Movie Review – BlacKkKlansman

A black man infiltrates the Klu Klux Klan? Yep, I’d pay to see that.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill 

BlacKkKlansman is a brilliant, stranger-than-fiction story about Ron Stallworth, an African-American man who managed to successfully join the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s and launch an entire police investigation into the radical group without causing suspicion.

John David Washington stars as the dry-humoured, straight-laced Stallworth. His uncanny ability to capture the white middle-class of America through his phone calls with the Klan Grand Wizard is nothing short of hilarious. Washington gives Stallworth a lot of pride, but also delicately shows the effects long-term racism can have on a person.

Adam Driver is perfect as Flip Zimmerman, the Jewish man who goes undercover as Stallworth when meeting face to face with the Klan. Zimmerman is no-nonsense and blunt, which Drive portrays with ease, but it’s the identity crisis that Zimmerman faces while undercover that is the more interesting side of the character. While the film is largely focussed on African American rights, Driver brings another element to the story, reminding you that the Klan’s hate really has no bounds.

Ryan Eggold and Topher Grace are fantastic in supporting roles as Klan Chapter President and Grand Wizard respectively. They don’t paint the characters as unintelligent – which would have been a very easy to do – instead, they present them as everyday men who truly believe in the values that the Klan install.

BlacKkKlansman is an excellent offering from director Spike Lee, who obviously had a lot of fun making the film. It’s extremely well cast and the importance of the tale being told is certainly not missed. Lee draws a lot of inspiration from the stylistic techniques used in 1970’s television and films that were largely aimed at African Americans, and this adds a nice dynamic to the way the story is told.

The downfall of the film is the sequence of news reel clips in the epilogue. Controversial speeches from Donald Trump, police brutality, black rights marches and the infamous Charlottesville protest all make an appearance, but for me, it was unnecessary. The film had such a strong political message that the need for this end clip was just overkill, especially since it’s only real purpose was to show that the same issues being battled in the 1970’s are still being battled today.

BlacKkKlansman is funny and electric, placing a microscope on the issues that African American’s are still battling to this day. While extremely witty, there is also a sombre tone to it that draws questions towards what it means to be human vs. what colour your skin is. Definitely worth a watch.

BlacKkKlansman is available in Australian cinemas from August 9 

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2018

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Movie Review – The Wife

Tense and brilliantly acted, Björn Runge’s The Wife is a thoroughly immersive and ultimately rewarding experience.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

We are living in a time of burgeoning female empowerment, with lots of movies speaking up with voices that used to be silenced. Among them, The Wife stands out as one of the best, not particularly because it is about a strong woman, but because the woman realises just how strong she really is. She has spent a lifetime alone with inner demons, manhandled by stereotype, but in no way has she surrendered her feminism.

The woman is Joan Castleman, played by Glenn Close in one of her greatest performances. Joan is married to Joe (Jonathan Pryce, equally fantastic), a long-time novelist who has just won the Nobel Prize for literature. The couple, along with their adult son David (Max Irons), travel to Stockholm in preparation for the award ceremony. Joe and David don’t get along. Joe starts to flirt with the young photographer assigned to him. Christian Slater slithers in as a biographer with a thirst for the truth, no matter how damaging.

So, let’s just say there are secrets in here that need to be uncovered, and both Close and Pryce do an outstanding job at keeping those secrets buried just beneath the surface. The movie also travels back to the ‘50s, where a young Joe (Harry Lloyd), a literature professor, takes Joan (Annie Starke), his brightest student, under his wing and eventually under his sheets. “A writer must always write”, he proclaims. And so he must. But what if what he writes isn’t very good?

The Wife is all about being silenced, not by torture or physical oppression but by the fear that a patriarchal society will frown heavily upon creative women. Outside his adultery, Joe is not a bad man; he’s simply a product of his time, and since his time has been so good to him, why should he think to change it?

