Author Archives: Marco Trevisiol

About Marco Trevisiol

Born and resides in Melbourne, Australia.

Review: Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World (2012)



When ‘Seeking A Friend For the End Of the World’ came out in 2012, I was eager to see it as ‘end of the world’ plotlines have always intrigued me for the potential scope they have and perspective they can take. You could make a dozen films with that concept (dramatic or comedic) and they could all potentially be interesting viewing.

Alas, it never arrived in Australian cinemas as despite Steve Carell starring, it was a box office flop and had a lackluster critical response. I eventually saw it recently because, in a funny sort of way, the film’s failure made it more intriguing to me as I was curious to see where the film misused its premise.

As is often the case with these types of films, the film begins with an official pronouncement that all attempts to prevent an incoming asteroid colliding with the earth and ending all life on it have failed and only weeks to live remain. In New York City, middle-aged Dodge (Carell) is understandably lost as to how to react to this situation. While friends around him devolve into debauchery, Dodge initially sticks pointlessly to his dull daily routine (his wife having left him when the end of the world was official) until a chance encounter with British neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) who is grieving over her breakup with her boyfriend. While polar opposite personalities, they develop a friendship bordering on romance but will it survive the end of the world?

SAFFTEOTW can be analysed in two sections; as a broad comedy and as a melancholy take on romance in the worst possible situation.

As the former, the film is a failure. Its attempts at comedy fall consistently flat as they either misfire through poor execution (a workplace meeting where new job opportunities are discussed with weeks till the world ends sounds a lot funnier in concept than it does here) or scenes that just go nowhere. A scene where Dodge attends a party that turns into drug-taking and orgies (off-screen) drifts on aimlessly forever without even a mildly funny moment.

While the writing and direction (both by Lorene Scarfaria) are to blame, Carell’s performance doesn’t help either. He plays his character so inert and passive that he gives nothing to the other characters around him who then tend to overact as a result and any comedy possibilities are largely snuffed out.

Another issue is that there’s a seemingly endless array of fairly prominent TV/movie personalities in minor/cameo roles (Adam Brody, Connie Britton, Rob Corddry, Melanie Lynskey, Gillian Jacobs, William Petersen amongst others). This has become a bit of a trend in modern comedy to cast like this and it often is distracting more than entertaining, especially when they try to ‘steal scenes’. Most of them don’t work here.

But as a melancholy take on romance when the world is ending (which takes up most of the film’s second half), the film is much more substantive; Scarfaria is clearly more at ease with the romantic and melancholy aspects of the film and perhaps felt obliged to put the comic elements in to make the film more appealing to potential audiences.

As well, Carell’s performance is much more suited to this part of the film as someone who transforms from a dull sad-sack to one who is reborn by finding love and challenging himself. Knightley is OK in her role although the rather forced quirkiness of her character (especially how much the film hammers home her love of vinyl records) is somewhat tedious.

What the film gets right is seeing a couple enjoying and getting to know each other so that basic scenes like them spending an afternoon at the beach is deftly charming. And a brief bit where Dodge sits on the floor of his apartment listening to Penny’s vinyl records is quite effective as well. These seemingly simple scenes work much better than the forced effort of the comedic scenes.

Also working well is the segment where Dodge visits his father (Martin Sheen) who he’s been estranged from for decades. The concept – a father and son reconciling at their final opportunity – seems somewhat unpromising as a rather cliched concept, but thanks for the sincerity of how it’s filmed and the performances of Carrell and Sheen it works surprisingly effectively.     

Even in the second half, the film isn’t perfect. There’s a segment where Dodge and Penny spend a night in jail which feels unnecessary and filler material. And it never really gets its timing right as a comedy.

But by its moving finale SAFFTEOTW has despite its flaws become a worthwhile viewing experience, quite touching and sweet in its own way. It’s easy to see why the film failed critically and commercially upon its release, but there are rewards for those who seek it out now.


Random thread for May 2018


Margot Kidder passes away at age 69.

Obviously best remembered for her Lois Lane role but was in some interesting films before then and had charisma to burn and didn’t quite have the film/TV career her talented suggested she could’ve.

She gave an entertaining interview to the AV Club website a few years back; obviously not a fan of the original The Amityville Horror!


Review: Regarding Henry (1991)


regading henry

When looking back over mainstream Hollywood films of the 1990s, what sometimes interests me more than the critically acclaimed and highly popular are those films that seemed to have everything going for them but were considered disappointing and have been forgotten in the decades since. Once such example is the 1991 drama ‘Regarding Henry’.

At first glance it appears to have everything going for it. A quality cast headed by Harrison Ford at the peak of his popularity, a highly-acclaimed veteran director in Mike Nichols and an original script by a certain up-and-coming young screenwriter called J. J. Abrams.

But the critical reaction to the film was muted at best and with only moderate box office the film quickly disappeared from public consciousness. Looking at the film over 25 years later, does the it deserve a better reputation?

The narrative centres on Henry Turner (Harrison Ford), a self-satisfied corporate lawyer who is enjoying living the wealthy good life in Manhattan with his wife (Annette Bening) and daughter. However a chance involvement in a store robbery leaves him shot multiple times and with brain damage. He begins a slow road to recovery and his mental capacities are severely reduced… but his humanity seems to have returned.

The prime problem ‘Regarding Henry’ has is that while it has the veneer of sophistication and intelligence, far too often it takes the easy way out with obviousness. For example we know automatically when we first see Henry Turner that he’s a slimy, soulless lawyer because he has the Gordon Gekko slicked back hair (and smokes as well). And of course in his opening scene we see him skilfully defending a hospital corporation against the claim of mistreatment of a poor patient that we know is true. Indeed every single aspect of his personality and life suggests someone with no redeeming features.

On occasion the film is more deft at illustrating Henry’s shallowness. There’s a scene where he genuinely reconcile with his daughter after an earlier fight but because of his lack of empathy it only reveals his coldness and his narcissism. But these are generally few and far between.

But the main overriding reason the film struggles is because of the simplistic mindset coming from Abrams’ script. Instead of delving into the issues surrounding a wealthy family dealing with their main breadwinner losing all of their intellectual capabilities, the film seems to believe that Henry’s brain injury and reduced intellectual capacity is actually a good thing for him. As absurd as this concept is, it almost was obliged to go down this path because he was portrayed as such a cartoon villain in the early scenes.

Watching ‘Regarding Henry’ I had the same reaction virtually every Mike Nichols film I’ve seen from his post-1983 period: well-made and obviously helmed by an intelligent director but an insubstantial and inconsequential work. As I observed about his him on the film he made before this one – Postcards From The Edge – the reverence with which he’s treated even today rests almost entirely on his first four films made in the 1966-1971 period.

The contradictions in Nichols’ director appear regularly throughout. On one hand, considering a narrative that very easily could’ve lent itself to excessive sentiment and mawkishness, Nichols is impressively understated in how he handles the emotion of the plot. But what replaces it? Too many scenes are dispiritingly corny and simplistic (including the finale) which one would find it hard to believe would’ve been helmed by the him in the early stages of his career.

As for the acting, Ford is adequate in a fairly atypical role but he doesn’t provide much more depth to his character than the already superficial script does. In one of her early roles Bening (a Nichols regular) is her usual impressive self and makes something out of a fairly thin character. And the late Bill Nunn provides badly needed life to the film as Henry’s therapist.

For all its flaws, because of its all-round professionalism, pleasant New York locations and relatively decent budget (being a fairly prestigious Hollywood production in its day) ‘Regarding Henry’ is a fairly pleasant timewaster. There are many worse films that one could watch from 1991. But rewatching it underlined that the original critical assessment of it being a soft and disappointing film were on the mark.

Review: High Anxiety (1977)


high_anxietyMel Brooks’ 1977 Hitchcock comedy spoof ‘High Anxiety’ is one of the films I watched in my childhood that stands out as one of the most vivid, but not because of the expected comedic reasons.

It has to do with a scene where a person is driving in his car is trapped in it because the door/window handles have been tampered with and he can’t turn off the radio which is playing increasingly loud music; eventually the car crashes and he dies with blood coming from his burst eardrums. Of course now I see it as a comic spoof on a typical Hitchcock setup but back as a kid the scene seriously creeped me out.

I hadn’t watched ‘High Anxiety’ for several decades and it seems to have been largely forgotten except by Brooks fans and completists; certainly it never obtained the reputation that Brooks’ most acclaimed works like The Producers & Young Frankenstein did. My memories of it (car scene aside) was that it was a pretty decent comedy so I was interested to see how it held up after not seeing it for several decades.

The narrative centres around psychiatrist Richard Thorndyke (Mel Brooks) whose career is on the rise (despite a fear of heights) as he about to take over as the head of a prestigious psychiatric facility (called the ‘Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous’!). However it soon becomes clear that the facility is run by corrupt employees (played by Harvey Korman & Cloris Leachman) who are exploiting the patients there and will stop at nothing to prevent Thorndyke from exposing it.

Watching ‘High Anxiety’ after all this years, it generally holds up well. Brooks’ ability to stage gags in his patented brash style was still close to his peak and he makes good use of the many opportunities for Hitchcock homages. The best one is where Thorndyke constant pestering of a deranged bellboy (the film’s co-writer and future director Barry Levinson) leads to an inspired parody of the famous shower scene from ‘Psycho’.

Brooks always enjoyed mocking and undercutting the clichés and conventions of filmmaking whether it be a scene in a car where suspenseful music suddenly is heard and it turns out to be from a nearby bus containing a practising orchestra or a camera zooming into a dinner scene crashing through the window. My favourite one in this film is where the camera is shooting two people having a conversation from below a glass coffee table and it has to constantly move whenever they place cups and containers on different sections of the table so we can still see the people.

The performances are generally fine, with the standout being Cloris Leachman as the devious Nurse Diesel. In a deliciously over-the-top hilarious performance, Leachman is clearly having the time of the life playing the role, especially in how every word she says is enunciated in such a way as if it is chewed and then spat out.

Alas, ‘High Anxiety’ doesn’t quite measure up to the best of Brooks’ films and there are a few reasons for this. The second half falls a bit with several Hitchcock homages (such as a parody of ‘The Birds’ with a bunch of pigeons pooping on Thorndyke) falling flat. The funniest characters in the movie (played by Leachman and Korman) largely disappear from the halfway mark, Madeline Khan’s character is brought in too late so while she does have some bright moments she is somewhat wasted. And there are some later on such as  an extended scene with Khan & Brooks pretending to be elderly couple to get through airport security and Brooks singing the title tune that feel a bit self-indulgent.

And while Brooks does a decent job in the lead, it was a role crying out for Gene Wilder. Indeed, Brooks said in an interview many years later that he started taking major acting roles in his films only because his main muse in Gene Wilder stopped appearing in his films to write and direct his own films.

Despite these issues, ‘High Anxiety’ holds up well and was an enjoyable rewatch… even the car scene!

Films that opened in America, December 22-25 2017


Jumanji: Welcome To the Jungle (7.2 IMDB, 76% Rotten Tomatoes) – Probably the surprise breakout hit of the American holiday period, it’s probably going to end up being one of the top 5 most popular films of 2017. What odds a few months ago this would easily outdo ‘Justice League’?

The reviews have been surprisingly good considering it’s directed by Jake Kasdan who’s made some ordinary films in the past. If nothing else, the hit that The Rock took from the Baywatch misfire has proved only temporary.

Pitch Perfect 2 (6.3, 31%) – This finale of the trio of films has done far less well than PP2 did and perhaps that’s because the general reaction to the first sequel was one of disappointment and the box office impact came one film later.

The Greatest Showman (8, 53%) – This PT Barnum biopic has had lukewarm critical responses (and was found underwhelming by our own Jackrabbit Slim) but the IMDB score and strong box office globally suggest an underutilised section of the audience has taken by what appears to be quite an old fashioned film.

Downsizing (5.8, 51%)I reviewed this Alexander Payne film favourably last year but judging by the critical and audience response, I’m one of the few to have taken something positive out of it. Actually, judging by the box office performance (only $7m outside America!) I’m one of the few outside America who’s actually seen it at all. I suspect it’s reputation will grow over the years though.

Father Figures (4.9, 26%) – This Owen Wilson/Ed Helms comedy has been a disaster in all aspects, and judging by the trailer it’s not hard to see why; full of that cringey, crude ‘humour’ that seems to make up 95% of mainstream Hollywood comedies these days. Bit sad seeing Glenn Close in this.

The Post (7.5, 88%) – Spielberg’s decision to make the children’s film ‘The BFG’ was a curious one as it seemed to be an attempt to recapture his glory days of when he was the king of the quality mainstream family film. Especially curious as he’s developed a fine reputation in recent decades of real-life major historical events. His name probably more than any other helps ensure box office viability to films like this tale of the Watergate saga from the publisher’s point of view instead of being on Netflix and HBO and it did very well on its first full weekend of wide release (Jackrabbit Slim’s review is here).

Tiger Zinda Hai (6.7, 57%) – Hindi action film; did very well relatively speaking in its opening US weekend of release, especially as it’s 165 minutes long!

Along With The Gods: The Two Worlds (7.8, 50%) – South Korean fantasy drama

Hostiles (7.2, 74%) – Despite good reviews and the likes of Christian Bale & Rosamund Pike in it, this Western has made little impact at the box office, just showing how hard it is for that genre to succeed these days

Happy End (6.9, 67%) – A Michael Haneke film starring Isabelle Huppert usually would be expected to one of the film events of the year, but the RT score illustrates how many critics were disappointed by the film and felt Haneke was treading familiar territory

The Lucky Man (7.2) – American drama about a preacher who scams people with his fake mystical powers only to find he really has the gift.

Review: Downsizing



(Warning: contains spoilers)

Alexander Payne has probably been my favourite film director over the past couple of decades; I don’t think anyone has come to close to being as precise and sharp in analysing modern-day Western society and the socio-economic forces that drive people and their relationships to each other and society itself.

Therefore, even though the film got lukewarm reviews, was a box office flop and the TV ad I saw for it looked awful, I decided to go and see ‘Downsizing’.

The film opens with the world-changing advance of people being shrunk to 10-15 cm height. Years later, it has gone mainstream with millions of people choosing to be shrunk and live in tiny communities where because of their increased wealth (diamond jewellery costs only a few dollars) they can live in luxury. A struggling lower middle-class couple Paul & Audrey (Matt Damon & Kristen Wiig) decide to go for it in a community called ‘Leisureland’ in the hope it will leave their financial troubles behind for a comfortable life. But while Paul goes through the treatment successfully, a shock development totally dismantles his future plans and leads him onto a completely different life path.

Instead of his usual present-day social-realist takes of struggling urbanites, Payne has branched out into science-fiction. It’s admirable that he’s taken a risk into new territory but unfortunately, he isn’t at ease with it. Probably the film’s biggest failing (no pun intended) is that it doesn’t convey its concept of small people co-existing with standard-sized people convincingly.

We see multiple scenes early on of small people appearing at science presentations, standard-sized people’s houses or at school reunions but surely this would be extremely dangerous with the potential of insects, pets, spilled food, hostile standard-sized adults to kill them. Perhaps it was because I have the memory of the spider fight from ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ but I just didn’t buy the way it’s conveyed at all.

Perhaps more significantly, the social analysis (usually a great Payne strength) of this radical social setup is disappointingly lacking. There’s one interesting scene where a drunk standard-sized man unleashes his resentments about small people but otherwise it’s a fairly mundane procedural of how the process works.

This covers the first 40 minutes or so and it is largely uninspiring. But once the major plot development that Audrey pulls out of being shrunk and Paul is left alone in the small community, the film goes off in many directions and becomes a lot more interesting.

The arrival of Paul’s neighbour, the hedonistic Dusan (Christoph Waltz) gives the film a badly needed jolt of life. Marvellously played by Waltz, he’s both a repulsive and endearing character; someone who is both selfish and a generous friend. Even when he’s not the centre of attention he’s a character you always keep your eye on; I loved his reaction late in the film when Paul appears after a romantic encounter.

Initially, Paul’s solo existence seems one of pointlessness and dissatisfaction which even drug experiences can’t cover up. But a chance meeting with a Vietnamese refugee Ngoc (Hong Chau) changes his life as he sees the less prosperous parts of ‘Leisureland’ and eventually goes on a trip to the original small people village in Norway where he’s confronted with a major life-defining choice.

While ‘Downsizing’ gets more interesting as it goes along and it has great empathy for its array of characters and is full of ambitious concepts and ideas, it never quite totally succeeds. Considering the path the film goes down in the final two-thirds, one wonders why the sci-fi elements had to be in it at all. And the final choice Paul makes is a bit of a weak cop-out.

Still, while this is far from Payne’s best work it’s enhanced my respect for him as a filmmaker who’s prepared to try new concepts and ideas instead of treading water with familiar material (as I think he did with ‘The Descendants’).

‘Downsizing’ is a flawed work, but worth watching.

Films that opened in America on December 15-17, 2017


Star Wars: The Last Jedi (7.7 IMDB, 92% Rotten Tomatoes)  – I haven’t had any interest in this series for a couple of decades (I’ve only ever watched the original trilogy) but how overwhelmingly it dominates pop culture fascinates me. Here in Australia we even have sporting events involved with Star Wars themed rounds so it feels like almost mandatory to go and see these movies.

As for this particular film itself, the most interesting thing is how the critical reaction has been much more positive than the general public reaction; already it’s IMDB score is lower than the previous two SW films and only marginally above the Revenge Of The Sith. I can’t say who’s in the right without having seen it but I suspect that some critics decided to give it a pass because it’s such a cultural phenomenon that people are going to see regardless that it’s just easier to give it a pass.

As for how long the series continue and be the biggest film of its year, I think things will become more difficult once the main stars from the original films are no longer regulars in it.

Ferdinand (6.8, 71%) – Animated film about a bull and various friends. Doesn’t seem to have done particularly well at the box office so far in relation to its budget which means Kate McKinnon’s almost flawless film career of appearing in misfires continues.

Youth (7.3) – Chinese drama

The Thousand Faces of Dunjia (5.9, 25%) – Chinese fantasy film with less than stellar reviews

Birdboy: The Forgotten Children (7.5, 100%) – The second Spanish animated film to get a release in America this month; this one has gotten excellent reviews

Permanent (5.9, 50%) – American film about a family where the daughter wants to get a perm… yes it seems to be that thin a plot. Judging by the trailer it seems to fit pretty much all the clichés of an American independent film; despite the presence of Oscar-winner Patricia Arquette it doesn’t seem to have caught on with critics or the public.

The Ballad Of Lefty Brown (6.4, 76%) – A modern rarity of a film that used to dominate the industry a couple of generations back – an American western. Amongst the cast are a very old-looking Bill Pullman and Peter Fonda

Miss Kiet’s Children (7.8, 100%) – Dutch documentary about a teacher dealing with just-arrived refugee students

Films That Opened in America December 1-3 & 8-10, 2017


The Disaster Artist (IMDB 8.1, Rotten Tomatoes 92%) – Sure, the clips I’ve watched of ‘The Room’ but the obsession with it leading to this film I find rather baffling. As someone on Twitter observed, why is this film singled out as a particular low point when there is so much bombastic, big-budget dreck made so often on an annual basis? The film’s gotten a lot of critical praise (and received a generally favourable review by our Jackrabbit Slim) but this feels like a pointless film made for hipsters; naturally James Franco is directing and starring in it.

The Shape of Water (8.1, 94%) – Very well-received sci-fi film that has an intriguing premise (a mute janitor in a 1960s research facility discovers a mysterious underwater creature). May be worth seeking out, especially as I’ve never seen a Guillermo Del Toro film.

I, Tonya (7.8, 90%) – Even in the pre-Internet, pre-social media early 1990s, the Tonya Harding saga became a major news event not just in the USA, but here in Australia and I remember it quite well. Has been getting very good reviews and star Margot Robbie is definitely being talked up as an Oscar contender.

Wonder Wheel (6.3, 30%) – Woody Allen’s latest got a favourable review from our Jackrabbit Slim but going by Rotten Tomatoes, seems to be close to the worst film Allen has been associated with. Heck, even the notorious misfire he acted in ‘Scenes From A Mall’ has a better RT rating. Can the film really be that bad? I can’t help but wonder what’s happened in Hollywood post-Weinstein in the last few months (and the refocus on Allen’s past personal troubles) has led to critics subconsciously treat the film harsher than they otherwise would have.

Just Getting Started (3.8, 5%) – A Ron Shelton film starring Rene Russo, Tommy Lee Jones and Rene Russo surely will be one of the most anticipated films of the month… if it were 1992. As it’s not, this film sank without trace and judging by its RT score deserved to. Judging by its trailer full of broad and inept comedy it deserved to. Also in the cast is Glenne Headley in one of her final film roles.

Titanic Re-Release 20th Anniversary (IMDB 7.8, RT 88%) – I actually didn’t realise this film got a re-release until checking Box Office Mojo. I guess all that I want to say in the film can be found on a 2007 article I wrote on here looking at 10 years since the film’s release (and it’s still the only film on it’s initial release I’ve been to the cinema to see multiple times).

The Polar Express re-release (6.6, 55%) – Why this film is getting a re-release is a mystery to me. Wasn’t this largely derided and considered a particularly awkward example of that live-action animated trend which seems to have mercifully gone out of style.

The Swindlers (6.2, 40%) – South Korean heist film

The Other Side Of Hope (7.3, 91%) – Well-reviewed drama from Finland looking at the refugee crisis

Big Time (6.5, 91%) – Looks at a famed Danish architect and the challenges around designing one of the buildings that will replace the World Trade Centre buildings. Based on the trailer, seems pretty thin material to base a cinema documentary on.

Naples ’44 (6.5, 57%) – Narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, this is the documentation of the thoughts of a British solider who arrived in the famed Italian town late in WW2 and how the town survived and prospered afterwards

Quest (7.5, 100%) – This documentary of the struggles of a working-class family in Philadelphia over many years has gotten universal praise from 43 critics on RT so obviously is quality, yet seems to have not broken out amongst audiences as yet even by documentary standards

Another Wolfcop (4.4, 60%) – The title says it all, it’s about a… wolf that’s a cop. Canadian-made comedy is a sequel to a 2014 film and this film seems most notable for having a movie poster parodying the one from Sylvester Stallone’s Cobra.

Brotherhood of Blades II: The Internal Battlefield (6.9, no RT score) – Chinese action film set in medieval times

Shadowman (7.3, 92%) – Doco on a famed street artist whose destroyed by personal demons but has a chance of a comeback decades later

Tad The Lost Explorer and the King Of Midas (6.4, no RT score) – Animated Spanish film.

Badsville (8.5, no RT score) – According to its IMDB page it’s about “A violent greaser gang is ripped apart when their leader finds love and is determined to leave Badsville – a town where love doesn’t exist.” !?!

Oro (5.5, no RT Score) – Spainish adventure drama about the search for gold in the 16th century

Kepler’s Dream (6.2, 50%) – American film about an 11 year old girl’s search for a rare book that hopefully will explain the troubles in her family. Holland Taylor & Kelly Lynch are amongst the adult members of the cast.

The Tribes of Palos Verdes (5.3, 67%) – Family drama set in California. Jennifer Garner is one of the stars.

Review: Suburbicon


suburbiconGeorge Clooney’s second film as director in 2005 – ‘Good Night, and Good Luck’ – was one of my favourite films of the 2000s. Concise, sharp, riveting and intelligently done; it was fully deserving of the critical praise and Academy Award nominations it got. At this time it seemed certain that Clooney would be a director of note for decades.

Alas the films he’s directed since have largely been critical disappointments and his latest film – ‘Suburbicon’ – is such a woeful misfire that one can only conclude that ‘Good Night, And Good Luck’ was a fluke exception to the rule.

Set in 1959 American suburbia, the home of middle-class Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) is invaded by two thugs whose actions lead to the death of his wife Rose (Julianne Moore). Everyone in town is shocked by the event and supports Gardner and his family. But when Gardner’s young son Nicky (Noah Jupe) sees his dad & Rose’s sister Margaret (also Moore) fail to ID the two culprits in a police lineup it’s clear there’s much more to this than meets the eye.

Suburbicon fails on multiple levels. One reason is that it seems to treat the fact that seemingly affluent and content 1950s Middle America was – gasp! – in fact full of hypocrisy, contradictions and complacency as something fresh and insightful. Somehow Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov (working off an old Coen brothers screenplay) seem to have ignored the endless TV shows and films documenting this in recent decades that have made that assumption a well-worn cliché by now.

And in anycase, the film does virtually nothing interesting with this assumption as it’s all lazy surface-detail observations; apparently mentioning the central family is Episcopalian numerous times is as far as it goes for insight. The central character of Gardner is a total void as we never begin to understand his motivations as to why he behaves the way he does. Dealt with such an empty vessel of a character, Damon struggles haplessly.

As well, Clooney’s is aiming for the skewered crime-noir that original writers and his regular collaborators the Coen brothers are famous for but he’s simply not up to the task. Especially in the early segments, his direction is telegraphed and heavy-handed and what should be an intense and compelling crime mystery feels tedious and dreary. The home invasion scene early in the film is one of the least-interesting types of those scenes I can recall and feels twice as long as it should be.

But the film’s biggest error is a subplot awkwardly inserted in (which has no real connection to the main plot and could’ve easily been excised from the film) is about the arrival of a black family in the all-white neighbourhood. Reactions go from initial bemusement and shock (the local postman presumes the wife is the house maid) to outrage and a violent and vicious mob.

This subplot is so cartoonish and relentless that its impact is zero. An early scene of a town meeting where local residents voice their disapproval at non-whites being part of their town feels like a meeting of overt virulent racists from the KKK as opposed to what many 50s white suburbanites would be like. The film’s racial commentary is so heavy-handed that it makes ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?’ seem like a subtle take on race relations.

There are a few positive aspects to the film. A scene where in response to Nicky’s displeasure Margaret turns from a sweet and sunny persona to someone full of deviousness and manipulation is well done and acted. Also the scene where an insurance investigator (well played by Oscar Issac) interrogates Margaret is atypically riveting. And the 1950s style and visuals are pleasing on the eye. But in truth this film has very few pleasures or satisfaction to offer.

There has been talk in social media that the fallout from the Harvey Weinstein scandal and Damon & Clooney’s associations with the disgraced producer ensured this film was doing to be DOA at the box office when it opened and perhaps that’s true to an extent. But even if that scandal hadn’t occurred ‘Suburbicon’ would’ve sunk anyway as it doesn’t succeed on any level.

Review: Battle Of The Sexes


BOTSGoing by the title, one would think the prime focus of the Jonathan Dayton/Valerie Faris directed film ‘Battle Of The Sexes’ would be the bizarre only-in-the-70s tennis match between top women’s player Billie Jean King and 55 year-old former tennis champ Bobby Riggs that caught the public’s imagination and became seen as a defining event in feminism of that era.

And yet over the course of the film it’s clear the filmmakers are more interested in other issues and the match itself almost feels like a subplot as opposed to the central narrative it’s treated as. It’s one of the reasons the film doesn’t have the impact it could’ve.

The film begins with King (Emma Stone) acclaimed as the best tennis player in the world and winning another Grand Slam title, but major challenges are on the horizon. Firstly, the blatant sexism of tennis authorities who almost gleefully pay women considerably less than men sees King spearhead the daunting challenge of launching a separate women’s tour. As well, a chance meeting with hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) forces King to confront her lesbianism and the difficulties that entails for her marriage to Larry (Austin Stowell) and as a public figure in 1970s America.

With the pressures amounting rapidly, an offer from openly chauvinist long-retired tennis player Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell) to play a match as a literal battle of the sexes seems like the last thing that would interest her; but instead she accepts and it becomes one of the triumphant events in her life.

The only time BOTS really comes alive is when it covers the romantic relationship King has with Marilyn as the contradictions in her personal life become untenable. It would’ve been much easier for her due to her public profile, career and happy marriage to deny her true self, but the sheer magnetism she feels for Marilyn makes it impossible. BOTS effectively conveys how all the conventions one is supposed to adhere to in life can become irrelevant when you meet the right person and the romanticism that takes hold.

Apart from these segments, BOTS feels disappointingly rote and by-the-numbers. This is especially so for the plot involving the breakaway women’s tour which King led which could’ve been a fascinating topic but the treatment here is dispiritingly superficial, as if they just did a summary of the key points from a Wikipedia page on it.

Also, the film seems merely happy just to recreate the 1970s gaudiness of the actual ‘Battle Of The Sexes’ tennis match itself without even delving into any of the issues surrounding it. For example, we constantly see how seriously King takes her tennis and wants the sport to be taken serious (and women playing it as being respected). Yet she is taking part in a match that feels like something PT Barnum dreamt up (King arrives in on a float) that almost feels like its mocking tennis in more ways than one. Also, why did an event so corny and gaudy become one of the defining cultural events of its era? Alas, the film doesn’t event attempt to look into these issues.

The film is a bit more interesting when focussing on Bobby Riggs whom it portrays surprisingly sympathetically. They don’t really portray him as a genuine sexist pig, but as a rather sad middle-aged man playing up that angle knowing that will get the maximum attention and publicity from someone who desperately misses the adulation and spotlight he had in his tennis career.

In truth, it feels like the filmmakers really wanted to make a biopic of King but that would’ve been a harder sell than the more box office concept of making a film about an iconic 1970s event.

