Melissa McCarthy asks – Can You Ever Forgive Me?

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
Melissa McCarthy stars in the adaptation of the memoir Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the true story of best-selling celebrity biographer (and friend to cats) Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) who made her living in the 1970’s and 80’s profiling the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, Estee Lauder and journalist Dorothy Kilgallen. When Lee is no longer able to get published because she has fallen out of step with current tastes, she turns her art form to deception, abetted by her loyal friend Jack (Richard E. Grant).

The film is directed by The Diary of a Teenage Girl‘s Marielle Heller from a script written by Nicole Holofcener (Enough Said) and Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q), based on the memoir of the same name by Lee Israel. The Can You Ever Forgive Me? cast also includes Dolly Wells, Jane Curtin, Ben Falcone, Anna Deavere Smith, and Stephen Spinella. (synopsis via Coming Soon)

Biopics are tricky things to get right … or at least they seem that way much of the time.

Make them too chronological and detail-filled and you don’t get so much of an insight as to the person was or is, so much as their diary and Wikipedia entry sprung, somewhat dully, to life.

Go to far to the other extreme and you end with so narrow a look at them that their full complexity as a person is lost.

 

 

Can You Ever Forgive Me? gives the impression, from its first trailer at least, that it has managed to land somewhere impressively inbetween, which fits the aims of the production team, of which Marielle Heller is the director:

“There are pitfalls to biopics that are hard to get away from. There’s an expectation that you’re doing a certain amount of journalistic storytelling that’s going to give an exact play-by-play showing someone’s entire life from cradle to grave. This does none of that.”

Instead, Heller and her largely female band of collaborators (Anne Carey and Amy Nauiokas co-produce, while Nicole Holofcener penned the script with Jeff Whitty) sought to peel back Lee’s layers in a ‘character piece’ that deals with an atypical woman mainstream audiences are used to seeing, but not knowing. In part, Heller thinks that’s also why Israel was able to get away with her forgeries for so long. “People didn’t really give her much thought,” she observes. “[She was] a middle-aged woman who you’d probably pass on the street and not really give a second thought.” (EW)

Can You Ever Forgive Me? opens in USA on 29 October (no international dates available at this time).

Serving up a Pixar appetiser: Delightful Bao to precede Incredibles 2

(image courtesy Pixar via EW)

 

SNAPSHOT
The seven-and-a-half-minute short is a culinary fable about a Chinese-Canadian woman suffering from the depression of an empty nest, who gets a second shot at motherhood when one of her handmade dumplings comes alive. (via EW)

Pixar has oft proven itself in the past as not simply the creator of emotionally resonant, complex but accessible and character-rich animated films but of delightfully immersive short films too.

In some ways, these shorter efforts, which usually precede their longer-form creations (with the exception of 2017’s Coco which was introduced by a Frozen cartoon featuring Olaf) are even more impressive since they have to do what their feature counterparts in a considerably reduced amount of time.

While we have yet to see any footage of Incredibles 2 opener Bao (which refers to steamed, filled-buns common to Chinese cuisine), this first image premiered exclusively via Entertainment Weekly, it looks like another superlative entry to Pixar’s line of opening short films, all heart, rich characterisation and humanity.

 

(image courtesy Pixar via EW)

 

Domee Shi, whose directed the film, had this to say about the Bao:

“Often times it felt like my mom would treat me like a precious little dumpling, wanting to make sure I was safe, that I didn’t go out late, all that stuff. I just wanted to create this magical, modern-day fairy tale, kind of like a Chinese Gingerbread Man story. The word ‘bao’ actually means two things in Chinese: Said one way, it means steamed bun. Said another, it means something precious. A treasure.” (via EW)

 

 

I suspect that with the all expected effort that has gone into Bao, that we are indeed looking at another treasure from the animation powerhouse which makes the wait for Incredibles 2, which opens 14 June in Australia and 15 June in USA.

 

 

Weekend pop art: The watercolour wonder of Alina Chau

(artwork (c) Alina Chau via Nerdist)

 

There is an exceptional beauty and gentleness to the extravagantly beautiful work of Alina Chau, an animator with many years experience in the industry who has worked on the likes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Beautiful and gentle it maybe, embodying the loveliest aspects of watercolour work, but it is also vibrantly playful and alive, reflecting the zesty pop culture properties from which this talented artist draws her inspiration.

As someone who adores and is attracted to the use of bright, rich colour, Chau’s artwork entrances because she uses her pallette perfectly, never too much in either direction, giving us renditions of characters we know and love that sing and dance just as you imagine them, but with the addition of lovely extra hours to the visual mix too.

You can find more of Chau’s watercolors, which make use of papercutting to add extra layers of depth and wonder to her work, at her website alinachau.com where you can even buy a print if you desire.

(source: Nerdist)

 

(artwork (c) Alina Chau via Nerdist)

 

(artwork (c) Alina Chau via Nerdist)

 

(artwork (c) Alina Chau via Nerdist)

 

To infinity and beyond! Go behind the scenes with Toy Story’s voice actors

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

Often times, pulling back the curtain and seeing what lies behind the glittering facade, the alluring mystique can be a disappointment.

But sometimes, and this is most definitely the case with this delightful behind-the-scenes video courtesy of ScreenSlam, taking a peek at the building blocks of a beloved pop culture icon such as 1995’s Toy Story, which kicked off Pixar’s enviable run of success, simply adds another wonderful level of magic.

In this short but sweet compilation that features Tom Hanks as Woody and Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear and a host of other actors such as Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head, we are given a lovely look at how these characters first came to be, seemingly vibrantly alive from the get-go.

It’s worth watching this and then going back to watch Toy Story all over again; and then watching it again and again because really you can never too much of Andy and his wonderfully alive toys.

(source: Laughing Squid)

 

Movie review: Isle of Dogs

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

There is a beautifully immersive, almost fairytale whimsy that accompanies every film that idiosyncratic auteur Wes Anderson brings to the screen.

You know walking into a film like Isle of Dogs, his second stop-motion animation feature film after the Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), that you will encounter a world of his own blissfully eccentric creation where every detail is lovingly thought-out with an originality that delights at every turn.

It’s not for everyone, of course, but if you’re one of those people, and his fans are legion so there are a great many of us out there, who appreciates a wholly different view of the world that is both substantially intelligent and gleefully playful, not to mention cartoonishly-visual, there is a great deal to enjoy in one of Anderson’s child-like outings.

At his best, and he’s rarely not right on the creative money, his films are fables for our time, impishly-cheeky morality tales that look fey and cute but have a depth and cleverness behind them, entrancing the eyes and pleasing the soul while giving the mind a great deal to chew on too.

Isle of Dogs, a story of belonging, in guises good and bad, flawed and flawless, fits very much in this mold, taking us on a journey to a Japan we might recognise and yet which clearly sits just outside our experience just enough to challenge everything we know about the country.

In Anderson’s Japan,or at least the megalopolis of Megasaki, a few steps into the multiverse from our own, dogs are suddenly, by order of six-time incumbent Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura), canine non grata, banished to Trash Island, just across the river from the city, condemned as the carriers of terrible diseases just waiting to cross the species barrier and infect humanity.

The heir to a long tradition of pro-cat, anti-dog sentiment, the story of which is told at the beginning of the film in an animated piece of exposition, worth the price of admission alone, senses this is his chance to take on his canine adversaries and rid Japan of man’s best friend once and for all.

Presented by Anderson with all kinds of fascistic imagery – there is the Rising Sun emblem of Imperial Japan and shades of Nazi rallies; not overdone but most definitely there – Kobayashi is a man determined to get his own way and manipulate the populace, who seem oddly and disturbingly willing to go along with everything he announces at his rallies, into not only sending the dogs far from their comfortable homes but perhaps killing them off for good too.

