Snap Reviews: Hell or High Water, Doctor Strange, Hacksaw Ridge

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Nov 182016


Hell or High Water (dir David Mackenzie)

A modern-day western set in a downtrodden West Texas, Hell or High Water tells he story of a man desperate to break the cycle of poverty, and provide for his family. Toby Howard (Chris Pine) needs to pay the debt owed on his mother’s mortgage, or they will lose the property to the bank, and with it the millions and millions of dollars of oil recently discovered on it. He turns to his brother Tanner (Ben Foster), recently released from 10 years in prison, for help. Together the pair commit a string of bank robberies, drawing the attention of Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), who takes on the task of tracking them down.

This film is quite simply one of the year’s best. It’s a film where the bad guy isn’t so obviously the one with the gun, in fact we’re convinced that the banks and the economy are just as bad. It’s easy to put yourself in Toby’s shoes – he wants to be the man, the provider, and give his children something. The fact that this something is a contract with the bank and mere tens of thousands of dollars away is painfully frustrating, and thus we sympathise and even cheer him on. Bridges, Pine, Foster, and Birmingham are wonderful, in fact this could be Pine’s best performace..ever? To top it all off, original music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis reinforces the feeling that Texas is a land inhabited by outlaws.


Doctor Strange (dir Scott Derrickson)

Another dull origin story about a mostly unlikable male protagonist – thanks Marvel. When hot-shot neurosurgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) loses the use of his hands, he travels to Nepal to find Kamar-Taj, a place he has heard is capable of performing medical miracles. There he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a sorcerer with formidable powers, and equally formidable enemies to match. In order to restore the use of his hands he must first master the ancient arts and in doing so, he gains far more than he expected, including the immense responsibilities that go with having such knowledge.

Although many of the visuals appear to be taken from Inception, it’s the visual style and special effects which give this film some spark. While Marvel films have heroes with super powers, it’s less common for magical powers to be on show, and they’re done quite well here, particularly by Swinton as the Ancient One, who gets to put on quite the show. It’s a shame then that the screenplay was a lifeless affair, sticking rigidly to the well-worn origin story path and offering little in the way of comedy (I really didn’t find the cape stuff funny at all). The casting also felt rather off, with Cumberbatch particularly out-of-place speaking in an awkward American accent; while Rachel McAdams was also wasted in yet another disposable girlfriend role.


Hacksaw Ridge (dir Mel Gibson)

Mel Gibson’s return to the director’s chair has him telling the [true] story of Desmond Doss (played convincingly by Andrew Garfield), an American combat medic during World War II who became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor. As a child Doss nearly killed his brother when fooling around, which led to him seeking solace and answers in religion and an absolute distaste for violence. He joins the majority of the men of his town and enlists in the Army, where he is faced with many challenges due to his beliefs and his refusal to use a weapon. When Doss eventually makes it to the frontline he is confronted by horrific violence, and he is forced to dig deep to survive and assist others.

Hacksaw Ridge‘s scenes of extreme violence are at odds with Doss’s pacifist beliefs, and it’s perhaps because of this that the film is so effective. Gibson knows how to shoot action – the war sequences are brutal, unrelenting, and extremely graphic in nature. There is absolutely no sugar-coating how awful the frontline was and this only emphasises the incredible bravery which Doss displayed. Vince Vaughan has an interesting turn as a platoon leader here, and his summing up of his troop is an incredibly entertaining and efficient way to introduce the many supporting characters in the film. The film does have a few bum notes, particularly in regards to Doss’s relationship with Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) and a ridiculous military court scene, but its main fault is to push the earnestness of Doss a little too hard. I can say that I walked away from the film with extreme admiration for Desmond Doss – what an absolute hero.


Snap Reviews: The Neon Demon, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, The Girl on the Train

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Oct 312016


The Neon Demon (Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)

The film follows Jesse (Elle Fanning), who has recently arrived in LA and is attempting to break into the competitive modeling industry. When Jesse finds early success with some of the industry’s biggest names, other women in the industry become dangerously fixated with her youth and beauty.

Littered with collection of poor performances (they were really ACTING here), Abbey Lee’s fierce bitchy model and Keanu Reeve’s creepy-as-hell motel manager steal each scene they are in. Refn’s signature blues and reds play a starring role here (he’s colourblind, he uses these colours because he can see them), as does dreamy, other worldly cinematography and a pulsating electric score (think Goblin and Tangerine dream) from frequent collaborator Cliff Martinez. While the technical aspects of the film are almost faultless, the story lacks depth and intrigue, and I found that I became bored on several occasions. Supposedly a film about beauty, the point is perhaps a little bit too thin – as shallow as the beauty industry itself.


Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (Dir. Edward Zwick)

Reacher (Cruise) is drawn back into military business when he discovers that Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) is being framed for espionage. After busting her out of prison, the two must avoid capture, all while trying to clear both their names. Their mission is complicated by a ghost from Reacher’s past, who could have serious implications on his future.

