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

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Movie Review – Widows

Steve McQueen once again deals with innocent characters facing desperate situations in Widows, a reimagining of the classic British TV drama.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Widows is a movie that works, despite several fundamental flaws, simply because it is pitched at a level most of the human population will identify with. It is about a group of blue-collar women who must first grieve their dead husbands and then redeem themselves from the brink of desperation by breaking the law. This is a violent and cruel film, but also intimately unnerving in the way it presents life pushing people to the edge.

It is led by a stunning performance from Viola Davis, who employs her icy face to chilling effect. Her husband is the successful bank robber Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson), who, right from the get-go, is slaughtered along with his three accomplices when a heist goes terribly wrong. We get glimpses into who the men were. One was abusive, another apathetic, another irresponsible. As far as we can tell, they lived for crime. But their stories take a backseat to their wives’, who have to contend with the sudden life-threatening consequences left for them.

Just as nasty is the parallel plot of two politicians competing for alderman of a Chicago precinct. One is Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), a ruthless crime boss who wants repaid the $2 million stolen from him. The other is Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), the wealthy white aristocrat eager to escape daddy’s shadow. And of course ther eare the other widows, played by Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Carrie Coon, so you can see how full this story is. There’s even room for Cynthia Erivo as an overly agreeable babysitter. And yet Widows plays easily, because it has a very clear through-line.

It is basically about a heist, but in clever ways it also deals with sexism, misogyny, racial alienation, the American gun society and perhaps most obviously, feminism. It is directed by Steve McQueen and written by McQueen and Gillian Flynn, whose previous Gone Girl also had a warped notion of gender empowerment.

Now, there is a twist that, naturally, I will keep to myself. It throws a bunch of questions into the air and contradicts certain motives. It made me wonder who knew what and how deeply they knew it. It forced me to doubt a character’s integrity. It even made me question the plausibility of the entire premise. But because the plot is so easily accessible, when the tension-filled climax finally arrived, I found myself on the edge of my seat.

Widows is available in Australian cinemas from November 22

Images courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Movie Review – Boy Erased

Boy Erased is an eye-opening film that looks into gay conversion camps that still exist all over the world. While lead actor Lucas Hedges delivers a strong performance, ultimately the film can’t compete against the similar new release Beautiful Boy.

⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

When Jared (Lucas Hedges) is forcibly outed to his Baptist preacher father Marshall (Russell Crowe) and mother Nancy (Nicole Kidman), they force him to participate in a Christian gay conversion program during his college break. As the program starts to lean on the side of abuse, Jared realises that just because the Church supports something, doesn’t always mean it’s correct.

Based on a true story, Boy Erased is an interesting and sometimes shocking film that looks at what it means to be a homosexual in Christian America. It deals with rape and being forced to come out when you’re not ready to. The situations that Jared is consistently put through are highly emotional and potentially damaging in the long run to a young man trying to find his way in the world.

Joel Edgerton writes, directs, and stars in the adaption of Garrad Conley’s memoir, and for such a surreal story and subject matter (I mean gay conversion programs in 2004 – are you for real??), Edgerton delivers a direct, graphic and honest film, not dissimilar to his previous film The Gift. Unfortunately, there are some predictable moments that’ll make you roll your eyes in exasperation, but if nothing else, the film is certainly educational.

Hedges delivers a mature and harrowing performance as a boy who was always so sure of the world and his position in it until moving away to college. His inner grappling with his “unnatural” feelings towards men is intense, but it’s his quiet defensiveness about his sexuality and fear to embrace his feelings that is the hardest part of the film to watch. The entire film is carried on his shoulders, but luckily Hedges rises to the occasion.

Kidman plays the role of the concerned mother and dutiful wife to a tee, with the only thing bringing down her performance being the ridiculous wig she wears. Kidman certainly has her moments and her ability to portray a variety of complex emotions without saying a single word is definitely at play in this film. Sadly, Crowe is reduced to a stereotypical father figure. Edgerton doesn’t make use of his acting ability and makes him a side note in the film that fails to make an impact.

Boy Erased is a complicated look at the extremes some people will go to in order to change things that don’t fit within their beliefs, but it’s overshadowed by its fellow recent release Beautiful Boy. At their core, Beautiful Boy and Boy Erased have very similar storylines. Unfortunately, Boy Erased falls short of Beautiful Boy’s execution. If Boy Erased had been released three months before Beautiful Boy, it might have been received differently, but in comparison, Boy Erased is far more formulaic and consequently loses out to Beautiful Boy.

