Lady Bird

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MA15+Lady Bird

Directed and Written by: Greta Gerwig

Produced by: Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Evelyn O’Neil

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges.

We’ve all been there – growing up, becoming a teenager, trying to find your own identity whilst also trying to deal with so many pressures that seem insurmountable when you’re only 17. It’s the age when events conspire to seem like the biggest tragedy, provoke the most embarrassment or the deepest emotion, without any sign of how to get beyond them.

So it is for Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, played with intense believability by Saoirse Ronan, who is trying to find her sense of self while living in Sacramento, California during 2002.

She constantly clashes with her mother Marion (the outstanding Laurie Metcalf), who is a prickly, bossy woman with a life full of pressures and stresses her daughter barely glimpses or understands.

These two are so alike yet they can’t see it: opinionated, emotional and yearning for something beyond their ordinary existence.

Writer Greta Gerwig in her directorial debut said that this mother-daughter relationship is the love story of the film, and this relationship is what resonates far more deeply than the daughter’s awkward dalliances with two boys.

The opening scene shows us Lady Bird and Marion both sighing with deeply shared emotion after listening to an audio book during a long car ride, an experience that draws them closer together, yet within moments a carelessly expressed comment leads to a huge misunderstanding and a reckless reaction.

This scene sets the tone for the rest of the movie, with numerous situations between the mother who loves but cannot communicate with her daughter without provoking a backlash, and the daughter who in her turn feels misunderstood and unwanted.

The director aimed to have each of these people be “painfully failing to reach each other”, an aim that is convincingly and realistically achieved.

Gerwig’s skill allows the audience to cringe in shared dismay at each new outburst, seeing it coming and wondering why Lady Bird and her mother can’t help themselves or learn from their earlier mistakes.

The director succeeds in making the film “frothy and exciting like waves breaking on a beach”, followed closely by “a sudden undertow…and before you know it, you are in much deeper waters than you expected.”

This is exactly how it felt watching “Lady Bird” – one moment you’re laughing at the silly things and situations the main character experiences, and then the whole mood changes and things get serious when moments of amity are quickly shattered by a thoughtless or misconstrued comment.

Lady Bird also struggles to be one of the cool, sophisticated kids at school, ashamed of her family’s working class roots.

She falls madly in love with boys because she hungers to be in love more so than with an actual person.

She lies to find acceptance with the cool gang at school.

Her experiments with fashion, alcohol, drugs and music all reflect her constant drive to discover who she is (hence her rejection of her birth name in favour of the more exotic “Lady Bird”).

Her struggles and relationships with her family, best friend and assorted acquaintances are often depicted with humour, reflected by the audience’s gentle laughter at her predictable reactions, behaviour and affectations.

Her friendship with a girl at her school (Julie, played by Beanie Feldstein) is particularly sweet, showing how teenagers often view the world naïvely.

What was particularly moving about this film was how little people learn from their mistakes, repeating them in astonishing variations even when they gain some wisdom.

There is no happy ending, no neat resolution with all forgiven, just an ever-evolving awareness, hard-won maturity and an appreciation of one’s childhood home and family, just like real life.

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Fifty Shades Freed

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MA15+Fifty Shades Freed

Directored by: James Foley

Screenplay by: Niall Leonard

Based on the book by: E L James

Produced by: Michael de Luca, E L James, Dana Brunetti, Marcus Viscidi

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Eloise Mumford, Rita Ora, Jennifer Ehle, Marcia Gay Harden.

If you have read any of the books in the Fifty Shades trilogy or seen either of the previous two film adaptations, chances are you will probably want to see the concluding film just out of curiosity or in order to feel complete.

Originally inspired by the Twilight saga, Fifty Shades Freed continues the Mills’n’Boon-style story of the ludicrously wealthy yet brooding and mysterious mega-squillionaire Christian Grey and his icky obsession with the dewy-eyed yet incredibly sexy Anastasia Steele.

Fifty Shades Freed was filmed around the same time as Fifty Shades Darker, helmed by the same director, James Foley, and with many of the same production crew, which lends this film a consistent look and feel, although it isn’t as dark cinematographically as its predecessor. The highlight this time is the use of lots of pounding or atmospheric songs, particularly a re-working of the classic INXS “Never tear us apart” warbled moodily by Bishop Briggs. There is also some occasionally humorous dialogue that helps lighten the mood and makes the main characters seem almost three-dimensional.

