The Light Between Oceans

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Release: Friday, September 2, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Derek Cianfrance

Directed by: Derek Cianfrance

Derek Cianfrance has emerged once again with another sweeping, emotional epic, this time The Light Between Oceans, an adaptation of the 2012 international bestseller by M.L. Stedman. Maybe you saw The Place Beyond the Pines, Cianfrance’s previous effort. From an ambitious meditation on how one man’s actions can have a rippling effect across generations of family, he turns now to a deeply personal exploration of a young husband and wife trying to start a family.

‘Deeply personal.’ Some people might call it something else, like . . . melodramatic. Which it is; The Light Between Oceans is so melodramatic. It’s also often too depressing for its own good; a joke or two wouldn’t have hurt, but you know what else it is? Incredibly well-acted. So much so, in fact, that leads Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander found art imitating life, er, rather, inspiring it. Since working on the project the two have entered into a romantic affair that they have (largely) kept private. Given everything the actors go through bringing this tale to life, it’s not that surprising to find fictional romance has begotten real-life romance. (If only the same could have applied to John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer.)

That last paragraph was risky for me. I vowed once upon a time that I would never allow my musings on film to become a gossip column. But I just find it so interesting in this case because actors this good — and these specific actors — often make it impossible to discern professionalism from deeper personal bonding. The Light Between Oceans absolutely demands chemistry, in the same way The Notebook demanded chemistry. In the same way A Walk to Remember demanded it. Fortunately, Oceans is a great deal better than one of those two, and I’ll give you a hint: it’s not the one with Ryan Gosling — incidentally an actor who has already appeared twice in Cianfrance’s brief but memorable back catalogue.

Tom Sherbourne (Fassbender) has returned from the Great War to a remote fishing village in Western Australia. He’s taking over the post at the Janus Rock lighthouse after the former keeper quit by, quote, throwing himself over the side of a cliff. (Hint-hint: this job is difficult insofar as it is lonely.) Tom believes isolation will be good for him after his horrendous experiences in the war. After three months he takes a ferry back into town, where he happens across a beautiful girl named Isabel Graysmark (Vikander), who takes a keen interest in him. Her father Bill (Aussie Garry McDonald) is actually the one who took Tom on as a keeper.

There’s an undeniable spark between Tom and Isabel — not the kind that’s scripted, but that which evolves from actors being genuinely comfortable in one another’s presence. The only thing more natural than Vikander’s smile is the pair’s affection for one another. Soon enough they’re crossing off one major item on the checklist for A Perfect Life Together and find themselves happily married, ready to start a new life together on the lonely island. Love faces its toughest test after the couple’s first miscarriage. After a second, life becomes downright unbearable. Then, quite serendipitously, a rowboat washes ashore carrying what appears to be a dead man along with a still-living infant.

The Light Between Oceans is meditative, a two-plus-hour runtime stretching out like the yawning cerulean gap between Australia and the nearest land mass. It is a very. Long. Sit. Perhaps that’s due to the frequent bouts of depression we must battle along with our characters that makes it feel that way. It’s slow going but Cianfrance, along with his DP Adam Arkapaw, makes the physical world such a wonder to behold. The whole thing feels like a postcard from Australia. Too bad the weight of the complex morality play ongoing eventually causes it to collapse in on itself come the dying light of the film.

It’s not Rachel Weisz‘s fault, who plays the part of Hannah Roennfeldt, a grieving mother who recently lost her husband and baby out at sea (cough-cough). We’ve been expecting (or is that, dreading?) to meet her. Her tremendous performance certainly leaves a mark, even if the character itself is more of a tool rather than a real person. Hannah represents a physical consequence of Tom and Isabel’s actions and yet the way Cianfrance chooses to insert her  (and depending on how faithful an adaptation this is, this flaw could be true of the book as well) feels blatantly manipulative. Her backstory is handled in a simple flashback or two, as opposed to the hour we get to spend with the other two. The manner in which she is brought into close proximity to the couple turns out to be the most offensive contrivance of all.

