Tag Archives: 2.5 Stars

Red Joan

Rated M, 1 hr 50 mins

Capitol Cinema Manuka, Dendy Canberra Centre, Palace Electric New Acton

2.5 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

Any film with Judi Dench commands attention. She  has brought a mix of authority, vulnerability, and humour to every role, from James Bond’s boss, M, to author Iris Murdoch, to a couple of Queen Victorias, to older women who age disgracefully or with regret. It seems we are still up for more, even while Dench is in her mid-80s.

In Red Joan, directed by veteran theatre director Trevor Nunn, she is a Soviet spy working against British interests, a tricky part to play sympathetically. When M15 bursts in on the retirement she spends gardening and painting and begin quizzing her, it is hard not to feel outraged for her character, Joan Stanley. What could such a homely, gentle woman have done to deserve such treatment?

The interrogation immediately plunges into her past, shown in extensive flashback as actor Sophie Cookson takes over as young Joan, a student of physics at Cambridge in the 1930s.  She falls under the spell of a pair of fervent young Communists who seduce her studious young self with their flamboyant foreign ways. The attempted induction at a screening of the propaganda masterpiece, Battleship Potemkin, where Sonya (Tereza Srbova) introduces Joan to Leo (Tom Hughes), is not successful. Joan falls in love, but does not become a party member.

As young Joan, Cookson makes an appealing, intriguing character, a scientist who leads with heart and mind.

the spy who inspired this film, the late Melita Norwood, was a lot clearer about where she stood

After graduating with a first, Joan lands a job with a team engaged in top secret nuclear research, the Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association, based in London. It’s a secretarial and admin position, until her bosses discover – in one of several toe-curling moments – she can actually make a contribution to the science.

While in thrall to Leo, she copies secret material about the development of the atomic bomb for passing on to the Soviet Union. She also has an affair with her insipid, married boss, Max (Stephen Campbell Moore).

The flow of secrets to the Soviets continued and she managed to avoid detection for nearly 40 years until finally arrested in the  1990s. She admitted what she had done and remained unrepentant, declared her internationalist outlook was founded on a level playing field that would give the Russians and their new system an equal chance. Eventually, the British government released her without charge.

it won’t be surprising if you feel you have been had

Joan (Judi Dench) with her barrister son (Ben Miles)

The Soviet spy who inspired this film, the late Melita Norwood, was a lot clearer about where she stood and was indeed a member of the Communist Party. She also had a daughter, not a barrister son who stood by her as the film imagines.

Unlike ‘red Joan’, Norwood did not study physics, nor go to Cambridge. She studied Latin and logic briefly at the University of Southampton, which the filmmakers may have decided was not quite as picturesque. At least the look of this British period drama, the sets and costumes, is impeccable.

Yet the effort is misplaced. If the film had stuck to the true story of the Soviet’s longest serving British spy, who passed top secret information to the KGB from the 1930s until the 1990s, that would have been a better bet.

Something far closer to the truth deserved to be told. There is a fascinating true story of Melita Norwood that the film gives little credit to, and it won’t be surprising if you feel you have been had.

Jane’s reviews are also published by the Canberra Critics Circle, the Film Critics Circle of Australia, and broadcast on ArtSound FM 92.7 MHz


Reviewed by © Jane Freebury

It can’t be as bad as all that, can it? I mean, Suburbicon is directed by the sophisticate George Clooney. Those brilliant, witty purveyors of comedy noir, Joel and Ethan Coen, wrote the original screenplay and Matt Damon is in the lead. All are men of discernment, with talent to spare.

Yet the news just in from the box office this week is that ticket sales for Suburbicon are poor. The reviews aren’t good either. Something has gone quite wrong here.

It’s not like Clooney is an inexperienced director. This is the 6th film he has directed in a decent body of work, of which Good Night and Good Luck is the standout.

As an actor in the Coen brothers’ films O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Burn After Reading and most recently on Hail, Caesar!, Clooney has worked a treat. One of the reasons I’ve looked forward to their collaborations is their work together seems organic, probably because they have a shared vision.  One can only imagine what a hoot it is on set.

From an original Coen brothers’ script from the 1980s, developed by Clooney and his co-writer Grant Heslov, Suburbicon knocks down the picket fence and strips the neat and tidy surface off contented domesticity in the typical, unremarkable suburban bungalow. To show us what suburbanites are really like. Welcome to Suburbicon, the ‘perfect place to raise a family’.

Located in the 1950s America, when vast tracts of new suburbs were spreading outside the cities, attracting residents with the promise of affordable housing and the benefits of city life without the disadvantages, the film really looks the part.

From the featureless suburban streetscapes to the television sets and kitchen utensils inside the home, the meticulous sets and period perfect detail are a joy. From the tie that Gardner Lodge (Damon) keeps on at home, to the striped t-shirts worn by his son Nicky (Noah Jupe, an excellent young actor), to the heels and flared skirts that women wear as they do the housework and the grocery shopping.

It might be a problem for Gardner and his family that the new neighbours over the back fence, the Mayers and their young son, are African-American. But he doesn’t actually connect with this, a situation that is a critical issue for the rest of the neighbourhood – and the shopkeepers and the postman. Small town racial prejudice is rife in Suburbicon, and it’s not at all pretty.

Like the main character in the Coen brothers’ classic dark comedy, Fargo, Gardner is preoccupied with how he can get rid of his wife Margaret (Julianne Moore), wheelchair bound as a result of an accident when he was driving, and install her sister Rose (also played by Moore) in her place.

To achieve this, he and Rose descend into a murderous mayhem, even despatching one of the film’s best characters, the insurance assessor played by Oscar Isaac. Young Nicky bears witness to it all.

Suburbicon is sometimes hard to watch, with its 1950s television score on the soundtrack, underlining critical points with heavy handed emphasis.

When all is done, a neighbour complains that none of this sort of thing happened before the Mayers moved in.

As that’s the point Clooney says he wants to make to bring the film into the current day – that mainstream American society blames the minorities for its own issues – then why didn’t he work the Mayers into his narrative, instead of leaving them in the background with barely any speaking roles?

Clooney has said he didn’t feel qualified to write narrative for African-Americans, and it has turned out a misjudgement because this timidity has skewed his film. He doesn’t have the Coen brothers’ light comedic touch either.

Mob at the fence taunts Mrs Mayers (Karimah Westbrook) Source: Google Images

Suburbicon is set in the pre-dawn before the sixties civil rights movements that swept the country. Unmasking the evil in suburbia is nothing if not a familiar trope in countless films, and that includes teen horror films.

Some films like American Beauty, Blue Velvet, Pleasantville, and The Truman Show have made satirising suburbia an art form. Suburbicon is instead a harsh lesson with heavy messaging, the kind of thing that rarely works.

Rated MA 15+, 105 minutes

2.5 Stars

Jane’s reviews are also published at the Canberra Critics Circle and broadcast on ArtSound FM 92.7









Viceroy’s House


Review by © Jane Freebury

This sweeping historical drama is the work of a filmmaker with a happy knack for the comic and the absurd, and for discovering the spaces between cultures where people can meet and be themselves. With work as sharply observed and uplifting as Bride and Prejudice, Bhaji on the Beach and Bend It Like Beckham, how was Gurinder Chadha, being the kind of director she is, going to find her trademark warmth and optimism in the story of Partition? Was she even going to try?

Partition ripped the subcontinent asunder in 1947 leaving two great countries, India and Pakistan, at loggerheads. The sectarian violence it unleashed was no laughing matter. Chadha’s Sikh grandparents had seen the writing on the wall in the Punjab a few years earlier and they became part of the Indian diaspora living in east Africa, before they moved to London. The director has said that she just ‘had to’ make this film and the reasons for her personal connection with the events appear on screen just before the closing credits. Her commitment is understandable, but the result on screen is less compelling.

Great setting, though, bringing all the players together. The titular house of the last viceroy of India, Lord Louis ‘Dickie’ Mountbatten, was in fact palatial, far bigger than Versailles, and historically significant. It became the residence of the President of India when independence was declared that saw off the British Raj and centuries of colonialism.

Sent to India to do the deal, Mountbatten (a ruddy faced Hugh Bonneville) is revealed as a stickler for speedy efficiency. This is okay when you don’t want to waste time climbing into all that viceregal paraphernalia, but less a virtue when it comes to gentle persuasion and facilitating others to work out what they want for their future. Lady Edwina (Gillian Anderson in top form) cautions him and, in the veiled suggestion in her two-shot with Jawaharlal Nehru (Tanveer Ghani), looks like she would happily settle in.

The march of history towards Partition is overlain with the romance between a beautiful young couple who work for the Mountbattens. A Hindu man and a Muslim woman like Jeet (Manish Dayak) and Aalia (Huma Qureshi) who fall in love despite cultural differences was probably not unheard of then, even when wholesale sectarian slaughter was taking place everywhere, but the characters and the reasons for their mutual attachment is never given the underpinning it needs to make it real. Chadha and her co-writers needed to work harder on developing this narrative centrepiece to make it seem less of a device to bring the strands of story together and conclude with hope for the future.

Of course, the romance is a counterpoint to catastrophic historical events and a pure emotion that throws into relief the political manoeuvring, arrogance, compromise and faint-heartedness all around them. It was the politicians and the officials, some of whom are made to seem quite buffoonish, who carved the subcontinent up expediently, and unleashed one of the biggest movements of displaced people the world had then seen.

Viceroy’s House was largely shot in Jodhpur in Rajasthan. Films that are set on location in India are usually vibrant and visually compelling but, for all the colour and movement, this is neither very satisfying period drama nor touching love story, when it could have been both.

2.5 Stars

Also published at Canberra Critics Circle






     My Cousin Rachel

Handsome, lush, gorgeous to look at and not nearly as over the top as the trailer suggests. Romantic obsession has been plausibly updated, as a young man who is used to male company – Sam Clafin excellent in the role –  falls hard for the allure of the unknown.     3.5 Stars



A playful, stylish portrait of the Chilean hero, poet and politician who led the authorities a lively fandango when he found himself an outlaw. Not exactly informative, but a fictitious, bumbling assassin in hot pursuit is a clever device that points to future real-life events.     3.5 Stars


    20th Century Women

An utterly charming film about messy ordinary lives, gifted with a delicious performance from Annette Bening as a single mum whose teenage son at 15 is at a dangerous age. Two young women are co-opted to help out and nearly steal the show, but Bening, sunshine and showers, holds her own.     4.5 Stars



     Don’t Tell

A modest drama, with a compelling central performance from Sara West. It relates the events that led to Australia’s commission into child sexual abuse within institutions, like the church, that tried to blame a few bad apples, but didn’t own the problem and tried to cover it up. Small film, big topic.     4 Stars



    Their Finest

A spirited romantic comedy set during the London blitz when scriptwriters at the Ministry for Information (read propaganda) had to deliver movies the British public could feel good about despite being down to the wire. Sweet characters with sharp dialogue plus some British farce at its silly best, and one for the forgotten women who helped win that war.    3.5 Stars



Everything is connected. The premise that underpins this tale of small-mindedness in small town America, gets a bold workout here, weaving the lives of a bunch of slackers with the supernatural threat in a foreign city. Improbable at the very least, but it works. Cutting across genre boundaries, it’s witty, clever and really different.    3.5 Stars


    Beauty and the Beast

Everything has been thrown at this, but for all the talent, the  SFX and CGI, and motion capture to nail the Beast’s facial expressions, it isn’t as thrillingly entertaining as it should be. Over-produced, and not as good as its original, the animated version from 1991.    2.5 Stars



If US civil rights history makes us think only of freedom marches and passionate speeches, then this understated story of an interracial couple in 1950s Virginia makes us think again. Inarticulate or reticent characters aren’t always compelling on screen, but the loving couple whose story this is based on never wavered, finally won the day, and it’s moving and impressive.   3.5 Stars


    The Eagle Huntress

A tale of equal opportunity for Kazakhi girls set against the beautiful Mongolian steppe stretching to infinity. It’s a grand vision, but let down by clumsy handling. Occasional voiceover directs us towards the big finish, with ‘you can do anything’ lyrics over final credits, but the doco seems put together as a crowd-pleaser rather than for the authentic deal.     2.5 Stars


       Toni Erdmann

Goofball, unhinged antics abound from a dad desperate to re-connect with his daughter, a corporate professional who has lost touch with him, and herself. Although some improv work needed a stern edit, it is funny, sad, touching, and one of the most unusual films you’ll see all year.    4.5 Stars



It finds something lyrical, beauty and poetry, in coming-of-age for a young man who is gay, black, poor and without prospects. It’s no American dream and it finds a role model where you’d least expect to, a bit of a stretch. Naturalistic dialogue sometimes hard to understand, but feelings unmistakable.   4 Stars


     Hidden Figures

Plenty to feel good about in this traditional Hollywood quest with radical and such surprising outcomes. Based on historical facts, loosely assembled, the uplifting story of the first ‘computers’ at NASA, the African-American women who knew their math and helped get the US into space. A hearty 3.5 Stars.



The Legend of Ben Hall


Review by © Jane Freebury

A refusal to submit to authority has pride of place in movies from down under. Here we expect a film about a 19th century bushranger, who robbed the banks and the filthy rich, to be a spirited journey with a man of the people. A man like Ben Hall, whose reputation has for some reason faded over time against that of bushranger turned folk hero, Ned Kelly.

When at large, Australian bushrangers were feared for the brutal criminals they were, but some were charismatic rogues who people were prepared to hide when the police came knocking. And the authorities weren’t clean skins either which helps explain why early last century when bushranger films appeared on screen, the audience cheered them on. So boisterously, the authorities banned them. Too popular.

Some of the bushranger—mostly blokes, though there is at least one woman on the record—weren’t complete blaggards either. Hall, who was mown down by police in 1865, had some land he leased and a wife and child before he took to a life of crime. He has some cachet in having never shot a policeman dead, though the same cannot be said for other members of his gang, John Gilbert and John Dunn.

The newspapers of the day reported quite a crowd at Hall’s funeral in Forbes, NSW. A revealing observation. Hall was on the wrong side of the law, but he was reputedly courteous, brazen, loyal and often a step ahead of the police. Moreover, he was handsome and a daredevil horseman. All in all, an appealing package. It explains why Hall became an object of interest for writer-director Matthew Holmes and the subject of his recent film, The Legend of Ben Hall.

Unfortunately, the fascination does not translate into the result the filmmakers clearly hoped for. The action-adventure locations look fabulous but, critically, Ben Hall’s character is seriously underwritten. As for the case for Ben Hall as legend? We’re not there yet.

As the central character, Jack Martin does his best to be well-meaning and dashing, but he doesn’t have good dialogue to work with, and nor do most of the others. A hold-up of Cobb & Co coach, a key dramatic moment, is heavily over-played failing to ignite much tension. Nor do the scenes of the gang when they have their guard down inject the rollicking, irreverent humour we could all have done with. For a period film, the contemporary tone of the dialogue is jarring, and at odds with the effort that has been put into making costume and other period detail visually authentic.

The film achieves its vision to some degree with the action, in the stirring scenes of men on horseback, galloping through bushland and across high country. In this way, it becomes a valentine to the magnificent bush wilderness, like The Man from Snowy River, but falls short of showing us what Ben Hall means to us today. The film’s visual grandeur and lush heroic score insist on the man as legend, but it’s more a question of ‘tell’ than ‘show’.

The Legend of Ben Hall arrived on screen late last year and had a limited release. If the filmmakers are planning companion bushranger films as reported, they would do well to go for it by building flesh and blood characters of complexity and contradiction, and leaving the myth-making alone. There’s no reason to think the bushranger genre has played itself out yet.

2.5 Stars

Also published at Canberra Critics Circle


The Age of Adaline

Review by © Jane Freebury

So, being tall, willowy and perfectly proportioned, with lustrous hair and perfect skin is not always the distinct advantage you might think it is. Not if you never age, anyway. It’s a shaky premise to build a movie on, but more preposterous ideas can sometimes work, so why not?

Lovely Adaline (Blake Lively) had an accident early last century and is still alive because it has stopped her aging. Still looking youthful has not conferred the kind of advantage one might imagine, because she doesn’t fit her ID profile and it has made people suspicious. So she has had to live on the run, a fugitive from intimacy—after a few early mistakes—except for the succession of King Charles Spaniels that she keeps for company.

Where, oh where, does Hollywood get its movie ideas from? A silly premise, but the dream factory knows full well that there’s nothing like a good romance to make sense of things.

One New Year’s Eve when Adaline is out and about, though it’s uncharacteristic behaviour. Her eyes lock with a handsome stranger across the room. Despite the lengths she goes to fob him off we know they are destined for each other, in the short term at least. Adaline has already dropped the broad hint that she is resolved to live the new year as though it is her last.

Ellis (Michiel Huisman, who was in Wild and is in Game of Thrones) woos and wins her and they attend his parents’ 40th wedding anniversary upstate. It’s a ‘meet the parents’ when things really start to unravel, ushering in a terrific turn by Harrison Ford as Ellis’ dad.

This could have been a halfway decent romantic drama, had it not taken itself seriously. The writing is tolerable and it is tastefully and intelligently produced. However, from the start events are explained in voiceover, a sign that the narrative is having trouble explaining itself. The ‘voice of god’ leads us through the early scenes and then returns at the end to ensure all makes sense.

Director Lee Toland Krieger, still in his early 30s, an award winner for earlier lower budget work, has done a reasonable job with Adaline, and (almost) saved it from itself. In the lead, Lively doesn’t exactly live up to her name but we suppose that experience has taught her character to be a cool customer. Huisman is fine, as is the earnest message not to mess with nature, but the whole enterprise is cut off at the knees by the silly premise. It does nothing but bestow on Adaline a wardrobe down the decades to die for.

In a capsule: A nearly decent film has emerged out of material based on a silly premise, which is a shame for Harrison Ford who is great in a support role.

2.5 stars

Fifty Shades of Grey

Review by © Jane Freebury

So, after weeks of pre-release sales, it’s here at last, the film of the international best-selling novel translated into more than 50 languages. The story of a virginal undergrad who is introduced to the world of BDSM by her corporate high-flyer boyfriend, it has brought whips and handcuffs into the movie mainstream with a new challenge to the liberal, the feminist, and the young person working out how to be.
Maybe a challenge to the odd parent too. Our PM has read the book—he’s done better than me—and says he prefers Nikki Gemmell’s The Bride Stripped Bare. With you there.

It’s not as though BDSM doesn’t have a measure of arthouse cred. We’ve seen elements of sexual bondage, sadism and masochism there for ages, from titillation to outright provocation. A whippet slim Charlotte Rampling shocked audiences with her S&M affair in The Night Porter, Catherine Deneuve’s character sought rough and tumble outside marriage in Belle de Jour. Meg Ryan’s character solicited mortal danger in pursuit of great sex during In the Cut. In a more recent film, Venus in Furs, Polanski again, the traditionally male-female, dominant-submissive roles are reversed.

Though Fifty Shades is the work of talented director Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy), the glossy patina is solidly mainstream. Knowingly and artfully well made, it comes perilously close at times to luxury goods advertising as the camera caresses the polished interiors of the real estate owned by telecoms magnate Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). Each new day, Christian faces the challenge of deciding which shade of grey tie he will privilege.

Things are grounded by young Anastasia Steele, played by Dakota Johnson, an ingénue with a natural presence. Though she could have chewed her lip less, even if there are supposed to be hints of a modern day Victorian heroine, lost in the books of Thomas Hardy. Johnson reminds me of the Anglo-French actor Charlotte Gainsbourg who Lars von Trier put through the mill in Antichrist and Nymphomaniac. Casting may have been aware of this resemblance, as it was surely aware of Dornan’s serial killer character in The Fall on TV.

We would agree that people’s intimate fantasies are their business alone, and they have every right to explore to find someone to share them with, so long as there’s no harm done. However, there’s something essentially creepy hearing Christian, the young man with everything, mind you, say to Ana: “I have rules. If you follow, I’ll reward you. If you don’t, I’ll punish you”.

Erotic? Not in the same league as the arthouse there. The filmmakers have obviously deemed it more lucrative to pitch their work at the broader MA 15+ audience rather than consign it to the R-rated ghetto. Hey folks, that’s show business.

In a capsule: A knowing and artful rendition of the international best seller has pushed BDSM into the mainstream, that is explicit and tasteful while borders on luxury goods advertising.

2.5 stars


Review by © Jane Freebury

It can take an outsider to reveal what we cannot see for ourselves. So the news that German film director Oliver Hirschbiegel was making a film about the people’s princess, weak link in the British royal chain, sounded more than promising. That Hirschbiegel had succeeded with other material best left alone—the last days of the Hitler in Downfall—boded well. It was also encouraging that Naomi Watts, a mix of vulnerability and steel, would be in the lead.

The last days of an icon have a certain fascination. What was Hitler doing holed up in his bunker as the Allies closed in, what was Kurt Cobain doing before he apparently shot himself, and what was Princess Diana up to in the  two years before she died? The events here are based on a book by Kate Snell, Diana – Her Last Love, about her relationship with Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan, relation of the cricketer politician Imran. In this post 9/11 world it’s fascinating to wonder what we would have made of a British princess married to a Muslim.

Simply calling the film Diana is confirmation she needs no introduction. The princess was a phenomenon, a celebrity superstar whose appeal had global reach, and I don’t think commentators have really got to the bottom of it yet, not even Camille Paglia. This film reveals little new and also fails, I think, to give Diana her due.

Inevitably, Hirschbiegel’s film critiques the royals. It leaves the terrible probably erroneous impression that Diana had access to her sons only every five weeks. Stripped of her honorific, she was still trapped in the gilded cage of Kensington Palace. Who wouldn’t smuggle a boyfriend in under a blanket in the back of the car? Outside the gates the media scrum waited, yet the film shows that she had considerable responsibility for attracting the swarms of paparazzi that stalked her.

It was around the time of the sensational revelatory television interview that precipitated her divorce from Charles, that Diana fell for Khan, played here by Naveen Andrews. Doctor, can you mend a broken heart? She was in her mid-thirties, but one-on-one here she is portrayed as a blank slate, a breathy ingenue keen to do homework on Khan’s interests rather than introduce him to some of her own.

It is hard to credit there wasn’t more to her than we see here, the vivacious young woman who went to lunch with Clive James, stood up to ‘the firm’, and gave tender comfort to AIDS sufferers.

This bland and well-intentioned film has got it badly wrong. Hirschbiegel says the British are not yet over their trauma regarding Diana. No, actually he hasn’t given us new insight into her character and what she came to mean for people, just more fuel for the gossip mongers.

In a capsule: Sympathetic and well-intentioned, but it reveals little that is new, fails to give Diana her due, and there’s little insight into the phenomenon she became.

2.5 stars

Red Hill

Review by Jane Freebury

It’s one helluva first day at work for a young policeman who has moved to a quiet country town to improve his wife’s health during her pregnancy. His first call is to a property where a horse lies disembowelled, the farmer wittering about phantoms on the prowl.

The rookie policeman’s second task is to intercept an escaped prisoner that his new colleagues will meet with a mixture of dread and bloodlust the moment he arrives in town, as he surely will. Welcome to Red Hill, a boomtown gone bust where folk don’t mind if it stays that way, especially policeman, Old Bill, played by Steve Bisley in excellent form. No wine and food festivals here, it’s a rural backwater and proud of it.

Before very long at all it’s clear that Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten) has wandered into a time-warp and will ‘wake in fright’. Richard Morecraft is reading the news on the ABC but it could be the 50 years ago, rather than 15. Shane is nothing but a ‘blow-in from the big smoke’ for this hard-bitten bunch, so he’s sent to intercept the escapee at the least likely point of entry, the gully of Skins Creek.

Of course, it’s where the escapee Dural ‘Jimmy’Conway shows up first. We have seen him many times before on screen, but most especially we remember Tom E. Lewis (aka Tommy Lewis) as Jimmie Blacksmith, the young Aboriginal in Fred Schepisi’s 1978 film who tried to do right until he could take it no longer and took to his oppressors with an axe. Red Hill writer/director Patrick Hughes has joked that his movie is aka ‘Jimmy Chants Again”.

It is, and broaching controversial territory again, with Lewis’s silent and methodical avenger as inexorable a force as Bardem’s character in No Country for Old Men. But here events are eventually explained.

Some difficult issues get a mention here – environmentalism, the city/country divide and the generational divide – though none of them get much of a workout. But hey, this is entertainment, and Red Hill proclaims its gothic western genre roots from the start.

If we don’t mind the clichés of the lone horseman riding into town and picking off the gunmen he can see through eyes in the back of his head, we do mind the symbolism. It’s over-determined and heavy-going, particularly the black panther on the loose.

With its soundtrack things get laboured too so the film can’t sustain tension, and the weak performances among the straw men in Old Bill’s posse detract. First-time feature director Patrick Hughes just tries to push too many buttons, too hard, at once.

In a capsule: A gothic western with an implacable avenger set in a sleepy and possibly sinister township in rural Australia. Steve Bisley in fine form as a grizzled copper in this ‘wake in fright’ and though all’s good in the technical areas, it overplays its hand.

2.5 stars

Sex and the City

Review by Jane Freebury

OMG, a review of SATC when I haven’t paid attention to the series on TV! What to say? Much of my thirties spent in t-shirts, flat shoes and in the company of small children, might disqualify me from the show’s demographic of swinging singles in four-inch heels and designer dresses. Can only fess up.

So that’s me. Now for the movie. For the initiated, it’s probably a welcome return after four years of reruns since the series finished. And as a stand alone for the uninitiated, the opening montage and voice-over explains enough about the four girlfriends, their lives in New York and how things have panned out since we last heard from them. You don’t need to be a fan to get it.

I had thought the movie would be a yawn, something to be feared when you embark on two hours and half hours of running time. The first hour was indeed vacuous, but then Mr Big (Chris Noth) – seriously, what a nickname! – did what Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) feared he would, again. At last, the girls had an excuse to bond anew with a holiday in luxury resort in Mexico.

The bonding is what SATC does best, I think, showing how women can really care for each other, and be generous and kind. Though I wonder how well this intimacy, normally shared with viewers huddled around the telly, translates to the big screen.

Up to Carrie’s heartbreak, SATC seemed to care only for designer labels and outlandish earrings. When a walk-in-robe or a pair of Manolo Blahnik stilettos, was more likely to bring on orgasm than a clinch with a good man. The endless parade of brand names is a reminder that product placement is self-regulated in the US – and doesn’t it show!

If the fashions were compensatory, I have to say I agree with the girls, because most of the men they know lack substance, after all. Miranda and Charlotte are married to decent blokes, but they don’t have much profile and the other male characters are written with so little to them. Including the amply proportioned Mr Big, who has all the personality of a shopfront mannequin.

As expected, the girl talk is frank, the sex is explicit and the men don’t get much of a say. I wonder how the fellas like Dante (Gilles Marini), the object of Samantha’s desire, feel about how they are represented as hunks without much in the top paddock. Over 40 years have passed since Helen Gurley Brown’s book Sex and the Single Girl first tried to turn the tables. They’re pretty well turned in SATC, that’s for sure.

2.5 stars