The Little Death movie review

Featuring: Josh Lawson, Bojana Novakovic, Damon Herriman, Kate Mulvany, Kate Box, Patrick Brammall, Alan Dukes, Lisa McCune, Erin James, TJ Power, Kim Gygnell, Lachy Hulme
Screenwriter/Director: Josh Lawson
Movie website:
Australian release date: Thu 25 Sep

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: A smartly performed, written and directed comedy that reclaims ground fenced off by political correctness with humour, compassion and finesse.

This terrific feature film debut from writer/director Josh Lawson is a comedy built around sex (its title is a translation of a French colloquialism for orgasm), but to label it a “sex comedy” is to mislead. That label suggests triviality, an adult romp inviting descriptors like “naughty”. The Little Death is far more sophisticated than that and anything but trivial – which is not to say it’s short on laughs. Indeed, as a comedy it works a treat. But it’s also edgy and subversive in pushing into areas of taboo and mostly mildly deviant sexual behaviour not to shock or outrage, but because sex is fascinating in its paradoxes and diversity of expression, lends itself to comedic dramatic treatment, and is legitimate territory for artistic investigation.

The word edgy should not be interpreted as referring to graphic portrayal of sex – there’s a proliferation of that today to the point of tedium, and it rarely amounts to much more than titillation or dull literal translation of stuff that needs no translating. The Little Death delves into much more intricate and intimate aspects of sexuality, opening the lid on the private fantasies and desires of its characters, “ordinary” folk (ie: like thee and moi) whose only link is that they live in the same suburban street.

There’s foot fetishist Paul (Lawson) and his partner Maeve (Bojana Novakovic), who seeks his assurance that he will not judge her, then confesses that she wants him to rape her – without necessarily being sure that he is her violator. The problem here, apart from Paul’s understandable and funny struggle with his sexual ego, is that this is a fantasy that cannot be transformed to reality; if rape is desired, it is no longer rape. Paul’s attempt to find a way nevertheless, although motivated by love for Maeve, can only end badly, and it does. There is an overarching morality structuring the screenplay that effectively draws a line between fantasy and reality. Clever. This is a point of distinction that has been blurred by some of the sillier aspects of the political correctness that has settled like a torpor over the 21st century. A wakeup call is long overdue. So bravo.

Then there is Dan (Damon Herriman) and his wife Evie (Kate Mulvaney), who see a therapist about spicing up their sex life. The therapist’s role-playing suggestion works well initially, but Dan takes it too far.

Rowena (Kate Box) realises she gets off on the sight of her partner Richard (Patrick Brammall) in tears. This is a dilemma, since she loves him and doesn’t want him to be unhappy, but what’s a gal to do? His father’s sudden death and the dog he dotes upon provide her with opportunities to serve her unspoken desire.

Phil (Alan Dukes) is turned on by his wife Maureen (Lisa McCune) being asleep. Not such a problem with modern medication at his disposal – and unwittingly, at hers.

The stories of the couples writhe around each other and sometimes intersect, although the only real reminder that they live in the same street comes via Steve (Kim Gyngell), a mild-mannered bespectacled little man who knocks on the neighbours’ doors to introduce himself as a new arrival, offering his home-made golliwog biscuits as a diversion before announcing that he is required to inform them that he is a registered sex offender. His strategy works spectacularly well. There are some obvious and not-so-obvious sub-agendas operating here, and multiple interpretative possibilities for after-film conjecture if that’s your bag.

Another couple – the only one not to come from the same street – is introduced unexpectedly and unconventionally towards the end of the film. Monica (Erin James) is a partially deaf switchboard operator who mediates between deaf-mute Sam (TJ Power) and a rough-as-guts phone-sex worker. Monica’s embarrassed attempts to facilitate the sexually explicit exchange through a combination of signing and speaking is laugh-out-loud funny. In the process, she and Sam realise they are attracted to each other. It’s a warming vignette that ends a long way from where it begins.

Ditto the film itself, which goes out with a morally fitting bang. It’s a tonally perfect ending, and ingenuously, the loose ends of the narrative are tied up at the same time.

The Little Death is not only a must-see, but a should-see. The business of art, in all its guises, is to explore and investigate ALL areas of human experience, especially those fenced off by the tyrannical forces of political correctness. Josh Lawson has reclaimed a little of this lost ground here, and with the very able assistance of some smart performers, has done it with humour, compassion and finesse.

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The Infinite Man movie review

Featuring: Josh McConville, Hannah Marshall, Alex Dimitriades
Screenwriter/Director: Hugh Sullivan
Movie website:
Australian release date: Thursday 18 September

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: Peel-back-the-endless-onion scifi rom-com that becomes tedious, then infuriating.

The Infinite Man unashamedly celebrates its low-budgetness: there are only three characters and the sets are confined to an abandoned derelict motel in the middle of a dusty Aussie nowhere and, occasionally, a beach somewhere within drivable distance. The drab setting contributes an intriguing atmosphere of weirdness initially, but ultimately little else. Unfortunately, the characters are pretty drab as well (although lifted by competent performances) – which leaves the narrative to do the heavy lifting.

As a story, it’s a hybrid creature, part sci-fi, part rom-com, stranded in a no-mans land twixt spoof and ostentatiously ingenious time-travel cleverbuggery. Fastidiously controlling perfectionist Dean (Josh McConville) is disappointed that his planned anniversary celebration with his girlfriend (Hannah Marshall) is ruined when her obsessive stalker ex-boyfriend (Alex Demiatriades) rolls up. He invents a time-travel device so he can change the way things worked out, confronting multiple versions of himself and the other two characters as he juggles altered versions of events in different time frames in quest of creating the perfect anniversary.

Poor old mess-up Dean ends up trapping his girlfriend – and the hapless viewer – in a time loop, then has to figure out how to get her out…which means he has to get in. Except whenever he seems to have sorted out the time tangle, it turns out he hasn’t, and just when you think he’s out of the loop and the story is close to resolution, it turns out it isn’t. How many rides on the merry-go-round, how many broken promises of an ending can one story stand before it becomes unbearably tedious and frustrating? A lot less than are delivered here, unfortunately. The Groundhog Day stuff is flogged to death by about the half-way point, and it’s a long, monotonous ride to the finish line from there.

Low-budget flicks like this succeed or fail on imaginative input, resourcefulness and ideas rather than expensive SFX and box-office-drawing stars. The triumphs are worth the wait, but when the material falls short, as in this case, well…

This sector of the industry is vitally important as a nurturing ground for new talent and fresh modes of expression unfettered by formulaic market-driven agendas. Arthouse/indie has long been my preferred territory as a film enthusiast. So I really wanted to like The Infinite Man, to support it, to pass on glad tidings as a reviewer. Can’t do. This could have worked brilliantly as a long short, but just doesn’t make the stretch to feature length.

I confess, I woulda walked out, but the end seemed imminent long before the credits finally rolled, and I was hangin’ in hoping for a miracle rescue. Alas, in vain. It was a bloody long hour. I don’t think I’ve seen a more infuriating flick.

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The Skeleton Twins movie review

Featuring: Bill Hader, Kristin Wiig, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell, Boyd Holbrook, Joanna Gleason
Screenwriter/Director: Craig Johnson
Movie website:
Australian release date: Thursday 25 Sep, 2014

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: A wonderfully written and performed tragi-comic adult coming-of-age movie – funny, astute and moving.

Twins Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristin Wiig) share a painful past, their father having suicided when they were 14. Once inseparable, they are now in their thirties, and have been estranged for 10 years. Milo is a would-be actor based in LA and Maggie is married and living in their home town in upstate New York.

Hospitalised after a bid to follow in his father’s self-annihilating footsteps, Milo is visited by Maggie, who is similarly crisis-stricken despite outward appearances to the contrary (the notion of hiding behind facades is symbolically represented in repeated flashbacks of the twins wearing masks during childhood theatrical performances). With some initial reluctance, Milo accepts his sister’s invitation to spend time recuperating at her home.

Overtly gay and given to dark, ironic humour, he is a polar opposite to his sister’s decent but straight-laced and eye-rollingly cheerful jock husband Lance. This makes for some amusing interplay, as Milo directs his acerbic pay-out wit at an apparently oblivious and eternally upbeat target. Maggie strives valiantly to defend her well-meaning husband against Milo’s derisive cracks. Less convincing are her attempts in one-on-ones with her bro to justify her choice of spouse and affirm the healthy state of their marriage.

As the twins re-connect with each other and rake over aspects of their shared past, they plug back into the joyful rapport they shared in childhood, but also come to see that they are both still emotionally traumatised, and harbouring toxic secrets arising from destructive and ill-judged personal decisions.

Leads Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig do full justice to an often scintillating and always psychologically astute screenplay, playing off each other with impeccable timing and striking a fine balance of humour and pathos in their characters.

The Lance character is well-managed – again, a function of good screenwriting (Craig Johnson) and performance (Luke Wilson). In less adept hands poor old Lance could have been merely a buffoonish butt of snide jibes, but rises above this sorry status to reveal himself as a sensitive, vulnerable soul in danger of becoming collateral damage at the compulsively destructive hands of a dysfunctional and confused partner.

The twins’ dippy, self-centred New Age ex-hippy boomer mother (Joanna Gleason) is sent up mercilessly during her short time on-screen, and rightly so. She lives in denial of her children’s pain. It is not only their father who has something to answer for here.

Indeed, all the characters are in denial of some type. While some get no closer to facing the truths they fear, for Milo and Maggie the cost of continuing to hide from themselves and each other is too much to bear. They must sink or swim, and their struggle for survival is funny, warming, heartbreaking, and always compelling.

The music is terrif, too. Ironically, the one exception, Starship’s dorky 80s lighter-raiser Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now, provides one of the highlights of the movie – a hoot of a miming scene as the twins rediscover their childhood performing mojo.

The takeaway message is a bit neat, and the film runs off the rails towards the end, ending up in Hollywood central. Don’t be put off – these are forgivable glitches in an otherwise fine tragi-comedy. Highly recommended.

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Predestination Movie Review

Featuring: Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor
Screenwriters/Directors: Peter Spierig, Michael Spierig (adapted from 1958 short story “All You Zombies” by Robert A. Heinlein)
Movie website:
Australian release date: Thursday, 28 August, 2014 (Grand Armadale, Grand Bunbury, Grand Currambine, Grand Joondalup, Grand Warwick, Grand Whitfords, Hoyts Carousel)

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: Hip, intellectually challenging, hugely entertaining, brilliantly wrought and speaks to some of the most profound concerns of today’s world.

John (Ethan Hawke) is a law-enforcement and anti-terror agent working for a top secret government organisation. He travels back and forward in time countering attacks before they happen. His final assignment is to pursue and eliminate the notorious Fizzle Bomber, who has mounted a series of disastrous terrorist attacks and has thus far eluded him.

Numerous films have explored the concept of time travel. It’s passé to observe it’s become passé. Every so often, though, a fresh take makes it through the creative pipeline, occasionally an ingenious one. Predestination is both ingenious and brilliantly executed. That’s a rare treat.

Aussie writer/director brothers Peter and Michael Spierig started in front, basing their narrative on a short story, All You Zombies, by sci-fi great Robert E. Heinlein, in which it is predicated – logically, if you can get your head around it (which took some time for yours truly) – that the time traveller does not simply disappear from the present when jumping back and forward chronologically, but co-exists as different versions of themselves in different time frames. This notion is the key to the goings-on in Predestination, opening the door to all sorts of mind-boggling possibilities, identity issues and moral dilemmas.

What if, in travelling through time, a character was to encounter themselves at various stages of life? What if they knew they were about to make a terrible mistake? The time-travelling self has the power to alter the decisions and actions of versions of themselves at whatever points in time they encounter them, but should they?

And what about altering global history, even if it seems for the better? For example, if through time-travel intervention a terror attack is prevented that saves the life of a subsequent tyrant – another Hitler, say – responsible for a future catastrophic event with an enormous human toll, what then? Would it be preferable to stand aside and allow the attack to occur? That is, would collateral damage be morally permissible in order to prevent greater disaster in the future? As with the best sci-fi, the ethical reference point is the real world – this is the justification for virtually every war that has ever been waged, and every act of terrorism.

It is also the assumption on which the lead character, time-travelling agent John, and the secret government organisation he works for, operate. The assumption – and a whole lot more besides – is fascinatingly investigated as the drama unfolds.

Spoiler-consciousness imposes an unusually strict limit here on revealing much about the story or characters, which are intertwined so inextricably that to expand on one is to risk saying too much about the other. Suffice it to say that Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook do their characters full justice, which in a complex, spaced-out (but brilliantly managed) piece like this is no mean feat.

