FILM REVIEW: Last Flag Flying

This time I want to talk about a film that barely anyone saw. Especially here in Australia. The film is Last Flag Flying by Richard Linklater.

The film follows three men: Sal (Bryan Cranston), Richard (Laurence Fishburne), and Doc (Steve Carrell). All three are past US navy men, they all fought in Vietnam. Doc’s son is part of the navy and dies in service of his country as part of the Iraq War. Doc then tracks down his two old navy buddies to help bury his son. This isn’t the kind of film I usually watch. I’m not really up to date on the politics behind the Iraq War or just politics in general. The reason I watched this film and you should too is because of the creative team and the emotion that’s poured all over it.

Linklater is probably best known for Boyhood (a film I adore), Waking Life, and his Before trilogy. His films are mostly about people being people. He takes an extremely human approach to filmmaking. They’re not really ever ‘about’ anything. They’re about human beings existing and dealing with the world and what happens to them.

So, if Linklater’s films are fundamentally about people, you’d better like the people in Last Flag Flying, right? Luckily enough, the three actors chosen to play the three very distinct characters are all exceptional. Steve Carell is very muted, his bombastic and crazy side from 40-Year-Old Virgin completely pulled back and restrained. Carell’s character serves as the emotional core of the film. To keep grounding us and reminding us that fundamentally the film is about loss. Cranston (who let’s all just admit is one of the best actors in the world and if you haven’t seen Breaking Bad yet, what are you doing?) plays the fun, loose-lipped, charismatic but flawed Sal who gives the film most of its moments of levity. Finally, Fishburne’s Richard is a Reverend and serves as a more spiritual counterpoint to Sal’s defeated standing point on life.

There are three great, very well defined, characters. They all have a mission, get Doc’s boy to his funeral that he deserves. And what do we spend most of the movie doing? Watching them all talk. I mean it. This film is from start to finish just people talking. We open in a bar, they talk. We drive to a house, they talk while they drive. We get to the house, they talk some more. On and on. Just talking, talking, and more talking. Yet, somehow, Linklater never loses us. He uses the camera cleverly, with push-ins and crane movements to give the scenes energy. To add to this, the dialogue is fascinating, it’s all filled with subtext and there is a shared history between these three men that is mostly only alluded to. Linklater lets us do most of the work in figuring out what these characters mean to each other.

I’m not going to tell you about the various twists and turns the movie takes (and there are a few, believe it or not). What I will tell you is that I didn’t really expect much from this film. I expected to be entertained and laugh a little, maybe. And those things happened. But, in watching the film, I found that it had a lot to say. The film is about loss and what it is like to lose someone you love. About how when we are alone we have to find our true friends. About how we can’t really go things alone. Or how we shouldn’t.

The film is also a fascinating meditation on the meaninglessness of war. About the lies we tell ourselves in times of war. How we justify the things we do. About how we lie to each other. The film takes shape as a reflection on the human condition and the truths and lies that we need to know and not know. The film asks the questions: What will make us feel whole? Do you need to know the truth? Or will a lie serve you better?

After seeing Last Flag Flying, in-between screenings of films like Avengers and Deadpool 2, it is refreshing. It is a quiet film that was barely noticed by anyone. By the Academy or the cinephiles or the general public. But it is really good. It is emotional and funny. It has some of the best performances I’ve seen in a long time. Basically, it’s just nice to watch. So, if you’re looking for something fun. Something that will make you think a bit and feel a lot. Something that is just people talking and being humans with each other. You can’t do much better than this.

 

Written and Submitted by Gaden Sousa.

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Infinite Avengers Discussion

(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!!)

 

Last week I did something I haven’t done before. Something I was annoyed at myself for doing. I took a nap. A nap that resulted in me waking up 10 minutes before my Avengers: Infinity War session began. I was at my house—a 15-minute walk from the cinema.

I threw on clothes, grabbed a water bottle, and then half-sprinted-half-quickly-walked to the cinema. With barely any air left in my lungs, and a huge cough massing in the back of my throat, I got there with several minutes of ads before the film actually began. Which means, while I completely devastated my lungs and wouldn’t regain my normal breathing processes until a third of the way through Avengers: Infinity War, I had successfully made it to the film on time and could sit down and enjoy it. For the third time.