Contrivances be damned, though, when an experience lingers in the mind like this one does. It may not be easy viewing and it can be emotionally manipulative — the knife-twisting in the final act really proved a bridge too far for me — but Oceans is a film with tons of heart. It is further confirmation of why I love these actors. It’s a movie that made me feel, that made me bleed. Okay, not really. But still.

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Recommendation: The Light Between Oceans is an old-fashioned romance epic whose frequent trips into melodrama remind me why I can’t do romance that often. But when one features stars as reliable as these two, I find it very hard to say no. There’s a lot to like about it, including the breathtaking postcards-from-Australia scenery. It’s all a grand gesture, and for those who don’t mind sitting through a long, meditative drama this should definitely appeal.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 133 mins.

Quoted: “One day this will all feel like a dream.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Actor Interview: Aussie Paul Eenhoorn talks ‘Land Ho!’

Experienced Aussie actor Paul Eenhoorn was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to talk about his most recent role as Colin in last summer’s delightful and breezy buddy-comedy adventure Land Ho! The film tells the story of two former brothers-in-law, Colin and Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) who take a much-needed trip to Iceland to escape the humdrum of their daily lives back in the States. He also opens up about his experience in the industry, his move from Australia to Seattle and what it was like filming in Iceland.

Other notable performances of his include the titular lead in Chad Hartigan’s 2013 drama This Is Martin Bonner; as Hugh in the 2011 heist/adventure Rogue Saints; and as a Lead Detective in the controversial 2007 documentary Zoo. He’s known mostly for his affable, charming personas but he has had the opportunity to take a villainous part before and did so in the 2004 family comedy Max Rules.


Getting to visit different parts of the world to tell stories is part of the trade. You went all the way to Iceland to tell this one. I would imagine you enjoy traveling, would that be a fair assessment? Travel is the best but when you’re shooting all you get to see is locations and the road there and back. Most times that is at ungodly hours, but with Iceland we really hauled all over to get to locations. Some of which have untended roads after September so it was rough at time. Still you can’t visit Iceland and not love it.

What was it that caught your eye about this project? (If all it took was the fact you’d be getting to go to this exotic location, I wouldn’t blame you. . .) I wanted to work with Martha Stevens and Aaron Katz, they are the new wave of directors coming up. Plus the production company Gamechanger Films offered me a reasonable deal so how could I say no.

Beyond the distinct personalities, what struck me early on was the camaraderie you and Earl Lynn Nelson shared. It was as though you weren’t given a script and were instead improvising much of the dialogue. In fact, the exchanges were such that I was convinced you two had been life-long friends (despite the script having you play former brothers-in-law). Had you known Nelson before shooting the film or was it more of a ‘learn-on-the-go’ kind of experience? If you’re an actor in film you have to form that connection, with people you don’t know, otherwise it falls flat. I didn’t know Earl Lynn but we spent a weekend shooting the opening scenes and we did  Iceland a few months later . . .

One of the things that really made Land Ho! an enjoyable diversion was the unique and picturesque setting. With principal photography lasting a bit over two weeks and occurring in seven cities, including the capital port city of Reykjavík, I’d imagine the shoot introduced some challenges. What was the experience like? Were there any unique challenges of filming a movie there? It was a twenty day shoot with a couple of days off here and there. The main problem for me was that it was cold all the time. It was fall there. I pulled a muscle in my thigh and I couldn’t work it off. Basically the conditions were rugged and I wasn’t prepared for the cold at all . . .

Tell me a little bit about your character Mitch. Is he anything like you? Colin is introspective which I am at times but I’m more like Mitch in ways except I don’t do anatomy jokes . . . 

You hail from Australia but now are based out of Seattle. Has moving to the States opened up more opportunities for you? Do you have plans to return to Australia at any point? Seattle isn’t L.A. but then that’s good at times too. The quality of life in Seattle is more to my liking, And yes the U.S. offers far more opportunity than Australia I’m sorry to say. I will head back to Australia one day . . . it’s a great place to live.

