Month: August 2018

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

Director
Lynne Ramsay

(WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, MORVERN CALLAR)

Stars
Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts, Frank Pando, John Doman, Alex Manette and Alessandro Nivola

Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is visibly and deeply troubled by something from his past. Sharing a small apartment with his mother (played by Judith Roberts), the dishevelled-looking ex-FBI agent has suicidal tendencies and often subjects himself to various forms of physical harm. The only thing that appears to be keeping Joe’s heart ticking along is his current line of work as a hitman. His next assignment involves rescuing several young girls; one of which is the daughter of New York State Senator, Albert Votto (Alex Manette). However, Joe’s fate is about to be tested by a conspiracy that is uncovered and by his own mental demons.

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An unfinished version of Lynne Ramsay’s YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE that was screened at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival was the recipient of a seven minute standing ovation. It was also nominated for the prestigious Palme d’Or and did win the best actor prize for Joaquin Phoenix as well as tying with THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER for the best screenplay award. Following on from its success at Cannes, many critics have sung the praises of this obliquely-rendered mystery drama that will struggle to earn an equal level of appreciation from most cinemagoers.

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE is one of those films that quite intentionally never really allow all of its specifics to be fully grasped. The plot that I’ve described above to you is presented in a visually stifled manner that features episodic flashbacks from another timeline in Joe’s life and has a discontinuous narrative. Many scenarios purposely have scenes left out of them that allow the aftermath shown to give you the picture of what just transpired. Here and there, this fairly original method of movie-making is impressive and stunningly executed. A perfect example is the stand-out sequence which takes place inside a brothel that is filmed via its security cameras. But these fine moments don’t happen as frequently as they need to. Viewers will find their interest levels wavering throughout. Certain elements of this less transparent treatment do heighten the awareness of the viewer at times while others draw a distance from the film. The tighter budget that writer and director Lynne Ramsay (who also wrote and directed the excellent drama from 2011, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN) is forced to work with has undeniably led to outside of the square filmmaking, with mixed results.

Results that can be as perplexing and frustrating as the recent Liberal party spill in Australian politics and will understandably cause you to wonder if we have just seen that unfinished version shown at Cannes!

 3 stars

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Viewer Discretion
MA15+ (Strong themes and violence)

Trailer
YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

Moviedoc thanks Umbrella Entertainment and Annette Smith for the opportunity to watch and review this film

Review by Leigh for Moviedoc
Follow on Twitter –Moviedoc / LIKE on Facebook – @moviedoc13

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CRAZY RICH ASIANS

Director
Jon M. Chu

Stars
Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh, Henry Golding, Ken Jeong and Awkwafina

In this much anticipated film adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s best-selling novel, Crazy Rich Asians is the first Hollywood film since The Joy Luck Club (in 1993) to feature an entirely Asian cast; but I can guarantee after seeing this, we won’t be waiting 25 years for another one. In an age where whitewashing is still all too common (here’s looking at you Ghost In The Shell), it’s so refreshing to see a film that doesn’t rely on a ‘white hero’ to make the film supposedly more relatable to a wider audience.

Crazy Rich Asians centres around Chinese-American Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) who is dating the handsome and enigmatic Nick Young (Henry Golding), or as I like to refer to him, ‘Asian Prince Harry’ (this tall gorgeous man with a British accent is going to have panties dropping like flies around the globe). Nick invites Rachel to attend his friend’s wedding in Singapore and meet his family, which up until this point, he has been very vague about. As soon as Rachel and Nick are ushered into the first class section of the plane on their way to Singapore, the penny drops for Rachel and she realises that Nick isn’t quite as basic as she thought.

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Arriving in Singapore, Rachel soon catches up with her college friend Peik Lin, (played with scene stealing hilarity by Awkwafina) where she learns that Nick isn’t only rich, but his family is the top of the pecking order for Singapore’s haut monde and is one of the wealthiest families in the country. Given Rachel is an academic from humble beginnings, Nick’s elitist mother (Michelle Yeoh) doesn’t take kindly to her dating her son. As a result, Rachel soon gets caught up in her elaborate plan to oust Rachel from her son’s life.

It would be easy for Crazy Rich Asians to rest on its laurels of being a symbol of diversity in Hollywood. Let’s be honest, it’s going to get a lot of people going to watch it for that fact alone. But it’s not satisfied in being a film that is going to appeal to the Asian market. Instead it embraces an incredibly strong ensemble cast; Constance Wu and Henry Golding are wonderful in their lead roles, but it’s the supporting players that really make it shine. Ken Jeong, Ronny Chieng and Nico Santos bring in the laughs, and Calvin Wong’s portrayal of Peik Lin’s creepy, stalker-ish brother P.T. is both unnerving and hilarious. It’s flashy, funny and full of all the ingredients to make this a classic that will be re-watched many times by lovers of the genre.

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Given the almost decade long dearth of quality ‘rom-coms’, Crazy Rich Asians gives a major boost to the genres recent (largely Netflix driven) renaissance. It’s interesting to note that that the writer and director of the film were offered massive overtures by the streaming giant, but elected to go for the riskier option of a studio production with cinema release, to ensure that this underrepresented depiction of Asian culture was seen by as wide an audience as possible. As an unashamed lover of the oft-clichéd, heartwarming rom-com, I’m very glad they followed the path they did. I’m by no means a film elitist, and have been a big fan of many of the films that Netflix have produced recently. However there is an added sense of legitimacy that’s achieved with this film’s release. All in all, Crazy Rich Asians is a win for diversity and a massive win for a genre that was seen by many to be DOA.

4 stars

Trailer
CRAZY RICH ASIANS

Moviedoc thanks Roadshow Films for the invite to the screening of this film.

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THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST

Director
Desiree Akhavan

(APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR)

Stars
Chloë Grace Moretz, Kerry Butler, Quinn Shephard, John Gallagher Jr., Jennifer Ehle, Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck

Though not a biographical film, THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST is connected to a real-life story via the 2012 novel of the same name it is based upon, and is a fictionalised account of a particular practice that alarmingly still occurs this very day. 

Set in Montana, U.S in 1993, this drama follows the life of high-school teenager, Cameron Post (played by Chloë Grace Moretz) who resides in the conservative home of her aunt, Ruth (Kerry Butler). Though Cameron has a boyfriend, she is secretly attracted to females and discovers that a mutual attraction exists with close friend Coley (Quinn Shephard). When the two girls are seen being intimate during their prom night, Ruth immediately reacts by sending Cameron to God’s Promise, a remote treatment centre that performs gay conversion therapy.

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The subject matter explored in this drama will be closer to the hearts of some more so than others. But regardless of your care factor, the premise of this film presents an opportunity to learn what gay conversion therapy entails, and to more importantly understand the mental (and even physical) damage it will invariably have on the individual forced to undergo it. Sadly though, THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST has completely misjudged its most essential point.

This drama’s promising prospects gradually evaporate as it becomes clear that the narrative is devoid of depth and has lazily avoided delving into the challenging and psychologically complex layers of emotions experienced by its severely underwritten characters. Instead, the writing has mistakenly remained firmly focused on accentuating the ugliness in those whose mission in life is to cleanse what they believe are the sinful ways of others. Meanwhile, our adolescent ensemble of characters who temporarily reside at the camp until they’re deemed to be “cleansed” are given not much more to do than restlessly meander, share in empty conversation and give in to the odd temptation. This misplaced emphasis and the mundane writing do not enable audiences to resonate or emotionally connect with the film at a level that is achievable, or even desired. Furthermore, the directing work of Desiree Akhavan lacks cohesion and further distances viewers from her film. Naturally, all of this places a heavier burden than necessary onto the shoulders of the (mostly) young and fairly inexperienced cast members. It even proves to be an insurmountable task for one of my personal favourite younger actresses, Chloë Grace Moretz, despite her experience. Truth be told, she is heavily restricted and appears withdrawn from the tumultuous emotions that Cameron would experience as a result of the radical changes that occur in her life.