This film has been given a rough assessment by some, many of whom elevate it’s predecessor Jack Reacher to heights which that film quite doesn’t deserve. While Never Go Back lacks an opener with as much punch and misses the pizzaz of Herzog’s villain, it is an entertaining action film, with the always charismatic Tom Cruise doing the Tom Cruise action star thing. Smulders is great here, and the no bullshit Major Turner is an equal in both brains and brawn to Cruise’s Reacher. Action sequences are well choreographed and edited; and the film has a refreshingly uncliched ending. It won’t go down as one of the great action films of our time, but it’s a solid couple of hours at the cinema.


The Girl on the Train (Dir. Tate Taylor)

Adapted from the wildly popular novel of the same name, The Girl on the Train is a mystery-drama about 3 women – 1 missing, 1 mother, and 1 drunk (Emily Blunt). Our drunk travels into the city on the train daily, looking at homes she can see from the train and imaging the lives the people in them live. Switching perspectives between the 3 women, the film weaves a tale of complicated domesticity and abuse.

While Blunt is reliably excellent, the film is largely forgettable – much more suited as a late-night weekend watch with a bottle of wine, than a trip to the cinemas. The small cast means the key mystery in the film isn’t all that mysterious, although the some thrilling moments did raise my heart rate. Aside from moving the story from England to America, the film largely hits the same beats as the book. I was surprised at the brutality of the violence in the film though; perhaps my mind censored those aspects of the book.


Snap reviews: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, The Red Turtle, Life Animated

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Oct 042016

Miss Peregrine's

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Dir. Tim Burton)

Based on the 2011 novel of the same name by Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children follows Jacob (Asa Butterfield) who locates the home for children after following clues given to him by his grandfather (Terence Stamp). Ruled over by the titular Miss Peregrine (a very charismatic Eva Green) the home is a safe place for children who are different from the average child, in rather weird and wonderful ways. All is not good in the world of the peculiar however, and the home’s residents find their safety jeopardised by some rather frightening creatures.

Directed by Tim Burton, the film is very much two completely different beasts. The first half an almost snooze-worthy pile of exposition and explanation about the world and how it all works. There’s also far too much time spent on the relationship between Jacob and his father (Chris O’Dowd), which is rather dull and of almost no consequence to the developments further on. Once you hit the second hour however, the film becomes a creepy and eccentric adventure in supernaturalism and strangeness. A fight sequence between a variety of unnatural beings, set to pumping electronic music, is one of the more entertaining action sequences I’ve seen in some time.

While Burton certainly nails the story’s more bizarre elements, the plodding first hour really lets the film down. Asa Butterfield is also a disappointment – he just doesn’t have the star quality to pull off the role. It’s hard to see who the audience for this film is – it’s far too scary for younger kids, but not scary enough for teens.



The Red Turtle (Dir. Michael Dudok de Wit)

Directed by Michael Dudok de Wit, The Red Turtle is co-production between Wild Bunch and Japan’s famous Studio Ghibli. It is the story of a man who becomes a stranded on an island which is devoid of human life, but filled with various plant and animal life. After several attempts at escape, the man accepts his fate as a castaway, and we observe his life at various stages.

It is the simplicity of The Red Turtle that makes it so powerful. The film is dialogue-less, which serves to remove all distractions from what plays out on-screen. The utterly stunning visuals and beautiful sound design are completely transformative, and you feel as if you are there, watching on in silence. I found the restraint and straightforwardness of the depiction of the life cycle to be incredibly profound, and I was brought to tears several times. I adore this film and I can’t recommend it highly enough – it’s like balm to the soul in these noisy times.



Life, Animated (Dir. Roger Ross Williams)

Owen Suskind was a bubbly young boy until at age three, when he withdrew into his own mind and stopped communicating with others. After many specialist trips Owen was diagnosed as autistic, and his parents are devastated that there was no “quick fix” for their son. While Owen may have stopped talking, his love for all things Disney had never waned, and it was one of the shared activities that the whole family still enjoyed. It turned out that Owen was doing more than just watching the films, he was studying them, processing them, and soon he was using them as a tool to help him both communicate, and understand the world around him.

Owen’s story is told through a tapestry of interviews with friends and family, home movie clips, interviews and interactions with Owen himself, as he and his family are preparing for him to move out of home and into assisted living for the first time. The film also continues some beautiful original animation – the medium he feels at ease with – to bring parts of his story to life. While the film does gloss over some of Owen’s tougher times, it does a reasonably good job at showing the many challenges he and his family face. It’s an inspiring story, and as a film lover, I found it difficult to not feel overwhelmed at the power these films have for Owen and those around him. I may have cried, just once or twice.

By Sam McCosh

Snap Reviews: The Drop, My Old Lady, Winter Sleep

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Nov 112014


Three very different films hit Australian cinemas this week. The late, great James Gandolfini’s final film, The Drop; Maggie Smith & Kevin Kline’s Parisian comedy-drama, My Old Lady; and the 2014 Palm d’Or Winner, Winter Sleep. Our brief thoughts on all three are after the jump.

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SFF 2012 Snap Reviews: On The Road & Alps

 2012, Festivals, Reviews, Snap Reviews, Sydney Film Festival  Comments Off on SFF 2012 Snap Reviews: On The Road & Alps
Jun 122012


Too many films, too little time! Check out my brief thoughts on two films which I recently watched at Sydney Film Festival – On the Road and Alps.

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