 

 

It’s dark, very dark, and Isle of Dogs doesn’t shy from being honest about the more dictatorial inclinations of the mayor, but the story has a lighter side too of course that emerges when we reach Trash Island, where Kobayashi’s nephew and ward, Atari (Koyu Rankin) has travelled to in a small prop plane to find and rescue his beloved bodyguard dog Spots (Liev Schreiber).

Crashing into the artfully-constructed surrounds of Trash Island, which though toxic and fetid looks magical in its own twisted way thanks to Anderson’s distinctive aesthetic, Atari, who is a little worse for wear with a small part of the plane sticking into his head, by a pack of alpha dogs who become the living, beating heart of the film.

Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Boss (Bill Murray), and Chief (Bryan Cranston) come to Atari’s rescue – although Chief, a stray without the human attachment issues of his pack mates, continually questions if they should be expending so much time on a boy, especially that boy – and commit, against Chief’s wishes to find and reunite Atari and Spots.

It’s at this point that the film, all loss and abandonment, getting outcast and being rejected, finds its feet as a film about what it means to belong and the lengths any of us, man or beast, will go to get there, and pertinently for dogs who have lost the only homes they have ever known, stay there.

Atari immediately finds a temporary home with the pack, who are hilarious, warmhearted and all-inclusive with even Chief finally coming around but only well down the track when he realises that he either needs to step up or Atari loses everything, and together they not only find Spots but attempts to reverse the hateful decree of Mayor Kobayashi.

No prizes for guessing where this all leads – Anderson might be offbeat and sublimely, pleasingly odd but he’s not a heartless monster – but before we get there, we get to get experience what true belonging feels like, beyond the treats and creature comforts that Rex, King, Duke and Boss discuss, again rather comically (the dialogue is heartfelt and hilarious in equal measure) and where the need for connection really becomes real and palpable.

In many ways, the journey to find Spots is a series of engagingly funny set pieces that excell both verbally and visually, but while Anderson is not setting out to make a serious movie with a capital “S”, he does have a few mildly weighty things to say.

Like the fact that really belonging to someone is a two way street – you should give as much to them as they give to you, and how when this breaks down as it does when all the owners bar Atari go along with Kobayashi’s decree of exile for their pampered pooches and don’t come to the rescue of their pets, or when Spots, when he’s finally located, tells Atari that he’s rethinking being his pet (at this point, Chief, who’s undergone a road to Damascus moment about being a human’s pet, admonishes him in a way that is moving and endearing).

 

 

On the other end of the belonging spectrum, we see how willing people are to relinquish things they love, in this cases dogs, but let’s say freedom and civil rights in a modern, real-world context, to go along with the status quo.

They could fight back, they could resist but they don’t, and even when two scientists Professor Watanabe (Akira Ito) and Assistant Scientist Yoko Ono (voice by, yes, thank you casting gods, Yoko Ono) come up with a cure for the canine diseases that Kobayashi uses as the pretext for banishment, only one person, an Ohio exchange student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig), who fancies Atari more than a little bit, dares to fight for what’s right.

Others join her from her school’s newspaper but that’s about it and so a struggle ensure between those who choose to belong by inert omission (the vast, troubling majority) and those who belong for all the right reasons, in this case the dogs of Trash Island who go all out to help Atari, and right all the possible wrongs going, even when they have been unjustly treated.

It’s heartwarming and uplifting, and those you can accuse Anderson’s films of being a little emotional distancing with more quirky style than moving substance, that’s not the case for at least the canine members of the cast who beautifully communicate the delights and rewards of true, selfless belonging where you sacrifice for others rather than waiting for them to come to you.

Again, Anderson hasn’t set out to create some deeply meaningful polemic in Isle of Dogs which is typically light, fey, funny and quirky as they come, but he’s too intelligent and insightful a filmmaker to make everything look beguiling and not have something behind all the appealingly creative artifice which is a treat for the eyes, and in a world where selfishness seems to be in ascendancy, a balm for the soul.

 

 

Movie review: A Quiet Place

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

Remember those times when you were a little kid and you would be asked by one parent to carry a mug of coffee or tea to the other?

Full of trepidation, you would walk slowly but surely, eyes locked firmly on the mug, each step a study in intense coordination and carefully planning, your breath drawn in, not a word spoken as you gave everything to making that the task at hand was completed without a single messy, noisy mishap?

If you can reach that far back into your memories, and remember how tense and all-consuming those moments were, you will go a long way, in all seriousness, to understand what it is like for the family at the heart of Jon Krasinki’s directorial debut, A Quiet Place.

Set in the aftermath of the arrival of a swarm of blindly (literally) aggressive predatory alien species that has all but denuded Earth of humanity – there is no expositionary deadweight at the start of this film, penned by  Bryan Woods, Scott Beck and John Krasinski himself, with judiciously-dropped tidbits filling in enough blanks for narrative satisfaction – A Quiet Place draws its deceptively-placid title from the need to be totally and utterly quiet at all times lest you die in a furious welter of limbs, claws, teeth and pincer arms.

Just how quiet you need to be, how profoundly well you need to channel your nervously-concentrating inner five-year-old is made horrifyingly and shockingly clear at the start of the film when we meet the Abbott family noiselessly padding through the looted remains of a chemist in search of medicine.

Evelyn and Lee (Emily Blunt and John Krasinski, a real-life couple) are looking for drugs for the older of their two sons, Marcus (Noah Jupe) while younger son Beau (Cade Woodward) happily runs up and down the aisles, watched over protectively sister Regan (Millicent Simmonds) who has to intervene more than once to stop her much less careful sibling from making the kind of racket that would doom them all.

Shoeless and word-less, the family communicate with sign language, initially necessitated by Regan’s deafness but something that has become pivotal to their survival.

Everything about their lives is circumscribed by the need to be as silent as possible – sand is laid-out on every path they walk on, whether it’s the trail between town and the isolated farm they live on, the use of leaves instead of plates, the covering of every surface with decibel-deadening cloth.

It is a very quiet existence but despite all that, the family is doing their best to carve out a life out of a now-virulently hostile world where one false sound can bring death in fast-motion down upon you.

 

 

Everything seems relatively bucolic until a family tragedy upsets what little is left of their familial apple cart, leaving the Abbotts as emotionally-wounded as they could be physically if they forget for even a moment that they are now prey and little else to the alien interlopers, who pleasingly, are used sparingly to build a mounting sense of near-overpowering dread.

The genius of this masterful work of psychological horror is that not only do the monstrous villains of the piece appear only in sudden rushing moment of adrenaline-filled instinctual fury, their appearances caught only on the periphery or in the harrowing before-and-after moments, but that focus is squarely on the family themselves.

Every single member of the family is given ample time to grown and develop as living, breathing, fully-formed characters, a rarity in the horror genre where stock-standard characters are usually grist for the bloody mill and little else.

The monster of whatever stripe is usually the thing, but in A Quiet Place, which seethes with meditative threat and barely-coiled terror, we see the tremulously-quiet surrounds of this apocalyptic world from the vantage point of a family who want to do more than just survive – they want to be, as Krasinski describes it, “fully-formed, fully-thinking people”.

It’s a fraught undertaking given the fact that one tiny noisy slip, and there are a number of them in this cleverly-written, superbly well-acted film, could spell the doom of any one character, or all of them.

But even in amongst terror so palpable you could slice it with a knife, the deep mothering humanity of Evelyn, now dangerously pregnant (why “dangerously”? What do babies make a lot of? Yep … UH-OH) with the couple’s fourth child, compels her to fight for the sanctity and safety of her family.

Lee is on board for the whole more-than-survival gambit but his role is that of protector and equipper, his love for his children fiercely real and apparent – except to Regan who like most teenagers feels estranged from her dad – leaving the nurturing to Evelyn who is unwilling to let the alien bastards take her or her family without a fight.

And for her that fight is more existential than physical … until, of course, it isn’t when in the final act all hell, inevitably, breaks loose.

 

 

In a lot of other horror movies, of course, the denouement is a bloody fiesta of torn body parts and copious loss of life as characters you barely know or care for are tossed aside with a narrative casualness that belies their workman-like construction.

But A Quiet Place, like Get Out before it, is a class apart, a studied, intelligent exploration of what happens to people, and specifically a family, when their bonds of love are put under the crushing weight of an extraordinarily stressful situation without parallel, and without any kind of map to guide them.

It’s wholly uncharted territory, and while the family has an advantage at the start with their habitual use of sign language, they are in the same boat as anyone else when it comes to day to day survival, or rather living because Evelyn won’t accept anything less, through this most muted of apocalypses.

By focusing on the family and not the menace that encircles them, terrifying and riveting though that is, A Quiet Place gives real humanity and substance to a story where the scary monsters are the catalyst for all kinds of familial machinations and not simply a frightening end in themselves, a refreshing change for a genre that is often guilty of getting things completely the other way around.

It’s emblematic of a skillfully-wrought film that eschews many of the genre’s more vacuous tropes, dangling your finely-balanced nerves over the precipice again and again until you come close to cracking; but beyond the tension and sudden shocks – don'[t be embarrassed, your fellow audience members will be leaping skyward out of their seats right along with you – and they are there aplenty with well-judged and supremely well-executed timing, you come face-to-face with humanity in the midst of the bleakest of days and realise how powerful and enduring the bonds of love and family can be in ways that Hallmark has never even come close to representing.

 

 

“Is it revenge? Money? Or something else?” New Solo: A Star Wars Story trailer

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
Board the Millennium Falcon and journey to a galaxy far, far away in “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” an all-new adventure with the most beloved scoundrel in the galaxy. Through a series of daring escapades deep within a dark and dangerous criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his mighty future copilot Chewbacca and encounters the notorious gambler Lando Calrissian, in a journey that will set the course of one of the Star Wars saga’s most unlikely heroes. (Coming Soon)

Making movies isn’t easy.

To be fair, no creative endeavour really is, but it always seem to be movies that suffer from epically delayed production schedules, on-set shenanigans and actor issues of the kind that would make Cecil B. DeMille and Orson Welles in unison greeted with melodramatically-large envy.

Such was the case with Solo: A Star Wars Story, one of the in-between standalone films that aims to fill in the blanks between the trilogy episodes, providing insight on significant stories that have been oft-referred to in the Star Wars films but never fully explored.

Swapping directors midstream from The LEGO Movie directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller to Ron Howard after differences in creative vision – one of those oblique phrases that says so little and yet so much – Solo looked set to be one of those rare films that promised so much and yielded so little.

 

 

And yet … and yet … damn if this second trailer for the film makes you wonder if this won’t be one of those amazing films that defies the litany of woes it went through in production and emerges to be a thing of epic, fan-inspiring wonderment.

Certainly there’s a lot of very cool stuff as Gizmodo forensically examines, and Digital Spy glories in with fannish delight, and frankly, the trailer suggests this will be as much fun as Danny Glover, who plays a young Lando Calrissian, makes out, a welcome sign for those of us who have been watching the films since the very beginning (Yes, I am that old) and want every instalment to be brilliant.

Solo: A Star Wars Story opens in Australia and UK 24 May and USA 25 May.

Oh my you’re cinematically naked! What movies look like without special effects

(image via YouTube)

 

CGI is in! It’s in BIG in movies and if you’ve seen any blockbusters lately, and if not, why not, there are some damn good ones out there, you will have seen all kinds of gloriously-created worlds (think A Wrinkle in Time), augmented characters (War For the Planet of the Apes) and things far outside our own reality.

It’s amazing what it can do but what it turns out is almost as much fun, as video essay from Looper attests, is what movies reliant on CGI look like before all the special effects bells-and-whistles are added.

Referring to CGI as “digital make-up”, the video beautifully illustrates how films like the Harry Potter franchise, The Life of Pi and Beauty and the Beast, and TV shows like Game of Thrones which employ amazing effects to bring Daenerys’ dragons to fantastical life.

It will make look at these movies in a whole new light or atop realistic water or from atop a careening dragon …

(source: Laughing Squid)

 

 

Cargo: Love and the deep bonds that persist even in the face of living death

(poster courtesy Umbrella Entertainment, Twitter)

 

SNAPSHOT
From the producer of The Babadook, and starring Martin Freeman, comes Cargo. Based on the viral short film, this is the story of a man and his infant daughter who are stranded in the middle of a zombie apocalypse in rural Australia. And when he becomes infected, the countdown begins for him to find her protection before he changes forever. (synopsis via Laughing Squid)

There is a crucial element that separates deeply affecting tales of an apocalyptic future, the kind that don’t rely on schlock horror alone, and tinny, nasty stories of world-ending humanity debased, and that’s remembering that these are real people involved in an horrifically fantastical situation.

Forget that, and you may deliver a red hot violent mess of gory action, but very little else, making in the end for a wholly unsatisfying viewing experience for your audience.

It doesn’t look like the makers of Cargo have missed that important lesson at all.

In fact, as you watch Martin Freeman playing a man who is desperately using the last 48 hours of his non-zombie life to find someone to care for his infant daughter, on the way encountering a young indigenous man and a host of other displaced characters, all of whom comes across, even in passing, as real people grappling with a situation far beyond anything they have dealt with before, you appreciate again and again how much apocalyptic dramas benefit from remembering to fuel their narratives with the concerns of the character and not the desire to scare or terrorise.

 

 

The good news is these impressions from the trailer look like they are borne by the film itself.

Take this snippet from a review by Luke Buckmaster in The Guardian:

“Nevertheless Cargo is a very strong, at times stirring achievement: a zombie film with soul and pathos. The living dead are frightening again, not because of jump scares, surprise attacks or haunted house style shenanigans, but because they remind us of truly terrifying things: losing ourselves, and our loved ones.”

Or this excerpt from Alex Lines (Film Inquiry):

“Cargo is a dramatic horror picture for people who don’t like horror movies, so for the younger audiences expecting a jump scare marathon lubricated by a heavy dosage of gore may have to seek out other fare.”

Sure zombies are terrifying in and of themselves, but as Buckmaster particularly points out, what scares us the most is losing our humanity, our innate sense of self and our connections with loved ones and friends.

That is far more terrifying than mindless monsters in every way, and Cargo wisely remembers that, delivering up, by all accounts, one of the, ahem, freshest, zombies stories in quite some time.

Cargo premieres on Netflix on 18 May.

The short and the short of it: The hilarious life realities of The Heist

(image via YouTube (c) Superbrankman)

 

Ever have those daydream-y moments where you muse about what it would be like to do something way out of the ordinary?

Sail a boat to France from Sydney, Australia? Stage a dinner party for 100 guests? Watch wildebeest migrating en masse across the Serengeti?

Or perhaps, you know, robbing a bank?

Maybe not such a good as The Heist, a delightfully funny, gorgeously animated short film by Queens animator Branko Kljajic a.k.a. SuperBrankman makes gloriously and hilariously clear.

It’s sharp, full of punchy dialogue, engaging characters and a sitcom-worthy storyline that proves above all that you may get further, figuratively and literally, setting sail for Marseilles.

(source: Laughing Squid)