Stars: Josh Lawson, Bojana Novakovic, Damon Herriman, Lisa McCune
Release date: September 25th, 2014
Distributors: Entertainment One, Hopscotch, Magnolia
Running time: 96 minutes
Best part: The invigorating performances.
Worst part: The last scene.
Despite the consistent quality and commendable intentions, the Australian film and television industry is stuck in a critical and commercial pot-hole. Allowed few resources, many productions use out-of-the-box ideas to impress audiences. Today, film-goers gravitate more towards spectacle than story or character. Sadly, our cinematic accomplishments are either ignored or brushed off. Despite the heavy subject matter of entries like Somersault and Animal Kingdom, there are brighter efforts out there.
Josh Lawson & Bojana Novakovic.
This year, our industry has steered itself in a whole new direction. Analysing specific demographics and trends, genre flicks like The Rover, Predestination, and The Babadook received enough attention for wide release distribution. Now, thanks to talented comedic actor Josh Lawson, modern sex-comedy The Little Death is tickling us in all the right places. This romantic comedy figuratively – literally, depending on your tastes – explores our many sweet spots. Examining sex’s natural and unnatural elements, this project gives new meaning to the term: “down under”. The movie discusses sex, romance, death, marriage, taboo, and everything in between. In fact, given its out-there premise, I’m surprised it didn’t explore the terrors of taxes and insurance claims. Don’t be afraid, this local effort is actually a breath of fresh air. The narrative juggles several peculiar story-lines and characters. Dealing with multiple couples, the story touches on many life stages. We are first introduced to an attractive couple, Paul (Josh Lawson) and Maeve (Bojana Novakovic), in full cuddle mode. Maeve, afraid of her emotions, asks Paul to fulfil her rape fantasy. Meanwhile, Dan (Damon Herriman) and Evie(Kate Mulvany)’s marriage counsellor tasks them with conducting role-play to spice things up.
Damon Herriman & Kate Mulvany.
In addition, Richard (Patrick Brammall) and Rowena (Kate Box) must adjust to a loved one’s sudden death. Bafflingly so, Kate’s libido kick-starts whenever Richard cries. Propelling the narrative from light-hearted fluff into unadulterated overdrive, Lawson elevates said three plot-threads above everything else. Connecting each strand, we see a middle-aged man, Steve (Kim Gyngell), informing his new neighbours of two things: he bakes Golliwog cookies and is a convicted sex offender. The three central story-threads, despite the exposition-driven set-ups, are almost worth the admission cost. However, Lawson, handing himself the lead role, lends significant attention to his and Novakovic’s plot-line. The other two, despite the positive vibes, are given little personality. Beyond our central story-lines, we get several underdeveloped and listless strands. One sub-plot, involving a loveless marriage between desk jockey Phil (Alan Dukes) and ball-busting housewife Maureen (Lisa McCune), goes nowhere. The intricate narrative, born from Lawson’s hyper-snappy mind, is The Little Death‘s biggest flaw. Despite the ambition, Lawson’s talents don’t stretch to fit the feature format. Introducing story-lines and character arcs at random throughout, Lawson’s screenplay resembles a brainstorming session gone horribly wrong. Despite the intriguing premise, none of its plot-strands connect succinctly. Despite the occasional meet-ups, restricts our characters to their specific threads.
“Whatever happened to good all fashioned, run-of-the-mill sex? People have to complicate it with all this kinky shit.” (Glenn (Ben Lawson), The Little Death).
Whilst promoting The Little Death, Lawson landed himself in controversy by slamming the Aussie film industry’s dark side. Putting his first feature on a high pedestal, Lawson’s high-minded promises aren’t fulfilled. Having achieved recent success with TV corporate-drama House of Lies, the export’s vanity project lands with a whimper instead of a, ahem, bang. Introducing, picking up and dropping sub-plots and character arcs without warning, Lawson’s feature – busy riding mainstream and indie tropes – never develops a satisfying through-line. Thanks to the movie’s disparate structure, it becomes a series of skits, pratfalls, misunderstandings, and miscommunications. Its skittish story-telling tropes – used to expand the wafer-thin narrative – overshadow the more alluring ideas and scenarios. These sketches, despite the pitch-perfect comedic timing, amplify the screenplay’s lack of charm, guile, or emotional resonance. Despite the flaws, the movie bares several positive aspects. The dialogue, alleviating the tension, elevates certain sequences. In addition, its talented performers elevate the mediocre material. Sadly, Lawson’s commentary on suburbia and relationships is startlingly condescending. Focusing on good-looking, upper-middle class people, the movie alienates a significant portion of its audience. With first-world problems guiding the narrative, most of its conflicts become cold-hearted. Lacking resolutions, Lawson’s daring vision never pays off.
