Movie Review – Goodbye Christopher Robin

Simon Curtis’ Goodbye Christopher Robin does its job but definitely arrived with the ambition to do more.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Goodbye Christopher Robin assembles all the elements of a great historical drama, but somehow fails to fit them together. It’s never quite as cohesive as it’s meant to be. It’s touching and sad, supremely shot, beautiful to look at, but forgets the piece that completes the picture. And quite surprisingly, Margot Robbie turns in a high school performance that should’ve been eaten by her dog.

But the film raises interesting questions. We follow A. A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson), who we know will create Winnie The Pooh, as he returns to London after fighting in the Great War, still haunted by nasty flashbacks that are triggered by innocuous balloon pops. He needs a sanctuary in which to continue his playwriting, so impulsively shifts his family to the countryside, where his young son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), who prefers his nickname Billy Moon, frolics amongst the trees with his stuffed toys and his watchful nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald) is ordered to stay away from his busy father.

Naturally, circumstances arise that leave Billy alone with Milne. So the two begin to bond and before long Milne has created a children’s character based around his own son and his somewhat-imaginary friends. Seems harmless enough. But the fearsome genteel nature of the Milne’s makes them incapable of comprehending the impact of super stardom on a child who is not prepared for it. Billy is dressed to resemble the Christopher Robin of the Pooh books and is shoved into radio interviews and publicity photo shoots as the real thing. “He needs to grow up!”, asserts Olive. “He can’t do this!” “He seems to be doing it quite well actually”, replies his mother.

The film is written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Simon Vaughan, and the duo pay less attention to their dialogue than the relationship between father and son. Did Milne intend to hurt his son? Of course not. But then, looking at Milne, does he know what hurt is anymore? Yes, you could say the war shook him up real bad, but surely it’s the stoic Englishness of the time that ruined an otherwise beautiful relationship. In a household that doesn’t permit crying, how do you find out when someone’s in pain?

The irony of course is that tragedy had to happen for the world to be introduced to one of the happiest characters of all time. Winnie The Pooh charmed countless children across the world but had to break apart a family to do it. It’s this fractured logic that forms the centre of Goodbye Christopher Robin, and not the war, the countryside or Winnie The Pooh.

Later we get to see an older Billy Moon (played by Alex Lawther), after having been abused by schoolmates for his fame. He’s broken and resents his father for using him to create an empire, trotting off to fight in a war his father fought to prevent. It’s poetic how history is doomed to repeat itself.

These are all the parts of the movie that work, and I enjoyed the way young Tilston embodies all that is cheerful. Without him I suspect the movie would’ve been flat. As it is, it’s only moderately bumpy, not putting a foot wrong but not exactly sprinting down a tightrope.

Goodbye Christopher Robin is available in Australian cinemas from November 23.

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox 2017.

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Movie Review – The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Dark, twisted and hilarious. Yorgos Lanthimos continues to grow in strength with his disturbing latest film, The Killing of A Sacred Deer.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic

It seems the pattern of disturbingly good films by Yorgos Lanthimos continues to increase in range. For those familiar with his films of Dogtooth and The Lobster, Lanthimos’s latest film, The Killing of A Sacred Deer, also explores a dark concept but with a twisted sense of humour. Once again, these two genres are balanced effortlessly throughout and the finish product is yet another masterclass from the director.

Colin Farrell stars in the lead role and is unfortunately placed into another caliginous scenario that sees him tested in different strengths. Without giving away the film’s main trick, Farrell plays a father of two with a loving wife, and is put to make an extremely difficult decision that will end up affecting the family dynamic forever.

Aside from watching the situation unfold as Farrell battles to resolve his dilemma, the entire universe Lanthimos creates is intriguing. From the very moment the film begins, you get the sense of unnatural behaviour just by the dialogue between two characters and this unease never leaves the screen.

It’s an almost like an entirely different world of humans, but they’re just not very human like. At least to what our society is used to. Great examples of this are the astute observations and over politeness each character exuberates. It’s just unnatural and purposefully executed as a subtle commentary on society. But moreover, it’s all awkwardly hilarious.

This is why I love Lanthimos’ films. Not only are they simply exploring a compelling dark concept, they’re quite funny at the same time. Most of these jokes comes from being in such unique situations that other films can’t make, because they’re simply not in the same position. Numerous times a character would say something in such an unusual but nonchalant way that it becomes hilarious to watch. And when it came moments of humour that were of the darker taste, these were executed flawlessly and without overstepping boundaries. Indeed, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a fine piece for showing that the art of black comedy in 2017 is alive and well.

My only gripe with the film is that it is a bit of a slow burn and it can feel particularly sluggish at times. Especially within the middle third, where you’ve been introduced to the setup and are simply waiting for it to hurry to the climax. Part of this feels like it could have been edited or reworked to have more going on to keep interest, like in The Lobster.

But again, this is a minor complaint. The film is acted perfectly, with veteran actors of Farrell and Nicole Kidman as his wife particular standouts. Though the cinematography isn’t of anything scenic or picturesque, it does well to capture the darkness and unnatural tone on characters that the film clearly aims towards.

For lovers of The Lobster and black comedy films with unique and interesting concepts, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a fantastic film and one sure to be on top ten lists for this year.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is available in Australian cinemas from November 16.

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment 2017

Movie Review – Murder on the Orient Express

Hollywood once again recycles that which need not be recycled, in Kenneth Branagh’s take on Murder on the Orient Express.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

I see no other way to approach a review of a movie like this than to compare it to what’s come before. Its history is too deep. Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express has been adapted to radio; into a 1974 feature by Sidney Lumet starring Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot; a 2001 TV movie with Alfred Molina in the role; and of course as an episode of the distinguished ITV Poirot series. It has even been remade in Japan. Now comes another version, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, and I find myself simply incapable of finding the right words to recommend it.

This is an adaptation that works on the fundamental level, which means it has a sound plot, supreme technical prowess and performances that befit its ludicrously high-profile cast. It is a movie that can be seen and appreciated in about equal measure without being spectacular. Whether it holds up as a faithful Christie adaptation I will leave to her loyal fans and scholars to determine; as a gripping murder mystery, it is neither gripping nor very mysterious.

To discuss the plot would be to grind against the very grain of Christie. Her stories are designed to unfold chronologically, so that we pick up hints and clues and slowly piece together the unfathomable puzzle along with her great detectives. The less we know going in the better. Murder on the Orient Express remains her most famous probably because of its claustrophobic setting (the length of a snowbound train), its immense cast of characters and the degree to which misdirection is employed to keep us guessing.

But all these are assets of the original story, not of this film. Branagh is perhaps a finer actor than he is a director, and he puts on a brave face as Poirot, but his film lacks in ingenuity and freshness. I can’t think of a single reason to see his version and not the Lumet classic, which had Finney scuttling down the corridors of the train like a frenzied crab. Branagh’s Poirot is unusually calm and chipper, which might have been a fun new take on the part if he had buckled down and took it to the edge. Poirot, like Sherlock Holmes, is a character of extremes. A detective of unusual intelligence who is easier to admire than befriend. To play him as anything less than a feverish snob is to miss the point.

Around him is assembled a cast of veritable class, which includes but is not limited to Michelle Pfeiffer as an uppity American socialite; Willem Dafoe as an Austrian professor; Daisy Ridley as Miss Mary Debenham; Leslie Odom Jr as the handy doctor; Penélope Cruz as a faithful servant of the Lord; Judi Dench as the Princess Dragomiroff; Johnny Depp as the despicable businessman Ratchett; and Josh Gad and Derek Jacobi as his staff. Any more and I suspect the train would’ve toppled off the ridge.

Pity, then, that such great talent should go unchecked by a story as rich as this. Everyone plays their parts as if they know the end before the beginning. There is no thrill, no embracing the unexpected. It’s all just cogs turning in rhythm to the screenplay, which can be fatal for a mystery like this.

So I leave you rather nonplussed, unable to praise Orient Express enough to make you go see it, unable to exploit its weaknesses enough to turn you away. I don’t prefer it to some of the earlier iterations, but I suspect if you’ve never heard of Poirot and his impossible moustache, or perhaps even Christie, this movie might do the trick. But just barely.

Murder on the Orient Express is available in Australian cinemas from November 9.

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox 2017

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.

Movie Review – Detroit

With Detroit, Kathryn Bigelow once again commands us to examine ourselves and the atrocities we claim to have overcome.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐  ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan 

Detroit is an examination of prejudice. It is set in the 1960s during a period of riotous relations between blacks and whites, but refuses to address the roots of the problem. Instead it shifts the focus of racism to the system, to a biased judicial court that ultimately trickled droplets of hatred down to its law enforcement. It is well known how aggressive the Detroit police department was. Fuelled by misguided moral righteousness, groups of cops became dangerous. This is a confronting film, as all films that require us to look inward are.

At the centre of Detroit are two young men; one black, one white. One an aspiring Motown singer, the other an enthusiastic beat cop. Both men are brought together by a silly prank that goes wrong, in what turns out to be an evening of endless police brutality and torture driven by racism, superiority and retribution.

These scenes, that take place at the Algiers Motel, dominate the middle hour or so of the film, and are specifically designed to test our comfort levels as the cop, Philip Krauss (Will Poulter), leads his partners on a repulsive interrogation crusade to determine the prankster who opened fire on the National Guard patrolling the streets a few minutes before. I can call it “repulsive” because I know what the cops did that night was wrong. The dangerous thing is that Philip knows it’s wrong too, but enjoys his position of power too much to let it become an issue. Like the Nazis, if he believed what he was doing was right, why try to cover it up?

Eventually the night goes south, which leads to a court trial. Here is where director Kathryn Bigelow broadens the story by putting the entire judicial system on the stand. The jury is all white. The judge is white. The lawyers are white. White men are being convicted and the only witnesses are black men and white women, neither of whom has any civil power. The key to Detroit is the framing that not every white person in 1960s America was racist, but the many who were crippled everything the US constitution stood for.

Bigelow films her movie like a hybrid between drama and documentary. Snippets of actual footage is occasionally spliced into interludes, and much of Barry Ackroyd’s camerawork is handheld and reasonably shaky. The result is not unlike Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, in which the viewer is pulled right into the world of the filmmaker and is forced to confront horrific events without the option to look away.

Among the other players is John Boyega’s security guard Melvin, who delivers peace offerings while his fellow man is beaten into submission, and finds himself at the wrong place at the wrong time, torn between loyalty and self-preservation. Hannah Murray and Kaitlyn Dever play the two white female witnesses who don’t see colour, believe in fair treatment but are still harassed for fraternising with the enemy.

I have not said much about Larry (Algee Smith), the young Motown singer. He was present at the Algiers Motel, is a central figure, but doesn’t contribute heavily to the fabric of the plot. He is instead a controversial and lamentable reminder that not every black man in the ‘60s wanted revolution. Some just wanted to turn a blind eye, sing in the church choir and survive. Seriously, though, who could blame them?

 

Detroit is available in Australian cinemas from November 9.

Image courtesy of Entertainment One Films 2017.

 

 

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- Loving Vincent

Vincent van Gogh’s immortal legacy is revived in this visually stunning painted film, but his tumultuous soul is still left in the dark.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz- Tan

Loving Vincent is a spectacular triumph of animation technique and an earnest if somewhat lifeless effort at drama. We are told in opening text that each frame was lovingly hand-painted by over a hundred dedicated artists, and the final result is utterly stunning in its beauty. This is really one of the finest looking animated films I have seen. If only the same tireless conviction was applied to the screenplay.

