Operation Avalanche Movie Review

operation avalanche

See it. 7/10

“Instead of video, why don’t we Forrest Gump you into these photos? “

A conspiracy film about faking the moon landing that’s fused with hidden camera style footage and clips taken whilst secretly infiltrating the NASA; how can you not be interested in that?

Operation Avalanche is the second film by writer/director Matthew Johnson who seems to continue with strength after our recent praise for his debut The Dirties. And it seems that with higher ambitions that required a larger budget, the young filmmaker appears to be very comfortable with the increased responsibility. Operation Avalanche is a remarkable feat of independent cinema.

One of my favorite attractions about the work of Matthew Johnson, besides the great concepts that he tackles, is the style of filmmaking that he employs. He makes marvelous efforts in Operation Avalanche to incorporate footage from hidden camera style shots or from real interviews in which the people aren’t aware of his ulterior motive and are then utilized as part of the story. Scenes that came from sneaking into NASA by posing as young filmmakers (which fits the premise of the film perfectly) to making their way on the set of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey were efforts that need to be commended. Especially because of the footage they managed to capture but also in terms of how well it works into the narrative. To an extent, it’s akin to the style used in Borat, but it’s masterfully utilized by Matthew Johnson who’s employed it with all of his works so far (The Dirties and Nirvanna The Band The Show).

I also have to applaud the team that Matthew Johnson assembles to help create his faithful adaption and that allows these scenes to work. I want to particularly highlight the Stanley Kubrick sequence, through not only the process of getting the raw footage to begin with (which has an interesting story in itself for those wanting to read more about it later), but also for the 5 months of visual effect work to make the finished product look so believable for a sequence that only ran for 15-seconds in the whole film. I’m not going to spoil what details of the scene required such a large effort but it’s incredible to see the attention to detail and also passion by these young filmmakers.

This was echoed in all the work put into making Operation Avalanche appear as a 1967 found-footage film, from the style of cameras used to reflect the 60’s grade of, to the costumes and set designs used. Everything had to appear like it was from the 1960’s in order to achieve an authentic look, which the film did so successfully. The production quality from Operation Avalanche matched Matthew Johnson’s vision for the film and I truly can’t wait to see what he does next with what I’m hoping will be an even higher budget.

There’s even an extended car chase sequence filmed from inside one of the vehicles and executed all in one take, which would have taken enormous times of preparation but also bravery to do so. In an interview with SlashFilm, Matthew Johnson spoke of the freedom and ability of independent cinema to do stunts with the main actors of the story. If it were a Hollywood mainstream blockbuster, more than likely stunt people would have been employed but also would have required larger funds to complete more takes in case the first take didn’t work. It was risky, but it paid off.

I have a few issues with certain sections of pacing, which are fairly minor in contrast to the positives I’ve mentioned, but overall Operation Avalanche has a lot going for it. It’s one of the better examples of independent and guerrilla style filmmaking for the modern age and its premise is exciting enough to warrant you giving it a watch. I had a blast watching this film from both a narrative direction and a technical standpoint, and I’d thoroughly recommend you give this film a view. Also check out The Dirties and Matthew Johnson’s TV show Nirvanna The Band The Show, which has also become one of my favorite comedies in recent years. See it.

Matthew Johnson’s Interview With SlashFilm

http://www.slashfilm.com/operation-avalanche-interview/

Deadpool Movie Review

deadpool

See it. 6.5/10

“Maximum effort” 

If only other superhero movies could be this R rated and not be afraid to take themselves that seriously. Because one of the major attractions that drew me to Deadpool was the angle of being an almost anti superhero cliché. Having rewatched it recently, as preparation for the sequel that’s being released in the next few days, I’m glad this charm still holds up.

In my opinion, this is the perfect role for its charismatic lead Ryan Reynolds, who I wasn’t that much a fan of prior to seeing him in this. The Deadpool character and hopefully series, has reinvigorated not only his career but also his persona as an actor, almost akin to the change I saw in Matthew McConaughey from True Detective and Dallas Buyers Club onwards.

