Films of the fortnight

Films of the fortnight

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
There’s been a lot of horror at the movies aimed at kids (well, older kids) in recent years, but Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is the first high profile film to admit what’s been obvious for a while now: if you leave out the gore (and the sex, but every mainstream movie leaves out the sex these days), horror movies are suitable for all ages. Based on a popular but infamous series of children’s books which retold a series of generic horror tales, this adds a framing device involving a dead girl, a haunted house, a book that writes itself (“you don’t read the book… the book reads you”) and a late 60s setting that’s solidly realised but doesn’t really add much to the scares beyond a lot of mentions of Richard Nixon and Vietnam. The four teens who accidentally stumble onto the evil book and unleash its power are good in that Stranger Things / It way that seems to be the default for horror at the moment, while the actual scary scenes where the monsters come out to play are universally well done, featuring both creepy imagery and decent jump scares. Yes, the sequel door is left open; there are plenty more scary stories to tell.

Ride Like a Girl
This retelling of the Michelle Payne story only asks one thing of its audience: that they have no questions at all about why someone would constantly risk their life riding racehorses under bad conditions and with worse pay. While this covers all the main details of the life of the first woman to ride a Melbourne Cup winner – nine siblings, all equally as horse-mad thanks to their single dad (Sam Neill) and their horse farm upbringing, a life-long obsession with riding despite the horse-racing death of one of her sisters and a near-fatal accident herself – the one question it never comes close to answering is the only question that matters: why? Teresa Palmer as Michelle Payne is always convincing – though not as convincing as Stevie Payne, who plays her brother Stevie Payne – and the story often hits the right notes on a scene-by-scene basis as she battles the odds and entrenched sexism to make her dream come true. But Payne herself remains something of a cypher, a character whose fierce drive is taken for granted and never examined or explained. Without that human element, this is just a list of her real-life achievements, and no matter how well they’re told the story remains hollow at heart.

Good Boys
Max (Jacob Tremblay) is a nice kid who’s just discovered girls; Thor (Brady Noon) is worried he’s getting too old for musical theatre; and Lucas (Keith L. Williams) is probably just a little too keen on following rules. Together they’re the “beanbag boys”, a gang who are probably – if they were paying attention – just about to grow apart. But not just yet; when Max accidentally trashes his dad’s treasured drone (“it’s not a toy – it’s for work”), the trio band together to raise the cash for a replacement. Their schemes rapidly spiral out of control; selling a sex doll is one of their more sedate antics, especially once they get tangled up with a pair of older girls (Molly Gordon and Midori Francis) who just want their drugs back so they can go to a concert. The stakes are kept small – their big road trip is a few miles to a nearby mall, and crossing a highway is the big action scene – and the crudity promised by the trailers is relatively sedate (and a lot funnier once the trio’s essentially sweet natures are established). Turns out putting nice kids in a NSFW world is a pretty solid formula for comedy; this is one of the funnier films of the year.

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Rambo: Last Blood
It’s been a decade or so since John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) came home to the family farm. Now he spends his days training horses and looking on admiringly at his housekeeper’s granddaughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal) in between digging tunnels and filling them with guns because Rambo has Become War. Then Gabrielle announces she can’t go to university until she goes to Mexico to try and find her father, which Rambo knows is a bad move from watching Sicario or any one of countless other films where Mexico is hell on earth. She goes south of the border, discovers her real father is a dirtbag then gets grabbed by the Mexican Sex Cartel; looks like Rambo has some work to do. What separates this from every other Taken knock off is that here every single act of violence – and there are oh so many acts of violence in this film – is treated like it belongs in a horror movie. It’s basically Taken if the woman being kidnapped was related to Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th films, which sounds like a joke until you see Rambo reach into a guy’s shoulder, grab his collarbone, tear his collarbone from his body and then snap it. This movie is loud and dumb and not easily forgotten.

Dogman
In a deserted Italian seaside holiday town, Marcello (Marcello Fonte) has a shabby but well-attended dog grooming business with a sideline in drug dealing – though it seems his only customer is Simoncino (Edoardo Pesce), the local thug who has everyone terrorised. Their friendship is very much a one-way street – what Simoncino wants, he gets – while the meek and affable Marcello tries to keep on his good side in-between taking care of his own doting daughter. The locals want Simoncino dead; their only question is whether to do it themselves or wait for his thuggish lifestyle to anger someone really serious. But when Simoncino decides to use Marcello’s store to break into his neighbours, Marcello is faced with a choice – and every possible answer is the wrong one. Directed by Matteo Garrone (Gomorrah), this is both a gripping crime drama and an engaging character study, a look at a quiet man repeatedly pushed to his limits in a world where keeping to yourself only gets you stepped on.

This one will be screening at Geelong Pivotonian Cinema.

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Film reviews by Anthony Morris