Archive for ‘Movie Reviews’

February 21, 2013

Tropfest Review: Great Day [SPOILERS]

Tropfest, the worlds largest short film festival, has long been one of my favourite events of the year. This year I bring you a review of all 16 finalist films. If you reside in Australia, you can view all the films on the Sydney Morning Herald website, or watch the all the proceedings via SBS On Demand. Outside of Australia you can view the films on the Tropfest Youtube channel.



Great Day is allegedly the true retelling of a ‘little mans’ perfect day, which comes to a climax as he dishes out some ‘justice’ unto some homophobic hooligans.

The tale is framed by the man telling the story over a beer at a bar, which seems appropriate since the experience feels like an awkward coworker, who doesn’t quite understand what makes an anecdote interesting, rambling about their weekend at Friday night drinks. He talks us through a reenactment of his day in a light conversation way, providing a voice for the other characters in the story.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually quite liked the technique. The actor was just cute and interesting enough to pull off the way it was told, at it was a nice way to inject some unique stylisation into an otherwise relatively bland short film. Although in some moments he did go on a bit (you got an awesome milkshake – we get it!).

One technique that confused and frustrated me (perhaps because I missed some apparent Clockwork Orange references I’m told were present) was the “dramatisation’ of the moment he threw his milkshake at the bullies. Isn’t the whole film a ‘dramatisation’ of the story? They chose to do this part of the scene in a studio, in front of some curtains instead of on the street where the rest of the scene takes place. The only reason I could think of is so that the BMW the ruffians were driving didn’t get covered in milkshake (which is a total cop out).

But the main reason that this film simply missed for me is the suggestion that he achieved some kind of ‘justice’ by throwing a milkshake at some bullies. Firstly, he’s not convincingly the ‘little man’. He says that the story is a win for the guy who gets ‘shit on all the time’, but there is no evidence that he is treated badly day-to-day. He makes enough dough to live out of home, parties with friends on weekends, takes home pretty girls and is likeable enough to be buddies with the local corner-store owner. He’s exactly the kind of cute, ‘awkward’, nerdy guy that is totally chic at the moment.

Secondly, it seems the filmmakers were trying to achieve a message about homophobia but there is no real lesson to be seen. He throws a milkshake in some thugs faces and then runs away. He doesn’t even offer some witty quip to point out the wickedness of their ways – it’s just aggression in response to provocation (which is probably what the hoodlums wanted). The bullies are depicted far too lame and stupid for anyone to admit recognising themselves in them, and the chances of those thugs (or any bullies watching) taking a hard look at themselves and deciding that they should change their ways and their prejudices is very unlikely. It’s more plausible that the incident would have provoked them, and finding the storyteller gone, they’d seek out other weedy nerdling to take their aggression out on.

While most of the film has a nice cutesy styling to it and the lead character is likeable and interesting the conclusion of the film fell completely flat for me. I give it 2/5 stars.

February 7, 2013

Sky-High Hopes for ‘Cloud Atlas’ Come Crashing Down

'Cloud Atlas' banner

Despite the star-studded cast and big budget I’d heard almost nothing about the Cloud Atlas before sitting down to watch it. I knew it was based on book, but otherwise I knew nothing. With a name like that, I was actually expecting something along the lines of Water for Elephants (perhaps I had it confused with Charlie St Cloud?), with pretty scenery but mostly just another romance flick.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that this film ambitiously tackles six stories, each set in a different decade (spanning from the 1800s through to a post-apocalyptic future) with unique characters, and each in a slightly different style. It worked surprisingly well and for the most part all the stories were engaging and entertaining (with the Neo-Korean future perhaps the most compelling, and the tale of an arrogant young composer at the turn of the 20th century slightly dull and pointless). They managed to swap between stories without a jarring feeling, and the pacing was great with a good balance of action, suspense, comedy and drama. It was shaping up to be a really compelling, multilayered film with all the shades from bumbling British comedy, through murder mystery and period drama, to sci-fi action-thriller. By mid-film I began to wonder if the book could be intriguing enough to break my dreaded book-reading draught. As it built to a climax, I was very excited to see how these stories would tie together in the end…

But they didn’t. In the end each of the stories just kind of rounded off, without any real connection. Hints at the other stories are dropped occasionally; the 21st century publisher reading a manuscript based on the 1970s murder mystery, the music of the 1930’s composer playing at a future fast food restaurant, etc. But these seemed token and have no more bearing on the consecutive stories any than The Beatles or Wuthering Heights have had on my life (which is basically none). There was a flimsy attempt to imply a deeper moral about history repeating itself, and the actions of each individual having consequences throughout history, but there just wasn’t enough of a tangible link between the stories for this to really resonate for me.

Another common critique of the film is the way the actors play different roles in each of the stories, and some viewers may find that the fairly obvious prosthetics ruin the immersion. I didn’t find this to be the case and I was able to enjoy the film despite the make-up jobs. Except for one; South Korean actress Doona Bae looks nothing short of alien made up as a red-haired 1800s socialite.

Donna Bae in 'Cloud Atlas'

I kept my eye out for a link between the various roles each of the actors played in the story line, but couldn’t find one. This didn’t bother me all that much, but if the intention was to imply that the characters were related, or perhaps the same ‘souls’ repeating the same mistakes, this was lost on me. All of the actors did a good job portraying their various characters, and they were just that – varied. They didn’t seem to have any similar personality traits, and didn’t play the same roles in each of the stories as far as I could tell.

