Movie Review – The Lovebirds

The Lovebirds does indeed feature a pair of lovers. Unfortunately, they deserve a better screenplay.

⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Oh, how I wish I could recommend a movie simply for its humour and the cheerful chemistry between its actors, without any regard for its plot, vision or design. Not every movie is fortunate enough to be well-rounded, but the good ones at least have a story engaging enough to satisfy us till the end.

The Lovebirds, directed by Michael Showalter, has no such story. Instead, it scribbles together a skeleton plot, ripped from many other comedies in which goofy innocents are wrongfully accused, and watches happily as its cast squares off in a manic joke-athon.

The entire picture is one saggy clothesline on which an endless stream of verbal riffs and sight gags are hung, culminating in a climax that is neither clever, fun nor unexpected. It has an originality rating of about zero. Thankfully, though, it knows how to be funny, mainly because its two lead actors know how to be funny. More importantly, they know how to be funny with each other.

Kumail Nanjiani plays Jibran, a documentary filmmaker in New Orleans who hates reality TV. Issa Rae plays Leilani, his girlfriend of four years who yearns to be on The Amazing Race. You can see where they have problems.

They are so different in fact that one day, on their way to a dinner party, they decide to break things off. Just then, they are carjacked by a man claiming to be a cop (Paul Sparks) who has to hunt down and apprehend a fleeing cyclist. After catching up to and running the poor cyclist over multiple times instead, the man splits, leaving Jibran and Leilani as the primary suspects of a gruesome murder.

I dunno, does all this sound familiar? The rest of The Lovebirds is spent hurriedly following the hapless, bickering couple across the city as they try to solve the murder themselves while evading the cops, occasionally stopping for obligatory interludes that have to remind them of all the lovey-dovey reasons they got together in the first place.

The movie is essentially an exercise in behaviour and verbal agility. There must’ve been hours and hours poured into the screenplay, yet it feels like Showalter yelled “Action!” at the start of production, sat back and allowed Nanjiani and Rae to improvise everything, then yelled “Cut!” after 86 minutes. Nothing truly hilarious or exciting ever happens, not even when Jibran and Leilani stumble into a secret cult and become witnesses to an orgy.

The plot is dead on arrival. The developments that take the bumbling duo from one lead to another are uninspired. I don’t know why it took the two of them four years to realise their differences. I don’t like the way the movie so neatly ties up everything in the end, given the messy way it all began. What I do like, and enjoyed very much, is the easy chemistry between Nanjiani and Rae. They are cute together, really funny, and when they make each other laugh, I completely get why.

The Lovebirds is available on Netflix Australia from May 22

Images courtesy of Netflix Inc.

Movie Review – Hearts and Bones

Nothing ruins a feature debut premiere quite like a global pandemic. Fortunately, you can stream Ben Lawrence’s AACTA-nominated drama on digital right now.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

Dan (Hugo Weaving) is a photojournalist whose work is not for the faint of heart. His pictures capture some of the most harrowing and confronting visuals of war zones around the world. As he prepares an exhibition showcasing his life’s work, he meets Sebastian (Andrew Luri), a Sudanese taxi driver who has learned that Dan possesses photos of the massacre that took place in his home village years beforehand. The two men and their families become friends, but dark secrets of the past are unearthed and threaten to unravel their lives when Sebastian asks Dan to keep the photos in question away from the eyes of the public.

Given its exploration of the life and impact of a photojournalist’s work, it’s no surprise to learn that director Ben Lawrence worked as a photographer and documentary filmmaker before his feature debut Hearts and Bones. Lawrence has reused the themes of long-gestating grief and trauma explored in his doco Ghosthunter for dramatic effect to create an impressive original story for his first fictional film.

For Weaving, Dan is a rich role that shakes the stern stoicism he’s made so much of his career perfecting. Professional on the outside, he’s in fact a deeply unstable human being, battling an increasingly all-consuming PTSD from the horrors he’s witnessed, his declining health, and the fears of his wife’s (Hayley McElhinney, also great) new pregnancy – given he’s still grieving over the premature death of their last baby.

Matching the veteran actor – incredibly, for his first time acting – is Luri, whose Sebastian is just as emotionally fractured, despite his happy demeanour. He’s reformed, as Dan sees, through his comfortable family life and joyous African community choir, but the pictures Dan plans to show the world could reveal a past Sebastian worked hard to bury. Tensions boil and violence looms between the pair, with both actors playing off each other and their respective wives to draw a great deal of depth and complexity out of a relatively small and contemplative drama.

It’s great that its layered characters are so strong because the potentially ripe subject matter remains pretty surface level. The opening moments – in which Dan hurriedly scopes out the scene of a brutal car wreckage to take death shots before the police arrive – promise a Nightcrawler-style exposure of the dark extremes journalism can go to, that is never delivered upon. It’s also a little surprising that visually, it’s a little bland, given Lawrence’s background behind the camera.

But for a narrative debut, Hearts and Bones is well-executed, and as an acting showcase and character thought-piece, it’s largely applaudable.

Hearts and Bones is available on iTunes, YouTube, GooglePlay and the Microsoft Store in Australia from 6 May 2020

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment

New Movies Now On Digital – The Hunt, Onward, The Way Back

While some studios have opted to delay the release of films that were due to hit Australian cinemas this Autumn, others have chosen to go straight to digital. The Hunt, Onward and The Way Back can now be accessed online from the comfort of isolation, but should you invest your time in any one of these new movies?

Rhys Pascoe

The Hunt
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Director: Craig Zobel
Starring: Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, Emma Roberts
Runtime: 90 minutes

Snobbish liberals kidnap salt-of-the-earth blue collar Joes from the ‘flyover States’ and hunt them for sport on a remote woodland estate. That’s the core concept behind Craig Zobel’s political satire The Hunt, which sparked a fiery rebuke from President Trump last year and has been mired in controversy ever since.

However, that online firestorm was entirely misplaced and misguided – not unlike a lot of what Trump spouts on Twitter. The commander-in-chief’s core complaint was that Zobel’s film glorifies the killing of MAGA (Make America Great Again) wackos, which it definitely does not. In fact, both sides of the political spectrum get a pasting in The Hunt, and this is largely down to the broad brush Zobel and screenwriters Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof (HBO’s Watchmen, The Leftovers) are painting with.

The Hunt isn’t a razor-sharp scalpel that delicately peels back the layers of contemporary political discourse; it’s a blunt instrument that knocks you over the head with punchy action, schlocky gore and plenty of heightened drama. It’s a garish blunderbuss pointed in our direction, and if you get hurt in the crossfire, that’s on you. It is packed to the rafters with abrasive internet lingo, with phrases like ‘globalist cuck’, ‘liberal elite’, ‘deplorable’ and ‘deep state’ bandied around without abandon. Even Sean Hannity gets a mention.

Cutting through the bullshit is a strong lead performance from Betty Gilpin (Netflix’s Glow), who plays Crystal, a steely shotgun-wielding survivor. Gilpin serves as an exasperated audience POV, groaning and rolling her eyes at the colourful weirdos who surround her – played by the likes of Emma Roberts, Ike Barinholtz, Sturgill Simpson and Wayne Duvall. Playing a psychotic villain, Hilary Swank is a notable A-list inclusion – but she feels miscast.

An interesting contemporary spin on The Most Dangerous Game or Battle Royale, The Hunt is a serviceable 90-minute thriller that packs a punch but lacks nuance. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a giant middle finger at both ‘woke’ culture and far-right trolls, so much so that you don’t know whether to laugh, cry or cringe. A bit like reality, to be honest.

Now available on iTunes Australia and the Microsoft Store.
Images © Universal Pictures Australia

Onward
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Director: Dan Scanlon
Starring: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Octavia Spencer
Runtime: 102 minutes

Onward pairs Pixar’s patented mix of heart, humour and gorgeous animation with a familiar Dungeons and Dragons setting populated by pixies, elves, sprites and goblins. In this mystical realm, magic is a mere memory, and the world has mostly moved on. Our hero is awkward elf teen Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland), who is on the cusp on adulthood but struggling to grapple with the practicalities of growing up.

You see, Ian never knew his dad, and has spent his formative years without a father figure to look up to. His older brother Barley (Chris Pratt, with a vocal performance that recalls his work as slacker Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation) is a basement-dwelling dork who drives a dilapidated van, plays with figurines and daydreams of magic quests.

On his sixteenth birthday, Ian is gifted an ancient staff that possesses the power to bring his dad back to life for a day. But a miscast spell leaves him stuck in limbo, so Ian and Barley find themselves in a race against time to find a special gem that will complete the enchantment. 

It goes without saying when discussing Pixar at this point, but the animation in Onward is scarily good. The fantastical world is popping with colour and detail, and there’s no shortage of cute asides that riff on the mix of mystical and the mundane – from unicorns that gnaw away at trash cans like racoons to arcade games with names like ‘Prance Prance Revolution’.

From processing emotions (Inside Out) to dealing with death (Coco), Pixar’s original output has consistently seen the studio tackle mature themes in ways that are compelling and digestible for young minds, and Onward is no different.

Ian serves as an insert for director Dan Scanlon (Monsters University), whose dad passed away when he was just a year old, making this a particularly personal pursuit for the filmmaker. From the moment Ian and Barley embark on their quest to the final scene, Onward is a ‘feels trip’ in every sense of the phrase. Ian overcomes his internal self-doubt en route, but the crux of the film is his relationships with both his layabout brother and the idealistic image of his dad he has in his head.

After one or two scrapes along the way, Scanlon underlines the importance of paternal and fraternal familial frameworks in a touching finale that abounds with swashbuckling adventure and stirring emotion. It may not rate up there with Pixar’s crème de la crème, but Onward sees the studio bring back a spark of that old magic after a slew of sequels.

Now available on Dinsey+, iTunes Australia and the Microsoft Australia.
Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The Way Back
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Starring: Ben Affleck, Janina Gavankar, Al Madrigal
Runtime: 108 minutes

Art isn’t just imitating life in Gavin O’Connor’s The Way Back, where lead actor Ben Affleck’s personal issues are unmistakably intertwined with those of his character in this compelling but formulaic sports drama.

Affleck plays Jack Cunningham, a former high school basketball hero who has turned to drink since his divorce to wife Angela (Janina Gavankar). When his alma mater comes a-calling in search of a coach for its struggling and squabbling basketball squad, Jack is initially reluctant – the last thing he needs right now is to be in the spotlight.

But soon enough Jack is sitting on courtside, coaching a rabble of rowdy teens whose talent isn’t reflected by their lacklustre results. The aim is to reach the playoffs for the first time in years, forcing Jack to quash his own issues, and instead put his heart and soul into moulding young minds.

Affleck – who has been in and out rehab over the years, most notably right before making this film – is clearly wrestling with some personal demons here. He’s a million miles from the hulking beefcake who played Batman not so long ago, and is clearly drawing from something raw and real to add depth and nuance to Jack’s redemption journey. Having veered from tabloid fodder to Oscar-winning producer and back again, Affleck is no stranger to staggering comeback stories – his career has seen plenty of highs (Good Will Hunting, Argo, Gone Girl) and lows (Daredevil, Pearl Harbour, Live By Night) over the years.

The Way Back definitely belongs in the former category, as slick direction from O’Connor and a compelling performance from Affleck see the film transcend a paint-by-numbers script by Brad Ingelsby (Run All Night). Granted, most sports films often follow a strict formula, and Ingelsby is clearly colouring within those well-worn lines – from the initial ‘refusal of the call’ to the stirring midpoint montage where things start to trend upward.

All of the basketball scenes are coated in a thick layer of sweet sentimentality, complete with stirring and manipulative musical cues from Rob Simonsen. There’s passion and emotion aplenty, but it’s easy to see O’Connor and co pulling on the heartstrings like master puppeteers.

A modest yet moving sports drama that has sadly fallen by the wayside in light of COVID-19, The Way Back sees Sad Affleck make an emotive comeback, and it’s the best thing he has put his name to in years.

Now available on iTunes Australia, Google Play, Microsoft Store and YouTube
Image courtesy of Roadshow Entertainment

Now Streaming: Indiana Jones & The Mummy

If you’re home and in the mood for some swashbuckling archaeological throwbacks, Netflix has two killer classics for you to enjoy in isolation.

Zachary Cruz-Tan

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

“When Raiders of the Lost Ark appeared, it defined a new energy level for adventure movies; it was a delirious breakthrough. But there was no way for Spielberg to top himself”, wrote Roger Ebert when he reviewed Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989.

True, but Last Crusade has something Raiders didn’t, something Temple of Doom (1984) attempted to remedy semi-successfully with Short Round: Indy’s perfect foil.

Enter, Sean Connery. Perhaps the best thing to happen to the franchise since the melting Nazi faces. Connery, as Indy’s clueless but often resourceful father, adds a spark to the movie unsurpassed by anyone else the series has to offer. He develops a chemistry with Harrison Ford so natural, so convincing and gleefully entertaining that the film kicks up a gear whenever he’s on screen. His proper introduction in the German castle and the ensuing motorcycle chase contain some of his funniest exchanges.

He inhabits the role with a kind of joy. Connery has always been able to determine exactly what a part requires of him and tune his performance accordingly. In Last Crusade, he is so complete you’d think he was a series regular, and it’s this very comfort that convinces us he’s Indy’s dad, Marcus Brody’s old friend, a true historian and an explorer capable of accepting the supernatural.

Of course, none of this would matter if the movie as a whole didn’t work. Last Crusade does everything an Indiana Jones movie must do and includes all the sensational chases and nail-biting stunts that made Raiders great (in some cases, like the sequence involving the tank, it is even better than Raiders). And this time, Indy actually has a profound effect on the outcome of the story. It is a full-blooded, often hilarious adventure, my favourite of the lot, and in casting Sean Connery, I think Spielberg has indeed topped himself.

The Mummy

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Here is a movie that has aged superbly, retaining its humour and dogged atmosphere of eerie thrills more than twenty years on from its original release. The Mummy, which I hesitate to admit kept me awake for two weeks straight after I saw it for the first time in 1999, has grown for me into a balanced cocktail of fun and dread. The kind of adventure movie that can have you hiding behind your fingers one moment and laughing out loud the next.

It’s all incredibly preposterous and has very little in common with Universal’s original Mummy movie with Boris Karloff, but it’s directed by Stephen Sommers, who is, let’s say, a little rough around the edges and not primarily concerned with making great movies. I’m actually thankful for that, because this Mummy would’ve shrivelled up and died if anyone working on it had taken it seriously.

Sommers brings great energy to this picture, which is all about ancient Egyptian curses and creatures returning from the dead and our heroes reciting the wrong sacred passages from the wrong sacred books to accidentally unleash all the wrong kinds of phenomena.

It’s standard fare but incredibly fun, particularly because Brendan Fraser, as the Indiana Jones-like swashbuckler Rick O’Connell, is endlessly charming, hilarious, and convincing in action. He is the bond that holds the set pieces together. The visual effects, too, have held up considerably well, and Sommers along with his cinematographer Adrian Biddle have done a masterful job of framing beautiful but claustrophobic spaces for their characters to get lost in.

The Mummy looks and feels just right. It’s breezy and enjoyable, and suitably chilling. The more ridiculous but less coherent The Mummy Returns followed two years later, also directed by Sommers, with the same cast, but it hasn’t stood the test of time as elegantly.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade & The Mummy are now streaming on Netflix in Australia.

Images courtesy of Netflix Australia, Paramount Home Entertainment and Universal Pictures Video

Movie Review – Horse Girl

Being trapped in quarantine means being trapped inside your own head for a lot of people, so what better way to stimulate the mind than a film about a psychological breakdown? No, Alison Brie does not neigh.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Shy and introverted Sarah (Alison Brie) lives an unglamorous life, spending her days working at a craft store and her evenings alone watching reruns of her favourite cop show. Her peculiarities begin to frustrate those around her – particularly the stable owners of a horse that was once hers (who she continues to visit), and her roommate Nikki (Debby Ryan), who sets Sarah up with her boyfriend’s roommate in an attempt to get her out of the house. But Sarah’s issues boil much deeper below the surface, and as her weird ticks turn into sleepwalking, losing time and seeing people from her dreams, she begins to succumb to paranoia and slowly lose her mind.

If you’ve only ever witnessed Alison Brie as Community’s compulsive, naïve over-achiever Annie Edison, or in her myriad of supporting romantic comedy roles, her anxiety-addled turn in Netflix’s Horse Girl is likely to rattle you at least a little. Directed by Jeff Baena (Life After Beth, The Little Hours) and co-written by Brie and Baena, it’s a brave and mature departure from the bubbly, fluffy characters that have become her repertoire, as well as her grittier work on Mad Men and Glow.

Flawed though her first screenplay may be, it’s certainly ambitious in how it tackles untreated schizophrenia. Initially sympathetically nice, but weird enough to be someone you’d keep at arm’s reach, Brie owns and eats up her loner Sarah. She’s the kind of socially awkward girl you feel sorry for, yet there’s always something slightly unnerving behind her doe-eyed stare.

Descents into madness have been done many a time before, but Brie keeps the anxiety high as she slowly unravels unpredictably, from little oddities like sleepwalking and glaring at the wall in the middle of the night, to full-on meltdowns raving about alien abduction and taking her date to a cemetery to dig up her mother. It’s startling and occasionally shocking stuff, and Brie fully commits to it.

Unlike her performance though, she can’t fully commit to her psychological subject. After an interestingly uncertain first half, Horse Girl twists and makes a tonal shift into the surreal that only confuses things and fails to delve deeper into its heavy topic. You could argue this is an artistic decision to put the viewer into the subject’s fractured mindset, but it only serves to frustrate with a lack of answers to any of the intriguing conspiracies it sets up.

Brie paints an earnest and at times somewhat stimulating portrait of a terrible mental condition, but in tackling such a ripe subject, it winds up being scattered and can’t help but feel lacking.

Horse Girl is available on Netflix in Australia

Image courtesy of Netflix Inc Australia



Movie Review – Rear Window (1954)

With most of us confined to our homes for the foreseeable future, I got to thinking – what are some films that are set in the one place?

There’s Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men, which sees, well, 12 angry men confined to a courthouse. There’s John Hughes’ seminal high school classic The Breakfast Club, and Ben Wheatley’s warehouse-set shoot ‘em up Free Fire.

But all of these films follow characters that grapple with fleeting moments of confinement. It’s Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) that elongates this notion of isolation and an inability to move to several days and weeks.

Hitchcock is no stranger to films that are rooted in one place, with 1948’s Rope and 1954’s Dial M for Murder both exploring this concept. But Rear Window is where Hitchcock perfected the technique. So, in keeping with the times, I took another look at Rear Window and came away with a newfound appreciation of this classic.

Rear Window sees magazine photographer L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jefferies (James Stewart) confined to his sweltering New York apartment with a broken leg during a heatwave. Bored and frustrated after several long and sticky weeks confined to a wheelchair, there is little for Jefferies to do but gaze out his rear window at the apartments and people who exist just out of his reach.

Narratively, Rear Window is remarkably simple. Jefferies overhears something grisly in the middle of the night but can’t piece it together in the days that follow. He can only sit there in his pyjamas with his camera, peering down the lens and watching everyone in his neighbourhood like ‘bugs under a glass’. Jefferies is positively bristling at the chance to catch his neighbours in the act, specifically the shifty-looking salesman Thorwald (Raymond Burr) who lives just across the courtyard.

Of course, Hitchcock being Hitchcock, Rear Window doesn’t rebuke this idea or reprimand Jefferies and his accomplices (Grace Kelly’s socialite Lisa and Thelma Ritter’s nurse Stella) for their voyeuristic tendencies. Quite the opposite, in fact. In this perverse reality, the voyeur – and by extension, the audience – is vindicated, as all our suspicions prove well founded. Keep tabs on those across the street, Hitchcock suggests, and you might just sniff out a murderer.

Every open widow tells a different story, but not in full. A lot of the plot is communicated visually and without dialogue. Like Jefferies, the audience is made to join the dots with one arm tied behind our back. A jumped conclusion here, a leap of faith there – and suddenly, the next-door neighbour is a wife killer.

It might not be as scary as Psycho, as thrilling as North by Northwest or as dizzying as Vertigo, but Rear Window is Hitchcock at the top of his game. It might even be my favourite of the lot. It features two terrific performances from an increasingly unhinged Stewart and an otherworldly Kelly respectively, as well as some gorgeous production and costume design. What it has to say about loneliness and isolation is as apt today in our terrifying world of social distancing as it was back in the 50’s.

Stay safe (and sane) while staying home, or you might just start suspecting someone in your street of something strange…

By Rhys Pascoe

Rear Window is available on Amazon Prime and Blu-Ray in Australia.

Image courtesy of Universal Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Australia.

Movie Review – The Matrix (1999)

More than twenty years on, The Matrix remains a sharp, kinetic masterstroke.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

The Matrix arrived at a time of technological uncertainty, just as the millennium was coming to a close and everyone wondered if the clocks would revert to zero and send a burgeoning digital world into chaos. It was about the rise of artificial intelligence and the slavery of the human race. It mirrored the fears and paranoia suffered by an unsure population. It was packaged to look like the coolest video game that had yet to be developed. And for a generation of hungry young moviegoers, it was a formative (and transformative) revelation. At least it was for me.

Unless you were there, in 1999, having witnessed nothing like it before, I doubt I could put The Matrix’s effect into suitable words. It pilfered its premise from other great science-fiction films – notably Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days (1995) and Alex ProyasDark City (1998) – then styled itself not as an acid trip or a neo-noir mystery thriller but as a bible tale drenched in cyberpunk visuals and high-tech kung fu.

It innovated and championed new techniques in filmmaking (slow-motion, “bullet time”, etc), propelled Keanu Reeves into the superstar stratosphere, and seemingly changed the way action movies and science-fiction fantasies could be made.

The story, of course, involves the arrival of a messianic hero called Neo (Reeves), who spends his days as software analyst Thomas Anderson and his nights as a renowned hacker. He is contacted by the enigmatic Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), who believes Neo to be mankind’s prophesied saviour after humans created synthetic intelligence and watched helplessly as it surpassed them, enslaved them, and created the Matrix “dream world” to sedate and exploit them.

All this is basically a clothesline on which the directors, the Wachowskis, pin an inexhaustible number of action sequences, many of which have become iconic in the world of movie magic. There are definitely harsh warnings here about the dangers of tampering with computers and A.I., but it all gets swept up in the euphoria of the effects and the style. This isn’t exactly criticism, but a happy observation of a science-fiction action movie that was done better than anything else of its kind at the time.

Watching the movie again for the bazillionth time, I find that the gunfighting scenes no longer grip me the way they used to. Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen countless copies and rip-offs in the time since, and even though The Matrix executes them well, they have become much of a muchness. The kung fu scenes, however, especially the dojo and subway pieces, remain muscular and, dare I say it, elegant. The choreography by kung fu legend Yuen Woo Ping has lost none of its sharpness.

I still marvel at the ingenuity and effort put into this film. It shook the world so violently that two sequels spawned in its wake and a third is currently set for 2021. All three are needless. The Matrix ended with triumphant satisfaction. It told its story and closed it. Unfortunately. Hollywood believes that what is closed can be opened again, and again, and again, whether we want it to be or not.

The Matrix is now screening on Netflix Australia

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films & Netflix Australia

Movie Review – Birds of Prey

Cathy Yan’s sparkly superhero blockbuster works to entertain, but something about it isn’t quite right.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

I am going to plead the First Amendment of the United States constitution by proxy, because I foresee indignation and furrowed brows at what I’m about to say. Birds of Prey is a fun, buoyant action movie, with lots of colours, vulgarities and impressive stunts. But in its efforts to uplift the role of women in blockbuster entertainment, it somehow feels it necessary to prop them on the backs, shoulders, faces, groins and mangled corpses of men. This is essentially a movie where a posse of spunky chicks beat up on dudes for two hours.

I know I’m wading in dangerous waters here, but let’s face it – there is healthy feminism and toxic feminism, and I doubt true gender equality crusaders would watch a movie like Birds of Prey and feel vindicated. If they do, well, good on them. There is a scene where Harley Quinn storms through a police station to rescue a young girl, and every single cop who tries to stop her is male. Come on. She tears through them like tissue paper. Later, she fights off criminals, bounty hunters and a small army, and I challenge you to count the women.

There is not a single personable, honest man in the entire story. They’re either sleazy douchebags who try to humiliate and take advantage of girls, corrupt police captains who exploit their female officers by stealing their promotions, or they’re the villain, whose sole character trait seems to be flagrant misogyny. There is one good man I can recall. An elderly Chinese restaurant owner. But even he… oh, never mind.

Anyway, the plot. Harley (Margot Robbie) is finally free of her paramour, the Joker, and is trying to go straight. We meet nightclub owner Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), who is after a 30-carat diamond said to be engraved with the passcodes to Gotham’s biggest fortune.

Through developments too complicated to explain, the diamond ends up in the intestinal tract of Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), the young girl from the police station. This sets up a situation where every main character wants Cassandra disembowelled. Her pursuers include Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Roman’s prized lounge act; Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), Roman’s enforcer; Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a lanky badass with a crossbow; and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a disgraced detective determined to bring Harley down.

It’s a wacky plot that ticks all the necessary boxes and supplies our average daily intake of mindless action. Robbie, in the central role, is cute and quirky and looks to be having a good time, mainly because she has to. The real surprise is McGregor, who slips into Roman’s slimy shoes with a kind of gleeful malice the screenplay doesn’t provide, ironically stealing the show.

Look, Birds of Prey has an agenda and is unafraid to say so. If you want feisty, skilful women doing things in action movies previously reserved for macho men, you’d love this. Personally, I preferred Wonder Woman (2017). She was thrust into a world dominated by men and proved she could be powerful and independent without having to belittle them. She understood the strength of mutual respect.

Birds of Prey is available in Australian cinemas from 6 February 2020

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

The Oscars – Who Will Win Vs. Who Should Win

The 92nd Academy Awards are due to start in just over 12 hours! All the action will be happening on Monday morning here in Australia, so before the weekend ends, we thought we’d put in our tips for who is likely to take out some of the top prizes. 

*Winners updated below*

Best Director
And the nominees are…
Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
Todd Phillips, Joker
Sam Mendes, 1917
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Bong Joon Ho, Parasite

OnceUponaTimeInHollywood_August2019

 With the exception of Todd Phillips, this is a really strong category. It’s a shame that some of brilliant female filmmakers who put out films last year – like Greta Gerwig and Lulu Wang – didn’t get nominated. I think a win for Sam Mendes is a foregone conclusion after he won the BAFTA, but if I had to choose I would opt for Quentin Tarantino. He’s overdue a win for directing.

WINNER – Bong Joon Ho, Parasite 

Best Actor
And the nominees are…
Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes

Hookedonfilmwa_Joker_October2019

This is another really strong field of nominees. Joaquin Phoenix will win, but I think Adam Driver is more deserving.

WINNER – Joaquin Phoenix 

Best Actress
And the nominees are…
Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
Charlize Theron, Bombshell
Renée Zellweger, Judy

Hookedonfilmwa_Judy_Oct2019

Renee Zellweger has this one under lock and key. Credit where it’s due, her performance in Judy is transformative.

WINNER – Renee Zellweger 

Best Supporting Actor
And the nominees are…
Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes
Al Pacino, The Irishman
Joe Pesci, The Irishman
Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Now this is a strong bunch of nominees. All five would be worthy winners, but only Brad Pitt has yet to win for acting – and after scoring wins at the SAG Awards, Golden Globes and BAFTAs, I think he has this one in the bag.

WINNER – Brad Pitt 

Best Supporting Actress
And the nominees are…
Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell
Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit
Florence Pugh, Little Women
Margot Robbie, Bombshell

Laura Dern is the favourite here, which is kind of weird – her performance in Marriage Story is good, but nothing special. Florence Pugh was great in Little Women, but I’d like to see ScarJo notch up a win here.

WINNER – Laura Dern 

Best Original Screenplay
And the nominees are…
Knives Out
Marriage Story
1917
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Parasite

Hookedonfilmwa_KnivesOut

Talk about a tough call. I’m going to go out on a limb and tip Parasite for the win, but Rian Johnson’s wickedly clever writing on Knives Out and Quentin Tarantino’s typically compelling work on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood would be worthy winners also.

WINNER – Parasite 

Best Adapted Screenplay
And the nominees are…
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
The Two Popes

JojoRabbit_Hookedonfilmwa

I’m not sure Joker deserves to be here; what is it adapting, exactly? I think Jojo Rabbit will win, but Greta Gerwig’s smart rework of Little Women is more deserving.

WINNER – Jojo Rabbit

Best Editing
And the nominees are…
Ford v Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Parasite

Little Women deserves to be in this category (and it should win too). But, seeing as that won’t happen, I’ll tip the frenetic editing work on James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari in this category.

WINNER – Ford v Ferrari 

Best Cinematography
And the nominees are…
The Irishman
Joker
The Lighthouse
1917
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Another really competitive category. Another win for Roger Deakins (for 1917) is probably on the cards, but I think The Lighthouse would be a very worthy winner also.

WINNER – 1917

Best Picture
And the nominees are…
Ford v Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
Marriage Story
1917
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Parasite

Parasite_June2019

Joker aside, all the nominees this year are great films in their own right. If Mendes wins director and Deakins wins cinematography, I think 1917 will be the safe, solid winner. That said, it isn’t a very exciting choice. Parasite, on the other hand, would be a landmark moment for film, as the first foreign language film to win Best Picture.

WINNER – Parasite

By Rhys Pascoe 

Images courtesy of Madman Entertainment, Walt Disney Motion Pictures Studios, StudioCanal, Universal Pictures, Roadshow Films, Sony Pictures & PxHere 

Movie Review – The Peanut Butter Falcon

Premiering at South by Southwest last year, indie sleeper hit The Peanut Butter Falcon makes its way into Australian cinemas this month.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

Written and directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, The Peanut Butter Falcon centres on Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a 22-year-old with Down Syndrome, who lives in a retirement home in North Carolina. An avid fan of wrestling, Zak is known as a ‘flight risk’ to staff. When he finally flees the facility in the dead of night to seek out his wrestling hero the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church), it’s up to his carer Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) to track him down.

After spending his first night on the run sleeping under a tarp on a fishing boat, Zak crosses paths with thief and fisherman Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), who is on the run himself after upsetting two fellow crabbers. Together, the two outsiders head out in the sticks in search of somewhere to hide, and along the way forge a special friendship.

While Nilson and Schwartz’s twee script isn’t going to win any awards for originality, The Peanut Butter Falcon does win you over through sheer charm and sincerity. Zak and Tyler’s escapades in the woods are wholesome AF. They eat watermelons (and wear them as helmets), use bottles as target practice and work on their secret handshake.

Between this and the recent Honey Boy, LaBeouf continues to take his career in new and interesting directions. Johnson has deftly moved on from the Fifty Shades saga with some equally varied choices, this film included. However, it’s Gottsagen who (rightly) shines brightest. His pure onscreen presence pairs beautifully with LaBeouf’s abrasive runaway, until all the rough edges and animosity have melted away between the two.

On paper, the film sounds like it was cooked up using a ‘my first indie film’ starter kit, but by the end of its trim 97-minute run time, the heartfelt ‘friends are the family you choose’ narrative warms the cockles of your heart, even if you cynically think you have seen this kind of movie before (you definitely have). When all is said and done, The Peanut Butter Falcon sells us this idea that we should be out there living life, not sitting around pushing papers and – you know what – it’s hard to argue with that.

The Peanut Butter Falcon is available in Australian cinemas from January 30

Image courtesy of Rialto Distribution