Thursday, 21 September 2017

It (2017)

(MA15+) ★★★★

Director:  Andy Muschietti.

Cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton, Jackson Robert Scott.

Just out of shot: me shitting myself.
IF you're looking for a review that tells you how this It compares to the old It, you're in the wrong place. Similarly, if you want to know this It is a good adaptation of the It book, I can't help you,

But having not read the book or seen the 1990 miniseries means I'm free to review this shorn of any preconceptions or the weight of expectation and nostalgia. So if you want simply to know if It is a good film (and a scary one), then this is the review for you.

The short version is yes, It is a good film, and yes, It is scary - repeatedly and insidiously. For the long version, read on.

This adaptation of Stephen King's 1986 novel is set in 1988-'89, where a group of seven bullied and ostracised kids find themselves the target of a fear-feeding clown (Skarsgård) who appears responsible for the abnormally high rate of kids going missing in their hometown.

Among those missing kids is Georgie (Scott), whose brother Bill (Lieberher) is the leader of this group of self-proclaimed "losers". Bill is prepared to lead his friends into battle, or at least into the town's sewers, to try and find his brother and bring this clown's reign of terror to an end.


This is an excellent horror film because, yes, it's scary, but it's also a solid film outside of its frights. At its core it's closer to Stand By Me than anything else in the King canon - it's as much a coming-of-age tale as it is a scare-fest. It offers a kids-eye view of its setting and of fear itself, taking a simplistic look at what scares us and how the world works. There are no conversations between adults in It, and despite there being an epidemic of missing people, the film's POV is kept within the group of focus of our Goonie-like heroes, who largely view grown-ups as creatures not to be trusted (some are almost as scary as Pennywise). These are kids on the verge of adulthood and as a result the film doesn't need to bother with the world of adults too much.

While I've heard some grown-ups lament that the film isn't scary, I would suggest that it will have younger audiences (who can legally see the MA15+ rated movie of course) quietly shitting in their pants. It seems aimed at being a rite-of-passage horror movie, much like its predecessor was for so many people around my age, with a mettle-testing level of gore and adult themes. Personally I found it frequently scary, and while it's heavy on the jump scares and intense musical crescendos, that is certainly not the full extent of It's bag of tricks.

On top of all this, the film is beautifully shot. It's summertime setting and the fictional town of Derry are given the warm glow of nostalgic holidays of misspent youth, which is frighteningly at odds with some of its scares, most of which take place in the comparatively darker parts of Derry. That it can still offer some horror in broad daylight is a nice feat too.

As much as It is about coming of age, the power of fear, the importance of friendship, the loss of innocence, and the challenges of youth, it's also about a fucking clown named Pennywise who is the stuff bed-wetting nightmares are made of. In the hands of Bill Skarsgård and some brilliant costume and make-up design, he becomes the ruffle-wearing lovechild of Heath Ledger's Joker and Ridley Scott's Alien. He is a wonderfully scary creation.

If you weren't scared by It, maybe you're too mature or too battle-hardened by horror films or the travails of adulthood. But if you can tap into your youth (or are still young), then It is the horror movie for you.

*Apologies for the delay in posting this review and any mistakes in it, as it was painstakingly typed with one hand due to a wrist injury.



Wednesday, 20 September 2017

REWIND REVIEW: The Queen Of Ireland

(PG) ★★★★

Director: Conor Horgan.

Cast: Rory O'Neill.

"And then he said, 'grab them by the pussy'. And he's been married three times!"

As Australia dives into a very expensive non-binding postal vote that allows straight people to pass judgement on the worthiness of gay relationships, there is no better time to watch this fabulous and heartfelt documentary about Ireland's own path to legalising same-sex marriage.

It's tempting to use this review as a platform to extol why I think Australians should vote "yes", but the reality is this review is not going to change people's minds about marriage equality. And sadly, despite how heartwarming and beautiful it is, this documentary is unlikely to change people's minds either.