The comedic timing and enthusiasm he brings to screen is a wonderful addition to his performance talent and has been held back by being cast in basic romantic comedy roles. I genuinely enjoyed the burst of life he added to this character, which seems almost like a perfect match for him, even though the first time he played Deadpool was completely different and was in that god-awful film X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Ryan Reynolds did his time in prison, followed the advice of his agents and Hollywood executives, and is now on top to reap the rewards that he sowed.

This is all largely thanks to the script, as indicated by the introduction credits which also mocked everyone that worked on the film, except the writers who were labeled as “the true heroes here”. And it’s clear this is the case.

I’m glad that the writers didn’t try to sugarcoat anything (though I’ve heard a few jokes were cut out) and the film overall wasn’t afraid to be brash or in your face. This isn’t to say it was simply relying on jokes that were just crude for the sake of being crude, but rather the film had a story where it was free to explore the roams of R rated humor that normally isn’t done in other superhero films like it. For me, it worked, because, for the most part, the jokes were actually witty and funny.

One of my favorite aspects about the Deadpool series is the fact that the character knows he’s in a comic book movie and is willing to subvert the typical tropes used in so many other films like it. It’s meta to the point where it doesn’t cross the line of being too full on and doesn’t rely on the hope that because it’s meta, this must make it a really cool film and I should automatically think it’s great because of it. Instead, the meta aspects are subtle enough to where Deadpool still focuses on the main story, whilst also willing to poke fun at itself when needed. The film does this not only in ways where Deadpool will break fourth walls to the audience but also in small calculated self-aware digs between dialogues with characters. Yes, there were times I thought that it was blatantly obvious that this was simply a forced joke for the sake of being meta to be funny. Overall, I still thought the balance for this style of humor was fairly well placed.

These are the only aspects that I really enjoyed about the film as the rest isn’t necessarily anything special.

From a technical standpoint, I enjoyed it most when shots were used in slow motion for the action sequences. The edits were made to be overly quick (more than likely to cheat the punches and kicks that don’t land), so it was nice to take it all in when it was slowed down which also had some humor to it. Aside from that, I didn’t really find any of the other shot choices to stand out, as everything was simple close-ups or reverse shots of characters speaking, which is a style that is very stale and safe. But thankfully on the audio end, the music selection made up for it with songs specifically chosen to reflect Deadpool as a pop-culture enthusiast antihero.

The story’s villain was basically a cookie cutter antagonist, which at least the film pointed fun at and was self-aware of, but it also meant that the last half an hour battle sequence didn’t really hold up in terms of tension. I don’t see how fighting a character who is essentially invincible, adds any depth or excitement when it’s very clear who’s going to win just based on logic. You could throw that aside as the story of this film serves more of a purpose to present you the character of Deadpool itself and the originality behind him, with everything else, is just filler.

Deadpool isn’t a hero as he will explicitly mention to you, and those notions have tried to reflect what the rest of the film wants to do: not be a traditional superhero movie, and laugh at those that do. In most ways, I’d say it does this, even if I know Deadpool is more of an antihero which still means he is some sort of a hero at the end of the day. What I came for and wanted to see was an R rated comedy that revolved around a superhero figure that would make me smile. And it did. Deadpool has enough charm for me to enjoy watching the absurdity but knowing that it, in turn, the film knows that it’s all absurd, which are features that I greatly admire.

I’m eager to see the sequel, as I’ve been enjoying all the marketing that’s been leading up to it (along with reminiscing about the promotions for the original) and I’d suggest giving this one a watch before you watch the second. See it.

The Purge: Election Year Movie Review

the purge election year

Skip it. 4/10

Somehow my favorite of the series but that still isn’t saying much.

The Purge: Election Year once again manages to just edge its predecessor and slowly rise to the top of the mountain in the Purge series. Except, it’s actually not really a mountain and more so a really small hill that lies in a predominantly flat landscape and is barely visible to the naked eye. But hey, at least it’s noticeable and it’s still better than the other films in the series, even if I still wouldn’t recommend you go see it.

