Reviews: Pride edition

Film: The Immigrant

Written and directed by James Gray, The Immigrant is about the promises of freedom and opportunity harboured by New World the-immigrant-postermyths. In this case, it’s the American Dream, and it’s sardonically portrayed as an ideal that cannot be attained. Ewa (Marion Cotillard), our immigrant of the title, is put through a tortuous journey of false hope and disappointment, which plagued many immigrants in the 1920s who were seduced by this ‘dream’. It is unfortunate, then, that Gray’s enquiry into the immigrant experience doesn’t extend much further than this.

The crux of my issues with The Immigrant lay in its positioning and use of its characters. Gray insists on a love triangle, and the characters that comprise these roles are given little to distinguish themselves with. Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) is a pimp who uses Ewa for his own interests and Orlando (Jeremy Renner) is a magician who encourages her to leave Bruno and find a better life for herself elsewhere. Ultimately, Bruno represents the reality of immigrant life in America, whereas Orlando personifies the hope and opportunity that was promised to Ewa and the rest of the immigrants when they floated onto Ellis Island. It’s an interesting dynamic, but Gray fails to create anything on the page that is singular about these people. Bruno and Orlando are nothing more than ideas, and Ewa slips into the same flatness. Cotillard’s role has the broadness of the immigrant experience, but none of the finer brush strokes that could forge something unique or individual from it. By trying to be about everything, The Immigrant has no idiosyncrasy, and says nothing new or compelling because of it.

It is, however, an aesthetically seamless accomplishment. Gray has captured the sepia-tinged hues and period-specific detail of a lost time that is bound to draw comparisons to Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America. He isn’t concerned with overplaying his hand, either. Gray holds a lot of his shots for protracted lengths of time. When there is nothing to hold onto, though, the images start to lose their edge and blur together. An image without purpose is only compelling in isolation, and in James Gray’s The Immigrant, the narrative fails those images. The shots that bookend the film are majestic, but they are in service of very little. Unfortunately, what occurs between these images doesn’t find the depth to justify such ambition.

Thanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for providing the opportunity to review this film.

By Sebastian Moore

Film: The Maze Runner

Young Adult novels about dystopian societies have been in resurgence on-screen. The Maze Runner is the most recent addition to Maze-Runner-Poster-2this genre and while it doesn’t exactly break new ground, it’s still an entertaining mystery.

The film follows Thomas (played by Dylan O’Brien from the TV series Teen Wolf), who suddenly wakes up in a glade amongst a community of other teenage boys. None of them have any idea how they got there or even who they were before arriving, aside from their names. A large wall surrounds the glade, and every day it opens up to an enormous maze for runners to find an exit. But the entrance closes up every night and being trapped in the maze is a death sentence.

Thomas must rally the support of the other boys to escape and unlock the mystery of why they are there.

There are hints of The Hunger Games, mixed with Lord of the Flies and The Bourne Identity, but there’s enough uniqueness to the concept to differentiate it. The film engages through its mystery and as you learn more about why the characters are trapped in the maze, more interesting plot twists and moral dilemmas occur. Without getting too ‘spoiler-y’, I would have liked to have seen the film go further with its themes of survival and trust. Since this is the first film in a series, I suspect they’ll explore such ideas with greater depth later down the track.

The cast is quite strong and I sense a lot of these faces will pop up more often in the future. Dylan O’Brien is an effective lead and Will Poulter stands out as antagonistic, by-the-book Gally. Unfortunately there’s very little characterisation for the actors to work with, making it hard to get emotionally invested in the story.

For his feature film debut, director Wes Ball has made a fairly intense and odd mystery that isn’t afraid to get dark at times. However, the action can be a bit incoherent, as there’s a dependence on shaky camerawork that makes it hard to see what’s going on.

While let down by underwritten characters and a sense that it’s just a set-up for another film, The Maze Runner succeeds through tense intrigue and thematic questions.

Thanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for providing the opportunity to review this film.

By Alex Graham

Film: Night Moves

As with several minimalist films before it, Night Moves pivots on a single incident. The build-up and fallout are split into two halves,night-moves-poster and what we know of the characters beforehand is muddied by the event and its repercussions. It is an act of eco-terrorism, and the suspect of our interest is Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), a detached, introverted 20-something who skirts the peripheries of the modern world. Accompanied by Dena (Dakota Fanning) and Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard)— two equally committed and radical environmentalists— the three of them plan on blowing up a major hydroelectric dam.

Contrary to the subject matter, the politics in Night Moves never manifest into a diatribe on pollution or big business. Director Kelly Reichardt would rather consider the ‘how’, not the ‘why’, of these people. Her eye for the mundane is so specific and vivid that eventless scenes are given boundless aesthetic dimension. We learn so much about this world and these people by the way they move, signal, group and look at each other. The realism of Reichardt’s approach borders on fictionalised documentation. In the most intimate of settings, Josh’s body language is often slouched and absent, gliding in synchronicity with the empty spaces that small settings barely make room for. He moves in sole orbit around friends and family, internalising his frustrations which emerge through infinitesimal tics.

Removed of the quick wit and motor-mouth that has characterised the majority of his screen work (notably The Social Network), Eisenberg is a revelation—a silent volcano that is far more riveting in its gestation period than its inevitable eruption. Jeff Grace’s uneasy, discordant score imparts our central protagonist’s paranoid behaviour and fuses seamlessly with the elusive rhythms of Reichardt’s visual sensibility.

In the first half of Night Moves, Josh and Dena find a dead, pregnant doe with its fawn still alive in the womb. Josh proceeds to push it off the road and into a ditch. It’s an isolated sequence, no doubt, but it punctuates Reichardt’s politics (or lack thereof) like a cigarette burn. The final shot is a cynical rebuke to this hypocrisy; a confident and smug end note that reverberates with bleak irony.

Thanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for providing the opportunity to review this film.

By Sebastian Moore

Film: Gone Girl

In the opening scene of Gone Girl, a man describes the shape of his wife’s head. It’s a pretty head, burgeoning with golden strawsenhanced-buzz-wide-384-1406873867-8 that protrude from a face of porcelain beauty. Her unknowable eyes conceal the thoughts that stormcloud inside. ‘What are you thinking,’ he ponders. We don’t know what he is capable of, nor do we know what is going on behind her eyes.

This is our introduction to Amy and Nick Dunne, the couple at the centre of Gone Girl. On the afternoon of their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy (Rosemund Pike) vanishes without a trace and Nick (Ben Affleck) is left to figure out what has happened. With cops questioning him and a media frenzy circling, Nick is put into precarious positions which challenge his innocence in the eyes of others. Even though there is no physical evidence that suggests he is responsible for Amy’s disappearance, the media builds a narrative of guilt against Nick which creates fierce public outcry. This is not dissimilar to the power of false accusation explored in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. In this case, however, we as an audience are participants in the witch hunt, and as motives against Nick’s innocence slowly accumulate, we begin to assume his guilt before Amy’s body is even found.

Adapted for the screen from her own best-selling novel, Gillian Flynn’s subject matter proves the perfect marriage for David Fincher’s detached visuals. Gruesome without the gore (for the most part), the ideas explored in Gone Girl belie its glassy surface. Below Fincher’s sleek exteriors is a world of gliding monsters, and this contradiction between the surface and what sits beneath it makes for a film which is increasingly uneasy to sit through.

By subverting its genre trappings, Fincher’s whodunit expands into a social commentary about our obsession with image and the media’s distortion of what we see. It is also a dissection of marriage and how we use these ‘images’ as a way to persuade, delude and entrap one another. As active participants, Gone Girl has a finger on our pulse. It understands our fixation with image, our fascination with media and our assumptions about gender and gender roles, and uses this to manipulate our expectations. In that respect, Fincher is our puppet master, and we react the way he wants us to.

Early on in the film, Nick describes what it would be like to crack Amy’s skull open. A few minutes later, we see the camera cut from a scene of them kissing to an oral swab. The thoughts and images this edit and that description conjure are more disturbing than anything I’ve seen in any recent slasher film. Fincher has created a horror movie of ideas. Or, as some may view it, the worst date movie of the year.

Thanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for providing the opportunity to review this film.

By Sebastian Moore

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