Best of 2021: Tom’s Picks

With another year having drawn to a close, Rating Frames is looking back at the best new releases of the last twelve months.

It was a difficult year for the medium, owing to numerous delays and cancellations – these retrospectives would be quite different had MIFF been able to run its full schedule – but there were still some excellent films released that we all wanted to celebrate.

In the first of our end-of-year articles, Tom Parry will be revealing his ten favourite pictures of 2021.

Unlike his fellow critics at Rating Frames, yours truly has spent the last twelve months away from Melbourne, avoiding protracted lockdowns yet also missing frequent visits to his favourite haunts – no theatre in regional Victoria can match the majesty of a communal screening at Nova, nor can any town provide the satisfaction of a post-cinema burger at one of Naarm’s many fried-food eateries.

This author’s temporary relocation has also meant being unable to see many of the titles listed by his two Melburnian counterparts (which shan’t be spoilt… for now) and as such, the following list is of a lesser quality than theirs. But the pictures below are just as worthy of acclaim, and at the very least, offer a more… egalitarian alternative to Arnel and Darcy’s choices.

10. My Name is Gulpilil

The passing of its main subject in November has given even further resonance to this pick, which was always intended to be his final on-screen appearance; yet even without that knowledge, My Name is Gulpilil remains one of 2021’s best, being a poignant, stirring narrative told by David Gulpilil himself – one that is open, honest and never shies away from his demons. It’s nothing short of a fitting, touching finale to a fixture and icon of the Australian screen.

Currently available on home-video and on-demand services.

9. Lupin III: The First

Here’s one that hasn’t been covered on Rating Frames, nor anywhere else by this author until now. Given a limited, brief theatrical release here last January – 13 months after debuting in its native Japan – Lupin III is (ironically) the umpteenth feature-length adaptation of the famed manga series; but it is The First to be drawn and animated via computer-generated imagery, looking fantastic whilst remaining true to the original designs of the manga. Witty, energetic and slightly absurd, it’s an adventure well worth seeking.

Currently available on Blu-Ray and select on-demand services.

8. The Mitchells vs. The Machines

Sony Pictures Animation is possibly the only studio countering the unassailable dominance of Disney and Pixar right now – where the Mouse House and its subsidiary are producing movies more formulaic than the last, Sony is taking the opposite approach and releasing films that are unique to all others, including their own. There’s much to love about The Mitchells vs. The Machines, chiefly an inimitable art-style and zippy animation, both of which need a large screen to be truly appreciated. (We want that theatrical release, Sony!)

Currently streaming on Netflix and available on DVD.

7. The Suicide Squad

It should come as no surprise to know that James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad is irrefutably better than David Ayer’s similarly-titled, hapless adaptation; indeed, the more surprising feat is how entertaining Gunn’s film is in its own right, not only besting DC’s recent output in terms of action, humour and heart, but also a majority of instalments in the MCU. Eccentric in nature and distinctive from the competition, it’s a gratifying alternative to the superhero norm.

Currently available on home-video and on-demand services.

6. Nitram

Director Justin Kurzel is no stranger to telling controversial stories, making him the ideal candidate to helm a feature about one of the most chilling events in Australia’s history. Just like his past work, Nitram sees Kurzel handle the sensitive material with restraint and grace, yet he doesn’t shy away from confrontation, demonstrating the brave, bold style of film-making that has been lacking in our industry of late. Be sure to watch for the turns of Judy David and Caleb Landry Jones as well.

Currently streaming on Stan.

5. Judas and the Black Messiah

A biographical drama that benefitted from a delayed and extended Awards season, as well as a powerful debut from an African-American director. There’s an enormous degree of nuance to Shaka King’s Judas, which never defines its characters as good or bad; instead, they’re a group of complex, fluid individuals who constantly evaluate their allegiances and question their choices. And of course, it’s lead by three of the finest actors of their generation, all of whom put forward captivating performances.

Currently available on home-video and on-demand services.

4. Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time

The highest-grossing theatrical release of 2021 in Japan, and with good reason. Hideaki Anno bids farewell to his medium-defining franchise by instilling Thrice Upon a Time with all the usual hallmarks – think philosophical screenplay, exquisite animation, haunting imagery, and majestic soundtrack – while easing back on the bleakness and rectifying the drawbacks of its predecessors. The result is a feature-length anime that ranks not only as the best animated picture of the year, but one of the greatest ever made.

Currently streaming on Prime Video.

3. Minari

A darling of Sundance and another latecomer to the 2020 Oscar race, it wasn’t until February of 2021 that the majority of Australians got to experience Lee Isaac Chung’s drama. Those fortunate enough to see Minari were treated to some astonishing performances from a gifted cast; and a pensive narrative, one that will particularly resonate with migrants regardless of where they’ve hailed from, or where they live now.

Currently available on home-video and on-demand services.

2. Summer of Soul

This music documentary and directorial debut of Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson very narrowly misses out on the top spot in this list, its only faults being some questionable choices for interview subjects, and the varying quality of concert footage. Otherwise, Summer of Soul is close to perfect, an insightful and compelling documentary about African-American pride that doubles as a showcase for the greatest musicians of an era gone by, such as Mavis Staples and Mahlia Jackson (pictured above).

Currently streaming on Disney+.

1. Spider-Man: No Way Home

As an unabashed fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – and to a lesser extent, the Spider-Man films – this was always guaranteed to be a personal highlight of 2021; yet even with the enormous hype surrounding it, Jon Watts’ threequel was still able to exceed expectations. No Way Home serves as a tribute to its forebears, drawing inspiration from their examples whilst also functioning as the perfect denouement to three separate franchises, all while not forgetting to be a fun, moving and thrill-laden blockbuster.

Currently screening in theatres; available on home-video March 23rd.

Honourable Mentions: Last Night in Soho, Dune, West Side Story, Amphibia: True Colours

Ranking the Films of Paul Thomas Anderson

It’s no secret that Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most celebrated film directors of the past 25 years. After having spent the better part of 2020 researching and writing about Anderson for my Honours thesis, I’ve come to appreciate the intricacies, nuances and overlooked aspects of his oeuvre (like his fascination with damaged male characters and their function in his films). With the director returning to roots in his latest 1970s, San Fernando Valley set Licorice Pizza (2021), it seemed fitting for me to rank Anderson’s work before the film hits Australian cinemas this month (I will update this list after watching the film). This list is very much a subjective one, but it it is a sum of my time spent with his films and the various journal articles, interviews, and reviews that I have read when writing my thesis. Therefore, I hope that any controversial rankings are taken with a grain of salt as, for what it’s worth, Anderson is one of my favourite film directors so I very much adore all of his films in their own way.

8. Hard Eight (1996)

John C. Reilly & Phillip Baker Hall in Hard Eight

While the first film of a director’s oeuvre often sits on the lower end of a ranking list due the belief that directors just become better as they make more films, Hard Eight (1996) is deservedly in the number eight spot.

Originally titled Sydney, Anderson experienced plenty of headaches with then production company Rysher Entertainment, as he battled for creative control and control over the final cut. The film was ultimately re-titled to Hard Eight due to the name better suiting the sort of promotion that Rysher were looking for, but Anderson managed to send his final cut to Sundance which was a longer version than the one Rysher had cut, and the one that Sundance would showcase.

Most directors today would be more than happy to claim Hard Eight as their magnum opus should they have made it, but Anderson isn’t most directors. The simple fact is that Anderson’s later films are both more stylistically pronounced as they begin to reveal who Anderson truly is as an auteur (his stylistic signature, technical competence, and interior meaning by Andrew Sarris’ measure), they dig deeper into his thematic concerns, and they present much more complex characters that are some of the most difficult to grapple with in recent times.

Hard Eight represents a taste of what Anderson would serve up in larger doses in his films thereafter. The best example of this is the themes that penetrate the directors work like the absence of the mother figure, dysfunctional families and even isolation as explored through largely distant and impregnable characters — all of his films following Hard Eight went deeper with those concerns.

Hard Eight also marks the start of what would be frequent collaborations with Phillip Baker Hall (who Anderson was a fan of and cast in the short film that would inspire Hard Eight, Cigarettes & Coffee), John C. Reilly, and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

The film also introduces audiences to the cinematic tools that Anderson continues to use today. For instance, there is a particular tracking shot and long take in a casino that tracks Phillip Baker Hall’s character as he moves through the casino and eventually lands at a gambling table. This is the first instance where Anderson applies the use of formal tools pertinent to indie cinema, in his filmography. This moment is significant as it marks the ever-present relationship between indie and more classical cinema (like narrative storytelling) conventions in Anderson’s work.

7. Inherent Vice (2014)

Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice

Inherent Vice (2014) is one of those films that I needed multiple viewings to wrap my head around which isn’t new when it comes to an Anderson film — they’re made to keep you coming back.

Anderson adapted Thomas Pynchon’s novel of the same name, a figure who has evaded the public eye for so long you’d think he’d write a how-to book on the subject. What Anderson conjured up was a neo-noir unlike any from recent time. The film marks one of the directors most dialogue heavy films and easily his most hilarious script which is peppered with so much twists and turns that you’d be forgiven for not seeing the full picture the first time around.

In response to the lengthy dialogue scenes in Inherent Vice, Anderson said, “Look, cuts are great, and they’re exclusive to movies, but when you have a lot of dialogue with ping-ponging back and forth, staying out of the way is always preferable” (Hemphill, J. 2014).

Staying out of the way is what Anderson ultimately does as he lets the stellar ensemble comprised of Joaquin Phoenix, Katherine Waterston, Owen Wilson, Josh Brolin, Martin Short, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro and countless others, run the show.

The film is also Anderson’s second to be set in the 70s as it places a thriving Joaquin Phoenix in the mind of a hippy detective in what can only be described as perfect casting. With his mutton chops, sandals, long hair, notepad and blunt, the character of Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is what Christopher Llyod’s Doc from Back to the Future would look like had he gone the route of peace, weed and inquisitiveness.

Placing this film in seventh position is a disservice to just how giving this film is upon multiple viewings. There’s always something new to decipher and there are plenty of moments that beg for your close attention and maybe even the pause button (like the recreation of the last supper but with hippies). My rating for this film gradually climbed to five stars and this placement is purely based on how I rated the films higher up in this list the same way after the first viewing. So, if that isn’t a sign of my feelings for just how near flawless Anderson’s filmography is, I don’t know what is.

6. Phantom Thread (2017)

Daniel Day-Lewis & Vicky Krieps in Phantom Thread

I’ll never forget the first time I saw this in a cinema comprised of a significantly older demographic; one gentleman in his 80s turned and said to me, “you’re here to watch a real movie” and boy was his right.

Phantom Thread (2017) is an interesting film for multiple reasons. For starters, it’s the last film Daniel Day-Lewis would perform in but it is also the first film Anderson would set outside of the US social milieu that has informed and even shaped the the stories and characters he has brought to life.

Anderson takes the thematic concerns that have become a staple of his work (absence of mother figures) and tailors them to a British setting, ultimately providing a nuanced account of a dressmaker, his muse, and the tense and strange push-pull condition of their relationship (with one of my favourite closing sequences in recent times).

The story came about through a moment where Anderson found himself sick and helpless, with his wife Maya Rudolph, tending to him; that was the seed of the story but it had to grow.

The film also marks a shift from what is often a personal endeavour for Anderson as he writes his scripts on his own, to something more involving with Daniel Day-Lewis. With Phantom Thread, “his [Anderson’s] star practically co-wrote their second film together, refining the script and even choosing the protagonist’s hilarious, yet dignified name, Reynolds Woodcock.” (Solem-Pfeifer, 2018). Anderson had worked in a similar way (co-authorship) with “Phil [Seymour Hoffman] on The Master”, however on Phantom Thread, “I had less than I had ever had before when coming to Daniel, which I found to be a really good way of working, actually. We had the seed of the story and the character, but it had to grow.” (quoted in Bell, 2018, Pg. 22)

The result is one of Anderson’s most mature features as he explores this complex and impenetrable relationship of which its conditions are too formidable to access (with the latter having first stemmed from The Master); he takes on the role of cinematographer for the first time in his career (with frequent collaborator Robert Elswit not being involved); and writes one of his most hilarious scripts to date (behind Inherent Vice).

To top all of this off, Vicky Krieps’ performance as Alma matches Day-Lewis’ portrayal as the set-in-his-ways Reynolds Woodcock. Krieps matches Day-Lewis through her own ability to capture Alma’s headstrong nature, and the result is two performers working at the top of their game.

5. The Master (2012)

Phillip Seymour Hoffman & Joaquin Phoenix in The Master

If the central relationship between Reynolds and Alma is one that is difficult to penetrate, The Master (2012) does a stellar job at rendering the viewer completely expendable when it comes to Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) and Lancaster Dodd’s (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) relationship.

With The Master, Anderson delves deeper into ideas pertaining to human unknowability and surrogacy by using Quell and Dodd to play around with form — ultimately creating a greater disconnectedness between the audience and the narrative.

As George Toles writes, The Master (along with Anderson’s two films before it) represents a “departure from traditional, readable narrative structure” which “seems to be a necessary corollary for Anderson’s deepening fascination with human unknowability” (Toles, 2016, Pg. 4). In this way, The Master is a film that is difficult to grapple with due to just how far it deviates from a traditional narrative structure to the point where Freddie Quell can’t be relied upon to help guide your understanding of the narrative or to build an emotional connection with — he’s as far from a protagonist as you can get.

The Master is therefore more akin to Magnolia (1999) in terms of wandering focus as Anderson anchors us to Freddie who himself isn’t anchored to anything — he’s detached from the world around him.

Anderson uses Freddie to reinforce the subversive form of the film whereby the character himself begins to represent formlessness at a structural level while Lancaster Dodd begins to represent form. When the two characters clash and reconcile at various moments throughout the film, Anderson is taking formlessness and form and throwing them at each other, ultimately experimenting in his own way with the two (like with the informal processing sequence). In a way, Lancaster believes that he can tame the formlessness of Freddie and this is where Anderson’s other, more recognisable theme of surrogacy intersects with the theme of human unknowability — Lancaster assumes a surrogate role.

By the closing sequence of the film, Lancaster relinquishes his attempts to tame and nurture Freddie and chooses instead to release him — to release formlessness back into the world.

What is fascinating is how multiple different story and technical elements are in a constant tension in The Master — both in isolated instances, and altogether. Whether that be formlessness and form (structure), human unknowability and surrogacy (themes), Freddie and Lancaster (character) or each of the elements (structure, theme and character) between each other — Anderson creates an experience that is unlike any he has before or since.

Ultimately, The Master either landed for audiences or it didn’t due to its impregnable nature, the ambiguity it revels in, and its unrelatable anti-hero Freddie Quell. When considered in relation to the four films above it on this list, it could just as easily be in one of those positions, however it retains a solid position as number five.

4. Magnolia (1999)

Tom Cruise & Jason Robards in Magnolia

Magnolia (1999) is easily Anderson’s most ambitious film. The film is comprised of multiple storylines that connect the characters to each other even if they can’t see that they are connected to the other characters in their suffering.

Both Magnolia and Boogie Nights (1997) are the closest Altmanesque films we have from Anderson as they are very much ensemble pictures that offer the actors a degree of freedom that isn’t felt in the same way in Anderson’s other films. Unlike with Altman’s films like Nashville (1975) and Mash (1970), Anderson still retains a level of control that, while offering his ensembles more freedom (very much an Altman staple), allows him be more stringent when it comes to dialogue being delivered as written or characters serving clear narrative and thematic functions.