Boy Erased is available in Australian cinemas from November 8 

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2018

Movie Review – A Star Is Born

Bradley Cooper’s first outing as a director is an exciting success, but the real star here is Lady Gaga. She lights up the screen with her incredible voice and relatively unknown acting ability, and the on-screen chemistry between her and Cooper makes for one hell of a ride.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

You know Summer has finally arrived in Perth when the clouds clear away, the days become longer, and the outdoor cinema’s start releasing their programs. The Rooftop Movies in Northbridge deliver a fantastic experience, with the beautiful city skyline lighting up the background of the screen, and the cool Northbridge vibes creating the ultimate atmosphere. The food is delicious, the drink choices limitless and the beanbags crazy comfy, making it feel like home away from home. We were lucky enough to catch A Star Is Born on the rooftop.

A Star Is Born is about the trajectory of two musicians’ careers’. Ally (Lady Gaga) is a young singer on the rise to fame and fortune, whereas Jack (Bradley Cooper) is on a downward spiral. The pair fall in love and attempt to navigate their relationship through their individual success and failures, with the latter succumbing more and more to his drug and alcohol abuse.

A Star Is Born is a remarkable feat that marks the fourth remake of this story, with the others opening in 1937, 1954 and 1976 respectively. This latest adaptation is the directorial debut of Bradley Cooper and despite being a remake, the film feels fresh and original. Cooper confidently takes control, capturing what it feels like to be onstage performing to large crowds, as well as his character’s unique view of Ally. He cuts in unusually close, focussing on specific facial features of Ally when they’re having intimate moments, and it really adds to the affectionate nature of the scenes. Audio has also been used in a really interesting way. Whilst music is littered throughout the film, Cooper has reserved the music largely for when the pair are performing, keeping the soundscape very quiet outside of the stage.

Cooper plays the addiction riddled Jack to his usual high standard, easily pulling off the gruff, anger-filled fading musician type. His love for Ally is believable, as is the pain and suffering the pair go through as their careers pull them further and further apart. Cooper is supported by Sam Elliott who plays his much older brother-turned-manager Bobby. Elliott brings a quiet strength to the film, and its Bobby’s constant presence, even when him and Jack are fighting, that brings a comforting calmness to the film.

But ultimately A Star Is Born is the Lady Gaga show. She completely and utterly steals the spotlight with her amazing vocals and emotive ballads. But it’s not just about her voice – she has the acting chops as well. This film proves the girl can act and the chemistry between her and Cooper is unreal. Ally’s growth over the course of the film has you rooting for her the entire way. She’s an admirable character who sacrifices much to love and protect Jack.

Cooper has made a valiant attempt to tell both sides of the story for this couple, and for the most part it works. The film overall is a little bit too long and there are moments in the middle that could have been cut, but in terms of expressing the addiction and craziness of fame, the film hits all the right notes. This wasn’t an easy task for Cooper to undertake, especially on his first outing as a director, but he has managed to modernise a timeless film with enough soulful tracks to keep the buzz around this film going, at least until Oscar season.

Program 1 of Rooftop Movies runs until December 9th, with another three programs to follow. You can see the full program at: https://www.rooftopmovies.com.au/program

A Star Is Born is available in Australian cinemas from October 18.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films.

Movie Review – 1%

While 1% boasts some strong performances, its unremarkable story fails to live up to its high-octane setting.

⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic 

Shot right here in Perth, 1% is a crime drama set in the underworld of Australian motorcycle club gangs. It follows Vice President of the ‘Copperheads’ Paddo (Ryan Corr) who has been leading the group while President Knuck (Matt Nable) has been behind bars. As Knuck nears release from prison, Paddo’s younger brother Skink (Josh McConville) puts him in a compromising position that threatens his loyalty to both Knuck and the Copperheads. Paddo must decide how to solve his dilemma before he loses everything he’s worked for.

Corr does well in expressing the conflicting emotions of a man constantly having to weigh up his loyalties and juggle his relationships. The film continuously puts Paddo between a rock and a hard place, and Corr did a good job of earning my sympathy towards his character’s situation.

Another standout is Aaron Pedersen (Goldstone) as Sugar, the President of a rival gang. His screen presence is like a breath of fresh air and it’s disappointing that his role was reduced to just a few scenes. Pedersen has a natural charisma and I love seeing his career expanding.  I’ve only known him to play good guys, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how well he could take on a more villainous role.

What brings it all down is the story. One of the major flaws of the film is that all the conflicts are caused by one character: Paddo’s brother. Literally everything he does is a mistake that ends up causing more grief for Paddo. His role is essentially the only driving force moving the story along. Every scene he’s in made me roll my eyes because I knew he was going to do something wrong and then the film would try to resolve it. It became repetitive and boring.

There’s also some really questionable events. Without giving too much away, there’s a subplot with Knuck’s character that makes absolutely no difference to the story. And the final act has one of the strangest standoffs I’ve seen in a long time.

1% tries its hand at being a gritty Australian crime drama, but it’s let down by its thin narrative. The film is entirely carried by its performances, which are the only real reason you should go and see the film.

