Film Review – The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

Posted in Uncategorized on June 13, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (M)

Directed by: Patrick Hughes

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Bigger, louder, and more swearing is the plan of action for this sequel to the moderate 2017 hit The Hitman’s Bodyguard.

While on a strict gun-free sabbatical from bodyguarding in Italy, under his psychiatrist’s orders, highly strung Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is dragged back into a world of violence, body counts, kidnappings and villains with plans of destruction.

Feisty firecracker Sonia Kincaid (Salma Hayek) has tracked Michael down to help get her hitman husband Darius (Samuel L. Jackson) back from the mobsters who took him on the first night of their honeymoon.

The trio then get caught up in Interpol’s mission, led by agent Bobby O’Neill (Frank Grillo), to stop Aristotle Papadopolous (Antonio Banderas) from destroying the European power grid.

But Sonia and Aristotle have unresolved history.

In the grand tradition of action sequels, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard does things bigger and louder, with lines of dialogue that never have less than 12 F-words or variants of. A drinking game in which you take a shot every time someone swears would require a grave.

In many ways, the script does feel like it was written by a giddy 14 year old boy who just discovered swear words and a blank cheque for explosions, though admittedly Jackson’s first few “motherf*ckers” does hit the spot.

There is a lot of humour drawn from the foul mouthed, gun-toting Sonia leaving a trail of dead bodies while pining about being a mum and Michael getting through various violent situations without resorting to a firearm.

Hayek steals the show from her male counterparts with her outlandish and comedically over-the-top performance and thank goodness for her. She also brings some emotional depth (as much as one could possibly be allowed to in an otherwise testosterone-fuelled endeavor) to what would otherwise be simply a screeching harpy.

It is sequel film making for the lowest common denominator and darn it if I didn’t get sucked right into it, because while it doesn’t bother to reinvent the wheel, it has an energy and conviction about it that is infectious. It aims for fun and achieves it.

Film Review – Cruella

Posted in Uncategorized on June 7, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

Cruella (M)

Directed by: Craig Gillespie

Starring: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Mark Strong

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Emma Stone dons a British accent and glamorous outfits in this sumptuous live action Cruella de Vil origin story that doesn’t forget nuance among the spectacle.

When her mother is killed by the paws of three dalmatian guard dogs at a cliff-side mansion, feisty young creative with a dark streak Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) is orphaned and resorts to living on the streets of London.

She is taken in by fellow street wise orphans Jasper (Ziggy Gardner) and Horace (Joseph MacDonald) and throughout the years perfect their pick-pocketing plots as a team.

As young adults, Estella (Emma Stone) has dreams of a career in fashion and gets a job working for renowned haute couture designer The Baroness (Emma Thompson), but working for this contemptuous boss from hell prompts Estella’s alter-ego Cruella to surface.

Cruella is less about dogs and more about fashion, duality, loyalty, harmful secrets and identity – in fact, there is a lot going on in this 134 minute film. Not only is it interested in subtext, but it is a showcase for some of the most creative and stylish choices we are likely to see on screen this year. The production design is often jaw-dropping.

The outfits are dazzling, with a couple of costume reveals that elicited an audible gasp from me, the soundtrack is wall to wall classic bops and zippy editing that, for the most part, gives this a fun pace.

Pairing the two Emmas was casting genius, with both of them at the top of their giddy game making it hard to guess which is having the most fun disappearing into their devilish characters. And the moments where they go head-to-head as the rivalry intensifies is delightful to watch unfold.

There are some obvious parallels to The Devil Wears Prada, even down to the icy boss’ bald right hand man John (Mark Strong), and the length is not justified (is there a word for when you are enjoying something so much but at the same time wish it will end soon?) but Cruella is a case of so much joyfully wicked energy being channeled into something that this delicious concoction is hard to hate.

Film Review – The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Posted in Uncategorized on June 5, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (M)

Director: Michael Chaves

Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ruairi O’Connor

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Cinema’s favourite couple of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren are back to battle more spooky spectres with some true facts laying the groundwork for some fantastical storytelling.

In 1981, when young man Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor) from small town Brookfield, Connecticut murders his landlord, his case becomes the first American murder trial to claim demonic possession as a defense.

The Warrens are brought on board to help prove his claim and begin investigating a link between Arne’s situation and a couple of other similar cases – a satanic curse.

Director Michael Chaves, whose initiation into the Conjuring universe was spin-off The Curse Of LA Llorona (2019), mounts some genuinely nail-biting sequences that are heavy on the suspense and dread rather than jolting sound effects – the funeral home scene is a definite highlight.

However, reliance on the charm of the main characters and the actors that play them is starting to run low on steam, and the connections to real life events seem increasingly weak.

By the time a possessed character starts levitating and windows blow out in front of prison staff, this has well and truly lost touch with reality.

