I LOST MY BODY (J’ai perdu mon corps) [2019]

 


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The second half of this year has seen Netflix firmly establish itself as a home for quality independent films as well as larger picture’s such as Scorsese’s The Irishman or The Coen Bothers last film.

I Lost My Body is an art-house animated picture, and to my knowledge, animated film originating from France isn’t exactly a well established phenomenon – I can’t say I could name a single title falling under this banner. The Red Turtle, an animated film written by Michael Dudok de Wit who is a fellow European – a Dutchman to be precise. The idiosyncratic story-lines of both films that subtly make their points, usually in existentialist and emotional ways suggesting that European animation/stories differ immensely from their Japanese counterparts.

While animated films inevitability are compared to the work of Studio Ghibili, which is inevitable if we are honest, but this film uses animation that explores new and interesting directions that are a credit to the creativity of the animators and everyone involved. Don’t get me wrong – this is no Your Name or Weathering With You. But importantly the style of the animation is unique and it is obvious that many hours went into creating it.

This surreal story is very layered – the main character Naoufel experiences a roller-coaster of emotions, chastised at his work, miserable delivering pizzas. This does lead him to meet Gabrielle – via intercom. Naoufel decides that he in love and does everything he can to be near her, obviously afraid to approach her directly – he even decides to take a job working with wood as Gabrielle lives in the same building.

Meanwhile a severed hand is determined to find its owner, once it gets out of its plastic prison. It soon gets its feet under… er, its fingers steady underneath itself, learning to walk and eventually becomes almost acrobatic in its movements. Quickly exiting the building it was bagged in, it already has the sense to avoid guards at all costs. There is some light humour to be found here, especially one scene involving a pigeon, but the hand’s journey is one fraught with obstacles. The hand refuses to quit.

A sense of longing now looms over the film: the hand is desperate to find its owner, while Naoufel pines over Gabrielle, still unable to approach her to tell her how feels. Perspective plays a subtle role throughout, as we often see the severed hands point of view as it makes its hazardous journey to its owner, which it somehow knows the location of.  This concept of perception plays a much larger part for Naoufel, as it soon becomes obvious that the way he perceives the world isn’t quite right. His final project – a surprise for Gabrielle – challenges our perception as it doesn’t seem to make any sense. But how does Naoufel see it? We never find out, and it is certainly a head-scratcher.

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Everyone has Netflix these days, right? This hidden gem is only a few clicks away! Get on it!!


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Ahem…

Films such as this are rare, so it is fantastic to see it on Netflix. It is an obvious passion project, with clear dedication and heart – this film is a rare gem, offering commentary on a near limitless amount of topics regarding the human condition, as well as existential questions pondering that stem from from the actions of both the hand and Naoufel. 

The hand is the key to the story, and again, how can we unlock its mystery? Given the hand is instantly aware of danger and is willing to take risks in order to find its body. What is this saying? Perhaps it is saying nothing at all. Or perhaps it is showing us what we are capable of. If a hand can accomplish this, then why am I sitting on my backside all day? 

It is however a tale that is very much worth watching.


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KNIVES OUT [2019]


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Knives Out is a gleefully silly game of Cluedo that revels in its absurdity, never taking itself seriously, asking us to play along in Rian Johnson’s funny whodunnit tale, Johnson’s love-letter to Agatha Christie. The central characters are brilliant, all sensationalised in this light-hearted, very funny take on the droll subject of death – and more pertinently, what happens when the will left is by anyone wealthy and with a family. 

Such is the case here. The greed and selfishness between relatives that can occur if the reading of the will doesn’t go as expected sometimes destroy family ties, but this depressing aspect of the film is also depicted using the perfect tone. Comedic and whimsical, you’d be forgiven for forgetting this is about a man’s death.

Refreshingly, the mystery doesn’t take long to begin: In fact, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), a well-known author and the rich patriarch of the family, is found dead in the opening scene. Soon his children have dollar signs in their eyes, suddenly eager to hear his will read, all expecting a cut of his vast portfolio. Despite celebrating his 85th birthday the night before, the will and nothing but the will is all anyone can now think about.

Before the will is scheduled to be read though, the matter of his death must be solved. The death of an 85 year-old family member seems like an internal affair, but a private detective is hired to investigate the death. He doesn’t know who hired him, but he received an envelope filled with cash and instructions to investigate the incident if Harlan died under certain circumstances. The case seems quite pointless, but when given a job, this private eye does not stop until the truth is found.

This private detective (Daniel Craig) soon becomes the centrepiece of the film. First two cops inform the family that Harlan’s death is to be investigated. The cops are asked who is sitting in the background, observing and not saying a word, and it is here that Craig makes his introduction. 

His name is Benoit Blanc (The European name perhaps a wink to Hercule Poirot, a well-known detective from Agatha Christie’s books), and one couldn’t be blamed for expecting a French accent. But Craig sports a consistently hilarious southern accent that never actually sounds like any person I’ve heard talk, rendering his name and odd accent as two oddities amongst many others. His constantly amusing demeanour is magnetic, while the detective is a smart, curious man with a keen nose.  

Appropriately this Sherlock Holmes has a very southern, charming and polite personality, which is helpful when interviewing an entire family about a fellow family member’s death. This also proves useful when he convinces Harlan’s carer, Marta (Ana de Armas), to join him. Marta could be his secret weapon as she physically cannot lie, obviously Blanc’s reason for asking her to join him as he strides around the house trying to put together the pieces. 

