In the film’s first act, enough is left unexplained to induce an enjoyable kind of vertigo, especially as the time travel premise leaves ample scope for the narrative to double back on itself or switch paths. As it turns out, though, Dark Fate is considerably more linear than the last instalment of the saga, 2015’s convoluted Terminator: Genisys.
Schwarzenegger has seemed a faded figure, one more celebrity has-been. But here he rises to the occasion.
We continue to follow the central trio on the run as they reveal their backstories to each other in between skirmishes and form a bickering surrogate family (though the plot excludes romance of any kind, the lesbian vibes are as strong as in any pop fantasy this side of Xena: Warrior Princess).
Not until halfway through do we get the inevitable return of the original Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has played a couple of different Terminators over the years and assumes yet another guise here. In his recent, sporadic film roles, Schwarzenegger has seemed a faded figure, one more celebrity has-been. But here he rises to the occasion, delivering effective moments of comedy and drama in a manner that could almost be called acting.
It’s the mixture as before and yet it isn’t. The opportunities to bring the premise up-to-date have not been missed – in the lengthy detour that traps the protagonists in a detention centre on the US border and in the allusions to omnipresent electronic surveillance, suggesting that the machines have already taken over.
Brittany Runs A Marathon ★★★½
Twentysomething party girl Brittany (Jillian Bell) is overweight and under-employed. Her doctor advises her to lose 55 pounds (25 kilograms). Her party pals scrupulously avoid the fat word but treat her with genial condescension; as if telling her that she’s the funniest girl they know should be more than enough to keep her happy and fulfilled. Still she starts running because it’s free and when she meets two running mates, Seth (Micah Stock), a gay man who’s also looking to enhance his self-esteem, and Catherine (Michaela Watkins), her wealthy neighbour who’s caught up in a messy divorce, things start to pick up. “Paul Downs Colaizzo gives us a vividly believable picture of what it’s like to be youngish, single and in danger of losing your way in any big city where status can depend solely on a talent for keeping up appearances via an artfully arranged social media feed,” says reviewer Sandra Hall.
“A first feature from the playwright, Brittany Runs a Marathon is a typical New York story. But it could take place in any city where social media holds sway and hourly selfies are mandatory yet you’ve reached your late twenties with nothing to post on Instagram but a photo of your latest cocktail.
In other words it’s a tale for our times, which is not surprising because Colaizzo found it without having to leave home. Brittany is named for his flatmate who found an extreme solution to her dissatisfaction with life by training for the New York City Marathon, a 42-kilometre ordeal embracing an extensive tour of upper Manhattan and New York City’s eastern boroughs.
It’s a long haul, which Bell tackles with great conviction and a comprehensive wardrobe of fatsuits. A comic actor who made her breakthrough in 22 Jump Street, she lost 18 kilograms for the role – a fact that may help to account for the plausibility with which she charts each stage of Brittany’s painful transformation from a sweet-faced good-time girl to a single-minded character so bent on achieving what she’s set out to do that she tends to bristle at any offer of help.
But along the way she also loses her sense of humour, which is bad news for the film. There are some endearing moments, especially when she takes up with funny, feckless Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar), who offers sex as an alternative to comfort food, but the action falters in the middle and slows to a plod.
At one point, she makes an uncomfortable descent into self-loathing that has her petulantly fat-shaming an overweight woman she’s never met before. You can see why Colaizzo includes the scene. In a sense, it’s a disclaimer. The urge to lose weight may have given Brittany the initial urge to change her life but it doesn’t give her licence to censure somebody else over their size and shape. At the same time, it’s such an awkwardly played sequence that it looks as if it’s been devised solely to get that particular message across.
Fortunately, the pace picks up again in time for the rousing denouement, which Colaizzo and three small crews filmed in the midst of a real New York City Marathon. Like Brittany’s run, it was quite a feat and it may help explain why Amazon snapped up the film at the Sundance Festival. On the other hand, it has a lot going for it, largely because it’s so pertinent.”
47 Metres Down: Uncaged ★★★½
47 Metres Down: Uncagedis British director Johannes Roberts’ sequel to his 2017 shark attack movie 47 Metres Down. Set in a submerged Mayan city, accessed through underwater caves newly discovered off the Yucatan peninsula by an American archeologist and scuba-diving enthusiast Grant (John Corbett), Grant’s teenage daughter Mia (Sophie Neilisse), her stepsister Sasha (Corinne Foxx) and two friends (Brianne Tju and Sistine Stallone) mount a diving expedition of their own. Reviewer Jake Wilson delighted in the looming question posed by the underwater thriller, “How many will return?”
“None of the characters from the original return: even the sharks are not the same.
But thematically, the film ups the ante on its predecessor, resulting in a pure, rather beautiful example of genre as ritual.
The film’s initial expository scenes are flat and cornball, even deliberately so. Things only get going once the heroines venture beneath the sea, immersing the audience in an unfamiliar environment, without even brief respite in the form of cutaways to subplots on land.
This far down, it’s impossible to see more than a short distance on any side, meaning anxiety mounts well before the great whites loom into view – especially when Mia and her friends reach the Mayan city’s eerie central temple, with its faceless statues and altar fashioned for human sacrifice.
Visually, the film often verges on abstraction and there are sonic experiments being conducted as well. Ingeniously, the sharks are a mutant strain specific to the deep sea, blind but with acute hearing. The underwater dialogues have a peculiar, dreamlike quality: except when their radios fail, the characters’ voices sound exactly like they would anywhere else, though we do hear their intakes of breath.
To insist that any single symbolic meaning lurks here would be reductive, even if the dialogue is rife with double entendres. What matters is that the heroines have broken the rules, licensing us to equate their adventure with any transgression that springs to mind.
This lets the film serve as a flexible and powerful metaphor for a particular kind of adolescent experience: that of discovering, and potentially getting trapped in, life’s hidden depths.”
Happy Sad Man ★★★½
Following her hit I AM ELEVEN, Australian filmmaker Genevieve Bailey documents the lives of five very different men, ranging from Bondi Beach to the outback. By doing so she tries to change the dialogue around masculinity and mental health. Happy Sad Man is unusual since it is about men, rather than women, perhaps because Bailey knows a few men with these problems. Her friend Jake was a rising cinematographer who decided to become a war photographer; he now suffers from PTSD. Grant, a surfer from New Zealand, lost his grip on “normal life” in the space of a week. Ivan, an older country bloke, travels around talking to older men, often in Men’s Sheds, about noticing the signs of depression and suicidal despair before it’s too late. While David makes public performance art, with a strong bent of comedy, to keep the black dog at bay. But it is John’s story that makes the most confronting viewing, according to reviewer Paul Byrnes.
“How does a person suffering mental illness give consent to be filmed? That’s one reason we see so few documentaries about the subject. Bailey spent years making this film about five Australian men who have encountered some form of mental illness. It’s clear she intends it as an act of compassion and understanding rather than exploitation, but the question arises anyway, regardless of good intentions.
John, who’s about 70, has had a long battle with bipolar disorder. He dresses in eccentric clothes and has a bright infectious laugh, but his joy disappears easily when Bailey trains her camera on his face. She tells us in voiceover she and John met when she was in film school and have been friends for years.
It is clear that he participates in the filming with a sense of openness, at least when he is “up”. But Bailey is there, too, when he is down, admitted to hospital with severe symptoms. Her voiceover says he agreed that she could continue to film during this period, too – but it’s a more problematic form of consent. At what point does his ability to give informed consent disappear?
Most of the other men have less acute symptoms, and it’s true that if we didn’t see John in his full despair, the film would lack the depth it sorely needs. His plight brings it home – thousands of men in Australia live with symptoms of depression like this. For any filmmaker, this is a hard place.
The film rewards close viewing. It’s a slow burner, and needs to be, to allow us to get to know the subjects. As we do, we begin to see the signs of distress, which they often try to hide, or divert into frantic activity. Some of this is positive for them.
It’s a sobering film, not least because it suggests the problem is much greater than we have acknowledged.”
Happy Sad Man opens in Melbourne on October 31 and in Sydney on November 7.
If you, or anyone you know, needs mental health support, please call a helpline such as Lifeline 13 11 14; beyondblue 1300 224 636; Mental Health Emergency Response Line 1300 555 788 (Metro) or Rurallink 1800 552 002; Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
Little Monsters ★★★
Abe Forsythe’s Little Monsters is an Australian entry in the same horror-comedy sub-genre as Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die. The zombie outbreak in this case takes place at a petting farm known as Pleasant Valley, which happens to be next to a US army base and source of the outbreak. Lupita Nyong’o stars as the teacher in charge of the school children under attack, who is assisted by one of the student’s dead-beat uncle (Alexander England) and a not-so-helpful American kids’ show host known as Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad), real name Nathan Schneider. The zombies just keep coming, with this R-rated film “winkingly admitting that the return of the living dead has become a matter of routine,” finds reviewer Jake Wilson.
“Forsythe has learnt a lot about filmmaking since his feature debut, the ill-fated 2003 spoof Ned. The script for Little Monsters is a skilful piece of work: there are many running gags with satisfying pay-offs and the dialogue has a well-judged blend of crassness and specificity. The central section resourcefully works through the possibilities of a single location, while the editing takes special care with reaction shots, the children serving mostly as spectators of the adult drama.
In terms of theme, the film calls for pondering. On one level, it’s a straightforward story about an arrested adolescent who learns to take responsibility on the way to becoming a potential dad.
But as in Forsythe’s 2016 black comedy Down Under, there’s also a political subtext. Gradually the penny drops that this is a story about border protection, especially once all the major characters find refuge in the besieged Pleasant Valley gift shop, with an Australian flag fluttering atop the roof. A pointed element of anti-American satire is channelled chiefly but not solely through Gad, a naturally dislikeable but expert performer who plumbs new depths in self-abasement.
Where do these different levels of meaning intersect? Forsythe doesn’t fully show his hand until the last moment, but the ironies that eventually emerge are almost worthy of Korea’s Bong Joon-ho (whose satirical 2006 monster movie The Host may have been a direct influence).
It must be admitted that while Forsythe slathers on the gore as required, his zombies are not scary; perhaps zombies never will be again. But that doesn’t stop the oddly moving, rather desolate ending from hitting home.”
Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta’s life story begins in the Havana slums where his 10-year-old self (played by Edlison Manuel Olbera Núñez) is displaying a precocious gift for the new art of breakdancing, climaxes in London where the Royal Ballet Company anoints him as its first black Romeo (Keyvin Martínez), and comes to a gently upbeat conclusion back home in Havana, with Acosta playing himself. Unlike that other ballet prodigy Billy Elliot, street kid Yuli, as his father calls him, has no desire to be a dancer. He wants to be the next football great, like Pele. But his father, Pedro (Santiago Alfonso), a truck driver, is certain dance will be his son’s passport out of the slums. “It presents a dizzying success story”, writes reviewer Sandra Hall.
“It has all the makings of a perfectly formed feelgood movie but Spanish director Iciar Bollain and British screenwriter Paul Laverty – Ken Loach’s regular collaborator – have less conventional ideas in mind.
They tell part of the story in dance while closely interweaving the personal and the political. Racial prejudice and Cuba’s rocky economic history play a prominent part in a biopic that moves back and forth in time to produce a dreamily introspective profile of an international talent whose homesickness follows him everywhere.
It’s a deliberately selective version of a very large life, centring on Acosta’s early years when his loneliness is only slightly relieved by the adulation he attracts as principal dancer with the Royal Ballet and in the leading roles he’s offered by more of the world’s great companies. Whether he’s in Houston, New York or London, he’s hankering after news from home.
He eventually chose Britain as his base, marrying an English woman and making his home in Somerset, but Laverty’s script doesn’t take us that far. It’s the dancer’s unbreakable bond with Cuba that preoccupies him. And Iciar clearly feels the same. The stage sequences were shot in Havana with some of the young dancers from the company Acosta has set up there and his love for the city, coloured by layers of memory and heritage, infuses every frame.”
The true story of the East German balloon escape of 1979 takes place almost entirely in a small community in southern East Germany, near Jena. Two families have laboured in secret for two years to construct a home-made hot-air balloon to cross the border at night into West Germany; if they can just get the science right – weight, height, trajectory, winds – not to mention their own nerves given border guards have orders to shoot to kill. Peter Strelzyk (played in the film by Friedrich Mucke), an electrician and former air force mechanic, and Gunter Wetzel (David Kross), a bricklayer but dab hand with a sewing machine, experimented over many months. Both wives, Doris Strelzyk (Karoline Schuch) and Petra Wetzel (Alicia von Rittberg), fear the balloon will never carry four adults and four children. Thomas Kretschmann, the biggest name actor here, plays a Stasi colonel who comes looking for them after their first botched attempt.
“The film is a solid political thriller, with good edge-of-the-seat tension if you don’t mind everything slightly over-cooked,” says reviewer Paul Byrnes. “By that I mean that the director employs a full suite of tricks to keep us guessing and these can become quickly tiresome. A classic example of this is the old ‘Stasi-cars-racing-to-pick-up-our heroes’ routine, where they think they have found their targets. Of course they end up knocking at the wrong door. Mein Gott, that was close! That kind of manipulation is so old it’s quaint, like the late ’70s East German threads the cast has to endure.
The casting is strong but equally obvious. Outside the families, most of the neighbours are suspicious-looking customers. If they work for the Stasi they are either fat, cruel and stupid, or thin, mean and twitchy. When a state official appears on screen the music becomes foreboding – like the Darth Vader march, but a bit more Wagner.
The director Michael ‘Bully’ Herbig is a household name in Germany as a broad comedian. His long-running TV show pokes fun at German cultural icons. One of his most beloved characters is his version of Winnetou – a noble red man who featured in a series of hugely popular German ‘spaetzle’ (dumpling) westerns in the 1960s. Herbig’s Winnetou is a sibilant camp character in sequins and a feather – imagine Dick Emery in moccasins and suede.
There isn’t much room for comedy in Balloon, although a smidgen of satire in some early scenes points to how the movie might have been more tonally complex. It’s easy to see why Herbig plays it relatively straight. This is victory propaganda, by and large, a retelling of a famous German story as a modern fairytale: how two noble families set out to flee the wicked East on a puff of hot air and a dream of freedom. Old cold warriors will find their cockles warmed: those were the days!”
Jake Wilson is a film critic for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
Sandra Hall is a film critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Paul Byrnes is a film critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.