Each of the individual stories are well done, however, putting them into the same film just sets the audience up for disappointment. It set up high hopes, and then completely botched the landing. Still it was an entertaining enough film and I’ll give it 3 out of 5 stars.

February 4, 2013

Why ‘The Notebook’ is a Horrible Love Story

I know I’m well and truly late to the game, but with my boyfriend out of the house yesterday I grabbed some tissues and sat down to watch The Notebook for the first time. I wasn’t remotely expecting a spectacular film, but I have to admit to being a bit of a sucker for romance. On Saturday I thoroughly enjoyed watching Notting Hill. Amelie, Love Actually and Ever After are among my favourite films. I cried the first time I saw Wall-E. I enjoy cheesy tear-jerking love stories as much as the next sentimental sap. The Notebook is widely considered to be one of the most romantic films of the past decade, and so that is what I settled in to watch.

But what I was presented with was a horrible attempt at a romantic story.

It begins well enough; in a present day nursing home an elderly man named Duke (James Garner) visits his Alzheimer’s-suffering fellow resident (Gena Rowlands), and begins to read her a love story from a notebook…

Then, we flash back to the 1940s where a local boy, Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling), spots a beautiful girl, Allie Hamilton (Rachel McAdams) at a country carnival, and decides that he simply must have her. He asks her to dance, and she refuses. He asks her again, and she refuses again. Then, he sees her on the ferris wheel with another guy, and jumps onto the seat between them as the ride is raising them into the air. The operator stops the ride and tells Noah to get down, because only 2 people are allowed per seat. So, seizing an opportunity, he jumps up and grabs a bar of the structure, so that he is dangling stories above the ground with only his own muscular arms to stop him falling to a painful fate. He then asks the girl again if she would go out with him. She refuses again. So then, he threatens to let himself drop to the ground if she refuses to go out with him. Worse still, he forces her to shout repeatedly that she wants to go out with him.

THIS IS NOT ROMANTIC! It’s not romantic to get the hots for someone from across the room (although I acknowledge it’s common and can lead to real romance). It is not romantic to hound someone who turns you down. And it is DEFINITELY not romantic to threaten to harm or kill yourself if someone rejects you!


I was somewhat relieved when she later refused again to go on a date with him. But then, of course, with the help of his friends she is tricked into going on a double date and they inexplicably fall in love. The kind of love where you can’t seem to stand the other person unless your tongue is crammed down their throat. The pair spend the rest of the summer together, kissing and arguing, and kissing and arguing amongst post-card beautiful scenery.

Now, the whole emotional-blackmail-love-me-or-watch-me-die thing was kind of a deal-breaker for me, and from then on there was not even a glimmer of hope that I would like this character. The rest of my insights may be somewhat tarnished by this, so I will keep my further rantings brief.

Other things that are NOT romantic about this film:

  • When Allie suggests that Noah move to New York to be with her, he DOESN’T drop everything and do it (despite having nothing but a labouring job tying him to the town, which he IS willing to ditch to enlist in the army, but not for love).
  • Although Noah wrote Allie a letter every day for a year, he doesn’t try to call her or go to the college to find her. Surely, after months of sending letters you would expect a reply, even if it said “Please stop sending me letters, you creep!” and when you didn’t receive a reply, you would assume that either; the letters are not reaching her, she is dead, or she is still in love with you and savours the letters. In any of these cases, the logical action would be to try to contact her another way.
  • Their “love story” does not mention the life they actually lived together (which must have been 40 years or more), or their children, or grandchildren. This suggests that the only romance was in the courtship, and it died once they got together.
  • Duke sneaking into the bedroom of a dementia patient who is very likely to not remember him, and should be horrified to find a stranger in her room in the middle of the night.

There was almost a sweet love story in this film, and it goes like this:

Injured in the war, Lon Hammond (James Marsden) is tended to by a beautiful nurse, Allie. Still in bandages and casts, he asks if she would go out with him when he recovers. She politely turns him down saying “lets just get you better first”. Months later, fully recovered, he tracks her down and asks her for a date once more. No stalking. No blackmail. And Allie is “surprised how quickly she fell in love with him”, perhaps because they actually got along. He’s playful and charming, he doesn’t boss her around, they don’t argue and he asks permission from her parents before proposing. Later, when his fiancé arrives unexpectedly at his office, he drops everything to hear what is stressing her. Even after she runs away to a country town, and admits to spending three days making love to her teenage sweetheart, he is understanding that it is difficult to forget your first love, and is willing to forgive her.

But instead of staying in a mutually respectful, loving relationship she decides she would rather go back to an “arrogant son of a bitch” who thinks she is a “pain in the ass” 99% of the time.

With all of the clichés that are thrust into our faces in this film, surely they could have at least made the fiancé a bad guy (or made her not love him) so that we might be able to make sense of why Allie would love a pushy, aggressive, creepy-obsessive guy instead.

I could go on with other things that bothered be about this film, like why her mother would sabotage the relationship when she regrets ditching her own blue-collar sweetie, or the lack of personality Allie seems to have even in her own retelling of her life, or how there seems to be almost no attempt to make the personalities of the elderly couple resemble their younger selves… but I think I will leave it there.

I thoroughly detested this story, so I have no choice but to give it 1 out of 5 stars.

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