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

Advertisements

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

Movie Review – Cargo

In a post-apocalyptic Australia, Martin Freeman plays Andy, a man roaming the outback desperate to find sanctuary for his daughter before he turns into a zombie. Along the way, he encounters Thoomi a young girl who agrees to help Andy if for nothing more than the company in a vastly decreasing population of unaffected people.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

Cargo, from first time filmmakers Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, follows the story of Andy as he desperately tries to make his way across the outback in a post-apocalyptic Australia to try and get his one-year-old daughter to safety before he succumbs to a zombie virus. Along the way, he meets Thoomi, a young girl who is to protect her zombified father from being killed and who may just be able to help lead him and his daughter to safety.

Zombie films are hard sells nowadays, and a zombie film in the outback an even harder one. With the ever growing list of zombie franchises such as the popular TV series The Walking Dead, iZombie and Santa Clarita Diet, and the endless Resident Evil films, not to mention the standalone films Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead and World War Z (just to name a few), there are few angles left to take.

Surprisingly, Cargo manages to carefully straddle the line between formulaic and unique to present a film that is recognisable enough in its themes and plot for audiences to understand they’re watching a zombie film, but its careful characterisation and location choice ultimately present a different take on the whole zombie epidemic.

Martin Freeman is brilliant as the helpless Andy who’s just trying to keep his family safe. His paternal protectiveness of his young daughter Rosie is his drive throughout the entire film, and is played to such precision that it gives the whole film purpose, that is often missing from traditional zombie films. Newcomer Simone Landers is wonderfully strong and insightful as Thoomi. Her powerful belief in her culture’s traditional rituals is never portrayed as naïve but instead is a sliver of hope in a largely doomed world.

Ultimately this film isn’t about a zombie-virus invasion or white vs. Indigenous culture; it is simply a story of survival, where the outback is no longer a dangerous environment but actually a sanctuary, and where the people remaining are trying to survive in any way they know how. Whilst the film contains the necessary drone shots of the Australian outback for the international viewers, it portrays the outback in a completely different way as well, almost as Australians see it rather than something to be feared.

I’d definitely recommend giving this film a watch, if not for a different take on Australian culture in cinema or a unique offering to the zombie genre, then at least for Martin Freeman owning this role like a boss.

Cargo is available in Australian cinemas from May 17 

Image courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment

Movie Review – Tully

Tully will no doubt aggravate many, but Jason Reitman once again delivers domestic drama at the highest level

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

The partnership of Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody is one that works because they share the natural instinct to get underneath their characters and turn them into everyday heroes. They partnered on Juno (2007) and again on Young Adult (2011), which also stars Charlize Theron. In both films, they treated very real issues with a bit of whimsy and a bit of elegance, but never lost that human touch. Tully, their latest collaboration, carries on in their grand tradition.

The movie is very much a one-woman show, with Theron playing Marlo, a mum of two with an unplanned third on the way. Her younger son, Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), is a behavioural deviant and may soon be dismissed from kindergarten. Her older daughter questions everything. Every day Marlo does the mothering while her husband, Drew (a terrific Ron Livingston), supplements his working days with video-gaming nights. Now a third child has arrived and it seems like her world has become a top spun upside-down. Help must come!

And come it does, in the stunning shape of Mackenzie Davis, who plays the night nanny, Tully. Tully is young and beautiful, with a keen sense about human feelings. It’s like she knows at once how to fix problems you didn’t even know were there. She strides into Marlo’s life and takes the reins, caring for the baby, baking cupcakes, cleaning the house, giving Marlo much needed breathing space. She even offers to help out in the bedroom. Things pick up. Drew grows closer. Dinners are actually cooked. And then…

Well, I won’t spoil what happens. Tully has a twist, which you will either see coming or despise if you don’t. Or both. Many will say it’s a twist that’s been done before in greater films, but I believe neither Cody, the writer, nor Reitman, the director, feels cheaply about the decision. Could the film have benefited from an alternative? Perhaps. There are always ways to work around obstacles. But because Marlo is so spectacularly herself, it is the fitting, logical call.

Reitman’s films have a way of establishing themselves firmly in a world that looks and feels right. He also seems to possess a natural relationship with Theron, who is given two notes to play (manic and exhausted) but somehow makes Marlo a robust, fully empathetic matriarch. Davis, too, is supremely effective as Tully and has many more strings to play, all of which she does with the tenderness of a maestro. I said the movie is a one-woman show, which it is, except when Marlo and Tully share the screen and completely absorb us in their chemistry. There’s not a lot that goes on here, but the little that does takes us right into the heart of a well-formulated screenplay and a cast of outstanding performers.