In this way, Magnolia is very much about a collective that experience a shared misery, but what separates it from Anderson’s other films is that this film prioritises character ahead of narrative. Essentially, audiences view one single diegetic day in the lives of these characters and the film is banking on the audience buying into “the passionate, melodramatic circumstances of characters living out another day in their lives,” (Sperb, 2013, Pg. 137).

This film explores the plights of these characters and, in a very Andersonian fashion, redeems and punishes certain characters by the closing sequence — which plays on the biblical ideas underpinning the film. The closing sequence is one of Anderson’s most poignant and philosophical as the raining frogs almost serve to allow Anderson to reach in beyond the diegetic world and inject it with this element of fantasy that alerts all the characters to a presence that makes all of their problems disappear, if but for a moment — leading some to certain realizations while punishing others for their wrongdoings.

Magnolia is an experience unlike any other with an incredible cast (Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Phillip Baker Hall, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and countless others), multiple storylines that are handled so well, and even an item number where the characters are unified through a spontaneous rendition of Aimee Mann’s ‘Wise Up’.

There’s nothing quite like Magnolia, and as with any other Anderson film, depending on the emotions you carry with you into one of his films, Magnolia could just as easily be number one on someone’s Anderson ranking list.

3. Boogie Nights (1997)

Part of the ensemble from Boogie Nights

The film that introduced me to Paul Thomas Anderson, Boogie Nights (1997) is an alluring, inviting, and intoxicating feature that draws you in the longer it plays. It would be superfluous to mention every aspect that made Boogie Nights as incredible as it is, after all this is a ranking list rather than a review, but here are some.

Set in the late 70s and early 80s Reseda, Boogie Nights paints a perplexing picture of the porn industry and almost dignifies it in a way as the ensemble of characters here find solace in their interconnectedness within the industry.

That approach sits in stark contrast to Magnolia’s characters who are connected without ever having met each other (for the most part, while some do cross paths), whereas in Boogie Nights the Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) household becomes more than just a ticket to an unconventional success story.

Keeping in mind that Anderson was 26 at the time, Boogie Nights is one of those films that a director like Quentin Tarantino wishes he had made but never did. Anderson makes you care for each of these characters while still exploring the business side of the porn industry (the need to adapt as video becomes more attractive and affordable than film) and weaving in concerns pertaining to surrogate families, family issues, and exotic danger.

Boogie Nights has plenty of incredible sequences (the ‘Jessie’s Girl’ sequence with Alfred Molina, Jack Horner’s new years party etc.), a mix of experienced and (then) young talents that all give it their all, and all the while managing to weave in its multiple storylines and provide a holistic viewing experience that continues to outdo itself.

Anderson clearly drew upon the work of Martin Scorsese and Robert Altman while forging his own place in cinema discourse, ultimately putting himself on the radar as one of the most exciting directors to emerge in recent times.

The result is one of the most celebrated films of the 90s and one of those films that lends itself to multiple viewings. Boogie Nights could just as easily be Anderson’s number one film.

2. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Emily Watson & Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love

My placement of Punch-Drunk Love (2002) in second position might be viewed as the most controversial ranking on this list.

To put it in Anderson’s own words, Punch-Drunk Love is “an art-house Adam Sandler movie” (quoted in Brooks, 2003) but it is also a film that goes against conventional rom-coms and their structure. Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) pushes everyone away (and with due cause) and even his eventual love interest Lena (Emily Watson) refuses to allow the audience any access into the connection she builds with Barry.

Barry expresses himself in such odd ways yet it’s the only way he knows how. For instance, he tells Lena that he desires to smash her face with a sledgehammer during an intimate scene and he even uses physical violence against those who unintentionally hurt Lena while trying to get to him, both for the sake of protection but also to express himself to her through these acts of violence.

What’s peculiar is that Lena reciprocates these emotions to Barry by, for instance, also playfully expressing that she wants to “scoop out” his “eyes” and “eat them”. Yes, these are all playful albeit odd expressions, but usually in rom-coms, if a character is ridden with defects, the ‘other’ in the relationship is the explanatory character who is there to explain their attraction to a character like Barry, but this is not the case with Lena. George Toles (author of the 2016 scholarly book on Paul Thomas Anderson) reaffirms this by writing that for a “normative” character like Lena, the “attraction or gradual succumbing to the problem figure’s initially well-masked allure” is usually met with an “ample explanatory framework” (2016, Pg. 45).

Punch-Drunk Love is just unlike any romantic comedy out there due to the way its characters interact and due to the use of unconventional (long take, jump cuts, tracking shots, dreamlike blue filters that overlay scenes) formal tools. But more than that, Punch-Drunk Love is filled with striking moments of cathexis and their eventual release (Barry destroying his sisters glass window/door after enduring ridicule, the confessions of love between Lena and Barry, the flipping car). All of these qualities allow Anderson to really assert himself and to forge his own identity that go on to contribute to his auteur status (a term so misused these days, it’s baffling).

With Adam Sandler playing the role of Barry in such a Sandler-like fashion (the boyish charm matched with the sudden outbursts that render him socially inept), he ends up cashing in his best performance. To top this off, Sandler’s knack for playing largely comical and flimsy characters is essentially perfect casting here (or a ‘perfect fit’ by Richard Dyer’s measure) as it sits in line with the unexpectedness Anderson is striving for.

From the methodical patience it creates to the unexpectedness of intense moments that follow — Punch-Drunk Love is unquestionably Anderson’s own. As Anderson told The Sunday Times in 2003, Punch-Drunk Love is “referenceless. When you start out, you latch onto other styles, to help you get across what you’re trying to say. But this one is mine somehow— and I’m proud of that.” (Sperb, 2013, Pg. 152). But more than that, it is a rom-com unlike any other and one that sees Adam Sandler at the top of his game after some hits, misses, but overall enjoyable films prior to this one.

If There Will be Blood (2007) didn’t exist, Punch-Drunk Love would be a shoehorn for Anderson’s most Andersonian film and his best.

1. There Will be Blood (2007)

Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will be Blood

Anderson’s magnum opus, the quintessential 21st century film, a classic before the fact — There Will be Blood (2007) is an achievement that feels as momentous and unreal today as it did 14 years ago.

I’ve mentioned that anything I write about these films is superfluous as there are countless reviews and analyses of Anderson’s films (including my own), but There Will be Blood was an event that really cemented Anderson in the pantheon of cinemas greatest directors.

With an Oscar winning performance by Daniel Day-Lewis as the ruthless prospector-turned-oilman Daniel Plainview (one of the greatest performances of all time), a rousing score by the legendary Johnny Greenwood, exquisite cinematography by Robert Elswit, and a perfect screenplay and direction by Anderson, There Will be Blood is what happens when all of the ingredients mesh into something complete.

Anderson created the ultimate period piece with so many iconic moments (the opening sequence in the oil-well, the legendary explosion of the oil-rig, the bowling alley skull bashing) and such an incredible script (adapted from Upton Sinclair’s ‘Oil!’). The film eschews a traditional, readable narrative structure so as to allow Anderson to entertain his now heightened interest in human unknowability. I mean, what better way to explore that thematic concern than by literally putting forward a greedy, power-hungry character who shuns everyone (even after he begins to trust them like Henry) and goes against the very will of god and plays god in his own life and the oil industry — as exacerbated by the films religious undertones.

What is most profound about Daniel Plainview is how Anderson is able to make him one of the most loathsome anti-heroes of all time, yet one that you can’t help but sympathise with. It’s a testament to just how incredible a performer Day-Lewis is that he is able to practically keep other characters and the audience out of his life, but you still feel like there is justness to his cause.

The supporting cast is also quite good (especially Paul Dano), but Day-Lewis outshines everyone and really captures the idiosyncrasies of Anderson’s characters. In turn, Day-Lewis transmutes everything you know about what an Anderson character looks, feels, and acts like, into something greater. Due to the performance and all of aspects of production, There Will be Blood ends up hitting a different level of ecstasy that is both frightening, and rewarding.

