Ben-Hur 1959

08 August - Ben-Hur Original

Zachary Cruz-Tan

 Cracking a little under the pressure of time, William Wyler’s Ben-Hur remains one of the biggest, boldest statements in Hollywood history.

Revisiting Ben-Hur is like going back to your childhood home and slowly discovering all the cracks in the walls. I’ve seen the film several times, and only now do I see its imperfections. It’s a grand old movie that celebrates Hollywood craftsmanship at its peak, but feel your way inside for a little more and you’re likely to come out with nothing but dust.

No, I’m not saying Ben-Hur is drab and dated. Far from it. But perhaps it’s one of those films that have passed into legend on the back of what everyone saw and appreciated, instead of what they felt. Observe the mighty chariot race, or when the Roman warships clash into each other on the sea. That’s great stuff! Expertly crafted, realised with vigour. But when it comes to the human drama, Ben-Hur is about as malleable as Charlton Heston’s jawline.

When memories of the movie surface now, they’re usually of the famed chariot race, which lasts nine minutes and comes replete with myths and factoids about its troubled shooting. The truth is, the scene works even today because it represented a time in Hollywood history when high-octane action sequences were built from the ground up, with real sets, real props, and actual human beings tossed into the carnage. It reminds me of the enormous sets that engulfed everything around them in D. W. Griffiths’ Intolerance. What a sight that was to behold.

These movies were not given the lazy luxury of computers. They had to physically create worlds and situations that their audiences could believe in, and they did. Here’s a quick test: watch Ben-Hur’s chariot race sequence and then skim through the painful two minutes of Timur Bekmambetov’s remake trailer. Which one makes you more anxious?

Alas, such skill is not present in the dialogue scenes, most of which seem borrowed from a book recital. And the final act of the movie is shoehorned in as a last-ditch effort to uphold the integrity of the movie’s source material title. Yes, “A Tale of the Christ” is what gives Ben-Hur its moral and ethical core, but the denouement is slow and repetitive, especially after the rush of the chariots not an hour earlier. It seems to belong to a different movie.

And yet, the entire endeavour is a resounding success, mainly because of William Wyler’s ability to control an epic that traverses the realms of religion, war and history. If the dialogue seems a little hammy today, and Heston’s delivery as Judah is a touch robotic, the exuberance of the production design and the sheer scale of the project should more than compensate. Kids these days have a tough time piecing together a three-minute student film. Try tackling three-and-a-half hours, and more than 70 horses.

Ben-Hur set the bar for accolades and awards, accumulating an unprecedented 11 Oscars in 1960 – a feat equalled only by Titanic in 1998 and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2004. The American Film Institute ranked it the second-best epic film of all time, behind Lawrence of Arabia. Is it deserving? I think so. You don’t invest $15 million, 8 months of principal photography, a cast of extras that could populate its own country, and not come away with a few trophies.

But Ben-Hur, with all its little blemishes, is more than a collection of gold statuettes. It is sheer force of will. It is proof that giant pictures can be made and giant arenas can come alive without the need for computerised shortcuts. Undoubtedly, this great beast tells a story that reaches beyond social and religious borders, but its best, most rewarding moment, laid out in that circus, is the one we all remember, even if we haven’t seen it.

Image courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn Mayer 

Movie Review – War Dogs

08 August - War Dogs

Lock and load, but don’t get too trigger-happy – Todd Phillips and company aim for comedy-drama gold but sadly miss their target.

⭐⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

David Packouz (Miles Teller) is a Miami Beach massage therapist who’s made a bad investment in unwanted linen sheets; a decision made worse when his girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas) announces that she’s pregnant. Running into his old school buddy Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) at a funeral, he learns that Efraim has made a living exploiting a little-known government loophole that allows small businesses to place bids on U.S. military contracts. Desperate for money to support his family, David teams up with Efraim and the pair become war dogs – independent middle-men buying weapons and equipment cheap and selling them at an inflated price, all without ever seeing the merchandise.

There’s a very interesting story somewhere in the midst of War Dogs, but sadly Todd Phillips (The Hangover Trilogy) – unlike his arms peddling anti-heroes – hasn’t quite managed to milk it for all it’s worth. It seemed at first glance as if the comedy director was going for his “take me seriously” moment, embedding his brand of bromantic hijinks into a girthy true tale to create an entertaining, eye-opening romp worthy of awards recognition; not unlike Anchorman director Adam McKay did with The Big Short. It has Scorsese-size ambitions, and there is the odd occasion where War Dogs feels like this is an almost achievable goal; disappointingly, it squashes its chances of succeeding The Wolf of Wall Street on account of its frustrating laziness.

Most of the film’s problems can be boiled down to its creative decisions – or lack thereof. Structure and story-wise, it’s one of the oldest clichés in the book. Miles Teller narrates, opening on his protagonist who’s in over his head, kidnapped and staring down the barrel of a gun. Then we backtrack a few years to his humble beginnings, and his climb up the ranks from rags to riches in through-and-through Scorsese fashion, until the inevitable climactic point of pandemonium is met. It’s a story we’ve seen far too many times, and the true material it’s sourced from isn’t fresh enough to make War Dogs feel like it’s reinventing the wheel.

Phillips can’t seem to decide what genre he’s in either. There are certainly moments early on that raise a few chuckles, but despite being sold as humour-heavy in the trailer, the laughs dry up; fans expecting another Hangover might be surprised by how little comedy there is. Conversely, it isn’t weighty enough to cut it as a drama either – we’re told the stakes and danger is high, but we never really feel it; there’s little emotional heft and our characters aren’t likeable enough to care all that much for. Again, it’s simply too light a touch for what could have, and should have been a complex picture.

Miles Teller continues to do little to prove his star power post-Whiplash, perhaps still struggling to match the sheer intensity of that role. Jonah Hill delivers the better performance of the pair, his moral-less entrepreneur amusing as he cackles wickedly and makes unpredictable moves. But we’ve seen this dramatic role from Hill before, and much better, in Moneyball and (once again) The Wolf of Wall Street. Supposedly Jesse Eisenberg and Shia LaBeouf were once attached to these roles, though it’s hard to imagine them faring much better under Phillips’ rote direction.

What we’re left with is an entertaining enough popcorn pic. The boys are shown to idolise and channel Scarface – if only Phillips had the balls to make them as ruthlessly compelling as the Cuban crime lord.

War Dogs is available in Australian cinemas from August 18

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Free State of Jones

08 August - Free State of Jones

Creaky pacing and an overlong final act unravel an otherwise haunting and daring untold tale from the American Civil War.

⭐⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Gary RossFree State of Jones is the film equivalent of those mouldy, old history textbooks that lurk at the back of schoolroom closets. Buried deep in those dusty, dog-eared pages are captivating tales of heroic figures and world-changing events. But, also filling those pages are acres and acres of long-winded text that’d put even the most troubled insomniac to sleep.

The film concerns itself with a largely untold true story from the American Civil War of a disillusioned Confederate field doctor, Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey), who flees the frontlines following a crushing defeat against the Union. Under the thumb of a corrupt local government, Newton assembles a ragtag group of fellow deserters and runaway slaves. Striking from a dank swamp deep in the Mississippi, Newton’s rebel soldiers lead an uprising against the Confederacy, with the aim of declaring themselves a free and independent state following the war.

McConaughey does his utmost to bring gravitas to the weighty material, but he faces an uphill battle with the script. 60% of his scenes are either rousing speeches or sombre eulogies, with the other 40% being unintelligible mumbles swimming in his trademark Southern drawl. It’s easy to side with Newton’s noble cause, but hard to feel for him as he is not much more than a crude sketch that stepped out of the aforementioned history book.

Spanning several years, Free State of Jones commits to charting all of the noteworthy milestones in Newton’s fight against the Confederacy. This means that the other people around him fall by wayside. His wife, Serena (Keri Russell), disappears for the vast majority of the film without a second thought, and we’re only told about Newton’s flourishing feelings for Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), rather than having the chance to see it develop naturally on screen. Mahershala Ali’s former slave Moses could’ve been a compelling second-in-command, but he’s underutilised and too often forgotten about during the second act.

