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

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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 Gateway

This Perth-produced sci-fi thriller earns a B+ for ambition, but can’t quite make the grade anywhere else.

⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan 

Jane Chandler’s (Jacqueline McKenzie) time is unevenly split between her family and her all-consuming job as a particle physicist on the brink of creating a functioning teleportation device. A breakthrough in her work reveals that her machine does not in fact transport matter, but instead sends it to a parallel universe; a revelation put on hold abruptly when Jane’s husband (Myles Pollard) is killed in a car accident. Overwhelmed with grief and unable to cope without him, she journeys to a parallel universe to bring back another version of her husband – without realising that the universe he is from has dark and violent tendencies.

The term ‘know your limits’ exists for a reason. It’s a rule that applies to filmmakers too; your idea may be bold, but that might not outweigh the resources you have available to you or the cliché-ridden script that embalms it. Someone should probably have told this to director/co-writer John V. Soto (Crush, Needle), whose heart is most certainly in the right place, but really should have been a bit more creative in bringing his sci-fi thriller The Gateway to life.

There’s always juicy potential in a premise that involves teleportation and multiple variations of our universe, and Soto starts engagingly enough with the determined Jane and her lab partner Regg (Ben Mortley) racing against the clock to make their matter-transporting passion project come to life before their executives cut their funding. It might not be such of a problem for international audiences, but right off the bat, the very blatantly Perth setting throws any credibility straight out the window – at least for local viewers. Perth audiences will no doubt scoff at the idea that our government would possibly commission scientists to experiment with the unbelievable, instead of, say, spending tax dollars on more speed cameras. Amazingly, in a film that features reality-hopping and lethal alien tasers, this is the most far-fetched concept.

Soto’s biggest downfall is shooting for that Hollywood blockbuster feel on a budget that is barely a fraction of their cost. As a result, his dependence on visual effects derails proceedings, bleeding the little money the production had into a hodgepodge of tacky CGI. Worse is the poor lighting palette and filters (particularly in the drab dystopia of the parallel world), which gives this the shabby feel of a Syfy Channel original.

Soto should have looked to his micro-budgeted peers for inspiration. Take James Ward Byrkit’s Coherence, for example. On an even smaller budget, it managed to be far more engaging and thought-provoking without the reliance on any visual trickery, simply because it focused instead on making its characters strong and ideas heard. And as a local filmmaker, Soto should have taken a leaf from Ben Young’s book; last year’s Hounds of Love was miniscule in scale and yet enormous in impact and resonance. Bigger is not always better – what’s the point in copying Hollywood when forming our own creative identity is much more interesting?

It’s not all bad of course. Jacqueline McKenzie does her best in attempting to elevate the material, as does Ben Mortley in forming a likable enough partnership. The early mix of science and family stuff fares fine separately; it’s just unfortunate to see it culminate in Myles Pollard doing his best Robert Patrick in Terminator 2 impression to become killer dad and hunt down his family. As tempting as it is to support local productions, the truth is you can see the same elsewhere and executed much more successfully.

The Gateway is available in selected Australian cinemas from May 3

Image courtesy of Rialto Distribution

Movie Review – Breath

A worthy attempt by first-time director Simon Baker to capture a truly Australian story.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

Based on Tim Winton’s novel of the same name, Breath follows two teenage boys in WA’s South West who strike up a friendship with local surfer Sando (Simon Baker). On their search for adventure, the two boys find themselves navigating moral minefields as they struggle to grow into the men they want to be.

Breath has so far been well-received by those familiar with the novel and Winton’s writing. In his feature film directorial debut, Australian actor-turned-director Simon Baker has captured the essence of Winton’s writing style and successfully translated it onto the screen. However, in being so true to the source material, I fear Breath potentially alienates any who lack knowledge of or simply don’t appreciate Winton’s ways of storytelling.

Baker’s film moves at a slow and meandering pace that takes the time to ‘stop and smell the roses’ and express the laidback vibe of 1970’s regional WA. While this approach allows for some beautiful cinematography of the ocean and the landscape, it also means the narrative tends to take a bit of a back seat.

Understand that when I say the story unfolds slowly – I mean it’s glacial. Sitting in the cinema, I became painfully aware of the amount of time it was taking to set up the story and began to wonder if it would all be over before anything really happened. Then, when the conflict finally came, it hit so hard and fast that it felt rushed as it tried to tackle such complex and confronting themes.

Thankfully, the film is somewhat saved by its two lead performances. Cast based on their surfing skills and with no prior acting experience, Samson Coulter and Ben Spence are startlingly good as the two young boys at the centre of the story.

Coulter plays the main protagonist Pikelet and brings a sensitivity and maturity that seasoned actors struggle to conjure. His ability to keep Pikelet’s emotions just below the surface keeps you rooting for him, even when some of his actions are less morally driven.

Pikelet’s quiet sensibility is off-set perfectly by the loud and brash Loonie (Spence), whose knack for wild tales and ocker expressions brings some much-needed comic relief. He is the perfect embodiment of the slightly rougher characters you find in Australian country towns, but whether the character will resonate with international audience is yet to be seen.

How Breath fares at the worldwide Box Office will be the real test. Here we have a classic Australian story and a worthy adaptation, but any lacking context may not connect with it.

Breath is available in Australian cinemas from May 3

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Unsane

Amateurish in design and cheesy in execution; Unsane is far from Steven Soderbergh’s finest.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Unsane has all the ingredients of a proper thriller. It is directed by Steven Soderbergh, whose movies have been very popular and successful. It stars Claire Foy, who is undeniably masterful in it. It’s carefully put together. Yet somehow it ends up resembling a middling student project. I can’t say it’s because the entire film was shot on an iPhone 7 (the cinematography lends it a certain immediacy). No, I think it’s because it’s miserably confused, and uses cheap tactics for maximum effect.

The plot, devised by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer, is strange in that it aspires to uncover how insurance scams are in partnership with corrupt mental health facilities, while also striving to be a gruesome psychological thriller in which a perceived stalker may or may not be an actual stalker. The stalker story works, more or less. So does the horrid truth that agencies claiming to treat the mentally wounded might in fact be scamming them. The problem is the two stories don’t work together, which makes their credibility awfully suspect.

Foy plays Sawyer Valentini, an office worker who’s convinced her stalker has followed her from Boston. She consults a shrink and in a flash she’s confined to a hospital bed for seven days. But wait, could that strange orderly who gazes uncomfortably at her actually be the man she’s been running away from? How could he have found her?

I wouldn’t dream of telling you if the orderly is indeed her stalker, even though knowing isn’t that big of a deal. Much of the mental hospital portion plays like a tribute to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), but without the rigid domineering figure of a Nurse Ratched to really amp up the suspense. It is a world designed to remove power from those deemed too unstable to control it themselves.

Soderbergh, whose great films include Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989) and Side Effects (2013), seems to have approached Unsane as an experiment he never really prepares for. He has at his feet two genuine issues to tackle; a movie about either one could have been something magical. Instead, people start dying, chases abound and all nuance is flung out the window. At least he has Claire Foy, who supports Unsane with the strength of a legion and very nearly makes it work. Observe a late scene set in solitary confinement. Brilliant stuff.

Unsane is available in Australian cinemas from April 26 

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Movie Review – I Feel Pretty

Not as horrendous as I thought it was going to be.

⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic 

Going into Amy Schumer’s latest film, it’s safe to say I didn’t have high hopes. I expected an unfunny comedy tackling a seemingly simple premise, but hey, I was thankfully surprised. Yes, it is a typical romantic comedy, but its elevated concept and themes of empowerment are a nice touch.

The idea here is that one day you get knocked on the head so hard that when you wake up you see yourself as the most beautiful person in the world – hence the title I Feel Pretty. This is all the more fitting for our protagonist Renee Bennett (Schumer) who constantly feels insecure about her image and dreams of adopting the perfect look of the women she admires. Her desires are fulfilled when after a fateful accident she views herself as a model-like figure.

It might seem like a superficial notion, but I enjoyed the fact that the film never presented it in that light or wholly focused on that. It’s not about finding the perfect way to look, but to simply find the self-confidence behind that.

Writer/directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein explore scenarios where Renee takes her newfound confidence and applies it to situations that previously she would have never found herself in due to her insecurities. However, this leads to many terribly cheesy setups filled with silly humour, and it feels like such a wasted opportunity. There’s a lot of scenes that are crude purely for the sake of being crude. It does show what happens when we simply believe in ourselves, but this could have been shown in a more intelligent way.

At the end of the day, I Feel Pretty aims to empower women, and I feel it does this successfully, but is it a film that I’d go and see again? Probably not. Would I recommend going to see it? Well, let’s just say it’s not as bad as some other films currently out in cinemas at the moment… *cough* Truth or Dare *cough*…

I Feel Pretty is a nice step in the right direction, even if it’s a small one.

I Feel Pretty is available in Australian cinemas from April 19 

Image courtesy of EntertainmentOne

Movie Review – Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War may not break new ground, but it certainly polishes it.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan 

I cannot account for your feelings towards the Marvel Cinematic Universe, nor anyone else’s. I can only account for my own, and my feelings have decided that the Universe is something special. To see each new Marvel movie is to add a chapter to a saga. As reviewers, we are perhaps encouraged to distance ourselves a little from every film we see, but make no mistake, to enter into Avengers: Infinity War is to enter a stream that’s been flowing for ten years. We may try to combat the current but it will inevitably wash us away.