It would’ve been nice if the screenplay by Jane Anderson had steered away from some contrived narrative impulses, like the unexpected tragedy at the end that neatly avoids dealing with the resolution our two main characters deserve. It’s a bit of an easy escape after establishing them so richly. But there can be no mistake, The Wife is a terrific film, and each time the camera lands on Glenn Close, her face tells a thousand stories.

The Wife is available in Australian cinemas from August 2 

Image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution

 

 

Movie Review – Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Tom Cruise once again risks life and limb for our entertainment, with death-defying stunts and crazy choreography.

 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

In a world populated with increasingly lethargic spy franchises – we’re looking at you, Bourne – one series has risen above the rest. With each successive entry, the Mission: Impossible franchise consistently ups its game. Its sixth instalment Fallout entertains and astounds from beginning to end, with consummate professional Tom Cruise once again illustrating why he’s the best action movie star working today.

In Mission Impossible: Fallout, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) finds himself on the trail of some missing plutonium after an operation goes south. The retrieval mission sees him paired with burly CIA operative August Walker (Henry Cavill) and parachuting into Paris for a meet with the White Widow (The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby), a broker with her own agenda. It isn’t long before some familiar faces in the form of MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and international terrorist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) crop up –with the former again proving a wonderful ally/nemesis for Hunt.

If the opening hour of Fallout feels like a convoluted slog weighed down by exposition, it’s only because returning writer/director Christopher McQuarrie is taking his time in moving all the chess pieces into place for the riveting final act. When Fallout gets going, boy does it let loose. From a breathless chase through tight Parisian streets to another dizzying dash across London rooftops, the action set pieces arrive one after the other, each more exciting than the last. A highlight is a bathroom brawl where each of Cruise and Cavill’s blows land with a sickening squelch. In a film characterised by vehicular mayhem, it’s this bruising salvo that proves especially satisfying and visceral.

McQuarrie, as devious with the knotted screenplay as he is inventive behind the camera, delights in highlighting Cruise’s commitment to his craft. Each stunt is framed in such a way that there is no denying that it’s Cruise holding the handlebars or dangling from the bottom of said helicopter. But it’s not showy or ostentatious. Complex shots, such as an elongated tracking shot that follows Cruise as he speeds around the Arc de Triomphe, are thrown into the mix casually, demonstrating the competence of the filmmakers at every turn.

Cruise and McQuarrie are a dynamic duo who revel in pushing one another to achieve higher heights with each passing collaboration. It takes a while to kick into gear, but once Fallout starts to roll it doesn’t let up for anything. Simply put, you won’t find a more exciting or daring blockbuster in cinemas this year, or possibly next year for that matter. At least until the next Mission: Impossible film opens. So, sit back, strap in and enjoy the ride.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is available in Australian cinemas from August 2

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures 

Volvo Scandinavian Film Festival 2018

The Volvo Scandinavian Film Festival closes in Perth tonight! Go get yourself some excellent foreign cinema while you still can. Here’s a couple of films that we checked out from the festival.

The Swan (Svanurinn) – Iceland
Elle Cahill

An elegant story of a young girl’s sexual awakening set against a beautiful Icelandic backdrop.

August2018_ScandinavianFilmFest_TheSwan
The Swan is a delicate story about Sól, a nine-year-old girl who is sent to the countryside to work as part of an Icelandic tradition to encourage independence and maturity in pre-teen children. While at the farm, Sól not only learns about the harsh realities of life but begins her first foray into lust as she crushes on the much older farm hand Jón.

The Swan is a sensitive and unexpected portrayal of a young girl as she begins to mature and navigate the challenges of life. The Swan doesn’t shy away from discussing tough subjects like the brutal side of farm life, abortion and unrequited love. We only see these subjects from Sól’s point of view, but that doesn’t make it any less confronting. The truthful and honest portrayal of a young girl’s sexual awakening was also impressive, especially as young actress Gríma Valsdóttir handled the heaviness of the subject matter with a maturity well beyond her years.

Despite all the brutality, Martin Neumeyer’s cinematography brings a softness and beauty to the film, that gives it a whimsical, romantic feel of a Jane Austen novel. Neumeyer captures the beauty and harshness of the Icelandic backdrop, keeping close to Sól and exploring her point of view from a visual side.

A truly exquisite and captivating film from first time feature film director Ása Helga Hjörleifsdótirr.


A Horrible Woman (En Frygtelig Kvinde) – Denmark
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Christian Tafdrup’s A Horrible Woman is what it is – a portrait of a fairly horrible woman.

August2018_ScandinavianFilmFest_HorribleWoman

I believe there are people like this. People who enter into a relationship and turn the very air sour. People who are so toxic they’re not even good for themselves. There is such a person in A Horrible Woman, the new film by Christian Tafdrup, and she is a bitter force indeed.

It opens with a bunch of drunk guys in an apartment. One of their wives comes home with a couple of friends, and one of them, the tall, attractive Marie (Amanda Collin), takes a strong liking to the apartment’s owner, Rasmus (Anders Juul). They flirt, they sleep together, they go steady, she moves in. Next minute, she’s moving him out, piece by piece. First, it’s his CD collection, then it’s the poster of Jeff Bridges from The Big Lebowski. He feels like he’s drowning, and his friend Troels (Rasmus Hammerich) isn’t much help. We have all, in some form, encountered a person like Marie. Or have we?

Collin delivers a tight, menacing, ultimately brilliant performance, with her narrow face and Natalie Portman smile, and the movie is thoroughly gripping in most places. But A Horrible Woman plays more like an instruction on what not to do in a relationship than an examination of an actual couple. And is it too much to suspect that something supernatural might be going on? Why does Marie keep breaking the fourth wall? Why are all of her friends cackling women? What’s the deal with Troels’ wife? Some food for thought, perhaps.

Images courtesy of Volvo Scandinavian Film Festival and Palace Cinemas. 

Movie Review – The Breaker Upperers

Kiwi comedy produces yet another kooky double act in The Breaker Upperers.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Pascoe

Were you wooed by the whimsy of Hunt for the Wilderpeople? Delighted by the daftness of What We Do In The Shadows? Although The Breaker Upperers isn’t directed or written by everyone’s favourite Kiwi Taika Waititi (he instead serves as executive producer), his fingerprints are all over this raunchy rom-com from writers/directors/lead actresses Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek.

Sami and van Beek play Mel and Jen respectively, two BFFs scorned by the same man who decide to use their heartbreak as motivation to start a business. The titular ‘break-up’ agency sees Mel and Jen hired by people who want their relationship to come to a swift and irreversible end, which often requires the two ladies to pose as a side chick, mistress or even a kidnapper. However, their job soon starts to get ugly, and a little something called conscience starts to creep in when things go awry.

Sami and van Beek’s film dapples in the same daffy naivety, absurd asides and clever callbacks that audiences have come to know and love from NZ comedy; plus, aren’t some jokes just funnier when told with a quirky Kiwi lilt? A standout highlight of the film is James Rolleston as Jordan, a dim-witted rugby hunk who is terrified of breaking up with girlfriend. Rolleston shares hilarious chemistry with Sami, and his wide-eyed innocence steals scene after scene.

While The Breaker Upperers is distinctly Kiwi in some ways, in others it wouldn’t feel amiss with a name like Paul Feig or Judd Apatow on the poster. The raunchiness recalls Bridesmaids or Girls Trip, while the film literally ends in a This Is The End-esque dance number where all is good with the world once more. It’s Wellington by way of Hollywood.

At a brisk 90 minutes, The Breaker Upperers, like its characters, aims to get in and get out without making much of a fuss. Sami and van Beek write and direct with boisterous panache, so even the jokes that don’t land are a long-forgotten memory after the next five or six. Three stars out of five.

The Breaker Upperers is available in Australian cinemas from July 26 

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment 

Movie Review- Mary Shelley

The tale of the mastermind behind Frankenstein is ironically much like the monster itself – pieced together with unusual and unexpected things and given life through shock and lunacy.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey J. Hogan

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Elle Fanning), a teenage girl bored with her familial duties under her philosopher father (Stephen Dillane) in 18th century London, escapes reality by burying herself in books and conjuring ghost stories for her own amusement. Seeing her need for a more meaningful lifestyle, her father sends her off to live as a ward in a Scottish residence, where she meets the handsome and talented young poet Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth). Their chemistry is instant, and so begins to burn the fires of an incredibly unconventional and bohemian love affair, one filled with both passion and tragedy and that would eventually inspire Mary’s gothic magnum opus, Frankenstein.

Haifaa al-Mansour (director of the game-changing Saudi Arabian gem Wadjda) and writer Emma Jensen’s bibliographical Mary Shelley is a very curious interpretation of the life and loves of history’s great horror author. Veering off-course from the typical tune of a period piece or biopic, it brings to mind last year’s A Quiet Passion, which also told the life of a famous female wordsmith of centuries past. However, in many ways this feels like that film’s antithesis; where Passion had marrow but was placid and loaded with antipathy, Shelley sacrifices historical accuracy for entertainment value but becomes over-the-top and melodramatic in the process, leaving us with a puzzling portrayal of the brilliant author.

Like a soap opera, we ride a rollercoaster of overplayed emotional moments that sporadically form Shelley’s coming-of-age, which, strangely, draws much of its drama from sudden shock events or characters having a change of heart at the drop of a hat. It’s frankly bonkers, making less and less sense at it goes on; almost every character seems to suffer from bipolar disorder as a means of causing grief for Mary when convenient.

The worst offender is of course Percy (a portrayal that has already been criticised as ridiculous by many), who is smug, careless and frustratingly inconsistent. He lives a bourgeoisie life that stops and starts depending on a mysterious trust fund from his parents, and seems to go in and out of loving Mary as he makes poor judgement calls that lead to the death of their child and selfishly takes credit for Mary’s writings while passing her off as a piece of meat for his similarly absurd friend Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge). Whether or not we are meant to love or loathe this man as Mary does is never clear, and Booth’s mugging through it never helps.

Thank goodness then, for Fanning, who brings some kind of balance to the madness running rampant. She confidently carries the doom magnet that is Shelley through her tumultuous journey; bringing her trademark dainty assurance, tenacity and sexual energy to make her depiction the most believable thing in an otherwise farcical memoir.

So like Frankenstein’s monster, this is a real patchwork and stroke of insanity that requires a great deal of imagination to accept. And yet, as a truly bizarre take on a remarkable woman’s life, Mary Shelley is worth a look for the amusingly abstract tale that will cause a reaction one way or another – even if it is wide-eyed bewilderment.

Mary Shelley is available in Australian cinemas from 6th July

Image courtesy of Transmission films

Movie Review – Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Stefano Sollima’s Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a solid sequel that is sorely lacking in identity.

 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Pascoe 

Sicario wasn’t a film that was crying out for sequel. Denis Villeneuve’s (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049) potent concoction of crime, war and cop procedural was a perfect storm of pulsating intensity and atmosphere that told a punchy, concise story. It was self-contained and exited stage left with an emotional, gut-punch of an ending. Done and dusted, mission accomplished.

With most of the creative talent that made its predecessor such a success now absent, Sicario: Day of the Soldado doesn’t have a lot going for it on paper. Along with Villeneuve, lead actress Emily Blunt is gone, as are cinematographer Roger Deakins and Icelandic composer Johan Johannsson, the latter of whom sadly passed away last year. All signs are pointed squarely at Day of the Soldado upholding the grand tradition of half-baked follow-ups that coast along on the residual goodwill of its forebear. Y’know, something like Speed 2: Cruise Control or Jurassic Park III.

And while Day of the Soldado is conclusively not as bad as either of those, it certainly begs the question – why? Why does this film exist? Why does every mildly successful film have to become a franchise?

The film centres around US operative Matt Graver (Josh Brolin, in his third major role of the year) and Mexican hitman Alejandro Gillick (a brilliant Benicio del Toro), who are sent back across the border to stir up trouble between powerful Mexican drug cartels. The US Government wants the cartels fighting one another rather than smuggling terrorists into the States, and so the black ops duo are tasked with kidnapping Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner), the daughter of a high-profile drug lord. When the mission goes awry, Graver and Gillick are forced to cover their tracks, even if it means betraying their country and one another.

A taut screenplay from returning scribe Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water, Wind River) is what puts Day of the Soldado over the line. Sheridan’s proclivity for creating compelling characters both big and small, from a high-school kid caught in a cycle of violence to a deaf goat farmer just trying to survive the harsh Mexican desert, is what immediately grabs you in Day of the Soldado.

It’s elsewhere that this sequel struggles. Sicario, the first one, was a suffocating experience for cinemagoers. It was draped in an unshakeable curtain of fear and tension; death or a fate worse than death lurked around every corner or behind every door in Villeneuve’s film. And the audience was along for the ride every step of the way, courtesy of a compelling surrogate in the form of the Blunt’s Kate Macer.

That gripping, stomach-churning atmosphere is noticeably absent in Day of the Soldado. As good and as talented as the filmmakers are, the finished product is simply lacking the polish and the depth of the first film. The cinematography is familiar but flatter. The score, save for a reprisal of Johannsson’s powerful hooks at the end, is imitating rather than innovating. If Sicario is an extravagant wedding cake with delectable icing, Day of the Soldado is one of those $5 Woolies mudcakes; still good, but not as special or as memorable.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado is available in Australian cinemas from 28 June 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 

Movie Review – Ant-Man and the Wasp

Peyton Reed’s follow-up to his successful Ant-Man is just as charming and funny, thanks in large part to his brilliant cast.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

After all the fuss over Marvel’s first major female villain in Thor: Ragnarok (2017), the racial intrigue of Black Panther and the tragedies that grappled Avengers: Infinity War, it is lovely to once again enjoy an action superhero comedy from which I can leave without having to ponder my life choices. Superhero movies used to be goofy, once upon a time. Now they’re taken more seriously than final exams. Ant-Man and the Wasp is a cheerful reminder that there’s more than enough room for both.

This is the follow-up to 2015’s Ant-Man and it carries along the same energy and charisma that made that film one of the more underrated instalments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Paul Rudd is once again the titular hero, except this time he has to do his superhero business while under house arrest for his role in the events that destroyed a German airport.

Fighting alongside him is Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), the formidable daughter of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who has taken up the mantle of the Wasp in an attempt to rescue her mother from the Quantum Realm, a dimension so small the bacteria that live there are the size of hippos. Indeed, much of Ant-Man and the Wasp is about the Pyms’ tireless efforts to retrieve their missing beloved, and Lilly and Douglas create quite a dynamic family unit, one that is penetrated with lots of humour by Rudd.

What’s interesting about the screenplay, penned rather surprisingly by five writers, is the way it uses the Pyms’ mission as the foundation for a plot that could have been written by the Coen brothers, except instead of a rug or a briefcase filled with dirty money, all the characters are trying to get their hands on a laboratory that’s been shrunken to the size of a suitcase. Yes, that’s right – a tiny building on wheels.

One of the many joys about these Ant-Man movies is the kick the filmmakers get from turning small everyday objects into larger-than-life monstrosities, including Ant-Man himself. I won’t tell you if Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), the Pym matriarch, is found, but I enjoyed the urgency with which the plot moves towards her. It all builds up to a hilarious scene in which Rudd and Douglas hold hands, and then a touching one that moved me more than it should have. Goofy and serious, all at the same time.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is available in Australian cinemas from July 5

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

 

 

Movie Review – Two is a Family

Charming in spots, but otherwise totally confused, Hugo Gélin’s Two is a Family misses the mark.

 ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

There is not a single convincing moment in Two is a Family, aside from the performances by Omar Sy and little Gloria Colston, who team up to form one of the more charming parent-child relationships in recent memory.

