Friday, 26 February 2016


(M) ★★★★★

Director: Tom McCarthy.

Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Brian d'Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, Billy Crudup.

"Maths? Everyone knows journalists can't do maths."
SINCE 1976, the benchmark for films about journalism has been All The President’s Men.

That tightly scripted drama used strong dialogue, a healthy sense of realism, and great performances – shunning flashiness, contrivances or gimmicks – to tell the true tale of how two reporters helped bring down a president.

Spotlight deserves to be uttered in the same breath as All The President’s Men. It is an equally taut, thrilling and authentic depiction of the press uncovering gross abuses of power.

In this case it is the Catholic Church’s cover-up of widespread child sex abuse in the Boston area, as investigated and uncovered by a team of reporters at the Boston Globe in 2002.

Centring on the paper’s “Spotlight” investigative unit of three journalists and an editor, the film follows their attempts to pull on the thread of one lawyer’s claims that the church had been systematically covering up the heinous deeds of one paedophile priest, unravelling a real-life scandal that not only shook the city and its Catholic community but also shone a light on the actions of priests and church officials across America.

It’s a story that unfortunately resonates around the world, particularly in Australia, where Newcastle Herald journalist Joanne McCarthy’s own investigations helped trigger the ongoing royal commission into child sex abuse within the Catholic Church in this country.

Spotlight’s delivery does its subject matter justice. It’s a prime example of what some people may deride as a “people talking” movie, and as such it lives and dies by its cast and its dialogue, but there is nothing terminal here – just a gripping investigation that flourishes in the hands of its actors.

Ruffalo is the pick of the bunch, getting the best outburst in the script, but Keaton is not far behind as Spotlight department head Walter Robinson, a Boston native coming to terms with the malignant roots the Catholic Church has spread through his beloved city. An understated Schreiber is also good as incoming Globe editor Marty Baron, but there isn’t a bad turn to be found here – Oscar-nominated McAdams, Broadway regular James, and the always-brilliant Tucci are in fine form, while even the minor players are top-notch. Michael Cyril Creighton has a scene-stealing turn as an abuse survivor that is typical of the depth of talent on show here, but all are aided by a screenplay that creates well-rounded characters with ease.

Subtle direction from Tom McCarthy, matched by an equally subtle Howard Shore score, give the film a few necessary nudges, but Spotlight is a triumph of script, cast, and editing. The latter helps keep things ticking along, using the continual barriers and hurdles thrown in front of the journalists to help mount the tension, create surprises, and deliver an emotional punch at a slow-burning but satisfying pace.

Ultimately it succeeds because it puts the audience side-by-side with the reporters as they dig their way through a city that lives quite literally in the shadow of the Catholic Church, allowing us to share in the incredulity, disgust and frustration as the facts are presented. There is no need to dress anything up, and Spotlight largely works because it doesn’t try to do so.

Of the five Oscar nominees for best film that I’ve seen in the past 12 months, Spotlight is the most worthy winner.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

How To Be Single

(M) ★★½

Director: Christian Ditter.

Cast: Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Alison Brie, Leslie Mann, Nicholas Braun, Damon Wayans Jr., Jake Lacy, Anders Holm.

"You chug like a toddler!"
FOR a film to pass the Bechdel Test, it must feature just one thing – a conversation between two female characters about something other than a man.

The test started as a joke in a comic strip but has become a useful tool for analysing gender inequality in movies – roughly half of the features released by Hollywood fail the Bechdel Test.

Many films fail despite having plenty of good female characters because those women never have a conversation (like The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, for example), so the test certainly isn’t the be all and end all of analysing equality. ​How To Be Single would probably fail the test too, despite its four key players being female and targeting a female audience, because every conversation relates to men. It’s hard to say whether this showcases another shortcoming in the Bechdel Test, or whether it highlights something else that’s wrong with Hollywood. Or neither.

Either way, it’s an unfair test to apply to this particular film, seeing as how its raison d’etre (for better or worse) is exploring heterosexual singledom from the female perspective, and therefore every scene relates to one character or another assessing their very existence through the prism of either being a) with a man or b) without a man.

Central to this navel-gazing is Johnson’s Alice, who “consciously uncouples” from her boyfriend Josh (Braun) in an attempt to “find herself”, with the intention of getting back together again once she completes her mission.

Throwing herself into the solitary life, she gets to know partygirl Robyn (Wilson), moves in with her gynaecologist sister Meg (Mann), and shares a one-night stand with Tom (Holm), who is tentatively forming a friendship with Lucy (Brie).

Each has their own take on relationships. Meg is happy being alone, Lucy dedicates her life to finding her “soul mate”, and Tom and Robyn see being partner-free as an idyllic state that allows for endless conquests.

With its intersecting story threads, How To Be Single feels a bit like a 20-something version of the 30-something love exploration He’s Just Not That Into You (unsurprisingly, both films are based very loosely on books by Liz Tuccillo). But where He’s Just Not That Into You worked well with its ensemble cast, entertaining arcs, and multi-faceted look at relationships, How To Be Single feels stilted and episodic by comparison. So much focus on Alice’s story gives the other characters short shrift – you could cut all of Brie’s scenes and the movie would be punchier and more streamlined, through no fault of Brie’s, while Mann’s storyline is out-of-place and adds little.

It actually feels more like you’re binge-watching a TV show – some weird composite of Girls, New Girl, 2 Broke Girls, and probably some other show with “girl” in the title – on fast-forward, rather than sitting through a single feature-length movie.

The film works best when it’s picking apart rom-com clichés, which it does well, or when Wilson is in full flight. She makes the first half of the film her own with her brash humour, with Johnson a good foil in their straight woman/funny woman pairing.

But How To Be Single falls apart halfway through when its narrative suddenly leaps forward three months in a jarring move it never recovers from. Again, it’s only Wilson and Johnson that salvage it but even that is a struggle as their relationship is pushed to unnecessary limits as the movie collapses in a pile of awkward revelations and resolutions, with a baby thrown in for good measure.

At its best moments, the film is laugh-out-loud funny, with full points going to Wilson for saving the day. Its cast is likeable, particularly Johnson, but How To Be Single has nothing meaningful to say. Ultimately its enjoyable enough, but flimsily pieced together and largely disposable.

Thursday, 11 February 2016


(MA15+) ★★★★

Director: Tim Miller.

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T. J. Miller, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand, Stefan Kapičić.

"Oh my God is that Thor making out with Iron Man?"
ANOTHER week, another superhero movie.

It certainly feels that way, and many are wondering if we’ve hit ‘peak cape’ and how much more milk can be drained from this box office cash cow before audiences start yawning at the sight of another hyper-powered origin story or heroic team-up to save the galaxy.

The comic book well is unfathomably deep – the Marvel and DC archives go back to the 1930s, plus there are any number of other graphic novel houses (Dark Horse, Image, and IDW to name but three) with equally worthy catalogues to adapt. So how does Hollywood avoid inflicting superhero fatigue on movie-goers?

The answer potentially lies in finding new ways to tell these increasingly similar-seeming stories. Which brings us to Deadpool, a superhero movie that strives to be different (and succeeds) in many blood-soaked and swear-littered ways.

If you’ve never heard of Deadpool, there’s a good reason. He’s not an A-list comic book character like Spider-man or Batman, and he hasn’t been around as long as the likes of Superman or even Wolverine. He’s a cult favourite from the Marvel stable, which means that if you have heard of Deadpool, you are super-excited about this movie (and the good news is you won’t be disappointed).

Created in 1991, a bastardised version of Deadpool popped up in the 2009 film Wolverine: Origins, where he was played by Reynolds. But that take on the character was largely derided as an insult to comic book fans. Reynolds, to his credit, kept pursuing a “proper” Deadpool film and when test footage for such a movie was leaked in 2014, the fans went nuts (in a good way). The studio finally greenlit the project and here we are.

The result is exactly what fans wanted. Deadpool is known as The Merc With The Mouth, renowned for his curse-riddled and violence-heavy approach to dealing with baddies, with his signature trait being a predilection for breaking the fourth wall – he’s the comic book character that knows he’s a comic book character.

This film version brings all that to life perfectly, with Reynolds lapping up the dirty jokes and the writers laying the in-jokes on thick.

Reynolds is the key to it all. Not only did he help get the movie into production, he relishes the opportunity to bring Marvel’s most inappropriate superhero to life in true-to-source fashion. This is Reynolds in Van Wilder mode, taking regular potshots at the Wolverine: Origins version of the character, his own good looks, and his other comic book misfire Green Lantern.

By making a Deadpool film the Deadpool fans really want to see, the movie is deliberately niche, which is refreshing in a lot of ways. There is no broad popcorn appeal here and compared to the bloodless violence and PG glee of Marvel Studio’s heavy-hitters, this is a wonderfully puerile claret-soaked swear-fest. It’s also bloody hilarious and hands down the funniest superhero movie ever.

But it’s not going to attract a big audience. It’s a cult classic in waiting, destined to be seen as the black sheep of the X-Men family (this movie exists – somehow –  in the increasingly convoluted mutant movie series). Many of the gags are tailored to a very specific audience and are as “meta” as possible – when X-Men member Colossus threatens to take Deadpool to see Professor X, the mercenary quips “McEvoy or Stewart?”.

The movie is not without its flaws. The lead character’s back story is weaved throughout a protracted highway shoot-out/set-piece in a slightly cumbersome fashion for about an hour, although it does give Reynolds the opportunity to break the fourth wall with regular hilarity.

The plot would also fail any kind of forensic examination, which is a shame – it would have been nice if the writers had put as much thought into the story as they did the huge number of inventive cusses and insults.

But the movie is a winner because it achieves what it sets out to do, and that is to be the ideal Deadpool movie for the character’s fans. It may be at the expense of winning over a broader audience – and you can knock a star or two off this review if you count yourself in that category – but for the rest of us, this swear-tastic super-outing is exactly what we’ve been waiting for.