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

Advertisements

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

Movie Review – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

There’s big volcano explosions, a new scary dinosaur and Jurassic Park’s version of Han Solo with Chris Pratt…. but does anybody care anymore?

⭐ ½
Josip Knezevic 

The Jurassic franchise might as well be extinct – it’s been travelling in a downward spiral ever since the first sequel came out roughly 20 years ago. I can only hope this newest instalment will serve as final proof that the Jurassic universe needs to be left in the past.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom follows a narrative that’s muddled with ridiculousness and built on poor foundations. My interest in its debate surrounding whether dinosaurs should be saved from extinction quickly diminished as the story became riddled with cliches and unintelligent ideas. It’s just as silly as The Fast and The Furious series, except here there are no excessive action sequences to offset the weak narrative and ensure the film is at least somewhat enjoyable.

Even putting all of that aside, Jurassic World still doesn’t manage to bring anything new to the table. Chris Pratt plays Chris Pratt, Jeff Goldblum’s monologue feels like a cash-grab cameo, and all the supporting characters are completely forgettable and lacking in depth.

The only redeeming quality here is the visual aesthetic of the film. While the screenplay is wishy-washy at best, the film is visually spectacular. The CGI dinosaurs look incredibly realistic, and with a production budget of over $150 million, I’d expect nothing less.

Although a lot of effort has been put into the production, I can’t recommend you go and see this film. There are too many eye-roll inducing moments, and it’s so lacking in logic that it becomes laughable. Go see it if you want to look at some amazing dinosaur creature effects, but if not, I’d suggest you skip this one.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is available in Australian cinemas from June 21 

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2018

Movie Review – Ideal Home

A gay couple on the brink of a public meltdown are swept up with the responsibility of a child that’s not theirs… should be fun to watch, right?

 
⭐ ⭐ ½
Josip Knezevic 

What could have been a quirky, upbeat comedy quickly turns into an average classic romcom in Andrew Fleming’s Ideal Home. While it puts a contemporary twist on the traditional dysfunctional family with its lead, same-sex couple Paul (Paul Rudd) and Erasmus (Steve Coogan), its jokes are anything but new.

Most of the comedy comes from being gay and a lack of knowledge on how to raise a child, but this novelty is relied on far too much, to the point where the movie’s charm wears off and soon becomes downright irritating.

When 10 year-old Bill (Jack Gore), enters the lives of Paul and Erasmus, claiming to be the former’s grandson, he throws a spanner into the works of an already strained relationship. His character is easily the most annoying part of the film, with his constant complaints that he’ll only eat something from Taco Bell.

Thankfully, Steve Coogan somewhat saves the day. Even though he’s fed poorly written lines, he holds a commanding demeanor that fits his overtly gay character, and I would love to see him explore a similar character in a higher quality film.

Ideal Home does have some touching moments, but for the most part, it’s awkward, irritating and not that funny. It’s really only suitable for fans of Coogan, and for everyone else, well… I wouldn’t go jumping at the chance to see it anytime soon.

Ideal Home is available in Australian cinemas from June 21 

Image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution 

Movie Review – Brothers’ Nest

The Jacobson Brothers take sibling rivalry and daddy issues to the extreme. Once your pulse has settled after Hereditary, get ready for another fucked up family blood pressure test.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan 

Early on a cold morning out somewhere in the Victorian countryside, two middle-aged brothers, Terry (Shane Jacobson) and Jeff (Clayton Jacobson), arrive at their old, isolated family home. Their plan: murder their stepfather and stage his suicide in a bid to convince their terminally ill mother to alter her will so that she leaves them the house instead. The meticulously-plotted scheme seems foolproof, but what the brothers don’t plan for is the day they will spend together, their differing opinions and the bad blood that will resurface, among other unexpected road bumps.

It’s been twelve years since the Jacobson brothers’ smash hit mockumentary Kenny dominated the Australian box office , but their reteaming has been well worth the wait. Brothers’ Nest definitely doesn’t have the broad appeal that Kenny did, but it’s an even better film for it. An intelligently crafted and surprisingly dark tale that slings sudden twists and turns at its unsuspecting audience like bullets, it’s a film of changing genres. It wears its Coen Brothers’ influence on its sleeve as it bounces between goofball buddy crime and black comedy, before seguing seamlessly into intense thriller territory.

That it works so well is down to the real-life brothers’ effortless chemistry. In classic squabbling-odd-couple fashion, the brothers’ yin each other’s yang. Clayton’s Jeff is the no-nonsense man in charge, the one with everything obsessively planned out so that the murder goes off without a hitch. His folly is Shane’s Terry, the slightly more witless and bumbling other half, whose incessant questioning and emotions bubbling to the surface feel like a liability to the operation from the start. Their exchanges are priceless as Terry cluelessly causes complications by botching supposedly simple tasks.

Though the Jacobson’s have shared a respectable career apart over more than a decade with their own acting and directing efforts, let’s hope it isn’t another twelve years before Shane and Clayton get together as a filmmaking team again. If Brothers’ Nest is anything to go by, Australia could very well have its own siblings to rival the Coen Brothers.

Brothers’ Nest is available in Australian cinemas from June 21 

Image courtesy of Label Distribution 

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

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