What works better in this film is mainly the likeability factor of the story’s leads. I mean yes, the protagonist is a senator played by the creepy doctor from Lost (Elizabeth Mitchell) but she was thankfully much more enjoyable than what I usually know of her from that short-lived and yet somehow fantastic show (even if it did go quickly downhill). This is also thanks to having her play a senator who is running to oppose the whole inception of the Purge night. I’m immediately inclined to feel a bias towards her side because hey, I’m not a fan of people dying needlessly based on the apparently “scientific fact”, that we harbour inherent aggressive desires and need to release this so-called “beast”. Especially since I’ve mentioned how I don’t understand why the whole Purge night reduces so much level of crime, poverty and also boosts employment. It’s never really explained and the holes in that concept are issues that I haven’t seen resolved. Until now.

And I do want to also quickly bring up the supporting cast choice of Frank Grillo, who returns from the second film. Yes, he once again plays this Liam Neeson type character by going all security guard Taken mode on people but he was the best thing about the second film and I’m glad they gave him another shot. He’s no Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone, but he’s still a cool enough character compared to Ethan Hawke’s in the original.

But what mainly drags this film down again, is the general predictability and the huge runtime once again. By this I mean it’s taking the same formats from before, where characters try to hide from the bad guys chasing them, get into trouble, fight it off and then repeat it all over. Thankfully the action scenes looked much better from a technical standpoint but it’s nothing amazing. Especially since the whole film is somehow the longest in the series coming in at a staggering hour and forty-nine minutes. What the hell is going on and why does each film in the series progressively seem to get longer? It’s completely unnecessary and adds nothing to the plot because, in fact, it detracts from the whole experience since it’s just the same shit every 15 minutes. Please let the fourth Purge film not be this long when it comes out later this year.

I’ll cut this review shorter compared to the others (in a seemingly reverse fashion compared to the increasing runtimes) and say that this is right now the best in the series. Having said that, I’m not recommending you expel your time watching it, I’d only suggest seeing it if you’ve committed to the series or enjoyed watching the second film. Other than that, this is basically just a rehash of any old action film. It’s like Taken mixed with a somewhat more original concept, but it’s nowhere near as smart as it should be, even if it’s trying to appear like that. Watch something else from our best of categories, because this series ultimately isn’t worth your time. Skip it.

The Conjuring 2 Movie Review

the conjuring 24/10

Ever since the release of the sleeper hit Paranormal Activity, movies with hauntings and demons have become an increasing trend, yet the quality of these films still lacks. The Conjuring 2 is the latest in this spiritual horror genre, but sadly it’s another addition to the growing list of unoriginal ghost stories.

Continuing on from the legacy of its predecessor, we are thrust once more into the disturbingly creepy world of the Warren family as they investigate the recent disturbances of a new poltergeist in Enfield, England. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return as Ed and Lorraine Warren, who meets an unfortunate 11-year-old girl (Madison Wolfe) who appears to be under demonic possession. Based on the supposedly true case files from 1977, the film begs the question why those files were even reopened.

My largest gripe with the film is that it uses the same basic scare tactic almost all horror use – jump scares. The music softens. The camera reveals a shadowy, empty space where you imagine a demon would be lurking. Then following a quick 180 perspective spin, an ear-splitting scream is unleashed… do this over and over again and it becomes a little underwhelming.

The film also suffers from a bloated 134 runtime that fails to shock or awe. Instead, it bores its audience with heavy use of clichéd storylines; family moves into a new home; family experiences subtle, yet growing number of disturbances that are downplayed as vivid imaginations of children; disturbances culminate with a larger show of demonic force leading to the “Ghostbusters” being called in – in this case, the Warrens. But what is the end game of the demon? Not to kill, obviously, as there are no casualties in all this time.

Thankfully, the film makes up for its lack of fear factor and sensible plot with its strong acting and art design. The true heroes of the story are those who worked on the production, especially the exterior shots of the streets of England. The attention to detail within each household is clear to see; you genuinely feel transported back to the late 70’s. If only the same meticulousness were translated into the story.

