Movie Review – The Secret Life of Pets

Illumination’s latest family-friendly offering is all bark and no bite.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

You know that movie about the group of loveable misfits who banter, bicker and go on adventures while their owners aren’t looking? The one where the main character is a loveable goof who becomes overcome with jealousy after a new recruit starts to hog the limelight? What was that called again? Oh yeah, Toy Story.

Following the towering success of their Despicable Me and Minions films, The Secret Life of Pets sees Illumination Entertainment assemble an all-star cast of talented comedians for a film all about what our furry friends get up to when we head out each day. Louis C.K. voices Max, the aforementioned loveable pup who grows increasingly envious of Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a stray who captures the heart of their owner Katie (Ellie Kemper). After getting lost in the Big Apple, Max and Duke must elude the city pound as well as a gang of deranged strays lead by Snowball (Kevin Hart), a psychotic bunny rabbit.

Let’s be honest, we all want to know what our pets do during the day. It’s an irresistibly clever and simplistic idea for a film that really doesn’t have to sell itself as anything bigger – or in this case, aspire to be anything greater. For the first 15 minutes, the film delivers exactly what it promises. A host of clever visual gags and PG-humour rattles through a whole troop of colourful characters, from Jenny Slate’s energetic fluffball Gidget to Bobby Moynihan’s bouncy bulldog Mel. Chloe (Lake Bell) spends her day gorging on chicken from the fridge whilst Buddy (Hannibal Buress) uses a cake mixer to massage his elongated dachshund spine.

However, this opening montage is just a repackaged version of the trailer; what follows is a much less interesting and predictable narrative about two pups getting chased through New York by animal control. Max and Duke run into some colourful characters, decide to put aside their differences and begin to bond with one another – you know the drill. This wouldn’t be such a huge issue if the film actually had the balls to hit you where it hurts.

There are no stakes in The Secret Life of Pets; no looming threat of anything. In a year where other animated studios have delivered much more mature movies by daring to tackle things like disability (Finding Dory), xenophobia (Zootopia) and grief (Kubo and the Two Strings), The Secret Life of Pets is disappointingly vanilla. The colours sure are bright and the soundtrack has a cool pop tune or two, but nothing lingers long in the memory because the film doesn’t resonate on an emotional level; directors Yarrow Cheney and Chris Renaud are too quick to skip over the story beats that could actually pack a punch and move onto the next wacky set piece where the fluffy bunny goes apeshit.

Make no mistake; your kids will probably love The Secret Life of Pets. It’s bright and filled with vivid colours and cute animals. But if you’re looking for something more substantial, look elsewhere. Ultimately, the film feels neutered by weak plotting and hasty pacing that doesn’t pay out when dealing with anything weighty.

The Secret Life of Pets is available in Australian cinemas from September 8 

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures 

Movie Review – Girl Asleep

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

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Girl Asleep is available in Australian cinemas from September 1st 

Image courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment/Kojo Group 

Movie Review – Hunt For The Wilderpeople

Put on your ‘bist’ Kiwi accent and strap in for one of the funniest comedies you’ll see all year with Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Dury

Tossed from one crappy foster home to the next, 13-year-old Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a bad egg; a typical tearaway teen if ever there was one. He’s sent to live on a remote New Zealand farm owned by tender foster mum Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her cantankerous husband Hector (Sam Neill). Despite attempting to run away night after night (he barely makes it out of sight), Ricky soon finds his new home isn’t all that bad. However, one forest foray sees him and Uncle Hec stuck out in the bushland for weeks, triggering a national manhunt.

Kiwi director Taika Waititi has become something of national hero in his home country of late, with a series of delightful productions that, Lord of the Rings aside, have put New Zealand on the map. His work behind the camera on Boy and What We Do In The Shadows have earned him a cult following, and this latest harebrained comedy is destined to recruit more avid followers to his crusade.

Dennison is a comedic revelation as Ricky; a terrible troublemaker who has aspirations to be the Kiwi equivalent of 2pac. The timing on his line delivery is pretty much perfect and the youngster does more than just hold his own against seasoned actors like Neill. The two share an infectious chemistry, and Neill gives his funniest and most committed performance in years, clearly revelling at the chance to play such a fun and expressive character.