Marta is the moral compass of the film; Ana de Armas’ depiction of this shy carer is extremely convincing, and her unsmiling face and shy behaviour impressively contrast against the big personalities of nearly every other character. She is especially stoic when the script comes to the Thrombey’s casual racism about what country she is from exactly, pointless rants about illegal versus legal immigration, and lets not forget to mention the way every family member condescendingly look down at her while simultaneously saying that they will look after her – given Harlan Thrombey is dead and her future now unclear.

It is obvious that Craig is having fun here. His accent wavers constantly but I don’t think anyone ever cared, as it’s simply another element of the film to smile at. This unpredictable, passive-aggressively intense detective couldn’t be a more of an against-type character for Craig, as he is the centre of not only the twisty mystery, but also the comedy. Put simply, he nails it. His body language, especially the way he moves with cigar in hand (or mouth), rounds off the perfect, spotlight-stealing performance.

If anything, he is too good, as the actors playing the family members really need to keep up to be as memorable, or as close to it as possible. The entire cast comes very close: Jamie Lee Curtis is particularly intense as the oldest daughter Linda, while Chris Evans plays against-type himself, looking very young as the ratbag son of Linda and her husband Richard (Don Johnson), who is probably the most forgettable actor here. 

Fortunately though, since the incredible chemistry between the entire group is consistently evident, this doesn’t matter at all, plus he had some truly tough competition. Unsurprisingly, Michael Shannon is easily the best of the rest as Walt Thrombey: this character he is given to play is hilarious in his foolishness and ignorance, not to mention that beard, which couldn’t look more awkward, much like Walt’s himself. As a consequence, every time he is on screen, it is amusing. It’s a pity then that we don’t get to see enough of him, one small flaw which applies to other family members too.

This is almost the entire cast, barely any extras are needed as this almost entirely takes place inside Harlan’s giant house. It seems Rian Johnson has given his actors room to breathe life into the characters they have been given as it seems sure that much ad libbing took place here, and the ease in which they work together is obvious. The use of flashbacks is handled with ease as the puzzle is pieced together from mainly Blanc and Marta’s viewpoint. With a satisfying conclusion that isn’t too twist-filled when it easily could have been, Knives Out is hilarious, knee-slapping and almost tear inducing at times. This is the funniest, and most fun, film of the year. And it’s about a man’s death!

 

JOKER [2019] – ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS AND INTERPRETATIONS (PT.3)


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PART ONE

PART TWO


Arthur Fleck: “For my whole life, I didn’t know if I even existed”

The Joker: “I don’t believe in anything”

While there are other moments, these two lines are the clearest in presenting the nihilistic streak of Arthur’s personality, long before the transformation into Joker. It becomes an increasingly powerful part of his personality as the film progresses and dives further into the psyche of Arthur Fleck, who is clearly a portrayal of the delusional men who have taken lives in mass shootings.

This nihilistic attitude was expressed by the shooters of Columbine and other early shootings. Their (extensional) belief in nothing, their beliefs about the nature of reality, not to mention the fun little concept that human beings are insignificant, are far from healthy.

Unsurprisingly, many of the shooters have also been found to have enjoyed Nietzsche’s work. But like the Joker, these men take their nihilistic philosophy to such extremities that they are essentially following a totally different philosophy: one that constantly reminds them that humans don’t deserve to live. Their thoughts about human beings snap into illogical delusions as they act out their fantasies. Their twisted delusions represent a terrifying way of thinking: all human beings need to be killed.

Again, like the Joker, these mass shooters don’t feel any real emotion, especially when taking multiple lives.

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This is an incredibly relevant movie, a character study of a weirdo, a loner, who slowly turns into a monster. It is intentionally holding a mirror up to US society, intentionally challenging any viewer, yelling loudly its distressing messages through the symbolism of Joker/Fleck’s actions as well as plain ol’ observation.

**

The grimy state of Gotham feels like a real city, and very apt for such a dark story. It is the perfect backdrop for Joaquin to turn into the Joker, and to send chills down my spine with his painful laughter, a phrase that sounds like an oxymoron until you hear him laugh uncontrollably on a bus, physically trying to stop it by covering his mouth with his hands. When asked ‘do you think this is funny?’, the laughter increases, and combined with him shaking his head while laughing, it is rough. A scene that is hard to forget.

Rather than trying to sound like any other version of the Joker, Joaquin’s laughter is his own unsettling creation. When he was Arthur Fleck, his laughter was often painful and inappropriately timed. But after he shoots the three men on the subway, the laughter becomes less of an issue as he moves towards becoming the Joker – his confidence increasing rapidly, again meaning the laughter is often not a problem. This pattern feels too deliberate too ignore.

The laughter essentially has its volume turned down as the film moves forward and feels deliberate but weaved in with the story. This is telling, as… In case you missed it, as a great many ‘critics’ did, the film is not laughing at any violence that occurs, or somehow glamorising it, and I’d love to hear a logical reason for the latter. Honestly, I’d like to know what the logic is behind this thinking.


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Which brings us to the media circus surrounding the film… well, mainly the US really… which was perhaps the biggest overreaction to a movie release in recent memory. After Joaquin Phoenix walked out of an interview, annoyed at what he saw as a ‘pointless’ question about a possible connection from Joker to real-world violence, was followed by some words by director Todd Phillips that were just a tad clumsily worded, it wasn’t long before the media machine cogs started to creak and turn.

Of course, only the most negative articles about the subject are ever reported on, the bias as strong as possible. These negative news articles filled with almost nothing but speculation is disturbing in all honestly, but it also serves to fan the flames of those protesting the movie: the media has found a group of people who will listen to almost any of their biased news stories with conclusions often matching original beliefs.

If you honestly feel this way, listen to the heavy, dark soundtrack. Pay attention to the grimy look of Gotham, the depressing colour pallet used. While the film doesn’t have much violence compared to every action film in existence, the despicable acts in Joker are depicted in an incredibly dark, deeply disturbing fashion that stays in your head like a horror film. This is the opposite of glamorisation.

This all all has created more panic about any movie premiere in my life, yet I’m not hearing anywhere as much panic about the gun control issue itself in comparison! This bizarre, near Kafka-like world feels akin to Stravinsky’s music literally driving patrons out of the theatre, causing a riot back in the 40’s or 50’s. If it weren’t so frustrating, I’d find the whole issue hilarious in its absurdity.

**

Complaint over, the film has a perfect climactic scene that, as Keith pondered, is fun to play around with in its true meaning. Keith had three different but equally valid theories, and my interpretation will be a little… Odd but familiar, which a sign of how fantastic this movie ends. I cannot stop thinking about it.

Also, quickly, did anyone ever think for long that he was really dating that woman? This is what good film does: it challenges and creates discourse, which this film has achieved with flying colours, if not in the manner originally intended.

But if one ponders further: it now seems obvious in retrospect that the climactic sequence wasn’t real at all, as the shot of him standing on the bonnet of a cop car cuts straight to Joker in the sterile white of a mental ward. 

I have my weird theory – if anyone actually reads these posts, I’d love to hear your thoughts before I post the final part of this. Or after I post it, I don’t mind!


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to be continued… again

 

JOKER [2019] – ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS AND INTERPRETATIONS (PT.2)




PART ONE



Early in the film, it isn’t hard to picture Arthur as a harmless mother’s boy, albeit a little nuts of course. “I’m not supposed to have a gun” is his hushed response when he is given a gun ‘for protection’ by his colleague, Randall. But destiny has other plans. 

It is the most important scene of the film, and the gun is the most important symbol of the film, representing this definitive turning point. It is also making a poignant point: Arthur is very strange and mentally ill, but the start of the film sees him as a nice man, one who takes care of his mother.

But the gun drastically changes his perspective of the world. Suddenly, this awfully cruel world, from Arthur’s deluded perspective, can now be altered. Violently. Having just been jumped by a bunch of kids, his self confidence needed a boost, and it seems this gun is just what the doctor ordered, given he can no longer get his medication.

This single scene also depicts the reality of gun availability and mental illness coinciding: arguably the exact reason for the despicable shootings in the US. The film could not be more relevant or timely. 

Back to the movie, the Gun clearly represents the beginning of his violent transformation, but it seems a part of Arthur never wanted to become such a violent monster. Arthur kills Randall in a fashion without a gun, as if he demonstrating that having a gun turned him into a violent man, even if he doesn’t have a gun in his hand. His obvious relief after the brutal murder of Randall suggests that it was an act of revenge, given Randall was responsible for the beginning of Arthur’s transformation. He gave him the Gun. Perhaps there was a part of Arthur, somewhere, that never agreed with his own actions.

After he learns he is to be on Murray’s show, he begins to practice how he will introduce himself on the show while watching an episode, most probably seeing himself in the studio as he did earlier in the film. His hallucinations are cleverly presented in a very different fashion this time around: from our perspective of the scene, the sound of the episode he is watching becomes crowd reaction to what Arthur is saying. The whole audience laughs at his joke, and he in turn reacts to the crowd. We see his first real smile before he delivers his punchline: putting his gun to his throat, he pulls the trigger, throwing his body back and goes limp.

Of course metaphorically, the gun was loaded. Arthur Fleck is dead, and the Joker is  born.

Meanwhile, another gun creates true mayhem on the subway: as a cop is chasing the Joker, he accidentally shoots and kills a man – instantly he is surrounded by the other passengers, who jump on him. The Joker is free, and after getting off the train, he does another quick dance, and happily skips away, throwing away the clown mask he used to blend with crowd. The camera closes in on the mask, suggesting that Joker is now able to throw away his metaphorical mask, free to act in the way he wants.

This soon becomes very apparent when he is introduced on to the stage of his favourite show. He suddenly looks confident, and performs a quick dance for the audience, and then surprises the female guest with a long kiss before sitting down. As Murray says, it is quite the introduction

The Joker’s sense of humour is presented incredibly accurately while he is on the show. His ‘knock knock’ joke has the crowd displeased, and then the female guest tells him that the joke isn’t funny. His rant about comedy being subjective couldn’t be more accurate. The woman telling him that his joke can’t be funny on a show like Murray’s family-friendly entertainment is reminiscent of the Letterman show when he decided to cut the comedy routine of Bill Hicks.

While it is probably unintentional, this is an interesting look at what comedy is. Confessing that he shot three people who were ‘awful’, he is proud, telling Murray that what he did was a funny, a joke that aligns perfectly with humour of the Joker of other films/games. Murray tells him that the shooting is what caused the riots in Gotham, eliciting a smile from the Joker as he raises up his hand, taking responsibility and chuckling at his own joked. This again is amazing in its perfect connection to the Joker’s sense of humour. This is a guy whose idea of a joke is to blow up a building, or to shoot his former idol in the head. 

 

JOKER [2019] – ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS AND INTERPRETATIONS (PT.1)


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Thanks must go to Keith, who posted his theories regarding the end of the film, and I am essentially expanding on the idea while kinda going in my own direction. Of course everything here is 100% subjective.

