Movie Review – Ladies In Black

Imagine a beautiful, simple world filled with 1950’s Hollywood glamour and natural Australian charm… well, that’s exactly the experience you’ll get from Bruce Beresford’s latest entry.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Cherie Wheeler 

Adapted from the novel by Madeleine St John, the titular ladies in black run the women’s clothing section at a high-end department store. From the young and naïve, yet sharply intelligent Lisa (Angourie Rice) who anxiously awaits her exam results, to the hopelessly romantic Fay (Rachael Taylor) who can’t catch a break in her dating life, each woman faces her own set of hurdles. While all so different – none more so than Slovenian socialite and style aficionado Magda (Julia Ormond) – they each make an impact on one another and form unexpected bonds.

Set in the late 50’s in Sydney, Ladies In Black is a reminder of a time when people were more appreciative of what they had. Even when what they had was so little. With no mobile phones or modern world pressures intruding upon them, the characters in Ladies In Black are free to fully enjoy their city, food, wine and each other at a leisurely pace.

In this sense, Bruce Beresford’s film is a breath of fresh air. But its simple ways can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Although each core character has some form of dilemma to tackle, there’s no real stakes at play. All the conflict is fairly superficial, and when darker themes do start to emerge, they’re mostly glossed over and forgotten.

Perhaps that’s OK, though. Maybe we need to have more films that don’t get bogged down in the real drudgeries of life. Especially Australian films. Until the last couple of years, many of our films tended to fall into 1 of 2 categories – outstanding gritty dramas that only a handful of people would go to see, or average comedies and B-grade fluff pieces. Recent times have certainly shown a shift, with talented filmmakers producing high quality, thought-provoking stuff that’s appealing to broader audiences. It may not be ground-breaking, but Ladies In Black is definitely a solid addition to our stream of newer films.

Its cast is essentially a ‘who’s hot right now’ showcase of Australian performers of all levels. There’s the legendary Noni Hazlehurst as the leader of the ladies in black, young up-and-comer Angourie Rice (Jasper Jones, The Nice Guys) and late bloomer Rachael Taylor (Jessica Jones), who’s only now starting to land decent roles roughly a decade into her career. After starring alongside his real life brother in Brother’s Nest earlier this year, here Shane Jacobson features as Lisa’s simple-minded father, and Ryan Corr, who’s managed to get himself into every Australian film from Ali’s Wedding to Holding The Man, here presents as a key love interest.

Corr steals the show from the moment he struts in sprouting an oddly spot-on Hungarian accent. He’s the source of a lot of comedy and fits the role of a charming and cultured European immigrant like a glove. Julia Ormond, one of the very few non-Australian cast members, follows closely behind him as the posh and judgemental, yet well-meaning Magda, and she is truly a joy to watch.

Ladies In Black is like a fizzy glass of lemonade on a warm summer’s day – it’s sweet and refreshing, easy to enjoy and free of any bitter aftertaste. If that’s the type of movie you’re in the mood for, then you can’t do much better than this one.

Ladies In Black is available in Australian cinemas from September 20

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures


Movie Review – I Am Paul Walker

The life of the late Paul Walker is told plainly in Adrian Buitenhuis’ new documentary.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

We all know of Paul Walker’s achievements as an actor, having starred in some of the most successful movies of our time. Some of us may also know that he was deeply fascinated by marine life and the preservation of the ocean. Maybe even fewer might know he was an avid car collector, a pricey hobby that turned the circumstances of his death into tragic irony. He seemed like a great guy, genuine, level-headed. I Am Paul Walker, the new documentary by Adrian Buitenhuis, recounts the man and the many things he did, though not always in exciting fashion.

It’s a real shame, because Mr. Walker was a complex figure, at least as detailed by the many relatives and friends who speak during the movie. He was primarily devoted to surfing, having grown up along the Californian coast, but his interests extended beyond the waves.

As a young boy, he was handsome and charismatic. He landed a few early acting roles alongside Michael Landon and Josh Brolin on Highway to Heaven. Then he decided to jeopardise his career by returning to his studies. He always dreamed of becoming a marine biologist. Then he acted again, this time as a strapping adult, and before he knew it he was a megastar, pulled away from the seas six months at a time.

He made millions very quickly but refused to succumb to the Hollywood life. Instead he’d vacation up in snowy mountains, go diving, wrestle Great Whites or revisit his love of surfing. The key to his appeal is that he never lost sight of who he was, even when fame propelled him above his reality.

All this is told simply and with great efficiency, but the movie is incredibly basic. It begins with Walker as a teen in 1988 and ends in 2013 with tears and regret. There’s home footage, standard interviews, serviceable music. Occasionally there’s a clip from one of his movies.

He strikes me as a man who always went back to his childhood, even when money and women flowed like a river around him. He treaded the line between fame and obscurity. Shouldn’t he deserve, I don’t know, something more than this film? For the life of me I can’t identify anything wrong with I Am Paul Walker. It’s perfectly vanilla. It tells the story it needs to and does it professionally. I’m just not sure it’s interesting enough. It needs to take risks, like he did.

I Am Paul Walker is available in Australian cinemas from 21 September 2018 

Image courtesy of The Backlot 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 Nun

Whatever you do, don’t stop praying… that the Conjuring universe is going to start having spin-offs that can live up to their ilk.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

1952, Romania. After a young nun takes her own life at a monastery, the Vatican dispatches a priest, Father Burke (Demián Bichir), and a young novitiate, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) to investigate. Guided by the monastery’s supply boy Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), the pair soon find their stay in the foreboding castle take a turn for the life-threatening, as a supernatural presence reveals itself.

The mega-success of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe structure has long since left the realm of superhero blockbusters. Now, every studio is taking a crack across varying genres. The first horror shared universe – The Conjuring Universe – has a high hit-to-miss rate. The latest spin-off spook straight out of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s museum of haunted objects is The Nun, which is a bit of a small-fry next to its creepier predecessors.

Putting front-and-centre the scary sister who plagued Lorraine in The Conjuring 2, The Nun places us on the earliest point in the Conjuring timeline, some twenty years before the events of the main series. Heavily marketed as the “darkest chapter”, it’s ironically the lightest in terms of narrative, scares and overall substance. The Catholic investigation set-up is promising enough, but once the holy duo settles in at the monastery, all story progression is dropped in favour of set piece after set piece, few of which actually manage to rattle the bones.

The titular Nun herself fails to live up to her previously established eeriness. While certainly unsettling as a dark figure floating ominously in a hallway, up-close she’s all CGI fangs and bug-eyes, a goofy choice that drains all sense of dread.

Mother inferiors aside, The Nun still has its merits. Slickly shot and atmospheric, there’s at least enough entertainment value here. The cast mostly succeeds too, in particular the spirited Taissa Farmiga, who is every bit as watchable as her older sister Vera in the main Conjuring films. It’ll be interesting to see if they pair the two up in a future instalment. Of course, if the Conjuring cinematic universe is to endure, let’s hope they start putting the same amount of effort into their side dishes as they do the main course.

The Nun is available in Australian cinemas from September 6

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – The Predator

Shane Black’s new Predator movie is entertaining and regularly funny. Other than that it’s quite the mess.

⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan 

Here, once again, is a Predator movie that is loud, bombastic and utterly preposterous. If you thought the plot to the 1987 film was too dumb by half, this one is about half of that. It involves a bunch of loony military veterans, a kid who another character calls retarded, and a hybrid alien that’s basically a metre taller and twice as ugly. It also has such bravado and ingenuity as to name itself THE Predator, even though more than one Predator shows up.

This is a movie built to exhibit aliens, guns and inappropriate jokes, not to solve complex maths equations. The plot, such as it is, concerns a Predator crashing its space pod in Mexico only to be hunted by a larger hybrid Predator for trying to deliver a secret weapon to the humans. Uh-huh. Never mind why or what the secret weapon is. You won’t believe it even when you see it.

The humans, as is customary in monster alien movies like this, are made up of thinly veiled characters who will either defeat the villainous creatures or get slaughtered by them. The hero is Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), a sniper who sees the Predator at the beginning and is immediately sent by the government for psych evaluations. He is joined by a group of former soldiers, and an exobiologist (Olivia Munn) who looks like a Maxim cover girl and is amazingly proficient at physical combat.

That’s not all. The larger hybrid Predator has a pair of predator dogs, which I’m assuming are alien mutts, since they sport the same hairdo as their master, but for some reason they behave entirely like Earth dogs, scratching themselves and playing fetch.

Okay, I know what you’re saying. The Predator is directed by Shane Black, whose movies have always been a little tongue-in-cheek, a little cavalier. Perhaps it’s not wise to look too deeply into them. But shouldn’t this one at least make sense? At times it feels like a whole other movie was cut from it in the editing room.

Backstories are hinted at but never explored. Plot points are established early and then forgotten. Characters do bizarre things, like breaking the space/time continuum by teleporting hundreds of kilometres in the same scene. The larger hybrid Predator is completely underwhelming. And then, before you can blink, the climactic fight is over and something even more underwhelming happens: a sequel is teased.

The Predator is available in Australian cinemas from September 13 

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox 

Movie Review – Mile 22

Peter Berg returns to fiction for the first time since Battleship… unfortunately, the result is only mildly better.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan 

A CIA black operations team, code named Overwatch and led by James Silva (Mark Wahlberg), locates and shuts down a terrorist operation shipping highly toxic caesium. Several months later, an Indonesian officer Li Noor (Iko Uwais) claims to hold information regarding the last caesium but is only willing to give it up in return for his safe passage out of the country. The Overwatch team is tasked with transporting him through a dangerous city to a safe airplane, before the information he has contained on a self-destructive disc is obliterated.

Peter Berg found his stride as a filmmaker with his last three films. As Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon and Patriot’s Day can attest to, he’s a director at his best when recreating true, high-octane events that forced their subjects into heroic behaviour (that subject, namely, played by Mark Wahlberg). Mile 22 keeps Wahlberg’s heroics, but ditches the grounding in reality, revealing that reality is the key to making a Peter Berg actioner click.

Mile 22 shows some promise throughout, particularly in its opening raid on an incendiary safe house, but the problems begin to show though when we get a proper introduction to our characters. Berg settles for OTT caricatures, all of whom seem to be defined by swearing aggressively.

Only The Raid’s Iko Uwais shines, clearly having put in an enormous effort to choreograph his martial arts sequences – even if they have wound up edited to death. And despite this frenetic editing, the hard, fast, bloodthirsty and very frequent action sequences are engaging. But the guerrilla cinematography does make it difficult to follow what is happening.

The less said about Mile 22’s confused plot the better. It’s practically nonsensical and is derailed entirely by a ridiculous twist ending that defies logic. Disregarding this, it just manages to work as a call-back to the Bourne-inspired gun blazers of yesteryear, with some lightning-paced entertainment value.

Mile 22 is available in Australian cinemas from August 30 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – McQueen

Alexander McQueen was a famed fashion designer who sadly took his own life in 2010. The documentary McQueen explores the enigma of this creative genius and the path that led him to despair and loneliness.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

McQueen follows the short and tragic life of fashion designer Alexander McQueen, from his start as a tailor, all the way through his incredible shows and partnerships with major labels, until his death in 2010. It examines where his influences and inspirations came from, as well as the events that led him to suicide.

The documentary is not only for his fans, but also for those who are interested in visionaries of the modern world. McQueen was well-known for his daring take on fashion that made strong commentary on aspects of society. The documentary explores where McQueen got his ideas from, and how he translated this into runway fashion, with a determination to always top his last show.

Through the use of interviews with people who were close to McQueen, we begin to get an idea of the man who frequently shied away from the spotlight. Behind the scenes footage of his runway shows help to create an image of the chaotic world that he operated within, and personal videos and photographs of him also give a rare insight into the enigma that was McQueen.

As the documentary moves on, it slowly grows darker as the pressure of fame and fitting in to the modelling world began to impact McQueen. It also shows how fleeting life can be, and after a series of deaths of close loved ones, it all proved too much for McQueen.

McQueen is a brilliant documentary about an innovative fashion designer who was taken from this world too soon. Directors Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui have done a great job showcasing McQueen’s talent, while also exploring the underbelly of fame and the fashion industry.

McQueen is available in Australian cinemas from September 6 2018. 

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment and © Salon Galahad Ltd 2018


Movie Review – The Insult

Ziad Doueiri embeds his new film with the deep wounds of the Middle East, creating a story rich in emotion.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

It takes a certain amount of circumstantial knowledge about the history of the Eastern Mediterranean to fully grasp all the complexities of Ziad Doueiri’s new film, The Insult. It’s a region that hasn’t enjoyed a period of comfortable peace since, heck, since the days of the Bible. There is mutual dislike between the Palestinians, Israelis, Jordanians, Syrians and Lebanese. This film takes place in Beirut and shows how national arrogance can bring a city to its knees.

It’s a wonderful film, filled with intricate performances and little acts that service a wider narrative. It all starts when a Palestinian construction foreman, conducting renovations in a neighbourhood, approaches a Lebanese mechanic to fix his illegal drainpipe. The mechanic refuses. The foreman fixes it anyway. The mechanic smashes the new pipe with a hammer. The foreman insults him, so the mechanic insults back. But the mechanic’s words are insidious and hurtful. The foreman punches him, and suddenly a silly little drainpipe has turned two men into ugly monsters.

The mechanic is Tony (Adel Karam), whose workshop sits at the foot of his apartment block. Every day he watches anti-Palestinian propaganda on TV. The foreman is Yasser (Kamel El Basha), an older man with a pleasant face, content to do his job quietly and do it well. The movie’s early scenes are the best, where Tony and Yasser engage in a kind of cold war. El Basha emerges as the better performer of the two, not because he is a better actor, but because Yasser is awarded much more variety to his personality. Tony is more or less a one-trick pony: disgruntled and hateful.

Both men have wives, and a dangerous incident involving Tony’s unborn child leads to a high-profile court case that ignites the citizens of Beirut to civil violence. Here, The Insult adopts a more formulaic courtroom approach in which professional lawyers argue and debate and give little attention to the emotional state of their clients. A lot of the dialogue is gripping, especially in relation to the socio-political events that guide the Mid-East, but I wondered if maybe The Insult would’ve been stronger if the drama had remained between Tony and Yasser, who get sidelined in favour of the boisterous prosecutor Wajdi Wehbe (Camille Salameh).

But it only goes to show, in such a tumultuous region of the world, how a trivial misunderstanding, based on prejudice, can lead to defamation and bloodshed. It can reopen old wounds, cause conflict, shake up an uneasy peace. Both Tony and Yasser are to blame for their actions, because they have held on to past grudges, so it becomes impossible for The Insult to pick a side. Some would say it doesn’t need to pick a side, only to look on in hope for a better tomorrow.

The Insult is available in Australian cinemas from August 30 

Image courtesy of Palace Films

Movie Review – Crazy Rich Asians

John M Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians is the feel-good film of the year and a landmark moment for representation.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Pascoe

New York economics professor Rachel (Constance Wu) has been dating Nick (Henry Golding) for just over a year when he suggests they fly to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding and to meet his family. It isn’t until the couple arrive in Singapore that the breadth of Nick’s family and wealth hits home. The significance of their relationship quickly dawns on Rachel too, with Nick’s domineering mother Eleanor (a startlingly intense Michelle Yeoh) taking an immediate dislike to the commoner who has won her son’s heart. Eleanor sets out to get her way and uphold her family’s pedigree, by any means necessary.

Dripping with pizzazz and visual splendor, Crazy Rich Asians is a crazy good time at the cinema. Chu packs the frame with wall-to-wall glitz and glamour, with the set design, costuming and overall production bursting at the seams with colour and culture. The direction, editing and soundtrack combine to create an effervescent affair with pops of energy and electricity. And the ensemble cast is packed with charming performances.

Narratively it isn’t doing anything new – we’ve seen this kind of familial power struggle before in umpteen other romantic comedies. It’s essentially a Cinderella story where a dashing billionaire sweeps a shy girl off her feet. And a lot of the character moments along the way are to be expected. But the familiar storytelling beats shouldn’t detract from the fact that Crazy Rich Asians still offers something fresh, in that it tells a story that doesn’t thrust Asian (or Asian-American) characters to the fringe of the frame and instead explores the complex and contradictory in-between nature of being a Westerner of Eastern descent.

Rather than one-note secondary character tropes, the characters in Crazy Rich Asians cover the whole spectrum and take centre stage. Forget always being a bridesmaid; it’s time to be the bride. Crazy Rich Asians offers important representation to a segment of the audience that often gets neglected by mainstream Hollywood. For that reason alone, Crazy Rich Asians is a must-see. It’s just an added bonus that it’s funny, heartfelt, frisky, profound and an all-round delightful time at the movies.

Crazy Rich Asians is available in Australian cinemas from August 30 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Book Club

Turns out even the post-menopausal are fascinated by Christian Grey’s sadomasochistic bedroom antics. Do what you will with that information…

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Four aging woman and long-time friends, who remain connected through their monthly book club, find their lives changing dramatically when it’s suggested their book of the month be none other than E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey. Titillated and inspired by the book’s raunchy content, each woman attempts to reignite her love life.

Though it’s a Nancy Meyers-type comedy for seniors, Bill Holderman’s Book Club manages to be even more inoffensive than films of its ilk. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. It’s exactly the kind of oestrogen-fuelled, feel-good flick that the 55-and-above XX crowd will adore.

There’s at least a broad appeal here by focussing on the book that’s been making schoolgirls to grandmas giggle and/or groan since 2011. You don’t have to be an adult in diapers to get a laugh out of legendary actresses such as Diane Keaton and Jane Fonda reacting with shock and awe to Christian Grey’s ‘kinky fuckery’.

It’s at its best when they attempt to keep up with what’s trendy and sexy, figuratively getting back on the horse and putting themselves out there. Candice Bergen’s foray into dating via Bumble and Mary Steenburgen lacing her husband’s drink with Viagra bring the chuckles, though the filmmakers play it safe and steer clear of the ropes, whips and handcuffs that would probably give its demographic a heart attack.

Where it doesn’t quite stick the landing is its transition into an overly melodramatic second half, wherein each woman’s happiness is undone by their falling back into old habits. Ending very predictably, it at least leaves a feel-good mushiness that pensioners will lap up. Perhaps most unrealistic is the fact that not once do these seasoned literature aficionados comment on how poorly written their bestseller is. But at the very least, Book Club is a fine time that shows Hollywood’s older gals can still lead a movie and have a good time doing so.

Book Club is available in Australian cinemas from August 23 

Image courtesy of Transmission Films