The+Shallows

***1/2 (out of five)

If you’re an admirer of Blake Lively (Savages, The Age of Adaline), see The Shallows, for it’s a fair bet that no movie ever again will devote to her so much adoring screen time. Essentially (though not literally) a one-man show á la Castaway, this surf-and-shark tale, a cunning little B-movie from Spanish genre whiz Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax, Orphan, Run All Night) revels in Lively’s Californian limbs and freckles, her sun-blanched healthy wholesomeness. It cannot get enough of her.

She plays Nancy, a med student on a pilgrimage to a “secret beach” in Mexico that her surfer mother told her about before succumbing to cancer. While surfing there she accidentally infringes on a shark’s dinnertime, and the shark comes after her. Survival ensues.

If Jaws is the best shark movie, and Open Water is the creepiest shark movie, The Shallows is the most sensual shark movie. Between Lively’s exquisite features (and limbs – we really get to know this actress’s gams) and the stunning bay (the film was actually shot in Queensland, Australia) it’s a deeply beautiful film, gorgeously and inventively shot by Flavio Martínez Labiano. The shark is almost incidental, which is what keeps the movie from achieving some sort of genre greatness.

It may not be great, but it is bloody good. It’s crazy tight, extremely well thought-out (as another critic noted, by halfway through we the audience are totally in command of the bay’s logistics) and Lively, mostly in close-up and mostly in peril, is excellent; indeed, perfect. It’s hard to imagine her being nominated for serious awards for this role, but it must be said that Meryl Streep herself couldn’t do it better. It’s a fully believable and utterly absorbing genre performance. I will await her next movie eagerly, although I suspect that The Shallows is going to remain her signature role for quite a while. And she has every reason to be proud of that.

HIGH-RISE.0

***1/2 (out of five)

Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s 1975 sci-fi dystopian nightmare High Rise is a faithful, stylised mess. It is chaotic and crazy, shambolic and discombobulating, all elements of the novel but not necessarily of coherent filmmaking. It is Wheatley’s most ambitious film but his second worst. It is also an artistic work of personal vision, for which it must be celebrated.

High-Rise_04His best – and I hope you know all about this – is Kill List (2011), a staggeringly creepy assault on your brain inspired by, it seems, equal parts Pulp Fiction, The Shining and The Wicker Man. His follow-up Sightseers (2012) was a delicious very black comedy; 2013’s A Field In England was bonkers strange but possessed of an absolute vision. He has a very strong voice and is uncompromising, perhaps to his detriment here. (I have not seen his debut feature, Down Terrace (2009)).

His coup de theatre is to set the film not in “the future” but in the future as a film director working in 1975 might be able to visualise it. Thus it’s both “futuristic” and retro, with sideburns, wide ties and big moustaches accompanying concrete bunkers out of Logan’s Run. It’s a brilliant conceit brilliantly realised on the production design side; the “high rises” themselves look exactly as I’d always imagined them (the novel is one of my all-time favourites).

imageUnfortunately Wheatley has a second “big concept” up his sleeve, which is to let the storytelling fall to pieces as the civilisation of the titular high rise does. The second act is essentially a montage of madness, unlike the novel’s deliberate linear progression from civility to orgasmic anarchy. I worry that audiences that have not read the novel won’t have a clue what’s going on. It’s a shame, because this was Wheatley’s chance to show a much wider audience his jazz, but his jazz remains too free for the general crowd. Perhaps that’s not a bad thing.

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Sausage Party

Posted: August 18, 2016 in movie, movie reviews, reviews, Uncategorized
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***

Proof that Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg really are allowed to get high, write down a zany idea and then make it for nineteen million dollars, Sausage Party is an R-Rated (in the US, MA in Australia) animated romp about processed foodstuffs questioning their faith. Seriously.

It is that angle – the hot dogs and buns, bagels and lavash breads trying to suss out whether their religion(s) are valid or whether they’ve been sold a crock – that is unexpectedly ambitious, and attempts to give this extremely off-beat exercise more depth than Rogan and Goldberg’s other low-budget, high-earning potty ventures Pineapple Express, Superbad, This Is The End and The Interview. But those films all have ambitious goals hidden within their wacky antics – The Interview, in particular, has a lot on its mind – and Sausage Party ultimately doesn’t have too much more to say than religion is bunk and we should all get along.

sausage_party_ver4Unfortunately, the dialogue isn’t that sparkly either. Kristen Wiig’s bun Brenda is particularly depressingly written, a dull, no-fun and not-funny love interest for Rogan’s eager wiener Frank (ha!); were it not for the fact that he is a walking erection, there’d be no reason to believe he was besotted with her. There’s a lot of swearing and boundary pushing but not a lot of actual zingers, and the first act drags as it sets up its various characters, none of whom is a particularly brilliant creation.

What the film has – most surprisingly, given its pretty weeny budget – is enormous visual wit, and the final half hour or so is an exhilarating action sequence beautifully done, ending in a rather excellent sausage party indeed.

Forms of this review have appeared before here at Film Mafia, but this revised version accompanies its Australian theatrical release.

