad I did, because there are some late gems, but this is not a venture I can wholeheartedly recommend.

Before I get into the rankings I thought I would flag a few observations from the series:

Best stretch of Goosebumps – #1 – #11

Worst stretch of Goosebumps – #42 – #50

Weirdest and most wildly inconsistent stretch of Goosebumps – #52 – #62

Here are all 62 of the original Goosebumps series, definitively ranked from 62-1. The number in brackets refers to the number of the entry in the series. Warning, there are *spoilers*:

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May 182016
 

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In cinemas this week – X-Men: Apocalypse, The Meddler, Criminal, Highly Strung and Keanu. 

X-Men: Apocalypse – Worshiped as a god since the dawn of civilization, the immortal Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) becomes the first and most powerful mutant. Awakening after thousands of years, he recruits the disheartened Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and other mutants to create a new world order. As the fate of the Earth hangs in the balance, Professor X (James McAvoy) and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) lead a team of young X-Men to stop their seemingly invincible nemesis from destroying mankind. After the immediately forgettable last entry in the X-Men universe, we’re not going to rush out for this one. 

The Meddler – After the death of her husband, a woman (Susan Sarandon) moves from New Jersey to Los Angeles to be closer to her daughter (Rose Byrne). This is the latest film from Lorene Scafaria (writer/director of the very sweet Seeking a Friend For the End of the World), but we were already sold on that powerful lady duo.

Criminal – CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) dies while traveling to a secret location to meet a hacker who can launch missiles at will. Desperate to find his whereabouts, officials turn to an experimental neurosurgeon who can transfer memories from one brain to another. The guinea pig for the procedure is Jerico Stewart (Kevin Costner), a violent and dangerous death-row inmate. Now gifted with Pope’s skills and knowledge, Stewart must race against time to stop a sinister international conspiracy. Ryan Reynolds is in EVERYTHING, but this also feels like ‘this month’s CIA thriller’.

Keanu – Recently dumped by his girlfriend, slacker Rell (Jordan Peele) finds some happiness when a cute kitten winds up on his doorstep. After a heartless thief steals the cat, Rell recruits his cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) to help him retrieve it. They soon learn that a thug named Cheddar (Method Man) has the animal, and he’ll only give it back if the two men agree to work for him. Armed with guns and a gangster attitude, it doesn’t take long for the hapless duo to land in big trouble. Having never seen an episode of Key and Peele there isn’t much appeal in this. 

Highly Strung – Director Scott Hicks (Shine and Glass: A Portrait of Philip in 12 Parts) continues his exploration of music-themed films with Highly Strung, a journey into a rarefied world of elusive tones evoked by horsehair on catgut; of investors tempted to spend millions on unique instruments; and a quartet of virtuosi caught up in a duel of tension and harmony.

Weekly Recommendation: If you haven’t yet caught Green Room it is a terrifyingly intense thriller, and in our opinion the best film in cinemas right now, but we’re attracted to the light-weight charm promised by The Meddler this week in the wake of the hotly anticipated The Nice Guys and Hunt for the Wilderpeople later in the month.

May 172016
 

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Before Spectre hit cinemas I vowed to watch all of the preceding James Bond films as is par the course for a serious film buff. Unfortunately, two weeks was not long enough – I think I managed to squeeze in five. So, since Spectre back in November I have been slowly working my way through the rest. As recommended by a friend I watched them in a unique order, starting with the oldest (Dr No) and then flipping back to the newest (Skyfall), before watching one from each end before hitting For Your Eyes Only in the middle. This method leaves you with a lot of Moore consecutively, but this wasn’t so bad. Worse was ricocheting between bad Brosnan and bad Connery.

Now, I wasn’t a die hard Bond fan before this all started and I can’t call myself one now either, but my expectations for this series were certainly eclipsed. I had heard nothing but bad things about the Moore entries, and I expected to struggle with the dated effects, blatant sexism and racism. But, I found most of them to be a lot of fun.

I would like to thank the very generous Garth Franklin at Dark Horizons for lending me the blu-rays and for his inquisitions about each film whenever we hang out.

Now, I haven’t drawn any particularly enlightening conclusions about the franchise – this was purely for entertainment – and my reverse rankings of all 24 Bond films (excluding Never Say Never Again, due to my inability to access it) are personal and, I expect, widely disagreeable. You can check them out after the jump. There will be some minor spoilers to follow, so proceed with that in mind.

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May 152016
 

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With 244 films screening, picking which films to see at the 2016 Sydney Film Festival can be an overwhelming experience. We’ve combed through the impressive programme and have selected 12 films we think are must-sees at this year’s festival. The films we have picked included Afghani cinefiles, a vampire-mermaid, an escape into virtual reality, and Daniel Radcliffe’s farting corpse.

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