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Thursday, 31 May 2018

Tully

(M) ★★★★

Director: Jason Reitman.

Cast: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston, Mark Duplass, Asher Miles, Lia Frankland, Elaine Tan.

Mommy couldn't daytime drink like she used to.
Looking for a movie to put you off becoming a parent? Tully's got you covered.

The brutal realities of motherhood are thrown into sharp relief in this at-times-bleak dramedy, which seems to complete "a womanhood trilogy" of sorts from the writer-director combo of Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman. While this one doesn't wear its humour on its sleeve as much as Juno or Young Adult, it still has touches of laughs amid the true-to-life horribleness and the seriously bizarre edge to its plot.

But the real reason to watch this is Theron, who pulls out yet another remarkable performance that's up there with her best.

She plays Marlo, a married mother-of-two who is heavily pregnant with her unplanned third baby. When the third child arrives, Marlo quickly finds herself struggling to cope until the arrival of a "night nanny" named Tully (Davis).

Tully is a modern-day Mary Poppins who not only takes care of the newborn through the night, but also tidies the house, cooks cupcakes, and lets Marlo get her life back in order. But not everything is as it seems.


Theron is a marvel in this, whether it be when she's having a full-blown meltdown, navigating the niceties while trying to talk about her "quirky" but difficult son, dropping jokes at the dinner table, or singing karaoke with her daughter. It's a masterful performance that ticks every box. Even without bringing the whole weight-gain-acting-commitment thing into it, Theron should totally be in awards discussions when all that stuff rolls around.

The combination of her and Davis is a great one. The excellence of Davis' turn becomes increasingly evident as the film rolls on into strange new places and we realise the depths and facets of Tully. The way she bounces off Theron also gets better and better as their characters' connection grows.

Credit too to the often under-rated Livingston as Marlo's husband Drew, who is given just enough development so as not to be a mere plot device or story necessity (and gets a nice dramatic moment towards the end to cap it off).

The film's central conceit - which I'm trying very very hard not to spoil, in case you hadn't noticed - will be make or break for many people. It's either going to take the film to the next level for you, or turn you off it, and getting to a point where it all makes sense requires a little bit of patience and suspension of disbelief. But beyond its mysteries, the film has fascinating and important things to say about womanhood and motherhood. What is the cost of "having it all" as a mother/wife/woman? Where is the line between those three "roles"? Is "having it all" achievable? Are the sacrifices worthwhile? What if can't be all those things? What if you reach a point in your life and don't know how or why you got where you are?

Cody's script is wondering about all these things, and finds a fascinating way to look at it. It's humourous touches are welcome, it has a genuine heart to it all, but it's also smart and thoughtful. As for Reitman, this is a welcome return to form after the poorly received Labor Day and the terrible Men, Women & Children. It's more in line with his acclaimed first four films, and is perhaps most like the midlife/quarterlife crisis musings of Up In The Air and Young Adult.

All in all, it's clever yet sincere, and balances it light and shade pretty well. Just don't see it if you're thinking about having kids.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Easter eggs you may have missed in Solo: A Star Wars Story

Hilarious image stolen from hilarious interwebs.
Heads up. This is spoiler country.

Here you'll find out about some of the specific nerdy foiled-wrapped chocolate nuggs Ron Howard and his Disney overlords left behind for you to find in Solo - A Star Wars Story. Some of these things aren't exactly Easter eggs - they're more like geeky deep-dives into the world of Star Wars canon and the Expanded Universe (or EU), which used to be hard to follow 'til the Powers That Be chucked everything in the metaphorical canon dumpster and started again just in time for Episode VII - The Force Awakens.

Anyway, there are spoilers here. So if you stumbled in here by accident, you can still leave now without doing yourself any spoiler-related injuries. I'm just padding out this top bit of the article in case you did stumble in here by accident. It happens all the time on the internet.

If you are looking for an actual review, here's one I prepared earlier. It's spoiler-free in the sense that it doesn't give away anything that wasn't already shown in a trailer. Like, did you know Chewbacca is in the film?


Ok, still padding. Are you sure you're ready for this?

Like I said, some of these are not exactly Easter Eggs, more like just a bunch of nerdy stuff I noticed, having been a long time Star Wars EU devotee. How much of a devotee? I'd rather not talk about it.

Anyway, you've been warned. Now, let's do this.

Aurra Sing


This near-human bounty hunter has a "hey look at that weird character" cameo in Episode I - The Phantom Menace, during which she does nothing. Naturally, it turns out she was a kick-arse bounty hunter, and naturally she became a fan favourite character, popping up in the Clone Wars TV series and the Darth Maul comic mini-series. She doesn't appear in Solo, but she does get a rather significant mention. During a conversation between Lando Calrissian and Tobias Beckett, Calrissian notes Beckett is responsible for killing Sing. "Pushed," clarifies Beckett, to which Calrissian responds that puts him in Beckett's debt, because Calrissian owed Sing a lot of money. So there you have it - Sing is dead. Surely that tiny snippet of conversation will become an entire prequel comic book series.

The Kessel Run and the Maw


There are quite a few "goofs" (as IMDb charmingly calls them) in Episode IV - A New Hope, one of which is Han Solo's boast that he made the Kessel Run in the Millenium Falcon in 12 parsecs. Of course, every idiot knows parsecs are a unit of distance, not time, so this was retconned in the EU. In the later Han Solo Trilogy book Rebel Dawn it is explained that the Kessel Run is a dangerous trade route that skims around a cluster of black holes known as The Maw. The closer you flew to the Maw, the shorter the route, but it made for a more dangerous trip - hence Han's parsec brag. Solo pinches that idea from the now non-canon EU, although the Kessel Run now travels between a giant space storm containing asteroids, black holes and all kinds of traffic hazards. But it succeeds in making Han's nonsensical boast more sensical.

Darth Maul


Yep, that was a decidedly not-dead Darth Maul popping up at the end of Solo. But wait, I hear you exclaim, didn't he bite the big one in The Phantom Menace when good old Ben Kenobi cleaved him in twain? True. However this then-frustratingly underused Sith Lord was resurrected in the Clone Wars TV series, having apparently survived getting lightsabered in half. With the addition of some robot legs, Maul has become a major player in the Star Wars universe, apparently becoming the secret big boss of the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate.

Sabacc


The very first mention of the card game sabacc can be found in an early draft of Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back, where it's mentioned that Lando won Cloud City at a high stakes "sabacca" table. This became "sabacc" in the Lando Calrissian trilogy of books, and at some point, it became Star Wars fact that Lando lost the Millenium Falcon to Han in a game of sabacc. This has been embraced as canon now, as confirmed in Solo. How the game works in Solo is unclear, but there are real-life sabacc decks you can buy, which operate as a kind of cross between blackjack and poker.

Corellia


A lot of stuff has been written about Corellia in the EU, all of which is now classified under the Legends banner (ie. non-canon). One thing that has survived the canon cull is the idea that Corellia is a planet renowned for its ship-building and that it is the home world of Han. The other stuff about Corellia - such as the idea it was part of an intelligently designed galaxy comprising five habitable planets all equipped with an engine so the planets could be moved - probably won't be kept in the canon ... because it's batshit crazy.

Warwick Davis


Warwick Davis has appeared in every Star Wars film since Return Of The Jedi and he pops up again in Solo. According to the credits, his character is named Weazel - which is the name of the character he played in The Phantom Menace (pictured above sitting next to Watto at the pod races). There's nothing official in the canon that explains how Weazel went from pod race gambler to trusted soldier in Enfys Nest's Cloudrunners. Naturally there's all manner of stuff about him in the EU, because every single character seen in a Star Wars film pretty much had a book or comic written about them.


"Gangster on Tatooine"


Darth Maul isn't the only big bad hinted at in Solo. Pat yourself on the back if you figured out that the "gangster on Tatooine" Beckett was talking about was Jabba the Hutt. This isn't confirmed, of course, but you could safely bet the Millenium Falcon on big ol' Jabba crossing paths with Han and Chewie at some point in a Solo sequel, should it happen. After all, there's obviously some serious history there, as hinted at in the A New Hope special edition, which eventually leads to Han becoming a wall decoration in Jabba's palace.

Han shoots first


Nothing gets Star Wars fans in a lather more than the "Han shot first" discussion. Of course Han shot first. It was like that in A New Hope until George Lucas changed it so Greedo shot first in the special edition. Which was dumb, because it made Han lucky instead of dangerous and Greedo inept instead of dangerous. Congratulations, George - you made a dangerous situation into one where no one was actually dangerous. ANYWAY, it's very much worth noting that director Ron Howard and writers Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan seem to think Han is a shoot-first kinda guy because guess what happens in the final face-off between Han and Beckett? That's right - Han shoots first. Well how do you like them apples, George?

Tag & Bink


Tag and Bink are two comedic characters from the non-canon EU, who are basically the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the Star Wars universe. Through a series of comics they stumble across almost every major character, and inadvertently trigger most of the major events in the galaxy (including retconning a few goofs along the way). But Ron Howard has apparently brought Tag and Bink into the canon. I can't say I noticed them, but apparently they're in Solo, played by writer Jon Kasdan and first assistant director Toby Hefferman. Anthony Daniels also apparently has a cameo in Solo, but does anyone really care about that?

Notice any more Easter Eggs or EU references? Go hog wild and make a comment below!

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story

(M) ★★★½

Director: Ron Howard.

Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Joonas Suotamo, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jon Favreau.

"Please don't tell him I made this coat out of his brother."
There are no spoilers in this review. So carry on without fear.

Let's run through the list of near-impossible film-making challenges facing Solo shall we?

Difficult production? Check. Directors booted mid-shoot? Check. Endless reshoots? Check. Rumours your lead actor wasn't cutting the mustard? Check.

Then there's the sub-list relating to expectations. Beloved character origin story? Ooh yeah, that's a tough one. Beloved franchise? You betcha. Beloved franchise on a roll of late? Absolutely (and screw anyone who thought The Last Jedi sucked).

Solo: A Star Wars Story had everything stacked against it. So it's a huge relief and a minor miracle that it doesn't suck. It's not brilliant and has its issues, but it's great fun and does a harmlessly good job of telling a new tale in an old and increasingly crowded Star Wars universe.

For those who haven't figured it out yet, or who have stumbled across this review by accident, this is the story of a young Han Solo (Ehrenreich) - a man raised on the gritty streets of Corellia, destined for greatness, struggling to make a credit or two, and dreaming of running away from it all with his girlfriend Qi'ra (Clarke).


There can't be many acting gigs tougher than following in the footsteps of one of Hollywood's biggest stars while wearing the boots of one of cinema's most iconic characters, but Ehrenreich acquits himself well. He's not slavish to what has come before, nor is he trying to impersonate Harrison Ford. His is a fresh take that somehow, almost remarkably, captures the essence of a young Solo. Ehrenreich's scruffy wannabe-pilot is naive and cocksure. He's yet to have the rough edges bevelled off his charm or to have world-weary cynicism knock the sparkle out of his eyes. It's an excellent performance, and one that will have you looking past the fact he doesn't resemble or sound much like a young Ford. So much of this film lives and dies on Ehrenreich, but you can mark that one on your scorecard as a win.

The cast is filled with winners. Harrelson rarely disappoints these days, and he's casual and cool as Tobias Beckett, the master scoundrel to the apprentice Solo. Glover does a similar job to Ehrenreich, capturing the essence of Lando Calrissian without imitating Billy Dee Williams, while Bettany's Big Bad Dryden Vos is intriguing but underused. Newton's Val, Favreau's Rio, and Waller-Bridge's droid L3-37 are also solid but fleeting.

Continuing the run of strong female characters that dates back to Princess Leia blasting her way into a garbage chute is Qi'ra. She's probably the most well-rounded player in the whole film, and in many ways the most interesting, but her true depths and desires are only hinted at - one of the few examples of subtlety in the script. Plenty is left aside for the (hopefully) inevitable sequel, which will make her character a frustrating one if that doesn't eventuate.

Where things fall down is in the script. Early on it clunks harder than a faulty hyperdrive, and the film only hits its stride once Solo gets off Corellia. From there on its a fun ride, although it's not big on under-stated ideas, nor does it manage anything in the way of surprises. It's a sturdy yet generic heist film, notable only for being set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (and we had a better heist in Rogue One to be totally honest).

Having said that, Howard must come in for some back-handed praise. Taking command of a project long after it's already taken off can't be easy, but he has done a great job when you take that into account. He was always the perfect director for the half-finished job, not because he's an old pal of George Lucas (and reportedly turned down directing The Phantom Menace) but because he's solid yet style-less. He makes good films and is a strong storyteller, but he never overwhelms his films with directorial tics or stylistic trademarks. Historically speaking, Howard simply and effectively tells a tale and that's it, and that's what he does here. If ever there was a director to pick up the pieces and not stamp his imprint all over it, Ron Howard is it.

It does mean the film is somewhat toneless and lacking a distinctive flavour, but the real flaws of Solo are not Howard's. It's in the first act's stilted struggle to find its groove, and the movie's wandering inability to locate a suitable climax. There's also an issue in unearthing the heart of the film - the big emotional beats never hit their mark and its thematically lacking. A lot of that comes down to the script, or perhaps the switch from ousted directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (who were apparently ditched for taking a too-comedic tack).

But Solo is fun, without being as funny as it could or might have been. And it's also about the bigger Star Wars universe, which means it's about perspective. If Solo was the first Star Wars film to come out after Revenge Of The Sith, it would seem like Citizen Kane. But coming after episodes VII and VIII and Rogue One, it feels lesser. These are the benchmarks new Star Wars films are measured against. Compared to those Star Wars releases of the past two years, this is a far less serious venture and perhaps a generally lesser venture. It's an enjoyable side-quest, a somewhat refreshing palate cleanser between courses. It doesn't achieve greatness, but it's certainly not the disappointment many expected it to be.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Deadpool 2

(MA15+) ★★★½

Director: David Leitch.

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, T.J. Miller, Brianna Hildebrand, Stefan Kapičić Leslie Uggams, Karan Soni, Shioli Kutsuna, Eddie Marsan, Terry Crews, Lewis Tan, Bill Skarsgård, Rob Delaney.

"What do you mean 'revoke my licence'?"
It's pretty tempting to re-run my review for the first Deadpool here, because all the same stuff applies.

Flipping the bird at the po-faced seriousness of the DC Extended Universe and the slightly lighter seriousness of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Deadpool is the head-stabbing swear-tastic superhero we need right now. He's here to save the day but he's going to rub his junk on it a little bit too.

Nothing has changed in the world of caped capers since Deadpool came out in 2016 ... except for the fact that Deadpool came out. It was always going to be hard to break new ground when you're the sequel of a groundbreaker, ie a hilarious 'fuck you' to superhero movies that is emphatically definitely still a superhero movie.

So there's a heavy sense of deja vu here, which is a good thing if you liked the first film. Just like before, Deadpool 2 steadily spurts more meta-gags at the expense of other superhero movies, more dick jokes, more creative swearing, more blood, and more wonderfully OTT moments of mutant mayhem (aided this time by a bigger budget and bigger cast).

This time around, the Merc With The Mouth (Reynolds once again, in the role he was born to play) is up against Cable (Brolin), a futuristic super-soldier hellbent on killing a mutant child named Russell (Dennison). Deadpool decides the only way to stop Cable is with a super-team. Enter X-Force.


Probably the biggest criticism of Deadpool was its lack of plot - two-thirds of the film is a car chase/fight sequence intertwined with a massive flashback - and an underwhelming villain. Deadpool 2 fixes both those problems. Firstly, despite feeling somewhat scattershot to start with, it gets a groove in its story and once Cable arrives on the scene it really hits its stride.

Which brings us to the second point, and Cable, who is a more interesting and well-rounded character. There are some other villains here (no spoilers!) that again play with Deadpool's notion of the grey areas between good guy and bad guy, which is what this film is really all about. There's a sliding scale of goodies and baddies, as well as a fascinating perspective on who is good and who is bad, who could be good and who could be bad, and how people end up in these locations on the moral compass.

But really this is all about the dirty jokes and the fourth-wall breaking shenanigans. Once again, Reynolds and his co-writers put their fist through that wall and then stick their dick in the resulting hole. If you don't laugh early on, this film is gonna be a too-long ride for you. If your sides split in the first movie, you're in for a treat.

Sure, some of it feels like going over old ground - Wolverine is again a target of laughs, as is DC (and Marvel for that matter), and Deadpool's power of regrowing body parts is taken to grotesquely funny new places. But if you're still amused by superheros that swear and leave a bloody trail of chaos behind them, then this is for you.

It can't match its predecessor for originality, but the Merc With The Mouth once again brings the mirth.



Friday, 11 May 2018

Breath

(M) ★★★★

Director: Simon Baker.

Cast: Samson Coulter, Ben Spence, Simon Baker, Elizabeth Debicki, Richard Roxburgh, Rachael Blake.

Everyone was really happy about what the day would bring.
The last Australian movie I saw at the cinema was The BBQ, which was so bad it could make you lose faith in the entire Aussie film industry. Breath, on the other hand, is good enough to restore your faith in the industry.

Based on Tim Winton's ninth novel, it's the coming-of-age tale of Pikelet (Coulter) and his mate Loonie (Spence), who live in the fictitious Western Australian community of Sawyer circa the '70s. Their lives consist of riding their bikes, going to school, and getting up to adolescent mischief; that is until they discover a passion for surfing.

