Chris Rock rocks Will Smith in ‘Selective Outrage’; Andrea Riseborough shines as an alcoholic mother in ‘To Leslie’; “Champions’ is a contrived, cliché-driven attempt at an uplifting sports comedy; ‘Scream VI’ delivers the bloody goods

Note to Will: Comedian Chris Rock lets loose in his special ‘Selective Outrage’.

Wow. After delivering his climactic, long-awaited payout to Will Smith for assaulting him at the 2022 Oscars, Chris Rock ends his outstanding stand-up show Selective Outrage with a closing line that brilliantly sums up everything about what was wrong and bad and stupid about Will Smith’s behaviour, and from which he is unlikely to ever recover.

There’s never been a mic drop more killer – and Rock has never been more on point. It’s a devastating moment that goes passed the damage Smith did to his own career to speak directly to how Smith’s behaviour in front of a global audience essentially provided ammunition to the enemies of racial equality. Irony of ironies, Will Smith’s worst moment has produced Chris Rock’s best.

It takes about an hour before Rock gets to the topic everyone has been hanging for and it’s a payout that has no mercy. After Rock addresses the incident itself, he neatly segues into his assessment of the marriage arrangement between Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith.

With his audience completely onside, Rock is puzzled to the point of exasperation over how their set up not only allows Jada to have intercourse with their son’s friend, it also grants her leave to interview Smith about her infidelity on her YouTube show. It’s crazy and Rock is relentless as he engages a pure form of comedy by saying what everyone is thinking.

In the hour before he gets to the slap stuff, Rock explores the intricacy and hypocrisy of cancel culture, the true cost of high maintenance women, the true cost of divorce, the power of female beauty and the divisive topic of abortion.

This he speaks about with a frankness that has become his signature and, like Dave Chappelle, Rock’s views on abortion come with the unpleasant, unavoidable acknowledgment of its essence. It’s a pro-choice stance pro-lifers would applaud for its inconvenient honesty.

As his fans would intuitively know, Rock has long established himself as one of the most centrist African-American comedians around, his edgy routines, love of swearing and use of the N-word serving as laugh-rousing garnish to a brand of comedy carefully designed to appeal to the values of civility and common sense in his audience.

His approach has made him a prime exponent of straight-talk stand up and easily explains why his appeal fills venues. He’s at his best here. Don’t miss it.


Andrea Riseborough plays an alcoholic mother in ‘To Leslie’.

TO LESLIE *** (119 minutes) M
The latest entry into the century-long tradition of films dealing with the destruction alcohol addiction can inflict on a person’s life, To Leslie offers up the sorry tale of an emotionally beleaguered woman who has sacrificed everything for the bottle, with Andrea Riseborough putting in a sterling, Oscar-nominated performance as the titular character.

Having squandered a huge lottery win, we meet Leslie as a singularly pathetic woman whose lack of impulse control is matched only by the lack of respect she shows to the friends and family who make costly sacrifices to try and help her.

In particular, her estranged son James (Owen Teague) feels the full brunt of Leslie’s callousness when he discovers how grievously his trust has been abused, her promise to stop drinking quickly crumbling at the first opportunity to get high.

Having drained all the goodwill from those who love her, a broke and homeless Leslie finds a crappy job as a cleaning woman at a remote motel.

Luckily for her, and despite a degree of incompetence that would have ordinarily seen her banished, she falls into the good graces of the motel’s manager Sweeney (Marc Macron), even though the owner Royal (Andre Royo) turns out to be a former friend who does not welcome her incursion.

The strong work from Macron and Allison Janney – registering a cutting performance as a once-close friend who has turned into a complete bitch – dutifully serve Riseborough’s searing portrait of the dark depths of addiction and the corresponding craving for hope and redemption.

Directed by newbie Michael Morris (Better Call Saul) and penned by Ryan Binaco, the only major fumble in the film comes in a final stretch that offers an all-too-neat third act that runs counter to the harsh realities the story has adhered to till then.

It has the eerie feeling of being either an afterthought or a response to a test screening note suggesting an “up” ending.

Still, it’s not enough to derail the film or to take anything away from Riseborough’s remarkable central performance.

Footnote: There was some kerfuffle over the inventive campaign deployed to secure Riseborough an Oscar nomination. This simply involved the producers and filmmakers inviting actors to see the film and to voice their support if they deemed the performance of sufficient merit. Many did, mostly through social media.

There were unofficial complaints that doing so constituted some violation of the Academy’s campaign rules, yet a review found nothing wrong. There as “concern” over aspects of how social media was used, but that’s it.

As a low-budget film without the splash of funds available to mount a studio-level Oscar campaign, it’s understandable that the makers of To Leslie resorted to an inventive alternative strategy to help build a case for a nomination.

There was, as far as we know, nothing underhanded or untoward – and that’s after reading a heap of articles in the Wikipedia footnotes.

Certainly, there’s nothing to compare with some of the campaigning shenanigans engineered by former producer/current prison inmate Harvey Weinstein, whose efforts managed to take Best Picture from Saving Private Ryan with something as mediocre as Shakespeare in Love.

On top of all this, media coverage of Riseborough’s nomination often has the qualifier “shocking” attached to it. Why? It’s a splendid performance, easily on par with the other nominees, and arguably superior than some. What’s so “shocking” about it?

Perhaps it’s the latest example of how Hollywood treats women differently to men. Does anyone recall Nicholas Cage’s long-shot nomination for Leaving Las Vegas, another low-budget independent film about alcoholism, ever described as being “shocking”?

Yay, team: Woody Harrelson plays a struggling basketball coach in ‘Champions’.

CHAMPIONS * (124 minutes) M
Now here’s a major misfire that often borders on cringeworthy.
A largely lame, way overlong attempt at a feelgood sports comedy, Champions presents Woody Harrelson as basketball coach Marcus whose anger management issues are caught on court on video, landing him before an angry judge.

Rather than go to jail, Marcus reluctantly agrees to a bout of community service involving the coaching of a team of teenagers with intellectual disabilities.

Sounds like an uplifting family film, yeah? If only.

Too obviously intended as an aspirational, uplifting and inspiring against-the-odds story, Champions, well-meaning to a fault, is carpeted with sentimental clichés and cardboard charm.

And, frankly, it ain’t very funny – especially disappointing as it’s the first solo film from director Bobby Farrelly who, with brother Peter, gave us such pearlers as Dumb and Dumber, Me, Myself and Irene, Shallow Hal, Kingpin and the classic There’s Something About Mary.

The slow pace and inordinate length – why is this film a second over 90 minutes? – exacerbates how ultra-predictable the story is as it lurches from one obvious story point to another. And, yes, there’s one kid who doesn’t want to be part of the team that Marcus is determined to win over.

As for the film’s pitch to a family audience seeking a sweet, life-affirming story, this might be countered somewhat by the M rating for “crude humour and language”.

Contrived and unconvincing, Champions is a case of a well-intentioned film that aims for the heart but ends up hitting the stomach.

Hello, old friend: Ghostface slashes away in ‘Scream VI’.

SCREAM VI *** (122 minutes) MA
After the tedium of the previous entry, very glad to report that Scream VI chimes in as catnip for the devoted legions of the franchise’s fanbase, as well as a bloody joyride for easy-to-please horror fans.

Again starring Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega (who we all love thanks to Wednesday), Courtney Cox and even Hayden Panettiere (now an FBI agent), Scream VI delivers more of the usual fun and games with our stab-happy Ghostface killer – well, the latest incarnation of Ghostface, to be accurate – slicing and dicing and even shooting through the mainly female cast, which has relocated to a very sunny New York, working nicely as a welcome change of scenery.

A handful of neat surprises are in store along with the usual meta-references to horror films and the franchise-within-a-franchise Stab movies. Though such self-referencing in movies lost its novelty a long time ago – around the time of the first Deadpool, at a guess – here the practice has the required wit to justify its continued use. Kudos to directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett and scribes James Vanderbilt & Guy Busick for attending to this important caveat.

Whether Scream VI contributes anything meaningful to the quest for strong female leads in movies is a matter of playful interpretation.

One character, an expert in the conventions of the horror genre, boasts a t-shirt that reads “strong femme leads”. It’s a cheeky use of the irony we see in the better of these movies and is in keeping with the spirit of this giddy splatterfest.

Footnote #1: Notably, Scream VI is the first film not to involve franchise long-hauler Neve Campbell. Knowing how deeply disappointing this would be for her fans, she has explained how she felt the offer she received to appear in the film did not reflect her contribution to the series. She added that the issue would probably not have arisen had she been male. Interesting debating point.

Footnote #2: At one of the public previews on Wednesday night at Hoyts Highpoint, patrons prepared to watch a 2D screening began rubbing their eyeballs as a 3D print began unspooling. An attempt to transfer the proper movie file turned out to be too slow, so audience members were offered either a refund or a chance to watch the film in 2D on a giant screen in the adjacent Xtreme cinema. Either way, everyone got a complimentary ticket as they filed out.

So, kudos to the team at Hoyts Highpoint. Excellent service in a tough situation.