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Jim Schembri’s new release movie reviews and Shane Jacobson Interview.

Jim Schembri

 

TOMB RAIDER *** (118 minutes) M

Hitting refresh on an old formula, here’s a nimble, snappy remake of Tomb Raider that sees petite Swedish actress Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina; The Danish Girl, which won her an Oscar) stepping into the boots and singlet of the more aggressive Angelina Jolie in the role of action femme Lara Croft.

Whereas Jolie played Croft as a cocksure, aggressive Amazonian man-slayer in her two films (2001, 2003), Vikander sees her heroine as more vulnerable, a college-age kid who has to fight harder to come out of fights with big, bad men, usually with a few scars.

Directed with requisite zest by Roar Uthaug – a Norwegian director stepping into the big time and clearly keen to impress his studio masters – the film puts the lithe Vikander through her paces as she goes to a remote island in the storm-swept Pacific in search of a world-threatening secret and possibly her dad (Dominic West).

There’s a lovely set-piece featuring Lara’s encounter with a rusted World War 2 American bomber and plenty of shoot-em-up action where her weapon of choice is an archery set.

A few gags aside, the film plays it very straight, with the wonderful Walton Goggins (The Hateful Eight; Django Unchained) putting in another delicious turn as the bad guy.

As is the wont of the moment, it’s tempting to interpret the film politically as signalling the supposed rise of big films with women in major roles, so if you want to play along and embrace Tomb Raider as some beacon of defiant feminist determination in a male-dominated genre, knock yourselves out.

The more prosaic, sensible and unremarkable truth is that it’s just another action movie with a woman in the lead.

Females have been action-movie drawcards for yonks, with Kate Beckinsale (Underworld), Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil) and Jennifer Lawrence (Hunger Games) being only the latest crop of kick-ass female action heroes, and with their own franchises, no less.

 

HUMAN FLOW ** (140 minutes) M

It clearly sucks being a refugee, the world has a huge refugee problem and we should do something about it.

Thusly does prominent Chinese artist Ai WeiWei bang on-and-on in his godawfully long opus about the scale of the refugee crisis and how it would all just go away if only there was more humanity in the world.

It’s a noble cause, to be sure, but the problem with his turgid film is that rather than make a convincing documentary that explores an issue, he’s sculpted a piece of artsy agit-prop with stark cinematography, endless shots of dour-looking displaced people and a simplistic agenda that really grates.

There’s no denying the power of some of Weiwei’s images – of suffering children, of over-crowded boats at the mercy of heaving seas, of refugee camps so large they have developed their own economies – but the film reduces the complexity of the problem to the usual “open the gates and let everybody in” solution.

There’s nothing wrong with a doco having a point of view, or even an agenda, but it’s important to show both sides of the pancake for it to have any validity beyond a work of activism.

Alas, that’s all we’ve got here, a massive work designed to please the like-minded, yet persuade nobody else. It took Weiwei eight years to make, apparently, and he spends almost all of his time looking at the most emotional side of the debate, rather than the realities.

In one telling scene he points to a border gate that once let through one million people. Now it let’s through nobody.

He needed to explain why rather than leave the statement hanging in the air as if it was some unarguably brilliant piece of rhetoric.

 

KANGAROO – A Love Hate Story ** (103 minutes) M

Much of what applies to Human Flow also applies to this slickly made local documentary about the plight of our nation’s internationally famous hopping rodent.

The film’s controversial contention is that while the official count of the kangaroo population puts them at such pest levels they need to be culled, the “real” situation is that those figures are huge over-estimates.

The film has already stirred much heat and noise, with the filmmakers swearing black-and-blue that they’ve nailed their research while farmers call in to talkback radio complaining how their paddocks are overrun with roos.

As with Human Flow, the film does not make sufficient effort to show the other side of the issue, and so leaves you unsatisfied about whether the problem – if it is a problem – has been given its due.

These two films really show the lasting, highly dubious influence of Michael Moore, the American documentarian who reshaped the documentary genre in his own image that put the persuasive power of emotion before rational argument.

 

THAT’S NOT MY DOG ** (87 minutes) M

To protest what they believe is the dying art of old-fashioned joke telling, lovable everyman Shane Jacobson (Kenny; Oddball, etc) and director Dean Murphy (Charlie & Boots; Strange Bedfellows) gather a huge clutch of comedians at a rural party and film them telling jokes.

There are blonde jokes, Irish jokes, sex jokes, dad jokes, back-engineered puns and one liners, all designed as a celebration of old-school gags where you’re not meant to take offense at anything. The film is also meant to serve a backhander to the political correctness that would deem most of the film’s jokes as “inappropriate”.

There are, admittedly, quite a few laughs to be had and the film has gathered such notables as Paul Hogan, Jimeoin, Tim Ferguson and Fiona O’Loughlin to let loose before the very unobtrusive cameras.

But what we’ve essentially got here is not so much a film but raw material for a film. That, surely, would have been a far more effective way to address all the issues about changing tastes, old versus new school comedy and why jokes about blondes will always be funny.

Or, perhaps, put the gags to one side and actually interview the comedians seriously about the changing face of being funny.

That’s Not My Dog, which took but a few days to film, is only screening for a few days in cinemas as an “event”. To see where, CLICK HERE  The DVD release in a few months will be accompanied by a 300+ page book, published by HarperCollins, that will apparently contain about 200 jokes. That’s against the 80 or so that appear in the movie.

Shane Jacobson and Dean Murphy were kind enough to submit themselves to a pretty frank interview, in which they discuss That’s Not My Dog and the elusive art of making comedy films in Australia, with particular and pointed reference to The BBQ, an Australian comedy film starring Shane Jacobson that received terrible reviews and died very quickly at the box office.

It is a very lively and funny interview. Please enjoy.

Jim Schembri
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