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Days of the Bagnold Summer

Comedy, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Days of the Bagnold Summer is an upbeat, positive comedy that explores the chasm between a librarian single-mother, and her shy but heavy-metal obsessed teenage son.

In its early scenes, the film is set up to explore Daniel, played by Earl Cave, whose planned trip to Florida with his estranged Dad has been cancelled. Instead, he is stuck with his librarian mother for six weeks, whose optimistic personality makes his life miserable. Cave conveys a bleak, anti-social attitude dressed in head-to-toe black attire, while shoving in earphones with heavy metal music to drown out the world’s noise. However, it is clear over time that this persona may be an affectation that does not reflect who he is as a person. With glimmers of care for his mother, and his family dog, as well as a blind rage at his friend Ky for mocking his passions, the film suggests this persona is a veneer to emotionally disconnect from others.

While Daniel feels central early on, the film equally invests in the character of Sue, who evokes greater sympathy as she navigates heavy emotional burdens with an earnest optimism. Monica Dolan expertly instils a nervous twitchiness to Sue that is easy to sympathise with, but also expresses an outpouring of emotion when she bursts into tears in one scene on account of juggling numerous hardships.

On the one hand, she desperately tries to establish a relationship with her disappointed son who cannot go to America, while also combatting her own loneliness. In one sped-up montage, Sue whizzes in and out of the kitchen completing countless daily chores, while Daniel is unmoved on the table on his phone. Meanwhile, sleazy history teacher Mr. Porter, played by Rob Brydon, manipulates her into a romantic interlude with a painful realisation which challenges her sense of goodwill toward people.

Although together as family, they have an icy relationship with very little emotional connection. This animosity thaws as they become understanding of each other’s needs. From the outsider’s perspective, it feels like they have a palpable history that is not contrived in any way. The seamless repartee they engage in feels like their conversations have played thousands of times before, and their lives plausibly exist outside of what is seen on screen.

Notably, the film is very beautifully shot, with symmetrical framing reminiscent of Wes Anderson. In particular, characters are often seen through windows or doorways that symbolises an emotional disconnect, as well as a literal reduction in size that implies being subsumed by a societal pressure.

 

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Ken Mok Meets The Right One

The successful producer makes the transition to writing/directing indie romcom The Right One starring Cleopatra Coleman, Nick Thune, Iliza Shlesinger and David Koechner.
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Long Story Short

Australian, Comedy, Review, Theatrical, This Week 1 Comment

One of the great ironies of modern mainstream cinema is how, ever since Edge of Tomorrow came out in 2014, so many time-loop movies have been released that it feels like the audience are stuck in their own temporal-loop. Credit where it’s due, there’s enough creativity within that sub-genre of late to keep it from being too monotonous (Happy Death Day, Palm Springs), but it’s gotten to a point where we need more variation if this is going to keep recurring. And in a way, the sophomore feature from writer/director Josh Lawson (The Little Death) provides just that, although entirely labelling this as a ‘time loop narrative’ doesn’t tell the whole story.

Much like its predecessors, it follows someone (in this case newlywed Teddy, played by British import Rafe Spall) who keeps reliving the same day over and over again. Except that day is his wedding anniversary, and every few minutes, he finds himself pushed forward a year to the next one, and then the next one, and so on. In that respect, it’s a lot closer to Adam Sandler’s Click than Groundhog Day (even as the latter serves as a reference point for the narrative proper), and the intent is much the same: Drawing attention to how quickly time goes by, and just how much you can end up missing without even realising it. Not that Long Story Short succumbs to the same mish-mash of extreme body humour and treacly sentimentality that makes Click so uneven. This is a far more balanced version of that same conceit, anchored by Spall’s naturally-charming personality.

As he’s the character we stay anchored to, Spall (an undervalued modern leading man) being this watchable is important, but he isn’t carrying the film on his lonesome; the supporting cast are just as solid. Zahra Newman as his wife fits nicely into the other side of this temporally-warped relationship, Dena Kaplan as his ex adds some punch to her scenes, and Ronny Chieng as his best mate ranges from warm to downright heartbreaking. Even in a film where the single most depressing moment involves a man and a chocolate bar, Chieng still manages to gently extract tears in a true highlight of his career to date.

Long story short, Long Story Short offers a genuinely fresh spin on what is fast becoming a worn-out genre. It might turn away those with an allergy to the more sentimental side of cinema, but for those needing a pick-me-up, its breezy sense of humour, strong acting, and commendable grip on its own emotional wavelength make for an effective artistic balm.

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Trailer: Breaking News in Yuba County

Director Tate Taylor (The Help, Get On Up, The Girl on the Train, Ma, Ava) offers up something completely different with this black comedy starring Allison Janney, Mila Kunis, Regina Hall, Awkwafina, Wanda Sykes, Juliette Lewis, Matthew Modine, Ellen Barkin, Clifton Collins, Jr. and Keong Sim. Looks like a cross between I, Tonya and Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
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Sweethurt

Australian, Australian New Wave Filmmakers, Comedy, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

After landing a first-round knockout with the ‘80s slasher tribute Lead Me Astray, and forging the beginnings of a streak with the equally slasherific Remember Redfield, the latest from local microbudget legends Bendy Spoon Productions is a serious left hook. While the aforementioned films have a rather bizarre sense of humour, this is the first attempt by the Wonder Twins of Bendy Spoon, Tom Danger and Logan Webster, at making an all-out comedy, and a romantic comedy at that. And it certainly feels like they went all-out to make this a bewildering jewel.

Working with a relatively larger budget pays off on the technical side of things: the sound mix is finally ironed out, the soundtrack has a heavy late-‘90s vibe (that’ll happen when you snag two songs from Third Eye Blind), and the cinematography from Shane Kavanagh (Bilched) is nice and crisp, if a bit misguided in places. There’s a 360-degree long-take that emulates a drunken house party… in that it makes the audience feel nauseous because the room won’t stop spinning.

As for the romance, Danger and Webster’s script views relationships through the most extreme lens possible.

Jacob (Rav Ratnayake) isn’t just mourning the relationship he used to have; he’s damn-near close to making the funeral arrangements personally. Drew (Webster) isn’t just trying to ward off unwanted advances, he’s stuck in the web of deliciously psychotic nymph Abby (Sam Germain). It really says something when the purest relationship in the film is between a man (Max as played by Dylan Lee) and a goat.

And speaking of functioning on extremes, the plot and basically every facet of the humour follows suit, opening on a quietly-surreal nightmare sequence and then proceeding to throw in Satanic sacrifice, an ex’s new boyfriend who has his own theme song, and Abby giving Dr. Julia Harris a run for her money, among many other sanity-questioning developments. It even enters the realm of genuinely awkward with the amount of jokes about Jacob’s complexion.

Of course, firing off the problematic salvos would only imply that this film is taking itself even remotely seriously, which it categorically isn’t. It’s far more content to revel in the emotional chaos of love than try and deliver any real solutions. But with the frenzied and relentless gags, and on-point delivery, it’s an entertaining form of chaos. Meet Sweethurt on its own terms and you’ll be in for a real rib-bruising.

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Trailer: A Sunburnt Christmas

Claiming to be Australia's Greatest Christmas Film Ever, this Stan Original film stars Daniel Henshall as a crim on the run who disguises as Santa, Sullivan Stapleton on his tail, and a cute family played by Lena Nankivell, Eaden McGuinness, Tatiana Goode and Ling Cooper Tang who house him. Written by Elliot Vella, Gretel Vella and Timothy Walker, and directed by Christiaan Van Vuuren.
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Happiest Season

Comedy, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

In holiday-comedy Happiest Season, the most threatening thing to arrive on Christmas is not an ugly sweater, nor a dried fruit cake, but the revelation of a gay couple’s relationship to one half’s deeply conservative parents.

Presenting themselves as best friends and roommates, the antics of couple Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis), who return to Harper’s traditionalist and hung-up-on-appearances family for Christmas, are met with the familiar light-hearted fanfare of holiday films past, present, and future.

The clear distinction in this film is in its presentation of queer relationships; an almost unheard-of notion in the annals of Christmas storytelling, let alone being told from the perspective of gay women.

A general slapstickery (cue the inevitable hiding in closet gag) generates most of the film’s laughs, with comedic powerhouses Mary Steenburgen, Dan Levy, and relative newcomer Mary Holland, singing in zany, comedic harmony. Unfortunately, these laughs are conflicted by a dramatic heaviness brought on by the cracking of Abby and Harper’s relationship (the returning of exes played by Jake McDorman and a straight-faced Aubrey Plaza feeling a bit much); a feature that actress turned writer-director Clea DuVall – whose previous directing credits include 2016’s The Intervention – permeates throughout the film to dubious effect.

That said, a film like Happiest Season relishes in its sense of comfort and personality. Its incredibly charming leads – particularly K-Stew, who continues her excellent foray into comedies following last year’s delightful Charlie’s Angels reboot – help overcome this occasionally sombre mood.

Happiest Season uses the tropes of a forbidden romance to display how queer people conduct themselves in a performative manner when not present in safe spaces. Their trials and tribulations are displayed as more than jokes, but pain-points which denote how far behind society is in embracing queer people.

With Christmas on the horizon, a well-meaning and progressive comedy like Happiest Season offers some respite to an otherwise disgruntled year. ‘Tis the season to be jolly, merry, and even a little dysfunctional.

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Palm Springs

Comedy, Home, Review, Streaming, This Week Leave a Comment

In the time loop classic Groundhog Day, Bill Murray must relive the same titular day over and over until he finally becomes the right man for Andie MacDowell. Palm Springs, directed by Max Barbakow, treads extremely similar ground to the aforementioned Harold Ramis feature, but initially without the need for all that pesky self-improvement malarkey.

Sarah (Cristin Milioti) is in Nevada for her sister’s wedding and has spent most the big day at the bottom of a big glass of red wine. During the reception, she meets Nyles (Andy Samberg), a boozy, Hawaiian shirt wearing slob who also happens to be a boyfriend to one of the bridesmaids. Whilst Sarah seems pent up about everything, Nyles has a lacklustre approach to life, including knowing, but not really caring that his girlfriend is cheating on him.

Unbeknownst to Sarah, Nyles has been living the same wedding day for years. So long in fact, he can’t really remember what he did for a living before he got caught in the time loop. Having done everything he can do, Nyles has resigned himself to a Leaving Las Vegas existence, except without the actual ability to drink himself to death. Even if he dies, he just wakes up to start the day all over again.

When Sarah falls into the same time loop as Nyles, the two begin to share a bond of never having to look back and never having to worry about the future. Well, they have to worry about a crossbow carrying psycho played with relish by JK Simmons, who is also experiencing a time loop and pops up occasionally, but you can’t have everything, eh?

Dubbed as a Lonely Island Classic in the opening production credits, many will go into this expecting a big Samberg vehicle in line with Never Stop Never Stopping. Whilst Samberg brings his effortless charms to the film, along with the best confused face in the business, this is a subtler performance from the actor. His gurning and jocular apathy is a mask which hides Nyles’ fear of the unknown. If you’re always living out the same day, you can learn to control it.

Palm Springs, in some ways, is a sequel to a film with Nyles having already been through his adventure and is now on hand to teach Sarah the ropes. This includes, in one of the film’s numerous darkly funny moments, learning the best way to die in a car crash. Of course, this is all a giant allegory for failing to live up to our responsibilities by avoiding them at all costs. And it’s none too subtle about how it goes about showing that, as some of the dialogue is a bit tinny to the ear. However, both Milloti and Samberg make a perfect couple whose wheels are continuously spinning in the dirt, and you’ll cheer for them even as they drunkenly steal a plane and fly it straight into the ground below.

Given the absolute omnishambles that has been 2020, there will be a lot of people who have felt like they’ve been living the same day over and over, fearing what’s coming over the horizon. This film is for you. It’s for the people who are just too afraid to take that tentative step into uncharted waters. To be blunt, it’s for anyone who has been looking for a big hearted affair that embraces all of life’s opportunities.

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