Seattle is most definitely known for the iconic bands and musicians that call the city their home. I’ve visited a few times myself and have always been fascinated with how much of a cultural melting pot it really is, though I have never stopped to consider its influence on the film industry. Could you describe what it’s like living there as an actor? I’ve shot a lot in Seattle but I had to travel to L.A. to get my first break on Chad Hartigan’s film This Is Martin Bonner. L.A. is the center of the filmmaking universe though Seattle production values are fast catching up. I do other things to make money and I would rather do that close to home base than in L.A.

In the film Earl Lynn Nelson plays a rather outgoing man, a retired doctor looking to keep himself busy in retirement. I understand this role was his very first. What was it like working with him? He seems like a pretty easy guy to get along with. Earl Lynn is very consistent, you know what you’re going to get from him so that made my job easier, if you call shooting any film easy. He did do a few gigs with Martha Stevens before this one.

What was it that got you into acting? Any family influences? Nope. I started shooting television when I was younger, I was in a band too so I always knew I wanted to act. My mom was a ballerina so that may be an influence . . .

What does the future look like for you? Do you have any current projects in the works? We have shot the opening of my next film Pendulum and we will be playing that in L.A. in late October. We are looking for funding. It’s a totally different part from Martin Bonner and Land Ho! Which is a good thing I think. I have not seen the cut but we are doing a cast and crew screening the second week of October.

I would like to thank Mr. Eenhoorn for taking the time out of his schedule to talk to me. Be sure to keep an eye out for Land Ho!, which is now available to stream online or rent through several DVD vendors including RedBox. Meanwhile, I will be seeking out Pendulum in the coming months. 


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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com; Paul Eenhoorn 

Kill Me Three Times

Release: Friday, April 10, 2015

[Netflix]

Written by: James McFarland

Directed by: Kriv Stenders

Simon Pegg embraces his inner baddie and Kill Me Three Times is somewhat better because of it.

‘Somewhat’ is the operative word here as Pegg, even in a killer role (e-hem), isn’t enough to make the film worth watching. Too choppily paced to be considered an intentional slow-burner, not parodic enough to warrant comparisons to Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy, and not poorly acted enough to generate entertainment of a purely schlocky nature, Australian writer/director Kriv Stenders’ thriller regrettably makes precious little out of its great potential.

Unsurprisingly, Pegg’s presence affords the adventure most of its enjoyability. Opening on one of its most memorable lines, the film finds a stupefied Charlie Wolfe (Pegg) recounting how he could have possibly gotten into the situation he now finds himself. Before he can say another word — flashback! Yes, we are watching that kind of movie, where the introduction teases a history of events that are, apparently, best left in non-chronological order. Or at the very least, left until later.

We go back to where this botched crime began, like, a couple of days ago. A young woman named Alice (Alice Braga) has a dental appointment to repair a chipped tooth she received after the last altercation with her husband, but unbeknownst to her she is about to be drugged and kidnapped by the surgeon (Sullivan Stapleton) and his assistant/wife (Teresa Palmer). After becoming suspicious about his wife’s recent behavior, Jack (Callan Mulvey), a sleazy motel proprietor, hires a hit man to follow Alice around. Jack’s worst fears are realized thanks to video evidence of her sleeping with another man. Obliged to act betrayed but not really look it — I think this is just bad acting at this point — Jack finds himself requiring Charlie’s full range of services. Apparently this couple is well past resolving their differences with words.

Charlie is amused when he comes upon the dentists carrying out the act themselves, transferring her unconscious body into a different car that they light on fire and send over a cliff. However, he is not aware that their actions are being dictated by a completely different set of motivations. Of course, the sloppiness of the pair’s execution leaves a loose end. When Charlie goes back to Jack, satisfied that the job has been done and wanting to collect his payment (but not admitting that he didn’t have any involvement), Jack discovers he has been robbed.

