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 ShowalterThe Big Sick

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).The Big Sick

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 Big Sick

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:

Director: Pierre Coffin and Kyle BaldaDespicable Me 3

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.Despicable Me 3

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.Despicable Me 3

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.

The Sense of an Ending

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Director: Ritesh BatraThe Sense of an Ending

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 Sense of an Ending

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 Sense of an Ending

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.

 

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Director: James GunnGuardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2

Producer: Kevin Feige

Executive Producers: Victoria Alonso and Louis D’Esposito

Written by: James Gunn

Based on: Guardians of the Galaxy by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Elizabeth Debicki

If you enjoyed the original Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), the chances are you will also enjoy this joyful follow-up, imaginatively titled ‘Vol. 2’. A fast paced, playfully psychedelic scene early on re-introduces the five main characters from the first film in what appears to be an entertaining yet largely irrelevant action sequence that serves no real purpose other than to dazzle.

This sequence does end up having some plot relevance later, but more than that, it helps re-familiarise viewers with the main characters or introduce them to those people who might not have seen the previous outing. Peter ‘Star-Lord’ Quill (Chris Pratt), part human/part something else and his gang of frenemies have lent themselves out for hire as mercenaries in the months since the events of the previous film ended.

Peter’s encounter with someone claiming to be his father helps drive the central storyline but there are plenty of sub-plots to keep the action zinging along.

Twiglet Groot has grown into an adorable toddler version (huge merchandising opportunities abound!) who loves music. The cuteness quotient threatens to overtake the film’s edgier moments but luckily, baby Groot hasn’t lost its ruthless killer instinct which helps balance things out.Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2

Where the first film focussed on introducing the characters of this offshoot of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and how they came to be a kind of connected group, the second film takes time to explore themes of family, growing up, belonging and searching for something that sometimes turns out to be much closer than originally thought. Family dynamics, parent-child and sibling relationships are all explored or experienced by the main characters, and there is more ‘quiet’ time for revealing most of their histories, which helps explain a lot of their behaviour or motivations.

Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) still gets most of the best lines, delivered in his deadpan way, where his honest desire to be helpful often comes across as hurtful. Rocket (voiced with gravelly menace by Bradley Cooper) demonstrates his deadly fighting skills while confronting his own ghosts, assisted by blue Ravager Yondu Udonto (Michael Rooker) whose lethal arrow causes entertaining carnage and mayhem in one memorable sequence.

As with the first movie, music is important in establishing mood. Whether it’s ELO’s ‘Mr Blue Sky’ in an early, super-playful scene, or travelling with the Guardians to a paradise accompanied by George Harrison’s classic, ‘My Sweet Lord’, or getting reflective with Cat Stevens’ ‘Father and Son’, the choice of songs overall work incredibly well.Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2The costumes range from gorgeous, especially those of the Sovereign Queen (Elizabeth Debnicki) and her people, to highly unusual, and many of the sets, planets and ship interiors are so incredibly imaginative and beautifully realised that it’s like being inside an enormous kaleidoscopic theme park ride.

The novelty factor of the first film is obviously no longer there, but the situations, humour, character development and multiple plots of this second outing coalesce by the end into a joyful explosion of colour, movement and resolution (of sorts). Under no circumstances should you leave before the very last credit has finished because there are some additional scenes that hint at the promise of continuing adventures. Bring them on!

CHiPS

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Director: Dax ShepardCHiPS

Producers: Ravi D. Mehta, Dax Shepard, Andrew Panay, Rick Rosner

Written by: Dax Shepard

Based on: CHiPs TV series created by Rick Rosner

Starring: Dax Shepard, Michael Peña, Rosa Salazar, Adam Brody, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jessica McNamee, Kristen Bell, with Jane Kaczmarek, Maya Rudolph, Ed Begley Jr, and Josh Duhamel

The original television series of CHiPs (1977-1983), was an action ‘dramedy’ dealing with the daily crime fighting of the California Highway Patrol officers on their motor cycles. Two of its main characters were played by Erik Estrada (macho, trouble-pronue probationary Officer Frank “Ponch” Poncherello), and Larry Wilcox (strait-laced field training Officer Jonathan “Jon” Andrew Baker).

My memories of this TV show are vague as I only ever saw a few episodes, so I had little idea of how this updated cinema version would compare to its predecessor.

I will happily admit that I found the film to be a guilty pleasure. It was rude, profanity-laden, sexist and with an over-reliance on visual gags and nudity, and it will never win any awards for subtlety. But it was also quite funny and engaging, and in some strange way had its heart in the right place, especially with the depiction of the relationship between its lead characters.CHiPS

In a reversal of the original TV premise, Officer Jon Baker (Dax Shepard) is now the probationer. A beaten-up former pro motor biker, he is trying to put his life and marriage (to Kristen Bell’s character) back together. Baker is touchingly loyal to his ex-wife and desperately keen to make something of himself. His honesty and odd personality quirks, as well as a running gag based on his unusual reaction to household smells, makes him very appealing. He reminded me of Zach Braff’s character in the TV comedy Scrubs, with both actors sharing a goofy, endearingly naïve charm.

Castillo (Michael Peña) is now a cocky undercover Federal agent masquerading as Officer Francis “Frank” Llewellyn “Ponch” Poncherello, assigned to investigate a multi-million dollar heist that may be an inside job, inside the California Highway Patrol. Ponch is a bit sleazy yet still has some of the boyish charm on show in his earlier comic roles in Ant Man and The Martian.

It doesn’t give the plot away, such as it is, to know that Ponch doesn’t always obey the rules, and has little patience with his naïve rookie partner as he tries to uncover the criminal element within the CHiPs organisation. The plot of this film is not particularly strong or original, and the audience is kept entertained enjoying the visual and verbal humour on display between the two leads.CHiPS

There were many opportunities to showcase a range of stunts, and by enlisting renowned stunt performer Steve De Castro, plus pros and the best stunt riders for the trickiest and most spectacular manoeuvres, director Shepard ensured these aspects of the film were executed effectively. When Shepard’s character speeds along Californian highways and we get his point of view, the scenes are breathtaking, visceral and convincing, almost making me wish I could ride at all.

Cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen (The Bourne Legacy, Mission Impossible 3 and Transformers 1 and 2) made every action sequence zing, while Los Angeles was impressively utilised in the location scenes.

There were some humorous cameos from comic actors including Jane Kaczmarek and Maya Rudolph as senior police officers, and a brief stint from Josh Duhamel, but the movie belongs to Ponch and Jon and their budding bro-mance.