Category Archives: Review

STAR TREK BEYOND [Review]

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Will’s pedantic Trekkie friend, Walker reviews Star Trek Beyond:

Far from just a solid addition to the Star Trek franchise, Star Trek Beyond holds itself up as not just a phenomenal sequel, but as solid addition to the action/adventure genre in general. In its two-hour run-time, Beyond manages to not only deliver bone-shattering action, but also levels character development far above most other 2016 releases thus far. I could easily spend a thousand words praising the flow of the film, or the informed development of story throughout, the lack of lulls, or simply the joy felt during my viewing, but I won’t. No, the real praise for this film belongs to co-writer Simon Pegg.

In Beyond, Pegg manages to straddle the line between reboot and sequel far better than this reviewer (or seemingly, most internet commentators) thought possible. At minimum, a third viewing is required in order to understand the full magnitude of throwbacks, and references, Pegg has plugged into this film. However, unlike other recent reboots and remakes we’ve seen over the last couple years (looking at you Ghostbusters), Beyond manages to keep its homages to its predecessors far more subtle and in doing so gets away with including a great deal more than would otherwise be enjoyable. Through these callbacks, Pegg crafts a fully fleshed-out universe and film with the sense of history and legacy that the Star Trek franchise fully deserves. For the first time, Star Trek is able to draw upon the full breadth of its 400-year chronology, and it truly warmed my heart.

This film was quite obviously a labour of love for Pegg and all those involved. In the span of two hours, the film manages to reference a small portion of each one of the Star Trek television series and most of the subsequent films, and most importantly, correctly. After two viewings, I’ve only found three continuity and canon errors and they remain inconsequential and tiny, a truly phenomenal accomplishment for Pegg when you consider that he is working with a 50-year-old franchise with hundreds of contributors. The numerous throwbacks require not just research and a real love for the material and the universe, but perhaps most impressively, literally hundreds of hours of viewing time of previous additions to the Star Trek universe.

You need to see Star Trek: Beyond.

Will, who’s only ever seen the Abrams films, reviews Star Trek Beyond:

It’s good. You need to see Star Trek: Beyond.

WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT [Review]

Whiskey Tango FoxtrotWhile Whiskey Tango Foxtrot releases in Australia today, it’s been out for two months in the United States. An Australian review is pretty much moot at this point. There’s nothing I can say that the internet hasn’t already: It’s a great film; it hits its dramatic beats and lands plenty of laughs; Tina Fey carries the film as Kim Baker, the journalist whose memoir The Taliban Shuffle the film is based on; and Margot Robbie is aces.

While it is a film about the absurd realities of war, what shines through most is its exploration of people whose livelihoods depend on attention, say, journalists who need their stories to make it to air. It fuels you, and it’s addictive, and you begin to do things you wouldn’t normally do to achieve and sustain it. It’s something I experienced first-hand as a celebrity journalist, and something I still have to keep in check when writing on social media. There’s always the urge to push the envelope further, for the extra favourite, the extra retweet. It’s easy to justify, you’re just doing your job, but you can lose yourself in it.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says, “Don’t.”

Goodbyes and Good Wives

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I’m a big believer in endings. I won’t start a story without a final scene in mind, or at the very least, an inkling of where I want the characters to end up. Because endings change the way we look at everything that comes before them, and let’s face it, how many back flips you manage is far less impressive if you don’t stick the landing.

The Good Wife ended its seven-year run today, and it didn’t stick the landing. Creators Robert and Michelle King had explanations at the ready: in the end, their good wife became a little bad. In the series’ pilot, she stood by her husband during a press conference, then, in private, she slapped him as soon as they were offstage. In the finale, once again, she stood by her husband during a press conference, then, in private, she was slapped by a co-worker.

“The victim becomes the victimiser,” the Kings explained.

Visually, the show was suggesting Alicia had morphed into her corrupt husband, Peter, or at least, was morphing into him. The Kings often teased that the show was about “the education of Alicia Florrick”, and this is apparently what they meant. While yes, Alicia has hardened over the years, the show has never been about her Walter White-ification, and to suggest that in the final minutes is to retcon her entire character journey.

There are so many moving parts in television (read: actors) that it’s often hard for creators to realise their end-games as they first intend them. In departing the series, Josh Charles (Will Gardner) gave the Kings their greatest season (the fifth), but also, robbed the series of one of its main narrative thrusts: the love-triangle between Will, Alicia and Peter. At first, the series meandered, as Alicia struggled to come to terms with a world without her Plan B, and it worked. It was the truest representation of sudden, unexpected grief I have ever seen on television. Alicia withdrew. To me, her grief manifested in her distancing herself. The sixth season’s political plotline separated her from the rest of the cast even further. When it came time to put its pieces back together, the show was struggling to get its cast members in the same room without CGI and had resorted to throwing male love interests at Alicia hoping one would stick.

While the story beats are there to suggest a darkening of Alicia Florrick, she never really darkened. Sure, she drank a little more, she was a little more sarcastic, and she didn’t cry when she found out about her husband’s latest possible affair, but really, that’s hardly her ”moving in the direction where there wasn’t much difference between who [she] was and who her husband was”. I mean, just this season, we’ve had her forays in bond court, her creation of a small firm to pursue the cases that mattered to her … those were the pursuits of a woman damaged by a foray into politics, looking to do what she felt was right. The bad stuff inspired her to rebuild herself, to do good on her own terms.

That’s why it’s devastating that after seven years of her “education”, she abandoned her husband onstage for another man. No, the shadow of another man she mistook for her lover. A series about a woman rediscovering her agency, re-entering the workforce after raising children, and finding her voice, ended with her acting on the advice of a dead man (Ghost Will, who features prominently) to finally end her marriage to one man, to pursue a new man, while trapped in another man’s political web (Eli has been organising her political donors without her knowing!). Somewhere in the finale, there’s a story about a woman who, no matter how powerful she feels, is still powerless.

But with a slap, the Kings made it about her transformation into her husband, and the ending doesn’t fit the story they’ve been telling. Unfortunately for us, endings change the way we look at everything that comes before them.

MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 [Review]

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Writing has ruined reading for me. When I read my own work, I’m poring over sentences as my own harshest critic, making sure everything works, from the big-picture structural stuff right down to the individual word choices. I have trouble suppressing that critical voice when I read for pleasure, so it takes a special book or film to silence it.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is not that film.

I’m torn. The film is brimming with heart. There are moments that reflect my life back at me, and I wanted desperately to like it, but it’s just so lazy. It feels like a collection of skits, loosely tied together by a thread of Mana-Yiayia sight gags. It’s a film of As and Zs, with nothing from B to Y that make arcs work. There’s a lot of treading water between the introduction of problems and plot points, and their resolutions, if they’re resolved at all.

The worst is the bait-and-switch of Gus (Michael Constantine) and his ailing health. In a voiceover with zero chill, we learn Toula (Nia Vardalos) struggles with caring for her ageing parents. The film then drops this entirely, after a half-arsed callback to the original’s famous Windex gag. Instead of following through on a plot that’s painstakingly established in the film’s opening minutes, Vardalos reduces it to the set up for a joke we’ve heard before, an easy laugh. But by that point, we’re thankful for some plot resolution, because the film has introduced 600 other mostly non-essential plot strands.

The film tries to do so much — Estranged brothers! College! Gay secrets! John Stamos and Rita Wilson! — that its main plot — Gus and Maria’s (Lainie Kazan) remarriage — falls over flat. Maria driving her wedding planner to quit is genuinely hilarious, but we don’t see its climax. We’re simply told it happened because the film is too busy showing something else. And then it has the nerve to spin “the wedding planner has quit!” into “the wedding is off!” and one does not equal the other.

I had a half-hour argument with Mum about My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 this morning. She enjoyed it. She says I shouldn’t look at films with so critical an eye. They don’t have to be perfect. I’m not saying they do. I just really wish they’d try.

*I would define it working as it being the best I can make it, as the writer I am today.

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE [Review]

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I know what you’re thinking — the only person in the world who enjoyed Zoolander 2 is back with another review! This time, it’s 10 Cloverfield Lane … And it’s pretty darn good!

A lot has been made of its development from a not-Cloverfield movie into a Cloverfield movie, and while conversations about its production history are interesting, having them now does the film a disservice. Director Dan Trachtenberg has crafted a film that treads the knife-edge between restricted-domain thriller and dark family comedy. The fact that it has the Cloverfield brand attached means more than increased box-office takings, it means viewer enter assuming a shared universe with the found-footage, alien-invasion romance Cloverfield. When Howard (John Goodman) tells Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), that he is keeping her prisoner in his bunker to protect her from an “attack” above ground, we think of Cloverfield. Even though Goodman’s shtick is transparent as all hell, we second-guess ourselves because we have seen Cloverfield. This may have evolved into a Cloverfield film, yes, but the belief it occurs in a shared universe adds a complexity to those bunker scenes (and that’s before you start to doubt yourself, as I did, and genuinely think JJ Abrams only had the title changed to mess with us for JJ giggles).

10 Cloverfield Lane is tight, claustrophobic and tense. It will make you squirm, thanks in large part to Goodman’s stellar impersonation of Sam Smith when you don’t return his texts. Goodman plays entitled-nice-guy to perfection. Winstead and John Gallagher Jr are given less to work with, but when the film calls on one of them to carry it in its final moments, they do it with aplomb.

See this one in theatres. The sound design deserves more than laptop speakers. There’s a scene with a set of keys that gave me a tension headache, thanks in large part to the sound choices.

For the moment, Cloverfield is an anthology series. JJ has said there is a “larger idea … [to] see through”, but until then, they’re stand-alones. Support this one, if only so we can see JJ’s plans come to fruition, and write catty think-pieces if it doesn’t meet the hype (Oh, hi, Super 8).

ZOOLANDER 2 [Review]

Zoolander 2I suppose ‘review’ is probably the wrong word. ‘First thoughts while walking home from the train station’ just isn’t as SEO-friendly.

Zoolander 2 touches on a lot — fatherhood, conventional beauty — but it is the way it deals with the passage of time and the transience of fame that has stuck with me most in the two hours since I saw it. The film holds a mirror up to those old guards who have been replaced by artists they perceive to be inferior, in a way I don’t feel I’ve seen before.

A character the first film ridiculed, returns to ridicule his contemporary counterpart. It serves to remind us that even at our peaks, we are disappointing someone who came before us. We are all unworthy successors in somebody’s eyes.

Unworthy younger successors.

A character literally wants to rip off the faces of teenagers and wear them, while countless others think their successors are useless, gimmicky imposters. There is a contradictory push and pull, a desire for and rejection of youth, like the older would do youth better, if only they had the chance. The tragedy is they can’t, and they look ridiculous when they try.

The fact that Stiller crammed that into a film with enough cameos to make Entourage cry, “Excessive!” and enough off-colour jokes to make your head spin, is an admirable achievement. The film will be dismissed for its surface-level stupidity, which is masterful in its own right, but I really hope critics far better than me, and quite possibly younger, have a crack at unpacking it. There are gems there.

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS [Review]

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This is a spoiler-free review of The Force Awakens. If you are desperate to know who our new heroes are, and what predicaments our veteran heroes find themselves in, this is not the review you’re looking for.

I was introduced to the Star Wars series in 1997, thanks to the Special Edition theatrical re-releases. I tend to judge films and books by how much they inspire me to write, and they capital-letters INSPIRED. I anticipated the prequels, and when I saw them in theatres, I enjoyed them immensely. I admit, they could do with thorough rewrite, but in the same way the original trilogy inspired me to write, the prequel trilogy inspired me to problem solve — to edit. I spoke about this a little over at Inside A Dog, the prequels prompted an entire community to discuss what revisions they would make to make the films more palatable.

I became comfortable with the idea of an Episode VII after marathoning the films in 2014. Six films, two days, two revelations. One, having soured on Attack of the Clones after repeat home-video viewings, I realised the film just works on the big screen in a way no film so oddly written and acted should. Kudos to John Williams. Two, Return of the Jedi is super strange, tonally. Most critics cite the Ewok/Emperor contrast in the film’s conclusion, but I had a sour taste in my mouth from the moment we entered Jabba’s Palace, where slapstick meets Luke’s darkness and Leia’s sexuality in this weird mixed bag of, ‘Who is the target audience?’ And don’t get me started on the Luke/Leia twist, which is a silly idea made even worse by its execution. As the credits rolled, Return of the Jedi left me yearning for a more fitting conclusion to my favourite film series.

Enter The Force Awakens.

This is the film I wanted it to be — respectful to the past, while still looking to the future. As absolutely thrilling as it was to catch up with Han (Harrison Ford), Luke (Mark Hamill) and Leia (Carrie Fisher), this film belongs to Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who each turn in stellar performances. Even though the film moves at a break-neck pace, director JJ Abrams sprinkles enough character moments throughout to make us care about the next generation of Star Wars protagonists.

Respecting the original trilogy was a necessity. Star Wars is a brand, a brand perceived by most to have been tarnished by three prequel films. The Force Awakens needed to remind fans what they loved about the original trilogy, but I have to say, I wish it reminded us less. As much as I love Ford, Han is used as a vessel for this overt fan service more often than I would have liked. His character arc is strong enough (Han + Leia 4Eva) that using him to frequently wink at the audience feels a little cheap.

A lot has been made of the film’s reliance on A New HopeStar Wars has been copying itself since the Second Death Star, and The Force Awakens, at first glance, cribs a lot from A New Hope. But I would not say it rehashes. Instead, it remixes. It subverts our expectations, challenging the tropes of the damsel in distress more aggressively than I anticipated. It is aware of its diversity in a way I don’t think internet comments sections are going to like. But every time Ridley’s Rey took charge, I was grinning ear-to-ear.

To be fair, though, I was grinning a lot. In The Force Awakens, the franchise rediscovers its sense of humour. Abrams has said he wanted to recapture that feeling of joy from the original trilogy, and he has done that.

An even greater achievement, and one that cannot be overstated, is that he found a story after a Happily Ever After, which is difficult to do. For every Toy Story 3, there are scores of Sex and the City 2s. Abrams and co have crafted an Episode VII that does more than make up for Return of the Jedi or the prequels, it makes me crave an Episode VIII.

Do I have my qualms about The Force Awakens? Sure. I wish it was a little quieter, and the exposition a little subtler. I am also not quite sold on Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). But that is a post for another day, after another viewing. For now, Abrams has done his job, and it’s time for Rian Johnson to do his.

May the Force be with him.