Movie Review – The Leisure Seeker

Love is dead and growing old sucks – what else is new?

⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

Paolo Virzì’s The Leisure Seeker centres on an old married couple – Ella (Helen Mirren) and John (Donald Sutherland) – as they grapple with various old age ailments. Despite Ella’s growing frailty and John’s worsening dementia, the couple decide to take their beloved Winnebago – dubbed The Leisure Seeker – on one last road trip from their home in Boston to visit the Florida Keys home of John’s idol, Ernest Hemingway.

Virzi’s film, which clocks in at a lengthy 113 minutes and trundles along about as fast as the titular camper, seems to have nothing to say other than “growing old sucks” and “you will find yourself here one day, just like everybody else”. It has sporadic bursts of profound emotion, but eventually they’re all different angles on the same scrape; John forgets himself or where he is while Ella frets and fears for his health. After the first act, each scene covers the same ground. It’s crushingly sad and just hammers the same message over and over and over. When Sutherland’s character eventually pines to be put of his misery, I found myself feeling the exact same way – please, let it end. As soon as possible, preferably.

This could all be forgiven if the script delivered on its promise of octogenarian hijinks on the road, but it falls short. The occasional chuckle is suffocated by the thick fog of sadness and hopelessness that lingers in the air. Mirren and Sutherland, to their credit, deliver admirable performances, however, that’s more or less where the commendable aspects end. The film, like its frail characters, just shuffles around, biding its time and waiting for the sweet embrace of the end. Hard pass.

The Leisure Seeker is available in Australian cinemas from June 14 

Image courtesy of eOne Films

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Movie Review – Tag

Reasonably amusing but completely brainless, Jeff Tomsic’s Tag isn’t enough to get the adrenaline pumping.

⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan 

Tag is almost a movie that is immune to criticism, not because it is good in any way, but because it offers very little outside of what it promises, which is that a bunch of grown men will chase each other across a city.

The movie is inspired by the 2013 Wall Street Journal article about a group of friends in Spokane, Washington, who have played the same game of tag every May for the past 23 years. But it isn’t simply a game anymore. The men have supercharged their methods so that old-lady disguises and surprise leaps from rubbish bins are considered supremely tactical. It’s become a kind of backyard military campaign, and on a very hidden, deeply infantile level, it seems like a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, Tag isn’t as enjoyable, because even though its leading men successfully create the illusion that they’ve known each other for decades, there is nothing else to discover about them. Everything that happens is either a direct result or a direct cause of their game of tag. Even one of their wives, played by Isla Fisher, exists only to adorn the festivities.

Ed Helms is Hogan Malloy, who we first see accepting a job as a janitor even though he has a PhD in medicine. We soon find out his motive: he wants an opportunity to tag his good friend Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm), who is a big executive at the company and is about to be interviewed for the Wall Street Journal by Rebecca (Annabelle Wallis).

And so it goes. The plot is basically a never-ending series of physical gags in which Hogan, Bob and their old pals Chilli (Jake Johnson) and Sable (Hannibal Buress) try to finally tag Jerry (Jeremy Renner), the master of escape who has managed to remain untouched for nearly thirty years.

Directed by Jeff Tomsic, much of the action’s success stems from the actors, who don’t so much perform as yap their way from one sight gag to the next. Nothing they do or say is all that funny, nothing that happens is all that inspired, and by the end all we’re left to wonder is how many brain cells we’ve lost in a hundred minutes.

But there’s something profoundly silly yet utterly charming about watching a bunch of grown-ups run like fools to avoid a simple touch, to abandon all notion of civility in favour of unrestrained fun. I don’t think I would’ve felt that with another cast, but Helms, Hamm, Johnson, Buress and Renner succeed in making me believe they’ve been best friends since childhood, and if you want to deliver a story 23 years in the making, that’s key.

Tag is available in Australian cinemas from June 14

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Incredibles 2

The Incredibles are back facing a new enemy, but unfortunately this long overdue sequel doesn’t match the charm of the original.

 ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

Incredibles 2 is a blatant rehash of the original animated family comedy, following the exact same beats as the first film. There’s no doubt that it’s a very well-made film, technically speaking. It’s got some great voice talent (Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson) and some competently directed action sequences from returning writer/director Brad Bird, but otherwise it’s same old, same old.

Without giving too much away, let’s just say that certain roles have been reversed and everything else that follows is basically the same structure that we saw last time. It doesn’t automatically mean the entire movie is a boring experience, but it adds a level of predictability that certainly makes it less exciting.

Nevertheless, Incredibles 2 still holds enough positives to make it a fun ride. Moments of comedy come here and there, but the punchlines often feel slightly awkward, with childish, slapstick humour targeting more of the younger audience members. The best jokes are the ones that poke fun at human behavior or twisted logic, but sadly these are few and far between.

Incredibles 2 is far from the spectacular return I hoped for, but I still have no problem recommending you go and see it. The animation is once again a standout, I just wish the story could have been just as refined as the animation. Fans of the original will be relieved that the essence of the first film hasn’t been lost, but I don’t see Incredibles 2 surpassing its predecessor. Watch it if you’ve loved the original or need a distraction for the kids, but don’t go in with high expectations because you might be disappointed.

Incredibles 2 is available in Australian cinemas from June 14 

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

 

 

Movie Review – Hereditary

Trauma-inducing, nerve pounding, soul shredding satanic fun for the whole family.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

When the reclusive grandmother of the Graham family passes away, strange things begin to happen to her descendants. Her daughter Annie (Toni Collette) attends support groups where she reveals the troubles her family has faced and her strained relationship with her son Peter (Alex Wolff). After a bid to get her introverted daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) socialising more with Peter ends in another horrific demise, Annie’s family deteriorates further. Much to the disdain of her sceptical husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), Annie attempts to communicate with her daughter through séances, and in the process unravels some dark and terrifying secrets about the Graham family ancestry.

It’s often interesting to reflect on the marketing campaigns behind independent horror films. Looking back at the trailers for first-time feature director Ari Aster’s Hereditary makes it seem like an event packed to the brim with moments designed to make viewers jump out of their seats – in other words, a mainstream horror crowd. In reality, there’s approximately one, maybe two jump scares total in Hereditary. Those more accustomed to independent horror will likely expect the slow burn and favour of disturbing imagery over things going bang, while a more casual viewer could be in for an unexpected shock. In that sense, perhaps the marketing team behind Hereditary are geniuses; deliberately misleading a larger crowd into seeing a film that will truly disturb and rattle them to the core.

Aster’s jaw-dropping debut is a difficult beast to define. In some senses, it feels like a patchwork threaded together from things we’ve already seen; there’s the haunted house sensibilities and ritualism of mainstays like The Conjuring and Insidious, and the oppressively patient atmosphere and satanic phenomenon of A24’s last horror hit, The Witch. But uniquely, Hereditary feels only half of a horror film; it builds immense tension doubling as a distressingly dysfunctional family drama.

At the film’s beating heart is the great Toni Collette, who goes against her quirky mum type from the likes of Little Miss Sunshine and United States of Tara. Here she’s one monster of a matriarch, making herself deeply sympathetic as she copes poorly with the agony of losing both her mother and daughter, while simultaneously revealing herself as terrifyingly unstable.

As is usually the case with films like these, it’s best entering Hereditary knowing as little as possible about what’s about to unfold. It’s yet another stunning debut from a director to watch, and another triumph from the ever-creative A24.

Hereditary is available in Australian cinemas from June 7 

Image courtesy of Studiocanal

Movie Review – Disobedience

Sebastian Lelio’s lastest feature looks at what happens when your sexuality and religious beliefs don’t align.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

When Ronit (Rachel Weisz) receives word that her father has passed, she returns to the Orthodox Jewish community from which she was shunned as a child. While paying respects to her father, a revered rabbi of the community, Ronit comes to learn that her former childhood friend and lover Esti (Rachel McAdams) has married her cousin Dovid (Alessandro Nivola). Ronit and Esti soon rekindle their old romance, leaving Esti and Ronit both questioning their faith and the paths their individual lives have taken.
Once again, director Sebastián Lelio explores people living on the outskirts of their community and struggling with their identity in the world. Similar to Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman (2017), which explored a transgender woman coming to grips with the death of her boyfriend, Disobedience is a close inspection of sexuality that is deemed to have no place in organised religious communities.

