Ruby is the new Orange is the New Black

June 12, 2015

blog 2015 ruby rose

Australian fans of the acclaimed US prison drama Orange is the New Black are likely to be taking a sickie and turning off their phones on Friday June 12, because the entire third season of the series will be going to air on Foxtel station Showcase from 2pm that afternoon (as well as on streaming service Netflix).

And among the familiar faces at Litchfield Penitentiary will be a new inmate played by someone local audiences will instantly recognise.

Best known here as a model, presenter, ambassador and activist, Ruby Rose is adding a new string to her bow by joining the show’s cast.

As Stella Carlin, Rose will become entangled in a love triangle with fellow convicts Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) and Alex Vause (Laura Prepon). But beyond that, not much is known about Stella, so what can Rose tell us about this character?

“Well, congratulations, you now know everything I’m allowed to tell you!” laughed Rose. “We want everyone to find out about her as the story unfolds. But Stella has been a pleasure to play – she’s very witty, charming and charismatic, and she’s involved in a storyline that is exciting and a bit fiery. It’s always good to ruffle some feathers when you’re new to a show.”

Something Rose can discuss, however, is how she became part of Orange is the New Black’s cast.

“I’d made and released a short film called Break Free, an autobiographical sort of film about my thoughts on gender roles and gender fluidity, and it went crazily viral – it was watched by millions of people on social media and YouTube,” she said.

“And after that happened I was contacted by my manager, who had heard from this amazing casting director who casts Orange is the New Black and Girls and a lot of great shows, and she asked if I’d be willing to audition for the character of Stella. I’m such a huge fan of Orange that I jumped at the opportunity.

“I mean, the show is full of such great characters, and it has this amazing dynamic where it’s so perfectly real and dark and emotional but it can then switch to being light-hearted and funny and ridiculous.

“It was my first-ever television binge-watch – I started watching on a Sunday and before I knew what had happened it was Tuesday! But it also spoke to me because it covers everybody – every possible demographic of sexuality, ethnicity, age. I relate to so many different people on it.”

Despite receiving only two pages of script and almost no information about Stella, Rose nailed the audition and won the role, and from there it was a whirlwind process of getting on-set and getting into character. Given the much-publicised camaraderie of Orange is the New Black cast and crew, one can only assume she was immediately made welcome.

“No, they were horrible,” she deadpanned, before breaking into a laugh.

“I remember reading things like that as well – I found out everything I possibly could about the making of the show before my first day on-set, and I hoped it was true. It couldn’t have been more true, because I’ve never met so many beautiful, kind supportive women. And to welcome me like they were waiting for me and to make me feel like I’d been there for years, it was better than I could imagine.”


February 18, 2015

saul 3

You may have heard the phrase ‘Same same but different’ in your travels – basically, it means that what you’re being offered bears some similarity to something you know but it’s not exactly the real thing.

Now, normally this phrase applies to items like knockoff Rolexes, and it’s not necessarily an indication of quality merchandise.

But it struck me as perhaps the best way to describe Better Call Saul, the new drama series focusing on Saul Goodman, the somewhat shady lawyer who helped Breaking Bad’s Walter White navigate his way through the criminal underworld.

The spirit of Breaking Bad, one of the smartest, toughest and most rewarding TV series of the last decade, is evident in Better Call Saul. In terms of its tone and its style, they’re definitely kin.

However, while Saul shares many traits with Bad, especially in how the frustrations of a life of quiet desperation to edge even a well-meaning person towards the dark side, this new series is very much its own thing as well.

The character of Saul Goodman, played by Bob Odenkirk, was very much comic relief in the Breaking Bad universe, the lawyer’s tacky taste and dubious methods often providing a welcome respite for the escalating grimness and tension of Walter White’s descent into corruption.

And I must admit, when I first heard about plans for a prequel series that would focus on Saul’s early years, prior to his involvement with Walter, I was sceptical. I enjoyed Odenkirk’s work but imagined that a show revolving solely around him would be glib and insubstantial.

I was wrong.

saul 1

Based on the first couple of episodes I’ve seen, this is some top-shelf television right here – beautifully made, eloquently written, tremendously performed, piercingly sad, wonderfully funny, thoroughly gripping.

And holding it all together is Odenkirk, who does a better job than I could ever have hoped for. That sounds patronising, I know, but I found myself stunned by the way the actor gracefully shifts between tones, playing scenes with a broad, clownish theatricality one moment, a devastating and heartbreaking subtlety the next.

Just as playing Walter White gave Bryan Cranston the opportunity to demonstrate range and skill hitherto unseen by audiences, Better Call Saul provides Odenkirk with a magnificent showcase for his abilities. This is his moment, and he makes the absolute most of it.

Set a decade or so before his Breaking Bad introduction, Better Call Saul sees Odenkirk’s character in his previous life as Jimmy McGill, a small-time lawyer eking out a meagre existence as a public defender when he’s not desperately trying to snare a better class of clientele.

When that fails, well, Jimmy’s not above pulling a scam or two. But when a scheme involving a staged traffic accident goes south, he finds himself entangled with the wrong crowd.

And while Jimmy talks his way out of a shallow grave in the New Mexico desert, his new acquaintances recognise that his legal expertise and connections could come in handy.

That’s the beginning of Jimmy’s journey, which will eventually see him become Saul Goodman, morally-challenged middleman for the criminal element. Watching him blunder his way into trouble and bluster his way out is going to be a hell of a good ride.

One other thing: Odenkirk has a very distinctive voice, and I’m sure I’m not the only person who heard the Pratt Promises (from the classic sketch-comedy series Mr Show) when Jimmy pulled out the old video of his Saul Goodman TV spots in Better Call Saul‘s first episode.


October 12, 2014

blog 2014 judge poster

Robert Downey Jr is in an unusual position. Regarded for years as a wildly talented actor who couldn’t quite crack the A-list, he finally became a bona fide star when he strapped on the Iron Man armour.

Now, with a number of superhero adventures (not to mention a successful Sherlock Holmes franchise) to his name, RDJ has to re-establish his credibility as an actor.

I object

I object

And is there any better way to do that than a family drama/legal thriller combo that allows him to showcase his cheeky charm and acting prowess?

Actually, there probably is. Because The Judge is a bit of a mess.

Sprawling and unwieldy, this movie is frustrating because it manages to generate a fair amount of good will, thanks to a strong cast and an intriguing plot, before squandering that good will. It then wins some back before frittering it away again.

At the core of The Judge is a potentially compelling tale of personal and professional redemption, but it’s clouded by bad creative decisions and cluttered by unnecessary subplots.

Downey Jr’s Hank Palmer is a hotshot big-city lawyer whose sleek courtroom facade hides the fact that his private life is less than ideal.

The death of his mother sees his return to his small hometown for her funeral, and a confrontation with his estranged father Joseph (Robert Duvall), the local judge.

The Man

The Man

After a brief and painful reunion, Hank is ready to leave and never look back. But then Joseph is arrested in connection with the death of a recently-released convict with whom the judge had an infamously bad history.

The local lawyer Joseph hires means well but is clearly out of his depth, and Hank soon steps in to defend his father.

But between their animosity and anger, the holes in the judge’s story and the efforts of a determined prosecutor (a well-cast Billy Bob Thornton), it’s far from an open-and-shut case.

The Judge’s biggest failing is that it doesn’t trust its audience. Director David Dobkin hammers home every plot twist and emotional beat with little regard for subtlety, and for every time his approach works there are maybe two or three where it just feels heavy-handed.

Yes, I know, we'd all rather be watching this Judge

Yes, I know, we’d all rather be watching this Judge

The same could be said for Downey Jr, who relies on many of his old tricks, some of which are starting to seem a bit old-hat.

However, there are scenes, especially when he has to spar with the talented likes of Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio or Duvall (who is superb here – both intimidating and heartbreaking), when you’re reminded that RDJ can be an actor to be reckoned with.


October 12, 2014

blog 2014 drac poster

I don’t know about you, but I’m automatically inclined to give any movie with lines of dialogue like “My fellow Transylvanians…” or “It’s true! He’s a monster!” the benefit of the doubt.

That’s why I can’t completely dismiss Dracula Untold, a moody, melodramatic revamp (ha!) of the monstrous horror story, even if it’s a fairly run-of-the-mill tale of a man who becomes a bloodsucking beast for all the right reasons.

Kiss Kiss Fang Fang

Kiss Kiss Fang Fang

Back in the 15th century, Transylvanian prince Vlad (Luke Evans from the Hobbit movies) has put his violent past as battlefield brute Vlad the Impaler behind him, wishing only to bring peace to his people.

The villainous Turks, however, are in the business of conquering the world, and they want child soldiers to fortify their ranks, so they’re out to take a thousand young Transylvanians, including Vlad’s young son.

Our hero isn’t standing for that, but he’s going to need supernatural assistance if he wants to vanquish the hordes led by Mehmet (Dominic Cooper, whose copious amounts of fake tan and eyeliner deserve their own screen credit).

Think Coop used whatever bronzer Edgerton didn't use up making EXODUS

Think Coop used whatever bronzer Edgerton didn’t use up making EXODUS

So he ventures into a dark cave inhabited by a vampiric creature (Charles Dance, presumably because Bill Nighy was unavailable for once) and strikes a terrible bargain, sacrificing a piece of his soul in return for the power to singlehandedly fight an army.