With some shitty boards under their arms, Pikelet and Loonie begin spending every spare second in the surf, eventually crossing paths with older waverider Sando (Baker) and his American wife Eva (Debicki) - a meeting that will change everyone's lives.


Having not read Winton's book, I can't comment on the closeness to source material, but the story of Breath the film is intriguing. It floats along at a predominantly gentle pace, and its main dramatic moments are low-key - you spend a while wondering where it's all going and when it gets there it delivers with a minimum of fuss. Despite this at times meditative quality, it never feels dull.

This is due to it's assured storytelling and interesting characters, all overseen by confident direction from Baker, despite it being only his first time helming a feature film. Only a couple of shots that move away from Pikelet's perspective as narrator, momentarily breaking the narrative tone, distract from an otherwise great job by Baker.

He's also solid in front of the camera, as are newcomers Coulter and Spence as the lead teens. While not mindblowing, Coulter and Spence do a great job in their roles, handling the dramatic needs as well as the physicality required for the surfing scenes, and carrying the film in general (Coulter in particular is in every scene).

Debicki's performance is the standout though. Eva is a complex character and Debicki makes her believable for all her frailties, flaws and contradictions.

Breath effortlessly captures that distinctly Australian way of life that bridges the bush and the beach. It's also an ode to the life of the waverider - it lingers over its slow-mo surf sequences, which look great. Shot around Denmark and Albany, it makes the most of the scenery. It's also quintessentially Aussie but rarely ocker. Pikelet and Loonie offer some wonderful turns of phrase that ring true and never wander of into "fair dinkum Strine" territory.

The film works best on a thematic level. It's a coming-of-age tale but really it's about fear. It's about the limits we will push ourselves too, and how people seek out those thresholds as a way of feeling alive and understanding themselves.

Baker is to be commended for bringing this story to the big screen and delivering it so well. Across all areas it's a success, making it one of the better Aussie films in recent years.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Life Of The Party

(M) ★★

Director: Ben Falcone.

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Molly Gordon, Gillian Jacobs, Luke Benward, Maya Rudolph, Matt Walsh, Adria Arjona, Jessie Ennis, Debby Ryan, Julie Bowen, Heidi Gardner, Jacki Weaver, Stephen Root.

"Anyone wanna just go home and watch re-runs of Friends?"
Is there a genre called "mom-com"? If so, this is a mom-com - an American comedy about a "mom" aimed at "moms".

While some mothers and others may get a few laughs out of this, Life Of The Party is so predictable and cliched that it quickly and repeatedly becomes boring, and it's more the shame that McCarthy can't get this party started.

She plays Deanna, who is thrust into a mid-life crisis by a sudden divorce from her husband of 22 years Dan (Walsh). The separation comes as their daughter Maddie (Gordon) begins her final year of college, sparking a renewed desire in Deanna to complete the degree she dropped out of when she became pregnant 21 years ago.

So guess what? Mom's going to college!


On paper, it's a winning recipe. You've got the usually funny McCarthy (who appeals to young and old alike) in the lead, but you've also got a college setting to appeal to the teens. and a broad-enough style of humour to appeal to pretty much everyone else over the age of 14.

But it's exactly as you expect it to be, only not as funny as it should be. Life Of The Party's "mom goes to college" premise suggests wild parties, sorority initiations, unwitting drug ingestion, bizarre sexual encounters, fish-out-of-water antics, and a generation gap big enough to drive a school bus through, and the film has all those things. But it rarely surprises, it never shocks, and it is lacking in laughs for too long. As a result, the whole thing is somewhat tiresome.

Written by McCarthy and her director husband Falcone, the movie is at its best when doing the unexpected and pushing its characters a bit harder. A subplot revelation late in the film is a winner, as is any scene featuring Rudolph.

In some ways it's a relief the film steers away from gross-out humour, or Old School-style OTT antics, and even that it keeps its mother-daughter awkwardness to a minimum. But what's left is so safe as to be soporific in spots, and the film's predictability continually undoes its potential appeal.

It's not a total loss. Its themes about mid-life crises and the sacrifices women make for their families are interesting, although they are dealt with all too fleetingly.

The real highlight is a handful of performances. The aforementioned Rudolph steals every scene she's in, Jacobs is great as one of Maddie's friends, and Bowen and Walsh are suitably hissable. Unfortunately Weaver and Root are wasted, and McCarthy's character waivers too much between annoying and adorable in places.

The film eventually hits something of a stride, but there's never enough at stake and it's never funny enough. This college film doesn't get a pass.