Film Review: This Is Where I Leave You

This review was published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 28th October 2014.

There’s no doubt that direct Shawn Levy sure knows how to assemble an amazing ensemble cast. His Night At The Museum trilogy (part three is released later this year) attracted an enviable cast which managed to transcend the cheesy material. In This Is Where I Leave You, Levy has done it again, and this time, the script reaches the heights of the star studded ensemble, just.

After finding his wife in bed with his boss, the traumatised Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) is forced to return to his childhood home when his father passes away. Spending a week with his family in shiva at the request of his father, a Jewish tradition of seven days of mourning (even though his parents are not Jewish), deep rooted dysfunctions arise to comedic effect.

Wendy (the brilliant Tina Fey) is divorced with two children, one of whom has just learnt to use the potty and is prepared to demonstrate his new skills just about everywhere. Older brother Paul (Corey Stoll) is having trouble impregnating his clucky wife (Kathryn Hahn), who just happens to be one off Judd’s exes. Younger brother Phillip (Adam Driver – seemingly contractually required to appear in every film this year) is the problem child who has brought along his psychiatrist (and lover). And matriarch of the family Hilary (a radiant Jane Fonda) has bought herself a new set of breasts. You know the rest.

Screenwriter Jonathan adapt his own novel and manages to strike that perfect balance where every character gets their own moments and no performance dominates the film.

Not exactly laugh a minute but rather a movie that will keep you smiling throughout, This Is Where I Leave You doesn’t break any new ground in the family comedy stakes but is worth the price of admission just to see the cast in action.

Published in: on November 20, 2014 at 17:17  Leave a Comment  
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Film Review: The Mule

This review was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 19th November 2014.

This Australian black comedy will go down in film history as the first local feature to bypass traditional distribution methods when it makes its debut via digital download this coming Friday, before hitting shelves in physical formats in early December.

Unfortunately, The Mule is an unfunny bore that will make you want to pry your eyeballs out with a rusty spoon, despite its pedigree and cast.

in 1983, Dopey local footballer Ray Jenkins (Angus Sampson) is recruited by teammate Gavin (Leigh Whannell) to traffic drugs back into Melbourne from the end of season trip to Bangkok. With the payload safely swallowed, Ray is detained by Customs officials. Refusing an internal examination or x-ray, Australian Federal Police officers Croft (Hugo Weaving) and Paris (Ewen Leslie) are tasked with holding Ray in a hotel room for up to seven days until he opens his bowels, twice.

The most remarkable thing about The Mule is that it features the most stomach churning scene of the year, and I am a horror film aficionado. I won’t spoil it for you but suffice to say that I won’t be eating chocolate anytime soon.

Almost as remarkable is the fact that this comedic whimper is the brainchild of screenwriters Sampson, Whannell (Saw, Insidious) and Jaime Browne, and somehow attracted its talented cast including Noni Hazlehurst and John Noble (TV’s Fringe and Sleepy Hollow).

I will admit to enjoying the archival footage of Australia II winning the America’s Cup and revisiting the one and only time in Aussie history that anyone cared about yachting. But there’s YouTube for that.

Published in: on November 20, 2014 at 17:05  Leave a Comment  
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Film Review: My Old Lady

This review was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 19th November 2014.

In this gentle comedy, Kevin Kline plays Mathias Gold, a broke divorcee who returns to Paris in order to claim the property bestowed to him in his late father’s will. To his horror he discovers that the elderly resident of the apartment, Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith), is protected by an obscure French law which allows her the right to live there until she dies. Mathias’ attempts to find a way to sell the apartment to settle debts puts him at odds with the old woman’s daughter, Chloe, played by Kristin Scott Thomas.

Directed by first time feature helmer Israel Horowitz, based on his own play, My Old Lady benefits from the chemistry between the three leads. Smith perfectly inhabits her forgetful (or manipulative) old duck who takes her evening meal at exactly the same time, and exchanges english classes for domestic services, including doctor’s appointments. Kline is also a welcome presence on the big screen, after what seems like several years away from leading roles in mainstream films.

Although unsurprisingly somewhat stagey, Horowitz enhances the film with some wonderful Paris locations.

Romantics will find My Old Lady a charming experience. For everyone else, it may not make you laugh out loud, but you’ll definitely leave the cinemas with a smile on your face, and some useful knowledge about French real estate.

Published in: on November 20, 2014 at 17:03  Leave a Comment  
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Film Review: A Million Ways to Die in the West

This review was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 3rd June 2014.

After making a splash on the big screen with his directorial debut, the hilarious Ted (he also voiced the titular talking teddy bear), Seth MacFarlane returns with A Million Ways to Die in the West. Still a powerhouse on television with his three ongoing animation franchises, Family Guy, American Dad! and The Cleveland Show, MacFarlane has placed himself front and centre in the lead role, a gutsy move considering his usual place is behind the camera or microphone, and his poorly received gig hosting the Oscars last year.

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From the beautiful opening aerial visuals of Monument Valley, Utah, alongside a memorable rousing score by Joel McNeely, it is clear that MacFarlane and his co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild love westerns. By the end of the film, you’ll also know that MacFarlane and company also love fart, excrement and lowbrow sexual gags. If you like (or love) all of this stuff, you will have a great time with A Million Ways to Die in the West. I certainly did. I’ve even gone as far as to recommend it to my dad, a western fan, although I have a suspicion that I may live to regret that decision.

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Albert Stark (MacFarlane) is a sheep farmer with limited prospects and a lack of the courage required to survive in the Wild West. When his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) leaves him for the far more successful moustache product merchant Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), Albert befriends the beautiful and gunsmart Anna (Charlize Theron) who agrees to help him win his beloved back. Unfortunately, Anna is married to the psychotic criminal Clinch (Liam Neeson), and their blossoming relationship soon has Albert preparing to meet his maker in the inevitable gunfight with Clinch, that is, if he survives a shootout with Foy first.

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MacFarlane has assembled a fantastic cast that is pretty much willing to do anything in the name of laughs. I’ve always found Charlize Theron to be lacking in warmth onscreen but on this occasion she radiates charisma, and clearly has a strong chemistry with MacFarlane. Neil Patrick Harris is at his smarmy, campy best. And the combination of Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman as a devoutly religious couple who are saving themselves for marriage despite her occupation as a prostitute is dynamite. As for MacFarlane himself, he makes a relatable leading man and I’d like to see more of him in front of the camera.

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A Million Ways to Die in the West is a very knowing comedy. Our hero Albert is well aware that life in the Wild West is hard and usually cut short by a multitude of deadly factors (many of them hilariously depicted onscreen). With quite a few current pop culture references, it is best described as a modern comedy that happens to be set in 1882.

The high water mark for the comedy western is undoubtably Mel Brooks’ sublime Blazing Saddles. Sure, it had fart jokes too, but they worked on more than one level. The famous baked beans scene (I can’t believe I am trying to argue that a fart joke is sophisticated) is not only funny for obvious reasons but it is also clever because it breaks the long established contrivances of the genre. Combine this with the confronting reflections on race and you have a comedy western that has something to say. MacFarlane’s film isn’t nearly half as smart and has nothing more to say than life in 1882 sucked, but that doesn’t stop it from being a laugh a minute romp that those with open minds will enjoy.

Film Review: The Hungover Games & The Starving Games

This review was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 22nd April 2014.

Beginning with the hilarious Airplane! (AKA Flying High) in 1980, Hollywood has built a fine tradition of spoofing itself through parody movies. Actually, I’ve just reread that last sentence. I think I’ll start again.

Beginning with the hilarious Airplane! (AKA Flying High) in 1980, Hollywood has a tradition of spoofing itself through parody movies which have suffered from the law of diminishing returns. Sure, there have been a few spikes in quality such as The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad (1988) starring the iconic Leslie Nielsen and um…well, every other comedy he made after that, but the rest of the pack over the past thirty years has been pretty much miss and miss.

I recommend that you look up one of Nielsen’s pre-comedy performances. A noted dramatic actor before he started carrying a fart gun twenty four seven, it’s impossible not to laugh at his ultra serious delivery style, which strangely is also the same as his subsequent comedy style.

The thing about parodies is that they are really cheap to produce compared to a Hollywood blockbuster. Even a bomb at the box office will easily slide into the black with DVD sales and downloads. Unfortunately, for the two latest parodies to hit the straight to DVD shelf, jokes must have been at a premium, because both of these abominations are low budget in every way.

Teen box office smash The Hunger Games has spun off not one, but two parodies. In the spirit of Easter, I have watched them so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.

The Hungover Games combines The Hangover Franchise (already a comedy, I know) with The Hunger Games. Four unknown actors have received their “big breaks” impersonating Bradley Cooper’s Phil and so on. What’s more irritating than Zach Galifanakis? Well that would be someone pretending to be Zach Galifanakis.

Instead of losing Doug in Las Vegas or Thailand, our heroes are instead thrown into The Hungover Games, a battle to the death between various Hollywood franchises including Thor, Carrie, zombies, The Lord of the Rings, 300, Avatar and Ted. Featuring cameos from the incredibly unfunny Tara Reid, Jonathan Silverman and Jamie Kennedy, this film is simply awful. Shot in what appears to be a park in Los Angeles, no-one seems to care when street lights are visible in the background, nor when a car drives up the said street.

As an indicator of the humour blackhole that is The Hungover Games, here are the “sidesplitting” new names of The Hunger Games characters: Katnip, Effing White, Skip Bayflick and Justmitch.

The Starving Games is only slightly better, earning just a handful of titters and maybe a smirk. Following the original storyline more closely, our hero must battle for survival, with not only her life at stake but also prizes including an old ham, a coupon for a footlong sub and a partially eaten pickle.

Shot with a Z grade cast in probably the same park as its counterpart, the film also features ho-hum appearances from The Avengers, Thor, the Na’vi, Harry Potter and The Expendables. For your convenience, here are The Hunger Games alter egos: Kantmiss Evershot, Effoff and President Snowballs.

A sure sign of a terrible comedy is when the bloopers are funnier than the film. Unfortunately, that’s the case for both of these disasters. Avoid at all cost, but if you are a sucker for punishment, ensure that you forget your Hungover / Starving Games experience immediately, Barry O’Farrell style.

Film Review: Chef

This review was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 13th May 2014.

There really should be a warning on the poster of John Favreau’s Chef that informs cinema goers that they must eat before attending a screening. Because if you wander into a midday screening like I did, with nothing but a coffee in the tank, the onscreen depictions of some of the most gorgeous cuisine ever will have you feeling hungry and cheated by your overpriced bland popcorn.

Carl Casper (Favreau) is a chef stuck in a creative rut. Once considered a promising talent, he is now struggling to hold his family life together and work in a restaurant where the owner, Riva (Dustin Hoffman), insists on the same menu day in and out. When a war of words with food blogger Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) gets out of hand, Casper loses his job and his only option appears to be a dilapidated food truck which he must renovate and then drive from Miami back to Los Angeles with his son Percy (Emjay Anthony) and fellow chef Martin (John Leguizamo), stopping to serve hungry mouths along the way.

Favreau, most recently at the helm of the bloated Iron Man 2, returns to his independent film roots with this delicious morsel of cinema. Part road comedy, part family drama, part MasterChef, Chef has an all star cast. With supporting turns from Scarlett Johansson, Bobby Cannavale, Sofia Vergara and Robert Downey Jr, the film could easily have become a messy ensemble pic, but Favreau smartly keeps the focus on his bearlike protagonist.

To prepare for the role, Favreau apparently spent months working his way up from a kitchen hand to qualified chef and it shows on screen. The opening scenes of Casper preparing ingredients, including a whole pig, in his kitchen will have your mouth watering, unless you are a vegetarian (or a pig). By the time you witness the most amazing depiction of a cheese toastie being made, you’ll be wishing that the candy bar sold sliders and cuban sandwiches.

Casper is a genius in the kitchen but not so strong in the family and fatherhood department. When forced to accept help from his estranged wife’s ex-husband (Downey Jr) in a hilarious scene, the dirty taco truck he accepts is his salvation, career-wise and more importantly, for his relationship with his son. Once on the road, the father and son bonding scenes are heartwarming, without stepping into saccharine territory.

With a soundtrack to die for, Chef is a gem amongst the bangs and crashes of endless superhero movies. With uniformly strong performances throughout, Favreau has crafted a concoction that is as tasty and satisfying as the dished created on the screen. Highly recommended.

Published in: on May 12, 2014 at 00:12  Leave a Comment  
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Film Review: Bad Neighbours

This review was originally published on the Orange Post on Monday 5th May 2014.

Bad Neighbours certainly has a fine comedy pedigree with Nicholas Stoller (writer of the recent 2 Muppets films and director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall) at the helm, and dependable comedy writers Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg in the producer seats. The good news is that the film (entitled Neighbors in the US) is one of the better comedies in recent years, with star comedy turns from Rose Byrne and Zac Efron.

Mac and Kelly (Rogan and Byrne) are a newlywed couple settling in to their first home with a new baby. Struggling with the loss of their independence and social lives, their peace and quiet is soon disrupted by the purchase of the house next door by college fraternity Delta Psi, led by the all testosterone, no brains Teddy and his second in command, Pete (Dave Franco). Initially the couple attempt to ingratiate themselves as the cool parents next door but it soon turns into an all out war.

There are actually three films I’d be happy to sit through at play here: the generation X parents struggling to hang onto their youth, neighbours at war and frat boy leader Teddy stepping into the adult world where drinking, drugs and the social pecking order of Delta Psi is irrelevant. Combined into one film, I was often distracted by my brain wanting to follow a particular plot further, but the jokes and gags, mostly filthy and bawdy, come so often that you’ll be laughing too much to care (much).

Rogan is his usual teddy bear of a man-child character, but the film is almost stolen by Byrne, who shows remarkable comedy timing. Already tested in the ensemble waters of Get Him to the Greek and Bridesmaids, Byrne proves that she deserves more comedy leads. Zac Efron draws plenty of laughs and pathos as the muscly but rather doughy Teddy. Is there nothing Efron can’t do?

Although the humour may be a little filthy for some, Bad Neighbours is a solid comedy that is all worth your time. In an era where crappy parodies take up too much space in the multiplex, this one deserves attention.

Film Review: Red 2 – Electric Boogaloo

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 10th September 2013.

Remember that movie from 2010 which featured Dame Helen Mirren at the helm of a .50 calibre machine gun? Red, which is an acronym for Retired, Extremely Dangerous, also starred “mature” actors Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich playing against type as former black-ops agents called back into action when their lives are threatened by assassins. Oh, and the film was headlined by Bruce Willis playing, um, Bruce Willis. A modest hit at the box office, Red was buoyed by the novelty of seeing highly regarded dramatic actors blowing stuff up.

In yet another example of an unwanted sequel (Kick-Ass 2, The Smurfs 2 or Grown Ups 2 anyone?), Willis, Mirren and Malkovich are joined by Catherine Zeta-Jones and SIR ANTHONY HOPKINS* for even more geriatric hijinks, except that this time there is absolutely no novelty value. Just more of the same…

Frank Moses (Willis) is making an earnest effort to enjoy his retirement with girlfriend Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) when a failed mission from his past returns to haunt him. Reuniting with former colleagues Marvin Boggs (Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich) and Victoria (Mirren), Moses attempts to track down a nuclear weapon hidden beneath the Kremlin by brilliant yet crazy physicist Dr Edward Bailey (SIR ANTHONY HOPKINS). With Russian secret agent, and Moses’ former flame, Katya (Zeta-Jones) plus the world’s best assassin Han Jo-bae (Lee Byung-hun) on their trail, the team blast their way through Paris, London and Moscow.

Red 2 marks three sequels in a row for Bruce Willis who nowadays seems to be acting on autopilot with the engine on smug. I’m pretty certain that you could take scenes from A Good Day to Die Hard, G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Red 2, cut them together and you would never know they are from different films. I’m not entirely sure that Lee Byung-hun, who has now co-starred with Willis on two consecutive films, was even aware that he had moved on to a new production. Explosions… Guns… Bruce Willis… Which film is this anyway?

There is also some very obvious product placement which sees entire scenes take place inside a Costco store and a Papa John’s Pizza outlet. Surely in a movie based on a comic book (there are even animated transitions between scenes to remind you), some fictional stores would suffice? I suppose we all need to eat. And when I eat I like to shop at Costco and enjoy a piping hot pie from Papa John’s Pizza! Cheques can be forwarded to me via the CWD.

Red 2 is not without its charms. There is great chemistry between the leads which generates plenty of funny quips and put-downs. Malkovich steals the show with his mentally unstable Marvin Boggs, a victim of decades of daily LSD doses as an experiment by the CIA. And Mary Louise-Parker is clearly having a great time as Moses’ girlfriend who longs for the exciting life of a secret agent.

Director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) has managed to put together an unremarkable but largely enjoyable sequel that does very little to advance the franchise. For my money, watch the original again instead.

*An actor of such magnitude as SIR ANTHONY HOPKINS requires that you say his name aloud whenever reading this review, no matter where you are enjoying this column. Thank you for your cooperation.

Published in: on September 10, 2013 at 23:52  Leave a Comment  
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Bad Movie Choices for Dating

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 2nd April 2013.

It’s strange how we regularly choose the cinema as a social experience. What’s social about sitting in a darkened room where it is impolite to make conversation? I suppose having that shared experience to discuss afterwards makes all the difference. What did we like about the film? What did we dislike about it?

I quite like going to the cinema alone. One of my favourite film experiences was watching Wolf Creek as the only person in the cinema. My backpacking days came quickly to an end after that one.

Selecting the right film is always a dilemma, especially when trying to impress someone of the opposite sex. As a cinefile, I appreciate all types of films, but there are clearly terrible choices which can turn date night into Fright Night. Here are some of my biggest mistakes. In the interests of protecting the innocent, I won’t name names and if ever asked about this, I will deny that it ever happened (this means you, Doug the newspaper guy).

So the year is 2000. You’ve asked a girl on a first date. You’re at the box office and you suggest that an Aussie film would be a great choice. Eric Bana is that funny guy from TV. His film debut should be hilarious, right? Wrong. About twenty minutes into Andrew Dominik’s Chopper, Bana’s titular character has been stabbed in the gut. There is blood everywhere. I look across to my date. She’s looking down. Wait, she’s not looking away from the visceral violence on the screen. She’s not looking anywhere. She’s passed out.

Trust me, assisting a faint, clammy girl out of the cinema is not a great start for a date. It is, however, a pretty definitive ending. I did go back later and see the rest of the film. It’s brilliant.

Jumping backwards in time almost a decade, I asked the smartest girl at school on a date to a Saturday afternoon matinee. How quaint! The year is 1991 and in hindsight, there was an amazing array of superb films on offer: Cape Fear, JFK, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The Silence of the Lambs. Which film did I actually choose? Suburban Commando, starring Hulk Hogan, of course. This cinematic abomination is neither funny nor dramatic. As an actor, the Hulkster is a fantastic wrestler. Whilst remaining friends throughout school, we never spoke of this date again (Girl X and I, not Hulk Hogan and I).

