Shakespeare's Scottish play returns to the big screen with earthy energy, visual style and roaring performances. Acclaimed Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel (Snowtown) takes an artistic approach that makes terrific use of sweeping landscapes and harsh weather, which allows the cast to put their guts into their roles. Yet while the film looks absolutely amazing, the sound mix is so muddled that anyone unfamiliar with the play will find it difficult to follow.
Michael Fassbender plays Macbeth, an 11th century general who has just triumphed on the Highland battlefield but is struggling internally after he and Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) lost their infant child. So when three witches tell him that he is destined to become king, his wife encourages him to make it happen sooner rather than later. In secret, Macbeth murders King Duncan (David Thewlis) and pins the blame on his son Malcolm (Jack Reynor), who flees in fear, raising suspicion. Now on the throne, King and Queen Macbeth are overwhelmed by paranoia about any hint of a threat to their power, raising distrust of loyal friends like Banquo (Paddy Considine) and Duncan's defender Macduff (Sean Harris). Meanwhile, Malcolm has raised an army in England and is coming back to claim his title.
This is one of Shakespeare's bleakest, leanest plays, and Kurzel gives it an intriguingly expansive tone by setting most of the action outdoors in the elements rather than in shadowy castle corridors. In addition to adding a gritty, muddy kick, this allows the battle sequences to take on a Lord of the Rings-scale intensity. So the effect of this violence on the characters is that much more resonant. Lady Macbeth turns inward, tormenting herself in an extended dream sequence, while Macbeth goes the other way, killing anyone who seems even remotely shifty. But of course they also understand that their ambition and guilt are causing these extreme reactions.
Continue reading: Macbeth Review
Beautifully written and directed, this fact-based drama is an odd mixture of excellent acting and not-quite-right casting. Anton Corbijn clearly knows the subject, since he's a celebrity photographer making a movie about a celebrity photographer. But in this case, the subject of those photos is the elusively magnetic James Dean, a tricky person to recreate dramatically.
It's set in early 1955, as James Dean (Dane DeHaan) has just finished filming East of Eden and is hoping to land the lead role in Rebel Without a Cause. No one knows who he is yet, but freelance photographer Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson) has a feeling he could become a big star. When Dennis' agent (Joel Edgerton) lands a commission from Life magazine, Dennis follows James from Hollywood to New York and home to his Indiana farm. But James is evasive and mercurial, and it takes a lot of tenacity for Dennis to crack through his shell to get the shots he needs. Eventually they even become friends, inspiring each other to pursue their dreams on their own terms.
The plot is loose, focussing more on the internal journeys these two men take than on any constructed storyline. And the film switches back and forth between their perspectives, which kind of leaves it without a point of view. But this gives both Pattinson and DeHaan the space to create authentic and complex characters. Pattinson gives his most layered performance yet, especially in scenes involving Dennis' ex-wife and young son (Stella Schnabel and Jack Fulton). Meanwhile, DeHaan creates a character who's thoughtful and fascinating, haunted by his past relationships and unafraid to stand up to the Hollywood system in the form of mogul Jack Warner (a scene-chewing Ben Kingsley). The problem is that, despite a lot of subtle (and more obvious) physical touches, DeHaan never echoes Dean's wiry, hungry energy.
Continue reading: Life Review
First-time feature filmmaker John Maclean takes a strikingly original approach to the Western, creating a realistic road trip for two very different men. Genre fans might wish it was more of a shoot-em-up (the massive final gun battle is astonishingly earthy), but it more than makes up for that with a strong sense of its characters and settings. And by shooting it in New Zealand, Maclean found an unspoiled, spectacular landscape that has its own memorable impact.
The story centres on Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a tenacious 16-year-old travelling from Scotland to find his beloved Rose (Caren Pistorius), who has moved to the Wild West with her father (Rory McCann). As Jay enters dangerous bandit country in Colorado, he meets bounty hunter Silas (Michael Fassbender), who offers to accompany him through the perilous forests and mountains ahead. What Jay doesn't know is that Silas used to be in the most feared gang in these hills, led by his old pal Payne (Ben Mendelsohn). And as they traverse the landscape, meeting various robbers and some angry Native Americans, Payne is never too far behind, because he's hoping they'll lead him to Rose and her father, who have a $2,000 bounty on them, dead or alive.
What makes this movie so engaging is the growing connection between Jay and Silas, who aren't quite as different as they seem to be on the surface. Smit-McPhee plays Jay as soft and naive, and yet his fearlessness shows a steely inner strength that should never be underestimated. Meanwhile, Fassbender gives Silas a jaded charm as the stranger who doesn't want anyone to know who he really is. While Jay wears his emotions on his sleeve, Silas clearly feels them just as strongly but has learned the hard way to keep them bottled inside. Especially while living in a place like this, where any true sense of civilisation has yet to take root.
Continue reading: Slow West Review
Despite this being a film about Sherlock Holmes, the fact that it's not much of a mystery may disappoint die-hard fans, but as an astute drama it's more than worth a look because Ian McKellen is simply terrific in the title role. This is a much more complex character than he has been able to play recently either in movies (like the X-men and Lord of the Rings franchises) or television (the nutty sitcom Vicious). The film also reunites him with Bill Condon, who directed him to an Oscar nomination in Gods and Monsters 17 years ago.
It's 1947, and Sherlock is 93 years old when we meet him, living on the Sussex coast where he keeps bees and has befriended Roger (Milo Parker), the curious son of his tough-minded housekeeper Mrs Munro (Laura Linney). As Sherlock teaches Roger about both beekeeping and sleuthing, he is also trying to work out his final case some 30 years ago, which his mind simply refuses to recall. As he relives it in his mind, rather than through Watson's embellished account, all he can remember is a worried husband (Patrick Kennedy) asking him to follow his wife (Hattie Morahan). In addition, Sherlock is also still thinking about the things he discovered while recently in post-war Japan at the invitation of a fan (Hiroyuki Sanada).
The main story and the two flashback sequences are intriguingly intertwined in Sherlock's mind, offering parallel discoveries that help him piece together events that unfold in all three. It's a clever approach that allows McKellen to dig deep into the character as a man discovering that his mind is fading, perhaps into senility. His take on Sherlock is simply fascinating, a witty detective who has always resisted the fictional depiction of him in Watson's stories. And he's also an ageing man who hasn't lost his childlike curiosity, which makes his friendship with the young Roger surprisingly tender and engaging.
Continue reading: Mr. Holmes Review
The true story behind this movie just about makes up for its oddly flat tone, which never quite captures either the grandeur of the Australian Outback or the deeper emotions of the people on-screen. The acting is superb, but director John Curran (The Painted Veil) opts for a warm, slick style when something much spikier was called for.
It's the story of Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska), a young woman who in 1975 decided to walk nearly 2,000 miles from Alice Springs to the western coast as a way of connecting with her explorer father, who vanished on a similar trek. She needs at least three camels to carry her supplies, so she spends nearly a year working for camel dealers (Rainer Bock and John Flaus) learning how to care for the animals and earning cash to buy them. She also gets sponsorship cash from National Geographic magazine, which sends photographer Rick Smolan (Adam Driver) along to document the trip, which is a series of amazing encounters, beautiful landscapes and colourful local customs.
Wasikowska is superb as the plucky young woman who drops out of society to take on this mind-boggling challenge. In a nicely understated performance, she conveys Robyn's steely courage and tenacity, as well as her reluctance to accept the help she needs. The most inspiring aspect of the story is Robyn's ultimate observation: "I'd like to think an ordinary person is capable of anything." So it's a bit frustrating that Curran keeps trying to turn her into a movie heroine, complete with sun-drenched childhood flashbacks and a tetchy romance with the always-terrific Driver.
Continue reading: Tracks Review
Even if the plot takes too long to come together, this film has a darkly foreboding tone that's thoroughly mesmerising, drawing us into its mysteries while touching on issues of race, religion and sexuality. It's a finely crafted film, although the filmmakers keep everything so enigmatic that we grow impatient to understand what's going on.
It centres on Australian photographer Isaac (Leslie), son of Greek immigrants who forbid their children from returning to the old country. Which of course makes them curious. Isaac's older brother Nico (Czokas) moved to Hungary years ago and never came back. And now that their father has died, Isaac decides to scatter his ashes in Greece and visit Nico. But when he gets to the ancestral village, he discovers that there's a curse on his branch of the family. It has something to do with a young Jewish boy during the war, and looking for answers in Paris and Budapest only deepens the mystery.
As Isaac travels around Europe he meets a wide variety of freaky characters who add to the film's unhinged mystery. These include his helpful Greek cousin Giulia (Skiadi) and her seductive friend Andreas (Samaras), a nutty woman (Fragos) who performs a psychic steam-reading, a Parisian couple (Balmer and Lebrun) who knew Isaac's father, an Arab woman (Bukstein) who's being trafficked, and Nico's cohort (Naor) in the drug-porn business. And there's also a homeless teen (Smit-McPhee) who seems to haunt Isaac wherever he goes.
Continue reading: Dead Europe Review
Brandon (Fassbender) is a successful New Yorker who's happier to see a series of random women than to settle down into a relationship. Although he doesn't stop there, indulging also in porn and prostitutes. So when his wayward sister Sissy (Mulligan) shows up needing a place to stay, it kind of puts a crimp in his style. Especially when she hooks up with his married boss (Dale). Soon he begins to doubt himself, feeling a surge of guilt and shame over his private demons. But getting rid of his urges is another matter.
Continue reading: Shame Review
Of course, there's a plot you need to suffer through to marvel at the stunt casting, and it involves a presumably true story about Sinatra being wooed to visit Australia in 1974 by a two-bit promoter. Getting him Down Under is only half the fun. Once he arrives, Frank -- in his inimitable way -- insults a reporter (Portia de Rossi) by calling her a whore. Aussie's native sons rise to defend her, and over 100 unions go on strike to ensure Frank won't be able to eat, drink, travel, or take a shower -- much less perform on stage. Hilarity ensues as our promoter friend (Joel Edgerton) tries to patch things back together, dealing with his own love life along the way.
Continue reading: All The Way Review
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