Spoilers are obviously on the way, however, if you have seen the film, you must check out Keith’s review and his thoughts on the ending also.

I’ll try to disregard the ending for the most part so I’m not repeating Keith’s post.

The first interesting nugget I noticed was the very first scene before the title. Arthur is literally trying to force his mouth into a frown, then a smile which he obviously isn’t satisfied with as he proceeds to pull his mouth so far into a smile that a single tear rolls down his cheek and over his make up. Then he stops, looking into the mirror looking unsatisfied with his effort.

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Sure, it could be a tear of emotional pain, physical pain from his attempt at a big grin, but the fact that such extreme gestures elicit only a single tear perhaps suggest that Arthur is unable to feel happiness or sadness: traits of a budding sociopath. The fact that he is looking in a mirror could be positing that he doesn’t understand the feelings of not only himself but any other person he sees, another trait of a sociopath.

Interestingly, this opening scene, given it it is the only scene that takes place before the title appears, could chronologically fit anywhere within the film. The only clues are his delusional attempts to smile or frown, as if he truly wants to feel emotion like most people. But his confusion around this matter is a near constant anyway, but it surely doesn’t chronologically take place at the start of the movie.

The constant sh*t that rains on him is literally laughed away, where most people suffering like this would be bed ridden, or dead, Arthur never seems to feel any strong emotion, nonchalantly shooting his third victim with no empathy or emotion to be found at all, as he simply walks briskly up to the man and pulls the trigger until it clicks twice. 

When he shoots Murray, you could say he was bitter about being called a ‘joker’, but he never seems angry or upset. Before the shooting, when he confesses to killing the three men, his emotionless but proud smile barely changes. After shooting Murray, he again sits in his chair smiling – for a moment he is ignorant to what he has done. His reactions are the opposite of what would be appropriate or expected, but even these never seem quite real. 

His laugh, that pained, cruel laugh that sounds as if he is gasping for air, seems to be a coping mechanism for the fact that he doesn’t know how to express these emotions. For example, the scene where his boss delivers some bad news, one of many effective close-ups of Phoenix, we see a grin slowly forming on his face as what his boss is saying becomes tuned out and muted. 

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As for his devolving mental state, the film proves that he was delusional far earlier than depicted, as he hallucinates positive interactions with the woman next door to him, clearly suggesting that he was already very sick and detached from reality from the beginning of the movie. Hell, was his mother even alive? Did he really approach a young Bruce Wayne? The more I think about it, the more this seems unlikely, as this would means Wayne is at least 30 years younger than Arthur/Joker, which doesn’t add up at all. Maybe everything here relating to his mother never actually occurs in the way we see it.

If all those interactions were all in his head, what else was? It is curious that the only delusion we actually see is early on when Arthur is watching Murray on TV and suddenly sees himself in the audience. After this sequence, we don’t see anything but the incredible performance from Phoenix, especially his body language and facial expressions that expertly hint at what could being going inside that noggin, while being subtle enough that it is open to discussion.

To be continued…

 

 

AD ASTRA [2019]


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James Gray is one of the few directors in Hollywood, or perhaps on the skirts of Hollywood (his films do feature big name actors) who makes films for himself and anyone who happens to enjoy it, refusing to cater to popular taste. Indeed, this is a man who told Cannes Critics to go f*ck themselves following the screening of The Immigrant in 2013. It is refreshing to see films in the mainstream that consistently intrigue, or at least attempt to carve their own path with their originality.

Taking place in the near future, Ad Astra centres around astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), whose father Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), a fellow astronaut, is regarded as a hero of space travel due to his achievements in outer space, specifically his dedication to the task of finding other life-forms somewhere within the cosmos, as well as travelling further from Earth than any other human, despite the obvious risks. When he was near Neptune, communication with Clifford was lost.

It is soon suspected that Roy’s father is responsible, as the surges are coming from near Neptune – exactly where Clifford’s ‘Lima Project’ lost communication with Earth. Roy’s relationship to Clifford is used to make contact with him as authorities now suspect he is alive and responsible for the electrical surges.

Before this, the film starts strong: an impressive sequence sees Roy repairing one of Earth’s space antennae, whose purpose is interestingly similar to that of his father’s mission goal. Severe electrical surges smash into the antenna, sending Roy hurtling towards the ground in maybe a nod to 2001. It is an ideal beginning, wasting no time in launching the story.

Roy’s feelings about his father are obviously mixed and confuse him for the entire film. Clifford left him when he was 16 to venture into space knowing there was a good chance he’d never return. It is never clear if Roy resents him for this, as he is the epitome of calm. Or cold, depending on how you perceive it. Even while falling from a very high altitude, his heart rate never went over 80, and never has. This is an interesting symptom of the way he internalises and compartmentalises different aspects of life, which led to a divorce and being told, ‘even when you’re here, you’re not here’. This is one of very few flashback sequences, there’s enough to establish Roy’s loss without adding a needless romantic component.

His personality shares parallels with his father – we regularly hear his internal dialogue which, while poorly written, invites us into his psyche. Once we hear how conflicted he is about his own personality, it is unsurprising that he constantly looks confused and lost, as if he is unsure what to think or how to act… apart from how to complete his mission.

Gray uses the setting of space, as well as the coldest planet in the solar system to provide apt, if not somewhat obvious metaphors for the distance between the two, both in distance and psychological distance, which are both due to his father’s decision to leave. Neptune seems to embody the cold qualities of both mens’ personalities, and while they are different people, Roy becomes increasingly entangled in his own paranoia, wondering if he is more like his father than he would like, or if he is in fact slowly turning into his father. Regardless, he moves forward on his increasingly complicated mission. True to his word, he is dedicated, but is soon experiencing a severe personality crisis. 

