Television Revision: The West Wing – Season 6

The West Wing S6

By Andrew Williams
July 23, 2014

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

Now, this is a story all about how… President Bartlet’s presidency begins to wind down, and the Democratic and Republican parties begin the long nomination process to find their own successors to the throne.

The West Wing S6

Happy days? Anyone who enjoys American politics (even in a watch-it-through-your-fingers sort of way) knows that their Presidential elections can be absolutely enthralling. Trying to corral a massive (and massively diverse) country into making a single decision between two potential leaders is a gargantuan, almost foolhardy task. The incredibly complicated path to making that choice is a fascinating thing to behold, and one of the most fascinating things about it is the primary process, which determines who the two respective candidates will be.

It’s that process that The West Wing bases the majority of Season Six around, and it is that decision that would return the show to greatness.

They say no one wants to know how the sausage gets made, but the sausage making in the last two seasons of The West Wing creates some compelling viewing. The John Wells-led version of the show is a much more cynical and matter-of-fact version than the one Aaron Sorkin originally created, concentrating much more on how it is than how it might be. Yet, it’s thrilling all the same as we race through primary season to determine the Presidential contenders to replace Martin Sheen‘s Josiah Bartlet. Will it be the Obama-like Matt Santos, played by Jimmy Smits? The opportunistic Bob Russell (Gary Cole)? Or the blisteringly intelligent and very popular liberal Republican Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda)? One thing’s for sure: it’s a lot of fun to watch.

The final frontier: Though Season Six of The West Wing is not the same show it once was, that doesn’t mean it’s not still a great show.

The West Wing S6

Best episode: 22) 2162 Votes. The madness of the Democratic nominating convention is spectacularly handled by director Alex Graves and writer Wells; it’s a brilliant portrayal of the kind of wheeling and dealing required to win such a coveted and controversial role. And by ending the season on both a cliff hanger and a note of hope, Wells proved there was still a little bit of Sorkin left in the show after all.

Worst episode: 2) The Birnam Wood. There are things we understand are possible in this alternative, still relatively optimistic political universe: solving a government shutdown, winning an election comprehensively in a single debate, taming the press with a few charmingly self-deprecating gags… however solving the crisis in the Middle East is a bridge too far, even for this show. It’s representative of a wider problem with Season Six, which is that the White House plots became somewhat less compelling than the election material.

Season MVP: This is a weird one: whomever was in charge of casting for The West Wing deserves some sort of medal. Season Five aside (curse you, Jesse Bradford!) the casting is impeccable: Smits & Alda are perfect additions, as are traditional comedy actors like Ed O’Neill (who knew?) and Gary Cole in dramatic roles. But for Smits & Alda alone, the casting director of The West Wing (along with John Wells) gets this prize.

4/5

Check out Andrew Williams’ previous instalments:

Television Revision: The West Wing - Season 1

Television Revision: The West Wing - Season 2

Television Revision: The West Wing - Season 3

Television Revision: The West Wing - Season 4

Television Revision: The West Wing - Season 5

The West Wing is available on Quickflix.

Game of stones – Pompeii review

Pompeii

By Richard Haridy
July 23, 2014

Pompeii is what some critics will label a “guilty pleasure.” It’s trash. Unadulterated, cliché-ridden junk that is also simply damn fun to watch. I tend to rail against the term “guilty pleasure” as one should never feel guilty about enjoying something. Pompeii is a grand B-grade mash up of a movie bringing together Gladiator and Titanic under the ash-cloud of a giant disaster film.

A gloriously hammy prologue sets up the entire feature: The evil Roman Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) wipes out an entire Celtic village leaving only one survivor, a young boy named Milo. Captured by slave traders, Milo spends the next 17 years of his life becoming a talented gladiator – and looking like Game of ThronesKit Harington – yet still harbouring dreams of vengeance. You guessed it, Milo ends up in Pompeii just as the villainous Corvus arrives, while also falling in love with Cassia (Emily Browning), daughter of the current ruler of Pompeii, Severus (Jared Harris).

Pompeii

This is all necessarily convoluted but incredibly one-dimensional. B-grade auteur Paul W.S. Anderson, best known for his numerous Resident Evil movies, orchestrates with a swift sense of purpose. For the first hour we simply get a satisfying replay of Gladiator and Titanic with the occasional cutaway to an ominously growling volcano. The final act then moves into full disaster overdrive, giving us the inevitable volcanic eruption spewing chaotic fireballs down onto the town as major carnage ensues.

Harrington has an amusing cardboard blandness; his flat, matinee idol delivery really works for this type of sword and sandal cheese. Sutherland, Browning, Harris and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, meanwhile, all pitch themselves perfectly to the low-brow tone of the material.

Anderson knows exactly what he is doing with Pompeii and he executes this type of gleefully trashy entertainment with a sense of pace and style that is unexpectedly refreshing. This is not great art but it is great entertainment (if approached with the right sense of fun). Sure, every character beat is hammy and predictable, but hey, not everything can be fine dining. Sometimes you just want a good cheeseburger and fries.

3.5/5

Pompeii is now available on Quickflix.

Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook loop-de-loop in time-skipping ‘Predestination’ trailer

Predestination

The Spierig Brothers – those rascally twins responsible for Aussie genre fare Undead and Daybreakers - are set to debut their new film Predestination at the 2014 Melbourne International Film Festival’s Opening Night Gala. But why wait until then when you can, at least, watch the trailer right now?

Starring Ethan Hawke as a “temporal agent” who can travel through time to stop crimes before they’ve even been committed, Predestination is certain to draw comparisons with Minority Report, Looper and 12 Monkeys.

But none of those movies has Sarah Snook, the fantastic Aussie actress who charmed us in the rom-com Not Suitable for Children and seems to embark on a hugely complex role in this new sci-fi thriller.

Underestimate the Spierigs at your own peril. After their surprisingly excellent Daybreakers, we’d still look forward to their latest movie even if its trailer was terrible.

Helpfully, this trailer is awesome.

After debuting at MIFF on July 31, Predestination will arrive in cinemas August 28.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays the Oscar game in trailer for ‘The Imitation Game’

imitation game

Benedict Cumberbatch will likely find himself in the Oscar game thanks to his starring role in The Imitation Game, if the newly released trailer is any indication.

Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing – the brilliant, difficult scientist who helped crack the German Engima Code for the Allies – in this Morten Tyldum-directed flick.

The trailer seems to focus entirely on his efforts to unravel Enigma (with the help of Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, and the Irish driver from Downton Abbey), but hopefully the film also highlights Turing’s post-war struggle and prosecution for homosexual acts in 1952.

Turing was posthumously pardoned by the Queen just last December.

The Imitation Game arrives in US/UK cinemas this November, and lands locally January 1, 2015.

First look at Amy Schumer and Judd Apatow’s ‘Trainwreck’

Trainwreck

The first image from Judd Apatow’s latest directorial effort has been shared by the New York Times, in a profile on its writer and star, Amy Schumer.

Of course, that’s not an image from within their movie, titled Trainwreck, unless Apatow has cast himself as Schumer and Bill Hader’s buddy, and they are at some kind of camera convention.

There’s no official plot summary for Trainwreck out there, though Schumer – an incredible stand-up whose brilliantly skewering sketch show Inside Amy Schumer was recently nominated for an Emmy – is said to play “a basket case who tries to rebuild her life.”

Joining Schumer and Hader is an eclectic cast that includes Barkhad Abdi, Tilda Swinton, Daniel Radcliff, Brie Larson, and LeBron James.

Trainwreck arrives in cinemas July 23, 2015, and you should all be super psyched for it.

Angelina Jolie to star opposite and direct Brad Pitt in ‘By the Sea’

Mr and Mrs Smith

Auteur Angelina Jolie will slum it on-screen with actor Brad Pitt in upcoming film By the Sea.

Oh, and apparently they are an item, too.

Jolie and Pitt will reunite for the first time since Mr. and Mrs. Smith in what Universal called in their press release an “intimate, character-driven drama.”

Jolie will direct the flick, while both Jolie and Pitt will produce.

Though Pitt is certainly no slouch in the world of cinema, Jolie is on something of a roll, celebrating her biggest live action hit this past month with Maleficent, and having completed two prior directorial efforts (the latest, Unbroken, seeming Oscar bound).

There is no release date yet for By the Sea, though Unbroken will hit cinemas January 8, 2015.

Matthew McConaughey might be The Company Man

dallas buyers club

Matthew McConaughey would seem to have his pick of the litter when it comes to selecting a new project, regardless of whether or not he’d be appropriate for the part. Coming off his Dallas Buyers Club Oscar-win, True Detective Emmy nomination, and upcoming starring role in eventual blockbuster Interstellar, if he wanted to play Shirley Temple, producers would have a hard time turning him down.

So, it’s a big deal that he’s reportedly eyeing the script for The Company Man, which concerns CIA agent Edwin Wilson’s meteoric rise in the wake of the Cold War, and eventual designation as “public enemy No. 1″ to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Those descriptions come from an uncharacteristically cautious Deadline, who temper our excitement by reminding us that nothing is set in stone.

According to McConaughey’s reps, he’s seeking a suitable director to helm the flick before deciding to come aboard himself.

The script comes from Andrew Cypiot, and it was featured on a recent Black List, in which the best unproduced screenplays of any given year are ranked by Hollywood insiders, whatever that means.

Amy Ryan the latest amazing person to join Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg/Coen brothers collaboration

Amy Ryan

Amy Ryan, an Oscar nominee for Gone Baby Gone and essential supporting player in most everything else, is set to star opposite Tom Hanks in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming, untitled Cold War thriller.

As if the flick didn’t already have an impressive pedigree, Matt Charman’s screenplay was recently retooled by the freaking Coen brothers.

Based on a true story, the flick will star Hanks as James Donovan, a CIA attorney who must negotiate with Russia the release of a captured American pilot.

Ryan will play Donovan’s wife.

Death takes a holiday – Still Life review

Still Life

By Glenn Dunks
July 22, 2014

The life of a man with what could surely be described as one of the most depressing jobs in England is examined with fine precision in Uberto Pasolini’s Still Life. The subject matter may appear overly dour for the man who was Oscar-nominated for producing feel-good comedy The Full Monty, but its unassuming balance of the touching and melancholy is rather enchanting. Pasolini’s film about death, memories, and our innate desire to not be forgotten by the ones we love may just sneak up on audiences looking to be charmed and moved.

John May (Eddie Marsan) works for a British council attempting to locate next of kin for people who died unacknowledged; as in, without seemingly anybody caring. Somewhat avoiding the modern advances of technology, John personally sees to everything, including planning funerals and cremations when nobody can be located, while writing eulogies for the priest to read to an empty church hall. Fired from his job, his life potentially changes for the better when he meets Kelly Stoke (Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt) and begins to re-evaluate his own existence in the process.

Still Life

Given the focus on death, the potential was there for something unpalatable and miserable, though despite the grey, overcast colour palate and reserved, muted atmosphere, something poignant emerges. Certainly, as far as movies about British council estates go, this one isn’t as bleak as Fish Tank or Harry Brown. It’s not a comedy of the uproarious kind, yet its wry observations keep the tone light on its feet, while the relationship between Marsan’s John and Froggatt’s Kelly is sweet and allows for Pasolini to observe the nature of loneliness across generations, which many audiences will likely find hits close to home.

Ultimately Still Life is actually quite celebratory towards life. It asks audiences to assess the validity of what they do and turns the character of John from one of sorrowful pity to one of genuine warmth and tenderness. The idea of somebody, somewhere being affected by what we do (even if what we think we do is unappreciated) shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s far from glamorous, but Still Life is ultimately a humble piece of heartwarming fare.

3.5/5

Still Life arrives in Australian cinemas July 24, 2014.

Talk Hard – Eric Bana, Deliver Us From Evil

What an excellent day for an exorcism! This week we chat with returning guest Eric Bana all about his first venture into horror cinema, Deliver Us From Evil, in Australian cinemas July 24, and New Zealand July 31. A review from Quickflix critic Simon Miraudo follows.

Eric Bana

 

Show Notes:

Thanks for tuning in!

Please tell your friends to subscribe to us on iTunes and feel free to leave a review. Or, follow our RSS feed.

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

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

Devil may care – Deliver Us From Evil review

Deliver Us From Evil

By Simon Miraudo
July 21, 2014

Deliver Us From Evil is this year’s exorcism movie. (Hollywood is considerate in few ways, but at least it knows to spread these things out every twelve months.) To spare us from boredom, writer-director Scott Derrickson adds the crinkle of it also being a police-on-the-beat movie, with Eric Bana acting as a Bronx detective who can no longer rationally explain the ungodly crimes he keeps happening upon. His character, Ralph Sarchie, is based on the real-life ex-cop who encountered such supernatural goings on and literally wrote the book on the subject. Sarchie’s a self-proclaimed “Demonologist” these days, which is one of those job titles people make up for themselves and hope no one asks for any credentials.

This being a cop flick, Bana’s Sarchie is paired with a buddy. Two in fact, the first played by Joel McHale and the second, Edgar Ramirez. Do I need to tell you which partner spends most of the flick cracking wise? Ramirez, on the other hand, depicts a brooding, badass Jesuit priest (aren’t they all?) with a personal investment in Sarchie’s latest case: a woman who, seemingly under the spell of a mysterious hooded figure, threw her child into the lion pit of the Bronx Zoo and subsequently devolved into a feral, Linda Blair-esque, scratchy-voiced shell of a woman. Anyone who’s seen a motion picture before can tell she’s possessed. It takes Deliver Us From Evil more than 100 minutes to get to that conclusion, and then spends the final eighteen minutes exorcising someone else completely.

Deliver Us From Evil

The exorcism is this genre’s equivalent of a money shot, so it better count, especially after two hours of pent-up audience aggression. It mostly does here, arriving in all its Earth-shaking, God-cursing glory. Still, making us endure all that preamble is nearly unforgivable. These features can barely survive more than seventy-minutes of our suspended disbelief. Not even the steady flow of jump scares, crucified cat-sightings or unprovoked arm-bitings (of which there are many) make Deliver Us From Evil worth the extended wait.

If Sarchie’s very familiar arc (he also has a nagging wife, played by Olivia Munn, and a neglected daughter too) is watchable at all, it’s because of Bana, a far more talented actor than the likes who usually anchor flicks of this ilk. Scott Derrickson is also working hard for his paycheck. His is only a serviceable script (co-written by Paul Harris Boardman), however, it’s delivered with some visual panache. All that said, the real saviours are the sound designers, who might very well be prodding spirits and the undead to get the inhuman screeches they achieve here. Deliver Us From Evil is very loud, which is maybe the kind of criticism you’d expect from a doddering old reviewer who is no longer able to discern any of a film’s other qualities, yet I can only report on what I walked away thinking most, and what I was thinking most, was: “That was loud.” Deliver Us From Evil may indeed be a marvel of sound design, but it’s otherwise three miracles short of a canonisation.

2.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s archive of reviews.

Deliver Us From Evil arrives in cinemas July 24, 2014.

Talk Hard – Greg Sestero, The Room, All is Lost

Oh, hi listener. Wondering what it’s like to star in maybe the worst movie ever made? In this episode, Greg Sestero, aka Mark from The Room, reveals all to Quickflix critic Simon Miraudo. A review of All is Lost, available now in NZ and next week in AU, follows.

The Room

 

Show Notes:

Thanks for listening!

Please tell your friends to subscribe to us on iTunes and feel free to leave a review. Or, follow our RSS feed.

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

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

Ape expectations – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes review

DOTPOTA1

By Simon Miraudo
July 9, 2014

If we should take anything away from the terse title characters of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it’s the power of brevity. So, here’s my review: Apes together strong. Sequel merely solid. (The rest is for the human readers, sticklers for protraction.) This laboriously-titled follow up to 2011’s laboriously-titled Rise of the Planet of the Apes sees director Matt Reeves step in for the outgoing Rupert Wyatt, and though you wouldn’t necessarily think it’d be the job for the former creator of Felicity, he proves to be remarkably able. For a long time, however, his flick feels like it will merely be a bridge to a better movie, balanced uneasily between special-effects showcase and nature documentary. A great wave of relief comes when you realise the better movie lay in the second half, when gun-toting rebel chimps finally take to their horses and wage war against measly mankind.

Many will be pleased to learn Dawn delivers much more action than its ancestor. But action wasn’t missing from Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which boldly experimented with the modern blockbuster by being as thoughtful and low-key for as long as possible, only exploding into a frenzy of activity in its final minutes. The contemplative pace and compelling special effects enthralled in spite of a lack of set pieces, and its highlight came when genetically-enhanced ape Caesar (a motion-captured Andy Serkis, animated to glorious perfection by effects house WETA), finally uttered his first spoken word: a howled “No.” Few moments in cinema have surprised or shaken me the way that one did. There’s a little more chatter in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and a lot more gunfire and fury. Its awesomeness knows no bounds. Yet, not a sequence in Dawn upended me like in the predecessor. It’s probably greedy of me to make the complaint, but this might be the one franchise that has spoiled us so that close to an hour of ape-on-horseback mayhem feels like a consolation prize to some other grand, missing, emotionally cathartic climax.

DOTPOTA2

Serkis once again brings great gravitas to what would be the otherwise ridiculous part of a benevolent, talking chimp king, whose deep belief in the ethos ‘ape shall not kill ape’ has helped his hugely intelligent flock to live in peace for close to a decade. The humans have been mostly wiped out, initially by the strain of Simian Flu (caused by the hopeful Alzheimer’s cure that accidentally made the apes smart), and then at their own hands, a result of their desperate looting and rioting as the seeming end-of-days closed in. A band of survivors in San Francisco, led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) and Malcolm (Jason Clarke), nervously await a second apocalypse, given a sliver of hope after discovering a dam near Caesar’s kingdom that might afford them enough power to stay alive. It’s on Malcolm to convince Caesar that they can indeed be trusted. This slight softening on Caesar’s part towards humankind allows the menacing Koba (a mo-capped Toby Kebbell) an opportunity to enact a coup d’état, and attempt to eradicate humanity for good.

Being about the similarities between men and ape-men, little love is given to the ladies in the cast. Judy Greer plays Caesar’s wife, defying typecasting by not playing Caesar’s wife’s friend. Keri Russell is also in this thing, making Dawn of the Planet of the Apes the unlikeliest Felicity reunion you could have ever imagined. She’s there to encourage Jason Clarke and help him be the best he can be. It’s a maddeningly underwritten role that’ll make you cry out for the halcyon days of Freida Pinto in Rise, who was doing some complex Blue Jasmine s*** by comparison.

DOTPOTA3

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is no perfect picture, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes betters it in a lot of ways. The notion of an arms race between two powers equalling destruction for all resonates beyond this amusing sci-fi tale, and the scene in which Caesar admits to his son, solemnly, that apes can be as animalistic and brutal as people bares the film’s rich vein of irony. Rise helmer Rupert Wyatt, as a visual stylist was… well, not one, and Matt Reeves, aided by the miracle-workers at WETA, take advantage of the absurd beauty of their subject and capture as many startling images as possible: two apes, pressing foreheads before a wall of flames; a tank’s turret spinning 360 degrees, beholding the full carnage of warfare. It’s no accident the final shot rests on a CGI ape’s eyes, zooming in until we’re no longer sure it’s CGI at all. This is a dare. “Look at what we made.” That may be the kind of hubris that undid civilisation in these very movies, but hey, they earned it.

3.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s archive of reviews.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes arrives in cinemas July 10, 2014.

Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton go to war in ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ trailer

exodus-christian-bale-joel-edgerton

Bible movies are so hot right now, and Ridley Scott’s Exodus (newly renamed with the subtitle Gods and Kings) hopes to be the hottest.

Following in the wake of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, Exodus stars Christian Bale as Moses and Joel Edgerton as Ramses, and documents Moses’ attempt to free 600,000 slaves from his adoptive brother, the Pharaoh.

Unglimpsed in the trailer: co-stars Aaron Paul, John Turturro, and Ben Mendelsohn. Glimpsed in the trailer: a lot of CGI money shots and a bald, eyeliner-wearing Edgerton.

Sold.

Scripted by Steven Zaillian, Exodus: Gods and Kings arrives in cinemas late 2014.

J.K. Rowling debuts new ‘Harry Potter’ short story

J.K. Rowling

A new Harry Potter short story by J.K. Rowling has reinvigorated speculation about further adventures featuring the boy wizard, and though we’re talking about the world of literature here, whenever Harry is concerned, a film can’t be far behind.

The new story, published on Pottermore, takes the shape of a Daily Prophet column by the barb-tongued Rita Skeeter. (Spoilers for the series, ahoy.)

It tells of a 34-year-old Potter, his wife Ginny, and their married friends Ron and Hermoine visiting the Patagonian Desert for the Quidditch World Cup.

Though it’s mostly just an amusing venture back to their wizarding world, Rowling drops a few hints about stories still to be told. For instance, Harry is “sporting a nasty cut over his right cheekbone,” from some mysterious encounter, Hermione (despite her hair) has ascended to a powerful position at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and Charlie Weasley is “unmarried” which is a not-so-secret reference by Skeeter to his sexual orientation.

“Skeeter” also hints at a new book coming out on July 31, which coincides with Potter’s birthday and fan-fathering LeakyCon. Might Rowling debut something fresh there?

Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara has plotted a new trilogy of Harry Potter spin-offs based on Rowling’s ‘Hogwarts textbook’ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Should there be anything remotely close to a new Harry Potter-centric adventure in the works, expect to see it in film form before the end of the decade.

The makers of ‘Transformers’ and ‘Tron: Legacy’ get to work on a live-action ‘Dumbo’

dumbo

Ehren Kruger, the screenwriter responsible for most of the Transformers movies, is taking the next logical step in his career: penning a live-action Dumbo remake.

According to THR, Disney have tapped Kruger and Tron: Legacy producer Justin Springer to adapt their 1941 flying-elephant classic into, presumably, an explosive sci-fi extravaganza. (That last bit we’re just supposing.)

Seeing as the original Dumbo is only 64 minutes long, this new remake will include a parallel story about a “unique family.”

It’s not the first live-action Disney adaptation have on the cards: Cinderella, The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast are all in the works.

For these we can thank the success of Maleficent, based on Sleeping Beauty, and Alice in Wonderland.

So, prepare to see that trippy dream sequence come to life in what will likely be even more terrifying fashion.

Public frenemies – Lawrence and Holloman review

lawrence and holloman

By Simon Miraudo
July 9, 2014

More anti-human than Antichrist, Matthew Kowalchuck‘s beyond-black comedy Lawrence & Holloman asks us to revel in the largely-unsuccessful emotional torture of a jerk by a sociopath. And they said cinema had run out of heroes. Based on the stage play by Canadian Morris Panych – a fan of Neil LaBute, probably – it elicits sporadic laughs from its bleak series of nihilistic skits. However, the grisliness stretches on too long, diminishing its sting significantly. Perhaps as a short it would left a greater impression; it certainly would have made the final “reveal” feel like less of a foregone conclusion.

Ben Cotton stars as Lawrence, a lonely clerk close to suiciding who finds last-minute friendship with a-hole salesman Holloman (Daniel Arnold).  Lawrence’s horrendous life – comprised solely of death fantasies, caring for his ailing mother, and admiring from afar the smoky-voiced Zooey (Katharine Isabelle) – seems especially awful when placed in such close proximity to Holloman’s, what with his adoring fiancée (Amy Matysio), charmed professional career, and inability to ever taste consequences for his transgressions. But Holloman somehow manages to pick up some bad luck from his new buddy, enduring cosmic punishment after cosmic punishment, while Lawrence finds the pieces of his life magically coming together. That’s still not good enough for Lawrence, though, with Holloman’s unwavering optimism managing to enrage and depress him even further.

lawrence and holloman

The low-status/high-status game played by Cotton and Arnold is occasionally fun to watch; a round of theatre sports in which Arnold never relinquishes his rank no matter how furiously the formerly-passive Cotton snatches at it. As performers in a movie, their turns feel slightly stilted. Much better is Katharine Isabelle, whose character journey also requires a number of wild gear changes, and yet, the actress remains grounded, and (particularly impressive in the face of her co-stars intensifying inner-and-outer grotesqueness) human.

We’d be having a very different conversation if Lawrence & Holloman had the good sense to sharpen its story in the same way that it sharpens its claws. A 45-minute version of the same could have been a delectable, demonic treat. In its current shape, it rudely overstays its welcome. I thought Canadians were meant to be polite?

2.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s archive of reviews.

Lawrence & Holloman plays the Revelation Perth International Film Festival July 10 and 12, 2014.

Soul food – The Lunchbox review

The Lunchbox

By Jess Lomas
July 8, 2014

Sometimes the wrong train will get you to the right station, and sometimes the wrong lunchbox will lead you to the right person. Writer-director Ritesh Batra makes his feature debut with The Lunchbox, an impressive romantic drama in the vein of Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner (or You’ve Got Mail, for modern audiences). The lost art of letter writing is resurrected here, set against a bustling Mumbai where Dabbawallas run the daily lunchbox delivery service like clockwork.

The delivery system is something to behold: hot food prepared by wives and packed in tiffins, picked up from homes around the city and transported to the husbands’ offices in time for lunch. One delivery man boasts the system is so good that men from Harvard have come to study it. However one day, Ila’s (Nimrat Kaur) prepared meal inexplicably gets delivered to the wrong desk; that of Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan).

Saajan is a lonely, widowed accountant in his final weeks before an early retirement. He is indifferent to his colleagues, especially when forced to train his bubbly, eager-to-please replacement, Shakih (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). When Saajan mistakenly gets Ila’s home-cooked lunch instead of his store-ordered one, the pair begin leaving notes in the tiffins for each other; polite exchanges that soon develop into meaningful correspondence as the two grow closer. When Ila reveals her unhappy marriage to Saajan, and a plan to run away with her daughter to Bhutan, she invites him to join her. But not before meeting.

The Lunchbox

The Lunchbox is a true surprise, and appears to be marketed more as a romantic comedy than what the actual film delivers. There is humour sprinkled throughout, and more than one instance that invokes a toothy grin, but largely the movie is a vivid and stirring story of life’s hardships and the unexpected friendship that is Ila and Saajan’s salvation.

What is refreshing about The Lunchbox, which perhaps stems from the culture of its creator, is its non-Hollywood approach to Ila and Saajan’s relationship. The less is more technique is reminiscent of David Lean’s Brief Encounter, where romantic stereotypes are challenged by a code of conduct, in this case: Is Saajan too old for Ila? Is he better to follow his head instead of his heart?

The Lunchbox is the kind of picture that envelopes you like a warm blanket, charming you with its slow-building affection and life-altering curries.

4/5

The Lunchbox arrives in cinemas July 10, 2014.

Television Revision: The West Wing – Season 5

The West Wing S5

By Andrew Williams
July 8, 2014

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

Now, this is a story all about how… the kidnapping of Zoey Bartlet  (Elisabeth Moss) has thrown the administration into utter chaos, and tested President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) like never before.

The West Wing S5

Happy days? A much-loved and admired genius at the top of his game was forced by circumstance to leave his vaunted position at the head of a hugely respected institution, and everyone else was left to pick up the pieces. It was never going to be easy for the fictional characters of The West Wing to return to their walking, talking, jovial ways after the cataclysmic events of the Season Four finale. But the real blow came when Aaron Sorkin was arrested for drug possession and subsequently left the show along with director Thomas Schlamme. Without Sorkin, could The West Wing recover? Was there any point in continuing with a show that was so synonymous with its departed creator?

While The West Wing was certainly never the same, it was absolutely worth sticking with… just not yet. Season Five is without a shadow of a doubt the worst season of the series, as the huge ramifications of the previous season prove too big a hurdle for the show to clear successfully. New showrunner John Wells does an admirable job trying to keep things on track, but the transition from the show it was under Sorkin into the show he wanted it to be was a bumpy one, to say the least. Season Five is scattered, uninspired (drawing from real life events far too often) and introduces several regrettable characters and plotlines that would be promptly excised by the beginning of Season Six.

It’s not all bad. Season Five of The West Wing was still significantly better than most dramas airing on network television and a cast this stacked could have made rejected Two and a Half Men scripts seem like Shakespeare. Wells is an outstanding creative mind, but he was trying to make Sorkin’s show. It wouldn’t be until Season Six when he started making The West Wing his own.

The final frontier: This is the worst season of The West Wing by a long, long way, but improvement is just around the corner.

The West Wing S5

Best episode: 8) Shutdown. When the Republican party acts out of such cynical and disingenuous political self-interest that the entire government has to shut down (as if!), President Bartlet and Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) take matters into their own hands with a breathtaking display of political acumen. A standout West Wing moment that proved the show still had what it took to inspire even in the bad times.

Worst episode: 18) Access. Sometimes it’s good to experiment. It can yield interesting, often miraculous results. And sometimes you get episodes like Access, which break the visual mould of The West Wing to disastrously boring results. Allison Janney won an Emmy for her performance in this episode, and she’s fantastic as always, but Access is predominantly a failed experiment.

Season MVP: Bradley Whitford would essentially take over as the central character on The West Wing as the series progressed and President Bartlet faded into the background of the upcoming election campaign, and for good reason. He has Martin Sheen’s ability to handle comedy as deftly as he does high drama, and he is the undisputed anchor of a show constantly under threat of floating away.

3.5/5

Check out Andrew Williams’ previous instalments:

Television Revision: The West Wing - Season 1

Television Revision: The West Wing - Season 2

Television Revision: The West Wing - Season 3

Television Revision: The West Wing - Season 4

The West Wing is available on Quickflix.

Smile! David Fincher’s ‘Gone Girl’ gets a proper trailer

GoneGirl

A feature trailer for David Fincher’s Gone Girl has arrived online. Though it’s not quite as ambiguous and unsettling as the ‘She’-scored teaser, it skilfully navigates around the source novel’s major twists, highlighting the impressive supporting cast.

It also further makes the case that Ben Affleck might be perfectly cast as the widely-despised, suspicious husband of a missing woman (Rosamund Pike), and it’s not often Ben Affleck seems perfectly cast for things.

Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Casey Wilson, Missi Pyle, and Scoot McNairy fill out the rest of the cast.

Author Gillian Flynn has adapted her own book for the screen, reportedly retooling the controversial final act.

Pulling this adaptation off – particularly the novel’s unique storytelling style – is a high-wire act, for certain, and we can’t wait to see how Fincher fares when it hits cinemas October 2, 2014.

‘The Conjuring’ spin-off, ‘Annabelle’, set to hit cinemas later this year

ANNABELLE

Horror movies are usually reliable money-spinners, but even The Conjuring astounded when it grossed more than $300 million worldwide off a $20 million budget in 2013.

So, it comes as no surprise to hear that Warner Bros. has set for release a spin-off titled Annabelle later this year, ahead of next year’s official Conjuring sequel.

Annabelle, based on the very creepy doll from the first Conjuring movie, will, fittingly, star Annabelle Wallis and Alfre Woodard.

Based on a real-life Raggedy Ann doll kept contained by paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, Annabelle was imprisoned after supposedly terrorising a couple of college students.

Director James Wan is busy at work on Conjuring 2, so he’ll hand helming duties over to John R. Leonetti, acting instead as a producer.

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are set to return for The Conjuring 2, but don’t expect them to appear in Annabelle.

‘Clerks 3′ faces a Weinstein-sized roadblock

Kevin-Smith-Comic-Con

Kevin Smith has been trumpeting Clerks 3 for some time, but it may have faced an insurmountable obstacle: the Weinsteins.

Smith revealed to Screen Daily (recounted by IndieWire) his $6 million budget for the sequel was deemed too high by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, who were planning to make and distribute the film.

“I went in with a $6m budget and they were, like, ‘Oh no Kevin, this is too high’. Bob offered us distribution but they weren’t going to finance it.”

It seems unlikely Smith will put the project to bed because of it, so maybe look for an upcoming Kickstarter campaign to fund the flick instead.

At this time, he’s wrapping production on his oddball Tusk and contemplating Yoga Hosers, both born from his podcast, Smodcast.

It’s a lot of movement for a guy who once upon a time was considering walking away from cinema for good.

“I am definitely not going to retire… I am only going to make films that only I could ever make or would ever make.”

Girl, incubated – Wetlands review

Wetlands

By Simon Miraudo
July 7, 2014

Wetlands takes a gross thing, teenagerdom, and makes it grosser, which is like setting out to make an especially revolting movie about your last bout of conjunctivitis: any memory of the experience is probably potent enough. Still, credit to director David Wnendt, adapting Charlotte Roche’s controversial, conservative-enraging novel, for finding plenty of gag-inducing ways to make this kind-of funny coming-of-age tale increasingly repulsive.

It begins with our heroine, German teenager Helen (Carla Juri), picking her haemorrhoid-ridden crack and wiping her nether regions on a public toilet-seat so foul even the cast of Trainspotting would hesitate diving into it. This, it should be noted, is really just the setting of the bar. Later on, Wnendt and his co-writers Claus Falkenberg and Sabine Pochhammer have to think outside the box to find opportunities to disgust, making visual an urban legend relayed by Helen of four male pizzeria workers ejaculating onto an outgoing delivery. Oh, the things you’ll see.

Wetlands

The plot, as uncertain and unbalanced as it is, concerns Helen’s admission at a hospital following the development of an anal fissure. In there, she recalls her anonymous sexual encounters and drug-addled adventures, as well as her ultra-hygienic upbringing (resulting directly in her rebellious attempts to pick up genital diseases wherever they might be on offer) and the dissolution of her parents’ marriage, hoping that her recent misfortune might actually bring them back together. Orderly Robin (Christoph Letkowski) offers a sympathetic ear, and, inappropriately, a camera to snap her newly-operated rectum. As Helen’s stories grow more frenzied and her narration more unreliable, she eventually admits to having trouble differentiating “reality, lies, and dreams,” hinting at the big secret she’s long kept buried deep within.

Helen’s various memory-montages (not to mention the ejaculatory pizza-basting) are realised with Lust for Life-ian dynamism by Wnendt, taking inspiration from Danny Boyle, surely, just as Roche must have been influenced by Irvine Welsh. Juri, with her cherubic smile and messy pixie cut, is relentless and fearless in her part, and not just when she’s asked to insert a variety of vegetables into her person, to name just one further outlandish act. She cuts a likable figure, even when self-harming to extend her hospital stay. Juri can’t keep Wetlands from going soft in the final act though, once the nauseating, early shocks have subsided, and the way becomes paved for the screenwriters’ new, somewhat-happy ending. It may boast some truly unique shocks, and a rarely-seen, uncompromising glimpse at ribald female sexuality, but Wetlands is not nearly as substantial as the best teen films. What can be seen can never be unseen. Actually having a lasting effect on a viewer is something else entirely.

3/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s archive of reviews.

Wetlands plays the Revelation Perth International Film Festival July 7, 9, 11, 12, and 13, 2014.

Say yes to the undressed – Under the Skin review

Under the Skin

By Simon Miraudo
July 4, 2014

Sensory experiences such as Under the Skin defy mere words, which is going to make enthusiastically recommending it a tricky task indeed. The picture stars Scarlett Johansson as an extra-terrestrial who seduces Glaswegian men as a means of harvesting their organic material, for some alien mission we’re never made privy to. Giving that brief description to Jonathan Glazer‘s transfixing tone-poem makes it sound more plot-driven and accessible than it truly is. That description makes it sound like Species. And, er, this is no Species.

Under the Skin feels instead like a feature-length successor to Scotty’s nightmare from Vertigo. It helps that Mica Levi’s droning, snake-charming score pays tribute to Bernard Herrmann’s own. In that aforementioned Hitchcock sequence, James Stewart‘s Scotty, driven mad by an obsession over a beguiling beauty (who was maybe possessed by some otherworldly entity), imagines marching towards her in the darkness, eventually peering into an open grave and tumbling into an abyss.

Under the Skin

When Johansson’s unnamed alien leads suitors back to her place – a cavernous black hole – she strips down while they follow behind in kind, barely caring as they find themselves submerged in black goop while she continues to stroll forward. Johansson, following on from her hugely physical performance in Don Jon and solely vocal turn in Her, is superb here as the unfeasibly-womanly creature, inviting normies to accept certain oblivion. She’s such a convincing seductress, you can hardly blame them. When she later becomes shockingly sympathetic, you’ll be amazed at what earlier travesties you’ll forgive. Johansson has become an essential screen presence, in blockbusters and art cinema alike.

Under the Skin is an adaptation of Michael Faber’s book in the same way Chet Hanks is an adaptation of Tom Hanks: they share some material, but these are two totally different animals. Glazer, an accomplished music video director who learnt the power of repetition in his first flick Sexy Beast, treats us to a series of similar sequences; with the just-landed Johansson driving around Scotland in a white van, asking male bystanders for directions, and especially if they have any family or friends, before offering a lift. Many of these interactions were improvised and conducted with actual passers-by, captured by hidden cameras. I fear investigating any further and accidentally unravelling its tangle of reality and fantasy.

Under the Skin

Before long, she begins disobeying orders and attempts to live as any regular person might. However, her alien heart isn’t softened by seeing the goodness in her victims, nor does she suddenly come down with an inexplicable case of compassion, as usually happens in science fiction. (At one point, she in fact looks upon acts of self-sacrifice and bravery on a beach dispassionately, as if it was bacteria scattering under a microscope in unknowable ways). It’s instead imperfection, peculiarity, and deformity that intrigues her most, particularly after she picks up a young man with facial neurofibromatosis (Adam Pearson). In private, she inspects her nude body in a mirror, stretching awkwardly and watching the wrinkles form. Did her dossier on Earth not reveal just how self-conscious we humans can be? She may not suffer from original sin, or shame, yet she too learns how humbling it is to have to carry around these weird, freakish flesh bags called bodies.

Under the Skin will rankle some viewers. Okay, most. Not even the presence of A-lister Johansson, Glazer’s genuinely chilling horror-movie moments, puncturing the unbearable bubbles of tension, or Daniel Landin’s dazzling cinematography could make this go down smooth. Nonetheless, to those who think it nonsense – (cough) the guy behind me as I left its screening (cough) – you don’t have to gaze too deeply to find meaning in it all. Under the Skin is about an alien who becomes entranced by her feminine qualities and how powerful they can be, only to pay the price for being a woman in the world, leered at and lusted over, in increasingly dangerous scenarios. Stunning to behold, often impossible-seeming, hypnotic and profoundly affecting, Under the Skin achieves what some sci-fi films could only ever dream of: actually taking us to another universe entirely.

4.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s archive of reviews.

Under the Skin plays the Revelation Perth International Film Festival July 6 and 9, 2014. It’s also showing in select cinemas around Australia.

Photo sensitivity – Finding Vivian Maier review

Finding Vivian Maier

By Simon Miraudo
July 4, 2014

Separating the art from the artist – or the sandwich art from the sandwich artist – is sticky stuff. Maybe impossible. Inappropriate, even. But what if the art has separated itself from the artist; is lost and only found after the artist has abandoned their creative pursuits, and appreciated despite their creator’s true identity being nearly inscrutable? Does digging into their past – perhaps intentionally made obscure – give that art greater depth? Does it make the life of the late artist more valuable? Or does it besmirch something pure when the artist’s more unsavoury aspects come to light?

These are the questions faced by John Maloof. The Chicagoan purchased a $400 box of anonymous photos in the mid-2000s and found inside a treasure trove of incisive, indelible, American street photography from the 1940s, ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s; all, amazingly, captured in secret by a working nanny named Vivian Maier. In his documentary, Finding Vivian Maier, Maloof and co-director Charlie Siskel seek to give their enigmatic subject her due, uncovering further negatives (around 100,000) and amusing videos. Convincing us of her talent is easy. What’s significantly more difficult a task is piecing together the experiences that formed it; before she ultimately succumbed to the mental illness that always flirted just beneath the surface of her curious personality.

Finding Vivian Maier

Something like a cross between Stories We Tell, a patchwork quilt of a doco that pays tribute to director Sarah Polley‘s mother through blended home movies and re-enactments, and Frank, a fictional tale about a musician whose internal, emotional struggles colour (and are also cured by) his music, Finding Vivian Maier is an exquisite portrait of an almost-lost icon. The talking heads who attempt to characterise Vivian – many of them her former charges – can barely reach a consensus on what she liked to be called, how to spell her name, or if her vaguely-European accent was even real. And yet, her negative is slowly exposed, revealing fully the troubled, fiercely funny, sometimes abusive, and fiendishly talented photographer hiding behind her omnipresent Rolleiflex camera.

Though the film, at first, feels like a self-congratulatory attempt by Maloof to make his discovery (rather than Maier’s actual work) seem the triumphant achievement, it doesn’t take long for her powerful pictures to overshadow the very competent movie containing them (which does a fine job of contextualisation). The videos are even more valuable, at least in regards to giving us a glimpse at the woman shooting them, such as the moment in which she presses a female passer-by to give her thoughts on a hot button issue, saying, “women are supposed to be opinionated.” A professor recalls Vivian’s explanation for her fevered photo-taking (none ever submitted for publication): “I’m sort of a spy.” That she was. For decades, without anyone knowing, she etched several generations of Americans into eternity. Maloof and Siskel have made a very watchable flick, however their truly significant actsort of like Domhnall Gleeson in Frankis reintroducing the world to an important, nearly-forgotten figure. Artists in service of other artists. No separation necessary.

4/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s archive of reviews.

Finding Vivian Maier plays the Revelation Perth International Film Festival July 5, 8, 12 and 13.

Still burns – Endless Love review

Endless Love

By Glenn Dunks
July 4, 2014

If Hollywood insists upon remaking movies left and right, then it makes more sense for them to do it to the likes of Endless Love. The original, a button-pushing romance best remembered for its famous theme song, has been remade by Shana Feste in the sun-drenched style of a clothing commercial, but for a younger audience seeking out a serious exploration of teen sexuality, Endless Love will prove to be soporific and – most disappointing of all – sexually tepid and timid. Filled with inexplicable stupidity on behalf of nearly every character, this is a bland slice of generic pap.

Pretty, upper-class rich girl – and not to mention terminally boring – Jade (Gabriella Wilde) falls for the boy from the wrong side of the tracks, David (Alex Pettyfer), of whom her overbearing father (Bruce Greenwood) disapproves. As they spend their summer running joyfully through picturesque gardens and kissing in the back of a pick-up truck, David’s past comes back to haunt him and threaten their perfect relationship. There’s really little else to the story, which makes for a dragging 100 minutes, the only true benefit of which is the wonderful soundtrack that has assembled Tegan and Sara, Tanlines, Franz Ferdinand and a collection of other indie outfits.

Endless Love

Despite never convincing as either love-struck or teenagers (Pettyfer is 24, Wilde is 25), the two stars are hardly the worst element of Feste’s film. Unlike the similar problems with her last, Country Strong, Endless Love never turns its faults into anything entertaining. The screenplay by Feste and Joshua Safran from Scott Spencer’s novel is a turgid progression of clichés and idiocy lacking any sort of real world connection. The father in particular is a character of such unfathomable hatred that he very quickly descends into something akin to Richard Roxburgh’s moustache-twirling evil duke in Moulin Rouge!

Young audiences are used to being treated as idiots, but features like Endless Love only confirm the worst about this sorely underserved crowd. Missing the awkwardness, and messiness, of teenage love, this film lacks even the conviction of a Mills & Boon that made The Notebook such a winner.

1/5

Endless Love will be available from Quickflix on July 3, 2014.

‘Sherlock’ to return for Christmas special in 2015; Season 4 follows in 2016

Sherlock

Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman will play another.

BBC One’s Twitter account has made flesh the dreams of Tumblr’s collective hivemind: more episodes of Sherlock.

Creator Steven Moffat added in an official statement that Sherlock and Watson would first return with a Christmas special in December of 2015, to be followed by a fourth season, once again comprised of three episodes, in 2016.

Each season of Sherlock goes by criminally fast, so getting one extra movie-length mystery is a true bonus.

But with Cumberbatch and Freeman becoming increasingly busy – thanks, ironically, to the success of Sherlock - might this be their final go round?

At least we don’t have to confront that prospect for another year.

Channing Tatum and Steve Carell go for Oscar gold in ‘Foxcatcher’ teaser

Foxcatcher

The long-awaited Foxcatcher – a film I prematurely added to my Most Anticipated of 2012 list – is finally hitting cinemas this December. To tide over our ravenous anticipation, here’s another teaser trailer.

Steve Carell stars as schizophrenic billionaire John du Pont, a chemical heir who tried to train wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) ahead of the 1988 Olympics.

As the official synopsis puts it, “[John] lures Mark into dangerous habits, breaks his confidence and drives him into a self-destructive spiral.”

Do not take to Google if you wish to remain oblivious to the tragic events that unfolded; at least until Foxcatcher hits local cinemas this summer.

Mark Ruffalo also stars in the flick, as Schultz’s brother.

Originally slated to hit cinemas late in 2013, its release was delayed by a full year to give it a better shot at the Academy Awards.

It’s a move that just might pay off, as Foxcatcher was able to play In Competition at Cannes, where it was met rapturously. Bennett Miller even walked away with the Best Director prize.

Could Carell and Tatum also find themselves amongst the nominees? Bet on it.

Tina Fey to star in ‘Untitled Witch Comedy’ for Disney

tina fey

If your Nostalgia Sensor started flashing this morning, it was likely due to the internet becoming abuzz with news of Tina Fey developing a sequel to Hocus Pocus.

Her reps have since shot down that claim, but a source has clarified to The Wrap that the 30 Rock star is indeed working on a similar-sounding Disney movie, being developed under the name Untitled Witch Comedy.

Fey will star in and produce the flick, which she’ll begin working on afterThe Nest, in which she plays opposite Amy Poehler, and The Taliban Shuffle, based on the memoir of a journalist embedded in Afghanistan during the war.

Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy, meanwhile, wait by their phones.

Bill Murray stars in ‘St. Vincent’ trailer, sadly, not about the singer

St Vincent

If only Bill Murray could have babysat us all.

In the trailer for Theodore Melfi’s St. Vincent, Murray stars as a grouchy, down-on-his-luck gentleman who takes a job babysitting his neighbour’s son.

Now, Melfi had us at “Murray stars,” but the additional promise of having him play opposite Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd and Naomi Watts is pretty appealing too.

The trailer suggests this might be more of a heartwarming dramedy in the mould of Little Miss Sunshine than an out-and-out comedy, or even one of Murray’s more melancholy, late-career efforts.

If that’s the case, then it just might be the kind of catnip the likes of the Academy will eat up, and perhaps earn the actor his long-desired Oscar.

It arrives in U.S. cinemas this October, but we’ll have to wait until Boxing Day to see it for ourselves.

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