Because the fact of the matter is most people have already decided, one way or another, where they stand on the issue of letting two grown adults in a loving relationship who happen to be the same sex enter into a binding legal agreement that is exactly the same as other grown adult couples are allowed to do.


And as great as The Queen Of Ireland is, it's not going to suddenly persuade a bunch of homophobes and bible-bashers into understanding why allowing same-sex couples to marry is a good and necessary thing.

I wish it did though. The story of Rory O'Neill AKA drag queen Panti Bliss is a surprising and fascinating one that passionately illustrates what marriage equality means to the people it actually affects (ie. no one except for the homosexual people who want to get married).

O'Neill and his frocked-up alter-ego became a bewigged figurehead in the debate leading up to the historic public vote in which a majority of Irish folk agreed marriage equality was something that needed to happen. In a way, O'Neill comes to symbolise every gay person who's ever been attacked or insulted for their sexuality, or who has had to change who they are to fit in or avoid being targeted by homophobes. A truly powerful moment comes when he makes a speech about this subject that goes viral. This speech, as well as a national TV interview he gave, inadvertently made O'Neill/Bliss a lightning rod in the marriage equality debate.

It all works because as much as O'Neill may strike some people as an "irregular" guy, he really is just a regular guy. His enthusiasm, passion, fragility, humour and humanity shine through, and it all peaks when we get to see his hometown, including his parents, turn out to watch one of his drag shows. It's a joyous highlight that demonstrates the theme of acceptance at the heart of both the film and the marriage equality debate.

The way the film touches on how gay people have endured in the face of incredible adversity, how gay culture has risen from being literally underground in some cases, and how the slow road to tolerance and understanding makes The Queen Of Ireland an important document. More of this kind of stuff would have been welcome, as well as more details about the historic vote on marriage equality. The only real downside to the doco is the inescapable sense that it was a film about O'Neill/Bliss first that stumbled on to the marriage equality vote stuff as an almost accidental second.

But what it gives us is an inspiring and enjoyable look at the life of a man whose fabulous lifestyle inadvertently made him a key figure in an historic moment in Ireland.

I watched The Queen Of Ireland at a screening hosted by F Project Cinema in Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia. Here's what's coming up at future FPC screenings at the Mozart Hall (all screenings are at 7.30pm):

I Am Bolt - September 27

The Bicycle Thief - October 11

Amy - October 25

Closed Circuit - November 8

Marina Abramovic - November 22

Metropolis - December 13

The Princess Bride - January 10

Waltz With Bashir - January 24

*Apologies for the delay in posting this review and any mistakes in it as it was painstakingly typed with one hand due to a wrist injury.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Girls Trip

(MA15+) ★★★½

Director: Malcolm D. Lee.

Cast: Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Tiffany Haddish, Jada Pinkett Smith, Larenz Tate, Mike Colter, Kate Walsh.

Dutch ovens can be hilarious.
IF you missed the girls-gone-bad comedy of Rough Night earlier this year, don't worry. Go and see Girls Trip instead.

This film about women cutting loose, working out their issues, and getting "white-girl drunk" is a far superior comedy because it does many of the things Rough Night tried to do, but actually pulls them off.

The key to the success of Girls Trip (shouldn't there be a possessive apostrophe there somewhere?) when compared to Rough Night is it manages to feel more real in spite of its own contrivances. The characters feel more real, the relationships are more real, and the situation is more real. Instead of relying on a high-concept idea like "bachelorette party accidentally kills stripper" and then exploring the group's interactions through that plot point, Girls Trip simply explores the relationships as the characters bounce through the ups and downs of an overdue getaway in New Orleans. The tone is more even, the plot is minimal but it never stretches or struggles, and nothing feels tacked on as a result in Girls Trip. Oh, and it's funny.

Organiser of the trip is Ryan (Hall), a multimedia star and minor celebrity who is touted as the "second coming of Oprah". While trying to keep her marriage (and therefore her brand) on the right track, Ryan decides she needs to let her hair down a little and reconnect with her longtime crew.

So joining her in New Orleans while she sells books and gives talks is her fellow "Flossy Posse" sistren - celeb blogger Sasha (Latifah), repressed mother-of-two Lisa (Pinkett Smith), and the still-hasn't-grown-up party girl Dina (Haddish).


There's nothing spectacular plotwise about Girls Trip - it's simply about four women having fun and sorting out some stuff. But it does it well.

For starters, the four women seem believable as friends, and the performances are all pretty solid. Latifah is the most comfortable and best actor of the bunch, but Haddish is the scene stealer. They get a decent-enough script too, and make the most of it - there's obviously a bit of improvising going on, especially from Haddish. When she's letting rip, talking about what's she going to do to Lisa's philandering husband or what she really thinks about someone, the film is on fire and the laugh's keep coming.

From that strong core of performances and characters, Girls Trip weaves a nice web of relationships, building things up and tearing them down, with Lisa's marital issues at the core, although Sasha's money problems are a nice subplot that intersects well with Lisa's plot. It passes a nice comment on the nature of celebrity gossip too. But mainly this is about women having fun and each others' backs. There's a more serious through line about discovering yourself but this is where the film tends toward the mawkish and the melodramatic. While it's a nice theme and a necessary one, it does make Girls Trip take a side-journey into soap opera territory from time to time.

The other big weakness here is a reliance on well-worn party tropes, such as the accidental drug-taking, a dance-off, and a sexual encounter that goes wrong. Admittedly the film handles these well and milks a couple of laughs, but this is where the film starts to feel generic. Overall, Girls Trip is nothing terribly new, but it's good at what it does.

When it works best is when the girls are either way up or way down and the dialogue, quips, swears, put-downs, and gags are flying thick and fast. This Girls Trip looks like it would have been fun to be on, and we get to go along for the ride.

Monday, 28 August 2017

American Made

(MA15+) ★★★½

Director: Doug Liman.

Cast: Tom Cruise, Sarah Wright, Domhnall Gleeson, Alejandro Edda, Caleb Landry Jones.

Cocaine's a hell of a drug.
THE post-Mission: Impossible career of Tom Cruise can be split into two categories.

On one side are the Action Man films, starring Tom "I Do All My Own Stunts" Cruise. On the other side are the Acting Man films, starring Tom "Nominated For Three Oscars" Cruise.

It's rare these two categories meet (Collateral is a standout example), but American Made is something of a crossover between Stuntman Cruise and Thespian Cruise. It doesn't feature Tom Cruise running or punching people in the face, but it does see him take the actual wheel of several actual planes, as has been pointed out in many interviews promoting American Made's release, which is admittedly pretty ballsy. And to go with these derring-do feats, is another solid turn from the often under-rated actor - not necessarily one that stretches his skills, but it's still a decent performance.

Cruise plays Barry Seal, a real-life pilot who found himself working for both the American government and the Medellin drug cartel during those crazy days of the '70s and '80s. It was a time when cocaine was king and the US was still fighting the Cold War, which had somehow spread to Central America.

With Seal making so much money he didn't know what to do with it (courtesy of both the CIA and Pablo Escobar), it was a hell of a time to be alive. And Seal's life was a hell of a one to live.


It's the setting and the scenario that are key here. Seal's story is almost unbelievable (even without the usual liberties taken by filmmakers) and it makes for an entertaining ride. Even if you feel like you've seen a heap of films, TV shows and National Geographic docos about the Medellin Cartel, the Iran-Contra Affair, Central American politics, and the cocaine trade in the US, this takes a fresh look at it by funnelling it through the eyes of Seal.

It's also funny, with regular laugh-out-loud moments, largely thanks to the absurdity of the situations Seal finds himself in, whether it be running out of places to stash his huge amounts of cash or the day-to-day realities of running guns into Central America and cocaine into North America.

Key to this is Cruise, who does his best to ensure Seal is likeable, even when he's doing things that aren't. His Southern accent wavers at times but the Cruiser keeps the affable Seal bumbling along in the face of incredible danger. And did I mention that he flies his own planes? Gary Spinelli's script works well too, helping to ensure we like Seal while keeping the action ticking along and the years progressing nicely.

The main let-downs come from director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity). Liman's now-signature camera moves - the quick pull-zooms and shaky handheld shots - are distractingly annoying, especially in the film's first half where they serve no purpose. Liman also has a nice framing device to work with - Seal recounts his exploits into a home video camera later in life - but he fails to use it effectively, randomly sliding in some narration with little consistency. These two things are the biggest deal-breakers in American Made as they regularly pull you out of the film to remind you that you're watching a film.

Frustrating directorial tics aside, this is a funny and enjoyable peek into the strange place where a couple of major world events intersected and one man found himself in the middle of it all.


Thursday, 17 August 2017

Logan Lucky

(M) ★★★★

Director: Steven Soderbergh.

Cast:  Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Daniel Craig, Brian Gleeson, Jack Quaid, Seth MacFarlane, Katie Holmes, Hilary Swank, Katherine Waterston, Sebastian Stan.

"The name's Bang. Joe Bang."
NO one ever really retires these days.

Every retirement is followed by the inevitable comeback, whether it be a one-off thing or a fully-fledged return that retroactively morphs the "retirement" into an "hiatus".

Take, for example, Steven Soderbergh, who retired from making movies in 2013 following Behind The Candelabra, his Liberace biopic for HBO. Since then he's done some TV (including the well-received The Knick) and some painting, but given his eclectic and rapid cinematic output over the years, it always seemed unlikely that he was done with film.

And here we are, in 2017, watching his comeback film, because no one ever really retires.

But it's a good thing Soderbergh is back, because Logan Lucky is quite a return. The obvious descriptor is that it's the redneck Ocean's Eleven - a hillbilly heist film that is similarly playful but set far further down the intellectual and socio-economic scale. Soderbergh himself called it the "anti-glam" version of his Clooney crim trilogy, noting the central robbery was based on "rubber-band technology". This home-spun idiocy is all part of the charm.

The hicks behind this heist are hard-luck divorcee Jimmy Logan (Tatum), his one-armed brother Clyde (Driver), their beautician sister Mellie (Keogh), incarcerated explosives expert Joe Bang (Craig) and his dimwitted brothers Sam (Gleeson) and Fish (Quaid). Their target is the Charlotte Speedway - the home of NASCAR - on the biggest race day of the year.


Soderbergh has always followed the "one for the studio, one for me" film-making ideology, and this falls into the former category, while still being unlike anything else he's ever done before. The fun-lovin' tone is perhaps closest to his Ocean's films or maybe Out Of Sight, but really its beats and quirks give it more of a Coen-esque quality.

As a result it lives or dies on its cast, and Soderbergh's ensemble is mostly spot-on. Craig is particularly good, outshining the quality duo of Tatum's everyman Jimmy and Driver's dour Clyde, who also have to compete with scene-stealers Quaid and Gleeson. McFarlane, sporting an English accent as distracting as his moustache, is probably the only mistake the casting agent made. Equally unsatisfying is Keogh's character Mellie. It's not Keogh's fault - she seems to be given plenty to do but sadly little development to go with her actions.

Much like Tatum and Craig in this film, the script (reportedly written by UK writer Rebecca Blunt who is rumoured to not exist) is a little flabby. By the time Logan Lucky slides into its fourth act FBI investigation (a nice cameo from Swank), it starts to wear out its welcome, but there's a satisfying ending with a little bit of a sting in the tail to make it all worthwhile.

Predominantly this is a joy to watch. The heist has a wonderfully homemade quality to it that makes the film a lot of fun, especially when mixed with the humour delivered by a wonderfully deadpan cast. A sequence involving a makeshift explosive is hilarious, as is a prison stand-off centring on Game Of Thrones.

Its always hard to rate Soderbergh's back catalogue because it's a bit like comparing apples and oranges and tractors, but this is certainly in the top bracket of his output alongside the likes of Out Of Sight, Traffic, Ocean's Eleven, The Informant!, Magic Mike, and Sex, Lies & Videotapes. Welcome back, Mr Soderbergh.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Valerian & The City Of A Thousand Planets

(M) ★★

Director: Luc Besson.

Cast: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Sam Spruell, Kris Wu.

"Are you sure we didn't mix up our uniforms?"
"Pretty sure."
WIKIPEDIA tells us that early in Luc Besson's career, he was part of movement critics dubbed cinéma du look, which was a classy way of saying Besson and his fellow French directors à la mode favoured "style over substance, spectacle over narrative".

More than three decades on, Besson's latest film Valerian & The City Of A Thousand Planets tells us nothing has changed. It must be this eye for the visual that has kept Besson's name as a selling point, because it sure as hell isn't his scriptwriting if Valerian is anything to go by.

More than 20 years on from his international career-defining one-two punch of Leon: The Professional and The Fifth Element, Besson has managed to make the biggest film of his career - a love letter to the French graphic novel that inspired The Fifth Element and Star Wars, to name but two sci-fi descendants of Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières' comic book series. But much like many of his films since The Fifth Element, the script is a mess. Valerian is visually stunning, no doubt, but its screenplay leaves a lot to be desired.

The story focuses on government agents Valerian (DeHaan) and Laureline (Delevingne), who have been tasked to retrieve an item from an intergalactic marketplace. That item has a major role to play in something sinister that's taking place on Alpha, which was originally the international space station but in the 28th century has become a universal hub for aliens from every corner of the cosmos.


Spoilers prevent further explanation of the plot, but so does the plot itself. The story is such a tangled confusion of poorly thought-out strands that it defies explanation. When the various machinations and half-baked ideas are somewhat explained in the final act, it elicits an "Oh" from the audience - not in surprise and awe, but more an "Oh - is that what they were trying to do?".

Which brings us back to the "style over substance" thing from Wikipedia, which is so scarily accurate in this case that I wouldn't be surprised if someone recently created the "cinéma du look" page purely in response to having seen Valerian.

The film looks incredible. Every one of its €200 million has been spent on piling the pixels sky high to create worlds and aliens that would give George Lucas funny feelings in his pants department. There is no shortage of creativity on display and its visual spectacle has to be applauded, even if a lot of it feels like it's there for no reason other than showing off.

But its all way too much pretty tinsel piled onto a dead Christmas tree. Contributing to the failure of the story is the depiction of its main characters. Valerian and Laureline vacillate between annoying and stupid and the script throws them headlong into an awkward relationship that is really hard to get on board with straight up. Easing us into their uncomfortable workplace situation might have made it easier to stomach and made it feel a little less "I should report you to HR".

Laureline occasionally gets to be a butt-kicking heroine, but all too often feels like a bunch of reductive stereotypes, while Valerian is primarily a jerk. DeHaan and Delevingne do their best individually but lack chemistry together. After that, everything else is doomed to fail. No one in the cast comes out of this smelling of roses, except probably John Goodman in a brief voice role.

All Valerian has going for it is its stunning visuals, an occasional good idea amid the mess, and a destiny as a cult favourite, which is what usually happens with similarly over-stuffed sci-fi films. The reality is that this is the next Jupiter Ascending, as opposed to being the next The Fifth Element.

Friday, 11 August 2017

REWIND REVIEW: Cloud Atlas

(MA15+) ★★★

Director: Tom Tykwer & The Wachowskis.

Cast: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, James D'Arcy.

This picture encapsulates why I don't go to pubs anymore.
Are you ready for my most self-indulgent blog to date?

Here goes.

One of the trickiest aspects of film reviewing is trying to get it right after just one viewing of a film. My theory has always been 'once to feel it, twice to watch it', but as a reviewer you're very rarely afforded the luxury of seeing a film twice before penning a critique. And so reviewers become accustomed to simultaneously feeling (ie. sitting back and letting it wash over you) and watching (ie. studying) a film on the first go.

It means we're sometimes wrong. I would say that 19 times out of 20 I'm on the money, but sometimes I'm off. In my summary of Christopher Nolan's career, I highlighted my overly generous star ratings for The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar, although the reviews themselves were fairly close to my current thoughts. I once did a podcast on this topic titled I Was Wrong (but it appears to have since disappeared from the internet) highlighting in particular my overzealous reviews of the Matrix sequels. I also canned Step Brothers probably harder than I should have.

All this brings me to Cloud Atlas, which I watched again recently (thanks to F Project Cinema in Warrnambool).

Here's my original two-star review from 2013. If you can't be bothered reading it, it's okay because this present review of Cloud Atlas is actually masquerading as a review of my own Cloud Atlas review of 2013. It's a bit meta and masturbatory but this is basically the long way round of highlighting this particular thing I said in 2013:

"Going back to soak (Cloud Atlas) in again and again could make this film a rich experience that rewards over time - it's likely this is destined for cult status."

Before going to watch Cloud Atlas again recently, this notion kept ringing in my ears. The film is dense with ideas and interwoven themes - no surprise given it tells six parallel stories across six different eras spanning roughly five centuries - and I was curious to see whether I was right about the whole "destined for cult status" thing.

I think I was (yay, we got to the point I was trying to make all along). In 2013, I was overly enamoured with David Mitchell's incredible book, hence giving the film two stars, which was a little harsh in hindsight. But despite the same flaws still weighing the film down, Cloud Atlas is definitely a film worthy of cult status. There is a lot to take in - it's the cinematic equivalent of a Where's Wally book. There's so much going on you can't see it all in one sitting, and it practically begs you to come back and dig deeper into it.


The problem is it's still a haphazardly structured three-hour monster with wavering entertainment value. It struggles to balance its six stories, occasionally cutting back to one narrative for mere seconds, seemingly simply to remind you that storyline still exists in the film. It also misses golden opportunities in its editing - as much as it tries to line-up similar events in different eras, it fails to do so as often as it does. So we watch Timothy Cavendish (Broadbent) involved in a bold escape from an old folks home, then later we watch some other characters pull off a bold escape. The tone of each is different but it gives the film an unwelcome sense of repetition.

But yes, cult film, totally. Three stars this time around. I doubt it will go higher than this because it's far too flawed to be a true masterpiece. Also its yellowface/brownface/whiteface effects have aged badly. A slightly Asian Hugo Weaving is one of the more unsettling things seen in cinema in the past five years. But who knows? Maybe it will be a four-star film next time I watch, whenever that may be.

But if nothing else, Cloud Atlas is a noble defeat. It attempts to wrestle an unfilmable book into a watchable beast and works surprisingly well in places. Some of its core themes and notions about the interconnectedness of everyone and everything get a little lost amid the mass and mess of the storytelling, but there are some bravura moments in the editing room chaos. Everyone gets their time in the sun, with Hanks, Grant, Berry, Broadbent, Whishaw, and Sturgess shining on occasion (in between some dreadfully hammy performances). Best all-rounder, surprisingly, is Grant who is excellent in every one of his guises.

All of this is a long winded way of saying "I was sort of mostly right but also a little bit wrong".

I watched Cloud Atlas at a screening hosted by F Project Cinema in Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia. Here's what's coming up at future FPC screenings at the Mozart Hall (all screenings are at 7.30pm):

The Queen Of Ireland - August 23

Rashomon - September 13

I Am Bolt - September 27

The Bicycle Thief - October 11

Amy - October 25

Closed Circuit - November 8

Marina Abramovic - November 22

Metropolis - December 13

The Princess Bride - January 10

Waltz With Bashir - January 24