My Week With Marilyn****

It’s gems like filmmaker Colin Clark’s memoir of his personal experience with an icon that make the best screen stories, the ones that delve deeper into the celebrity’s persona to prove, disprove or enlighten our knowledge further and make for a more honest and intimate affair. My Week With Marilyn, the name of said memoir and debut feature-film director Simon Curtis’s new film title is one such example that much like Marilyn Monroe it portrays, is an instant heart warmer that you can’t help but be utterly charmed by.

In the summer of 1956, Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe (played by Michelle Williams) arrived on British soil to produce and star in The Prince and the Showgirl, co-starring and directed by acting legend and British acting royalty Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). On that same shoot was then-23-year-old Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), an Oxford graduate from a well-established family who was desperate to make it as a filmmaker, and as third assistant director on the film, found himself in the most intimate situation with the screen siren, who confided in him during one magical week.

Curtis’ quintessentially British affair captures the imagination from the word go as it’s not just the promise of someone bringing Marilyn to life, but also the stuff of dreams: We have all thought at one point, what if you found yourself in the company of your idol for one week and got to know them like no other? His film, while brazenly pining for the romance of the ‘good old days’, is also stylish, quirky and natty, like the glamorous yesteryear Pinewood productions it strives to recreates, and has an enthusiastic, cheeky and addictive energy, as well as a truly wonderful cast to deliver this.

Williams is sure to get her second Oscar nomination for her Marilyn portrayal. She summons just the right countenance, pose and effervescence of the screen idol, while giving a respectable and credible insight into the darker recesses of her tortured mind and soul. This childlike innocence and fragility is beautifully captured when Marilyn is in awe of a dolls house in one scene, that we fall that little bit more for her and her crushing vulnerability at the hands of fame. That said the Jekyll and Hyde emotions suggest a far less naïve side at the end, very much a woman in control of her own destiny and brand, and Williams subtly and expertly relays this, but still retains Marilyn’s treasured enigma to marvel at. Curtis fuels the love affair with some highly impressive renditions from multi-talented Williams who actually performs Marilyn’s songs, “When Love Goes Wrong/Heat Wave” and “That Old Black Magic”.

Another standout performance comes from Branagh as the acidic-tongued theatrical stalwart Olivier, brilliantly allowing the sarcasm at the tardy Hollywood star’s irresponsibility and drama to drip off the tongue while absolutely nailing Olivier’s clipped and polished pronunciation with thrilling results. Like a scolding mentor, Olivier is the unwilling villain of the piece, who also reveals an intriguing vulnerability at becoming yesterday’s news. It is such insecurities we can all relate to, not just actors but anyone at the height of their career.

Redmayne gives a career-defining performance as Colin, a mixture of cocky youthful arrogance and personable honesty, as much a pawn as Marilyn in the film game – hence she adopts him as her temporary friend. Redmayne commendably plays the doting and mesmerised, lovesick aide who falls for the Marilyn magic, and his moments opposite Williams are truly tender and unique as unconventional ‘love affairs’ go.

There are also some divine supporting moments to enjoy from Judi Dench as actress Dame Sybil Thorndike, the dry-witted and patient surrogate mother to the fragile on-set Marilyn; a virtually unrecognisable Zoë Wanamaker as Marilyn’s drab and domineering Method coach and shoulder-to-cry-on Paula Strasberg; and Dominic Cooper as Milton Greene, Marilyn’s estranged co-producer who fell for the Marilyn charms years earlier and has to deal with his jealousy at Colin’s closeness with the star. Julia Ormond is captivating as screen legend and Olivier’s wife, Vivien Leigh, who is also tackling the ‘has-been’ demons that come with age. Emma Watson briefly appears as costume hand and Colin’s fling, Emma, an apt transition into the adult acting arena for the Harry Potter star. There is a real sense from all involved that this was a labour of love to do the utmost justice to the memoir and provide a bigger picture of the highs and lows of that time, as well as a lot of fun in parts.

As a first feature, Curtis has made a significant mark and shown a real gift for character narration, delivering a powerhouse of individual and ensemble acting prowess that encapsulates this glamorous era of filmmaking history, even if it is guilty of being a little pious at times.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Moneyball ****

At first glance, Moneyball will ignite interest among Brad Pitt fans. On second glance, it will turn some away because of its baseball subject matter. Sports films are an acquired taste and will never fully convert those who are not into the sport in question. Therefore, as one of the latter, Moneyball is a real eye opener, and not because it suddenly stirs a dormant interest in the sport, but because the baseball could be argued as being the parallel theme to the overriding one of the ‘little guy’ taking on and shaking up the system from within. In this sense, there is something to be gained from it.

It’s based on the true story of Billy Beane (Pitt), the once would-be baseball superstar who still hurts from his failure to live up to expectations on the field and turns to baseball management. It’s nearly the start of 2002 season, and Billy’s small-market Oakland Athletics (the A’s) have lost their star players to the bigger, wealthier clubs. Billy must rebuild the team and compete on a third of the payroll. He discovers and hires whizzkid, Yale-educated economist Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who believes in Bill James’ computer-driven statistical analysis to win games, previously ignored by the baseball establishment. Together they challenge the old baseball guard by installing overlooked or dismissed baseball players, based on a combination of key skills, and begin winning several games in a row.

Moneyball plays out much like any other baseball film but with a couple of narrative twists. Even though you don’t necessarily need to know anything about baseball, naturally, Moneyball will have a greater impact on someone who does possess the historical and factual elements of the game. It’s essentially an inspirational David verses Goliath film, a topical corporate shakedown story that anyone can relate to in this day and age, and it’s all down to the Pitt-Hill chemistry that keeps you engaged.

As co-producer and star, Pitt takes on by far his biggest film challenge yet with Beane and shaping this story to appeal to a wide-ranging audience. He is as courageous as his dynamic and daring character that’s the film’s driving tour de force. Pitt is strikingly reminiscent of a younger Redford and his gutsy turn in the 1984 baseball film, The Natural. Everything really hinges on Beane’s actions and reactions that keep things scintillating to watch, with Hill as Brand as the ‘voice of reason’ in the corner in a straighter stance, much like his character Cyrus in the 2010 film. In fact, Hill again demonstrates that taking on the straighter-laced roles where he can diffuse the tense with intelligent, deadpan humour input is his true acting forte.

Thankfully, Pitt’s infectious energy transcends the wordy baseball mumbo jumbo, and the passion that all involved feels for the game shines through. Part of this is the sense that both you and the characters are venturing into the unknown and want to see change in an unbalanced system. The script glosses over the ones and zeros and endless charts of the analysis and manages to make a coherent narrative out of Michael Lewis’ complex book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game”. Again, this is down to the winning onscreen team of Pitt and Hill, but more so because of award-winning The Social Network writer Aaron Sorkin being part of the scriptwriting team.

Capote director Bennett Miller turns to his muse, Philip Seymour Hoffman, to portray the stubborn face of the old system by casting the actor as Art Howe, the A’s team coach. Although against the statistical invasion of the game, Howe is delivered a chance to know what it feels like to succeed against all adversity, with the A’s winning 20 games in a row, which broke an actual AL record in 2002. As an underdog himself with little say in his team’s makeup, Howe begins to appreciate how the ‘misfit toys’ – as the players are called – can have their glory, and it’s spiritually uplifting to watch.

Thankfully, Miller does not take the conventional, backslapping route at the end, and throws up a few satisfying surprises where his lead character is involved. Sadly, the system wins, which admittedly does have the sense of defeated purpose. However, Moneyball has to be taken as one of those films where the journey is more important than the end result, and it’s one of guts, determination and sporadic humour. Full credit to Pitt, too, for creating an ingenious and unorthodox career-defining role for himself at this stage in his varied career.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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LFF 2011: 50/50****

A comedy about cancer is not something the average person feels comfortable laughing at. But when writer Will Reiser has been through the illness, it makes sense that he has something to say about getting over the ‘Big C’ stigma that the rest of us more fortunate people are inflicted with. Paired with Seth Rogen, who is Reiser’s good friend in real-life and helped him through the illness, the story behind 50/50 begins to intrigue further and adopt some well-meaning gravitas.

This is a story about friendship, love, survival and finding humour in unlikely places. 50/50 stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Rogen as best friends Adam and Kyle whose lives are changed by a cancer diagnosis given to supposedly ‘healthy’ Adam, and follows how they individually cope with the news on Adam’s road to recovery.

Admittedly, the idea of ‘big kid’ Rogen making fun of cancer on screen feels altogether unnerving at first, considering his CV of immature, dope-smoking roles in the past. As Kyle, he starts out as expected, shirking responsibilities to remain the eternal frat boy, chasing skirt and partying hard. But with his trustworthy companion, Gordon-Levitt, in tow, who instantly reassures you the journey you take with the characters will be a worthy and heart-felt one, all joking is sensitively executed after the bombshell drops.

The Gordon-Levitt-Rogen bromance is one of the most exciting and fun ones in recent comedy history, and the pair have a wonderful natural rift that considering they first met on this film, would fool anyone into thinking they’d been friends for life. This is the primary reason 50/50 works. Events are also given breathing space to unfold, with reactions to the news both expected and random and exuding a bittersweet humour, resulting in director Jonathan Levine’s story having a lot of credibility, rather than haphazardly trying to draw laughs using the Rogen touch. Admittedly, where Rogen is involved, there is always the odd, idiotic throwaway comment, so expect that, too.

Anna Kendrick as inexperienced cancer counsellor Katherine and Bryce Dallas Howard as Adam’s girlfriend Rachael make up the female contingent in this, alongside a wonderful turn from Anjelica Huston as Adam’s overbearing but concerned mother. Kendrick and Dallas Howard play chalk-and-cheese characters, but share the common sense of paranoia of “saying and doing the right thing”. Against them, we get to compare our reactions to events and how we would deal with such a circumstance; through them, it’s as though we are allowed to feel guilty and ill equipped, and that is a refreshing and personal element Reiser has brought to the script. It also enables us to not make light of how we deal with it, which is where the humour lies.

If nothing else, 50/50 is ironically laugh-out-loud funny and equally brave and tragic, without being weepy and affected, or worse still, condescending. It’s angle is to be as matter-of-fact as its stars in what transpires, which is its guilty and unique pleasure.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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LFF 2011: Take Shelter ****

Writer-director Jeff Nichols stays close to his Southern roots again with another intensely powerful look at complex family relationships in Take Shelter, starring his Shotgun Stories lead, Michael Shannon, once more. Admittedly, Take Shelter is one of the most original familiar studies to come to the big screen in a long time, set against an idyllic landscape that focuses your full attention on the deeply troubling events unfolding.

Curtis LaForche (Shannon) lives in a small Ohio town with his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and six-year-old daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart), who is deaf. Money is tight, but the family is a happy one, until Curtis begins to be plagued by a series of terrifying visions of an encroaching storm that haunt him day and night. Rather than discuss them at first, he decides to channel his anxiety into the obsessive building of a storm shelter in their backyard. Curtis begins to questions whether to shelter his family from a coming storm, or from himself.

Ultimately, Take Shelter is a sensitively constructed, if somewhat protracted metaphor for mental health and its frightening onset that remains with you long after viewing. Nichols uses the temperamental weather of the area to evoke the gradually looming fate of its protagonist with astounding effect. As nature is uncontrollable, so is the family’s destiny, it seems, which with innocent victims has powerful consequences. It is also a great cinematic exploration of human resolve, too, that saves the characters from falling into a pathetic context. It is hard not to empathise with Curtis’s drive to protect.

Chastain gives another standout strong performance, re-emphasising her star status as one of the most exciting film faces to watch. Shannon is quietly captivating as a brooding Alpha male restraining his inner demons and trying to weather the impending mental storm – perhaps paving the chilling way for his Zod interpretation in 2013’s Man of Steel. Much of Shannon’s strength of performance lies in his eyes that reflect a myriad of thoughts with one glance. He expertly plays down the hysterical pull in this, keeping us firmly questioning his and our sanity and belief, climaxing in an end scene that is straight out of an apocalyptic blockbuster, which will divide opinion as to the outcome – some might feel a more fitting ending is in the shelter itself.

Nichols adds an atmosphere of the supernatural to events in Take Shelter that make piecing the puzzle together of what is real and what is not all the more immensely enthralling. The hunt for answers propels the narrative along on the whole, with stalling areas in parts, and fills you with more dread than any recent horror/thriller has, as your fervent imagination and prejudices of what constitutes ‘mental illness’ are met head on.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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LFF 2011: The Deep Blue Sea ***

The closing film at this year’s 55th London Film Festival, The Deep Blue Sea, has more of a touch of the stage than the big screen to it, although it has an implied admiration for the exquisiteness of yesteryear’s silver screen in its stunning cinematography and scene construction. It is also another ode to nostalgic post-War England that writer-director Terence Davies excels in, so is naturally highly romantic and self indulgent in form.

Based on Terence Rattigan‘s play, Rachel Weisz is Hester Collyer, the wife of a renowned British judge William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale) who is a lot older than she is, but who keeps her in a comfortable lifestyle in post-war Britain that only few could hope for. She falls for the charms of former Air Force pilot Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), who can give her very little in material value, but excitement and the love she craves. Leaving her fortunate existence behind, Hester’s love becomes obsessive and alienates the two men in her life and destroys her well-being. Can she ever be happy?

Every frame of this film feels meticulously crafted, as we are led to fall in love with the idea of all-consuming passion, while being serenaded by the arousing score. This is the ultimate filmmaker’s textbook film, rather than being a great cinematic narrative, in both a technical and performance-related sense. Weisz becomes more mesmerising and incandescent as the minutes unfold and her resolve crumbles with the helplessness that is love, and Hiddleston is the dashing and proud 1940s movie hero. Davies’s lighting creates the mood of the moment but is also absorbed by Weisz’s presence as she struggles with the impending gloom that gradually surrounds her.

These intense, theatrical, one-on-one portrayals of raw feeling that feel egotistic and claustrophobic in parts are knitted together with other scenes full of post-war, selfless camaraderie and hope to put everything into context. Davies heavily relies on the power of music and song in this to touch the soul, and it’s a curious experience that both relinquishes tension and escalates it in equal schizophrenic nature.

In summary, fans of filmmaker Davies, the actors Weisz and Hiddleston, theatre and 1940s romance classics will revel in the love-triangle story, The Deep Blue Sea, whereas everyone else may feel a little short-changed at the box office by the experience, if narrative development is to your taste. This is a beautiful-looking film that concerns itself with looking at its most divine while indulging its characters’ eccentricities and torments to evoke any drama it has to offer. For these reasons, it’s the perfect film festival closer, and a nostalgic burst from the past unlike anything else currently showing.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Resistance ***

As wartime dramas go, one begins to feel very much like another. But what debut feature-film writer-director Amit Gupta has created is an alternative 1940s ‘reality’, based on a fascinating novel by Owen Sheers, about what if the Nazis had succeeded with their invasion plans of Old Blighty. Resistance actually reignites our interest in the genre, as well as points to a fascinating real-life back-story.

It’s WWII and Britain is occupied. A group of women in a remote Welsh village wake up to discover all of their husbands have mysteriously vanished overnight, possibly to join the Resistance. Meanwhile, a German patrol led by commanding officer Albrecht (Tom Wlaschiha) arrives in the valley on a mysterious mission. The women are scared but defiant, and with the harsh winter closing in begin to form a dependency. One young wife, Sarah (Andrea Riseborough), catches Albrecht’s eye. Cut off from all other wartime events, the lines between collaboration, duty, occupation and survival become blurred, as the future looks unknown.

This strangely abstract ‘anti-wartime’ drama has it’s own quietly aching soul, powered by an all-consuming and unique back-story that up until now has never been portrayed on film. In fact, the ‘Auxiliary Units’, a government-funded network of WWII resistance cells whose grim tasks would have included supposedly shooting all Nazi collaborators, as well as disrupting any invaders arriving on these shores, have been shrouded in secrecy for the past 50 years and are only coming to light now. But those expecting to see an action-packed and explosive adaptation of the Sheers novel of the same name, like some sober Dad’s Army imitation, will be disappointed, as this is not the film to expose the clandestine happenings  – it merely suggests the presence of such units at the start.

Gupta is more interested in those left behind, and the impact of occupation, which has an intriguing analogy to current war zones like Afghanistan. In this sense, Gupta’s women in the story are strong and curiously ambiguous in thought. There are long, lingering moments of just ‘being’ in some scenes, as though the female characters will remain silent to their graves as they wait out events and the impending winter. It creates a haunting and quite moving effect, and the balance of power interestingly swings between local knowledge and that of the occupiers. Riseborough plays Sarah as a complete enigma, brave yet struggling with her self resolve, and keeping you guessing at her every thought and move while creating a tantalising, underlying narrative tension alone.

Wlaschiha as Albrecht is the film’s catalyst, the smiling, handsome face of the enemy and the approachable negotiator who wants nothing more than to survive the war by hiding out in the village from both sides – more so from the SS. Wlaschiha is charismatic in a mitigating and rigid fashion, but his presence is necessary to break down the women’s barriers, and the actor gives a confident and memorable performance. Nevertheless, we are always left wondering at Albrecht’s true feelings and whether they are selfish and out of necessity for survival, rather than anything meaningful. In this sense, and with the deliberate pace of the film, Gupta creates an alluring character study of resilience under occupation of both the occupier and the occupied.

That said – and without clues from the research of Sheer’s novel, there is a little too much ambiguity at times, especially with the appearance and subsequent shock disappearance of Michael Sheen as Resistance fighter Tommy Atkins that is woefully undeveloped and unexplained. Understandably, to venture down this path would detract from the women’s story and would mean a completely different film altogether, but all we are given is Atkins’ pearls of wisdom and his blunt commands to the only Welsh man left in the village, a young sniper called George (Iwan Rheon) who takes on the typical film/TV resistance role. It is also not clear what the true mission of Albrecht and his men are, short of the obvious as previously explained, and a hidden treasure in a cave seems like another obscure sub-plot that merely confuses our impression of Albrecht’s true intent.

In fact, Gupta’s faithfully muted approach to Sheers’ literary atmosphere is both Resistance’s illusive strength and its hindrance. However, Gupta demonstrates that he is more than deft at such a provocative subject matter, and like his leads, is one appealing emerging talent to watch.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 **

As predicted, the next film in The Twilight Saga, Breaking Dawn Part 1, breaks box office records for the ‘biggest non-3D’ opening Friday film of all time. Perhaps if it had been 3D, it could have topped even that feat – who knows? One thing is for certain, the love triangle that is Bella Swan, Edward Cullen and Jacob Black continues to fascinate audiences, or maybe it’s the curiosity of how the Twilight movie-making machine – that includes author Stephenie Meyer producing – will reproduce the turbulent love affair? Our guess is it’s actually the birth scene that’s the real moneymaking clincher here.

In the forth film, Bella (Kristen Stewart) finally becomes Mrs Cullen and marries her vampire Prince Charming, Edward (Robert Pattinson), in a fairy-tale wedding. But against the wishes of most of the werewolf population, including the pining Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), Bella’s planning on honeymooning still as a human, which if the newlyweds consummate their marriage, will put her life at risk. As the sexual tension that’s been building over the series grows, the couple unsurprisingly can’t keep their hands off each other, which results in one small mistake that drains the life out of the new bride, and reignites the tensions in the wolf-vampire coven.

The ‘Bell-ward’ passion is as brooding and apprehensive but awkward to watch as ever, with lingering, hungry glares from porcelain-faced Rpatz and prickly, “I’ve-just-swallowed-something-horrid” facial gurns from Stewart. However, the acting still feels as leaden and tedious as the other films – except the first under the talented direction of Catherine Hardwicke when it was all new and exciting to us.

The Cullens’ much-anticipated union in matrimony in the book is like watching the real-life on-off lovers in an intimate off-camera clinch, and apart from some rippling Rpatz back muscles in action to gain a few fan-girl sighs is a disappointing and relatively unsexy replica. Admittedly, the series tries to keep the sex side to a minimum, which is tough when you are dealing with vampires and the obvious sexual connotations that include penetration in a 12A film.

Thankfully, though, there are some lighter moments to be had: the newlyweds ‘rearrange’ their paradise boudoir after a night of passion, with Bella looking mighty smug, plus the new bride rifles through her packed undies to try to find some choice garments to tempt her vamp into giving her a love bite worth showing off to friends. Indeed, what the film does in the first half hour is fulfil every young girl’s dream, with a wedding design and glamorous guest list to die for – not to mention the much anticipated ‘first-look’ at Bella’s dress. It’s what every Twerd has been waiting for. The film oozes style for the fashionista or luxury goods fanatic, if nothing else. Oh, and wait for the titles to roll for the biggest giggle to be had.

As a film, the only character who seems to be ‘doing anything’ exciting and single-handedly – until the final vampire-wolf standoff – is poor Jacob who ‘comes of age/pack’ in this and is the only voice of reason among the vacuous, trance-like stares, even out-smarting the normally immaculately posed Dr. Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli). Lautner has the best moments in this, and also removes his shirt within minutes of first appearing on screen.

What is shocking is watching an already delicate-looking Stewart waste away before your very eyes – and who said pregnancy made you glow? Not even a blood shake can get some colour back into her cheeks. This finally makes you feel a strange empathy for her, after years of nauseating emo angst. The birth in the ‘Grand Designs’ Cullen abode matches anything off ER for impact, which is just as well as precious little else occurs in this film, apart from the usual CGed-to-death fight scenes and vampires whizzing around the forest undergrowth. Another shocker for those not familiar with the book is Bella’s newborn triggering Jacob’s ‘imprint’ – basically a young man’s love at first sight for a child that’s borderline creepy, not to mention screams paedophilia.

Breaking Dawn Part 1 feels like yet another rather odd and protracted stepping stone to the ultimate finale, involving the Quileute and the Volturi and the Cullens – with an attractive Cullen daughter in the mix for the next adventure. Fans will flock see it – as box office figures show; non-fans will have to be dragged kicking and screaming. But with millions of avid Twi-hard readers, it’s a done deal for Meyer and co who are laughing all the way to the bank, regardless of how good a film adaptation it is.

2/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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LFF 2011: Snowtown ****

Believe the stories of disturbed audience members leaving various screenings – there were a few hurried departures when we saw this film at this year’s London Film Festival. Debut feature writer-director Justin Kurzel has co-penned a gripping, ‘car-crash’ account based on a true Australian crime story from the 1990s. However, it’s not necessarily the crime that is the most shocking, but the slow and systematic abuse of the family involved.

Based on the Snowtown murders (August 1992 and May 1999) – also known as the Bodies in Barrels murders – in Snowtown, 145km north of Adelaide, where 11 people lost their lives at the hands of serial killer John Bunting, Kurzel’s story follows the effect Bunting had on one vulnerable and struggling family and its elder son, Jamie (Lucas Pittaway). After being abused by a seemingly friendly neighbour across the street – who takes indecent photos of the boys while having them in his care, concerned and caring Bunting (Daniel Henshall) appears on the scene like the family’s saviour, arranging community meetings to rid the area of its paedophiles and other undesirables, and becoming a compassionate surrogate father to mother Elizabeth’s (Louise Harris) kids, as well as a financially stable partner to her. As his gradual influence on all grows, and Jamie comes to rely more on him as a role model, the young man begins to be drawn into the darker world of Bunting, both emotionally and physically, and has no apparent escape.

Snowtown does not follow conventional, glossy thrillers as such: there are no dramatic build-ups or ringing alarm bells, and no grizzly climaxes. In fact, apart from one horrific torture scene that involves Jamie – as the story is told from his perspective, there is very little gore to witness on camera. It is as though Kurzel has documented an account of the killings with real-life footage taken from the time, and its stark realism is echoed in the film’s limited, even washed-out palette that perpetuates the equally decayed existence of the impoverished environment it is set in.

Like unwilling voyeurs at times, you witness events happening in secret, right in front of you, in a kind of helpless and depressing fashion. The film is prone to confusion in parts as the gloomy interiors and wider shots often make it difficult to establish who is doing what to whom – especially when Jamie is abused at home, for example. What is actually far more alarming is the apparent frequency that family members encounter abuse of all kinds and deal with it in a matter-of-fact way, plus the progressive psychological damage that Bunting inflicts as his true character is gradually revealed. This debilitating acceptance of their fate filters through and immerses you in a deep gloom.

Kurzel toys with our views on vigilantism. At first, we naturally empathise with the plight of the locals, as the ugly truth on their doorstep seems to fester. Like all serial killers, Bunting like Bundy is accommodating, articulate and highly sociable, and no more prejudice or remarkable than his peers. Ironically, one of the townsfolk is a transvestite, and although we know his card is marked by the fascist views of Bunting and co-collaborator – like others who fall into the trap, it is the waiting that simultaneously drains and propels the narrative to that end, in some scenes that could have been shorter. But perhaps it is the subject matter that is so abhorrent that we wish it to end as quickly as possible, a prolonged torture for the viewer even.

Virtual unknowns, Australian TV actor Daniel Henshall as Bunting and acting newcomer Jamie Vlassakis as Jamie have certainly stamped their respective marks with some outstanding performances, and concoct a mesmerizing chemistry – much like watching a twitching fly trapped in a spider’s web of deceit. Vlassakis is a young man lost, blindly sleepwalking his way into peril, and only coming alive with bursts of frustration and anger after realising his quandary. His outbursts are complimented by Henshall’s calm resolve that is full of menace as the disguise evaporates.

Like a brutal coming-of-age drama unfolding, Kurzel’s brilliantly directed and acted Snowtown does not leave your thoughts until long after watching it, as though you carry a guilty at witnessing the abuse. Apart from a little character confusion at times, this oppressive account is one of the most effective and uncompromising horrors of human essence of recent years – a powerful testament to the talents of all involved.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Justice **

No stranger to staging well-paced crime thrillers, like The Bank Job, The Recruit and No Way Out, director Roger Donaldson is about as qualified as any to bring this gritty story of crime and revenge to the screen – all set in one of the most exciting cities in the US, New Orleans. But although most films cannot resist the seedy allure of the French Quarter – and this film is no exception in parts, Justice does try to delve into a more realistically captured but darker depiction.

Nic Cage stars as Will Gerard, a husband who enlists the services of a vigilante group, headed by its curious leader Simon (Guy Pearce), to help him settle the score after his wife, Laura (January Jones), is brutalised. However, Will gets involved way over his head and tries to get out of the deadly pact he has made. The trouble is whom can you trust?

While the film is a half-decent enough thriller with so many twists and turns it trips itself up at times, the basic thriller ingredients have been tried and tested a lot better before, so a good proportion of the film feels like a carbon-copy of others we’ve seen. Granted, the thrill for Cage fans is seeing their hero in a rather physical role, dodging traffic and hanging from underpasses that even leaves him rubbing his head (more than once, and usually in the car) in exasperation.

What is most intriguing is the film’s main idea of disenchantment in a wounded city still hurting from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, leading to self-served justice, and this gives the whole affair an empathetic but equally menacing edge. Cage is the ideal star to tap into this darker aspect.

Like Will, Cage has a crazed, risk-taking side that the New Orleans setting flatters and seems to nurture, and an increasingly erratic Cage is more than capable and watchable in this type of action role as he makes it his eccentric own. The issues come not from his portrayal, but from the complex – and sometimes irrelevant – labyrinth of subplots that Donaldson and writers feel are necessary to throw at him. With too much at play, other things naturally go unexplained.

Sadly, we only get to see a one-dimensional and frustratingly under-developed performance from Pearce, for example, with no explanation as to where his loyalties stem from – even though we understand that his character and others are designed to be as enigmatic as possible throughout to add to the intrigue. On the plus side, Jones, who normally adds the cutesy glamour to any scene, does some of her best work yet as the victim in the first half of the film, only to be sidelined in the rest as a pawn in the increasingly paranoid Cage dance with death. Still, it’s a vast improvement on her usual film roles, and one we’d quite like seeing her tackle again.

Justice is well staged at the start and has the presence to go far. It’s just the sum of its parts – like the random journalist murder subplot – don’t add up at times and make it feel somewhat disjointed. Cage fans are guaranteed a thrill at seeing him in action, with Ghost Rider elements of a mortal Blaze out to serve and protect the ‘ordinary man’ – and Cage is always satisfying in this type of ‘moral crusader’ role. It’s just a shame Donaldson’s film doesn’t fully realise that immense talent, having him running from pillar to post throughout – and making us rub our heads in anguish at times, too.

2/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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