Movie Review – A Simple Favour

Might not be Oscar material, but it is bloody good fun.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

In A Simple Favour, Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) makes friends with glamorous fellow mum Emily (Blake Lively) at her son’s school. When Emily goes missing, Stephanie becomes determined to find out what happened to her. By utilising her network of followers on her vlog, Stephanie ends up uncovering more than she ever expected…

Director Paul Feig – known for female-led comedies such as Bridesmaids, The Heat and the all-female Ghostbusters remake – makes a departure from overly crude humour to deliver an unexpected new offering. A Simple Favour is a dark thriller with an air of sophistication to it, and this change in direction for Feig is both strategic and welcome.

Lively plays Emily with the feel of an unpolished diamond. She is the epitome of the working mum many aspire to be – elegant, trendy and unapologetic – and Lively seems very comfortable playing the character with a bit of fire. Unlike many of her previous roles that have tended to be a bit sappy and emotionally wearing, her turn as Emily is fierce and daring, and the type of character I hope Lively continues to play.

Kendrick plays Stephanie as, well… Anna Kendrick. But it actually suits this role. Her natural hyperactivity doesn’t become tiresome given her self-awareness and ability to poke fun at herself. Stephanie is the ying to Emily’s yang as a stay-at-home mum whose penchant for cooking and crafts makes her the butt of the other parent’s jokes.

Whilst the film is a thriller, it is filled with moments of dark humour and gutsy punchlines that are both shocking and hilarious at the same time. It’s a nice touch and separates A Simple Favour from the onslaught of thriller novels-turned-films that have graced our screens in recent years, from Gone Girl, to The Girl on a Train and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

A Simple Favour does have its down sides, however. Parts of the story are rushed and there are a few questions that are left unanswered but given the strong character development I was more forgiving of these flaws. The strength of A Simple Favour lies in its ability to portray two contrasting portrayals of what it means to be a mother in today’s day and age. It’s an unexpected delight and I would encourage all to see it.

A Simple Favour is available in Australian cinemas from September 13

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

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Movie Review – The Happytime Murders

Avenue Q meets Chinatown in the worst film of the year, as Melissa McCarthy stumbles through the latest in a long line of flops.


Rhys Pascoe 

Directed by Brian Henson (son of Jim) and penned by Todd Berger, The Happytime Murders centres around a simple premise; take a generic crime noir that concerns itself with murder, drugs and booze and sub half of the human cast for colourful, fuzzy puppets.

When the trailer for The Happytime Murders first appeared on YouTube, I rolled my eyes at the sheer stupidity of it all. It felt like a parody trailer, like that Crocodile Dundee revival/Superbowl commercial with Danny McBride from earlier in the year or the (admittedly great) spoofs that play before Tropic Thunder – because, let’s be honest, is its premise any less stupid than Tugg Speedman’s Scorcher VI?

Alas, it was a real film.  A real film that stars Melissa McCarthy as a loud, foul-mouthed LAPD detective and Bill Barretta as Phil Philips, a shabby, washed-up, chain-smoking, De Niro-esque private eye puppet, who are partnered together when a vicious killer starts popping off puppets across Los Angeles.

The glaring flaw of The Happytime Murders presents itself within the first 10-15 minutes. Namely, how does a film that essentially uses a College Humour premise sustain itself for a whole 90 minutes? The tone, the gags and the novelty soon wear thin – the only arrow in its quiver is ‘hey, aren’t these crude and horny puppets a gas?!’  The script is boring, the jokes are lame and the puppetry itself is nothing to write home about.

As a tight Saturday Night Live skit, The Happytime Murders would work a treat. Its cast of comedians – Maya Rudolph, Elizabeth Banks, Joel McHale – would no doubt relish the opportunity to sink their teeth into a goofy and crass send up where The Muppets meets LA Confidential. But as a feature film, the only thing less funny than The Happytime Murders is someone sticking his (or her) hand up your ass.

The Happytime Murders is available in Australian cinemas from August 23 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Submergence

Laden with nonsensical dialogue and boring interludes, Submergence remains true to its unfortunately fitting title.


Zachary Cruz-Tan

Submergence is a dull, tiresome plod through a series of events that are no doubt meant to be shocking and romantic, but simply end up resembling a dying fish flopping about on the shore. It is a joyless, merciless experience at the movies, the kind where your attention begins to stray, and you start admiring the scenery more than the actors. Its director, Wim Wenders, has made some spectacular, insightful films in his long career. This one, sadly, is thin soup.

It also doesn’t seem to be worth Alicia Vikander’s and James McAvoy’s time, who star as lovers torn apart by their careers. This could have been a wonderful premise, where two lovebirds are more or less destined to be together but can’t because their jobs keep getting in the way. What we get instead is a long, drawn out, non-linear narrative in which McAvoy is constantly chained to things and Vikander gazes longingly into nothingness.

McAvoy plays James, a British intelligence agent who pit-stops at an idyllic beach resort in France before executing a mission in Somalia. Vikander is Danielle, an oceanographer who’s set to plunge into the black depths of the Atlantic. They meet at the French hotel, succumb to boneheaded dialogue (“I love the smell of sweat”) and fall madly in love, despite neither of them possessing personalities more arousing than a wet sponge.

They engage in pseudo-intellectual banter about such intrinsic and gripping subjects as the layers of the ocean, Danielle’s yellow submarine and James’ fears as a soldier, all in a witless attempt to fool us into thinking their romance is real. And then James gets caught and tortured in Somalia while Danielle prepares to submerge. Woe is them.

Romance movies first have to deliver believable characters before love and heartbreak can develop between them. It’s why When Harry Met Sally (1989) remains a rom-com cornerstone. Submergence fails because its characters fail, and then it is filmed and edited to resemble a tribute montage for a funeral. The bits in Somalia are more interesting than the scenes aboard Danielle’s science vessel, but it would take a complete screenplay and editing overhaul to make us care about that as well. It’s rare to find a movie in which nothing works. This comes as close as any.

Submergence is available in Australian cinemas from August 16 

Image courtesy of The Backlot Films

 

Movie Review – The Wife

Tense and brilliantly acted, Björn Runge’s The Wife is a thoroughly immersive and ultimately rewarding experience.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

We are living in a time of burgeoning female empowerment, with lots of movies speaking up with voices that used to be silenced. Among them, The Wife stands out as one of the best, not particularly because it is about a strong woman, but because the woman realises just how strong she really is. She has spent a lifetime alone with inner demons, manhandled by stereotype, but in no way has she surrendered her feminism.

The woman is Joan Castleman, played by Glenn Close in one of her greatest performances. Joan is married to Joe (Jonathan Pryce, equally fantastic), a long-time novelist who has just won the Nobel Prize for literature. The couple, along with their adult son David (Max Irons), travel to Stockholm in preparation for the award ceremony. Joe and David don’t get along. Joe starts to flirt with the young photographer assigned to him. Christian Slater slithers in as a biographer with a thirst for the truth, no matter how damaging.

So, let’s just say there are secrets in here that need to be uncovered, and both Close and Pryce do an outstanding job at keeping those secrets buried just beneath the surface. The movie also travels back to the ‘50s, where a young Joe (Harry Lloyd), a literature professor, takes Joan (Annie Starke), his brightest student, under his wing and eventually under his sheets. “A writer must always write”, he proclaims. And so he must. But what if what he writes isn’t very good?

The Wife is all about being silenced, not by torture or physical oppression but by the fear that a patriarchal society will frown heavily upon creative women. Outside his adultery, Joe is not a bad man; he’s simply a product of his time, and since his time has been so good to him, why should he think to change it?

It would’ve been nice if the screenplay by Jane Anderson had steered away from some contrived narrative impulses, like the unexpected tragedy at the end that neatly avoids dealing with the resolution our two main characters deserve. It’s a bit of an easy escape after establishing them so richly. But there can be no mistake, The Wife is a terrific film, and each time the camera lands on Glenn Close, her face tells a thousand stories.

The Wife is available in Australian cinemas from August 2 

Image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution

 

 

Movie Review- Mary Shelley

The tale of the mastermind behind Frankenstein is ironically much like the monster itself – pieced together with unusual and unexpected things and given life through shock and lunacy.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey J. Hogan

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Elle Fanning), a teenage girl bored with her familial duties under her philosopher father (Stephen Dillane) in 18th century London, escapes reality by burying herself in books and conjuring ghost stories for her own amusement. Seeing her need for a more meaningful lifestyle, her father sends her off to live as a ward in a Scottish residence, where she meets the handsome and talented young poet Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth). Their chemistry is instant, and so begins to burn the fires of an incredibly unconventional and bohemian love affair, one filled with both passion and tragedy and that would eventually inspire Mary’s gothic magnum opus, Frankenstein.

Haifaa al-Mansour (director of the game-changing Saudi Arabian gem Wadjda) and writer Emma Jensen’s bibliographical Mary Shelley is a very curious interpretation of the life and loves of history’s great horror author. Veering off-course from the typical tune of a period piece or biopic, it brings to mind last year’s A Quiet Passion, which also told the life of a famous female wordsmith of centuries past. However, in many ways this feels like that film’s antithesis; where Passion had marrow but was placid and loaded with antipathy, Shelley sacrifices historical accuracy for entertainment value but becomes over-the-top and melodramatic in the process, leaving us with a puzzling portrayal of the brilliant author.

Like a soap opera, we ride a rollercoaster of overplayed emotional moments that sporadically form Shelley’s coming-of-age, which, strangely, draws much of its drama from sudden shock events or characters having a change of heart at the drop of a hat. It’s frankly bonkers, making less and less sense at it goes on; almost every character seems to suffer from bipolar disorder as a means of causing grief for Mary when convenient.

The worst offender is of course Percy (a portrayal that has already been criticised as ridiculous by many), who is smug, careless and frustratingly inconsistent. He lives a bourgeoisie life that stops and starts depending on a mysterious trust fund from his parents, and seems to go in and out of loving Mary as he makes poor judgement calls that lead to the death of their child and selfishly takes credit for Mary’s writings while passing her off as a piece of meat for his similarly absurd friend Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge). Whether or not we are meant to love or loathe this man as Mary does is never clear, and Booth’s mugging through it never helps.

Thank goodness then, for Fanning, who brings some kind of balance to the madness running rampant. She confidently carries the doom magnet that is Shelley through her tumultuous journey; bringing her trademark dainty assurance, tenacity and sexual energy to make her depiction the most believable thing in an otherwise farcical memoir.

So like Frankenstein’s monster, this is a real patchwork and stroke of insanity that requires a great deal of imagination to accept. And yet, as a truly bizarre take on a remarkable woman’s life, Mary Shelley is worth a look for the amusingly abstract tale that will cause a reaction one way or another – even if it is wide-eyed bewilderment.

Mary Shelley is available in Australian cinemas from 6th July

Image courtesy of Transmission films

Movie Review – Adrift

A forgettable survival film about a young couple trying to get back to land safely after they encounter a freak hurricane at sea.

⭐ ½
Elle Cahill 

Based on a true story, Adrift follows Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) and Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin) who after meeting and falling in love decide to voyage by sea from Tahiti to San Diego. Along the way they encounter one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in history. With their boat damaged and Richard’s legs and ribs horrifically injured, Tami must find a way to get the boat working again if they are to have any chance of survival.

Adrift is the same old rehash of a familiar tale. While it is less of a romance film than the trailer suggests, it fails to compete against other survival films that have been released in recent years. 127 Hours, I Am Legend, Buried and Life of Pi all offer compelling characters and lead performances that make each respective survival situation believable. In Adrift, I wasn’t able to form a connection with either of the main characters, and while I wanted them to survive, there was never a moment where I was really rooting for them.

Director Baltasar Kormákur (Everest, 2015) doesn’t shy away from showing the harsh realities of being abandoned at sea, but this is let down by the excessive flashbacks of how the couple met and fell in love in Tahiti.

Woodley and Claflin do the best they can with the material they’ve been given. Both have proven in the past that they can tackle tougher roles with more complexity, and they deserved the chance to better show off their skills. There are glimpses of Woodley’s talent during some moments of desperation, but this is offset by other moments where the stakes aren’t high enough to warrant the dramatic reaction.

Much like its subject matter, Adrift really struggles to stay afloat. Disappointingly, it’s a forgettable film that wastes the potential of telling the true story of a woman’s bravery in a dire situation.

Adrift is available in Australian cinemas from June 28 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – The Leisure Seeker

Love is dead and growing old sucks – what else is new?

⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

Paolo Virzì’s The Leisure Seeker centres on an old married couple – Ella (Helen Mirren) and John (Donald Sutherland) – as they grapple with various old age ailments. Despite Ella’s growing frailty and John’s worsening dementia, the couple decide to take their beloved Winnebago – dubbed The Leisure Seeker – on one last road trip from their home in Boston to visit the Florida Keys home of John’s idol, Ernest Hemingway.

Virzi’s film, which clocks in at a lengthy 113 minutes and trundles along about as fast as the titular camper, seems to have nothing to say other than “growing old sucks” and “you will find yourself here one day, just like everybody else”. It has sporadic bursts of profound emotion, but eventually they’re all different angles on the same scrape; John forgets himself or where he is while Ella frets and fears for his health. After the first act, each scene covers the same ground. It’s crushingly sad and just hammers the same message over and over and over. When Sutherland’s character eventually pines to be put of his misery, I found myself feeling the exact same way – please, let it end. As soon as possible, preferably.

This could all be forgiven if the script delivered on its promise of octogenarian hijinks on the road, but it falls short. The occasional chuckle is suffocated by the thick fog of sadness and hopelessness that lingers in the air. Mirren and Sutherland, to their credit, deliver admirable performances, however, that’s more or less where the commendable aspects end. The film, like its frail characters, just shuffles around, biding its time and waiting for the sweet embrace of the end. Hard pass.

The Leisure Seeker is available in Australian cinemas from June 14 

Image courtesy of eOne Films

Movie Review – Disobedience

Sebastian Lelio’s lastest feature looks at what happens when your sexuality and religious beliefs don’t align.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

When Ronit (Rachel Weisz) receives word that her father has passed, she returns to the Orthodox Jewish community from which she was shunned as a child. While paying respects to her father, a revered rabbi of the community, Ronit comes to learn that her former childhood friend and lover Esti (Rachel McAdams) has married her cousin Dovid (Alessandro Nivola). Ronit and Esti soon rekindle their old romance, leaving Esti and Ronit both questioning their faith and the paths their individual lives have taken.
Once again, director Sebastián Lelio explores people living on the outskirts of their community and struggling with their identity in the world. Similar to Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman (2017), which explored a transgender woman coming to grips with the death of her boyfriend, Disobedience is a close inspection of sexuality that is deemed to have no place in organised religious communities.

Lelio has managed to capture the bitterness that exists between old lovers, the suffocating presence of family and religion, and the testing of faith in a way that doesn’t prescribe right or wrong, but instead asks why things have to be this way. It explores the sense of duty that people have, and the depths that some feel this duty to the point that they can’t be themselves without fear of disappointment and banishment.

Bringing this story to life is a cast of outstanding calibre. Weisz plays the disenchanted Ronit with excellence as the character deals with the loss of her father and the unforgiveable nature of the Orthodox community. Nivola too is brilliant as Dovid, a man who has been shown the kinder side of the Orthodox community and struggles to understand Ronit and Esti’s defiance of “what is right.” Nivola has the ability to be silent, but speak volumes all at the same time, and I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing this role as perfectly as he does.

Finally, McAdams as Esti is the stand out for me. Her haunting portrayal of a woman who has to make a choice between her faith and her sexuality is a memorable and gripping performance. Frequently underused as an actress, McAdams has been given the opportunity here to really act, and for me, she doesn’t disappoint. Her portrayal of Esti is unexpected, but at the same time, what you’d expect from the character. She is quiet as the dutiful wife, and rarely speaks out of line, but there’s a quiet determination in her eyes that fuels her actions throughout the film.

For the most part, the film is intimate and poignant, however, there are a couple of moments that could have been executed better. For one, the sex scene between Esti and Ronit is overdone and put together in a way that doesn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the film. It fails to express the release of sexual tension between Esti and Ronit, which has been steadily building since Ronit’s arrival. Instead, it comes across like a cheap lesbian porno.

I’d still recommend the film, however. While the themes of love and religion aren’t anything new, Lelio uniquely tells a familiar story in an unfamiliar setting. It’s a film that will stay with you long after you’ve seen it.

Disobedience is available in Australian cinemas from June 14

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Kodachrome

An absentee father and his quarrelsome son embark on one final trip together. Buckle up for some feels, man.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

Jason Sudeikis plays Matt, a struggling record label producer and son of Ben (Ed Harris), a revered photographer with a fondness for the titular film format popularised by Kodak during the 20th century. When Ben learns he has liver cancer and doesn’t have long to live, he requests that Matt join him and his nurse Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) on a road trip to the last photo lab in America that still develops old Kodachrome film.

At first, Kodachrome offers a familiar tale of a family divided; an estranged, bitter father and a sulky wayward son, forced to reconcile during a road trip of extraordinary circumstances. It’s a tried and tested formula that the film rarely deviates from. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as they say. Its unsurprising nature is soon forgotten when screenwriter Jonathan Tropper and director Mark Raso start to peel back the layers of this dysfunctional trio of damaged people.

While all three of the lead actors are great, it’s Sudeikis who shines brightest. After proving he can handle meatier roles in Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal last year, Sudeikis continues to demonstrate a proclivity for intimate, independent drama. He shares great chemistry with Olsen (who also excels without the whizz-bang CGI theatrics of Scarlet Witch) and a palpable sense of history and tension with Harris, who is perfectly cast as the aging windbag determined to give everyone his two cents before he shuffles off his mortal coil. In short, all three elevate the somewhat trite material and bestow it with a sense of humour, heart and sincerity, with Sudeikis in particular delivering some of his best work to date.

The film, shot on 35mm film in honour of its subject matter, looks gorgeous, with a nostalgic tint. This pairs nicely with the film’s major themes; holding onto the past, losing sight of the present and being fearful of opening up to others. The poignancy that comes with both Matt and Ben having pursued careers in fading industries – physical music and film photography –reflects their inability to let go of long-held regrets.

At one point in the movie, Harris quips something akin to no art ever worth a damn was created out of happiness”. It’s a snide summation of his character and Kodachrome as a whole; the end is beautiful, moving and memorable, so even if it’s a little light on laughs, Raso’s film will be sure to offer food for thought. And while it’s probably similar to something you’ve seen before, it’s the execution that makes Kodachrome worth your time. A polished script, great performances, an emotional story and a half-decent soundtrack – you could do a lot worse.

Kodachrome is available in Australian cinemas from June 7 

Image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution 

Movie Review – The Bookshop

“Based on the book by…” may never have held as much irony as it does in this mostly unnecessary adaptation of a celebrated novel.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

The recently widowed Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) has a revelation one day and decides to risk everything on buying an abandoned house on the edge of her small English town to transform it into a bookshop. Having never experienced such a novelty before, the town of Hardborough is quickly divided over the business; some enchanted by its many written works, and others scoffing at the very thought of it. While Mrs Green forms unlikely friendships with her young employee Christine (Honor Kneafsey) and reclusive fellow book-lover Mr Brundish (Bill Nighy), the town’s alpha female Mrs Gamart (Patricia Clarkson) seeks a means to have Mrs Green evicted.

There’s nothing really all that wrong with this adaptation of Penelope Fitzgerald‘s beloved novel, other than one grand irony – it’s a tale that doesn’t feel like it belongs on the big screen. The literal translation of text to screen means no more dimensions than that of a single page of literature, and things end up a little flat and emotionless as a result. We simply plod through the mundanities of running a business, with minor complications like deciding whether certain products are appropriate to sell.

The Bookshop is one of those unremarkable films that’s mildly heightened by its actors, even if they are just doing what they’re best at. Emily Mortimer and Bill Nighy essentially play themselves as determinedly jittery and fuddy-duddyish, respectively. Unlike most of their typecast roles, however, neither is given an arc that allows them to develop significantly or cut loose with the acting trademarks that both have made a career out of. Patricia Clarkson at least has a bit more fun with her snobby Mrs Gamart, though her motivations for opposing Mrs Green for the sake of a house she could have purchased at any point in the past comes across as needlessly malicious. It’s really just there to give The Bookshop some semblance of a plot.

Really though, it’s hard to get too upset at such an inoffensive two hours. It’s exactly the type made to sedate anyone purchasing a ticket with a seniors’ discount, and in that aspect, it succeeds as a pleasant time. Excessive criticism should be spared from a film that does no right or wrong; it simply exists, and it at least promotes a pro-reading message – even if it shoots itself in the foot as an adaptation of a novel in the process.

The Bookshop is available in Australian cinemas from May 24 

Image courtesy of Transmission Films