Tag Archives: movies

Ladies in Black: #straya in 109mins (movie review)

I’m writing this in the dying hours of Australia Day 2019, hoping against hope that I’ll finish in time for it to qualify as an Australia/Invasion Day post. Because really, what’s more Australian than a celebration of the lively multicultural melting-pot of Sydney in the mid-1950’s?

Ladies in Black also contains traces of early Aussie feminism. If only there were some indigenous characters too… but I digress.

The “ladies in black” become so as they commence their shifts at a large department store in Sydney. The movie opens with one such shift.

From there, the narrative moves effortlessly between five employees and their families. The analyst in me can’t help seeing each of them as an archetype of mid-1900’s Australia:

  • Miss Cartwright, the aging manager (played by Noni Hazlehurst), represents the preceding era of limited opportunities for women.
  • Magda, the “reffo” (affectionate slang for refugee–played by Julia Ormond), represents the skill, colour, and culture brought to Australia by those who needed the safety of our shores. Timely.
  • Patty, the married one (played by Alison McGirr), represents something of a typical Australian struggle for domestic normalcy while being too young to know what you want in life.
  • Fay, the single one (played by Rachael Taylor) represents the struggle to overcome disadvantage–and the merging of multiple cultures.
  • Lisa, the young one (played by Angourie Rice), represents bright-eyed, innocent hope that women could finally take on the world–at least once their fathers can be persuaded to sign their university applications.

I’m being reductive, of course, because the characters who carry these themes are authentic and believable. Their stories overlap and coalesce beautifully, and the supporting cast deliver strong performances too (especially Luke Pegler, who plays Fay’s husband, Frank).

I love that the ‘vibe of the thing’ is so very Australian without being embarrassing. And that it demonstrates the wealth of experience and flavour we add to Australia when we open our hearts–and our borders–to people who aren’t safe in the countries they call home.

A reminder as worthy of our time as remembrance that Australia doesn’t belong to white people, and never has. Especially today yesterday.

4 stars.

The movie worth a thousand memes. Or not.

In the quiet moment between opening the app and scrolling to what I wanted to watch, Netflix pounced. The Bird Box trailer was underway before I even knew what was happening.

It was intriguing enough to earn a place on my watch list, but that’s where it would have stayed if it hadn’t been for all the memes and hype and “Bird Box challenges”.

Instead, Bird Box became the second movie I watched in 2019, and because I’m on a review kick, I’m writing about it.

Well played, Netflix.

Spoiler warning: this movie spoils itself, so I don’t need to provide a spoiler warning. Seriously, the way it flashes back to more people being alive tells you almost everything you’d prefer not to know. Thriller? Not so much.

Horror? Bird Box isn’t a solid performer in this category either. People do some shocking things under the influence of a nefarious “entity” that takes over the world, but there isn’t a great deal of heart-palpitating awfulness beyond the opening scenes.

To manage expectations, this movie really should have been marketed as a drama.

Implausible plot lines and continuity issues aside: big-name actors, lesser-known actors, and brand-new child actors turn in a very solid set of performances that almost redeem an otherwise disappointing production. (The kids are very young and very amazing, especially towards the end of the movie.)

But what is Bird Box supposed to be about? The nature of the “entity” is never fully revealed nor resolved, and the birds (which provide warning when it’s nearby) don’t make a lot of sense of allegorically, so if the movie has an intended meaning, it’s too ambiguous to be constructive.

Unsurprisingly, a quick google for “Bird Box meaning” offers many possibilities but no definitive answers. If it’s about the unknowns of parenting, its message is all but worthless (and you don’t have to look too hard to find psychologists and parent groups condemning this interpretation). If it’s about racism, I can’t see how. If it’s about social media, what are the birds? If it’s about mental health, who are the ‘healthy’ ones? But hey, at least it’s easy to come up with theories and extrapolate from them. (Hello, future high school curricula.)

The best theory I can come up with is that it’s about Trumpism. The “entity” is the unstoppable advance of fake news, fake facts and fake science. When sane people see this for what it is, they want to kill themselves immediately (understandable if a little extreme). When insane people see it, they’re totally accepting and think everyone else should be too (so the infected but non-suicidal people represent Trumplings). And the birds represent fragile truth and the fading hope that it will make a difference.

That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

3 stars.

The Favourite (movie review)

Queen Anne, I found out after watching this completely accurate and not even slightly absurd historical comedy-drama, knighted my middlenamesake, Sir Isaac Newton, in 1705. True story.

Unfortunately, neither Sir Isaac nor his rumoured gayness feature in The Favourite. Queen Anne and her rumoured lesbianism feature prominently, however. Because there’s nothing like a same-sex love triangle to spice up an already fiendishly intriguing chapter in the English monarchy, amirite?

Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone are as excellent as you’d expect (especially Rachel as the rather badass Sarah Churchill), but Olivia Colman, who I’d only seen in a few “meh”-grade comedy roles until this movie, delivers a profoundly deep, complex and compelling Queen Anne. As the Queen’s backstory unfolds while her health and relationships unravel, Colman’s adept transitions between the comical and the pathetic are flawless. I suspect various upcoming awards panels will agree.

I loved the collective girl-power of the three leading women, especially their brilliantly written, perfectly delivered patriarchy-smashing humour. Your mileage may vary, unless you’re a feminist, which everybody should be, so… shrug

Interestingly, the movie was directed by a man. It’s excellent to see increasing representation of powerful women in popular culture (MOAR PLZ), but I can’t help thinking that it would be even better if women were directing more of it. (At least the original writer, Deborah Davis, is a woman. I’m looking forward to hearing more about how her late-90s script finally came to fruition.)

The Favourite‘s soundtrack is unusual and contributes significantly to the unsettling dissonance that permeates much of the film. Repeating beats, for example, continue between scenes where you instinctively expect the music to resolve or shift. It’s weird.

Then there are the dizzying ultra-wide-angle shots (including several fisheye sequences), which do a marvellous job of showing off the intricate set design but might give you a headache. The photographer in me enjoyed these immensely–it’s difficult to manage such a wide field of view effectively, and the DOP composed each shot masterfully–but the tracking speed, distortion and sheer number of wide-angle scenes were a bit off-putting overall. Or maybe I was just too close to the screen.

Historically, with the possible exception of the lesbianism, the arc of the story is remarkably accurate. You’ll find yourself googling things afterwards and being pleasantly surprised by the writers’ attention to detail. (You might not be pleasantly surprised by the way the movie ends, though. I wasn’t.)

On the other hand, there’s no shortage of gleeful anachronisms. My personal favourite: the integration of “f##k” and “c##t” into the vernacular of early 1700s English aristocrats. Winning.

You’ll love The Favourite if you have a high tolerance for absurd humour and mild arthouse-ishness while enjoying uncouth swearing, white historical drama, and comedic social commentary.

4.5 stars.

Ali’s Wedding vs. The Big Sick

Without realising the parallels between them, nor the fact that both movies were biopics written by their male stars about themselves, I added Ali’s Wedding and The Big Sick to my DVD collection in one 3-for-the-price-of-2 transaction. After watching The Big Sick a couple of months ago, Susan and I were finally in the mood for another rom-com recently, and despite the lingering sense of déjà vu, I think it’s safe to say Ali’s Wedding far exceeded our expectations.

Comparing these movies isn’t really fair, except that they were both:

  • autobiographical;
  • released in 2017;
  • written and performed by comedians whose parents emigrated from Asia to western countries;
  • preoccupied with the highs and lows of forbidden (or strongly discouraged) love.

Where Ali’s Wedding stands alone (aside from being set and produced in Australia rather than the USA, obviously) is the depth of its portrayal of an Australian Muslim family. According to Osamah Sami (who wrote and starred), it’s “the first Muslim rom-com”.

From the gently corrected misogyny of the men who came to his father for advice (his dad was the leader at their local mosque), to the community-wide gender roles and segregation (and the ways these are both challenged and respected), to the lewd but somehow endearing elderly polygamist (“temporary marriage”, anyone?), to the flashbacks to the horrors of Iraq and Iran, the bar has been set pretty high for this new genre of romantic comedy. It’s hilarious, warm, believable, honest, memorable, and… different. Unusual. Nice.

4 stars, and may there be many more dramas with this cultural backdrop.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

According to Rotten Tomatoes:

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close has a story worth telling, but it deserves better than the treacly and pretentious treatment director Stephen Daldry gives it.

A quick reading of reviews by critics and certain reactions to the movie’s Oscar nomination for Best Picture tells the same story: September 11 is too sacred for a superbly crafted aftermath story to be much more than gratuitous Oscar fodder.

That’s if the critics are to be believed, anyway. I think they need to get over themselves and stop worshipping September 11 as if it can only feature in movies that meet their arbitrary standards, but maybe that’s just me.

The story of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is beautiful, original and as you’d expect, heartbreaking, but not because September 11 features so prominently. At its core, it’s a story about the unusually strong bond between a father and son, the reconstruction of a family when that bond is broken, and the redemption of an estranged grandfather. Superb acting by the young lead (Thomas Horn) and supporting cast (Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow) make this a confronting, powerful and ultimately triumphant movie that didn’t once allow my mind to wander.

Production quality is very high. A number of head-spinning sequences that let us inside the fears, anxieties, hopes and frustrations that drive Oskar’s intense persona are particularly impressive, from photography to editing to soundtrack.

You should expect to feel emotionally drained after watching Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (hardly surprising with such a title), but I still highly recommend it as an inspiring fusion of fact, fiction, storytelling and art. I didn’t find it gratuitous or contrived at all. Purposefully awkward, if anything.

The critics were wrong about this one.

The Bourne Legacy

A Bourne movie without Matt Damon? It sounds like sacrilege, and it is, but at least they didn’t drop in a replacement for his character. Jason Bourne is still at large, and this latest instalment adds a whole new arc to the Treadstone story.

There are just enough original cast members to legitimise Legacy, production/acting quality is as high as ever, and there are several thrilling low-tech high-brains combat scenes, but the plot is weak and directionless relative to the originals, so the whole thing reeks of profit at the expense of awesome.

I’ll remain faithful to the original trilogy as 3 of the best movies of all time, and will try to forget this aberration.

Pass the amnesia, please.