I’m lucky enough to have another Top 5 published at Heavy Magazine highlighting the work of cinematographer Roger Deakins. Deakins on the occasion of his 14th Oscar nomination won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography this week for Blade Runner 2049. I felt the film was one of the best of last year and was happy to see Deakins win following such incredible work over the past four decades which includes Sid & Nancy, The Shawshank Redemption, Jarhead, No Country For Old Men, Skyfall and Sicario. You can check out some of the iconic looks of the film here https://heavymag.com.au/top-5-blade-runner-2049-iconic-images/ Feel free to leave a comment or share and I hope you enjoy.
Heavy is an independent magazine and website that is all about the music and specifically heavy music and supporting the Australian music scene in general. Fortunately for me they do cover film as well and I have been fortunate to have a few things published there.
Last year I sought to do a review of every movie I saw in the cinemas. I decided early on for this year I would not repeat that but I will hopefully list all of the films I saw at the movies and then offer some thoughts on what were my favourites. This list always come a little later then the end of the year when some American 2017 releases and Oscar hopefuls have reached Australian audiences. I contributed to an end of year list for X-Press Magazine which you can find here http://xpressmag.com.au/the-x-press-top-20-films-of-2017/ I was pretty lucky this year, I saw free screenings courtesy of my wife, went to preview screenings as a reviewer for Scenestr Magazine and attended for the first time the Bryon Bay Film Festival and the triumphant return of the Brisbane International Film Festival. All up it appears I saw 57 films last year on the big screen and reviewed 27 and counting for various publications. It was a thrill to say the least but plenty were missed, The Florida Project stands out to me as an Oscar contender I would have liked to see along with The Post, Molly’s Game and Call Me By Your Name. Plenty of interesting films have slipped past my radar too like Raw, Happy Death Day, It Comes At Night, Okja, and many more. Most indie and foreign which I am really regretful about but I will get to them in due course hopefully. So as always any list from me is subjective, last year I hadn’t seen Nocturnal Animals and 20th Century Women and I guarantee they would’ve been in that Top 10. None the less it’s always fun to look back and do a summation so here goes. Ratings are based on the classic 4 Star scale as per reviews I read growing up by the great film critic Roger Ebert.
David Stratton: A Cinematic LifeNot Reviewed **1/2
In lesser hands this could get terribly tedious, two middle aged men travelling around eating to their hearts content and occasionally bedding women considerably younger than them. The Trip remains perhaps the best, following comic performers Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing themselves in a fictional film made to appear like real life as they bickered on a paid trip through a series of eateries in a regional area. My wife who did not care for that movie has thoroughly enjoyed the follow ups that coincidentally or not coincidentally left the Gothic Northern English countryside for the sunnier sea breezes of Italy and now Spain. For me the sequels are variations on the original classic but here with the pair getting ever slightly older the musings on ageing, legacy and regrets bite a little harder and these are themes I’ve always been fascinated with. In a packed preview screening the ending certainly left an impression. I liked it.
The opening night film at the 2017 Brisbane International Film Festival was the The Square winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Written and directed by Ruben Ostlund it tells the story of Christian (Claes Bang) the curator of the X-Royal art museum in Stockholm, Sweden. On his way to work one day he is pulled into a confrontation with a girl being chased by her partner, rallied by another bystander to stand their ground against him. After a little push and shove the man leaves and then the girl. Christian finds he has been pickpocketed in the exchange. To say more about the plot would take away one of the joys about the film but I will say it has themes linked to the new exhibition Christian is promoting called The Square. “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.” The film has a lot to say about ideas of masculinity, art, femininity, classism, race, inflated opinions of art. It has a dark sense of humour, I found it riveting until somewhere close to the finale I did not find the resolution as memorable as the set-up. Yet The Square continues to haunt in a way that few films do. I imagine men of physical courage and carefree attitudes would not find much of interest here but since I’m neither I was fascinated.
The Shape of Water will top many end of year lists. It has rich subtext, is wonderfully constructed in terms of narrative and look, throws in a few surprises and boasts a wonderful cast doing great work. An adult fairytale it delights from start to finish even in the way that it can graphic or dark in humour. I’ve never seen a woman boil on egg on a daily basis either if you know what I mean and I like it. There are a few missteps though for me in terms of filling out back story for maximum effect. The love story is based on ideas, the male romantic lead in a lot of ways remains a mystery and that failed to engage me as much as I hoped the film would. However what it has to say about power dynamics, the boundaries we have to overcome and the power of choices makes this a film to pore over again and again. Not to mention the cinematic beauty of it. “Of course themes and allegories are great but they don’t really matter if you can’t engage the audience. Screenwriters del Toro and Vanessa Taylor craft an interesting romance between two creatures who never speak a word to each other. One of them risks an awful lot faster than expected with very little to motivate them except how the other makes them feel. While that might be difficult to believe completely, the writers have argued is there anything more romantic than that mindset?“.
Well as always thank you for reading and I encourage you to mention in the comments your favourite films of the year and why. As Oscar nears it’s interesting to note how many of the Ten are not in contention at that ceremony. Of those that are, like last year I found this video about them from Screen Junkies very amusing.
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Hello and welcome to the second edition of The Seven Ages of.
A few things to keep in mind, inspired by Shakespeare’s words I am endeavouring to relate the trajectory of a career and lifetime of an artist through these seven ages. Whether it is where the actor was in their career and where the character was in their life will be the criteria.
Effectively for the purposes of these posts the Seven Ages will refer to these criteria.
Infant – This could be an early role of little note when the actor just got their foot in the door or their first starring role.
Schoolboy – Yearning for freedom and adventure but still reliant on the protection of their elders. Perhaps where the actor shows raw talent or does a terrible film or still works under a more esteemed mentor. If not fresh faced and young then still a relatively new quantity to the audience.
Lover- I think Shakespeare intended this age to reflect lust, hot air and a lack of awareness that comes with youth. For the sake of this I might consider that or just put it down to their most romantic role.
The Soldier – Essentially the age while still relatively young somebody decides on their code and goes out into the world to conquer it and being highly competitive to do it too. For an actor this maybe the moment where they truly define a persona for themselves that will stick. If they’re already a star it might be where they re-invent themselves and perhaps not without controversy.
The Justice – maybe the height of someone’s stardom where they’re aged but established. Powerful even if coasting on their achievements from when they were the age of the soldier. Reflection comes to them too now and with it wisdom.
Pantalone – Now the inevitable decline begins. Still in the world but it is passing them by. For a star who is smart this will often see them partnered with a new up and comer or Lover or Schoolboy if you will.
Old Age – For most actors this may be a pitiful last appearance which only embarrasses old memories or it may be a performance of a character at this stage of life. At death’s door what will be their parting wisdom, their learned lesson?
This hopefully will be an ongoing series and I fully intend to do Gene Hackman (as soon as I see Night Moves and I Never Sang for My Father, c’mon Netflix Australia!), stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood like Stewart, Gable, Davis, Bogie, Hepburn, Tracey, and actresses who often struggle to find relevant work post 40. It is proving difficult to track down all classic films of bygone eras even from my community’s libraries so some will have to wait. Baby boomers are proving easier but the scope will hopefully expand to a Jack Lemmon or a Deborah Kerr in time. Harrison Ford is chosen this month because I’ve seen most of his films. When I was a teenager Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford were my two favourite movie stars and their movies informed me on the standard of being a man onscreen even if I rarely set the ambition of living up to it. The hope is I pick the film that represents the age and not a personal favourite but take a look and see if you have to keep me honest. If you think other ones will be a better pick for an age feel free to chime in. Do you have a landmark role for each decade Harrison Ford has been on the big screen? Let’s dig in.
SPOILER ALERT – There will be spoilers in this post!!!!!!
1. Infant – American Graffiti (1973)
Harrison Ford first film appearance was as a bellhop in Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round in 1966. That could be arguably be the infant age but if we’re talking about the first film where he made an impact it was American Graffiti. A teen film, the perpetually always younger looking Ford played a drag racer at the age of 31. He only has two scenes, talking smack with racer John Milner (Paul Le Mat) and then actually racing. He serves as an antagonist to be defeated but Ford already adds layers. He seems all business with a female passenger at the start of the race but is that because he’s hiding fear that he’s about to lose or something else? Either way it’s that shit eating grin and good looking face under that cowboy hat in his first scene that made the impression and what an impression it was. For a more matured and nuanced performance you can’t go past his role in The Conversation a year later. Effectively a well-dressed polite heavy, Ford decided he would make the character gay and at no point does he telegraph it because the script does not require it. It was an early example of Ford being his own man and adding layers to a performance so that nothing was lazy or by the numbers. Still I think Bob Falfa got everybody’s attention before Martin Stett.
Runner Ups: Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round, The Conversation.
