By Bo Nicholson – Managing Director
Such is the way with subjective matters; there will always be debate about the Oscar Nominations. There’s always the ‘lock’, the little independent film that could, the foreign language movie that gets 1 obligatory nomination when it deserves more, the critical darling, the crowd-pleaser. Despite the rinse and repeat nature of the Academy’s voting habits and all of the study into precursors and indicators, there are always huge surprises and massive snubs. Let’s take a look at some of these below.
Roma earns 10 nomination
In a perfect world, the Academy Awards would be a meritocracy; setting aside the limits enforced by politics and campaigning in a quest to find the best work done in each category, regardless of the language spoken, the gender of the director/writer/lead character or the colour of anyone’s skin. Sadly, we’re not there yet. With Roma, we have a fine candidate for the best film of the year, with Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Gravity) crafting one of the most stunning slice-of-life films this writer can ever recall seeing. It calls to mind the Italian Neorealism film movement, deploying a non-professional actress (Yalitza Aparicio) to lead the film through seemingly mundane activities before the plot arrives at moments that are nothing short of breathtaking. But it doesn’t hold a lot of appeal to the average filmgoer.
With its easy access on Netflix and a whopping 10 nominations, the Academy has no doubt inspired literally millions of people to look into a movie they otherwise wouldn’t have bothered with. Cinema has so much more to offer than just whatever Hollywood is producing at any given time, so hordes of people watching a film from Mexico can only be a good thing in my eyes.
Paul Schrader (First Reformed) nominated for Best Original Screenplay
Paul Schrader, the legendary screenwriter of classic films Taxi Driver & Raging Bull, wrote and directed the stunning First Reformed last year and it simply didn’t receive the love it deserved. Containing probably the best performance of 2018 from Ethan Hawke (despite his snub from the Academy) and some of the sharpest writing about faith, environmentalism, extremism, mortality, love, hope and despair that has ever been punched through a typewriter (or perhaps a word processor these days), First Reformed is one of those films that will be adored by cinephiles for years to come despite lacklustre Box Office and Awards season results. Schrader probably won’t win the statue (The Favourite and Green Book look likely to steal that away from him), but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be a worthy recipient should his name be on the envelope.
Lucasz Zal (Cold War) nominated for Best Cinematography
It’s always nice when the Academy extends some love to foreign cinema in categories other than Best Foreign Language Film, so seeing Zal’s name on the ballot was a pleasant surprise. Pleasant, because when watching the monochrome beauty of Cold War, I was completely taken aback by some of the photography. It was never showy, but every shot felt thoughtful and purposeful. The lead performance from Joanna Kulig is tremendous and Pawel Pawlikowski’s direction tied the whole thing together brilliantly (wonderful that he was also nominated for Direction) so there are plenty of reasons to see Cold War. In fact, its omission from the Best Picture race is a damn shame, because it is one of this year’s best.
First Man misses out on Score and Cinematography nomination
First Man received largely positive reviews from critics but left some viewers feeling a little cold. Perhaps the fact that we knew the ending of the film before it began meant that we weren’t able to fully engage in the drama? What can’t come into question, though, is how brilliant the work of Linus Sandgren and Justin Hurwitz was in cinematography and composing, respectively. Both received Oscar love for their stellar work in La La Land and in Chazelle’s ode to human sacrifice for progress, both brought their A-game, particularly Sandgren, whose photography of the moon landing scene sits high on the list of best shots of the year. It’s unfortunate that they won’t receive the recognition they deserve from the Academy this time around.
Sam Rockwell beats Michael B. Jordan to Best Supporting Actor nomination
Yeah, yeah; Black Panther is just a superhero movie, but hear me out.
Michael B. Jordan is quickly establishing himself as one of the most promising actors of the new generation, courtesy largely to the depth of the characters created by director Ryan Coogler. Casting Jordan as Killmonger in Black Panther gave Marvel exactly what they’ve always needed to take their films to the next level; a damn good villain. His presence on the screen demands your attention, his acting during his backstory scenes creating an empathy with his plight, his imposing physique makes him an ominous threat, his charisma and good looks enhance his likeability. It was perfect casting and a damn fine performance.
Sam Rockwell, brilliant actor that he is, delivered a George W. Bush impersonation as good as anything you’d see from a comedian on a skit show. It was fine. It was not on Jordan’s level. The Academy missed a trick here.
The Utterly Embarrassing
Bohemian Rhapsody receiving 5 nomination
*** There is a lot to be said about the allegations against Bryan Singer (the director of Bohemian Rhapsody). Instead of commenting on him as a human, I’ll leave this article from TIME so that you can make up your own mind about whether you would choose to support this film or not. ***
Aside from the aforementioned allegations against its director, there are plenty of reasons to find Bohemian Rhapsody receiving 5 Oscar nominations sincerely embarrassing for the Academy as an organisation. The nominations are for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.
I will concede that despite the fact that it’s a sincerely low quality piece of work, nominations in the Sound Editing and Sound Mixing categories make some sense, particularly when you read into how they doctored Malek’s singing voice to make him sound like Freddie Mercury. The best part of the movie is the Live Aid finale, so I can’t begrudge them those nominations. Malek himself gives a good impersonation, but even his nomination is frankly nonsense when you consider those that haven’t been nominated, namely Ethan Hawke for First Reformed and John David Washington from BlacKkKlansman.