The main advantage of the film adaptations is being spared the dire writing style of E L James, with her grating descriptions of Ana’s “inner goddess” and coy references to her genitals. The plot and situations remain incredibly predictable and unoriginal, the dialogue is often trite and cringe-inducing, and actors such as Marcia Gay Harden and Jennifer Ehle are wasted in blink and you’ll miss them roles.

The main theme of the third film is revenge, with disgraced ex-publishing boss Jack Hyde (Jekyll and Hyde, get it?) hovering menacingly in the background plotting moustache-twirling vengeance against Christian Grey for being a successful businessman with much nicer suits, to say nothing of having snared the bootilicious Ana, whose penchant for wearing gossamer-thin yet uncomfortable looking underwear makes me long for a return to Bridget Jones’ more sensible grannie undies.

Newlyweds Christian and Ana delight in lots of would-be kinky (but actually rather boring) sexual escapades in exotic locations, with the threat from villainous Jack kept a secret by Christian, who is a bit slow appreciating that Ana is a modern woman who can actually look after herself. The biggest issue this photogenic couple faces aside from Jack’s threatening behaviour is Ana becoming pregnant, and Christian’s horror because he believes he is incapable of being a good father based on his own horrendous upbringing by his “crack whore mother”.

There is a reasonable amount of tension due to Jack’s escalating threats and extortion that force Ana to be secretively heroic and take matters into her own hands. The ironically annoying aspect of this film (given the series is known for its soft porn sex scenes) is the constant interruptions so that the overly horny couple can have lots of sex – in a car, the shower, a bath, on a table, etcetera, etcetera, always ending in such unrealistically excessive orgasmic ecstasy, which tends to dissipate whatever tension has been building in other scenes.

Christian’s continued bossiness and domineering ways have worn really thin by now, and I almost cheered when Ana told him off during a key scene to grow up. Her spurt of assertiveness endowed their confrontation with the closest thing to true, adult drama this series has ever depicted.

Definitely a film for Fifty Shades fans only.

Three Summers

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Director: Ben EltonThree Summers

Writer: Ben Elton

Producers: Sue Taylor, Michael Wrenn

Starring: Rebecca Breeds, Robert Sheehan, Michael Caton, Magda Szubanski, Deborah Mailman, John Waters, Kelton Pell, Jacqueline McKenzie, Peter Rowsthorn.

One of the characters in the new Australian romantic comedy Three Summers says at one stage that the annual Western Australia festival “Westival” is “a camping holiday but with folk music – what’s not to love?” A lot, actually.

If Ben Elton’s name hadn’t been associated with Three Summers as both writer and director, my expectations about this film would have been far different. I’m a huge fan of Elton’s satirical British comedy TV shows Black Adder and Upstart Crow, both of which are memorable for their witty, biting dialogue and humour, their entertaining characters and absurd situations. Elton is also a novelist and playwright whose work is often labelled political, so I assumed this film would explore political issues but in a satirical way.

To be fair, setting this romantic comedy over three successive summers during a fictitious folk music festival (based on the real Fairbridge festival Three Summersin Pinjarra WA, which Elton and his Australian wife attend each year) seems like a good idea. The setting provides scope for diverse characters and situations to explore important national issues, including the refugee/asylum seeker debate and Aboriginal reconciliation. These issues are covered, but in such a heavy handed, pedestrian and preaching way that you feel like you’re being lectured.

The main storyline focuses on two young musicians (Rebecca Breeds as the spirited fiddler and Robert Sheehan as the tech-obsessed loner) who are attracted to each other but clash owing to differences in opinion and lifestyle, and who meet over three successive summers.

Supporting characters are portrayed with broad strokes for easy identification, being types rather than unique individuals as they work their way through predictable situations and misunderstandings that wouldn’t be out of place in 1970s Summer Bay or one of those dreadful 1950s British comedies. There is no sense of any of them, aside from the heroine, having a life beyond the annual festival. There is one genuinely amusing running gag involving the Theremin, and scenes with an intimidating female security guard played by Kate Box, which hint at the kind of absurdist humour lacking from the rest of this film.Three Summers

Michael Caton’s character, a grumpy widowed grandfather who likes Morris dancing, typifies the bigoted Aussie bloke who had it tough growing up and resents all those “foreigners” who are trying to muscle their way in. His eventual epiphany lacks conviction after a lifetime of having a different head set, but the film naively wants us to see how it’s possible for anyone with a blinkered view to change. The asylum seekers are portrayed as innocent victims lacking any individual character traits, while the indigenous dance troop of wise old fella (Kelton Pell) and rebellious young lads seems to rely mainly on types rather than real people.

It is an odd film, given Elton’s intention to explore what it is like to be Australian, and how we all apparently struggle with this. While trying to be a comedy with a serious underlying message, it comes across as a kind of episodic Love Boat on land, with different family group dynamics and couples either working through differences or being caught in a lifestyle/culture time loop.

The folk rock concert scenes featuring the heroine and her father (John Waters) with their band “The WArrikins” have an energy that is absent from the rest of the film. Three Summers isn’t a bad film, just mediocre and bereft of the satirical or absurdist edge that Elton could have brought to it.

 

Bad Moms 2

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Bad Moms 2Bad Moms 2 – aka A Bad Moms Christmas

Rated: MA 15+

Directors: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Writers: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Producers: Bill Block, Mark Kamine, Suzanne Todd

Stars: Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn, Susan Sarandon, Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines, Wanda Sykes, Peter Gallagher.

Is any situation funny just because people are drinking so much they steal, assault and create mayhem? If it is, it has to be well written with characters we have become fond of, which this film was not.

With an opening scene showing wholesale tinsel and bauble carnage (reminiscent of the start of The Hangover which was also written by this film’s writers/directors), we meet one of the “Bad Moms”, Mila Kunis as Amy, looking beautifully coiffed and made up no matter the time of day or night, who confesses to having “ruined Christmas”.Bad Moms 2

The theme of this movie – conflict between mothers and daughters – appears to be best summed up by Amy’s mother Ruth (Christine Baranski) who says loftily, “You’re a mom. Moms don’t enjoy, they give joy,” (although joy is not an emotion you would normally associate with her). Amy’s response, after a series of passive-aggressive encounters that escalate to overt rebellion, is to declare to her two fellow moms, “Christmas is supposed to be fun. Let’s take Christmas back!”

Showing little originality or creativity, the movie revisits the days leading up to what caused Amy’s apparent destruction of Christmas, with scant attempt to provide background for those viewers who may not have seen the first Bad Moms movie. For example, it isn’t initially clear what her relationship is with the hottie Jessie (Jay Hernandez). I thought he was her husband until someone mentions this will be the first Christmas for the children without their father, implying he’s dead. It isn’t until later we learn Amy has in fact divorced her husband, but not why, obviously because we should already know.

The other “Bad Moms” are also re/introduced: sweet yet repressed Kiki (Kristen Bell), married with three or maybe four kids, with an overly possessive mother (Cheryl Hines) who isn’t coping well following the death of her husband and who sees her daughter as a replacement companion.Bad Moms 2

By far the crudest yet most convincing of the three is Carla (Kathryn Hahn), a single mother of more mature years with a teenage son and a largely absent rocker mother, Isis (Susan Sarandon) who only turns up once every few years when she needs to borrow money. Strangely I most enjoyed the scenes with Carla at her day spa job. Her waxing of a visiting fireman/stripper (the incredibly buff and toned Justin Hartley) produced the most laughs, mainly because of its silly yet sweet spin on two people meeting and falling for each other in ridiculous circumstances. Kiki’s visit to the psychologist Dr Karl (Wanda Sykes) also stood out as one of the better crafted comic scenes.

Most of the movie is devoted to a series of expletive-laden shouting matches between the various mothers and daughters that rely on swearing instead of wit, interspersed with slow-motion montages showing the three Bad Moms getting drunk, abusive and stealing other people’s property because hey, that’s fun, isn’t it? Then the pace gets slower and the mood more serious as the various characters implode, explode, break down, wallow in regret before they reflect and reunite in a typically Americanised sentimental way.

While the preview audience was well lubricated with strong cocktails so were probably in the mood to be easily pleased, watching this film sober meant the crudity and charm-free sit-com direction were undiluted and much harder to swallow. Having to celebrate Christmas with these people would be a punishment.

