Movie Review – Table 19

You know it’s bad when your biggest laugh is literally a character falling off a log.

⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Wedding movies are a cute little subgenre that pops up every so often; from Bridesmaids to Wedding Crashers, it’s an arena that has served up several genuine gems over the years. Directed by Jeffrey Blitz (The Office) and written by Jay and Mark Duplass, Table 19 has aspirations of joining these esteemed ranks – but falls woefully short.

The film concerns itself with Eloise (Anna Kendrick), the scorned maid of honour who passes on her duties after being dumped by Teddy (Wyatt Russell), the best man and brother of the bride. Determined to turn up to the wedding and show Teddy what he’s missing, Eloise finds herself unceremoniously dumped at table 19 with the rest of the losers, rejects and hangers-on.

Table 19 is a disjointed tangle of misshapen plot strands and half-baked characters that feel thrown together hastily, as if the finishing touches to the script were still being drawn up as the film entered the final stretch of shooting. Filled with a jealous rage and harbouring a secret, Eloise is supposed to find herself bonding with the rest of her tablemates over their comparable tales of hopelessness – except none of them are satisfactorily explored or explained all that well, save for Eloise.

Kendrick is right at home in the indie surrounds of Table 19; after all, her whole career is built on a solid bedrock of quaint indie comedies like The Hollars, Mr Right, The Last Five Years, Drinking Buddies and The Voices.

And whilst it’s good that Kendrick keeps herself busy, maybe she needs to learn that quality is always preferable to quantity. Table 19 doesn’t give her the platform to put on a show or flex her acting chops. It doesn’t offer room to be comedic or tragic. It doesn’t even provide a coherent emotional arc for her character. Again, like many of the films listed above, her infectious cheer and smiley nature feels like the only thing keeping the film afloat at times.

Serving up the most painful wedding this side of Westeros, Table 19 succeeds in replicating the sheer boredom and chair-shifting awkwardness that comes with attending a function in which you really have no investment. Only a handful of jokes land, the pacing is all over the place and the soundtrack is so cutesy it’s like an elongated Mumford and Sons banjo solo.

However, unlike most wedding receptions, at least Table 19 can claim to be only 87 minutes long. Still, save yourself the trouble of forking out for the gift registry and politely decline this invitation – your time is better spent washing the car, cleaning out the gutters, mowing the lawn or literally doing anything else.

Table 19 is available in Australian cinemas from April 20 

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Interview: Chloe Hurst – A Few Less Men

Corey Hogan

It’s probably the oldest cliché in the book; chasing your dream in the city of stars itself, Los Angeles, and leaving your life behind to make it big on the silver screen. But it’s another thing entirely if you’re actually achieving that dream, like 26-year-old Perth girl Chloe Hurst is currently. Skipping the humble beginnings most up-and-comers are forced to endure, Chloe’s been on a consistent roll since relocating; kicking off in New York with Broadway smash hits, then landing film roles opposite massive stars like Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe and Stephen Baldwin. In between her Hollywood acting, she’s taken a trip back home to appear in the sequel to the 2011 Aussie/British comedy A Few Best Men – now A Few Less Men. It’s safe to say Chloe’s blown that cliché out of the water.

I talked to Chloe about everyday life amongst the biggest names in film, the different experience of working at home on A Few Less Men (her very first Australian film) and her continuing dream run.

HOF: For starters, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what got you onto the performance and filmmaking scene?

CH: Sure! I’ve been in performing arts since I was a kid, but mainly doing theatre, musical theatre and stage stuff actually until about two years ago, when I went on a trip to L.A. to visit for two weeks from New York; I’ve done I think nine films back to back ever since. It’s definitely been a journey, and I guess the transition from stage to screen is sort of what I’m going through at the moment, and I’m loving every second of it.

HOF: You’ve had an impressive run in theatre with massive productions like Into the Woods and A Chorus Line, how have you found the transition from acting for the stage to acting in film?