Sy plays Samuel, a yacht chauffeur in a fancy French beach town who enjoys playing around with lots of attractive women until one day an infant is dumped into his arms by a woman he may or may not have bedded. He tracks the woman to London, where the movie kicks into gear and very quickly develops a crisis of identity.

The baby, of course, grows up to become Gloria (Colston), the frizzy-haired little darling who at once captures our affection. But the plot, which is a remake of the 2013 Mexican film Instructions Not Included, is built upon a network of contrivances and impossible scenarios that conflicts with everything the movie is trying to accomplish.

Take Samuel’s fraught arrival in London, for example. He runs around like a headless chicken, lost in translation, till he bumps into Bernie (Antoine Bertrand), a movie producer who happens to speak French and instantly hires Samuel as a stuntman after Samuel dodges tube traffic like an acrobat to rescue Gloria. Job, new friend, and a place to stay, all within minutes of arriving in a foreign land? Check!

Then there is the movie set Samuel works on, which is commanded by an English director (Raphael von Blumenthal) so out-of-place he seems to belong in a different kind of movie. Every time he speaks you can almost see the screenplay crumbling to pieces out of his mouth.

The apartment Samuel and Gloria build for themselves is equally unbelievable. It looks like an expensive loft that’s been retrofitted by Josh Baskin from Big (1988), with a gigantic stuffed elephant in the corner and a slide that connects the second-floor bedroom to a ball pit on the first. All it’s missing is a trampoline, and maybe Tom Hanks to jump about on it.

But it’s meant to be a comedy! – I hear you scream. Yes, that’s right. I should take everything with a lightness of heart. That would have worked if Two is a Family hadn’t also tried to be a very serious, heart-wrenching drama about broken families and past mistakes.

The core of the plot involves Gloria’s mother Kristin, played by Clémence Poésy, who suddenly reappears after abandoning Gloria to Samuel all those years ago. This could’ve been truly touching if the writers had made Kristin a woman sympathetic to Samuel’s situation, but no, she is instead morphed into a villain who for no real reason seems bent on tearing Samuel and Gloria apart.

In the right hands Two is a Family could have been gentle and tender, but also hysterically funny. Instead it is like a bowl of mayonnaise that never emulsifies. The only reason I give it a passing grade is because Omar Sy and Gloria Colston are brilliant together. I could honestly watch them for days.

Two is a Family is available in Australian cinemas from June 28

Image courtesy of Palace Films

Movie Review – Adrift

A forgettable survival film about a young couple trying to get back to land safely after they encounter a freak hurricane at sea.

⭐ ½
Elle Cahill 

Based on a true story, Adrift follows Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) and Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin) who after meeting and falling in love decide to voyage by sea from Tahiti to San Diego. Along the way they encounter one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in history. With their boat damaged and Richard’s legs and ribs horrifically injured, Tami must find a way to get the boat working again if they are to have any chance of survival.

Adrift is the same old rehash of a familiar tale. While it is less of a romance film than the trailer suggests, it fails to compete against other survival films that have been released in recent years. 127 Hours, I Am Legend, Buried and Life of Pi all offer compelling characters and lead performances that make each respective survival situation believable. In Adrift, I wasn’t able to form a connection with either of the main characters, and while I wanted them to survive, there was never a moment where I was really rooting for them.

Director Baltasar Kormákur (Everest, 2015) doesn’t shy away from showing the harsh realities of being abandoned at sea, but this is let down by the excessive flashbacks of how the couple met and fell in love in Tahiti.

Woodley and Claflin do the best they can with the material they’ve been given. Both have proven in the past that they can tackle tougher roles with more complexity, and they deserved the chance to better show off their skills. There are glimpses of Woodley’s talent during some moments of desperation, but this is offset by other moments where the stakes aren’t high enough to warrant the dramatic reaction.

Much like its subject matter, Adrift really struggles to stay afloat. Disappointingly, it’s a forgettable film that wastes the potential of telling the true story of a woman’s bravery in a dire situation.

Adrift is available in Australian cinemas from June 28 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films