The cast, crew and all involved have the noblest of intentions; they’ve clearly poured their heart and soul into delivering a film that showcases the moral complexities of war as well as the harsh truths of race relations in the wake of the Civil War and in the proceeding century. There are some astoundingly powerful character moments that pack a hefty punch, as well as committed, nuanced performances from the sprawling ensemble cast – Mbatha-Raw and Ali are notable standouts.

Its stilted management of an otherwise absorbing, little known story is too detrimental to ignore. With a narrower focus and a tighter edit, maybe it’d be a different story – but unfortunately Free State of Jones too closely resembles one of those movies you’re forced to watch in high school history class to be truly captivating.

Free State of Jones is available in Australian cinemas from August 25

Image courtesy of StudioCanal

Movie Review – Truman

08 August - Truman

A mature Spanish drama that isn’t afraid to explore the larger questions about life and death.

⭐⭐⭐ ½
Josip Knezevic

Finally, a movie that features a dog and doesn’t kill it off. With a firm focus on the role of death and the nature of relationships, Cesc Gay‘s Truman is not exactly an all-out tear-jerker, but is still a beautiful, albeit solemn tale.

Truman follows the journey of Julián (Ricardo Darín) a 40-something dying man who’s visited by one of his closest friends from school, Tomás (Javier Cámara). The two spend four days together before Tomás needs to return to Canada and in those four days Julián’s situation begins to unravel. It’s deeply melancholic, but at the same time it inspires bravery amidst our ultimate fears.

What I particularly enjoyed was the different scenarios used to explore the prominent themes. Yes, it is quite convenient that within the four days of Tomás’ visit, Julián encounters a large number of key people that have influenced his life, but nevertheless it serves as a nice treat. We not only grow to understand his relationship with Tomás, but also with his son, ex-wife, supposed friends and those he hurt.

A few faults let the film down; while Ricardo Darín displays moments of greatness with his subtle performance, Javier Cámara, on the other hand, is stony faced throughout to the point of being boring. His character is meant to appear brave and hide his emotions, but he doesn’t really offer anything else.

Overall, I still had a good time watching this film, which has made quite a buzz over in Madrid, winning 5 awards at the 30th Goya Awards – think the Academy Awards, Española. It made me wonder how I would act if I was in Julián’s position and if I could be as brave as him. While it’s kind of a depressing topic and the film certainly has a few issues, I’d still recommend seeing it when you can – it’s far better than anything else out at the moment.

Truman is available in Australian cinemas from August 11

Image courtesy of Palace Films

Movie Review – The Shallows

08 August - The Shallows

The only aspect that’s truly shallow is the film’s weak storyline.

Josip Knezevic

Sony has teamed up with one of the hottest stars on the planet and one of the hottest surfing brands right now to create, “Ripcurl: The Movie”. Sorry, I got that wrong. It’s The Shallows starring Blake Lively, but unlike what the trailer suggests, this film is more of an advertisement for surfing. It’s as if the people behind Victoria’s Secret remade Jaws.

The premise surrounds the life of a young medical student Nancy Adams (Lively) who travels out to a secluded beach in Mexico following the passing of her mother. The beach has a particular meaning to her, as it is the same beach her mother surfed after finding out she was pregnant with her. But very soon, the beach begins to take on a different meaning as a large great white shark begins to stalk and hunt her down.

Although I was quietly excited by this film’s trailer, I was unfortunately met with everything I hoped it wouldn’t be and more. What I hoped it could be was a well written story filled with tension. What I received was Blake Lively modelling in bikinis. Coupled with numerous amounts of product placement, the whole affair – for the beginning, at least – felt akin to that of one large advertisement.

But what about when the shark comes? Well, thankfully that’s when the story picks up the pace, but it’s not long before it stumbles over its own heels. There are numerous convenient moments that occur in an attempt to build suspense. I challenge anyone to debate how the final act is not one of the most fortunate resolutions that has occurred in cinema history – perhaps even besting Vin Diesel’s leap of faith in Fast and Furious 6. The emotional connection between Nancy’s grief for her mother is also desperately pushed for the audience to connect, but fitting to the film’s title, there’s not much to grasp at.

At least throughout it all the film looks gorgeous. The bright blue colours of the ocean have been captured well and the shark has also been brought to life with grace. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to warrant spending your money at the cinema.

The Shallows is available in Australian cinemas from August 18

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Top 5 Dialogue Driven Scenes

08 August - Dialogue Dogs

Corey Hogan

What makes a movie memorable? Different parts of films seem to stick with people for different reasons – usually it’s the charming characters, the mesmerising visuals, the resounding music or the emotions brought to surface. But while one-liners and catchphrases are commonplace, it’s only while watching a film that we can place ourselves in the middle of a conversation and feel like we’re actually there listening in.

There’s an added tension that permeates the air in most film conversations that gives their dialogue a compelling edge. Here are five scenes that utilise dialogue in a creative and visionary ways to serve their respective films. Note that these are the standout scenes in films predominantly driven by dialogue; there’s plenty from genres all across the board that offer incredibly gripping communications.

Annie Hall (1977)
Woody Allen
Woody Allen, Diane Keaton & Tony Roberts

08 August - Dialogue Annie
Woody Allen seems simply incapable of putting away his typewriter. He’s written and directed a new film almost every year without fail since 1977, and though he’s had towering highs and staggering lows, his obsessive psychoanalysis of the chemistry between a man and a woman has always poignantly deconstructed the way we speak to one another when attraction is in the air. None has done it quite so perfectly since  Best Picture winner Annie Hall.

In the film, Alvy Singer (just one of Allen’s many neurotic Jewish New Yorkers) reflects on his failed relationship with the insecure and somewhat ditzy Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). The most inventive instance of dialogue comes when Alvy and Annie sit atop a balcony, sipping wine and awkwardly getting to know one another. Strictly speaking, it’s a very natural sounding exchange between an unacquainted man and woman that expertly captures the nervous jitters and blurts. It’s an intelligent contrast of the rapid-fire thought process that circulates our minds against the talk we often spew without thinking in an effort to impress someone we like, and Allen is all too aware of how these ungainly conversations play out.

The balcony scene:

Hunger (2008)
Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham & Liam McMahon

08 August - Dialogue Hunger
Empty bellies and smeared excrement fill the Maze Prison throughout the 1981 hunger strike endured by its Irish Republican prisoners to become the centrepiece of Steve McQueen’s deeply challenging debut Hunger. With initial protests foiled by the relentless brutality of the prison guards, Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) leads his fellow captives in an epidemic of starvation as an act of sacrificial faith and devotion to their Nationalist Catholic convictions. Naturally the situation becomes grim and distressing, but McQueen’s filmmaking artistry finds the beautiful in the bleak; particularly when Sands opens his mouth – not to eat, but to unfurl some words and wit.

Though it’s less dialogue-impelled throughout than the other films on this list, there’s a mammoth chunk of Hunger that takes the cake – a near half-hour long stretch dedicated purely to the conversation between Sands and a priest (Liam Cunningham), disputing the morality of the strike. There’s a stunning 17-minute uninterrupted take while the two rattle off each other, the priest trying his best to sway Sands from his suicidal mission.

The morality debate:

Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth & Michael Madsen

08 August - Dialogue Dogs
The name Quentin Tarantino immediately brings to mind eccentrically groovy soundtracks, highly visceral violence and gore, and of course incredibly iconic, ingenious (and almost always expletive-laden) dialogue. In fact, you could ultimately rationalise every Tarantino film as a string of scenes consisting of long, suspenseful and venomous conversations/monologues punctuated with sudden extreme carnage – which would be undermining their depth and impact, obviously. Each of his films has a dozen scenes that could easily make the cut here, but it’s his explosive debut Reservoir Dogs that introduced us to his unique brand of wicked wordplay for the screen.

And surprisingly, the urgent arguments and chaotic showdowns following the botched heist that make up most of the film are overshadowed by the opening scene – a somewhat calm, completely ordinary diner spread, where the ‘Dogs’ drink coffee and discuss a handful of trivial topics, including the true meaning behind Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”. It’s seemingly extraneous, but weirdly fascinating; plus it successfully sets up the characters, prompting call-backs and making more sense as events unravel.

The diner scene:

The Social Network (2010)
David Fincher
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield & Armie Hammer

08 August - Dialogue Social
Another master of giving linguistics a prodigious presence on screen, Aaron Sorkin made his name creating and writing some of the most intelligent, relevant and socially conscious television shows in history (The West Wing, The Newsroom). He teamed up with David Fincher in 2010 to deliver his magnum opus – The Social Network, the stunning true tale behind Facebook’s conception and all the legal issues, betrayal and treachery along the way. The real people involved would object to its factual basis, and Sorkin later admitted that much of it was highly dramatised – but when it’s cinema this compelling, who really cares?

It’s a film stuffed to the brim with dynamic dialogue that never once ceases to maintain attention and interest, but the best example again has to be the scene that opens the film. We meet our maker Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) on a date night with his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara), landing in the middle of a debate over SAT’s and final clubs. Erica becomes flustered by his simultaneous discussion of multiple topics, and then promptly dumps him when he insults her without realising it. It brilliantly sets up the genius of the marvellous monster that is Zuckerberg, and is one of the very few scenes that humanises him enough to rationalise his cold backstabbing as an inability to empathise, or possible mental disorder.

The breakup scene:

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
James Foley
Starring: Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin

08 August - Dialogue Glen
The greatest film ever made about the business of sales (yes, even better than Death of a Salesman) also ranks as one of the finest films driven entirely by dialogue. Directed by James Foley from David Mamet’s award-winning play, Glengarry Glen Ross follows four floundering real estate salesmen struggling to reach their targets on the dud leads they’ve been handed. When their manager reveals that the top two sellers will be awarded the promising Glengarry leads and the rest face sacking, the men turn to desperate measures – including a plot to rob the office. It’s the first film to honestly portray the many routines and deceptions used by real salespeople, and the harsh reality they face as a result of their failure.

It’s utterly captivating from beginning to end, with countless brilliant conversations and exchanges unfolding in a mere handful of settings, but anyone who has seen it knows it’s crowning scene – Alec Baldwin’s singular appearance (and possibly the most memorable of his career) as the serpent-tongued motivator sent in by the company owners to motivate the staff into crushing their sales. Admittedly, much of it forms a monologue, with only a few lines from the bewildered workers here and there, but it’s truly one of cinema’s most powerful scenes, unleashed in a tornado of curses and abuse.

“Always be closing!”:

Other dialogue driven films worth watching: 12 Angry Men, My Dinner with Andre, Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight, Night on Earth, Coffee and Cigarettes, Locke and many more.

Images courtesy of MGM Home Entertainment, Chapel Distribution, Dendy Cinema, Sony Pictures, Umbrella Entertainment, Roadshow Films & Icon Film Distribution 

It’s almost time for CinefestOZ!

08 August - Cinefest Main

Chantall Victor

It’s almost that time of year when film fanatics, Australian filmmakers and industry experts collide at CinefestOZ Film Festival in Australia’s Southwest to view short films, attend workshops and walk the red carpet at feature film premieres. Add in food, wine and great company, and you have the perfect combination for like-minded people to come together. Located in some of the most beautiful wine regions of Western Australia, Cinefest offers a five-day getaway to explore Bunbury, Busselton, Dunsborough and Margaret River.

Here’s some of the highlights to look forward to:

On the opening night, Bunbury will host the Australian premiere of French film Up For Love and will also feature the WA premiere of the Mel Gibson led Blood Father. There will also be a free community screening that focusses on Australia’s female filmmakers and also the premiere of TV series Upstart Crow.

Up For Love
5:30pm, Wednesday 24 August
Grand Cinemas, Bunbury
Get Tickets

08 August - Cinefest 1

CinefestOZ: When successful lawyer, Diane (Virginie Efira) gets a call from the man who found her mobile phone, she is immediately intrigued and charmed. As she and Alexandre (Jean Dujardin) chat and make plans to meet, it becomes evident that the chemistry between them is great. However, when they meet the next day it turns out there may be one small problem. A perfect match in every way but one, will this new couple be up for the challenge?

Blood Father
5:30pm, Thursday 25 August
Grand Cinemas, Bunbury
Get Tickets

08 August - Cinefest 2

CinefestOZ: Action and attitude meets humour and humility as Gibson stars as John Link – an ex-con trying to embrace life on the straight and narrow. When his estranged daughter Lydia is caught up in a drug deal gone wrong, she reaches out to the last man she ever thought she’d need – her father.

Upstart Crow
6:30pm, Friday 26 August
Bunbury Regional Entertainment Centre
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CinefestOZ: This BBC TV series is the latest from comic genius, Ben Elton, which humorously chronicles the life of William Shakespeare before he became famous.

In Conversation: Girl Asleep
8:30am, Saturday 27 August
Deck Marina Bar & Restaurant
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08 August - Cinefest 4
Chat to the filmmakers behind Girl Asleep. CinefestOZ: Navigating puberty in 1970’s suburbia, Greta doesn’t want to grow up. Her mum is embarrassing and her sister disinterested. Geeky Elliott is her only ally. Greta’s surprise 15th birthday party is on track to be the worst night of her life – until she’s flung into an odd fairy-tale universe with a warrior princess. 

Hotel Coolgardie with Q&A
12:00pm, Saturday 27 August
Orana Cinemas, Busselton
Get Tickets

08 August - Cinefest 5

CinefestOZ: Attracted by the idea of saving much-needed travel funds whilst enjoying an authentic outback experience, two Finnish backpackers find themselves the latest batch of “fresh meat” en route to live and work as barmaids at the only pub in a remote Australian mining town. Confronted by a culture of insularity, insults and impunity, and relentlessly harassed and harangued, their working holiday rapidly deteriorates into a test of endurance – as they discover that to meet expectations they’ll need to do more than just pour drinks! Amusing, shocking, and unexpectedly moving, Hotel Coolgardie is a wryly-observed warts-and-all journey into an outback Australia rarely depicted on screen.

There are many other great events to attend from Busselton to Margaret River, with a little bit of everything for everyone. I will be attending from the Friday until Sunday evening so stay up to date with my whereabouts via the Hooked On Film twitter account and come and say hi!

Images and film synopses courtesy of CinefestOZ 2016 & Icon Film Distribution

Movie Review – Indignation

08 August - Indignation

Indignation is a disjointed love affair that doesn’t quite do justice to Philip Roth’s original novel.

⭐⭐ ½
Josip Knezevic 

Never has a movie left me so bewildered… correction – The Room was more baffling, but nevertheless, the latest Logan Lerman film left me reeling. There are flickers of brilliance throughout Indignation, but it quickly fades away with some truly bizarre tonal shifts.

Based on the popular novel by Philip Roth, the story takes place in early 1950’s Ohio with future scholar Marcus (Lerman). We follow his introduction to the university lifestyle and his pursuit of a law degree, but this quickly makes way for his growing infatuation with one Ms. Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon). Writer and debutant director James Schamus uses these two central characters to explore various ideas of religion, love, and death, but fails to provide any clarity on each subject.

Indeed, the largest gripe I have with this film is its clarity. In the space of a few minutes, the role of religion alongside science is explored, then in the next few we are introduced to the frowned upon practice of divorce during a conservative time. I was left to constantly ask myself; what is the point of this scene? And, more importantly; what does the film want me to take away?

Where the film does succeed is in its intellectual discussions, with one of the most enjoyable being a lengthy debate between a student and the dean. Unfortunately, these scenes feel entirely out of place, especially when closely followed by profound sexual acts between the romantic leads. The timing and placement of each scene within the overall narrative of the film leaves you to wonder how exactly you should be reacting. I often didn’t know whether to laugh or be sympathetic.

Fitting with the title, I very much came away annoyed by the film’s confusing nature. There was so much potential here, and with a clearer directorial vision, I may have been able to go along with it.

Indignation is available in Australian cinemas from August 18

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Bad Moms

08 August - Bad Moms

A trio of downtrodden moms cut loose and raise hell in this unruly, crowd-pleasing comedy.

Rhys Graeme-Drury

Bad Neighbours, Bad Santa, Bad Grandpa and now Bad Moms – does anyone else think this franchise is kind of all over the place? All kidding aside, contemporary R-rated Hollywood comedies have a fondness for taking something innately inoffensive and flipping it on its head. This time around it’s mums who are thrust to the forefront by the writers of The Hangover trilogy.

Mila Kunis plays Amy, an overworked and underappreciated single mother who is struggling to balance her kids and her career. Perpetually running late for work and after school activities, Amy’s patience with the ultra-demanding PTA President (Christina Applegate) begins to wear thin when faced with an upcoming bake sale. With her friends Carla (Kathryn Hahn) and Kiki (Kristen Bell) in tow, Amy vows to break free of the lofty expectations placed on mothers and challenge the President’s overbearing regime.

It’s the central trio of Kunis, Hahn and Bell that really make this movie worth your time. They bounce off one another with an energy that makes certain moments pop with laughter. The supermarket scene where the three let loose on unsuspected shoppers is hilarious and filled with clever wish fulfilment gags. The rest? Eh, it’s okay. Applegate’s performance as PTA President is great, if a little underused; I would’ve liked to see her really spread her wings as the malicious, middle-school soccer mum version of Regina George.

The film does take a few liberties with its characters too; Amy’s kids, Jane (Oona Laurence) and Dylan (Emjay Anthony), disappear off-screen whenever it suits the plot, whilst the bulk of the parental characters are cookie-cutter stereotypes that lack depth. Hahn plays the trashy trainwreck mom and Bell fits the bill as a meek stay-at-home pushover. Of course, Amy isn’t lumbered with such glaring flaws; her valiant effort to have it all is only blighted by the limited number of hours in the day.

Credit where credit is due, the film does convey a heartfelt message about the importance of motherhood. Writer/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore settle on broad and easily palatable stuff for their intended audience, which is both a blessing and a curse. If you’re feeling generous, Bad Moms ends on a sugary sweet note that is earnest and profound. If you’re not, one could argue that it doesn’t take any risks, choosing instead to steer clear of offering any truly insightful commentary on the suffocating societal expectations that are placed on mothers. Maybe that’s asking too much of what is essentially a conveyor belt comedy spearheaded by the dudebros behind The Change-Up.

It’s far from great, but considering the current crop of crass Hollywood comedies, you could do a lot worse than Bad Moms. Save for a few missteps, the film packs in enough laughs to provide a diverting romp for its core audience.

Bad Moms is available in Australian cinemas from August 11

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Sausage Party

08 August - Sausage Party

Worst. Movie. This. Year.

Josip Knezevic

I’m not going to sugar coat it – Sausage Party is the worst movie this year. I didn’t think anything could top Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, but here we are with an obscene, crude and truly unfunny affair that should never have existed in the first place.

Seth Rogen voices Frank, a hot dog who lives in a supermarket chain amongst a whole community of grocery items. The dream of each individual here is to be chosen by the customers that enter – or the “gods”, as they are referred to – in order to be taken out into the great beyond to live in happiness for eternity. Soon Frank and his large array of friends, which include Kristen Wiig as Brenda the hot dog bun and Danny McBride as Honey Mustard, find out the dark truth that not all is what it seems out in the great beyond. Together they must form a plan to inform the community and prevent all from their impending doom.

Not the worst idea for a film ever, and indeed the stage was set for some clever chances at making commentary on society whilst rolling out an array of supermarket related jokes. Unfortunately, directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon choose to focus purely on sex jokes and racist humour, and not once is it executed in a way that is smart, or unique, or even funny. To be clear – I’m not suggesting that I have a certain disdain for this type of humour, and that all forms of fun have to be politically correct. What I am not a fan of is the director’s mindset of, “Oh, we went there, and we’re going to keep going there because nothing is off limits now”.

Within the first 10 minutes of the film, a few walked out of the cinema, and it wasn’t long before more joined them. What followed was one of the most unnecessarily grotesque forms of animation I’ve ever seen. It just wasn’t funny. The sex scene in Team America: World Police is equally crude, but it works within the overall tone of the film, whereas here it seems like someone tried to make far too many cracks about sausages and buns while stoned. I urge you to see something else. I feel like I’ve been Punk’d and his is just one big joke… I hope.

Sausage Party is available in Australian cinemas from August 11

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures