It’s zombie time in the West Australian outback, and for Andy (Martin Freeman), partner Kay (Susie Porter) and their infant daughter Rosie, slowly drifting downriver on a houseboat seems like the best way to avoid the creatures roaming the bush. But when a string of events leaves Andy a solo parent and infected, he has just forty eight hours to find a safe place for his daughter. And with the countryside filled with flesh-eating monsters (these zombies have faces covered in a honey-like goo and they bury their heads in the ground when not hunting) and the surviving humans killing the infected on sight, he’s got his work cut out for him. This sombre film’s main plot follows a long trend for slow burn zombie films (anyone remember the recent Schwarzenegger film Maggie?), but the real appeal is the post zombie apocalypse outback, where the surviving whites are already planning for the next stage of exploiting the land (fracking may have released the infection), while the indigenous community are culling the zombies and finding a way to make a new start – aside from Thoomi (Simone Landers), a young girl on her own quest to try and save her own infected father. It’s a smart, sometimes shocking film that’s a worthy addition to the crowded zombie field.
Life of the Party
When she’s dumped by her husband two minutes after they drop their daughter off at college, Deanna Miles (Melissa McCarthy) bounces back fast. Unfortunately her method of bouncing back is to sign up for college alongside Maddie (Molly Gordon) and finally get her degree in archeology. Deanna’s good-natured but cloying efforts to be “one of the gals” soon makes her the center of attention, especially among Maddie’s somewhat quirky peers; clearly there’s going to be big trouble ahead. But this film – a reworking of the 80’s Rodney Dangerfield classic Back to School so bland it’s hard to figure out why they bothered – is so determined to avoid any trace of drama or conflict it feels like all involved would rather be making some kind of “you can do it!” inspirational text for middle aged women looking to restart their lives. The mother-daughter friction promised by the set-up never materialises, no-one has any problem with a mature-age student basically taking over the campus, while both the classroom drama (it turns out Deanna’s not great at giving presentations) and some minor sorority hassles are barely speed bumps in her relentless victory march towards a big party. If only they’d bothered to throw in a few jokes.
Marlo (Charlize Theron) is nine months pregnant, which would be enough to deal with even if she didn’t already have two kids – “quirky” son Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica) and daughter Sarah (Lia Frankland) – and a husband (Ron Livingston) who works hard but doesn’t help out much around the house. Her well-off brother Craig (Mark Duplass) has a suggestion: they hired a night nanny to take some of the strain with their kids, and he’s happy to help them pay the costs. Marlo isn’t impressed – until her third child is born, everything gets harder, she’s not sleeping, and before she knows it she’s called the number and Tully (Mackenzie Davis) is at the door. She’s a wonder, getting everything sorted in no time. She’s also a bit of a free spirit, in a way that makes Marlo realise how much she’s left behind for her current life, and… well, in some ways that’s pretty much it for Tully. Writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman (Juno, Young Adult) focus on really nailing the grind of motherhood and Theron is brilliant as a woman worn down by exhaustion, but story-wise this largely spins its wheels until a conclusion that makes the film less that it might have been. Unlike Cody and Reitman’s previous collaborations, this isn’t essential.
After the deaths of John and Bobby Kennedy, the spotlight – and many Americans political hopes – shifted to the last surviving brother, senator Teddy Kennedy (Jason Clarke). His presidential aspirations were sunk in mid-1969 when he crashed a car into a lake at Chappaquiddick, fled the scene, gave conflicting reports of what happened, didn’t report to police for 12 hours and then engaged in a massive cover-up that, among other things, made it unclear as to whether his young female passenger in the car – Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara) – had died in the crash or had drowned while the senator wandered around. With a lot of conflicting facts to work with (Kennedy’s post-crash behaviour makes next to no sense), director John Curran never tries to “solve” the mystery of what Kennedy was thinking or planning, and barely tries to nail down his personality beyond him being under enormous pressure (that he didn’t ask for) and somewhat less competent than he assumes, which leads to some quality comedy later on as the high-powered cover-up constantly unravels. Clarke’s sad, wistful performance makes Kennedy a sympathetic, sometimes pitiful man despite his massive incompetence and a possibly callous disregard for the woman he killed. This lays out all the facts, yet the mystery remains.
The Other Side of Hope
Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki’s latest deadpan comedy tackles the big issues: refugees, racist violence, running a restaurant. Travelling shirt salesman Waldemar (Sakari Kuosmanen) is fed up with his life. He leaves his wife, sells off his shirt stock, gambles at a high stakes poker game and uses his winnings to buy a shabby restaurant. Meanwhile, Khaled (Sherwan Haji) arrives by sea and promptly turns himself into claim asylum. He’s a Syrian refugee looking for his sister, and when the Finnish government denies his claim he escapes from the detention centre, lives on the streets, and is found by Waldemar, who gives him a job. Sympathetic to his plight, the restaurant crew help him with forged papers while he continues his search, but will he find his sister before the police – or racist thugs – track him down? It’s a warm, funny, but always clear-eyed look at the struggle refugees (and those sympathetic to them) face. It’s also Kaurismäki’s funniest film in ages.
Films reviewed by Anthony Morris
Movie Reviews #689