The method of the plot is not unlike that of Immortal Beloved (1994), in which Gary Oldman played Ludwig van Beethoven as a genius bordering dangerously on insanity. His story was told through the eyes of his friend Schindler, who tried to learn more about the maestro through letters and questioning those who really knew him. Loving Vincent, too, has a letter and lots of questions, asked by Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), a pleasant young chap who intends to uncover why Vincent van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk), a man seemingly content, would shoot himself in a field.

The film, however, lacks the presence and impact of an Oldman-like figure at the centre to propel an otherwise humdrum investigatory procedural with purpose. All the people Armand interviews are like characters from Cluedo, restricted to wary glances and dialogue programmed to paint an untrustworthy portrait of the troubled artist (pun intended). Was van Gogh mad or a genius? Did he deserve to die? How big a part did his brother Theo play? The point I guess is to not find out; that a man whose gift was to create movement and colour on canvas unlike any other before him should not be disassembled like a computer motherboard but appreciated for his richness.

So stories criss-cross and fade into each other, and soon Armand has before him a jigsaw puzzle of a man everybody seemed to know but nobody truly understood. Okay, but to what end? The film is written by Jacek Dehnel and directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, and they do a fine job of making van Gogh a rather mysterious figure, shrouded in the fumes of his oils. But their screenplay just coasts from interview to interview, never stopping long enough to ponder the seriousness of the questions asked. Meetings don’t carry much importance. Armand is sweet but is too easily swept along for the ride. After it all, we don’t come away with much more than when we started.

But this could all be part of a much larger plot by the filmmakers to narrow our attention to the animation, which, in all seriousness, is majestic enough to keep it all afloat. The swirling strokes and vivid colours are almost hypnotic, which isn’t helpful when you have a plot that works like a sedative. But, my word, what a treat this movie is for the eyes. I reckon it could be screened in one of those dark rooms at the art museum with no sound and still move admirers to tears.

Many people will walk out of Loving Vincent with their own questions about van Gogh’s life, which is all well and good. I walked out wondering how many tons of paint was used and why none of the artists who sweated over this film are world famous, because you could extract any frame, put it up on your wall and have yourself a masterpiece. It’s that good.

Loving Vincent is available in Australian cinemas from November 2.

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment

Movie Review – Steve Jobs

Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin bring us a fascinating and unconventional tale of an enigmatic douche that changed the world whilst wearing a black turtleneck. No, I’m not talking about Sterling Archer – I mean Steve Jobs.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Steve Jobs isn’t your conventional biopic. Rather than plodding through its subject’s entire life story, director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin have crafted a poetic film where three important moments from Steve Jobs’ (Michael Fassbender) career have been captured like indelible Polaroids.

Each segment captures Jobs’ personal relationships, career path and legacy at each important milestone, whether its his own technological advancements or the tenuous relationships he shares with everyone around him – from his aide Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) or the mother of his child Chrisann (Katherine Waterson).

Given that Sorkin pens this film, you can expect some clever wordplay throughout. At times, the rat-a-tat sparring the characters exchange can feel a little dizzying as vicious barbs and snarky wit fly back and forth at breakneck speed. The swift verbal jousting keeps the film trotting along at a decent pace though, for both better and worse.

At just a smidge over two hours, the film feels a little rushed as Sorkin attempts to cram everything we need to know about Jobs into his distinct three-act structure. Everything is essential and nothing is wasted, but the film (and its characters) could’ve benefitted from being given extra room to breathe. Regardless, it’s practically criminal that Sorkin didn’t pick up an Oscar nomination for his stellar work on the sharp screenplay.

Punctuated with soaring highs and crushing lows, the film looks to cover the entire spectrum of Jobs’ tenacious and uncompromising persona. It’s here that the full extent of Fassbender’s performance comes to light; he’s rude, fierce, frustrating and fascinating all at the same time. The film doesn’t make Jobs out to be a complete monster or an untouchable saint, and Fassbender works this captivating ambiguity into every line of dialogue and movement.

Despite not being the third, fourth or even fifth choice for the role during pre-production (Christian Bale, Ben Affleck and Leonardo DiCaprio amongst many others were all considered at one point or another), Fassbender totally owns every second of screen-time in this film. It’s a very wordy role that showcases a very different range of talents to more physical and introspective Oscar performances from DiCaprio and Eddie Redmayne. That being said, he’s no Ashton Kutcher (kidding).

Winslet is a little hit-and-miss as she struggles to wrap her mouth around a tricky Polish accent; Rogen showcases a more sincere side as the underappreciated co-founder; and rising Aussie star Sarah Snook lands a few decent laughs with her limited screen time.

Boyle does a serviceable job behind the camera, but had his name not been plastered across the stark white one-sheets, you’d be hard pushed to connect this film with anything he’s worked on previously. When I think Danny Boyle, I think lurid colours (Trance), grimy urban jungles (Trainspotting) and rapid flash cuts that make you jump (28 Days Later). Steve Jobs feels very clean and procedural by comparison, with only a few of Boyle’s distinctive fingerprints left behind on the sleek brushed-steel surface. It’s solid, but nothing spectacular.

Boyle and Sorkin delve into the mind of Steve Jobs and present us with a complex lead that you love to hate; snappy dialogue, a dense plot and some terrific acting make this a worthwhile biopic that avoids some common pratfalls. The direction lacks flair and the pacing doesn’t let up, but on the whole, this is one biopic that can be enjoyed by Apple nerds and intrigued newcomers alike.

Steve Jobs is available in Australian cinemas from February 4th

Images courtesy of Universal Pictures 

Movie Review – Dirty Grandpa

All the might of the once-great Robert De Niro has finally shrivelled up into a worthless, demeaning portrayal of a sex-crazed old man, given free roam in Dan Mazer’s comedy.

½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Dirty Grandpa is an American comedy, directed by Dan Mazer, starring Robert De Niro and Zac Efron, and it is an absolute train wreck. A horrifying, uncomfortable, sickening experience; one that pulls off the unthinkable by deftly offending blacks, gays, lesbians, men, women, deaf people, people with speech impediments, teenagers, adults, the elderly, the deceased, the sick, caregivers, police officers, and just about every person on this good planet. Heck, it even offends drug dealers. To tell you to avoid this mess like the plague would be an insult to plagues, and if Dirty Grandpa isn’t the worst film of the next ten years, we’re in for a decade of some serious cinematic torture.

Zac Efron plays Jason Kelly, a lawyer about to wed the beautiful, but irritating Meredith (Julianne Hough), who’s made, no doubt, of the same itchy material that covers your old sofa. After the death of Jason’s grandma, he is forced by his grandpa to drive him down to Florida, where… something truly pointless is meant to happen.

The grandpa, Richard, is played by Robert De Niro, in a performance so bewildering it almost erases my memory of him ever being an actor of admirable stock (this is a man who once starred in American treasures like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Casino). Richard is such a vile human being; an offspring of a civilisation that believes in no ethics and sees no point in curating a moral compass. Some of the words that leave this man’s mouth – good heavens – are enough to warrant him psychiatric therapy from a Tourette’s patient.

Richard wants only one thing: To have sex with the lithe seductress, Lenore (Aubrey Plaza), until his jingly jangles fall off. This coming a day after his wife’s surrender to cancer. What a stand-up guy. Lenore is one-third of a sex machine trio, comprised of herself, the pretty Shadia (Zoey Deutch), and the over-the-top Bradley (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman), a black homosexual young man who’s so unrealistically effeminate I kept expecting him to turn up in a gown.

All our main characters spend the weekend (or the week, or whatever) in each other’s company on Daytona Beach, where we’re treated to a plethora of boobie and butt shots exposed to the glaring Florida sun. But do we need to see Robert De Niro masturbating to porn? Or Zac Efron prancing about to “Macarena” wearing nothing but a fuzzy bumble bee soft toy strapped to his crotch, which later gets “stroked” by a young boy on the beach? Do we need wave after wave of inexcusably eloquent genitalia jokes that are about as funny as sticking your hand into a blender? I get that this movie’s called Dirty Grandpa, but surely no one could’ve seen this coming.

I kept waiting for respite, for something sweet and calming to come along and remind me that not all is lost, that De Niro is maybe gearing up for the big joke, that he’s not really invested in such low-down, pathetic drivel. No luck. This movie doesn’t relent. It keeps going and going till someone with half a brain decided to pull the plug and run the end credits, because I’m sure that if Dan Mazer had his way, he’d be filming Robert De Niro barfing verbal excrement till he died. This is really one of the most terrible experiences I’ve ever had at the movies.

Dirty Grandpa is available in Australian cinemas from January 28th

Images courtesy of Entertainment One Films Australia

 

Movie Review – Spotlight

While the world turned a blind eye to the Church’s wrong-doings, one news group forgave no sins and delivered us from evil. The exposé of their exposé could be this year’s most intensely interesting Oscar frontrunner.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Based on the infamous, year-long journalist investigation, Spotlight commences in 2001, as the prestigious Boston Globe newspaper hires a new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber). Baron’s interest is immediately sparked by a small column that reveals a local priest to be a paedophile, and that the Archbishop of Boston was aware, but did nothing to stop him. Alarmed that such a scandalous case has gone mostly unnoticed, Baron requests that the Globe’s “Spotlight” team (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James) – known for their in-depth probing and analysis of sensitive subjects – abandon their current story to investigate. As they delve deeper down the rabbit-hole, the group discovers the horrifying and enormous amount of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church around the world that has been covered-up for decades by lawyers, the government and high-ranking religious officials themselves.

How director Tom McCarthy has managed to jump from one of last year’s worst films (Adam Sandler disaster The Cobbler) to one of this year’s best, is anyone’s guess, but it would seem he’s a rare example of a filmmaker using criticism to discipline himself. Spotlight is an exercise in enormous restraint – there are no flashy visuals on display, no ravenous editing flair, no showy lighting or elegant cinematography; aesthetically, it has all the grandeur of a sitcom. It’s a wise choice, and appropriate given the difficult subject matter. This is a very raw experience, where typical big budget constructs are ignored entirely in favour of a dialogue heavy script and an excellent cast that is given the freedom to bounce off one another at a rapid-fire pace.

The term ‘ensemble piece’ is often thrown around without much thought behind it, but Spotlight is the real deal. Each actor is a cog turning inside a machine that adds up to something greater from the sum of its parts. It’s a very real team dynamic, where each member is utilised equally and brings their own personal skills to the table in the exposé. Perhaps rightfully so, it’s Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo who have been singled out for the Oscar nods; particularly Ruffalo, whose character is gifted with the chance to vent his anxiety and frustration at the many setbacks the investigation faces. But there’s meat aplenty to chew on in every role, even in the supporting ones filled out by Stanley Tucci, John Slattery and Billy Crudup; it really is a serious actor’s wet dream.

The details are in the drama in Spotlight; it’s all about intrigue and the shock of discovery, rather than the revelation and aftermath that rocked the world. Films of such grave nature are always destined to divide audiences and cause controversy – no doubt this already has again with the Catholic Church, who can only be displeased at the topic resurfacing to wide awareness – but these are merely the cold, hard facts presented as they should be. We’re left with the terrifying reminder that even a community that embraces morality and virtues; that has been trusted by people for centuries, has its own evil underbelly. Who can we turn to when our faith is shaken in anything perceived as good? The only rightful answer to the purveyors of big questions like these is the twinkle of Oscar gold.

Spotlight is available in Australian cinemas from January 28th

Images courtesy of Entertainment One Films Australia