Movies based on books are nothing new. Neither are teen romances. Or stories about the fragility of life. Even after rolling all three categories into one, at least a dozen recent titles still spring to mind. So, going into Five Feet Apart (2019), the latest addition to this ever-growing subgenre, it’s easy to wonder what else it could possibly offer. Unfortunately, aside from a quirky hook about its leads being unable to get close enough to touch each other, the answer is, quite frankly, not that much. Sure, there’s sparks of humour here and there. And a decidedly heart-wrenching finale. But it is incredibly frustrating to see the film’s key takeaway, of humanising a genetic condition that affects more than 70,000 people worldwide, come through in little more than sparse moments interspersed between a clunky start and a rushed, soap-opera style third act.
In saying that, those looking for a stock standard teenage romance, full of pretty protagonists and just enough hints at a terrible tragedy ready to befall them, will find Five Feet Apart (2019) a figurative goldmine. The story follows young cystic fibrosis sufferer Stella Grant as she navigates both her disease and a newfound friendship with fellow CF patient Will Newman. Because of their sickness, the pair must always stay six feet apart, lest they inadvertently share their bacteria and infect one another. But despite the fact that Will is infected with B. cepacia, a drug-resistant strain that, should it be transferred to Stella, could risk her chance at any potential lung transplants, the pair soon fall for each other. Because what sort of movie would it be if everyone played by the rules, right? So, the pair bond over medicine-taking techniques, gym sessions and late-night swims, with Stella eventually deciding the only way for her to take back some control and any chance at connection, is to steal back as many inches between them as she can. But when every moment is borrowed time, it’s not long before the couple are made to question whether a relationship built to fail can survive in the long run.
As far as the acting goes, Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse do their best to bring warmth and authenticity to their characters. And for the most part they seem to cultivate a genuine connection. But despite such efforts, it is hard to read Stella and Will as anything other than stuck, running down the clock on an ending most audience members can see a mile off. It’s not all doom and gloom though, with some of the film’s more touching moments coming across in the depiction of regular CF life – such Stella’s blogging and room decorating – which not only raise awareness of the titular disease but also emphasize the loneliness it begets. Rarely do deliveries of such medical issues remain thoughtful rather than sanctimonious. Similarly, an understated performance from former Hannah Montana (2006) star Moises Arias as Stella’s best-bud Poe helps ground things, especially as the music montages kick in.
A glossy young adult production, realism is the true detractor for Five Feet Apart (2019). For example, while we are given the opportunity to meet Will and Stella’s parents (albeit briefly and not by name), there’s never any significant inclination into how they, or for that matter the doctors and nurses too, cope with the children’s sicknesses. Where are all the visitors coming to see them? The forms needing to be filled in? Or the hospital-run programs providing them with something productive to do during their stay, like homework? No, instead, the teens are apparently given free reign through-out the hospital, jetting about on skateboards, hosting frivolous dinners in the back rooms of the cafeteria, and literally walking around on the roof’s edge. Then again, it’s hard to expect anything better from scriptwriters who somehow think regular teen talk includes profound and poetic dialogue, along with plenty of ‘staring into the distance’ moments.
Now, there’s been a lot of talk about the film’s use of Cystic Fibrosis as little more than a plot point. And while I can’t say it’s not true, it’s hard to argue that this is something new for Hollywood. How many times have we seen cancer trotted out in the same vein to bring two stricken teens together a la The Fault In Our Stars (2014), Now Is Good (2012) and My Sister’s Keeper (2009). But unlike the pictures that have come before it, there is a danger that lurks below the surface of Five Feet Apart (2019). Because any patient with CF knows that pushing the boundaries and ‘stealing back just a few inches’ can be deadly. So yes, we must agree that, at best, it’s romanticising of this idea seems inherently wrong, and at worst, it might even present perilous consequences. But then again, treating movies like documentaries doesn’t do anyone any good. Otherwise you could claim there’s risk in showing anything on screen.
Above all else, Five Feet Apart (2019) is a portrait in intimacy between two people who can’t touch. And as intriguing as that concept sounds, it’s also infuriating. Because as much as you want to sit there and say that there is nothing romantic in stealing someone’s future away from them, the fact still remains that you can’t choose who you love. Is this a new concept? Not really. But an exciting one to explore? Sure. The true deciding vote though lies in whether such a picture is worthy enough to dedicate two hours of your life too. And for us, as formulaic and annoying as it is, it is still somewhat of a breathe of fresh air.
Rating: 3 Lungs out of 5
Arguably one of the greatest parts of Crazy Rich Asians (2018) is its rather tongue-in-cheek opening scene. The humorous prologue sees Eleanor Young, her sister-in-law Felicity and their two children Nick and Astrid, arrive sopping wet at a London hotel hoping to check into one of its more prestigious suites, only to be turned away. It’s a crucial moment that forms the foundation of the movie, establishing Michelle Yeoh’s character as a fierce woman not to be trifled with, after she winds up calling her husband and, much to the chagrin of the staff, ensuring he buys the hotel. It’s sharp, witty and cleverly-played, but is also somewhat of a social commentary by director Jon Chu, about the way Asian representation on the big screen has played out for years. Casual racism is a prevalent part of our society, so it’s pleasing when the situation is flipped on its head.
Based on the popular novel by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians (2018) follows Chinese-American economics professor Rachel Chu who’s been dating her boyfriend Nick Young for just over a year. Everything seems to be going well until she and her beau jet off to his home country of Singapore to attend the upcoming nuptials of his best friend. It’s then she learns Nick actually comes from an uber-wealthy ‘old-money’ sort of family, with a matriarch that’s hell bent on making sure Rachel doesn’t end up a part of it. It’s certainly not an original premise, the idea of a working-class woman from New York ending up with a proverbial prince from a far-away land. Neither is having his parents disapprove. In fact, almost every aspect of the storyline, from the wild bachelor party to the literal glow-up in her best friend’s bedroom, seems to have been recycled from rom-coms of the past. Including the overblown if not spectacularly-set ending. But where Crazy Rich Asians (2018) differs is in how it gets there. It’s about sacrifice, and as they say early in the film – playing to win instead of playing not to lose.
The cinematography is gorgeous and, in a way, serves as metaphor for the film itself. Flashy and fashionable, but at the same time underpinned by heart and soul. Take the exquisite and endearing set piece of the central wedding, where guests are seated between reeds, the bride enters through flowing water and fireflies, and the soft melodic sounds of ‘Can’t help falling in love’ envelop the whole room. There’s never been a more glorious wedding march moment in the history of cinema. And yet, it’s not the supposed $40 million price tag that makes it great. It’s the short-but-sweet ‘I love you’s’ that are passed between our protagonist’s lips while it’s happening. Gold and opulence continually come second to the smaller moments, whether that be a family making hundreds of dumplings together with a method passed down through the generations, or two women bonding as they bury a dead fish. Wealth doesn’t buy happiness here, and the camera consistently reminds us of it, even when the dialogue doesn’t.
As far as the acting goes, Constance Wu shines as the story’s leading lady Rachel Chu, playing her as both equal parts glamourous and down-to-earth. Not only is her performance refreshing for everyone that’s had enough of seeing blonde, breasty girl-next-door types plastered across theatre screens, but she brings an honesty and unpretentiousness to the tired rags-to-riches archetype. Main-man Henry Golding, meanwhile, provides a wonderful turn in what is hard to believe is his first feature film. The English-Malaysian model is dashing as the Bachelor-esque Nick Young, delivering just the right amount of charm and wit to make audiences swoon. Yeoh brings a brutality to the Tiger mom role of Eleanor, with her unpredictability one of the highlights of the piece. But the scene stealers among the cast are the comedic duo of Awkwafina and Nico Santos, with the former’s college friend Peik Lin Goh the main source of laughs, from her Ellen hair to ‘walk of shame’ car clothes. While the latter is the self-declared ‘rainbow sheep’ of the family, whose flounces and flourishes are a priceless addition to what could have been a run-of-the-mill movie.
At lot has been said about the film’s desire to showcase that minority-led films can be just as good as the mainstream blockbusters starring straight, white men and women. And quite frankly, it’s been a long time coming. I mean, statistics from just two years ago show that around only one per cent of lead roles went to Asian actors and actresses. And you’ll be hard pressed to find a review that doesn’t mention how the movie is the first Western-produced, Asian-led film since Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) and The Joy Luck Club (1993). It’s incomprehensible that films like these are still outliers. Especially when there are hundreds of thousands of people with the same background, ethnicity or skin-colour who should rightfully be able to see people like them on theatre screens. And it’s just not right to say it’s a money thing. Crazy Rich Asians (2018) has raked in more than $130 million at the box office and Black Panther (2018) ended up with a $1.3 billion run. Representation matters, plain and simple.
For me, the best bit about Crazy Rich Asians (2018) is the decision by the film’s creators to pass on a lucrative deal with Netflix. Not only were they reportedly offered a trilogy of movies and artistic licence but were practically guaranteed seven-figure contracts. And still they chose to go with a studio willing to give the film widespread cinematic distribution. They chose the integrity of the audience over their own personal gains. They chose to sacrifice things for themselves so that people around the world would be able to see Asian characters in a place they have every right to be seen in. Like Rachel, throwing away the winning tile in the movies climactic third-act Mah-jong game, they proved that you don’t always have to win to prove you’re the best. Sometimes it’s better to rise above.
Rating: 4 Asian Ellens out of 5
13 Reasons Why: Season Two Review - The truth is neither happy nor hopeful, but a dose of much-needed reality
***This review contains spoilers***
In last year’s final episode of Netflix’s controversial hit show 13 Reasons Why (2017), protagonist Clay Jensen remarked to his guidance counsellor Mr Porter that; ‘It has to get better, the way we treat each other and look out for each other’. A powerful and moving line at the time, the words spoke volumes about our attitude as a society. About the changes we need to make and the people we needed to become. But the show ended and time passed, leaving people to forgot the message. So much so, that when the much-hyped second season was rolled out Friday by the streaming giant, it appears to have disappeared completely. Settling in to marathon the 13-episode arc, what became apparent almost straight away was that everyone connected to Hannah’s story, and the horrendous acts perpetrated by those at Liberty High, also seem to have forgotten these words. Instead, drinking, drugs, guns and court cases, are just he start of more horrendous things to come. So, what exactly happened to the getting better?
Well, that’s kind of the point when it comes to telling this story. Because delivering #JusticeforHannah and for the other girls who ‘begged to be raped’, or showing that when you do the right thing evil is defeated, isn’t that easy. Simple truths and effortless wins are, quite frankly, not the society we live in. In case you hadn’t noticed, ours is the one where women must fight to be heard and not victimised. Where students are taught to barricade themselves in classrooms and are unsafe in their own school. Where people die from drug overdoses and it’s no more than a regular, nightly headline. It’s an endless fight. And it’s incredibly refreshing to find a series like 13 Reasons Why (2017), which is unafraid to shy away from the truth, however unpleasant it may be. Frustrating, complex and upsetting, the show’s second season is more realistic than the last, and maybe that’s why it is so easy to hate it at first. I know I did. Because when does it change? When do things start getting better? When does the underdog finally get to win? Well, for me, I think it is when we realise, as Mrs Baker states in this season's finale, that: ‘There are always more reasons why we should fight, then why we shouldn’t.’
The story picks up months after Hannah’s death and the subsequent fall-out from her tapes, with the first half of the season focusing largely on the students testifying in court. Despite having their words twisted against them, plenty of the crew, including Courtney, Tyler and Ryan, reveal their side to the story and, at times, even boldly stick up for their former classmate. Others like Marcus and Bryce continue to lie to protect themselves and their shiny reputations and futures. Midway in the plot begins to shift though, as Zach takes the stand and reveals details about a tryst he had with Hannah the summer before her death. His truth paints her in a different light, and is the first big instance where Clay and we the audience understand that our ideals of people are not always who they are. It’s a confusing mess, not least because it messes with the timeline. But because the writers try so hard to remind us that Hannah’s tapes were not the full story, they end up changing what made the first season so impressive - unspooling our idea of Hannah in the same way the defendant’s lawyer twists the blame back on her in court. Hannah’s truth is as important as the others, but all we are left with is a tarnished reputation and a smothered voice. Even more, as Hannah’s story unwinds, so does Clay’s opinion of her. And when the boy who loved her can’t even believe her, how are we supposed too?
What this season does deliver though is monsters and they are lurking in every corner. Wisely, it is left up to us to decide who they are. Because for all the obvious rapists and thugs, there’s plenty more people who let the situation get to the extremes it did. From the mother who knew her son did horrible things to the father who just doesn’t care. Or the coach who turns a blind eye and is more concerned with wins than the safety of students at the school. Every character has their flaws. And so too does the story, with an in-cohesive plot creating little flow, unlike the constant terror of season one. Additionally it is frustrating to watch characters make the same mistakes over and over again with little moral gain. What’s clear is that with no novel to work off, the writers seem lost in a cacophony of themes rather than actions. And like Skye making pasta with Clay’s dad - sometimes the pieces just fail to stick. Season two just isn’t as good as the original, in almost every way possible. Mostly, because it’s hard to justify its existence. And a bit because Hannah is still in every breath of the series. But that’s the point – we don’t want to look deeper, as hard as it is to do.
And what of the fears from professionals and critics who claimed the show was ‘dangerous’ because of its on-screen depiction of violent and traumatic events, including sexual assault and suicide? Well, those people will likely be just as angry this time around, with issues from drug addiction to gun violence integral parts to the narrative. If anything this season, where no glorification of suicide takes place, could be considered more dangerous than the last. Because for every rape victim trying not to be silences, there is a voice telling them no matter what ‘proper’ or ‘legal’ recourse they seek, ultimately society will fail them. I mean, one teen who raped at least three women is given little more than a slap on the wrist and a probationary stint from the courts. While the school, which overlooked the needs of its students and failed to provide sufficient protocols, fired the one person who was ready to generate meaningful change. And what’s so scary is that this actually happens in society. And if the kids watching this think that is the future waiting for them, they may there's no hope left.
But if this season has proven anything to me, it is that despite its flaws, it is important to put what’s uncomfortable on screen. And if people want to call me irresponsible for thinking Hannah’s suicide scene in season one is not only important, but crucial to effecting change, then so be it. Because our society has become afraid of our flaws and imperfections and it is literally killing people. We put others down to prop ourselves up. We pretend we don’t see problems so we don’t have to deal with them. We think making mistakes makes us weak. No other show has been criticised as heavily for simply telling the truth. And that’s because the truth hurts. People do commit suicide. Others take guns and walk into schools. And some die alone, needles in their arms and choking on their own vomit. And if we don’t talk about it, how the hell are we supposed to change it? It is brave and bold to do the right thing, and sadly, most of the time no-one has your back. But this show tells us that there is always someone that does. And we will keep fighting until everyone will. We won’t be passive. We won’t accept that this is just the way it is. As one 14-year-old Australian girl, who was bullied and harassed at school and tragically took her own life this year once wrote: ‘Speak, even if your voice shakes’.
If this story has raised issues for you, or you feel like you require crisis information and resources, please visit 13reasonswhy.info for help.
Rating: 4 Polaroids out of 5
13 Reasons Why Review - A powerful, moving and tragic look at suicide and why in the end... everything matters
It seems wrong to begin a review by calling a series about suicide addictive. But it’s hard to find a better word to fit Netflix’s new show 13 Reasons Why (2017). One of the most binge-worthy instalments released by the streaming service in recent years, the series follows the critically acclaimed book of the same name by Jay Asher, and it pulls no punches in dealing with its main topic. Perhaps that’s why it’s hard to look away. Because rarely do we see a show brave enough to look beyond the romanticised notion of death and instead underline the grief of those left behind. Rarely are we delivered a production so honest, open and unpretentious that we’re left wondering how dark it must become for some that they believe life is no longer an option. So, I use the word addictive, not because you’ll become enraptured by how the story is presented, or because you’ll keep watching just to see whether it might end differently. But because you’ll be left wondering whether the phrase ‘it was her choice,’ really means quite what you think it does.
We begin with a community reeling in the wake of high-school student Hannah Baker’s death. One morning, Clay Jensen receives a mysterious box on his doorstep. Inside are 13 cassette tapes, detailing the reasons why his workmate, classmate and almost lover, chose to take her life. Delivered to each person who played a part in Hannah’s death, like a brutal chain mail letter, the tapes are designed not only to haunt those who hear them, but to ensure their secrets don’t die with her. From former friends and flames, to stalkers and rapists. The more Clay listens, the more he discovers the hurtful, unkind, and sometimes illegal actions his classmates have been involved in. The deeper he gets the more the others try to silence him, as Hannah’s truth starts to become his. But as he edges closer and closer to his own tape, and the final few weeks of her life, Clay comes to understand that every action has a consequence, and some things are just not destined to stay hidden.
Despite its modern setting, there are echoes of the classic teen ‘coming of age’ stereotypes hidden behind every door and lurking in every corner. From the jocks and cheerleaders right down to the school dances and hot-or-not lists. Like it’s predecessor Stranger Things (2016), there is also a heavy influence on everything old-fashioned. Cassette players, poetry readings, paper journals, Joy Division posters and pedal-powered bikes are just a few of the ways the nostalgia play out. Even the soundtrack is brimming with references to the past, with music from The Chromatics, The Cure and The Call. So heavy is it on eighties, nineties and noughties nods, just a few episodes in you’ll be left wondering whether we’ll see someone stand outside Hannah’s house with a boom box, or catch the main characters meeting up in detention. And while an homage to both those moments does arise, it’s doesn’t happen in quite the way you’d expect. This is, after all, a show about suicide.
At its core, the only other word that best arises to describe 13 Reasons Why, would be heartbreaking. Heartbreaking for Hannah that she believes she is alone. Heartbreaking for her mother who winds up nothing more than the shell of a woman looking for answers. Heartbreaking for Clay that he will always carry the weight of what happened with him. And heartbreaking for us as an audience. Because although we the know the ending already, we are always left wondering whether it could have been changed. And that’s the point. Heartbreak heals, but it never goes away. The theme is something that is backed up on a more intricate level too, in the care and craftsmanship that has been taken with the cinematography. Hannah and Clay’s world has been painted in a series of melancholic, metallic and sombre hues. And it’s done deliberately. Because it’s like watching their feelings be blown to life. Seeing, somewhat tangibly at times, the sadness of a soul hanging in the air. It’s not without it’s romantic, comedic or happy scenes too. A series about suicide alone could easily get so dark it turns the viewer off. Life is not just a series of depressing moments. But sadly, sometimes the best ones of all are what can tip a person over the edge.
A lot of critics have raved that 13 Reasons Why is not for the feint-hearted. But to me, that is inaccurate. It’s simply not a show for someone who isn’t ready to know how their actions impact others. Because even the best among us have done something we regret. What really concerns me though about such reviews are the calls for people not to watch. Their main reason is that the show details Hannah’s death in intricate, graphic detail. As a journalist, I work by a code of ethics that claims care must be taken when reporting on suicide. It means that while it is okay to mention it as the type of death, it is not okay to mention how it was the person died. The strange thing is though, this always seems to be the point most people are curious about. And in this instance, I think it was an entirely valid choice. Because as a journalist you are always directed by what in the public’s best interest. Hannah’s story is. Compare it to accounts about Anorexic people who have overcome their problems, or tales from those that have lost loved ones in horrific circumstances. Both go into graphic detail, and both have the potential for copycats to arise. But most of the time they help more than they hurt. It’s simply a risk we judge when putting pen to paper. So, do I think it’s ‘right’ that the show portrayed Hannah’s violent and horrific final moments? Probably not. Because I don’t think it was right that it happened at all. And I damn well think it’s important her voice was heard.
To me, the greatest lesson to learn from 13 Reasons Why is that everyone has a different truth, and everyone’s truth demands to be heard. That doesn’t make one better than the other. It simply makes us less lonely. And despite coming full circle, I like that there are so many stories left unresolved that a second season could be commissioned. Because people slip away in front of us all the time. Sometimes we see it happen, most of the time we don’t. And on rare occasions, we can all miss the calls for help. In Hannah’s case, it happened thirteen times. And in Hannah’s, there was no coming back. And although her story may be fictitious, deep down, the reason the show is so addictive is because we know it isn’t all that far from the truth. So, it is important to know that even if you’re friends, family, teachers, bosses, workmates, schoolmates, coaches or so on miss the signs, there are always people who will listen. Reach out to Lifeline on 13 11 14. Google a local suicide prevention website. Be there for a friend. Just listen. Before it’s too late.
Rating: 5 Cassette Tapes out of 5
Fifty Shades Darker Review - A grey sequel that proves only slightly more pleasurable than its first film
When Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) first hit screens on Valentine’s Day two years ago, the trailers told audiences to expect a sleek, sexy, edgy and eyebrow-raising look into the world of BDSM. Naturally, it was none of those things. While the film went on to earn millions worldwide, critically it was deemed a disaster, hobbling away with a C+ CinemaScore and a dismal 25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This time around those trading their hard-earned cash for a ticket to the sequel have no excuse for the film they are delivered. Swapping directors and again promising a stylish and saucy take on what was originally Twilight (2008) fanfiction, Fifty Shades Darker (2017), is at best a blunt, unfeeling and oddly unsexy attempt at a big budget blockbuster. At worst, however, it is a complete mockery of what real relationships should be. See, while there is no doubt this instalment is more elegant and engaging than its predecessor, it is hard to shake the notion that the film just isn’t about experimenting in the world of BDSM anymore. But instead about the role of a man in controlling a woman.
We pick up just a few days after Ana and Christian awkwardly parted ways with their laughable and cringeworthy elevator goodbye. Since then Miss Steele has managed to establish herself as the personal assistant of Seattle Independent Publishing’s editor Jack Hyde, while Mr Grey has been wallowing in self-pity, keen to reignite whatever ‘passion’ the duo had to begin with. Following Ana to her friend Jose’s art exhibition, Christian begs her to give him a second chance and invites her to dinner. Ana, the strong, independent woman she is, agrees to the date if only ‘because she is hungry’, and the further into the movie we go the clearer it is her appetite is for something a little more salacious than a simple salad. So, she reluctantly agrees to pick up where they left off provided Christian renege the rules and punishments and soon the two are back in a routine and revelling in their newfound ‘vanilla’ relationship. Vomit spew. The baseless plot doesn’t end there though, with the pair’s rekindled romance threatened by two former flames. Leila (Bella Heathcoate), the sub-turned-suicidal-stalker and Elena (Kim Basinger), the dom-turned-jealous-cougar. And that’s all before Ana’s boss gets his creep on, a helicopter crashes and a proposal gets announced. Not even daytime soapies could write a story this stereotypical.
Where does one start with this film. Well, first-off let’s discuss the sheer-volume of questionable clichés that pop up in the two-hour runtime. We’ve got wine-tossing, face-slapping, masquerade-ball attending, a helicopter crash and not one, but two crazy stalkers. Most cliché of all though is the notion that Anastasia is a self-sufficient woman who ‘don’t need no man’. For all her feigned-independence she lasts about three minutes before she goes crawling back to Christian, who proves to be just as domineering, controlling and manipulative as he was before. To him, Anastasia is a possession and one he must own, whether that be her image, her time, her company, her job, or her sexuality. Similarly, the duo’s relationship in this film once again presents the idea that one partner must change for it to work. Where Anastasia had to challenge her notions of a ‘normal’ relationship in the first film, here Christian must give up his sadistic ways to keep the girl.
As for the script, they may have abandoned their ‘fifty shades of fucked up’ train-wreck that closed out the first film, but they clearly haven’t learnt from it. Instead the filmmakers use a myriad of corny and ridiculous scenes to justify their own ends. Say, like the time Ana wows an editor’s meeting by stating they should simply turn to online authors. A bit like the one who wrote this rubbish to begin with. You can’t really discredit scriptwriter Niall Leonard for trying there, especially when he is in fact the husband of the book’s author E.L. James. But even the worst of films can be worth the ticket price provided the script is somewhat decent. Sadly, that is where Leonard fails. Too caught up in pandering to his wife’s original content, the movie becomes a cyclical bore. Stalker here, Ana fed-up with Christian’s domineering there, sex scene and then kiss and make-up. Rinse and repeat. Not only does this add nothing to the ‘kinky’ genre they are trying so hard to establish, but it adds little to the cinematic world in general. Even the sex scenes don’t sell the film, framed in the same way, nearly shot-for-shot. Breasts, bare skin and ‘sex eyes’ don’t seem to be enough to keep people interested anymore.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. At least this time around the leads have both relaxed enough into their roles to develop some sort of chemistry. While Johnston continues to give it her all in that charming and naïve ‘girl next door’ way, Dornan continues to play Grey as somewhat of a brick wall. Expressionless yet chiselled, he is around only for his good-looks. And appreciate them the female viewers will, as he saunters around shirtless for half the film almost entirely for no reason. But just like the way Johnston’s Anastasia is pitched as the better half of the duo, so too is the actor better than this film and even she seems to be staring off into the void at times. It may have got her the career-boost she desperately wanted, but some things just aren’t worth selling your soul for. New additions Basinger and Heathcote are criminally underused too, appearing on screen for five-minutes apiece like they are simply literary tools thrown in to give the film some edge. It’s as if the filmmakers (or maybe more accurately the scriptwriter) didn’t know what to do with them once they had conjured them there. When Rita Ora almost becomes the best bit of a film, something has clearly gone tragically wrong.
There is no doubt that Fifty Shades Darker has tried hard to distance itself from its former film. And in some ways it even succeeds, playing into its cringeworthy sadism instead of running from it. But BDSM, at least according to the readily available literature on the subject, seems to be the trust between two people to take chances and experiment. And while this film does that with its audience, it forgets the fundamental rule that you ask whether everyone is okay at the end. Because for all the goofy fun and popcorn escapism we are delivered, the novelty of such love has certainly worn off. And we’re definitely going to need some wine before we can be Fifty Shades Freed.
Rating: 2 Seductive Stares out of 5
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review - Magic and mayhem ensues as a new series tries to claw its way to life
Just like the real world, magic must also mature over time. Childhood gives way to adulthood. Believing gives way to bureaucracy. School romances and bullying give way to lost-love, fear and hatred. Yet, like Dumbledore famously said – happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light. For such reasons alone, the wizarding world’s latest instalment, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016), is worth the watch, having grown along with its legion of fans to remind us that even in our changing and uncertain times, there is always hope. Unlike the first film in the Harry Potter universe though, which eased us into the magical and mythical universe, Fantastic Beasts’ throws us into the proverbial deep end. And whether it’s the darkness, pain, whimsy or fantasy the film jolts between, we just can’t help but feel it hasn’t quite embraced the true meaning of being an adult yet.
Set in the 1920’s, seventy years before Harry’s story begins, Fantastic Beasts reveals a new protagonist in the titular book’s author and acclaimed magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). Trading the familiar London setting for prohibition-era New York, not a day after Newt passes through Ellis Island’s immigration he is already wreaking havoc, having sought to bring the majestic Thunderbird back into the wide and welcoming plains of Arizona, but instead unleashed his creatures on the already politically turbulent city. In steps Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), former Auror and Statue of Secrecy enforcer who tries to regain her position by turning Newt into the authorities. After a mix-up of suitcases lands no-maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) with Newt’s animals however, the three must work together, along with Goldstein’s sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), to track down the beasts and work out what bigger, badder force is at play in the city. If that isn’t enough, there’s also a plot point about a fanatical anti-witch group called the Second Salemer’s tossed in for good measure too, as well as Gellert Grindelwald’s mysterious disappearance and a family of non-magical politicians whose presence there is just plain and simply dumbfounding.
The special effects are as dazzling and dynamic as they were five years ago, but even they struggle to pull the film into anything other than ordinary. One standout sequence though would have to be the inventive journey into Newt’s suitcase, where we marvel at miniaturised makeshift habitats designed for an array of critters big and small. It is a testament to screenwriter J.K. Rowling and director David Yates that this feels both fresh and fun. As for the beasts themselves, they burst to life with colour, beauty and ferocity, from the bird and snake hybrid Occamy to the rhinoceros-esque Erumpet. Australians in particular may find a close connection with the Niffler, a pilfering echidna cross platypus that causes considerable grief for Newt. Similarly, a shout-out must also be given to the glorious and majestic Thunderbird Frank, who possesses just as much heart and soul as our favourite hippogriff Buckbeak. But it is the tiniest among them that bears the biggest weight, with the sassy stick-insect Bowtruckle saving the day on more than a few occasions.
A cluttered film from the outset, Fantastic Beasts’ biggest struggle is in how it pays too much attention to future instalments, forgetting to make its current one shine. Unlike a gambler sitting at the tables, Rowling and Yates are fearful to go all in, frightened they will spoil films two, three, four and five. Why we will need that many sequels is never really explained, but with so many lines cast out and not enough answers delivered, you can bet fans are already salivating for new source material. And with the legacy of Severus Snape’s big reveal, most have faith something equally uplifting will come to fruition here. On a more positive note, Yates’ direction is outstanding in its consistency, revelling in the fights and battles and good versus evil nature of the sorcery setting. Challenging situations fall at the wayside under his control, as he weaves his own kind of movie magic. It’s just a pity he, the studio, Rowling and pretty much anyone involved in the film behind-the-scenes, can’t decide how to enchant both children and adults alike.
Fogler and Sudol are clear standouts when it comes to the acting, boasting a relaxed allure and comfortable chemistry. Redmayne, in contrast, brings an affable, mannered and boyish charm, that jumps between frustratingly wearisome and refreshingly heroic. He has no interesting scar, ‘chosen one’ label or elderly mentor to set him apart. He is instead every bit the average man, preferring animals to humans. Waterston holds a more reserved performance, likeable only in the fact we get to know more about her, through flashback, than we do Newt. Veteran actors Jon Voight and Samantha Morton however are criminally underused, in what will likely go down as their most thankless roles to date. Depth is, in fact, missing from most of the characters, including the whole MACUSA horde, better known as American’s magical counterparts to the Ministry of Magic, who are just plain unlikable. Even the most redeeming among them, a female mix-raced president, proves to be bland and basic.
Ultimately, no matter how hard Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them tries to catch the magic of the original, it slips away like a memory in a pensieve, the gaping hole instead filled with the reality of the film’s cash-grab nature. It’s predictable, it’s formulaic and it’s far from fantastic. But thinking back, what adventure series that wasn’t based on a carefully calculated novel, constructed over years, has turned out great first try around? So although like the encyclopaedic book it’s based on, there is lots of information but little soul, thankfully it teaches us that there’s no point worrying about whether future films will be handled the same way. If only because that means we’ll be suffering twice.
Rating: 3 Fantastic Beasts out of 5
Australian screen icon Mel Gibson is arguably at his best when embodying a protective and powerful father figure. We’ve seen it in his previous works The Patriot, Ransom and Braveheart and now we get the pleasure of a return to such roots in his latest comeback attempt Blood Father (2016). Having been caught up in a string of personal and public problems, the star’s atmospheric action-drama serves as redemptive piece for both character and actor, questioning just how far a man will go for forgiveness. Despite a number of flaws, including the monotony of treading the same beaten path as many before it, Blood Father is equal parts a hidden gem, full of charismatic central characters and amped up action.
An adaptation of Peter Craig’s novel of the same name, Blood Father is a stunning film stuck in the shell of a B-Grade movie, full of clever characterisation and dynamic dialogue. Its plot is simple enough, following the relationship between ex-con and recovering alcoholic John Link and his estranged daughter Lydia. Used to finding comfort at the bottom of a bottle, Link is struggling to stay sober and maintain a life on the straight and narrow, as a simple tattoo artist living in a beaten down trailer park alongside his sole friend and sponsor, Kirby. Just one year out of jail his world-weary life is upturned once again though, when he receives a call from his missing 17-year-old, who has got herself into a spot of trouble after shooting her drug-dealing boyfriend in the neck. When both cops and cartel come a-calling for her, Link must rely on his old friends and foes to find a way to protect her and prove that blood really is thicker than water.
The relationship between the two leads is clearly the standout of the film, as Gibson and Erin Moriarty share quips back and forth in a genuine and endearing interplay. Where there is blood, so too is there banter and heart-warming humour. A number of great supporting characters help fill-out the film too, from Diego Luna’s sleazy boyfriend Jonah, to Thomas Mann’s quirky motel clerk Jason. Out of the bunch the only gripe comes from the under-use of William H. Macy, whose character Kirby receives about as little growth as the weeds in the scenic desert setting. Gibson meanwhile is perfectly cast, with art imitating life for the man who struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for the better part of this century. The film is not just his redemption, but is a look at what happens to the bruised and broken men Hollywood discards. Just as Link is a tortured soul, a man who has misplaced his own purpose as easily as he has lost his daughter, so too is Gibson wandering and waiting for the chance to payback on his penance.
The humour in Blood Father is as off-beat as the film itself, with Link musing over the destruction of his old beat-up Chevy Nova, not minutes after he was berating it for not starting. Even when the characters are in peril, they still hang hard to such heart, laughing over something as simple as the colour of one’s hair. Gibson has always made his money from his ability to shrug off any situation with a sarcastic swipe and there is certainly no shortage of that here. While most of the humour hits home, the film does fall flat on some accounts. At times the stark transition between the style and themes is more jarring than poetic, leaving you wondering just how much of a hand the studio had in post-production editing. This is never more obvious than when dealing with the supporting cast, with both Thomas Mann and William H. Macy’s scenes seemingly slimmed down to better encompass a shorter and more succinct story. While it certainly alleviates the boredom, we never feel like it quite hits the heights it should have.
Marking his first English language film since his 2001 remake of Assault on Precinct 13, director Jean-Francois Richet paints a glorious picture with his choice of cinematography though, from the sprawling sun-splashed deserts through to the stark and sterile lights of the cities. It’s strangely other-worldly, with more than a decent nod to the nostalgia of times past. Sure there may be tumbleweeds blowing down the street, but it’s the sort of place where we would never laugh at such a thing. As the bodies begin to pile up and the adrenaline-fuelled action sequences splatter across the screen, Blood Father leaves us with a sad, sinking feeling, rather than the quiet optimism of mainstream box office blockbusters. And despite the darkness that slowly spreads over the film, there’s nothing more magical than a film brave enough to show that not every story has a happy ending.
Shockingly violent and undeniably brutal, Blood Father catches you off guard when you least suspect, with more than enough double-crosses and dramatic deaths to keep viewers entertained. Despite its obvious flaws, in its simplistic story and been-there-done-that attitude, there is a lot to like and even a little to love in this latest crime caper. For those sitting there on their pedestals, hiding behind their blinkers and ready to let the film fall of their radar thanks to Gibson’s antics, it’s a damn shame. Despite bearing the scars both mentally and physically, he is as willingly as ever to give it his all, for whoever is still patient enough to be watching. It might be a grimy and meandering action-drama that punches above its weight, but just like what Link says about Lydia, Blood Father is every loser’s lucky day.
Rating: 3 Grizzled Gibson's out of 5
Jason Bourne begins his latest film with a simple voiceover that states ‘I know who I am. I remember everything.’ It’s ironic, considering the screenwriters seem to have forgotten that we audience members do to. We remember how clean cut The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) ended. We remember how neatly it tied up the loose ends as David Webb came full circle on his memory loss, confronting those responsible before disappearing into oblivion. And we remember how the saga made a name for itself with its signature taut and tense action, as well as its creative and complex narrative. Sadly, hardly any of these elements remain in Universal’s fifth franchise film Jason Bourne (2016), which sheds its identity, loses its supremacy and delivers little in the way of ultimatums.
Picking up almost ten years after Bourne leapt to his ‘presumed’ death, our heroic amnesiac assassin is now living on the fringes in Greece, using his spare time to make money from bare-knuckle boxing. That is until rogue ex-CIA agent Nicky Parsons returns to disrupt his life, having hacked into the organisations database to take their secret programs public. What she didn’t count on finding out however was that Treadstone was actually started by Jason’s father. Lied to by the agency once again and spurned on by a very personal revenge, Bourne decides to go after the men who killed his father to keep him quiet. The convoluted and chaotic story begins to wear thin by act three though, as the chase crosses continents to Las Vegas, where a side-plot about a new program and an associated social media platform titled Deep Dream take centre stage. Double-crosses and deaths aplenty fill up the film’s two-hour-runtime, as does as a revolving door of new government officials looking to take Bourne down. For an agency so hell bent on keeping its programs a secret, there sure seems to be a growing list of people that know about them.
There is little to like though with this more emotional Bourne, one no longer built upon vengeance but grounded in revenge. Despite finally regaining his memory, the new film paints our protagonist as more lost than ever. He no longer feels four steps ahead of his foes and it’s a hard concept to become accustomed to. Even Damon’s trademark stoic facial expressions begin to verge on bored at times. Jason Bourne’s most annoying point though is the constant questioning over whether the series’ main man has truly left the program behind him. While it’s the obvious next step in his story, it’s practically a punch-in-the-gut to see someone who has strived for three movies to put such stupidity behind him, to then even consider re-joining the conspiracy. Mostly though, it’s a shame on the studio and the screenwriters for suggesting such a storyline in the first place.
That being said, there are a number of positives about our return outing to the Bourne universe, including the intense and iconic shaky cam and the strong focus on the formulas of old. Whether it’s the first or the fourth time, there’s something genuinely thrilling about seeing Bourne battle baddies. Greengrass takes his action auteur status to new heights here, with a raft of manic motorbike feats and violent hand-on-hand punch-ups. While it will never beat the third film’s genre-defining rooftop run sequence, where the super spy soared weightlessly through a window, the final car chase scene of Jason Bourne adds some much needed adrenaline to proceedings. The scene piques our interests as an armoured SWAT vehicle rampages through traffic, the director destroying more than 170 cars in the process. Unfortunately it also brings to mind the recent events in Nice, making us think twice about how easily casual violence can also be wrought in the real-world. One other important element the film does touch on however is the new age of technologically-based weapons. Foes can no longer be simply struck down with a fast blow, a pen, or a rolled-up magazine. They are the unseen and unheard in a string of binary, revelling in removing people’s privacy. The politics poignantly playing on today’s Apple versus FBI drama and Facebook’s monumental reach, providing a refreshing side to a somewhat dated saga.
On the acting front Damon delivers a more subdued version of the heroic character we’ve all come to know and love. There are sparks of the original super spy, but sadly they seem are few and far between. The government officials meanwhile are bland, predictable fiends. So much so, it’s hard to say whether Tommy Lee Jones gives one of the best performances of his career to make us hate him, or instead was simply so annoyed with the script he wasn’t really acting at all. For what it’s worth, my money’s on the latter. Academy Award winning actress Alicia Vikander also suffers, as her character selfishly switches allegiances left, right and centre. Vincent Cassel’s unnamed asset is one of the more intriguing characters, but at the end of the day even he is a one-dimensional recycled caricature of previous incarnations like Clive Owen’s The Professor or Karl Urban’s Kirill.
While there is little substance to the story, the fifth instalment in the franchise and the fourth film from Damon and Greengrass does hold fast to the original saga’s slick style. There’s fun, frivolity and fast-paced action to keep audiences interested. However, one can’t help but think that despite reuniting the dynamic duo, Jason Bourne boils down to little more than another unnecessary studio sequel. You may know his name, but by the time your through you’ll kind of wish it wasn’t attached to this film.
Rating: 2 Over the shoulder shots out of 5
The days of classic popcorn munching movies seem to be behind us, giving way to action extravaganzas and heavy-handed historical dramas. It’s arguably a hard line to tread, finding the necessary amount of action, drama, romance and comedy that made the genres 80's and 90's counterparts so rewarding. While Warner Bros new film The Legend of Tarzan (2016) doesn’t quite reach this, it is the closest we’ve seen in years. Delivering on its tagline ‘Human. Nature’, it is hard not to feel compelled by the greater moral plight of the film and despite being a complex CGI jumble, it must be commended on providing pure escapism fun.
The film deviates from the beloved Disney classic most viewers would know, instead following Tarzan’s (Alexander Skarsgard) journey back to the African Congo eight years after he has acclimatised to life in London as the Lord of Greystoke manor, John Clayton III. King Leopold of Belgium needs funds to finance his new army and so sends his confidant Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) to acquire the diamonds of Opar. With the native tribes fiercely protecting the lands, Rom strikes a deal with their leader Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) to bring Tarzan to him so he might exact his revenge for the death of his son. Convinced by American freeman and human rights activist George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) to help him obtain proof of the areas slavery, Tarzan heads back ‘home’ with wife Jane (Margot Robbie) in tow, unbeknownst to the set-up awaiting him by Rom. As the devilish villain kidnaps Jane, Tarzan sets aside his civility to get her back, becoming the King of the jungle once more.
Director David Yates infuses his piece with authenticity and atmosphere, the scope overflowing from the moment we set eyes on the mist-filled jungle. The soundtrack adds to this, the drums and chorus of voices building and accentuating the untameable setting. The action increases in scale and magnitude the further into the film we go, as Tarzan slowly loses himself to the jungle. Car chases might be cool, but The Legend of Tarzan reminds us that so are wildebeest stampedes through African towns. Sadly, cliché carves its way into the film at times though, especially as Tarzan’s renowned cry resonated through the third act. While he may be the legend of a ghost in the trees, in the age of Marvel and DC, a mortal man will never be quite as cool as superheroes.
Samuel L Jackson’s George Washington Williams, an American who fought in the civil war and the man who persuades Tarzan to head back to the Congo out of his desire to end slavery, is perhaps the best character in the film. While Alexander Skarsgard spends half the movie shirtless, delivering us one of the best bodies ever put to film, and Margot Robbie is completely enthralling as the ‘damsel in distress’ Jane, Jackson is the one that represents us all. He is the average guy who can’t keep up, the one who gets tired after running flat-track throughout the forest and the third wheel to the whole situation. He’s riveting, bringing his iconic quirky charm to what could easily have been a run-of-the-mill sidekick. In contrast, if any of the actors seem like they are suffering it would be Christoph Waltz, who plays his villain so two-dimensionally he could have fallen asleep half-way through and we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. The Academy Award winner suffers from villain fatigue, having played a similar role in Spectre (2015), Water for Elephants (2011) and Inglorious Basterds (2009).
There are flaws to the film though, notably the heavy dependence on CGI that was clearly not the ‘all expenses paid’ version utilised in this year’s similarly themed The Jungle Book (2016). Instead, the film was shot almost entirely on a soundstage in England and despite cinematographer Henry Braham’s best efforts to intersperse these scenes with the real-life stunning scenery of Africa, we always feel somewhat disjointed. That being said, when Tarzan takes flight among the jungles vines, there is a grace and fluidity to his motions. He is pure, unadulterated, animalistic energy surging through the wild and that’s pretty special to see. There is a gravitas to this version that you don’t get from the camp and musically-infused predecessors and despite what critics have been saying it’s a fresh and fun change.
The film’s biggest victory is in the fact it dares to acknowledge so many crucial social issues. Colonialism and conservation ideals are abundant throughout, symbolised by a group of Africans chained at the neck and within the soulful connection between mythical man and brutish beast. Feminism and anti-greed sentiments are also paraded about, albeit to less effect. Such heavy topics have a trade-off however, with the ideals going over the heads of the many younger audience members who have been drawn to the film based off Disney’s 1999 production. There is a deeper and darker narrative here, which deserves a more mature audience and there’s nothing wrong with that. At its core, The Legend of Tarzan is a romance built upon the endearing relationship between the King of the Jungle and his American girl. And as Jane remarks, even an ordinary man can do extraordinary things for the one he loves.
Rating: 3.5 Shirtless Skarsgards out of 5
How To Be Single Review - The art of being alone even when you're trying really, really hard not to be
For a feature film entitled How to be Single (2016), Warner Brother’s newest rom-com certainly spends a lot of time showing us what it means to be in a relationship rather than alone. There’s a serial hook-up harlequin, a woman who decides to settle down and have a baby, and another young female looking for her Mr Right. None of these however, are our lead protagonist, the one who teaches us the real moral of not how to be single, but the age old question of why.
The story follows Alice, a recent college graduate played by the doe-eyed Dakota Johnson, who decides to take a break from dating her college sweetheart Josh to move to the Big Apple, pursue a job as a paralegal, and find out who she is when she’s alone. Her first day in the office is no walk in the park however, as she is befriended by Robin, played by the boisterous Rebel Wilson, a hilarious desk-mate who acts as the proverbial devil on her shoulder, steering her in the direction of fun, frivolity, and the art of being frisky. After just one racy rendezvous with local man Tom the Bartender, our plucky protagonist sees the error of her ways, squandering the rest of the 2-hour run-time pining after her lost (and long moved on) love, playing family with a widow, and notching up a number of other marks on her bedpost. Rounding out the main quartet is Meg, Alice’s neurotic (not crazy, never crazy…) obstetrician sister, who is seeking neither a baby nor a man at the start of the film, and somehow manages to find both by the time the credits role, and Lucy a woman who has narrowed down the dating pool to a percentage of eligible men equal to that of half a crushed peanut.
Basically, How to Be Single is a film about three women learning how not to be single, playing remarkably like this decade’s version of He’s Just Not That Into You (2009), flaunting a stellar cast, a flimsy script, and a lot of gags to keep you going. In saying that, like the aforementioned film though, it’s not a bad journey. We learn the art of self-discovery, are given a lesson in growing-up, and feel ourselves rise to that sense of maturity we all found thrust upon ourselves at the tender age of twenty-one, when we left home / university / our first job, and had to ask what the hell were we doing? Most importantly, it reminds us that happy endings are not always found in a guy and a girl falling madly in love. Sometimes they are found in madly loving yourself.
Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein and Dana Fox’s screenplay is at times startlingly refreshingly, proving a winner in its unprecedented gender equality. Not only does it imply that girls can party hard, decide to ‘take a break’ in a relationship, or choose to sleep around without consequence, but they reinforce these ideas without making a fuss or calling attention to them. This is the twenty-first century, and for once women are just as entitled as men. Christian Ditter rightly deserves some praise here too for the direction of his second English language book adaptation; however he must also cop some flak for his driftless and formulaic choices. It’s a good film, just not a great one.
Bumping the film up though are the performances of leads Wilson and Johnson, the former bringing the laughs big-time, firing off her now iconic brand of humour with startling precision. Not only does she nail a beautiful sequence in which her character tries to prove she can cure a hangover, get her hair and make-up done, and get to work in less than twenty minutes, but her riffing prowess in describing Alice’s down-town area by referencing Gandalf is legendary. Johnson too is a wonder, proving herself one of the best young actresses around at the moment. No matter how hard you want to hate her for signing on to the Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) trilogy, she is charming and compelling here, if only a little bit bland.
This isn’t a film of blockbuster proportion. Or a smart and sexy indie soiree. It’s a rom-com, pitched as a rom-com, which finds itself… you guessed it… focusing on romance and comedy. Like the proverbial dilemma of who came first the chicken or the egg, How to Be Single teaches you that knowing yourself helps you appreciate who you become in a relationship, and that loving someone helps you learn how to handle yourself when you’re alone. And it’s okay to be alone. To be single. To relish the moment when you are finally not tied by invisible heartstrings to another human being.
Rating: 3 Lonely Hearts out of 5
Film and TV Reviews
Film and television reviews of everything from independent movies to Disney and superhero flicks.
All video and photo content used on this site is sourced and all credit must go to the original owners. No copyright infringement is intended.
Copyright © 2019. CINEMATICISM.
All Rights Reserved.
Owned by Kirby Spencer.