While far from subtle, this allegory for strained relationships between fathers and sons, a much more serious issue than many realise, and an unhealthy way to process one’s emotions and problems in life, is beautifully presented. Hypnotic yet understated camerawork pulls us further into Ad Astra’s world. The icing on this proverbial cake is the score by Max Richter, who used real sounds taken from Voyager satellites, as well as his compositions, to create an appropriately otherworldly atmosphere.

Ad Astra’s story truly does aim for the stars in it’s ambition, as per its Latin translation ‘To The Stars’. The themes of father/son relationships, of internalising and compartmentalising different problems, are all sensationally portrayed by a typically stellar Brad Pitt who never looks remotely happy, or even comfortable.

Apart from the poor dialogue written for Roy’s internal dialogue, this movie is gripping, hypnotic and meaningful while packing a powerful emotional gut punch. The amount of positive adjectives I could use to describe this film feels limitless. Like all of Gray’s films, Ad Astra is unique and will again become divisive. It is a film that truly begs to be seen at least twice.


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THE NIGHTINGALE [2018]

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A major step up in scope for Jennifer Kent after her excellent debut film The Babadook, this sophomore effort is a brutal, bloody but historically honest look into both the life of women and Aboriginal People during a period in Australia’s history that is certainly not taught in Australian schools.

Taking place in the 1830’s, the period is hauntingly realistic in its depiction and these realities provide the catalyst for an excellent, original story that, according to Kent in the Q&A she was nice enough to offer, involved years of research so she could feel comfortable telling this story in an accurate and respectful manner. She has exceeded her goal: Australia has not produced a film of this magnitude and quality in a very long time.

Clare is an Irish convict living in Tasmania (known as Van Diemen’s Land during this time) and had finally escaped a life out of physical chains. However, this alleged freedom was made possible by a leftenant with ulterior motives and she now is forced to battle the conditions forced upon her. She begins as an innocent woman with a beautiful voice, but once this man takes advantage of her in a ruthless way, her attitude quickly changes. Upset and enraged, she lusts for revenge and soon wants to put a bullet in the officer responsible, no matter the obstacles. However, this officer has already left the village, using an Aboriginal tracker to lead his group north towards a promised promotion.

Clare also decides to enlist the help of a tracker, once others in the community find it apparent that no words can stop her from heading toward sure death. An unfortunate but true trope of this period is that the tracker, Billy, is of course another Aboriginal person. The two begin to follow the movements of the officer’s group. Their journey is long. It is exhausting not long after it has begun, and the path ahead is fraught with as much emotional torture as there is physical.

At first, the two share a very unstable bond, a partnership of sorts that forms the centre-piece of the film: both how their relationship changes as their journey lengthens, as well as the challenges they face both alone and together. The experiences they must face change both of them, while Clare is haunted by nightmares that offer an insight into her past.

The promise of another Schilling at the end of their journey begins to leave Billy’s mind as he begins to care about Clare’s well-being, rather than simply helping her track her prey. What started as a hostile but mutual agreement transforms as the characters gradually learn more about each other on their long voyage that makes up most of the 2 hour-plus run-time

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It is a powerful demonstration that two people from entirely different worlds can begin to understand each other in the way depicted. Their shared hatred towards the English certainly plays a part, as one thing that they have in common is that these ‘settlers’ have wreaked havoc, tearing apart both their lives. They also both have experienced and truly know psychological pain, an often overlooked reason for two people to bond.

Despite the ruthless violence that is peppered throughout the movie, and some scenes very hard to watch (scenes whose importance to the story seem to have been vastly misunderstood by some), the story is ultimately about grasping onto hope when the way forward seems impassable, to continue pushing forward despite the odds. It is also a fascinating dual character study/relationship between very different people who share the pain that has been inflicted on them by the immoral British occupation of Australia. Additionally, during the 1830’s, this occupation (personally the word invasion seems more appropriate) is young, having only been in effect for around 60 years thanks to Charles Darwin’s declaration that the native Aboriginal people were sub-human, opening the legal door for the English to settle.

But that is another story entirely, and unfortunately a little known fact,

The final act ends on a note that at first seems underwhelming, until the meaning behind it becomes apparent, at which point the power and scale of the film as a whole feels like an  unexpected gut-punch. Aisling Franciosis as Clare offers her haunting voice as a trained singer, for the most part singing incredible, traditional Irish songs which were recorded live. It adds more to the roller-coaster of a role take that takes her through what feels like the extremity of every human possible emotion. With her face featuring in many close ups, she couldn’t have been more believable.

In his first acting role (though a performer of Aboriginal dance), Baykali Ganambarr won the ‘Marcello Mastroianni’ Award for Best Young Actor award at Venice, and for good reason. His portrayal of Billy goes hand in hand with Aisling’s performance, and given the effortless chemistry they share on screen, Baykali was forced to keep up with his co-star as the film would never have worked if either was of obvious lesser quality.

This chemistry rises and dips as they journey forward, another testament to their skill. Baykali is seemingly a born actor, though in a Q&A after the film, he was extremely modest and when these statements on the power of his performance were offered by the audience. He seemed genuinely speechless, only offering that he hopes to act again. This is a man who, if he decides to, could be the next David Gulpilil – the first Aboriginal actor to feature in major Australian films.

