Andrew Hates… PAPER TOWNS

Paper Towns

Dir: Jake Schreier, 2015

Ever since Quentin ‘Q’ Jacobsen was a child, his mystery-obsessed neighbour Margo Roth Spiegelman fascinated him. Therefore Q is thrilled when, shortly before he’s about to graduate high school with straight A’s, Margo unexpectedly knocks on his window and enlists him in getting revenge on her deserving ex-boyfriend. After a night of pranks and pensiveness that Q will never forget, Margo disappears, leaving behind a trail of clues that Q and his friends will follow in what will be their last adventure before college.

Paper Towns is the latest interpretation of a novel by young adult author John Green, who hit it big a few years ago with New York Times bestseller The Fault in our Stars and its subsequent film adaptation in which two cancer-stricken teenagers fall in love. Green is a professed advocate of relatable, three-dimensional teenage characters and many of his readers laud his works for those exact reasons. Unfortunately Paper Towns is an exhibition of paper-thin characters that spend their days idly stargazing and spouting unspeakable dialogue that no human being would ever legitimately give voice to.

The euphoric dreamscape in which Paper Towns exists is called Orlando, Florida. Margo, played by model-turned-actress Cara Delevingne, is the long lost eighth member of Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven and a “big believer in random capitalisation”. We’re introduced to Margo at a young age as she spots a corpse in the street, gun-in-hand, of a man who has committed suicide. The preteen Margo creeps closer and muses on the gaping eyes of the dead man. My informed expectations of genuine, empathetic characters were dashed and I realised Green is both trying to have his cake and ram it down his throat.

Our protagonist and, regrettably, our narrator is Nat Wolff, who turned several heads with his supporting role in TFioS. Despite his enthusiasm Wolff is grotesquely miscast as the supposedly nerdy, socially awkward Q. Abound with boyish good looks and sophistication, Wolff doesn’t possess the witty sense of self-deprecation needed to pull off such a character in the ways that John Cusack or Joseph Gordon-Levitt have. Yet Wolff still stands head and shoulders above the rest of his supporting cast who appear to have been plucked from the Nickelodeon gene pool.

The novel of Paper Towns was written before TFioS and adapted to film afterwards which suggests a retroactive cashing-in on anything Green – a theory that the finished product doesn’t contradict. Paper Towns’ narrative drifts from one liberating night with Margo to a convoluted Scooby-Doo mystery to a formulaic road trip and the characters follow suit without any motivation that precludes the novel’s three-tier structure. Even the array of talent behind the camera seems to have shown up for the paycheck and YA fandom. Director Jake Schreier carries with him none of the charm from his debut 2012 feature Robot & Frank while seasoned screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber ditch any wit or fidelity demonstrated previously in the duo’s scripts for (500) Days of Summer or The Spectacular Now.

Paper Towns is an attempted dismantling of the manic pixie dream girl cliché but loses its soul in the translation of the text, ultimately reinforcing the conventions it initially set out to refute. Its messages are muddled, its cast incompetent and the plot wearisome enough for me to wish cancer would rear its ugly head, if at least to boost the mortality rate for a few of the characters.

★☆☆☆☆

Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… THE BLING RING

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Dir: Sofia Coppola, 2013

A group of spoiled, glamour-hungry teens decide to take advantage of the naivety of the socialite celebrities of the Hollywood Hills. Using gossip websites to track the stars’ schedules and Google Maps to pinpoint their addresses, the “Bling Ring” enter through unlocked doors and repeatedly raid the wardrobes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and many others.

Sofia Coppola clearly has some form of obsession with the vacuous nature of celebrity lifestyle. Maybe it’s due to her upbringing with her father dragging the family all over the world, I’m not really sure and I don’t really care. But as evident through her style, it seems as though the language barriers and the razzle-dazzle and the long stays at the Chateau Marmont have left such an impression on Coppola that she just can’t imagine anything else. So I’m sorry to say that a filmmaker without imagination has no place making films.

The Bling Ring constitutes teen fashionistas going to celebrity homes, wowing over their swag and then wearing said swag to their favourite nightclub. Wash until glistening, rinse and repeat for roughly an hour. The problem with The Bling Ring is it is a news story, nay, a Vanity Fair article that was inadequately transformed into a Comic Sans screenplay. David Fincher’s The Social Network took the idea of online communication, showed its development and established its importance on a global scale. The Bling Ring attempts to make the same form of commentary through characters as transparent and devoid of connection as the film’s Los Angeles setting. There is no empathy for the main characters nor is there empathy for the victims.

