Movie Review – Glass

Glass unites the threads of Unbreakable and Split but fails to do anything truly interesting with them.

⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan  

Glass is a movie that takes itself very, very seriously. In fact, it’s so serious I wanted to grab its face and shove a hanger into its mouth. It is the third part of M. Night Shyamalan’s superhero trilogy that began in 2000 with Unbreakable and continued with Split in 2016. It unites the casts of both movies and throws them together for a super serious climactic showdown, which manages to simultaneously stir our intrigue and bore us to death.

James McAvoy returns as Kevin, the abused zookeeper from Split who manifests dozens of different personalities, the vilest of which is an animalistic reckoner called The Beast. Samuel L. Jackson is Elijah, who, with Bruce Willis’ David Dunn, has been quiet for eighteen years until, of course, the events of this movie. All three men are apprehended and confined to an insane asylum, where Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) is meant to convince them their powers aren’t scientifically possible.

The first two-thirds are well made and use the movie’s sombre mood to good effect. The orderlies march about the hospital, interacting with what I’m assuming are their only three patients. Dr. Staple observes from a distance. And Shyamalan uses the claustrophobia of his location to slowly build suspense the only way he knows how.

We start to get a feel for these characters, particularly Kevin, who is by far the most interesting of the three. He gives McAvoy the opportunity to try on a gazillion different accents and mannerisms as he swaps from a 9-year-old boy to a pair of Irish sisters, from a bro with a southern drawl to a mistress with a stick up her bum, like one of those quick-change illusionists. And there is no doubt McAvoy looks equally convincing topless or in a frumpy old dress.

However, everyone else kind of gets lost in the sternness of the plot. I feel like there’s much we could learn about David Dunn’s powers and morals, or why Elijah chooses to do what he does, but Glass darts along so single-mindedly that it ends up swallowing its own ambition.

It also succumbs to questionable writing, as when two suspects stroll past an oblivious security guard, or when a shady character proclaims her job description to the very people who appointed her to that job. I liked the creation of the superheroes and the zeal with which McAvoy chews his scenery, but really, the rest is suspect, and way too serious.

Glass is available in Australian cinemas from January 17

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2019

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Movie Review – Storm Boy

The tale of a boy and his pelicans is back for a new generation and looks set to be mandatory Australian school viewing for years to come.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Amidst a socio-political board decision that has split his family down the middle, retired businessman Mike Kingley (Geoffrey Rush) finds himself distracted by images from his past. To subdue his granddaughter’s outrage at her father’s conflicting political influence that looks set to bring harm to the Pilbara environment, he recounts to her his long-forgotten childhood growing up on an uninhabited South Australian coastline with his father (Jai Courtney). Back then, he was Storm Boy (Finn Little), given the title by indigenous local Fingerbone Bill (Trevor Jamieson) for rescuing and raising three orphaned baby pelicans.

You probably remember Storm Boy as the old novel and 70’s movie that were mandatory reading and/or viewing in every Australian classroom. Director Shawn Seet (UnderbellyLove Child) makes it as clear as possible from the get-go that his version is the MODERN and UPDATED take on a classic.

The lack of subtlety is forgivable, at least as this remains a story that all young Australians should experience. Given the dated nature of the original, Seet’s version is giving a new generation access to a tale that still resonates, even if a lack of substance is exposed this time around.

If there’s anything outstanding about Storm Boy 2k19, it’s the pelicans. Little behind-the-scenes information on how the cast and crew worked with these birds was available at the time of writing, but it seems highly believable that they could genuinely have been raised in this situation and environment. We see them actually growing from tiny, featherless babies to big-beaked beasts on screen and the bond they share with fresh-faced Finn Little (undoubtedly the next Levi Miller) is close, touching and quite astonishing.

Thankfully, these birds are kept largely grounded in reality – save for one or two instances of dodgy CGI in a stormy sea rescue that unfortunately couldn’t be avoided. These birds, along with a strong cast are what keep Storm Boy afloat. Recent controversy aside, Geoffrey Rush remains as watchable as ever and an inviting narrator to the tale. Jai Courtney feels much more at home here than he does in his usual Hollywood action-guy typecast, and Trevor Jamieson does the great David Gulpilil proud as Storm Boy’s Aboriginal guardian.

Elsewhere, there’s not much to grab onto. The present-day Pilbara mining conflict doesn’t go anywhere, given that the theme of Mike’s childhood story doesn’t mirror its contemporary quite as well as it should. There’s little depth, character development or emotional draw outside of Storm Boy’s main arc with his pelicans. Thankfully, that’s strong enough to make for an enjoyable time, and ensure that a classic Australian tale lives on for a new generation to watch.

Storm Boy is available in Australian cinemas from January 17

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Movie Review – Eighth Grade

Empathy and excruciation are equal and abundant in Eighth Grade, potentially the most awkward, hilarious and realistic rendition of that tough time in life.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

As her final week at a New York middle school looms, eighth grade student Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) realises that she is practically invisible to her peers when she wins the “Most Quiet” award voted by her classmates. An aspiring YouTuber who posts motivational videos about confidence and self-worth, she decides it’s time to take a leaf out of her own book, put herself out there and make some friends before the year is up – which means facing the anxiety, sexual awakenings, awkwardness and embarrassments that come with being a teenager.

For a 28-year-old male stand-up comedian, Bo Burnham sure understands the mind of a shy, barely pubescent teenage girl. Eighth Grade is his writing and directing debut, and his inspiration – his own struggles with anxiety and panic attacks – are worn firmly on his sleeve, and gives birth to the notion that there is no year more crucial for forming self-awareness than the intersection of school and social life at that age.

Less plot-based and more like a live and incredibly detailed retelling of every young girl’s secret diary, it’s deeply rooted in a contemporary adolescent experience that can be terrifyingly confronting at times in that it revolves almost entirely around technology and social media. Kayla can barely spend a second without her nose buried in her phone, living her life vicariously through the Insta-famous and popular kids. Texting takes place during school-shooting drills and promises of nude photos are used to gain social traction. It really paints a picture of what growing up has become, now that it has been consumed by the virtual world.

Unlike the usual older, much too attractive actresses typically cast in these roles, Elsie Fisher is an actual, average teenage girl of the right age, which is why her performance is so revelatory and genuine. She’s brilliantly cringeworthy as she tries admirably to put herself out there and make friends, all while continuously embarrassing herself. Through her awkward journey of self-discovery she remains consistently optimistic no matter how often she’s knocked down, which earns her our sympathy the entire way.

Equally excellent is her ungainly single father Mark (Josh Hamilton), who struggles to connect with his daughter but is always so enthusiastic for her – to the point of stalking her at the mall just to see how well she’s doing making potential friends. He’s hilarious but also does a great deal of growing throughout, sharing some touching and profound scenes with Fisher.

Eighth Grade is a film that not just every eighth grader should see, it’s one that everyone should see. It’s perhaps the most intimate and integral coming-of-age film ever and speaks volumes about a point in life that everyone is all-too-familiar with. More so, it’s an experience that could be used as a communication tool; it gives a clear and firm understanding of what teenage life is like in modern times and underlines just what kids go through on a day-to-day basis where one’s private life is lived publicly online. Hilarious, insightful and full of heart, it’s essential viewing.

Eighth Grade is available in Australian cinemas from January 3 

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures 

Movie Review – Mary Poppins Returns

In an era of cheap recycling, Mary Poppins Returns succeeds in feeling relevant despite its familiar personality.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Oh, how I’ve longed for a movie like this. This rare treat that can at once transport me back to the freefalls of childhood, make me smile with its innovation and cry with its tenderness. Mary Poppins Returns is truly an unexpected delight, and “delight” is the right word because, like the first film with Julie Andrews, it is filled with characters who are destined to find wonder and happiness amidst the deepest of woes. How uplifting is that?

It is made even more bewitching by the towering presence of Emily Blunt, who possesses a face and bearing so utterly perfect for Mary Poppins that she almost takes on a kind of droll divinity. She assumes Poppins with whimsy and sternness, but never seems off balance. I have always admired Blunt, now I am enamoured.

In both movies, the role of Mary Poppins is to alleviate stress for the Banks family by whisking the children away on fantasy adventures while the adults fret about adult stuff and neglect the poor kids. But might she also subtly instruct the family on matters of the heart along the way? She is a nanny and a life guru rolled into one, carried by the elegance of an era.

In Mary Poppins Returns, she revisits the Bankses after their precious Cherry Tree Lane home is to be repossessed by the vile William Wilkins (Colin Firth). Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer) have grown up, and Michael’s three children (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson) worry for their family’s future. They are joined by Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a cheery lamplighter in the vein of Dick Van Dyke’s Bert, whose talents include dancing, rapping and riding a bicycle.

But it is the complete exuberance with which the movie rushes forward that makes all this familiar territory seem new. It is directed by Rob Marshall and composed by Marc Shaiman, both of whom have found great success with musicals. The soundtrack is rippled with memorable tunes and the dance numbers bristle with imagination, like the one that takes place inside a ceramic bowl of cartoon animals and culminates in a stunning cabaret duet. It is a movie that never loses the twinkle in its eye.

The first Mary Poppins was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards; Julie Andrews took home Best Actress. The days are still young, but Blunt could achieve the same. She is splendid, as is the rest of the cast, the soundtrack and the sets, the costumes, the style, the imagery and the story. If the movies are meant to bring us to magical places, Mary Poppins Returns reminds us just how magical they can be. What a lovely experience this is.

Mary Poppins Returns is available in Australian cinemas from January 1

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Movie Review – How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Filled with laughs and drama-filled tension, The Hidden World will have kids on the edge of their seats as the series comes to a close.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

Picking up right where the last film left off, The Hidden World is the third and (hopefully) final film in the popular How To Train Your Dragon series. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), and his rare Night Fury dragon sidekick Toothless, continue to rescue dragons from dragon hunters and send them to the safety of a peaceful, dragon utopia. When Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham) discovers Hiccup has the last Night Fury dragon in his possession, he threatens to destroy the dragon sanctuary in pursuit of Toothless, making Hiccup question his ability to follow in his father’s footsteps as a mighty leader.

The How to Train Your Dragon animations have always been fun and adventurous, and the third in the series is no different. Filled with dramatic visuals and caricatured creatures, the whole film is a rush of drama and suspense in a familiar story of a young hero coming into his own.

Director and co-writer Dean DeBlois cleverly nails the comedic aspects, making use of Hiccup’s bumbling band of young warriors to lighten things up when it all gets a little intense. Jonah Hill’s character Snotlout Jorgenson is a highlight in his attempts to be suave in the pursuit of the much older Valka (Cate Blanchett),and Hiccup’s love interest Astrid (America Ferrera) leads the charge of strong female character’s present in the series, sending a healthy message to young kids that gender is no obstacle for warriors.

The Hidden World has a sense of finality in its conclusion, and it would be nice to think of it as a true end to the series, but who knows when a studio might suddenly decide to revive a franchise. While The Hidden World follows essentially the same story line as the other films, there is growth in Hiccup and his friends that makes this somewhat forgivable. The Hidden World hasn’t lost any of the charm from the original, making it a great one for all in the family to see.

How To Train Your Dragon: Hidden World is available in Australian cinemas from January 3

Image © Universal Pictures 2018

Movie Review – Aquaman

Aquaman swims into cinemas this Boxing Day. Will DC’s latest tentpole cause a splash or be all lost at sea? #sorrynotsorry

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Pascoe

What do you get you pour a dash of Jules Verne, a drop of Shakespeare, a dollop of Star Wars, a smidge of Indiana Jones, a pinch of Jupiter Ascending and a whole load of generic superhero cheesiness into a bowl and mix it up? Something that resembles James Wan’s Aquaman, it would seem.

If I had to sum Aquaman up in one word it would be ‘daft’. There are a lot of other words I could choose from – colourful, scattershot, goofy, beautiful and fun rate among them. But it’s ‘daft’ that sums up this overlong, tonally-confused blast more than anything else.

Aquaman, which features an octopus that can play the drums, is so far removed from Zack Snyder‘s doom and gloom vision of Batman and Superman that asking audiences to buy into the idea that these three characters coexist in the same world is a huge stretch, and confirms that DC has performed a complete 180 with its film series. The game plan going forward is all about having fun, even if that means ignoring a little thing called character.

Set after the events of Justice League, Aquaman sees Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) tussling with small-time pirates but refusing to take up the mantle of king of Atlantis. When his half-brother and current Atlantean monarch Orm (Patrick Wilson) threatens war with ‘the surface’ (i.e. humans), Princess Mera (Amber Heard) reaches out to Arthur and urges him to ‘fulfill his destiny’ by retrieving a long-lost magic trident or some such – you know the drill.

It’s in the plotting that the cracks start to appear. Key moments, such as a tidal wave that devastates the east coast of America, are quickly pushed aside for next big action beat. The quest to retrieve a magical MacGuffin that proves Arthur’s royal credentials skips around a fair bit, with the treasure hunt taking Arthur and Mera from Massachusetts to the Sahara, Sicily and a spooky trench in the North Sea. Each chapter in the quest in punctuated with some surprisingly well-staged action, with Wan calling on his background in horror (The Conjuring, Insidious) to open each set piece suddenly and loudly, with pyrotechnics in place of scares.

However, this jolly adventure doesn’t have time to rest and focus on character. Everything about who Arthur is, why Orm is the way he is or what Mera wants is spelled out in the broadest of strokes. Instead, Aquaman would rather move onto the next exciting scrape or scuffle, provided the transition is soundtracked by Pitbull’s woeful cover of Toto’s ‘Africa’ of course.

Undeniably fun but fatally flawed, Aquaman offers an entertaining diversion with wave after wave of action, noise and colour. If only it had time to reflect on its actual characters, rather that simply tossing them from place to place in search of the next punch-up.

Aquaman is available in Australian cinemas from December 26

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – The Favourite

Filled with alliances and double-crossing, The Favourite explores 18th Century British politics with the help of a thrilling performance from Olivia Colman.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½

Elle Cahill 

Set in England in the early 1700’s, The Favourite follows a sickly Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) as those closest to her run amuck and manipulate her every decision. Her most trusted ally Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) is the most devious of all, making royal decrees under the guise of having Queen Anne’s support. When Lady Sarah’s American cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives unannounced, she gradually gets closer and closer to the Queen, threatening to destroy Lady Sarah’s hold on her

The Favourite is as delightfully fun as its trailers suggest. Director Yorgos Lanthimos delivers his usual wacky storytelling style, as seen in The Lobster and Dogtooth, but this time around he brings us a far more mainstream offering. The twist and turns that are frequent in his films feature heavily in The Favourite and complement the many betrayals and back door deals that occur in politics. All three female characters want particular things and Lanthimos casts light on the unscrupulous ends the three will go to.

The performances from the cast as a whole are brilliant, with Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone bringing moments of humour, but ultimately The Favourite belongs to Olivia Colman. When Lady Sarah and Abigail begin to visibly fight for Queen Anne’s affections, it’s Colman’s turn from making the Queen a victim to a keen player in the game that shows Queen Anne’s true deception. However, it’s Colman’s ability to play Queen Anne after she’s had a stroke that is the most astounding. It’s horrifically accurate and cements Colman’s chances of winning Best Actress in the awards this year.

The lavish set design and extravagant costumes ooze with 18th Century decadence. The fashion of the time is captured perfectly amongst the men, and although there was a little bit of creative licence taken with Lady Sarah’s costumes, the ladies costumes are just as grand. The musical score is also terrific in supporting the story, creating moments of high tension and playing for comedic effect at other times.  The rapid, shrill strings only intensify the stakes and take the characters emotions to the next level. 

The Favourite is a strong contender for the upcoming awards season and is most definitely worth a watch. It’s a wild ride of back-stabbing and manipulation and it’s lead performance from Colman is unmissable.

The Favourite is available in Australian cinemas from December 26 2018

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Movie Review – Vice

Adam McKay’s new political docu-comedy is hard-hitting, deeply self-aware and always entertaining

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Vice begins with a young Dick Cheney in Wyoming getting pulled over for drunk driving. His girlfriend Lynne bails him out of jail and lays down the law: either change your careless ways or I’ve chosen the wrong man. Vice, the new movie from director Adam McKay, starts with this flashback because it believes the character you are in your youth will inspire the adult you become. It then spends the next 130 minutes proving it.

Dick Cheney served in the United States government for many years before accepting the job as George W. Bush’s vice-president in 2001, where he exploited constitutional loopholes to legally grant himself unlimited power. He advocated for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He sanctioned extreme torture methods. He essentially wiped his shoes with the Geneva Convention. Why? Was he power-mad? Perhaps. But Vice chooses instead to portray him as a family-oriented man who simply used his humanity as currency to do things his own way.

He wasn’t a very complex person, but Vice, like McKay’s previous film The Big Short (2015), is assembled like a comedy fiction patched with a documentary. Of course it’s too biased to work as a proper documentary. It’s more interested in revealing crippling truths about America’s lofty ideals.

Cheney is played by Christian Bale, who threw on 20 kilos, bleached his eyebrows and is constantly convincing as a patriotic man who honours his wife and two daughters in quiet reserve. An apt parallel, considering the man who now sits in office can’t distinguish a patriot from a nationalist and is anything but reserved.

The movie revolves around Cheney, the way he kissed ass to climb ranks, cheated American law, hypnotised his puppet president and somehow avoided incarceration. Some truths are funny, most are startling, and the film finds a special way of employing unexpected cameos to impart critical information. It uses humour in such an unorthodox manner that many of the people I saw it with didn’t know they were allowed to laugh.

Vice is smart though. Very smart. And it is well-acted, not just by Bale, but by Sam Rockwell as Bush, Jr, Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney, Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld and Alison Pill as Dick’s younger daughter Mary, who discovers she’s gay and is shattered to learn that her supportive family will abandon even her in their quest for power.

Indeed, the scariest thing about Vice is the way it wields its subject like a gavel. It tells us how Cheney cheated. Considering the megalomaniacs who now run the White House, this could be a damning instruction manual. Let’s all hope it isn’t.

Vice is available in Australian cinemas from December 26 

Image courtesy of eOne Films

Movie Review – Colette

Keira Knightley delivers a stellar performance in a film that explores what it means to be a woman in the early 20th Century, embracing bisexuality before a term even existed for it. 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

Based on true events, Colette follows French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightley), known publicly as Colette, who acts as a ghost-writer for her husband and Parisian socialite, Willy (Dominic West). After her novels become a hit and sequels are commissioned, Colette begins to fight for independence from Willy, determined to control her own life and let her brilliance shine.

Colette is as exquisite and daring as the story being told. Director Wash Westmoreland takes advantage of the gorgeous French countryside and the beautiful décor of the time period, filling every scene with beautiful things. With work like Still Alice under his belt, Westmoreland is able to confidently navigate the complexities that exist within personal relationships, especially when complications and betrayal arise. Westmoreland tackles a variety of timely subjects with a sensitive touch to deliver a story about a courageous young woman who was well ahead of her time.

Keira Knightley is at her best as the defiant Colette. Similar to her roles in other period pieces, such as Pride & Prejudice, Atonement and The Duchess, her tenacity and maturity mixed with her ageless appearance is enchanting and most importantly, likeable. There are many turns this film could have taken, but Knightley stays strong and self-righteous without being arrogant.

Knightley is supported by a cast that includes West and newcomer Denise Gough as the gender-bending Missy. West delivers as usual as Colette’s reckless and unfaithful husband, whose own insecurities prevent him from allowing his wife to receive the recognition she deserves. Missy, who dresses as a man and believes in defying stereotypes, is played by Gough with a quiet, haunting presence. She never pressures Colette to be different, but instead encourages her to share thoughts and feelings that she can’t air to the rest of society.

In this day and age, when we’re struggling to label these mixed feelings, Westmoreland delivers a new perspective that shows people have been struggling with their identity for a very long time. This coupled with Knightley’s unapologetic performance helps to cement Colette as a film that must be seen. 

Colette is available in Australian cinemas from December 20

Image courtesy of Transmission Films

Movie Review – Bumblebee

Travis Knight’s Bumblebee spin-off flies into cinemas later this month. We caught an early preview to see what all the buzz is about.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

After five increasingly bombastic entries from Michael Bay, Paramount’s weary Transformers series was in dire need of reinvention. Said change arrives this December, taking the form of a souped-up, cute-as-a-button VW Beetle and actress, model and songstress Hailee Steinfeld. So long Shia and Marky Mark. You will not be missed.

Set in 1987, 20 years prior to the first Transformers film, Bumbleebee sees the mute robot in disguise on the run and taking refuge in a remote junkyard. Charlie (Steinfeld), a lonely teen on the cusp of adulthood, is gifted a bright yellow bug as an 18th birthday present, unknowingly beginning a beautiful friendship and charming buddy film.

Bear withme here, but this film – yes, the one with the huge hulking robots that smash into one another and can turn into a Subaru or whatever – is one of the most heartfelt blockbusters of the year. At its core, Bumblebee is a coming-of-age tale. There are enemies to defeat and worlds to save, but what it boils down to is a girl, her car and the bond they grow to share.

The screenplay, penned by Christina Hodson(who will soon write DC’s Birds of Prey and Batgirlmovies), pushes all the hallmarks of a Transformers film to the periphery. Gone is the unbearable military jingoism, leery male gaze and explosions full of fireworks and Catherine wheels. The garish filter that drenched everything in oversaturated colours is gone, the Transformers themselves more closely resemble the original designs that fans will remember from the 80’s and the action is more sporadic and less frenetic, with cleaner edits and less unintelligible CGI cluttering the screen.

That said, cynics might sneer at the soundtrack, which is jam-packed with 80’s hits. This is a fair complaint, as Bumblebee definitely panders to the same nostalgia centres of our brain as, say, Stranger Things or Ready Player One, simultaneously catching kids who love Transformers now and adults who loved Transformers in the 80’s in its web.

So, there you have it. 10 years after Michael Bay introduced the world to Megan Fox and splashed his bombastic brand of auteurism across a classic 80’s cartoon and we finally have a half-decent Transformers flick. There have been moments of greatness, but Bumblebee is the first film in the series to possess both the ‘warm and fuzzies’ and the colourful explosions we’ve come to expect.

Bumblebee is available in Australian cinemas from December 20

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures