Reviews: 'I Am Woman' a conventional biography of a woman who was anything but
Tilda Cobham-Hervey is seen in the film "I Am Woman." (Goalpost Pictures)
I AM WOMAN: 3 ½ STARS
Early on in “I Am Woman,” the Helen Reddy biopic now on digital and on demand, the Australian singer, played by Tilda Cobham-Hervey, passes a subway advertisement that sets the tone for the rest of the movie. A housewife holds a bottle of ketchup and with a look of surprise says, “Even I can open it!” as Reddy makes her way to a meeting with a dismissive record industry twit.
Melbourne-born Reddy’s plainspoken anthems for a generation of women kicked open doors in a sexist industry and while she never says, “Even I can open it,” about a bottle of ketchup or anything else in the film, it’s clear from the start she has no doubt that she can.
Based on Reddy's memoir “The Woman I Am,” the movie begins in 1966 when the Beatles ruled the charts and record labels were not interested in “girl singers.”
Single-mom Reddy and her young daughter land in New York on the mistaken belief that a record deal was awaiting. It wasn’t, but Reddy was, well, ready for success. A polished singer and performer, she just needed a break. That came in the form of Jeff Wald (Evan Peters), an ambitious music biz insider who becomes her manager and husband. When he puts down the coke spoon long enough to focus on Reddy’s career, he manages to land her a record contract. The resulting album, 1971’s “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and it’s number-one hit.
“I Am Woman” established Reddy not only as a creative force but also as a figurehead of the era’s feminist movement.
“I Am Woman” follows the standard 1970s “Behind the Music” biopic formula. From struggling artist to chart topper, with all the sexism, drugs and rock n’ roll—OK, make that easy listening rock—you expect from a showbiz tale writ large. Add to that some on-the-nose soundtrack decisions—"You and Me Against the World” warbles in the background as Reddy and her music journalist pal Lillian Roxon (Danielle Macdonald) are trying to make a dent in the music business and, the even heavier-handed “Ain't No Way to Treat a Lady” adorns a scene of marital discord—and you have the makings of corny musical melodrama.
What sets it apart from the pack is a charismatic performance from Cobham-Hervey and some nicely rendered musical numbers.
In a breakout performance, Cobham-Hervey captures the spirit of Reddy, a talented everywoman who fought against workplace harassment and discrimination to achieve success. She’s charismatic but brings a certain kind of effortlessness to role, a hard to define quality on display in her first in-studio scene. She’s having a hard time performing to a room of disinterested hard rock producers until Wald suggests she pretend she’s on stage. As the nerves settle Cobham-Hervey brings Reddy to life, allowing the strong, invincible singer to emerge. (Chelsea Cullen provides Reddy’s singing voice.)
Equally effective is the montage that introduces the title song. Intercutting Reddy’s performance with news footage of Equal Rights Amendment rallies and women’s liberation protests, director Unjoo Moon creates a picture perfect portrait of the time, showing us, not telling us why the song was then, and remains, such a powerful statement.
“I Am Woman” is an entertaining, if conventional biography of a woman who was anything but conventional.
THE BROKEN HEARTS GALLERY: 3 ½ STARS
Heartbreak has been the catalyst for much great art. During a lull in her relationship with Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo painted “The Two Fridas” depicting herself on one side with a full heart and with a gaping hole in her chest on the other. David Levithan’s “The Lover’s Dictionary” told a tale of heartbreak through a collection of dictionary entries and Taylor Swift has made a career turning her romantic anguish into art.
In “The Broken Hearts Gallery,” a glossy new rom-com starring Geraldine Viswanathan playing in theatres this weekend, a young woman deals with romantic upheaval by turning heartbreak into an art gallery.
Viswanathan is quirky Brooklyn art gallery assistant Lucy, a romantic hoarder, not of hearts but of trinkets from all the men who left her forlorn. The mementos, stuffed animals, bicycle locks, candlesticks and more, clutter her bedroom, acting as a shrine to love gone wrong. Her roommates (Phillipa Soo and Molly Gordon) tell her she can’t have a good relationship “because she’s always mourning the past.” An ex says, “Every time I came over it was like hooking up in a mausoleum.”
When her boyfriend Max (Utkarsh Ambudkar), who is also her boss at a tony art Manhattan gallery, suddenly dumps her at a work event, she causes a scene and loses her job.
“I know we have 10 years before we all drown in the melting ice caps,” she says before being escorted out, “but I swear the most precious resource is not the ozone. Oh no. It’s honesty.”
Single and unemployed she calls an Uber, jumps into the first car on the block and, in the kind of meet cute that only happens in the movies, meets Nick (Dacre Montgomery) who isn’t an Uber driver, but gives her a lift anyway. Turns out he’s about to open a boutique hotel and it’s there Lucy find purpose as the curator of the Broken Hearts Gallery, a space where people can deposit the detritus of past relationships, leaving behind the pain and moving on to the future.
“There are broken people out there who need help moving on,” she says.
“The Broken Hearts Gallery” is Generation-Y answer to “Bridget Jones’ Diary” and “Sex and the City.” It plays like a regular rom-com with all the stuff we expect, the funny, raunchy best friends, the NYC setting (although whenever they step in doors it’s actually Toronto) and there’s even the predictable run through the rain as the beau declares his love.
What doesn’t feel conventional is Viswanathan's performance. “The Broken Hearts Gallery” is a showcase for the 25-year-old Australian actress’ considerable charisma, sincerity and comedy chops. The story and the surrounding characters feel interchangeable with other rom coms but Viswanathan makes this optimistic ode to empowerment a cute, feel good diversion.
THE TAX COLLECTOR: 2 ½ STARS
No one will ever say that Shia LaBeouf isn’t committed to his art. He left behind a big-time career in blockbuster movies to concentrate on making smaller, more interesting films. For his latest role, a sociopath who says things like, “Do I have to kill anyone today? I have my nice shoes on,” he got a giant torso tattoo to help him find the character’s authenticity. That’s commitment. It’s a shame “The Tax Collector,” now on VOD, doesn’t make good use of LaBeouf or the tat.
Set in South Los Angeles, the movie follows David (Bobby Soto) and sidekick Creeper (LaBeouf), violent men who collect payments, or “taxes,” from 43 different street gangs for Wizard, an enigmatic crime boss currently residing as a guest of the state. They are feared and respected in equal measure but when Wizard’s old rival Conejo (Jose Martin) shows up after a ten-year absence, life on the street changes. Conejo and his deadly girlfriend (Cheyenne Rae Hernandez)—“She’s like the female you,” David says to Creeper.—plan on taking over, edging Wizard out. David can either sign on or face the grim repercussions for his loyalty to the old regime. When he refuses to kiss the ring and join the new family things get bloody. “Everything you love is going to die real fast.”
“The Tax Collector” is rich with details of gang life and atmosphere. Unfortunately, it’s also ripe with hackneyed depictions of the same. Director and screenwriter David “Training Day” Ayer replays themes of love, honour, loyalty and family that have been played to death (literally) in almost every gangster film ever made. It’s stylishly made but no amount of tricky camera angles will erase that sense of déjà vu.
It’s propped up somewhat by solid performances from Soto and LaBeouf, who, contrary to internet chatter is not playing a Hispanic character. Soto, as the family man with a dark side, shares good chemistry with LaBeouf in their chattier moments. Ayer perfected the riding-around-in-cars dialogue schtick in “Training Day” and uses they make the most of it here.
The movie’s biggest surprise is the casting of comedian George Lopez as David’s Uncle Louis, a garage mechanic with a violent past. He’s gutsy and gritty and in his limited time on screen makes an impression as opposed to Martin who plays Conejo with all the finesse of a pantomime villain.
“The Tax Collector” is a violent, gore-soaked portrait of gang life with nothing new to say.
MEASURE FOR MEASURE: 2 ½ STARS
Four hundred and sixteen years after it was written, Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” a story of morality and mercy in Vienna, has been relocated to a modern day housing commission apartment block in Melbourne, Australia. Paul Ireland’s “Measure for Measure,” now on VOD, condenses the Bard’s four-hour play into a time saving and timely two hours.
The action begins with a meth-fuelled shooting rampage breaking the relative calm of an apartment block’s communal garden. The place is a mini city within a city, a microcosm of society where its citizens are reliant on a leader in the form of crime boss Duke (Hugo Weaving), an aging godfather who controls most of the goings on in the neighborhood. The shooting has brought unwanted attention to Duke who hightails it out of town leaving his first lieutenant, drug dealer Angelo (Mark Leonard Winter) in charge until the heat dies down.
Angelo is loyal, almost like a son to Duke, but he wants to expand the empire and his influence. Plus, can’t stop thinking about his neighbour Jaiwarra (Meagan Hajjar), whose brother, a violent gun runner named Farouk (Fayssal Bazzi), does not approve of his sister’s relationship with aspiring musician Claudio (Harrison Gilbertson).
Director Ireland and screenwriter Damian Hill weave together Shakespearean themes of power, corruption, revenge and star-crossed lovers with modern day concerns of racial divisions, trauma and the drug epidemic but at its convoluted core “Measure for Measure” essays feelings of love and hate.
The relationship between Duke and Angelo comes with complicated and deep-seeded feelings of allegiance but is beginning to fray at the edges. Jaiwarra and Claudio have a deep bond that is threatened by Farouk’s hatred. Each character is intertwined and while the mix-and-match of love story and social commentary sometimes feels strained and melodramatic, Ireland offers up good performances—particularly from Weaving—that smooth over the film’s rough spots.
RAVAGE: 1 ½ STARS
The spirit of hillbilly grindhouse horror lives in the violent revenge flick “Ravage,” now on VOD.
Annabelle Dexter-Jones is Harper Sykes, a “GI Jane with a camera.” On a photographic assignment in the remote Virginia woods she witnesses and documents a group of men feeding a person to a pack of hungry dogs. Terrible things happen and she wakes up in a hospital bed, bandaged from head-to-toe, and being questioned by Detective Slayton (Michael Weaver). Convinced she is a “mountain tweaker who burned herself up in a meth lab,” he tries to coerce a story out of her.
In flashbacks the movie details, and I mean details with a capital D, the brutal story of Harper’s capture by the redneck ravagers, led by Ravener (Robert Longstreet), her revenge, and what lies behind the bandages.
If a movie with a title like “Ravage” appeals to you, then you likely know what’s in store. It’s a savage, uncompromising look at the cruelty humans are capable of. By definition the word means, “to devastate, waste, sack, pillage, despoil, to lay waste by plundering or destroying,” and that’s just the beginning in terms of how literally screenwriter and director Teddy Grennan takes the word’s meaning.
It’s an unpleasant movie that doesn’t exactly celebrate the violence, there are no huge set pieces here, it more or less documents terrible things without lingering on the intricacies of the torture and killing, so I suppose we should be grateful for small mercies.
In a short cameo from Bruce Dern is suitably creepy, mouthing dialogue about how, “torture is the barometer of a nation’s creativity.” It’s the kind of role he could do in his sleep, but his presence adds a sense of gravitas, which is blown in the film’s final moments.
You will not see the final twist coming, and I will not tell you what it is, but know this, if you thought “Ravage” would be a (SPOILER ALERT) an ode to female empowerment, you will be taken aback and disappointed. Harper’s resilience, despite some boneheaded moves along the way, display a resourcefulness that suggests she will emerge bloodied but unbowed. The film’s sick ‘n twisted final few moments lay waste to that assumption in no uncertain terms.
“Ravage” is a no-frills thriller of the hunter and the hunted that attempts to address moral questions about violence and revenge but instead gets caught glorifying them.