Having Whit Stillman (BARCELONA, THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO, DAMSELS IN DISTRESS) adapt Jane Austen to the screen seems so screamingly obvious in hindsight – both are overly talky in their storytelling and prone to mopey characters. The exception here though, is that LOVE & FRIENDSHIP is one of the less common Austen comedies (from her novella ‘Lady Susan’).

In late 18th century England, the widowed Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) has quite the reputation. After being ejected from the hospitality of the Manwaring family (for seducing Mr. Manwaring), she is taken in by her brother in-law Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards) and his family at the Churchill estate. With her American confidant Alicia Johnson (Chloe Sevigny) and little real regard for anyone else, she proceeds to cause all manner of mannered havoc as she attempts to marry off her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) and herself to secure their place in high society.

The first half is suitably Austenian – setting up loads of intricately knotted character relationships and then having them talk a hundred miles a minute about something that recently happened to someone else in a place other than the room they’re currently in. Witticisms abound of course, but then around the mid point, something actually happens (on screen, no less!), giving proceedings a much-needed boost. This is also around the time we are introduced to the film’s secret weapon: the delightfully dim (or as his caption describes him, ‘a bit of a rattle’) Sir James Martin, from a film-stealing performance by Tom Bennett.

Beckinsale and Sevigny – both re-teaming with Stillman after THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO - spark wonderfully off of one another. Their utter obliviousness to their servants doing the real work is a superb running gag, and at their most outrageous they bring to mind a couple of foremothers to Ab Fab’s Edina & Patsy. As long as it has us laughing, it's terrific - but in the dry patches, for those who can take or leave Austen’s style this begins very quickly to feel like very slow going, and like so much of Stillman's work; just a bunch of poshos with pretend problems.

LOVE & FRIENDSHIP is released May 27 in the UK, June 3 in the US, and July 21 in Australia.

Review: GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)

In the golden age of idea recycling, the most remarkable thing about a trip back to the GHOSTBUSTERS well is how long it’s taken to get here.  But 27 years since their last big screen appearance, here we are – and in the reliable hands of Paul Feig (BRIDESMAIDS, THE HEAT, SPY), no less.

Firstly, it’s worth pointing out up front that this is a bona fide reboot/origin story, rather than a tenuous sequel: feel free to keep your eyes peeled for cameos from nearly all of the major players from the original (Harold Ramis included), but don’t expect to see Venkman, Stantz, Spengler or Zeddmore pop up any time soon. In their stead, the soon to be Busters are now made up of Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), a physicist in denial of her paranormal past - in particular a book she wrote with estranged best friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), which has now resurfaced on Amazon just as Erin is seeking tenure with a prestigious University. Abby though, still very much dedicated to the spook hunting cause, is these days kicking around with new lab partner/nuclear engineer/general oddball Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). After a terrific opening sequence (largely courtesy of Silicon Valley’s Zach Woods and his wonderfully unique comedy chops), the three are called on to investigate one of New York’s haunted mansions, and history is made. And speaking of history, the trio will soon become a quartet when joined by NY subway worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), who brings indispensable knowledge of the city’s geography and past.

Perhaps because so much has changed since the franchise was last on the big screen, Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold eschew all but the largest story beats to make way for new angles, details, characters and jokes. There is now a human villain – a palid, pasty nutter genius who’s been bullied way past breaking point (Neil Casey), but has, ahem, confused rights with privilege, and has now hatched a mad, self-aggrandising scheme. Of course the Environmental Protection Agency are no longer the (opaque) secondary bad guys – that mantle is now taken up by an array of online haters (meta, much?), and a mayor (Andy Garcia) who wants them to keep doing their fine work without getting any credit whatsoever. One of the film’s most interesting new ideas is how difficult it is to get to the truth in today’s world – from crazed internet trolls and suggestions of fabrication-by-photoshop on one hand, to a cover-up happy government keen to avoid mass hysteria on the other; in the jaded age of unchecked internet bullshit and professionally spun PR, it’s just become so hard for the real deal to get through.

What Feig’s GHOSTBUSTERS has over Ivan Reitman’s original, is superior production value. Not only do the ghosts themselves look as amazing today (in their own way) as they did to the audiences of 1984, but there’s a slickness and attention to detail overall in this version that Ivan Reitman either didn’t have the budget for or simply wasn’t too concerned with. And 3D is well deployed, too, with Feig utilising a literal framing device (not seen since LIFE OF PI) for an extra bit of fun.

But while Feig and Dippold get a lot of little things right, it too often feels like they’re struggling with the big stuff. Virtually all of the laughs come from smaller moments (a running gag about takeaway Chinese dumplings is one for the ages) and interplay between the uniformly excellent cast, including Chris Hemsworth as a dippy secretary - but it just feels like there needed to be a few more killer lines. Perhaps it’s the constraints of having to stay inside the PG rating, but this doesn’t feel as hilarious as BRIDESMAIDS or THE HEAT (maybe on par with SPY?). The set pieces too, are hit and miss – a ‘rock concert’ is less believable than the ghost that invades it (why does Hollywood have such a difficult time getting rock’n’roll right?), while the climax involves taking Times Square back to the 1970s for reasons that seem to have ended up on the cutting room floor (likewise a dance sequence that has been relegated to the end credits).

Overall though, it’s considerably more hit than miss. In fact, the only thing that you could really say sucks about the new GHOSTBUSTERS is a reworking of the theme by Fallout Boy. Yes, that’s right:  the shittest thing about a movie copping hideous flak for having the tenacity to have an all female cast, is a terrible cover by a band named Fallout Boy. Oh, and indeed, the irony.

GHOSTBUSTERS is released July 14 in Australia and NZ, and July 15 in the US and the UK


We’re halfway through 2016, but let’s just call it: you’re not going to see a better Australian film this year than Ivan Sen’s massively entertaining contemporary Australian Western, GOLDSTONE.

Aaron Pedersen returns as detective Jay Swan, and the intervening years since 2013’s MYSTERY ROAD haven’t been kind to him. He’s been sent to the titular, deeply isolated outback mining community (to call it a town would be overstating the case) to investigate the disappearance of a Chinese migrant, but soon finds more.

Almost immediately, he’s locking horns with Josh (Alex Russell), Goldstone’s local cop with problems of his own – the kind that get slid across desks in brown paper bags. Doing the sliding is Johnny (David Wenham), head honcho of the all-powerful mining operation, who needs some obstacles in the form of Aboriginal land rights (represented by David Gulpillil’s Jimmy, and Tommy Lewis as the head of the local indigenous land council) worked around – at any price, and he’s already got the whole-hearted support of Jacki Weaver’s local mayor Maureen (although exactly what she’s mayor of is anyone’s guess).

What makes it all so unnerving though, as Jay's and Josh's cases begin to inevitably coincide, is the palpable sense of isolation. This sequel's setting makes even MYSTERY ROAD’s township seem like a bustling metropolis – and it’s this which only strengthens GOLDSTONE’s ties to the Western. It may be the 21st century, but out here it’s still very much ‘anything goes’. There’s rule of law in theory, but if anything bad goes down, the cavalry's not getting here any time soon. More than that, private security forces have total sovereignty over their borders; the power of life and death over anyone who trespasses.

Writer/director/cinematographer/editor/composer Sen is at the top of his game here, barely putting a foot wrong in any of those key roles. GOLDSTONE carries over certain thematic shots central to MYSTERY ROAD's exceptional look (vast exteriors and God's eye view) and expands on them - the neon-soaked interiors are strikingly beautiful in their own right. His minimalist, atmospheric score is beautiful, and once again he finds a new and interesting way to film a shootout. His screenplay taps into a myriad of ugly undercurrents bubbling just beneath the surface of Australian culture (contemporary and historical), and it’s this area more than any other that GOLDSTONE outshines its predecessor. The conflicts extend beyond the obvious – white on black, black on black, white on white – and for the most part, they’re played out with delicious, noirish hints and allegories. As Jimmy sagely points out, “everyone who comes here ends up worshipping the same god.”

It’s not quite perfect – at least one minor character feels underused, while there’s occasionally too much(!) subtext beneath the interactions of main players, so that the superficialities of the scene feel unnatural/unbelievable. The most obvious minor oversight is in failing to sufficiently reign in Wenham’s penchant for over-egging his characters (in this case his VERY LOUD costume)*, but these are very minor misgivings against a very long list of achievements.

A supremely confident film from a filmmaker who has hit full stride, we rarely get half of what is served up in GOLDSTONE; to see it all wrapped so elegantly in such thrilling and engrossing genre entertainment is a mighty gift. Gripping from the first frame, this isn’t just Australia’s finest film of 2016, it's one of Australia's finest films.

* In fairness, I initially had similar feelings about Hugo Weaving’s character in MYSTERY ROAD which on repeat viewings I no longer have a problem with.

GOLDSTONE is released July 7 in Australia.


Filmmakers seem to be having difficulty cutting their films to Kevin Hart’s performance rhythms. He’s clearly a funny guy, but something was off-kilter about the recent RIDE ALONG 2, and now we have similar problems in CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE. It’s not a film-swallowing crisis by any means, but it does seem to be doing the comedian something of a disservice.

Hart is Calvin Joyner, a man only too aware that his life peaked in high school. He was also the only one who was nice to obese bully-magnet Robbie Wheirdict (Dwayne Johnson). Just prior to their 20 year reunion, Robbie contacts with Calvin. He's changed his name to Stone and, well, metamorphasised in Dwayne Johnson. He's also an undercover agent for the CIA, and he now needs Calvin’s help to find a ne'rdowell he calls 'The Black Badger', while avoiding his own side who think he’s gone rogue.

The lines are frequently funny (and there's a god serve of them), but the timing is just a little… off, suggesting that many of the scenes were improvised under multiple cameras and had difficulty keeping pace with the performers.

Johnson meanwhile once again proves himself a more than able comic with a willingness to take risks with his own persona. He inhabits Robbie with an interesting oddness; here is a guy who is still the same dork he was in high school, but now nobody dares mess with, and indeed many people want to be him.

The film around both men is far from a smooth ride, though. No-one - including director Rawson Marshall Thurber – seems too perturbed with a subplot involving the CIA torturing one of their own, only to find out they were barking up the wrong tree. This is simply apologised for and brushed aside, and for some reason it’s not even a joke. It’s a strange, uneven effort, one that has only just enough jokes and charm from its talented leads to cover its’ many holes.

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE is released June 17 in the US, June 29 in the UK, and June 30 in Australia and New Zealand


Writer/director/"third Conchord" Taika Waititi returns to the fertile comic territory ploughed so effectively by BOY and WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS for this all ages adventure comedy, adapted from the legendary Kiwi author Barry Crump's novel. That territory is gang/gangsta life, and Waititi just can't stop laughing at the inherent absurdities of everything about it, especially when it's being emulated and idolised by the confused men of semi-rural New Zealand.

As she drops the thoroughly hip hop-outfitted Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) off at his new home on a remote farm, child services officer Paula (Rachel House) informs fresh foster parent Bella (Rima Te Waita) that the 13 year old is "a real bad egg." She then goes on to list Ricky's dangerous qualities: "graffitiing, littering, smashing stuff, burning stuff, breaking stuff, stealing stuff, throwing rocks and running away." Clearly public enemy number one. Nevertheless, Bella is delighted to have him, even if her loner husband Hec (Sam Neill) isn't keen on company of any kind.

Soon enough though, a strange series of events will have the two males on the run together, hiding out in thousands of hectares of mountainous terrain, pursued by the relentless, petty Paula and a lot of cops. At first they're a bewilderment to one another, united by a common language but culturally poles apart, but of course the relationship warms, despite injuries, hunger, and the odd wild animal attack.

Once again, Waititi makes his gift for comedy seem effortless. As the chase escalates, the laughs continue to land often and accurately, mostly at the expense of Ricky's insistence that he is destined for the 'skux life.' His biggest win though, comes in finding a kid who can carry the film, and in that respect Dennison is a revelation, even when he's getting typically strong support from Neill, Rhys Darby as a nutty hermit, and even Waititi himself.

Though they feel similar, WILDERPEOPLE is a zanier film than BOY, and with its vaguely '80s retro vibe (though it's set in the present), all the better for it. Not all of the choices work, and it feels just a fraction overlong (breaking the narrative into chapters doesn't help), but otherwise it's a hundred or so of the more joyous and hilarious minutes you'll spend in a cinema this year. And no, you're not going to be able to get the birthday song out of your head for days.

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE is released March 31 in NZ, May 26 in Australia, June 24 in the US and September 16 in the UK.

Speed Review: GREEN ROOM

Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier (who last made the amazing BLUE RUIN) packs plenty of grit and tension into his third feature, a claustrophobic 90 minute seige thriller. Left wing punk band The Ain't Rights witness a murder backstage at a skinhead club, and are soon trapped in the titular space, fighting for their lives. Sounds a bit silly, but Saulnier economically crafts well-rounded characters on both sides to make credible decisions amidst the chaos, while constantly shifting the upper hand between the two camps, to often nail-biting effect.

Not that you'd know it from the utterly piss-poor marketing campaign from this film's Australian distributors (a single, solitary poster in each participating cinema), GREEN ROOM is in cinemas from May 26, but probably won't stay long.


Despite the obvious unfortunate timing for a film set in Paris involving terrorism, James Watkins’ BASTILLE DAY seems like an exciting proposition on paper. Watkins has enjoyed a reputation for making the most out of his projects – both EDEN LAKE and THE WOMAN IN BLACK were pleasant genre surprises full of smart choices, so this modestly budgeted Bourne-a-like could easily have been expected to follow suit.

Sadly that’s turned out not to be the case, and even the mighty shoulders of Idris Elba can’t prop up a too-daft, heard-it-all-before script. Richard Madden’s down on his luck pickpocket catches the attention of Elba’s CIA agent when the thief steals the wrong bag, which contains a bomb that was supposed to be planted in the offices of a right wing political party by an unwilling novice extremist (Charlotte LeBon), who lost her bottle when she discovered innocent cleaners were still in the building. The blast instead occurs in public, creating carnage and chaos for all sides.

It’s a promising start, but despite a pacey running time, BASTILLE DAY gradually dissolves into inanity. Watkins shares writing credit with Andrew Baldwin (who clearly wrote this as an audition piece for his forthcoming Jeremy Renner Bourne spinoff sequel), but it lacks any of the ingenuity of Watkins’ earlier screenplays; his main achievements here are as director, where he does at least manage to notch up some impressive set pieces (bringing a few new tricks to the ‘rooftop chase’ and ‘fight in the back of a moving vehicle’ staples), even if film’s connective tissue remains lacking.

Elba acquits himself perfectly well, even though he’s way above the material here, and doesn’t really need to prove his action credentials (maybe the promise of allowing him to sing the theme song over the end credits was the appeal?), but he’s hindered by a wooden Madden, who just can’t bring any energy to what should be a supremely charismatic character. Le Bon is fine, while Kelly Reilly dutifully fulfills a thankless expositional role.

It’s tight, it’s punchy, and it doesn’t drag on – if BASTILLE DAY could just have been smarter, we could have been looking at a minor classic, but it is lacking less than je ne sais quoi.

BASTILLE DAY is released April 22 in the UK, and May 12 in Australia and NZ.

Review: THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016)

After a brief and successful sojourn from the deep end of Hollywood money pool, Jon Favreau returns with a retelling of Disney’s take on Rudyard Kipling’s THE JUNGLE BOOK, bringing more photorealistic animals and less imperialism/racism.

As a technical achievement, it’s hugely impressive. Essentially using the same approach as Alfonso Cuaron’s GRAVITY, Favreau’s team of animators fashion a richly detailed and never less than wholly believable Indian jungle entirely from 1s and 0s. Similarly, the animal cast are beautifully rendered, voiced to a one by an array of stars who are simultaneously instantly recognisable and magnificent vocal performers: Sir Ben Kingsley as the stoic panther Bagheera, Idris Elba as menacing tiger Shere Khan, Lupita Nyong’o and Giancarlo Esposito as wolf parents Raksha and Akela, Bill Murray as a decidedly Bill Murray-esque slacker bear Baloo, Christopher Walken as the disconcertingly ambitious King Louie (here cleverly avoiding Disney’s original foul up by shifting his character to a power-hungry, Colonel Kurtz-like Gigantopithecus), and Scarlett Johansson as the enormous hypnotic python Kaa.

Which leaves Mowgli - the only human in the story and the only performer filmed as themself - played by Neel Sethi, who is at a double disadvantage; he’s good if not great in the role, and his natural American accent here does him no favours (Bill Murray gets away with it, as he gets away with almost anything; likewise you’re not hearing Walken speak American – you’re hearing Walken speak Walken). Sethi’s other problem is entirely beyond his control: in any given frame, his very physical presence is the odd thing out, and while most of the time the compositing that places him in the 'jungle' is top notch, there are moments (possibly exacerbated by 3D) which while tiny, are enough to snag your eye on and detract from the overall effect.

Disney diehards will be pleased that a couple of songs remain and this version of the story is largely intact (not to mention a few improvements to cultural sensitivities), while Uncle Walt’s haterers will be pacified by Favreau’s tendency to largely steer away from cheap sentimentality. Of course older viewers - even those who never saw the 1967 animated version - will never not know where it's going at any given moment, but it’s nonetheless a worthy update of a familiar favourite; a family film that doesn't completely honey-coat life and death in the animal world – humans included.

THE JUNGLE BOOK is released April 7 in Australia and NZ, and April 15 in the US and UK


2012’s SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN was one of those strange and curious blockbusters that, much like the recent BATMAN VS SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, managed to do exceptionally well at the box office despite most people having not much good to say about most of it. But rules is rules: if it makes money, it gets a sequel, so here we are with the essentially Snow White-less WINTER’S WAR.

The plot thickly bookends the first film; in the first act, before Snow White’s story, it’s revealed that the evil Ravenna (Charlize Theron) has a sister, Freya (Emily Blunt). Tragedy awakens her supernatural control of ice, and she leaves Rivenna’s domain for the North, establishing her own realm where she kidnaps kids and turns them into her army of cold-hearted warriors. Yes, WINTER’S WAR is essentially to FROZEN what Zack Snyder is to any DC Comics hero or heroine you care to name.

And like Snyder’s superhero mash-up, this makes for messy storytelling, equal parts confusing and ‘meh’, something about needing to get the mirror back. Chris Hemsworth, returning as the titular Huntsman, is clearly doing his damndest to inject some charm and warmth into proceedings, but is still having trouble with his Scots accent - although he fares better than Jessica Chastain; we’ll let you know what her dialect was when we get the results back from the lab. Nick Frost is the only returning dwarf, Nion, this time accompanied by the gruff Gryff (Rob Brydon), the sweet-natured Doreena (Alexandra Roach), and sweary highlight Mrs Bronwyn (Sheridan Smith).

There are a few plus points: some of the creature designs are excellent, and the cast - despite the unworthy material - don’t waste a thing. But Evan Spiliotopolous and Craig Mazin’s script is pish, and the fight scenes are the usual shot-too-close cluster bomb of over-editing that plagues current movies – director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, (who served as visual effects director on the first film) while showing hints promise, still has a thing or two to learn about in-camera action.

THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER'S WAR is released April 4 in the UK, April 7 in Australia and NZ, and April 22 in the US.


In a perfect world, Sacha Baron Cohen should have about now been well on his way to revealing a tremendous Freddie Mercury biopic. Sadly, we don’t live in that world, and thanks to some bonkers choices by the producers of that project, the BORAT and THE DICTATOR frontman parted creative company with them some time ago, and has returned more or less to familiarly outrageous ground with GRIMSBY

Nobby Butcher (Baron Cohen) and his younger brother Sebastian (Mark Strong) were separated as orphaned children. Nobby stayed in their home town of Grimsby in Northern England, and grew into a work-shy, football loving father of somewhere around 11 children. Sebastian on the other hand, became one of MI6’s finest secret agents. Nobby finally tracks down his brother, only to cause a major international incident, and the two must go on the run to prevent a major terrorist plot and clear their names.

As Ali G and Borat have repeatedly proven, Baron Cohen is a smart, sharp comedian. As the rest of his output proves, he loves pushing the boundaries of taste. With THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY, he’s lost none of his penchant for outrageousness – his ability to take a revolting gag and then ram it through taste’s looking glass (so to speak) remains almost unparalleled, and all while managing for the most part to keep things barely on the right side of offensive. He does this by ‘punching up’, and playing Nobby as the underdog – the ‘workless class’ yob whose entire community has been written off by wealthier society (think TV’s Shameless). However there are also some lazy misses: Nobby likes fat women, ha ha ha. It’s also Baron Cohen’s thinnest premise yet, and basically just an excuse for as many dick, bum and bukkake jokes he can cram in. Not that there’s anything wrong with that of course, just don’t expect this one to be a film with much to say – and that’s unusual.

You’d have never guessed from the trailer, but the film has a surprisingly polished look, courtesy of action director Louis Letterier (THE TRANSPORTER; THE INCREDIBLE HULK; NOW YOU SEE ME) and his team. But the real winner here is Mark Strong, so willing to go along into so many degrading scenarios and be the straight man to Nobby’s neverending incompetence.

It’s by no means a great film - possibly even Baron Cohen’s weakest (depending on what you thought of ALI G: IN DA HOUSE and BRÜNO) - but for those who can stomach the sheer volume of sphincters, scrotums and fluids on show, it’ll be mission accomplished for THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY, but only just.

(THE BROTHERS) GRIMSBY is released February 24 in the UK, March 10 in Australia and NZ, and March 11 in the US