This fortnight we checked out:
Nobody expected the first Frozen to be as big a hit as it became. Which explains (in part) why this sequel at times feels a bit tentative: when a film becomes a surprise hit, it’s hard to figure out exactly what it is that audiences are responding to. Obviously the relationship between out-of-place and superpowered Elsa (Idina Menzel) and her feisty and devoted younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell) was central, and so it is again; living snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) was a big laugh-getter for the kids and so he’s stumbling around again. As for Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), the film makes his why-exactly-am-I-here? status a plus, as he struggles to propose to Anna while wondering if a relationship is even what he really wants. But the story itself is a bit of a mish-mash, tying the origin of Elsa’s powers (which aren’t really explained anyway) in with her kingdom’s unsurprisingly dark colonist past in a way that works reasonably well as a story but still comes off as a bit hollow thanks to some fuzzy motivation and muddled plot points. On the plus side it looks great, the songs are strong, and the central female friendship gives the film real heart. It’s a solid sequel – just not an equal to the original.
Cosy murder mysteries have been a television thing for so long now that even after the recent success of the Murder on the Orient Express remake this spin on / salute to the genre still feels like a bit of a risk. Which is part of the point: Knives Out starts out as your typical whodunnit before throwing in enough fresh twists of its own that the real fun isn’t trying to figure out what’s going on but just sitting back and enjoying the ride. The set-up is classic rather than clever: when a wealthy author (Christopher Plummer) dies (an apparent suicide), his venal children start circling, only to find that a quirky detective (Daniel Craig) and the dead man’s good-hearted nurse (Ana de Armas) are standing between them and his estate. Much of the satisfaction here – aside from a first-class run of excellent performances (the kids include Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon and Chris Evans) – comes from the way this piles on the twists without ever cheating or getting post-modern: even at its twistiest the story is constantly moving forward rather than serving up new information via flashbacks (until it’s time to solve the mystery, of course). It’s a thoroughly engaging and entertaining ride, even if you’re no fan of mysteries.
Making it to cinemas largely thanks to the star power of Chadwick Boseman (of Black Panther fame), this crime drama turns out to be surprisingly gripping in a way the big screen rarely sees these days. In part that’s because this kind of thriller is largely a streaming thing, but if you’re able to get past the nagging feeling that this belongs on a laptop there’s a lot to like here. When a couple of small-time criminals take on a heist that’s beyond their means, they’re having a bad night; when the cops turn up and two police officers end up dead, things get a whole lot worse. NYPD detective Andre Davis (Boseman) has a reputation for gunning down criminals, so when he’s given the cop killer case everyone knows what kind of result he’s meant to deliver. But Davis doesn’t want to live up to his reputation, and while the two killers struggle to find a way to collect their share of the heist’s takings and get off Manhattan – which Davis has had locked down – their pursuer starts to suspect that nothing about this case is close to simple. It’s an efficient, pulpy thriller with some reasonable twists and decent character development (for both the cops and crims); it almost could be a franchise.
Happy Sad Man
Australian documentarian Genevieve Bailey spent years putting together this look at five men suffering from mental illness, and her care with the topic – and her compassion towards her subjects – shows in every scene. It’s still tough going at times: with illness such as depression, bipolar disorder and PTSD there are a lot of rough times in these men’s lives, and Bailey doesn’t shy away from showing the bad with the good. Not that it’s all grim, as the men have all developed their own methods of coping (surfing while wearing outlandish clothing to raise awareness of mental health is one particularly joyful outcome). But the fact that they’ve had to come up with their own coping mechanisms points to just how big (and how overlooked) this problem is. There are funny moments and touching moments here, but there’s an underlying darkness there too.
Happy Sad Man is screening at the Pivotonian Cinema Geelong.
Films reviewed by Anthony Morris