Movie Review – Brad’s Status

Ben Stiller ponders his lot in life in Mike White’s quietly humorous and thoughtful new film. 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) is nearly 50 and has a lot of stuff going on in his melon. His not-for-profit business has stalled, his one and only child – Troy (Austin Abrams) – is heading off to college and his marriage to Melanie (Jenna Fischer) isn’t the excitable romp it once was.

As a result, Brad lies awake at night yearning for what could have been, for the lives he could have led. His mind wanders to those he aligned himself with during college (Michael Sheen, Jemaine Clement, Luke Wilson), who have gone on to enjoy riches and success in the intervening years, forgetting and distancing themselves from Brad and his painfully mediocre existence in the process.

Adrift in suburban Sacramento and surrounded by cheerfully complacent “beta males”, a father/son trip to Boston to look at universities only serves to reinforce these internal inadequacies; Troy, a talented pianist, has a shot at getting into Harvard, a college that outstrips Brad’s own education across town at Tufts. Is that pride, Brad feels, or jealousy?

Written and directed by Mike White, Brad’s Status aligns itself with a familiar feeling deep inside all of us; the competition we feel with our peers and the desire for something greater. A lot of this concern is voiced internally by Stiller as he tosses and turns at night or stares out of a plane window. White’s film spends a lot of its time inside Stiller’s head, partaking in lengthy monologues about paths not taken or grudges left unaddressed.

As a result, Stiller is lumped with a lot of the lifting, as he furrows his brow and shifts in his seat, searching internally for some shred of solace. It’s an impressive performance amongst a collection of impressive performances; his meandering unspoken reveries work in opposition with the concise musings that are said aloud as well as the sulky grunts offered up by his son.

White’s writing is effective (if a little on-the-nose) but the cast make it work, taking the heightened divide between Brad and those he yearns to replicate and running with it. Particularly impressive is Abrams, who manages a level of angst and wisdom only a teenager can muster, and Sheen, as a charismatic contemporary man who has hit it big in Hollywood and married well.

The pacing is suitably slow for a film all about feeling adrift and aimless, but not so much that it lacks drive or structure. In keeping with its themes, Brad’s Status doesn’t offer a rousing finale or a gutful of catharsis; viewers will need to go in search of significance and satisfaction, rather than have it dumped at their feet in the third act. It’s an apt ending, but not one that all will find enjoyable.

Meditative and introspective, Brad’s Status is an exhaustive and achingly honest exploration of anxiety and self-doubt. While it may feel a little familiar, there is joy to be found in its wry humour.

 

Brad’s Status is available in Australian cinemas from November 9.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 2017.

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Movie Review – A Bad Moms Christmas

Christmas will soon be upon us and along with it a new batch of seasonal films for the whole family – or sometimes just for the adults. A Bad Moms Christmas offers a variety of crudity and vile humor that aims to be as gross as it does shocking. If only any of it was remotely funny.


Josip Knezevic

Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn reprise their roles from the first Bad Moms (yes I can’t believe they made a sequel as well), but this time they’re met with their equally bad counterparts – their own mums. It seems like this will be the trend for this year’s Christmas movies, with the upcoming Daddy’s Home 2 set to do much of the same thing, just with the opposite sex.

A Bad Moms Christmas seems to take the most basic form of monkey humour but branches it out to a platform that we haven’t seen before; motherhood. We don’t expect mums to be seen in such a light and that’s what’s meant to make it funny. It was the same reason Bad Santa was so popular but making something original doesn’t necessarily make it automatically hilarious. A bad joke is a bad joke, no matter how you polish it, and this is ultimately where the Bad Moms franchise is lacking.

Dialogue about penises or vaginal waxing feel only thrown in as an attempt to gather up laughs from shock value. Reactions of “oh my god I can’t believe a mum just said that, she’s not supposed to say that hahaha” are heavily relied upon throughout, but this doesn’t make the jokes genuinely hilarious. Soon enough, this whole routine becomes just tiresome. When humour that isn’t based off vulgarity does arrive, they’re mostly predictable from moments ahead of time or are simply yet another eye roller. This coming from a man who loves dad jokes. But maybe not just of the bad mum’s kind.

