Films of the fortnight #731

Films of the fortnight #731

Bombshell
A decade or more ago, documentaries were the way people told real-life stories that dug down into the politics behind the news. These days satire is back in style, with films like The Big Short and Vice mixing fact and knife-sharp gags to tell the story behind the story. Bombshell looks to be more of the same, telling the timely story of Fox News chief Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) and his downfall due to multiple sexual harassment suits last decade. But the trouble with turning real life into a movie is that the stories don’t always follow the traditional three-act structure; by focusing on the women involved – a trio of excellent performances from (a near-unrecognisable) Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie as presenters (or would-be’s) on Fox – this wobbles a bit after a strong start, as each one only has a part of the story. It doesn’t help either that the humour, which initially starts off as self-aware and third-wall breaking, gradually fades as the issues become more pressing. But there are a number of powerful sequences here, especially the ones that deal front-on with Ailes (and his cronies) sexual harassment; The film as a whole never quite works, but there are too many good parts to discard it entirely.

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
Of all the kid’s movies currently screening, Shaun the Sheep’s latest outing might the one that most deserves the term “family-friendly”. Aardman studio – home of Wallace & Gromit, amongst others – have always gone above and beyond when it comes to making their stop-motion animation packed with gags, and while TV series Shaun the Sheep is more clearly aimed at the younger end of the viewing spectrum, there’s more than enough jokes and references in his second cinema outing to keep adults firmly entertained. The story isn’t quite a parody, but you’re bound to recognise many of the elements: an alien spaceship crashes near Shaun’s farm, a creature emerges to terrorise (well, slightly scare) the locals, and when it ends up in Shaun’s barn it’s up to the animals of Mossy Bottom Farm to help it find its way out of the clutches of a mysterious government agency and back home. Aardman’s ability to turn lumps of clay into charming characters in large part comes from their skillful comic timing, and while like all Shaun’s outings this is a dialogue-free affair, it’s so full of quality sight gags and some surprisingly expressive Claymation creatures you’ll hardly notice. It’s a delight from start to finish.

A Shaun the Sheep Movie Farmageddon

1917
If you want to make a movie that says war is nothing but pointless slaughter, you set it during World War One. The twist with writer/director Sam Mendes’ 1917 is that the meaningless horror is shown in one long take, as British soldiers Schofield (George McKay) and Blake (Dean Charles Chapman) are sent on a dash across and behind recently abandoned German lines to warn another unit that their upcoming attack will lead them into an enemy trap. The “one take” gimmick is only loosely adhered to (their dash takes two days but the movie runs two hours, though there is a black-out in the middle) but together with a string of extremely tense and effective action set-pieces, it makes this film consistently gripping and thrilling viewing. Distractingly, every British officer features a big-name UK actor (Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch) doing a cameo, but McKay and Chapman’s performances add greatly to the film’s immersive feel. They’re the heart of the film, and even when things veer towards the action-adventure side of the trench their performances ensure the whole thing firmly remains grounded in what’s important: reminding us that all too often war is nothing but pointless slaughter.

The Gentlemen
It always comes back to crime with Guy Ritchie. The British writer-director made his name with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels in 1998; two decades later he’s back with another convoluted crime caper packed with oddball geezers out to make a quid. Drug lord Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) is a US ex-pat growing dope across the UK, but wants to ditch the business before it becomes legal (he feels his shady part might be a problem under the legal spotlight). He’s the star of this story, but the story is being told by an amazingly sleazy tabloid journalist (Hugh Grant) to Mickey’s fastidious number two (Charlie Hunnam), which opens the door to all sorts of amusing twists and surprise reveals as an ever-expanding web of shady characters and out-of-their-depth toffs plot and scheme to cash in on Pearson’s departure. Aside from Ritchie’s choice to focus for once on a Mr Big rather than his usual up-and-coming hustlers there’s nothing much new here (this feels like a fallback he planned in case his big-budget Aladdin remake flopped). But the plotting is tight, the performances are gleefully over-the-top, and Ritchie’s energetic style powers it all nicely; the flash may have faded, but the formula still works.

Sorry We Missed You
UK director Ken Loach isn’t exactly known for his cheery upbeat tales of people doing it easy, so the idea of him tackling the current gig economy should send a shiver down the spine. But while Sorry We Missed You is far from upbeat, it’s hardly a one-note screed; rather, Loach and his collaborators focus on the way that without safety nets our society becomes one giant poverty trap. Working class striver Ricky Turner (Kris Hitchen) decides to become a delivery driver, hoping that the money to be made as a contractor will enable him to buy a house for his family. But buying a van requires his wife (Debbie Honeywood) to sell the car she uses for her job as an in-home carer; things slowly start to unravel for the Turners, and not in the ways you might expect. The result is a powerful and crushing look at a society determined to keep the poor down.
This film is screening at the Pivotonian Cinema in Geelong

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Film reviewed by Anthony Morris