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Three Summers

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Brazilian film Three Summers explores the earth-shattering consequences of Operation Car Wash, through the lens of a frantic house-keeper keeping her livelihood and family together.

Although the clouds of corruption loom over its characters, lively and energetic humour occupy the film to illustrate the optimism and rigorous hard-work Brazil’s lower class maintain despite being victims to rapacious greed.

For context, Operation Car Crash involved nationwide money-laundering and embezzling schemes in Brazil. The investigations took place over several years, with over a thousand people implicated and arrested, from politicians and business leaders alike.

This dramatic backdrop only rears itself as subtext; the film follows Mada (Regina Case) as she manages condominiums over the holiday period for her affluent employers Marta and Edgar. She dreams of owning a roadside kiosk where she can sell her favourite recipes like “sausage sushi”. However, her plans are abruptly derailed when the owners of the condominiums are embroiled in corruption, and Mada suddenly loses everything she has without any prior knowledge of what was happening.

Initially, Mada is a consummate worrier; obsessive that everything is in order. As she agonises over snacks for partygoers, to bugging family members about mystery phone calls. This constant fretting is cumbersome for both those around her, and the viewer. However, as her job and aspirations collapse around her, Mada is forced to adapt and evolve to changing circumstances, using her willpower and resourcefulness to an endearing and heart-warming effect.

The film is split into three parts that take place over three summers. In this way, the summer ambience of searing heat provides a metaphor for the heightened tension from the police investigation, as well as Mada and her family losing control of their lives. Nevertheless, this elliptical structure drags out scenes without purpose, as well as the drab appearance of sterile white and opulent mansions that lacks any penetrative insight into class struggles.

Three Summers offers a pertinent perspective on the corruption scandals that plagued Brazil, and the stultifying class struggles with hope and levity. However, its message is hampered with an unfocused story arc that limits its characters from shining through.

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The Sparks Brothers

Documentary, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Sparks, the band formed by American brothers Ron and Russell Mael way back in 1967, are nothing if not enigmatic. Much of their music is hard to classify – “It’s just Sparks”, one enthusiast shrugs in this documentary – and their lyrics are suffused with both melancholia and irony. (When they’re intelligent rather than numbingly repetitive.) And they’re understandably unforthcoming about their personal lives. But if anything, all this just serves to make the film more intriguing. It’s also often very funny.

Ron Mael emerges as the real star of the show here, and the winner in the ‘cool’ stakes, being the songwriter, resident wit and sardonic figure beside Russell the singer and one-time teen heartthrob. To be fair, of course, it’s the ineffable chemistry between the two siblings that’s kept them going.

We start off with footage of their Fifties childhood in California, and what follows is first and foremost a portrait of two affable people whose raison d’etre seems to be the need to constantly challenge themselves. At one point, quite recently, they played a series of gigs where each of 21 nights involved the live performance of a different album from their canon. It’s hard to imagine any other group initiating a project like that – let alone triumphantly pulling it off.

The Sparks Brothers gets better as it goes on, but – given its prosaic and linear structure – it’s arguably too long at 2 1/4 hours. The longueurs in the middle, when Sparks got bogged down in synth-driven electro-pop, don’t help either.

For the most part, though, this is a colourful and entertaining look at a tireless and uncompromising group, whose prolific output has also spanned hard rock, orchestral bombast, quirky ‘proto-Kate-Bush-and-Bjork’ songs and a collaboration with Franz Ferdinand. In any case, the liberal sprinkling of animation and other gaudily kitsch visual distractions keeps our attention. It’s well worth a look.

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Night Shift

Australian, Home, Review, Streaming, Television, This Week Leave a Comment

When everyone’s a bit strapped for cash, the brain can suddenly become adept at conjuring up some way of earning a quick buck. Often, it’ll be about taking a sudden interest in the lottery, or working out how long that elderly relative of yours has got left. You know the one.

In Australian comedy, Night Shift from director Joey Menzel, two brothers come up with the plan to rob their local petrol station, believing it to have untold wealth in the safe. If you’ve seen the Welsh comedy, Convenience, which has a similar storyline, you’ll know exactly where this is going.

When the brothers, Des (Jesse Morton) and Bobby (Anthony Winnick) find out that the servo’s safe is on a time lock, they take the cashier hostage and pretend to be employees until the lock goes click. What follows is a sort of comedy of errors as the duo must keep up pretences to the various customers coming in, who eventually become hostages in the boys’ forever-getting-out-of-control plan.

With Kevin Smith being a clear influence on the film, Menzel keeps the action within the confines of the servo, only occasionally venturing outside for flashbacks that show how the guys have ended up in such a mess. Another big influence is in the dialogue and humour. Smith’s debut, Clerks, hit the screens in 1994 and brought with it ‘snowballs’, jokes about the Chinese and references to the number 37 that will be indelible in some people. Night Shift appears to be trying to go a similar route with little success.

When Indian cashier Amiey (Reuben Jacob) is not being called a racial slur, his blatant homosexuality is played out in a punchline that sees him regularly groping Des and bringing up the suggestion that he might want to be sexually assaulted by the robber. Elsewhere, Bobby puts on voices to pretend at one point that he’s Indian and later, mentally challenged. Each of these jokes lands as gracefully as a duck with no wings. Even fans of Clerks will admit that times have moved on.

On a positive note, Menzel has a good handle on the camera and an eye for the bombastic. See the opening credits, where Des flies through town on top of a deliberately broken gas canister like he’s Major Kong in Dr Strangelove. Elsewhere, the cast give it their all and show off their comedic talents when the jokes do hit.

Find it on Prime Video

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The Loki Lectures

After portraying everybody’s favourite Marvel villain across six MCU movies, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki debuts on the small screen with his own six-episode TV series.
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Percy vs. Goliath

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

In Percy vs. Goliath, strong-willed canola farmer Percy Schweiser (Christopher Walken) is sued by the faceless corporation Monsanto for using their patented seeds without a licence.

Based on a true story, 70-year-old Schweiser is a generational farmer that proudly proclaims he is a “seed saver”, preserving the best seeds from the year’s crop to plant for the following year. With his loyal assistant Alton, they battle adverse storms and work around the clock to produce a quality homegrown product that is “making a killing”. A whirlwind opening gives a glimpse into the flint-hard persona of Schweiser that will be imperative for taking on Monsanto.

As dark clouds loom in its opening sequence, perhaps acting as metaphor, multinational corporation Monsanto targets Schweiser as they discover their weed-killer resistant seeds on his farm, albeit accidentally from heavy winds or leaking from passing-by trucks. Hired suits arrive surreptitiously on his land to test his seeds, sowing unrest and tension within his own family, and the wider community.

Walken portrays a world-weary farmer that wears decades of overcoming turmoil through a gruff demeanour and silverish beard. Yet, he is also able to centre the film’s emotional resonance with a pragmatism and hard-work that immediately endears him to those around him, while also oscillating psychologically between what is best for his family, and fighting for justice.

With the legal avalanche imminent, Percy enlists the help of local attorney Jackson Weaver (Zach Braff), while environmental activist Rebecca Salcau (Christina Ricci) offers her services too, in order to garner support worldwide. She organises for Percy to conduct speaking tours on television, and in town halls to advocate against exploiting famers.

The minor characters are too under-written to discern what their true motivation or backstory is. Notably, Salcau seems overzealous to procure donations to pay for Schweiser’s legal fees, despite Percy’s abject reluctance to accept charity. Once Percy steels his resolve to take the matter to the Supreme Court, Salcau senses an impending failure and abandons all support. This implies an ulterior motive to ride on Percy’s coattails for her own benefit, and therefore loses significant sympathy. Not only this, farmers and locals in his own town turn against Percy, derisively yelling out “seed stealer” as they drive pass.

This was perhaps a forced and unearned sense of tension, especially when farmers globally have experienced the same thing.

When it reaches its court-room climax, the film is stylistically dry, offering a simplistic array of shot, reverse-shot angles that do not arouse the seriousness of what is at stake. The soundtrack, too, is frequently folksy and jovial, undermining how motivated Percy is to prove his innocence.

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Trailer: The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield are taking it to another level in this look at televangelists Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker, from Michael Showalter, director of The Big Sick and The Lovebirds.
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The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

Comedy, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

2017’s The Hitman’s Bodyguard was a B-movie with B-movie writing (the tone of which was hastily changed prior to filming, always a great start(!)) and B-movie aspirations… but with a capital-A-movie cast. The cast and the performances wound up being the main reason to watch Hitman’s Bodyguard, and in the process of making this sequel, director Patrick Hughes must’ve kept note of that reaction because the onscreen charisma has grown even bigger the second time around.

The humour on display not only hits a lot better but is delivered with astounding efficacy by all involved. Ryan Reynolds continues to play well against type as the neurotic bodyguard, Sam Jackson coasts on his laidback attitude and a wealth of facial expressions to great effect, and Salma Hayek is so delightfully unhinged as to threaten to break the walls of reality in her wake.

Actually, ‘unhinged’ might be the best way to describe this whole movie, as the sheer degree to which the nutty roams free is astonishing. Every single aspect of the narrative, from the kitschy Bond pastiche of the villain’s plot and personality (seeing Antonio Banderas back in Robert Rodriguez mode is highly satisfying) to the action scenes that are among the few that can stand alongside the ludicrous bombast of a Fast & Furious sequel, even the grasping at ‘family film’ cred through the same avenues that Deadpool 2 navigated, is injected with enough pure crazy as to guarantee an audience contact high.

As simple as the European-vacation-with-firearms plot is, the almost 2 hour running time should feel a lot longer than it ultimately does here. Much like with the first film, the plot is the least interesting aspect of the production, letting the engagement ride on the backs of the performances and the action beats. Unlike the first film, however, this doesn’t feel like it needs to be carried by everything else except the writing. Instead, because the chemistry between each and every actor is tighter than a bomb bracelet, it’s more like a really fun road trip where the destination, and even the path, doesn’t even matter next to the joy of the ride itself.

Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, much like its title, is unwieldy to the verge of self-parody, but there’s something consistently endearing about how much it embraces its own goofiness. It melds the liberating lack of fucks given of a B-movie with the blockbuster polish and acting pedigree of an A-movie, making for an exhilarating, if potentially exhausting, dosage of glee that’ll break ribs quicker than a shotgun to the chest.

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Australian Films in Competition at Tribeca

On the eve of Tribeca Film festival’s hotly anticipated 20th anniversary edition, June 9 - 20, two Australian films are set to go head-to-head against each other at the festival’s prestigious Documentary Competition section.