The Avengers: Infinity War

Spoilers ahead!

thanos

When I walked into the cinema, I expected some of my favourite characters to die. Not just because certain actors’ contracts are expiring, but because this film has been ten years in the making. The villain, Thanos, has been working in the shadows of the Marvel Cinematic Universe since The Avengers was released in 2012. Since Iron Man in 2008, eighteen films have been released, and that makes an awful lot of heroes available to show up against the villain, and an awful lot of heroes available to die. Not only that, but the sequel to Infinity War, which continues the two-part war against Thanos, concludes Phase 3 in Marvel’s cycle of films, and a new wave of heroes like Captain Marvel will be introduced to the Avengers team roster.

The film started right off where no one wanted it – with a major character death, and that of a fan favourite. Things only got emotionally worse from there. I was literally on the edge of my seat throughout the whole film, grieving for my favourite characters and paranoid that more would fall. The plot was fairly straight forward: a threat is identified and the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, almost every hero and side character is drawn into the battle to stop Thanos from collecting the last Infinity Stones and committing intergalactic genocide. Some take the fight to Thanos, like Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Spider Man, and Star Lord, while others protect the home front from his invading forces, like Captain America, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch and Vision. Further yet, Thor is the hero who ties them all together as he bumps into the Guardians, sends some of them to Earth, and takes Groot and Rocket Raccoon to a mythical place to forge a new weapon that could defeat Thanos. And this weapon almost does, if Thor had perhaps aimed it better.

Unlike in Captain America: Civil War, the character introspection was quite subtle. Our favourite heroes were put to the test – would they kill the one they love to save them from being destroyed? Could they sacrifice one person for the sake of the universe? It’s a question that heroes often face in superhero films like this, and not all of them make the best choice. We also got an insight into the mind and motivations of Thanos and his determination to exterminate half the universe, as he is also faced with the same choice. However, we didn’t get to see the consequences of Civil War, which was the most recent film with a big Avengers roster, and which directly impacted where the Avengers were and what they were doing at the open of this film.

On the other hand, there were some great character interactions that I had been anticipating for years. The meeting between Thor and Star Lord surpassed my expectations, adding some much-needed humour into an otherwise grim film. My favourite interaction by far was shared between Rocket and Bucky Barnes, otherwise known as the Winter Soldier. They only had a brief moment on screen, but in that time they worked together to shoot the bad guys in a glorious pirouette of death, and then Rocket asked Bucky if he could borrow his arm, which was a wonderful homage to the first film where Rocket constantly tries to steal people’s artificial limbs. One that fans would have been particularly looking forwards to is between Steve and Tony, seeing how Civil War ended, but that never happened. And considering how high the stakes will be at the beginning of the next film, I doubt it ever will.

My only criticism of the film was that I wasn’t a huge fan of the musical score. It fit certain moments, but in others I felt like it was going for the dramatic in the battle scenes instead of a more severe and anxious tone.

Needless to say, I went home and finished off the tub of ice cream.

 


Words by Amelia Hughes

3.5-4 star film, conditional of your love for superhero films, and how the next Avengers film (coming out next year) concludes the storyline.

Hard Eight

Hard Eight, Paul Thomas Anderson’s debut feature film (which he wrote and directed), was recently shown at the Mercury Cinema as part of their Cinémathéque: Aesthetic Master collection. It stars John C. Reilley as John, a down-on-his-luck man who Sydney (Phillip Baker Hall), for some reason as yet unknown to the viewer, offers a cup of coffee and teaches him the tricks of his trade: gambling.

It might sound like one of those films where Sydney teaches his young disciple to count cards and shake the system for thousands and thousands of dollars before the climactic capture or fall, but it eschews this expectation. Hard Eight has a subtle plot, and focuses more on the ways the characters connect to one another. John looks to Sydney for approval and reassurance, as the man who gave him this new gift of life, and Sydney treats John as if he were his own son. It is not at first clear why Sydney cares so much for John, but it is eventually revealed that he is motivated by his own guilty past, and manipulates John’s life for the better as his own form of penance. As a result, when John falls in love with a casino waitress who also moonlights as a prostitute, Sydney is the one who John calls when things go south.

The film avoids the clichés that might be used to throw in some action or friction between the characters, such as when Sydney’s motives are revealed, and instead causes deeper character introspection without giving away all the answers to the audience. It only raises curiosity and interest in Sydney’s life before the film started, and what might happen once it has ended.

Anderson’s style of filming is unusual, particularly in a film with such ordinary themes, and this is what gives it its uniqueness. The camera often focuses not on the actors’ faces, where in any other film the audience is drawn to the emotions and micro-expressions that prove an actor’s worth, but on hands as they pick up a note and pause, or the back of a man as he walks away, so we have no idea what the character is thinking and we are left to our own deductions. This style suits the pace of the film, and Anderson’s use of a Steadicam means there are no quick changes between scenes or fast action shots.

It is a well written, well-developed film, particularly if you enjoy films for the characters rather than the plot. However, if you enjoy action and resolutions, Hard Eight is not for you.


Words by Amelia Hughes.

Three stars.

Thanks to Mercury Cinemas.

 

Love, Simon

Greg Berlanti’s film Love, Simon is a heart-warming, coming-of-age tale that teaches us three important lessons: self-acceptance, general acceptance and that when you talk to someone nice online, they aren’t always a Catfish.

 

In all seriousness, this film – particularly in our post-Plebiscite Australia which left many people in the LGBT community feeling alienated – is a necessary, affirmative antidote. The plot follows Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), a closeted gay teenager who, after seeing an anonymous coming-out post on his high school’s gossip page, impulsively begins an e-mail correspondence with the writer who goes by “Blue”. However, their growing friendship (and Simon’s secret) are soon threatened after he leaves his e-mail open on a public computer and finds himself being blackmailed by fellow drama student Martin (Logan Miller) who wants to date his friend Abby (Alexandra Shipp). What follows are a set of hilarious, awkward and tense events as Simon struggles to keep his secret and act like Cupid with his friend’s love lives, all the while attempting to discover who Blue is.

 

The film (and for the record, the book) avoids the melodramatic tropes that are usually expected from the young adult genre. The anxieties of coming out, even while being sure that you’ll be accepted by your friends and family, are addressed alongside the strong message that only the person coming out has the right to determine when and how they do it. To allay your unspoken fears: no, this film does not go the pot-holed John Green route and suddenly have a character die with an unlit cigarette in their mouth – it has some heart-breaking moments but ultimately keeps a tone of warmth. No character is necessarily a “side” character – each possesses their own quiet complexities. His best friends Leah (portrayed by 13 Reasons Why’s Katherine Langford), Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and Abby are very likeable and we find ourselves wanting a deeper glimpse into their lives and thoughts. Even Martin has a heart of gold and genuine adoration for Simon and his friends (if there was such a thing as wholesome blackmailing, he has found it). I must also mention Natasha Rothwell’s performance as the drama teacher Ms. Albright who is guaranteed to make you howl with laughter.

 

What separates it also establishes this film as a future classic is the underlying mystery: who the hell is Blue? You will be spending the entire film as Simon does: seeing a potential Blue in any male who interacts with him. It is hilariously akin to how we fantasise about crushes; usually over the most minimal interaction possible. This worker at the café smiled at me while handing me my change – so I guess he’s the love of my life then. We naturally become so invested in this mystery that every time Simon finds out a guy isn’t Blue, we feel the same spear of disappointment being thrust through our hearts. I know what you really want: to know if there is a great pay-off to this mystery? To which I will reply, rather pettily, that if I had to suffer with not knowing then so do you.

 

There are people who will disregard this as a “gay movie” but this is a film which anyone can relate to. The universal messages of self-acceptance, friendship and awareness that people are struggling with things you don’t know about are always relevant – and necessary. And even though this film does centre upon a young man accepting his sexuality; this is ultimately a film about friendship and love. It is an important film that a lot of young people will take comfort in who find themselves relating to Simon’s situation.

 

If a film can make an ice-hearted cynic like myself write such syrupy tripe like “friendship and love” – well then you best be sure it is a damn good movie.

 

Love,

Well at the very least: Tolerance,

Me

 


Words by Jordan Early.

 

Amarcord

Amarcord (1973) is a semi-autobiographical film directed by the well-known Italian director, Federico Fellini. For one night only, it was played on the big screen at Mercury Cinema as part of their ‘Imagined Worlds: International Visions’ Cinémathéque film culture. Amarcord is hailed as one of Fellini’s best films, and is remembered for its warm nostalgia as it examines the rituals of daily life.

The film follows an adolescent boy, Titta, who grows up in a small village in 1930s Fascist Italy under the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini, and his ‘typical’ Italian family. Amarcord opens with a town celebration to welcome spring, burning a straw witch on a great bonfire to banish the cold winter. The film continues in a series of vignettes, with each scene having no direct correlation to the previous, weaving in and out of the lives of the characters over the space of a year. We do not always see resolutions in these small stories, such as when Titta’s father is arrested by the Fascists for not showing proper respect during a celebration in the town. He returns home upset and hurt, but this scene is used only to show the power of the Fascist government and its effect on the people, and holds no further repercussions for the characters. As a result of these randomly selected vignettes, near the end we see Titta’s mother succumbing to a quick illness and passing away, yet in the next we witness a wedding and the coming of spring once again, where the film concludes.

As such, this style of storytelling has no plot other than what is contained within each small vignette, and it can be hard to follow or become attached to the characters in the same way as we might in many modern films. Despite this, it retains familiar elements. There is quite a lot of toilet humour and inappropriate farting, which many in a modern audience can appreciate as a part of family or adolescent life, as well as blatant sexual jokes, which sometimes fall short. There is also liberal breaking of the fourth wall, with several characters looking to the camera in random scenes to extol the virtues of their wonderful town, speaking of their history or famous events, their monologue occasionally interrupted by someone farting.

Amarcord won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1975, and anyone with an interest in tales of culture, bildungsroman, or biographies would be sure to enjoy this.

 


Words by Amelia Hughes.

Thanks to Adelaide Cinémathéque: Mercury Cinema.

A Discussion of I, Tonya

Tulpa writers Liam McNally and Lisandra Linde went along to see I, Tonya. We went with plenty of expectations but the filmmakers seemingly went out of their way to shatter them. Consequently, we decided a discussion, rather than a review, would best suit this film.

 

Firstly, the film has no major stars outside of Margot Robbie and Allison Janney (known to many for her tenure in hit TV series The West Wing). So, what did we make of the cast and performance?

Lisandra: I felt the casting of Tonya and her mother LaVona were spot on. Margot Robbie managed to play into the dark comedy of the film, especially through her over the top anger against the skating judges. But she balanced it with equal shows of how difficult Tonya’s situation was and how her underdog story didn’t follow the rags-to-riches storyline she wanted, but rather, was hampered by the people around her and (though she denies it) herself.

Allison Janney really captured the essence of Harding’s mother – from start to finish, she shows us a woman who is selfish, emotionally abusive, rude and generally destructive towards the people around her. And yet she is only somewhat aware of her cruelty – truly believing that what she did was the best thing for her daughter. The key moment being when she says (during the acted interviews) ‘Oh please, show me a family that doesn’t have its ups and downs’ – this right after we see her throw a knife at her daughter.

Liam: Janney’s LaVona could not have been further from the together, wise, and controlled figure of CJ, her character on The West Wing. Her commitment to the role appears absolute as she exhibits extreme emotional, physical, and psychological abuse on her daughter and in mockumentary-style interviews, denies some of what we have seen and attempts to contextualise it differently.

Robbie’s Tonya is by turns aggressor, victim, bystander, and everything in between. The film seems to seek to neither condemn nor condone the real Harding and so we are left with a quandary. She is ultimately compelling in how thorough and complex a person she creates.

Seeing the real individuals interviewed at the end drives home even more strongly just how accurately the real people have been captured and that whatever your original motives for watching the film, you must remember these are real people.

 

At the risk of spoilers, there’s a scene that must be talked about. During the mockumentary-style interviews, Tonya takes aim at her abusers: her mother (who denies it), her husband (who denies it), and those who made her a joke, a punchline, and a freak to be gawped at.

Liam: The advertising for the film suggested to me that I was going to see a dark comedy, a kind of ‘tragi-comedy’. I can’t deny the humour of the film but the film was far more hard-hitting and daring than I anticipated. In that moment of Tonya decrying those who made her into a joke as abusers, it’s as though she addresses the audience in order to ask us if we went for the right reasons. And did we? Were we lured in by very smart advertising to have this moment put before us? Are we complicit?

I can’t think of any other film that has made me consider myself so directly as a filmgoer, as a person, so much as this.

Lisandra: I think that the trailers kind of played into the kind of media-saturated ideas most people have about the incident and Tonya but then the movie goes completely away from that and shows a very sympathetic and complex side to everything.

 

Finding the truth in the film is a hard task, as we are provided with a host of contradictory and clearly unreliable narrators.

Lisandra: I think that the really blunt way they addressed the violence and abuse helped to build up a kind of empathetic trust for Tonya but at the same time made it evident that she was becoming really fucked up from it, thus making her less reliable as a narrator.

Liam: This is a film full of people giving changing, contradictory, and self-serving stories. Quite how violent LaVona was, how brutal Tonya’s husband, or how unfair the situations outside of her control were, Tonya feels like a real person, and no real person will ever tell the whole truth.

 

What other impressions were we left with at the film’s end?

Lisandra: I love the contrast between the ugliness of Tonya’s (violent and redneck) life with the glamour and superficiality of the ice skating world (in which Tonya’s inability to conform to their standards of ‘presentation’ makes her a constant underdog).

The fact that Tonya’s skills are overshadowed by things she cannot control – like having a background of poverty, an abusive mother, and none of the glitzy costumes and smiley personas of her competitors – really forces us to consider the way in which we, as a society, push down women who do not fit neatly into their assigned roles.

Liam: It was an extremely reflective film, both for the characters and, I believe, for the audience. What role do we play in tearing down people like Tonya Harding? And why do we do it? The film draws you in with controversy (the kneecapping of Nancy Kerrigan) and traps you in a film of questions about America’s (and the world’s) attitudes towards class, gender, and appearance.

There was no distinct ‘truth’ the film pushed. It accommodated for many views and many truths. I think Tonya is right when she stands up, bruised and bloodied, and says, ‘and that’s the fucking truth’.


Words by Liam McNally & Lisandra Linde.

The Shape of Water review

Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy-romance film has brought literal meaning to the metaphor: sleeping with the fishes.

Set in Cold-War America, we follow the heroine Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a mute woman working as a cleaner for a scientific organisation, who finds herself drawn to an amphibian man-creature (frequent collaborator Doug Jones) trapped and observed under the auspices of the government run by Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon). Elisa relies on the loyalty of her best friends Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and Giles (Richard Jenkins) to assist her in saving the amphibian from violent experimentation and death – a plotline that is making the lawyers of Seaworld go: ‘That sounds familiar.’

While this could easily be classified as a star-crossed lovers film, del Toro is generous in his subplots and characterisations of the side characters. Giles, Elisa’s neighbour, is an older, closeted gay bachelor who is attempting to re-emerge into the world of advertising and struggles with his loneliness. While Zelda, a co-worker of Elisa’s, babbles incessantly about her husband and serves as her friend’s protector. We get the sense that what unites these characters is their shared sense of isolation; Elisa’s inability to speak, Giles’ retrospective grief over his lack of romance and appreciated work, and Zelda’s clear need for somebody to talk to. Del Toro spritzes some eau de Tom Clancy with his double agents and American-Russian tensions, an intriguing creature and enough running water scenes to make the most fastidious of viewers’ bladders lurch uncomfortably. But the notion that the remedy for loneliness is to be understood remains at the forefront of this film and overshadows the more blockbuster-y elements.

It’s fundamentally important to remember that across del Toro’s filmographic universe, the co-existence between humans and creatures is normal which is why Zelda, upon hearing of Elisa’s sexual congress with the amphibian cheekily laughs instead of, say, throwing up. However, this film is a love story, albeit an unconventional one, which doesn’t deliver gratuitous moments of tadpole conceptions but makes it clear that the relationship between Elisa and the amphibian is one of substance. No one swiped right on Tinder (or perhaps Fin-der in this case) at the local aquarium.

Del Toro’s sense of colour is aesthetically soothing submerging us in the turquoises and aquamarines of his water world. And despite being set in Baltimore, there is something almost whimsical and off-kilter about the cityscape that feels very similar to the city of Rapture in the Bioshock games before everything turned horrific.

The performances of this film are phenomenal. Hawkins’ is playing the mute but ironically is anything but silent. Her sign language can be as violent as a face slap, her facial expressions such an open indication of her yearnings, frustration and determination that dialogue isn’t necessary. When we hear from actors that a role they undertook was ‘physically demanding’ we picture gruelling weight lifting regimes, strict diets of water and cayenne pepper, and daily jogging. However, we shouldn’t downplay the physically demanding merits of Hawkins having to control her face and hands to appropriately carry the story and all its emotional intensity. Additional praise should be bestowed on Jenkins’ portrayal of Giles who often provides comic relief and is perhaps a character you root to succeed more than Elisa herself. But every actor is incredible and Doug Jones, having played creatures in previous del Toro projects such as Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy franchise is a comforting, familiar presence like piano ballads in every episode of Grey’s Anatomy. 

With thirteen Oscar nominations, The Shape of Water is the approaching tsunami set to sweep all the accolades away from other competitors – although rumour has it that Three Billboards could serve as an effective barrier. But this tense, wondrous film is worth watching and if the end result is you making a bit too much eye contact with your goldish at home, just remember that del Toro won’t judge you.

This review has not been sponsored by PlentyOfFish.com.

4 stars.


Words by Jordon Early.

A Trip Down David Lynch’s ‘Mulholland Drive’ (A New Year’s Suggestion)

Awarded the position of ‘Greatest film of the 21st Century’ by a team of 177 critics, it is impossible to deny the worth of Mulholland Drive. Even someone as critical of director David Lynch’s work as Roger Ebert acknowledged the great achievements of the film, stating his feeling that Lynch had been ‘working toward’ the film his entire career.

It follows Naomi Watts’ Betty Elms as she dives deeper into the glamorous world of Hollywood.  The life she leads has all the wonder and spectacle a bright-eyed aspiring actor could hope for as they start their career. Away from the sun-drenched land of dreams Betty finds Los Angeles to be, there are mysterious goings-on and dark and dodgy deals happening. When at last, these two worlds collide at Club Silencio, the result is devastating for Betty and her lover Rita.

At first promising a loving tribute to the golden age of Hollywood cinema, the creeping malevolence of certain aspects turns the film on its head. Even its name harkens back to Hollywood’s halcyon years, mirroring the title of the famed Sunset Boulevard, a film of the era from which Mulholland Drive borrows, both being significant and famed street of Los Angeles. Another tentative connection exists between the two films as Sunset Boulevard features a minor character called Gordon Cole, whose name Lynch appropriates for a character he himself plays in his famed television series, Twin Peaks.

The stunning success of this riddle-like film was never a certainty, however, as the film was initially produced as a pilot for a television series planned by David Lynch. The television executives rejected it, and so the open-ended nature of the film, whilst a staple of Lynch’s work, was not entirely planned. It also served to connect the film’s content to the reality of Lynch’s experiences as the power of creatives in Lynch’s Hollywood is surrendered to the moneymen and executives.

To help people in solving the film’s central quandary, or perhaps to further cloud the matter, Lynch released the film on home media with a series of ten clues. Whether anyone has truly solved the enigma is  perhaps impossible. The film is woven through with Lynch’s familiar dream logic and denies easy answers. It’s surely fitting that a film set in the city sometimes called the city of dreams, and deals so much in fantasy, is this much of a conundrum. Only here, in this film, the dreams of the city are not all aspirations but also nightmares and horrors lurking around the corners.


Words by Liam McNally.

The Death of Stalin

‘I know the drill. Smile, shake hands, and try not to call them cunts.’

The Death of Stalin is thoroughly stamped with the unique talent and style of Armando Ianucci, the creator of the UK’s The Thick of It, and subsequently the US’s Veep. The film is based upon a graphic novel but the final product feels unmistakably Ianucci’s.

