Movie Review – A Star Is Born

Bradley Cooper’s first outing as a director is an exciting success, but the real star here is Lady Gaga. She lights up the screen with her incredible voice and relatively unknown acting ability, and the on-screen chemistry between her and Cooper makes for one hell of a ride.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

You know Summer has finally arrived in Perth when the clouds clear away, the days become longer, and the outdoor cinema’s start releasing their programs. The Rooftop Movies in Northbridge deliver a fantastic experience, with the beautiful city skyline lighting up the background of the screen, and the cool Northbridge vibes creating the ultimate atmosphere. The food is delicious, the drink choices limitless and the beanbags crazy comfy, making it feel like home away from home. We were lucky enough to catch A Star Is Born on the rooftop.

A Star Is Born is about the trajectory of two musicians’ careers’. Ally (Lady Gaga) is a young singer on the rise to fame and fortune, whereas Jack (Bradley Cooper) is on a downward spiral. The pair fall in love and attempt to navigate their relationship through their individual success and failures, with the latter succumbing more and more to his drug and alcohol abuse.

A Star Is Born is a remarkable feat that marks the fourth remake of this story, with the others opening in 1937, 1954 and 1976 respectively. This latest adaptation is the directorial debut of Bradley Cooper and despite being a remake, the film feels fresh and original. Cooper confidently takes control, capturing what it feels like to be onstage performing to large crowds, as well as his character’s unique view of Ally. He cuts in unusually close, focussing on specific facial features of Ally when they’re having intimate moments, and it really adds to the affectionate nature of the scenes. Audio has also been used in a really interesting way. Whilst music is littered throughout the film, Cooper has reserved the music largely for when the pair are performing, keeping the soundscape very quiet outside of the stage.

Cooper plays the addiction riddled Jack to his usual high standard, easily pulling off the gruff, anger-filled fading musician type. His love for Ally is believable, as is the pain and suffering the pair go through as their careers pull them further and further apart. Cooper is supported by Sam Elliott who plays his much older brother-turned-manager Bobby. Elliott brings a quiet strength to the film, and its Bobby’s constant presence, even when him and Jack are fighting, that brings a comforting calmness to the film.

But ultimately A Star Is Born is the Lady Gaga show. She completely and utterly steals the spotlight with her amazing vocals and emotive ballads. But it’s not just about her voice – she has the acting chops as well. This film proves the girl can act and the chemistry between her and Cooper is unreal. Ally’s growth over the course of the film has you rooting for her the entire way. She’s an admirable character who sacrifices much to love and protect Jack.

Cooper has made a valiant attempt to tell both sides of the story for this couple, and for the most part it works. The film overall is a little bit too long and there are moments in the middle that could have been cut, but in terms of expressing the addiction and craziness of fame, the film hits all the right notes. This wasn’t an easy task for Cooper to undertake, especially on his first outing as a director, but he has managed to modernise a timeless film with enough soulful tracks to keep the buzz around this film going, at least until Oscar season.

Program 1 of Rooftop Movies runs until December 9th, with another three programs to follow. You can see the full program at:

A Star Is Born is available in Australian cinemas from October 18.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films.


Movie Review – Bohemian Rhapsody

It was all smiles leaving the cinema but let’s see what Hooked On Film’s three reviewers really thought of Bohemian Rhapsody.

⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

I think it’s safe to say it’s never a good sign when a film’s director is abruptly dispatched from a project in the middle of production. No good comes of it. It’s like sitting through a Beatles record only to have Justin Bieber finish out the last three songs. Bohemian Rhapsody suffers such a fate, which is a shame because it’s about one of the most powerful bands of the rock era and is carried by a lead performance that is sure to be around come awards season.

Queen was fronted by Freddie Mercury, who famously said, “When I’m performing I’m an extrovert, yet inside I’m a completely different man”. In Bohemian Rhapsody Mercury is played by the brilliant Rami Malek, who indeed commands the screen with Freddie’s mystical charm and achieves something special – he holds us in the palm of his hand. Too bad, then, that the film constructed around him feels like an empty B-side. Directing difficulties aside, the writing by Anthony McCarten is filled with placeholder dialogue that does little to elevate the material beyond a very basic, predictable, and often frustrating fictional biography.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill 

Bohemian Rhapsody has it’s faults and to be fair, it’s a hard task to recreate the story of a legendary band who’s reputation proceeded them. What is brilliant about this film is the cinematography and costume design. Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel does some impressive camera manoeuvres, making use of the set design by weaving in, out and under objects, and using mirrors to capture reactions of characters. Similar to his work on Drive, Sigel almost utilises the camera as an extension of Mercury, creating a visually intimate style that captures the rawness of the emotion of screen.