Everyone is at the top of their game in There Will be Blood and each scene plays out like a carefully crafted artwork. Had No Country for Old Men (2007) not been released in the same year (with both films having a relatively similar tone and setting), the 2008 Oscars would have been swept by Anderson’s once in a lifetime masterpiece. Even to this day, I vehemently believe that There Will be Blood deserved so much more than what it got even with the Coen Brothers having decided to make their own masterpiece in the same year. There are films and then there are films, and Anderson’s There Will be Blood is a lot of film to be had.

David Gulpilil: Ten Defining Performances

Content Warning: First Nations readers are advised that the following article contains the name and likeness of a person who has died. Both are respectfully used with the permission of the deceased’s family.

Last week, Australia and the world mourned the loss of an eminent, indelible fixture in the medium of cinema. The artist, David Gulpilil Ridjimiralil Dalaithngu, was born and raised in the Mandhalpuyngu clan, plucked from obscurity to appear in a motion-picture, and later became an informal ambassador for his Indigenous culture through his traditional dance, painting and public speaking.

But of course, David Gulpilil (as he’s most often credited in projects) is best recognised as an actor, having appeared in some of the most iconic Australian movies and delivered one fantastic performance after another. In honour of his memory, Rating Frames has put together a list of the ten roles that best shaped and defined his career, all of which are essential viewing for anybody who considers themselves a fan of Australian cinema.

Walkabout (1971)

In his debut role, filmed when he was just a teenager, Gulpilil plays an Aborigine on “Walkabout”, an adolescent ritual where a boy must traverse the bush alone in order to achieve manhood; on his journey, the teenager happens across a white girl the same age as he (played by Jenny Agutter) and her younger brother (Luc Roeg, the director’s son) both of whom come to rely on him for survival.

Walkabout is often cited, wrongly, as the first picture to star a First Nations actor; and the first to have a Black performer in the role of an Aborigine, rather than in blackface – it’s beaten to each milestone by Jedda (1955) and The Overlanders (1946) respectively. But, it is the first known instance of Indigenous Australian culture being accurately and respectfully represented in a feature-length film, which Gulpilil does almost effortlessly.

Storm Boy (1976)

Gulpilil’s next feature-length role came five years later, a picture based on Colin Thiele’s junior novel of the same name. This crowd-pleasing affair centres on Mike (Greg Rowe), a boy who lives with his reclusive father Tom (Peter Cummins) on the Coorong – the wetlands that separate the Murray River from the Southern Ocean – and his friendship with a pelican he names Mr Percival.

The character that Gulpilil portrays here is Fingerbone Bill, a local Aborigine who befriends young Mike and becomes his mentor. His performance is more energetic and upbeat when compared to that in Walkabout, and yet, the actor demonstrates the same relaxed and natural presence in front of the camera. (Incidentally, Storm Boy would be adapted again in 2019, with Gulpilil quite fittingly playing the father to Fingerbone Bill.)

Mad Dog Morgan (1976)

The same year that Gulpilil appeared in the family-friendly Storm Boy, he also starred – alongside Dennis Hopper (pictured above, right) – in a violent, confronting biopic set during Australia’s colonial era. In said biopic, Gulpilil plays an accomplice and confidant to the titular bushranger, guiding him through unfamiliar terrain and abetting his crimes.

Mad Dog Morgan is an example of the “Meat Pie Western”, a term affectionately given to an Australian production that utilises the tropes of a Hollywood Western. Its success, both at home and internationally, helped spur the New Wave of antipodean cinema and gave rise to numerous imitations in the decades that followed; one such example is The Proposition (2005), which featured Gulpilil in a minor role as an interpreter.

Crocodile Dundee (1986)

Here’s a movie that needs no introduction. It’s the worldwide box-office smash that made Kakadu a top holiday destination for tourists locally and abroad, renewed interest in Australia and its culture, and transformed Paul Hogan from a TV larrikin to an international star. Neville is the character Gulpilil plays here, who meets with friend Mick Dundee (Hogan) and American journalist Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski) on his way to a Corroboree – a ceremonial gathering of First Nations peoples.

The briefest of Gulpilil’s roles on this list, and possibly the one he’s recognised most-widely for, Neville is viewed as the embodiment of modern Indigenous culture; caught between modernity and tradition, practising the ways of his ancestors while also adhering to the white man’s norms – it’s most evident in his appearance, with Neville seen wearing traditional face-paint with jeans and a wristwatch.

The Tracker (2002)

The first film to credit Gulpilil as a lead performer, this low-budget drama tells of an Indigenous man tasked, at the behest of the white authorities, with locating a fellow Aborigine accused of murder. Ironically, the actor performed in a very similar role for Phillip Noyce’s Rabbit-Proof Fence (also 2002) albeit as a supporting player with less screen-time – and hence, is never given the opportunity to truly flex his acting chops.

The Tracker marked Gulpilil’s first collaboration with director Rolf de Heer, and netted him an AFI Award for Best Actor. It’s an accolade that’s rightfully deserved, for he does well to convey the conflicted emotions of his character – the apprehension, fear, guilt and anger, sometimes all at once – and does so with an unflinching ease, outshining all of his co-stars in the process.

Ten Canoes (2006)

Following the success of The Tracker, Gulpilil and de Heer reunited for another narrative, and a particularly ground-breaking one at that. It’s a tale of sacrifice, leadership, covetousness and warfare that takes place before European settlement, is spoken in the Yolngu Matha language and features a cast of First Nations actors in traditional dress. As a result, Ten Canoes is the most authentic representation of a nomadic, tribal lifestyle ever put to film.

Unlike his two other partnerships with de Heer, Gulpilil doesn’t make a physical appearance on this occasion, with his son Jamie (pictured above) playing the lead instead. But the elder Gulpilil still has a presence in Ten Canoes, taking on the role of narrator in both the English and Yolngu Matha versions of the picture, complete with his trademark energy and dry wit.

Australia (2008)

Baz Luhrmann’s Northern Territory-set epic was much-hyped at the time of its release, stirring the emotions of many an Australian with its allusions to the Stolen Generations and re-enactment of the World War II bombing of Darwin. Also generating hype was a star-laden cast that included the two biggest Australian thespians of the day, Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman, in addition to David Wenham, Bryan Brown, Ben Mendelsohn, Jack Thompson and, of course, Gulpilil.

The latter plays an Indigenous elder known to the white settlers as King George, who’s also the grandfather of Nullah (Brandon Walters), the half-caste child adopted by Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman). ‘Tis a more restrained and mostly silent performance from the venerable actor, one that doesn’t make full use of his abilities; but his presence in this big-budget, Hollywood-backed blockbuster did, at least, immortalise him as a legend of the Australian screen.

Charlie’s Country (2014)

The years that followed Luhrmann’s Australia were some of the most turbulent for Gulpilil, who spent time in jail for physical assault and as such, failed to find work. His experience in prison, and in poverty, would eventually inform his third collaboration with de Heer, in which he plays a semi-fictionalised version of himself named Charlie. It’s a deeply personal narrative, yet one that resonates widely, for his story is reflected in First Nations communities across Australia.

Charlie’s Country had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, with the lead winning an award for his performance as part of the Un Certain Regard program; this feat would later be replicated at that year’s AACTA Awards, with Gulpilil winning Best Actor for a second time. More importantly though, the film revived Gulpilil’s dormant career, ensuring that audiences hadn’t seen the last of his talents.

Goldstone (2016)

A contemporary take on the Meat Pie Western, Goldstone is a sequel to Ivan Sen’s excellent Mystery Road (2013) and sees journalist-turned-actor Aaron Pedersen return to the role of Detective Jay Swan. This story has Swan working undercover, attempting to locate a missing person in a remote mining community; and, just like its precursor, examines issues of prejudice and corruption in regional townships.

Harking back to his roles in Mad Dog Morgan and Storm Boy, here Gulpilil plays a sage elder who guides Jay through the landscape and tells legends of his ancestors. The part is rather unassuming, but nevertheless, Gulpilil lends it a gravitas that only a performer of his calibre can, being a charming and welcome presence as per usual.

My Name is Gulpilil (2021)

“This is my story, of my story,” says a gravel-voiced Gulpilil as he fixes his eyes on the viewer, wearily but warmly. Produced and narrated by its very subject, this tender, intimate documentary recounts the significant events in Gulpilil’s life, observes his routine as a cancer patient and ponders what his legacy will be once he departs this world.

Even before his untimely death, this was always intended to be Gulpilil’s final on-screen role, but is no less impressive, leaving the viewer transfixed throughout. Gulpilil is at his most vulnerable, physically and emotionally, yet still manages to deliver an insightful, compelling tale about himself, a testament to his abilities as a storyteller. For those reasons, this raw portrait has earned a place as one of the greatest performances of David Gulpilil’s fifty-year career.

The Bow is Strung in Marvel’s Hawkeye, Now’s the Time to Shoot

We’re a couple of years down the track in Marvel’s latest Avengers spin-off series, Hawkeye — set in the bustling and Christmassy New York City in the years post-snap. It’s a fitting setting given the opening sequence of episode one takes audiences back to the alien infested, war-torn New York City of 2012’s Avengers in order to establish the character of Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld).

That opening sequence quickly introduces audiences to Kate in her adolescent years as she experiences the fateful events of the Avengers battle with evil, from the ravaged apartment she and her family reside in. In the distance on the roof of another building, the shows eponymous hero, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) tusks it out with the aliens before eventually saving and inspiring Kate through a swift shot from his bow — changing the course of her life forever.   

We eventually fast forward to present day (which is a few years ahead of 2021) where Kate is now 22, living in her own apartment, and her mother Eleanor Bishop (Vera Farmiga) has become acquainted with Jack Duquesne (Tony Dalton) following the death of her husband all those years ago. On the flip side we have Clint Barton who is living a more steady life with his family as he seemingly still struggles internally to come to terms with the aftermath of Thanos’ wrath. It isn’t until a gala auction event goes sideways, that the story begins to pick up. A Russian street gang known as the Tracksuit Mafia infiltrate the auction where among many items, a Ronin suit from one of the Avengers is present. Kate nabs the suit and legs it, unaware that her actions will bring her face-to-face with Barton, the Tracksuit Mafia, and further trouble.

These first two episodes are much more measured and simplified than Marvels other shows from earlier this year like Loki and WandaVision. Director Rhys Thomas takes a much more playful approach to the storytelling here, never really subjecting viewers to a myriad of complex information (timekeepers and worlds-within-worlds) and instead opting to focus on the banter and push-pull dynamic between Steinfeld and Renner.

To much surprise, that approach works in the shows favour as Thomas lays all his cards on the table from the outset and builds on Steinfeld’s energy and Renner’s reluctance to help her beyond the amount he requires. It makes for some amusing back-and-forths and on-the-nose one liners.

Hailee Steinfeld in Hawkeye

The plotting feels a bit inadequate in comparison to the actors chemistry as it’s almost built on a ‘as you go’ basis rather than as something worth stimulating an audience members curiosity. Essentially, not much happens that couldn’t be predicted by casual audiences and not much is left to an audience members imagination. For those that have read the comic, perhaps that approach works, but hopefully the episodes that follow will provide a little more intrigue, albeit not to the extent that Loki did (especially with the sublime Florence Pugh scheduled to make an appearance).

It has to be said that Renner is side-lined by Steinfeld who channels her teen charisma from Bumblebee (2018) & The Edge of Seventeen (2016). She injects the show with a Tom Holland-esque charm seen in the Spider-Man films, as she brings a likeable on-screen presence that is hard not to buy into. Renner plays that more reserved, subduedness that he carried with him in the Avengers films and it makes me realise how my desires for him to take the forefront in this show wouldn’t have worked to the shows advantage judging by these two episodes.

Both episodes keep you engaged through Steinfeld’s performance and the consistent humorous tone that has become a staple of Marvel, but rarely hits home. The fact that Thomas leans into that tone from the get-go while building our engagement with this peaceful, yet disrupted New York setting through the leads, means that the occasional comical comment from a Mafia henchmen for instance, doesn’t feel out of place. Too often a Marvel production will fluctuate tonally from episode to episode which can work given that no two directors are the same if multiple directors are directing, but Thomas has set a sound, but somewhat tilted foundation to build on from these two episodes.  

Marvel has always looked to the future with its work and for ways to pass the torch onto its new recruits, and Hawkeye will be no different in that regard. With Steinfeld playing the protagonist in a show about Hawkeye, it’ll be interesting to see whether that sentiment will carry true to its entirety or whether Hawkeye himself begins to play a more active role as the events of the show unravel. Either way, there’s plenty to look forward to in Hawkeye over the coming weeks.

Hawkeye is now streaming on Disney+

Licence to Steal: The Unofficial Bond Films

Given their ubiquity, changes in cast and wildly varying degrees of quality, casual moviegoers could be forgiven for thinking that the James Bond films are always produced by a different studio, their rights exchanging hands more frequently than Bond himself changes lovers. In actual fact, these rights have stayed with the same two companies for decades, both holding the exclusive licence to adapt Ian Fleming’s stories and characters to celluloid.

Well, almost.

In the six decades since producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli were granted Fleming’s permission to turn his novels into feature-length pictures, there have been 27 films released with Agent 007 as the lead character. 25 of those movies – including the upcoming No Time to Die (2021) – have been made by Eon Productions, a company founded by Broccoli with the sole purpose of creating Bond films; the remaining two have not.

The production and release of these movies was, on both occasions, made possible due to legal loopholes that allowed individuals to circumvent Eon’s authority and craft their own adaptations of Fleming’s works. Neither picture is remarkable, but nonetheless, both are important pieces of cinematic history that contribute to Bond’s legacy, and as of such are worthy of discussion here on Rating Frames.

The first of these two films is Casino Royale (1967) which arrived at the height of James Bond’s popularity and mere weeks before Eon’s You Only Live Twice (also 1967) hit theatres. Its title is shared with Fleming’s debut novel, and not by coincidence – the rights to this book were optioned by American producer Charles K. Feldman, who unsuccessfully tried to adapt the story with Saltzman and Broccoli. When his relationship with the pair fell through, Feldman decided to continue on with the project alone, eventually securing the backing of Columbia Pictures.

Peter Sellers with Ursula Andress in 1967’s Casino Royale

Feldman’s Casino Royale is a picture that deviates wildly from its source material, being a slapstick parody that centres on an older James Bond (David Niven) coming out of retirement to mitigate a crisis at the behest of his former superior. The picture benefitted from a celebrity-laden cast that included not just Niven, but also the likes of John Huston, Peter Sellers, Orson Welles (yes, really!) and original “Bond girl” Ursula Andress, in addition to future stars Woody Allen, Jacqueline Bisset, Ronnie Corbett, Bernard Cribbons and John Bluthal.

Why actors of such calibre wanted to be involved is a mystery, because Casino Royale is an unmitigated mess of a movie, with the pacing being too fast, the screenplay lacking coherence, and the comedy being atrociously unfunny, with just about every gag falling flat. Its only redeeming feature is an irreverent finale that appears to have inspired Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles (1974), but even this moment of absurdity proves just as underwhelming as any other scene in the picture.

By comparison, the second of these “unofficial” Bond films is a masterpiece, if only because it possesses a level of competence non-existent in Feldman’s production. The film in question is Never Say Never Again (1983), which owes its existence to screenwriter Kevin McClory. Prior to Saltzman and Broccoli’s acquisition of the film rights, McClory was approached by Fleming to adapt one or more of his books, but instead chose to write an original story with Fleming’s input – a story that was novelised by Fleming and published under the title of Thunderball in 1961.

A middle-aged Sean Connery with a young Kim Basinger in Never Say Never Again

A legal battle between McClory and Fleming ensued, one that went to court and saw McClory awarded damages plus joint authorship of the novel. With this small credit, McClory also had control of the rights to Thunderball, thus gifting him with the power to make his own picture if he saw fit. Those rights were eventually sold to film producer Jack Schwartzman; but since there was already a movie called Thunderball (1966), significant changes were needed to differentiate between the two – most obviously the title.

Never Say Never Again is a virtual rehash of Thunderball’s screenplay, with the fresh cast, updated visuals and the like doing little to disguise this fact; moreover, the newer adaptation is less fun than the Eon production, for it lacks the Sixties aesthetics and fantastic music that make the original picture such a charmer. Yet because it lacks camp and takes itself rather seriously, the film manages to be better than the “official” Bond title released that very same year, Octopussy (1983). Though only just.

In short, both of these movies pale in comparison to their Eon counterparts – one fails as both a compelling spy movie and an astute satire of the source material; the other is serviceable, yet unable to offer anything new or unique. If this author were to place them in our countdown of the other 25 Bond films, Casino Royale would be dead last, while Never Say Never Again would fall between Moonraker (1979) and Licence to Kill (1989), neither of which are 007’s finest hour.

If there’s one positive that can be said about the two unofficial films, it’s that they provide the viewer with a greater appreciation of the Eon-produced pictures, demonstrating the value of Saltzman and Broccoli’s input and why their movies have endured, instead of becoming relics from a bygone era. Or how not to do a Bond flick.

Ranking the James Bond Series

Long before superhero franchises came to proliferate theatres, there was just one man guaranteed to be a box-office drawcard: Bond. James Bond. His handsome looks, sophisticated wardrobe and suave tongue have allured filmgoers for decades, despite his notoriety as a heavy-drinker and misogynist, with his popularity enduring to this day. And next week, he’ll be returning to the limelight once more when his newest picture, No Time to Die (2021), finally debuts in Australian cinemas.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, Bond – who is also referred to by his codename, 007 (pronounced “double-oh-seven”) – is a spy who works as part of the British government’s secret intelligence service, nowadays referred to as MI6. His character originated in a series of wildly-popular novels penned by Ian Fleming and published at the height of Cold War-paranoia, before making his first big-screen appearance in the 1962 adaptation of Dr. No.

More movies starring the secret agent would follow in the years after, with the premise, tone, style and cast occasionally adjusted to suit the tastes of audiences, with varying degrees of success. Like many others, the team at Rating Frames has been revisiting these pictures, and can now offer to you their definitive ranking of the James Bond film franchise, listed below from worst to best.

24. Live and Let Die (1973)

Roger Moore’s debut as 007 is by far and away the most embarrassing entry in the character’s history, filled with painfully unfunny one-liners, far-fetched stunts and plenty more illogical moments. A decent boat chase on the Louisiana Bayou is the only element that saves it from being unwatchable.

23. The World is Not Enough (1999)

“Monotonous” is the word that best describes this Pierce Brosnan-led bore, doing nothing to innovate the genre, nor the franchise. It’s long, slow, bland, and made even more frustrating by the presence of Denise Richards, the most unnatural and ineffectual “Bond Girl” to ever grace the screen.

22. Quantum of Solace (2008)

A misguided affair that takes a few too many cues from the Bourne movies and not enough from its predecessor, which also starred Daniel Craig. The pacing is too fast, camerawork too shaky, narrative lightweight, and Mathieu Amalric’s villain feeble at best.

21. Octopussy (1983)

This one is the most light-hearted of all the films, bordering on parody – especially during the third act; yet it’s not without its charms, with some good chase sequences, decent fights and tension involving a nuclear bomb. Certainly not a stinker, but nor is it Moore’s finest hour.

20. Licence to Kill (1989)

007 goes rogue in Timothy Dalton’s second and last picture as the secret agent, and things get very dark in the process. Quite simply, it’s too violent, too graphic and too angry for a Bond flick, its tone better suited to a Scarface knockoff.

19. Moonraker (1979)

This romp saw Bond fly into outer-space in an effort to capitalise on the science-fiction craze of the late Seventies, resulting in the silliest, campiest film of Moore’s tenure – and that’s really saying something, given the quality of his other movies. With that said, the space sequences are reasonably entertaining.

18. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

A pretty tepid and rather forgettable affair for Moore, with the exception of its two antagonists: Sir Christopher Lee as the main foe, Francisco Scaramanga, and Hervé Villechaize as his short-statured associate, Nick Nack. That corkscrew jump is pretty cool, too.

17. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

The last official Bond film to star Sean Connery, who is virtually the only aspect that elevates proceedings. This instalment marked the franchise’s transition into camp, with bright colours and many ludicrous moments, yet is simultaneously dullened by its flat, lifeless Las Vegas setting.

16. Die Another Day (2002)

Often derided as the worst in the series, but nowhere near as bad as its reputation suggests, Brosnan’s final appearance as 007 contains a bonkers, yet fun, car chase on ice with military weaponry, and a tense climactic battle aboard a jumbo jet. Just be sure to suspend all disbelief.

15. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Introduced a great adversary in Jaws (Richard Kiel), and an iconic ride in Bond’s white Lotus Esprit that doubles as a submarine; beyond that though, Moore’s third movie as lead is pretty mundane, and in need of some greater thrills.

14. A View to Kill (1985)

While Moore was definitely too old to be leading an action flick by this point, his swansong is good nonetheless, boasting two of the series’ best villains – Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) and May Day (Grace Jones) – and the occasional moment of high tension.  

13. You Only Live Twice (1967)

Cultural appropriation of the Japanese aside, Connery’s fifth outing stands the test of time, with all the Bond trademarks present. Plus, there’s a memorable climax inside a secret lair that sees Bond’s first face-to-face encounter with his arch-nemesis: Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence).

12. Dr. No (1962)

The first ever Bond film is by no means spectacular by today’s standards, yet remains one of the better instalments due to its straightforward narrative – one that’s reasonably faithful to Fleming’s original novel – and serviceable thrills. A splendid introduction to the secret agent, even if some of the effects look cheap.

11. Thunderball (1966)

Another much-loved entry from the Connery era, this one is marked by its extended underwater sequences that look exceptional; less so the editing, particularly in the third act. Probably has the driest sense of humour of any Bond script, too.

10. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

There’s lots to appreciate in Brosnan’s sophomore excursion as 007, including a genuinely terrifying first act, a delectable antagonist, and the presence of Michelle Yeoh, who brings with her some exciting close-quarters combat. But the pacing is too quick, and there’s a few too many corny punchlines.

9. The Living Daylights (1987)

In the first of his two appearances in the franchise, Dalton steers proceedings in a more serious direction than his precursor did, to great effect. The chase scenes and stunt-work are exemplary; the narrative involving a group of Afghan freedom fighters hasn’t aged very well, though.

8. For Your Eyes Only (1981)

The best, and least camp, picture from the Moore era, made enjoyable by the action sequences, a pretty decent twist involving the villain, and an understated sweetness that’s missing from most other instalments; yet it remains quite silly when compared to its contemporaries.

7. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

One of the more distinctive entries in the Bond canon, owing to the snowy backdrops, romantic subplot, and George Lazenby in his first and only turn as 007. The icy driving scenes and ski chases are especially pleasing, even when paired with some unconvincing effects.

6. Spectre (2015)

Often lambasted for being too slow and too predictable, and both criticisms are valid; but the qualities of this movie cannot be denied. Caters to the franchise’s purists with its brutal fights, chase sequences and aircraft wreckages.

5. Goldfinger (1964)

Considered the quintessential Bond flick, and with good reason. Boasts two iconic villains in Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) and Oddjob (Harold Sakata), in addition to a gadget-laden Aston Martin which has come to be synonymous with the series and the spy genre as a whole. Tacky effects and substandard editing let it down.

4. Casino Royale (2006)

Loosely inspired by Fleming’s debut novel, this is the chapter that rebooted the venerable series and introduced Craig as a cold, unflinching 007. It’s gritty, taut and occasionally brutal, factors that don’t always work to the material’s advantage; nor, for that matter, does the embarrassing product placement.

3. From Russia with Love (1963)

An improvement over the previous year’s Dr. No in practically every respect, courtesy of a higher budget that allowed for more action and stunts. Justly remains the feature by which all other Bond films are judged.

2. Skyfall (2012)

Deftly combines the tropes of its forebears with an intimate, grounded screenplay to create a product that pleases Bond aficionados and casual viewers alike. Quite simply, it’s one of the best blockbusters ever produced.

1. GoldenEye (1995)

Here is the genesis for the modern James Bond film, an early and brilliant demonstration of how to balance tradition with evolution, the serious with the silly. Pierce Brosnan, sublime and effortlessly comfortable in the lead role, is faced with a pair of equally formidable antagonists who can predict his every move, and the conflict that ensues is nothing short of thrilling. GoldenEye is the franchise’s finest hour, and a must-see for everybody.

Celebrating The Adventures of Tintin, The Dream Collaboration

The adventure serial was once a staple of cinema, with theatregoers each and every week treated to fresh takes of heroes in exotic, faraway lands. After a decades-long period of dormancy, the genre saw a brief revival in the 1980s, only to fade into obscurity once again; but for a brief moment in the early 2010s, it looked as though adventure films were here to stay, all thanks to a pair of the medium’s modern-day pioneers.

Tintin (Jamie Bell) is a famed investigative reporter whose journeys and discoveries have enraptured millions across Europe, and whose latest mystery involves the model of a sailing ship – bought by him at a flea market for a minimal sum – which no less than two men are willing to pay a substantial amount of money for. As it happens, the seemingly innocuous model is of a naval vessel known as the Unicorn, fabled to have sunk with countless riches.

One of the men seeking to acquire the model from Tintin’s possession is Sakharine (Daniel Craig), who believes it holds the key to the real ship’s final resting place, and therefore the treasure sunken with it. So dogged is Sakharine in his pursuit of the plunder that he’s even kidnapped Archibald Haddock (Andy Serkis), a descendant of the Unicorn’s captain, to prevent him from laying claim to the ship’s fortune – by which he has rights to.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011) was a long-gestating project for veteran director Steven Spielberg, who first took an interest in the character thirty years prior. Whilst promoting his film Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) in Europe, Spielberg noted that many French reviews repeated the phrase “Tintin”, unaware what was being referred to. He soon learned that critics were referencing the Tintin comics, written and drawn by Belgian artist Hergé, which they claimed bore a similarity to the escapades of Indiana Jones.

The antagonistic Sakharine, as he appear in The Adventures of Tintin

Spielberg initially envisaged the film as a feature-length animation, then as a live-action production, procuring the services of Peter Jackson’s visual effects company, Weta Digital, to create a computer-generated version of Tintin’s faithful dog, Snowy. Being a long-time fan of Hergé’s work, Jackson took a keen interest in the project, eventually convincing Spielberg to utilise motion-capture technology for the final product, resulting in visuals that fused photorealism with the “traditional” look of Tintin.

This imagery proved rather polarising upon the film’s release, with some viewers unsettled by the not-quite-human looks of the protagonists; yet for others, including this author, the 3D representations of Tintin and his associates are quite charming, striking a perfect balance between the cutesy drawings of Hergé’s work and the lifelike renderings of other motion-capture projects, such as The Polar Express (2004) – and just like said project, the faintest hint of an actor’s likeness can be seen in the characters they portray.

The character designs are certainly the most talked-about element of The Adventures of Tintin, but they are far from the most notable; in actuality, the most enthralling aspect is the animation, which is masterfully rendered and quite fluid. The high quality of the illustrations allows for some exciting sequences, including a flashback scene of a piratical raid on the Unicorn; a one-shot motorcycle chase through a Moroccan city; and a climactic battle in a dockyard featuring all manner of destruction.

Also appreciable is the orchestral score, composed by musical legend and Spielberg’s favoured collaborator, John Williams. Although not as perpetually hummable as his work for other franchises (think Star Wars, Harry Potter), Williams’ compositions here provide a sense of whimsy and grandeur that fits perfectly with the adventurous tone of the story. So impressive was The Adventures of Tintin’s soundtrackthat it earned John Williams his 46th nomination at the Academy Awards, breaking the record of fellow composer Alfred Newman.

A naval battle, one of the many astonishing scenes in The Adventures of Tintin

A less commendable element of The Adventures of Tintin is the screenplay – it’s certainly captivating enough, with a strong mystery element and decent gags, but is also blemished by the occasional cliché; and there’s further irritation to be had at the characterisation of Captain Haddock, who is way too buffoonish for him to be taken seriously. These faults aside though, The Secret of the Unicorn is a rousing adventure, and an ideal entry point for children too young to witness the exploits of Dr. Henry Jones Jr.

Spielberg and Jackson’s Tintin generated plenty of buzz upon its initial release in 2011, with foreign markets taking a particular interest. Even before earning decent reviews from critics and becoming a modest box-office success, discussion of a sequel was fervent, with both directors expressing their interest in a potential Tintin trilogy and Jackson even confirmed to helm the second instalment. And yet, despite the picture’s critical and financial triumphs, audiences are still waiting for a sequel.

It would seem that neither director is in a hurry to make the next Tintin film. On the verge of Unicorn’s tenth anniversary, Spielberg is currently directing an autobiographical film about his childhood, while Jackson is promoting his latest documentary project Get Back (2021); but beyond that, the former is consigned only to production duties, and the latter has no other projects planned, so there’s every possibility that a new movie from the pair is just around the corner – and we all sorely hope that’s the case.

In the meantime though, there’s immense pleasure to be had in rewatching the original collaboration. Lovingly woven together by two giants of cinema, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is a picture that encapsulates the qualities of both Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, its enjoyment solidified by fantastic animation, unceasing thrills and a majestic soundtrack.

The Adventures of Tintin is currently streaming on Netflix, Prime Video, and Stan.

9 Campy, Schlock Horror Films to Watch this Schlocktober

It’s that time of year again when people across the world start getting their pumpkins ready for carving and their costumes ready for wearing. It’s also that time of year when horror fanatics dive into their favourite horror films as Halloween nears. To prepare you for Halloween on the 31st of October, I thought I’d make a list of 9 campy, schlock-horror films to watch before the 31st. Most of these films are about as B movie as you can get with their small budgets, practical effects, zany plots, and comical performances. So lets look at some of the titles.

Bad Taste (1987)

As a life-long devotee to anything Peter Jackson related (given I’m a Kiwi), Bad Taste is about as great a debut feature as one can make. Not only was this film made with a small budget, but it was able to do so much with how little it had. Jackson made this with his friends and shot most of the film at his parents NZ house, with a documentary somewhere online showing his mum handing out sandwiches in-between takes.

The film has some structure for about the first 15-20min and then just quickly goes off the rails as practical effects subsume all coherency, and all out carnage ensues. There’s a scene involving barf drinking, there’s blood squirting almost consistently, there’s dudes in ninja costumes, guns galore, and there’s RPG explosions.

The film is really a testament to Jackson’s creativity and it’s far from his best schlock induced work (Braindead would follow), but it is a thrilling and outright enjoyable 90 minutes that never gives you any respite. It’s crazy to think studio executives would give Jackson The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) to direct, but boy did they make the right choice.

The Evil Dead (1981)

It’s hard to make a list like this without including Sam Raimi’s ever celebrated The Evil Dead. In its 40 years, the film has withstood the test of time to become a cult classic in the horror genre. The film, while definitely more of a professional, serious production, would go on to inspire and pave the way for a wave of 80’s and 90’s schlock horror and campy films.

The premise revolves around a bunch of college students, a cabin in the woods, and a mysterious book that unleashes a demonic force to hunt the students down. It really is a premise with three signature horror elements that has been parodied and done-over countless times.

It’s another example of making do with what you’ve got, and boy does Raimi make do. Plenty of gore to be had and also scares, which is something that this film has over the others on the list as it is more of a nuanced horror that happens to fall into this schlock category as well.

Frankenhooker (1990)

Frankenhooker is just as its name suggests — a Frankenstein zombie made from the body parts of prostitutes. Made by Frank Henenlotter, known for such titles as Basket Case (1982) and Brain Damage (1988), Frankenhooker is about a guy that blows up some prostitutes and stitches them back together to create his dead fiancé (who was killed by a lawnmower).

The film is a comical exploitation film that leans into physical humour for laughs. Though the film falls under sexploitation and is no doubt misogynistic, it has retained a cult status for its nonsensicalness and bemusing premise. The film gets more wild as the scenes roll on, with Elizabeth (the concoction of those prostitute parts) eventually getting a greater consciousness and exacting revenge.

There is evidently a lot of love and care that has gone into the film which give it that rewatch status and it’s no doubt a trashy 90 or so minutes to be had.  

Braindead (1992)

If I haven’t made it obvious, I’m a sucker for anything Peter Jackson related. Braindead is no exception and is one of the best films in the schlock horror, B movie category.

New Zealand humour and LOTS of blood subsume the film in this gore fest where Jackson is pretty much set on just destroying any and all human costumes and props. From the outset, Jackson is set on entertaining the audience as he leans into chaotic scenes involving intestine like creatures, zombies, swinging babies, and all while injecting the film with delirious gags and infectious humour.

Braindead is to the comedy-horror genre what Blade Runner (1982) is to the sci-fi genre.

Night Train to Terror (1985)

I don’t know where to start with this film. It’s like if Snowpiercer (2013) met Zoolander (2001) and Step-Up (2006), and even then that would still be an understatement. The film is quintessential viewing if B movie, schlock horror comedies are your thing.

Everything takes place on a train and the stories are absurd with multiple different ones intertwined throughout. The acting is bonkers, the humour feels out of place but works because it is, the practical effects are a staple of the time, and for some reason God and Satan are just having a casual chat amidst all the chaos.

It’s really an experience to be had rather than one that can be articulated as, like Sean Baker says on Letterboxd, the film is “Such an insane mess of a movie”.

Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)

As its name suggests, the film is about some killer clowns from space that come to earth and terrorise those they meet.

There really isn’t much to say in the way of what to expect or what works. Everything works because it doesn’t — the absurdness of the plot and performances lean into a humorous telling, and there is just a bunch of nonsensical killing that many would find is “so bad it’s good”.

I’m usually not good with horror movies in general let alone horror movies with clowns, but because this film (like most on this list) are as crude and bizarre as horror movies go, it was worth a mention.

Chopping Mall (1986)

Aside from having one of the greatest simple titles of any film on this list, Chopping Mall is also (from memory) the only film on here (save for Death Spa) that brings robots into the equation!

I like to think of this film as The Breakfast Club (1985) meets WALL-E (2008), only WALL-E is a killer robot. Teens basically get trapped in a shopping mall after the mall goes into lockdown, only for security robots to go on a killing spree to rid these ‘intruders’. That’s really it.

The film is about as 80’s B movie as they come, with lots of satirical elements (particularly pertaining to mall culture and how prominent that was among teens at the time), scenes involving electrocution and also laser death.

Death Spa (1989)

Like Chopping Mall but also unlike Chopping Mall, Death Spa sees the spa computer system turn the workout equipment and other facets of the spa (including steam rooms and hair driers) against the spa goers.

It’s a ludicrous film (but what film on this list isn’t?), with garbage acting and a forgettable premise, but it keeps people coming back for its absurdity and how it doesn’t hesitate to knuckle down on its trashiness. The props and practical effects are lacking in comparison to most of the films on this list, but it has that 80’s vibe and colour palette that seem to be enough to keep viewers coming back.

The only thing missing from the film is Arnold Schwarzenegger and this would have been the Mr Olympia training film of the century.  

TerrorVision (1986)

Rounding off the list is a film where a family’s newly installed satellite dish attracts alien signals and eventually, the aliens themselves.

The film is a bizarre delight with cheap set designs, a very satirical undertone (basically ripping into everything 80’s), goofy characters, a surprisingly diverse cast (including Gerrit Graham, Jon Gries, and Bert Remsen), a very cartoony feel, and practical effects that get the job done. 

Essentially, if you wanted to get an idea of what the 80’s looked and felt like (from the hairdo’s, fashion, music and comedy), then this is the film for you.

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Australia’s Irish Film Festival Goes Virtual For 2021

The Republic of Ireland typically isn’t a country associated with cinema – aside from Alan Parker’s The Commitments or the works of John Carney, it’s difficult to think of a film that hails from the land of St. Patrick. Yet in recent years, the Republic’s output of productions has grown exponentially, priming themselves as a key player in the industry.

Nowhere is this fact more evident than in the line-up for the annual Irish Film Festival, set to begin this week. Years past have seen the event grace theatres in Sydney and Melbourne; but with both cities currently subject to lockdowns, the Festival will heading online in 2021, allowing cinephiles across Australia to see the very best movies that Ireland has to offer.

Headlining the virtual festival is the Academy Award-nominated Wolfwalkers, a feature-length animation from Cartoon Saloon – the studio behind critically-acclaimed films such as The Secret of Kells (2009) and The Breadwinner (2017). Having already been screened overseas, the picture currently has a near-perfect 99% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, placing it among the highest-rated movies on the site. It’s an exciting prospect, not least because Wolfwalkers has been an exclusive title on Apple TV+ for some months now, making this is a rare opportunity to view the feature outside of its usual confines.

A still from Cartoon Saloon’s Wolfwalkers, featuring protagonist Robin and her wolf spirit

Wolfwalkers is something of an outlier at the festival, since most of the films being shown are low-budget features making their Australian debut. The most intriguing of these debuts is Cathy Brady’s Wildfire, which sees a missing woman return to Northern Ireland and reunite with her sister, hinting at a Dragon Tattoo-esque storyline. Similar themes permeate the crime thriller Broken Law, a narrative about two brothers – one a cop, the other an ex-crim – trying to escape their past.

Those looking for a more humorous proposition may enjoy The Bright Side, focusing on a stand-up comedienne who tackles her cancer diagnosis with plenty of dry wit; or the Festival’s other dark comedy offering, Deadly Cuts, telling of a group of hair-stylists who dare to challenge the gangs of Dublin. The two other comedies playing at the Festival are Boys From County Hell, an Irish take on Shaun of the Dead, and A Bump Along the Way, following a middle-aged woman who falls pregnant after a one-night-stand.

For the musically inclined, there’s three music documentaries to whet the palette, including one filmed here in Australia: Áine Tyrrell – Irish Troubadour, charting the subject’s journey from domestic violence victim to renowned folk singer. Phil Lynott: Songs For While I’m Away documents the largely-unknown life of Thin Lizzy’s front-man and Ireland’s greatest rock star, while Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane MacGowan looks at the pioneer of Celtic punk.

Phil Lynott, the lead singer of Irish rock band Thin Lizzy and subject of Phil Lynott: Songs For When I’m Away

The musical theme continues with the Gabriel Byrne-led Death of a Ladies’ Man, a dramedy inspired by, and paired to, the songs of Leonard Cohen. And for lovers of all things sports, there’s a documentary examining the psyche of Jack Charlton, an enigmatic soccer player from England who became coach of Ireland’s national team, aptly titled Finding Jack Charlton.

Although the selection of twelve films is meagre when compared to its contemporaries, this year’s Irish Film Festival is definitely not short on quality – if this is just a taste of what Ireland has to offer, there’s every chance of the nation becoming a cinematic powerhouse in just a few short years. And while nothing beats the theatrical experience, being able to watch each of these films from your couch, at your own convenience, comes a pretty close second. In short, this Festival is definitely worth checking out.

The Irish Film Festival begins this Friday, September 3rd. For more information, head to the Festival’s official website.