The film follows the political manoeuvres of soviet leaders in the wake of, surprisingly enough, Stalin’s death. It features a sizeable host of respected actors from both Britain and the United States with not one of them bothering with even a motion in the direction of a Russian accent – some even seem to go quite the other way.

This cavalcade of stars is headed by sterling performances from Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev (‘I’m the peacemaker and I’ll fuck over anyone who gets in my way’), Jason Isaacs as Georgy Zhukov (‘I took Germany, I think I can take a flesh lump in a waistcoat’), and Jeffrey Tambor as Georgy Malenkov (‘I have no idea what is going on’).

It surely seems a tough ask to find humour in such a dark time in human history but the balance is found by never turning the humour on the suffering but simply on the perverse and absurd scramble for power. In this respect, the same style present in The Thick of It and Veep can be found. Also present, and surely a necessity of an Ianucci script is the liberal use of coarse language. Peter Capaldi (Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It) may not present to lend his masterful swearing to the film but the rest of the cast certainly picks up the slack.

If the film has an antagonist, it is surely Beria, who is played in suitably grotesque and monstrous fashion by Simon Russell Beale. The head of the NKVD, instrumental in Stalin’s lengthy death lists, sexual predator, and ‘sneaky little shit’, Beria is set aside from other characters for being several measures more assured in his manipulation of the political system and being more inclined to violence. While a few jokes do go Beria’s way, he is always suitably menacing and cunning.

The film acknowledges the broad strokes of history but plays fast and loose with the smaller details. It’s not an advisable choice for historical research as it is unlikely General Zhukov ever asked Malenkov if Coco Chanel had taken a shit on his head but on the other hand, I know of no historical document that can disprove that.

Ultimately, The Death of Stalin finds its best moments in the absurdity of political manoeuvring, the awkwardness of officialdom, and the stupidity of tradition. In these respects it has a very similar tone to The Thick of It and Veep and finds even in the most serious of situations, most people, like Comrade Malenkov, ‘have no idea what is going on.’


Words by Liam McNally.

Thor: Ragnarok

In Thor: Ragnarok, the third and final instalment of the franchise, we meet Thor (Chris Hemsworth) at the tail end of an intergalactic quest to stop Ragnarok and the subsequent destruction of Asgard. But it’s not long before a new villain emerges in the form of Thor’s banished sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett) the goddess of death, who quickly makes her way to Asgard to plot her conquest of the universe and generally wreak havoc. These events find Thor hammerless and stranded on a junkyard planet ruled by the half-tyrant, half-gameshow host Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) and launches the film into a wonderfully colourful sci-fi adventure.

This film is unabashedly fun. It’s refreshing to see a superhero movie with such a sincere sense of humour and it’s not hard to see the influence of director Taika Waititi, well-known for independent comedies like What We Do in the Shadows (2014) and Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016). No one is exempt from this comedic touch—even the sombre Odin (Anthony Hopkins) has some great lines (‘Are you the god of hammers?’ he asks Thor at one point.) Waititi himself shines as Korg, an alien made of rock whose attempt at revolution was thwarted by a shortage of pamphlets. Even in the relatively minor role of Topaz, the Grandmaster’s right-hand-woman, Rachel House gives a wonderful comedic performance and delivers a reference to The Castle that many Australian fans are sure to enjoy. All of the cast give solid performances and, vitally important for a comedy, they clearly have a lot of fun while doing it.

While many of Marvel’s offerings have been fairly serious action flicks with a smattering of jokes dropped in at the last minute, Thor: Ragnarok is almost the polar opposite. Yet the humour is never hammy or parodic—it’s balanced well with a number of beautifully shot and, put simply, cool action sequences. There is of course the hotly anticipated battle between Thor and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) that’s been featured in the trailers, but some of the best moments come from scrapper, drunkard and former elite Asgardian warrior, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson).

The vibrant cinematography combines with a nostalgic soundtrack of 70s and 80s synths and rock to create some truly awe-inspiring moments. I’m not sure I’ll ever forget the image of Thor facing off against a tower of undead enemies while Led Zepplin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ roars through the cinema speakers.

With delightful humour and seriously cool action, Thor: Ragnarok is a movie that knows exactly what it is and revels in it.


Words by Justina Ashman