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All Films Great and Small

We speak with writer/director/editor Jordan Giusti (and co-producer Chris Luscri), about his short film Reptile, which won the Best Emerging Filmmaker Award at the Melbourne International Film Festival.
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The Bob’s Burgers Movie

animation, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Bob’s Burgers might be one of the luckiest animated shows of the entire 2010s [currently streaming on Disney+]. Starting out with its okay-but-nothing-all-that-special first season, and its main cast full of Family Guy analogues (shlubby father, housewife with a thing for singing, diabolical schemer for the youngest child, etc.), it was mercifully given the time it needed to figure itself out and find its lane as the character-driven serving of absurdist dad humour that has allowed it to thrive for an additional ten seasons. And now going full Simpsons with a cinematic feature (with a plot that coincidentally also involves a sinkhole), which thankfully carries over everything that makes the show so much fun.

Not only are the Belcher family all as charmingly attention-deficit as ever, the way that their characters are built in the film works both as a continuation of the original show and as a potential introduction for new viewers.

There are references to their past escapades, sure, but with the steps taken in their development (especially with Kristen Schaal as Louise, the aforementioned schemer), what is on-screen sets up and pays off the drama and even ramps up the emotion without feeling like past knowledge is required for the full impact. Hell, not knowing why hunky zombies show up all of a sudden might just boost the comedic value.

Speaking of which, those with a pun allergy might have difficulties getting into this (ditto the original show), but credit to the writers [Loren Bouchard & Nora Smith] and actors for having as close to perfect timing as you can get for these sorts of zingers. With only a scant couple of exceptions, nothing is lingered on to the point of explaining the joke, and if said one-liner didn’t land, there’s about five others coming in right behind it that probably will. It’s all very chuckle-worthy and shows that making comedy out of characters intentionally distracting themselves, works best when it isn’t needlessly protracted. Lessons should be learnt from this.

But this isn’t just the same stuff from the show; the visuals have been properly upgraded to make this cinema worthy. Bento Box Entertainment et al. bring Futurama levels of detail to the animation. This is easily some of the smoothest 2D animation of the last several years, and it really pops during the musical numbers. What’s more, this 2.5D upscaling never clashes with the ‘chinless wonder’ character designs, pulling off the South Park trick of improving without making its own foundation conspicuous.

The Bob’s Burgers Movie is everything that makes the show worth binging, combined with everything needed to make a transition to the big screen worthwhile. There’s nothing too strenuous going on, even with its more emotional moments, and with its high gag ratio, it’s an ideal wind-down movie to kick back, relax, and bite into.

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Unsung Auteurs: Donna Deitch

FilmInk salutes the work of directors who have never truly received the credit that they deserve. In this installment: Donna Deitch, who helmed the 1985 lesbian-themed cult classic Desert Hearts.
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Mothering Sunday

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

French director Eve Husson (Girls of the Sun) defies expectations in her sensual and poetic film Mothering Sunday. What at first appears to be a stuffy British period piece becomes a deeply affecting examination of grief, class, rebirth, and reinvention.

In 1924, England is still awash with grief over those lives lost in WWI. Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young) is a servant at Beechwood House owned by the Nivens who lost their sons in the war. Mr Niven (Colin Firth) is a pleasant but fragile presence whose stoicism exists to prop up the overwhelming heartache of his wife, Clarrie (Olivia Colman). Clarrie has become distant to the point of near non-existence and her former joy for life has been snuffed out.

Jane, who was given up for adoption at birth, is a “constant watcher” of the Nivens and the other wealthy families they dolefully socialise with. One family in particular, the Sheringhams also share the loss of two sons, with the remaining son Paul (Josh O’Connor) becoming a substitute child for all, and a last symbol of hope in their profound grief.

On Mother’s Day, the respective families decide to have a picnic which acts as a double celebration for the upcoming nuptials between Paul and his social equal Emma Hobday (Emma D’Arcy). The match is a loveless one as Emma was in love with one of the young set who perished in the fighting.

On this day, Paul and Jane, who have been carrying on an extended affair, will meet and make love one last time. The nature of their affair appears somewhat hard to pin down, but within it, Jane insists they meet as equals. The bright morning that envelopes Jane as she bicycles to Paul’s manor house fills the frame with the promise of pleasure and abandonment. Jane’s long hair let loose from the formal braids she wears whilst working, streams behind her.