Lelio has managed to capture the bitterness that exists between old lovers, the suffocating presence of family and religion, and the testing of faith in a way that doesn’t prescribe right or wrong, but instead asks why things have to be this way. It explores the sense of duty that people have, and the depths that some feel this duty to the point that they can’t be themselves without fear of disappointment and banishment.

Bringing this story to life is a cast of outstanding calibre. Weisz plays the disenchanted Ronit with excellence as the character deals with the loss of her father and the unforgiveable nature of the Orthodox community. Nivola too is brilliant as Dovid, a man who has been shown the kinder side of the Orthodox community and struggles to understand Ronit and Esti’s defiance of “what is right.” Nivola has the ability to be silent, but speak volumes all at the same time, and I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing this role as perfectly as he does.

Finally, McAdams as Esti is the stand out for me. Her haunting portrayal of a woman who has to make a choice between her faith and her sexuality is a memorable and gripping performance. Frequently underused as an actress, McAdams has been given the opportunity here to really act, and for me, she doesn’t disappoint. Her portrayal of Esti is unexpected, but at the same time, what you’d expect from the character. She is quiet as the dutiful wife, and rarely speaks out of line, but there’s a quiet determination in her eyes that fuels her actions throughout the film.

For the most part, the film is intimate and poignant, however, there are a couple of moments that could have been executed better. For one, the sex scene between Esti and Ronit is overdone and put together in a way that doesn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the film. It fails to express the release of sexual tension between Esti and Ronit, which has been steadily building since Ronit’s arrival. Instead, it comes across like a cheap lesbian porno.

I’d still recommend the film, however. While the themes of love and religion aren’t anything new, Lelio uniquely tells a familiar story in an unfamiliar setting. It’s a film that will stay with you long after you’ve seen it.

Disobedience is available in Australian cinemas from June 14

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Upgrade

Slick, scorching, grisly and clichéd AF – strap in for an Upgrade.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Pascoe

Written and directed by Leigh Whannell (Saw, Insidious), new Australian film Upgrade is a screaming collision of Paul Verhoeven tech-thriller, grimy cyberpunk mystery and grotesque David Cronenberg body horror. There are moments of intense gore and dark humour, with fantastic choreography and inventive camerawork tying it all together. Think Robocop and Minority Report meets John Wick and Avatar.

If that sounds like your kind of thing, buckle in for a wild ride. Whannell serves up a frenetic 90-minute sci-fi thriller that opens with Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) and wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) brutally assaulted by a quartet of cybernetic thugs. Waking up in hospital as a paraplegic, Grey’s only hope for exacting revenge is an experimental computer chip called STEM (Simon Maiden), which not only gives him the ability to walk, but also kick-ass and take names. It also talks to only him and feeds him advice, sort of like if the devil on your shoulder had a baby with a vaguely sarcastic Siri knock-off.

Even if it’s a setting and a premise we’ve seen umpteen times before, Upgrade is garnished with just enough to keep it afloat. The futuristic tech is believable and the stream of dark humour is fun and ensures the bleak Black Mirror-esque paranoia isn’t suffocating. Marshall-Green is the real standout though; his performance is touching, hilarious and badass, sometimes in the very same scene. Just the right balance of mirth and gravitas for this hokey B-movie fluff.

Where Upgrade struggles is its plot; the twists and turns are immediately obvious to anyone with half a brain and are ripped straight from the guidebook on dark sci-fi horror. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all, I guess.

Upgrade is available in Australian cinemas from June 14 

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment 

Movie Review – Tea with the Dames

In Tea with the Dames, Roger Michell gives us a snapshot into the lives of four impressive icons of the stage and screen.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan 

Roger Michell’s Tea with the Dames is pretty much what you’d expect. It is a cordial documentary spent in the company of four utterly charming and gracefully weathered dames of the British Empire, who have spent their lives on the stage and screen and now appear on screen once again to speak candidly over cups of tea.

The ladies are Joan Plowright, who married the invincible Laurence Olivier in 1961 and retired in 2014 when her declining eyesight made acting impossible; Eileen Atkins, who surrendered a career in dance to recite Shakespeare; Maggie Smith, remembered by many as Professor McGonagall from the Harry Potter movies; and Judi Dench, who reached cinema late in life and then gobbled it up.

According to an early blurb, all four women meet regularly to brush up on each other’s lives. This time, they’ve let the cameras and microphones in, an allowance they start regretting before the afternoon’s over.

It’s clear almost at once that they are immaculately private women. Their first conversation is awkward and quiet, with careful side-glances and uncomfortable silences. But as the day draws on and the talking moves from room to room, conversations begin to flow, sporadically prompted by Michell somewhere off-screen.

The women cover nothing of any real importance. Nothing that cannot be read off their Wikipedia pages or learned from old footage. They discuss their early days at The Old Vic, the magic and woes of marriage, growing old, the burden of superstardom. Sometimes they curse and other times they tease one another. You can tell they’ve had these conversations before, many times, and are tired of having to repeat themselves.

But they are tremendous sports, and brighten the camera as only such heroes can. It is precisely that they’ve known each other for decades that makes Tea with the Dames such a fascinating and enjoyable experience. Sometimes we’re not even interested in what they’re talking about, but the language they employ and the humour with which they deliver it endear us to their shared experiences.

There’s not much else to say about a documentary in which the characters do nothing but talk. I can only express how I felt while watching them, and I think I had a smile across my face for most of it. I certainly laughed a lot. And if you have an appreciation for beautiful, fiercely forthright ladies who know how to command the screen, you will too.

Tea with the Dames is available in Australian cinemas from June 7 

Image courtesy of Transmission Films

Movie Review – Kodachrome

An absentee father and his quarrelsome son embark on one final trip together. Buckle up for some feels, man.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

Jason Sudeikis plays Matt, a struggling record label producer and son of Ben (Ed Harris), a revered photographer with a fondness for the titular film format popularised by Kodak during the 20th century. When Ben learns he has liver cancer and doesn’t have long to live, he requests that Matt join him and his nurse Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) on a road trip to the last photo lab in America that still develops old Kodachrome film.

At first, Kodachrome offers a familiar tale of a family divided; an estranged, bitter father and a sulky wayward son, forced to reconcile during a road trip of extraordinary circumstances. It’s a tried and tested formula that the film rarely deviates from. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as they say. Its unsurprising nature is soon forgotten when screenwriter Jonathan Tropper and director Mark Raso start to peel back the layers of this dysfunctional trio of damaged people.

While all three of the lead actors are great, it’s Sudeikis who shines brightest. After proving he can handle meatier roles in Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal last year, Sudeikis continues to demonstrate a proclivity for intimate, independent drama. He shares great chemistry with Olsen (who also excels without the whizz-bang CGI theatrics of Scarlet Witch) and a palpable sense of history and tension with Harris, who is perfectly cast as the aging windbag determined to give everyone his two cents before he shuffles off his mortal coil. In short, all three elevate the somewhat trite material and bestow it with a sense of humour, heart and sincerity, with Sudeikis in particular delivering some of his best work to date.

The film, shot on 35mm film in honour of its subject matter, looks gorgeous, with a nostalgic tint. This pairs nicely with the film’s major themes; holding onto the past, losing sight of the present and being fearful of opening up to others. The poignancy that comes with both Matt and Ben having pursued careers in fading industries – physical music and film photography –reflects their inability to let go of long-held regrets.

At one point in the movie, Harris quips something akin to no art ever worth a damn was created out of happiness”. It’s a snide summation of his character and Kodachrome as a whole; the end is beautiful, moving and memorable, so even if it’s a little light on laughs, Raso’s film will be sure to offer food for thought. And while it’s probably similar to something you’ve seen before, it’s the execution that makes Kodachrome worth your time. A polished script, great performances, an emotional story and a half-decent soundtrack – you could do a lot worse.

Kodachrome is available in Australian cinemas from June 7 

Image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution 

Movie Review – The Bookshop

“Based on the book by…” may never have held as much irony as it does in this mostly unnecessary adaptation of a celebrated novel.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

The recently widowed Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) has a revelation one day and decides to risk everything on buying an abandoned house on the edge of her small English town to transform it into a bookshop. Having never experienced such a novelty before, the town of Hardborough is quickly divided over the business; some enchanted by its many written works, and others scoffing at the very thought of it. While Mrs Green forms unlikely friendships with her young employee Christine (Honor Kneafsey) and reclusive fellow book-lover Mr Brundish (Bill Nighy), the town’s alpha female Mrs Gamart (Patricia Clarkson) seeks a means to have Mrs Green evicted.