While all this is going on the dentists, who aren’t really dentists but in fact horrible people with really nice teeth, are attempting to pull off an insurance scam by replacing the receptionist’s dental records with their most recent patient (Alice)’s, hoping to collect on the fake death that was staged with Alice in the flaming car. A corrupt local cop (Bryan Brown) catches on to the scheme-hatchery pretty quickly and demands he be paid half of the settlement. This, despite the fact Nathan is up to his neck in gambling debts and insists he can’t afford to lose a cent.

Kill Me Three Times weaves three tales of betrayal and murder that are all inextricably linked to one another, with Pegg’s contract killer coming right in the middle of it all. What the story ultimately boils down to is a simple case of infidelity and it is one you have seen countless times before. It’s a movie almost worth your while for Pegg’s atypical role playing but he’s deceptively peripheral given the amount of space he occupies on the theatrical release poster. Stenders packs the narrative with twist after twist, and endless scenes of double-crossing and back-stabbings, of both the literal and figurative sort. There is no particular point of view from which the story is told; Stenders instead relies on multiple perspectives by cutting back and forth between parties. Unfortunately very few developments are unforeseen or even very entertaining, the story bogged down in homage and triteness.

And yet, if you can spare some empathy for these underdeveloped characters — the good ones, that is — which will not only be a hell of an effort but likely one that’s more than what this film deserves, you might just be able to eke out some laughs while watching Pegg strut his stuff around the screen dressed to the nines and armed with a serious rifle. Personally, I was more inclined to review his mustache than the film he starred in. Upper lip hair is far more of a sinister characteristic than his all-black attire. For what it’s worth, Pegg pulls off the mustache and the antagonist look well enough. It’s just a little disappointing these are the kinds of cliches Kill Me Three Times is completely satisfied with justifying as its main source of entertainment.

Recommendation: A whodunnit in which we have a decent idea very early on who’s gonna do it, Kill Me Three Times also isn’t very funny. It had a huge opportunity to be something special with Simon Pegg in a different kind of role but unfortunately much of it is squandered in a boring story that does nothing with its solid cast and very little with its gorgeous Australian locales. This one boils down to a film to watch for completionists — if you have to see Pegg in everything he’s done then this should be on your list. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 90 mins.

Quoted: “This place is like a f**king open air insane asylum!”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Mad Max: Fury Road

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Release: Friday, May 15, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: George Miller; Brendan McCarthy; Nico Lathouris

Directed by: George Miller

For a lesser population, what a lovely day it is indeed, a day in which a franchise is reborn. To anyone else not attuned to what was once a legitimate excuse for Mel Gibson going crazy, Mad Max: Fury Road feels like what a Michael Bay action sequence wants to be when it grows up.

Before dealing with the flack I’m going to inevitably receive for that comparison, may I remind you that Bay, despite himself now, has a knack for building enthusiastic, explosive entertainment. Whereas the aforementioned splurges on expense, George Miller ingeniously . . . well, he splurges too actually. Except here a $150 million budget is appropriated toward some mind-blowingly technical stunt work that is liable to leave most breathless, begging for more.

Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is seen at the film’s deceptively quiet open recounting his days of hardship via a gruff narrative, briefly reflecting upon a troubled past before being snapped up by a passing horde of baddies, undoubtedly the inspiration for some of this year’s most popular Halloween costumes. Behold, the War Boys. He is taken to a strange and desperate civilization known as the Citadel, a relative oasis presided over by the tyrannical King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who keeps most of the communal water and greenery to himself and his minions.

Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, a shaven-headed, fearless amputee with a face covered in soot, finally has had enough of living in such conditions. She goes rogue, fleeing the Citadel in Joe’s ‘War Rig’ and down an indistinct but narratively significant path of sorts, bound for a better way of life. On board the Rig are Joe’s Five Wives — a collection of beauty that recalls Bay’s casting sensibilities. But Bay doesn’t go for talent, really. He just stops at ‘good-looking.’