CH: The actual process for me – I’ve been working with a lot of incredible coaches who’ve helped along the way, but the biggest difference I’ve found is the transition from New York to L.A., not necessarily the work aspect of it. That shift was huge in terms of lifestyle, but in terms of the work… I’m just surrounded by incredible people that are doing incredible things, and I think when you’re in good hands it makes that transition so much easier because you’re sharing the experience with these pros who have done it for years. In that respect I just find that I’ve been really lucky that I’ve been thrown into the hands of incredible professionals that have ten times the amount of experience I do, and I’m just learning every day from them.

HOF: There’s obviously a huge difference between performance work in Australia and work in L.A., what makes it that way? How does the process differ?

CH: For me, my only experience of working in Australia is A Few Less Men; most of my work has been in America! So this is actually my first real, professional experience with Australian film, and I loved every second of it. Being in my home town and shooting the film was a dream come true, and obviously I’d love to do more and more and more of that. And just seeing how passionate the Aussies are about what they’re doing, their work ethic is incredible. I think often with these big Hollywood sets… they do this all the time; they follow a protocol, they have routine and rules to stick to, whereas I feel like in Australia the energy on set and the excitement to be doing what they’re doing every day is just contagious. Like I said I haven’t had much experience in Australia, so this was such an incredible first introduction to how Aussies work and the comradery that’s created on set is totally different; it’s much more of a family aspect rather than a business. I think we’re all super supportive of each other creating these awesome things and just getting the best out of people from a personal, artistic point of view.

HOF: How did you become involved in A Few Less Men? What latched you on to a production back in Australia?

CH: So I auditioned from L.A., I caught wind that there was this film shooting in my home town called A Few Less Men, and I’d heard about the first one but I hadn’t actually seen it before auditioning. I sort of knew the cast that was attached, and even just being given the scenes that I auditioned with, I could see the comedic aspects of it, and I just thought it was written so incredibly well that I was actually laughing when reading the script – I always think that’s a great sign for a comedy. So I actually put myself on tape out here, and funnily enough one of my best friends Saskia (Hampele) was also taping herself for it from out here, so she came into my audition to read with me, and it turned out the two of us actually booked Lisa and Angie, the two best friends that are travelling in the film together. I think a part of the audition process, having her in the room and reading with me and bantering off each other like that; I feel like sending that across is probably what got us both the roles, so we were both in it together from the very beginning.

HOF: You play Lisa, who is (sort of) a love interest for Tom (Kris Marshall). Tell us a bit about the character.

CH: She’s a fling. She’s not far from me in real life I’d like to think, except perhaps a little more forward and sexual [laughs]. I basically intercept the boys; I’m on this big road trip with Saskia’s Angie in the film and we come across the boys stuck in the middle of the desert, and we take them to this party that I think ultimately resembles a Burning Man type festival. It leads to… I guess you could call it love at first sight with Kris Marshall? I try to get involved with him and proposition him for a threesome and divert their journey; they’re on a mission and we prevent that from happening, we’re giving them an ulterior motive.

HOF: How did you find working opposite all these funny actors like Kris Marshall and Kevin Bishop? Is comedy your thing?

CH: My cheeks were sore every single day; I could not stop laughing with these boys. I can’t even explain to you… they are, I think, the funniest people I’ve ever been in a room with at the same time. And when you get to develop that while shooting seriously, it only gets funnier. They are the kindest, most genuine men, and they are just a scream… what you see in the film is just so similar to what you see on set. Comedy is not my strength at all; I’m working on it at the moment actually, I’m doing an intensive class out here in L.A. just to be as good as these boys at comedy.

I was certainly intimidated to begin with working with Kris; we met, and five seconds after saying “Hi I’m Chloe, nice to meet you,” we filmed the scene where we were making out and doing… you know… [laughs] all of a sudden our tongues were doing each other’s throats. So that was certainly my first experience of being thrown in the deep end, but if anything we got the awkwardness out of the way first, so that was great.

HOF: You were in Shane Black’s The Nice Guys last year, how was it acting with such a prolific director and huge stars like Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe?

CH: I’m still speechless to this day. I think Shane’s casting and directing… he’s a genius, as a writer, as a director, as a mentor, he’s just so incredible. And to get to work with people like Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe… that’s what I mean when I say I’m learning from the best of the best, they take you under their wing and guide you and it’s the reason they are so successful. They’re just the most humble people.

HOF: You had the starring role in the indie film Scarlett, could you tell us a bit about that?

CH: Yeah! Scarlett is a film with Stephen Baldwin and myself from last year which came out… I think it’s doing a state by state release in America at the moment, so it’s come out in Texas, and Colorado I believe so far. That was my first feature film ever, and to play the title role in a film with so little experience was certainly a big responsibility on my part. Of the one hundred page script I think I had about ninety of dialogue, so it was a big responsibility on my part, but I absolutely loved every second of it and would greet the challenge again with open arms. And obviously to work with Stephen Baldwin on your first film… so I was picking his brain for advice, and I got to take away so much from that that led to things like The Nice Guys and now A Few Less Men.

HOF: You’re a bit of a fashion icon too on top of your acting. What do you enjoy the most, or does it all sort of play off each other?

CH: You know, it does play off each other; I’m certainly much more of an actor than a model, I’ve been so blessed to be able to model as my side job all these years. I joke about how modelling is my waitressing, which most actors end up having to do at some point, and I’ve been very blessed that modelling has been that for me. In terms of being a fashion icon… wow. That’s like… that’s a big call. I was flown back last year to be the ambassador of the Perth Fashion Festival, and that was an incredible experience. I basically got to meet a lot of local Perth designers that I’m still in discussion with now, because obviously I want to support where I’m from and the fashion people that are coming up in the world from Perth. I just think there’s nothing better than being supportive of the people who are trying to do their best with what they’ve got or where they’re from; I will always be so supportive of Australian fashion.

HOF: You’re based in L.A. now of course, but would you take the opportunity if more roles in Australia presented themselves?

CH: Yup. Yup, hands down. I struggle everyday living so far away from the people I love the most, so any opportunity to be brought closer to them and still be able to do what I love is a dream for me. I also love what Australians are doing with scripts and films and companies like StudioCanal are obviously being really supportive of the film industry over there, and I want to be a part of that. Like I said A Few Less Men is my only experience so far in Australian film, and I would love to grow that over the next few years, and after that as well. Fingers crossed!

HOF: I guess that brings us to what’s next for you. Are you working on anything at the moment; are there any projects on the table?

CH: So this is actually a really interesting year for me, I got my green card for the US so that in itself has opened a lot of doors over here. It’s pilot season, so I’m currently on the hustle and grind auditioning back to back for TV shows; because I’ve never worked in TV that’s something that my team and I are working on together to try to achieve this year.

A Few Less Men is available in Australian cinemas from March 9 

Image courtesy of StudioCanal

Movie Review – American Honey

Possibly the most poignant American road movie since Easy Rider.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Teenager Star (Sasha Lane) seems to have very little in her impoverished life, as evident when we meet her scrounging around for food in dumpsters to feed the kids of the white trash family she squats with. So when she happens upon a group of energetic and similarly proletarian teens, and is propositioned by their flirtatious leader Jake (Shia LaBeouf) to join them as they travel across Midwest America, there’s nothing to lose. She enters a world of homeless but happy kids doing everything they can to survive while still partying as hard as possible along the way. An explosion of highs and lows, mixed with the emotions and impulses of growing up await Star on the open road.

It’s difficult to pinpoint what kind of a film Andrea Arnold’s (Fish Tank, Wuthering Heights) American Honey is, since it’s really more of an experience; a kinetic painting of youth enthusiastically splashed against a canvas of economic disparity. Though the odd bit of traditional storytelling peeks around the corner here and there, with a sort-of romance between its two somewhat star crossed leads, most sense of a narrative structure is completely AWOL. This is a montage of raw moments, a haze of hormonal feelings pulsating in and out to the throbbing rhythm of its pop and rap soundtrack. Coming of age may be nothing new, but Arnold’s vision of it is unique, vibrant, hypnotic and infectiously optimistic.

Working in her standard 4:3 aspect ratio combined with guerrilla handheld cameras, Arnold keeps things at an incredibly intimate and private scope, really giving the illusion that we’re with the kids in their impetuous travels. We’re granted a contrasting look at the opposing ends of America’s class scale, which speaks wonders but never passes judgement; both the rich and the poor are shown to be capable of equal virtue and malice. Most refreshing is its portrayal of a generation too often partnered with cynicism; these are simply young people making the most out of life that they can with an inspiring amount of ambition and idealism.

Andrea Arnold supposedly stumbled upon Sasha Lane at a beach while on spring break, and her idea to have her film led by someone unfamiliar with acting is a hugely effective one. It doesn’t feel like acting really – Lane just is Star, going with the flow and simply being a teenage girl as life washes over her. On the other hand, we’ve all been aware of Shia LaBeouf for quite some time, which is where he defies all expectations, giving what is likely his best performance. He’s unlike he’s ever been before here – a shaggy, complex bundle of messy energy tied up in a rat tail – and it’s abundantly clear that he’s having much more fun here than he did in any studio film.

An intensely visceral and gleeful juncture of growing up in poverty, American Honey is possibly the most poignant American road movie since Easy Rider.

American Honey is available in Australian cinemas from November 3

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

Movie Review – Cafe Society

There’s a lot to love in Woody Allen’s rose-tinted love letter to Hollywood’s Golden Era.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) is the youngest son of a Jewish family living in New York City. Overshadowed by his older siblings, Bobby decides to pack his bags and fly west to work at the movie studio where his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell) calls the shots.

It isn’t long until Bobby is smitten with Phil’s secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), an unpretentious young woman who doesn’t care for the glamour of Hollywood. After a crush turns into romance, Bobby and Vonnie’s lives begin to pull them in different directions and they’re forced to confront the idea that this relationship might become ‘the one that got away’.

 A frivolous and effervescent affair that fizzes merrily like a crystal flute of fine champagne, Café Society is a potent mixer of wry irreverence and wistful poignancy that views the good old days and the gorgeous paraphernalia that comes with it through thick rose-tinted lenses. Allen’s screenplay and work behind the camera reveals him to be someone who dreamily reminisces about the past, even if that means sacrificing accuracy for agreeability and predictability. He envisions 1930’s Hollywood as an idyllic and unending cocktail party in a narrative so slight that it might’ve been scribbled onto a napkin.

That being said, I found a lot to love in Café Society; sure, it doesn’t broach any of its adult themes (adultery, murder) with anything sharper than misty-eyed whimsy, but the likeable cast do a fantastic job of balancing this with jovial charm and the occasional shred of sincerity.

Eisenberg slots back into his gawky indie niche with ease; away from the suffocating clutches of blockbusters like Batman v Superman, he excels as the young upstart who falls head over heels for Stewart’s ‘too cool for school’ attitude. Now in their third collaboration together, Eisenberg and Stewart’s chemistry is what gives this film life, even when they’re not sharing a scene – you feel the connection between their characters because the two actors just click so well.

Blake Lively, Corey Stoll, Anna Camp and Parker Posey flesh out a supporting cast that doesn’t have a weak link. Lively is particularly arresting as Veronica, a sultry siren who glides into Bobby’s life whilst Stoll’s slimy gangster is pitched as the comic relief – not that the movie really needed another joker in the pack.

When considering its place in Allen’s erratic late-period filmography, Café Society definitely sits closer to gems like Blue Jasmine and Midnight in Paris than misfires like Magic in the Moonlight. Carefree during most of the weirdly paced middle third, it all comes good in the end with a heartening crescendo that feels moving without being maudlin. Noteworthy for delivering another excellent performance from Stewart, this is one easy, breezy time at the movies that is worth checking out.

Cafe Society is available in Australian cinemas from October 13

Image courtesy of eOne Films

Movie Review – Girl Asleep

Blend Napoleon Dynamite, Where the Wild Things Are and Moonrise Kingdom, and dial the quirk factor up to 11 and you’ll have something almost as strange as Girl Asleep.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Awkward fourteen-year-old Greta (Bethany Whitmore) has just moved to a new school, where she forms a bond with geeky boy Elliot (Harrison Feldman) and unintentionally breaks the olive branch extended to her by the popular girls. To her horror, she discovers that her parents (Matthew Whittet and Amber McMahon) have planned a fifteenth birthday party for her, and sent invitations out to everyone in her year group. At the party she’s humiliated to the point of lashing out at her loved ones, so she seeks refuge inside a dream world within her mind; a bizarre parallel universe where she can only hope to find herself.

Welcome to hipster heaven. Writer Matthew Whittet and director Rosemary Myers convert Whittet’s theatre production Girl Asleep into a big-screen adaptation, and the result is probably the weirdest thing you’re likely to see at a cinema in 2016. It’s a film that bleeds quirkiness from its every orifice, so much so that it almost forgets to be much more than a cinematic embodiment of peculiarity. Myers very blatantly channels the style and humour of Wes Anderson and Jared Hess, but ramps the eccentricity up to extreme levels; which does give it its own unique branding, but dilutes the levels of emotional investment that those auteurs often strike a balance with.

Filmed in the increasingly popular 4:3 aspect ratio for perfect square framing, every single shot is a showcase for a different technical trick, be it camouflaged people materialising out of the walls to reveal titles or the camera spinning on a food platter as each character grabs their dinner. It’s particularly impressive once Greta enters her dreambox and Myers allows her imagination to run wild with creativity, turning the woods next to the family’s house into a stupendous and spooky acid trip realm where anything seems possible.

Visually and aesthetically, it’s a triumph, especially remarkable for Australian cinema, but ultimately this feels more like a showreel than a fleshed-out film. The 70’s setting – realised with excellent sets and costumes – heightens the campiness to its absolute breaking point, with an overtly ironic tone that screams “hey look at us, we’re being self-aware!” It’s the kind of film that’s a wet dream for the alternative crowd, and drolly entertaining for the average movie-goer (should they happen to see something so indie), but has the potential to be enormously off-putting to anyone even slightly cynical or adverse to gimmicky filmmaking.

Casting is pretty much spot-on. Matthew Whittet gives himself some of the funniest lines as Greta’s father, dropping some shocking dad jokes, but also showing an overprotective side as he tries to keep his daughter from coming out of her shell. Harrison Feldman’s Elliot is a loveable loser, though his character pushes the overbearing envelope a little too much to sympathise with at times. Young Bethany Whitmore gives the star-making turn as Greta; having worked from a very young age in Australian media, she mirrors her nervous character and comes of age herself, confirming what is sure to be a bright future for the teen actress.

Girl Asleep has zilch in the way of depth, but at an incredibly brisk 77 minutes it is relatively quick and painless, so it’s hard to complain too much. In the end, it’s a little film that isn’t likely to float around in your mind for long, yet it remains a neat fable about growing up, with enough sensory delights to form a pleasing oddity.

Girl Asleep is available in Australian cinemas from September 1st 

Image courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment/Kojo Group 

Movie Review – Maggie’s Plan

Sometimes thinking you know everything you want in life, and then getting it, isn’t quite as good as it sounds.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

Maggie (Greta Gerwig), a self-sufficient New Yorker, decides she’s ready to raise a child as a single mother and prepares to inseminate herself. Her plan unexpectedly diverges when she meets and falls in love with John (Ethan Hawke), an anthropologic writer whose toxic marriage to adept university professor Georgette (Julianne Moore) is dwindling. Georgette is relinquished to pave the way for Maggie and John’s blossoming relationship, but three years and one child later, Maggie realises she no longer loves her new husband. She forms a new plan – reuniting John with his ex-wife.

Maggie’s Plan finds writer/director Rebecca Miller (The Ballad of Jack and Rose, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee) on a slightly different terrain to her usual straight-faced drama. Her latest effort is more comedic and quirky than what we’ve seen from her in the past, but the result is a film that hovers in an odd middle ground between comedy and drama. While it isn’t exactly laugh-out-loud funny, it generally amuses and calls for placid smiles. In reality, this mess of motherhood and marital mayhem would be a serious situation filled with plenty of heartbreak, and there is a sense of that at times, but these characters are droll and borderline absurd; you can’t get attached to them, you can only observe their strange momentum.

What Maggie’s Plan ends up as is a bizarre, almost surreal romance (or anti-romance) populated with self-absorbed, control-freak characters. We frequently jump forward in time, occasionally by a few years, which can’t help but feel dizzying and disorienting. The fact that our central trio change their minds and their feelings for one another almost as much is bewildering. It’s difficult to warm to such a narcissistic bunch, but thanks to a typically excellent cast working together in a lively harmony, they’re a delight to play voyeur to.

Indie darling Gerwig is so at home in these highbrow New Yorker roles that she carries the film without effort, though the fresh motive of single motherhood and its unexpected obstacles gives her Maggie a complexity that her Frances Ha and Mistress America characters were lacking.

It seems to be a trend in independent dramedies lately to harken back to the screwball romps of the 1930’s and 40’s, with shades of Woody Allen thrown in for good measure. Overall, Maggie’s Plan is undoubtedly a witty, engaging time, even if it’s all wrapped up a little too neatly – like Maggie’s plan itself.

Maggie’s Plan is available in Australian cinemas from July 7

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures 

Movie Review – Freeheld

With gay marriage now legalised in the States, it’s been a huge year for the gay community. Let’s just hope that when the inevitable movie arrives on the subject it’s a little more sincere than Freeheld.

⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Would it be blasphemous – nay, a hate crime – to accuse a film promoting gay activism of blatant bigotry in this current age of (dare I say it) overbearing political correctness? Sadly, despite the obviously noble intentions of everyone involved, Freeheld is a quintessential case of agenda-pushing overshadowing quality filmmaking.

Directed by Peter Sollett (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) and based on the Academy Award-winning documentary short of the same name, the film tells the true story of Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore), a closeted lesbian cop who falls for out-and-proud mechanic Stacie Andree (Ellen Page). The two enter a domestic partnership, though Laurel struggles to come to terms with revealing her sexuality to her fellow detectives, including partner Dane Wells (Michael Shannon), until she is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. With only one year to live, Laurel must summon all the support she can from her closed-minded colleagues in order to convince the Ocean County board of legislators, or “freeholders”, to allow her pension benefits to be passed on to Stacie once she is deceased, becoming a reluctant gay activist in the process.

It feels as though, somewhere along the way, Freeheld’s creative team forgot they were making a movie; or, at least, neglected to realise that in order to convey a strong message, the film itself requires a degree of believability. It’s a film of two halves, and neither makes the grade – the first, in which Laurel and Stacie meet, hook up, and fall in love, is a bland romance we’ve seen a million times before. The fact that it is between two women is not enough to disguise a most dull, generic love story, complete with unimaginative dialogue and a lack of chemistry between two normally excellent stars. This bodes ill for the second half, wherein we’re supposed to feel for these cardboard characters as they fight the system.

There’s a distinct lack of subtlety on display as the film unnecessarily spends its runtime making a brazening effort to convince of its viewpoint. It practically screams at you “BEING GAY IS NORMAL – ACCEPT IT”, without taking into account that its main audience – and probably most people nowadays – no doubt already share this opinion.

Sollet’s direction is uninspired at best; his basic camera angles and sitcom lighting give off a made-for-TV vibe, which perhaps this should have been. The actors do their best with a stiff, clumsy script (from the writer of Philadelphia, no less), and Julianne Moore is always watchable, but it’s disappointing to see her follow an Oscar-winning performance for Still Alice with such a one-dimensional role. There’s no doubt a personal aspect to Ellen Page’s involvement, having publicly come out not long ago, and also holding a producer credit on the film. It’s admirable to see her push for something she is passionate about, but sadly further proof that good intent does not a good film make. The ever-reliable Michael Shannon is typecast and reduced to subplots that are abandoned, and a surprise appearance from Steve Carrell as a Jewish LBGT advocate – while easily the best part about the film – feels tonally jarring; his typically manic comedy completely out of place in an otherwise straight-faced story.

The legalisation of civil unions in New Jersey is a pivotal moment in history for the gay community, but committing such events to film needs to be handled better than this. A true story it may be (which is the only element giving it a shred of integrity), Freeheld feels like it is riding a wave of clickbait social justice, coming across as smug and rabidly zealous. There are so many films in recent memory that do everything Freeheld tries to much more successfully – for a dynamic dyke drama see Blue Is The Warmest Colour, and for a great gay activism biopic see Pride, or hell, watch the original short Freeheld is based on – all these have done more for gay people than this ever will.

Freeheld is available in Australian cinemas from November 5th

Images courtesy of EntertainmentOne

Quick Pick – Man Up

Lake Bell and Simon Pegg make for a charming and eccentric couple in this sweet but formulaic stab at the rom-com genre.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Continuing a proud tradition of snarky British romantic comedies lead by luckless in love thirty-somethings, Man Up pairs nerd icon Simon Pegg with Lake Bell as two strangers flung together by a case of mistaken identity. Scheduled to begin a blind date underneath the clock in Waterloo Station, Jack (Pegg) confuses Nancy (Bell) for his rightful partner, and with Nancy deciding to not tell him otherwise, the two set off on an evening of merriment with boozing and ten-pin bowling on London’s South Bank.

If the set-up sounds silly, don’t despair – it isn’t long before all pretence is discarded with, and we’re actually left with the much more amusing situation where Jack and Nancy must continue to uphold the lie in order to spite others, particularly Jack’s soon-to-be ex-wife Hilary (Olivia Williams).

Whilst their characters are drawn pretty broadly – Jack’s a hopelessly romantic doofus, Nancy’s a downtrodden cynic who has been burnt too many times – the lead couple do everything they can to elevate this film above sappy rom-com mediocrity into snappier, more referential territory. Their dynamic works well, with Bell emerging as a shining beacon of deadpan humour alongside Pegg’s more restrained straight man shtick.

The plot actually takes place over the course of a single night, a creative choice I wasn’t expecting or totally convinced by, however, at barely 90 minutes, the film breezes by and feels like more of an extended sitcom pilot than a feature length film at times. If you’re hoping to find a date movie with a little more polish, then maybe look elsewhere – but for everyone else this sweet yet scatterbrained effort has enough heart and charisma to entertain.

Man Up is available in Australian cinemas from November 5th

Images courtesy of Studiocanal

Movie Review – The Dressmaker

Despite buckets of humour and a ripper cast, Jocelyn Moorhouse’s The Dressmaker stretches itself just enough that the stitches start to show.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

After being branded a murderer at the age of ten, and sent away to a boarding school in Melbourne, Myrtle ‘Tilly’ Dunnage (Kate Winslet) has spent the majority of her adult life pursuing her passion for fashion in Europe; from London to Paris and Milan, Myrtle has done everything she can to distance herself, both literally and emotionally, from the backwater hometown of Dungatar in outback Australia where she grew up.

However, when Tilly returns home to care for her aging mother Molly (Judy Davis), the proverbial skeletons in her closet are sitting, waiting to be paraded around in front of a town that doesn’t forget, and rarely forgives. As her reappearance signals the resurfacing of a scandal, this otherwise sleepy town is suddenly abuzz with whispers about Tilly’s true intentions – but can her Parisian haute culture knowhow help clear her name, and win the townsfolk’s trust?

