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Entries in Romance (11)

Monday
Feb182019

THE WAY WE WEREN'T

Stars: Fiona Gubelmann, Ben Lawson, Keith Powell, Amber Stevens, Alexandra Davies, Alan Simpson, Kristi Clainos, Alyssa Diaz, Ronnie Gene Blevins and Tobin Bell.
Writers: Brian DiMuccio, Aran Eisenstat and Rick Hays.
Director: Rick Hays.

Rating: ★ ★ ★

Two adorably goofy, not-yet-their-adult-selves thirty-somethings meet cute and get hitched way too quickly in the silly but sweet (and surprisingly saucy) farce The Way We Weren’t, the feature directorial debut of industry tech veteran Rick Hays. Satirically acknowledging in name only the classic Streisand/Redford romance, this occasionally funny, energetically upbeat effort provides a solid vehicle for likable stars Fiona Gubelmann and Australian Ben Lawson, whose performances broadly embody all the things that can go wrong when you lie to a new partner, bed them then wed them with next to no rational thought. In other words, ‘Married at First Sight: The Movie’.

Plotting is a barely-there framework for all the rom-com convolutions viewers tuning into this sort of film will expect/demand. Charlotte has waited 14 years to marry a guy who is no longer interested in a life with her; Brandon is a commitment-phobe who can pull the babes but is deep in debt. When she does time after accidentally toppling her fiancé over a walking trail fence and he finds his latest conquest in passionate throws with another guy, fate brings them together - first online, where lying is standard; then, in person, where the lying continues, mixed in with him spending beyond his means and her vamping it up uncomfortably in the bedroom.

When the seriousness of their romance takes over, the myriad of lies become increasingly hard to conceal. The free-for-all comedy of the first half begins to take on a semi-serious tone by Act 3, which the script (penned by three writers no less, including director Hays) has most certainly not earned. But old pros Tobin Bell and Alexandra Davies, as Brandon’s hippy drug-culture parents, and that old chestnut - the uppity outdoor party featuring potential employers – combine to usher out The Way We Weren’t on the high that the best of the genre delivers.    

Despite its overall air of familiarity, there are some pleasingly left-of-centre flourishes that enliven the episodic plotting. The couple are drawn together in their love for a Swedish cop show, the central character of which narrates the early stages of the romance; Gubelmann’s comic timing is tops, whether taking relationship advice from a grade-schooler or reacquainting herself with the modern bro/dude’s bedroom expectations; and, a couple of sex scenes that are…well, let’s say ideally suited for the European market. The film veers into There’s Something About Mary territory with an extended gag about Brandon’s misshapen manhood.

Although clearly made on a non-studio budget, all tech contributions are top quality. The bouyant, colourful lensing of DOP Paul Toomey captures key LA locales in bright tones that ably supports the underlying sweetness of Charlotte and Brandon’s narrative.

Thursday
Jan172019

SALT BRIDGE

Stars: Rajeev Khandelwal, Chelsie Preston Crayford, Usha Jadhav, Kaushik Das, Shoorjo Dasgupta, Adam Grant and Mayur Kamble.
Writers: Abhijit Deonath and Shvetal Vyas Pare.
Director: Abhijit Deonath.

Rating: ★★★½

Examining the Indian immigrant experience from a fresh and personal perspective, director Abhijit Deonath melds traditional male role-model expectations with contemporary relationship melodrama to largely winning affect in his debut feature, Salt Bridge. Shot entirely in Australia, with Sydney and Canberra locales doubling as the fictional township of the title, the long-in-production independent project will play well with diaspora populations, who all-too-rarely get to see their transplanted lives in a thoughtful big-screen narrative.

Most recently, of course, Garth Davies’ hit Lion (2016) cast an eye over the Indian expat existence; central to Deonath’s plot are the shared themes of memory and reconciliation with the past (though far less overtly stated here). The director introduces his protagonist, thirty-something medical researcher Basant (Rajeev Khandelwal) staring longingly from a train window, his mind revisiting a moment long ago that still consumes him. Khandelwal is terrific, exuding the soulful sensitivity of a man burdened with a dark past, yet every inch the classic Indian leading-man type (his brooding pout recalling Hollywood actor Jason Patric in his prime).

With his equally-photogenic wife Lipi (Usha Jadhav) and listless teen son Riju (Shoorjo Dasgupta) counting on him to fulfill his potential and provide for their new Australian suburban life, Basant decides to take driving lessons with instructor Madhurima (Chelsie Preston Crayford). Also immersed in the migrant life (she’s a New Zealander, married to an Indian), the pair soon bond in the most charming and innocent of ways. One of N.Z.’s most accomplished young actresses, Crayford (What We Do In The Shadows, 2014; Eagle vs Shark, 2007) and her leading man share a lovely chemistry, ensuring their developing platonic friendship is entirely believable.

Soon, their friends and then the wider Indian society take an interest in the new besties, assuming the most salacious, and Basant finds himself outcast from his community, his family and, regrettably, Madhurima. Having posed the question ‘Can a man and woman just be friends?’, Deonath dissects the issue within the broader context of the modern male’s role in Indian culture. His script (penned with the assistance of Shvetal Vyas Pare) succinctly embraces the hot-button topic of toxic masculinity and India’s patriarchal traditions, but does so through the filter of western cultural influence. If the story structure and momentum occasionally stumbles (most notably, a confusing sequence in the wake of a near-tragedy at the film’s midway point), Deonath’s skill with character and dialogue more than compensates.

Deonath drives home his gender subtext by focussing Basant’s research work on mitochondria, the power generator of any complex living cell, the existence of which is maternally inherited. The nods to modern science extend all the way to the film’s title – a ‘salt bridge’ occurs in proteins, creating a bond between oppositely charged residues that are sufficiently close to each other to experience electrostatic attraction; it is a deft, if slightly highbrow way, of defining the relationship between Basant and Madhurima.

Salt Bridge is a commercially savvy undertaking as well, including an explosively colourful Holi celebration and some neat dance moves, although it is far too influenced by its western setting to go ‘full Bollywood’. Australian viewers will be bemused by the people-free (and very green) parklands, empty highways, pristine cityscapes and autumnal suburban streets that provide the backdrop for the drama; it is a perception of life on these shores that plays well overseas, but is a bit of a stretch to those of us caught in the metropolitan crush of everyday life.

All tech aspects exceed any budgetary constraints, with the film looking lived-in and real while still seeming professionally polished in every respect. Especially noteworthy is Miguel Gallagher’s camerawork, whose eye for finding beauty is even on-song when framing the not-always inspirationally picturesque national capital.

Thursday
Nov292018

FIRST LIGHT

Stars: Stefanie Scott, Théodore Pellerin, Saïd Taghmaoui, Percy Hynes White, Jahmil French, James Wotherspoon and Kate Burton.
Writer/director: Jason Stone.

Reviewed at Monster Fest 2018 at Melbourne’s Cinema Nova on November 23.

WINNER: Best International Film, Monster Fest 2018

Rating: ★★★★

Millennial types that stare blank-faced and shrug when you mention the great films of 1970s Hollywood make a grab at one the decade’s best with First Light. In Jason Stone’s low-key, highly charged UFO drama, an alien encounter imbues an everyday suburbanite with an inexplicable connection to lights in the sky. Whether you know it or not, kids, you’ve now got your own generation’s Close Encounters of The Third Kind.

Steven Spielberg’s 1977 sci-fi classic featured a thirty-something Richard Dreyfuss as a contactee strangely obsessed with visions of a distant mountain. ‘Thirty-something’ protagonists are way too old for the modern movie audience (unless they are comic-book hero alter-egos), so a savvy Stone has recast his lead as high-schooler Alex (Stefanie Scott). Also, ‘strange obsessions’ are hard to conjure, even for the modern effects wiz; having survived a near drowning via the visitation of glowing orb entities, Alex doubles-down on that distant yearning with telekinetic powers (good, especially when called upon flip ex-boyfriend’s cars) and high-radiation levels (bad, especially for…well, everybody).

Along for the ride is Sean (Théodore Pellerin), the audience conduit whose doe-eyed, unshakeable commitment to Alex provides the emotional core of Stone’s narrative. Scenes of the young man’s home life establish him as a teen of integrity and character; parent-less, he hangs with his smart-mouth, street-wise younger brother Oscar (a scene-stealing Percy Hynes White) and cares for his near-catatonic grandmother, whose arc is small but provides one of the year’s great movie moments.

Sean yearns for the closeness he shared with Alex once before, a wish that is granted after her near-death encounter, the bubbly teen queen now a sullen, silent introvert, clearly not herself. The pair are drawn into a chase drama enabled by rogue UFO chaser Cal (Said Taghmaoui) and driven by Federal agency head Kate (Kate Burton), their open road odyssey affording the actors space to build a warm, sincere chemistry. It also allows a further ironic nod to old-school Hollywood - Sean compares their plight to Bonnie and Clyde, to which Alex replies, “I don’t know who that is.” 

Stone opens on some thrill-inducing images of the orbs illuminating the early evening sky, before settling into a long passage of character definition and tension building - another common trait it shares with CE3K. If Stones skimps on the grand effects sequences that made Spielberg’s work so memorable, Stone doesn’t let us forget that his characters are always being watched. His expert use of drone footage to capture the ‘God’s eye’ perspective, or more precisely that of the inhabitants of the orbs, represents some of the most effective creative use of the technology yet.

In working through Spielberg’s familiar story beats, First Light plays like an American-indie-meets-X-Files spin on Romeo & Juliet; there are also some unmissable nods to John Carpenter’s Starman and Douglas Trumbull’s Brainstorm (two more ‘oldies’ the target audience won’t know), as well the inevitable and not unfounded YA comparisons that pitch it as, though remarkably better than, the Twilight series.

Also like Spielberg’s film, momentum drags a little in its third act when the G-men and their tech take over the film. It’s a minor period of disconnect in a film that mostly feels gritty, human and real, despite its otherworldly premise. First Light builds to a soaring denouement (pumped by some demographic-appropriate musical accompaniment from M83’s ‘Outro’) that reassures the audience that, in this world or beyond, we are not alone.

Thursday
Aug232018

CHASING COMETS

Stars: Dan Ewing, John Batchelor, Isabel Lucas, Stan Walker, Rhys Muldoon, Justin Melvey, George Houvardas, Gary Eck, Peter Phelps and Beau Ryan.
Writer: Jason Stevens
Director: Jason Perini

Rating: 3/5

‘The engaging true story of a rugby league player’s faith-based search for enlightened soulfulness’ is not the opening salvo a critic expects to ever write, especially given the pre-release marketing for Chasing Comets was all boozy blokes and locker room skylarking. Yet writer Jason Stevens, whose life transformation from laddish layabout to celebrity celibate provides the basis for director Jason Perini’s likably roughhewn sports/faith dramedy, exhibits a keen eye for gentle melancholy and good-natured integrity with his debut script.

Leading man Dan Ewing progresses from playing a country footballer fighting aliens in Occupation (2018) to playing a country footballer fighting temptation in Wagga Wagga. The Home & Away heartthrob stars as the improbably named Chase Daylight, glamour boy of local bush leaguers The Comets and well on the path to first grade NRL glory. Yet ill-discipline and a tendency to be easily distracted by his hedonistic mate Rhys (Stan Walker) threatens to undo all the good faith placed in him by his single mum Mary (Deborah Galanos), manager/mentor Harry (Peter Phelps) and very patient girlfriend Brooke (Isabel Lucas).

When one indiscretion too many proves the final straw for Brooke, Chase descends into a funk that sees him benched by Coach Munsey (Peter Batchelor) and his potential begin to stagnate. At precisely the moment that Chase has a (symbolic) breakdown, up steps ‘The Rev’ (George Houvardas) who, with his daughter Dee (the lovely Kat Hoyos; pictured, below), begins to school Chase in the character building properties of Christian principles, in particular an adherence to abstinence; Chase becomes a born-again virgin. This revelation proves a giggly delight to his teammates, led by player ‘personality’ Beau Ryan (one of several real-life league cameos, including South Sydney general manager Shane Richardson and commentator Daryl ‘The Big Marn’ Brohmann, as well as Sydney socialite-types DJ Havana Brown and gossip journo Jo Casamento).

In the early ‘00s, Stevens garnered sports-page coverage and copped some infantile ridicule when his life of celibacy became public fodder. At the height of his NRL fame, the representative-level tough guy did not skirt around what it meant to be devout, but he largely refrained from religious grandstanding (despite having the sporting stature and media profile to successfully do so). His script for Chasing Comets not-so-subtly redresses that balance; there are preachy passages that will fall heavily on the ears of non-believers and those that have turned up for that blokey yarn about country league shenanigans the trailer promised.

Of course, this tendency towards message-moviemaking does not diminish its legitimacy as a solid slice of local sector filmmaking. Notably, it sits alongside J.D. Scott's Spirit of the Game (2016) as an early Australian entrant in the burgeoning ‘faith-based’ genre coming out of the U.S; Stevens and Perini’s narrative is every frame as committed to the cause as such sports-themed Christian films as the Oscar-winning The Blind Side (2009), Soul Surfer (2011), When The Game Stands Tall (2014) and Woodlawn (2015).

Steven’s screenwriting inexperience cannot be totally ignored – his women characters are largely one-note, either pitched as redemptive angels or sly temptresses; Lucas is neither, but struggles to find much to work with as the hard-done-by Brooke. Also, the production drops the ball at a couple of key moments; for some reason, Chase’s re-emergence as the town’s sporting hero is staged offscreen, the thrill of the game-winning try (surely the very moment for which these sort of films exist) left to veteran Peter Phelps to convey – while alone, listening to a radio in a Chinese restaurant.

Taking into consideration the moments when it stumbles, the most satisfying aspect of Chasing Comets is that emerges as greater than the sum of its parts; it shouldn’t work so well as a contemporary mix of small-town charm, hard man mateship and heavenly intervention, but Steven’s story certainly does.

Wednesday
Jun272018

ADRIFT

Stars: Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin, Grace Palmer, Jeffrey Thomas, Elizabeth Hawthorne, Tami Ashcroft, Kael Damiamian.
Screenplay: Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell and David Branson Smith.
Director: Baltasar Kormákur.

Rating: 4/5

When free-spirited 24 year-old Tami Oldham met 33 year-old ocean-faring adventurer Richard Sharp in 1983, the attraction was instant and the bond profound. In Baltasar Kormákur’s Adrift, the cinematic retelling of the pair’s ill-fated open-ocean undertaking from Tahiti to San Diego, leads Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin must convince not only as seasoned sailors capable of the 4000 nautical mile journey, but also doe-eyed, die-hard romantics in the thrall of each others company.

In adapting Oldham’s autobiography Red Sky in Mourning: A True Story of Love, Loss and Survival at Sea, scripters Aaron and Jordan Kandell and David Branson Smith have structured a narrative that serves two masters. Firstly, the blossoming romance of two spiritually compatible young people sharing a destiny; secondly, the tragic trajectory dictated by the facts of the story. The result is a rarity in modern cinema terms; an un-ironic, openhearted romance that doubles as a psychological study in survival trauma. Every bruise earned and every tear shed over the course of the pair’s ordeal feels entirely authentic.   

Having previously explored man’s helplessness in the face of an unforgiving Mother Nature in Everest (2015) and The Deep (2012), Kormákur understands the intricacies of ‘survivalist cinema’. He convincingly conveys the gruesome physical impact a life-threatening event can have, but he also comprehends the essential human qualities that his protagonist must exhibit to ensure their plight engages the audience. Structurally, he utilizes a fractured, Nolan-esque storytelling style that jars at first, but which corals both plot strands into a quietly devastating reveal (at least, for those who haven’t read the book).

As Tami, Shailene Woodley delivers on the dramatic promise of her teen roles (The Descendants, 2011; The Spectacular Now, 2013; The Fault in Our Stars, 2014; the Divergent trilogy) with a performance of strong, sensual physicality, inspiring fortitude and complex emotionality. This role serves a specific functionality for the actress at a key juncture in her career; just as Sally Field did with Norma Rae (1979), or Julia Roberts did with Sleeping With The Enemy and Dying Young (both 1991), or Sandra Bullock did with A Time to Kill (1996), its timing is not accidental. Woodley challenges herself, her fan base and her perception in Hollywood with a role that demands a maturity, technique and natural charisma that she delivers with Oscar-worthy command.

Claflin is handed the less showy of the two performances (he spends most of the movie prone and battered), but creates a likable, charming all-round believably sweet foil for Woodley to fawn over.   

Importantly, Adrift achieves a seamless, entirely believable tropical storm simulation; ‘that’ moment, when the yacht is tossed and Tami and Richard are left at the mercy of the cyclonic conditions, is one of the most convincingly staged of its kind in film history.

Thursday
May122016

CAFÉ SOCIETY

Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively, Steve Carell, Corey Stoll, Parker Posey, Judy Davis, Paul Schneider and Anna Camp.
Writer/Director: Woody Allen

Opening Night Film, 69th Festival du Cannes; reviewed at the Salle Debussy Theatre.

Rating: 4/5

Given the richness of Vittorio Storaro’s breathtaking cinematography and the rose-coloured hint of melancholy it invokes, the urge is to posit Café Society in with Woody Allen’s ‘Americana’ period of the 1980s. Just as The Purple Rose of Cairo and Radio Days reminisced on bygone days, his latest is an often giddy, always gorgeous love-letter to both the Los Angeles of Hollywood’s golden era and New York’s swinging jazz club scene of the 1930s.

Yet for all the declarations of passion and sun-bathed joie de vivre of lovers encircling each other, Allen’s characters are an immoral, shallow, even shady bunch. They are descendants of comic creations that the auteur has crafted superbly in past works, that much is true, just not the films that Cafe Society aesthetically recalls. These self-absorbed philanderers and shallow socialites are the miscreants of Crimes and Misdemeanors, Manhattan Murder Mystery and Match Point.

To his own narration, Allen opens his film poolside in LA, as a Hollywood party is in full swing. Uber-agent Phil Dorfman (Steve Carell) is holding court, name-dropping with sleazy Hollywood abandon (“I’m expecting a call from Ginger Rogers”), when he hears from his East Coast sister, Rose (Jeanne Berlin, stealing most scenes she is in); his nephew Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) is heading his way and needs work. The young man’s arrival leads to some neat fish-out-of-water bits that don’t particularly further the plot (notably an extended gag about Bobby’s first visit from a professional girl), before he is given a menial job at the agency and assigned to Phil’s PA Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) on weekends to be shown around town.

Eisenberg, riffing on Allen as has become de rigueur for the director’s leading men, and Stewart, whose lightness of touch proves a revelation and classically photogenic charms are adored by Storaro’s lens, have developed a sweet rapport after past efforts together (Adventureland, 2009; American Ultra, 2015). Their courtship scenes are the best moments in Café Society, especially a sequence that has them tour Beverly Hills, taking in the star’s palatial digs while wonderfully revealing character and chemistry. Another glorious set-up, during which the electricity in Bobby’s apartment blacks out and he tends to Vonnie’s broken heart by the glow of candlelight and streetlamp, all but guarantees DOP Storaro mention come Oscar time.

Soon, the machinations of plot take over and we learn that the love that keeps Vonnie from Bobby is very close to home. The west coast scenes skip along at a lively pace, endearing each character and milking the most from a storyline that is not very ambitious (and, to Allen’s fans, a tad familiar) but which engages thanks to Allen’s ensemble and masterful sense of timing.

The story shifts to New York and characters that were peripheral comedy relief become the centre of an ever-expanding narrative. Bobby returns home and begins to walk in the shadow of thuggish big brother Ben (Corey Stoll), robbing the film of Carell’s and Stewart’s presence and the ‘zing’ they share with Eisenberg. As Bobby’s east coast love interest Veronica, Blake Lively is every bit as captivating as Stewart but is afforded far less character development; an underworld subplot that involves murder and corruption feels unconvincing and perfunctory (and often overtly bloody). The Woody Allen who once perfectly captured the alienation of a New Yorker in Los Angeles is nowhere to be found here; Allen’s LA story is sublime, while his NYC-set narrative stutters.

Allen last filled the Cannes opening slot with arguably his best film in recent memory, Midnight in Paris. If Café Society does not match the sheer delight of that period piece gem, nor attains the caustic and captivating immorality of, say, Crimes and Misdemeanours, it fits with a body of work from a director still determined to explore the shading between the themes of love and deceit, truth and pretension, desire and commitment. Though not the sum of its many wonderful parts, Café Society still represents a captivating melding of the light-and-dark complexity of Allen’s best work. 

Friday
May152015

PIKU

Stars: Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, Irrfan Khan, Balendra Singh and Moushumi Chatterjee.
Writer: Juhi Chaturvedi.
Director: Shoojit Sircar. 

Watch the trailer here.

Rating: 4/5

Bollywood’s biggest stars revel in life’s smallest moments in Piku, Shoojit Sircar’s sweetly insightful family ‘dramedy’/road movie. As the ailing patriarchal figure, the legendary Amitabh Bachchan brings both dramatic heft and lightness of touch to a showy role, but it is Deepika Padukone who emerges as the film’s heart and soul.

Bachchan plays proud Bengali-born 70-something widower Bashkor Banerjee, a cantankerous shut-in suffering from a severe bout of constipation. The passing of a stress relieving ‘motion’ has become the soul focus of his life, much to the chagrin of his daughter, Piku (Padukone). An architect on the verge of earning partnership status in a top firm, her life has become increasingly consumed by her father’s needs, both medicinal and psychological.

When the opportunity arises for the pair to travel cross-country from their Delhi base to the family home in Kolkata, they employ cab company owner Rana (a very fine Irrfan Khan) to drive them. The 1500 kilometre journey allows for many truths to be explored, the destination representing a spiritual home for both father and daughter. The frankness of Juhi Chaturvedi’s script and the skill with which she forms naturally free-flowing and over-lapping dialogues keeps the film buoyant and energised. The sparse use of lowbrow humour in a film that that explores potential cures for Bashkor’s condition ensures the three key cast members never stoop to puerile scatology.

Still exuding the towering, screen-consuming personality that embodied his iconic character Vijay in Yash Chopra’s 1975 classic Deewaar, a boisterous Bachchan fearlessly goes that extra yard in the name of both truth and laughter; he is a joy to watch. But Padukone, too often lumbered with the ‘pretty girl’ role in recent films, matches the great actor beat-for-beat in occasionally fiery dramatic moments. It seems entirely plausible that the pair have been living together for too long, and that the clashing stems from a very real fear that they will soon not be together anymore. Despite the drama feeling slightly over-extended by the middle of the third act, the tears shed and romantic developments feel very real.

With his fourth feature, Kolkata-born Sircar solidifies his reputation as a filmmaker with an assured touch across a variety of genres. After his 2005 debut Yahaan, a contemporary warzone romance, he enjoyed a critical and commercial hit with Vicky Donor, a smart farce that found favour with international audiences drawn to its ‘sperm-donor’ premise. In 2013, Sircar explored counter-espionage techniques and fervent nationalism in Madras Café, an ultra-realistic action thriller set against the Tamil Civil Wars of the 1980s.

Sircar enters a gentler realm with his narrative here, the likes of which is synonymous with auteur James L Brooks. The Oscar winner’s skill at scripting bittersweet, deeply human moments is honoured in the structure of Piku. It recalls both Terms of Endearment, in which a put-upon daughter (Debra Winger) struggled with an eccentric parent (Shirley Maclaine); and, As Good As It Gets, which posited a churlish curmudgeon (Jack Nicholson) in a car with mismatched travel buddies (Greg Kinnear, Helen Hunt).

Filled with top tech contributors, of particular note is the lensing of DOP Kamaljeet Negi (working with Sircar for the third time). The angles he achieves within the confines of the vehicle aid the character drama immeasurably; a sequence shot in the riverside town of Banaras, captured just after ‘the magic hour’ has passed and lamps are beginning to illuminate the waterfront, evokes a dreamlike, romantic ambience that is particularly beautiful.

Sunday
Apr122015

THE AGE OF ADALINE

Stars: Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Harrison Ford, Ellen Burstyn, Kathy Baker, Amanda Crew and Anthony Ingruber.
Writer: J. Miles Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz.
Director: Lee Toland Krieger.

Rating: 4/5

After his acid-tongued, ultra-contemporary take on burdened romance in 2012’s Celeste and Jesse Forever, director Lee Toland Krieger embraces a far more fantastical and glowingly cinematic incantation of fateful love with his follow-up, The Age of Adaline.

Boldly departing from her small-screen persona in her first film-carrying lead role, Blake Lively plays Adaline Bowman, a well-to-do turn-of-the-century 29 year-old whose life appears cut short when her car plunges into river waters turned freezing by a freak North Californian snowfall. Taking its mystical cue from the likes of Back to the Future and The Natural, a bolt of lightning strikes her over-turned vehicle and affords Adaline the apparent virtue of eternal youth.

A soothing voice-over smartly imbues the premise with credible fantasy and a lovingly cinematic extended montage (recalling the weepy opening from Pixar’s Up) leads to the modern day, where the still 29 year-old Adaline lives a work-focussed life in a very photogenic San Francisco. After eight decades, she no longer indulges in notions of romance; her blessing has become a curse, her life spent alone, bar the companionship of her now aged daughter, Flemming (Ellen Burstyn). But Adaline’s existential defences are worn down by the persistent romancing of rich philanthropist, Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman, very charming), who whisks his dream girl off to a family get-together on their lush estate.

The second-act kicker brings added emotional depth, when Ellis’ father William lays eyes upon Adaline and both are gripped by overwhelming memories of the soulful romance they shared 50-odd years hence. As William, Harrison Ford emerges as Krieger's trump card; the moment when they reconnect, and William’s intellectualism is confronted by a torrent of emotions, represents some of Ford’s best ever frames of film. It is a raw, vulnerable performance that ensures the film soars and draws fresh reserves out of Lively (the definition of 'Supporting Actor', surely); their scenes together are deeply moving, transcending any ‘fantasy genre’ trappings. (Kudos, too, to the casting department for finding Anthony Ingruder, whose physical and vocal rendering of a twenty-something Ford in flashback is uncanny).

Krieger’s vivid, melancholic melodrama emerges as a major work in the tough-to-pull-off ‘romantic fantasy’ genre subset. The cult fan base that fondly recall Jeannot Szwarc’s Somewhere in Time, the Christopher Reeve/Jane Seymour weepie from 1980 in which self-hypnosis brings together lovers born 100 years apart, will adore the narrative boldness that Krieger employs and the visual richness that DOP David Lanzenberg paints with to sell the premise. Nor will they bat a tear-sodden eyelid at the multi-generational leaps in logic that scriptwriters J. Miles Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz slyly ask of their audience.

Revelling in the role that will come to define her transition from tabloid starlet to bigscreen A-lister, Lively exhibits maturity beyond her years and recalls the incandescent bigscreen presence of the likes of Jessica Lange, Eva Marie Saint or Françoise Dorléac. The Oscar-worthy work of Australian costumer Angus Strathie (Moulin Rouge, Catwoman) never overwhelms the star, although it has every right to. Fittingly, all below-the-line department heads - Claudia Pare’s production design; Martina Javorova’s art direction; Shannon Gottlieb’s set decoration - on The Age of Adaline bring their A-game.

Wednesday
Mar182015

MANNY LEWIS

Stars: Carl Barron, Leanna Walsman, Damien Garvey, Roy Billing, Simon Westaway and Richard Green.
Writers: Carl Barron and Anthony Mir.
Director: Anthony Mir. 

Rating: 2.5/5

Not the giddy rom-com romp its marketing would have you believe, Anthony Mir’s Manny Lewis is a rather more darkly-hued look inside the fractured heart and self-obsessed mind of that unique breed, the stand-up comedian. Baring his psychological all in the service of the script he co-wrote with his director is Carl Barron, stepping into the leading man role with a pleasing, if occasionally too understated dramatic ease.

Barron upped his profile from pub comic to stadium filler via appearances in the mid 1990’s on the blokish television hit, The Footy Show, and has carved a profitable, much-loved niche for himself in the Aussie showbiz landscape. His off-centre observations often involved his formative years as a misunderstood young man and later-in-life failings as a romancer; in that regard, Manny Lewis is Carl Barron, albeit a version of the man gripped by a stark loneliness and hollow-eyed depression that will take many of his followers by surprise.

So mopey is his persona, it is hard to gauge why Manny is popular at all (other than the passers-by yelling, “Hey, love you Manny!”). He has amassed considerable fame out of exploiting childhood memories, most notably ripping apart the parenting skills of his father (Roy Billing, too warm a screen presence for this role), yet is suffering through an existential crisis that is putting all he worked for at risk. The comedian is on the verge of signing a massive US deal and has a live primetime concert set to air, but baulks at any interaction with his fans and phones sex-worker hotlines when gripped by insomnia.

It is via one such anonymous hook-up that he connects with ‘Carolyn’ (Leanna Walsman), a voice with whom he can share his (many) woes. When ‘Carolyn’s real-life alter ego, Maria, stumbles across a) her phone-john’s true identity, and b) the man himself at the local café, a bumpy romance blossoms. These scenes should play with a lightness of touch that skims over the less plausible beats of the narrative, yet much of the first act plods. It is to Walsman’s credit that the tropes play with any conviction at all; her dramatic acting chops are the film’s key asset and explain away the absence of a ‘comedienne’ as the female lead (achieving a similar balance to that Paul Thomas Anderson created by casting Emily Watson opposite Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love, though all comparisons end there).

Barron and Mir (directing his first feature since 2003’s You Can’t Stop the Murders) never seem entirely invested in the romantic machinations of their story. They are far more concerned with the psychological framework of those that seek a career plying the stand-up craft. Yet the revelation that most comics are desperately yearning for the approval of their parents and are so self-absorbed as to not see the goodness of the world before them is not exactly groundbreaking. Fans will recognise that Barron is also retiring some old material; a bit he’s been doing for most of the last decade, the “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you” routine, is central to a third-act meltdown that all but ensures it won’t be dragged out for any Leagues Club encores in the future.

The ‘sad clown’ genre is filled with far more skilfully realised examples (Judd Apatow’s Funny People; Billy Crystal’s Mr Saturday Night; David Seltzer’s Punchline; Chris Rock’s Top Five), none of which take the sombre, maudlin route employed here. Unlike the bigscreen transition of such popular local comics as Paul Hogan (Crocodile Dundee), Jimeon (The Craic) and Mick Molloy (Crackerjack), Carl Barron’s brand of moody introspection and manufactured romance is unlikely to connect with old fans or win over many new ones.

Friday
Feb272015

SUNDAY

Stars: Dustin Clare, Camille Keenan, Jacob Tomuri and Steve Wrigley.
Writers: Dustin Clare, Camille Keenan and Michelle Joy Lloyd.
Director: Michelle Joy Lloyd. 

Rating: 4/5

With the cracked, crumbling façade of earthquake-ravaged Christchurch as a metaphorical backdrop, Michelle Joy Lloyd’s sad, sweet two-hander Sunday deftly explores the complexities of balancing the fantasy of youthful ‘true love’ with the realities of late twenty-something adult life.

We first meet Lloyd’s protagonists frolicking in sun-drenched memories, when surf, sex and sweet nothings defined their blossoming romance. Rakish Aussie charmer Charlie (Dustin Clare) and sweet Kiwi party-girl Eve (Camille Keenan) bond in a hedonistic haze of dance club rituals, ruffled sheets and languid beach interludes, only to have the fibre of their love tested when she becomes pregnant and he accepts an army posting.

The narrative picks up their relationship at an awkward airport rendezvous, when Charlie returns after five absent months to find Camille nearing full term and barely hiding her bitterness about his decision to leave her. So unfolds a day of awkward tenderness and boundary redefinition as the pair, once the ‘soul mates’ of romantic lore, try to place themselves in the reality they have somehow created.

Sharing writing duties with real-life partners Clare and Keenan, the direction of feature debutant Lloyd skilfully crafts a realistic portrait of tarnished love. As Eve and Charlie take in the restoration of Christchurch, so to does the audience watch a hopeful rebuilding of the past; like those that survived the February 2011 quake, there is a purveying mood that life will return to normality but that the memory of a better time will never fade away.

Crucial to the intimacy of Sunday is the effortless chemistry between the leads. The list of ill-suited real-life pairings on-screen is endless, yet the eminently photogenic pair (he, TV-series veteran with roles in McLeod’s Daughters, Underbelly and Spartacus; she, an Oz-based Kiwi expat with a similarly extensive small-screen resume) succinctly convey the intricacies of their character’s lives with performances that are naturally engaging yet strongly cinematic. Be warned; an ample supply of Kleenex is recommended for a denouement that tested even this hardened critic.

Although the wanderings of two young adults at an existential crossroad suggests more than a hint of Richard Linklater’s ‘Before…’ trilogy, Sunday charts its own emotional landscape. If the films do share one thing, it is in the vastness of their wisdom. Like so many great movie couples, Eve and Charlie are flawed, fascinating, heart-and-soul humans yet convey a richness that also makes us want to be them.

Screening at the 2015 Byron Bay Film Festival. Session details and tickets available here.