It’s important for you to know that I am a huge fan of everything comic books. I love the movies, the characters, the actual comic books. I love everything to do with them. It’s important to know this because I may be a tad biased in my opinions. But this isn’t a review. It’s a discussion about a film I really love.

So, where to begin? How about with everyone’s biggest complaint about this film: it has no emotional stakes—everyone dies but it’s all meaningless.

To elaborate, this is their full argument: everyone dies at the end of the film. Wow! I know, crazy. We know that Spiderman has a sequel in the works and Guardian’s of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is being written as I type.  And we know that Black Panther will definitely have another movie as it’s now one of the highest grossing films ever. So, people’s biggest problem with this film is that we know all the characters that died have to come back. It would be stupid if they didn’t.

But the people that say that are missing this: any kind of death, permanent or otherwise, is still death. It still creates change. The characters that die in Avengers: Infinity War will come back (though I’m sure some others will die, and we will have some proper loss, and all shed some tears) but even when they do they’ll be changed. They’ll have died. That death will mean something because they will have been deeply affected by losing their life and changed again by coming back to life. It will allow the characters to grow.

We shouldn’t forget that the characters in this film don’t know what we do. Which means when Rocket Racoon is sobbing from Groot fading into ashes or Cap touches the ground where Bucky just was or (and this is the part that made me cry twice) Tony Stark holds the hand of a Peter Parker begging for life, these characters are feeling real emotions for the people they are really losing.

For the first time in a long time a Marvel film has emotional stakes that we feel. As we are worried for the characters we care so much about.

Here’s another thing to remember when talking about this film: it should be an absolute mess. The disparate tones and characters that populate the Marvel Universe should be coming together in a convoluted ball of nothingness and disappointment. Having the weird, comedy space opera of the Guardians of the Galaxy shouldn’t mix with the espionage spy thriller elements of Captain America or the political ideological themes and ideas in Black Panther.

On the battlefield in Wakanda, Groot—with 10 alien monsters skewered on his arm, turns to Cap and says ‘I am Groot’, without issing a beat Cap replies ‘I am Steve Rogers’. Just like that the two worlds coalesce into something new, something better.

To steal a friend’s analogy: this film plays like a mix tape of the best things from the MCU. You have the zany fun of Thor going on a space adventure, a tone straight from Guardian’s of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok. You have the magic from Doctor Strange, the naïve hero out of his depth fighting for the neighbourhood from Spiderman: Homecoming, and so on with all the best parts.

All the heart and feeling and characters that have been built over 10 years all come perfectly together. Pulled tightly and focused properly by two incredible writers and two equally grand directors.

Sidenote: The direction across the board is excellent as the Russos treat this not as just some mindless form of entertainment but hold themselves to a higher standard and, in their own words, aim for ‘an emotional realism’. Which I think the film succeeds in delivering.

The cleverness of this film is that we can put aside our heroes for a little bit, we already know enough about them, and we can focus on a villain. A villain that makes us scared. That makes us fear for the people we love.

So, how about we talk about this villain: Thanos. Thanos is the driving force and the glue that holds and moves the film along. He doesn’t achieve this by being a moustache twirling bad guy; he’s the main character because he is made human. We are made to care about someone we should hate.

We spend much time with Thanos, with a huge portion devoted solely to building the relationship between him and Gamora, as well as flashbacks, and following him to get the soul stone.  We start believing in his cause. We start to understand why he wants to kill half of the universe. It may be perverse. It may be ridiculous. But it also makes a bit of sense.

Thanos isn’t the bad guy who wants to kill everyone because he wants to kill everyone; he wants to help people. He sees his way as the only way to a better world.

Josh Brolin brings a gravitas and emotional weight to Thanos, becoming one of the few villains in the extensive library of Marvel films that we connect with and can see his point of view. He is in many ways the reason we care. He is the threat and we get to see what’s so dangerous about him. He is a villain that is fundamentally human.

If Thanos is the reason for the film and the person we feel most for, then Thor is the reason to continue the film and the counterpoint to Thanos.

Thor wishes to avenge his brother and thus has the emotional vendetta that’s needed to pull us through the film, as one of the only characters to have witnessed the cruelty of Thanos. A cruelty that he should have stopped—he is after-all the king of Asgard and all realms. Thor in many ways feels personally responsible for the pain being felt across the universe. In a scene with Rocket we actually see Thor cry. Or pretend like he’s not crying. I was immensely affected by this. He is scared.  He’s seen the pain that Thanos can inflict and he doesn’t know if he’s up to it but he’s going to try anyway.

His arrival on the battlefield is a huge cheering moment for anyone who sees this film. The entirety of Thor’s arc is emotionally satisfying as he has a personal, affecting vendetta against Thanos and we watch, gripped by Hemsworth’s exceptional performance, to see it satisfied. And we slump in our chairs as all of his effort is useless. As even with his weapon embedded in Thanos’ chest he still fails.

Honestly, I could go on about this monumental movie all day. I could tell you about how excellent all these actors are in their respective roles and how ridiculously fun it is watching them hurl insults at each other and trade jabs and of course work together for the greater good. It’s a huge cultural achievement, as 10 years culminates in its most satisfying and darkest chapter.

Appreciate and notice the level of filmmaking quality that the Russos imbue into this film and the wit and skill it takes to plot and write such a huge film. Enjoy it for entertainment but also scrape below the surface and see what you can find. I promise you, you will not be disappointed.

 

Written and Submitted By Gaden Sousa

Phillipe Sands @ Melbourne Writers Festival 2016

‘What haunts are not the dead, but the gaps left within us by the secrets of others’ – Nicolas Abraham

I was worried the early Sunday morning timeslot would deter some from experiencing the brilliance that is Phillipe Sands. But, I needn’t have worried as it seems that Sands had drawn a full house for his Melbourne Writers Festival appearance at the wonderful ACMI. He managed three appearances at the festival over 48 hours and I was lucky enough to catch his last presentation, ‘Phillipe Sands: The Origins of Genocide.’ Yeah, I know it’s not the most cheerful of subjects to be talking about early on a weekend morning but it was more than insightful.

Sands is a prolific criminal barrister, working on many of the biggest cases we have seen in recent years—the Iraq Inquiry, anybody heard of it? This is a man who knows his stuff and his stuff just happens to be crimes against humanity. What began as an exploration into the origins of the words ‘genocide’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ quickly turned into something more personal for Sands. The more he researched, the more he found little coincidences that connected his own family to the two men who created those phrases post-World War II. He presented his research and own family story with gusto and just a twinge of sadness—he never spoke to his grandfather about his wartime experiences but boy were they worth talking about.

phillipe-sands-mwf16

Photo credit: Tegan Sizer

Sands explored the often under researched relationship between grandparent and grandchild, made especially tricky when that grandparent had experienced trauma. Sands’ point was made with little jargon, weaving everyday language with psychological research that left the audience (an audience of mainly over 55s—I, at 25 years old, stood out like a sore thumb) questioning their own relationships with others.

Sands is a charismatic speaker, the (in my opinion) too-short 60 minutes flew by and I was left wanting more. Sands was joined on stage by esteemed ABC Radio presenter Rafael Epstein who seemed to be just as much in awe of Sands as his audience was. Epstein asked questions that prompted just the right answers without revealing too much of East West Street’s plot.

I want you all to go out and read Sands’ resulting novel, East West Street: On the Origins of “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity”, so I will not reveal any of the captivating things Sands discovers here. Just know that this novel will have you hooked from the beginning.

For me, this was the highlight of a wonderful Melbourne Writers Festival for 2016. I urge you all to do yourselves a favour and read East West Street. No, genocide is not fun to talk about but if we don’t educate ourselves on the past we are doomed to repeat it in the future. And that is exactly what Phillipe Sands is afraid of.

Words by Tegan Sizer.

A Worthy MIFF Report

It’s 12:00 at night, and I am so tired. I have just seen my 5th movie of the day, speeding backwards and forwards between the major cinemas of the festival: Kino, Forum, Comedy Theatre, Hoyts in Melbourne Central etc., interspersed with meet-ups with mates, drinking cheap Japanese beer, and discussing the festival with feverish excitement. It is the 65th Melbourne International Film Festival, and from 28th July – 14th August, I and many other die-hard cinephiles will be in movie heaven. I sit where I normally sit; the 14th seat of the 3rd row of the ACMI cinema, one of my favourite cinemas of the festival. It is dark, moody, dramatic and refreshingly modern with exceedingly comfortable seats. The screen is displayed in front of me and my mate, here to see the 40th anniversary restoration of the American independent horror movie PHANTASM. We cannot wait as the background music plays in smooth jazz and beat-bop saxophone solos. On the screen we see, in giant, colourful fonts: MIFF Melbourne International Film Festival. Then the screen dims, the title screen shows, the foreboding music booms through the cinema. And the few of us dedicated or stupid enough to see the movie when most cinema goers had long gone home? We would not rather be anywhere else. This is MIFF in a nutshell.

This is the third year in a row I have attended MIFF. It costs around $300 to get a members passport to see as many movies as you are humanly able to. Pricey? Yes, but sweet Jesus it is worth every penny spent. You see movies from all over the world: Iran, France, Slovenia, Austria, Italy, Venezuela, China, Japan, Brazil, Spain, Thailand, Indonesia, Russia, Nigeria, Ethiopia etc., and they come from almost every era of film history, from the recently produced, to undiscovered classics. To enter, all you need is one of the amazing volunteers to scan your tickets—and you’re in. On top of these amazing films, from the usual digital projections right up to the exceedingly rare 35mm film prints, you will also have the opportunity to see the opening premieres of some of the most exciting names in cinema at the moment as they come for the film’s opening, or for a Q&A session with the directors themselves! You also have access to bars, little member’s lounges to indulge in a bit of free food and drink for relaxation, while chatting away to your fellow film nerds. It’s a wonderful life.

Phantasm remastered 2016 1979

PHANTASM: Remastered (2016;1979)

The fun of the movie-going experience really is the most exciting and nerve-racking part of the festival. For me, this year has being a rollercoaster of emotions and it still isn’t even finished! I have been blown away by films such as Ceila Rowlson-Hall’s Ma, a road trip film about the Virgin Mary told entirely through dance. Despite some walkouts and curses muttered under people’s breath, I was staggered at its extraordinary beauty, and when the director herself turned up for Q&A? I lost my mind. I walked up to her, nervous by her raw talent, and shook her hand and said ‘Thank you for such an amazing experience’ before I quickly ran away, along with my giddiness.

I have also shed tears over Studio Ghibli’s new film: The Red Turtle. This was an ecstatic experience of beautiful animation and the first film made under Studio Ghibli that was not created in Japan, instead, having animators from all over the world create a work of sheer beauty. Experimental films such as Khalil Blues, Evolution, My Life as a Courgette etc. I have also seen works that completely mystify me in their strangeness, such as the new Polish musical, The Lure, about two mermaids who become cabaret singers and how their sex lives and eating habits (closely intertwined) are obscuring their dreams of musical glory…

Where else but MIFF?

The Red Turtle 2016

The Red Turtle (2016)

The biggest highlights for me were four films: Starless Dreams, Cosmos, Death in Sarajevo, and The Family. These films represented what was brilliant about MIFF and the quality of the stories that are shared at the event. Cosmos is a nonsensical, yet witty and wholly original magical journey into cinematic creation, which is sadly the last film of wondrous (and personal favourite) Polish filmmaker Andrzej Żuławski (who created the wonderfully demented Possession in 1981). We also had a fantastic exposé documentary on a female detention centre in Tehran with Starless Dreams, with some of the most heartbreaking scenes I have ever seen in recent cinema (one of the girls calls herself 651 after how many grams of crystal meth she had being caught carrying). Death in Sarajevo is a loose adaptation of Hotel Europa, which was a provoking and contagiously arresting piece on Blakan region politics and the resulting violence. The Family, however is one of Australia’s biggest and most disturbing contribution to the festival, discussing the bizarre family cult that emerged in Melbourne during the 60s and 70s, featuring LSD injections, indoctrination, and child abuse. It is one of the most disturbing documentaries about one of the darkest times of recent Melbourne history.

I am always of the strong opinion that if anyone believes or thinks that cinema itself is dead, mutilated or slowly becoming extinct, they are very, very mislead. Thanks to MIFF (which is, as of now, the SECOND largest film festival in the world, next to Cannes Film Festival in France), everyone in Victoria is but a stone’s throw away from some of the most enlightening, funny, dark, tragic and beautiful stories that world cinema has to offer.

And now as the festival is wrapping up, I can say that I have had no sleep, watched dozens and dozens of films, interacted with the lovely volunteers of MIFF, and run across the entirety of Melbourne for some of the most magical and luminous stories modern cinema has to offer. I cannot wait to do this all over again next year.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for us cinema nerds.

Vivre la Cinéma!

Words by W.D Farnsworth.

For the Night is Dark and Full of Spoilers

On 8th March, HBO released the first trailer for season six of Game of Thrones and it has since garnered over 24 million views on YouTube. The new season is set to be released in April, and for the first time those who’ve read the books are no better informed than those who watch the show. This is partially due to the creative choices of showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who have been deviating further and further from the source material with each passing season. But mostly it is down to what is probably an unprecedented state of affairs: for the first time in television history*, a TV adaptation has overtaken the book series on which it is based.

A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin is a slow writer, something his legions of fans lament louder each month that passes without a hint of his sixth book, The Winds of Winter, appearing on the shelves. Combine that with the swift pace of Game of Thrones production and it becomes inevitable that this situation would come about. What this means for the fans, however, is far less clear-cut.

As a bona fide ‘have read the books’ snob, I can inform readers that up until recently the more optimistic Song of Ice and Fire fans were holding out for an early 2016 Winds of Winter release, which would allow us to finish the book before season six started airing and thus avoid potential spoilers and retain our air of superiority. Sadly for us this has not occurred, and George Martin got himself in hot water recently when he revealed that he originally planned to have The Winds of Winter finished by Halloween last year to allow for an early 2016 release, but blew through that deadline and a follow-up deadline on 31st December. Curse you, you slow typing serial killer. Curse you to the seven hells!

Thankfully for show fans, George Martin’s snail-paced fingers have saved them from yet another season of teasing hints and gloating from book readers. For the first time in Game of Thrones history, book and show fans are diving into a new season on level ground, and this is why the season six trailer is so important. For those who haven’t watched it, it does what all trailers do: gives us a few hints of what is to come without revealing anything truly important. We see soldiers in battle, arrows firing, windows breaking in, Drogon flying and women kissing: all the hallmarks of what makes Game of Thrones great. But there is also a mournful tone to this trailer; it opens with an image of Jon Snow’s bloody corpse and the words ‘he’s gone’, and as we see each of our surviving favourites in turn they all seem to be suffering: Jaime and Cersei are mourning their daughter, a careworn Jorah searches for Daenerys, Melisandre is confronting failure, Arya gets hit, Daenerys is a ragged slave amidst a Dothraki horde, and Tyrion looks unshaven and afraid. There’s a real sense even in one minute and forty-one seconds of everything that’s been lost, exacerbated by the sorrowful melody of James Vincent McMorrow’s ‘Wicked Game’. Whatever this season is, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be happy. But by now that’s what we expect.

season-6-tease

Image Source: HBO

But it’s not all doom and gloom; with a new season comes new possibilities. Rumours have been swirling ever since season five ended that Jon Snow is not really dead, and high profile actors Max von Sydow and Ian McShane are joining the crew. On top of this Isaac Hempstead-Wright is returning as Bran after his character’s one-season hiatus, looking older and more capable though faced with more deadly foes. I’m quite looking forward to not knowing what will come next, safe in knowledge that thanks to the show’s independence any and all revelations will only be confirmed as spoilers by reading The Winds of Winter when it is released. And book readers do have something exclusive to look forward to; after some humming and harring George Martin has decided to go ahead with a twist for book six that the show cannot do as they have already killed one of the characters involved. That’s what you get for ignoring the source material, fools! I kid. Game of Thrones is an excellent show, and everyone who watches season six is in for a treat, as (blink and you’ll miss it) the trailer shows part of a flashback sequence featuring Ned Stark in battle against the Kingsguard. As for where the fight is and what they’re fighting over, well, us book readers know, but giving any hints would just be spoiling it.

Happy viewing everyone!

WORDLY’s resident medieval fantasy correspondent,
Rowan Girdler

 

*Probably. I didn’t check or anything. (Editor’s note: definitely not!)