Charlize Theron

Tully

04/05/18

Diablo Cody’s latest offering is as quirky and unflinching as we’ve come to expect from the author of Juno. The eponymous Tully (Mackenzie Davis) is a night-nanny, her services gifted to a reluctant Marlo (Charlize Theron) by her rich younger brother, Craig (Mark Duplass). Mark might be crass and boastful, but he knows how exhausting it can be to look after a newborn, especially when there are already two older children on the scene. Marlo and her husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), don’t like feeling beholden to Craig, but – after a scene at their son Jonah’s prestigious kindergarten, where the staff seem neither able nor willing to deal with his additional needs – Marlo concedes defeat. Drew is busy at work, chasing a promotion that will mean a lot to them, and she simply can’t cope with all she has to do. She calls Tully. And Tully changes things.

This is a deliciously honest account of family life and parenting: of the grinding drudgery of night-feeds and school runs, as well as the fierce love and joyous moments that make it all worthwhile. The characterisation is sharp: Marlo, Drew and their children are flawed, believable people, as three-dimensional as they come. They feel real, as if you know them – or people like them, anyway. Tully herself is less familiar, but that’s fine; viewed through Marlo’s eyes, she’s an angel, a saviour, who appears in the night like the elves for the shoemaker, cleaning and baking and taking care of everything.

There are a few moments in the film where I am suddenly unsure, uncomfortable, not convinced by what I see. But I’m glad I stick with it, because everything plays out satisfactorily, and all the things that don’t quite sit right are squared away.

Theron is very good indeed; she plays tired and frazzled with complete authenticity. I like Ron Livingston too; he treads a difficult line here, making Drew at once immensely likeable and irritating. Why does he sit upstairs playing computer games while his wife is falling apart? But he’s not uncaring, nor is he lazy – he does the kids’ baths and supervises homework every night, as well as working long hours – he’s just oblivious and unaware. Still, I do have one major gripe here, which I don’t think the film answers, and it’s this: why does Drew never introduce himself to Tully? She’s in his house every night, and he’s there as well. Why doesn’t he go downstairs and meet the woman who is looking after his baby? He’s a good father, invested in his kids. This makes no sense to me at all. Still, it’s not enough to spoil what is essentially a decent movie, entertaining and informative and very well worth the ticket price.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

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Atomic Blonde

 

 

22/08/17

All those idiots who perpetually bleat that there could never be a female James Bond might care to check this out. If there were any lingering doubts that Charlize Theron can convince as an ass-kicker after Mad Max: Fury Road, then this should dispel those notions completely. Here she plays MI6 agent, Louise Broughton, a kind of Jane Bond figure who apparently subsists on a diet of neat vodka-on-the-rocks and cigarettes, whilst rocking a series of 80s fashions and performing extreme chop socky moves to the strains of classic rock songs. (This is the second film this year to use Flock of Seagulls’ I Ran to excellent effect. Just sayin’).

It’s November 1989 and the Berlin Wall is about to take a permanent dive. Broughton is sent over to Berlin to team up with fellow agent, David Percival (James McAvoy), a man who presents such a dodgy persona, it’s a wonder he can find his own reflection in a mirror. Somebody – Code Name ‘Satchel’ – has procured a list of British agents and their nefarious dealings during the Cold War, a list so incendiary that it mustn’t be allowed to fall into enemy hands. Broughton’s job is to find the list (and hopefully Satchel) and bring them both back to Blighty. But it isn’t an easy task when she can’t trust anybody…

What this basically boils down to is an excuse for a series of bruising action sequences, in which Broughton takes down what seems like a whole army of men, using any weapons at her disposal – a stiletto heel, a frying pan, a bunch of keys – she’s not fussy, she’ll employ anything that comes to hand. The highlight here is a long fight scene on  a staircase. Shot in a continuous take, it sets the bar high for pain and punishment and there’s no doubt that director David Leitch, fresh off John Wick: Chapter Two, knows how to stage a convincing punch-up. I loved the fact that people don’t emerge from one of these skirmishes with a polite spot of blood at the side of their mouth, as we so often witness in this kind of film – no, we regularly see Broughton’s bruised and swollen face and limbs and we quite understand her habit of taking occasional ice baths.

Rather less successful, however, is the plot, which is so labyrinthine as to defy all understanding. Virtually every character we meet is double-crossing somebody else or working for somebody else or pretending to be somebody else. By the conclusion, I thought I had a handle on most of it but I wouldn’t want to testify to it in court – or indeed, in the kind of rigorous debriefing that is used as the framework for Atomic Blonde. There are excellent supporting roles from the likes of Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan and John Goodman, as various men in suits, but this is undeniably a showcase for Theron’s star power and she makes the most of it.

A simpler plot would certainly have made this a better film, overall, but action junkies will love the fights and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t find them thrilling. If Leitch can marry those superior action chops to a simpler, more convincing storyline, who knows what might be achieved? Here, he manages to win on points rather than achieving a knockout blow. But it’s certainly worth the price of a ringside seat.

3.5 stars

Philip Caveney

Mad Max: Fury Road – the Black & Chrome Edition

31/04/17

Fury Road was easily my favourite movie of 2015. George Miller’s long awaited addition to the Mad Max series surpassed all my expectations – so much so, that I found myself going back for a second helping only a few days after the initial viewing (something I hardly ever do). For my money, this is the consummate action movie, a brilliant piece of world building with a visceral kinetic edge that had me on the edge of my seat, from its opening moments.

And now this: a black and white re-release! What the actual hey? But don’t jump to conclusions. What could at first seem like a mere act of vanity on Miller’s part quickly fades away when you discover that this is how he always intended the film to be shown. But his backers evidently didn’t see the wisdom in limiting its projected audience and insisted that he stick with colour. Now, after the original film’s well-deserved success, Miller finally gets to have his cake and eat it. And boy, what a glorious, delicious confection it is!

A quick resumé of the plot. Max (Tom Hardy) is captured by a war party belonging to disfigured despot, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), and soon finds himself appropriated as a portable blood supply for young war-boy, Nux (Nicholas Hoult). When Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) decides to abscond with several of Joe’s captive wives, a furious chase ensues… which lasts for pretty much the entire film’s duration.

From the opening shot, it’s apparent that this is going to work – big time. The razor sharp monochrome landscapes lend the film a vintage epic feel, evoking memories of John Ford’s Western vistas, while the many close ups of faces in crowds put me in mind of Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. Sequences that I really didn’t think would work at all in this format are actually lent an added dimension. And in black and white, you are even more aware of Miller’s incredible attention to detail, from the costuming of his characters to the welded-together interiors of Imortan Joe’s war jalopies.

If you enjoyed the original film (and if not, why not?) you’ll relish the opportunity to view it with a fresh set of eyes – and if you hated it, well, this isn’t going to change your opinion one jot. Will there be another film in the series? Given that Miller is now in his seventies, that might not be a likely prospect, but, if the sequence does stop here, I have to say, it’s a pretty formidable, adrenalin-fueled swan song.

To paraphrase Nux: “What a film! What a wonderful film!’

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Mad Max: Fury Road

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17/05/15

I have to declare from the start that this has been my most eagerly anticipated film of the year. I’ve been a devoted fan of the Mad Max franchise, from its humble B movie origins in 1979, through the awesome action tropes of The Road Warrior in 1981, and on to the inventive storytelling of Beyond Thunderdome in 1985. Through the intervening 35 years… can it really have been that long?… I, like many others have been keeping alive the hope that director George Miller would stop concentrating his talents on anodyne nonsense like Babe and Happy Feet and revisit his glorious, testosterone-fuelled past. And by jove, he’s finally done it – although this time out, he’s added a welcome dash of oestrogen too!

It’s a tough act to follow and a tough act for newbie Max, Tom Hardy, to step into Mel Gibson’s boots – so I’m delighted to report that this is a triumphant return to form and that Fury Road not only equals those earlier efforts but in many ways surpasses them. It’s a blitzkrieg of stunning vehicular chases, amazing stunt work and unforgettable dystopian visions, but it’s also backed up by a compelling central story. As ever in Miller-land, dialogue is kept to a minimum (Hardy doesn’t get to utter so much as a word for the first twenty minutes or so) but there’s so much going on up on the screen, you barely notice.

In a nightmarish, desert landscape, evil dictator Imortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) has founded an empire built on toil and the exploitation of the weak. (Max fans will remember Keays-Byrne as ‘Toecutter’ in the very first movie.) When one of Joe’s war parties brings in a bearded, half-conscious Max, the captive is summarily shaved, tattooed and branded, and is then assigned to ailing suicide-warrior, Nux (a barely recognisable Nicholas Hoult) as a living blood transfusion unit. However, when one of Joe’s most trusted lieutenants, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) decides to abscond with Joe’s five young wives (or his breeding stock, as he so delicately refers to them) Nux is one of the team despatched to bring them back and Max duly finds himself strapped to the front of a truck and hurled headlong into a terrifying chase. We’re taken along for the ride.

And what an unforgettable ride it is! The film leaps effortlessly from one frantic chase to the next, as Miller’s welded-together juggernauts collide, accelerate, swerve and explode in jaw-dropping style. There’s barely a sign of CGI to be seen, everything’s done pretty much for real and it’s little wonder that the closing credits feature what looks like hundreds of stunt performers. But it’s more than just action. Miller’s futuristic world is fully thought-through and dazzlingly captured amidst the stunning Namibian landscapes (this is the first of the series not actually shot in Australia) and there’s so much here to delight and surprise the viewers. Key among them are the manic lead guitarist chained to the front of a truck and pumping out death metal and fire in equal amounts; Joe’s breast-milk pumping parlour, where pregnant women are er… pressed into service; and the tribe of aged motorbiking female warriors who turn up to prove that when it comes to a fight, they’re more than a match for the younger men.

I loved this to pieces. The Mad Max films, though, are cinematic Marmite. If you don’t like what Miller does, this is going to feel like putting your head in a tumble drier and pressing the on switch. If however you like action cinema at its most inventive, this one is for you. One thing. The film was actually shot in 2D and for the 3D version, the process has been retroactively applied, which never makes for a good transfer; but trust me. You won’t need 3D for this. It’s eye-popping enough without.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

03/06/15

Ahem! Time to eat a few slices of humble pie. After my suggestion that there was no need to see Mad Max; Fury Road in 3D as it hadn’t actually been shot that way, a couple of friends contacted me to say they’d seen it in 3D and it looked pretty damned good to them. So I broke the habit of a lifetime and went back to the cinema to check out their claims. I have to admit that my friends were absolutely spot on. Not only does this movie bear repeated viewing (it really is that good) it also looks eye-poppingly brilliant in 3D and effortlessly leaps into the ranks of my favourite films in that format – Gravity, Hugo, Avatar and er… Piranha 3D. In fact, if i see a better film this year than MMFR, I’ll be very surprised.