My final embarrassment came during my university years. I frequented the Sydney Film Festival every year and was keen to share my film discoveries with anyone who would listen. I asked a girl to see a film that I was keen to champion, an underrated Aussie gem starring Jack Thompson and a young actor named Russell Crowe.

It was only when the lights darkened and I was thinking about trying the Yawn and Stretch Technique™ that I remembered that The Sum of Us was a tale about a father and son coming to terms with the son’s homosexuality. Although by definition a romantic-comedy, and still a film I recommend, this selection was not necessarily in line with the message I was trying to send. That date ended with a handshake. Enough said.

Trust me, choosing the right film is vital to romance. Learn from my mistakes. I’ll leave you with one last rule, which I learned the hard way. It goes like this. Don’t drop a mega-sized Coke on your date at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and insist on staying for the rest of the film.

ShamWow! The Movie

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 26th March 2013.

The problem with film reviewing is that I have to watch the good and the bad. For every magnificent Paul Thomas Anderson masterpiece, there’s a Paul W. S. Anderson schlockfest. One of my goals for the year is to watch the American Film Institute Top 100 in order, starting from the bottom of the list. I’ve seen 39 already but will rewatch them all on my way to Citizen Kane.

This week I experienced a film that most definitely belongs on the other end of the scale. In fact, I am pretty sure that I can declare this The Worst Film I Have Ever Seen™. Worst (or best) of all, it’s directed by the “ShamWow!” Guy.

Most people would know Vince Offer as the infomercial pitchman for such vital household products as “ShamWow!”, Slap Chop and Schticky. What you probably don’t know is that, despite selling millions of absorbent towels, Vince considers his pitchman job as a side project. His true calling is comedy filmmaking.

The Underground Comedy Movie was released straight to DVD in 1999, and is directed by and stars Offer. The movie employs a sketch comedy format, and according to the DVD jacket, “follows the hilarious tradition of The Kentucky Fried Movie.” Hmm, let’s see. The latter was helmed by John Landis (The Blues Brothers, Animal House, An American Werewolf in London) and is a hilarious fast paced comedy from 1980, with a plethora of guest stars. The Underground Comedy Movie is unfunny, overlong and tasteless, with three or four Z grade cameos, directed by a hack.

So besides sharing a sketch comedy format that replicates someone changing channels on a TV, Offer’s film debut is not even in the same league.  Unless also being released on a DVD in a plastic box is considered following tradition. In that case, you could say that The Underground Comedy Movie also follows in the tradition of Gone with the Wind.

I think there would be a reasonable case for false advertising. There is no comedy in this film. In fact, the DVDs were probably only manufactured in a factory that handles and processes comedy. The underground part of the title is best used as a direction for use before you watch it.

How do these sketches grab you? A Batman parody featuring a man dressed in a baseball uniform, carrying a baseball bat… Two supermodels going to the toilet… A superhero character with a head that resembles genitalia… A hip hop talk show with a guest from the KKK… I can hear you chortling from my typewriter.

How about The Miss America Bag Lady Pageant, featuring a cameo from Guns N’ Roses’ Slash? Or the late Michael Clark Duncan in a sleazy bar resisting advances because he wants to save himself for the right man? The hilarity never stops. It never starts either.

I honestly did not laugh once. I will only confess to a single titter during a rather aged Baywatch parody where the camera keeps getting distracted by girls in bikinis, ignoring the lifeguards dramatically rescuing people.

The Underground Comedy Movie is just awful. Luckily, its R18+ classification should keep away its intended audience until they are old enough to know better than to waste 90 minutes and $5 on this junk.

I want my time back. I want my money back. And I want a Schticky.

Published in: on March 26, 2013 at 19:15  Comments (1)  
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