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The Big Sick

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Director: Michael Showalter

Producers: Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel

Writers: Kumail Nanjiani, Emily V Gordon

Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar, Anupam Kher

I’m a sucker for romantic comedies, and one of my most vivid memories is leaving the cinema after seeing When Harry Met Sally (1989), with a silly grin plastered on my face, knowing I had seen something really special. Critical praise has been similarly heaped on a new romantic comedy, The Big Sick, and I had high hopes I would experience that earlier euphoria again. I really wanted to like this movie a lot, but perhaps being older, or the film being set in a grittier, grungier, dimly lit world, The Big Sick didn’t give me a similar case of the warm and fuzzies.  It’s still worth watching, however, because it is generally entertaining, thoughtful, and with a positive message.

Based loosely on the real-life romance of an interracial couple, The Big Sick’s rom-com vibe is set within a broader comedic setting. It has some laugh out loud moments, combined with revealing insights into what it is to be part of a family, whether that family hails from North Carolina or Pakistan. The pacing seemed to drag at times, however, with some scenes drawn out or not really necessary to the plot (which reflects the number of rewrites the script underwent).

Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley, Fist Fight) plays a likable variation of himself, while his romantic partner Emily is played with raw honesty by actress Zoe Kazan, who is also a playwright (unlike the real Emily who is a therapist). Neither character wants to get into a relationship, with Kumail living by a rule not to see someone longer than for two days. Despite this, he and Emily cannot help themselves and start keeping company. He spends most of his free time at a comedy club where he has a stand-up routine that isn’t very good, surrounded by three buddies who just happen to be his real life fellow comics and friends.

Set against this aimless lifestyle of friends, alcohol, sex and Uber driving, Kumail has another, separate life that involves his Pakistani family who keep trying to find him “a nice Pakistani girl” to marry. Not surprisingly, Kumail isn’t a fan of entering into an arranged marriage, having taken to the American way of life whole-heartedly.

Some of the most amusing scenes in this other life include Kumail’s family dinners, with young Pakistani women who just happen to drop in as they were “in the neighbourhood” (despite the family living in a cul-de-sac). Kumail keeps these women’s photos in a cigar box for no particular reason, and many of them try to attract his interest by watching things he likes, such as The X-Files.

The first part of the movie focuses on Kumail and Emily’s budding relationship, and their sudden break-up because Kumail admits he cannot see a future with her due to his parents’ opposition. It’s only when Emily becomes gravely ill that Kumail realises what is important, and that he must choose his own future rather than one dictated by his family.

We also meet Emily’s parents, Beth (Holly Hunter with an almost impenetrable accent) and Terry (Ray Romano), who provide a sharp contrast with their prickly tension and over-protectiveness. Both parents’ growing fondness towards the young man who broke their daughter’s heart is depicted convincingly.

While not as hilarious as the trailer promises, The Big Sick still has a big heart and, like Kumail’s courtship of Emily, may slowly insinuate its way under your skin. Worth seeing at least once, if only for Kumail’s often artless reactions to other people’s conversations.

Despicable Me 3

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: PGDespicable Me 3

Director: Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda

Co-Director: Eric Guillon

Producers: Chris Meledandri and Janet Healy

Executive Producer: Chris Renaud

Writers: Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio

Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel, Steve Coogan, Jenny Slate and Julie Andrews

Despicable Me 3 continues the adventures of former super villain turned Anti-Villain League agent Felonious Gru, who also starred in Despicable Me (2010) and Despicable Me 2 (2013). I hadn’t seen either of the earlier films so went to see this one with no expectations (although I had a passing awareness of Gru’s minions, those little yellow creatures who don’t talk in any recognisable language).

The preview was packed with parents and their young children, the latter of whom seemed to enjoy the fast-paced action, humour and characters. Occasionally the adult characters’ more reflective moments caused some rustling amongst the younger viewers who obviously preferred the action to be non-stop.

For those familiar with the previous two outings, Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) has married fellow agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig), having adopted three sisters in the first film (Margo, Edith and Agnes). They live in one of those fabulously inventive houses full of gizmos and gadgets, set in a suburb where all their neighbours are boringly normal.

