TV Review: Narcos Season 3

NARCOS returns to Netflix on September 1st. Season 3 of this ground-breaking series is new territory in more ways than one. Seasons 1 and 2 covered the rise and fall of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. The demise of Escobar and the Medellin drug cartel means its chief competitor, the Cali cartel, is now the leading manufacturer and importer of cocaine in the world. They become responsible for 90% of the cocaine entering the United States.

Escobar’s rise to power provided cover for the growth and evolution of the Cali cartel. The Medellin operation was Escobar’s brainchild and relied on the fear he generated. He was a flexible general who could make major changes on a whim. The Cali operation is far more sophisticated and has embedded itself in local government and police through a complex system of bribery.

The Cali Cartel is run by a quartet; the Rodriguez brothers Gilberto (Damian Alcazar) and Miguel (Francisco Denis) and Pacho Herrera (Alberto Ammann). Viewers became acquainted with these characters in season 2 as their operation clashed with the Medellin cartel. They later help to bring down Escobar by paying the deadly Los Pepes vigilantes. The fourth player Chepe (Pepe Rapazote) is new to Narcos watchers and runs the New York end of the operation.

Season 3 is marked by numerous changes in the large cast of characters. DEA agent Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) has returned to the United States and Agent Javier Peña (Pedro Pascal) becomes the series narrator. Peña is in the uncomfortable position of being considered a hero for his role in Escobar’s takedown and for having become too connected to the activities of the Los Pepes vigilantes. In the fight against Cali, he is promoted and has to navigate a difficult course through new personalities and politics.

There are two new DEA agents Feistl (Michael Stahl-David) and Daniel Van Ness (Matt Whelan) who have plenty to learn about how to do their business in Colombia. A player to look for on the Cali side is Jorge Salcedo (Matias Varela). He is head of security. He created the network of telecommunications, wire-taps and human spies that keep the cartel fully apprised with what’s going on in Cali. Jorge finds his job complicated by having to deal with one of his bosses’ sons, the volatile and arrogant David Rodriguez (Broad City fans will recognise him as Arturo Castro who plays Jaimé).

Season 3 is necessarily a resetting of the audience expectations. Although Escobar is gone, the drug war remains. There are different battles to be fought, different alliances formed. We have to learn what the so-called “Gentlemen of Cali” are about; what makes these characters tick? The writers and producers take their time to unfold their narrative and by episode 4, we have a detailed appreciation of this dark and dangerous new crime world.

Season 4 has already been green-lit and there is some indication that the series will eventually follow the cocaine trade into Mexico. It is conceivable that Narcos could become a show with scope like television’s The Wire or the ground-breaking Italian Mafia series La Pivora. Fans of Narcos can be confident that this new batch of episodes-ten in all-is as dramatic and compelling as those of the first two seasons.

Narcos 3 is available on Netflix from September 1. (8/10)

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Film Review: The Boss (2016)

THE BOSS is the latest Melissa McCarthy vehicle. She plays Michelle Darnell, a powerful mogul who markets the attainment of wealth with a glitzy Tony Robbins style seminar. These are arena-sized events for ordinary folks who want to make it big like their idol.  Michelle’s public persona is not subtle. She is a success-driven, A-type personality, who is also a narcissist that expects to be the centre of everyone’s attention.  She has made enemies, in particular a man called Renault (Peter Dinklage). It is a clash with him that results in her being sent to white-collar prison for insider trading. (Not a spoiler, folks, this is in the movie’s set-up).

When she emerges from prison, Michelle Darnell is penniless and friendless. No one wants to do business with an ex-con. Her circumstances are so reduced that she looks for help from the only person who will take her calls, her long-suffering former personal assistant Claire (Kristen Bell). As in any any decent redemption movie, Michelle hatches a plan to get back on top. Hers involves the equivalent of using Claire’s daughter’s Girl Scout Troop, but don’t get overly excited fans of Shelly Long and/or the 1980s, TROOP BEVERLY HILLS this ain’t.

Melissa McCarthy is having her cultural moment right now. Since her breakthrough part in the Paul Feig directed BRIDESMAIDS (2011), she has been money-in-the-bank for producers and studios. THE HEAT (2013) and last year’s hit comedy SPY (also with Feig) have taken in US $200 million plus, each, internationally. Even her lesser-regarded comedies like IDENTITY THIEF (2013) have done brisk business at the box office.

Most audiences find her flat-out funny. I have liked her work since she played Sookie in the Gilmore Girls (2000-07). She was justly Emmy nominated for her three guest starring appearances on Saturday Night Live.  Mike and Molly (2010-16) is a far funnier series thanks to her. Whether she is playing someone down-to-earth and relatable or one of her crazed grotesques, she has a knack for making you laugh hard or feel a character’s vulnerability.

The downside of the film is its story. Michelle Darnell is actually a terrible character, who says and does some awful things. The movie needed much tighter writing and direction to make this the equal of McCarthy’s best work. She co-wrote along with the movie’s director (and her real life husband) Ben Falcone.  It must be said that this outing is an improvement on their last movie project, TAMMY (2014). That was critically drubbed and still made a mint.

McCarthy plays Darnell with her usual sharp comedic skills and excellent timing and this is what saves THE BOSS. The physical slapstick and the verbal gags will entertain fans of her work, yet again. She is ably supported by Kristen Bell. Tyler Labine is winning as Bell’s slightly unlikely love interest. Peter Dinklage is funny as Darnell’s arch-nemesis Renault.

USA  | 99 minutes | (5/10)

This review first appeared on (16/04/2016)

Film Review: Where to Invade Next (2015)

Michael Moore the filmmaker and political activist is back with a new feature, WHERE TO INVADE NEXT. Moore’s fictional premise is that he has been approached by America’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to work out why their nation hasn’t won a war since WW2. He takes it upon himself to travel across the world “invading” countries and “stealing” their best ideas to take them back the US. In practice, he visits a number of predominately European nations to investigate the way their employment, health care and education systems work, to name but three blockbuster societal arrangements. He suggests those darned Europeans are getting better productivity and happiness with their revolutionary ideas. All of which swims against the powerful notions of American exceptionalism and manifest destiny; if one believes in the American Dream, how can any other nation possibly have better ideas than the greatest nation on Earth?

This is exactly where Moore is a provocateur and irritant to many of his fellow Americans. The questions he poses are unsettling. More than anything, his leftist populism is a direct criticism of Wall Street and all the politicians who do the bidding of corporate America. He has held this position since his breakthrough movie ROGER & ME (1989) in which he questioned the economic and social effects of automobile plant closures on his hometown, Flint, Michigan.  His subsequent television work, TV Nation (1994) and The Awful Truth (1999) was in a similar vein and it could be argued this work was the radioactive spider bite that led to the political satire of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, This Week Tonight with John Oliver and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.

WHERE TO INVADE NEXT is being touted as somewhat of a comeback for Moore. He is definitely more optimistic here as he searches for answers to America’s problems. His award winning features BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (2002) and FARHENHEIT 9/11 (2004) are darker and angrier films. Which isn’t to say Moore’s new movie doesn’t examine some of the darker parts of US history, but generally the tone is upbeat and comedic.

Moore seems to be doing his own Bernie Sanders act. In continuing to be who he is, it appears his political ideas are now attractive to many in the post Global Financial Crisis/Occupy generation. If you are the sort of person who believes there is a 1% who own all the wealth and are destroying democracy, then you will probably get behind Moore and his worldview. I will surprise no one by observing this is not a film for political conservatives and will go against everything you hold dear. Although I am largely in agreement with Moore’s argument that we should strive to create a more equal society, his omissions and manipulations are glaringly obvious at times. Even the most pro-Moore viewer will wonder about the one-sidedly rosy picture he paints of some of the nations he “invades”.

The film clocks in at whopping two hours. Television would be a better platform for a project of this length, however Moore obviously knows what works best for him economically. The movie is thought-provoking and although it is aimed specifically at the USA, our own nation is often influenced by American systems. In asking how some of these ideas would work in the American context, we can also ask the same of our own country. (6/10)

This review first appeared in (14/04/2016)

Clouds in my Coffee

I visit my local cafe regularly. For the purposes of this post I shall call it Cafe Proximity. This place is ridiculously near by. How close is it? I occasionally think of walking to the slightly more distant cafe to give my pedometer something to do. But I don’t. The nearer java-slinger plays a steady stream of Generation X hits like Spandau Ballet’s “True” and (perhaps as a result) it is less busy and more in need of my custom. The farther joint, which I will now dub Espresso Hipster, is going gangbusters. It is populated by young mums who have just fast-walked the entire suburb and parked their strollers three deep on the footpath outside. I can’t be dealing with their kind of vigorous energy on a Sunday morning, nor do I wish to be the only person on the premises not wearing yoga pants. So I slump in a Cafe Proximity plastic chair and listen to the likes of Cold Chisel and Carly Simon whilst waiting for a small latte that will be delivered with a complimentary Tiny Teddy clinging to the lid.

As youse know, we’re all about the coffee now. This was not always the case in this continent of Australis. I come from an era when “coffee” meant a nice cup of instant; a Nescafe Blend 43 or its equivalent. As my friend Ed likes to point out, back when we were students, Nescafe was the gold standard for instant and we only bought it when we were in funds, so mostly we drank International Roast. If we were really strapped for cash, we drank “Pablo”. It was a signal moment, somewhere in the early ’90s, when we all moved in unison to drinking the rather pricier Moccona Medium Roast. Suddenly, this was the instant of choice and none of the lesser coffees were acceptable.

Shortly thereafter, the mainstreaming of “real coffee” commenced, although proto-hipsters had been slugging back espressos, short blacks and long maccs for decades. Or to put it another way, the neo-beats, the pre-slackers, the black-clad caffeine cognoscenti, had long purchased their drop from the Italian Australians who brought decent coffee to Oz in the first place. In their restaurants, cafes, continental stores and homes, these Mediterranean folk knew a Moka pot from a Sunbeam ceramic kettle jug.

So we, as a country, skilled up a couple of notches. We learnt to drink flat whites, cappuccinos and lattes. This was deemed “not the done thing” by those in the know. Posers, recently returned from their first tour of the northern hemisphere, explained how these capps etc. were too milky and this is not how they did it in Rome. The changes were coming thick and fast. Chain store coffee arrived and we tried imitating how they did it in America and we got that wrong, too. We joked about ordering a “tall” or a “venti” or a half double decaffeinated half-caf with a twist of lemon, because we saw Steve Martin do it in LA Story.

You see, if the Americans or the Europeans are into it, whatever it is, be it tiramisu, planking or the First World War, we Aussies gotta be part of that action. Which is why we loved it when American movie star George Clooney started shilling go juice in capsules for European food giant Nestlé. The timing was excellent, we had decided a daily store-bought coffee was pricey and we needed a cheaper alternative. The Nespresso machine filled the Nespresso-shaped hole in our hearts.

We in the Wide Brown Land are now perched at the rim of the third millennium of our triumphant Western Civilisation. We’re free to enjoy our coffees in a myriad of ways, including served up chilled in a carton made from liquid paperboard. We’ve never had it so good, people. Any day now, we shall be sitting in our solar-powered, driverless car, taking an Instagram of our drone-delivered, 3D printed, lupin-infused, artisinal, drip-brewed chai-puccino. And in the foam on top, sprinkled in finely milled Ethiopian Teff grain, these words: “I am one of those who think that humanity will draw more good, than evil, from new discoveries – Marie Curie.”

Content Sponge #9

Welcome to Content Sponge, my capsulet reviews of things, usually televisual, but occasionally textual. For the foreseeable future, this semi-regular feature will be an imageless affair, as will this blog. Reason being that I am now super-mature and have no need for the frippery of illustrative pictures. Join me in the theatre of the mind, people!

I watched the following recently, all on Netflix or Stan. Through luck, not design, they are all comedies.


US stand up Maria Bamford is sometimes described as a comedians’ comedian, which is one way of saying “not mainstream”. For years she has been doing stand up which is quite unlike anyone else’s. Her ability to switch between different character voices has been parlayed into numerous animation gigs. In her act, she is prepared to strip down a character into a series of sounds and partial phrases as if to say, don’t be fooled by the appearance of a coherent narrative, we are all moments away from falling to pieces.

Underpinning her sonic presentation is the topic of mental illness. Bamford’s own struggles means she has plenty to say about our perceptions of mental health and sanity. Her new Netflix show is divided into three times zones related to the Bamford character break down (before, recovery, aftermath). This is roughly autobiographical and has been touched upon in The Maria Bamford Show web series (2009) and her video download comedy special The Special Special Special! (2012).

The producers of the Netflix show are Mitchell Hurwitz (ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT) and Pam Brady (SOUTH PARK)  and they have created a determinedly unformulaic comedy that probably would not be made outside of subscriber television. The meat of the story is Bamford’s fictionalised journey through show business as her manager, Bruce Ben-Bacharach (Fred Melamed) secures her terrible gig after terrible gig. We also see her family relationship and love life. The fourth wall is frequently broken, there are surreal story tangents and characters that may be the product of Maria’s mind.

There is a solid supporting cast that includes Ana Gasteyer, Dean Cain, Mo Collins Mary Kay Place and Ed Begley Junior. The excellent guest-cast of stand ups and comic actors includes Patton Oswalt, Wendie Malick, Missi Pyle, John Mulaney and June Diane Raphael. Maria Bamford fans are likely to enjoy the show. For everyone else, this is a quite different comedy about a comedian. It is nothing like LOUIE (2010-) or GARFUNKEL AND OATES (2014). Watch a couple if these and see what you think.


Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s sitcom returns. Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper) is a young woman who was an unwilling member of a Doomsday Cult. She was kidnapped and trapped in a bunker with three other women by an evil but charismatic preacher, the Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm). Season 1 was about Kimmy’s release from the bunker, moving to New York and then confronting the Reverend in a televised court case back home in Durnsville, Indiana.

Season 2 is necessarily less focused on a main narrative thread. Kimmy has gained a new sense of her own identity, lost a boyfriend and is looking for her mother. She is also looking for different work now her former employer and (sort of) friend Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski) has left New York. Her roommate Titus (Tituss Burgess) finds a boyfriend and their landlady Lillian (Carol Kane) fights the gentrification of their area. Hipsters beware.

The diffuseness of this new narrative blunted the overall feel of Season 2 for me. The story felt somewhat forced at times and so I enjoyed the series a little less. Having said that, series regulars Kemper, Krakowski, Kane and Burgess are in absolutely cracking form. As with later seasons of Fey’s 30 ROCK (2006-13), the gags are layered, the pace is blistering and the pop cultural referencing is intense.


The premise for this show is rather high concept. Grace, the retired cosmetics mogul (Jane Fonda) and a hippy artist, Frankie (Lily Tomlin) discover their 40 year marriages to their husbands Robert (Martin Sheen) and Sol (Sam Wasterston) are a sham. The men are partners in a law firm and have been secretly in love with each other for years. Season 1 begins with Robert and Sol divorcing Frankie and Grace. The men move in together and so do the women. This is far from ideal for Frankie and Grace because they can barely tolerate each other.

By the beginning of Season 2, Grace and Frankie have a workable friendship, although it still has rocky patches. As in the first season, this comedy-drama cleverly explores family dynamics, addiction, gender, identity politics, class and ageing. Tomlin and Fonda are consistently great. They had their characters nailed from season one. Waterston and Sheen seem more settled in their roles and are given more drama in their storyline this season. The fact that the four grown-up kids of the two marriages are basically supporting roles, yet have defined story arcs, is a tribute to the depth of the writing and producing talent. The performers, Ethan Embry, Brooklyn Decker and Baron Vaughn are solid, week in and week out. June Diane Raphael plays the daughter who now heads Grace’s cosmetic empire and is frequently the MVP of the offspring quartet. The show has been renewed for a third season.


Rashida Jones (Ann Perkins of PARKS AND RECREATION) stars as hard working veteran LAPD cop Angie Tribeca. The show is the creation of Steve Carrell and Nancy Walls Carrell. It is not a police sitcom like BROOKLYN NINE-NINE (2013-2016), but a parody of police procedurals. It is nothing at all like Paul Scheer’s NTSF: SD: SUV:: (2011-2013) which tackles the action film genre as well as CSI type cop shows (and also starred June Diane Raphael). ANGIE TRIBECA is a parody of older style television police dramas like TJ HOOKER and POLICEWOMAN.

It takes its literalist sight gags and puns from POLICE SQUAD! (1982) and flips the cop partner dynamic from SLEDGE HAMMER! (1986-88). The female cop, Tribeca, is the tough go-getter prepared to break the rules, the male cop (played by Hayes MacArthur) is the sensible, cautious one. His character is named Jay Geils like J.Geils of the J. Geils band. Much of the humor operates at this old-fashioned Mad Magazine level.

Rashida Jones is an unusual choice for the lead. In PARKS and the US version of THE OFFICE she played grounded characters, the comic foil, the feed for the big laugh getters (most often Amy Poehler or Aubrey Plaza). Jones takes a while to find her feet with this new character. The show as a whole begins to click about half way through the season. Or maybe I had tuned into their vibe. Not sure.

I enjoyed this but didn’t find it compelling, precisely because I remember those older parodies. I feel the best audience for ANGIE TRIBECA is anyone who hasn’t seen POLICE SQUAD! Or SLEDGE HAMMER! Season 2 is screening now on STAN.

Film Review: Eye in the Sky (2015)

USA/UK 102 minutes/4 stars

A joint Anglo-American military operation is about to take place. A terrorist group has gathered in a compound, in a suburb of Nairobi, Kenya. The plan is to capture and question the group. The targets are surveilled from on high with a sophisticated drone that has a missile payload on board. On the ground, there are agents with cameras and listening devices. This profusion of electronic eyes and ears on the Nairobi house helps to link together team leader Colonel Katherine Powell (Mirren) in Surrey with a British government and military panel in London and to US Air Force drone pilots in Nevada. It is these last two, Watts (Aaron Paul) and Gershon (Phoebe Fox) who are charged with the actual responsibility for any kills that might result if an engagement takes place. If a missile is fired, then Watts will be the one to hit the button.

The operation looks set to change as a result of intelligence uncovered by one of the agents on the ground. Jama Farah (CAPTAIN PHILLIPS’ Barkad Abdi) uses some nifty snooping devices to uncover the unexpected range of weaponry inside the house. The terrorists have even greater lethal capacity than they had imagined. The international team considers whether the objective should now be firing the missile and killing the terrorists.

This begins a complex process of dealing with this question by “referring up” the chain of command. The civil, military, political and ethical points are argued in the United States, Britain and in Kenya by various individuals fighting for their competing agendas. If they attack the house now they have the element of surprise and will likely succeed in killing some significant terrorists. However, in doing so they will cause much collateral damage that will likely result in the deaths innocent civilians. Time is also a pressure because the terrorists are preparing to leave their compound.

The question at hand: How many people is it reasonable to accidentally kill now, in order to save the lives of potential terrorism victims later? And are you prepared to live with consequences?

South African filmmaker Gavin Hood (2013’s ENDER’S GAME) uses his home country to double for Kenya in this British thriller. The film has an international feel that reflects the cast and the choice of location. The audience is given a rare insight into the process of co-operation across borders in order to prosecute the War on Terror. Any idea of the drones providing detachment from the act of killing is soon lost. The film makes it clear that there are some circumstances where having a chain of command and numerous others to share responsibility will not absolve you of your ethical duties to others, nor your moral duty to yourself.

Hood’s film has some solid performances, including one of the late Alan Rickman’s last cinematic outings. It is a think piece with emotional weight. While the diplomats, soldiers and politicians argue on screen, we think about what we might do in the same position. What would we do if the responsibility were ours?

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Film Review: The Daughter (2016)

Australia/95 minutes/4 stars

Henry (Geoffrey Rush), a man in his 60s, is the patriarch of a family who runs the sawmill in a small NSW town. Everyone in the district knows his family and most are employed at the sawmill. Henry is soon to be married to his former housekeeper, Anna (Anna Torv) who is thirty years his junior.

The wedding is a large affair although the only people invited from the town itself are Charlotte (Miranda Otto) a teacher at the local school, her husband Oliver (Ewan Leslie) a mill worker and their 16-year-old daughter Hedvig (Odessa Young). Their connection to the wedding is Oliver’s friendship with Henry’s adult son Christian (Paul Schneider). The pair were at university together twenty-years ago and Oliver is excited to be catching up with his old friend. Christian has been working in the USA and when he flies in for the wedding, it rapidly becomes clear that he has spent so many years abroad because he is estranged from Henry.

Christian puts everyone on edge. His is a restless presence and it seems he has scores to settle and is not too worried about collateral damage. Charlotte doesn’t trust him but says nothing. Largely oblivious to all of this is Hedvig. She concerns herself with her school friends and the menagerie of birds and rabbits that her grandfather (Sam Neill) keeps. The two families are opposites socially and financially, but their past and future are bound together by a secret.

THE DAUGHTER is a loose adaptation of Ibsen’s 1884 play, The Wild Duck. This is writer-director Simon Stone’s first feature. He directed a theatrical version five years ago for Belvoir St Theatre. Apparently the feature takes some elements from that production but is more naturalistic (the default mode of Australian film). It is completely unrelated to Henri Safran’s Edwardian-set Australian version of THE WILD DUCK (1983) starring Liv Ullman, Jeremy Irons and John Meillon

The strength of Stone’s modernized version is in the writing and performances. Despite some minor missteps towards the end, the director rarely puts a foot wrong in this impressive feature debut. The solid cast had two standouts, Ewan Leslie as Oliver and Paul Schneider as Christian. Despite his extensive theatre and television credits, I have somehow missed seeing Leslie in anything. I imagine he will be seen in higher profile roles after this. Schneider, who played Mark Brendanawicz on the first two seasons of Parks and Recreation (and always seemed miscast) is perfect as a neer-do-well, damaged son. When you realize what kind of pain the character is harbouring, you have concerns for the others. Odessa Young’s engaging performance as Hedvig has also garnered strong notices.

THE DAUGHTER is about the ways wealth and power can insulate people from the consequences of their actions. The movie is in Australian cinemas now in limited release. This is a well-made adult drama with an excellent cast.

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Film Review: Brooklyn (2016)

Canada/Ireland 112 minutes/3 stars

Ireland, 1952. A young woman called Eilis Lacey works part time in a shop. She despises the owner the poisonous Miss Kelly, but there is no work in her small town of Enniscorthy. The lack of opportunity leads her older sister Rose to arrange for her passage to the United States. As reluctant as she is to leave her mother and her sister, Eilis makes the journey. On her way over, she finds herself in a cabin with a more experienced woman who informs her of the mysterious land to which they are heading. She tells Eilis that she wished she had never returned to Ireland. Eilis can’t imagine what her new life will be like. She can’t imagine thinking of America as home.

When she arrives in the USA, Eilis is helped by Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) who emigrated years previously. He arranges for her accommodation at a women’s boarding house run by the matronly Madge Kehoe. He also finds her a job at Bartocci’s department store. Eilis has to find her way in a new culture and overcome her small town shyness in the giant city she now calls home.

And then an earthquake hits which precipitates a tsunami…kidding! There are big events in Eilis’s life, but this is a small story set in a time of relative (American) prosperity. It is precisely the ordinariness of Eilis Lacey’s existence, that makes this a feat of storytelling. Nothing huge happens in BROOKLYN, but director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby bring out the nuance and commonplace drama of Colm Tóibín’s award-winning novel. Audiences with long memories might be put in mind of the kitchen sink realism of 1950s British film, theatre and literature. The images themselves are more beautiful than that would suggest, but the interaction between characters is at a personal and intimate scale.

Saoirse Ronan puts in a beautiful, restrained performance as Eilis. Emory Cohen is faintly anachronistic as Tony Fiorello, an Italian who likes Irish women. Julie Walters is robustly amusing as Madge Kehoe and Jim Broadbent, who often likes to go big, chews no scenery in this outing. There are times when the computer-generated version of old Brooklyn seems a little too clean, which at a guess, probably reflects the film’s very tight budget. That being said, the 1950s look and feel of the movie is mostly convincing.

BROOKLYN is near the end of its Australian run and should be seen by anyone who is interested in a story about leaving home and building a life elsewhere. This is a simple tale, satisfyingly told.

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Film Review: Zootopia (2016)


In a world of talking mammals where humans do not exist, there is a rabbit called Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) who dreams of being a police officer in the city of Zootopia. There has never been a rabbit cop before, but Hopps is determined. She eventually becomes the first rabbit to make it through the police academy, but she discovers that her fellow officers do not take her seriously. She is sneered at for her small stature and the fact that she isn’t a predator. Years ago, the creatures of this world decided that predators and prey had to make peace in order for society to thrive, however there are still many animals who don’t accept this new world order.

Her boss Bogo, a giant buffalo, won’t give Judy an opportunity to show what she is capable of until one day she elbows her way into a missing persons case. She also crosses paths with Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a fox and a con artist. Through a complex series of events, the fox and the rabbit form a reluctant team and go on the hunt to discover what is happening to the missing animals.

The conception of Disney’s ZOOTOPIA is in part inspired by the studio’s 1973 version of ROBIN HOOD. That was also a world entirely peopled by animals. Co-director Byron Howard took this concept to Disney’s animation supremo, John Lasseter who loved the idea. Nick Wilde’s design is clearly inspired by the Robin Hood fox. At this point, Wilde was the central character in the narrative, but as the development process wore on, it became clear that Judy Hopps, the rookie cop from the sticks, was going to be the best way to tell the story.

Prejudice and diversity are the currents running near the surface of ZOOTOPIA. Numerous gags deal with the differences in size, speed and powers of the the animals. The message does not overwhelm the story-telling. Directors Howard (TANGLED) and Rich Moore (WRECK-IT RALPH) are smart enough to lead with the action and comedy and the result is a sophisticated entertainment aimed at family audiences. The main story has the familiar structure of a police procedural, but there is enough colour and movement to keep the kids engaged. This was certainly the case at the screening I attended.

The story also tugs at the threads of popular culture. It has elements that remind one of CHINATOWN (1974) or WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1988). Judy Hopps is an echo of Clarice Starling from 1991’s SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (rest assured parents, none of these animated carnivores devours a victim with a side of fava beans). Hopps and Wilde’s relationship is (in a G-rated way) patterned after material like television’s Castle. However, there isn’t that wall-to-wall pop culture referencing that sometimes mars big studio animated features. ZOOTOPIA is substantially its own thing; it’s not a sequel, not a reboot, nor is it based on an existing comic or novel.

The animation and voice performances are top shelf. Goodwin and Bateman are excellent as the leads. They actually have chemistry. Which is a little weird to see on screen and to write in a film review. I wasn’t in love with the character design and animation as I was with Disney’s BIG HERO 6, but that’s me nit-picking. This production has all the polish and talent that big studio bucks can buy, right down to the theme song sung by Shakira and written by Sia and Stargate.

USA | 108 minutes | (8/10)

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Is It Biscuit Tin-able?

Pro_HartLook, I don’t know anything about Art, but I do know what I like. And I like biscuits, especially ones that come in fancy tins. Flash bicky tins have been with us for more than a century. Often they simply depict the brand’s name or perhaps a litho’d portrait of the Royals or a random dignitary (there is more than one Winston Churchill tin out in the world). I am here to argue that the great biscuit tins come with a lid that reproduces great art. It’s a marriage baked in heaven.

NV_Biscuitfabriek 1950
Although I am very impressed with this embossed reproduction (above) of the detail from Rembrandt’s The Night Watch (1950s for NV Biscuitfabriek), I favour something more toned down like this Louis Garin tin (below) from Bicuiterie St Michel (also 1950s).

St Michel_1950s
Arnott’s Bicuits Limited has had plenty of Australia artists on its tins like Maynard Waters, Brian Baigent and Pro Hart (top of this post) especially during the 1970s and ‘80s. I believe now is the time for them to get contempo and cook up an appealing matrix of rising dough and social media. For example, how about slapping the annual Archibald prize winner on a tin?


Even though we’re not telepathically linked, somehow, I can hear you putting the question: Do we necessarily want to see Nigel Milsom’s 2015 Archibald winning portrait of barrister Charles Waterstreet gracing the top of a special edition Assorted Creams tin, Phil? I mean it’s rather foreboding an image–it’s not exactly biscuit tin-able, is it?

Well, if there’s anything I have learnt from the BBC’s Fake or Fortune, it’s that in Art and Cultural circles, it is no rare thing for a group of people, who regard themselves as experts, to gather about a table in a room, in closed session and pronounce the authenticity, or excellence, or award-worthiness, of a cultural artifact.

So what I’m saying is this: if, in future, an Arnott’s Biscuit Tin Art Selection Committee deems any painting to be biscuit tin-able, then by the expert power invested in them by themselves, biscuit tin-able that artwork shall be.

Even if we don’t like it, Art will be the winner and we can always push down any negative feelings with a delicious mouthful of Arnott’s Monte Carlos.

Monte Carlos