I don’t think James Wan is necessarily a bad director. My only hope is that he works with someone who can produce a more meaningful horror story in the future; one that isn’t afraid to go beyond mildly taunting its characters. Perhaps he should view It Follows for some guidance.

Demolition Movie Review

demolition5/10

Can we all just take a minute and appreciate how hard as of late, Jake Gyllenhaal has been working to get an Oscar. I feel like that needed to be said before this review started because Demolition is yet another great example of the subtleties he can bring as an actor to any performance (see Nightcrawler, Prisoners). Whilst his latest might not be on the same level as some of those mentioned, it still provides a worthwhile character study.

Following the life of Davis Mitchell (Gyllenhall), the story takes an introspective look at how an extraordinarily successful businessman with everything that he wants at his fingertips deals with grief and his own emotions. Director Jean-Marc Vallee, who brought us the great Dallas Buyers Club, sets Davis up with a romantic counter-part of a mysterious young woman (Naomi Watts) and together things begin to unfold. One of the strangest films I’ve seen of late, Demolition is an interesting blend of drama, comedy, and romance and I’m not sure if it works as much as I think it could.

 As mentioned at the start of this review, Jake Gyllenhall acting in this film really brings the whole plot together. In fact, the welcome addition of Watts and Chris Cooper also add great supporting touches as each of them seem to bounce off each other’s performance. If it weren’t for these three powerhouse actors, I don’t know if I would have enjoyed the swiftly changing tones of the plot.

Speaking of which, it’s here that draws why I don’t love the film as much as I want to. There are so many tonal changes happening that it feels like the longest game of pong personified into a movie. It moves from being a hilarious and uplifting scene to then a spiraling downfall of seriousness so often that I’m not sure what to think and more importantly how to feel. The film does a good job of highlighting the instability of Davis as a character, synonymous with the title, as he becomes fixated in destroying objects around in him in attempt to learn how they were made. It’s a clear metaphor of how wherever he goes, he is tearing relationships apart due to his inability to connect with his emotions but it feels like that message isn’t reinforced enough.

It’s quite the puzzle but at least it’s a puzzle that’s still enjoyable to watch. There are some great moments of humor in this film even if they feel inappropriately placed. My best summary of trying to encompass what this movie represents is that of a famous stadium being purposefully demolished to make way for something else. It’s meant to be melancholic but at the same time you can’t help but smile in its destruction and at the end that’s what the film’s title is trying to allure towards. If you like Gyllenhall or a quirky character study, go see Demolition.

The Space Between Movie Review

the space between5/10

Bellissimo, Bellissimo. What a beautiful way to headline the upcoming Lavazza Italian Film Festival with the very first Italian-Australian co-production feature film. The Space Between highlights a strong debut for director Ruth Borgobello and sets the scene for falling in love with luscious Italian landscapes and enchanting stories to come.

Having moved back to his hometown, Udine in Northern Italy, 35-year-old Marco (Flavio Parenti) has returned to look after his aging father and numb the loss of his mother. In spite of being a talented chef, he now works in a dispirited job as a factory worker and is comfortable being uncomfortable. Marco soon encounters a young Australian in Olivia (Maeve Dermody), whose youthful exuberance wistfully begins to stir life once more in the ex-chef. Slowly but surely, a deeper friendship grows and both begin to realize what it takes to bridge the gap between loss and love and to intersect the void of reality to connect our dreams.

Whilst being somewhat of a simple story to tell, it thankfully still managed to both shock and surprise me. Events occur that are best experienced without the knowledge of online spoilers and which are central to the themes at hand. The process of learning how to deal with loss and to move on to achieving our dreams is an issue in the heart of most films but one that is dealt a fresh setting in The Space Between. Borgobello cleverly uses the specific location of Italy, to relay a subtle cultural commentary on the state of matters, portraying how the Italian people are suffering in similar fashions to Marco. This is what elevates it above the cliché’ theme presented, as its truly refreshing to see it in a new environment and to explore a culture that otherwise may have gone unnoticed to the world.