There’s nothing really all that wrong with this adaptation of Penelope Fitzgerald‘s beloved novel, other than one grand irony – it’s a tale that doesn’t feel like it belongs on the big screen. The literal translation of text to screen means no more dimensions than that of a single page of literature, and things end up a little flat and emotionless as a result. We simply plod through the mundanities of running a business, with minor complications like deciding whether certain products are appropriate to sell.

The Bookshop is one of those unremarkable films that’s mildly heightened by its actors, even if they are just doing what they’re best at. Emily Mortimer and Bill Nighy essentially play themselves as determinedly jittery and fuddy-duddyish, respectively. Unlike most of their typecast roles, however, neither is given an arc that allows them to develop significantly or cut loose with the acting trademarks that both have made a career out of. Patricia Clarkson at least has a bit more fun with her snobby Mrs Gamart, though her motivations for opposing Mrs Green for the sake of a house she could have purchased at any point in the past comes across as needlessly malicious. It’s really just there to give The Bookshop some semblance of a plot.

Really though, it’s hard to get too upset at such an inoffensive two hours. It’s exactly the type made to sedate anyone purchasing a ticket with a seniors’ discount, and in that aspect, it succeeds as a pleasant time. Excessive criticism should be spared from a film that does no right or wrong; it simply exists, and it at least promotes a pro-reading message – even if it shoots itself in the foot as an adaptation of a novel in the process.

The Bookshop is available in Australian cinemas from May 24 

Image courtesy of Transmission Films

Movie Review – Solo: A Star Wars Story

Solo: A Star Wars Story is great fun, but one must ask the question: why was it ever made?

⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Han Solo, the hero of Solo: A Star Wars Story, has been a mythic figure since 1977. He’s a charming, roguish hunk who plays by his own rules, scoffs at authority and occasionally obeys the commands of his heart. He’s also a character many students of Star Wars love dearly. But I suspect, after watching this new Star Wars adventure, many of those students will want to protest.

This is first and foremost a movie designed for fans of the beloved franchise. It doesn’t have the parts to satisfy the indifferent, except of course in scenes where spaceships swoop around maelstroms and blasters are fired left, right and centre. It’s a story that’s rooted in the history of the galaxy far, far away, and so every little detail matters. Or at least it should.

Solo tells the story of Han (Alden Ehrenreich), from his tortured existence on a tyrannical planet and blossoming courtship with fellow slave Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), to his early success as a professional smuggler and ace pilot of the Millennium Falcon. It also answers such questions as the birth of his name, how he founded his eternal bromance with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and how he completed the famed ‘Kessel Run’ in 12 parsecs. I don’t recall ever asking these questions, or indeed wanting them shown to me in such unimaginative plainness, but there you have it. The myth has been stripped away from the man.

Doesn’t matter. Solo: A Star Wars Story is decent, honest fun. It doesn’t seem to have a care in the world, which is what any successful Star Wars movie should strive for. The plot is more basic than a vanilla sponge cake. The characters are scribbled in from bits and pieces of characters past. Its humour is nothing but second-hand gags. There is not a moment when you fear for anyone’s safety. There are weird planets, obligatory lounge acts and endless battles. It’s a movie programmed to keep you smiling from start to finish.

The battles, of course, are very well filmed and seem to occupy much of the movie’s runtime. Han, desperate to pilot a ship that will allow him to rescue his beloved from the clutches of bondage, teams up with a thief called Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who himself is working for criminal mastermind Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).

Their quest leads them to Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), an expert smuggler whose co-pilot is L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a radical droid that walks and talks with the sass for change. She crusades for droid equality, an idea that makes sense today but otherwise rubbed me the wrong way completely. No-one goes to a Star Wars movie for lessons in social politics. At least I don’t.

But perhaps I’m speaking too much like a Star Wars fanatic and not giving enough weight to the positives? Possibly. However, I see no other way to discuss a Star Wars movie, since I’ve spent most of my life with them. They feed into each other and can no longer be judged independently.

This one doesn’t measure up to its predecessors in terms of stakes and depth – and it might upset diehard Han Solo followers who feel they’ve been duped by midichlorians again – but in the hands of Ron Howard it just scrapes through. Am I itching to see it again? I’m afraid not. Not even a little.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is available in Australian cinemas from May 24

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures