Film Review of the Week


Foe (15)

Review: The use of generative AI is one of the burning issues at the heart of ongoing strikes in Hollywood so the timing of director Garth Davis’s contemplative sci-fi drama about a brave new world of self-determinative lifeforms is serendipitous to say the least. Alas, it’s a case of right time, wrong film because his portrait of a marriage in crisis, shot in Australia in early 2022, feels almost as parched of emotion as the barren, sun-scorched expanse of mid-21st-century America depicted on screen in sweeping vistas conjured by cinematographer Matyas Erdrly. Adapted by Davis and co-writer Iain Reid from the latter’s 2018 novel, Foe is a three-hander between Saoirse Ronan, Paul Mescal and Aaron Pierre which unravels mysteries of the human heart in long, ponderous takes that tease ethical questions answered far more succinctly (and thrillingly) by Blade Runner and its imitators.

Sparing use of visual effects to realise otherworldly aircraft and a hulking space station hint at the futuristic dystopia beyond the frame of the screen. However, Davis predominantly confines us to a farmhouse where characters navel gaze and attempt to conceal a reveal that is obvious from the outset. Ronan and Mescal work tirelessly to milk droplets of tension from dialogue but they give us few reasons to care about their married couple before an artificially intelligent interloper enters their home and tests the boundaries of a fractious co-dependency.

In 2065, Earth has almost exhausted its capacity to sustain human life and preparations are underway for off-planet colonies overseen by a corporation called OuterMore. Junior (Mescal) and wife Henrietta (Ronan) live in the desolate Midwest where water is a precious commodity and cacophonous dust storms are a regular occurrence. She is a diner waitress while he works on an assembly line, visually inspecting industrially farmed chickens bound for supermarket shelves.

Late one night, OuterMore lackey Terrance (Pierre) arrives unannounced to disclose that Junior has been shortlisted to escape his “mundane” life and travel alone to a space station that orbits Earth. If he is conscripted, a biomechanical doppelganger will care for Henrietta in his absence. “I don’t want a robot living with my wife,” snarls Junior, who has no say in the matter. As the mission deadline approaches, Terrance forcibly inserts himself into the couple’s home to harvest Junior’s memories through exhausting one-on-one interviews with the husband.

Foe makes an enemy of anyone expecting an intense, psychological study with swells of heartache to match Davis’s glorious 2016 Oscar-nominated drama Lion. The filmmaker covers well-trodden ground, taking a scenic tour of the morally divisive issue of AI learning and companionship. Ronan and Mescal bare everything in artfully composed scenes of intimacy but their unabashed physical vulnerability isn’t matched by emotion in the script.

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Killers Of The Flower Moon (15)

Review: Brevity is seldom part of the film-making vocabulary of Academy Award-winning writer-director Martin Scorsese, a master of his craft who has released only one picture in the past 20 years – the fantastical adventure Hugo – within touching distance of a two-hour running time. His latest passion project, a meticulously crafted portrait of America’s capitalist past co-written by Forrest Gump scribe Eric Roth, stretches out uncomfortably beyond three hours, including a soporific opening section distinguished by impeccable contributions from production designer Jack Fisk and costume designer Jacqueline West to evoke 1920s Oklahoma.

Based on David Grann’s bestselling book, Killers Of The Flower Moon illuminates the discovery of oil in the land of the Osage Nation, which bestows great wealth on the Native American tribe. Money and status attract covetous eyes and a real-life murder plot unfolds at a pedestrian pace, eventually eliciting a response from the Bureau of Investigation when the death count of indigenous people becomes too great to ignore in Washington DC’s corridors of power. Leonardo DiCaprio delivers a compelling, nuanced performance as one of the greedy white men involved in the despicable plot. He is evenly matched by Lily Gladstone as the quietly spoken Native American wife, unaware that her insulin injections are being poisoned by her spouse.

Well-respected cattle rancher William King Hale (Robert De Niro) is at the forefront of a diabolical plot to steal the Osage fortune through violence, intimidation and – ultimately – murder. William’s nephew Ernest (DiCaprio), who served his country in the First World War, hopes to benefit from the black gold rush. He is encouraged by William to seduce an indigenous woman named Mollie (Gladstone) and marry her to inherit the rights to her family’s oil.

Ernest is delighted to be a pawn in his uncle’s Machiavellian scheme. “I just love money. I love it almost as much as I love my wife,” he whoops after taking Mollie as his wife. As members of Mollie’s family fall ill or suffer accidents, including her mother Lizzie Q (Tantoo Cardinal), sisters Anna (Cara Jade Myers) and Minnie (Jillian Dion), cousin Reta (JaNae Collins) and brother-in-law Henry (William Belleau), BOI agent Tom White (Jesse Plemons) arrives unexpectedly in Osage County to gather evidence of skulduggery and expose the perpetrators.

Killers Of The Flower Moon intoxicates the senses on a big screen but audiences may prefer to wait until the film arrives on the Apple TV+ streaming service to navigate the bloated 206-minute running time. I personally yearned for Scorsese’s long-time editor and collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker to be more heavy-handed in the opening hour before the murderous plot gathers momentum. A brief on-screen appearance by the film-maker underlines his fierce commitment to honouring the subject matter. Staying the course with Scorsese demands fortitude and patience.

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Trolls Band Together (PG)

Review: Art NSYNChronises poorly with life in DreamWorks Animation’s sugar-coated musical comedy directed by Walt Dohrn and co-directed by Tim Heitz. Trolls Band Together affectionately harks back to actor Justin Timberlake’s halcyon days in one of the biggest selling boybands of all time and reunites him with JC Chasez, Joey Fatone, Chris Kirkpatrick and Lance Bass (depicted as cute crooning creatures) armed with an anodyne pop ditty, Better Place, recorded for the film after a 21-year hiatus. There are better places than this computer-animated road trip for families in search of life-affirming entertainment of substance.

The chief antagonists are two social media-driven siblings, who become chart-topping sensations with their track Watch Me Work by secretly inhaling the vaporous musical talent they have extracted from a troll hostage. Auto-tune evidently doesn’t exist in a rainbow-coloured fantasy imagined by the screenwriting trio of Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger and Elizabeth Tippet, who follow the lead of their villainous creations and milk a cash troll dry with a lacklustre anthem to collaboration.

Even the opening mash-up of Keep It Comin’ Love by KC And The Sunshine Band, We Are Family by Sister Sledge, Push It by Salt-N-Pepa, Good As Hell by Lizzo, and Hello by Lionel Richie underwhelms, heralding the wedding day of Bergen lovebirds Gristle (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and Bridget (Zooey Deschanel). Their dream nuptials are interrupted by John Dory (Eric Andre), long-lost brother of Branch (Timberlake), who needs to reunite their band BroZone to rescue kidnapped sibling Floyd (Troye Sivan) from the clutches of nefarious duo Velvet (Amy Schumer) and Veneer (Andrew Rannells).

John Dory’s return “20 years too late” is a painful reminder of a calamitous first public performance of the five-piece’s ironically titled song Perfect. “We’re not in sync. There’s only one direction for us to go – to the backstreets!” quips one of the siblings. Bruised egos are hastily put to one side for the sake of a flimsy plot and Branch accompanies John Dory on a haphazard odyssey to locate other brothers Clay (Kid Cudi) and Spruce (Daveed Diggs), while Poppy (Anna Kendrick) unearths her own family secret in the form of spunky free spirit Viva (Camila Cabello).

Trolls Band Together is an inoffensive remix of the previous two films and feels as though it has been composed by committee. A choral chant of teamwork is evident in the title of Dohrn and Heitz’s sequel and a centrepiece chase along circuitous streets bears an unfortunate resemblance to karting sequences in The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Cuteness oozes from every glitter-bombed frame but the toe-tapping franchise will need to furiously rub one of Thomas Dam’s fluffy-haired Good Luck Troll dolls to warrant future adventures with these fun-loving characters. Otherwise, this should be Bye Bye Bye to Poppy, Branch and the gang.

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