Set in New York and Cleveland, the movie was actually shot in Melbourne. From the opening scene in a New York bar, 1970 off The Stooges’ classic Funhouse album announcing the time setting and contributing a sonic undercurrent of chaos and edge, Predestination is hip, intellectually challenging, hugely entertaining, brilliantly wrought and speaks to some of the most profound concerns of today’s world. That’s a bloody rare combo! I’m not a sci-fi fan, but this is one out of the box. Unmissable – and in the mix as best Australian flick of the year.

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Magic in the Moonlight Movie Review

Featuring: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Eileen Atkins, Jacki Weaver, Marcia Gay Harden, Hamish Linklater, Simon McBurney
Screenwriter/Director: Woody Allen
Movie website:
Australian release date: Thursday, 28 August, 2014

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: A bit short on magic and moonlight, but fun viewing, and well-performed.

Famous magician Stanley (Colin Firth) travels incognito to the Côte d’Azur to unmask beautiful young medium Sophie (Emma Stone) as a fraud and con-artist. He is unsettled by Sophie’s demonstration of her apparent powers, unable to discern any trickery or sleight of hand on her part. Ever the arrogant rationalist, however, he maintains his cynicism until she divines intimate secret details about his life that are unerringly accurate and impossible for her to know. In subsequently opening his mind to the mysterious and wondrous – even magical – aspects to life outside the bounds of the scientifically rational, he also opens his heart. But has he been conned? And is he too late in any case, with Sophie having accepted a proposal of marriage from the foppy uke-serenading son of a rich family who promises her a life of indulgence and luxury? Besides, Stanley is engaged to a sophisticated woman back in England who by all logical reckoning is the perfect fit for him. And yet…

Woody’s creative tap has been running intermittently hot and cold for a long time now. Midnight In Paris hot. To Rome With Love cold. Blue Jasmine hot. Magic in the Moonlight? Warm.

Intriguing and entertaining throughout, the film works well narratively. There’s a sting in the tail that is predictable in its inevitability, but not in its manifestation. Well managed, in other words. Ditto the feel-good ending. Nothing wrong with that. It’s what you want from a rom-com, which this is, more or less.

Typical of recent Woody, the rom part is enhanced by the geographical, chronological and demographic setting: the French Riviera of the late 1920s habituated by the wealthy, the successful and the aspiring upwardly mobile. (On a less light-n-breezy note, the film opens in Berlin, where Stanley wows an enthralled crowd in his rather ridiculous stage persona as master magician Wei Ling Soo…not too much magic entertainment ahead in the 30s, although plenty of deceptive theatrics).

Typical also is the love match between a world-weary older guy reawakened to the joyous possibilities of life by a beautiful younger woman. Is Woody a masochist? Or perhaps he’s raising a middle finger to the critics queued up in advance to lambast and castigate him, yet again, for indulging and propagating, yet again, his old-goat-young-nymph love fantasy scenario. We live, after all, in the day of the cougar, not the old goat (hawk and spit).

The pairing works OK if you excise political correctness from the equation and accept the story on its own terms, due in no small part to the terrific performances of Emma Stone (especially) and Colin Firth, who delight in playing off against each other. There’s dramatic tension aplenty inherent in their characters and relationship: yin vs yang, the openness and optimism of youth vs the assumed wisdom and weary cynicism of age, romanticism vs rationalism.

The philosophical cat-and-mouse game that is the driving dynamic between the two leads is Woody’s bread and butter, and there are moments when his scripting sparkles. There is one irresistibly piquant scene near the end in which Stanley’s aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins) strings him along, playing devil’s advocate as a love dilemma lands him in a head-heart battle with himself. However, there is a sense throughout much of the film that it is Woody who is waging this battle through his characters, who are sometimes relegated to philosophical mouthpieces, and thus hobbled. The actors come to the rescue, but it’s a challenging mission at times.

Magic in the Moonlight is a bit short on magic and moonlight, but it’s fun viewing and the takeaway message is familiar, digestible and comforting if you identify with Woody’s existentialist fretting – maybe even if you don’t.

Fans will chow down happily without waxing lyrical; detractors will scowl and pout and launch into their standard diatribes with gusto. No one loves to hate like a Woody-hater. It’s a win-win, when you think about it.

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