I Am Heath Ledger – Review

This day is a sad one for it marks the death of Heath Ledger. The Australian actor,  best remembered for his chilling performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight (for which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor posthumously,) was beloved by many. His untimely death sent shockwaves across the acting community worldwide and impacted his family greatly. His presence always missed, especially when watching his great and diverse body of work.

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Filmmakers Adrian Buitenhuis and Derik Murray have tackled the life of Heath Ledger in an intimate new documentary aptly called I Am Heath Ledger. The film itself is an amazing and insightful work that cobbles together Ledger’s own filming of his life as he performs to the camera and the lens. As though he were honing his feature from beyond the ether, I Am Heath Ledger is a passionate and well crafted movie that digs into the heart of this actor long gone.

Heath’s unearthing of himself is brave and this impressionistic outing conveys a lot about his artistic style as well as the personality that many only touched when he poured them into his ferocious performances. The movie shpwcases his thirst for creativity and his need to embody art, and allows us a little into his mind who saw a pulsating cinematic world and wished to be a part of it. Not only that, but outside of Hollywood, Ledger was generous to friends and family and coaxed great things out of the people around him.

I Am Heath Ledger is, at times, a solemn tribute but often is treated as a celebration of a remarkable time, reminding us that we were once lucky enough to walk the earth with him. The tinge of the impending loss, perhaps unwilling, fritters throughout the whole proceeding but, nonetheless, this is an outstanding feature that brings Heath’s vibrancy to the centre-stage once more. It is definitely haunting but at the same time brilliantly alive.

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That being said, and as great as this is, the darker parts of his life are skimmed over, such as the turbulence with Michelle Williams, his plague of insomnia, and his accidental overdose of sedatives used to help him sleep. This addiction isn’t really portrayed in the film and despite wanting to show a sunnier life of Ledger, a fully formed and rounded look at the actor’s world would have been far more truthful.

I Am Heath Ledger does stand without this but lacks an element of completion. A good and engrossing documentary that’ll leave you with a yearning.

I Am Heath Ledger is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now 

Oscar Contenders – Part 3: 6 – 1

If you are anything like me, the Q4 of the year is the most exciting period of the calendar in terms of release dates. This is when the studios are ready to bring out the big guns for their Oscar campaigns, when the festivals have previewed future films and awards buzz is now real. The Academy Awards are due to showcase tomorrow hwhcih means we’re in hot anticipation.

But, whilst is interesting to speculate who will win this year’s golden statues, today I propose a different exercise: if the ceremony were to happen next week, who would come out on top? More often than not, films released outside the specific “awards’ season” window get overlooked by the Academy (and everyone else, really…) when it comes to consideration. This is, perhaps, due to the fact that the best films of the year all come out around this time of the year, but 2017 has been a little different as some films have been creating a buzz since as far as January! So, with that in mind, welcome to the WMMOW Awards! (working title…)

First, a bit of house cleaning, I’ll be following the Academy’s rules, so my consideration are of films that were released in US cinemas between January 1st and October 15th 2017. Secondly, whilst I consider myself to have seen a reasonable amount of films this year, I haven’t seen all the films this year. Thirdly, whilst I try to have an objective view towards how films are made, they are, to their core, pieces of art that affect different people in different ways so this is, ultimately, a personal article. Now that we’ve done all the paperwork, let’s crack on!

Get Out – Universal Pictures

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Director: Jordan Peele
Staring: Daniel Kaluya, Allison Williams, Lil Rel Howery
Producers: Sean McKittrick, Jason Blumenthal,  Edward Harry.  Hamm Jr.

I’m bringing in the big guns now. Where do you start with Get Out? Let’s just go ahead and agree that it is one if not the most successful horror film of the year. This film has universal critical acclaim unlike any other film this year; it made $253.5 million on a $4.5 million budget, it addressed important issues regarding slavery, racism and entitlement; and did all of this in a horror film directed by a first time director. The genius of Get Out is that it’s such a human film populated with everyday people. The villains are not neo-nazis, or Confederacy supporters, the villains are upper middle class white people who “would have voted for Obama for a third term”, they are probably people who feel horrified by the cases of police brutality and, hell, they are likely to be people who put Get Out on their list for Oscar nominations. That is the genius of this film, it makes you aware that, most likely, however unintentionally, nice people can have unspeakable behaviour.

Oscar Nomination?  Get Out premiered back in February and hasn’t really left the awards conversation since, leading to many different nominations across the awards boards. This is important because it means the film is still in people’s minds and I believe it has what it takes to get both a Best Feature and Best Director nomination. We’ll wait and see.

Detroit – Annapurna Pictures

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Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Staring: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith
Producers: Kathryn Bigelow, ark Boal, Matthew Ellison, Colin Wilson

I saw Detroit on its last week in cinemas. I was the only person on the screen and man was this a hard watch. Firstly, I didn’t know what this film was about as I was completely oblivious to the Algiers Motel Incident, so I had no idea how brutal the story was and definitely was not prepared for how cold and raw Kathryn Bigelow’s directing was going to be. Nothing is sugar-coated in this film and the camera lingers on it for a lot more that it feels comfortable to the viewers. Detroit takes its time to set the scene and prepare you to the claustrophobic and unnerving sequences inside the motel, all of a sudden you are transported and you feel like you might not be as safe as you thought you were. This is due to the fact that everything in in sync, the set design, directing and cinematography all try to give you the sense of no way out and the performances are so sincere that at times it’s hard not to remember you aren’t watching a documentary and that these are actors and not the real people from the Incident.

Oscar nomination? Detroit came out at a strange time of the year for this type of film. Had it came out in September/October, I think a nomination would be pretty much guaranteed. As it stands, I doubt it will stay in the conversations. I wouldn’t, however, look past a Best Actor in a Supporting Role nomination for Algee Smith.

Split – Universal Pictures

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Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Staring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley
Producers: M. Night Shyamalan, Jason Blum, Marc Bienstock

During its marketing campaign, Split was a film everyone hoped would put M. Night Shyamalan back on track. After all, his previous film, The Visit, gave the idea that the director’s days of The Last Airbender or After Earth could be past him. What no one could’ve hoped for was how good Split was going to be. With top notch performances by Anya Taylor-Joy and James McAvoy, M.Night Shyamalan directed a film that delves into the psychology of its two leads, whilst never loosing track of the endgame. Split focuses all his time to the upcoming doom of “The Beast”, so much so that anyone familiar with Shyamalan’s previous work is expecting that the twist to be connected to this monster. But there isn’t a twist, there’s no misleading, The Beast is real and terrifying. The absence of the twist is the twist…or so we thought because, surprise surprise, Bruce Willis is here and this is a sequel to Unbreakable, see you in 2019! M. Night Shyamalan once again proves that he is a great visionary, able to explore filmmaking tropes unlike anyone, this time he twisted the Cinematic Universe started by Marvel and made it his own. But the important thing is that Split works as a film on its own, if you take that very last scene, you’re still left with incredible story, performances and a really good feature.

Oscar Nomination? Once again, it will suffer by how early it was released. If anything I see James McAvoy getting a nomination, but it’s really unlikely despite the fact that it will no doubt be one of the top five performances of the year.

Logan– 20th Century Fox

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Director: James Mangold
Staring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen
Producers: Hutch Parker, Simon Kinberg, Lauren Shuler Donner

Despite Marvel and DC working towards building a consistent Cinematic Universe, Fox has always taken a much more relaxed approach and worked with one single motto in mind: “Cannon? What cannon?”. And fair enough, when they tried to get an X-Men Universe on the screen we got X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Since then the studio has been much more interested in delivering somewhat solo stories loosely connected to their original three films. And if Logan is any indication, they are making the right choices. Logan gives us a Wolverine like we’ve never seen before, both thematically and visually. Yes, there’s blood and gore and dismemberments, but that isn’t really what’s interesting. Perhaps more than any modern superhero film, Logan is a character piece. If you place this story in any other universe, even our own, and you take away the superpowers, it still works and is just as powerful. Logan transcends the superhero genre better than any other film, even the apparently untouchable The Dark Knight. It’s a film not worried with franchise building or, even, box office revenue. Logan is worried with one thing: deliver a good story and be a good film. And I think it more than succeeds.

Oscar Nomination: Like Wonder Woman, Logan will suffer from the superhero curse and I full heartedly believe that if this is the year a superhero film gets nominated for Best Picture, then the Amazonian will take the honour, despite Logan being a better film.

Dunkirk –  Warner Bros. Pictures

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Director: Christopher Nolan
Staring: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden
Producers: Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan

The production design, the sound, the music, the storytelling, the directing, there’s so much of Dunkirk falling on the “incredible” category. Christopher Nolan’s telling of Operation Dynamo appears, at first, to be a much more streamlined story than something like Memento or Interstellar, but the director is able to give it his own spin and add his much loved non-linear storytelling to a tale about a real life event. Dunkirk is an absolute beast of a film, where the whole ends up being more than the sum of all parts. This is also a film specifically designed for the big screen, providing a cinematic experience like no other film this year bar one, it will be interesting to see how it translates on the smaller screens.

Oscar Nomination? Honestly, if WB have decided to really back Dunkirk with a proper campaign, I can’t see it not getting nominated. In my opinion, this is Christopher Nolan’s best chance so far at getting the Best Director award as well. The film will be released for home media in December, which is undoubtedly a strategy to generate Oscar buzz.

Blade Runner 2049– Warner Bros. Pictures/Sony

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Director: Denis Villeneuve
Staring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas
Producers: Andrew A. Kosove, Broderick Johnson, Bud Yorkin, Cynthia Sikes Yorkin

This film was impossible. To decide to make a sequel to Blade Runner, a film which transformed itself from box office flop to cultural phenomenon, 35 years later is simply something that shouldn’t work, especially no one was asking for a second entry in to the franchise. Somehow, this film not only works, it builds on what the first did so well and not only that, it stands tall on its how, asking important and relevant questions. The main characters are a human, a replicant and an A.I hologram, and the question “what makes a human, human” that Philip K. Dick asked in his original novel has never been more prominent and difficult to answer after watching 2049. And then there’s Deakins’ cinematography…to which I can only say, if you’re not impressed after watching the Las Vegas sequence in this film, then nothing I can say will convince you that this is one of the best looking films ever made. Blade Runner 2049 has a lot to say about the society of 2017 and its future. A deeply impressive work, 35 years in the making.

Oscar Nomination? Box office will ultimately hurt 2049. Much like its predecessor, the sequel has, unsurprisingly, really, not made the amount of money you might expect with a film starring Ryan Gosling and directed by Denis Villeneuve. However, a nomination and win for Roger Deakins is almost certain and, in my opinion, Harrison Ford will take the Best Supporting Actor statue home.

What do you think?
Oscar Nominations are announced Tuesday 23rd January

mother! – Review

Darren Aronofsky is known for having a strong psychological element to his works. Black Swan being a prime example of his masterful way of building story and meaning, as well as a sense of the unreal, through imagery. He is good at rendering the inner turmoil of a character as an outer manifestation and isn’t afraid to get ugly or dark, as those of you who’ve seen Requiem For A Dream will know all to well. His latest offering is mother! which the director penned over the course of five days, pouring out the darkness and confusion in his psyche and creating a film.

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Whilst the film opens with an unamed couple, played by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, living a slightly troubled relationship in their idyllic house, whose paradise is soon invaded by unexpected gusests, the film soon becomes something else entirely, throwing imagery and terror at you at an alarming and increasingly escalating rate.

The entire focus of the film is on Jennifer Lawrence’s character. The camera follows her through her house, which is the sole location of the film. It’s a house that was her husband’s but that she has rebuilt for him from scratch with loving attention to detail, and with seemingly no outside help. Her husband is a writer with writer’s block, and it seems to have put a strain on their relationship. She knows something is wrong, but is not sure what.

Then the guests come (Harris and Pfeiffer). They are neither known nor invited, but the husband asks them to stay, and she is horrified both at his lack of consideration and his willingness to harbour strangers. We come to see that he is almost entirely motivated by ego, and loves the attention of the outsiders, whilst they take little care of the house, which is so important to her. As the guests brashness and rudeness escalates, he invites them further into their lives, as opposed to creating boundaries or protecting her, and perhaps this is at the heart of the film, because this situation only escalates. It’s her house and home that she has created, her paradise with him that is so completely invaded, and which he shows no willingness to defend if it will mean curbing his growing popularity and attention to himself.

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Does this sound a bit vague? Like I’m describing themes instead of plot points or characters? There’s a reason for that. No character has an actual name in this film, and everything happens in a strange dreamlike way, one event after another, following on and on and going to the extreme. The whole film is a metaphor, but for what? It’s an ambiguous film which takes in ideas about our inability to have privacy in the modern world, the draw of fame and social media, the destructive nature of religious fanaticism, the current political climate and uncertainly, violence, and also traditional male and female roles in marriage. The second half of this film is quite chaotic. There are also scenes that foreshadow like a horror film, but that don’t really presage a traditional one (that is, the early part of the film seems to suggest that she is hallucinating or may be a ghost in her own house, but this is not exactly followed up in traditional horror fashion).

With it’s focus on religious iconography and symbolism, I feel like perhaps this film is a bit like a creation myth. The creator, that is Bardem’s writer, creates a world outside while she, the divine mother, creates a paradise and a home. But man and woman come to their little Eden and the woman has a destructive impulse, like Eve, while the man acts like a disciple to the creator. Soon they’re deluged by devotees and the purity of the home and relationship is ruined. There is war and destruction, fanaticism, but the creator will not turn anyone away, but rather, he lets the mother or female principle be destroyed and reviled, as long as he is adored and comes first. That narrative is definitely there, if you want to see it.

But on the other hand, the film could also be about destructive relationships, or abusive ones. Whilst her whole life revolves around the house and it appears that she can’t leave, he must be the focus of attention at all times, and his temper can be quite scary. He takes no care of her, and she cries out to be heard and create healthy boundaries that he consistently violates and allows others to, to the extreme of allowing war, famine and authoritarian regimes into their very home. That is certainly there too.

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As you can see, it’s a very hard film to define, and perhaps part of the enjoyment of the film is trying out different interpretations to see how they fit and what it all means. And perhaps it’s more fun not really knowing or having one truth.

I think the secondary enjoyment of the film is Lawrence herself. She’s a brilliant actress, and here she seems beautiful and pure, but also quite complex. She struggles to be heard against the domineering husband, and yet she’s not a doormat, she just doesn’t have any leverage to make change. She says no, and often screams it, but he is inexorable in his wants and his reasonableness. I found her really fascinating to watch in this film, and in fact the camera rarely allows you to look at much else, dogging her and giving her closer frames than any other character. In the final throes of the film, her pain and anguish are practically one long scream, which is quite a feat of performance.

This film will inevitably divide audiences. It’s a strange film to define and one with ambiguous meaning, even though it’s well crafted. If you like your films to be clear cut and to have a defined message, this film is not for you. But it does push the boundaries of film as a creator of meaning and seems like some kind of primal scream into the void of modern life and it’s existential angst. That’s no small feat really.

mother! is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now!