The Nightingale, while very confronting at times, is an incredibly moving film that could easily be labelled as epic in scope, that usually cringe-worthy word that nonetheless feels appropriate here given the physical and emotional territory covered over two hours. Jennifer Kent has created a near flawless period film that hits hard and will linger some time. This film, along with Sweet Country, are essential viewing to learn more about the young history of this country, a history that is unfortunately yet unsurprisingly buried by modern day society. Hopefully The Nightingale can make a difference, no matter how small


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DANGER CLOSE: THE BATTLE OF LONG TAN [2019]

As always, many thanks to Courtney of Cinemaaxis.com.

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“To military historians, it is hugely significant, a demonstration of Australian grit and determination in the face of insurmountable odds.

But to the general public it barely registers.”


As a result of this, The Battle of Long Tan is a story that many if not most Australian and New Zealanders are criminally unfamiliar with, of course through no fault of their own. This surely could be attributed to the fact that despite many soldiers of the 6RAR company involved received US Presidential Citations, for decades the Australian Government didn’t recognise the effort, bravery and the achievements of these soldiers, and the men who fought in the battle have struggled for many years to receive the recognition they deserve.

Australian Director Kriv Strenders strives to change this, bringing the battle to the big screen for the first time, with unflinching historical accuracy. The struggle to bring it to screen started fifteen years ago, and has Strender’s found closure in the simple fact that it was completed at all.


Similar to Australian war film Kokoda (2006), Danger Close is a true story of desperation, determination and survival within a seemingly unwinnable battle. Originally on a reconnaissance mission, 108 ANZACs found themselves surrounded by over 2,000 battle-hardened North Vietnamese and Viet-Cong soldiers on 18 September, 1966, resulting in a savage encounter lasting over three hours during heavy, moonsoon rain. Unlike their enemies, most of these ‘men’ were volunteers and conscripts.

Most had never seen battle. The average age was 21. The only support was a three man artillery squad near their HQ. 

In contrast to the young soldiers, the central character of the film is the experienced Major Harry Smith (Travis Fimmel, perhaps the only internationally recognisable face thanks to his role in Vikings). His frustration that most of his soldiers are close to useless in his mind is not kept a secret after a few one on one ‘conversations’ with his men.

However, Smith is still proud of the fact that his company train harder than any other in the region, his strict leadership a reason for the friction between him and the soldiers, but also a major reason for the unit’s readiness constant readiness for battle.

This is in stark contrast to other Australian soldiers in the base, some sipping cans of beer as they man machine-guns on the perimeter.

I can’t think of any behaviour that could be more Australian than that!!

Major Smith’s strict nature and they way he comes across as disliking his men initially creates tension between himself and the young men, as what they see in Smith is a leader who doesn’t care about them. It isn’t much regarding character building, as the rest of the soldiers are simply different faces, but this effectively creates a basic character arc for Smith which is further explored once he is in command on the battlefield.

It quickly becomes clear that his decision-making and the relationships he truly has with his men will be brutally tested. There are incredibly hard decisions to be made after his company finds themselves scattered and separated after unexpected enemy contact and loss of communication.

Eventually, after several incorrect estimates of the enemy size,  they realise that they are surrounded on three sides by entire battalions of enemy soldiers. Each step forward in becomes loaded with tension: this is not a battle they can win. It can only be survived.

Taking advantage of the fact that the film is about a single battle, the experience feels as if it is playing out in real time, giving it a unique sense of realistic immersion. This quality also allows its sparse character building to go largely unnoticed. While the script does fall flat on a few occasions, this all takes a firm backseat to the incredibly urgent and consistent feeling of dread as the war of attrition continues. This is white-knuckle survival film is aided by the fantastic minimalist score by Caitlin Yeo which looms in the background, barely noticeable during the consistent chaos.

It is no Saving Private Ryan, but Danger Close is one of the best war films of recent memory, its tension unrelenting as the action moves deftly from two locations: the battlefield and the appropriately hectic reactions at HQ. The action isn’t unique or flashy in any way, while the scope of the film isn’t large. However, it works as well as it does due to the true meaning of the battle: it isn’t about winning, it’s about surviving, it is about the true grit needed to continue moving forward when faced with such overwhelming odds. 

The song ‘I was only 19’ by Australian band Redgum during the credits is the icing on the proverbial cake, as photos are shown of the soldiers depicted in the film. As for the real Harry Smith, he has commented, “Overall … I would rate it eight out of 10”. Not bad from the leader of the battle!

The four words, ‘courage, endurance, mateship and sacrifice’ are engraved in the souls of ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) soldiers, and also literally engraved at a war memorial in Papua New Guinea. These seemingly simple values have defined the spirit of the soldiers since the birth of this young nation, but just as important, they also represent much of the populations of both Australia and New Zealand.

Danger Close succeeds in depicting the ANZAC spirit, as well as providing closure for the veterans of the battle. 


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WEATHERING WITH YOU (Tenki no ko) [2019]


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A young high school student, Hodaka Morishima, is running away from school and is heading to Tokyo. His trip nearly ends in disaster as he his thrown off the ferry by abnormal, powerful rainstorms that have been pummelling Tokyo without end in an unprecedented fashion. Weathering With You wastes no time in offering a taste of the other-worldly situations that are to come. 

Hodaka is saved by the somewhat seedy Keisuke Suga, who gives Hodoka his business card in case he ever needs it. Hodaka cannot work officially as he should be in school, so he soon uses the card and finds himself working for Keisuke and his niece Natsumi at their publishing company, which much like Keisuke, doesn’t look or feel professional and has no qualms about hiring a kid who legally shouldn’t be working at all.