With The Dressmaker, director Jocelyn Moorhouse, along with co-screenwriter and real-life husband PJ Hogan, have penned a whimsical ensemble piece that, despite containing a raft of riotous characters, struggles to uphold a consistent tone, and sustain interest in the B-grade murder mystery plot.

To their credit, Moorhouse and Hogan’s screenplay strives to make the most of a ludicrously talented Aussie cast; the film doesn’t just focus on Tilly, and instead chooses to play around with the wonderfully wacky eccentricities of almost everyone who resides in this otherwise sleepy outback town.

Hugo Weaving is an absolute riot as Farrat, the cross-dressing police seargent with a heart of gold, and a fondness for feather boas, whilst Sarah Snook is hilarious as Gertrude ‘Trudy’ Pratt, a bespectacled store clerk yearning to undergo an ugly duckling transformation. The only actor upsetting the applecart is an oddly miscast Liam Hemsworth as hometown heartthrob Teddy; a puppy-eyed beefcake who spends 80% of his screen time chopping wood or posing shirtless by his dilapidated trailer.

The razor-sharp dialogue that Winslet and Davis share whilst cooped up in their ramshackle house on the hill is The Dressmaker’s strongest suit, an element made even more impressive by the former’s impeccable Aussie accent. Winslet has a lot of ground to cover here, as Moorhouse spreads her focus pretty wide, covering everything from sweeping fairy-tale romance to silly absurdist comedy and a dark revenge yarn. It’s a testament to her talent as an actress that Winslet’s performance isn’t lost amongst the jarring tonal shifts and striking outback vistas.

The costume design is undeniably gorgeous; Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson have worked wonders in recreating all-manner of stylish period ball gowns and brassieres, and the cast have a whale of a time swanning across the set dressed to the nines in sumptuous silks and striking stilettos.

However, the fanciful frocks do nothing to disguise that The Dressmaker runs out of material around the three-quarter mark; a series of swift rug pulls signal a downward spiral in the third act from which the film never really recovers, and an overlong conclusion stretches out the melodrama just long enough to feel tiresome. Almost frivolous to a fault, The Dressmaker is fun aside that does enough with the cast to entertain – even if the plot feels like three separate films that’ve been haphazardly sewn together.

The Dressmaker is available in Australian cinemas from October 29th

Images courtesy of Universal Pictures

Quick Pick – Mistress America

Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig certainly have their own take on comedy, but it’s a take that needs more feeling and less pretence.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

You know how some movies just crawl under your skin and stay there, like a tick? Mistress America is one of them. Here is a movie that’s very sweet and innocent, and by all accounts tells a heart-warming story of friendship, but not for a second did I believe any of it.

Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig like these stories. They recently collaborated on Frances Ha (2012), one of those quiet indie movies that a lot of people liked solely because it was an indie movie. I thought it was a strange one, and Gerwig came across more like a dim-witted social outcast than a quirky icon of do-it-yourself living.

In Mistress America, Gerwig plays Brooke, a high-flying, Manhattan socialite whose dad is about to marry Tracy’s mum. So Tracy (Lola Kirke) comes to Manhattan looking for her new big sister, and for the first forty-five minutes or so, very little happens; Brooke and Tracy mingle, seldom talking about their love-stricken parents.

There are subplots about writing and money, and all of it is handled by Baumbach’s and Gerwig’s screenplay as if all the actors are sitting around a conference table rehearsing jokes and gags. Gerwig, especially, is not as effervescent and charming as her admirers protest. She emphasises the right words at the wrong time, and pitches her lines at awkward levels, so it seems like she’s unsure of her own material. She doesn’t sell her stuff, and in comedy, selling is the name of the game. People find her quirky. I find her unprofessional.

Look, if you like these kinds of movies, you will enjoy Mistress America. The man beside me in the theatre cackled way more than anyone else. I remained silent and uncomfortable throughout. I can, however, appreciate the story, and Mistress America, behind all the pretence, has a sweet one.

Mistress America is available in Australian cinemas from October 29th

Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox