Archive for August, 2016



Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s series The Office, which ran for two seasons of six episodes plus two Christmas specials starting in 2001, is, minute for minute, the greatest half-hour comedy program ever made. Its influence on popular culture is massive beyond measure; besides pioneering a mockumentary vibe for the sitcom format and revolutionising the office comedy, it pretty much re-stacked the comedy deck, fomenting a “cringe humour” that has become omnipresent since.

At the show’s heart lay David Brent, played by Gervais, one of the greatest comedic characters ever created. Gervais and Merchant took the basic human quality of wanting to be liked and made it the whole character; Brent is one big vibrating human need, and without love he is nothing. His fatal flaw, of course, is exactly the same condition, because the more we seek love the more we repel it, and Brent took this concept to the extreme. He was our worst nightmare version of ourselves, each and every one of us, because there is some part of David Brent in us all.

Incredibly, Gervais and Merchant managed to bring this character into some sort of monumentally humanising catharsis by the end of the show (in the final Christmas special); it was some of the great television writing of all time. A similar arc structures Gervais’ solo revisitation of the character fifteen years on, and is no less satisfying. David Brent: Life On The Road is an hysterically funny movie that is also a desperately acute examination of one of mankind’s greatest, and most universal, weaknesses.

It is exquisite to watch a performer / writer re-visit his greatest creation again with such precision. A lot of TV-to-film late bloomers are harmless fluff (Ab Fab) or shameless cash grabs (most of them), but Life On The Road has an acute pathos. Brent is now in his mid-fifties and no longer a boss but a worker ant, a rep in a company similar to his old one but hardened by rougher people dealing with a tougher world. He’s even more vulnerable, and his dreams – to tour with a band – even sadder. But tour with a band he does, taking a running leap and achieving a life’s dream, under the pitiless gaze of a camera crew probably all too aware they’re shooting fish in a barrel.

The original songs are brilliantly awful; they’re not only full of hilarious and spot-on lyrics but the music itself is perfect, exactly what would come from the pen of David Brent. Indeed, the whole film, despite its air of improvisation, is terrifyingly precise. Gervais is masterful at portraying the exactitude of life in the smaller towns of England; what the extras are wearing to Brent’s band’s gigs are exactly what the tribes of Slough, Reading and so on might wear to pubs and clubs as banal as these.

Stephen Merchant wasn’t involved in this project but there’s no qualitative loss; Gervais fulfils the tone and mission of The Office completely, on his own. It’s his finest hour and a half as a director, and Brent remains his Little Tramp, his Inspector Clouseau, his Basil Fawlty. I laughed out loud constantly, and was moved to pieces as well. Fantastic.


Guns guns guns, blah blah blah… Mel Gibson may have been a little hungry for roles of late, and his character in Jean-Farançois Richet’s Blood Father may fit him like a glove, but the glove is ugly and old-fashioned, unsuited for these times. It is a movie no-one needs, a redundant, obsolete thing.

Mel plays an ex-con recovering alcoholic tattooist (!) whose young adult daughter is being pursued by extremely tattooed Mexican thugs after she shoots one of their head honchos. Mel would like to play on the straight and narrow, of course, but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, so, of course, Mel has to pick up a gun. The difference between his character here and Clint Eastwood’s violent alcoholic in Unforgiven is that Eastwood gave in and picked up the bottle first. Not here. Mel can shoot, but goddamnit, he won’t drink!

Of course, there’s a lot of attempted meta-comedy going on here. The alcoholism is treated as one big joke on Gibson’s actual life; his profession as a tattooist was the one he was going to play in the second Hangover sequel before being ejected from that cinematic masterpiece; halfway through the film, he shaves, and, once he does, is accused of being ugly (Mel Gibson ugly? Hilarious!) None of it adds up to a worthy reason for being.

During his exile years, Gibson appeared in a similar film, Get The Gringo (2012), that was really good – exciting, witty and clever. Blood Father – such an awful title! – is none of those things, and its celebration of the gun is really hideous. It has two things going for it: excellent desert cinematography by Robert Gantz and a breakout performance by Erin Moriarty as the daughter. Okay, maybe one more thing: Gibson looks great in a beard.


***1/2 (out of five)

If you’re an admirer of Blake Lively (Savages, The Age of Adaline), see The Shallows, for it’s a fair bet that no movie ever again will devote to her so much adoring screen time. Essentially (though not literally) a one-man show á la Castaway, this surf-and-shark tale, a cunning little B-movie from Spanish genre whiz Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax, Orphan, Run All Night) revels in Lively’s Californian limbs and freckles, her sun-blanched healthy wholesomeness. It cannot get enough of her.

She plays Nancy, a med student on a pilgrimage to a “secret beach” in Mexico that her surfer mother told her about before succumbing to cancer. While surfing there she accidentally infringes on a shark’s dinnertime, and the shark comes after her. Survival ensues.

If Jaws is the best shark movie, and Open Water is the creepiest shark movie, The Shallows is the most sensual shark movie. Between Lively’s exquisite features (and limbs – we really get to know this actress’s gams) and the stunning bay (the film was actually shot in Queensland, Australia) it’s a deeply beautiful film, gorgeously and inventively shot by Flavio Martínez Labiano. The shark is almost incidental, which is what keeps the movie from achieving some sort of genre greatness.

It may not be great, but it is bloody good. It’s crazy tight, extremely well thought-out (as another critic noted, by halfway through we the audience are totally in command of the bay’s logistics) and Lively, mostly in close-up and mostly in peril, is excellent; indeed, perfect. It’s hard to imagine her being nominated for serious awards for this role, but it must be said that Meryl Streep herself couldn’t do it better. It’s a fully believable and utterly absorbing genre performance. I will await her next movie eagerly, although I suspect that The Shallows is going to remain her signature role for quite a while. And she has every reason to be proud of that.


***1/2 (out of five)

Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s 1975 sci-fi dystopian nightmare High Rise is a faithful, stylised mess. It is chaotic and crazy, shambolic and discombobulating, all elements of the novel but not necessarily of coherent filmmaking. It is Wheatley’s most ambitious film but his second worst. It is also an artistic work of personal vision, for which it must be celebrated.

High-Rise_04His best – and I hope you know all about this – is Kill List (2011), a staggeringly creepy assault on your brain inspired by, it seems, equal parts Pulp Fiction, The Shining and The Wicker Man. His follow-up Sightseers (2012) was a delicious very black comedy; 2013’s A Field In England was bonkers strange but possessed of an absolute vision. He has a very strong voice and is uncompromising, perhaps to his detriment here. (I have not seen his debut feature, Down Terrace (2009)).

His coup de theatre is to set the film not in “the future” but in the future as a film director working in 1975 might be able to visualise it. Thus it’s both “futuristic” and retro, with sideburns, wide ties and big moustaches accompanying concrete bunkers out of Logan’s Run. It’s a brilliant conceit brilliantly realised on the production design side; the “high rises” themselves look exactly as I’d always imagined them (the novel is one of my all-time favourites).

imageUnfortunately Wheatley has a second “big concept” up his sleeve, which is to let the storytelling fall to pieces as the civilisation of the titular high rise does. The second act is essentially a montage of madness, unlike the novel’s deliberate linear progression from civility to orgasmic anarchy. I worry that audiences that have not read the novel won’t have a clue what’s going on. It’s a shame, because this was Wheatley’s chance to show a much wider audience his jazz, but his jazz remains too free for the general crowd. Perhaps that’s not a bad thing.


Sausage Party

Posted: August 18, 2016 in movie, movie reviews, reviews



Proof that Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg really are allowed to get high, write down a zany idea and then make it for nineteen million dollars, Sausage Party is an R-Rated (in the US, MA in Australia) animated romp about processed foodstuffs questioning their faith. Seriously.

It is that angle – the hot dogs and buns, bagels and lavash breads trying to suss out whether their religion(s) are valid or whether they’ve been sold a crock – that is unexpectedly ambitious, and attempts to give this extremely off-beat exercise more depth than Rogan and Goldberg’s other low-budget, high-earning potty ventures Pineapple Express, Superbad, This Is The End and The Interview. But those films all have ambitious goals hidden within their wacky antics – The Interview, in particular, has a lot on its mind – and Sausage Party ultimately doesn’t have too much more to say than religion is bunk and we should all get along.

sausage_party_ver4Unfortunately, the dialogue isn’t that sparkly either. Kristen Wiig’s bun Brenda is particularly depressingly written, a dull, no-fun and not-funny love interest for Rogan’s eager wiener Frank (ha!); were it not for the fact that he is a walking erection, there’d be no reason to believe he was besotted with her. There’s a lot of swearing and boundary pushing but not a lot of actual zingers, and the first act drags as it sets up its various characters, none of whom is a particularly brilliant creation.

What the film has – most surprisingly, given its pretty weeny budget – is enormous visual wit, and the final half hour or so is an exhilarating action sequence beautifully done, ending in a rather excellent sausage party indeed.

Forms of this review have appeared before here at Film Mafia, but this revised version accompanies its Australian theatrical release.


****1/2 (out of five)

Tickled, which opens on 18 August, is far too brilliant for me to say anything about it. It wouldn’t be fair, to audience member or filmmaker; this is one of those documentaries where the less you know, the better, becuase every single twist in the tale is surprising, and the best of them are head-spinning, jaw-dropping, and hysterical. Suffice to say that it’s a Pandora’s Box with results both funny and deeply disturbing.
New Zealand pop culture reporter David Farrier goes noodling about looking for his next fun, light, easy-going story, finds an audition notice for competitive endurance tickling, thinks “WTF??”, follows it up, and gets hit with hateful correspondence about his own sexuality of such mind-boggling nastiness that he simply has to go deep, enlisting his filmmaking buddy Dylan Reeve to join him. And that’s all in the first 300 or so seconds of the film. Things get weirder from there.

If the definition of a good film is one that keeps you wanting to know what happens next, Tickled is among the greatest ever made. You cannot look away. Don’t drink a batch of water, coffee, beer, whatever before you go in, because woe-be-tide you have to go to the toilet and miss a moment. This is breath-taking stuff.  I want it to be nominated for Best Feature Length Documentary at the next Academy Awards. That may sound like a long shot, but only because of the subject matter’s inherent weirdness. In terms of proficiency and engagement, Tickled is an instant classic, one that will appear on “Top 50 Documentary” lists forever.

Down-Under-Movie-Poster**** (out of five)

On the eleventh of December, 2005, a hot sunny Sunday, a series of racially-motivated attacks at Cronulla Beach in Sydney lead to some pretty serious national shame and soul-searching. Now, finally, a filmmaker has examined the incident – as a comedy. It’s a brave, brazen and bold move, and it pays off mightily.

Writer / director Abe Forsythe’s last feature was the deliriously funny Ned Kelly spoof Ned way back in 2003. That film was a gag-fest in the vein of Airplane! or The Man With Two Brains, but Down Under has much more serious concerns. It’s an extremely angry film, spewing vitriolic rage at the kind of people who spew vitriolic rage. Basically, it’s a war on idiots, of every ethnic stripe.

Set the day after the riots, the film follows two carfuls of bigoted idiots on a collision course. One is stuffed full of “Aussies”, young men who live in The Shire (the geographic area that includes Cronulla Beach) who are determined to guard their beloved neighbourhood – “God’s Country” – against inevitable “Leb” (for Lebanese) retaliation. The other is a carful of hot-headed out-of-area Lebanese young men intent on delivering that retaliation. Over the course of the day, the two groups arm up, discuss plans, assemble allies and generally psyche up for a fight that nobody really wants yet everyone feels compelled to pursue.

Forsythe deals unashamedly in stereotypes and extremely broad humour, almost daring us to accuse him of extreme political incorrectness. He is remorseless in mocking those he obviously holds in contempt by pure virtue of their ignorance: a pregnant mother not only is shown smoking, we see her toddler plonked in front of a loud television at close range, and then see that she is watching a horrific scene from Wolf Creek, her tiny baby eyes wide with soul-scarring terror.

But Forsythe has got an extremely strict and disciplined schematic in mind, and sticks to his guns. The final act has great power and is full of inventive sequences and cunning reversals. His script has integrity and his direction is sure-footed and consistent. He may hold his characters in contempt, but never his audience.