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The End of the F***ing World

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Alienated teenager James (Alex Lawther) thinks he might be a psychopath. He enjoys killing animals and once stuck his hand in a deep fryer just to feel something. Alienated teenager Alyssa (Jessica Barden) thinks she might be in love with James. She knows she hates her rich family and wants to reconnect with her absent birth father. She convinces James to steal his father’s car and come with her on a road trip to find errant dad. She thinks it’s romantic. He thinks she might be his first human victim. Kids, hey?

Adapted from the graphic novel by Charles S. Forsman, The End of the F***ing World takes the lovers-on-the-run model beloved of American cinema since the year dot and filters through an understated, wry, British sensibility. It is quite violent – two minutes in we have James dispatching a cat with a knife – but also thoughtful and self-deprecating, setting up our two protagonists as initially unlikable and self-deluded, but gradually evincing empathy as their tragic back stories are revealed over the course of the series, and they come to realise that their morbid self-obsession and instinctive acts of rebellion have real world consequences.

Still, why is it a series? The show is surprisingly slow paced, and it’s not hard to imagine a version of the series edited down to feature length that would retain its mood, themes, and black comedy. It feels like its current form is a concession to the binge-watch streaming model, but there’s not really enough story to justify it. Still, it’s an enjoyable enough slice of sardonic misanthropy.

 
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Happy End

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Internationally renowned, and Palme d’Or winning, director Michael Haneke keeps sticking it to the bourgeoisie. In film after film he shows a superficially normal family and then burrows underneath to suggest the fragility of their privileged position and the intimations of unhappiness that the intrusion of reality will bring. If his almost unwatchable Funny Games did this with a grenade, Happy End is more like a stiletto between the ribs. Once withdrawn, the victim will bleed out.

Haneke is not known for his comedic side, but Happy End is of course a sly joke of a title. This family isn’t heading for a happy end any time soon, but the journey is absorbing. We follow the mis/fortunes of the wealthy Laurent family based near Calais. (The town which until recently was home to the so-called ‘Jungle’ shanty town full of desperate refugees.) The patriarch Georges (Jean-Louis Trintigant playing a character who is a sort of a continuation of the one he played for Haneke in Amour), is in his mid-80s, fed up with life. If he could find a swift way to avoid the inevitable decline into senescence he would gladly do so. His tired eyes have seen it all. His daughter Anne (Haneke essential Isabelle Huppert) is trying to hold the family and the family firm together. She has to worry about her inept son Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) who is entirely unsuited to taking over the company. Thomas has a thirteen-year-old daughter Eve (Fantine Harduin giving a real calling card performance) by a previous marriage. The quietly dangerous Eve is as unhappy with the beginning of her life as her grandfather is with the end of his. Everyone in between is holding it together, just. Lots of little incidents combine to show the slow unravelling.

Once again Haneke’s masterly style – his deliberate use of minimal music, and slow takes and oddly long shot camera positions – serves him so well. Some might find this too austere and conclude that its auteur is a misanthrope but, for anyone who seriously wants to follow European (or world) cinema, and who is prepared to forgo easy answers, this is another haunting masterwork.

Click here for nationwide movie times for Happy End

 

 
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Namiya

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Keigo Higashino has carved a considerable reputation as one of Japan’s premier authors of crime novels and thrillers, via popular books like The Devotion of Suspect X and The Salvation of a Saint. His 2012 novel Miracles of the Namiya General Store is markedly different, telling a heart-warming story about an old man and a group of wayward orphans communicating via some magical effect across time. It was adapted by director Ryuichi Hiroki last year as a Japanese language feature film, but as is often the way with Asian cinema these days it has also been adapted into Chinese by director Jie Han. There is a larger Australian market for Chinese cinema than Japanese, and so the Chinese edition appears to be the version we get.

Three teenage orphans break into a rich woman’s mansion to vandalise it. Escaping in her car, they hide out from the authorities in an abandoned corner shop. When they explore the shop, they discover that 25 years earlier an old man (Jackie Chan) would give advice to the town’s residents: they would post a letter through a mailbox in the front and he would leave them replies out the back. When letters start magically appearing in the mailbox from 1993, they find themselves responding to the residents of decades past in the old man’s stead.

Namiya is a relatively heart-warming sort of comfort fantasy. It uses a portmanteau structure to tell the story of several people, each of whom seeks the advice of the corner shop and each of whom appears to have a connection to a nearby orphanage. It is a fairly messy viewing experience at first, but to its credit it does weave together the disparate story threads together in its final act and concludes as a much neater, more coherent film. It is not going to stun or shock anybody, but it is a relatively pleasant and inoffensive way to spend two hours in a cinema.

One small surprise is Jackie Chan, who does not even feature in the film’s poster despite playing what is arguably its central character. It’s a different kind of a role for him: old, slow-moving, thoughtful and kindly. Chan should transition out of action – a genre he really is becoming too old for – into less physical roles. This is a welcome step in that direction, and despite wearing a slightly unconvincing white wig he acquits himself comfortably. The other performances side a little too much towards the overly earnest, but then to a large degree they match the unironic sentimentality of the film as a whole.

This is an odd little movie. It feels charming but non-essential. For those still relaxing on summer holidays, it is a pleasant diversion out of the sun in the company of some nice characters inside a non-challenging story. There is always a place for this kind of a film: enjoyable but forgettable.

 
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Romper Stomper

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Most of the skinheads are gone when we revisit the world of Romper Stomper, Geoffrey Wright’s incendiary and controversial 1992 film. Still the ethos remains, albeit under different colours. Instead of the swastika, the Southern Cross. Instead of bashing Vietnamese immigrants, it’s preaching hate while protesting a halal food festival. Instead of the hard, uncompromising gut punch of the original, it’s meandering and kind of pointless.

Yes, Romper Stomper Redux was always going to be controversial. Hell, it was meant to be, and a quick tour of the comment thread of any article on the new Stan series proves that, in that regard, it has been hugely successful. But controversy and quality are not synonyms. Is it any good? Well, no, not particularly.

Whereas RS ’92 kept the focus squarely on the crew of bovver boys run by the charismatic Hando (Russell Crowe, Sir Not Appearing in This Series), RS ’18 spreads a wider net, trying to encompass the complexities and factions of the current state of extremist politics. So we get Patriot Blue, a pastiche of a number of far right outfits but mainly drawn from the True Blue Crew and the Soldiers of Odin, run by mouthy, paunchy, would-be voice of the silent majority, Blake Farron (Lachy Hulme). New blood is introduced when Blake is rescued from a kicking by young ex-soldier Kane (Toby Wallace), a charismatic nationalist who is soon de facto 2IC of the Patriot Blue crew.

That’s the blue corner. In the red corner, Antifasc, Romper Stomper‘s answer to Antifa, a loose and largely ineffectual cell of uni students led by Petra (Lily Sullivan) and Danny (Tysan Towney), who are beginning to move beyond soup kitchens and waving placards to more direct and violent tactics.

Around these two blocs orbit a number of characters, including opportunistic right wing talk show host Jago Zoric (David Wenham); moderate Muslim law student Laila (Nicole Chamoun), thrust into the spotlight after the Patriots and Antifasc clash at a halal food festival; ageing skinhead Magoo (John Brumpton), still holding onto the toxic ideology of his youth; independent Senator Anabasis (Simon Palomares, and that’s a hell of a pun for students of the classics) and more. More than can the show can easily track, in fact, and therein lies at least part of the problem: in trying to cover so many elements, so many moving narrative parts, some are given short shrift.

When in doubt, the series defaults to spending time with the racists, who are easily the most complex and intriguing characters presented. This is not necessarily a problem of sympathy, but one of focus; for all that original creator Wright and his co-writers, James Napier Robertson, Omar Musa, and Malcolm Knox, may be trying to present “both sides of the argument”, there’s one side that is always the more engaging – and they’re unarguably the bad guys. Plenty of research has gone into the presentation of Patriot Blue; considerably less has been done for their opposite number, who come across as a fairly undifferentiated rabble of university-radicalised malcontents. One character even unironically trots out the old “property is theft” cliche, just to underline their political ideology. It’s pretty laughable stuff, especially if you’re at all familiar with the fringe left, who are neither so joyless not so unified (The Left’s problem is that they’re too busy fighting their age-old enemies, the Left, to really push in the same direction. Romper Stomper‘s estimate of about half a dozen people able to agree on any one thing is about right).