The Little Death, almost reaching crying-after-sex disappointment, is saved by its…climax. A sign language translator, Monica (Erin James), is caught between a deaf man and a phone-sex operator. Interpreting their horrific words, the translator gains a firm understanding of the world around her. This scene pumps blood towards the movie’s heads. However, despite Lawson’s ambition, his first feature goes hard and fast for only short bursts.
Writers: Elan Mastai (screenplay), T. J. Dawe (novel)
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis
Release date: August 20th, August
Distributor: Entertainment One
Countries: Canada, Ireland
Running time: 101 minutes
Best part: Radcliffe and Kazan’s chemistry.
Worst part: The slapstick gags.
Some actors, introduced to Hollywood at an early age, find it difficult to stray away from certain character types. Several hard-yards youngsters have tried and failed to stay relevant whilst transitioning from childhood to adolescence. Over the past decade, one ambitious British actor has radically transformed the stigma surrounding him. Daniel Radcliffe, known for the mega-successful Harry Potter franchise, is leaving the boy-wizard aura behind thanks to ballsy entries including The Woman in Black and Kill Your Darlings.
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan’s blistering chemistry defeats all!
From a distance, cheerful romantic comedy What If looks like the right ingredient for cementing his leading-man status. Backed up by pulpy horror-fantasy Horns, he, his agent, and publicist seem to be making all the right moves. On track to be the next Hugh Grant or Colin Firth, his ambitious acting style is an ever-changing experiment in itself. In this heartening rom-rom, Radcliffe channels everything into he and his leading lady’s dynamic. Wholeheartedly, our leads bolster this likeable effort. The narrative revolves around twenty-something nobody Wallace (Radcliffe). Having caught his unfaithful girlfriend in the act, our medical school dropout can’t seem to move on. After a year of sorrow and rejection, Wallace searches for anything to cheer him up. One night, at his roommate/best friend Allan(Adam Driver)’s house party, he meets quirky dame Chantry (Zoe Kazan). Stuck in a rut, our leads might just work perfectly together. However, there’s always a catch! Out of the blue, Chantry reveals her close-knit relationship with Ben (Rafe Spall). As per the Hollywood rom-com code, Wallace is no match for Chantry’s significant other. Agreeing to be friends, Wallace and Chantry’s bond grows with each chance encounter and coffee-driven meet up.
Adam Driver and Mackenzie Davis lending a helping hand.
Every 3 to 90 year old knows the ins and outs of big-budget rom-coms. From the posters alone, often depicting our leads leaning on one another, it’s easy to decipher every plot-line and character arc. With fantasy overshadowing quality, these movies rely on desperate singles and eager couples giving Hollywood enough cash to produce more of them. Surprisingly, What Iftakes several rom-com tropes for a spin before beating and leaving them for dead. Sure, this may seem shockingly morbid. However, the movie wants us to feel this way. Looking down upon sensitivity and artificiality, this movie asks the age old question – can men and women ever be friends? Throughout most of this enlightening rom-com, the answer appears to be “yes”. In fact, when Wallace and Chantry act like buddies, the movie crafts its best moments. Indeed, despite the unending meet cutes and fun montages, the movie’s first-two thirds follow a refreshing and respectable trajectory. With the narrative reaching peculiar peaks and troughs, the first-two thirds linger in the consciousness. Unfortunately, the final third, Fuelled by more cliches and contrivances than a Valentine’s Day Drive-in marathon, the climax falls flatter than expected. Throwing in airports, taxis, time limits, confessions of love, and first kisses, the movie drops its realistic glow in favour of studio-driven sappiness.
“99% honesty is the foundation of any relationship.” (Allan (Adam Driver), What If).
Megan Park as the loud mouth sister.
Credit belongs to director Michael Dowse (Goon, Take Me Home Tonight) for crafting a Canadian rom-com with US flair and a dry British sense of humour. Brewing a (500) Days of Summer and Ruby Sparks concoction, What Iftakes a hefty bite out of typical genre conventions. Shocking audiences with its mean streak, the movie throws in much more expletives and sex talk than expected. Thanks to Chantry’s promiscuous sister Dalia (Megan Park) and Allan’s girlfriend Nicole (Mackenzie Davis) inclusion, this rom-com is unafraid to get down and dirty into hard-earned truths. Discussing sex, loneliness, infidelity, and relationships, the movie earns points for not sugar-coating everything of relevance. In fact, as the sub-plots rise and fall immeasurably, its message makes several must-hear points about love and loss. Sadly, influenced by Michel Gondry and Marc Webb, Dowse’s style adds little to the final product. Repeatedly stating the obvious, his animated flourishes and editing techniques outline already-established points. In addition, running gags and improvised lines extend the running time beyond merit. However, overshadowing its minor quibbles, Radcliffe and Kazan shine in the spotlight. Radcliffe, losing his Potter sheen, is enrapturing as the good egg cracking under pressure. Carrying the movie’s slight shade of optimism, Radcliffe radically bolsters his intriguing role. Meanwhile, Kazan’s inherent charisma and awe-inspiring enthusiasm save certain cliched sections.
Blasting through rom-com cliches and archetypes, What If, for the first-two thirds, is a charming and visceral meet-cute-ridden distraction. Radcliffe and Kazan, proving to be alluring lead actors, elevate every second of screen time. Whether they’re together or apart, it’s difficult to take your eyes off them. As action-horror flicks fester August and September, this romp provides the perfect reprieve from everything around us. In fact, if Radcliffe can escape Harry Potter, we can leapfrog Into the Storm and catch this enjoyable smooch-fest instead.
Stars: Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Kate Upton, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Release date: April 17th, 2014
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Running time: 109 minutes
Best part: Kinney and Coster-Waldau.
Worst part: The awkward slapstick humour.
Ironically, The Other Woman, for a movie about its lead characters rejecting all quarrels and enjoying life, can only deliver a torturous experience. Right off the bat, this rambunctious and simplistic romantic comedy contradicts itself more so than its soul sucking, alpha male antagonist (and that’s saying something!). However, despite failing to reach my particular demographic, I was willing to go into it with an open mind.
Cameron Diaz & Leslie Mann.
So, after the past decade’s serving of forgettable and soapy rom-com junk, why would I be optimistic? Well, despite The Other Woman’s hypoactive/itch-that-needs-scratching marketing campaign, the world’s funniest and most insightful female performers need more screen time. Always highlighted as “the funny ones”, a handful of female comedic actors are chewed up and spat out for our viewing pleasure. We still aren’t sure if they’re being branded as cinematic treasures or extorted for our cynical amusement. To test this, two of these actors, Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann, have been thrown together for this ethically questionable rom-com. Relax people, I’m not complaining about the performers themselves. I’m simply lambasting the movie they’re stranded in. To kick things off, Diaz’s character Carly Whitten is even presented as a no-nonsense, highly-skilled lawyer. Dating handsome businessman Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), her newfound lifestyle is more enviable than even her impressive office space. Inevitably, with one fell swoop, this confident woman hurriedly turns into a bumbling idiot as her life crumbles. In a ‘hilarious’ turn of events, Carly discovers Mark’s closeted skeletons. His most frightening secret comes in the form of his kooky housewife Kate (Mann).
Kate, tracking down and questioning Carly about her husband’s indiscretions, leans on her new confidant for assistance. From the trailer, it is easy to see where the narrative is headed. Aided by Kate’s brother Phil (Taylor Kinney), Carly and Kate investigate Mark’s shady wheelings and dealings. Admittedly, the movie is held up by an intriguing and thought-provoking premise. With infidelity an intrinsic factor in the dating/relationship game, the movie attempts to unpack certain myths and truths valuable to its taboo subject matter. However, falling into sitcom territory, the narrative never questions its character’s startlingly brutal actions or the topic itself. At least He’s Just Not That Into You delved head-first into note-worthy ideas. This rom-com drifts from laughably earnest, to shallow, to bafflingly silly between scenes. Following this tiresome formula, the first half comes off like a series of bland montages. Used to sell its retro-pop soundtrack, the first half’s stroll-like pace is unwarranted. On top of that, the movie throws its half-awake audience into discomforting scenarios. Forced to delve into Carly and Mark’s doomed romance, clichés and underdeveloped characters weigh down an aesthetically pleasing coupling. In the second half, however, the story picks up and takes things to the next level. Forming an alliance with Mark’s second mistress Amber (Kate Upton), Carly and Kate’s uneasy alliance switches from painfully flat to…slightly less so. This rom-com quickly strives for a Horrible Bosses vibe. Noticeably, contrivances and revelations stall the already groan-inducing plot. Every so often, characters do and say bizarre things just so…the film can happen.
“We got played by the same guy…do you want vodka or Tequila?” (Carly Whitten (Cameron Diaz), The Other Woman).
A pop-star, a Sports Illustrated model, and Jamie Lannister walk into…never mind. Unfortunately, The Other Woman’s tonal inconsistency avoids charm, wit, and satire. With our three scornful women teaming up to destroy Mark, this sisterhood is supposed to ground an otherwise fantastical adventure. This half-hearted effort fails the Bechtel and laugh tests. On multiple occasions, Melissa Stack’s screenplay forces Diaz and Mann to commit unspeakable acts. Some scenes, setting up punch-line-free sequences, leave it up to the disastrous duo to tussle with and grope one another. In addition, beyond the useless slapstick gags, the gross out humour offends the movie’s already downtrodden audience. Offensive to men, women, and dogs, director Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook, Alpha Dog) abuses subtlety like Kate’s Great Dane obliterates Carly’s apartment. Beyond this fantastical realm of shiny locations and pretty people, its inhabitants lie, cheat, and steal to stay on top. Instead of simply divorcing Mark (like mature adults), the terrifying trio result to spiking his drinks with laxatives and oestrogen tablets. Sadly, this isn’t Diaz and Mann’s first ventures into atrocious rom-com territory. Diaz, delivering touching performances in There’s Something About Mary and In Her Shoes, continues her exhaustive run of critical and commercial bombs. Delving back into the What Happens In Vegas zone, her manic energy grates against the other performers. Worse still, Mann’s high-pitched voice and absurd mannerisms make for an apathetic and irritating presence. In addition, despite their good looks, Upton and Nicki Minaj look like they’re reading off of cue-cards.
I have no problem with rom-coms – every target demographic deserves specific genres to attach themselves to. However, The Other Woman is a forgettable, despicable, and cynical rom-com. With a rotten romance encased in frustrating slapstick gags and a cliche-ridden plot, this farce cements Diaz and Mann as critically and commercially derided comedic actors. It’s a shame, really. Thankfully, Diaz doesn’t have sex with a car in this one.
Stars: Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Reese Witherspoon, Chelsea Handler
Release date: February 17th, 2012
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Running time: 97 minutes
Best part: Pine, Hardy, and Witherspoon’s chemistry.
Worst part: The inconsequential sub-plots.
This Means War had all the ingredients to be a perfect date movie. Good looking people and romance for the girls and intense action for the guys. But while the film may be a sweet representation of the battlefield of love, at points it bites off more than it can chew.
Chris Pine & Tom Hardy.
It’s a very simple premise that we have here. Renegade federal agents FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) are all around smooth operators and at the top of their game on (almost) every mission. Their strong friendship is tested with the introduction of the sexy and intelligent Lauren Scott (Reese Witherspoon). With fate bringing FDR and Tuck to her in different situations, their dating lives intertwine into a potentially dangerous love triangle. They must now use any means necessary to steal the girl away from one another with only death and a vengeful Agency target standing in their way. For a story that almost falls apart at the seams, both the stylish direction and stellar cast keep This Means War together. Pine and Hardy prove why they are two of the most popular actors working today. Their dynamic, and at points touching, chemistry in every scene together elevates their conventional roles. With Pine’s character as the smooth talking womaniser with a heart of steel and Hardy’s character being an honest guy struggling with the single life, opposites attract as the snappy dialogue, based on their differing personalities, illustrates their engaging friendship.
Unfortunately, Hardy, proving himself a very talented dramatic performer in films such as Inception and Warrior, seems uncomfortable with the genre as many of his comedic lines and slapstick moments fall flat, giving him the immediate appearance of being miscast. Reese Witherspoon is a stand out as the girl stuck in the middle. As the honest yet ignorant female lead, her energy and bubbly personality creates an enjoyable interpretation of what is normally a bland central character, in the vein of Cameron Diaz in Knight and Day. Despite the strong relationships and charisma between the three leads, the characters themselves never feel realistic. With McG (The Charlie’s Angels films, Terminator Salvation) it comes as no surprise as his films have a distinct lack of humanity due to his heavy focus on stylised action and slick special effects. Pine tries hard with the material but can’t shake off the character’s insanely low brow attitude toward women and patronising attitude toward his best friend. Witherspoon on the o other hand is forced to epitomise the ‘ultimate’ female character. With her fun job, good looks, beautiful apartment and with two good looking guys after her at the same time, the glorification of her situation and actions make her a shallow representation of women. Her character’s situation is also worsened with the constant commentary from her obnoxious best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler).
“Don’t choose the better man, choose the man who makes you a better woman.” (Trish (Chelsea Handler), This Means War).
Our love triangle.
Many comedic moments in This Means War are hit and miss, particularly in the first half. The gross out jokes and overt sexual references seem at odds with the film’s tone and become instantly forgettable. However as the rivalry between Tuck and FDR picks up, so does the level of set up gags, which actually come off as hysterical in many scenes. There are many over the top pranks, particularly when Tuck shoots down a drone watching his every move, that are wildly entertaining and develop a consistent pace. McG’s slick direction, the quick cut style of the hand to hand combat and the direct sound editing of the explosions and gun fights, deliver one fast paced and exciting action scene after another. McG also knows how to use his settings and cinematography to create the enviable life and skills of a spy. Scenes including Tuck and FDR ducking and diving around Lauren’s apartment unbenounced to her or each other, the action packed mission on top of a skyscraper in Hong Kong and a rather brutal game of Paintball are choreographed and filmed with the technical complexity that makes McG one of Hollywood’s most skilled action directors. This Means War sadly lacks a sense of urgency. The over reliance of its basic premise becomes tedious, as the forced villain plot quickly feels useless and only creates a largely predictable conflict for the three main characters. Til Schweiger (Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz from Inglorious Basterds) tries but has little to do in his one note role as the slimy European antagonist.
Here’s the big, inexcusable problem with This Means War – there are too many cooks spoiling the broth. Thanks to McG’s incompetent direction and the noticeable studio interference, this spy-comedy never get the chance to gather intelligence and execute its mission.
Stars: Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Corey Stoll
Release date: May 20th, 2011
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Countries: USA, Spain
Running time: 94 minutes
Best part: The kinetic visuals.
Worst part: McAdams’ annoying character.
Woody Allen has found his home away from home with Midnight in Paris, a film about finding your imagination hiding in the city of love. Reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie, Allen illuminates the historical and famous locales of Paris, turning the city into a charming and expressive work of art. Allowing us to view both the past and present through his eyes illustrates his love of Paris, and is reminiscent of his representations of his native Manhattan.
Owen Wilson & Marion Cotillard.
The story centres around Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a thirty-something writer struggling to find a worthwhile ending for his first novel. Unable to fit into the life his obnoxious fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) has picked out for him, including expensive belongings and pedantic friends, Gil feels a special connection to Paris that no one around him understands. One night while walking through the streets of Paris, he stumbles across an antique 1920’s car. After accompanying the people inside, he travels back in time and meets his literary and artistic idols, including Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway. His love for their work, and new-found friendship with Picasso’s mistress Adriana (Marion Cotillard), creates a desire to continually return to this world at the stroke of midnight.
Wilson, Corey Stoll & Kathy Bates.
Allen’s direction and screenplay make Midnight in Paris a smart, witty and charming adventure. The beginning of the film, featuring continuous wide shots of the city, details 24 hours in Paris and develops the feeling of a wonderful fantasy. A bold visual style featuring elaborate 1920’s era fashion and nightclub settings, and a smooth guitar and jazz based score, delivers a quaint and comfortable representation of the past. Both artistic and literary references and discussions, based on the work of his role models, spark delightful scenes of dialogue that Allen is known for. The chemistry between every character is electric and the desire to learn more about, but not spending too much time on, each icon leaves a surprise around every turn and keeps the film consistently exciting. Despite the historical and literary discourses becoming alienating at points, the appearance of every icon keeps the viewer interested in both their work and their reactions and connections to a fan like Gil. Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali, Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald respectively, and Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway deliver standout performances in their small but dignified roles.
“No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.” (Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Midnight in Paris).
Owen Wilson’s standout performance becomes the most beguiling aspect of Midnight in Paris. Not only does Wilson portray a representation of Allen perfectly but he also becomes the avatar for the audience. Gil’s writer’s block and desperate search for creativity post screenwriting are defined by his entrapment of simple ideas. His inability to fit into Inez’s life of material things, and his increasingly different views to others around him on the art life of Paris, make him a likeable, funny and dynamic character. He feels a true sense of belonging when confronted with his heroes in the same place and when entwined with their overarching stories. Gil’s feeling towards his situation contains many signs of Allen’s theories of film-making and creating a true piece of art. Allen’s ode to a “Golden Age” of creativity is both a homage to the art and literature history of Paris and a representation of his struggle to fit into the present Hollywood system.
Allen, from Annie Hall to Match Point, has gone out of his way to boost Hollywood cinema above the norm. Midnight in Paris, tapping into his long-lost optimism and light-heartedness, is a fun and frivolous romantic comedy.