Films of the fortnight

Films of the fortnight

Midway

At the height of World War II, the Battle of Midway turned the tide, blunting the Japanese advance across the Pacific and giving the Allies a much-needed victory. Director Roland Emmerich’s Midway rarely fails to make the high stakes clear; what it does fail to do is make this high stakes battle feel like a story worth paying attention to. Starting as every US-made movie about the war in the Pacific now has to – with Pearl Harbor – Emmerich does a decent job of displaying the carnage and horror, while clumsily establishing the stakes for the film’s unwieldly cast. Ed Skrein as pilot Dick Best is the nominal lead but the story is spread across a half dozen or more real-life characters, all of which are square-jawed heroes willing to give their all to turn the tide. What little drama there is here is of the “sometimes I worry I try too hard” kind, which wouldn’t be a problem if the actual war was taking up the slack – and the brief moments where this is obviously based on the battle’s actual events do tend to stand out amongst all the CGI destruction and dive-bombing. Advances in special effects haven’t improved this kind of war movie; watch the 50s Sink the Bismark instead.

Like a Boss

Besties Mel (Rose Byrne) and Mia (Tiffany Haddish) have been friends for life (or at least, since Mia’s family took Mel in – as backstories go, it’s kept vague). Now they’re running their own boutique make-up brand that has one strong seller – a “one night stand” kit that women can use and throw away – and a whole lot of debt. Mia is the ideas half of the team while Mel is the business brains, so when make-up mogul Claire Luna (Salina Hayek) turns up with an offer to take over their debt (and their company), the pair are torn. Mia wins out, they say no, Luna makes a counter off that leaves them controlling the firm unless one of the pair decides to leave and we all know where this is going. This is largely an excuse for a bunch of riffing and silly antics from the three leads, all of which grab the opportunity with both hands. Haddish and Byrne have decent chemistry though, and their characters get enough heartfelt moments to ground the lightweight comedy. At under 90 minutes it definitely doesn’t overstay its welcome, but as a light, bubbly concoction (seriously, count the number of scenes that just randomly feature the women drinking) it gets the job done.

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Underwater

Norah (Kristen Stewart) is brushing her teeth in her underwear in a mining base at the bottom of the Marinas Trench (aka the deepest place on the planet) when it all starts to go wrong. Large chunks of the base implode, safety doors are sealed in a hurry, collapsed corridors have to be squeezed through even as creaks and groans make it clear that the bad news isn’t over yet, and by the time she – and the audience – have time to catch their breath there’s only a handful of people left alive and a whole lot of trouble ahead. This is a genre thriller pure and simple, but it fits in just enough character work (the cast includes Vincent Cassel, T.J. Miller and Jessica Henwick, amongst others) to make you care about the cast, and keeps just enough people alive to make sure that each and every nail-biting sequence could easily kill off someone and the movie won’t suffer for it. As a thrill ride it’s surprisingly effective, in large part because it’s an unashamed B-movie that leaves out most of the “quality” material that slows these films down. If you’re claustrophobic, or not good with the idea of imploding, this may not be for you; everyone else should definitely enjoy the ride.

H is for Happiness

Candice Phee (Daisy Axon) is a ray of sunshine everywhere she goes in Albany, WA. But sunshine isn’t to everyone’s taste, and her overachieving style and plucky can-do attitude isn’t winning her friends at school – apart from newcomer Douglas Benson (Wesley Patten), who may be from another dimension. At home things are depressingly down to earth, with her mother (Emma Booth) bed-ridden with depression after the death of Candice’s infant sister three years ago, and her father (Richard Roxburgh) angry and broke after a business dispute with his now-wealthy brother (Joel Jackson). Can Candice’s relentless optimism find a way to heal her family’s wounds? Candice’s quirkiness and the film’s palette of bright colours initially suggest a simplistic feel-good effort, especially if you’ve been following Australia’s seemingly endless run of painfully quirky feature films. Fortunately, director John Sheedy (working from Barry Jonsberg’s popular YA novel, adapted by producer Lisa Hoppe) skilfully brings out the novel’s nuances to create something that’s a lot smarter than this initially seems. It’s an insightful, entertaining, and at times moving coming-of-age story that doesn’t shy away from its story’s darker side… or from a live performance of Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s kitsch classic ‘Islands in the Stream’.

The Biggest Little Farm

When Emmy-winning film-maker John Chester, his wife Molly and dog Todd decided to leave their Santa Monica apartment (okay, it was Todd’s constant barking that got them evicted) for rural California, it was a chance to reinvent themselves. With no real experience – but a handy guide in offbeat biodynamic consultant Alan York – they decided to start their own farm, and the results were… surprisingly impressive, both personally and visually. This is a feel-good aspirational tale of a couple getting back to nature and understanding what they really means, and while it’s almost certainly not a lifestyle option for everyone (coyotes eat their chickens at one point; the financial side of their farm remains somewhat vague), its environmentally conscious approach makes it a timely and relevant example of what can be done.

This film is screening at the Pivotonian Cinema in Geelong

biggest little farm

Films reviewed by Anthony Morris