I swear – ‘Bad Words’ Review

Bad Words

By Simon Miraudo
September 23, 2014

Jason Bateman bets on himself in Bad Words, his feature directorial debut and understandable attempt to solidify his forever-on-the-cusp-of-assured career. Longevity is not promised to anyone in Hollywood, and Bateman’s pre-Arrested Development, post-Teen Wolf Too work is a testament to that. Take solace, sir. If the flame of stardom is ever extinguished, you can always fall back on making black comedies like this; features that are fierce, funny, and full of four-letter words.

Bateman plays Guy Trilby, an irascible a-hole who competes in the prestigious National Quill Spelling Bee thanks to a loophole in their rulebook (apparently no one thought to specify an age restriction). His motives remain mysterious to the Bee’s bitter end, though the chip on his shoulder – and his dickishness – is readily apparent. Guy ascends to the finals, armed with genius-level intellect and a passion for tormenting his prepubescent competition. He slings racial epithets at friendly competitor Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), hatef***s Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn), the journalist and sponsor trailing his curious mission, and is as offensive as possible to all the furious stage parents, upsetting everyone, audience potentially included. (Not all viewers will come around to Guy’s side when his reasoning is finally revealed. There are some bells that can’t be unrung.)

Bad Words

Bad Words is certainly assured. Bateman the director knows especially well how to deploy Bateman the actor, amplifying Michael Bluth’s narcissism and unscrewing his filter so that insults once merely muttered can be relayed instead with gusto. Some performers have a specific timing that feels acutely tuned to our personal frequency. Jason Bateman is that to me. He makes me laugh a lot, and in this, he stings with comic precision. (Geddit?) A shame then that the script, by Andrew Dodge, should rest on the easy slur in almost every instance. Imagine what Armando Iannucci, the man behind Veep and The Thick Of It (the gold standard for inventive swearing), could have devised for Bateman to spit. The leaden direction doesn’t always help; the sepia-tinged cinematography gives Bad Words a grave, solemn vibe, and it doesn’t mesh with the farcical devolution of the Bee in the final act (which is really begging for the light touch of Christopher Guest).

Bateman isn’t one to share the wealth, either: he doesn’t just have the best lines; he has almost all the lines. Compare this to In a World, Lake Bell’s own directorial debut. You can sense how excited she is to show off her funny friends. Everyone wins. In the case of Bad Words, there are winners, and there are losers. Hahn is very good as the put upon Jenny (who we immediately identify as a journalist because of her unkempt hair) and Chand is cute, but few others get a chance to shine here as Bateman constantly does. Even Allison Janney barely registers in a too-brief role as the Bee’s director. Okay, kudos to Bateman for snagging such a talent for such a brief turn. Still, it sure inspires cognitive dissonance when a film does away with its finest actor after only a handful of uneventful scenes. Her presence on any show or movie ultimately has a kind of ‘Poochie’ effect: whenever she’s not on screen you just expect everyone else to be wondering, “Where’s Janney?”, hoping that somehow spirits her back.

3.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s archive of reviews.

Bad Words will be available from Quickflix on September 25, 2014.

There’s something about Amy – ‘They Came Together’ Review

They Came Together
By Simon Miraudo
September 22, 2014

They Came Together is here to kill romantic comedies, and yet, it’s five years too late, like a Terminator who hasn’t accounted for daylight savings. The ugly truth, ahem, is that it was beaten to the punch by Katherine Heigl, who, either through her own hubris or for some covert, Illuminati-like mission, starred in so many consecutively awful ones she effectively drove her gravy train off a cliff. So, David Wain‘s spoof plays out instead like Of Mice and Men, putting a bullet in the back of the genre’s head not out of cruelty but kindness; making any future clichéd rom-coms unnecessary, and thus protecting it from darker fates. I mean, imagine if Heigl one day decided to make 28 Dresses?

It opens with the non-threateningly handsome Joel (Paul Rudd) and flibbertigibbet Molly (Amy Poehler) on a double date, insufferably debating about the local art scene before relaying their contrived origin story (needing only a light prodding from the other couple). They spare no detail, no matter how excruciating, making a point to mention ad nauseam how New York City is like the third party in their relationship, and how amazingly their tale resembles that of a stupid movie. It really does. She owns a quaint little sweets shop, and he works at the candy conglomerate trying to shut her down. They meet cute and it’s hate at first sight. Eventually they fall in love, until an out-of-nowhere argument divides them. Molly gets engaged to a classic Baxter and Joel makes a last-minute dash to halt their nuptials. Oh, and her parents are white supremacists, which, in fairness, is a new one.

They Came Together

They Came Together thinks romantic comedies are dumb, and they are, though ironically, Wain’s very silly satire mostly succeeds for the same reasons the best rom-coms do: because of the charm and effervescent charisma of its stars. That includes Wain and his co-writer Michael Showalter‘s former State and Wet Hot American Summer buddies, not to mention Jason Mantzoukas, Max Greenfield, Ellie Kemper, Bill Hader, Melanie Lynskey, Ed Helms, Teyonah Parris, and Cobie Smulders. Again, I’m not sure how different this all is to any other crappy romance that’s at least smart enough to populate its minor roles with talented improvisers. Frankly, I wonder if Wain shouldn’t have tried to make an actually good film with Rudd and Poehler at its center. They’re two of the finest comic actors working today, armed with surprising dramatic depth as well as real presence and chemistry (two of those meaningless phrases we use when talking about rom-coms and the intangible something held by its most watchable stars). When a rom-com is good, there’s little in cinema better.

But don’t write-off They Came Together as a missed opportunity. It’s not the timeliest take-down, nor is it as sophisticated as the recent pastiches by Edgar Wright or Phil Lord and Chris Miller. However, it’s so brazenly goofy, gleefully anarchic, and impressively self-destructive, it succeeds in wringing out big, dumb, hearty laughs. They Came Together also has an absurdly acrobatic sex scene that looked positively exhausting, and unless I blinked while something similar occurred during Runaway Bride, that’s another thing it has over regular rom-coms.

3.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s archive of reviews.

They Came Together will be available from Quickflix on September 24, 2014.

Semi-charmed life – ‘Magic in the Moonlight’ Review

Magic in the Moonlight

By Simon Miraudo
August 25, 2014

Magic in the Moonlight sees Woody Allen putting the least amount of effort into enchanting audiences at a time when he really needs to work a little harder for their love. The public perception of Allen takes a trip on the Ferris wheel each year, and though he’s coming off an Oscar-winner in Blue Jasmine, the re-airing of his hugely questionable relationship with Mia Farrow‘s daughter Dylan casts a pall over his latest piece (if not his entire career). Yet, he carries on his merry way with total disinterest in any surrounding controversy – including a more recent one: that he neglects to cast black actors – making whatever he was planning anyway. In this case, it’s an all-white, Jazz age class comedy with a 28-year gap between its romantic leads.

Of absolutely no consequence, Magic in the Moonlight stars Colin Firth as Stanley, a narcissistic, pessimistic illusionist and spiritualist debunker, challenged by his old friend Howard (Simon McBurney) to out Emma Stone‘s American clairvoyant Sophie Baker as a con-woman. She’s moved in with an eager-to-believe family of millionaires in the South of France. The matriarch, played by Jacki Weaver, just wants to know if her late husband was faithful to her, while her swooning son, Hamish Linklater, simply wants to serenade Sophie. Then, 97 minutes pass. You’ll struggle to recall the name of any one character, or maybe even the jokes, but you may still feel you had a grand old time.

Magic in the Moonlight

Allen’s script easily establishes its game, and sets the scene for a fine farce indeed. However, instead of characters being paired in combinations to produce the maximum number of sparks, they each circle around one another like satellites. After initial introductions, Stanley barely interacts with anyone beside Sophie, Howard, and his Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins), the latter of whom is isolated entirely from the rest of the cast. Sophie’s mother (Marcia Gay Harden) is just sort of … there and Linklater’s preppy rube Brice hardly shares a moment with Stanley, his rival for Sophie’s affections and mirror image. The feature’s big revelations are relayed unfussilly, and early, to ensure the undercutting of any potential tension, as if it was being made specifically for viewers who get especially worried in rom-coms where the leads don’t initially get along.

At least we have the easy charm of Firth and Stone to fall back on. Firth often seems to have trouble calibrating the volume of his voice, but he looks like he’s enjoying himself, and why wouldn’t he, opposite the big-eyed ingénue Stone, as beguiling as ever? Allen would have to also actively plot against his cinematographer, Darius Khondji, to make the Côte d’Azur unromantic. Some frames appear as if they were painted by Monet, except populated by boilerplate Allen neurotics, each armed with a handful of nice quips. Magic in the Moonlight isn’t the first film to see Allen’s existential, realist despair come up against the universe’s capacity to surprise and delight and suggest hidden depths. It is, sad to say, one of his few films to not frequently enough surprise or delight or suggest hidden depths. It’s the kind of movie that just happens, regardless of whether or not anyone is watching it. Allen made it, and now it exists, and that’s the end of his contract with the viewer. Wanting more from it, like wanting more from him, is expecting too much.

3/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s archive of reviews.

Magic in the Moonlight arrives in Australian cinemas August 28, 2014.

Play It Again – The Birdcage

The Birdcage

By Simon Miraudo
August 25, 2014

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line. Hey, whatever. It fits!

The Birdcage grossed nearly $200 million worldwide in 1996, and that is significant. Box Office Mojo says it’s the highest grossing queer film of all time, though they’re not counting Frozen and 300, and they probably should. It was such a big hit, my parents felt inclined to bring me along to see it at the not-yet-worldly age of eight. I’d like to think I left the theatre pushing 12, at least. The presence of Robin Williams no doubt made the subject matter more welcoming to mainstream audiences, but that doesn’t mean he diminished it one bit. The film contains one of his most layered comic performances, whilst also making a name out of Nathan Lane and gifting us with the sight of both Dianne Wiest and Gene Hackman in drag. I don’t know which of these to be more grateful for.

Williams stars as Armand Goldman, owner of ‘The Birdcage’ nightclub on Miami Beach, where his loyal, hysterical, long-time partner Albert (Lane) performs. When Armand’s son Val (Dan Futterman) gets engaged to the waspy Barbara Keeley (Calista Flockhart), he begs his parents to tone down their flamboyance, lest Barbara’s right-wing folks Senator Kevin Keeley (Hackman) and Louise (Wiest) call off the nuptials. The Keeleys, in actuality, are desperate to host “a big white wedding” – their emphasis – to escape the controversy from the death of a colleague, found in flagrante derelicto with an underage prostitute. It all builds to a brilliant farcical climax in which the Keeleys visit the Goldmans in their newly hetero (and newly Catholic) home, Armand and Albert’s true identities perpetually on the cusp of being revealed. Case in point: manservant Agador (Hank Azaria) neglecting to hide their china set that, as Louise innocently describes it, shows “young men playing leap frog.”

The Birdcage

A remake of 1978’s culture clash comedy La Cage aux Folles – itself based on the French play from earlier in the decade – it begs the question: can an American do-over arriving twenty years after the original ever truly be necessary? First of all, anything directed by Mike Nichols and scripted by his legendary comedy partner Elaine May will always be essential, so there. To quiet any further concerns, I only needed to think back to 1996 and all the gay and lesbian characters that weren’t being represented in cinema and on TV. In that context, twenty years later, The Birdcage somehow feels more essential. In 2014, a progressive depiction of a gay man is one who doesn’t act gay in the slightest, which seems evolved, but isn’t really. Lane is undeniably relishing the opportunity to camp it up as Albert, and Williams rises to the occasion alongside him, but identifying Armand and Albert as only ‘camp’ is unfair and inaccurate. Everyone recalls the scene in which Armand teaches Albert how to smear butter on toast like a man. The real highlight comes later, on a park bench, where Armand grants Albert palimony, pledging the rest of his life to him with understated affection.

A movie about coming to terms with your personal shames and understanding others by (sometimes literally) dressing up in their skin, The Birdcage never condescends, nor does it shield its true, fabulous, capri-pant wearing self. The political satire skewers effectively too; Hackman in particular is taking great delight as a stuffy, self-righteous windbag Republican with a great affection for foliage. The laughs come thick and fast in The Birdcage. It truly has too many memorable quotes for any one feature to boast. I could relay the best ones, but when a picture does you the service of assembling Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman and Dianne Wiest – oh! and Christine Baranski as Val’s mother – to perform them for you, the least you can do is let them.

4.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s archive of reviews.

The Birdcage is available on Quickflix.

Television Revision: ‘Hannibal’ – Season 1

Hannibal S1

By Andrew Williams
August 20, 2014

Television Revision is a weekly feature in which our tuned in TV critic trawls through the best the box has to offer, giving you a primer on some of history’s finest shows (and the rest).

Now, this is a story all about how… Deeply troubled criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) works with the FBI to investigate the most brutal murders in America. He’s teamed with brilliant psychiatrist Dr Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), who just happens to be the most notorious serial killer of all.

Hannibal S1

 

Happy days? Not happy, no. Hannibal is a dark show. This show is a series of tragedies and horrors in slow motion that will grip you by the soul and never let go. This is a show where the funny stuff takes place in the morgue, where the most visually striking tableaus are corpses, and where death is constantly a presence and occasionally a happy ending. This is a show about a cannibal where the episode titles are all food-related.

 

It’s sick. It’s deranged. And it’s completely brilliant.

 

An adaptation of the Thomas Harris novels rather than the various Anthony Hopkins movies, Hannibal is completely different to anything that’s come before, particularly when it comes to Mads Mikkelsen’s Lecter. For Hannibal Lecter to exist in the real world as a free man, he needs to be more of a lit fuse than an out-and-out explosion, and Mikkelsen plays him perfectly. It’s also the most aesthetically beautiful show on television; even a garroting has a balletic quality on Hannibal.

 

The final frontier: Hannibal is a nightmare you’ll enjoy having.

Hannibal S1

 

Top three episodes: 11) Roti. Hannibal does very well with supporting or occasional characters, and Eddie Izzard’s Dr. Abel Gideon is right at the top of the tree. A serial killer more in the mould of Hopkins’ take on Lecter, his escape from custody results in the season’s most weird, thrilling episode. 13) Savoureux. The season finale ends with one of the most haunting moments of TV I’ve seen in a long time. 5) Coquilles. For a series that produces more than its fair share of beautifully grisly images, the angel tableau in this episode is one of its finest (and most disconcerting) moments

Worst episode: 4) Oeuf. Show-runner Bryan Fuller chose to pull Oeuf from the schedule due to real-life shootings that took place around the time it was supposed to air; it was a smart and well-explained decision from a thoughtful creator and no great loss to the series as a whole, as Oeuf is probably the series’ weakest episode, despite a strong performance from Molly Shannon and some interesting moments in the series’ overall arc. It’s the one episode that feels inessential.

Season MVP: When it came time to cast the dark, anti-social tortured genius at the centre of their show, the producers of Hannibal naturally went straight to the male lead of Confessions of a Shopaholic. Those who might only know (otherwise excellent dramatic actor) Hugh Dancy from his rom-com work might be surprised to find him a completely riveting presence here. Will Graham could easily be a bland counterpoint to the ever-colourful character of Hannibal Lecter but not in Dancy’s hands: I would happily watch a show about this incarnation of Will Graham without Hannibal Lecter in it, and that’s some achievement on Dancy’s part.

 

4/5

 

Hannibal is available on Quickflix.

Disney wants to shoot ‘Pirates 5’ in Australia

Pirates of the Caribbean

Disney is thinking about shooting Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales in Australia early next year, hoping to replicate the deal that saw the Australian government promise Disney $21 million for bringing 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Captain Nemo to our shores.

According to Deadline, production on 20,000 Leagues – originally set to be helmed by David Fincher – is now unlikely, so Disney are seeking ways to have the incentive payment transferred to Pirates 5.

That one-off payment was in addiction to the standard 16.5 per cent tax rebate, bringing the rebate total to 30 per cent, which is what the industry would like to see instituted as the norm.

Thanks to the rising Aussie dollar, Hollywood productions have largely shied away from filming Down Under; a vastly different story to the late 1990s, in which numerous big budget productions were set up locally.

A 30 per cent rebate, it’s believed, would tempt Hollywood back.

Kon Tiki helmers Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg are still attached to direct the fifth Pirates movie, which will see Johnny Depp return as Captain Jack Sparrow.

Pixar has totally retooled ‘The Good Dinosaur’

The Good Dinosaur

The team at Pixar are known for their (nearly) immaculate track record, so most would be surprised to learn of the tumult that so frequently occurs during the production of their pictures.

I say that to calm the nerves of those concerned about their upcoming feature, The Good Dinosaur, which was delayed from 2014 to 2015 and had director Bob Peterson replaced by “the Pixar Brain Trust.”

According to Collider, there’s been further action behind the scenes.

John Lithgow, who’s providing one of the voices in the flick, revealed that its story has been “dismantled… and completely reimagined.”

He wants to allay your concerns too: “Don’t worry. It’s coming and it’s gonna be better than I ever imagined.”

We don’t know what the new story will concern, but the original tale imagined a hypothetical world in which dinosaurs were never extinct, and followed Arlo, a teenage Apatosaurus.

Lithgow insists he and Frances McDormand will still voice Arlo’s parents, but the fate of co-stars Bill Hader, Neil Patrick Harris, Judy Greer and Lucas Neff remains up in the air.

Still to come from Pixar: Inside Out in 2015 and Finding Dory in 2016.

Joaquin Phoenix stares down Josh Brolin in first ‘Inherent Vice’ image

Inherent-Vice-550x341

There are a million reasons to look forward to Paul Thomas Anderson’s upcoming adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice: 1) It’s a new freaking PTA movie. 2) It’s based on Thomas Pynchon’s excellent Inherent Vice. Actually, reasons three to one-million are pretty much just variations on those first two points.

But the cast is very appealing too, and we finally have our first look at two of its stars in character.

Courtesy of EW is this pic of Joaquin Phoenix as perpetually-stoned private detective Doc Sportello, staring down Josh Brolin’s cop “Bigfoot” Bjornson. They both look quite simian, don’t they?

Also starring in this psychedelic missing-persons tale: Benicio Del Toro, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Joanna Newsom, Maya Rudolph, and Martin Short.

It hits US cinemas December 12, with a local release to follow.

Play It Again – Awakenings

Awakenings

By Simon Miraudo
August 18, 2014

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line. Hey, whatever. It fits!

It’s hard to imagine Robin Williams ever ceding the spotlight. That’s not to say he seemed ungenerous. Anything but. Rather, how could you expect a spotlight operator to turn away from that manic, miraculous whirligig? He could have easily taken the showier part in Penny Marshall‘s 1990 effort Awakenings: that of the near-catatonic, physically-contorted Leonard Lowe. The role would have impeded his obvious abilities, at first, yet it also would have afforded him an opportunity to go hell-for-leather when Leonard is eventually “awakened” and begins embracing his newfound mobility with an exuberant lust for life, all the while attempting to stifle those old tics. Instead, Williams flexed those other muscles that were too often taken for granted: an ability to play a heart-hurt, empathetic introvert, and humility enough to let co-stars give bigger, grander, seemingly more ambitious performances. It was a noble effort. Inevitably though, our eyes always returned to Robin.

In Awakenings, Williams portrays the fictional Dr. Malcolm Sayer, based on real-life doctor and author Oliver Sacks, who was responsible for finding something of a cure for an entire catatonic ward in a Bronx hospital circa 1969. Seyer is perpetually on the brink of fading into the background, until he learns a stirring life lesson from Leonard (another against-type casting choice, Robert De Niro): letting yourself disappear into oblivion, without ever attempting to leave an impression on the world or entering the human race, is equivalent to never living at all. In the wake of Williams’ untimely death, it’s a particularly affecting moral. No one could ever claim he didn’t do both of those things with arms fully outstretched.

Awakenings

Later in his career, Williams would try to fuse his clowning with pathos, and the results (Patch Adams, Jack, Bicentennial Man), er, speak for themselves. Even while eulogising the man, it’s hard to locate the correct, kind words that might make those movies sound good. (‘Meaning well’ isn’t enough to forgive Jack, you know?) He would course-correct in the early-aughts by trying out a novel new twist on his persona: combining that underlying desire to please almost everyone with something sinister. Insomnia, One Hour Photo, World’s Greatest Dad. They belong in the pantheon, alongside his widely-acknowledged all-time greats.

So too does Awakenings, a curiously-underloved film that snagged a Best Picture Oscar nomination in 1990, and only two other nods: one for its screenplay, by a then-unknown Steven Zaillian, and another in the Best Actor category, for De Niro only. It lost all three prizes and has since exited the public consciousness. Those who remember it might only recall it as a weepie in which a bunch of elderly people are healed of their sleeping sickness and given a new, albeit temporary, lease on life. There’s much more to recommend it, and to remember it for.

De Niro does enthralling work with his physically complicated task; Julie Kavner is soft-spoken and tender as a kindly nurse who indulges Sayer’s experimental treatments; and Marshall’s even-handed direction resists all temptation to wring every last tear from the viewer despite the subject matter practically begging her too. A farewell dance between De Niro’s Leonard and his new girlfriend (Penelope Ann Miller) before he returns to the land of the living dead is devastating precisely because it’s underplayed and unexpected. Later, the camera simply rests dreamily on the hospital’s inhabitants as they come to realise their own, similar fate, without invoking our pity. Awakenings will get a re-evaluation in the wake of Williams’ passing, and that’s great. It’s just a tragedy it took a tragedy to precipitate it.

4/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s archive of reviews.

Awakenings is available on Quickflix.

Watch the Broadway cast of Aladdin lead a ‘Friend Like Me’ sing-along in honour of Robin Williams

Aladdin-Disney-Genie-Aladdin-Apu-and-the-Magic-Carpet

It’s been a rough week. Let’s close it out with a brief, beautiful, human moment.

Theatres across Broadway dimmed their lights this week to honour the passing of Robin Williams, but the most moving tribute came from the stage of the New Amsterdam, where the musical Aladdin was being staged.

At the end of the show, James Monroe Iglehart – the Tony winning actor who plays Genie – emerged from behind curtain with the rest of the cast, leading the audience in a rendition of ‘Friend Like Me’: the song made famous by Williams’ own Genie in the 1994 Disney film.

Enjoy.

They’re making another ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ prequel

Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Not satisfied with 2006’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, which saw Leatherface as a 30-year-old, producers are plotting another prequel that will focus on the infamous cannibal cook’s teen years.

Originally reported by Bloody Disgusting and now confirmed by The Wrap, Millennium Films will title the picture Leatherface.

Plot details are under wraps, but the tale will likely take place in the 1970s. Yes, we know what you’re about to say: the original Tobe Hooper classic took place in 1974, and Leatherface most certainly wasn’t going through puberty at the time. Try not to think about it. Thanks to all these sequels and prequels, the timeline for this franchise has become impossibly complex.

Seth M. Sherwood has been tapped to pen the script for Leatherface.

Last week, the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s star Marilyn Burns died of natural causes at the age of 65.

‘Godzilla 2’ due June 2018… and Mothra’s going to turn up too

godzilla

You’ll have to wait until 2018 for a second Godzilla movie, with Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures deciding to wait for Gareth Edwards to finish up his untitled Star Wars spin-off before getting to work.

According to The Wrap, Godzilla 2 will land June 8, 2018. That mysterious Star Wars spin-off is due December 2016.

At Comic-Con, the makers promised a showdown between the titular, erm, hero and his legendary nemeses Mothra, Rodin and Ghidorah.

Hopefully Ken Watanabe will return to gawk at each and every one of them.

Man, Cave – ‘20,000 Days on Earth’ Review

20000 Days on Earth

By Simon Miraudo
August 15, 2014

Nick Cave, the man, the myth, the legend, reaffirms his status as those last two things, at least, in 20,000 Days on Earth. It’s a convention-busting documentary that follows the inscrutable artist on a fictionalised day in the life; his 20,000th, actually. Well, that’s what directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard suggest with their opening credits, and believe me, it’s not the first claim they make over the next 97 minutes that invites scrutiny. The so-called legitimacy of their doco will raise an eyebrow or two (or more, if you have an extra eyebrow to spare) but I’d caution against questioning too much. To worry about falsehoods and mythologising and subjects “performing” in front of the camera – not to mention the way each move by that camera seems elaborately planned – is to miss what’s truly occurring on screen: the impossible magic that is creating art, re-imagined cinematically, and ingeniously.

As the movie tells it, a regular day for Cave begins with him awaking in his Brighton home and writing studiously in a seemingly set-decorated office. Later, he visits a therapist – real-life psychoanalyst Darian Leader – and swings by his archives, to rifle through photos and diary entries and to reminisce about the bad old days. Former colleagues – including Ray Winstone, who starred in the Cave-scripted film The Proposition, and his ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’ duet companion Kylie Minogue – apparate in his car like friendly Jacob Marleys. Finally, he eats pizza with his sons and watches Scarface. As anyone who’s ever heard his music may have already suspected, the banalities of Nick Cave’s daily grind are far more fascinating than our own.

Forsyth and Pollard insist only the structure of their feature is fictionalised, not the conversations; not even between Cave and Leader, which sees Cave betray the most about his upbringing and perhaps truest self, whoever that might be. The filmmakers’ formal approach suffocates any semblance of spontaneity – genuine as the revelations may be – and yet presents us with a perfect image of an artist and how he creates. Throughout the “day” we see Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds penning, recording and eventually performing live their 2013 record Push the Sky Away. Our thoughts on their music aside, 20,000 Days on Earth convinces us that their herculean struggle to wrestle all those loose ideas and memories and scattered pieces of poetry and prose into nine songs is tantamount to Beethoven putting the final touches on his Fifth Symphony; that is, if Beethoven closed off his masterpiece with a reference to Miley Cyrus floating in a swimming pool, and then used a picture of his naked wife as the cover.

20000 Days on Earth

20,000 Days on Earth does not deliver an in-depth exploration or critical examination of its hero. It pitches us a very specific version of Nick Cave and explanation for why exactly he’s important, and it often seems these reasons are ones that have been defined by Cave, and not our directors (who have worked closely with Cave and The Bad Seeds since 2008 on numerous video projects). It ends up playing like Interview with the Vampire, and not merely because of Cave’s nocturnal habits and wraith-like look. It just never feels like he lets the narrative out of his grasp.

That makes it sound like a bad documentary, and I suppose if you were hoping for a myth-shattering exposé, you might be disappointed. Have heart: Nick Cave may not open himself to being critically examined in a movie, but he still makes for a hell of a compelling movie star. A rock and roller who weirdly commits to nine-to-five working hours in a home office, he reveals a self-deprecating sense of humour and plenty of self-awareness. 20,000 Days on Earth manages to retain his enigmatic existence too. The magnitude of his output is enormous: albums, features, books. Their quality, mostly, is similarly immense. Do we really need to know if he dresses up in a suit – or stays in his PJs – before heading to his studio? Maybe to be Nick Cave you need to dress up; to have a costume, and immaculately-constructed legend, and a documentary about you that defies its genre’s very form and risks cries of “fraud” simply to keep the illusion alive. Remember what they said about Batman and Bruce Wayne: Bruce Wayne is the mask. We don’t need a Nick Cave exposé. This semi-fictionalised version is somehow more truthful. 20,000 Days on Earth is mischievous and magnificent, like the man himself.

4/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s archive of reviews.

20,000 Days on Earth arrives in Australian cinemas August 21, 2014.

Tom Hiddleston, burdened with glorious purpose, wanted for ‘Ben-Hur’ remake

Marvel Studios Panel At Comic-Con

They’re remaking Ben-Hur and they want Tom Hiddleston to star in it. We understand your complicated feelings at this time.

‘They’ are MGM, Paramount and director Timur Bekmambetov, who’ve set a February 26, 2016 release date for this new take on Ben-Hur.

According to Deadline, the studios are courting Hiddleston (of Loki and Internet love affair fame) to take on the iconic role of Judah Ben-Hur, made famous by Charlton Heston in the classic 1959 film.

Hiddleston – burdened with glorious purpose – might be too busy for the part, Deadline cautions. He’s hot property, don’t you know?

The Biblical tale is based on Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, which concerns the rivalry between Jewish prince Ben-Hur and his Roman best friend Messala, who become divided over their conflicting faiths.

The last draft of the script for this reboot was penned by Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave scribe John Ridley.

Screen legend Lauren Bacall dead at 89

Bacall

Lauren Bacall, one of cinema’s most enduring icons, has passed away at the age of 89 from a stroke. The news was confirmed on Twitter by the estate of her late husband, Humphrey Bogart.

“With deep sorrow, yet with great gratitude for her amazing life, we confirm the passing of Lauren Bacall,” the Tweet read.

A legend of the film noir era, she began her career on the stage – by her birth name Betty Bacall – while working as a model on the side.

Spotted in Vogue by Howard Hawks’ wife Nancy, she was recruited for his 1944 film To Have and Have Not, where she appeared opposite her future husband Bogart, asking him if he knew how to whistle: “You just put your lips together and blow.”

On set they began a relationship despite him already being married to Mayo Methot and the 25-year age difference between them (she was 20, he was 45).

They were together until Bogart’s death in 1957, during which time they had two children, Stephen and Leslie.

Their on-screen collaborations were just as fruitful, and included The Big Sleep, Dark Passage and Key Largo.

Independently, she made an impression in plenty of eventual classics, including How to Marry a Millionaire, Written on the Wind and Murder on the Orient Express.

Bacall returned to Broadway in the 1960s and worked there steadily for the next few decades, earning a Tony Award for Applause in 1970 and again in 1981 for Woman of the Year.

She received her first Academy Award nomination in 1996 for The Mirror Has Two Faces, and was the expected victor, until a surprise upset saw the prize instead go to Juliette Binoche for The English Patient. The Academy made up for it with an Honorary Oscar in 2009.

Following Bogart’s death, she enjoyed a brief dalliance with Frank Sinatra, before marrying Jason Robards, with whom she had a third child, Sam.

Bacall is survived by all three of her children.

Light as a feather – ‘All Cheerleaders Die’ Review

All Cheerleaders Die

By Glenn Dunks
August 13, 2014

Directors Lucky McKee (May) and Chris Sivertson (I Know Who Killed Me) have fashioned a gory take on the mythos of American high school life in All Cheerleaders Die, a witchy horror comedy that acts somewhat like a pick-and-mix cross between The Craft, Jennifer’s Body, Jawbreaker, and Bring It On. It holds initial promise thanks to its open exploration of sexuality and the way women are portrayed on screen, ultimately succumbing to the tropes it set out to subvert.

After the death of the head cheerleader in a horrific accident, Maddy (Caitlin Stasey) joins the cheerleading squad and becomes enamoured with Tracy (Brooke Butler), which angers her former friend and goth witch Leena (Sianoa Smit-McPhee). When Maddy, Tracy and two other cheerleaders die in a car accident, they are brought back to life by Leena’s powers and set out to seek revenge on the footballers that caused their demise. The picture is a remake of the directors’ own 2001 debut, albeit with a significantly reworked plot. The final title card announces this as “Part One”, suggesting a sequel, but it’s unlikely that’ll come to fruition.

All Cheerleaders Die

While it is admirable that McKee and Sivertson wanted to make a movie that speaks to cinematic portrayals of women in horror, giving the genre a slight feminist twist, they haven’t done enough with it to make it a success. Sadly, the final act’s deterioration into gruesome set-pieces ends up indulging in the very anti-women attitudes that have typically plagued the genre in the past, the directors having way too much fun gruesomely dispatching the female characters who have suddenly lost all of the pluck, humour, and cheerleading spirit they spent the first hour attempting to instill in them.

All Cheerleaders Die looks nice and finds some fun visual beats to offset the material, but the screenplay is convoluted and lacks strength. There’s a kick to be had in seeing two Australian actors in a very American feature (Stasey and Smit-McPhee). However, unlike local effort The Loved Ones, this film’s take on the horrors of being a teenager isn’t up to snuff.

3/5

All Cheerleaders Die will be available from Quickflix on August 13, 2014.

Hot air guitar – ‘Jimi: All is by My Side’ Review

Jimi: All is by My Side

By Jess Lomas
August 13, 2014

Before Jimi Hendrix (Andre Benjamin) lit his guitar on fire at Monterey Pop Festival, or played Woodstock, he wore cheetah-print shirts in a struggling R&B band. So says John Ridley’s Jimi: All Is by My Side, a biopic that tries to be as independent and free spirited as its protagonist.

Faced with the challenge of withheld rights on Hendrix’s most famous songs, Ridley did what most would have done in his position and focused on the musical icon’s rise to fame; specifically, the year between Jimi’s “discovery” by Linda Keith (Imogen Poots) and his departure for the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Showing this period of Hendrix’s life, rather than the drug-hazed years of success prior to his untimely death, Ridley is forced to create drama where perhaps there wasn’t much to begin with, amplifying relationships, particularly with women, and tuning in to Jimi’s increasing spiritual vibrations.

Benjamin is undeniably brilliant as Hendrix; not only physically resembling the musician but perfectly capturing his charisma, mannerisms, and dream-weaver attitude. One can’t imagine another actor embodying the role as flawlessly as he has; that the rest of the movie fails to measure up to the lead performance is hardly surprising.

Jimi: All is by My Side

It’s disappointing to note the screenplay only gives us, despite Benjamin’s best efforts, a one-dimensional portrait of this complex man. Coming to the picture with little or no prior knowledge of the legend’s life, an audience could be forgiven for believing Hendrix to be a pliable character entirely moulded by those around him, lacking in individual will and prone to bouts of domestic violence. None of these issues are dealt with in depth, despite the feature’s nearly two-hour runtime, and though there are some commendable attempts at artistic filmmaking and sound design, Ridley (a recent Oscar winner for writing 12 Years a Slave) has nonetheless delivered a product bordering on vapid.

The supporting performances are strong. Hayley Atwell as Jimi’s girlfriend Kathy Etchingham is particularly arresting whenever on screen. Andrew Buckley as Animals musician-turned-manager Chas Chandler, who helped Jimi crack the London scene, is also highly entertaining.

Jimi: All Is by My Side misses the true essence of Hendrix; that he was the kind of musician to come around once in a lifetime, and the truly interesting things about him were not the women and not the drugs, but the music: just a man and his guitar.

2.5/5

Jimi: All is By My Side plays the Melbourne International Film Festival August 16, 2014.

‘Mrs. Doubtfire 2′ likely cancelled following Robin Williams’ death

Mrs. Doubtfire

The death of Robin Williams has likely ended production on Mrs. Doubtfire 2, though Variety suggests a reboot might be considered.

Sources say no decision has been made on the project, which is fair enough, considering how soon after Williams’ death Variety began enquiries into the project.

Chris Columbus was set to return and direct David Berenbaum’s script for Fox 2000. Berenbaum had been meeting with Williams in recent months, and began work on a second draft.

Columbus said in a statement, “We were friends for 21 years. Our children grew up together, he inspired us to spend our lives in San Francisco and I loved him like a brother. The world was a better place with Robin in it. And his beautiful legacy will live on forever.”

Michael Bay ready to move on from ‘Transformers’ franchise… again

Michael Bay

Michael Bay was set to exit the Transformers franchise after the third instalment, but was tempted back by Paramount to direct the fourth after being promised he could reboot the series, somewhat, and was even offered the opportunity to helm Pain and Gain first as a deal-sweetener.

It worked out gangbusters for everyone (except viewers, of course). Another billion-dollar grosser, Transformers: Age of Extinction has set up a new trilogy that will likely make even more than the previous three pictures managed. (Though U.S. grosses were way down, international audiences can’t get enough).

Speaking to USA Today, however, Bay indicates he may not be the man to keep this money train running.

“There’s kind of a new chapter, a new direction in movies I want to make,” he said, suggesting that he will hand over the Transformers franchise to another director so he can shoot a documentary on elephant poaching.”

But just in case you were wondering if Bay had changed entirely, fear not: “I have a lot of stories to tell. And it’s about flexing new muscles.”

Sounds like classic Bay to us.

Whether or not this is a negotiation tactic – perhaps to encourage the studio to pony up even more dough, and let him film his doco before Transformers 5 – or if he’s being honest, but will wait a few more films before surrendering the saga, is unknown.

We’ll wait with just-barely bated breath.

‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ sequel in the works

TMNT

Following a shocking – shocking! – $65 million opening weekend ($70 million AUD) at the American box office, Paramount has quickly announced a sequel to their surprise hit Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

According to Deadline, Michael Bay will once again produce under his Platinum Dunes banner, while screenwriters Josh Appelbaum & Andre Nemec will return to write the script.

It’s not yet known if Jonathan Liebesman will be back to direct.

Buzz on this live-action/CGI TMNT reboot had been bad for months, and it wasn’t expected to do especially well up against the second weekend of Guardians of the Galaxy.

And yet, it still managed a massive launch in the States, also collecting $28 million from international territories ($30 million AUD). For a film budgeted at $125 million, it won’t be long before Paramount starts seeing a profit; certainly before the picture opens locally on September 11.

Don’t expect ‘Kick-Ass 3’, kids

Hit Girl

Mark Millar, comic book artist and notorious exaggerator, is uncharacteristically apprehensive about a third Kick-Ass movie.

Though he’s written enough material for a new Kick-Ass film, Millar is in doubt the people with the money will want to fund it.

He gave Comic Book Resources the math:

“With Kick-Ass, it was a no brainer. It was made for $28 million and made $100 million back and then made another $140 million on DVD. So for the money guys, it was a $28 million investment that made $240 million. That’s a slam dunk. You’re getting your sequel. The second one didn’t make as much. It cost a little less at around $24 million, made $61 million and made about $100 million again on DVD and TV rights. It was still profitable. It was by no means The Lone Ranger. But does that mean we’ll make another one again? I don’t know.”

And remember, he’s always right about these things!

“I’m always 100% straight up with these things — to the point where I’m always revealing stuff two or three years before it’s supposed to get out. I know I told you immediately after we got the first weekend after Kick-Ass came out that we were doing Kick-Ass 2. And Matthew had engaged Jeff [Wadlow] by the following September, but no official announcement was made until the following year.”

Considering audiences roundly rejected the second Kick-Ass film, largely for the same reasons most sensible people have rejected Millar’s content, a third picture really does seem unlikely.

What does seem likely? Plenty of mad Millar quotes about projects that never eventuate for years and years to come.

‘The Inbetweeners 2’ sets record at U.K. box office

The Inbetweeners 2

The Inbetweeners 2 has set a new box office record in the U.K. by claiming £2.7 million ($3.9 million AUD) in its first night of release. That’s the biggest opening ever for a comedy.

It even outdoes the huge first night of its predecessor, which managed £2.58 million ($3.73 million AUD).

The total weekend grosses of TI2 were just behind that of the first movie, but its five-day haul of £12.5m ($18 million AUD) is the biggest bow of the year, trumping even Transformers 4.

The Inbetweeners Movie holds the record for the highest grossing live-action comedy at the UK box office, with £45 million ($64.97 million AUD). We shall watch with great interest to see if this sequel – set, fittingly, in Australia – manages to top that figure.

Clearly people love seeing these four “fwends” reunite.

Inimitable comic talent Robin Williams dead at 63

Robin Williams

The inimitable comic talent Robin Williams has been found dead at his home in California of an apparent suicide. He was 63 years old.

According to the Marin County Sheriff’s Department, officers were called to his home on Monday, where they pronounced Williams dead just after midday.

Williams’ widow, Susan Schneider, asked for privacy in a statement, whilst also hoping he be remembered for “the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.”

Williams had long suffered with addiction and depression, checking into a Minnesota rehab facility in early July.

His career began with dazzling stand-up comedy sets and whirligig performances on The Tonight Show, earning him reputation enough to anchor his very own TV series: Mork and Mindy, an unlikely spin-off from Garry Marshall’s Happy Days, in which Williams starred as an alien sent to Earth primarily to riff.

He managed to avoid typecasting by appearing in dramatic films early and often, including The World According to Garp, Dead Poets Society and Awakenings, as well as tragicomic movies that bridged the divide between his favoured genres: Good Morning, Vietnam, Moscow on the Hudson, The Fisher King,The Birdcage and World’s Greatest Dad.

Williams would eventually win an Academy Award in 1998 for his supporting role in Good Will Hunting, wherein he played the muted psychiatrist to Matt Damon’s troubled genius. He had previously been nominated for Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, and The Fisher King. At the following year’s ceremony, he performed ‘Blame Canada’, the cheeky, Oscar-nominated tune from South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut. He was otherwise unaffiliated with the picture, and yet it made perfect sense. It’s hard to think of another performer who could sensibly be asked the same one year after graduating to the hallowed ranks of the Academy.

His voice work in Disney’s Aladdin also shifted the entire animated film industry, encouraging talk of whether or not a voice-over artist deserved to be Oscar nominated. He did, but he wasn’t.

Some of Williams ventures into the world of the dramatic inspired groans – Patch Adams, What Dreams May Come, and Jack chief among them – though he course-corrected in the early 2000s with a series of haunted performances in thrillers One Hour Photo and Insomnia, reminding there were further shades to his dramatic persona than simply “sad clown.”

A return to stand-up at the same time brought him further acclaim. Allegations of joke stealing had plagued his early days, which he sought to rectify on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. His career came to a close with his rep mostly reinstated.

He will next be seen in Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, playing President Theodore Roosevelt for the third time. It’s not the only U.S. chief in his repertoire: he previously portrayed Dwight D. Eisenhower in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, and, though fictional, Tom Dobbs in Man of the Year. There had been talks of a Mrs. Doubtfire sequel, which sounds like a terrible idea, unless you are a child, and considering Williams was especially beloved by the three generations who had been raised by his work, that counts for something.

His career cut short, his legacy includes a slew of beloved features, countless memorable TV appearances, and, to go with his Academy Award, six Golden Globes, two Emmys, and five Grammys. Most actors can only hope for a singularly defining role. Williams had multitudes. And yet, he’ll achieve what few actors ever can: being remembered for themselves.

Williams is survived by his wife Susan, two sons, and a daughter.

Support is available for those who may be distressed by phoning Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.

The Lonely Island making a musical-comedy for Judd Apatow

the-lonely-island

Hold up: The Lonely Island is getting a movie. Today, nothing else matters.

According to Deadline, the trio will make a musical comedy for Universal, with Judd Apatow producing.

The Lonely Island – for those unfamiliar with their turtlenecks and chains – is Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone. Hired to Saturday Night Live as a team in the mid-2000s, Samberg joined the cast while Schaffer and Taccone worked on the writing staff, making a mark with the hugely successful Digital Shorts, beginning with ‘Lazy Sunday‘.

They would later win an Emmy for their Justin Timberlake collaboration ‘Dick in a Box’ and received nominations for ‘Motherlover’, ‘Shy Ronnie’, ‘I Just Had Sex’, ‘3-Way’ and ‘Jack Sparrow’. You know and love all these songs.

Another of their tracks, ‘I’m on a Boat’ amazingly scored a nod for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the Grammys.

Though they have three hit albums under their belt, their cinematic efforts haven’t been quite so successful.

Schaffer’s directorial efforts Hot Rod and The Watch performed poorly at the box office, though the former has developed a strong cult following. Same goes for Taccone’s own SNL movie, MacGruber.

Little is known about their latest project, but it feels so right.

For funsies:

First look at Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit in ‘The Walk’

The Walk

Forty years ago, almost to the day, Philippe Petit did the unthinkable and completed a high-wire walk between the World Trade Towers.

Now arrives our first official look at Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit in Robert Zemeckis’ upcoming biopic The Walk, courtesy of USA Today.

Petit’s incredible feat was previously brought to the screen in the Oscar-winning doco Man on Wire in 2008.

The Walk, due out July 2014, will have a very hard time topping that flick, but with a cast that also includes Ben Kingsley, James Badge Dale, and Charlotte Le Bon, not to mention consummate entertainer Zemeckis at the helm, this could still be a lively re-staging of what’s called “the artistic crime of the century.”

Fair warning: if this gets released in 3-D, you may want to bring a sick bag.

‘The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ trailer brings back the golden oldies

Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

One of this decade’s biggest surprise hits, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, is following in the footsteps of other regular-type blockbusters by releasing a sequel.

Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Dev Patel and much of the original cast return as the residents of the titular Indian hotel. Director John Madden is also back, with Fox Searchlight clearly hoping to re-align the stars to replicate – if not exceed – its predecessors worldwide gross of $136 million.

Richard Gere has, however, been thrown into the mix, though we can’t imagine that would diminish interest in the flick.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel arrives in cinemas March 2015.

Old age jokes, ahoy!

Talk Hard – Desiree Akhavan, Appropriate Behavior

We get up to no good this week with Desiree Akhavan, writer-director-star of Appropriate Behavior (now playing MIFF). She discusses coming out to your parents and what it’s like to have the New York Times call up your old teachers.

Desiree

 

Show Notes:

Thanks for listening!

Appropriate Behaviour plays the Melbourne International Film Festival August 9. We’ll keep you posted as to when it’ll be available via Quickflix.

Tell your friends to subscribe to Talk Hard on iTunes and feel free to leave a review. Or, follow our RSS feed.

You can shoot us a line at talkhard@quickflix.com.au. Find me on Twitter here: @simonmiraudo.

Thanks to Blue Ducks for our theme, “Four, Floss, Five, Six.” You can find more of their work at www.recordsonribs.com

Brooklyn’s finest – ‘Appropriate Behavior’ Review

Appropriate Behavior

By Simon Miraudo
August 8, 2014

Getting over an ex by getting under some strangers? That’s how Shirin plans to mourn the end of her last major relationship, although “plan” suggests there is some order to the chaos of her often disastrous rebounds. Appropriate Behavior is the sexy, soulful, snarky directorial debut of writer and star Desiree Akhavan, who identified herself as “too damn similar” to Lena Dunham in a blog post all the way back in 2013, before her film went on to storm the festival circuit. If this is her Tiny Furniture, expect more great things to come.

The flick begins with Shirin moving out of the Brooklyn apartment she shared with long-time love Maxine (Rebecca Henderson), and flits back and forth between their coupling/uncoupling and Shirin’s failed efforts to find a not-embarrassing new partner to make Maxine jealous. Out of work, she accepts a job from the perpetually-stoned Ken (Scott Adsit) teaching the art of cinema to a bunch of six-year-olds, a plot thread that gives the picture a perfect comic punch to close on. All the while, Shirin dodges questions from her traditional Persian parents about any potential boyfriends, attempting to explain why it’s totally normal for her to share a bed with her female roommate. “It’s European… and thrifty.” Hey, they did it in Beaches too, apparently.

Appropriate Behavior

Appropriate Behavior certainly brings to mind Dunham’s show Girls, which constantly fends off criticism for myopically depicting an entitled, mostly-white New York. Akhavan need not, however, fear being considered the “cheap, off-brand Lena Dunham” – as she pondered in that blog post – or the Toby Jones to her Philip Seymour Hoffman. (Remember when they both played Truman Capote? Exactly.) No one would dare lob the same critiques at Appropriate Behavior, in which our bisexual protagonist wrestles with coming out to her Iranian-American mum and dad. I love Dunham’s work, but there’s more diversity in that sentence than there was in Girls’ entire first season.  

Akhavan’s wry sense of humour and her effortlessly discarded wisecracks help designate this a comedy, as the handful of comic “set pieces” here don’t explode in a frenzy of hilarious awkwardness (or, say, s**tting in the street) as the coming-of-age movies from Judd Apatow‘s stable do. It’s actually far more forlorn than you might expect. Eternally out of place – not gay enough for Maxine, not Persian enough for her parents, not feminine enough for her bra saleslady – Shirin never quite speaks aloud how hard she’s finding it to exist between easy definitions. The laughs may not come at a steady clip, but seeing Shirin find something close to selfhood, following many shame-inducing experiments, is undeniably heartening stuff.

3.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s archive of reviews.

Appropriate Behavior plays the Melbourne International Film Festival August 9, 2014.

Video games – ‘Sex Tape’ Review

Sex Tape

By Simon Miraudo
August 7,  2014

Sex Tape tells the harrowing story of a man with such wanton disregard for his family’s financial well-being he regularly buys two iPads at a time and re-gifts the newly-obsolete models to acquaintances. There is also a subplot about the man and his wife frantically scrambling to erase their hastily-filmed porno from all those iPads they’ve dispersed, but that’s by the by. Director Jake Kasdan indicts the frivolously materialistic American upper-middle class by setting his rage-inspiring polemic in some near-future dystopia, where everyone is a real piece of s***, including the children. (Especially the children.) Perhaps it takes place days before the next financial collapse, or, more likely, in the lead up to the very first Purge.

Kasdan’s boldest choice is agreeing to let the studio market it as a comedy; to fool unwitting civilians into watching it on a lazy Friday night and then confronting them with a scenario so enraging and so profoundly unfunny it might inspire riots and encourage the dismantling of our social infrastructure. I mean, I assume this is Kasdan’s intention. It’s certainly the effect. No one could craft something this infuriating accidentally, right? A sex romp that manages to make the most human of romantic interactions appear hugely unpleasant? A farce that doesn’t use, say, The Lady Eve, The 40-Year-Old Virgin or even Carry On Camping as its benchmarks, instead only hoping to out-funny the pictures of Andrei Tarkovsky, that video Werner Herzog won’t let us see, and the concept of famine? Because that sounds unbearable.

Sex Tape

Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz play the central couple, bravely shielding their innate charisma and staunchly refusing to ignite any cinematic spark, lest audiences be distracted from the movie’s central thesis. Segel’s Jay works as a music engineer, and Diaz’s Annie is a mommy blogger about to sell her site for beaucoup bucks; further fuel for the inevitable audience rage. Missing the days when they would jump into bed if the breeze struck them right, they ship their two kids off to grandma’s for the evening and agree to make a sex tape; one in which they’ll re-enact every move from the Kama Sutra, no matter how acrobatic. When the deed is done, they fall asleep in a euphoric daze, while their masterpiece automatically uploads to the cloud, and consequently, the iPads of everyone they’ve ever met, because that’s who they gave iPads too, these A-holes.

So begins a late-night quest to recover all those loose tablets; a perilous journey into the heart of… okay, I will accept there is a chance this is not precisely the modern-day equivalent of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, and just a terribly-made, tone-deaf comedy with more depressing sex montages than Nymphomaniac. It’s only hope for notoriety – in lieu of, you know, jokes – is a parade of sex scenes, and yet, it can barely call itself raunchy. Sure, Diaz is endearingly game to strip down and get into positions Jerry Seinfeld would caution against (like in that episode where his nymphet girlfriend proudly opened pickle jars and sneezed in the buff). In contrast, while Jason Segel unsheathed himself countless times in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Kasdan repeated the trick by having a pantsless gent wander around in his genius biopic spoof Walk Hard, Sex Tape is entirely D-free. In 2014, this is like trying to cause a stir on the beach with a bare shoulder.

Sex Tape

Sex Tape has, to its credit, an appealing cast of supporting actors, deployed for one scene (or one quip) a piece, though the only one who gets a showcase at all is Rob Lowe, playing the potential buyer of Annie’s site and another random iPad recipient. Jay and Annie descend on his mansion to steal it back, discovering in the process he’s a family-values kind of guy who… pause for hilarious effect … enjoys cocaine and hip-hop. Lowe, always down for whatever, is a reliable screen weirdo, but if anyone out there understands fully what is going on in his scenes I’d think they were on the same gear as he.

There is actually a novel American farce to be made here: rather than Jay and Annie being merely married shrews who’d let the clock run out on their libidos, they could have been secret kinks who hide behind a sunny suburban demeanour. If their tape leaked, they could sneak into the homes of their friends and neighbours to maintain their chaste reputation, and discover, behind closed doors, everyone else is into super-freaky stuff too. Instead, Sex Tape is happy to ride the village bicycle down the middle of the road, where countless films before it have trod. In Kate Angelo’s script, the biggest conflict comes between Segel and Lowe’s guard dog, as if Father of the Bride didn’t do the exact same thing literally twenty-three years ago. (Maybe this came from Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller‘s later draft of the screenplay, in which the iPad conceit is introduced. Or possibly the three of them co-conceived it with Kasdan. Failure truly is a team effort.) I normally don’t like to offer suggestions for how a feature should have been made; that’s not the critic’s role. I prefer to leave that to the professionals. The thing is, I looked up and down the credits, and I couldn’t find any. In fairness, sex tapes make amateurs out of everybody.

1.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s archive of reviews.

Sex Tape is now showing in cinemas.

Television Revision: Sherlock – Season 3

Sherlock S3

By Andrew Williams
August 7, 2014

Television Revision is a weekly feature in which our tuned in TV critic trawls through the best the box has to offer, giving you a primer on some of history’s finest shows (and the rest).

Now, this is a story all about how… Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) has finally moved past his grief after Sherlock’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) apparently fatal plunge off a building at the end of the second season, and is about to get married to the lovely Mary (Amanda Abbington)… just in time for Sherlock to come back from the grave.

Sherlock S3

Happy days? It’s an indisputable fact about magic tricks that finding out the secret behind them is inevitably disappointing. The illusion is spellbinding; the reality is mundane. So when Sherlock Holmes performed one of the most difficult magic tricks ever – faking his own death – the fan salivation over finding out how he’d done it grew to cacophonous levels in the years between Season 2 and Season 3, and providing a satisfying answer to the mystery would become nigh on impossible. Sure enough, the way writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss get around this particular problem doesn’t really satisfy: the reality is mundane, because most reality is.

The conclusion of that mystery aside, this is Sherlock at its level best. What’s new (and welcome) is the unexpected addition of heart for a show that was previously more concerned with the brain. Narrative complexity has always been Sherlock’s strong suit, but the writers and actors show they’ve quite a way with emotional complexity as well. For a character as traditionally irascible as Sherlock Holmes to deliver a best man speech that will bring a tear to your eye while feeling entirely in step with what we know about the character is a massive achievement.

The final frontier: Spellbinding, mind-bending and heart-rending, Sherlock Season Three is slightly less of a triumph than the first two seasons, but a triumph nonetheless.

Sherlock S3

Best episode: 3) His Last Vow. Heart may have had a look-in but brain is still king in the world of Sherlock, as this more traditional episode proves: a thrilling and hilarious battle of wits between Sherlock Holmes and Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen) ends in a remarkable dénouement (and an appetizing last-minute twist).

Worst episode: 1) The Empty Hearse. A fairly simple case of a show biting off far more than it can chew, as Gatiss and Moffat try to solve their unsolvable mystery by choosing to… not really solve it. You can argue about the interesting commentary it provides on our thirst for answers in an age of questions, or you can dismiss it as a cheap and easy way out. Either way it doesn’t make for an especially satisfying thread. The rest of the episode is great, though.

Season MVP: I am constantly in awe of the subtle power of Martin Freeman. He was the emotional centre of The Office without doing much more than rolling his eyes, he gives the Hobbit movies a gravity they don’t have the mass of meaning to deserve, and he’s constantly brilliant here. Watch his reaction when he discovers Sherlock is alive, or his small, silent acting when Sherlock delivers his best man toast. If he isn’t the best actor on the planet, he’s certainly the best reactor.

4.5/5

Check out Andrew Williams’ previous instalments:

Television Revision: Sherlock – Season 1

Television Revision: Sherlock – Season 2

Sherlock is available on Quickflix.

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