It’s entirely possible or even probable that the blank, conventional format of The Bling Ring is an intentional directorial approach from Coppola. That the dialogue that consists primarily of “Shut up”, “Wow” and “Let’s get the f*** out of here” is as natural to the characters as it feels unnatural to us. That despite the good performance from Emma Watson, hers and the other characters are meant to tread on our nerves swiftly and brutally. Unfortunately, all of the above combined with the thirty minutes of material stretched to a malnourished ninety don’t make for an entertaining experience, proving Coppola to be the arthouse equivalent of Michael Bay.

Sofia Coppola is in a state of mind-numbing limbo, where she regurgitates vessel after vessel of replicated superficiality that is as shallow as a puddle and has the same level of captivation. The Bling Ring is no different, portraying hollow, emotionless characters in a hollow, emotionless world that provides momentary captivation due to its real-life resonance but founders in the hands of a one-trick pony director.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… BEHIND THE CANDELABRA

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Dir: Steven Soderbergh, 2013

Scott Thorson, a young animal trainer for Hollywood films, is introduced to Liberace (“Call me Lee”) backstage at one of his Las Vegas concerts. Immediately taking a liking to one another, Scott moves in with Lee and they begin a romance which would come to define the last ten years of Liberace’s life and change his legacy forever.

“It’s funny that this crowd would like something this gay”, states Matt Damon’s Scott Thorson during Behind the Candelabra’s opening Liberace performance. To which Scott Bakula’s character replies, “Oh, they have no idea he’s gay”. In essence this exchange sums up the entire film as Soderbergh (with the help of Thorson’s source material) peels back the synthetic surface of what was Liberace’s fame and reveals an intimate, no-holds-barred glimpse into a remarkable relationship conflicted by, in a word, identity.

As mentioned previously, we first meet Liberace through the eyes of 17-year old Scott Thorson during a magnificent rendition of the Boogie Woogie that razzles and dazzles in the ways that Mr Showmanship excelled at. After that, we strip away the piano but not the pearls and are introduced to Lee, who Michael Douglas slips into like a rhinestone-studded glove. Though kitted in cosmetics aplenty, Douglas avoids wearing his role like a mask, as we do get with so many of those heavy-handed biopic portrayals. Douglas becomes Liberace – diva incarnate – exhibiting so much gusto that it’s almost bursting through the screen. However it’s Matt Damon who has the harder role as the impressionable and youthful viewpoint, unsure as to his orientation and suddenly strewn into a new world in which wealth is lavished upon him. Fortunately, Damon is equally superb as Douglas, though his role is slightly reminiscent of his turn as Dickie Greenleaf in The Talented Mr Ripley.

The story is hardly complex and it’s all a mite predictable but none of that matters to the enjoyment of the film. Rob Lowe is hilarious as Lee’s waxed, stretched plastic surgeon who looks more mannequin than man and Dan Akyroyd grounds the film just enough as the frustrated agent, tired of dealing with the Liberace’s short-lived affairs. It’s simply a shame that Behind the Candelabra was released as a HBO TV movie in the States and is therefore ineligible for any Academy Awards, for this might be the finest performance Michael Douglas has ever given while also being one of Soderbergh’s best pictures.

Bound by vulnerable performances from a committed cast, Behind the Candelabra is a marvellous and heart-warming presentation of the hidden life of Liberace – one that is flamboyant and comical but refrains from slipping into tasteless caricatures. Soderbergh expertly crafts a perfect blend of style and subtlety, capturing one of the most peculiar relationships the world has never seen.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… THE GREAT GATSBY

The Great Gatsby 2

Dir: Baz Luhrmann, 2013

New York City, the Roaring Twenties. A time of celebration and prosperity for all except Nick Carraway, who has plunged into a stupor of alcoholism and depression. Encouraged by his psychiatrist to express himself, Carraway recounts his woeful tale of the greatest man he ever met – the mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby.

The works of Baz Luhrmann have always provided a marvellous exhibition of elegance as cameras sweep through grandiose sets and lights shine brighter than Broadway in a dazzling palette of colour. Yes, Luhrmann is as much a showman as he is a romantic. But what’s interesting about Luhrmann’s choice of these passion projects is his treatment of the production in as romantic a manner as he handles the material. His presentation of The Great Gatsby is certainly style over substance but that is not to completely dismiss Luhrmann’s interpretation of the novel as much as highlight the tremendous amalgamation of sight and sound that is flaunted in every passing minute.

Endowed with the challenge of bringing Gatsby to a new generation, Luhrmann repeats the past in revitalising his Romeo + Juliet formula for F. Scott Fitzgerald. The film is littered with exuberant sets, jazzy hip-hop soundtracks and enough pretty young faces to inject life into Leaving Certificate English. DiCaprio is near-perfect as Gatsby, reprising the facade of sophistication he wore in Revolutionary Road and the fluttering charm of a certain Montague. It’s simply a delight to see Leo embody a character that excels confidence before the world but melts into awkwardness in front of the object of his affection. Yet there is a hint of menace within this enigmatic man, a point that is regrettably stressed moreso through several lackadaisical, one-sided phone calls instead of modelling Gatsby’s behaviour. Maguire is incredibly strong as the once-idealistic but now-haunted protagonist through which we see our story and backed up by a repulsively sectarian Joel Edgerton. As a matter of fact, if anyone is short-changed here it’s Carey Mulligan, whose character isn’t explored enough for the audience to sympathise with her flummoxed Daisy Buchanan.

Nevertheless even with a running time of 130 minutes, Luhrmann brushes through the narrative; more considered with adding extra layers of varnish to what frequently resembles a heavily-stylized music video and Jay-Z’s executive producer credit leads to a Jay-Z/Beyonce-heavy soundtrack which is distracting to the point of becoming propaganda. Also, Luhrmann’s attempt to garner a wide audience results in a compromise of the subject matter as the story never reaches the depths that it should, instead tailoring itself to a 12s audience.

Yes, the films reeks a little too much of Romeo + Juliet and the melodrama reaches unbearable heights in the third act but The Great Gatsby remains a tableau of luminous colours and intoxicating performances and a rare film which I regretted not witnessing in 3D. Not the adaptation Gatsby deserves but admirable nonetheless.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… WISH YOU WERE HERE

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Dir: Kieran Darcy-Smith, 2013

Married couple Dave and Alice are invited by Steph, Alice’s younger sister, and her new beau Jeremy on a sunny vacation in Cambodia. After a wild party on the beach, Jeremy goes missing. The three return home, devastated with shock, but cannot escape the tragedy of that fateful holiday as secrets begin to come to light about what happened the night of Jeremy’s disappearance.

Director Darcy-Smith, who also penned the screenplay with Felicity Price (who plays Alice), brings you Australia’s answer to The Hangover, only subtract both Bradley Cooper and an avalanche of comedy and replace them with Joel Edgerton and an equally-crushing level of guilt. Edgerton leads a terrific trio of Aussies including Price and Teresa Palmer who bring the pain as a family haunted by tragedy but none for the same reason. Darcy-Smith knows how to handle his cast, giving actors little room to breathe but knowing when to stoke the fire.

Edgerton is tremendous, brooding in a mask of anxiety whilst Price amalgamates the nerve-wracked mother and abandoned wife in a palpable state of fragility. It’s also great to see Teresa Palmer with a meatier role than that of the many patterned love interests she’s been representing in American films recently. Conversely, although we get coverage of Antony Starr’s Jeremy sufficient enough to gather an opinion of the character, that of a charming devil-may-care who plays his hand close to his chest, the brief glances we see of him in flashbacks aren’t enough to make the audience care as to just what happened to him.

At a mere ninety minutes, Wish You Were Here drags on for a peculiar amount of time, given the tension that should be building with the story being told. While the monotony of the present-day narrative is broken up by revisits to the holiday, these bursts aren’t enough to move the film forward at a healthy pace. From the get-go, it’s obvious that Dave knows more than he lets on but watching the lead character fumble about for an hour in a bizarre state of paranoia makes you question whether he’s even a character we should be connecting with. We’re treated to the cataclysmic implosion of Dave and Alice’s marriage for far too long without any hint of revelation. It’s only in the final thirty where Darcy-Smith kicks the action up a notch and tempers flare as the truth at long last comes out. Unfortunately, by the time the big reveal rears its head, it’s hard to care anymore – though not a mistake in structure as much as story.

The real tragedy of Wish You Were Here is even as the performances are at boiling point, the pace of the story isn’t observed closely enough, allowing attentions to waiver and shoulders to shrug. Recent films such as Animal Kingdom, Sleeping Beauty and Snowtown are keen demonstrations that Australian cinema is evolving in the ranks of universal storytelling. Wish You Were Here may not turn heads but it certainly won’t do anything to damage the ever-increasing reputation of contemporary Australian film.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES

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Dir: Derek Cianfrance, 2013

Carnival motorcyclist Luke Glanton re-encounters an old flame who he discovers has been raising his one-year old son. Quitting his job, Luke uses his skills to become a bank robber which leads him to a fateful encounter with policeman Avery Cross, who also has a one-year old son.

The opening shot of The Place Beyond the Pines follows Ryan Gosling – reuniting with Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance – as he strolls coolly and confidently through a carnival to his battleground, the Globe of Death. This shot is shades of Tyler Durden as he marches through Lou’s Tavern to the eponymous Fight Club, right down to the red leather jacket. Both men dominate their domain and as far as Cianfrance is concerned, the audience should enjoy it because characters are going to be out of their comfort zones A LOT.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a subversive tale of responsibility, guilt, corruption and legacy in which every character is faced with a choice – to remain a slave to their circumstances or overcome adversity and rewrite their history. These challenges pit the characters in moral battles where perseverance doesn’t come lightly, even if the initial decision does.

Cianfrance’s characters correspond to different levels of adulthood which all weave together to create an unorthodox coming-of-age tale. Gosling’s Handsome Luke resembles the inner-child of all of us – donning inside-out t-shirts, amateur tattoos and a beat-up motorcycle. Cooper’s Avery is more tightly-wound – the rookie cop struggling to find his place in an adult life that doesn’t resemble TV Land, a metaphysical growing pain which we all experience. Often Cianfrance revisits shades of Blue Valentine in the dysfunctional relationships between several of the characters but never to as great a depth as before, hinting at the possibility of light at the end of the tunnel (in more ways than one).

While Cianfrance’s story may be too contrived or complacent for many, one must remember this film is about parenthood and the passing of the torch – a premise that is fundamentally idealist. Unfortunately, the film strives to capture too much, leaving significant plot points underexposed or left out completely. The film’s failures are a simple result of underdevelopment and a weighty imbalance which favours the glossy, blissful opening 45 minutes. Certain cast members glow (Ben Mendelsohn) while others are vexingly superfluous (Ray Liotta) which can be said, as previously mentioned, for certain plot points.

The Place Beyond the Pines could easily have been film of the year if not for a fluctuating narrative that slips from inspired to wasteful one too many times. Superb performances all around accompanied by dazzling camerawork and a divine soundtrack, Derek Cianfrance leaps from ultra-personal to universal romanticism in a film as bold as it is talented.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… HITCHCOCK

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Dir: Sacha Gervasi, 2013

Alfred Hitchcock, yearning for his next project, discovers the Ed Gein-inspired novel Psycho and irrevocably falls in love with it. So determined to make the feature that he mortgages his house, Hitch must also deal with petulant studio heads, scissor-happy censors, apparitions of the murderer whom the book is based on and most devastatingly, his crumbling relationship with his wife Alma.

Many of the most creative directors have had their muses to cite for inspiration. Quentin Tarantino had Uma Thurman, Tim Burton has Helena Bonham Carter (or is it Johnny Depp?), Woody Allen had Diane Keaton/Mia Farrow/Scarlett Johansson, etc. It’s fair to say that Alma Reville gifted her husband with some truly exceptional ideas but with Sacha Gervasi’s painting of behind the set of Psycho, Gervasi portrays one of the Master of Suspense as a bumbling fool who spends all his time encouraging his paranoia over his marriage rather than manufacturing countless fabulous features that are considered classics.

It’s this portrayal, worked with inane levels of melodrama (and a gross abundance of makeup) from Anthony Hopkins, which skewers the balance of the film. Hitchcock is not a biopic, a clue given to us by Stephen Rebello’s source material, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. So if this is indeed the telling of the twelve months surrounding Psycho’s pre-production, production and release, why is there such minimal amounts involving the legendary film? Why does Gervasi delve into the relationship between Alma and Whitfield Cook, played by Danny Huston or display scenes where Ed Gein appears to Hitch in Shakespearean fashion?

If Hitchcock succeeds in one thing, it is of portraying the man as a perverted, maladjusted oddball rather than the genius filmmaker we all know. But as was with HBO’s The Girl, which deconstructed Hitchcock’s persona and all sexual obsessions that went with it, Gervasi’s film seems to justify the man’s actions via his successful career, making this vision of Hitchcock all the more of an abomination.

Gervasi does succeed in nailing some of Hitchcock’s quirks and mannerisms. Hitch’s grim sense of humour and his breaking the fourth wall adds some much-needed refreshment to the film. Unfortunately, in overall Hitchcock is blasé, drab and meandering in its form as though the screenwriters used equal measures of the Psycho IMDb trivia page and tabloid newspapers as a checklist for the film’s components.  “Call me Hitch,” the eponymous character says. “Hold the cock.” Reverse that and you’ve got a fitting title.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here.