The film does dip into well-trodden tropes at times, but any narrative cul-de-sacs that Waititi encounters are niftily negotiated through his trademark energetic camerawork. Simply put, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the kind of the film that will have you rolling in the aisles, spewing laughter so loud that you’ll be struggling to hear the next six or seven gags. It’s filled with such effervescence that it scoots past any criticism you can lobby at the fairly straight-forward plot.

Soulless sceptics might tune out as the narrative strays further from the realm of possibility, but a warm script and a firm understanding of where these characters
are going keeps the film anchored.

At the end of the day, Hunt for the Wilderpeople will stir your soul just as much as it will tickle your ribs, and in an era where 90% of comedies fail to embrace the former, that’s a quality in short supply.

Hunt For The Wilderpeople is available in Australian cinemas from May 26

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment 

Movie Review – The Man Who Knew Infinity

Dev Patel powers through a troubled genius, but the movie he’s in doesn’t respect history nearly as much as it should.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

The Man Who Knew Infinity is a bore. A droning biography of a brilliant, religious man who understood numbers like Jamie Oliver understands potatoes. When you can conjure seemingly random mathematical equations from thin air and transform them into proven scientific phenomenon, shouldn’t your gift be understood by the people watching you?

Dev Patel plays S. Ramanujan, a poor unemployed genius from Madras who was granted the supernatural ability to conjure positive integers, collate them into partitions based on quantum physics, settle the prime differential and organise them into logical and rational formulas that could uphold the quark nebula and split subatomic particles. Okay, that’s not exactly what he did, but I had you fooled, didn’t I? That’s the problem with this movie; it never explains Ramanujan’s gift. It never tells us what he was really able to do. It’s all just numbers and equations and proofs – a whole ‘nother language we’re not invited to learn.

His gift was shared with Professor G. H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons), the least racist English teacher in a college predicated on white supremacy. Hardy invites Ramanujan to Trinity College, offering to cooperate in mathematical studies and to eventually publish Ramanujan’s work. But the other professors have bigotry to upkeep! So Ramanujan is subjected to the usual racial discrimination found in the movies. Beat-ups outside the post office; name-calling; attire-mocking; scorn from a humiliated teacher, and so on.

The characters, too, are pretty standard, despite being based on real people. Toby Jones plays John Littlewood, the Cosmo Kramer type; impartial, without prejudice. The dean of the faculty is the “I’ve got my hands tied” innocent bystander. The humiliated teacher (Anthony Calf) is the constant naysayer – a crusader for intolerance. There is also room for Bertrand Russell (Jeremy Northam), but apparently not enough for him to do anything of use.

The Man Who Knew Infinity is directed by Matthew Brown; it’s his second feature film and his inexperience is explicit. Together with his editor, JC Bond (James’ half-cousin?), he doesn’t quite find a pace appropriate for his material. The movie glides through its scenes without engaging with them. It’s like a passionate profile project that charts the day-to-day routine of a great man. The problem here is that day-to-day routines don’t quite make enthralling cinema, unless you’re an Italian Neorealist.

The performances by Patel and Irons are top-notch, worthy of their filmographies,  but not this movie. They depict very intelligent men trying to reach out for each other’s hands as the rest of white society aims to pull them apart. They like each other. They respect each other. Most crucially, they understand one another. They share genius; it’s just that Ramanujan’s brain functions on ninth gear in overdrive.

Movies like this are getting made all the time. Their stories seem pre-made for cinematic transition. Just recently both Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking enjoyed their own biopics. Their movies were anchored by confident direction and Oscar-worthy performances. The Man Who Knew Infinity, by comparison, is lethargic and gravely underdone. It’s almost as if the filmmakers know that Ramanujan, while incredibly intelligent, is not a historical figure many people will want to learn about, so they’ve pulled back on the throttle and neatly shifted into park.

The Man Who Knew Infinity is available in Australian cinemas from May 5

Image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution 

Movie Review – Secret In Their Eyes

A stellar cast and a clever concept are undercut by an uneven narrative in Billy Ray’s twisty crime thriller, Secret in Their Eyes.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Adapted from an Argentinian novel of the same name, Secret in Their Eyes is a hit-and-miss affair about two detectives, Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Jess (Julia Roberts), who are tested by a harrowing murder case involving the latter’s daughter, Carolyn (Zoe Graham). Aided by Claire (Nicole Kidman), a talented lawyer, and spanning over 13 years, the trio must untangle a web of lies inside their very own precinct if they are going to bring the person responsible to justice.

As the lead, Ejiofor squeezes the spongy material for everything it’s worth, carrying himself through each scene with a grim intensity and emotional range that elevates the film and everyone in it. Driven by self-reproach and quivering anger, his performance is easily the best thing here. Julia Roberts isn’t given much to work with as the bedraggled mother racked with guilt, whilst Nicole Kidman’s stiff lawyer character seems out of place surrounded by deceitful detectives and twisted killers.

Billy Ray’s screenwriting credentials are more extensive than his directorial work, but in Secret In Their Eyes it’s his less experienced field that feels the strongest. Ray keeps the camera locked on the tormented faces of the cast, lingering on the emotive Ejiofor in particular; he also does an excellent job with the plush LA backdrops, complete with night scenes that ooze this brooding atmosphere and menace.

On the other hand, the screenplay often struggles to balance the two concurrent timelines; the first act is a little slow, weighed down by clunky exposition and character introductions, whilst the second loses itself in a romance subplot that doesn’t really add much to the overall story.

In typical pulpy fashion, the chilling conclusion is packed with rug pulls and plot twists aplenty. Although this works really well, the internal logic the film follows to get us there is ultimately flawed. In order to move the plot from A to B, the film forces its characters into making nonsensical assumptions that would even bring out the sceptical side in Edward de Bono. In one scene, our main characters attend a baseball game based solely on the theory that their suspect is a huge Dodgers fan; mere minutes into the game and lo and behold, there he is! Only three rows behind them in a crowd of 50,000 people! What are the chances?

With the right director at the helm, I feel like the source material could’ve been adapted into something really special. In the hands of someone like David Fincher or Denis Villeneuve, neither of whom are strangers to a grim narrative about desperate people doing desperate things, Secret in Their Eyes could’ve potentially been this compelling, twisty character-driven narrative akin to Gone Girl or Prisoners.

Instead, Secret in Their Eyes is the cinematic equivalent of that book you buy at the airport because you’re going to Bali, and you need something to lazily skim through whilst sipping cocktails by the pool – you’ve seen the story a thousand times before, but it’s decent enough to occupy the time. Ejiofor and Roberts give it their best shot, but the creaky plot holds this one back from true greatness.

Secret In Their Eyes is available in Australian cinemas from November 19

Images courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – 99 Homes

The feel-bad movie of this holiday season also happens to be a brilliant, thoughtful and chilling insight into the trauma of eviction, and exposé of the ruthless entrepreneurs behind it. Greed is good, indeed…

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

Who’d have thought that real estate would make for the topic of one of the year’s smartest, most suspenseful and downright electric films? Written and directed by the master of American social commentary Ramin Bahrani (Chop Shop, Goodbye Solo), 99 Homes is a brutally realistic, completely absorbing and utterly compelling insight into the consequences of the economic collapse and housing market catastrophe.

After a life of honest endeavour in the construction trade, hard-working single father Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) faces redundancy and unemployment when he learns of the foreclosure of his family home. He, his son and mother (Laura Dern) are subsequently evicted by cold-blooded real estate broker Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), and forced into a crappy motel room, until he is propositioned with repairman work by the very man who evicted him. Desperate for cash and out of options, Dennis accepts, finding himself taking on increasingly arduous duties each day. Eventually, the cunning Carver puts forth the opportunity for Dennis to become his assistant, and sacrifice his morality by evicting people from their homes himself.

99 Homes is so unrelentingly intense and scary that it could almost be labelled a horror movie. But this is a film grounded in reality, and perhaps the first to give us an honest look at the heartbreaking emotional turmoil that encompasses eviction.

Garfield’s Dennis is put through the meat-grinder, enduring the anxiety and humiliation of his belongings removed from the home and dumped onto his lawn as the neighbours watch on. Then being forced to do this to other struggling people himself… it’s harrowing stuff, but wholly compelling, and its vicious mentor aspect makes this almost like Whiplash for property foreclosure, though this is more subtle; less dazzling. Everything here feels mercilessly real.

The film has two thoroughly genuine performances to thank for this. Hollywood’s most reliable character actor Michael Shannon is a wave of terrifying calm as Rick Carver, a unique monster in that he is simply a businessman – one utterly devoid of remorse and sympathy. Truly loathsome, Carver could be considered a remarkable villain for his intimidating believability – anyone who has worked in the building or trade industry knows a mogul like him.