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****1/2 (out of five)

Tickled, which opens on 18 August, is far too brilliant for me to say anything about it. It wouldn’t be fair, to audience member or filmmaker; this is one of those documentaries where the less you know, the better, becuase every single twist in the tale is surprising, and the best of them are head-spinning, jaw-dropping, and hysterical. Suffice to say that it’s a Pandora’s Box with results both funny and deeply disturbing.
New Zealand pop culture reporter David Farrier goes noodling about looking for his next fun, light, easy-going story, finds an audition notice for competitive endurance tickling, thinks “WTF??”, follows it up, and gets hit with hateful correspondence about his own sexuality of such mind-boggling nastiness that he simply has to go deep, enlisting his filmmaking buddy Dylan Reeve to join him. And that’s all in the first 300 or so seconds of the film. Things get weirder from there.

If the definition of a good film is one that keeps you wanting to know what happens next, Tickled is among the greatest ever made. You cannot look away. Don’t drink a batch of water, coffee, beer, whatever before you go in, because woe-be-tide you have to go to the toilet and miss a moment. This is breath-taking stuff.  I want it to be nominated for Best Feature Length Documentary at the next Academy Awards. That may sound like a long shot, but only because of the subject matter’s inherent weirdness. In terms of proficiency and engagement, Tickled is an instant classic, one that will appear on “Top 50 Documentary” lists forever.

Down-Under-Movie-Poster**** (out of five)

On the eleventh of December, 2005, a hot sunny Sunday, a series of racially-motivated attacks at Cronulla Beach in Sydney lead to some pretty serious national shame and soul-searching. Now, finally, a filmmaker has examined the incident – as a comedy. It’s a brave, brazen and bold move, and it pays off mightily.

Writer / director Abe Forsythe’s last feature was the deliriously funny Ned Kelly spoof Ned way back in 2003. That film was a gag-fest in the vein of Airplane! or The Man With Two Brains, but Down Under has much more serious concerns. It’s an extremely angry film, spewing vitriolic rage at the kind of people who spew vitriolic rage. Basically, it’s a war on idiots, of every ethnic stripe.

Set the day after the riots, the film follows two carfuls of bigoted idiots on a collision course. One is stuffed full of “Aussies”, young men who live in The Shire (the geographic area that includes Cronulla Beach) who are determined to guard their beloved neighbourhood – “God’s Country” – against inevitable “Leb” (for Lebanese) retaliation. The other is a carful of hot-headed out-of-area Lebanese young men intent on delivering that retaliation. Over the course of the day, the two groups arm up, discuss plans, assemble allies and generally psyche up for a fight that nobody really wants yet everyone feels compelled to pursue.

Forsythe deals unashamedly in stereotypes and extremely broad humour, almost daring us to accuse him of extreme political incorrectness. He is remorseless in mocking those he obviously holds in contempt by pure virtue of their ignorance: a pregnant mother not only is shown smoking, we see her toddler plonked in front of a loud television at close range, and then see that she is watching a horrific scene from Wolf Creek, her tiny baby eyes wide with soul-scarring terror.

But Forsythe has got an extremely strict and disciplined schematic in mind, and sticks to his guns. The final act has great power and is full of inventive sequences and cunning reversals. His script has integrity and his direction is sure-footed and consistent. He may hold his characters in contempt, but never his audience.

Ab-Fab-2***1/2
In these dark days, this blissfully irrelevant and uniquely irreverent Absolutely Fabulous movie is a one huge drink of cool water. Hurling gags at the screen with the abandon of a morning champagne bender, the film, written by co-star Jennifer Saunders, misses as much as it hits, but when it hits there’s laughter out loud. Colorful, energetic and determinedly deranged, it’s altogether joyous.
Saunders is fine as Edina, has-been PR guru accused of the manslaughter of model Kate Moss (that’s the plot!), but the film is really a monument to the spectacular comedic talents of co-star Joanna Lumley, who, at 72, has never been funnier. Indeed, as a physical comedian this ex-model and ’60s “it” girl has tricks to teach whippersnappers a third her age. Whether playing drunk (which is basically always), bossing around minions, bumping into doors or playing drag (she looks like Bowie, in a crisp white suit and a thin mustache) she is, minute by minute, scene by scene, absolutely hilarious. I could watch her all day.

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****

If you already know what happened to Anthony Weiner, one-time US Congressman and later, NYC Mayoral candidate, you’ll still want to see how it all went down behind the scenes – literally, as Weiner co-director Josh Kriegman, who was once Weiner’s Chief of Staff, was there with his camera for all of it. The result is astonishing, a painfully intimate exposé of how politicians frame the truth.

If you know little or nothing of Anthony Weiner, all the better! You’ll be massively entertained by the jaw-dropping shenanigans this possibly brilliant yet totally reckless politician gets up to as he runs for one of the most intriguing and tricky jobs on earth – Mayor of New York City.

Either way, there is huge value-added interest given the constant presence of Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, as she is Hilary Clinton’s closest, most senior and trusted advisor. She appears like a rock of sensibility against the chaotic maelstrom that is her husband, and yet their union remains strong. This sensational – in all senses of the word – feature documentary is thus a scintillating glimpse into a unique political marriage. But more than anything, it is a film whose camera is there at those moments you never see: the ones immediately proceeding what we do see, when what we do see is decided for us.