ROGUE ONE CONFORMS TOO MUCH

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Rogue One comes billed as a standalone entry in the Star Wars saga eagerly spoken about as a team on a mission war film during development and early production. It’s only fair that a franchise film would promise to give you something different while being obligated to feel familiar. If MacDonald’s didn’t broaden their menu it would stagnate but you don’t go there to get Chinese take-away do you? So it is with film franchises too. The fact that this film is set so closely to the events of the original Star Wars released in 1977 tells you everything about the corporate need to bank on established content but it provided creative opportunities and challenges. Rogue One actually works best with connecting dots to the rest of the franchise and showing us new ways to remember the past. In light of The Force Awakens timeline this feels like a story about heroes long ago forgotten in the darkest times of a past war. There is something refreshingly melancholic about that for the saga. Visually it is great looking with half a dozen unique worlds visited and all the best of modern filmmaking used to honour the past but break new ground. However the strongest element of the $2Billion grossing The Force Awakens is the weakest one in Rogue One and that is of characters. The film has found defenders for this with the moodiness of this piece arguably making it difficult for these characters to pop but ultimately their plight should be affective and it isn’t. Look to The Guns of Navaronne and The Dirty Dozen for what was promised and has failed to be delivered. That is not to say that the film is without merit.

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We open with Jyn Erso as a child living on a farm with her parents. The Empire comes in the form of Orson Krennic played by Ben Mendelsohn who wants Mads Mikkelsen’s Galen Erso to come back and complete work on the Death Star. Little Jyn’s mother is killed, her father taken and Jyn survives to be raised by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) a Rebellion Commander. That must have been a fascinating story but you’ll see none of it here. Still so far so good on the standard hero origin story, a mentor teaches her self-reliance and she has a tragic backstory that will give her personal drive in quest that is ultimately about the fate of the galaxy. Jyn is tough, laconic with a dry sense of humour. Felicity Jones one of the most talented and beautiful of a new breed of actresses here does her scenes well. Harrison Ford once famously said to George Lucas “You can type this shit but sure as hell can’t say it.” Well it turns out Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher could but Felicity Jones, Diego Luna and Donnie Yen cannot.

Image result for rogue one castThe rest of the cast includes Diego Luna a Rebellion intelligence officer Cassian Andor prepared to do bad things for a good cause, Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe a faithful believer in the Force who draws strength from his father but no mystical powers and his cynical but loyal friend Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), a defecting Imperial cargo pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) out of his depth and afraid but clearly to do the right thing and a smart arse Droid for comic relief K-2SO (voiced by the delightfully talented Alan Tudyk) round out the cast. These are not characters; I had to look up Wikipedia to remind myself of half their names, they’re types and while these backgrounds are effectively conveyed by the actors and dialogue true performances that make you feel for them never occur. We are told who they are rather than shown half the time and when we are, we just don’t care. The plot is always moving from planet to planet and set piece to set piece that the characters themselves barely get a chance to interact and grow relationships. We know they are inherently good people and we do want them to succeed but we are not scared for their safety and that is huge misgiving for this type of film.

Wicked the musical for example is a fantastic example of doing a prequel and sidequel which effectively flips long established truths about The Wizard of Oz. But you don’t expect Judy Garland to step on stage with Idina Menzel. How to tell a Star Wars story from this time frame and not include Darth Vader? To their credit the filmmakers have stepped up to the plate with ambition and courage.

SPOILER ALERTS!!!!!!!!

Grand Moff Tarkin originally played by Peter Cushing (who passed away in 1994) returns in this film along with a few others played mostly by now sadly deceased actors. Rather than cut around the actor Tarkin is present throughout played by Guy Henry with Cushing’s likeness added by CGI. It is not quite perfect as an effect (personally I feel sad knowing a day is coming when this is possible) but it is effective as a performance and something that after a while you do not give much thought to. Links to Star Wars perhaps come across sometimes as more fan service than necessary but a new explanation for the Death Star’s long maligned design flaw wrapped up in a personal story is ingenious. Yet for fans of the mythology the links to the past are far more affecting. A family living in comfort with the grand lights Coruscant in the background, an older and grayer Senator linking to the prequels and what was lost with the Republic. The Rebel Alliance here is more complex than previously known with breakaway leadership, having fought a secret war for close to 20 years with no progress, combatants prepared to not just die but kill and slowly asking what is it all for? Rogue One shows them at a make or break moment in their history and this world building is so effectively done it enriches other chapters in the saga.