The baddie this time around is a former child star, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), who is obsessed by his 80s character, to the extent he continues to sport a wicked mullet, the effect of which is ruined by a bald spot. Bratt is intent on world domination (as all villains seem to be) and has a super-secret island fortress and access to a seemingly endless supply of weapons and other incredible inventions. He needs a gigantic diamond to power his mega weapon and this forms the basis of most of the plot.

Gru suffers a change in fortune following one encounter with Bratt, but before he can get too morose about this he is contacted by a long-lost relative who provides him with the inspiration he needs to pull off one last (lawful) heist and do battle with the Bratt. I don’t think it gives much away to reveal that this person is Gru’s identical twin brother Dru (also voiced by Carell), who is optimistic, charming, friendly, and painfully eager to emulate his darker-natured brother.

The animation is eye-catching, colourful and imaginative although not particularly realistic. I was particularly fascinated by the highly exaggerated features of the adult characters, especially Gru with his pointed nose, pencil thin legs and tiny pointed shoes. The minions seemed to be more assertive this time around, and got to do some humorous, inventive things as they branched out briefly on their own adventures.

My favourite character is the youngest daughter Agnes, who absolutely LOVES unicorns. When she gets excited she quivers, trembles and seems to expand with suppressed emotion, and her quest to acquire a real unicorn of her own leads to some joyful moments.

I found the film overall to be amusing and mostly engaging aside from a few lapses in internal plot logic (I don’t care if it’s an animated film, it should still make sense!), but what made it special for me was the choice of music. This included lots of 80s classics such as Bad (Michael Jackson), Take on Me (A-ha), 99 Luftballons (Nena), and a funny riff on When You’re a Jet from West Side Story.

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The Sense of an Ending

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MThe Sense of an Ending

Director: Ritesh Batra

Producers: David M Thompson and Ed Rubin

Screenplay: Nick Payne

Based on: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Starring: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, Michelle Dockery, Emily Mortimer, Billy Howle, Joe Alwyn

Tony Webster (the ever-reliable Jim Broadbent) leads a reclusive, quiet existence until long buried secrets from his past force him to face the imperfect recollections of his younger self, the truth about his first love and the disturbing consequences of decisions made long ago.

While not a must see film it is well-made, intriguing and mysterious, more of a slow burner than a page turner. The first part unfolded slowly and there was as much mystery as there were questions answered throughout the film. A major theme throughout is the recognition of how the memory of youth can directly influence the present.

The film provides a good mystery and exploration of the complications of human (and family) relationships. The film is set in two different time periods and it was interesting watching actors inhabit the same role as younger and older versions of the same characters.

Jim Broadbent was excellent as the curmudgeonly older version of Tony Webster, an introvert whose ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter) remains one of his best friends in later life.

Charlotte Rampling plays the older Veronica, Tony’s first love, and despite not being on the screen for long, she effectively conveys a sense of being her own person, a mystery that Tony was unable to resolve or understand for who she actually was.

Suggested events were hinted at but some were left unexplained, and it is tantalising wanting to know why one character had such a strong hold over Tony more than forty years later. There are also parallels between the past and the present in the situations characters found themselves in, separated by several decades.

The screenplay, adapted by Nick Payne from the novel by Julian Barnes, may cause admirers of the novel to criticise the licences taken with the original version. Director Ritesh Batra and screenplay writer Nick Payne remain faithful to the essence of the novel, but have generalised places and characters in a way better suited to a cinematic rendering.

For example, the novel relies heavily on the internalised nature of Tony’s narration in the book, which would not have translated easily to the screen unless there was excessive reliance on voice-overs and extended shots of Tony just sitting around looking introspective. Therefore, some minor characters who were just memories for Tony were fleshed out into fully formed roles in the film, so his subjective perception of other characters was counter-balanced by them having their own personalities separate from his view of them.

It also becomes obvious as the film progresses that Tony’s memory is not entirely reliable, which affects how the audience views him and his recollections. Having the other characters acting independently of him allows us to question how much of what we learn from Tony is the truth or just his version of it, which adds to the mystery.

The film was photographed and edited in a careful, slow way that will appeal to those who enjoy settling in for a slower paced unfolding that combines old mysteries with the gradual awakening of living in the present and coming to terms with what happened so long ago.