What is particularly baffling is that somebody looked at this movie, with the way it drags along in its painfully boring middle as it touches on but doesn’t delve into about 5 different plot lines, and thought now that’s some damn good editing! And not just somebody, but a bunch of people who should know better! Are they even watching movies this year?
What that leaves us with is a Best Picture nominee (beating an impossibly large list of far more worthy films) that simply does not deserve to be there. In fact, on reflecting on every nominee for Best Picture since 2000 (there’s been 134) – Bohemian Rhapsody lays claim to being the absolute worst of the entire lot.
There’s a lot of vitriol among film fans about the love shown to movies like Bohemian Rhapsody, Vice and Green Book and Bryan Singer’s personal life is likely to steal a fair share of limelight heading into the final stretch of the awards season. But sometimes we need to remind ourselves that it is just an awards show and that a lot of great work in film will hopefully be recognised, as well as encouraging cinema-goers to check out something they may not have previously.
What did you find good, bad or embarrassing about the Oscar Nominations this year? Or even about Bo’s article? Let us know in the comments below!
Bo Nicholson is a Managing Director at The Pioneer Australia. For the record, he’s hoping for Roma to win Best Picture and Director.
Video by Chris Timms
Written by Bo Nicholson – Managing Director
Muse have been gathering a cult-following since the late 90s. Their ability to mix hard-rock sensibilities with the more operatic creates the perfect canvas for their leading man, Matt Bellamy, to explore the full range of his unique talents vocally or with the guitar or on keys.
They hit their commercial stride about 10 years ago on the back of their reputation as one of the world’s great live acts. Will Simulation Theory be a return to their halcyon days?
Chris Timms, a hard-rock guitarist from Brisbane who has a deep passion for music and film, sat down to review the album, picking apart each song with his brilliant ear for music. Be sure to check out his excellent review below.
By Bo Nicholson - Managing Director
*** Be careful, ahead is some discussion about the films Whiplash, La La Land and First Man which some people may consider spoilers. ***
Born in 1985 and hailing from Providence, Rhode Island, Damien Chazelle established early in his life a love of film. This is probably a familiar story for any number of filmmakers across the world. Film offers a window into other worlds. It also offers a mirror of our own. The allure of film is almost impossible for some of us to ignore. The same medium that allows us to go on the wild adventures of Iron Man or Han Solo also informs many of our ideas of relationships, of careers, of what to wear and what to think; of how we see ourselves. It’s no coincidence that, sometimes, filmmakers use movies to tell personal stories.
Drums before the Director’s Chair
Chazelle didn’t always have the drive to be a great filmmaker. While studying at Princeton High School in New Jersey he harboured ambitions to be a jazz drummer. Jazz music had stolen the heart of the young Catholic boy who spent 4 years being schooled at a Jewish Synagogue. Apparently, he practiced drums for 6 hours a day desperately trying to impress his music teacher, who would scream and swear at the students or kick musicians out of the band. Sound familiar? If you’ve seen Whiplash, the answer is yes.
Whiplash is obviously inspired by his experiences, but unlike the character Andrew Niemann in the film, Chazelle worked out that he didn’t have the raw talent required to succeed as a drummer and gave up on that particular dream. Instead, he chose to study film at Harvard University, which reignited his love of film and, combined with his love of jazz music, inspired him to research the old MGM musicals of the Hollywood Golden Age. His roommate Justin Hurwitz became one of his best friends and collaborators, composing the scores for each of his 4 films so far. Harvard would also be where he would meet his first wife, Jasmine McGlade. Both of these people helped him to make his student film which would go on to be his first feature film, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, a monochrome romance bathed in his love of Jazz. It excited industry types and critics alike, even though it didn’t make back its budget. Upon graduation, he decided to go to Los Angeles to make movies.
He started out as a hired-hand, writing scripts for other people’s movies. Movies like The Last Exorcism Part II and Grand Piano benefitted from his efforts, but he was always waiting for his big break. Whiplash provided that break, which lead to La La Land, his love letter to LA that spoke about the trappings and allure of the show-business industry. Oh, and it’s loaded with jazz, with Sebastian (played by Ryan Gosling) acting as a last crusader on a mission to save jazz. In so many ways, the parallels to Chazelle’s own life were obvious; the Jazz loving, aspiring filmmaker desperately trying to make a name for himself in a city that celebrates culture before moving on to the next new thing. It’s less obvious to see the personal touch applied to his latest film, First Man, a biopic about Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. That is, until you find the true core of his three most recent films.
The Price of Greatness
What appears obvious in Whiplash, which Chazelle wrote and directed, is the theme that greatness comes at a great personal cost. Andrew (Miles Teller) wants to be a great drummer like Buddy Rich; Fletcher (J. K Simmons in an Oscar-winning turn) wants to push his students so that he can uncover the next Charlie Parker. Andrew is terrified of Fletcher, but never balks at a challenge set by the band leader because he sees it as a natural cost of achieving greatness. His quest puts him at odds with his family (particularly his father, whose idea of success is not to be dead from a drug overdose in your 30s, no matter how good you were at music) and his girlfriend, who he breaks up with because her lack of ambition would only serve to distract him from achieving his goals. Andrew becomes cold and distant with the people that he loves and buys into Fletcher’s dangerous games, but by the end of the film the audience is left in little doubt that the 19 year old is destined for bigger things. The audience may wonder whether it was all worth it, but Andrew has achieved what he set out to.
In La La Land, the message is wrapped in more subtlety; Chazelle has traded out the dread of Whiplash and replaced it with an old-style musical, packed with romance and show-stopping song and dance numbers. That the film sets your mind to expect the happy ending that matches the first 90% of the all-smiling and all-laughing film and then refuses to deliver it makes the impact all the more painful. We’d all thought we’d seen this movie before; Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) are star-crossed lovers. He wants to open a jazz club to resurrect the genre and she wants to be a star actress in movies. They’ve both become frustrated at how difficult it is to get their break and each have, at times, given up on their true dreams to settle for more ‘grown-up’ choices. When they break up, Mia receives the opportunity of a lifetime to become the star she always dreamed of being and needs Sebastian to give her the push she needs to take the chance. But he knows that he can’t go with her (he’d only get in the way) and watching her achieve her dreams without him has given him the impetus to chase his own. They each choose to sacrifice one of the great romantic pairings in film history in order to achieve personal greatness. 5 years later, we see that they have, but without each other. After that epilogue, you think for a moment they could end up together, but they know that it is a love triangle between 2 people; his love of jazz, her love of acting and their love of each other. They had to sacrifice one and they made their choice.
First Man, the first film that he has directed which he hasn’t written, certainly feels like a less personal film for Chazelle, but I think that would be a mistake to assume. Behind the fairly brutal re-telling of how Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) became the first man to set foot on the moon is a personal story about the kind of drive it takes to not only be good enough to be selected for such a mission, but the mental toughness it takes to press on in the face of genuine danger and the loss of pretty much all of your best friends and co-workers. The drive and mental toughness caused him to become cold and distant with the people that he loves, almost detaching himself emotionally from the realisation that he may not be returning from any mission that he goes on, a fact that terrifies his wife Janet (played by Claire Foy). Their marriage is tested and his relationship with his children becomes so poor that he wouldn’t have said goodbye to them if Janet hadn’t yelled at him about it. Yet he presses on. In order to become one of the most well-known people of the 20th Century and an international hero he had to endure great hardship and risked losing everyone that he loved and, indeed, his own life. He had to sacrifice it all in order to become Neil Armstrong.
Damien Chazelle presents himself as a happy person, almost star-struck at the idea of working with the likes of Gosling, Stone and Simmons on big budget movies. He’s married Olivia Hamilton just this year (you may remember her from roles in La La Land and First Man) and his star continues to rise. Heck, you may even say that he’s already achieved greatness, having become the youngest ever Best Director winner at the Oscars for La La Land at just 32. But at what cost? Well, he may have given us a clue in some of his movies.
Consider that in 2014 he and Jasmine McGlade divorced. Not a whole lot has been said publicly about this split, but Chazelle offered an interesting insight in an interview with Raphael Abraham for Financial Times in January, 2017. When asked about whether there is a trade-off between romantic and professional dreams, he said “I’ve only recently been lucky enough to feel like they don’t have to be mutually exclusive … I was, for a large part of my life, that kind of hermit, a little bit like Ryan’s character at the beginning of the movie (La La Land): ‘Fuck the world, I’m going to stay in my room and write the next great American screenplay’.”
To achieve the kind of greatness that he wanted to, it appears that Chazelle may have distanced himself from his wife. That’s why for every moment of pure joy that you find in one of his films, it’s often accompanied by a sense of profound melancholy. That was Chazelle’s unconscious understanding of the price of greatness. But there is hope in the above quote, where he acknowledges that you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice everything you have for your professional or artistic dreams. What impact will this change of mindset have on his future work? Time will tell, but I’ll be watching for sure.
Bo Nicholson is a Managing Director at The Pioneer Australia. He maintains that La La Land is one of the best musicals he’s ever seen, but concedes that he has a lot more to see before he calls it the best. Even then it’d have to beat The Wizard of Oz! Is that even possible?
By Bo Nicholson - Managing Director
Some films are created with the sole purpose of being entertaining; they may tell a story and that story may be of significance, but the primary function is to be a fun time. Some movies are just made to make money; frankly, these films couldn’t care much about what their script looks like, how much is spoiled during the promotion of the film, or even if it is any good. Some films are works of art; with a purpose to educate and display technical prowess and high-minded creativity. Like all great art, they inspire a sense of wonder and awe as you look at or hear it for the first time.
Think of all the travellers that have visited the Sistine Chapel and gazed upon that immortal ceiling and wondered how Michelangelo could have managed such a feat. Think of all the people that listened to Revolver by The Beatles in 1966 and were equal parts stunned at what they had just heard and excited by what was surely to follow. 2001: A Space Odyssey falls into the same category; a film that is primarily a work of art that at times can be quite slow, but overall is a film of such impressive technical and philosophical achievement that it deserves to be hailed as one of the greatest films of all time.
Once Removed from Genius
As I sat in a room full of about 300 cinephiles and science-fiction nerds, including my partner and 2 friends, my excitement was starting to build. We were there to watch 2001: A Space Odyssey to celebrate its 50th birthday and were about to have a Q&A with two of its stars. We’d already caught a glimpse of the elderly Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, the actors who portrayed Dave and Frank. They were sitting down the front in comfortable chairs. Being men of around 80 years, they each cut a weary figure as they entered or left the cinema, although my friend reports that Lockwood was quite spritely and enthusiastic at the urinal when he spotted his co-star. They needn’t stay to watch the film, as Lockwood says, he’s probably seen it 693 times. But while they were there they regaled us with stories of how they learned they would be doing these roles, what they thought the film was about, some random old man stories from Lockwood and, most importantly, their experience of working with Stanley Kubrick.
It suddenly dawned on me while sharing that room with those elderly actors; there was one degree of separation between Kubrick and I in that moment. Here was a direct link to one of cinema’s greatest minds, and they couldn’t be more complimentary of him. I was once removed from genius.
Dullea and Lockwood answered their questions with the variety you might expect from two vastly different people. Dullea’s answers were thoughtful, often concise and stayed on the point. His obvious stoicism mirrored Dave, the character he played in 2001. Lockwood was boisterous, controversial at times, naturally funny and seemed more emotional. He was quick to drop a name (at one point he went on a massive tangent talking about his time on Star Trek despite the question being about the scientific accuracy of 2001) and he was also quick to repeatedly point out that he was a painter and photographer. What they both agreed on was the genius of Kubrick. He had an unparalleled eye for detail and his vision was beyond compare. It’s worth remembering that a film like 2001 is a huge risk. Not only is every scene so rigorously planned to include every detail he’d imagined, but a 2-and-a-half-hour Sci-fi epic with a largely ambiguous story and many scenes of silence or no dialogue is a tough ask for many people to endure. At first, it was largely panned for being boring and pretentious. But then it began to transform in the minds of the public and the critics; now it is known as one of the greats.
Starting with 25 minutes of silence, 2001 can be a pretty tough sell for modern audiences; perhaps a critique of us more than of the film. But more than challenging our attention spans, the theological philosophies at play will also make you marvel at its scope and ambition. Make no mistake; Kubrick’s intention is not to thrill and entertain, but more to inspire thought and contemplation.
For those cinephiles that haven’t seen this film yet, I’m not going to spoil it here. But I encourage you to watch the film before you read about all of the many theories about what the film means. Have an open mind, absorb all of the information (including the minutiae of the quieter and uneventful moments) and come to your own conclusion, before reading what others think. I deliberately say what others think, because a lot of the theories have a lot of merit but they differ greatly.
Modern films, if you will allow me to generalise, don’t allow room for the audience to think about what they are watching, and sadly modern audiences have been conditioned to expect non-stop action, suspense, humour or drama, lest they get bored. 2001 takes extra time to do things, showing in great detail all of the ins and outs of space travel, the aforementioned opening sequence at the dawn of mankind and the famed final third. Many viewers will not understand what is happening in front of them and become frustrated and bored. I understand these people, but to them I say you are missing the point; this film is not for understanding, it is for contemplation. It shows us what we know kick-started human evolution – it estimates what the near future will look like (surprisingly accurately, as I watch this in 2018) and hypothesises about the future of the human race and the existence of aliens. I think it does, anyway!
If patience and restraint aren’t things that you enjoy, then perhaps the stunning visuals are more your speed. Kubrick, a known perfectionist, has created a visual feast that is the approximate equal of any space footage you see in modern films.
The quiet and nuanced symbolism is pushed aside for the second act, where a crew of 5 astronauts are headed into deep space to follow the signal made by a mysterious monolith found on the moon. To accompany them on their journey is an AI system called HAL 9000. I won’t go into more detail for fear of spoiling, but this section of the film provides the most genuine tension and introduces us to one of cinema’s greatest villains.
All of these words and I’m still not satisfied with my ability to discuss this film (without spoilers, of course!). But I guess with some great pieces of art, words just aren’t enough. How could I ever write a piece to compare with the genius of a late 60’s Beatles album, or a Mozart opera, or a film made by Stanley Kubrick in his prime; a film that transcends its genre and medium to stand alone as a truly unique venture and a wholly individual viewpoint, while also being a truly universal film that touches on issues such as our past, our future and our theological beliefs.
When asked, early in the Q&A, about whether they felt that this film could be made now (if it were never made in 1968), the actors were quite diplomatic. Maybe some of the more talented directors could do something similar, they said. By the end of the Q&A they were asked again. This time they were resolute with their answer. No, this film could not be made without Kubrick. You know what, they’re probably right. I’m glad he made it when he did; we’re all better for it.
Bo Nicholson is a Managing Director at The Pioneer Australia. He's far from a Sci-Fi geek, so 2001: A Space Odyssey is the only film from that genre that gets five stars from him... so far!
By Bo Nicholson – Managing Director
"I am a romantic, but I do put up a barrier around myself, so it is hard for people to get in and to know the real me" — Freddie Mercury
The role of the biopic is not to tell the ins and outs of every detail of a person’s life, it is to find the very essence of that person. To expand on the persona that has already been presented to the audience, many of whom are loyal fans or followers of the person being covered. The best biopics don’t cover a large portion of a person’s life; they pick a significant time that displays the crux of this person’s challenges and the core of their humanity.
As a filmmaker wishing to cover the life of Freddie Mercury, you’re spoiled for choice. You could tell the story of how he rose from being a weird college student from a conservative family to the most potently talented vocalist of his generation (executed brilliantly in a movie like Nowhere Boy). You could really hone in on the making of his magnum opus, Bohemian Rhapsody (consider Love & Mercy and the way it shows Brian Wilson’s creation of Pet Sounds). Perhaps you could cover the difficulties of coming out as homosexual as a high-profile person at a time when homophobia was rampant. Maybe you could tell the story of how ego controlled his decision-making in the early 80s, leading to the break-up of Queen and subsequent reunion for THAT Wembley Stadium performance for Live Aid. You could even cover his premature death from Aids, where he inadvertently became the poster boy for the disease at a time when homophobia and Aids hysteria would have been crippling for a man of his profile. Bryan Singer, experienced filmmaker that he is (he has directed The Usual Suspects and a bunch of X-Men movies), made the foolish decision to try and cover all of it in one film and, thus, we are still no closer to truly knowing Freddie Mercury.
Bohemian Rhapsody is a convoluted 134 minutes (!!!) that not even the director cared about (Singer was known for simply not turning up to set at times, such was his dislike of the film). A viewer’s enjoyment of Rhapsody lives and dies with their level of fandom for Queen. If you are a mega-fan you’ll likely forgive the familiar treatment of the life and times of Mercury, the beyond-corny attempts at humour or gravitas, the rearranging of significant life events to serve an overly-sentimental and contrived narrative driven by his biased bandmates who helped bank roll the project and the over-reliance on your enjoyment of their biggest hits. In fact, there’s really only 2 reasons to watch Bohemian Rhapsody at all if you’re anything less than a mega-fan; THAT Wembley concert and the performance of Rami Malek.
Without question the best thing about this movie is Malek, who only got the part when Sacha Baron Cohen quit after Queen members (and executive producers) Brian May and Roger Taylor wouldn’t let their presence go unfelt. After all, it was their story as much as it was Mercury’s (according to them). This casting accident proved a happy one, as Malek delivers an imitation so brilliant that his own star can do nothing but rise. He embodies his walk, his stage presence, his speech and, to an extent, his voice. But, try as he might, Malek doesn’t capture the essence of Mercury because the film never dares to slow down and take a moment to consider his inner workings. Malek did the best that he could with the material available to him, but a script with the nuance of a sledgehammer is an impossible tool to work with.
It also fails in the humour department, with so many winks and nods to the audience that it’s simply unbearable. Consider the scene where the band are trying to persuade the label executive, played by Mike Myers, that Bohemian Rhapsody should be the single, while he argues for other weaker songs that are shorter. Then he comes out with possibly the worst slice of dialogue I’ve heard in a biopic in the last decade; “No one is going to be head-banging in the car to Bohemian Rhapsody”. Process that. Mike Myers said that. The guy that popularised the idea of head-banging in a car to that song in Wayne’s World. Whoever got paid for that gag should have their cheque torn up. You just know that conversation didn’t go that way. You know the sad part? The real conversation was probably far more interesting. In fact, when compared to the actual life of Freddie Mercury, it’s hard to imagine it being possible to make a film this dull.
True Queen fans will probably find themselves won over by the end, with what feels like maybe a little too much time spent on the Live Aid concert, but all your favourite Queen songs get played or mentioned throughout the hefty runtime and the whole thing is dripping in unearned sentimentality by the end. Some people will like this movie. But don’t be mistaken, these people would have been just as happy if they just played Queens Greatest Hits (CD 1) in surround sound. Their approval doesn’t necessarily mean the film has any merit.
It’s big without enough fun and it’s loud without anything meaningful to say. What you know about Mercury now is exactly the same as when you leave the cinema; we learn nothing new about the man. Maybe he was right, maybe he is difficult to truly know. Or maybe he, and the talented actor that portrayed him deserved a lot better than a film lacking in craft, honesty and genuine insight.
Seems Bo wasn’t a fan. Did he get it right? Let us know in the comments below.
Bo Nicholson is a Managing Director at The Pioneer Australia. His favourite Queen song is obviously Bohemian Rhapsody and his favourite biopic is Groundhog Day, which he firmly believes is based in reality.
By Lauren Harding
Halloween (1978), Laurie Strode (played by scream queen actress Jamie-Lee Curtis) and her friends are stalked and terrorised by a masked killer known as Michael Myers. This low-budget movie became the godfather of slasher films, and by consequence the tropes and clichés of horror films were born. In the end, only Laurie survives this horrifying experience. Or does she?
The latest sequel follows on directly from the original, and ignores all the other films in this series, to its benefit. Halloween (2018) focuses on Laurie, 40 years on from this traumatic experience, who is suffering from PTSD. She is now an avid survivalist, who has trained herself in preparation for the inevitable return of Michael Myers. The Laurie in this film is a survivor but her involvement with Michael has left her in ‘final girl’ mode for the remaining years of her life. Which begs the question, did Michael make a monster out of Laurie? The physical scars may have healed but the mental ones remain fresh for Laurie Strode. The consequences have been two failed marriages, a strained relationship with her only child, Karen, and estrangement with her teenage granddaughter, Allyson.
This is an interesting and fresh plot device for Halloween (2018), as it touches on the life-long effects on what violent and traumatic experiences can create, not only for victims, but by extension, those close to them. Jamie Lee Curtis is in her element as survivor Laurie Strode. Her performance is strong, where it seems she has tapped into her own personal demons and experience as a recovering alcoholic and addict; struggling to connect with the important people in her life.
Michael Myers as the antagonist is fantastic. The writers (director David Gordon Green and his co-writers, Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley), have honoured the original film by keeping Michael as close to his original form as possible. He still steadily stalks, watches from the shadows and never gives reason or motivation for his killings. It’s also in the small tributes, such as the scar on Michael’s neck from where Laurie stabbed him with her knitting needle, which will thrill the fans of the original when spotting these cleverly inserted details.
Director David Gordon Green understands his audience. From getting John Carpenter to compose again, well produced cinematography, settings and high-tension scenes; Green appreciates that a good horror lies in the necessary solid foundations of film. Green also acknowledges that audiences have become desensitized with slasher films and in this Halloween they have upped the ante with bloody violence.
There are some issues with this sequel, namely the storyline of Doctor Ranbir Sartain and Allyson and her friends. When the film focuses on these characters, the pacing slows down (with the exception of one porch sensor light scene). The film could have been tightened by focusing more on Laurie’s relationships, or lack thereof, with her daughter and granddaughter. The drama from an intergenerational trauma would have been a unique take on this franchise.
Despite this, Halloween is a suspenseful and high-tension horror which has been expertly shot to pay homage to the original; a true and worthy sequel.
Have you braved the cinema to watch the new Halloween? Has Lauren got it right? Let us know in the comments!
Lauren Harding is The Pioneer Australia’s resident Scream Queen. She loves nothing more than turning off the lights and flicking on a scary movie to watch with her husband and two dogs, developing new phobias from those movies, then repeating the process over and over again!
By Lauren Harding
Halloween; that time of the year when the movie industry ramps up their horror film releases and chocolate is discounted in the supermarkets. It’s a winning combination for any movie goer. So why not grab the Maltesers and some friends and watch some of these terrifying films…. If you dare!
1. Hereditary (2018)
This film, which stars Toni Collette as a mother who has a family history of mental illnesses, frightened me. For Ari Aster’s directional debut, Hereditary had the tension building creep factor that is missing from so many horror films of late. Aster uses the scenery and lighting to his advantage by carefully keeping things in the shadows and out of range, alerting your senses and raising tension.
As the story progresses, it becomes increasingly terrifying until the final act, where the climax will keep you on the edge of your seat, and horrified. Hereditary, why I now need to have a security blanket.
2. The Babadook (2014)
This Australian supernatural horror film, and feature debut of writer and director Jennifer Kent, is deeply sinister. A simple plot follows a despondent widow (Amelia), whose insomniac son is terrified of the Babadook monster from a children’s book. The film questions if this a fabrication of the over imagination of a child or the decline of Amelia’s mental state and reality.
This movie, to simply put, is disturbing. Scenes from the film are chilling and the dysfunction of this little family is traumatising. It is an insidious film, cleverly acted and paced, and is the reason why I will never buy a pop-up book again!
3. The VVitch (2015)
A period picture with horror elements, the directional debut of Robert Eggers follows a Puritan family who settle near a forest where something sinister lurks in the woods. This is a slow building film with horrifying tension of biblical proportions. The setting is atmospheric and the building despair and isolation is tangible. It’s not suitable for those who prefer a fast-paced violent horror; the beauty of this film is the building dread as the tragedies unfold. I highly recommend The VVitch, it is an astounding, unique horror, and why I no longer play peek-a-boo.
4. The Visit (2015)
M. Night Shyamalan’s horror film follows a documentary of two teenagers meeting their estranged grandparents for the first time on their isolated farm. And then, things get weird and dark. Are the grandparents just elderly and addle-brained, or is there something more disturbing in their behaviour?
This film is surprisingly fun, the brother Tyler provides interjections of great humour, the actors are perfectly cast, especially the grandparents. The lack of music and sound effects enhances the film, making it feel realistic; that you are watching found footage. The Visit, why I never leave my bedroom after 9:30pm.
5. The Conjuring (2013) & The Conjuring 2 (2016)
Double trouble; I can’t watch one without following up with the other. The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 follow demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren as they travel and help families who are being plagued by the supernatural. Directed by the talented James Wan (Saw), these two films are both satisfyingly good horrors.
Wan creates a terrifying atmosphere and sense of foreboding with his carefully selected settings and antagonists. Both films are creepy and use different, yet simple, tricks to unnerve the audience. The Conjuring films, eerie and well plotted horrors and the reason why I won’t ever touch a musical box.
6. Insidious (2010)
From the evil duo who brought you Saw, this film is directed by James Wan and written by Leigh Whannell. Insidious was one of the unexpected terrifying movies of 2010. A supernatural horror which centres on a family where the son mysteriously falls into a coma, whose body is slowly being possessed by ghosts in an astral realm. I would watch this for the creepy setting that is ‘The Further’, a horror maze-like purgatory.
The film is enhanced through using prosthetics, props and lighting to create the atmosphere, ghosts and great jump-scares; the lack of CGI is what makes the film feel authentic. Insidious; the film that makes me never want to hear the eerie notes of ‘Tiptoe Through The Tulips’ again.
7. Hush (2016)
Two words; Final girl. This slasher film is a unique take on the final girl cliché, where scream queen actress Kate Siegel (from Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, Occulus and Ouija: Origin of Evil) plays a deaf author, Maddie, who lives alone in isolated woods. One night she is terrorised by a masked man and so begins a cat and mouse game of survival. The genius part of this film is the location and setting, the open plan cabin and darkened woods are perfect for intensifying the tension.
Maddie’s thought process and lack of resources against the armed intruder provide suspense for the audience; how will Maddie make it out alive? I found Hush scary and it provides enough blood to sate this horror fan, without overdoing it. Hush, the reason why I will never live alone remotely!
8. Evil Dead (2013)
This remake by Fede Alvarez in his directorial debut is a supernatural horror that saturates the audience with brutal terror and gruesome scares. Evil Dead follows the same plotline as the original, a group of friends go to a cabin in a remote forest (to assist a recovering drug addict this time) and unintentionally awaken evil. While this remake lacks the campiness and humour of the low-budget originals, it makes up for it with suspense, graphic, bloody-horror, sound effects, make-up/prosthetics (minimal CGI), setting and atmosphere.
There is a surprise twist in the final act which is refreshing for a remake and the lead actress Jane Levy is superb as the devilish Mia. Evil Dead; a brilliant horror and why I have nightmares.
9. Don’t Breathe (2016)
Fede Alvarez frightened us with Evil Dead (2013) and his follow up film Don’t Breathe is as terrifying and suspenseful as his directional debut. When thieves break into a house of a blind man with a massive fortune, they encounter more than they bargained for. Alvarez and Jane Levy team up again and deliver what is a simple thriller plot, but with suspenseful high tension and great acting in scenes that are just sickening.
While there is minimal horror within this film, the parts that are intended to horrify chill you to the soul. This film does rely less on gore and bloody scares, but the thriller cat and mouse elements between the blind man and the thieves are terrifying. Don’t Breathe, why you will never want to touch a turkey baster again.
10. Lights Out (2016)
Lights Out is directed by David F. Sandberg, based on his short film, also named Lights Out (2013). It focuses on a dysfunctional family who are being haunted by an entity that can only be seen in the dark. It is an effective scary film, well shot with great suspense and shocking jump scares.
The writing behind this film is strong, where the characters are resourceful. The cinematography, setting and lighting to create this suspenseful supernatural horror are produced well. Lights Out, the reason I sleep with a night light on.
Already watched everything on the list? Then check out Mama (2013), IT (2017), Occulus (2013) and It Follows (2014), all four have major creep factor, supernatural thrills and chills with strong female leads.
Know any fantastic horror films from this decade that Lauren has left out? Let us know about it in the comments!
Lauren Harding is The Pioneer Australia’s resident Scream Queen. She loves nothing more than turning off the lights and flicking on a scary movie to watch with her husband and two dogs, developing new phobias from those movies, then repeating the process over and over again!
By Lauren Harding
Directed by Bradley Cooper (Feature Debut)
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott
Duration: 136 Minutes
A Star is Born, stars Bradley Cooper (who also directs) and Lady Gaga as the leads in this love story, a re-telling of the classic 1937 film of the same name.
Bradley Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a famous, but fading country music singer. He is a self-medicating alcoholic, suffering from tinnitus and reluctantly managed by his older brother Bobby (played brilliantly by Sam Elliott).
Lady Gaga portrays Ally Campana, an unknown, but very talented, singer and songwriter. Ally has tried to break into the music industry but was rejected, based on how she looks (“almost every single person I’ve come in contact with in the music industry tells me that my nose is too big and that I won’t make it”). This element speaks to our own time and how cookie-cutter the music industry can be in producing mainstream music. It is a key point to the overarching question the film asks, what is the essence of music? Is it just a form of entertainment, or should it be artists expressing their souls?
When Jackson and Ally meet, they begin a journey of love, stardom and best of all, music. You know this movie is going to be great from the moment Ally and Jackson sing ‘Shallow’ as a duet. The soundtrack for this film is reminiscent of the popular jazz score from La La Land, in that it’s full of catchy and soulful songs that strike a chord within you, causing this writer to repeatedly listen to stream the songs after leaving the cinema.
Lady Gaga’s performance is strong; when Ally sings, Gaga takes you with her. There is an intensity in her energy and emotion as Ally; at times it feels that Lady Gaga has bared her own soul. The chemistry between Ally and Jackson is palpable, to the point that one could believe that Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper do love each other.
Bradley Cooper is a brilliant actor and he truly shines in his role as Jackson. His foreshadowed downward spiral is an emotional journey, Jackson is a shipwreck and anyone who stays on board will go down with him. Not even love can salvage him, not from his brother, nor Ally. Cooper plays Jackson with such raw melancholy, that it leaves you with heartache. Bradley Cooper’s performance will no doubt earn him another Oscar nomination, perhaps even the win.
The direction of the film is perfect, Bradley Cooper understands his audience. He has shot the film at close range so that the viewers feel up close and personal with the characters; that you were one of the crowd watching this story unfold. It’s these moments, when the characters are vulnerable, that Bradley has captured.
Sam Elliot is a strong contender for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination in his role as Bobby. He is the epitome of grief, Bobby is tired of looking after his alcoholic brother, who won’t listen to advice or rehabilitate himself. He is forlorn, regretful of his own lack of success and missed opportunity. Bobby is under-appreciated and tries to do his best for Jackson, but fails and accepts it. In a particular car scene, Sam Elliot’s performance as Bobby is so poignant, he was able to convey such raw emotion without speaking, that it reduced this viewer to tears.
It is worth noting, this film isn’t perfect. There are flaws, with the worst being the lack of timeline clarity and some scenes that appeared unnecessary. There are only small indicators of how much time has passed between events, blink and you will miss them. Without a noticeable time regression, one could think the whole story took place in a short period. This poses an unrealistic and unrelatable narrative, which would alienate the audience. However, these imperfections are minor and do not affect the overall screenplay or pacing.
Regardless of these minor gripes, A Star is Born is an Oscar contending film with great acting performances, direction and, of course, a wonderful soundtrack.
Have you seen A Star Is Born? Do you agree or disagree with Lauren? Let us know in the comments!
Lauren Harding is a contributor for The Pioneer Australia who is based in Canberra. Her love for movies, music and video games is only matched by her love for her two dogs!
By Bo Nicholson - Managing Director
Directed by Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods)
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth
Duration: 141 Minutes
Rated MA 15+
This is not a place for a priest, Father. You shouldn’t be here.
The El Royale rests on the border of California and Nevada. What was once a bustling centre for the affluent during its peak, is now so obscure that the motel’s one employee doesn’t deem it necessary to answer his bell when it is check-in time. Make no mistake, the El Royale is not befitting of its name. Its casino has closed down because of regulations, no one ever mans the bar and if you want food you need to get it out of a vending machine. At the dawn of the 1970s, only the toughest characters belong in a place like the El Royale.
The film opens on a flashback of a man murdered in a motel room after cleverly hiding a bag beneath the floorboards. 10 years later it is a sunny day in the carpark of the El Royale and we meet Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), a soul singer en-route to Reno for a gig. She notices Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges) absent-mindedly standing and staring in the direction of one of the motel rooms. They exchange niceties before meeting Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm), a quick-talking salesman who has been there for a considerable time waiting for the staff to answer his call but wants it known that he simply must have the Honeymoon Suite. Eventually the staff member, Miles (Lewis Pullman) attends to the 3 guests nervously as Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson) hoons into the carpark, rudely pushes herself ahead in the queue and writes her name as ‘FUCK OFF’ in the register. Suffice it to say, in a movie drenched in Film Noir clichés, all of these characters are not what they seem. Fate has brought them together at the El Royale on this day in late 1969, but what does fate have in store for them?
Drew Goddard burst onto the scene with the highly rated horror-thriller The Cabin in the Woods in 2012, which he wrote and directed. In fact, prior to that hit film he’d built a reputation as a writer, having written a handful of episodes for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lost, among others. Like The Cabin in the Woods, El Royale is a film packed with twists and turns that manages to hold extreme levels of suspense for sustained periods. Goddard has proven, again, that he is an exciting talent.
In fact, the first hour and a half feels like high-quality cinema as we learn more and more about the characters and watch them behave in ways that we aren’t used to seeing in a film. Given the fact that the El Royale is a closed location filled with dangerous people, suspense is only natural as the score creeps along any dark alleys of the hotel’s back area, only interrupted by a blistering soundtrack of late 60s soul hits and the arresting acapella singing of Darlene Sweet, which is so bizarre to see but feels so deliriously pure when watching it.
The cinematography of Seamus McGarvey (Atonement) is wonderful; carefully using the tight spaces to his advantage to force tension upon the audience while still managing some virtuoso moments (Darlene urgently leaving the lobby at night to reveal the red, neon-lights of the hotel bearing down upon her, or a field of yellow flowers so stunning that a shirtless Chris Hemsworth is not the most beautiful thing in the frame).
What feels like a popcorn hit is quickly revealed to be packing more of a punch. Goddard doesn’t appear interested in his characters remaining as archetypes, instead imbuing them with enough back-story to round them out as humans. This works nicely as we see each person’s version of the events that transpire (in a clever use of the Rashomon-effect), learning more about the situation each time we see it through fresh eyes.
The film’s themes appear borne out of the motivations of its characters. It becomes a film about the good and evil in each person, and the fine line between the two, and the choices we make. If you are in a tough situation but want to be a good person or do the right thing, then you best be prepared to make some sacrifices. Spirituality also lives at the core of this film, further bringing to the spotlight the consequences of all of our actions.
This emotional weight the film shoots for is a strength for much of its duration that becomes a glaring flaw towards the end of the film as it introduces more characters, including the maniacal cult-leader Billy Lee (played by the aforementioned Chris Hemsworth). With 7 main characters and Goddard’s desire to flesh them all out as humans, the film’s ending becomes a bit of a slog just when the suspense should be ramping up. Sometimes, all we need to know is the bare basics about a side character or a villain; they have a role in the narrative that they must perform. Goddard’s mission to make them all feel organic has hindered his film significantly because it could not maintain its tension. As genuinely shocking things were unfolding in the last 20 minutes or so, I found myself caring very little about the outcome, which is never a good sign.
Still, there is so much to like here, even if the impact is lessened by its scope. Cynthia Erivo is really fantastic as Darlene Sweet, the score and the soundtrack are brilliant and McGarvey’s cinematography is at times astonishing. A lot of good craft has gone into making this film. The plot falls apart at a certain point, but it’s still refreshing to see an original story in the cinema; one that isn’t afraid to take some risks and shoot for the stars. This is exactly the kind of film that needs support in the cinema because we need to see more writers and directors with unique visions and presenting new ideas in interesting ways. While not perfect, Bad Times at the El Royale is well worth a watch and may become a fan-favourite in years to come.
Have you seen Bad Times at the El Royale? Do you agree or disagree with Bo? Let us know in the comments!
Bo Nicholson is a Managing Director at The Pioneer Australia, who thinks that if you want to see a film with the Rashomon-effect, you should totally just watch Rashomon. He also creates content for Pure Cinema which you can find on YouTube.
Video by Casey Causley
Written by Bo Nicholson – Managing Director
Damien Chazelle stormed into the spotlight with his incredible debut film, Whiplash, only to further raise the stakes with La La Land, this century’s greatest film musical. Can he continue his wonderful streak by breaking into the biopic genre with this version of Neil Armstrong’s moon landing, or will it be third time unlucky for the young director. Click the link below to see Casey Causley’s review of First Man.
Casey reviews movies, TV shows and also vlogs on her YouTube channel. Check out her content here