However, the film belongs to Andrew Garfield. Sadly receiving the boot as Peter Parker following the cancellation of his not-so-Amazing Spider-Man series (despite easily being the standout of an otherwise average and unnecessary reboot), Garfield needed something fresh to reinvent himself. Thankfully his calling has come with down-on-his-luck family man Dennis Nash; so much so that Garfield is almost unnoticeable in the role – this is a real human being, a determined man unwilling to crack from the overwhelming and unjust pressures of the world. He may have lost his footing temporarily, but here Garfield cements himself as an enduring actor.

Though the film’s climax has no shortage of intensity, its resolution is a tad formulaic, but arguably a necessary evil. A ferocious blast of realism that makes a surprise entry as one of the year’s best – expect some recognition for 99 Homes come the awards season.

99 Homes is available in Australian cinemas from November 19

Images courtesy of Madman Entertainment 

Quick Pick – Knight of Cups

Knight of Cups is plodding, incomprehensible and silly…making it your run-of-the-mill Terrence Malick venture.

⭐ ½
Tom Munday

Writer/director Terrence Malick’s polarising filmmaking style draws the line between independent cinema and commercial success. His material chronicles everything from the horrors of war (The Thin Red Line), to familial bonds (The Tree of Life) with a frenzying signature style. Thanks to his latest feature, Knight of Cups, the controversial filmmaker has now alienated and befuddled even his biggest fans.

Knight of Cups follows screenwriter Rick (Christian Bale) as he overcomes several surreal and disheartening events. After an earthquake grips Los Angeles, Rick begins questioning his awkward, restless existence. Like Federico Fellini’s , Rick reflects upon his relationships and friendships, hoping to discover life’s true purpose.

Like many, big-name auteurs, Malick’s flashy direction overshadows the entire narrative. Jarring techniques such as hushed narration, extreme angles and shaky handheld camerawork dominate the film’s glacial 2 hour run-time.

Resembling a collage of alluring natural landscapes and recognisable landmarks, Knight of Cups forces its audience to fit every puzzle piece together, and Malick’s views on Christianity and Hollywood indulgence further convolute the sketchy, incomprehensible narrative.

Despite the story’s focus on sympathy and redemption, Rick still comes across as an unlikeable, joyless blank space thanks to Bale’s one-facial-expression performance. Funnelled through Rick’s point of view, the film overlooks a talented supporting cast including Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman and Antonio Banderas. The female characters, in particular, are reduced to shrill, lifeless objects.

Knight of Cups, for all its bravado and introspection, is a tepid look at LA’s urban jungle and searing San Fernando vistas. Malick, more interested in nature than character and story, might be better suited to filming David Attenborough documentaries.

Knight of Cups is available in Australian cinemas from November 12th

Images courtesy of Roadshow Films

Rooftop Movies – Pan

Ever wondered how Peter Pan and Captain Hook became mortal enemies? Well, prepare to continue wondering as Joe Wright’s Pan completely misses the point and dumps a steaming pile of unoriginal crap onto our laps.

⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

After spending his early childhood in a dingy London orphanage, Peter (Aussie actor Levi Miller) is whisked off to the mysterious island of Neverland by a band of nasty pirates. Set to work in a colossal mine with the sole aim of unearthing fairy dust for the fearsome pirate captain, Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), Peter meets James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), a roguish adventurer and Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), a striking warrior princess who tell him of a prophecy set in motion by his late mother Mary (Amanda Seyfried) to bring peace to the magical kingdom.

It might feel a little unfair to hate on this movie because, at the end of the day, I’m clearly not the target audience. Nor does the film have bad intentions; screenwriter Jason Fuchs and director Joe Wright obviously have a love for JM Barrie‘s original novel, and the subsequent Disney animated adaptation that many people my age will have grown up with. But, that being said, 2015’s Pan does both of these predecessors a great disservice, and hardly deserves to be even mentioned in the same sentence.

You see, underneath the glossy exterior, this film is the very definition of derivative. It borrows and steals story elements, characters and visual motifs from other, more successful franchises in an attempt to win our affection; the clichéd “chosen one” narrative is torn straight from Harry Potter, whilst Hedlund’s Hook and Mara’s Tiger Lily are essentially Han Solo and Princess Leia in all but name. Even James Cameron‘s Avatar is drawn from during one scene set in a fluorescent forest, all whilst our hero befriends a hostile tribe of natives, and learns to fly a dangerous winged beast in order to save the day amongst a colourful sky filled with unexplained floating objects.

The colourful characters and locations certainly look flash, but suffer from the same CGI overload that scuppered recent features like Tomorrowland or Oz: The Great and Powerful; you rarely get the sense that the talented cast are striding across an actual, tangible set instead of the vast green screen backdrop that has become commonplace in Hollywood.

Narratively, Pan sinks faster than a lead balloon; the film promises us a look at how Peter and Hook transitioned from friends into enemies, and then dispenses with that in order to focus on Peter’s inexplicable quest for information about his mother – presumably he couldn’t give two shits about the other 50% of his parentage. Hedlund isn’t bad as the future one-handed Captain, but his character is in fact more of a hero at the end of the film than at the start; so, when does his hatred of Peter come into play? Put simply, never. If you were hoping for a compelling prelude to one of cinema’s greatest rivalries, you’d best put those on ice for the time being; Pan keeps things squeaky clean from start to finish.

However, the cardinal sin is Jackman’s awful performance as Blackbeard; it’s like he just binge watched all four Pirates of the Caribbean movies, snorted some coke and pretended he was the demented half-brother of Jack Sparrow for the entire time. Overacted and nowhere near as comical as you’d hope, Jackman misses the mark entirely on this one.

When all is said and done, Pan will leave you feeling utterly disappointed and robbed. Flashes of ingenuity are all too infrequent in this otherwise uninspired family film that talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. Kids will love the colourful characters, adults will finally have chance to catch up on much needed sleep.

Screw this, I’m going to watch Hook instead.

Pan screens at Perth’s Rooftop Movies Sunday 15th November

Images courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Freeheld

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

⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freeheld is available in Australian cinemas from November 5th

Images courtesy of EntertainmentOne

Movie Review – Spectre

We, as a collective audience, are very lucky that after the impressive success of Skyfall, Sam Mendes decided to live and let die, and direct a second Bond film. Unlike 007’s famous vodka martini, Spectre left me both shaken AND stirred!

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Kit Morris

It is difficult to say too much about Spectre without giving it all away, so like a good secret agent I shall be cryptic! Everything in this film feels like the end of Daniel Craig’s tenure as Ian Fleming’s suave MI6 hero, although this has yet to be officially confirmed or denied by Sony and EON Productions. His latest appearance as 007 in Spectre works brilliantly as a culmination of plot points from the three previous outings, weaving every film from Casino Royale onwards into a neat package.

After receiving a message from beyond the grave, our favourite secret agent tries to uncover an organisation that appears to be the puppet master behind many recent world events. At the same time, M (Lord Voldemort himself: Ralph Fiennes) is trying to swat away a power struggle with the head of the Joint Intelligence Service (Andrew Scott) who wants to close down the “00” section of the organisation as he considers field work outdated in the age of cyber warfare – a thought provoking storyline in the post-Snowden world we now live in.

In the opening act, Spectre feels very much like Skyfall’s sequel; threading together plot strands that were seeded in the second half of the 2012 blockbuster. While Spectre does not ignore its predecessor, it does move away from familiar territory to stand up as a strong entry in its own right. The breathtaking opening sequence is a perfect example of this; set during Mexico’s day of the dead festival, it features only two lines of dialogue, beautiful carnival costumes and rich location work. As a result, Spectre boasts perhaps one of the most mesmerising introductions to a Bond film in decades, with a high-octane helicopter fight that will leave you on the edge of you seat.

From Mexico, to England, to Rome, to Austria, to Morocco and then finally back to England again; Spectre darts all over the world. I would love to know what mode of transport Bond is using that allows him to zip from country to country so quickly, but at least the constant location changes are not too disorienting for those used to the rapid-fire pacing of 21st century Bond.

This is clearly Craig’s best work as Bond to date, and if it is indeed his curtain call, I hope he goes down in history as the most original incarnation since Sean Connery. Additionally, hats off to Ben Whishaw, a revelation in this film as the witty Q, and of course, I cannot end my review without mentioning the tour de force that is Christoph Waltz in his poignant performance as our newest Bond villain Franz Obenhauser.

It is difficult not to fall in love with this film: I appoint it a worthy 4½ stars out of five.

Spectre is available in Australian cinemas from November 12th

Images courtesy of Sony Pictures