Aside from the humour, the overall plot follows a formulaic affair that, whilst touching on some heartfelt moments, isn’t anything special enough to be considered good. Not only have you seen the same moments in other Christmas films but they’re executed so much better elsewhere. And I’m not just talking about the classic Christmas flicks of Home Alone and The Santa Clause; Bad Santa manages to become a better antihero to enjoy on-screen. This is because his character is as believable as he is heartbroken and funny. He’s a nice balance between the bad that we can laugh at and the good that we ultimately sympathise with.

None of these aspects are found in A Bad Moms Christmas. What we are left with is another poor excuse for a chick flick that represents another missed opportunity for a genre that continues to add cheesy Christmas movie after cheesy Christmas movie. In a time where focus on women empowerment is at the forefront of so many films this year, A Bad Moms Christmas is a failure for many of those powerful leading examples and for women in general. Mums do amazing things for us and unfortunately, in this case, they deserve better.

A Bad Moms Christmas is available in Australian cinemas from November 2.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 2017

Movie Review – Three Summers

Three Summers is determined to bring a sunny disposition to the thorniest of political topics.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Michael Philp

Let’s get this out of the way quick-smart: for some people, Three Summers will not be an easy film. It should be – it’s a comedy, after all – but it’s also an unreservedly left-wing perspective on Australia that will rub certain people up the wrong way. It wears its politics on its sleeve in almost every scene, and you’ll either laugh along with it or get frustrated when it (regularly) dismisses conservative opinions. In other words, it’s a Ben Elton film.

Written and directed by Elton, Three Summers is a film about Australia and its stories. Accordingly, it follows a variety of groups at the fictional Westival music festival. There’s the feisty Warrikins (Rebecca Breeds, John Waters); Roland the Theremin player (Robert Sheehan); the Morris dancers led by Michael Caton; Queenie the relentlessly sunny radio announcer (Magda Szubanski); and about half a dozen other plotlines, all converging on the same campgrounds over three years.

It’s impressive just how well Elton manages to juggle it all. Considering the number of ideas he’s throwing around, it would’ve been easy for the film to descend into a preachy soup. Instead, thanks to the extended timespan, there’s always a fresh joke around the corner. Revisiting these characters over multiple years affords us the chance to watch them grow and adjust naturally. A punk band dwindles, an AA meeting grows, and certain events challenge the community dynamic in surprising ways. Through it all, a warmly empathetic optimism brings the disparate groups together.

That optimism is what ultimately ties the film together. Elton himself has made it clear that he wanted to make a nice film – something lovely and warm – and that ethos shines through. Even when the film is confronting Australia’s thorniest conversations – the refugee crisis, Aboriginal marginalisation – it remains upbeat and acknowledges them as decipherable problems. They aren’t just rocks and hard places, they are people, and people deserve love and respect.

With so many stories it’s also inevitable that some of them won’t get the time they deserve. Aboriginal marginalisation, for instance, is a complex topic that is ill-suited to a comedy that can’t focus on it. One of the children wears an ankle-monitor which is played for a single laugh but never properly addressed. That’s practically the definition of lip-service, and it’s not the only instance of it. Elton is sincere in his desire to confront difficult issues, and his attempts are at least commendable, but the problems are also much bigger than he can manage in an already busy film.

Conservatives will bristle, but lefties will laugh at the shenanigans in Three Summers. It’s not a perfect film – Elton would do well to narrow his scope next time – but it’s genuine where it counts. It’s a kind-hearted comedy with some wonderful performances (Szubanski is just lovely) and a gorgeously Australian setting. It’s the perfect film for an outdoor screening on a warm summer’s eve so expect it to remain a mainstay of those events for years to come.

 

Three Summers is available in Australian cinemas from November 2.

Image courtesy of Transmission Films 2017

 

Movie Review: Home Again

Despite its gutsy topic, Home Again doesn’t quite land as hard as it could have but is still a decent attempt from debut filmmaker Hallie Meyers-Shyer.

⭐ ⭐ 
Elle Cahill

When Alice Kinney (Reese Witherspoon) moves to Los Angeles after taking a break from her marriage, she struggles to keep it all together for her daughters, and on a rare night out on her birthday, she starts flirting with young filmmaker Harry (Pico Alexander). She agrees to let Harry and his two filmmaking buddies move into her guest house for a couple of days, which ends up turning into weeks as Alice and Harry start up a relationship, and her daughters begin to rely on the young men as mentors and role models.

When movies deal with older women going out with younger men, they are generally portrayed as women who negatively influence the younger male and take advantage of their youth. Thankfully Home Again doesn’t stoop to this level. The film is merely about a woman rediscovering her sexual freedom and coming to terms with her continuing her life alone.

After Harry and Alice fail to sleep with each other the first night they meet, Alice attempts to set boundaries, and makes no apologies for being a mother and having other responsibilities that must come first. With the reappearance of Alice’s ex-husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she again makes no apologies for choosing to put him first over the guys to give her daughters a chance at having two parents who get along. Compared to more recent films about mothers trying to get back into the dating scene, this approach is a breath of fresh air.

Home Again is a debut feature for director Hallie Meyers-Shyer and maybe it is this inexperience that lets the film down, but the brilliance of Sheen, Candice Bergen and Witherspoon at her disposal, they were completely underutilised.

Sheen tries earnestly to bring more to the role but the flat material meant that he could have been any old schmuck. Similarly, Bergen’s fantastic comedic ability could have been made use of more but she spends the whole film being pushed to the background, making the odd funny appearance but remaining largely invisible.

The humour is aimed strongly at women, and for the most part delivers, but it doesn’t quite match the comedy that can be seen in other woman-focused comedies such as Bridesmaids. The two stand-outs of the film who beautifully played off each other was Alice’s two daughters. Lola Flannery played neurotic pre-teen Isabel whose impressive ability to list her depression systems and the medication she should be on, is a comment on today’s society and hilariously timed. Little Eden Grace Redfield, who plays Alice’s young daughter Rosie, follows up her sister’s neurotises with her blunt straight-talking, making her seem wise beyond her few years.

The film is a fair attempt at telling the story of a complicated family situation and how the people who become your family don’t necessarily need to be blood. Unfortunately its plot holes leave you with more questions than answers and this holds it back from being a nice, light-hearted film.

Home Again is available in Australian cinemas from October 19

Image courtesy of Entertainment One Films.

Movie Review – Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok is by no means the finest Marvel movie, but it does a fine job of keeping up with the pack.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 
Zachary Cruz-Tan

If there is one thing true about the Marvel Cinematic Universe it’s that Thor is about as interesting a movie hero as the dried up skin flaking on my heel. It’s the failing of any mythological figure – they are bound by the limitations of their respective traits. Medusa cannot do anything other than turn infidels to stone. Ares knows only how to wage war. No matter how many family squabbles you throw at him, Thor can still only command lightning. So what do you do? Run with it and make it as much fun as possible, I guess.

Thor: Ragnarok is a delightful step up from the first two movies because it proves Marvel is capable of running self-diagnostics. Thor and Thor: The Dark World were horrendous. You don’t take a boring mythical juggernaut and dump him in New Mexico. That’s like trying to treat depression with Schindler’s List. As a result, Ragnarok is damage control. Its director, Taika Waititi, whose What We Do in the Shadows had me guffawing like a buffoon, is the emergency physician. His remedy is simple: Thor is a hulking lug without brains or a character to develop, so I shall construct around him a world that is infinitely more exciting. And it is.

This is the kind of movie that knows precisely what it is and what it isn’t, what it can and cannot do. For example, it can deliver amazing action set pieces and some truly beautiful imagery, but cannot be as deep or insightful as Batman Begins or Captain America: Civil War. Waititi’s approach is fundamentally helpful. He doesn’t try to beef up the lousy characters or outdo more successful superhero films but simply lets the chemistry of his cast flow with the outrageous dialogue.

Thor is once again played by Chris Hemsworth. This time, his home of Asgard is under threat of destruction by Hela (Cate Blanchett), another mythic figure bound to her eternal moniker of “goddess of death”, which is unfortunate because no matter how hard she may try, she cannot play anyone else but the villain. Thor, meanwhile, is stranded on a faraway garbage planet, ruled by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum in Goldblum overdrive), who enjoys pitting superheroes against each other as some kind of intergalactic blood sport. So you can imagine Thor’s consternation and beastly grunting when the Grandmaster forbids him from saving his home.

Let’s face it, this isn’t a compelling plot, least of all because Asgard as a fantastical ethereal paradise looks more like the blown up internal mechanisms of a wristwatch. Hela’s dialogue is all exposition and snark and very little intelligence. The scenes on the garbage planet are colourful and alive, but after you’ve seen one fight-to-the-death arena presided over by a psychotic dictator, you’ve seen them all, especially if the movie’s trailers have already given away all the best bits.

So the plot is merely serviceable. We know the characters are thin soup. And yet I had a really good time with this. I appreciate an action movie that can make me laugh earnestly, that doesn’t betray the idiosyncrasies of its quirky director, that adopts an approach and sticks with it for better or worse. I can’t recall a single memorable quote (except perhaps “the devil’s anus”) but I remember laughing a lot, being impressed by the quality of the entire production, and thanking the Norse gods for finally giving Darcy the day off.

Thor: Ragnarok is available in Australian cinemas from October 26 

Image courtesy of Marvel Studios 2017

Movie Review – The Emoji Movie

There’s only one emoji that could describe this distasteful attempt at a children’s film more than words ever could.  You guessed it – the poop emoji.


Corey Hogan

Inside the smartphone of a young boy exists the digital city of Textopolis, where emojis are sentient, for some reason. The emojis live in harmony, content with their singular facial expressions, except for Gene (T.J. Miller), a “meh” emoji capable of expressing numerous different emotions. Finally given a chance in the spotlight to be the selected emoji sent, Gene panics and causes a multi-expressional emoji to appear on screen and make its user think his phone is broken. With viruses after him, Gene leaves the messenger app with Hi-5 (James Corden) and into the many other apps in search of Jailbreak (Anna Faris), a mysterious hacker who might have a code that can fix Gene before the phone memory is wiped and the emojis are erased from existence.

It’s time to confirm what you knew was inevitable from the moment it was announced – The Emoji Movie is bad. Presumably communicating purely in dollar sign emojis when they greenlit it, Sony Pictures – continuing their plummeting reputation as probably the worst major Hollywood studio currently operating – hits a new low with a truly shameless consumerist brainwashing disguised as a children’s film. It could very possibly be the worst widely released animated film of all time.

Last year’s The Angry Birds Movie was just inventive and entertaining enough to scrape by as passable excuse to cash in on a mobile app, but there are absolutely zero excuses here, since The Emoji Movie can barely manage even an iota of that creativity. Much of the problem is sheer laziness perpetuating every facet. The story brings to mind animations that have done similar things much better, like Wreck-It Ralph, The Lego Movie, and most of Pixar’s work (chiefly Inside Out and Monsters, Inc.); it doesn’t take long to work out that Emoji isn’t so much borrowing elements from these films but rather blatantly ripping them off.

The painfully unfunny “humour” consists entirely of cheap puns and so, so much name-brand dropping – get ready for an adventure in which the heroes much beat games of Candy Crush and Just Dance, ride music .wavs (get it?) across Spotify and make it to Dropbox so they can reach the Cloud. It’s not hard to see where the movie got its funding.

It’s no doubt an easy pay check for all of its voice actors; James Corden’s Hi-5 is especially irritating, though he’s just one bit of code in a grating algorithm. Every character is unlikable, has hazy motivations and continually raises questions, like why does one emoji have parents, and how are emojis able to reproduce? How and why would an emoji fall in love? Why do emojis need to be scanned everytime they’re used by the phone owner? Why… oh, who cares? They’re fuckin’ emojis. It’s probably a good thing we feel nothing for these creepily vivified deformities, because that would be deeply disturbing.

The ultimate message – which makes little sense in the context of the story – is some nonsense about being yourself and an individual; deeply ironic given the projectile vomit of product placement and the condemning depiction of every human character using only their devices to communicate with the people around them. You might want to think twice about taking your kids to this one; there’s a strong chance they’ll be bored.

The Emoji Movie is available in Australian cinemas from September 14

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures 

Movie Review – Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

Exceeding expectations, Captain Underpants is one of the best animated films of the year.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Michael Philp

Full disclosure: I brought some baggage into my viewing of Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. The novels, written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey, were some of my favourites growing up, and I was wary of seeing it turn into another The Smurfs or Trolls – nostalgic Trojan horses that take every opportunity to try and sell you songs and cute merchandise. Imagine my surprise then, when Captain Underpants not only avoided those pitfalls, but also demonstrated a genuine love for the original books.

The film follows fourth graders Harold Hutchins (Thomas Middleditch) and George Beard (Kevin Hart), best friends since kindergarten, and creators of the comic book hero Captain Underpants. The boys are phenomenal pranksters, and often butt heads with their humourless and cruel principal, Mr Krupp (Ed Helms). When one of their pranks gets caught on camera, Krupp sentences them to the ultimate punishment: putting them in different classrooms! The duo, cornered in his office, hypnotise him into believing he is the titular Captain. Hilarity ensues as the dim-witted superhero comes to life and causes chaos around town.

Everyone is at the top of their game here. Middleditch and Hart are a winning combination, matching the energy of the film with ease. The boys’ imaginations run wild, but it never feels indulgent or out of place, mostly because of how well Middleditch and Hart sell it. Few films would handle the line “Separate classes lead to separate lives, which inevitably leads to robots!” as well as this one does. Better still is the joyous energy that Nick Kroll brings as the villainous Professor Poopypants. Played with Germanic exuberance, Poopypants is the perfect antagonist for the film, and Kroll clearly relishes the chance to go a little bit mad and steal every scene he can.

That craziness is served well by the superb animation. Unafraid to experiment with numerous styles and ideas, the film brings Harold’s illustrations to life in a way Pilkey could only dream of. Talking toilets and killer robots all pop with layers of polish and love. Purely on a visual level, it’s hard to imagine a better adaptation of the books.

The cherry on top of all of this is that the film never undercuts itself with unnecessary marketing ploys. The studio could’ve easily thrown in a random dance montage set to the latest candy-floss pop song (don’t they all do that now?), but it never sinks that low. It even keeps product placements to a refreshing bare minimum. The film’s highest priority is in presenting Pilkey’s world with love and verve.

Being sceptical of a film like Captain Underpants would be natural – the director’s last film was the brain-numbingly average Turbo – but rest assured the end product is something worth seeing. The colour and energy on display is infectious, and it’s in service to a wonderful story of friendship and imagination. Captain Underpants takes the spirit of Harold and George’s comics and puts it on the big screen, and I don’t think there’s much more you can ask of an adaptation. By the looks of things, we’ll be seeing a sequel or two down the line, and for once I’m pretty happy about that.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is available in Australian cinemas from September 14 

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Movie Review – The Lovers

In his latest film, Azazel Jacobs explores the murky labyrinth of relationships.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

The Lovers starts with two affairs; one tenuous and volatile, the other filled with passion. The two perpetrators, husband and wife Michael (Tracy Letts) and Mary (Debra Winger), live in the same house, sleep in the same bed, but do not share in each other’s lives. They live in a marital dead zone, exchanging pleasantries and furtive glances, and have probably tried every remedy in the book to eliminate the chasm between them. Nothing has worked, and now they exploit the only remaining option: throwing their emotional resources into the arms of another.

This is the setup of Azazel Jacobs’ new film; written like a sitcom, but given the attention and care of a profound domestic drama. Michael and Mary are likeable enough, but chemistry between them has long since flown out the window. Michael is seeing a ballerina on the side (of course she’s a ballerina) and Mary is seeing Aiden Gillen. Neither knows the other is cheating, but their marriage has been so chaste for so long I suspect they’re wise to each other’s acts. The film complicates things a little with the arrival of their son Joel (Tyler Ross), who has come visiting from college with his new girlfriend (Jessica Sula).

The Lovers is a decent film with two great leads and a mishmash of supporting players. Melora Walters as the lithe ballerina Lucy is nothing but quirky, clingy and kinda ditzy. Gillen seems able to pressure Mary into leaving Michael and nothing else. Surely the main criteria for committing adultery is that your new partner must be more interesting than the one you’re cheating on, right? Both Lucy and Robert (Gillen) are so characteristically one-dimensional their only redeeming feature must be sex, and yet they seem about as sexual as rotting logs. So, are Michael and Mary simply cheating out of desperation? Who knows, really?

Like the best movies about difficult subjects, The Lovers treats romantic estrangement with maturity and compassion. Yes, occasionally it plays for laughs and develops ludicrous situations for its doomed couple, but it understands the simple truth that relationships, whether it’s keeping them together or apart, are never easy. And something as innocent as a mistaken morning kiss is enough to reopen Pandora’s box.

The Lovers is available in Australian cinemas from September 7 

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures 

Movie Review – Girls Trip

Not again! Another film with a female led cast that just misses the mark.

⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

Girls Trip follows four female friends who travel to New Orleans to try and rekindle their college friendship and rediscover their wild side. Each woman is facing her own set of difficulties and seeks support from the others, but will the trip ultimately end up driving them further apart?

Other than the black, female cast, there isn’t anything particularly original going on here. The jokes are cruder than ever. There’s the expected commentary on race. All four women are seemingly strong and independent, yet incredibly flawed to give them that “relatable” factor, but at the end of the day all you’ve really got is a bunch of severely underdeveloped characters.

The talented core ensemble try their best to work with the material they’ve been given: newcomer Tiffany Haddish is hilarious, and for the most part, a breath of fresh air. She spends the entire film calling out the other characters whenever they’re being overly pretentious or just downright stupid. Unfortunately, a lot of her jokes take far too long to reach the punch line. By the time the comedic pay off comes, it doesn’t hit as well as it should.

Girls Trip has the potential to be smart and witty, but instead it shoots for vulgar and that’s where it unravels. For me, it lacks heart; for a film supposedly about friendship and girl power it left me cold and uncomfortable. After films like Moonlight, Hidden Figures and Get Out, it seems like two steps backwards.

Surprisingly, it’s done really well in the box office in the US so it will be interesting to see how it performs elsewhere, but overall it’s an easily forgettable film that lacks any real punch.

Girls Trip is available in Australian cinemas from August 31

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2017

Movie Review – Madame

Putting the comedy back into rom-com: Rossy de Palma steals the spotlight in this classic rags to riches tale.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill 

Madame follows wealthy American couple Anne (Toni Collette) and Bob (Harvey Keitel) in their hosting of a dinner party. After the late arrival of an unexpected guest leaves the table a setting short – because god forbid a table should have thirteen people! – the couple enlists their maid Maria (Rossy de Palma) to take the fourteenth spot. Unaware of her true occupation, the other guests find her a delight, especially one guest in particular…

De Palma completely steals the spotlight in this film. She’s endearing and charismatic, but it’s her innocence that allows her to carry the jokes that would otherwise have seemed overly crude. Collette and Keitel each have their own funny moments, however, while Collette’s turn as the neurotic and insecure wife has its poignant moments, she doesn’t quite match de Palma.

Where Madame falls short is in placing too much of a focus on certain characters and neglecting others with greater potential. It spends too much time spelling out Anne and Bob’s dissatisfaction toward their marriage and their respective affairs, taking precious screen time away from other characters that could have provided more comedic value.

Although entertaining, Maria’s character is not very well developed; there are brief mentions of her working as a maid to send money to her daughter in Paris, but there’s no explanation of what happened to the girl’s father. It also felt a bit pulled together for the sake of trying to explain the reason for Maria being a maid in the first place.

For the most part, Madame is packed full of laughs, even if some of the more comedic moments are a little cringeworthy. It’s definitely suited to a more mature audience and marks a promising future for de Palma in American cinema.

Madame is available in Australian cinemas from August 24 

Image courtesy of StudioCanal