I woke up (from the eternal slumber of the undead) like this

I woke up (from the eternal slumber of the undead) like this

There’s a catch, of course: if Vlad can go three days without tasting human blood, he’ll revert to his human self.

Easier said than done, though, because with a vampire’s power comes a vampire’s insatiable thirst…

More a Lord of the Rings knock-off than a spooky horror movie in terms of its tone and style, Dracula Untold works as a perfectly serviceable origin story for a brooding anti-hero (bat-man begins, maybe?) whose bad deeds are balanced by a good heart.

It’s a bit florid at times, but that’s perhaps to be expected given the genre, and the lead actors respond to it with an appropriately hammy sincerity.

Leading the charge is Evans, who has all the necessary attributes for such a role: a gym-built physique, a nice line in pained facial expressions and a raspy, gravelly voice that sounds like he could use a Butter Menthol or two.


September 25, 2014

blog 2014 equalizer poster

I’ve never been much of a mathematician but even I can tell the numbers in The Equalizer don’t quite add up.

You see, Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) understandably takes umbrage when Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), the sweet young hooker who frequents McCall’s favourite all-night diner, ends up in the hospital after a vicious beating from some vile Russian mobsters.

When his attempts to negotiate a reasonable solution fall on deaf ears, McCall does what he does best: he kills the absolute hell out of the bad guys.

And when more violent Russians come to town, well, McCall kills them too.

Don’t get me wrong, anyone who beats up Chloe Grace Moretz deserves everything that’s coming to them.

But as The Equalizer goes on its merrily brutal way, it begins to feel like the movie would be more accurately titled Denzel Washington Slaughters Everyone. (A title that would certainly have me lining up at the box-office, by the way.)

"You'll have to speak up, I'm nearly 60 years old. Also, I'm about to get stabby"

“You’ll have to speak up, I’m nearly 60 years old. Also, I’m about to get stabby”

I have to say, I really enjoyed The Equalizer, and not only because it finds some inventively nasty ways for Washington’s McCall to take out the trash.

Loosely based on the ‘80s TV series, which starred a steely Edward Woodward as McCall, it nimbly walks the line separating ridiculous and ridiculously awesome (okay, it sometimes stumbles into ridiculous territory), and occasionally displays a subtlety and intelligence that is most welcome.

Its rock-solid foundation is Washington, who imbues his subdued, secretive superman with some extremely interesting shading.

Looks like someone's gonna be doin' some equalizin'

Looks like someone’s gonna be doin’ some equalizin’

McCall has a murky past – it’s hinted he did the government’s dirty work, and was very good at it – and a guilty conscience, and he’s attempting to make amends by living a quiet, almost monastic life, working by day at a Bunnings-style hardware store and spending sleepless nights reading classic books.

Of course, that all changes after he singlehandedly wipes out that bunch of high-powered Russian gangsters, resulting in the arrival in town of ruthless enforcer Teddy (a vividly evil Marton Csokas).

The funny thing is, he only wanted the Chinese symbol for 'courage' when he went in

The funny thing is, he only wanted the Chinese symbol for ‘courage’ when he went in

It’s a bit of a rush when The Equalizer breaks out the big guns (and any other device that becomes a lethal weapon in McCall’s hands), but the movie is equally effective when it’s a cat-and-mouse game between two well-matched adversaries.

Training Day director Antoine Fuqua gives these scenes a taut intensity, making them just as gripping as the sequences where McCall demonstrates his savage skill-set.

The only problem here is, the character does such a definitive job of eliminating his enemies this time around that you have to wonder how the stakes will be raised in the inevitable sequel.

By the way, there’s something missing from The Equalizer – Stewart Copeland’s utterly boss theme tune from the original series. Don’t sweat it, kids, I got you covered.


September 25, 2014

blog 2014 sin city poster

Welcome to Basin City, where every side of the tracks is the wrong side of the tracks!

Here dying is as easy as living, killing is as easy as breathing, there’s a stereotype on every street corner and the local currency is the cliché.

Ah, but at least one resident of Basin City has a dark sense of humour, because they’ve snuck out to the city limits and scratched out the first two letters on the sign welcoming newcomers to town. Ha-ha-ha! Get it? Sin City!

Yeah, we get it.

You may have guessed by now that I didn’t think much of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, the sequel to the hard-boiled 2005 comic-book adaptation Sin City. And you’d have guessed correctly.

The first Sin City, co-directed by the increasingly hacky Robert Rodriguez and the increasingly nutty comic-book writer-artist Frank Miller, was no masterpiece – in fact, it was a slick film-noir knockoff that lamely attempted to shock with sex and violence when it wasn’t striking silly poses and muttering cheap one-liners.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, once again co-helmed by Rodriguez and Miller, makes its predecessor look like a masterpiece.

The film’s four vaguely intersecting stories take place on the mean streets inhabited by the likes of grotesque brawler Marv (Mickey Rourke, wearing disfiguring make-up…or is he?) and traumatised stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba, continuing her stellar run of mediocre performances) and the corridors of power commanded by the evilest man alive, Senator Roark (Powers Boothe, whose suave bastardry is one of the movie’s few virtues).

Don't be looking so pleased with yourself there, Mick. You're in a SIN CITY movie

Don’t be looking so pleased with yourself there, Mick. You’re in a SIN CITY movie

There are a few familiar faces from the first Sin City – the afore-mentioned Marv and Nancy, not to mention a snoozy cameo from the ever-uninterested Bruce Willis – but there are also a few new kids in town, such as cocky gambler Johnny (a well-cast Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and femme fatale Ava Lord (Eva Green).

The titular dame to kill for, Ava may be the best reason to see this movie, and not just because of the character’s disdain for clothing.

Shot through the heart/And you're to blame

Shot through the heart/And you’re to blame

It’s because Green finds the sweet spot between larger-than-life performance and genuine acting, occasionally and fleetingly turning this leaden junk into solid gold.

Without her and a few others, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For would be nothing more than a strutting, preening buffoon of a movie, a spineless wimp posing as a tough guy.

That Ansel’s so hot right now: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS’ Ansel Elgort

June 16, 2014

2014 blog fault poster

The internet will go crazy on any given day, but it definitely lit up like Christmas the day Ansel Elgort landed the role of Augustus Waters, the charm-bomb male lead of The Fault in Our Stars, the film based on John Green’s phenomenally popular young-adult novel. A bestseller before it even hit the shelves, the story of the romance between two teenage cancer patients has been printed in a dozen languages worldwide and generated a devoted online fan base (Google ‘fault in our stars tumblr’ and brace yourself for more than 21 million results).

Elgort knew The Fault in Our Stars was popular. But he admits he didn’t really grasp just how popular it was until it was officially announced that he’d be portraying Augustus, who has an irrepressible joie de vivre despite losing half a leg to cancer. “I couldn’t believe it,” he says of the response. “Tons of people were enthusiastic but there were also people who were worried or upset, and that was pretty cool too because any display of emotion or opinion showed that people were devoted to this story. I knew what I was getting myself into but I also had this feeling of ‘What am I getting myself into?’”

The high-profile role of Augustus has come along relatively quickly in Elgort’s screen career – he made his film debut opposite Chloe Grace Moretz in the recent Carrie remake – but the 20-year-old actor has years of training and a number of stage roles to his credit, so while he felt slightly daunted by the prospect of appearing in something as eagerly anticipated as The Fault in Our Stars he was also ready for it.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time but I also waited for the right moment to really start my professional career,” he says. “I felt like I was ready when I was cast as Augustus, and I was so excited. I really couldn’t wait to do these scenes.”

You probably can't blame the dude for looking a little pleased with himself

You probably can’t blame the dude for looking a little pleased with himself

In winning the heart of Hazel Grace Lancaster, played by Shailene Woodley, Elgort has to be…well, absurdly lovable – totally confident and self-assured while utterly devoted to the young woman he falls for. It’s a role that could be way too Manic Pixie Dream Boy in the wrong hands, and Elgort was extremely aware of the need to find just the right balance.

“A lot of characters you can play any way you want, but Augustus is so iconic to the book’s readers,” he says. “Underplay him and he’s flat and boring. Overplay him and he’s unbearable. If you don’t like him the movie sucks, right? It was tough, definitely, but it’s not my job to decide who he is but to make him real. The book is told from Hazel’s point of view, so you don’t really know Augustus that well, and there are a lot of empty spots I had to fill myself. You know how he is through Hazel’s eyes but I can’t only rely on that. You know, when they first meet, he probably wants to hook up with her. He’s a boy! He’s not the perfect guy she sees him as. Without that kind of colouring, their relationship would seem false.”

“By the way,” he adds with a laugh, “I never told Shailene any of that!”

BFF, apparently

BFF, apparently

The Fault in Our Stars marks the second time Elgort and Woodley have worked together (they played brother and sister in the dystopian thriller Divergent), and the two share a natural, remarkable chemistry. Not surprisingly, the two get along like a house on fire off-screen as well. “As work partners and best friends we get along very well and we trust one another,” says Elgort. “I used to think I shouldn’t talk about the times we’ve argued on-set but when I look at the scenes we’ve shot after we’ve disagreed they really work, and they work because best friends have their differences as well as the things they have in common. You have to be very comfortable with someone in order to challenge them, and that’s important for something like The Fault in Our Stars. So many love stories are bullshit, where two good-looking people fall in love, kiss at the end and everything is perfect, but this isn’t that kind of love story.”