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The Addams Family

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In a time where an opulent ice-Queen with a penchant for show-tunes threatens to dominate the holiday box-office, Universal Pictures’ modestly grim and surprisingly sweet reboot of The Addams Family stands out across a slew of family-friendly movies like a goth student in a school class photo.

Directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan, of Sausage Party fame, bring the Addams family and their twisted sense of humour out of the crypt and into the twenty-first century.

The film follows the Addams’ and their contact with a neighbouring town, known as Assimilation, who are hell-bent on removing the supernatural family from their perfectly manicured community. The figurehead of Assimilation is a ruthless interior designer named Margaux, portrayed with devilish moxie by Allison Janney. The ‘humans being bigger monsters than the actual monsters’ yada-yada is a trope as old as Dracula, but does not prove a downer on The Addams Family due to the film’s well-natured intentions.

Running in tandem to the central story are side-plots involving the Addams children; both Wednesday (a wonderfully macabre Chloë Grace Moretz) and Pugsley (no stranger to strange things Finn Wolfhard) tackling separate coming-of-age issues.

Wednesday’s desire to expand her horizons outside of her haunted residence disappoint her mother Morticia (Charlize Theron), who fears her daughter will be targeted by humans as a monster the same way she had been. On the other hand, Gomez (Oscar Isaac) helps Pugsley prepare for his upcoming Mazurka, a ceremony of sorts that will propel the boy into adulthood.

The film does a solid job converging all stories, though follows a trend from a studio that continues to develop episodic-like narratives in their family films (see A Secret Life of Pets 2). It is a trend that borders on becoming convoluted and perhaps better suited to an opt-out platform like Netflix. Vernon and Tiernan do fall guilty of introducing underdeveloped points, including the harmful effects of social media and bullying, and end up half-heartedly abandoning these notions in favour of balancing side-plots. The result skims from both stories so they may both co-exist in the film’s scant runtime.

The filmmakers are conscious of the adults in the room and pepper The Addams Family with a continuous stream of light-hearted quips that play to the family’s obliviousness. The film’s efforts to balance out deeper themes – concerning growing-up and celebrating individuality – with amusing gaffes, strikes the right tonal balance for a film with a family-friendly, finger-snapping sitcom history. This comedic responsibility extends to the tremendous cast of supporting actors, including Nick Kroll, Bette Midler, Jenifer Lewis and Tituss Burgess.

Despite a history of live-action film, sitcom and 2D animated adaptations, there is an inherent freshness with The Addams Family’s introduction into the CG world. Giant trees, a murderous house, a playful pet lion: all of which come to life with eerie thrill while remaining faithful in style to the source material.

Yes, the film does bear a striking resemblance to the work of Genndy Tartakovsky a la Hotel Transylvania. Not just in visual style but in themes regarding belonging and embracing difference. Regardless, The Addams Family upholds the legacy of an endearing property with distinction and ought to inspire a renaissance in CG adaptations of spooky IP (looking at you Casper).

 
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A Boy Called Sailboat

Australian, family film, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Pay close enough attention to the soundtrack in American drama-comedy film A Boy Called Sailboat and you will be serenaded with the sounds of well-known tunes beautifully adapted into mariachi.

Powerful church anthems, blues-rock classics, Mexican folk; no genre escapes the Grigoryan brothers’ quaint and subdued score. But perhaps the most transportive of their covers is the adaption of children’s nursery rhyme ‘Row Row Row Your Boat’; its inclusion capturing the beauty of childhood wonder in a likeable film that embraces diversity.

Sailboat (Julian Atocani Sanchez), a seven-year-old boy of Hispanic background, resides in an unbearably hot desert town on the brink of desertion. His soul-stirring performance of ‘Row Row Row Your Boat’ for his hospital ridden ‘Abuela’ (grandmother in Spanish), succeeds in forging a relationship between the community and Sailboat’s otherwise marginalised family.

Sailboat’s determination to perform in-person for his Abuela sets in motion his quirky mission to learn the ins-and-outs of music. He does this while navigating the struggles of a disadvantaged, albeit loving, family whose house is literally held-up by an inward sticking beam.

Told with an offbeat sense of humour familiar to films based in small rural towns, the difficulties of Sailboat’s family – including his tough-looking but caring father (Noel Gugliemi) and reclusive mother (Elizabeth De Razzo) – talk to present-day racial tensions which threaten to divide America.

Australian director Cameron Nugent, who has worked predominantly as an actor in shows including Round the Twist, Blue Heelers and City Homicide, musters up an endearing tale carried off the back of Sanchez’s performance. The benevolent way Sailboat demystifies the complexities of life as a series of proverbs, expressed in the film’s narration, handed down to him by his Abuela, is where the film gathers its glowing charm.

It is not unusual for Sailboat and his friend Peeti (Keanu Wilson), a soccer-obsessed boy that never blinks, to wander through the town and engage with adults and strangers. The exchanges include conversations with JK Simmons (who despite featuring prevalently in the film’s marketing appears fleetingly), a deeply southern car salesman. It is quite confronting in 2019 to see such interactions, with Nugent taking necessary precautions to mitigate viewer worry. He, unfortunately, does not always succeed.

Nugent expresses optimism for the future through the unifying and prodigious talents of Sailboat – highlighting Hispanic excellence and the sweet grace of inclusion. Only when Nugent feels the need to flex his creative chops, complicating scenes to the point of exposing the film’s wires, does A Boy Called Sailboat lose steam.

Regardless, there is much to be admired about Nugent’s charming tale about family, culture, and inclusion. Just don’t expect a lot of JK Simmons.

 

 
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Abominable

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Abominable starts with our hero, Everest, the folkloric Yeti, escaping from a scientific facility and finding itself hiding out in downtown Shanghai. Everest soon bumps into Yi (Bennet), a grief stricken girl who dreams of travelling through China, and she gets her wish when along with two other kids they head across the vast and beautiful Chinese countryside to help Everest return home, all the while being pursued by an eccentric millionaire, scientists and commandos.

If you took a cynical reading of this latest Dreamworks animated feature, you could deduce that with the rapidly growing Chinese market for movies (it has the most cinemas of any nation, and growing, and is predicted to end 2019 as the biggest market in the world for theatrical releases, eclipsing the long-held US), that a Hollywood studio begins with an idea that will allow them to not only appeal to that market, but better still, engage their industry in working on the project for a fraction of the price that you would pay a Western crew.

Additionally, and most crucially, China limits the number of Western cinema releases seen on the big screen, so this co-production between Dreamworks and Pearl Studio guarantees that Abominable will be released to much fanfare.

But why be cynical, when this is showbusiness after all, and better still, some of the most creative and accomplished artworks throughout history have worked on a restricted canvas, be it censorship, budget or otherwise.

The computer animation in Abominable is what we’ve come to expect from Dreamworks (Croods, Trolls, Boss Baby, How to Train Your Dragon, etc), however, what is new here is the setting, with the streets of modern Shanghai and regional China, along with The Everest, offering something that we have not seen before in such a mainstream animated film, making the story in turns engrossing and wondrous. The same applies to the wholly Asian cast of characters, portrayed just like any Western character would have been, with little cultural stereotyping or clichés. The magical aspects in the film don’t quite match the transcendence of classics such as Kubo and the Two Strings – perhaps they should have considered less Coldplay and more class, but you can’t have everything.

Ultimately, the core message about leaving nature alone more than makes up for any shortcoming, and what you get is a film that reaches close to peak entertainment for kids and adults alike.

 
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T is for H Is For Happiness Teaser Trailer

Premiering at MIFF in August, this new Australian family film stars Daisy Axon as a quirky kid with a wild imagination, and a complicated family life that is played out by the likes of Richard Roxburgh, Emma Booth and Joel Jackson. The supporting cast includes Deborah Mailman and adopted Aussie, Miriam Margolyes. Director is first timer John Sheedy, script by Lisa Hoppe, adapting the book My Life As An Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg.
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Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion

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Author Rene Goscinny and illustrator Albert Uderzo’s Asterix comic books are iconic not only in their native France and Belgium, but have literally travelled the world, with plenty of adults in Australia growing up reading the English translations.

A series of live action films, with Christian Clavier as the title character and Gerard Depardieu as his bulky buddy Obelix, were box office hits in French speaking territories but hardly travelled, whilst an animated franchise was launched with 2014’s Asterix and Obelix: Mansion of the Gods, and was a massive hit, especially in France. The same filmmakers return with a follow up, an original story this time (as opposed to a comic book adaptation) with The Secret of the Magic Potion.

In the tradition of the comic books, the adaptation into English is seamless, with puntastic character names – Getafix, Demonix, Vitalstastix, Tofungus and our fave, Cakemix – offering passing laughs as the full tilt action takes hold.

The story devised for the film takes many of the series’ favourite motifs (magic potion for one) and channels them into a narrative that sees the holder of the magic potion recipe, the ageing Getafix, fall from a tree and decide that he needs to find a gifted young Druid to pass on the recipe to. Escorted by Asterix, Obelix and Dogmatix, and not-so-secretly followed by the entire village who need the potion to ward off those dastardly Romans, the group soon encounter the evil Demonix, a Druid who has turned to the dark side, and who alerts Julius Caesar and the Roman army about the mission and the possibility of discovering the secret of the magic potion.

The 3D animation is never less than impressive in adapting the original characters into moveable form. There are reverential references to the original 2D comic, and some lovely touches such as the use of a map to illustrate the countryside, something that was always a feature of the comics. Like the comic, the main source of the comedy is the slapstick derived from the use of the magic potion and the buffoonery of the Romans, the villagers and particularly, Obelix.

It’s all in good fun and moves along at a brisk pace; almost too brisk as there are aspects you will struggle to grasp before it moves on to the next scene. A particular subplot involving wild pigs, in particular, may make sense upon repeat viewing. Which is a kind way of saying that the main pleasure derived from this entry may be in nostalgia. Parents will be able to take their little ones to enjoy a bit of silly buggers for 100 minutes, whilst you recall why these characters struck a chord with you in the first place. This time around, unfortunately, it will not have the same impact.

 

 
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Aladdin

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Few films in recent memory have managed to maintain a level of potential audience scepticism like the remake to Disney’s Aladdin. With every new piece of marketing that became public, it somehow grew less and less appealing at every turn. And bear in mind that it started with the idea that Guy Ritchie should direct a musical, as if his collaborations with Madonna weren’t enough of a sign that he shouldn’t. This film could only go in one of two directions with that in mind: It could either be a pleasant surprise that sticks to the mostly-positive turn-out for Disney’s recent remakes, or it could be a trainwreck that ranks among Disney’s recent worst. Sadly, this is the latter.

More so than any of the other remakes thus far, this film is hurt the most by the transition from traditional animation to live-action. All of the personality and expressiveness and just plain fun of the original is sorely lacking here, managing to make a screen flooded with Bollywood colours feel drab and uninteresting. Where there should be wonder, there is CGI serving as the watered-down substitute. Where there should be frisson-creating music, there is feeble lip service to the music of the region. And where there should be a fun and exciting comedic presence with the Genie, we get Will Smith doing his best Kazaam impression.

In keeping with Disney’s M.O. of late, the intent behind this film is to fix something that was present in the original, in this case being the agency of characters that aren’t in the title. However, much like when Bill Condon attempted the same with Beauty And The Beast, raising supporting characters comes at the expense of others.

Naomi Scott as Jasmine has been given a more wilful presence, akin to someone who could foreseeably be the ruler of a kingdom, and Smith as the Genie has been more humanised and even given a love interest. But even with an extra 40 minutes in running time, Ritchie and co-writer John August (Frankenweenie) somehow weren’t able to juggle the character boosting without turning Mena Massoud’s Aladdin into a footnote. The attempts at juggling even result in a gaping plot hole, making the filmmakers look like they’re unable to count up to 3 accurately.

With everything being considerably toned-down, including the legendarily-energetic Genie who basically made the original into the classic it is today (and whose actor got screwed over by the House of Mouse in the process), there’s nothing here that makes this remake feel like it has a reason to be. Even the Beauty And The Beast remake, as misguided as it is, still has a stronger raison d’etre than this. The only reason this doesn’t turn out worse than B&TB is because this doesn’t actively hurt the original through sheer proximity to itself. Let’s just hope that Disney doesn’t try for a Return Of Jafar remake anytime in the near future; they’ve done enough damage to this IP already.

 
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Louise Alston: Kicking Goals

For her third feature film, Back of the Net, the filmmaker took a pragmatic, backseat position in the process – something rarely done in director-driven Australian productions.
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Dumbo

family film, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

With Disney well and truly in their postmodern era, bringing back just about every one of their animated classics to be remade in varying forms of live-action over the last several years, their latest ostensibly should serve as just the latest in a recent trend. Take something about the original, whether it’s the characters, where the narrative is focused, or even just translating the original directly, and re-examine it with a fresh perspective; it started with Burton’s own Alice In Wonderland and it persists to this day. However, this film serves as a different kind of examination; not of narrative or character, but of the company that brought them to life.

Director Tim Burton has made an entire career out of telling the stories of talented outsiders being exploited, so to find him at the helm here is very on-brand. And sure enough, he and DOP Ben Davis (Guardians Of The Galaxy, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Captain Marvel) bring a sense of Disney wonder and grandeur to the classic story of a flying circus elephant. The CGI work is about on par with Wonderland, in that it is quite iffy in places, but they at least do the title character justice by maintaining the inescapable cuteness that is Dumbo.

Not that Dumbo really ends up being the character to focus on here. Nor is it Colin Farrell’s war veteran or his wonkily-performing children (Nico Parker as his daughter is way too stiff to be given this much dialogue). Instead, it’s the villain, Michael Keaton’s V.A. Vandevere, who ends up drawing the most attention.

He is shown as an entrepreneur and showman who buys out the circus owned by Danny De Vito’s Max Medici (it’s like the Batman Returns reunion we never realised we needed), absorbing the company and its properties into a larger fold, which includes a gigantic theme park where “the impossible is possible”. He is also presented as someone whose want for power grows so disastrously that he ends up destroying everything he set out to build. It’s difficult to look at this and not think of how this reflects on Disney as a company, given their own practices along with their recent acquisition of Fox.

Burton and an uncharacteristically subtle script by Transformers scribe Ehren Kruger, essentially create art from dissent behind the main lines, showing a cautionary tale of what happens when monopolistic capitalism goes unchecked and who suffers as a result. It furthers Burton’s oeuvre by going beyond who is being exploited, namely Dumbo and the other circus ‘freaks’, and dives right into who’s doing it. It’s still wondrous, but it’s a wondrousness that is tempered by who is presenting the performance both in and out of the universe.

Whether this falls under critique, irony, or just plain hypocrisy remains to be seen, but with the current cultural climate, it still shows a commendable amount of brass in everyone involved to take aim at a target this massive, and under their own banner at that.