A Grand Jury Prize Winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST is unfortunately one of the greatest disappointments of 2018. The LGBTQ+ community deserved a better film and will almost certainly get just that by waiting for the release of BOY ERASED later this year.

2 stars

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Viewer Discretion
M (Mature themes, sex scenes and coarse language)

Trailer
THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST

Moviedoc thanks Rialto Distribution and Annette Smith for the opportunity to watch and review this film.

Review by Leigh for Moviedoc
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THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS

Director
Brian Henson
(MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND, THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL)

Stars
Melissa McCarthy, Leslie David Baker, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph and puppeteers Bill Barretta, Kevin Clash and Dorien Davies

The Henson name goes back a long way when associating it with puppetry. James Maury Henson, better known as Jim Henson, became famous in 1969 when he joined television program Sesame Street. He then went on to produce TV series The Muppet Show and is the creator of Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog and Ernie. Continuing the puppetry works of his late father, albeit in adult-only fashion in a world where puppets and humans co-exist, Brian Henson writes and directs crime comedy, THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS.

An LAPD private eye puppet, Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) and a human detective, Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) join forces to find the serial killer behind a spate of murders whose victims all appeared on the 80’s television show The Happytime Gang. The investigation becomes a personal matter for Phil when one of the next victims could be Jenny (Elizabeth Banks), the only human cast member of the series who was once his love interest. But before Phil and Connie can collaborate productively on the case, they’ll need to sort out some irreconcilable differences and overcome their mutual animosity that began several years ago when they first worked together.

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This story has been around for decades in the Henson workshop, and it’s been just that long since Brian Henson directed his last feature film too. Judging from what is spoken and shown on screen throughout this infantile comedy, it appears to have also been decades since the story was developed further and written.

THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS is witless, flat and lacks any form of variety in humour. Its brand of comedy is purely that of the vulgar taste that expects its audience to be constantly laughing out loud at who the vulgarity is coming from, above all else. These characters and the entire film are so decidedly rude and lowbrow, it could almost make Puppetry of the Penis appear suitable for families! Simply put, comedy has progressed and expanded greatly beyond the kill that THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS is going in for. It would’ve even been mediocre at best if released decades ago. Moving on, the one-way traffic nature of the writing doesn’t just go for repetitive laughs that are as cheap and stale as an abandoned happy meal, it also doesn’t manage to compliment the amalgamation of the crime and comedy genres. That is its prized possession, where there is definitely an appropriate space for inappropriate and darker ways of humour that has been completely overlooked by the writers. At times, watching THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS can be likened to seeing Muppets co-star in a Naked Gun movie. But these moments are infrequent and always very short-lived.

An outdated, unfunny and unwelcome guest to the big screen you ought to avoid.

1 ½ stars

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Viewer Discretion
MA15+ (Strong crude sexual humour and coarse language)

Trailer
THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS

Moviedoc thanks Roadshow Films for the invite to the screening of this film

Review by Leigh for Moviedoc
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THE MEG

Director
Jon Turteltaub

(COOL RUNNINGS, THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE, NATIONAL TREASURE)

Stars
Jason Statham, Rainn Wilson, Bingbing Li, Ruby Rose, Cliff Curtis, Winston Chao, Robert Taylor, Shuya Sophia Cai, Jessica McNamee, Masi Oka, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson and Page Kennedy

While watching the new shark movie THE MEG, a thought occurred to me that became an instantly made decision. It would be unfair to categorise this feature film any other way than an action-comedy. Rest assured, jaws XXXXL has an appetite for human flesh to match her great size. But her various cuisine options on the menu aren’t about to hand-feed themselves to this beast either.