Still, the show does at least refute the notion that they’re all as bad as each other; as presented, Antifasc may not be as charismatic as the right wing rabble-rousers, but at least they’re not stockpiling machine guns and grenades in a back bush hideout, which Patriot Blue most certainly are. To its credit, Romper Stomper draws a direct line from the openly Nazi skinheads of the past to the crypto-fascist “patriots” of today, although that’s undone a little by having the organisations most violent plans put into action by a ghost from the past, rather than come from Hulme’s bush poetry-spouting demagogue.

Indeed, the series has no small amount of trouble reconciling the past with its current concerns, and elements of the previous film are often worked in awkwardly. In addition to old Magoo (Brumpton, an absolute treasure of a performer, delivers a great, pathos-filled turn here) we also get the return of Gabe (Jacqueline McKenzie, killing it), former skinhead arm candy turned successful businesswoman. When we reconnect with her she’s dealing with caring for her dying father, who sexually abused her when she was younger, and also worried about her son – none other than Kane, who is immersing himself in the racist world she has fought to free herself from.

Kane’s paternity is a key plot point, which is an interesting direction to take in a text dealing with poisonous ideologies that put so much emphasis on blood and race, and while the final revelation of who the nascent blackshirt’s father is is a clever irony, it’s a little lost in the noise. All politics aside, Romper Stomper‘s key problems is a lack of thematic unity, with an over-reliance on shock tactics rather than solid plotting coming a close second. The series may want to show us the current state of race politics play, but it doesn’t have anything to actually say about it; there’s no thesis, no lesson to be learned, either by the audience of the characters. Great actors – and there are some fantastic performances here, have no doubt – are stuck with roles that have no arc. As for the shock tactics? Look, at one point a major character basically dies from slipping on a banana peel – that’s something that should never gotten off the writing room whiteboard.

Romper Stomper was always supposed to be ugly and confrontational – that’s its brand, after all – but it only manages the former. To be confrontational, it would actually have to interrogate the ideas and worldviews that it presents. At this task, the series fails. But it also fails on a basic narrative level, after three episodes of set up, we’re left with three episodes of barreling towards a foregone and clumsily handled climax that offers no respite, no answers, and, most damningly, no point of view.

What galls is what a wasted opportunity this is. After four and a half hours, Romper Stomper leaves us with nothing; no insight, no voice, no lessons, no discernible point. You could argue that simple representation is enough, but what is being represented? If we want to know the awful state of racial discourse, we just need to look at our news feeds. Good drama offers something more than that – and Romper Stomper is not good drama.

 
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All the Money in the World

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1973: J. P. “Paul” Getty III (Charlie Plummer), 16 year old grandson of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer), is snatched from the streets of Rome by a criminal gang. The kidnappers want 17 million dollars – money that Paul’s mother, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams), estranged from his birth father, doesn’t have. The boy’s grandfather could pay, of course, but he refuses, saying that conceding to the kidnappers will open up his other grandchildren to similar attacks. He tasks former CIA agent Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) with finding the missing boy and effecting his release.

The rich are different from you and me, to paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, and that axiom serves as the central thesis for All the Money in the World, adapted by David Scarpa (The Last Castle) from the non-fiction book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty by John Pearson. Structurally it’s a crime thriller, but thematically its concerns are the dehumanising, alienating effects of concentrated wealth.

It’s a theme embodied by Plummer’s turn as Getty Senior, stepping in to replace the now disgraced Kevin Spacey. We will likely never see what Spacey’s Getty is like, but Plummer’s is a fascinating creature: a man so caught up in the rituals of acquisition, the tidal pull of macro-economics, the wheeling and dealing of international finance, that his ability for human connection is utterly stunted. Oh, he tries to wear a convincing mask – a flashback scene has Getty, doing his own laundry in an opulent hotel room to save a few pennies, gift the young JPIII with an expensive antique statuette of the Minotaur – but when the chips are down, he will not put any chips of his own on the table. In a later key scene, Wahlberg’s bagman, his own cynicism temporarily short-circuited by Getty’s incredible avarice, asks the old plutocrat exactly how much money it would take to make him feel secure. “More,” the reptilian Getty replies.

It’s also worth noting that the Minotaur, only one of a number of recurring motifs from Classical mythology and history, fed on sacrificed youths and maidens. Make of that what you will.

Getty’s opposite number is Harris, whom Michelle Williams imbues with a kind of steely, pragmatic compassion. Caught in the glare of publicity around the case – much of the film takes place in Italy, birthplace of the paparazzi, and director Ridley Scott does not shy away from showing predatory packs of snap-happy photographers at every public event – Harris’ chief task is learning how to navigate this weird world of wealth and privilege, finding her own power and making incredible sacrifices along the way in order to rescue her son. Of course, the abyss also gazes, and it’s fascinating to see Williams’ character gradually harden as she earns her place at Getty’s table.

Only one character other than Harris treats young Paul as anything other than a commodity: Cinquanta, one of the kidnappers, played by veteran French actor Romain Duris (the Spanish Apartment trilogy), whose fundamental empathy puts him at odds with his cohorts, especially once Paul is sold to a more ruthless criminal organisation once his original captors realise that the whole thing is just too much like hard work. The old Stockholm syndrome bit is pretty familiar territory by this stage of the game, but Duris’ ruggedly humane turn carries it, and by extension lends some much needed colour to Charlie Plummer’s Paul, who is otherwise left with one note to play (that he admittedly plays well).

This being a Ridley Scott joint, the whole thing looks beautiful, and Scott’s keen eye for set design and background detail remains undimmed (Scott, lest we forget, is 80 years old). The recreation of ’70s Europe is on point, if occasionally given to overstatement rather than strict accuracy, and the sumptuous appointments of Getty’s world, filled with antiques and fine artworks, marble bust upon marble bust and leatherbound books by the yard, are all captured beautifully by cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (The Crow, Pirates of the Caribbean), whose command of shadow and colour is a perfect match for Scott’s layered, detail oriented visual aesthetic.

Where the film falls down is as an actual drama – the events as depicted serve better as a framework through which we can explore these themes and this world. Scarpa and Scott conflate and alter events to suit their dramatic purposes, but the extended timeline of the case is such that tension is difficult to maintain, despite the suspense inherent in the premise. While All the Money in the World is far from inert, at times it feels rather sedate, but Scott’s precise worldbuilding and our fascination with the exotic and alien world of the super-rich carry us through.

Click here for nationwide movie times for All the Money in the World

 

 
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The Commuter

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Everyday insurance salesman Michael McCauley (Liam Neeson) commutes to his New York job via train. When we meet him, however, his life has spilled out of its comfortable rut: he’s been made redundant just before retirement, which makes paying for his son’s college tuition an impossible burden. That makes him easy pickings for a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga), who singles him out on his return trip with an offer: someone onboard is not one of the regular passengers, but a murder witness going to meet with the FBI. Figuring out who should be an easy task for an ex-cop (of course he’s an ex-cop) who takes the same train every day. If he pulls it off, there’s money. If he fails, or tries to warn the target, his wife and son will be killed. And so the clock is ticking.

The Commuter is Neeson’s fourth collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Sera, following on from Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night. Their partnership is somewhat reminiscent of that between Denzel Washington and the late Tony Scott, producing solid, enjoyable thrillers that, while never in danger of troubling the academy, are generally a cut above the usual genre fare.

Visually and tonally, however, Collet-Sera’s principal debt is to Alfred Hitchcock. While he may lack the Master of Suspense’s psychological insight and command of thematic unity, he’s more than familiar with all the stylistic tools in Hitch’s box, deploying them to enjoyable, pulpy effect. With its locomotive setting and inevitably deadly devil’s bargain, The Commuter‘s obvious antecedent is Strangers on a Train, but Neeson’s everyman-in-a-bind predicament is a mirror for any number of times poor Jimmy Stewart was caught up in one of Hitchcock’s enjoyably nightmarish webs of intrigue.

Neeson give a typically commendable performance – is there anyone else who can so effortlessly synthesise being both a salt-of-the-earth regular guy and completely capable of kicking any ass that presents itself at the same time? – and he’s supported by an ensemble of excellent character actors, including Jonathan Banks, Patrick Wilson, Sam Neill, and Elizabeth McGovern. The film’s high concept is, of course, ridiculous on close examination, and the reach and ruthlessness of the conspiracy involved beggars belief, but it all works in the moment – Collet-Sera never gives us time to get bored, and Neeson is such an arresting screen presence that questions of plausibility only come after the fact.

Taut, inventive, and never in danger of overplaying its hand, The Commuter is a robust and rather old-fashioned thriller that forgoes trying to reinvent the wheel in favour of delivering 100 minutes and change of rising tension, well-executed suspense and the odd burst of visceral action – who can say no to that?

Click here for nationwide movie times for The Commuter

 

 

 
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Doctor Who: “Twice Upon a Time”

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Two Doctors – the First (David Bradley) and 12th (Peter Capaldi) – meet in the Antarctic. Both are near the end of their lives. Both refuse to regenerate, and would rather die than change into another person. When they encounter a British Captain from the First World War (Mark Gatiss), thrown decades out of time and chased across the snow by a glass alien, they are thrust into one final adventure before each man dies.

After three seasons, Peter Capaldi hangs up his coat as the 12th star of Doctor Who. Departing along with him is writer and executive producer Steven Moffat, who moves on from the series after eight years and 84 episodes. It is the end of an era, and with new showrunner Chris Chibnall and 13th Doctor Jodie Whittaker waiting in the wings “Twice Upon a Time” presents Capaldi and Moffat with the chance to go out on an absolute high.

Sadly, the episode feels more whimper than bang. It has a storyline that is oddly busy yet frustratingly simple. The ingredients all seem to be perfectly suitable, but they have been baked together in weirdly sub-standard ways. While it has glimmers of greatness, and certainly its final minutes pull everything together for an emotive farewell, overall it fails to impress or convince. Things happen, but they do not sufficiently build to a satisfying conclusion. The episode simply seems to run until it stops. To its credit the episode does pull things together during its lengthy epilogue, but at that points it’s more about softening the blow of a bad episode than in being anything exceptionally good.

One major hurdle that Moffat fails to clear is how precisely to incorporate the two Doctors alongside one another. While David Bradley (Game of Thrones, Broadchurch) gamely replaces William Hartnell in the role – and wisely does not attempt to directly recreate it – Moffat’s script forces an unnecessary contrast between the two Doctors by making the original an insufferable sexist. It is not a characterisation that rings true, and winds up running a fair amount of character assassination on an iconic television character. Contemporary audiences may not notice so much; dedicated fans will be up in arms.

There was an opportunity here for the 12th Doctor, tired of life, to be reinvigorated by the possibilities of his future by seeing those same possibilities on his younger self. Instead the episode works in the opposite fashion: the original Doctor is convinced to regenerate by seeing his future, and the 12th simply changes his mind and allows himself to change. It feels more than a little muddled throughout.

Both Peter Capaldi and David Bradley do excellent work here, as does Pearl Mackie in a return appearance as companion Bill Potts. Sadly Mark Gatiss’ anonymous “Captain” is more of a list of stereotypes and tics than an actual performance, and weakens most of the scenes he is in. An ever more damaging element is the surfeit of comedy gags and sexual references. They have been a growing bane of Moffat-produced Doctor Who, and with one episode left he goes all out with the smutty jokes and almost derails the entire enterprise.

Peter Capaldi has been a fine Doctor, but his entire tenure has been hampered with irregular script weaknesses. Despite some great episodes in recent years – “World Enough and Time”, “Listen”, and “Heaven Sent”, to name a few – looking back from the end his time on the series feels somewhat like a missed opportunity. Thankfully there’s every chance Jodie Whittaker’s first series in 2018 will be a breath of fresh air.

 
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The Greatest Showman

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In 19th century New York, would-be impresario PT Barnum (Hugh Jackman), a dreamer from impoverished roots, is trying to find the magic ingredient that will draw crowds to his struggling museum. He hits upon the notion of exhibiting human “oddities” – people with unusual features or unusual skills. Enlisting playwright Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) as his partner, Barnum assembles a troupe of marvels, including acrobat Anne Wheeler (Zendaya), bearded lady Lettie Lutz (Keala Settle), and little person Charles Stratton, aka General Tom Thumb (Sam Humphrey). The crowds and the money start pouring in, but the respectability that Barnum needs to impress the upper crust parents of his wife, Charity (Michelle Williams) still eludes him.

The Greatest Showman‘s only goal is to entertain the hell out of you, and it pursues it with single-minded determination and all the razzle-dazzle it can muster. The film uses the career of the real life PT Barnum as a loose framework (this is very much a “print the legend” situation) but make no mistake, this is not so much about Barnum as it is about Jackman. The Greatest Showman is a showcase for the all-singing, all dancing Boy From Oz, and seems to be a kind of mission statement: a reminder that, while the world might know Hugh as a certain clawed mutant marauder, his heart belongs to the theatre.

Indeed, both film and star are so determined to make us smile, and the proceedings are so packed with light, colour, and spectacle, that it’s just about enough to make you not notice the shaky foundations the whole shebang is built upon. Dramatically speaking, there’s not a whole lot going on; while a happy ending is rarely in doubt when it comes to this sort of thing (Moulin Rouge, clearly a stylistic influence on first time director Michael Gracey, being an obvious exception), even the illusion of risk is absent here. Character relationships are poorly defined, be they between Barnum and his family, who he gently neglects but keeps in well-heeled comfort, or Barnum and his would-be protege, Carlyle, whose mentor/student dynamic never really clicks.

The exception is the budding romance between Carlyle and Anne, which flies in the face of the racist social conventions of the time, but the success of that subplot is mainly down to Zendaya – in a work packed with bombast and noise, her talent and charm shine through cleanly, and she is the ensemble’s clear standout, the magnificently-voiced Keala settles being a close second.

Thematically, The Greatest Showman takes a stab at individuality and freedom of expression, the old “follow your dreams” bit, but fails to push in any interesting directions. The obvious point that, while many of the people working for him have limited options when it comes to employment and lifestyle, the white, male, able-bodied and comparatively wealthy Barnum chooses the showbiz world, is never made, and the chorus of oddities are basically background artists in service to Barnum’s aggrandisement. To be fair, Barnum’s story is Barnum’s story, but there’s a more deft and more interesting way to tell it, and given that the film has sifted through the facts of the real Barnum’s life, picking and discarding to fit its chosen form,  there’s plenty of material from which to craft a more balanced and aware story.

But there’s music and dancing and explosions of colour, a menagerie of (mostly) CGI animals, a fantastical roster of astonishing people and things (sadly, no Feejee Mermaid), and plenty of rousing, feel good songs – “This is Me” isn’t going away any time soon. Still, for all that it entertains in the moment, The Greatest Showman feels like a missed opportunity.

Click here for nationwide movie times for The Greatest Showman

 

 
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Bright

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What if one of the po-po in End of Watch was an orc? That’s the basic conceit of Bright, which blends director David Ayer’s usual Los Angeles cops ‘n’ crims concerns with the sort of high fantasy elements usually found in Middle Zealand: elves, fairies, magic wands and what have you.

Written by Max Landis, Bright follows uniformed officers Daryl Ward (Will Smith) and Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), an orc, as they patrol the mean barrios of LA in a world where magic works (but is heavily regulated) and various fantasy races have carved out a place in the great melting pot. Elves are rich and presumably immortal, living in a Beverley Hills-alike enclave, while the tusked and scaly orcs are an underclass due to backing the Dark Lord in some epochal battle two millennia ago. In the modern day, orcs are viewed as thugs or worse, and Jakoby, the first orc police officer, is the subject of much attention and derision, both from the humans he works with and the orcs who view him as a traitor to his own kind (the racial politics are as subtle as a Mjolnir to the face).

Things go pear-shaped when they come into possession of both a magic wand – described as “a nuclear weapon that grants wishes” and Tikka (Lucy Fry), the runaway elf sorceress who wields it. The unlikely trio soon find themselves on the run from a whole panoply of opponents who want the wand for themselves, from corrupt cops to vicious gang bangers, with none so fearsome than Noomi Rapace’s evil elf cult leader and her host of machine-gun-toting, acrobatic elf ninja assassins. Can they survive the night?

If that phrase “machine-gun-toting, acrobatic elf ninja assassins” fires a neuron or two, you’re gonna have a good time with Bright. Ayer’s LA mean streets aesthetic aside, the influences on the film are fairly obvious: Terry Windling’s Bordertown shared world books, the Shadowrun roleplaying franchise, the feature film Alien Nation and its subsequent TV series, and more. Landis’s script takes the common tropes here and wraps them up in a standard action run ‘n’ gun plot, not doing anything too original with the ideas but handling them competently nonetheless. For Ayer’s part, he reaches for the most familiar tools in his box, giving us a tone that isn’t too far off that of Harsh Times or Street Kings – you know, apart from all the pointed ears and the odd dragon fly-by.

The action is great – a shoot out in a petrol station is the high point here – but the real fun is in the background details. The broad history of this parallel universe is handwaved, leaving the production design and narrative window dressing to do the heavy lifting when it comes to scene-setting: we get orcish graffiti and music, a nuisance fairy buzzing around a bird feeder, a Federal Department dedicated to investigating magical crimes, and more. There’s a snappy, glib “just go with it” vibe to the proceedings – if you question it too hard, it might very well fall apart, but at a glance it’s all a good time.

It helps that the cast never winks at the audience, treating the proceedings with, if not the somberness of a heavy drama, then at least the macho seriousness of a good action thriller (Bright is, it must be said, surprisingly and pleasingly violent and foul-mouthed). Men in Black veteran Smith is an old hand at this sort of thing, and the ethereal-looking Fry looks as at home here as she would at a medieval fair, but the standout is the unrecognisable Edgerton as Jakoby. Completely masked by latex prosthetics and tinted contacts, Edgerton really disappears into the role, offering up the most well-rounded and interesting character in the film, a misfit not aggressive enough for the orcs and too awkward for the human world, who is struggling to find his own place to stand. It’s a really great turn.

That it’s in the service of a somewhat disposable – but still very enjoyable – actioner is almost besides the point. For all the ballyhooing Netflix has done about the blockbuster budget ($90m+) and the big names attached, Bright feels very much like an opening salvo – a very pricey, very enjoyable feature length pilot. Hopefully a return to this world is on the cards sooner rather than later.

 
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Coco

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Following on from the extraordinary world-building, thematically complex and ground-breaking Inside Out, Coco, Pixar’s 19th feature, focuses on one of the biggies, death.

Coco tells the sensational story of Miguel Rivera, a boy born in an extended Mexican family with a distrust of music. Unsurprisingly, Miguel is head over heels with the guitar and the Mexican groove, admiring Ernesto de la Cruz, a popular musician. On the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos), Miguel accidentally finds a connection between him and his idol, leading to an abandonment of the family and a journey to the world of the departed to seek the truth.

After the successful creation of the world of feelings in Inside Out, Pixar conceptualises Dia de los Muertos as a cultural world of festivity and colours, both visually pleasing and spiritually mysterious. The underworld in the film is very much ‘alive’, with endless activities such as talent shows, glamorous Gatsby-like parties, fantastic creatures known as Alebrije and characters that add both humour and complexity to the story.

In order to familiarise the concept of ‘death’, making it less scary for its target audience, Pixar adds the theme of family. Borrowing the Mexican cultural context of the celebration, Coco shines upon the very question of what it means to be a family. The customs of the Mexicans during Dia de los Muertos, such as decorating the ofrenda or leaving trails of marigold demonstrates a sacred connection between the living and the dead, and the importance of family tradition that Eastern or Asian viewers will understand deeply, and as the film reached its ending, all viewers will be wiping away tears, as Miguel’s journey concludes in a melodramatic yet extremely emotional way.

The film would not be so successful without the musical voices of the amazing cast, especially that of the young Anthony Gonzalez in the role of Miguel. His innocent and playful singing accompanied by the guitar, along with Michael Giaccino’s score adds cultural layers to the visuals, allowing viewers to truly be immersed in a space of cultural significance.

A meaningful and emotional holiday treat for families.

Click here for nationwide movie times for Coco