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Mank | Regional News

Mank

(M)

131 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Right from the word go, when tilted opening titles loft over a black-and-white California sky – almost ironically reading “Netflix International Pictures Presents” – Mank feels as though it was pulled from the rubble of a time capsule planted in the 1930s, grime and gashes intact.

Herman J. Mankiewicz, or Mank (Gary Oldman), is an alcoholic screenwriter with a wit renowned by the top brass of 30s Hollywood, including press tycoon William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and his mistress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried). Following a car crash, a bedridden Mank is asked to pen a script for the debut film of a “young genius from New York”, Orson Welles (Tom Burke).

Of course, the film in question is Citizen Kane, still regarded by many to be the greatest and most influential film ever made. Cited as an early example of auteurism, Welles is often considered the sole mind behind its creation. Mank tells a different story.

Though its narrative doesn’t reach the heights of suspense achieved in other David Fincher films, Mank feels like the cinematic gift we deserve this Christmas. Between the imposing sets, regal costumes, and boisterous personalities on display, it captures the dingy atmosphere of an early noir classic. It shines in black-and-white, photographed by Erik Messerschmidt with plenty of canted callbacks to Citizen Kane.

Mank is about the conflict behind creativity; the contentious debate for authorship between Mank and Welles, Hearst’s fear of public humiliation when it becomes clear that Mank’s script about power, greed, and corruption is based on him. It may not sound fun per se, but Jack Fincher’s endlessly witty script makes the story sing. Mank is a talker, and Oldman places each word perfectly – some slurred beyond comprehension, others overtly articulated to offend that rich prick at the other end of the dining table.

Mank is a lesson in craft and polish. While its narrative is catnip to any movie fan, I can’t help but wonder if casual viewers will find it as fascinating. Its physical beauty is bound to make anyone suspect there is more beneath the surface, and those intrigued by its plot will find new details every time they put it on.

Babyteeth | Regional News

Babyteeth

(M)

117 Mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Though movies sometimes desensitise us to pain, when strong characters we connect with suffer, so too do we. Babyteeth expresses pain in its most brutal forms while still reaching to be entertaining, ethereal, and even silly. And when it all collides, there won’t be a dry eye in the house.

Terminally ill high school student Milla (Eliza Scanlen) breaks out of her shell when she falls madly in love. Moses (Toby Wallace) is 23 and a small-time drug dealer. Needless to say, Milla’s parents, who are already grappling with the inevitability of their daughter’s illness, do not approve.

In many ways, this one broke me. Not only does director Shannon Murphy zero in on Milla’s struggles with disarming vulnerability, but she gives the same attention to all those connected to her. Moses is cut off from his family, homeless and desperate. Milla’s mum Anna (Essie Davis) is abusing prescription drugs to cope, while her dad Henry (Ben Mendelsohn) struggles to feel at all. Watching them barely keep it together, clawing at each other left and right, is crushing.

None of this works if we don’t believe Milla – thankfully, Scanlen puts it all on the line. From moment to moment, whether engulfed by love, pain, laughter, or the urge to dance, the actress paints a complete picture of who this person is. Her story moves quickly, but Murphy refuses to relinquish quiet, meditative moments that colour in the lines, like when Anna and Milla perform music for a transfixed table of guests.

Right from the opening scene, the romance of Milla and Moses is beautifully portrayed. The film avoids taking it to troublesome places, instead slowly establishing an intense companionship. The anger their bond sparks in others, and the heartache they each experience navigating the ups and downs of a first love, lead to a climactic blow that leaves a hole in my chest.

Babyteeth is visually gripping, darkly funny, and incredibly well acted, but above all else emotionally raw. While certain stylistic choices feel unnecessary, they are nothing but speedbumps on an otherwise flawless journey.

Baby Done | Regional News

Baby Done

(M)

91 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Baby Done doesn’t take many big swings, instead favouring charm and relatability. With two charismatic lead performances, a fast script, and dynamic supporting players, the latest Kiwi comedy defines a nice time at the movies.

When arborist and wannabe tree climbing champ Zoe (Rose Matafeo) falls pregnant with her long-term partner Tim (Matthew Lewis), she fears becoming a boring mum. While Tim adjusts and looks forward to becoming a father, Zoe seeks to realise her dreams while denying the inevitable.

The combination of Curtis Vowell’s direction and Sophie Henderson’s script leaves no room for Baby Done to run stale. Within a tight-packed 90 minutes, we visit gorgeous parts of New Zealand and meet eccentric characters. Whether they appear for multiple scenes or 30 seconds, each one makes an impact, particularly Zoe’s parents played by Loren Taylor and Fasitua Amosa, her wild friend Molly played by Emily Barclay, and Preggophile Tim played by Nic Sampson… you heard me, Preggophile Tim.

The smartest decision the director-writer duo makes is to give Matafeo and Lewis breathing room. The actors share incredible chemistry and both land jokes, but the film’s greatest asset is that they feel like real people dealing with real problems. We see through Zoe’s attempts to deny motherhood and understand her anxieties. We sympathise with Tim when Zoe’s actions force him to question their future. Ultimately, their arc is emotional and resonant, and Matafeo proves she has dramatic prowess on top of her well-established comedic chops.

I wish Baby Done had taken more risks with its story and humour. While there’s never a dull moment, it pretty much goes where you expect it to and often plays it safe. For this reason, the film is fun but light. Leaning into the more peculiar aspects of the plot may have excelled it further. But when all is said and done, Baby Done has laughs, tears, and personality, and I doubt many will leave the cinema feeling as though they wasted their time.  

On the Rocks | Regional News

On the Rocks

(M)

96 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

In the words of the late great Roger Ebert, “it’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it”. On the Rocks doesn’t break new ground, nor does it try to. Instead writer-director Sofia Coppola presents an elegant take on an old story, elevated by the ever-captivating Bill Murray.

Laura (Rashida Jones) has settled in New York with her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans), who’s career is taking off rapidly while she, a budding writer, struggles to put pen to paper. When Dean’s behaviour leads her to suspect foul play, her loving father Felix (Murray) makes it his mission to help get to the bottom of it.

On the Rocks presents Coppola at her most subdued, but at times her most poised. In lesser hands, this may not have been a story worth telling, or rather retelling. We’ve heard it all before, and with that, our focus quickly shifts from story to style; thankfully, this film has that in spades. The jokes, both visual and verbal, consistently land. A sparse sax-heavy score and lingering shots of the New York cityscape add the required dose of class, and with this framework the cast has all the necessary tools to flourish.

Enter Bill Murray. There is perhaps no comedic actor more capable of stealing a show, and unsurprisingly, he does it again. Aided by an intelligent, stall-free script, Murray’s Felix is charming, flirtatious, at times apathetic, and always funny. Have you ever talked your way out of a speeding ticket? Did you manage to get the cops laughing while giving your lemon a push start and wishing you well on your way? Didn’t think so. Jones thrives in her role as the film’s emotional anchor and enjoys warm chemistry with Murray. Wayans is the only detraction. While he delivers a fine performance, he simply feels miscast.

The final moments of On the Rocks are sadly predictable and much less emotionally driven than the preceding 75 minutes led me to expect. Still, the film adds yet another, lighter feather to Coppola’s hat.

It Must Be Heaven | Regional News

It Must Be Heaven

(PG)

101 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

What some find meandering and temperate others may find touching and poignant. Audiences of It Must Be Heaven are asked to be patient and observant, and those who are will leave the theatre charmed. As it guides us through a world full of quirks, this Palme d’Or-nominated film finds humour in celebrating just how weird we humans are.

It Must Be Heaven takes a meta look at the life of its writer, director, lead actor, co-producer, and narrator, Elia Suleiman. We experience several days in his shoes as he travels from his Palestinian home to Western cities attempting to sell a script for a movie about the Palestinian conflict.

While this plot might not sound like a laugh riot, it’s worth noting that this story thread is somewhat secondary. For Suleiman – both the character and the man behind the camera – this film is about observation. Strange happenings seem to weave their way into every day of our near-mute hero’s life, and he is happy simply watching on. These happenings could include two armed police officers trading sunglasses in a car while a woman is bound and blindfolded in the back, or a trip to a supermarket in New York where everyone is casually toting an assault rifle over their shoulder.

It’s these zany, dark moments that make It Must Be Heaven a memorable watch. For foreign film fans, its pacing and visual comedy may scratch an itch left by Jacques Tati, although Suleiman certainly brings a modern flair. The camera (Sofian El Fani) balances a consistent but not stagnant symmetry and captures purposeful palettes of colour.

The film manages to embed striking and smart moments in the absence of words, for example, the rejection statements Suleiman sits through and what they say about the Western understanding of Palestine. But for some, these moments will be too subtle, as will the jokes. It Must Be Heaven is one for those looking to delve outside of their comfort zone.

 

Savage | Regional News

Savage

(R16)

99 Mins

(5 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

To generate empathy for a character who some would label an inhuman brute is no easy feat, but director and screenwriter Sam Kelly does just that with grace and sensitivity. Savage pulls together some of the most fleshed-out characters in New Zealand cinema. Audiences will connect with their story as well as the sorrow hiding behind their eyes.

Inspired by the true stories of New Zealand’s street gangs, the film follows Danny (Jake Ryan) – later known as Damage – across 30 years of his life, from his time in a state-run boys’ home in the 60s to his emergence as sergeant at arms of his own gang, the Savages. Raised and abandoned by his impoverished family and abusive father, Danny longs for connection in an adulthood defined by aggression.

Never before has a New Zealand film taken such an unrestrained look at our society. Kelly pulls no punches, proving himself as a confident and uncompromising filmmaker; the fact that Savage is his feature-length debut is astonishing. His script packs the growth, colour, and definition of a trilogy into 100 minutes, and this is only accentuated by a cast and crew willing to commit as hard as he does.

Jake Ryan transforms as Damage, and no, it’s not just the mullet and tattoos. I find myself transfixed by his gaze and presence. Every motion is calculated, masking a man who feels isolated, unwanted, and pressured. His friend and Savage co-founder Moses is just as integral, played with warmth in childhood by Lotima Pome’e, cool in his teenage years by Haanz Fa’avae Jackson, and intimidating physicality in later life by John Tui.

Savage is as shocking and ferocious as it should be while never becoming gratuitous. Often abuse is implied rather than shown, which ultimately has a powerful impact as the characters would also rather ignore it. This is not one for the faint of heart, but it is essential viewing for Kiwis. You will leave with a little more empathy and a lot to talk about having seen one of the best films of the year.

Tenet | Regional News

Tenet

(M)

150 Mins

(2 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

With Tenet, Christopher Nolan leans into his most frustrating tendencies as a filmmaker. A convoluted plot that requires non-stop explanation leaves its cast nothing to play with and action that, although visually dazzling at times, feels empty.

The Protagonist (John David Washington), along with his right-hand man Neil (Robert Pattinson), journeys through a world of espionage to prevent forces from the future destroying our world.

At its core, Tenet is a heist film. Introducing time-inverting technology doesn’t make this more interesting, just challenging. While Inception, another heist plot that incorporates fantasy technology, was driven by drama and emotional motivation, here the story feels crammed in. Nolan chews time explaining the mechanics of time reversal. Those with a doctorate in physics may enjoy picking this apart, although the film itself seems to admit it doesn’t stack up when Barbara, a scientist played by Clémence Poésy, instructs our lead, “Don’t even try to understand it”.

The pairing of Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography and Jennifer Lame’s precise editing is the film’s greatest asset. Their craftsmanship is on full display from the opening action sequence, which serves as an intense mood setter. Unfortunately, the concept doesn’t lead to outstanding visuals throughout. After a while, watching people run in reverse is not that engaging. Even if you are listening intently, the sound mix is muddy and loud, leaving chunks of dialogue inaudible – a recurring problem in Nolan’s recent films.

In two-and-a-half hours, we learn surprisingly little. By the time the credits roll we know next to nothing about our unnamed protagonist, his motivation, or the threat he faces. An effort to make us care about the villainous Andrei Sator’s (Kenneth Branagh) estranged wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) feels frivolous when World War III is at stake. Although, this faceless threat never carries weight, especially since it comes at the hands of Andrei, a hilariously stereotypical Russian bad guy who I just can’t take seriously.

Tenet sacrifices storytelling in favour of complexity. If I don’t care about the characters in the story, I’m unlikely to invest in the story itself. In the end, I was simply bored.

Lowdown Dirty Criminals | Regional News

Lowdown Dirty Criminals

(R13)

86 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

A crime-comedy through and through, Lowdown Dirty Criminals revels in its over-the-top plot, violence, and Kiwi humour. At 86 minutes, it lacks the breathing room needed to properly acquaint us with its likable characters, instead choosing to deliver a brief, adrenaline-fueled romp.

When Freddy (James Rolleston) loses his pizza delivery job, his best mate Marvin (Samuel Austin) sets up a meeting with a ruthless crook, Spiggs (Scott Wills). When they muck up their first job, Spiggs demands they make amends by killing a gangster, an effort that lands the duo in hot water with an even more terrifying foe, The Upholsterer (Rebecca Gibney).

Writer David Brechin-Smith plays to genre, filling his script with delicious archetypes that give the cast infinite opportunities to go big. While Freddy is our guide, Lowdown Dirty Criminals is an ensemble effort at heart. Each actor brings colour to their role, from Rolleston’s hilariously naïve Freddy and Wills’ jacked-up, egocentric Spiggs to Gibney’s deliciously evil Upholsterer. Each member of the cast is given spots of action and comedy, which they almost unanimously nail.

The film has its foot on the gas at all times. While this pace works for its exaggerated style, it relents character development in the name of fun. Don’t get me wrong, it is very, very funny. But further investment in the relationships would have dramatically turned up the intensity. We buy Freddy and Marvin as mates, but that’s where it ends. We buy The Upholsterer as a scary gangster, but that’s where it ends. Life-threatening situations feel trivial, and with an additional 20 minutes or so, we could have become more engrossed in these people and the things that happen to them.

This movie is not one for the squeamish, but perhaps in these times some crazy fun is exactly what we need. Director Paul Murphy has crafted a uniquely Kiwi take on a well-worn genre. As a result, Lowdown Dirty Criminals stands out amongst our film library.

This Town | Regional News

This Town

(M)

91 Mins

(2 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

This Town excels in world-building and dialogue. A supporting cast of some of Aotearoa’s best balance laughs and drama, but a repetitive frame and an overreliance on its chosen storytelling devices eventually burns out its narrative.

Small-town bloke Sean (David White) is ready to move on with his life and re-enter the dating game five years after being acquitted of the murder of his family. A romance ensues with Casey (Alice May Connolly), while the bitter ex-cop who tried to put Sean away, Pam (Robyn Malcolm), continues her crusade for justice.

The film’s writer, director, and star, White, carries a heavy load. As for his pen, the story, characters, and setting of This Town are appealing and uniquely Kiwi. The fictional town of Thiston is a treasure trove of close-to-home satirical opportunities; some pulled off with gusto, some falling flat.

The sounds and scenes of Hawke’s Bay make for a glorious backdrop, but the camera is too often stagnant for the film to leave a visual impact. By the end, I’m simply bored of watching characters sit centre-frame to address the camera. This device introduces them well, but becomes a means to quickly pass by critical moments; to have a character sitting on a couch telling us all is resolved after screaming over the edge of a cliff five minutes prior deflates tension rather than building it to a bang.

Malcolm is This Town’s secret weapon. Her performance solidifies her as one of New Zealand’s most versatile talents. She plays moments of obsession, conflict, comedy, and sadness with ease, often within a single take. May Connolly brings endearing qualities to Casey, and Rima Te Wiata wrings laughs from every line as local reporter Janice McManis.

White brings a fresh style to his narrative-feature debut, but it is clearly just that, a debut. With a more refined approach, it will be interesting to see what he brings to New Zealand cinema in the future.

The King of Staten Island | Regional News

The King of Staten Island

(R16)

137 Mins

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

The King of Staten Island directly addresses today’s youth. Structurally, it sticks to a familiar formula, and like many Judd Apatow films, it outstays its welcome. But its fresh subject matter and seasoned supporting cast keep the laughs coming, even if its star sometimes seems disinterested in doing so.

24-year-old Scott Carlin (Pete Davidson) lives with single mother Margie (Marisa Tomei) and sister Claire (Maude Apatow) on Staten Island, New York City. Scott’s father was a firefighter who died in the line of duty, and he has long suffered from depression. He is pessimistic but ambitious, dreaming of one day opening a tattoo restaurant and practising on his friend’s bodies in the meantime. When Margie starts dating Ray (Bill Burr), another fireman, Scott must face his past head-on.

People who are familiar with Apatow’s comedies will not encounter many surprises; a man-child stuck in his immature ways is forced to grow up. However, the characters driving us towards these beats are defined and fleshed out. Tomei stand outs as Scott’s down-to-earth, empathetic mother, as does Burr, who plays to his strengths and delivers more laughs than anyone. He appears as a natural enemy of Scott’s, and the chemistry between the two actors makes it all the more fun. Smaller players Bel Powley, Pamela Adlon, and Steve Buscemi utilise their minor moments to portray rounded characters.

Scott is much less interesting. His story is a recreation of Davidson’s life in most aspects and as a result, the actor meanders through scenes. What I can appreciate is the willingness to embrace a character battling mental illness. Apatow doesn’t treat it as taboo, simply addressing how this individual is dealing with it and allowing him to poke fun at himself. After a while though, this isn’t enough to sustain my interest. Parts of the plot – such as a scene where Scott joins his friends in robbing a pharmacy – are entirely unnecessary and will force many to check their watch, especially astute viewers who will be able to predict what’s coming.

The Burnt Orange Heresy | Regional News

The Burnt Orange Heresy

(R13)

99 Mins

(2 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

The Burnt Orange Heresy has something to say but no way of saying it. What begins as a compelling critique of the contemporary art scene ends as a flamboyant neo-noir romp. Sadly, the two intentions never effectively coalesce, and the film is forced to rely on a captivating cast to keep us engaged.

Charismatic art critic James Figueras (Claes Bang) and his new fling Berenice Hollis (Elizabeth Debicki) visit the luxurious estate of a powerful art dealer, Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger). The true purpose of the alluring invitation is soon revealed; to convince James to steal a painting from Cassidy’s neighbour Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland), a world-renowned but enigmatic artist whose work has not been seen for decades.

The film’s saving grace is its cast, particularly Sutherland and Bang. Both portray masked men; one who will admit it, and one who won’t. James uses charm and confidence to hide insecurity and rage. We meet him as he teaches a class that Berenice attends. He analyses a worthless painting at length and suddenly, the entire class wants a print, exemplifying the power of the critic. We know we cannot trust James, but we understand why others do. As the weathered artist, Sutherland brings sensitivity to a role that risks appearing pretentious.

Director Giuseppe Capotondi refuses to lean into a single idea, and this lack of clarity often leaves the frame dull and the narrative stagnant. For a film that barely crosses the hour-and-a-half mark, The Burnt Orange Heresy feels painfully slow at times and rushed at others. The story, based on the book of the same name by Charles Willeford, naturally lends itself to a seductive, stylistic noir, but Capotondi sacrifices this opportunity in favour of something he deems more meaningful – an exploration of artistic authenticity. This doesn’t land, and in turn, the film becomes forgettable.

The Burnt Orange Heresy represents a missed opportunity. A talented cast and a bewitching plot let down by a lack of focus.

Wendy | Regional News

Wendy

(M)

112 Mins

(2 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Watching Wendy is like diving excitedly into a colourful ball pit only to discover it’s been laced with needles. While director and co-writer Benh Zeitlin’s Peter Pan-inspired tale doesn’t lack originality or flair, its jarring inconsistencies leaves me wondering who it is intended to entertain.

Wendy (Devin France) spends most of her time hanging around her family’s Louisiana diner. She spots a boy leaping between railcars on a passing train and compels her twin brothers Douglas and James to hop aboard. They meet the rambunctious Peter (Yashua Mack), who whisks them off to a magical island and promises they’ll never grow old.

Wendy never lulls, and it thrives in moments where its fantastical world is on full display. Cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen grounds the film’s visual style to make the high-concept elements feel otherworldly. This offers a fresh visual take on a story that has been told time and time again, and it works, for the most part. It’s hard to get an audience on board with a giant magical glowing fish, but the combination of Grøvlen’s striking camera work and Dan Romer’s anthemic orchestral score makes it possible.

No matter how pretty the sights and sounds, eventually, I become disconnected with the story. Incomplete characters, unearned tonal shifts, and clumsy dialogue leaves the film too kiddie for adults and too dense for children. In the end, it’s unclear who we should trust or even like – certainly not Peter. Most of the character arcs are undefined; their behaviours change wildly according to what a given scene dictates. In the end, so many ideas are expressed that its final note feels ham-fisted and the story is left at odds with itself.

The imagination and technical prowess on display in Wendy delivers doses of fun, but it trips over too many hurdles to be compelling or satisfying. The emotional beats that are impactful tend to be ripped away moments later. Those entrenched in the adventures of Neverland may appreciate the take, others may forget it overnight.

Kubrick by Kubrick | Regional News

Kubrick by Kubrick

(16)

73 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Every word that could be said about Stanley Kubrick has already been written. Kubrick by Kubrick turns the final stone, presenting the words of the man himself. This eye-opening documentary focuses on the misconceptions surrounding the illusive filmmaker, humanising a man who, for some, has become mythical. It offers us a seat at Kubrick’s table as he gazes inward, analysing his career humbly and philosophically.

Stanley Kubrick crafted some of the most influential films in cinematic history across a storied five-decade career, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, and The Shining. He rarely granted interviews and was labelled a reclusive genius by many upon his death in 1999. In 1968, Kubrick was so impressed by an article penned by French film critic Michael Ciment that he agreed to be interviewed. The recordings heard in Kubrick by Kubrick track 20 years of their conversations.

Director Gregory Monro assumes the audience is familiar with Kubrick’s cannon, which allows him to avoid fodder. Monro is interested in the misconceptions about his practices and the intelligence behind his choices, as are many Kubrick fans. In a stroke of structural brilliance, editor Philippe Baillon fluidly maps fragments of Ciment’s sit-downs to break down Kubrick’s filmmaking philosophy step by step, speaking to one movie at a time. Discussions venture into the nature of satire, his relationship with source material, and his distrust in the goodness of man.

Where some ‘in conversation’ documentaries feel grossly self-serving, Kubrick by Kubrick feels necessary. Just hearing Kubrick’s voice is a treat, but hearing him comfortably discuss his work in an utterly unpretentious way is extraordinarily special. It shows a method to the madness; why shoot hundreds of takes? Why research like a detective looking for clues? Because “directing a movie, if you do it properly, is not always fun”.

At an hour and 13 minutes, it saddens me that there were surely pearls of wisdom that were left on the cutting room floor. Still, Kubrick by Kubrick paints an important portrait that film fans cannot miss.

Rosie | Regional News

Rosie

(PG)

86 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Thanks to a strong cast of subtle performers and restrained writing, Rosie balances moments of warmth and distress. Rosie (Sarah Greene) shows cracks but never breaks, painting the role of parenthood in an authentic and, in the end, immensely effective way.

Rosie Davis, her husband John Paul (Moe Dunford), and their four children are thrust into homelessness when their landlord decides to sell their north Dublin rental. For several days and nights, Rosie desperately searches for a roof while John Paul works in a restaurant kitchen.

The intrigue of Rosie lies in its unique approach to homelessness. The family’s woes are not the result of any archetypical mistake or laziness, but of pure happenstance. Screenwriter Roddy Doyle finds power in the day-to-day – the cycle of a mother simply trying. It’s a take grounded in authenticity. As Rosie sits in her car, calling hotels and social services until the well runs dry, she also worries about keeping up appearances and getting the kids to school on time.

Greene stands as the film’s biggest asset. It relies on her to maintain the realism intended in the script, and she never falters through its brief runtime. Her performance takes a story that may appear bleak at face value and injects it with heart. We see the mechanics of her mind at work, equally concerned with the strenuous task of finding a room and picking up Peachy, her young daughter’s beloved toy rabbit. We see Greene cage Rosie’s heartache for the benefit of her kids, a sentiment many parents will connect to.

Doyle’s resonant script plays well with Paddy Breathnach’s direction, which is never stagnant but never manic. The imagery is fittingly dreary, hinting to the wider economic problems in Ireland that led this ordinary family to homelessness. It leaves room for the family dynamic to shine, and although brief, the film’s runtime tells a complete story with breathing room. Moments of laughter, tears, and fear ring true, reminding us of the true value of family.

Smog Town | Regional News

Smog Town

88 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Smog Town successfully humanises environmental destruction at ground level. The documentary makes the overwhelming effects of pollution tangible by closely examining an individual example. We see the physical, emotional, and economical scars it leaves behind, serving as a powerful warning for the rest of us.

Langfang, a city in the Hebei Province of China, consistently ranks amongst the country’s most polluted regions. It is cloaked in smog, and the government has reached a point of no return where drastic measures must be taken “for the defence of the blue sky”. We follow author and deputy director of Langfang’s Environment Protection Bureau Li Chunyuan as he inspects homes and businesses using damaging fuels and materials, seeking to lower the city’s air pollution ranking.

Director Meng Han separates Smog Town from other environmental documentaries by including diverse perspectives without picking sides or shaming any party. On a bureaucratic level, Li is emotionally attached to the issue and aware that his job is on the line should he fail. He is the perfect figure to lead us: empathetic, strong willed, and effortlessly inspiring. Li understands that while he must make harsh decisions to better the environment, those decisions have the potential to wreck the lives of people who are already struggling. After he is forced to shut down a spray painter’s business, we follow the man closely as he vies for a licence to continue his work, quickly realising his efforts will be frivolous.

Meng uses the camera to observe, not interrupt, which gives the film a true sense of authenticity. Images of cars suddenly appearing from the smog on an invisible road say more than any narration could. However, scenes providing historical context would have pushed the impact of these moments further.

Smog Town ends on an appropriately sombre note, leaving the audience with a rounded understanding of the hefty topic it delves into. As many great documentaries do, it refuses to judge or provide answers, instead presenting the raw truth in its purest form.

Elementa | Regional News

Elementa

43 Mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Elementa, the third entry in Richard Sidney’s Speechless trilogy, is the filmmaker’s most refined effort yet. It is a short but wholly organic cinematic experience, which will sear images deep into your subconscious.

The film is a collaborative effort between Sidney and musician Boreal Taiga. It uses black and white cinematography within a triptych frame to take viewers to the most remote parts of Earth and interact with its creatures, including a mysterious black bear with white fur found deep in Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest. In the absence of dialogue, Sidney’s camera guides us through the extremes of each primary element, revelling in their sublimity.

Elementa is ferocious and meditative in a way that no environmental documentary I’ve seen quite achieves. The choice to focus exclusively on the power of visual language is a bold one. Within minutes it becomes clear that to present his findings in black and white in a triptych split screen is to meld these vastly differing scenes into one. Suddenly my eyes zero in on how the sharp lines of a fiery volcano contrast with those of a snowy mountain, how the silhouette of a turtle interacts with the texture of a crystal-clear seashore. Here Sidney manages to capture the serenity of nature in a powerfully nuanced way, without any need for a spoken explanation.

While organic sounds soar, Taiga’s score often feels monotonous, failing to add emphasis to moments that demand it. Still, from a technical standpoint, Elementa serves as a masterclass in how to use the camera. We simultaneously see a colony of fish swimming, a bear plucking one of them from the current, and a bird perched in the distance watching on. Each is filmed under a different circumstance that invites individual difficulties and yet, side by side, Sidney’s selected style puts all of nature on an even playing field. We may not know where we are on the map, but we know it’s out there somewhere, which adds to the mystique surrounding Elementa.

That Click | Regional News

That Click

90 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

In this decade-spanning documentary, director Luca Severi replicates the infectious energy and eccentric glamour of Hollywood through the lens of one of its most iconic photographers, Douglas Kirkland. As the title suggests, the film focuses on the passion one can develop for their craft, and the respect they can earn through precision and dedication.

If you don’t recognise the name, you’d certainly recognise the images. From a seductive linen-encased Marilyn Monroe to a red-leathered Michael Jackson leaving that movie theatre, Douglas Kirkland has eternalised show-business iconography across a storied 60-year career. That Click offers glimpses into the personality, taste, and motivation of a genius, as told by past clients – Nicole Kidman, Michelle Williams, Baz Luhrmann – and the man himself.

Upon introduction, Kirkland appears to be an unsung hero of Hollywood. Severi quickly clarifies that his praises are sung loudly, with great after great utterly beguiled by his skill, work ethic, and morals. Severi’s choice to accentuate these sides of Kirkland goes a long way to restoring any lost faith in the wonder of Hollywood. In a time when photoshoot horror stories with seedy photographers are finally coming to light, Kirkland’s practice proves the value of safety and consideration for one’s subjects; this is a man who turned down Marilyn Monroe, instructing her to seduce the camera rather than the photographer behind it.

“I wanted to get the snaps,” Kirkland says, “because that’s who Douglas Kirkland is.”

The quick-cut editing and upbeat soundtrack perfectly accompany Kirkland’s larger-than-life aura. His eccentricity could rival that of Austin Powers, although he is totally trustworthy. He is simply excited by the opportunity to make someone look their best.

That Click has focus, but it fails to weave its timespan together into a complete or well-paced narrative, instead feeling like a snapshot of an amazing life with entertaining anecdotes to carry us along. Still, the second the credits rolled I was compelled to pick up a book of Kirkland’s photography, which perhaps says more about the film than anything I could write here.

Silicon Valley, Baby. | Regional News

Silicon Valley, Baby.

58 Mins

(2 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Just because you journey to the place where it all happens, doesn’t mean it will happen for you. Silicon Valley, Baby. details the highs and lows of attempting to get a start-up off the ground in the global centre of technological innovation – Silicon Valley.

Finnish couple Erika Haavisto (director) and Kalle Freese relocate from their homeland to San Francisco to forage for investors for the latter’s new line of instant coffee “that you’ll actually want to drink”, Sudden Coffee. Kalle’s mission and sole purpose is to change the lives of billions for the better with his invention, but cracks soon form in his master plan.

Silicon Valley, Baby. is an intimate experience. Unpolished in structure and execution, it presents nothing but the truth. Kalle is an interesting person, and even though the film is directed by his devoted partner, Erika has no qualms in portraying him honestly, warts and all. Driven to a fault, Kalle considers himself the future Zuckerberg of instant coffee. He is undeterred by this self-imposed pressure, which allows the audience to spot red flags before he does.

This is a tale as old as time. Kalle’s obsession is attention-grabbing from a voyeuristic perspective, but we’ve heard this story before, and it’s been told in better and smarter ways. Erika features heavily; she is enamoured with Kalle, much more than her audience will be. She fails to find appropriate time to focus on the most intriguing element of the film – herself. Her existential responses to Kalle’s choices, including questioning his humanity and whether she, by comparison, is a “totally boring person”, make for the documentary’s most compelling and unique moments. Sadly, they pass by in a flash, as do major bombshells in the narrative.

Rise and fall stories are inherently absorbing. The best of them reveal the darkest and brightest sides of us. When all is said and done, Silicon Valley, Baby. peters somewhere in the middle.

Sweet Magnolias | Regional News

Sweet Magnolias

(13+)

Season one. Available on Netflix

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

I can’t help but immediately compare Sweet Magnolias to Virgin River. Both are romantic Netflix dramas set in small-town America and star a very attractive red head who loses her husband but finds solace in other relationships. Both also feature a rather dishy male love interest, which might explain why I binged them in a few days. Where Sweet Magnolias doesn’t beat Virgin River is in its exploration of grief. Where it does better is in its celebration and elevation of female friendships.

Maddie Townsend (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) divorces Bill (Chris Klein) after he gets nurse Noreen (Jamie Lynn Spears) pregnant. With three kids between them, Maddie’s world is turned upside down – especially when Bill announces he’s marrying Noreen. For me, Swisher’s wooden performance is what lets Sweet Magnolias down. Her limited emotional range means I don’t believe her character’s response to this trauma. Maddie’s arc is more like a flat line; she even looks a little bored during a steamy sex scene with Coach Cal (Justin Bruening).

Luckily, Swisher is supported by two fantastic actors, Heather Headley as lawyer Helen Decatur and Brooke Elliott as chef Dana Sue Sullivan. Headley carries the emotional weight of the season with a gut-wrenching portrayal of a woman scorned, while Elliott’s giggly flirt fest with a hot guy who’s got a nice car practically steals the show. The chemistry between the three leads is real and palpable; while I didn’t always buy into Swisher’s solo performance, I believed and cherished the heartfelt connection between these characters. The love between them is accentuated by pretty cinematography (Brian Johnson) and soft lighting, almost as if they glow when they’re together.

Sweet Magnolias is the kind of programme you can pop on in the background while baking brownies. You won’t be glued to the screen, but you’ll find its sweetness sneaking up on you until suddenly, you’re hooked. Though unexpected for an otherwise slow-building show, the cliff-hanger ending surely means a second season is in store. I for one will be tuning in.

Knives Out | Regional News

Knives Out

(M)

130 Mins. Available on home video.

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Knives Out is a good-old-fashioned whodunit, complete with the bloody murder of a family patriarch, an endless list of motivated suspects, a smooth detective, and more twists than one cares to count. It is mystery in its purest and most entertaining form.

While police rule the dramatic death of well-known crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) a suicide, private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) receives an anonymous payment that urges him to think otherwise. As Blanc investigates, conflicts within the Thrombey family are brought to light, and everyone becomes a suspect.

After his experience making Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it’s clear writer and director Rian Johnson wanted to make a subversive follow up. The whodunit genre is inherently captivating, but risky – a switched-on audience will see right through any plot holes and call BS on any sudden deus ex machina.

Thankfully, Johnson did his homework. His screenplay and direction are tightly linked to deliver the right information at just the right time; a trail of breadcrumbs designed to ensure maximum impact to the audience. Editor Bob Ducsay is also crucial in this success. As we are tossed around time to achieve the aforementioned impact, Ducsay’s cuts keep the pace and maintain the plot’s intelligence.

If Johnson and Ducsay carry the film’s structure, the cast is certainly responsible for injecting an unabashed sense of fun. Craig chews scenery with glee. Ana de Armas, playing Harlan’s private nurse and confidant Marta Cabrera, brings necessary heart and warmth to the screen amongst a sea of cold, manipulative players. Standouts in the supporting cast include Jamie Lee Curtis as Harlan’s resilient, no-nonsense daughter Linda and Chris Evans as his spoilt grandson.

While the story and characters endow Knives Out with joy, the film doesn’t consistently seize opportunities to innovate visually beyond some well-timed blocking and the odd dolly zoom. However, Johnson’s direction is poised. Not a second of screen time is wasted, constantly building towards what is a satisfying conclusion to a truly grand mystery.

The Lighthouse | Regional News

The Lighthouse

(R16)

110 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

A week on from seeing Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, I’m still struggling to gather my thoughts on it. Was it mesmerising? Yes. Devastatingly beautiful? Yes. Upsetting? Hell yes. But some may leave the cinema wondering what the film was trying to say.

The Lighthouse stars Robert Pattinson as Ephraim Winslow, a lighthouse ‘wickie’ on a barren island in the late 19th century. His mentor Thomas Wake, played by Willem Dafoe, is a veteran of the trade. The men slowly slip towards insanity when Winslow’s stay is extended by a vicious storm that leaves him stranded.

Eggers has created a film that could not be defined under any one genre. Its imagery is simultaneously random and purposeful, which adds to the sense of confusion that is felt by the characters and shared by the audience. As the characters sink into alcoholic tendencies, hallucinations of mermaids and sea monsters leave us uncertain and untrusting.

The film is shot in black and white at an almost-square aspect ratio; making it any other way would feel inappropriate. Eggers and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke manage to visualise a time period without either character having to utter a word of exposition.

The fact that Dafoe did not receive major awards recognition is a crime. The chemistry he and Pattinson share ventures down strange paths, from anger and frustration to close friendship and sexual tension. And yet, it never feels unnatural, even as the actors adjust to deliver poetic dialogue in old-timey pirate voices. Moments between them will make you laugh, empathise, and wince in horror.

Many will leave The Lighthouse unsatisfied. While it clearly tackles masculinity and isolation in an utterly unique way, it asks more questions than it answers. But madness is often intangible, and Eggers dies by the laws of show-don’t-tell cinema. Don’t expect to be told a story here, expect to be sucked into one and spat back out a little more unhinged.

Uncut Gems | Regional News

Uncut Gems

(R16)

135 Mins. Available on Netflix

(5 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Writers and directors Josh and Benny Safdie catapult us into a slick, shady world with Uncut Gems. The film’s energy is kinetic, unpredictable, and utterly relentless, and with it the brothers secure their place as two of the most exciting young filmmakers to hit Hollywood in recent years.

Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) is a jeweller in New York’s Diamond District. Addicted to gambling and winning at all costs, Howard is in deep and running out of time to pay his debts. When a rare gem peaks the intrigue of NBA star Kevin Garnett, Howard is convinced his problems are solved.

The Safdie Brothers have a knack for bringing the best out of everyone they choose to collaborate with. Sandler delivers a career-defining performance, stepping far beyond what I thought he was capable of. Howard is a hubristic cheat. You never quite know whether this guy is a genius or an outright fool, if he is going to win or lose, right up to the film’s final moments. That thread of uncertainty will keep audiences clutching the edges of their seats as he makes one erratic decision after another – a truly frustrating experience.

Many in the cast are not professional actors, yet no one feels out of place or distracting. Who knew Kevin Garnett and The Weeknd could act? And really act, at that.

Much like Good Time, the Safdie’s previous effort, Uncut Gems refuses to let up. Sandler’s manic energy is perfectly complemented by Darius Khondji’s grubby cinematography and Ronald Bronstein and Benny’s fast-paced editing. Daniel Lopatin’s score is synthetic and assaulting to great effect.

Uncut Gems questions the meaning of winning; what are we willing to lose in order to win? We inhabit Howard’s life, and though he is abhorrent, we understand why he makes the crazy decisions he does. This is cinema in its most chaotic and visceral form.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood | Regional News

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

(PG)

109 Mins

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Despite some tedious moments, director Marielle Heller injects A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood with sincere warmth and mostly captures the spirit of its hero, Mister Rogers (Tom Hanks).

Journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is sent on an assignment to profile beloved children’s entertainer Fred Rogers. The cynical Vogel refuses to believe Rogers is truly as kind and compassionate as he appears on his puppet-laden TV show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

The film is anchored by a rock-solid script full of humour and poignant moments. By freeing Heller from the confines of a traditional life story biopic, screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster allow her to focus on the connection between Vogel and Rogers without the portrait of this important figure feeling incomplete.

Rhys steals the show onscreen. His arc of self-discovery is beautifully constructed. It is the story of a broken man incapable of trust slowly coming back to the light by learning the value of kindness. The quiet, contemplative scenes between Rhys and Hanks are the most affecting and honest aspect of the film. The turbulent relationship Vogel has with his father Jerry (Chris Cooper) is sometimes pushed into overly dramatic territory, but the actors are capable of carrying their weight.

Hanks delivers a well-balanced performance, although his interpretation of Rogers feels slightly indulgent and disingenuous at times, which drags the film’s momentum. While he successfully embodies the man’s spirit, he delights so much in his quirks the performance sometimes forays into parody. Still, Hanks knows how to deliver an emotional punch when the time comes.

American audiences who grew up with Mister Rogers will undoubtedly find more to connect to in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood than those who didn’t. My introduction came in the form of the excellent 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? While I would recommend that film over this one any day, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood feels so warm and fuzzy you’re guaranteed to leave the cinema with a smile.

The Irishman | Regional News

The Irishman

(R13)

209 Mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Four virtuosos of the gangster genre regroup to deliver a tale of cold-hearted greed in an unconventionally human way. Director Martin Scorsese gives these characters time to meditate, painting a cruel and gloomy portrait of life in the mob.

The film is narrated by an elderly Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Niro). He recounts his life as a hitman for the mafia, working under the wing of Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci). Ultimately, Sheeran offers his perspective on the disappearance of his friend and famed Teamster, Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).

The release of any new Scorsese film is an event within itself. Add his first reunion with De Niro and Pesci since Casino (1995), his first time working with Pacino, and the stipulation of the mob, and The Irishman becomes something intrinsically special.

Surprise, surprise, The Irishman is another great film from Scorsese. Really great, actually. Where Goodfellas (1990) and Casino feel like cinematic adrenaline, this film is stoic and pointed, indulging in the mundane, chilling side of the gangster. De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino prove their worth as screen legends, giving younger actors a lesson in minimalism and subtlety. We hang on every word Pesci says; they feel precise where his past performances feel frantic. Hoffa is greedy, self-interested, somewhat delusional, and hilarious, and Pacino hits every beat seamlessly.

Much of the film is fast paced, jumping between time periods and plot details rapidly. Scorsese’s long-time collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker is, for my money, the most skilled editor alive. The Irishman is nearly three and a half hours in length, yet it feels no longer than two. Still, Scorsese knows how to slow things down, and the result is a collection of the most suspenseful scenes you’ll see on screen this year.

I haven’t even touched on the brilliant supporting performances, the de-aging effects (which work, for the most part), the crackling script by Steven Zaillian, or the ending, which sobered me. But it’s all there, and in the end, The Irishman is the treat it should be.

Ford v. Ferrari | Regional News

Ford v. Ferrari

(M)

152 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Director James Mangold takes a story reserved for car enthusiasts and makes its messages universal and its action tense, though a brighter light could have been shined on the multiple personalities that fuelled Ford’s historic battle with Ferrari.

In the 1960s, the Ford Motor Company is looking for a new audience and Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) has his eyes on the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. Infuriated when Ferrari (who had won the previous six races) refuses to cut a deal with the American manufacturer, Ford throws money at Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) to build a car that will defeat the Italians. However, Shelby must fight for his preferred driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to be behind the wheel.

Ford v. Ferrari excels where it should: the racing. The climactic 1966 Le Mans race is a true nail-biter that manages to capture the speed on the track and intensity of Miles behind the wheel. Well-paced and never visually confusing, Mangold, the man responsible for Logan (2017), solidifies himself as a formidable action director.

While Damon and Bale perform to their usual high standards, other characters are somewhat sidelined, which is a shame as many of them have a similarly crucial stake in the final race. The most developed of them is Henry Ford II, with Letts delivering the standout supporting performance. Miles’ wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe), Ford executive Lee lacocca (Jon Bernthal), and Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) are characters that fall victim to this, even within a two-and-a-half-hour runtime.

Still, it was fascinating to explore the difficulty of engineering a car that could survive and win Le Mans, and the mindset of a determined racer. The film also cleared up a puzzling piece of history: how another Ford driver, our own Bruce McLaren, was declared the victor when he crossed the line at the same time as Miles.

While it doesn’t use its entire runtime wisely, Ford v. Ferrari is a thrilling film that a surprisingly wide audience will enjoy.

Joker | Regional News

Joker

(R16)

121 Mins

(5 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Just as I thought we’d reached the peak of what a cinematic Joker could be, Joaquin Phoenix and writer-director Todd Phillips delve into an entirely new interpretation with a supremely focused character study that effectively disturbs and distresses.

Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) is scraping by in the bowels of Gotham City’s underworld, struggling to care for his mother while suffering from mental illness and a condition that causes him to laugh uncontrollably in times of discomfort. Arthur becomes further unhinged as his world continues to alienate him, and he begins to embrace the comedy he sees amongst the violent madness.

The Joker is a wonderfully adaptable character. He can function as a clown, a murderous psychopath, or a combination of the two. He is rarely portrayed realistically, and the mystery that clouds the character’s origin has enthralled fans for almost 80 years. Phoenix transforms over the course of the movie and we feel the danger intensify from frame to frame. Fleck begins as an outcast, misunderstood and abused. Once liberated, we see his body language and vocal cadence change organically as Phillips’ direction allows us to empathise with this disillusioned man.

Joker finds strength in its disconnection from the books that inspire it, which I say as a huge fan of comics. This is not a Batman story, and this Joker more closely resembles Travis Bickle than any previous iteration. Phillips unashamedly taps into influence from Taxi Driver and the style of Martin Scorsese, rediscovering a tone that mainstream theatres have been missing.

While the influence is there it isn’t a crutch, as the writing, direction, editing, and breathtaking cinematography (we can almost feel the grime on Gotham’s streets) support the weight of Phoenix’s masterful performance. A special mention must go to Robert De Niro as talk-show host Murray Franklin; his timing and prowess shine more in the short time he spends on-screen here than in any of his recent performances.

My eyes have not been glued to a screen like this in quite some time. I’m already itching to experience it again.

Jojo Rabbit | Regional News

Jojo Rabbit

(M)

108 Mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

In his most light-hearted film to date, Taika Waititi reminds us that it’s okay to laugh to overcome hate. Jojo Rabbit is a comedy, through and through, and those looking for a gloomy tale about World War II should look elsewhere. Alternatively, this is a heart-warming, gut-busting tale about learning to think for yourself; overcoming the influence of a world full of hate to decide what is truly right.

At 10 years old, Jojo Betzler’s (Roman Griffin Davis) views on the war are naïve and childish. He’s a self-confessed “Hitler fanatic” who treats the leader like his favourite celebrity. He soon discovers his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is harbouring Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), a young Jewish girl, in the attic. Jojo must confront his blind nationalism in the form of his imaginary best friend, Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi).

Due to his age, Jojo is largely shielded from the true horrors of WWII. It is not until he is confronted by grief resulting directly from it that he begins to see the full picture. This film is not gratuitous. It doesn’t have to be, nor does it promise to be. But Jojo does not escape the Nazi regime without experiencing his share of trauma.

Taika’s screenplay gives comic talents moments to shine without detracting from the characters who really matter. Sam Rockwell, Stephen Merchant, and Taika himself never outstay their welcome, but eat up every second they have in this vibrant world. The relationships Davis portrays are visceral, particularly with McKenzie and Johansson, and this is what the film is concerned with. Each actor conveys their character’s position, and sense of humour, with pure sincerity. Who should Jojo trust: His country? His mother? Elsa? By the end, certainly not his ridiculous unicorn-eating fantasy of Adolf Hitler.

Jojo Rabbit is not about a boy learning by witnessing horrific acts, it’s about a boy talking to other human beings and concluding that they are all equal. This message just happens to be delivered through the funniest script of the year.

Maiden | Regional News

Maiden

(M)

93 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Maiden is an action-packed documentary that viscerally captures an important human achievement. Detailed footage from the 1980s is edited with precision to recreate an entire race across the world, although a deeper dive into its subject’s past would have painted a more complete picture.

A young British sailor named Tracy Edwards had a dream of sailing around the world. When she realised that the male-dominated industry wouldn’t allow her to do more than cook on a Whitbread Round the World Race yacht, she decided to take matters into her own hands. In 1989, she skippered Maiden, the first all-female crewed boat entered into the race, and ultimately won two legs in Division D.

Director Alex Holmes has crafted a vivid snapshot of Tracy’s environment at this particular time. We feel the scrutiny that surrounded her, which helps us empathise with her admitted “horrendous flaws”.

We see a sincere lack of fear in the entire Maiden crew, but the film shines in moments that show Tracy’s sheer drive, even when she was not popular. She was under enormous pressure and prone to anger as a result. She was forced to take the reigns as skipper on top of her duties as navigator when she fired the crew’s original skipper, the highly experienced Marie-Claude Heys, for threatening her leadership. The media wrote Maiden off as a “tin full of tarts” who wouldn’t even finish the first leg of the race. All of this caused the sworn non-feminist to reconsider her viewpoint, and the overall importance of the crew’s success. By including self-reflective interviews with Tracy, her fellow crew members, other sailors, and journalists from the time, Holmes balances this narrative beautifully.

While the film evocatively portrays Maiden’s time at sea, it doesn’t dig as deeply into aspects of Tracy’s past that undoubtedly affect her, such as the sudden death of her father when she was young. Dedicating more time to the root cause of Tracy’s positive and negative traits would have provided interesting context to her inspirational success.

The Farewell | Regional News

The Farewell

(PG)

98 Mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

The Farewell places us at the centre of an inter-generational, inter-cultural family drama. Its characters connect with each other and with those in the cinema through smart direction, good humour, and intense (but never sentimental) emotional differences.

Billi (Awkwafina), an aspiring writer, immigrated to New York with her parents when she was very young. She is still close with her relatives in China, particularly her Nai Nai/grandmother (Zhao Shuzhen). When Nai Nai is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, the family must fly back to see her. The only hiccup is Billi’s somewhat forgotten homeland traditions, which deem that Nai Nai must not know she is sick. And so, a faux wedding is arranged to deceive her.

Writer and director Lulu Wang creates a consistent tone that allows for moments of happiness, heated disagreement, longing sadness, and love. There is no clash between conversations in Mandarin and conversations in English, it all flows seamlessly. Her efforts are entangled with those of cinematographer Anna Franquesa Solano, who uses close mid shots and distant longs to pull us into this family dynamic, at times uncomfortably so. She heavily utilises the lower third of the frame, which puts us level with the characters emotionally.

Each family member is unique in portrayal and perspective. We see how the characters feel about the situation, and how they’re struggling to accept their lies. Particularly Billi’s parents, who are in the most interesting position as Chinese people with recent Western influence. Wang revels in the fascinating cultural comparisons.

Finally, the true stars, Billi and Nai Nai. Awkwafina and Shuzhen each give breath-taking performances. The intimate moments we spend with these two are sweet, entrancing, and funny. Billi sees how overjoyed Nai Nai is when the family returns and struggles between the moral obligation to tell her the truth and the guilt of stripping her happiness away. Nai Nai’s grace infects her and she must learn to be less selfish.

The Farewell is a universally relatable story, but it could – in the wrong hands – be a boring one. With this director and this cast, boy was that not the case.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood | Regional News

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

(R16)

161 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Quentin Tarantino’s Hollywood-hangout film pulls the audience into the town’s golden age by utilising two of modern-day’s most charismatic performers at peak fitness, though it doesn’t attack the senses in the same way as his revenge-led pictures.

In Once Upon a Time we join fading 1960’s western TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Dalton’s cowboy shoot-em-ups are going out of fashion, which means he and Booth could be out of work. Luckily, Dalton might have an in through his neighbours… Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and Roman Polanski (Rafał Zawierucha).

This movie is Hollywood. Seeing DiCaprio and Pitt together on screen took me back to a time when the movie star reigned supreme. Their characters are different, but they need each other, something they embrace as the film progresses. DiCaprio plays an unconsciously lonely man whose small moments of achievement are fun to celebrate. Pitt delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as Booth. He does not overact, instead embracing the nonchalance inherent in the script – primarily communicating through badassery. Supporting characters are well placed and well cast, particularly Margaret Qualley as Pussycat and the various other Manson Family members, and 10-year-old Julia Butters, who is maybe the only actor to steal shine from the leads.

The lack of thrills will be an adjustment for some. There’s a lot of driving, a lot of talking, and payoff usually comes in the form of catharsis or comedy. Cinematographer Robert Richardson beautifully captures a half real, half fantasy 1969. The script just isn’t as tight, and the concepts not as clearly executed as we have come to expect. However, the ending was worth it. It was a wonderful ‘WTF’ moment. Tate serves as an important symbol of this time in Hollywood. Robbie plays her well but is short on standout sequences.

Films like this, with actors of this calibre rarely get made anymore. Just don’t go in expecting the regular Tarantino gut-punch. His other films are crazy, this one is cool.

Booksmart | Regional News

Booksmart

(R16)

105 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

While occasionally falling into coming-of-age traps, Booksmart feels genuine in a way that not many films like it do and allows a talented cast to shine in one of the year’s funniest comedies.

Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut stars Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever as high school friends Molly and Amy, who cut loose on graduation night after realising their work-hard play-never mantra may have been for nothing.

Booksmart separates itself from recent coming-of-age flicks like Lady Bird and Eighth Grade through pedal-to-the-metal comedy. At an hour 45 minutes there is no room for filler, and there isn’t any; jokes hit so rapidly it’s hard to see them coming, which is rare.

The friendship between Molly and Amy feels lived in. While both have individual misgivings, they are not simply movie-friends. If these people existed, they really would be hanging out, which is a credit to actresses Feldstein and Dever. To spoil any jokes would be a crime, but just wait until these two need a Lyft – our audience was laughing so hard we missed a few lines.

Often a high school comedy rides or dies with its supporting characters. We have the principal, the teacher, the gay kids, the rich kids, and so on. Doomed to be caricatures, Wilde somehow gives each character enough time to breathe and develop. Saturday Night Live greats Will Forte (Amy’s dad Doug), Mike O’Brien (Pat the pizza guy), and Jason Sudeikis (Principal Brown) eat up their few minutes of screen time, and lesser-known actors Billie Lourd (Gigi), Skyler Gisondo (Jared), and Noah Galvin (George) play unique, hilarious students.

While the jokes are consistently unpredictable, the story beats sometimes are. Our leads fight, make up, and learn their life lessons right on cue. However, Wilde seems aware of this formula and brings a directorial flair to these moments through some surprising editing and sound choices that serve the story’s sincerity.

Booksmart is a good coming-of-age film wrapped in one of the funniest, most authentic comedies I’ve seen in a long time.

The Lion King (2019) | Regional News

The Lion King (2019)

(PG)

118 Mins

(2 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

While The Lion King (2019), a direct remake of the 1994 film, boasts visual effects that wouldn’t seem out of place in the latest David Attenborough wildlife documentary, it comes across as an exercise in CGI, and does not justify its existence.

The visual effects team at The Moving Picture Company more than earn their keep. The animals and locations are rendered beautifully, and this treatment is not just reserved for lead characters; the Pride Lands look and feel like a natural African habitat. The combination of photo-realism with unnatural behaviours is seamless and not distracting.

However, the voice cast struggles to push real emotion through – yes, realistic – neutral-faced animals. When 1994-Simba cries for Mufasa, we all cried with him. When 2019-Simba (JD McCrary) cries, it looks very similar to how 2019-Simba smiles. There are standouts amongst the supporting cast, particularly Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa, and Eric Andre and Keegan-Michael Key as Scar’s hyena henchmen Azizi and Kamari. These pairings manage to inject immediate comedic chemistry into what otherwise feels like a lazy regurgitation. Other cast members, such as Beyoncé as Nala and Donald Glover as adult-Simba, offer nothing interesting vocally and appear as stunt casting.

Another let down was the simplification of some of the finest musical moments in movie history. Scar’s scary and sassy Be Prepared is dampened and completely forgettable. Can You Feel the Love Tonight is an excuse for Beyoncé and Glover to appear on a track together, but the mix is sloppy and does no favours for either star – one friend even called it “grating”.

It seems Disney thought they had a good movie that people wouldn’t mind seeing again. The problem is that this isn’t a good movie, this is The Lion King, for many, the finest film of Disney’s renaissance. This retelling’s astounding effects and moments of comedy do not offer enough to return to this version.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix | Regional News

X-Men: Dark Phoenix

(M)

113 Mins

(2 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Cal Roberts

After absorbing a typically fatal dose of cosmic energy, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) transforms into the murderous titular outlaw Phoenix: a mutant consumed by rage and impulse. It’s up to her X-Men family to bring her home or bring her down.

If this all sounds familiar, it’s probably because this story has been told before, as the 2006 critical dud X-Men 3: The Last Stand. The only difference is this time around, alien imposter Vuk (Jessica Chastain) wants to exploit the mutant’s new power as a weapon.

This final outing for the X-Men under 20th Century Fox is directed by long-time franchise producer and writer Simon Kinberg. His attempts to put a satisfying bow on nearly 20 years of continuity (a term used very lightly here) fall just short of the mark, however.

At the risk of having nothing to strive for throughout, Dark Phoenix stretches its premise as far as superhumanly possible. The story remains faithful to some of the series’ mainstay character arcs, but Dark Phoenix is undoubtedly guilty of stealing the spotlight from Jean to address the failings of one Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). True to form, the film reveals he spent years repressing an immensely powerful orphan’s trauma instead of working through it – to disastrous and bloody results. Good one, Professor.

After mounting their first mission into space during the first act, the climactic battle is mundanely terrestrial, taking place on a train. Speaking of mundane, Vuk’s villainous peers, the D’bari, have been hiding on earth for who knows how long – or why. They ultimately serve as fodder tasked with standing awkwardly still and occasionally charging the X-Men in waves of two or three.

Go see this movie if you’re a diehard X-Men fan, prefer character-driven superhero stories, and don’t care about who holds a series’ franchise rights. Otherwise, hold out for the same story to get a third pass when the X-Men are inevitably revamped, recast, and rebooted, in line with the one true Marvel Cinematic Universe somewhere down the line.

Assholes: A Theory | Regional News

Assholes: A Theory

81 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Presented by: the Doc Edge Film Festival

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

Has there always been so many assholes around, or is the proliferation of entitled, rude people a 21st century phenomenon? Assholes: A Theory explores this question and many more, examining why and how the asshole develops, as well as where they thrive.

This documentary (directed by Canadian filmmaker John Walker) was inspired by the bestselling book of the same name by Aaron James, a professor of philosophy. James appears in interviews throughout the film, but especially the first third, where he and others define the term asshole in quite academic terms. For example, assholes are usually (but not always) male, white, and affluent. You can’t be an asshole until you’re old enough to know better. Finally, assholery points to a feeling of superiority and dismissal of other people’s emotions (rather than a complete lack of empathy, as in narcissistic personalities).

With a burbling, jazzy soundtrack and plenty of funny anecdotes from the likes of comedian John Cleese, Assholes: A Theory is clearly aiming to be light-hearted. However, as the second half of the film swings into matters like assholes in power, it becomes harder for the director to veil the seriously negative impact these people have on the world.

Apparently, assholes thrive in competitive environments like the financial and tech industries; think Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Interviewees dance around arguably the most prominent asshole on the planet right now, President Donald Trump, before delving into the careers of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and ex-prime minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi. Italian LGBTQIA+ activist Vladimir Luxuria, a direct opponent of Berlusconi’s, provides fascinating insights here.

Vox pops from ordinary people slow the pace somewhat, especially as I’m not sure who these talking heads are – at least some of them describe themselves as assholes.

Despite its provocative premise, Assholes: A Theory ambles along, entertainingly musing on the people we love to hate. If you’ve ever wondered how and why people are so dang rude these days, it’s well worth a watch.

Call Me Intern | Regional News

Call Me Intern

70 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Presented by: the Doc Edge Film Festival

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

In 2016, 22-year-old New Zealander David Hyde made headlines around the world when it was revealed that as an unpaid intern for the United Nations, he was living in a tent on the side of a lake in Geneva. Little did the press – or the UN, for that matter – know that Hyde had only taken on the position (and the unfortunate sleeping arrangements) as part of a film project.

Call Me Intern is the end result of Hyde’s UN stunt, a compelling documentary about the exploitative nature of unpaid internships. Cleverly, he and co-director Nathalie Berger springboard off Hyde’s experiences at the UN to concentrate on the stories of young Black Americans Marisa and Kyle. Marisa was ousted from her unpaid role at the Obama For America campaign after she reported her sexual assault, while Kyle worked at Fortune 500 company Warner Music from a homeless shelter.

The interviews were obviously done with great skill and care, as Kyle and Marisa both reveal intimate details of their backgrounds, motivation to pursue unpaid work, and devastation when they realised their internships were a dead end. Their stories brilliantly illustrate how unpaid internships also work to restrict diversity in white-collar professions and at top companies. Only rich kids can afford to work for nothing, and statistically speaking, rich kids are more likely to be white.

The movie side-steps any accusations of millennial whingeing with extensive interviews from academics. They put these stories in a greater context, where unpaid internships account for up to half of all internships offered in America, in a workforce where entry-level jobs are all but disappearing.

I’ve never heard of an unpaid internship in Aotearoa, but the stories in Call Me Intern still resonated with me. It’s extremely hard to find meaningful work as a young person, even with a university degree. While to some degree Call Me Intern was preaching to a millennial choir, I hope that older generations can recognise the injustice the film delves into so well.

Avengers: Endgame | Regional News

Avengers: Endgame

(M)

181 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

For a certain sector of movie fans and comic lovers, Avengers: Endgame is nothing short of a cultural moment. It’s the fourth and final episode in the Avengers series, and is also the latest entry in the Marvel film canon, which now numbers a whopping 22 movies. At the time of writing, the blockbuster is set to break records across the globe. With so many people flocking to see Endgame in theatres, I’m going to assume you’ve seen it. Beware – spoilers ahead.

Endgame starts directly where Infinity War left off, in the aftermath of the evil Thanos wiping out half of Earth’s population with a click of his fingers. The Avengers assemble, swiftly organise Thanos’ demise, and then mire themselves in their profound loss. That is, until Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) zaps his way from the quantum realm, but also the past, or something. With the mathematical genius of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), the Avengers enact a new plan: to travel back in time, steal back the infinity stones, and right Thanos’ wrong.

While I wouldn’t call myself an Avengers fan per se, I’ve always loved Iron Man, and Endgame is a wonderful vehicle for Downey Jr’s talents. The wisecracks are still there, yes, but the narrative also allows him to play a doting father, grief-stricken comrade, and finally, the true hero we always knew him to be. His last moments onscreen were captured in dramatic, sincere close-up – it was powerful stuff, especially for the small child openly sobbing in the seat next to me.

The rest of the movie is a perfectly fitting send-off, if a little convoluted at times. I have a few minor gripes (can we stop with the fat jokes in every Thor scene?), but overall, Endgame made great use of its stellar cast and hundreds of millions of dollars in digital effects. It’s a fabulous, funny, clever conclusion to one of the 21st century’s most iconic superhero sagas.

Us | Regional News

Us

(R16)

116 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

Jordan Peele’s 2017 debut Get Out scored him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, cementing him – and the horror genre, now definitely enjoying a renaissance – as Hollywood forces to watch. Us, his sophomore effort, isn’t quite as narratively disciplined, but is nevertheless a riotously fun genre exercise that walks the line between laughs and scares with glee.

After a cryptic opening sequence, we meet the Wilsons: a middle-class Black family holidaying on the Californian coast. There’s Gabe (Winston Duke, dripping with dad-joke energy) and mum Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), as well as their two kids: Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Alex Evan). Us establishes a light, funny home life that swiftly turns dark when the Wilsons’ doppelgängers (played by the same actors) turn up on their driveway, dressed in blood-red jumpsuits and wielding golden scissors.

The Wilsons’ holiday home soon becomes a murderous funhouse that Peele’s camera manoeuvres around with fluid ease. Doors conceal frantic bodies, bare feet slap on wooden floors somewhere down the hall… But each shot is taut, purposeful, in sharp contrast and focus. Despite the old-school feel of its slasher gore, Us’ cinematography is so contemporary; the moving shot of a bloodied (and brilliant) Elisabeth Moss is my highlight.

Nyong’o is superb in her twin role of Adelaide and Red, her homicidal double. As Adelaide, she’s fierce, enigmatic, maternal. Red, on the other hand, is deeply chilling, expressed through a raspy voice interspersed with loud gulps. She moves as if guided by a metronome, her posture ramrod straight and her walking staccato.

The Easter eggs in this movie – referring to pop culture, religion, and other horror films – are delightful. The Shining is the most obvious influence, as Peele nicks both the creepy twins and the extended birds-eye shots of the landscape. But in the third act, when the horrors begin to unfurl, Peele’s ideas pile up too quickly. While Get Out felt elegant, Us feels overstuffed. Diving into its late plot developments does the movie no favours; it’s best enjoyed on a visceral level, behind a cushion if necessary.

Daffodils | Regional News

Daffodils

(M)

93 Mins

(2 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

I really wanted to like Daffodils. But when the random friendly stranger next to me asked my opinion as the credits rolled, I started with “can I be honest?”

Even at 93 minutes, Daffodils dragged. Its flat characters, jarring use of a much-hyped Kiwiana soundtrack, and soapy writing made for one of the most disappointing New Zealand movies I’ve seen in years.

Based on the stage show of the same name, Daffodils is the love story of Eric (George Mason) and Rose (Rose McIver), who meet by chance on a drunken, stormy night in the Hamilton Domain. To the ire of Rose’s well-to-do parents, the pair fall madly for each other, get married, and eventually have two daughters. One of their girls, Maisy (Kimbra), narrates their (spoiler: doomed) tale through voiceover and song.

I’ll start with the good stuff: Mason and McIver work admirably with the material they’ve been given, and the set dressing is pitch-perfect (shout out to the tomato-shaped ketchup bottle in every kitchen scene).

But there are so many things that don’t work. The covers of New Zealand classics by the band Lips are at best, not bad. And in not quite the same way as a musical, where everyone in the movie participates in the song-and-dance number, Daffodils’ characters mime songs that the others can’t hear. It slows down the pace, and worse, it sticks us in emotional spaces that often don’t quite line up with the scene. The most mismatched for me is an early moment when Rose becomes fiercely jealous that her not-yet-boyfriend Eric is greeted by another girl. She has a slow-motion musical moment in the corner of the dancehall that feels completely unearned.

Moreover, the swirl of assumptions at the centre of their relationship breakdown is sitcom-level stupid, and could be solved with a five-minute conversation. What could have been a sensitive and insightful chance to look at Pākehā stoicism is given a simplistic, hugely frustrating treatment.

Yeah nah, you can probably give Daffodils a miss, eh.

If Beale Street Could Talk | Regional News

If Beale Street Could Talk

(M)

117 Mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

Director Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning film Moonlight was one of the best films of 2016. Based on the James Baldwin novel of the same name, his follow-up If Beale Street Could Talk is softer and less art house, but is no less insightful on love, community, family, and racial hatred.

19-year-old Tish (KiKi Layne) and 21-year-old sculptor Fonny (Stephan James) are hopelessly in love. Dreaming of a modest life together, their biggest problem is that they can’t secure a New York City apartment from racist landlords – until Fonny is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. A rape victim was coerced into picking him out of a line-up, so he’s chucked in the slammer with little hope of release. At the same time, Tish discovers she is pregnant.

The movie opens with a quote from Baldwin, explaining the origins of the novel’s title. Beale Street is a historically significant street in Memphis, and according to the author, is the symbolic birthplace of all Black Americans. Thanks to Jenkins’ gorgeous use of colour, slow motion sequences, and Nicholas Britell’s swelling score, the idea of legacy is evoked again and again. At times, If Beale Street Could Talk is more like a visual poem than a movie. But I’m not complaining; it’s beautiful.

And besides, there’s plenty of compelling action to drive the narrative. In a superbly shot scene starring Brian Tyree Henry as Fonny’s old friend Daniel, Henry delivers a stomach-roiling, eerie monologue on the horrors of incarceration. A climactic scene where Tish informs Fonny’s horrible “holy roller” mother (Aunjanue Ellis) that she’s expecting provoked gasps from the audience. And Regina King (Tish’s mother) more than earns her Best Supporting Actress Oscar in a sequence where she talks to Fonny’s alleged victim, begging her to recount her testimony.

If Beale Street Could Talk is a brilliantly gentle, bittersweet movie that handles big ideas of humanity and prejudice with grace. It might have received fewer accolades than Moonlight, but it’s a worthy addition to Jenkins’ oeuvre.

On the Basis of Sex | Regional News

On the Basis of Sex

(M)

120 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of the most famous civil servants in the world. She sits on the US Supreme Court at the age of 85, and is best-known for her work demolishing legislation that discriminates on gender. Her story was always going to be incredible, but in the hands of director Mimi Leder, it becomes even more compelling. On the Basis of Sex at first seems straightforward, even glossy, but excels when it delves into the trickier stuff.

The biopic follows Ruth (Felicity Jones) from her time at Harvard Law School as one of its first-ever female students through to the case that changed everything for her – and America’s women. Along the way, we nestle into her spectacularly functional, progressive marriage with Marty (Armie Hammer), and see first-hand the kind of discrimination that Ruth and her kin were up against.

Despite its long runtime, On the Basis of Sex held me in its thrall. Sure, it was funny when the young Ruth humiliates the sexist, condescending Dean of Harvard Law (Sam Waterston), but the film is its most cutting and fresh when it skewers so-called ‘allies’ of the feminist movement. After graduating, top student Ruth can’t get a job anywhere in New York. One interview seems promising; the interviewing partner seems sympathetic to her plight – but he can’t hire her! What would the wives say? Smarmy ACLU lawyer Mel Wulf (Justin Theroux) is for equal treatment for all people under the law, apparently. But he refuses to treat Ruth as his intellectual equal, and after one particular dressing-down even the audience doubts she can win.

These thematic through-lines work so well because they stem from complex social and cultural issues that women and non-binary people are still wading through today. It effectively conveys to the viewer that while ‘the Notorious RBG’ did a lot of important work for gender equality, we’ve still got a way to go. On the Basis of Sex is inspiring, but it never loses sight of the fact that social change is a lot of hard work.

Green Book | Regional News

Green Book

(M)

130 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

Green Book is heart-warming, straightforward, and optimistic. It’s basically everything that real-life racism isn’t.

The Golden Globe-winning film is essentially a buddy comedy, based on real events. The classically trained jazz pianist Dr Don Shirley (Ali) is embarking on a tour of the South in the Jim Crow era. As a Black man, he knows the trip could be perilous, and so he hires Italian-American Tony ‘Tony Lip’ Vallelonga (Mortensen) to be both his driver and bodyguard. While ‘the Doc’ is highly educated and a bit uptight, Tony Lip is a boarish chatterbox who eats whole pizzas folded over like a sandwich. Over the course of their eight-week sojourn, the two very different men learn to like each other.

Directed by Peter Farelly (There’s Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber), Green Book is best when it’s funny. Ali and Mortensen play off each other wonderfully when stretching the outer limits off their characters – the scene where Lip convinces the grease-averse Doc to try fried chicken for the first time, for example. Mortensen is also to be applauded for his incredible commitment to the role (he must have packed on 20kg in his belly alone), and for breathing a rich inner life into Lip.

However, the film’s view of racism is pretty rosy; it’s posited as a past tense problem rather than something that continues to oppress millions of Black Americans. The Green Book that the title refers to is a publication detailing which motels, shops, and roadside diners would welcome ‘coloreds’, and which it would be best to avoid. It’s a relic of an overtly racist past – it almost seems ridiculous now, alongside smoking inside and segregated restaurants. Green Book points to those things as evidence that we’ve changed.

But have we? Thanks to the current President, the pain felt in America’s minority communities in 2019 is hot and angry and urgent. This kind of filmmaking, in these times, feels insultingly reductive. Green Book wants to make you laugh, cry, and forget about America’s racism problem for a couple hours. And that’s okay. But I think it’s high time for the more difficult conversations.

A Star is Born | Regional News

A Star is Born

(M)

136 Mins

(4 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Annabella Gamboni

I love that Bradley Cooper chose A Star is Born for his first outing as a director. The Hollywood warhorse first appeared in theatres in 1937, and has since been remade four times. In this defiantly fresh 21st-century take, Cooper sings a love song to the movies without compromising on his methodical artistic integrity.

You know the story. Jackson Maine (Cooper) is a country-rock superstar overly reliant on booze and pills. One night, he drags those cowboy boots and twinkling blue eyes to a cabaret, where he meets waitress and singer-songwriter Ally (Stefani Germanotta, aka Lady Gaga). Jack convinces her to join him on tour, and as quickly as the pair fall madly in love, Ally’s star begins to rise.

The first half of A Star is Born is seamless. The moment Ally takes the mic with Jack for Shallow is perfect – despite, or even because of, the fact that we’ve seen that scene a thousand times before. It works principally because of the beautiful chemistry between Cooper and Lady Gaga, which aches not only with sexual tension, but with kindness and care. Both leads are astounding, but it’s Lady Gaga that takes you by surprise. Her performance, unlike her famous musical persona, is completely without artifice. Her Ally (very different to Judy Garland’s or Barbara Streisand’s) is no naïve ingenue, but a modern woman with both street smarts and a heart given to dreaming.

It’s only in the second act that the plot hits a few flat notes. The attention to detail given to musical sequences is less often applied to dialogue, so that some developments feel rushed. You could attribute this to the world of showbusiness these characters inhabit, but it is just as often the dated source material poking through. The final and most devastating development doesn’t quite hit as hard as it deserves to, mostly because the preceding scene had me questioning its verisimilitude.

Despite its faults, A Star is Born is Hollywood done right. It’s nothing short of a modern classic.