As a love story, it’s not as witty or captivating as Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise trilogy, however, it still remains charming enough to watch. Flavio and Maeve bounce off each other nicely, with particular praises going to the way Borgobello has written their dialogue. I thoroughly enjoyed how real each character felt and in the way, they interacted with each other. They were a few times in which I thought a certain line felt off or how a particular conflict seemed forced instead of being developed naturally but overall the plot was a joy to watch. It’s one of the more authentic love stories I’ve seen recently and one I want to know more about by the time the credits begin to roll.

After speaking with the director and thinking about the film after seeing it, the more I enjoy the underlying ideas it provokes. It seems almost universal the connections Borgobello wants us to view and I for one can’t stop thinking about how bridging those gaps between loss and love are witnessed constantly in my life. A simple but beautiful story, that echoes in the fine cinematography of the Italian landscapes by Katie Milwright, and a perfect start to your Italian film festival watch list.

Free State Of Jones Movie Review

free state of jones.jpg4.5/10

Well Alright Alright Alright. Matthew McConaughey is back once more in a dramatic lead role that, whilst incomparable to his other serious adventures, proves a noteworthy addition. It’s long and over bloated, but it nevertheless shares an unbelievable yet true story from America’s Civil War.

We follow the life of Newton Knight, who served as a battlefield medic for the Confederate Army in 1862. After the loss of his young nephew, Knight begins to question his involvement in the war and decides to desert the army to create his own renegade band. Knight’s armed rebellion take on the Confederacy in Jones County. Runaway slaves that have joined Knight’s campaign, and there are tensions on all sides. This is where the film begins to lose touch.

There’s almost too much to cover even though each subplot is of importance. Newton begins to change and define himself with a new set of guiding principles that he desperately struggles to share with others who aren’t as willing to adapt. But we also see issues relating to the post-war settlement and the continued racial segregation. Too many climaxes and resolutions were established before yet another one was introduced and this doesn’t do justice to the significance of sub-plot. For example, just as we’ve reached the conclusion of the civil war which takes up a large section of runtime, we progress onto another major conflict with black voting rights by which at this time you feel exhausted.  It’s in these decisions that I feel director and writer Gary Ross has created a film that feels long and overcrowded from one scene to the next.

The choice to intersperse the saga of Newton’s great-great-great grandson adds even further confusion to the plot. Whilst I understand the reasons behind the choice, to draw a parallel between the same spirit and actions of his great ancestor, ultimately this particular story felt difficult to relate to and out of place in the context of the main plot. For the entire film you throw yourself behind McConaughey, so you can’t be expected to feel the same for someone who shows up for less than 15 minutes – even if it is his kin.

As I said, the story of Jones County and Newton Knight’s forces still seems quite inconceivable. There are some nice performances throughout, in particular by Gugu Mbatha-Raw whose beautiful work brought out subtle emotions. McConaughey is still in fine form but didn’t blow me away like he did in Dallas Buyers Club. Having said all that, I still wouldn’t recommend seeing this as you would have a more enjoyable experience reading and researching yourself into the life of Newton Knight. You might be amazed.

Up For Love Movie Review

up for love4.5/10

The man should always be taller than the woman. That’s what we’re willing to accept when it comes to heterosexual relationships. The other way around tends to only invite judgment and ridicule. It may be unjust and it may be small-minded, but that’s the reality of society’s expectations.

This is exactly what French romantic comedy Up For Love explores – the ups and downs of a woman dating a man below her stature. The Artist’s Jean Dujardin stars as Alexandre, a charming and handsome architect who is determined to use his wits to win over the heart of Diane (Virginie Efira). The only obstacle to their happily ever after? Alexandre is four feet tall.

Dujardin and Efira light up the screen with a brand of youthful energy and joy that can only be seen in two people falling in love. Both characters have had their share of past relationship experiences and have reached a point in their lives where career progression is a major priority. This allows for a much more mature romance to play out, rather than one purely focused on their height differences. By having slightly older characters than what we’re used to seeing in these types of films, Up For Love avoids the nonsense of teen angst (Paper Townsand manages to be more than a series of superficial gimmicks (How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days).