This is a thunderous superhero movie that hurtles along at breakneck speed. It is about the end of humanity, the heartbreak of sacrifice, the will to bring about change, the pratfalls and jubilations of the human spirit. And, of course, it brings together a cast large enough to populate a small moon. Credit must be given to directors Anthony and Joe Russo for not going utterly bonkers from their logistics, but then, are they perhaps merely binding knots left loose by the countless instalments before them?

In many ways, yes. Infinity War begins with the simplest of premises: an oversized purple alien called Thanos (an utterly bewitching Josh Brolin in motion-capture) wishes to eliminate half the universe’s population by seizing cosmic weapons known as Infinity Stones. The movie plays out his quest and charts the ways in which all the good guys attempt to resist him.

If you’ve been keeping up with the movies, you’d know them all by now. The smart thing about Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s screenplay is that instead of bottlenecking the cast into one room, several throwaway subplots are created to micromanage the Avengers.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) zips off with a few Guardians of the Galaxy to rendezvous with a rather unexpected cameo. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) venture into space. Captain America (Chris Evans) and his friends take a trip to Wakanda, domain of the fearful Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). And so on. Everyone’s spread around like mah-jong tiles, which, while clever, can be a little jarring to keep up with.

Much criticism has already been targeted at the movie’s 149-minute runtime, which is actually about fifteen minutes too short. Infinity War dashes from one scene to the next, occasionally pausing for comedic interludes, but hardly ever for any meaningful interactions. I guess it comes with the territory of trying to cram a bloated cast into a runtime that must pacify today’s audiences. The movie needs to breathe a little, not necessarily for exposition, but to give us, the viewers, a chance to process all the whizzing and frenetic images, because there are a lot of them.

And yet, Infinity War is a tremendous achievement, not atop the Marvel greats, but perhaps more valuable than many of the weaker ones. There are fantastic action sequences, a boatload of one-liners, heroic reveals, shattering developments. And Thanos, enlarged in the middle of everything, is a surprisingly complex figure, not so much an antagonist as a lonely crusader whose journey threatens to undo even himself.

It’s quite a feat to make us care so much about a bunch of goofy superheroes. This cinematic universe feels like an extended TV series; we’ve grown along with these characters through the years to the point where their superpowers are no longer as interesting as their stakes. And in Avengers: Infinity War, their stakes have never been more desperate.

Avengers: Infinity War is available in Australian cinemas from April 26

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Movie Review – Annihilation

Natalie Portman. Scary Creatures. A dome shaped border that looks like a rainbow sheet of film. Welcome to the world of Annihilation by Alex Garland.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Josip Knezevic

Annihilation is an unusually neutral experience. It’s one of those films that doesn’t quite reach greatness, but it’s also not terrible. It just leaves you feeling like, um… it was OK

That isn’t to say it isn’t an enjoyable film – Annihilation does some awesome and innovative stuff. But there’s a whole lot of bullshit going on that brings it down to be just another sub-par science fiction flick.

Everyone has been raving about this film, claiming that it “completely challenges you” and is “really thoughtful and intellectual” and yes, it’s smart here and there, but nowhere near the level it’s being praised to be at.

The film has a trend of inconsistency – one that not only shadows the plot, but also, it’s visual aesthetic. The world within the dome can go from a burst of beautiful colours, to a shitty blend of dullness the next. While this may have been an intentional narrative decision, it nevertheless retracts from the entire experience. Wouldn’t it have made just as much sense to keep this world spectacularly designed throughout? It just misses the opportunity to be a fantastic film on a visual scale.

The same path of thinking can be said for the lead performances. Annihilation features three incredible actors, with Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac and Jennifer Jason Leigh, but for the most part, each of their performances come across as stale and completely reserved . It does make some sense for Isaac’s character to be this way, but it doesn’t work well for Jennifer Jason Leigh at all. She delivers her lines in a neutral way and it doesn’t even feel like she’s fully there most of the time. Nothing she says seems to carry any motivation in any respect.

The actors can’t take the full blame, the fault ultimately lies with writer/director Alex Garland. Garland has the ability to write some fantastic ideas one second, then completely throws this away the next with some horrendous dialogue.

So overall, I would recommend seeing Annihilation, but it’s a suggestion that comes with no real sense of urgency. This is a very missable film, but if you do end up seeing it on Netflix, there are some aspects to enjoy. Just don’t be surprised if you come away from it and find yourself constantly responding to others with, um… it was OK.

Annihilation is available on Netflix in Australia 

Image courtesy of Peter Mountain, Paramount Pictures & Netflix, Source: IMDb