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Movie Review: Captain Fantastic

Captain Fantastic is a bizarre clash of cultures. Raised in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father educates, imbues his values and trains his six kids to fend for themselves. Without a television and having to hunt for food, their cloistered Swiss Family Robinson style upbringing presents a number of challenges from societal integration to coping in a capitalist me-orientated America. Having extensive book knowledge makes them more than capable to think for themselves and much more adept than their peers, however, their inexperience renders them alien to their own country.

When their unstable mother is committed to a healthcare facility, they stay on in the forest, as their wise yet stubborn father tries to keep his children pure. Yet, they find themselves on a road trip using the family bus, Steve, which tests their abilities, their mission readiness for the real world and their own patience for folks deemed "normal".

Captain Fantastic is an eye-opening comedy drama, which essentially gives us an alien perspective on Western culture, contrasting the affects of a rural lifestyle and book smart education with those of our fast-paced, urban and dumbed-down societies. The results are deeply comical, compelling, thought-provoking and wildly entertaining as we venture forth with a family whose mother could've been Jodie Foster in Nell.

It's like the perfect blend of Into the Wild and Little Miss Sunshine. The good times wanderlust, spirit of adventure, political aspirations and return to nature from Into the Wild are present in Captain Fantastic. Both films even share elements such as the hippie roadies, the bus in the wild and the rebellious stick-it-to-the-man sentiment of Christopher McCandless. You even imagine scenes playing out quite perfectly against a similar soundtrack from Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. Little Miss Sunshine presents itself in the offbeat dark comedy, road trip dilemnas, family politics and spontaneous devil-may-care nature of their escapades.

Captain Fantastic Movie Review

"I let my kids decide what I meant by 'Sunday Best'."

Writer-director, Matt Ross, is obviously concerned with the environment and the state of disrepair the world finds itself in. His commentary is enjoyable, if sometimes biting, and makes some comical observations by simply contrasting a righteously harmonious and self-aware existence against the boxed in constraints of a life lived on auto pilot. There's a definite slant, which is tempered by flaws in both systems, yet able enough to get its point across without turning into a full-blown sermon on "what the world needs now".

Beyond it's quirky appeal and timely exploration, it's underwritten by a talented cast headlined by Viggo Mortensen as Ben, George Mackay as Bo and Frank Langella as Jack. Mortensen is in his element as the self-made Captain Fantastic, who seems to have an answer for everything and the final word on everything else. He's in great shape and delivers a spirited and whole-hearted performance full of fire. His second-in-command is Mackay, whose role as a budding squire to his father echoes the family values coming face-to-face with the tangible alienation of their choices. Then, Frank Langella brings his considerable presence to represent good old-fashioned American values as the long arm of the father-in-law.

This is a red-blooded jaunt that continues to surprise with its smart writing, sharp performances and timely storytelling. It's infotainment in full swing, delivering experiential education through well-crafted drama and poignant comedy. The concept is refreshing, giving Captain Fantastic a bold and original flavour, even though it comes together as if fashioned by great ideas and themes from other contemporary films.

The bottom line: Spirited

Movie Review: Where to Invade Next

Michael Moore's latest documentary, Where to Invade Next, has a very similar format and slant to Sicko. Instead of contrasting medical aid schemes and healthcare policy with other first world countries, he's decided to rather stake a claim over other countries great ideas.

Using an American flag, he travels Europe and Northern Africa planting it once he's established that the idea could be feasible for America. France, Germany, Finland, Norway, Italy, Portugal, Iceland and Tunisia are his hunting grounds, where he investigates law, prison, gender politics, education and healthcare systems. Each investigation first explores what the big idea is through charts and interviews with insiders and then contrasts with United States, using a critical yet humorous tone, typical of Michael Moore.

Moore's documentaries usually are quite one-sided and Where to Invade Next is no different, delivering a perspective that he refers to as "picking the flowers, not the weeds". Being quite open about his method makes it easier to roll with his "worldwide" scramble for great ideas. While it has a similar format to Sicko, the tone is much more constructive, funny and optimistic. Instead of berating the United States and criticising it to the point of being labelled anti-American, he has chosen a much more relatable stance. The attitude behind Where to Invade Next feels more like a brainstorming session on a whiteboard than a direct attack.

Where to Invade Next Movie Review

"Friends, Romans, countrymen... lend America your ideas."

Just like Donald Trump's "let's make America great again" campaign slogan, Moore is concerned with proffering hope rather than simply poking fun. The collection of ideas demonstrate that these systems are currently in operation and seem to be working effectively based on the evidence. These are fairly broad brush strokes, not really taking into account any of the sub factors, but providing enough thought-provoking sentiment to spark the right conversations. His documentary does get quite provocative that times, touching on the Norwegian prison system in the wake of the 2011 massacre and unfurling his conspiracy behind the "War on Drugs' in the United States under Nixon.

Moore adopts a fairly casual approach to his interviews and has a good-natured sense of humour, not afraid to self-deprecate or applaud/tease his interviewees. He's not quite as funny as Ali G, but manages to keep things fairly grounded and easy-going. The incredulous tone, the eye-opening ideas in action and the express tour keep things upbeat and fairly brisk, however as a documentary it runs a bit long at two hours. The format's trademark Michael Moore style makes it more of the same for his fans and even while he has to use a makeshift pole for each flag planting to keep the concept alive, it works.

While not quite as shocking or accusatory as Sicko, Where to Invade Next makes a delightful follow-up, which picks up on the healthcare niche and broadens it to explore other key governmental departments. It's more accessible, simply because he's not just pointing (or flipping) the finger, but asking the right questions. It's a much more positive angle, and while it doesn't have the same snarky vibe as his previous films, it's hugely entertaining and will have audiences from just about every country wondering why their government doesn't take a page too.

The bottom line: Thought-provoking

Talking Movies with Spling - Twee Grade van Moord, Youth and Solace

Spling reviews Twee Grade van Moord, Youth and Solace as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

Movie Review: A Bigger Splash

A Bigger Splash is an exotic new paradise drama turned psychological thriller from director Luca Guadagnino. 'Erotic' may be a better word to use, because A Bigger Splash is a sensuous and seductive film that doesn't shy away from skin or touch.

It's loosely based on Jacques Deray’s The Swimming Pool and shares its title with David Hockney's pop artwork, which depicts a pool with a diving board, set against a penthouse and palm trees using simple opaque colours and straight lines, whilst a splash of explosive white water takes our attention. While there aren't any humans in Hockney's famous picture, Guadagnino has filled his with Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson and Ralph Fiennes.

The story, while light on plotting, follows the secluded vacation of a famous rock star and a filmmaker, which is disrupted by the unexpected visit of an old friend and his daughter. The once peaceful and idyllic seaside holiday gets railroaded by a blast from the past as flashbacks explain the baggage and present day turmoil as ulterior motives and temptation threatens to ruin everything.

A Bigger Splash echoes Kubrick's Lolita, Linklater's Before Midnight and Polanski's Chinatown. These great filmmakers get a tip of the hat as Guadagnino carves his own path, leaning on elements from these iconic films. The sultry forbidden romance and temptation at the heart of Lolita is on show, the meandering dialogue, storytelling and laid-back Italian volcanic island setting of Pantelleria, off the Sicilian coast echoes Before Midnight, while the drama's twists-and-turns and sweltering atmosphere pay homage to Chinatown.

A Bigger Splash

"Eat your heart out, Katrina..."

We're treated to fine performances from a stellar cast as Swinton works her nuanced magic as a recovering David Bowie meets Lady Gaga style rock star, while a quietly confident Schoenaerts and flamboyant Fiennes scuffle for her attentions. Swinton always delivers and in this film, she gets a chance to express herself almost without words, owing to her character's condition. Margot Robbie was originally set to star in this film, but the mantle was passed on to Dakota Johnson, who really owns the part as a not-so-innocent temptress. Fiennes is a repressed jack-in-the-box making up for lost time and his dance to The Rolling Stones and flippant energy is almost worth the admission alone as he provides much of the get-go to this meandering film.

Guadagnino has a great eye for what works visually, concocting a provocative and sleek psychological drama thriller through sexy visuals and firm direction with a beautiful volcanic island backdrop. The undercover travelogue is our bread-and-butter as we too get a chance to enjoy the summer holiday escape along with the actors, who immerse themselves in their characters, embracing the whole experience. The innate pleasures and hedonistic reverberations are in full effect as every scene tries to take you there by activating your senses.

It's all about living life to the full and being present in the moment, which means that if you're expecting conventional structure you may be disappointed. The third act doesn't really build to the crescendo you'd imagine, but remains thought-provoking with an interesting social commentary relating to passport control. It's the sort of film you should watch in your bathing costume... probably with a chaperone.

The bottom line: Sensuous

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