They soon decide to investigate various urban legends relating to the unusual weather, and soon Hodaka and Natsumi venture out after learning of a fortune teller who may have information to offer. This psychic tells them that the constant storms are a result of ‘weather maidens’ who have an ability to control the weather.

This leads them to Hina Amano, a girl who Hodaka had recently met earlier working a  really does possess this supernatural ability. She and Hodaka become friends and launch a business together, where Hina creates brief bouts of sunshine for those willing to pay. The animation, not for the first time, presents these scenes in a mesmerising fashion. Makoto Shinkai has successfully created his own unique style of animation, most of which he creates himself. 

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However, the constant use of her power proves to be risky, and the two decide to stop the business. Hina though decides to do it once more before abandoning her ability. However, her final creation of sunlight suddenly creates many fantastical events that affect both teenagers. These sequences are both hypnotising and emotionally poignant in their beauty. 

Weathering With You further separate Shinkai from the initial and inevitable Studio Ghibli comparisons he heard earlier in his career, some even labelling him ‘The New Misaki’. Shinkai dismisses such comparisons; many of his films may contain moments of fantasy, but the directors keen eye allows these moments of colourful, surreal events to often play out in a very plain, almost depressing Japan, especially in this and his last film. Omitting the core of the plot of course, nothing special or interesting happens here: greys often fill the screen as the atypical weather causes constant rain. 

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Additionally, Hodaka’s uncomfortable workplace and the fact he is running away from something combine to contrast brilliantly against the dream-like visual feasts. We also quickly learn about and care for these characters, where the events of the final act subsequently truly tug at the proverbial heartstrings.

Shinkai has again looked toward the sky for an unconventional narrative, creating a simultaneously similar yet very different film when compared to Your Name, his immensely popular last film that became the highest grosssing anime film. Slight hints posit the possibility that the two take place in the same cinematic world, a thoughtful proposition if you carefully compare the similarities and differences.

However, despite the mastery behind the scenes, Weathering feels a very slight notch below Your Name, but it still remains a sensitive and unique film, one that rewards repeat viewings.


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JOKER [2019]


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A breath of fresh air after Marvel’s onslaught of movies that all looked, felt and sounded the same, and also DC’s rather lacklustre efforts all-round, Joker is a dark, twisted and unsettling character study of a neglected, abused and very sick man who, obviously, slowly turns into the Joker as the dark background of Gotham slaps him around.

There is an obvious parallel between the Gotham of Joker and our world today, as Arthur Fleck’s gradual decline into violence mirrors the horrid reality of many young men in the US who are also sliding downhill into violence, and like the Gotham we see in Joker, this society is far from innocent in these matters. The social commentary is plentiful and hard to argue with, while rarely being hidden; subtlety isn’t necessarily required if the messages don’t cause the film to seem ‘preachy’, which isn’t the case here as The Cold Truth behind them reveals the film’s relevance to current society, the US in particular. Is is near-impossible to argue against.

The narrative of the film is quite bare, but it doesn’t need a huge amount of meat on its bones in that sense, as the entire movie is closely watching the downfall of the initially fragile character of Arthur Fleck, often literally as facial close-ups are commonplace. Joaquin Phoenix’s incredible performance, one that would easily be award-worthy if in a different film, uses these close shots to full effect, where each time Phoenix seems a step lower in depicting Fleck and is eerie in how real each looks. The way he changes as a person isn’t entirely obvious, sometimes it is a simple facial expression, often it is the very creepy way in which his laughter is consistently out of place.

Comparisons to other portrayals of the Joker are inevitable, though somewhat meaningless as Phoenix didn’t play the Clown Prince of Crime, at least not in the way his predecessors did. He isn’t the full-fledged delusional psychotic that dominates Joker’s character until the final act, which is not a long time to outshine someone like Ledger or Nicholson. Yet, he somehow does. His inappropriate, ill-timed laughter that often suddenly disappears to reveal a pained but sensitive look as soon as the smile disappears, reminiscent of Tom Hardy at the beginning of Bronson which renders many a scene before the final act as a definitive take on a possible Joker origin story (this one loosely based on the animated Batman episode ‘The Killing Joke [2006]’, no agreed on origins exists), as well as feeling like a fresh start, given that those he has been compared all began their respective films as the Joker as we know him, a far cry from the character here, even by film’s end.

The power of the final act and the flawless, legitimately distressing acting Phoenix seems to effortlessly manage from start to finish delivers a thoroughly believable transformation from a mama’s boy who dreamed of stand up comedy, to a different person entirely. So while comparisons may be akin to apples and oranges, the final fifteen or so minutes is easily enough time to establish Phoenix as perhaps the best Joker yet. Strong words perhaps, but Leto was given seven minutes in Suicide Squad to flex his muscles, and while his take certainly looked original, we never really saw much, if anything.

Heath Ledger is the pick for most fans, and there can be no doubt that his Joker was unforgettable, however he was much, much more sadistic and his story takes place well after the credits roll here. However, Phoenix’s impact in a short amount of time as the Joker is compelling, memorable, and funny in a very dark way, and this is without mentioning the consistently disturbing character traits exhibited as Arthur Fleck well before he succumbs to the violent, narcissistic psychotic that he had essentially been bred to be.