Equally as spectacular as the cinematography is the costume design. Costume designer Julian Day manages to capture the incredible sense of style that Mercury had and recreate some of the more memorable costumes he wore during Queen’s stage shows. There’s an energy and empowerment that clothes gave Mercury, and Day not only captures his flamboyant style but Mercury’s change in fashion as the band progressed and grew in popularity.

There’s a lot of fun to be had while watching Bohemian Rhapsody, and while it’s not perfect, there is a lot of fantastic talent on display in the film, and it maturely handles Mercury’s life without detracting from his legacy.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐  ½
Corey J. Hogan 

As already mentioned, Bohemian Rhapsody is undeniably flawed in its approach to writing and storytelling. It’s more than a little telling that the band’s surviving members held some of the creative reigns, given that the expected focus on Mercury is pulled back to incorporate his less exciting band mates more – not to mention playing it safe and relatively formulaic, while glossing over some of the grittier elements like Mercury’s sexuality, substance abuse and HIV struggles.

But for all its shortcomings, Bohemian Rhapsody makes up for it in sheer spectacle. This is thanks almost entirely to an absolutely all-conquering performance from Malek as Freddie, who dazzles in an explosive, deliciously flamboyant turn that transforms him completely into the enigmatic legend. If Mr. Robot proved he had talent, this will skyrocket him straight to the A-list; you simply can’t take your eyes off him.

Elsewhere, the film succeeds where it recreates Queen’s many incredible live performances, perfectly capturing the energy and electricity that must have been felt amongst the thousands of people who witnessed them in the flesh. It culminates in an extended replica of their outstanding Live Aid performance of ’85 to a crowd of 100,000 people, a high note to ensure you leave the cinema positively buzzing. It might not be the great Freddie Mercury expose we dreamed of, but fans of Queen are in for a treat – as are Wayne’s World devotees, with a genius reference thrown in for good measure.

Bohemian Rhapsody  is available in Australian cinemas from November 01

Also screening as part of  the RoofTop Movies Program 1 on Dec 06.

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Movie Review – Beautiful Boy

Beautiful Boy is a brutally honest portrayal of drug addiction and the affect it has on the families of the addicted.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill 

Beautiful Boy is based on the true story of Nic Sheff, a young man who succumbs to drug and alcohol addictions, and his family’s experience as they attempt to help him overcome them, even after repeated relapses. Told mainly from the point of view of Nic (Timothée Chalamet) and his father David (Steve Carell), the film seamlessly covers many years in a seeming blur of time as Nic continually battles his inner demons.

Beautiful Boy is a heavy family drama that tackles one of the biggest issues affecting young people today. From the escapism and sheer terror felt by Nic, the desperation and grief David experiences as he desperately searches the streets for his son time and time again, the frustration of Nic’s stepmom, to his mother’s complete helplessness, it’s a difficult film to watch. For anyone who has experienced drug addiction amongst their loved ones, the tropes utilised in Beautiful Boy are all too familiar and equally painful to see played out on the big screen.

The film is led by an extremely talented cast. I’m a huge fan of Carell’s, of both his comedic and dramatic work, and he doesn’t disappoint in this role. He brings a different presence to the father role from other similar roles, choosing instead to take on a quiet desperation in David’s characterisation rather than the aggressive, shouting father figures that are all too common. This approach grounds the performance and has you empathising with David’s character a lot more. Chalamet is equally brilliant, and it’s his neurotic take on Nic that further alienates him from society. Chalamet’s ability to flick between his raging mood swings and playing the victim to try and get money from his family is both impressive and horrifically sad to watch.

Director Felix van Groeningen brings a hallucinogenic feel to the film and the timeline it operates within, causing confusion as to how much time has passed and where we are in the story, but just as quickly, it centres itself again and the story continues. Groeningen also manages to tell an intricate but honest story about the impact drugs have on the whole family. Maura Tierney does a great job at playing Nic’s stepmom, capturing the pain and detachment of someone who isn’t directly related to Nic but is emotionally attached to David. Her love for Nic is evident but the need to protect her own children from the realities of the world is also a driving factor that sees her take a much stronger stance against Nic.

The film is great, from the eclectic soundtrack all the way through to the brilliant casting and beautifully written script. The film is intense and feels longer than its two hours, but not in a bad way. It’s a well-balanced story that allows room for character growth and story development, without skipping over any characters or leaving questions unanswered. There are times when it’s hard to keep track of how much time has passed as the characters don’t seem to get older, but it’s a film that keeps you thinking long after you’ve seen it. That, for me, is the mark of a great film.

Beautiful Boy  is available in Australian cinemas from October 25 

Also screening as part of  the RoofTop Movies Program 1 on Dec 05.

Image courtesy of Transmission Films

Movie Review – 22 July

Not for the faint of heart… 22 July is a gutsy attempt at covering the 2011 terrorist attacks in Norway.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill 

Paul Greengrass’ latest offering tells the story of the 2011 terrorist attack in Norway that saw 8 people die in Oslo from a car bomb explosion set by extremist Anders Behring Breivik (Anders Danielsen Lie). Breivik then travelled to Utøya island and stormed a youth camp armed with guns, killing an additional 69 people. 22 July focuses on survivor Viljar Hanssen (Jonas Strand Gravli) and the court case that followed the attack.

Known for the The Bourne Supremacy and Captain Phillips, Greengrass delivers a heavy and sometimes shocking retelling of the Norway terrorist attacks. He doesn’t hold back from showing the brutality of the actual attacks, as well as the aftermath of the event, in which Hanssen undergoes lifesaving surgery. Greengrass shows the graphic reality of having bullet fragments removed from the brain and the emotional toll of physical rehabilitation. Some may argue these visuals go too far and take advantage of the situation, but I think it is an honest portrayal of the devastation of the attack.

Jonas Strand Gravli is exceptional in capturing the wide range of emotions of Hanssen – from the sheer terror during the attacks, to his overwhelming grief toward the loss of his friends. His final confrontation with Breivik in the court proceedings is strong and powerful as he lays bare the impact the events have had on him personally.

But the standout here is Anders Danielson Lie as Breivik. He and Greengrass make Breivik out to be completely villainous, without going into too much depth about the reasons behind his actions. Lie plays Breivik as cold and calculating, with very little regard for the horrific consequences of his attacks. He seems to take a sick pleasure in the attention he receives, and at no point does he show even the slightest hint of remorse. Lie gives a performance that is compelling to watch, but also highly disturbing.

Overall, 22 July is a valiant attempt to tell the story of the Norway terrorist attack. It doesn’t try to hide away from the ugly truth and goes the extra mile to explore more than just the attack itself.

22 July is available on Netflix Australia from October 10 

Image Courtesy of Netflix Inc. 

Movie Review – First Man

With First Man, Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land) proves he has the mettle to contend with high drama.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

I’m at a crossroads with First Man, the new film by Damien Chazelle about Neil Armstrong and his rendezvous with history. On the one hand, I fully appreciate it as a tremendous work of cinema. It is muscular, excellently performed and truly captivating. It establishes Chazelle is a formidable directing force. On the other, I found myself incapable of connecting with it on an emotional level. Now, I’m not sure if it’s because the screenplay is confused about its hero, or because I, like many Americans back in the ‘60s, feel space should only be explored once matters of the Earth have been settled.

Alas, the moon has been conquered. Armstrong has been immortalised. Millions of dollars have been spent and hunger is still rampant. But I suppose such questions of ethics should be shoved aside for the time being. First Man begins with Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) as a test pilot for NASA. He is accepted as an astronaut cadet and before long he’s been chosen to land on the moon.

At home he has two sons and a spouse, Janet (Claire Foy), who is restricted to the domesticated wife role because it’s the 1960s and the film needed a female lead. Foy is a remarkable actor and she does the best with what she’s given, but once you’ve seen one domesticated wife raising the children alone and fretting over her reckless husband, you’ve seen them all.

First Man, based on the book “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong” by James R. Hansen, is so well made that it’s easy to overlook such shortcomings. It is accompanied by a musical score that pulls off the difficult task of being inspiring and unsettling at the same time. It has wonderful sound design – the creaking and cracking of rickety vessels wrestling with the atmosphere is jarring in the extreme. It somehow manages to fit the standard biopic mould while carefully subverting it. It’s not necessarily the cleverest movie, but it does a mighty fine job at making us believe it is.

And yet I am confused by its portrayal of the great Armstrong. He comes across as a man displeased to have greatness thrust upon him. When he is awarded the Apollo 11 mission, he’s about as thrilled as a sick hamster. His answers at the press conference are painfully cryptic. Is he excited to be going, or disappointed? Why would this man, who seemingly has everything, risk it all to fly to the moon? Without knowing, it’s awfully hard to cheer for the guy.

First Man is available in Australian cinemas from October 11 

Also screening as part of  the RoofTop Movies Program 1 on Nov 16 & Nov 25.

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2018

Movie Review – American Animals

Kentucky, 2004. Four college students plot one of the most audacious art heists in US history. Fourteen years later, director Bart Layton regales us with their exploits in one of the best films of the year.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

To call American Animals a mere heist movie is a little reductive. It’s a heist movie about heist movies, featuring the real-life subjects alongside a cast recreating the events that took place fourteen years ago. It’s Ocean’s 11 meets The Social Network, where a group of bored and entitled college students talk themselves into a situation intended to transform their lives at the expense of others.

Straddling documentary and drama, Layton’s film cuts between fact and fiction with glee. Talking heads from the real culprits expose fault lines and shared doubts between the characters, acting as a retrospective inner monologue. Each recount of the events contradicts the other, sowing the seeds of doubt in the audience, but also putting a humorous spin on the escapade.

The heist itself sees the film shift gears. Layton sheds the brisk romp vibe and smacks the audience with the realisation that shit just got real. All of a sudden the smiles are gone and panic starts to set in. As the plan unravels, the tension ratchets up to fever pitch. It’s heart-pounding stuff. While all four leads – Evan Peters (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk), Blake Jenner (Everybody Wants Some) and Jared Abrahamson (Travelers) – are great, it’s Peters who picks up the ball and runs with it, especially in the second half.

Layton’s direction is another standpoint feature. The tonal shifts are handled with aplomb, while the edits between past and present, real-life and fantasy are brilliant. Culminating in a wonderful conclusion reminiscent of The Usual Suspects, American Animals is smart and snappy, bringing us a potent message underneath some funky filmmaking.

American Animals is available in Australian cinemas from October 4 

Also screening as part of  the RoofTop Movies Program 1 on Nov 20.

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment and © AI Film LLC / Channel Four Television / American Animal Pictures Ltd 2018

Movie Review – Jirga

Ben Gilmour’s Jirga explores the desperation of the human spirit through trust, friendship and the quest for redemption.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Jirga is a movie of such simplicity it seems to be almost entirely improvised, which is not a million miles from the truth. Director Benjamin Gilmour and lead actor Sam Smith reportedly trekked the dangerous foothills between Pakistan and Afghanistan for months, scheduling their shoot according to circumstance. The result is a war movie that plays like a documentary, paced liked a melting glacier. It’s slow and steady, but not for a moment is it uninteresting.

Smith plays former Aussie soldier Mike Wheeler, who is determined to revisit a rural Afghan village, so he can personally apologise to the family of a civilian he accidentally killed some three years earlier. So strong is his will to complete this mission that he wanders the barren desert for days with nothing but a bag of sympathy cash.

This is not a movie that’s made to be enjoyed in any measure of the word. It’s quite a harsh experience – the early scenes have Mike renting out a cheap hotel in Kabul, and it is worth noting that his room is empty except for rugs and a throw pillow. Every location seems to have been stripped to its bones, perhaps by design, or perhaps because it’s the best Gilmour and his team managed to find. Either way, you will not want to spend an hour in Mike’s shoes, which I suspect is the point.

And yet there’s a lot of room for softness and human connection. Mike hires a cab driver to take him deep into the desert, birthing some of the film’s most charming moments. Later, he is captured by Taliban troops and forms a kind of friendship with one of them (naturally, the one who speaks English). The driving force behind Jirga is that preconceptions can often be false, that even violent men with machine guns can show decency.

I can tell you that Mike finally reaches the village. What I can’t tell you is whether he succeeds and earns forgiveness. Much of Jirga’s final moments are very well executed, and Gilmour exploits his non-actors for every ounce of professionalism.

I’ve read that the film has been criticised for not exploring Mike’s soul enough, that he seems more like a block of wood than a human being. If Gilmour had set out to make a fictional biography, maybe these complaints would matter. But Jirga exists merely to get us from here to there, and if Mike resembles a robot, perhaps it’s because the reality of war eventually strips away the emotions of everyone affected. In that sense, I’d say it’s accurate.

Jirga is available in Australian cinemas from September 27

Image courtesy of Footprint Films

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

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