For millions of years, the Megalodon has thought to have been extinct. But one day during a rescue mission sequence that opens the film, an experienced rescue diver, Jonas Taylor (played by Jason Statham) has an encounter with what he believes is the biggest of all sharks. Five years later, a team of scientists who are working together on a mission at a research facility situated two-hundred miles off the Chinese coast, also come to learn that “the meg” does indeed still exist. With some of their crew members deep underwater in immediate danger and with little time to spare, the team at Mana One (the research station) contact Jonas, who is the only person that will believe their story and might be able to succeed at the dangerous rescue attempt.

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As far as shark movies go, THE MEG isn’t scaling to new cinematic heights or venturing to uncharted waters. Despite the sheer size of this film’s predator, this (plus) $130M production and the development of the plot are as routine as a freestyle swim. But if you head to the cinema with the right expectations, which should be to see an expensively-made, cheaply-entertaining B-movie, then you won’t be leaving unsatisfied.

It is also essential that you arrive prepared for the utterly ridiculous. And I’m not solely referring to the over-extended size of this shark, its outrageous capabilities and the films reasonably executed set-piece sequences. Shortly after meeting the team of scientists stationed at Mana One, we learn of exactly where their exploration will take them, which is the same area of water that our aquatic antagonist has been hiding all these years. This, and the form of exit that “the meg” seizes from this previously unknown area, are even more incredulous than the premise of the film. Though there may be times that THE MEG is considered to be a hook, line and stinker of a film, its more likable qualities are present for long enough. Scenes and dialogue are well-dispersed between the random and international cast members. You won’t fall head over heels with anyone, but you won’t mind each of their company for 113 minutes either. The very intentional humour that remains consistent throughout the film maintains a playful tone and compliments the more suspenseful moments too.

So how does THE MEG rank among other disposable action films released this year? Well, it’s definitely not a must-see. If you only have the time or the tolerance for one film of its kind this year, I’d still say that Dwayne Johnson’s SKYSCRAPER is the front-runner for throwaway action movie of the year. Yet all the same, if a passable and comedic shark flick is what you currently crave, then the (Movie) doc approves.

3 stars 

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Viewer Discretion
M (Science fiction action)

Trailer
THE MEG

Moviedoc thanks Roadshow Films for the in-season pass to watch and review this film

Review by Leigh for Moviedoc
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BOOK CLUB

Director
Bill Holderman

(Feature film debut)

Stars
Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Andy Garcia, Craig T. Nelson and Don Johnson

As you may fathom from the title, this film revolves around the monthly book club meetings that are attended to by four women who are lifelong friends. Recently widowed Diane (Diane Keaton), who is coping in life without her husband of 40 years much better than her two helicopter daughters perceive. Vivian (Jane Fonda), a successful hotel owner who can easily sleep with a man, but can’t literally fall asleep beside one. Federal judge Sharon (Candice Bergen), who has been single ever since her divorce several years ago and decides to join the world of online dating. Carol (Mary Steenburgen), a chef whose marriage has lost its spark and lacks intimacy. Each of these women find the courage and determination to confront some awkward and uncomfortable aspects of their own love lives after Vivian introduces them to E. L. James’ infamous book, Fifty Shades of Grey.

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If there is one noticeable improvement that Hollywood has made evident in recent years, it is the consistency in diversity and inclusion from the writers and in its casting. Particularly for lead roles, as illustrated by the central characters of this film. This is an age-bracket that Hollywood has often shunned from the limelight over the years. So while it is great to see this first step has been taken, the next challenge is for writers to create characters that aren’t quite as clichéd and predictable as the leading ladies are in this mediocre romantic comedy.

Earlier stages of this film do arouse plenty of laughter courtesy of its instantly endearing premise surrounding these four focal female characters and the script’s witty dialogue. Ultimately, a bright and funny opening act, which creatively introduces each core component of this picture, gradually wears off as the shaping of its main characters, and their conclusions prove themselves to be formulaic and quite out of touch with these modern times. That not-so-secret ingredient to spice things up in the reading room (and beyond!) throughout BOOK CLUB only temporarily sizzles before it settles into a simmer. It’s a real pity that the scenarios and jokes derived from the inclusion of E. L. James’ novel (who features in a cameo with her husband) aren’t upheld throughout BOOK CLUB, for it’s what sets it apart from other rom-coms. Instead, we get much of the same uninspiring stuff from Diane Keaton we’ve seen for two decades now, a contrived and easy-way-out conclusion for the conundrum Carol is faced with and far too much of the grating company of Diane’s daughters. We get it, they’re feeling (over) protective of their (perhaps) vulnerable and newly-widowed mother, but sheesh, give the poor woman (and us viewers) a break already!

Instead, we wind-up with a fairly routine romantic comedy that doesn’t take full advantage of the raunchy resource in its hands.

2 ½ stars 

BOOK CLUB

Viewer Discretion
M (Coarse language and sexual references)

Trailer
BOOK CLUB

Moviedoc thanks Transmission Films for the invite to the screening of this film

Review by Leigh for Moviedoc
Follow on Twitter – Moviedoc / LIKE on Facebook – @moviedoc13

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THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME

Director
Susanna Fogel

(LIFE PARTNERS)

Stars
Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Justin Theroux, Sam Heughan, Hasan Minhaj, Ivanna Sakhno and Gillian Anderson

Hands up those of you who have been dumped by a partner via text message? Well, this is exactly the predicament that 30 year-old Audrey (Mila Kunis) finds herself dealing with after her relationship with Drew (Justin Theroux) arrives at its abrupt end. As Audrey and her lifelong best friend, Morgan (Kate McKinnon) ponder over the possible reasons for the break-up, they’ll soon begin to gain more answers than they bargained after discovering that Drew is actually a CIA spy. When a desired item that several assassins are in pursuit of falls into the possession of Audrey and Morgan, the two best friends immediately find themselves caught in the crossfire.

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Hands up those of you who have an affinity for this amalgamation of genre? Particularly when the spy action component of the picture is as savagely violent and intrusive upon the mundane world as it is here. Well then, you too will likely be receiving more than what you bargained for watching the largely entertaining action/comedy, THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME.

A fast-paced first half showcases the best of what this film has to offer, which begins with the ace pairing of Kate McKinnon and Mila Kunis in the lead roles. Requiring very little male assistance throughout to kick some nasty villainous arse, these two actresses manage their combat scenes just as sharply as the plentiful supply of witty dialogue and gags they deliver. Especially Kate McKinnon. Looking back over her resume, it’s fair to say that this is her best lead performance in a mainstream comedy film to date. Even characters who occupy a minor role in THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME are conceived and written with enough intent that makes for a worthwhile contribution. Whether it be on the comedic side (such as Morgan’s unorthodox parents) or over onto the side of the baddies (the acrobatic assassin menacingly played by Ivanna Sakhno). During the second half of the film, where audiences are told what the desired item is that the girls are in possession of, the pacing and quality of the film both slightly drop off. The unraveling and conclusion of the film’s primary plot doesn’t offer anything new to the genre and laughter is evoked less frequently.

THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME doesn’t possess the style of a KINGSMAN film, isn’t pushing the boundaries for humour of the DEADPOOL duo and never features the overall completeness of the first KICK ASS movie, but it is aggressive, brash and crude enough to sustain its near two-hour length.

3 stars

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Viewer Discretion
MA15+ (Strong violence and brief nudity)

Trailer
THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME

Moviedoc thanks Roadshow Films for the invite to the screening of this film

Review by Leigh for Moviedoc
Follow on Twitter – Moviedoc / LIKE on Facebook – @moviedoc13

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