Tully is available in Australian cinemas from May 17 

Image courtesy of Studiocanal 

 

Movie Review – Chappaquiddick

Bleakly exposing a dark chapter in political history, Chappaquiddick spins an ambiguous moral compass that refuses to let us land anywhere comfortably.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan 

Senator Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) has spent his life in the shadow of his brothers, Bobby and John F. Kennedy. Seeking to forge his own glory and make his father (Bruce Dern) proud, he follows in their political footsteps on a far less successful presidential campaign. After leaving a party on Chappaquiddick Island with a former staff member of Bobby’s (Kate Mara), an accident submerges their car in a river and drowns the girl. Escaping unscathed, Ted resists his lawyer’s (Ed Helms) pleas to report the incident, and instead follows his father’s advice to conjure an alibi.

John Curran’s (The Killer Inside Me, Tracks) latest and possibly best film Chappaquiddick dramatises the scandal that nearly buried Teddy Kennedy. Ultimately, it leaves us with the realisation that a loud news cycle and press circulation can manipulate final feelings on a subject, and even will us to forgive and forget some of the things people in power have done. Did somebody say fake news?

Curran reels us in by making Teddy a largely likeable and admirable figure, then reveals his flaws and frustrations at being unable to reach his family’s high standards. Following the death of Bobby’s former staff member, Teddy deviates between coming clean of his guilt and doing the right thing, and covering up the incident to keep his political ambitions intact. It’s a complex and layered role that Jason Clarke brings to life perfectly. He seamlessly shifts between charm and dutifulness, to some downright cold and calculated damage control. It’s easily one of his best performances.

Refreshingly, some of his co-stars are also given the chance to shine by playing against type. Kate Mara unfortunately checks out early, but she creates a tragic character in the limited screen time she has. Likewise, Ed Helms, whose name is synonymous with goofball comedy, offers great restraint in a performance that shows he has some very capable dramatic chops.

Chappaquiddick’s producers reportedly received pressure from some very powerful political figures and friends of the Kennedys to not release the film, while other associates lambasted it as an “outright fabrication” and “trafficking in conspiracy theories”, which really only makes it all the more interesting. It can’t answer questions for us, but it does present us one thrilling bucket of worms. Like it or not, sometimes truth can get in the way of duty, and if Chappquiddick’s detractors are to be believed, truth can most definitely get in the way of a good yarn.

Chappaquiddick is available in Australian cinemas from May 10 

Image courtesy of Transmission Films

Movie Review – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Big in title, big in heart

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

The title might be a bit of a comical mouthful, but The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society (GLPPS) is actually quite a sombre film that looks at the impact of World War II on smaller communities in the UK. Through the eyes of young author Juliet Ashton (Lily James), we are shown a war-torn London under repair, and the tragic, lasting effect of war.

After corresponding with member of the GLPPS Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman), Juliet heads to Guernsey Island to meet the book club’s members and find inspiration for her next novel. What she finds, however, is a group struggling to recover from German occupation. She must decide whether her story is worth pursuing, or if she should leave the members to their mourning.

Based on the novel of the same name, Mike Newell’s latest film is supported by an extremely talented and well-known cast, including Matthew Goode as Juliet’s publisher and confidante, and the ever-brilliant Tom Courtenay as the eldest member of the GLPPS. The three standouts, however, are all key members of the book club, including Huisman (Game of Thrones), Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd) as the eccentric Isola and Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey) as the grief-stricken Amelia. All three bring a unique quality to their idiosyncratic characters and express how each character has been changed in irreparable ways by the deep trauma they have endured.

What lets down this strong ensemble is its lead in Lily James (Cinderella, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). James’ Juliet is reminiscent of Kristen Stewart’s turn as Bella in Twilight. Her character is supposedly a distinguished author who has suffered significant tragedy at a young age, which completely jars with James’ girlish, slightly immature delivery. It only becomes even more noticeable in contrast with Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey), who’s similarly aged character is miles ahead of Juliet in terms of her maturity and ability to show compassion to others.

Overall, however, GLPPS is a sensitive character study and a well-devised adaptation. While the ending leaves a little to be desired, the core of the film is worth investing your time and money into.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is available in Australian cinemas from Thursday 19 April 

Image courtesy of Studiocanal