While at times he looks like Ledger, mainly due to the long hair, Joaquin’s Joker is closer to the video-game portrayal featured in recent Batman games than any other. His tendencies to laugh constantly and maniacally, to break into sudden spontaneous dance as if celebrating an occasion no one else is aware of, he is most reminiscent of the inimitable Mark Hamill voiced creation. His transformation begins on a dark note, yet somehow he consistently hits darker shades of black. While the film does retain this tone despite relentlessly, there a few unnecessary scenes following the climax that hopefully aren’t an indication of a sequel.

Once Phoenix dons the iconic white makeup, there is more of a juxtaposition as he emerges as a man who is having fun under that absurd suit despite having clearly entered the realm of true madness and violence. Given the range that is required of him, his overall performance as the man who becomes the Joker perhaps does rank him at the top of the acclaimed list.

Regardless, he will certainly be remembered well thanks to this oddball energy he brings to the Clown Prince of Crime once he finally tips over the edge of no return. The unique looking make-up paired with the unforgettable suit is chocolate icing on the proverbial cake.

However, what about the concerns regarding current society? More than once, humanity is essentially referred to as sheep, as so many of us near-mindlessly soak up news stories that are just as violent, if not more so, than what Joker makes the news for. He is another violent man for the media to milk for ratings, the US especially a hot-spot for this style of media, especially considering the numerous young men continue to take up arms against defenceless children

Unlike pointless media arguments that never solve a thing, usually following another shooting, Joker clearly recognises the problems that both sides pose. Early into the film he is on seven different medications, simply wanting to be happy. Personally I am on six, and I am far from comfortable with this fact. After the funding supporting his doctor his cut, so too are all the meds that may or may not have been keeping Arthur subdued. But to stop taking any medication without warning, otherwise known as cold turkey, is a recipe for a broken mind and body, as one must deal with cravings that the body conjures, having been stripped of drugs it has been taking daily.

It is a fierce but appropriate commentary on most doctors’ extreme generosity, whether they are heavy opiates for minor pain, or anti-psych meds, intended for schizophrenics, handed out due to complaints of mild anxiety. Rather than a last resort, medication in the US seems to be the complete opposite, meaning it is far from surprising to learn repeatedly that many of these shooters were on such a medication when planning and taking action. Given Arthur was on seven different medications, and expected to manage each himself, it would seem that the film isn’t focusing on mental illness as the main problem, though it is also obviously a big factor.

Representing the other side of the common argument is the availability of guns in the US. This is handled in a subtler way, as Arthur doesn’t buy a gun from Walmart as the stereotypical statement goes, rather he is given one free of charge by a colleague, a unique but still powerful way to depict how easy it is for any US citizen to obtain a lethal firearm like this.

Filled with truths that hold a horridly ugly mirror to our society, perhaps the only fault here is that Arthur is for the most part painted as a victim. But any person who has experienced serious neglect and/or abuse as a child knows that is near impossible to feel like a victim. It doesn’t excuse his or any real-life actions, but it does offer a reasonable and frankly rather obvious reason for why he eventually becomes the Joker; he can have the last laugh over a world that frequently walked all over him, one that ignored his problems when intervention was a possibility. One that kicked him around and laughed at him.

The possible early years before a mass shooter takes aim, revolving around these issues (as well as aforementioned childhood neglect) is so well written within the excellent script, as well as Phoenix’s powerful delivery of it, if one didn’t know better, they could be forgiven for thinking that they are watching the mental demise of a real man in a true story-type of film. This is simply because of the unflinching realism and the film’s restrained sensibilities, apart from the occasional exaggeration needed to present a movie about one of the biggest fictional characters in today’s public consciousness.

This near lack of sensationalism refuses to champion Arthur’s journey into madness, rather it strives to show realistic situations within the fantastical, fictional setting, as it attempts and succeeds in putting the viewer into the shoes of Arthur as he becomes further withdrawn from the outside world, a ‘loner’ if there ever was one – eventually becoming obviously delusional as a result, unaware of what horrible things he has done and may do next. His complete disconnection from reality must surely feel a dream come true for such a man, one who never caught a break in life.

Whether you see Arthur as a victim of his past, of a cruel society, of a crumbling medical system, it cannot be argued that these elements intertwine like diseased vines, and soon becoming perhaps jarringly obvious to some that his situation is much more complex than it initially seemed. This complexity though is certain to fly over the heads of certain ignorant, biased viewers who opinions on the film are formed before having even seen it, and we have no shortage of such people, some of whom are, incredibly, willing to call themselves a critic!

As the little sanity he has left dwindles and his delusions increase in severity, he reaches ‘the point of no return’, in this case meaning that any chance of his delusions ceasing are now finished. Isolated, alone, hated by those whose opinions matter to him, Joker impressively conveys what it can take to rob someone of their mental faculties, leaving them in a confused world where their only answers, their only choices, are dictated by a delusional construct of the world around them, one that will never make sense to any person but themselves.

A powerful look at the filth of the world today, as well as deep character flaws that can be direct result of this, it would surely be up for an award or two if not for apparent controversial themes that somehow have managed to upset those with the very thinnest of skins. However, ignoring this extremely loud group of people, Joker delivers the best film of the year so far, one of the best commentaries on the worst elements of our world today, as well as easily the best and deepest character study of the decade featuring Joaquin Phoenix’s best performance since The Master. The music, at times melodic and traditional but with increasingly harsh moments as the run-time goes by, is heavy in the overall audio mix, but never detracts or overpowers. This is the final ingredient to add to this amazing film. There is very little to disagree with regarding its scorching of current society, and to see such depth in a film that is an origin story for a super-villain, there is very little not to like about this, and almost nothing at all to complain about. It is a film that must be seen.


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