Perhaps that’s the only thing Joe cares for as well. Enraged by the knowledge of their escape, he sicks the War Boys on the Rig, igniting a thunderous and violent chase across remote desert landscapes and into a sand storm that makes The Perfect Storm look like a gust of wind. Valleys become death gauntlets, their outer limits patrolled by bikers who are expecting a shipment of gasoline be delivered by Furiosa in exchange for her safe passage through. As sure as a Michael Bay car chase, more disaster awaits there.

Miller and Bay are both adrenaline junkies — the former addicted to cartoonish madness; the latter to closing the gap between CGI spectacle and cinema-related migraine. One of these addictions is healthier (at the very least, artsier) than the other. But the constant raucous atmosphere can be overwhelming for newcomers to this depraved world of half-dead humans clinging to life however they can. For a good portion of this ride Max is used as a blood bag to nurse Nux (Nicholas Hoult) back to . . . uh, health. And one of the Five Wives is very pregnant. This isn’t a thinking man’s movie, but if there’s one thing Fury Road is adept at other than delivering non-stop thrills, it’s showing humanity’s will to endure some crazy shit.

With Hardy replacing Gibson in the titular role, one that strangely bears less significance when put beside an iconic Charlize Theron, Fury Road threatens to abandon its cult classic status, exploding into potential box-office behemoth territory. Despite an outrageous, gothic dress code this costume design will likely remain one of the hottest topics of the summer. Maybe all year.

Apparently The Avengers: Age of Ultron is still playing in some theaters. Well, now there’s a new kid on the block and his name is Mad Max Absolutely Ridiculous. Decorated in war paint, yelling at the top of his lungs he demands you know his name. After spending two hours with him you aren’t likely to forget it. Perhaps that’s the most significant distinction between these auteurs of the action spectacular.

When you realize you left the GPS at home . . .

When you realize you left the GPS at home . . .

4-0Recommendation: Decidedly one-note when it comes to plot, Mad Max: Fury Road is still a unique experience — brutal and relentless action combined with beautiful visuals and a gung-ho spirit that fails to dwindle. Having seen the originals isn’t a necessity but I’d imagine it would help round out Max’s character more. Action junkies and fans of George Miller’s brand of filmmaking must see this movie. It’s a curious thing, too: there are two films coming out later this year (one this summer) with as much potential to deliver the goods and both indisputably appealing to larger audiences, but I wonder if these films will be as successful in recruiting new fans as Miller’s latest has been.

Rated: R

Running Time: 120 mins.

Quoted: “Hope is a mistake. If you can’t fix what’s broken, you’ll go insane.”

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Photo credits: http://www.southfloridafilmmaker.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Water Diviner

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Release: Friday, April 24, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Andrew Knight; Andrew Anastasios

Directed by: Russell Crowe

Guided more by passion than a need for coherence, Russell Crowe’s directorial debut is strong enough to ensure there will be projects forthcoming from the Academy Award-winning Aussie.

Crowe busies himself by taking on the lead of, funny enough, Australian farmer Joshua Connor who is adept at locating pockets of water deep underground on his sprawling property. The year is 1919 and the dust from World War I is still settling. Joshua and Liza (Jacqueline McKenzie)’s three sons have not returned from the fight in Gallipoli and each are presumed to have perished at this point. Liza, unable to cope with the loss, ends up taking her own life.

These terrible events set the wheels of Crowe’s historically-tinged sojourn in motion. Having to bury his wife in his backyard, Joshua vows to find their boys and provide them a proper burial beside her. To any other person the odds against finding them would be knowledge enough to shred any last fibers of hope, but as Joshua explains later, hope is a necessity where he comes from. His first stop is in Turkey, where he stays in an Istanbul hotel run by the beautiful Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), herself made a widower by the war. She has a young boy named Orhan (dangerously close to ‘orphan,’ wouldn’t you say?) with whom Joshua bonds during his brief stay in the hotel.

After warming to Joshua upon hearing his reason for his visit, Ayshe tips Joshua off to the possibility of talking his way onto a boat bound for the shores of Gallipoli, an island that is now more akin to a mass grave than a place anyone would dare visit. Of course, Joshua’s trip isn’t for pleasure. When he arrives there he encounters more resistance from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who are scouring the territory for remnants of the dead and have declared the grounds off-limits to civilians.