Entering Paul’s darkened house, the young couple emit a light that speaks of life within the tomb of grieving. They make love and freely study each other’s bodies. The pure sensuality of their lovemaking is captured by Jamie Ramsay’s exquisite cinematography, which is similarly arresting and lush throughout the film.

Paul leaves to attend the picnic and Jane remains in the house exploring its grandeur whilst naked. This small act of rebellion is emblematic of who Jane is. Not to be defined by her class or position, Jane is something more – a born writer who will manifest her destiny regardless of the circumstances she was born into. In some ways, she is freer than the gentry that she served, who are tied to their class and the expectations that come from that.

A subtle comparison Husson makes is between Jane examining herself naked in Paul’s bedroom mirror, and Emma who uses her mirror to make up herself into a pristine vision of upper-class beauty and fashion. Emma is trapped by societal expectations that Jane wilfully defies.

Although the narrative is weighted in the events of 1924, the portrait of Jane is more encompassing. Working in a bookstore, she meets a young philosopher named Donald (Sope Dirisu) who will become her lover and eventually her husband. In the format of a narrative within a narrative, we see Jane at three distinct stages of her life: her time at Beechwood House, her relationship with Donald in her middle years, and finally in her dotage as a feted novelist played by the great Glenda Jackson.

Adapted from Graham Swift’s novella of the same name by the tremendously talented writer Alice Birch (Lady Macbeth), Mothering Sunday is a tone-poem about the life of a woman who is able to rise from loss through her art. Jane Fairchild, as Clarrie Niven clumsily attests was “comprehensively bereaved at birth” because she never had a family. Jane epitomises the self-made woman who has learned to live on her own terms.

The performances in the film are genuinely excellent. Odessa Young proves herself to be one of the best emerging talents that has come out of Australia. Josh O’Connor emits the same sensual energy as he did in Francis Lee’s marvellous God’s Own Country. Screen veterans Firth and Colman do not disappoint in their small but pivotal roles. As a supporting character, Sope Dirisu (His House) is stellar and rightfully deserves his place as one of Britain’s most impressive contemporary actors.

A film that could have easily fallen into the trap of sentimental stuffiness is given such a lush and evocative treatment by Husson that it defies the conventions that many British period pictures succumb to. At its heart, Mothering Sunday is an exquisite portrait of an unconventional woman whose self-determination leads her through a life, although not always easy, that is defined by her will. The film exposes the audience to the tragedies and triumphs of life that exist in both the smallest moments and the biggest – it is a film that shows that melodrama is distinctly more multi-layered than it has been commonly regarded in recent times, and certainly very potent.

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Night Sky

Home, Prime Video, Review, sci-fi, Streaming, Television, This Week 1 Comment

Laced with intrigue, the new science-fiction drama series, Night Sky, follows an array of characters, centring on an elderly couple, Irene and Franklin York, played by Oscar winners Sissy Spacek and J.K. Simmons.

The Yorks lead a simple life in their quiet hometown in Illinois. Except, their mundane exterior is not quite as it seems. Many years ago, Irene and Franklin discovered an ancient chamber concealed in their garden shed, with the ability to transport them to an observer station, overlooking a desolate alien planet with an exquisite night sky. However, this mysterious chamber turns out to be much more than either of them had initially imagined.

The pair have been coming here for years to sit in awe of the planet’s beauty and ponder the possibilities of its existence. But this shared secret that has long bonded their union is now becoming a dividing factor in the Yorks’ marriage. As Irene’s health is steadily declining, Franklin suspects that these frequent trips are beginning to take a toll.

On one occasion when visiting ‘The Stars’, as the Yorks have dubbed it, Irene finds a bloody and unconscious stranger in the hidden chamber. Shocked at his appearance, the Yorks bring him home. Once awake, the perplexing young man introduces himself as Jude. He claims to suffer from amnesia and have no recollection of his former life. While Franklin is suspicious of the newcomer’s inexplicable existence, Irene is reminded of her late son Michael and embraces him with open arms, and proceeds to help Jude with his pursuit of answers about his hazy past.

In the second episode, the series takes an unusual shift that will have you wondering if you’re still watching the same show. In rural Argentina, we are introduced to Stella (Julieta Zylberberg) and Toni (Roco Hernández), a mother and daughter who live an extremely secluded lifestyle. As Toni comes of age and enters high school, she begins to desire more from her sheltered upbringing. This creates a tumultuous relationship between her and mum as Stella battles to keep Toni unaware of their family’s secret legacy and why they must guard an ancient chapel on their land. However, upon the arrival of a shady figure from Stella’s past, she is forced to introduce her daughter into a world of turbulence and danger.

The stories run parallel as the show continues, before inevitability converging in later episodes.

Spacek and Simmons give Night Sky its gravity, their onscreen partnership demonstrating a warm affection for one another. Spacek in particular shines as Irene, conveying a tender presence in every scene, while Simmons brings a vulnerability to his portrayal of Franklin. Kiah McKirnan plays the Yorks’ concerned granddaughter and Adam Bartley plays the sceptical neighbour, but these characters feel like unnecessary filler against the Yorks and mother-daughter duo Stella and Toni.

While Night Sky has an alluring sense of mystery, the sluggish pace and scattered tone, switching between the Yorks in Illinois and Stella and Toni in Argentina, make it difficult to view the series as one cohesive story and not two totally different shows. Also, Night Sky’s focus on relationships and themes of love and loss overshadow the hollow sci-fi plot – a McGuffin if you will. Although it takes its time to build to any real tension, Simmons and Spacek continue to keep audiences engaged.

Performance driven and not particularly ground-breaking, the slow burn sci-fi drama Night Sky relies on its drawcards of Simmons and Spacek to foster its appeal, and thankfully, the two seasoned actors make the trip worthwhile.

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Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers

animation, Disney+, family film, Home, Review, Streaming, This Week Leave a Comment

In the delightfully hyperactive Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, animated anthropomorphic critters respond to the soul-crushing slap of Hollywood.

Life has been tough for Chip (John Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg) in the thirty years since they last appeared on the television series of the same name. Having fallen out over a desire to go solo (in true showbiz style), the once inseparable besties have gone on to live separate lives; the sensible Chip opting for a white-collar career in insurance – the major joy of his quotidian existence coming in the form of his Clifford-like pooch, and the buzzing Dale – cosmetically enhancing himself to 3D to attract more jobs in Hollywood – making his living, how all former stars do, navigating the convention circuit.

Reunited following the disappearance of their former colleague Monterey Jack (a fair dinkum Eric Bana), the at-odds Chip and Dale set out on a noir-esque adventure to save their friend, encountering a slew of familiar faces and pop-culture references.

While parallels to Robert Zemeckis’ 1988 classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit are apparent, the developments in CG technology offer new territory for screenwriters Dan Gregor and Doug Mand to explore. The ‘meta’ Hollywood practice of pandering to audience nostalgia doesn’t make an appearance in DnD: RR, with director Akiva Schaffer (of The Lonely Island fame) using call-backs to contemporary characters – both recent and new and of differing animation styles – to create a hearty richness in the film’s absurdist humour. (That said, some of the references will time stamp the film into the now, potentially placing a shelf-life on the jokes.)

The film plays to both Mulaney and Samberg’s strengths, allowing their comedic styles – the restless sounding Mulaney contrasting with Samberg’s zaniness – to coalesce into a buddy-cop pairing loaded with charm.

This is further highlighted in the film’s star-studded voice cast, with the likes of comedy heavy-hitters J.K. Simmons, Seth Rogen, Will Arnett and Keegan-Michael Key filling out the principal roles. (Exactly who they play is a mystery best served cold.) The film moves at an up-tempo pace, making for an engrossing spectacle charged with playful action sequences and a humour that never feels inappropriate, particularly for the littlies in the room.

When animated characters come into contact with humans, the film becomes less animated on two fronts. While the talented KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk) does her darndest fitting into Chip and Dale’s world, her role as a police officer working to rebuild her reputation is unfortunately written too straight-faced in a film that otherwise revels in silliness.

Doing to IP cross-pollination what Scream did for horror, Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers rides high on its buoyant sense of play and intelligence. It is a blast from the past and a time capsule worth opening.