1% is available in Australian cinemas from October 12 

Image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution

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 – Kodachrome

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

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

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

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

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

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

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

Kodachrome is available in Australian cinemas from June 7 

Image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution 

Movie Review – Tully

Tully will no doubt aggravate many, but Jason Reitman once again delivers domestic drama at the highest level

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

The partnership of Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody is one that works because they share the natural instinct to get underneath their characters and turn them into everyday heroes. They partnered on Juno (2007) and again on Young Adult (2011), which also stars Charlize Theron. In both films, they treated very real issues with a bit of whimsy and a bit of elegance, but never lost that human touch. Tully, their latest collaboration, carries on in their grand tradition.

The movie is very much a one-woman show, with Theron playing Marlo, a mum of two with an unplanned third on the way. Her younger son, Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), is a behavioural deviant and may soon be dismissed from kindergarten. Her older daughter questions everything. Every day Marlo does the mothering while her husband, Drew (a terrific Ron Livingston), supplements his working days with video-gaming nights. Now a third child has arrived and it seems like her world has become a top spun upside-down. Help must come!

And come it does, in the stunning shape of Mackenzie Davis, who plays the night nanny, Tully. Tully is young and beautiful, with a keen sense about human feelings. It’s like she knows at once how to fix problems you didn’t even know were there. She strides into Marlo’s life and takes the reins, caring for the baby, baking cupcakes, cleaning the house, giving Marlo much needed breathing space. She even offers to help out in the bedroom. Things pick up. Drew grows closer. Dinners are actually cooked. And then…

Well, I won’t spoil what happens. Tully has a twist, which you will either see coming or despise if you don’t. Or both. Many will say it’s a twist that’s been done before in greater films, but I believe neither Cody, the writer, nor Reitman, the director, feels cheaply about the decision. Could the film have benefited from an alternative? Perhaps. There are always ways to work around obstacles. But because Marlo is so spectacularly herself, it is the fitting, logical call.

Reitman’s films have a way of establishing themselves firmly in a world that looks and feels right. He also seems to possess a natural relationship with Theron, who is given two notes to play (manic and exhausted) but somehow makes Marlo a robust, fully empathetic matriarch. Davis, too, is supremely effective as Tully and has many more strings to play, all of which she does with the tenderness of a maestro. I said the movie is a one-woman show, which it is, except when Marlo and Tully share the screen and completely absorb us in their chemistry. There’s not a lot that goes on here, but the little that does takes us right into the heart of a well-formulated screenplay and a cast of outstanding performers.

Tully is available in Australian cinemas from May 17 

Image courtesy of Studiocanal 

 

Movie Review – Chappaquiddick

Bleakly exposing a dark chapter in political history, Chappaquiddick spins an ambiguous moral compass that refuses to let us land anywhere comfortably.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan 

Senator Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) has spent his life in the shadow of his brothers, Bobby and John F. Kennedy. Seeking to forge his own glory and make his father (Bruce Dern) proud, he follows in their political footsteps on a far less successful presidential campaign. After leaving a party on Chappaquiddick Island with a former staff member of Bobby’s (Kate Mara), an accident submerges their car in a river and drowns the girl. Escaping unscathed, Ted resists his lawyer’s (Ed Helms) pleas to report the incident, and instead follows his father’s advice to conjure an alibi.

John Curran’s (The Killer Inside Me, Tracks) latest and possibly best film Chappaquiddick dramatises the scandal that nearly buried Teddy Kennedy. Ultimately, it leaves us with the realisation that a loud news cycle and press circulation can manipulate final feelings on a subject, and even will us to forgive and forget some of the things people in power have done. Did somebody say fake news?

Curran reels us in by making Teddy a largely likeable and admirable figure, then reveals his flaws and frustrations at being unable to reach his family’s high standards. Following the death of Bobby’s former staff member, Teddy deviates between coming clean of his guilt and doing the right thing, and covering up the incident to keep his political ambitions intact. It’s a complex and layered role that Jason Clarke brings to life perfectly. He seamlessly shifts between charm and dutifulness, to some downright cold and calculated damage control. It’s easily one of his best performances.

Refreshingly, some of his co-stars are also given the chance to shine by playing against type. Kate Mara unfortunately checks out early, but she creates a tragic character in the limited screen time she has. Likewise, Ed Helms, whose name is synonymous with goofball comedy, offers great restraint in a performance that shows he has some very capable dramatic chops.

Chappaquiddick’s producers reportedly received pressure from some very powerful political figures and friends of the Kennedys to not release the film, while other associates lambasted it as an “outright fabrication” and “trafficking in conspiracy theories”, which really only makes it all the more interesting. It can’t answer questions for us, but it does present us one thrilling bucket of worms. Like it or not, sometimes truth can get in the way of duty, and if Chappquiddick’s detractors are to be believed, truth can most definitely get in the way of a good yarn.

Chappaquiddick is available in Australian cinemas from May 10 

Image courtesy of Transmission Films