Much to his advantage a Turkish officer, Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdoğan), who had experienced the bloodbath on these grounds and happened to be in the company of Joshua’s three sons, permits him to stay after putting two and two together. Recalling the surname and citing that he’s the only father who came looking for his children, Hasan’s empathy can easily be read, at the peril of the film’s credibility, as an insincere, somewhat flippant reaction to justify The Water Diviner‘s most unlikely story as well as its attendant emotional manipulation.

It is upon these isles of hardscrabble and stubborn vegetation where some 7,000 Turks and thousands of non-Turkish soldiers were slaughtered before British forces were forced to retreat, this battle lost but the end game — the Allied powers’ ultimate victory over the Ottoman Empire — won. To that end, it seems odd that this personal story, adapted from screenwriter Andrew Anastasios’ book of the same name, should bear worth mentioning given the dramatic backdrop of so many left buried and scattered amongst the ruins but I guess that kind of argument becomes academic as soon as a man of Crowe’s stature takes an interest in the material.

However, skeptics are given more opportunity to question The Water Diviner‘s raison d’être as character development is sparser than water sources in the Outback. Crowe’s paralleling of Joshua’s prophetic abilities is pretty hokey. Seemingly he’s just as adept at finding water as he is finding the remains of those he sent off to war. While his character feels authentic given all he has lost, others are not as lucky. Kurylenko’s character flips the switch from cold as ice to becoming a potential future wife for Joshua in the span of a few scenes of saccharinity. (Hey, the sweeter your coffee, the more likely it is that your barista likes you, right?) The British government intervene in Joshua’s mission just to throw more wrenches in his plan, citing bureaucracy because of . . . well, reasons. Though none are painted in as broad a stroke as the nasty, brutish Greeks, who play a role that wouldn’t be so out of place in 300.

This all being said, The Water Diviner is not without its strengths. Crowe clearly — admirably — finds a striking contrast in the natural beauty and a haunting historical significance in the locales. These otherwise gorgeous places conceal horrendous occurrences that we bear witness to in shocking flashbacks, a great many involving Joshua’s sons. And despite a lack of development for his characters Crowe has attracted a cast that is more than capable of delivering the gravitas a war film requires. Tender moments between Joshua, Ayshe and Orhan have their charm. And Crowe himself is excellent in the lead.

He has ample room to grow as a director, certainly. After all, few people, if any, have perfected the art of the craft the moment they settle into the chair, and while it doesn’t do anyone much good in making excuses, it’s plain to see his acting pedigree has helped more often than it has hindered him here.

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3-0Recommendation: Those who embrace culturally and historically significant films ought to test out Russell Crowe’s first directorial effort. It does bear the markings of a first-timer in that capacity but as an actor he is as reliable as ever. Heartrending, inspiring, gruesome and beautiful in equal measure, The Water Diviner is going to satisfy anyone who has appreciated the Aussie’s contributions to film in the last few decades.

Rated: R

Running Time: 111 mins.

Quoted: “It was my job to steer my boys to manhood. And I failed them.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

The Babadook

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Release: Friday, November 28, 2014 (limited) 

[Redbox]

Written by: Jennifer Kent

Directed by: Jennifer Kent

It’s official. I’m in love with horror once again.

It’s some kind of feat the hype surrounding Jennifer Kent’s much-acclaimed horror film has gotten to the point where it feels like watching the ‘scariest film in years’ this far into 2015 is, yeah, a little like you showing up to a birthday party a few hours late and profusely apologizing. The apologies are accepted, but the fact is you’re still late.

The Babadook isn’t a particularly original film. It’s a tale of possession dressed in the decay of William Friedkin’s slow-burning and dread-inducing 1973 masterpiece, only this time the beast is somehow of an even more inexplicable nature. It’s about a woman named Amelia (Essie Davis) doing her best to cope with life after the shocking death of her husband Oskar several years ago and having to deal with the increasingly erratic behavior of her six-year-old son Samuel (a young and brilliant Noah Wiseman) who is convinced something is haunting their house. When the two come across a children’s book named Mister Babadook one evening, Amelia isn’t convinced it is appropriate bedtime material but Noah insists she read it to him. Strange occurrences ensue with steadily increasing frequency.

