Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is now available on Foxtel and Prime… and that’s all the excuse a self-isolating Stephen Vagg needed to come up with a hypothetical list of productions that Rick Dalton might have made in Australia after the events of that movie.
In a future Australia, Odessa Young, Airlie Dodds, Sapphire Blossom and Maddy Madden play wild young women who take a pitstop at a house to recharge their electric car, only to discover things that they have hidden about themselves. An award winning short from co-writer/director Toby Morris and co-writer/producer Samuel Burnett.
Most Aussie thrillers (think Chopper, The Hard Word, Mystery Road, The Square, Animal Kingdom, Cut Snake and so forth) wear their earthy grittiness like a battered coat of arms, going into battle in the name of straightforward, truthful-leaning storytelling and triumphing valiantly. The low budget effort Burning Kiss, however, is interested in armour of a far shinier, way more colourful bent. This film finds its antecedents in the world of pop art, French crime cinema, and the garish American B-movie rather than in the headlines of local newspapers or the reminiscences of real life criminals. Debut feature writer/director Robbie Studsor announces himself as a filmmaker with a true fascination for overt stylisation with Burning Kiss, offering up an audacious concoction built on expressionistic visuals and unlikely effects cooked up in post.
The film kicks off with ex-cop Edmond Bloom (Richard Mellick), an embittered aesthete left crippled by the car crash that killed his wife six years prior. Searching for the person responsible for the crash under the watchful eye of his messed up daughter, Charlotte (Alyson Walker), Edmond has become consumed by the events of his past. But when mysterious drifter Max Woods (Liam Graham) lands on his doorstep, Edmond is suddenly jarred into the present, and Charlotte soon finds herself caught between the two men.
While the plotting lists a little, Burning Kiss scores major points through its sheer audacity. Studsor ramps up his visuals to often surreal heights, with shots that wouldn’t look out of place on an inner city gallery wall. It’s heady stuff, and when coupled with Studsor’s purple prose and primal storytelling, it makes Burning Kiss a highly unusual and memorable criminal rendezvous.
There is no shortage of public scowling directed towards female-centric entertainment – just ask any fans of the Kardashians or the Twilight saga.
Regardless of your stance on these properties, the harsh maligning they endure online for their perceived lack of depth, passionate fandom and sense of vapidness, exists outside the quality of the content.
Undeniably, the online world loves to belittle properties embraced by women.
Not without their scrutiny, adaptations of literary properties – a la Greta Gerwig’s Oscar-winning Little Women – have fared much better in the public domain. Their serious and political demeanours grant them a sense of prestige that popular entertainment is seemingly not entitled to.
Where the double standards lie, so too exists an opportunity to silence the judges, with another adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved comedic novel Emma, succeeding as both a pointed statement on sexism and a seriously enjoyable rom-com.
Told in vivid colour and packed to the brim with charismatic performances, director Autumn de Wilde succeeds in elevating the well-told misadventures of self-entitled matchmaker Emma Woodhouse (a career-best Anya Taylor-Joy).
Born into an immensely wealthy family, a rare privilege that rendered women of early nineteenth-century England immune to the pressures of co-dependency aka marriage, ‘handsome, clever and rich’ twenty-one-year-old Emma dreams of a life lived independently… or so she tells herself.
Emma’s defiant rejection of love is called into question when lifelong friend, and perhaps the only gentlemen in Highbury, George Knightley (Johnny Flynn) comes into the picture. Their dialogue, exchanged as a series of electric ‘will-they-or-won’t-they’ barbs which question one another’s morality, adds to the film a charming mood that captures the tantalising excitement of budding romance.
The love Emma denies herself, she relishes in forcing upon others, with the wannabe cupid taking on the mantle as a matchmaker for high-society’s most eligible. Despite initial success, Emma’s failure to partner the highly impressionable Harriet Smith (portrayed impeccably by a scene-stealing and gummy smiling Mia Goth) jettisons Emma’s inflated ego back down to earth. The result calls into question her pragmatic stances on love and culture.
To ramp up the dramatics further, the arrival of the uber-talented Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson) and potential suitor/dream-boat Frank Churchill (Callum Turner) toss Emma’s mindset further into the midst of a dizzying tailspin.
Beyond being a series of baffling romantic triangles and awkward escapades, Emma is testament to Austen’s engrossing knack for storytelling – a rebellious piece of literature that has been challenging notions of gender-inequality and classism for over two-hundred years. Emma’s maturity throughout the film is owed to her healthy dissatisfaction with societal conventions, with the titular heroine realising throughout the film that despite it being good to have money, money does not make you good.
De Wilde is deft in her ability to convey the inequitable disorder of the time, and does so to great effect through applying humour to communicate the preposterousness of high-society (Bill Nighy’s hypochondriac father figure is comedic dynamite) and to humanise characters via their awkward romantic encounters. de Wilde, along with composers Isobel Waller-Bridge and David Schweitzer, manages to synchronise this vibe into an accompanying score that proves as sweeping as the romance itself.
As grand as the romance in Emma, de Wilde dazzles just as impressively in the production department, delivering a spectacular barrage of set-pieces – a vision in peach and turquoise – that feel lifted out of the early nineteenth century. de Wilde dreams in landscape, with her background in photography being on full, gorgeous display in Emma. This effect elevates what could have been insignificant movement – an effortless glance, stroll, or turn of the head – into divine artistry.
Austen’s genius is not lost upon de Wilde’s film, with Emma proving a wondrous retelling of a timeless literary masterpiece that should hopefully generate interest in Austen’s work to the post-Clueless generation.
Exciting emerging filmmaker Imogen McCluskey (Suburban Wildlife) hasn't let the current restrictions curb her creativity, she's used them to make something topical, entertaining and delivered direct to her target audience.
The DC Extended Universe is still a bit of an uneven mess compared to the more consistent, albeit safer films of Marvel Studios. That’s not to say DC doesn’t have a few runs on the board. Hell, with the spectacular successes of Wonder Woman (2017), Aquaman (2018), Shazam! (2019) and the non-canon-but-insanely-lucrative Joker (2019), DC has made a serious impact and cemented their position as a comic book flick contender. Still, the memory of stinkers like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Suicide Squad (2016) linger, despite the latter featuring a standout performance by Margot Robbie as one Harley Quinn. So, what’s a studio to do when you’ve got a fabulous star in an otherwise dodgy property? It’s soft reboot time, baby!
Birds of Prey basically chucks away (almost) everything from Suicide Squad (including, thankfully, Jared Leto’s execrable turn as Joker) and gives Harleen Quinzeel a mostly clean slate. She’s finally ditched the clown prince of crime and finds herself embroiled in a convoluted caper that swiftly becomes a fight for her life. Complicating matters is camp-as-several-rows-of-tents crime boss, Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) and the timely introductions of several arse-kicking ladies like Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and alcoholic cop, Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez).
The first thing you need to know about Birds of Prey is that it’s very silly. The second item is: it’s also a lot of fun. Margot Robbie continues to embody the role in an iconic fashion, as at-home in Harley’s skin as Ryan Reynolds is in Deadpool’s scarlet strides. Further to that, you’ve got a supporting cast that includes Mary Elizabeth Winstead not being wasted for once and a welcome return to the screen for Rosie Perez in a decent-sized role (and playing underrated GCPD character Montoya to boot). Ewan McGregor’s also having a lot of fun, although his role feels like it has been altered in the third act, perhaps due to studio tampering or just plain old wonky writing.
Cathy’s Yan’s direction is crisp and propulsive, with some excellent action scenes. And perhaps most gratifyingly, the third act doesn’t involve our unlikely heroes battling a bunch of CGI blobs descending from a portal in the sky. That’s not to say this is a perfect film. The fact that it’s even called Birds of Prey is borderline baffling, because the ultimate story it tells is only tangentially related to that property. This is basically Harley Quinn’s adventure with some entertaining guest stars, and a bunch of colourful, affable nitwittery designed to appeal to an audience in the mood for a good time or just lightly drunk. If you find yourself in such a state, and you’ve got 109 minutes spare, then Birds of Prey offers a slight but enjoyable flight of fancy.
This is a true story, and one virtually guaranteed to make the viewer’s metaphorical blood boil on behalf of its unfortunate protagonist. Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) is an office worker turned campus guard who ends up working in security at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. He spots the bag containing the bomb which will shortly explode in Centennial Park, and his eagle-eyed efficiency saves a great many lives when it does. Jewell becomes a household name, and – very briefly – a national hero.
But everything goes pear-shaped for him when the FBI decides that he is actually a “false hero” – and the prime suspect as the terrorist behind the bombing! Despite his highly unethical treatment at their hands, Jewell remains steadfast in his high regard for law enforcement. What follows is essentially a study of the massive and intolerable pressure sustained by him – and by his mother Bobi (Kathy Bates) – at the hands of both the Feds and the media, as his lawyer Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) struggles to clear his name. Bryant is not exaggerating when he describes their lives as “a living hell”.
Richard Jewell is ultra-watchable, engrossing, naturalistic, tautly directed and superbly acted – especially by Hauser and Rockwell – and scripted. Despite its gripping seriousness it’s also, sporadically, pretty funny. All of which is more than enough to make it highly recommended. And, in addition to all those strengths, it’s terrific because of what it ISN’T. There are no cheap homilies here, no ‘redemptive’ messages and no cop-out endorsement of the American justice system. It’s a real gem.
How do you make the Invisible Man scary in 2020? It’s a tough proposition, as is the case with most of the classic Universal monsters. Sure, the idea of a bloke sneaking around unseen probably scared the pantaloons off audiences in 1933, but it’s a bit more of an ask in an era of identity theft, rising fascism and the planet being on fire. If you’re talented Aussie writer/director, Leigh Whannell, you take the story in a different direction and change its point of view, making it more personal and much, much scarier.
TheInvisibleMan (2020) is really all about Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss), who in the film’s tense opening finally escapes from her abusive, domineering boyfriend, and brilliant scientist, Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Cecilia tries to piece together the shattered fragments of her life with sister, Alice (Harriet Dyer) and friend James (Aldis Hodge) helping as best they can. Then the news comes that Adrian is dead, he’s killed himself, and though she can barely believe it, Cece starts to hope for some peace at last. And then shit starts getting weird.
TheInvisibleMan is essentially the story of an abusive relationship with a science-gone-amok twist and it works beautifully, making the film feel thematically relevant. However, even if you ignore the subtext, it’s an absolute pearler of a thriller in its own right. Whannell has eschewed the fun, trashy vibe of his previous flick – the woefully underrated Upgrade (2018) – and adopted a style more in line with the likes of DePalma or Hitchcock. Expect long, lingering takes that play with negative space, genuinely edge-of-your-seat sequences that skillfully ratchet up the tension and a score that channels the orchestral ghost of Bernard Herrmann.
Moss is superb as the PTSD-suffering Cecilia, showcasing an impressive range of emotion, and is backed up by a capable support cast, including Michael Dorman as Adrian’s slimy lawyer brother, Tom. Ironically the only cast member who fails to make an impact is Adrian himself, who never quite convinces when he’s on the visual spectrum. When he’s invisible, however? Whole other story.
Ultimately, TheInvisibleMan is a triumph. Rising from the ashes of Universal’s failed Dark Universe experiment, it offers a clever, engrossing and frequently genuinely scary genre flick made on a limited budget with a stellar cast and thematic resonance. Whether taken as an allegory for spousal abuse, or viewed simply as a deft cat and mouse thriller, TheInvisibleMan is a superb genre effort that absolutely deserves to be seen.