DVD

DVD review: Song to Song

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Some directors can attract A-listers thanks to their previous collaborations, their industry reputation or by the way in which they make films. The acclaimed yet divisive Terrence Malick falls into this category and has pulled together Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender and Natalie Portman to make up possibly the most star-studded cast in recent memory. His latest feature is romantic drama Song to Song, which unfolds against the backdrop of the music scene in Austin, Texas. At the centre of it all is Faye (Mara), a rising musician who embarks on a relationship with fellow performer BV (Gosling) but who is also seeing his manipulative producer Cook (Fassbender); hence a complicated love triangle ensues.

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DVD

DVD review: Alien: Covenant

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The acclaimed filmmaker Ridley Scott resurrected his iconic sci-fi franchise five years ago and the project was hugely divisive amongst audiences. Now he is back again to direct the sequel to his prequel with Alien: Covenant, which takes place a decade after the events of Prometheus. Set in 2104, the story follows the crew of a colony spaceship as they embark on a mission to find a new home for humankind. After they suffer a tragic setback on their quest, first mate Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) and second-in-command Daniels (Katherine Waterston) must work together to reach their destination with the help of resident synthetic android Walter (Michael Fassbender). Their plan changes when they intercept a strange radio transmission from a nearby planet, leading the expedition on a deadly detour into the unknown.

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DVD

DVD review: The Light Between Oceans

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In his relatively short but impressive career to date, writer and director Derek Cianfrance has intelligently toyed with narrative conventions, playing with linear structure to get the desired effect from his tales of family, love and loss. He ventures into the period drama genre for his latest feature The Light Between Oceans, adapting M.L. Stedman’s novel of the same name for the screen. Set in Western Australia shortly after World War I, veteran Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) has posttraumatic stress disorder due to the loss he has experienced. As a coping mechanism he takes up a post as a lighthouse keeper to remove himself from civilisation. When he meets his new boss’s daughter Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander), the pair fall in love and get married. They face a dilemma when a dead man and a newborn baby wash up on the shore in an old rowboat. Desperate to start a family together and in mourning after suffering two miscarriages, the couple make a perilous choice that changes their lives forever.

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DVD

DVD review: Steve Jobs

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In co-founding Apple and giving us the Mac, the iPod and the iPhone amongst other gadgetry, Steve Jobs arguably changed the landscape of modern technology. Following his untimely passing in 2011, it was only a matter of time before his story was immortalised in cinema. The list of talent involved reads like the film equivalent of the perfect iTunes playlist with Danny Boyle in the director’s chair, Aaron Sorkin on writing duties and Michael Fassbender in the eponymous leading role. Loosely based on the biography of the same name by Walter Isaacson, the story unfolds through his conversations with his loyal marketing executive Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), the former Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) and fellow co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), exploring the personality behind the products.
  Avoiding the standard biopic structure, the film is split into three acts, from 1984, 1988 and 1998 behind the scenes of key product launches. This clever approach helps encourages creativity in the visuals and offers a platform for Sorkin’s typically sharp script. It’s the norm for the a screenplay to weave through and compliment the vision of the director, but it feels as though the tables are turned for a change and instead Boyle’s artistic flourishes decorate the dialogue, which is fast-flowing and always fascinating. One scene in particular featuring intense verbal ping-pong between Jobs and Sculley is mesmerising in its acute delivery.
  Despite not having a physical likeness, Michael Fassbender carries off the role of Steve Jobs very impressively and succeeds in not portraying him as a hero or a villain, and making him appear determined, strong-willed and ruthless to the point of being unlikeable at times. His performance is aided by the stellar support from his co-stars. Winslet does well to handle a scary amount of lines with her character’s thick Polish accent but takes a backseat slightly, with the men in the cast sharing the big moments. Rogen gives the least Rogen-esque turn of his career, showing he can handle weighty material and escape the stoner typecasting but as good as he is, Daniels is even better. Having worked with the writer previously on The Newsroom, he is a natural with the intellectual articulation of Sorkin’s words and is on scintillating form.
  Boyle and Sorkin’s collaboration has come under criticism due to the apparent historical inaccuracies in the way the story is told, but in terms of the filmmaking, it is difficult to find faults with it. Stripped back, it is essentially two hours of talking but due to the intelligently constructed subtleties in the direction and score, ‘Steve Jobs’ becomes frantic, dramatic and exciting. It doesn’t always present the man himself in the most favourable of lights, but highlights the significant impact his iconic work has had, not only in the technology industry, but in how we communicate and live our lives across the world.

4stars

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DVD

DVD review: Macbeth

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Whether you’ve seen it in the theatre, watched a television or film adaptation or studied it at school, the work of William Shakespeare is a quintessential part of British culture, and no play of his is more iconic than Macbeth. In the latest cinema outing for ‘The Scottish Play’, Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel directs. Following a brutal battle, the warrior Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) receives a prophecy from the Three Witches, who tell him he will one day be the King of Scotland. His wife Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard), then hatches a plan, taking matters into her own hands to speed up their monarchical ascent. This leads to a psychological power struggle as his friendship with Banquo (Paddy Considine) is tested, and his controlling behaviour results in conflict with Macduff (Sean Harris). This reimagining tells the story from a slightly new angle, on a glorious Skye backdrop.

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Features · Interviews

Macbeth Premiere: Interview with Justin Kurzel

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The blood spilled in Macbeth was as deep and red as the carpet at Edinburgh’s star-studded premiere at The Festival Theatre, where crowds gathered to celebrate the release of the latest adaptation of William Shakespeare’s iconic play. In its introduction, Australian director Justin Kurzel jokingly calls his latest work ‘The Scottish Film’ in reference to the well known theatre superstition of never uttering the play’s name, but jokes are nowhere to be found in his bold and brutal retelling of the story.

The highly acclaimed Michael Fassbender stars in the titular role, with Marion Cotillard by his side as the influential Lady Macbeth. The supporting cast includes Paddy Considine, David Thewlis, Sean Harris and Elizabeth Debicki. Their Skye shoot was marred with horrid wind and rain, beating down to give the perfect weather-beaten backdrop for events to unfold. The premiere was much to the contrary as the sun shone on the stars to greet the fans, Fassbender revelling in signing autographs and taking selfies with his Scottish admirers.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to chat to the director of the piece Kurzel, who had an interesting take on the central character, comparing him to Breaking Bad’s Walter White, who is arguably the greatest television anti-hero of the 21st century. Discussing the odd similarity, he said, “I was watching a lot of Breaking Bad to have some freedom away from the torture of the edit and found that, like Macbeth, it is about a man going mad and descending into an evil that he can’t find a way back from.”

Bringing a Shakespeare classic to the big screen is no mean feat and the filmmaker was quick to discuss his reasons for giving it the cinematic treatment.

“It kind of read like a Western when I read the screenplay, and felt really modern. The Scottish setting made it feel very honest. It didn’t feel contrived or as if it was a prisoner to the words. The writers had a new take on the themes of ambition in the play, making it less about control and more about what you do with grief and trauma, especially being a warrior. We found that to be a really fresh and interesting take on the original material.”

He also spoke freely about the universal appeal of Macbeth, and how the story has the longevity to be told again and again without becoming stale.

“I read something the other day that stated that every four hours across the world a production of Macbeth is taking place, so I think already it is the biggest blockbuster around. I think it is whether people are engaged enough to want to see a new one because it carries a lot of baggage. People think if they’ve seen it, or read it, or studied it at school that they’ve done it so I think it’s always about offering up something fresh and new.

For us it’s about placing it back in the time in which it existed, and finding something very human and real in it. I’ve seen it now three times and it’s amazing to me how much Shakespeare keeps on repeating itself but people always want to go back for a second or third time to watch it. I think it has a lot to do with the verse because you don’t always hear or understand the verse the first time so you want to go back and get something new from it each time.”

Macbeth is available on DVD, Blu Ray and on demand.

DVD

DVD review: 12 Years a Slave

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Last year, the subject of slavery was tackled in very different ways by award winning directors Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino and both lost out in the big race for the most coveted Academy Award. This year, the British artist turned filmmaker Steve McQueen presents his honest take on the topic with ’12 Years a Slave’, a gruelling adaptation of Solomon Northup’s memoir of the same name, and a strong contender to take the top prize at this year’s ceremony. Northup, portrayed exceptionally by Chiwetel Ejiofor, was a wealthy free man with a loving family and in 1841, he was kidnapped and sold into slavery. McQueen shows off his expertise in what is only his third feature, creating something which is brutal and beautiful in equal measures, taking a more hard-hitting approach at highlighting the dark side of America’s history than those before him.
  The film is episodic in its structure, as Solomon Northup, or Platt as he is renamed is shunted around from pillar to post, encountering one horrible man at a time. His collisions with these powerful men are filled with tension and help take the plot forward. It slowly develops, from one year to the next, the straight forward narrative lacking invention but reflecting the prison sentence like environment. In between these emotionally charged meetings with kidnappers, slave traders and owners, we mostly see Platt suffering in silence which carries a lot of weight, keeping his head down and hiding his background and education in order to stay under the radar but never giving up hope.
  In contrast to his trauma, a young female slave is more vocal in her struggle, wailing about how much she misses her children. Her vulnerability makes her a favourite of wicked plantation owner Edwin Epps and prime target for his merciless abuse. His character, as cruel as he is, is at times garish and over-the-top whereas his wife Mary lurking in the background is far more chilling, Sarah Paulson giving an exquisite depiction of evil. Epps relationship with Patsey builds to a disturbing resolution which severely tests Solomon’s character and puts the physical horror of slavery at the forefront of the audience’s mind. The big moments are heightened by a colossal yet familiar sounding score from Hans Zimmer.
  McQueen’s directorial vision is well complimented by a series of stupendous performances, with Chiwitel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o as clear stand outs as Solomon and Patsey, both earning their countless nominations. Ejiofor wears the emotions of his character through the expressions on his face superbly doing great justice to the mental strength it must have taken to overcome the hardships, and Nyong’o gives a stunning turn as the long suffering victim. Michael Fassbender is also impressive as Edwin Epps, a frequent collaborator of McQueen’s having starred in both his films before this, but showing an entirely different side to his talents. Sturdy support is given from Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt and Paul Dano, all briefly but suitably fitting the bill. Dano, in particular, is very strong as John Tibeats, a man who takes unnerving pleasure in dishing out pain to his slaves. His clash with Solomon is memorable, and one of the highlights of the entire film.
  ’12 Years a Slave’ is uncomfortable but necessary viewing, cementing Steve McQueen as one of the most forward-thinking filmmakers in the game, and by achieving this level so early on in his career, it will be interesting to see which controversial matter he will turns his focus to next. His methods are bold and fearless, and his visual background is evident in his craftsmanship. His latest effort is his most striking work of art to date.
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