Talk of a troubled production with extensive re-shoots only crop up in the sense that we feel short changed with Saw Gerrera and Jyn Erso’s relationship and some of the most dynamic shots in the original teaser trailer do not appear here. star wars trailer rogue one at atThe debut of director Gareth Edward’s Monsters was a wonderful film. A little film that still had impressive effects, a heartfelt but not heavy handed message and two dynamic central performances. The relationships and characters were the weakest element of his follow up Godzilla which was okay because he got the character of Godzilla right. That film was spectacularly epic in scope and action and Rogue One continues that achievement. Action scenes are done well, for a series that has excelled in space battles (Star Wars, Return of the Jedi, Revenge of the Sith…yes Revenge of the Sith damn it) they may have made the best one yet in Rogue One. There is a seamless mix of location shooting, practical effects and cutting edge computer animation. Characters walk down muddy mountains in the rain, storm beaches towards AT-AT walkers and everything is has a modern dynamic whether it be hand held shots or close range pyrotechnics. Dangers and physical risk feels real in this film and the battle scenes are shot with war like tropes even if the blood and gore remains absent. The stakes are real in this Star Wars film just not the emotional pay offs.

 -Lloyd Marken

 

10 PICS FROM THE STICKS PART VII: MT BITHONGABEL AND 3RD TIMES A CHARM

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The entrance to the Main Border Track, Lamington National Park. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

 

Those who follow this blog will know I have done quite a bit of hiking around the Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk in recent years. In 2016 I decided it was time to seek out new trails. To the south of my hometown Brisbane is the Gold Coast and nearby rainforests of the Tamborine mountains. I started thinking about finding a trail in that area when a quick internet search turned up the Gold Coast Hinterland Great Walk. From there I looked at various tracks before settling on one at Lamington National Park on the Main Border Track. It would take me 6kms down the track to Mt Bithongabel for a return journey of just over 12kms with differing vegetation. It was said that from Bithongabel one could see the path Bernard O’Reilly‘s journey when searching for a lost Stinson aeroplane in 1937. O’Reilly’s Retreat an accommodation and picnic ground site is located in Lamington National Park and was started by Bernard and his brothers. In 1937 a Stinson airliner enroute from Brisbane to Sydney went missing. Bernard a bushman and author suspected the plane had failed to clear the McPherson range due to heavy rain. He went looking for it and found the survivors of the crash.

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A Replica of the Stinson that was used in the 1987 movie The Riddle of the Stinson starring Jack Thompson onsite at O’Reilly’s Retreat. Copyright Lloyd Marken

On the 10th of April, 2016 Karen and I set off from the northside of Brisbane to get to Lamington National Park. It can be tricky sometimes driving out to Lamington. A wrong turn on those mountain highways cannot always be remedied by a quick 3 point turn. I took such a wrong turn and it cost us time. Eventually we knew we were on the right path as we ascended a mountain with sections of one lane only and two way traffic. I’d never driven on such a road before and found it exciting to say the least. Part of it has been carved out of rock which is quite neat to drive through. We arrived halfway through the afternoon and started down the Border Track at 3:09pm. Where I can become obsessed-Karen can see reason. We walked for 3kms together through beautiful rainforest that included ancient Antarctic Beech trees (some examples have been known to have lived for over 12,000 years). Yet having walked through a rainforest at night Karen sensibly turned around at that point. I knew I could push further but knew time was not on my side.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

I walked on at a much quicker pace alone passing more parties on their way back with looks of puzzlement at the direction I was heading in. Onward I went checking the time unsure of how far I had come. Could it be just around the corner? When up on the path ahead lay a collapsed tree, as I went to step over it a reptilian head darted around an opening. Was it a snake or a lizard? It didn’t seem to have ill intentions towards me and I figured it was probably a lizard.

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Very friendly and probably a lizard. Copyright Lloyd Marken

The sun was setting. What would it be like to come back across this tree when it was dark knowing there was potentially a snake nearby. Keen readers will note I have been in rainforests before when it is dark. I stepped over the tree and kept walking.

 

The time I planned to turn around and go back came and went. Fifteen minutes past it. Half an hour. I reasoned with myself what was the new time to go no further. That time came and went too, the sun was low, the path was becoming gloomier and the rainforest noisier. I came down to the end of a long path hoping for a sign. I knew I was close to 6kms. I looked at the terrain, where did the land stop to rise? How much further could the path ascend? I was walking to a mountain lookout and it didn’t seem the ground climbed much further. I walked down a long straight path long after the point of no return, my blood was pumping, my T-shirt stained with sweat but my body was working in a rhythmic exuberance. I wasn’t tired, I was possessed. But at the end of that stretch, the path winded around to another stretch. Bithongabel could be a mere five hundred metres ahead but it was too far. My wife was waiting for me and it would be dark before I made it back.

I pivoted and walked back frustrated to have travelled so far and yet to have not planned it better to have given myself enough time to reach my goal. Coming back I moved even faster knowing the path now and with a bit of downward slant for the most part. Having only just walked it for the first time that day I could not judge where all landmarks were and how much farther I had left. I just pressed on but when I became sure I was close I saw an opening in the rainforest on my way back with a sunset sky. It was the closest I came to a payoff that day.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t have a working torch that day as I usually would so I was glad to see the dirt path turn to red concrete as the rainforest became dark. The red concrete told me I was near a path to nearby villas and had less than a kilometre to go. Possibly much less.

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Karen at the entrance to the Main Border Track. Copyright Lloyd Marken

Finally the light at the end of the track and Karen came into view. I had made it but I would need to return and reach Bithongabel next time.

 

Life stepped in though and I never set out again for Lamington until the 23rd of October. Karen couldn’t come so I set out alone without my navigator. Google maps was not my friend that day going offline up in the mountains. I corrected my course but at some point found myself on my way to Mt Tamborine. I knew I wasn’t going to make it in time to get out and there and back before dark. So I headed for Tamborine and stopped on the side of the road at one of those mountain car parks where people will stop and take photos together of the view.

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The view from Mt Tamborine 23OCT16. Copyright Lloyd Marken

My plans were a bust. I turned and saw across the road one of those touristy themed eateries and heard my stomach rumble. Trying my best to be a impromptu weekend traveller of windswept interest I sauntered into the German themed restaurant and asked for a table at the back. Beautiful red flowers covered the outside, inside was fine wooden furniture and out the back a pretty water feature. I sat down and looked at the plastic laminated menu and saw a variety of schnitzel and pork loin meals. A fan of neither I asked for the loin with a helping of mashed potato. If you love your German schnitzel or pork loin I cannot recommend this place enough but sadly as I gave up finishing my loin and polished off the mash I felt complete failure in my endeavours for the day. I couldn’t even order the right food for myself. As I headed for home I let Karen know I would get pizza on the way from a southside place I had grown up on. The day would not be a complete bust but I was now more determined that ever to achieve my goal. Next Sunday I would go to Mt Bithongabel.

 

Sadly again Karen could not come so I set off alone with a different path to O’Reilly’s. Unsure of how this would play out. Google maps at one point pulled me off in the opposite direction at Yatala and then directed me around in circles through an industrial area. I knew we were in the wrong place and losing time but as I continued to drive I found myself on a familiar road and my hopes were raised. Eventually I came to the same mountain driving cautiously through the one lane sections. I passed an abandoned car at the top off to the side of the road on an angle. Noting traffic around me I went on and let the volunteers at the Information Centre know whom then called the police. A reminder that these roads were dangerous. It was still later than I could afford it to be but the sun was setting later this time of year and I bought a brand new torch from the O’Reilly’s gift shop and a fridge magnet for my Mum before setting off in earnest.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

I had not gone long down the path when I saw a massive tree had collapsed with its giant stump lying next to the path  which was sunk in. Six months had passed and there were many new sights as well as familiar ones to take in. The rainforest was alive and constantly evolving. Along the way I passed a guy who asked me where I was headed. I answered ” We’ll see.” knowing the sun was descending to which he helpfully pointed out ” It would be dark soon.” He was not the only one as I moved forward and I can’t blame them but at least I had not set off as late as I had in April even if I knew it should have been earlier than it was.

 

Eventually I reached as far as I had come – now I would see how much further it was. The track moved into a more open area with pine needles everywhere and a chance to turn down another path. I racked my brain, I had turned off my phone due to the google maps  having drained most of its power on the way up. I was on the Main Border Track and surely I remained on it to get to Bithongabel but if I was wrong then this decision would cost me any chance of reaching my goal destination. I went forward fairly confident and the path ahead went along the side of the mountain. There was a golden sheen to the vegetation as the lowering sun pierced the canopy. It truly was beautiful but I began to worry. I had already reached a point where I was glad I had turned back in April. There was no way I would have made it to Bithongabel before it was dark that day but now I wondered if I had taken the wrong path. The sun was fading and the path started to dip. We were going down the mountain and I had not reached the top. Had I taken the wrong path after all?

That’s when I saw it and I knew it was it.

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At the end of the path to the right is the sign for Bithongabel. Copyright Lloyd Marken

Bithongabel on a simple wooden sign. I had made it but there was no lookout to speak of. Where was I supposed to look out to retrace Bernard O’Reilly’s steps? I reasoned it could be a bit a further down so I stomped off down that way but soon I had gone several metres without anything in sight. I knew not much further along was the Tooloona lookout. Bithongabel had disappointed me and I needed a prize for my efforts. Once again I found myself bartering with my better angels about when to turn back. The path became muddy and my sneakers squelched and slipped through some pretty big puddles. I continued to descend not sure how much further I could go when I saw a young man up ahead with a camera. I stopped where he was standing and looked out. This was Tooloona lookout. What the hell was this guy doing out here in the middle of nowhere? Didn’t he know the sun was about to set. Maybe I wasn’t an idiot. He was staying nearby at the campsite at Bithongabel. Oh okay so I was the only idiot present. He left me to it and I took a picture. Mist came off a nearby peak and with the setting sun it truly was a beautiful sight. My phone gave out at that point. I smiled grateful for the photos. I moved off back to Bithongabel where I looked for the campsite and found it down from the sign along with the young man I had met at Tooloona lookout.  We discussed the lack of a lookout and I went further and climbed over some boulders to the edge of the outcrop. From there you could imagine seeing much if the rainforest hadn’t grown up some trees blocking the view. Maybe this had offered better visibility in the past, maybe I had unfairly expected more. No matter I was pleased with the sights I had seen. I bid the young camper farewell and headed for what would now be a long trek home. On and on I went and the rainforest again came alive and the shadows grew darker. With a torch now available and picking up a wooden stick I feared not but it was a long trek back and my camelback came close to being empty.

 

As night came I once again reached the red concrete and knew I would make it. Up ahead in the dark I saw a light flashing and wondered if a Wildlife Ranger or someone else had waited for me after hearing tales from other hikers of some fat bozo with a shopping bag walking up the Border Track mid-afternoon. I turned my torch on just in case but as I walked on I came to realise no one was there. I turned my torch off and kept walking. On the ground I saw what appeared to be a red light flickering. Odd I thought  and walked up to it and turned my flashlight on it to see what was there but there only leaves. I turned off my torch again and this little light flashed again. Then I turned on my torch and saw a little creature move. I turned off my torch but no further light shone. Many years ago I had gone with my wife to a tourist attraction of the Glow Worm caves at Tamborine Mountain. I say Glow Worms but technically they were Glow Maggots but you can understand why the place wasn’t called that. I’m 36 years old and have gone camping on and off for various organisations throughout my life. I found the Glow Worms caves interesting, was I seeing something similar now in the wild? I’d never seen anything like it before.

I turned and walked down the path and a flickering golden light lit up and off dancing in front of me. It danced around my whole body in a full circle and then lit up the sky directly in front of me. With my phone dead there was no millennial impulse to reach for it to take a photo. What technology could possibly capture this as beautifully as it looked right there in real life without the use of special effects. Here was a special effect from mother nature herself. This expression gets overused a lot but ‘It was a moment’. One I wished I could have shared with Karen but Karen may not have allowed herself to be stuck in a rainforest after dark…again.

I had spent recent months more bound to a desk than I have been in most jobs and glued to screens in my downtime. Here was a unique and rare reward for getting out and moving through the world and all it had to offer. A reminder that life was to be lived for such moments. I came out of the entrance not many more metres after that and headed home. On the way back I checked that the crashed car was empty and ended up behind a convoy of vehicles going down the side of the ranges which made that part a lot easier. I arrived home that night to my lovely wife with a fond memory. Bring on 2017.

-Lloyd Marken

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The view from Tooloona Lookout. Copyright Lloyd Marken

10 PICS FROM THE STICKS PART VI: PICAPALOOZA

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In this entry for 10 Pics from the Sticks we’re going to break the cardinal rule of only having 10 photos. I’m throwing restraint out the window as I show extra photos from hikes already written about and hikes that have not been covered but cover familiar tracks.

We’ll start with photos from Mt Tibrogargun hike which took place in early 2012. With a full back pack we hiked the steep ascent of up Tibrogargun and back down before covering by comparison the much more flat 6km Trachyte Circuit.

From there we go the well worn track of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk. We first walked this track in 2009 covering Lake Baroon to Baroon Lookout before turning around and heading back to the carpark. A nice hike of just over 4kms. Next in May 2012 we covered from Lake Baroon to Flaxton Mill Road 14.5kms away. In July 2013 we hiked just the 11kms from Lake Baroon to Kondalilla Falls and again in May 2015 and October 2015.

Usually we’ll park one vehicle up at Kondalilla and then one at Lake Baroon.

You can go off track to the Narrows Lookout where in late 2015 I was a little adventurous and went off the track to get a better look.

After about 2kms walking up hill you come to Baroon Lookout, the view alone from there is worth it for those who don’t want to hike much more than 4kms.

If you go beyond this point you soon find yourself descending into the rainforest. Sometimes we stop for a snack when we reach the creek at the bottom.

From there you can continue on. At the halfway mark there will usually be an opening with a pretty view.

Sometimes it can be hard to judge how far you have to go until you arrive at another creek where you can sit and eat.

Then you start to really get into deep rainforest where the temperature drops. You can hear the waterfalls before you see them. There are beautiful stone steps that lead down to the base. On recent hikes this section has been closed due to safety concerns. The ascent up while still steep is not as hard on the alternative track but you are not able to see the pools at the bottom of the falls and you see less of the falls themselves during your ascent. There is a new look out thought that does provide spectacular views.

Usually at this point we will get in one of the cars parked near Kondalilla and drive back to pick up the other one at Lake Baroon. Last year when leaving in our car at Baroon having already started the engine I noticed a little visitor on the passenger side window. While our new friend flew around quite a bit, he quite graciously flew back to our window a few times giving me the opportunity to grab my phone and take some photos.

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In May 2012 when we hiked all the way from Baroon to Kondalilla we continued along Flaxton Mill Road for approximately another 2-3kms. Essentially this last part was a hike along country roads until reaching another rainforest track that heads towards Flaxton Walkers Camp. In 2013 we did a hike that started at a small car park at the entrance to this track.

 

This track was to be about 12kms and I set out to hike it with roughly 23kgs on my back. A kilometre in I started to feel the pack and the rest of the hike for me physically was essentially a slog. Some of these photos clearly show sunshine but as we descended down to Baxter Creek Falls it was already raining and the dirt ground turned to slippery mud.

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The Falls themselves located close to a Suspension Bridge are pretty and usually not crowded. This is a path less taken and essentially with it brings its own rewards. In July 2015 my little sister was back over from England and with my brother and his wife and Karen we hiked to here and then back again to Flaxton Mill Road rather than go the full 12kms.

© Copyright Karen Marken, Rebecca Marken, Lloyd Marken.

Back to 2013 we trekked uphill to the road.

Where we came to Mapleton Falls lookout for the first time. There’s a road and car park on site so sometimes since we’ve driven people there after a long hike at Kondalilla Falls but on that day we hiked there and it felt like an appropriate reward for our efforts. There have been times when we drove to Mapleton Falls lookout only to find the walkway shut. I’m happy this was not the case on the day I hiked 6kms in the rain with 23kgs on my back to get to it.

On the way back we came across an echidna in the wild which has remained a special treat from that day.

Going back was particularly tough that day in 2012 but we made it back to the car just after the sun had set and the rainforest had become dark.

In July 2015 I was eager to set off from Mapleton Falls itself for a hike further along the Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk. 7kms in from Mapleton Falls would place it at the Ubajee lookout and a 14km hike was certainly something we were capable off so we sent off with my friend Tim and Karen. It currently is the only time we’ve done this trek.

Mapleton Falls Lookout was still closed at the time but we made use of the nearby Peregrine lookout.

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When we got the main rainforest track it was quite built up and dense but we soldiered on enjoying a path less taken.

Then we passed into more open terrain.

When we reached level terrain I know we couldn’t be far from the Ubajee Walkers camp site. Not long after we found a little sign and walked down to a simple seat on the edge of a mountain. We had made it. The trek and lack of crowds again had made this view feel more earned.

We retraced our steps seeing much of the same sights but this time we arrived at Peregrine Lookout as the sun was setting.

Well that concludes this special edition of 10 Pics from the Sticks. I hope you enjoyed it and I look forward to catching up on everybody’s blogs real soon. I leave with a few pics from the nearby Geordi Lane which serves the best savoury muffins and chutney I’ve ever had and whom my siblings introduced me to. On a clear day you can see the ocean from the mountains on their balcony where they serve tea. And of course Capriccios pizza.

-Lloyd Marken

©All images are my own unless stated otherwise.

BAD MOMS IS PRETTY BLOODY GOOD

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Bad Moms is a very pleasant surprise. It is the best broad comedy out of Hollywood this blockbuster season and while that could be a low bar to clear it is still an achievement in its own right. Maybe the writing was on the wall when Kathryn Hahn was listed in the cast, that woman has never failed to be good in any of her work yet and this could elevate her star status even more.TOBIS Film comedy mila kunis kristen bell christina applegate

Mila Kunis stars as an All American Mom Amy Mitchell trying to do it all, raise the kids, keep the house running, please the hubby and hold down a good job. Like many women trying to do it all she finds herself constantly enroute to the next crisis she needs to respond to noting she’s constantly late wherever she is arriving. One day she comes home and finds her husband Mike (David Walton) may not be present at the dinner table conversations but he is presently masturbating to a computer screen that has a woman skyping on the other end of it. The lout can’t even muster up the decency to have a proper affair in person with his mistress.

Kicking him to the curb Kunis finds her already full workload overflowing. At the end of a very long day she arrives at the Parent Teachers Association Meeting a wreck and gets mentioned scathingly by the PTA President Gwendolyn James (Christina Applegate) the kind of well off immaculately coiffed individual who sits in judgement of everybody else. Revolutions have been born from such moments and so it is here. Kunis tells Applegate where to place her gluten free, sugar free, fat free cupcakes and steals off into the night to grab a drink at the local bar. God knows where her kids are at this late hour but at the bar she meets Carla (Kathryn Hahn) and Kiki (Kristen Bell). Image result for bad moms gifsKiki and Carla are the two extremes of Amy’s psyche, a repressed housewife who never talks back to her husband and suffers in vain as her children run her down and Hahn who barely remembers she has a child, sees men as expendable sex objects and doesn’t give two gluten free cupcakes about what anybody thinks of her.

A million subtexts and questions abound in such a mainstream comedy. Kunis’s daughter Jane (Oona Laurence) is a little stress bunny because statistically speaking young girls apply themselves more at school then young boys whereas Kunis’s son Dylan (Emjay Anthony) cracks the shit because breakfast isn’t made for him which means that Mommy has to sit him down and tell him that he has a sense of privilege and he better start doing for himself. Meanwhile Mommy decides that she’s going to drive Daddy’s car while he’s living out of a hotel. While stereotypes exist for a reason, Kunis does a lot for her daughter including taking her to a day spa and getting her on the soccer team, meanwhile Daddy goes to a counselling session where he gets told sexual favours were not on offer because he never did any housework and the little boy gets the privilege of learning to do his own breakfast which should set him up well for later in life. Meanwhile Mommy spends a lot of time blowing off all her responsibilities, by the way this film is written and directed by two men Jon Lucas and Scott Moore who did The Hangover. Walking out to the car park afterwards I turned to my wife and said all the male characters were either losers or ideals, how would you like it if you saw a movie with female characters that only fit in those two boxes? She just smiled and replied “That’s every other movie Lloyd.”TOBIS Film comedy mila kunis kristen bell christina applegate

There’s a nice message in this film about not having to measure yourself by other people’s or society’s expectations. That doing your best, loving your kids and enjoying life is enough. True to the spirit of not tearing other women down the ending strikes the right note. As a another fellow blogger pointed out having Kunis trying to eat spaghetti while driving from one appointment to another is a bit unrealistic but whatever sins or faults the film has they can be forgiven when there are so many laughs on offer.

Image result for jay hernandez sexyJay Hernandez makes a bigger impact here as idealised widowed Dad Jessie than he did in Suicide Squad. Applegate has her own pair of partners played by Jada Pinkett Smith and Annie Mumolo. They get some funny lines and Applegate seems to be having a ball. Image result for bad moms It may not be intended but the film plays as a mirror to the current U.S. election. Kunis as the outsider running for PTA President saying that we don’t have to live up to expectations and change is needed in the system, Applegate as the long term insider who desperately wants to win. The ending almost feels like what happens when the revolution is won and the rebels start to be corrupted as leaders like they always are. May be I’m reading too much into it.

Plot inconsistencies abound, the kids or babysitters are referred to when needed and disappear when that is necessary too. Only commercial comedy would suggest these people are middle class and then have them to proceed to not worry about money during a divorce. It’s okay, we’re at the movies and we’re not watching a documentary. Kunis, Bell and Hahn share a nice chemistry in this film with Kunis holding it all together as the lead, Bell doing some inspired physical comedy and Hahn stealing the show by doing whatever the hell she wants. A late scene where she explains motherhood to Kunis gives the film heart and a message. All the best gross out comedies have these two qualities. There’s been a few comedies released this year, none of them had the audience laughing as much as Bad Moms. Do yourself a favour.

-Lloyd Marken

P.S. I really enjoyed the credits scene with the actresses and their real life mothers. You did a great job ladies and it made me think of how much I appreciate my Mum.

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ABFAB STILL FABULOUS ENOUGH FUN DARLING

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Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French made the first sketch for AbFab 25 years ago about PR Manager Edina (Jennifer Saunders) and her best mate Magazine Editor Patsy (Joanna Lumley). Running as a BBC TV series for a couple of seasons Saunders bowed out with the show Absolutely Fabulous at the height of its powers in 1996. She then re-worked ideas for another show with the same cast into a revamp in the new millennium. Personal reflections recall that series of specials and telemovies not being nearly as good but time apart (a short series 2011-12 were the last)can make the heart grow fonder. The movie plays like a ramped up greatest hits of the show on a bigger budget with little new added and yet it’s fun to be back with these women in 2016. filmHaving started out as middle aged women behaving badly in a superficial youth orientated industry there was always something rebellious about the character and socially critical about the show but now with the characters creeping to the end of middle age they have become even more poignant with their fears and hopes. Maybe the fact that they have not grown up and daughter Saffy (Julia Sawalha) is quietly still enduring them with her own daughter now called Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness) and a new wet blanket of a man should be sad, don’t these people ever grow and learn from their mistakes? Yet they’ve survived, they’ve endured and they haven’t changed because they like how they live and there’s a kind of power in that. Why the hell do they have to conform with any expectations?

 

Fans of the series will find a lot of familiar beats in the plot, Edie and Pats find out they don’t have any money coming in anymore and Edie looking to land model Kate Moss as a client inadvertently pushes her into the Thames River where its believed she drowns making the two of them pariahs. Barring some fantastic pole dancing in The White Stripes cover of I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself

I have never understood the fascination with Kate but she seems to be a big deal in Britain and she’s a good enough sport in this film. In fact she’s only one of several amusing star cameos with Jon Hamm proving once again he’s up for anything. The fact the film comes jam packed with so many cameos is a reflection of the love people have for this show.

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Almost every single gag will be recognised from the series including Patsy getting in drag, Eddie finally breaking down and admitting all her failings and asking for forgiveness, Patsy spewing venom at Saffron about being an inconvenience,  Safi having to overcome a tough crowd by doing something extroverted and against her nature, mocking any new trend in the world of fashion and making fun of any new technological device. This time though it is done on a grand scale culminating with the girls heading out to Cannes in the south of France and featuring a neat little car chase. The originality and bite of the gags when first seen in the 90s may be more predictable here but there’s also a kind of warmth in the familiarity. It’s nice to have the gals back even if for one last glory run. You know it is fun to be in the Riviera, it’s fun to sing karaoke at a gay club, it’s fun to have women misbehaving past 60 and mocking the double standard for men of the same age and it’s fun to be taking the piss out of self-important fashion labels and celebrities. The whole film is just fun if not terribly inspired and with a glass of Tanqueray gin there are worse nights out to be had. If you’re staying in though grab a copy of the original series from the 1990s.

-Lloyd Marken

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SAUSAGE PARTY NOT DEEP ENOUGH TO GO BEYOND JUST THE TIP

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“You’re cleverer than you look Q.” says Bond.

“Still better looking than clever you are.” Replies Q.

-Die Another Day

I wonder in such a witty exchange who the makers of Sausage Party see themselves as?

Sausage Party is the anti-Pixar film, a delicious concept in itself and arrives with low brow humour and social commentary. Rogen and his pals understand it’s nice to have some meat on the bones to get people invested; they make their characters likeable and try to say something deep about the human condition along with all the dick jokes. They half succeed. Their ambition here is laudable and the finale really goes for it but I doubt a year from now we’ll be talking about this as a classic of the comedy genre. They’ve fared better making fun of their own celebrity in This is the End and taking shots at Kim Jong Il in The Interview.

A bunch of Weenies (amongst them Seth Rogen as Frank [geddit]) sit in their packets on a supermarket shelf waiting to be bought by the Gods (humans) and taken to the great beyond (the sliding doors at the front of the store) so they can live happily ever after snuggled inside the buns (amongst them Kristen Wiig as Brenda Bunson) next to them. They’ve sat around the store their whole existence waiting to do this. Then one day on the eve of July 4 celebrations, a bottle of Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) comes back talking about horrendous things the Gods do to food having been returned to the store as faulty. Mustard isn’t going back and as the buns and weenies get purchased he seeks to escape the shopping trolley. In the ensuring chaos the food gets separated and so begins a long night of some trying to return to the store and others trying to find out the truth of existence.

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Lots of food types of national origins stand in for potshots at those races and culture. The filmmakers are criticising stereotypes and making fun of them too. Commentary about faith ensures, homophobia, slut shaming, the rule of the mob, a Lavash (David Krumholtz) and Bagel (Edward Norton doing an amazing Woody Allenesque voice) don’t know how to share their aisle while the weenie off to the side casually asks “Isn’t there enough aisle to share it?” The West Bank has a square area of 5,640km2, the state of Palestine has a square area of 6,220km2, Israel has a square area of 22,072km2 and the United States of America has a square area of 9,833,517km2. I don’t know why I mentioned that. There’s a Taco voiced by Salma Hayek who might be into buns as much weenies are and a Douche (Nick Kroll) with roid rage who gets his strength from doing things that he wants to be clear don’t make him gay. Some of this is dumb and some of this is smart and even some of it is funny.

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When taking the piss out of themselves or genres the film is fairly effective but it ultimately has nothing deep to say. It’s akin to someone pointing out things and saying how silly it all is which is observant but without really offering any insight and solution. Not many of us have answers anymore anyway so that’s fair enough but the best comedy will do that. In the meantime, I’ll come clean I’ve laughed my ass off during the already infamous finale. I remembered a story Mel Brooks once related about what he was told during the making of Blazing Saddles “In comedy if you’re going to go up to the door and knock on it, make sure you’re prepared to step through.” These guys have well and truly entered the house of bad taste and even though I didn’t always laugh throughout I can’t help but applaud them for their audacity.

-Lloyd Marken

X-MEN A GO-GO

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X-Men: Apocalypse appeared in a crowded market of sequel s and comic book films this summer. The series was coming off a high of X-Men: Days of Future Past which combined the cast of the original run of films from 2000-2006 with the reboot X-Men: First Class kids ala like a Marvel Avengers team-up film. Intended as a trilogy capper to the young First Class crew, the scale of this X-Men film is bigger than any previous efforts with real world ending threats and yet the film is quite underwhelming. Where other films however muddled have felt fresh this year, this X-Men outing feels like a call back to better earlier trips. Even James McAvoy pointed out on Graham Norton “Charles goes bad again, I try to appeal to his inner humanity again.” That’s not what the main problem is though, Apocalypse is to put it mildly A bit of a fuckin mess. Too many characters, too many plot strands, an underwhelming villain and a finale that looks impressive at first but ends up like they always do being a big overblown cartoon that makes the audience feel no impact nor sense of stakes in the choreography. That is not to say it is without merit though. Their biggest mistake here is to not give closure to their cast of characters instead choosing to leave open the door for more profit-I mean storytelling.

Picking up from the events of Days of Future Past which was set primarily in 1973, Apocalypse takes place in 1983 with everybody fairly happy. Prof Xavier (James McAvoy) is running the School with Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) and doing a bang up job. There are some particularly gifted students in attendance in the form of Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) who we all know will become Cyclops and Phoenix. Jennifer Lawrence who proved the be the big break out star of this franchise due to her own one The Hunger Games, is back as Mystique rocking a leather jacket and being a bit of a symbol for mutants world-wide. She rescues them and is still fighting the good fight of mutants against humans who would hate, enslave or murder them or you know just humans in general. After almost killing the President, Magneto went back to Poland and raised a family. Image result for x-men apocalypse magnetoThese early scenes with Fassbender are low key and enjoyable. It feels like a natural progression for the character in middle age having fought the war for mutant rights and decided to go back where he came from, to where it all started and try to live a simple life as a man. The problem is we all know where this will end so it’s hard to get too involved with characters that will be the fate of an inevitable plot development. At least though there is something dialled down and interesting going on in Poland. Quicksilver is back in this film too which makes you think something inevitable will happen there too since he mentions Magneto is his father. Inexplicably this does not take place and I think it has less to do with character motivation and more to do with copyright legislation.

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Added into this mix is the villain En Sabur Nur or Apocalypse, a very old mutant maybe the first who used to make life tough back in the day for Egyptians and now has returned to……Sigh. You know it really doesn’t matter. You’d be better off seeing Oscar Isaac in A Most Violent Year Image result for a most violent yearor Inside Llewellyn Davis or Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook or James McAvoy in Filth or Tye Sheridan in Mud or  Sophie Turner in Game of Thrones or Evan Peters in American Horror Story or Olivia Munn in The Newsroom or Nicholas Hoult in Mad Max: Fury Road or Michael Fassbender in any movie he made with Steve McQueen or Lucas Till in…..in…actually this is probably Lucas’s Till’s best work. Still you get the point, there are better movies out there but I guess this one is not bad.

Look back in Egyptian times there was a mutant who ruled over the world with four deputies which allude to the Four Horsemen of the Biblical Apocalypse. I’ve heard Highlander the TV series did this idea more justice than this movie…… let that sink in for a moment. Awakened in modern times Ennie Sabie No feels a bit out of sorts and decides this old world of ours needs a bit of a renovation sensation which coincidentally includes our annihilation. How a victim of the Nazi’s final solution gets on board with mass genocide is beyond me but little Magneto has had a rough time of it. Image result for x-men apocalypse gifsA startling close up of Isaac describing our world while connected to a TV is oddly compelling but sadly his motivations or how he draws in his followers of four is less convincing. There are some tantalising Meta jokes, references to past relationships but no real payoff. Hoult and Lawrence had a nice chemistry in First Class and it would have been nice to develop their love story to some resolution in this film. Image result for x-men apocalypse magnetoMore inroads are made with Rose Byrne and McAvoy but still no cigar. There is another stand out Quicksilver sequence which has less impact this time around but there is a good joke with Peters and Lawrence. En Zanzi Bur is a powerful figure with immense power but without a proper motivation the finale lacks emotional power. Things blow up, pixels play across the screen, and some actors even go flying through the air on wires but ask yourself in 3 months if you remember any of it. You’ll remember Han Solo on the bridge a damn sight better or even Superman throwing that Kryptonite Spear into Doomsday.

Yosub Kim, Content Strategy Director x-men purple olivia munn swordMake a good film and everybody will beg you to be the only one to do a sequel, make a less than great film and everybody says it’s time to put the franchise to bed. Both are knee jerk reactions that don’t necessarily hold true. Bryan Singer has directed some fine films and been with these characters a long time, for me the best remains X-Men 2 which was 14 years ago. I wish him and 20th Century Fox well with the franchise and any choices they make in the future. In the end this could be as good a time as any to end this part of the story but if not, the directive should be simple – make it good. X-Men Apocalypse ain’t bad though.

-Lloyd Marken