As it is, BOTS feels limited by the sheer clunkiness of its script. There’s an early scene where King (meeting sexist tennis authorities) just blurts out they’ll start their own women’s tour; it comes across as inauthentic and heavy-handed because the film wants a lazy, shorthand way of telling the audience what will happen in the film next. There’s also a family dinner scene with a bored Riggs where his son wonders how many peppercorns there are in the salt shaker. Knowing before watching the film that Riggs was a notorious gambler, I knew that this was put in solely so Riggs could react and eventually ask his son whether he wanted to bet on it with his disapproving wife looking on (an ongoing theme throughout the film). Again, it just felt like a script too heavy-handed and lazy in pushing the film’s themes.

I don’t want to be too negative on BOTS. It’s a relatively easy film to watch with a few nice scenes and Stone and Carrell are fine in their performances (although I doubt they’ll be awards-worthy). And from a technical perspective, the film looks convincing in the finale as you really believe it’s them playing the tennis match.

But overall, BOTS could’ve and should’ve been a better film than it is.

Review: Logan Lucky


logan_lucky(Warning: Contains mild spoilers)

Elaborate heists done by a group of people has always been one of my favourite film sub-genres. If done well, the plan’s intricacies, how it works out in reality, the expected and unexpected obstacles and inevitable tensions within the group can make for fascinating and entertaining films.

Clearly veteran director Steven Soderbergh (making his first film after a very brief retirement) enjoys these films as he made a trio of ‘Oceans’ films based around the same concept and now returns to it with ‘Logan Lucky’, albeit in a very different setting and social milieu.

The film’s plot centres around divorced and just-unemployed construction worker Jimmy (Channing Tatum), who decides robbing a stadium during a NASCAR event is the solution to his problems. He needs the help of multiple people including his one-armed brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and criminal Joe (Daniel Craig). Unfortunately Joe is in prison but where there’s a will…

I’ve only seen a handful of Steven Soderbergh’s films and while he’s clearly one of the smartest and skilled directors in Hollywood, his movies tend to feel a bit distant and cold. One admires his films without finding them particularly enjoyable or wanting to rewatch them.

And this is how I felt about ‘Logan Lucky’. It’s a smartly done heist film with some fine performances but I was never terribly engaged in it and it was never as entertaining or clever as it thought it was.

The film’s biggest problem is that the people involved in the heist seem to be operating at two intelligence levels depending on the requirements on the plot. In their regular day-to-day lives, they’re often simplistic, even moronic. Indeed, another set of brothers involved in the scheme (played by Jack Quaid & Brian Gleeson) are so idiotic they reminded me of the trio of yokel brothers from the 1980s Newhart TV show.

And yet we’re supposed to believe that this same group of people are able to carry off a highly elaborate and sophisticated heist, not only outwitting a substantial police and security force but also able to get multiple people in and out of prison without the authorities noticing. Perhaps it could be understood if Soderbergh was making a comment on how people like this apply considerable intelligence to an event like a heist while acting foolishly in the rest of their lives, but that would be giving him too much credit.

The other problem with the heist itself is that it relies a lot on lucky timing and people with no connection to it acting in ways that can’t be predicted. For example, how do they convince the prisoners to stage a riot for the required time the heist is run and how do they know the prison warden will react in the exact way they need to enable them to get back into the prison undetected? It’s a scheme that makes the finale to The Sting seem like child’s play.

As well, the film feels erratic and contradictory in its tone. Initially in the early scenes where we see Jimmy with his children, his job situation and his general struggles, it’s striving for a realistic, natural tone. But at other times when characters like such as the buffoonish NASCAR powerbroker (Seth MacFarlane) or a very monotone and robotic FBI agent (Hilary Swank) appear it has a comic, exaggerated and even goofy tone. There are pleasures to be had from both styles (Swank’s performance is quite amusing) but they don’t mesh which hurts the film overall.

This is not to say that ‘Logan Lucky’ isn’t a well-made film. It is stylishly and thoughtfully directed by Soderbergh as usual and the execution of heist is entertainingly (if unbelievably) done. Also, there are a lot of good performances in a fine cast. Daniel Craig practically steals the film with his delightful portrayal of the charismatic but unpredictable Joe. And I admired Channing Tatum for underplaying the central role when it would’ve been easy to try and share the limelight of the array of colourful supporting performances.

But overall, while ‘Logan Lucky’ has undoubted strengths (and is popular amongst critics), it was never as entertaining or substantial as it could’ve been.

Trivia Note: This is the second film I’ve seen at the cinema this year (after Alien: Covenant) that features both Katherine Waterston and has John Denver’s music as a pivotal part of the plot


Forgettable 21st Century remakes of 20th Century cinema


Fame  footloose

A sub-section of 21st century cinema that fascinates me is the remake of a revered/classic film that is considered to be so insipid that a year or two after they’re made it’s as if they don’t exist and the original still thrives.
Below are six standout examples from this century. I haven’t seen any of these remakes so the comments below aren’t my views on it, just an assessment on what the general consensus was on them:

The Omen (2006) – The 1976 horror film was considered a classic of its time and remaking it 30 years on was an ambitious task. But it was backed by a smart marketing campaign which made explicit use of its opening date being 06/06/06. And it had a strong cast, with Mia Farrow in one of her rare post-Woody film roles being particularly noteworthy. But critics were disappointed (27% on RT) and despite it being a modest financial success it was completely unsuccessful in matching (let alone eclipsing) the memory of the original

Fame (2009) – In its capturing the spirit and liveliness of young aspiring New York artists, the original 1980 musical became a defining film of its era (and led to a successful TV series). A remake in 2009 seemed potentially rewarding and even had the curio value of TV’s Frasier & Lilith (Kelsey Grammer and Bebe Neuwirth) both playing prominent roles in the film. Alas, a bad sign was that it was rated PG which stood in contrast to the original film which was quite rough and brutal at times. And the general consensus was it was a bland and plastic remake which would be soon forgotten, which it was.

Fright Night (2011) – The 1985 vampire original had been a surprise popular and critical success. It seemed an odd choice for a remake as the original’s semi-spoof, self-aware, humourous style still made it seem fresh today. Was there an audience for a modern remake of a horror film that still felt modern? As it turned out, No. Despite decent reviews, the Fright Night remake barely made any money anywhere, not even finishing in the Top 5 in its opening weekend in America despite an aggressive marketing campaign.

Footloose (2011) – The 1984 original became a iconic film of its era thanks in no small part to its famous Kenny Loggins title track. In truth it’s a pretty silly film and a remake seemed like a good chance to improve on it, especially when it was helmed by Craig Brewer who’d had notable success with ‘Hustle & Flow’. Alas, despite generally positive reviews the public didn’t warm to it (as a check of the IMDB user reviews shows) and it made little impression. Perhaps people were too affectionate towards the original to accept a remake.

Poltergeist (2015) – For decades the debate over whether the 1982 Tobe Hooper horror film was in fact actually directed by Executive Producer Steven Spielberg has been a fascination for many. Indeed just a few weeks ago a crew member on the film stated that Spielberg in fact directed it.

One thing this recent batch of stories don’t have to mention; that they’re talking about the 1982 version and not the 2015 remake because that’s been forgotten already. Despite being produced by Sam Raimi and having talents like Sam Rockwell & Jared Harris appear in it, the film was critically panned and audiences probably would’ve cared more if it had actually been a documentary about answering the Hooper/Spielberg mystery.

Ben Hur (2016) – Probably the most foolhardy of this list, it was impossible to see how this could ever be a success. For one thing, remaking one of the most iconic Hollywood films of the 20th century is just asking for trouble. Especially when helmed by director Timur Bekmambetov who it’s fair to say doesn’t quite have the reputation of a William Wyler. Also, biblical/Roman epics were hardly box-office gold in 2010s cinema.

The biggest giveaway to this film’s impending doom is the YouTube trailer clip which actually has more dislikes than likes for it. One user observed it as ‘Fast And Furious A.D.’

And to the surprise of no one, the film was not only a critical disaster but a financial one as well as it searched for an audience that wasn’t there and was one of the biggest flops of its year. Amongst the plethora of bad decisions MGM has made in recent decades, this would be one of the worst.

Review: Marty (1955)


MartyViewed on its own today, it may be hard to appreciate how significant the 1955 winner of the Best Picture Oscar ‘Marty’ was at the time of its release; British film critic Leslie Halliwell called it “a breath of spring” for Hollywood and just watching the film today on its own merits, it may be hard to appreciate that perspective.

But in the context of what had come before it in American cinema (especially since talkies came in), its significance and impact is much easier to understand. The realism in how the characters in ‘Marty’ behaved and especially how they talked had barely been seen previously in Hollywood mainstream cinema.

Take for example, the most dominant film studio of the 1930s and 1940s, MGM. Their films primarily had smart, usually well-to-do characters always being able to deliver clipped, sharp dialogue full of insights and memorable one-liners. Even a studio like Warner Bros in this era which was much more associated with working-class people (and gangsters) had the same issue.It was hardly naturalistic but it was for the most part extremely effective cinema; after all, it wasn’t called the ‘Golden Age’ of Hollywood for no reason.

Due to a myriad of factors, Hollywood cinema had a sense of staleness in the early-to-mid 1950s as the medium of television were providing a freshness and realism that was missing from increasingly bombastic, overproduced Hollywood films.

One of the most prominent writers in this medium was Paddy Chayefsky and he was employed to do an expanded version of his TV play ‘Marty’ for the big screen and his script broke all the rules for what constituted quality dialogue in a film. He eschewed having snappy, ‘clever’ dialogue to capture the ‘marvellous world of the ordinary’ of how people really talked. What he menat was capturing how people often ramble, say things that are nothing to do with a group conversation, how they have trouble articulating themselves and the repetition of words. This last aspect is particularly notable as the repeated phrases one hears during the film (“It was a very nice affair” “What do you want to do tonight?”) stay in one’s memory.

But apart from that highly significant aspect, how does ‘Marty’ stand up as a film today?

The film’s story focuses on the title character, a mid-30s bachelor Italian butcher (Ernest Borgnine) whose low self-esteem is exacerbated by associates and family pressuring him to finding the loving partner he’s always longed for. From a situation of hopelessness, things turn for when he falls in love with a teacher at a dance named Clara (Betsy Blair) but for their own selfish reasons those who wanted him married disapprove of this new relationship, putting Marty in a seemingly untenable position.

Chayefsky’s script sharply captures how Marty’s lack of self-esteem and self-worth is reflected by the people who associates with, particularly Angie (Joe Mantell). It appears they are best friends but Angie never seems to provide any real friendship or support to Marty. Indeed when Marty meets Clara, Angie tries to undermine it and just really wants to keep Marty down to his level for his own selfish reasons. If Marty were to marry Clara it’s safe to say Angie would quickly disappear from his life.

Another extremely well-written scene (and the high point of the film) is when Marty’s widowed mother (Esther Minciotti) and widowed aunt Catherine (Augusta Ciolli) converse about moving in together. Catherine is full of bitterness and spite and initially one is repelled by her. But over the course of the scene we see the source of her unhappiness and how as a widow she feels unwanted by her children and is lonely and without purpose in life. By the end of the scene she is defeated and accepting of her fate. It’s a marvellously acted, deeply moving scene with profound insight; something you don’t get often in any scene in any film.

Overall though, it has to be said the passage of time hasn’t served ‘Marty’ particularly well. What felt fresh and unique in 1955 has been imitated so often in the decades since that it feels a bit restricted and formal now, as if trapped by the conventions that it created. And this exposes its weaknesses such as its rather stiff direction by director Delbert Mann, making his winning of the Best Director Oscar that year rather baffling in hindsight.

Overall, ‘Marty’ remains a likable, slice-of-life film with oodles of charm and is highly significant in the history of American 20th Century film. But is it a film which still holds up as being the only film to win both the Best Picture Oscar & Palme D’Or? Not really.

Review: Slums Of Beverly Hills (1998)


SlumsDespite getting good critical reviews, the US low-budget film ‘Slums Of Beverly Hills’ went largely unnoticed when it was released in 1998. That’s a pity because not only is it a fine film in its own right but it’s an interesting insight into US independent cinema in the 1990s and since then.

Set in 1976, the film focuses on the Abromowtiz family (single father, three children) who are living a dismal existence in an endless series of dismal motels while their ne’er-do-well father Murray (Alan Arkin) can’t provide them a stable existence. This is told from the perspective of teenage daughter Vivian (Natasha Lyonne) who – because of a lack of stable adult authority figures – has to stumble through the experiences teenage girls go through on her own.

The film doesn’t really have a narrative as such, it’s more of a snapshot of this particular family in this particular era and on that level it succeeds very well. We see the ethos and mindset of a family that has had better times and probably a comfortable middle-class existence in the past, that is now struggling to keep their heads above water. Also, despite its limited budget it convincingly captures of the period feel of life in 1970s American suburbia without resorting to clichés (most of the time anyway).

A big factor in the film’s success is Lyonne’s performance. Her role is the centrepiece of the film and it’s a fairly challenging role to play; if she’d stumbled, the film probably would’ve fallen apart. But she’s excellent in persuasively conveying a teenager who’s a mixture of insecurity, daring, awkwardness and brashness. She helps make Vivian and likable without pandering to the audience’s sympathies and it’s not surprising that after being stalled by personal troubles in the 2000s, Lyonne has gone on to a successful acting career with the talent on display here.

The smartest move writer/director Tamara Jenkins does is that it doesn’t try to make this a story of triumph where troubled characters with deep flaws overcome their problems to create a phony triumphant ending. She’s more interesting in portraying them as they are and with great empathy in how they bumble from one experience to another in life.

This is best demonstrated in the character of family cousin Rita (Marisa Tomei), who stays with the family after running away from a rehab clinic. She’s clearly a frazzled mess, so totally lost in life that her desperate and delusional attempt to become a nurse is only going to end in failure. But the film treats her compassionately and for how all her flaws she has good soul and a confidant for Vivian. Wherever her life goes post-1976, you can’t help but wish her well.

The appearance of Alan Arkin as the hapless father is interesting in a context beyond the film itself. He had an excellent run in US cinema from roughly 1966 to 1980 as the ‘New Hollywood’ era of wanting challenging stories and real, unconventional characters created a culture where someone with his idiosyncratic, character-based talents could become a significant star.

But in the 1980s as Hollywood turned to special-effects, big-budget, bombastic films with even more bombastic personalities, Arkin’s talents fell out of favour and seemed that his career may drift away. But in the 1990s there was a revival of sorts of the independent, outsider, eccentric, lower-budget style of cinema and films like this were symbolic of that and that’s where Arkin prospered and he’s clearly having a great time with this role.

For all its strengths and appeal, ‘Slums Of Beverly Hills’ isn’t a perfect film. It’s shambling, non-narrative structure is one of its charms but can be a weakness as on occasion it feels rather shambling and messy. A section involving Murray’s interactions with a new love interest (a wasted Jessica Walter) goes nowhere, a segment where Vivian actually goes to a doctor to inquire about breast reduction surgery doesn’t convince on many levels and there’s a scene where an interaction between Murray and Rita that turns perverse that the film doesn’t really know how to handle.

Also, while it avoids most of the clichés of nostalgia films set in the 1970s, it does indulge a lot in the common one of showing TV footage from many popular shows of the day. Apparently there’s an unwritten rule in Hollywood that any film set in the 1970s has to have a scene where someone is watching Archie Bunker or Mannix.

Probably the film’s biggest issue is that it lacks that level of social penetration and insight that the best of ‘New Hollywood’ independent 1970s cinema had. It displays empathy and sympathy for the central family but the in-depth social detail that could make their plight more penetrating isn’t there. Instead it replaces this with a level of quirkiness (a common trait of modern US indy cinema), which is best illustrated by a supporting character’s seeming total fascination surrounding Charles Manson and his infamous murders; there’s even a scene where he takes Vivian & Rita to where apparently Manson and his ‘family’ committed their murders. It really doesn’t add much to the film.

But despite these issues, ‘Slums Of Beverly Hills’ is a fine film well worth seeking out. Jenkins has only made one film since then but does have another in the works; naturally as reflective of the late 2010s cinema, it’s being produced by Netflix.

Films that opened in America on April 28-30, 2017


How To Be A Latin Lover (imdb rating 6.0) – Comedy about a middle-aged playboy starring Eugenio Derbez, who is apparently hugely popular in his native Mexico. In one of her very rare film appearances of recent decades, Raquel Welch. Film looks broad and obvious with the usual modern ‘comedy’ clichés but it did well at the box office and may see Derbez become a global name in cinema comedy.

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (9.2) – This Indian historical film made some waves over the weekend as its box office broke records for an Indian based film there and are perhaps a highlight of the growing value of non-English language cinema in an increasingly diverse and immigrant-based country.

The Circle (5.2) – A tech conspiracy thriller starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks sounds like it has possibilities but the critical and IMDB reviews suggest this is a stinker. Watching the trailer, Hanks as a tech genius who does those solo talks in front of huge stages that Steve Jobs used to do just doesn’t convince. And the trailer makes the film seem small and amateurish.

Sleight (5.9) – Sundance entry from 2016 now getting a release about a street magician. Reviews are fairly lukewarm.

Battle Of Memories (7.0) – Chinese film with an intriguing premise that has echoes of the works of Christopher Nolan and Charlie Kaufman; in the near future a memory manipulation service sees a man caught inside a serial killer’s mind.

The Mayor (6.2) – South Korean film looking at the machinations of a battle for political power. I’ve seen these types of films by the bucketful from America & Britain but it would be interesting to see whether such a film from a different region tackles the subject in a unique way.

Natasha (6.9) Canadian romance made in 2015 gets an American release; 100% on RT

Buster’s Mal Heart (7.1) – Surrealist mystery film which going by the trailer (and indeed title) that feels like a typical American indy film, although this one does look interesting. That it’s fronted by the star of the popular Mr. Robot TV series means that all of the YouTube comments on the trailer clip reference the series.

One Week & A Day (7.0) – Israeli drama

Bang! The Bert Berns Story (7.6) – Doco on acclaimed 1960s pop music writer/producer who died very young 50 years ago. Currently 100% on RT.