Having said that, there is ample opportunity for short jokes, and director Laurent Tirard takes full advantage of this. While some of these moments are genuinely funny, others come across as contrived – obvious beats are set aside to allow the audience to laugh, almost like a sit-com with the canned laughter on mute. It’s the type of stuff that your grandparents will adore, but everyone else will be lucky to crack a polite smile.

Bad Santa 2 Movie Review

bad santa 23/10

Billy Bob Thornton returns as our favorite cynical Santa Claus with his trusty elf conspirator Marcus (Tony Cox). As per usual, Marcus has another job that requires the expertise of Thornton’s safe-cracking abilities, but this time around it involves working with a blast from the past. Kathy Bates joins the case as Willie Sokes’ mother, Sunny Soke, and together the trio is back to their old hijinks. With cameos from the first movie popping up here and there, it seems Bad Santa 2 is keen to continue carrying the proverbial torch that lit up so many offensive barriers in the original.

Having watched the original after seeing this sequel, it’s safe to say that fans of the first will love the second. In fact, one can even say the new film takes things to the next level, with even more of an emphasis on brutally crass jokes. If only the same could be said for the quality of these jokes.

Thornton is captivating in this role as he truly embodies Willie’s dispirited nature and cynicism. You can’t help but love seeing him berate everyone around him and expose the stupidity of others. It’s this black comedy that makes the Bad Santa series somewhat unique, but its downfall is its simple-minded storyline.

Too many idiotic scenes attempt crude humor purely for the purpose of being crude. There are moments when our nympho Santa really hits the nail on the head with a certain comeback or a particular punchline, but these are few and far between. With nothing else for the film to fall back on, there’s not a lot here to like.

As we often see with comedy sequels, Bad Santa 2 is simply a lesson of history repeating itself. Yes, it will please those who enjoyed the original, but that’s not saying much.

Equity Movie Review

equity4.5/10

Females rejoice. A movie about women who love making money and written, produced, directed by women who love making films. If only the story was just as interesting to watch as it was passionately made.

Equity shares the story of women working and competing for greed on wall street, highlighting the focus on what is predominantly a male-dominated environment. Anna Gunn leads the female powerhouse, as senior investment banker Naomi Bishop, clawing her way to the top of her investment firm. Soon she begins to become entrapped with a game of scandal and corruption which seeks to destroy everything she has worked hard for. It’s a new take on the successful Wall Street series but unfortunately doesn’t reach quite the same heights for up and coming director Meera Menon.

To the films credit, Equity stands on its own as a film about crime and exploitation unpunished on the high stakes. There are times where the screenplay by Amy Fox acts as a meta form of text by including specific scenes highlighted to showing how Naomi views money as not a dirty word but one that empowers her. That as a woman it’s ok to drive for ambition and to look after oneself which represent the fact that this was made by an all-female production. Thankfully these scenes don’t distract you from the overall plot at hand. Aside from these examples, the film moves at a steady pace and is focused purely on setting the next scene of conflict. My initial worries of it being a film that overtly pushes this agenda of “girl power” were henceforth squashed and anyone can enjoy this as a film portraying the hidden dealings of wall street.

Having said that, I only wish these dealings were more interesting to watch. Don’t get me wrong, it still presents a smart and creative plot to watch but that’s only to a certain extent. It doesn’t go above and beyond for what I want it to be. It’s fairly predictable and does nothing that causes me to be shocked, surprised or even invested too greatly. Anna Gunn’s performance was fine but I couldn’t help but not care what happened to her character since I knew what was coming. Supporting characters also just served as tools to move the plot along without attracting much substance. You go away from watching several consequences occurring and not caring about any of them.

So is this proof that an all-female production is a bad idea? Not exactly. There are still great films written, produced and directed by women such as Lost In Translation by Sofia Coppola. Could this have been a better venture? Yes. As it stands, Equity is a passable economic thriller but one that remains just passable. I recommend waiting for it till it comes out on DVD….if that eventually does happen.