Of its many borrowings from memorable horror of the past, Kent’s nail-biter features creepy shadows, fragile and/or susceptible characters, tense atmosphere and an intimate setting that traps feelings of isolation and paranoia with remarkable precision. And the description ‘haunted house feature’ wouldn’t be too far off-base, either. Goodness knows there is more than a heaping helping of those kinds of horrors out there, and while not all are even close to being legitimate wastes of your time the catch-all term almost seems to automatically dismiss the hype surrounding this Australian phenomenon as overzealous. Even prefabricated.

On a performance basis alone, The Babadook soars above its contemporaries. Wiseman embodies a child with severe behavioral issues so as to confuse the strategy of casting with happening upon an actual child with these kinds of problems on the very streets of Adelaide. His character may well work on your every last nerve but you can be sure he takes a much bigger toll on his mother. And Davis is sublime in the role of a bereaved woman now sleepwalking through life as a middle-aged widow working as an orderly at a retirement home. Because the tandem are so convincing Kent never allows us the luxury of relaxation in her world. There’s no solace in this drab environment, even with kind neighbors like Barbara West’s Mrs. Roach, who suffers from Parkinson’s, or an empathetic colleague in Daniel Henshall’s Robbie.

But Kent isn’t content with settling with a performance-based thriller. Even if this is shot on a relatively minimalist budget you’d never know it because the environment compels — much like the power of Father Merrin’s exorcist rites compels you — to keep watching. Transitions featuring a sprawling tree outside the house reinforce the threat of something sinister lurking in the house; they also distract effectively from the fact that the physical disturbances may not be the worst things Amelia and Samuel have to deal with. Kent’s most impressive feat is the ability to ratchet up the tension in terms of the things we can actually trust in Amelia and Samuel’s surroundings. What is real and what isn’t? What is in their heads and what is actually in the house?

That oft-underutilized technique — the power of suggestion — is employed with devastating yet completely enthralling effect in the the film’s harrowing final twenty or so minutes. It is in this sequence of low light and high anxiety we are exposed not to what that ever-elusive beast really is but rather the stuff that Jennifer Kent is made of. She is a master of horror in the making, teasing imagery from the likes of The Exorcist and The Shining in a way that both elevates her film’s seriousness of purpose and honors the work of the legends of a tenebrous past. Buckets of blood aren’t necessary for creating one of the most chilling finales in recent memory (yes I am encompassing all genres in that remark, and yes I am talking about the moment all the way up until credits roll).

In a time where the genre has begun dabbling in grotesque torture, in animals-as-predatory villains, in real world disasters-as-backdrops in order to entertain increasingly niched audiences it’s becoming harder to find films that like to keep things simple. Stories that speak to our concerns with specific aspects of mundane existence — in this case, the challenge(s) of single parenthood — and slowly modifying that reality until it becomes something truly twisted. That’s the formula for really good horror: making the threat seem real. The Babadook is an unqualified success in that regard. It’s an instant classic.

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4-5Recommendation: Though I can understand that after awhile such lofty praise can become a bit intimidating or off-putting, and it sure seems that the above rave review won’t help quell the urge to disbelieve, I personally am in favor of it. I didn’t think I would be. With incredibly strong performances and a memorable, demented creature at the center of it all, The Babadook should prove to be at least an entertaining 90 minutes. However if you’re strictly anti-horror, there’s probably nothing it can do nor I can say to sway you. But as a former skeptic of horror myself, this has restored my faith in the genre for sure.

Rated: NR 

Running Time: 92 mins.

Quoted: “You can bring me the boy. You can bring me the boy. You can bring me the boy.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.mattmulcahey.wordpress.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Rover

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Release: Friday, June 13, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

People often are products of their environment. In the case of The Rover, it seems to be the other way around.

If that sounds like a call for the environmentally-minded to flock to their nearest indie/arthouse theater to see this flick, I don’t believe I could be more misleading. This unrelentingly bleak drama about a desperate man in search of his stolen vehicle in the middle of the sprawling Australian Outback has as much to do with environmental sustainability as Twilight has to do with vampires sucking blood.

Random reference? Sure, it might seem so. I’d be lying to you though if I said The Rover doesn’t rely on a moving performance from one Robert Pattinson (of said sugar-coated vampire-tale fame).

You know what, I actually did just lie. Well, only slightly. While the film provides ample screen time for Pattinson’s Rey — a homely and somewhat dim-witted young man whose backstory isn’t very clear — its gut-punch is delivered through the tension building up between both its leading males, that of Pattinson and the brutal role Guy Pearce has once again been saddled with. This time he plays Eric, an enigmatic loner seen in the film’s open taking a long pause in his car before stumbling into a shack and pouring himself a large drink.

Eric is no sooner tipping the glass back in an extended gesture of despair — welcome to the unforgiving realms of the place those on the outside (i.e. me) like to simply call ‘The Land Down Under’ — when he hears his car being stolen. The event is both dramatic and beautifully understated, playing out as a seemingly singular event from which we ought to recover soon. We don’t. In fact we go tumbling down the rabbit hole instead, as Eric quickly goes in pursuit and subsequently as things go from bad to vile.

The Rover can hardly be accused of overcomplicating things. Here’s a very simple premise that may even border on the pointless. Yet to dismiss the narrative as such would be to grossly overlook the startling themes that are presented. Set in a world a decade after the fallout of society as we currently know it — a subtitle before the movie gets going contributes to a sense of disorientation very early on — we are forced to confront a reality that has been teetering on the edge, only now pushed beyond it and here is the aftermath. What better location in which to film in order to convey this idea than in the unforgiving deserts of the Outback. Each scene featured in The Rover emphasizes a lack of humanity and an abundance of misery.

Each one also categorically confronts us with the truth about the power of currency and how powerless society could will be without it. A myriad of camera angles lingers on many a broken and decrepit edifice, on dirt floors and people existing in squalor — ordinarily stuff that wouldn’t be very compelling to watch on their own terms. But there’s a larger plot at work here, beyond the search for Eric’s car. Michôd’s story, an effort resulting from the collaboration between himself and Aussie native Joel Edgerton, attempts to reduce humans to their material possessions when faced with the alternative of having absolutely nothing at all. That it does very well through the winding plot of Pearce going after the one thing he can’t stand to lose.

The Rover ought to be viewed as a straightforward drama whose personality only gets slightly confused when it attempts to break from its oppressive shackles of physical and emotional brutality. Scenes such as the tumbling SUV as viewed through a window, and a particularly sensitive moment for Rey as he sings along to an American pop tune jut out but only distractingly. There aren’t any other scenes like these, which may prove more problematic for some viewers than for others. Alternatively, they may be looked at as welcomed oases from the misery.

Featuring another turn for Scoot “my middle name is Bleak” McNairy, who plays Rey’s conflicted brother, this is a film that most definitely supports the cliché ‘it’s really not about the destination, but the journey in getting there.’ Fortunately there’s slightly more to the affair than that, such as the evidence Pattinson provides for his case that he can, in fact, affect drama significantly.

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3-5Recommendation: The Rover is likely to prove too uneventful and even more conceivably, far too dark for many. This isn’t a film that cares to celebrate humanity. However there is enough drama and suspense to satisfy a more niched audience, and Aussie audiences are bound to find the use of the unforgiving reaches of the Outback compelling cinema. Bolstered by solid work from a consistent act in Guy Pearce and further buoyed by Pattinson’s odd but affecting support, this film won’t be as impacting as the director’s previous effort, Animal Kingdom, but it is intensely watchable and that’s good enough for me.

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

Quoted: “Your brother left you to die. He’s abandoned you out here to me.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com