2. Schoolboy – Star Wars (1977)
The Conversation could fit here as an actor starting to get good work but still learning a lot from a talented director in the form of Francis Ford Coppola. As a man his career didn’t take off until he was nearing middle age and as an actor he has always shown an independence of thought and maturity in his choices. Yet if there is one final moment where Ford was not yet a movie star and still naturally brought the charisma of such a being it is in his first go around as Han Solo. Every little boy wanted to be Luke Skywalker, then they grew up and they wanted to be Han Solo. George Lucas with script polishes from Gloria Katz and Wilard Huyck can take some credit but it is Ford who made Solo the rogue so lovable. Effortlessly cool slouched in a seat at gunpoint, slyly grinning as boys act tough and Princesses remain uninterested. Those who think Ford can’t act should compare Solo to Jack Ryan and think again. Ford apparently doesn’t like to watch his old acting performances – with Solo he’s got no idea what he’s missing out on.
Runner Ups: Heroes, Force 10 from Navarone, Apocalypse Now, Raiders of the Lost Art, Blade Runner
3. Lover – Presumed Innocent (1990)
Cheating once again with the rules of the seven ages, instead of covering a character full of hot air and enthusiasm or a part of an actor’s career where he resembles this we’re going to refer to the sexiest role Ford ever did. There’s a few to choose from, World War II love story Hanover Street, his great chemistry with Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark, his born again husband in Regarding Henry, his cuckolded cop in Random Hearts getting it on with Kristen Scott Thomas, his socially awkward Linus swept off his feet from Julia Ormond’s Sabrina. His most successful romantic comedy remains the 80s yuppie career film Working Girl with Melanie Griffith. Wasn’t even sci-fi Blade Runner at heart all about love and what one can truly feel explored in some part by Ford and Sean Penn? Yet they all pale next to Kelly McGillis and Ford’s stare downs in Witness. Scenes that were made for the term “tension you can cut with a knife” but Witness is to feature somewhere else so that leaves Presumed Innocent. This is not a romantic role, Ford plays a husband who cheats on his wife with a power hungry woman but lawyer Rusty Sabich is haunted by his former colleague Carolyn Polhemus (Greta Scacchi in fine form) in the way only a lover can be. Drawn into investigating her murder and then potentially seen as guilty of it the one thing that is never in doubt is that Ford is obsessed with her. In one scene his wife is seen off-screen asking why she matters so much and Ford breaks down in tears. It may not be love but it is certainly the passion of a lover and it remains one of Ford’s most unique and brilliant performances.
Runner Ups: Blade Runner, Random Hearts, Sabrina, Regarding Henry, Six Day, Seven Nights, Working Girl, Hanover Street.
4. Soldier – Witness (1985)
The 1980s is a rich era for Harrison Ford, it begins with the greatest sequel of all time in The Empire Strikes Back, Ford’s first turn as a cop in Blade Runner, gives us the classic Indiana Jones trilogy, his tortured performance in The Mosquito Coast, Frantic hints at the Ryan persona of the 1990s with a middle aged doctor caught up in a thriller but dares to show Ford get beat up and pretend to be naked with girls half his age (Jack Ryan thrillers wouldn’t dare). These are real characters each with their own tics and foibles, they play like something more authentic and complicated than the mainstream hits from the 90s. Smack bang in the middle of the decade though is the closest thing to a prototype of the 90s star persona of them all in Detective John Book with important distinctions. Ryan is a family man, Kimble a widow, Book is a bachelor and hard edged cop where the others are historians and doctors. Book is dangerous in a way the others aren’t, he’s not a good man driven to violence, he’s a violent man driven to goodness. Which makes it all the more powerful when he is reluctant to fight, or tenderly sits with a boy or he shrinks from the gaze of a topless woman he is falling for hard. The only time Harrison Ford was ever nominated for an Academy Award it remains arguably his greatest performance. Solo and Indy endure, Blade Runner is so much richer because of his Deckard and Presumed Innocent and Working Girl were the successful changes of pace but Witness’s John Book is the Harrison Ford performance to see. John Book fits as a soldier personality too but more importantly this is essentially where Ford in his career established his reputation, proved he didn’t need to do genre work for the rest of his career and created the blueprint for what he would ultimately make a lot of money doing in the 1990s.
Runner Ups: Blade Runner, Frantic, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Fugitive, Presumed Innocent, Patriot Games
5. The Justice – Clear and Present Danger (1994)
There is a wealth of choices for this age from Harrison Ford, the age of the justice was the age that Ford played best and he became in a way the Jimmy Stewart for a new generation. After Stallone and Schwarzenegger in the 80s, Ford gave us the American hero for the 90s. Smart, urban if not urbane and a family man – just don’t fuckin attack him or his country. As a cop in The Devil’s Own he came face to face with Brad Pitt as a terrorist even if the film didn’t play it so cut and dry. Playing the President in Die Hard on Air Force One in… Air Force One almost seems inevitable in retrospect but Ford showed his boredom even before the decade closed pursuing a romcom in Six Days, Seven Nights with Anne Heche. Hey I liked it. With dwindling box office he returned to this type of film in Firewall (2006) but sadly that film was not as good as the 90s output. The Fugitive was the biggest hit and a damn fine film but Dr Jack Ryan has it over Dr Richard Kimble. In Patriot Games, Ford has his best moments when he sees his wife Cathy Ryan (Anne Archer) and child Sally (Thora Birch) in the hospital. His line delivery of the word spleen will cause any parent to tear up. His famous finger point is greatly satisfying in the next scene but Clear and Present Danger puts Ryan in a better film and features an equally good performance. Jack Ryan plays many notes here, a middle aged man fearing the death of his father figure (James Earl Jones as Admiral Greer), an analyst out of his depth in the field, and an arc that takes him from nervously advising his President to telling him where to go. For the kids who don’t know Ford was the master of awkward fight scenes, his facial expressions always moving from fear to rage with every punch and he would physically throw his body around. They’re not streamlined like a martial arts fight but they’re spectacular in a regular guy kind of way and probably owe a great deal to Ford doing a lot of work himself. You feel the fights. Conflicting reports range about how involved he was in his stunts but he sure seems to be close to some pyrotechnics in the lauded ambush scene of Clear and Present Danger.
Runner Ups: Patriot Games, The Fugitive, The Devil’s Own, Sabrina, Air Force One, Six Days, Seven Nights, What Lies Beneath, K-19: The Widowmaker, Presumed Innocent, Regarding Henry, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Frantic.
6. The Pantalone – Morning Glory (2010)
Ford came to stardom later in life and he was still box office king in his mid-fifties but sooner or later you’ve got to slide into supporting roles and pair yourself up with a younger kid. Ford proved game but as the 21st century dragged on the films he made just weren’t that good or just weren’t successful. After pulling out the old fedora again in 2008 he followed up with two films, the 2009 ensemble piece Crossing Over and the 2010 comedy Morning Glory hoping to capitalise on that momentum. Neither hit gold but he has enjoyed more success with the interesting premise of Ender’s Game and mentoring Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) in 42, both in 2013. Morning Glory was made by some of the same team that only a couple of years earlier had major success with The Devil Wears Prada the film belongs to Rachel McAdams who here didn’t play a love interest but an actual career woman. As a TV producer Becky Fuller she hires Ford’s revered but benched anchor-man Mike Pomeroy. The film belongs to Becky who does have a boyfriend played by Patrick Wilson and interacts with a cast of individuals at their morning program Daybreak. The heart of the film though is her relationship with Pomeroy. The elder newsman doesn’t want to do morning television but is running out of options and coming to terms that after a lifetime of putting career first over family he now has neither. Ford plays proud, stubborn, hurt, funny and most importantly capable of supplying a bran doughnut or perhaps even a frittata for someone special. For years Harrison Ford struggled to get a great role for this age – in 2010 he got one and you should see it.
Runner Ups: Hollywood Homicide, Cowboys & Aliens, Ender’s Game, 42, The Devil’s Own.
7. Old Age – The Force Awakens (2015)
I watched The Age of Adaline recently to see if it was Ford’s best work in years as some have said……. I think I’ll leave it there. Ford may not have a great performance for this age just yet. There’s time, we’ve got Blade Runner 2049 coming out later this year which is bound to deal with mortality and then most likely a final Indiana Jones performance. For now though it is Ford returning to a galaxy far, far away from a long time ago in The Force Awakens. It is not great acting; Han Solo has no big lessons to pass on in this story. What Ford does though is show that old men can still be young at heart, that Solo didn’t really grow up but he did become wiser. He passes on some advice to both Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) about life and in the third act he does exactly what Han Solo did all those years before near Yavin IV and the first Death Star. He goes into the danger to rescue someone, to do the right thing and that is why we always loved the scoundrel smuggler. When he confronts his son his last act is to show that he still does and always will love him. Maybe he does have one big lesson left to impart.
Runner Ups: The Age of Adaline, The Expendables 3, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.
Well that’s the list; can you believe Indiana Jones isn’t in there? It’s arguably the greatest role he ever played! What’s going on?! Where’s Deckard?! Well let’s discuss and feel free to put forward your own picks in the comments below.