Early on, this third Conjuring installment hints that it may take a different narrative approach, one more along the lines of the fascinating genre mash-up exorcism/court room drama The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, alas, it ditches the court room in favour of the more traditional investigating/mystery solving. But ultimately, once solved, it doesn’t leave much of an impact.

It may be time for the Warrens’ story to be locked up in a basement for some respite much like their collection of possessed dolls and various items before the fear factor is truly diminished.

Film Review – Breaking News In Yuba County

Posted in Uncategorized on June 3, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

Breaking News In Yuba County (M)

Directed by: Tate Taylor

Starring: Allison Janney, Mila Kunis, Regina Hall

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Come for the all star cast, barely stay for a great lead performance and one funny side character with recent misfire Breaking News in Yuba County.

When sweet and simple small town woman Sue Buttons (Allison Janney) catches her husband Karl (Matthew Modine) in a hotel room cheating on her on her birthday – that he, her family and workmates all forgot about – he dies.

Sue takes this opportunity to get some long overdue attention and enlists her TV journalist sister Nancy’s help to spread the word that he is missing – but this sets off a series of escalating lies that Detective Cam Harris (Regina Hall) is getting increasingly suspicious about.

Breaking News in Yuba County crams in a lot of characters (I have only mentioned a fraction of them so far, lest this synopsis reads like a Wikipedia entry) and plot thickening twists but without much to say of any substance on small town communities or the media, this is merely a satire without much aim.

There are plenty of elements at play (perhaps too many) and yet Taylor cannot seem to find the right way to smoosh them all together, and especially cannot decide on tone or has much of an eye for comedy.

Bringing in Kunis as a scoop desperate Gayle Weathers type, but have her play it down or recruit Regina Hall but have her play it completely straight (even crying at one point) seems pointless – even Awkwafina feels awkward as a ruthless killer that has trouble intimidating people. They all have weird wigs and slobby clothes though, so LOL, I guess?

They should be providing huge belly laughs, but Taylor either won’t let them be funny, or is not able to guide them to find the funny. Only Wanda Sykes, basically playing her usual hilarious self, in a supporting role provides the biggest laughs with her effortless banter.

The one passing grace is the brilliant Janney, who embodies all the complexities of her delicately drawn character, making her simultaneously tragic and sympathetic. Without her anchoring this directionless “comedy”, it would be an immediate write-off.

With Drowning Mona, Fargo and Drop Dead Gorgeous vibes, Breaking News in Yuba County has an all star cast with dark comedy tendencies, and yet lacks the bite, wit and joyful wickedness of its predecessors.

Film Review – A Quiet Place Part II

Posted in Uncategorized on May 22, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

A Quiet Place Part II (M)

Directed by: John Krasinski

Starring: Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Cillian Murphy

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

The story of one family evading a horde of human slaughtering, sound sensitive aliens continues in John Krasinki’s thrilling and clever but not entirely airtight tale of terror.

After their home is destroyed, the Abbott family Evelyn (Emily Blunt), Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe) and newborn seek refuge in world with very few living people left.

They come across former friend Emmett (Cillian Murphy) who has been hiding out in isolation, but Regan is determined to find who is transmitting via radio a single song on loop. With her recent discovery that her hearing aid emits a pitch that, when amplified, weakens the aliens, she is confident she can help save others.

But reaching other people, if there even are people out there, is not an easy task with those vicious creatures in abundance.

A Quiet Place Part II is just as interested in expanding its story and moving it forward as it with mounting some terrifying sequences and effective jump scares, which places it firmly on par with the first, which became a breakout hit and crowd favourite.

The key factor is a likable family that you hate to see in danger. This time, the story breaks into three threads: Regan and Emmett seeking other survivors, Evelyn venturing out for more supplies and Marcus (after suffering a nasty bear trap related injury) caring for his baby brother while making poor decisions that put them in danger.

This tack leads to an unforgettable and excruciatingly intense extended sequence that flicks between the three threads.

Once again, this franchise not only fills the gap of representation, making one’s disability their strength but also elevates the next generation as the heroes, achieving what the adults cannot or have not – the future of the world is in their hands and they are more than capable of handling the situation.

The only disappointment is that all it all builds to a familiar conclusion that has an air of deja vu over it – we saw this almost beat for beat in the last film.

But the ride up until that point is roller-coaster-like with breathless pacing and thrilling jolts, the kind of satisfying fright-fest that you don’t mind spilling your popcorn over.

Film Review – Spiral

Posted in Uncategorized on May 17, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

Spiral (R)

Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman

Starring: Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with it and there is no reason why it should not exist and yet…there is just something strangely surreal about a Saw adjacent movie starring comedian Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson.

It is one of the most curious moves in Hollywood, not just in its attempt to inject some juice into a waning franchise, but just in general. I have seen it and yet I’m still not sure I believe it.

Troubled Detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock), who has attitude and daddy issues, is drawn into a sadistic and deadly game with a mysterious murderer who is killing off members of the police department in gruesome and inventive ways.

And each death looks like something right out of the John Kramer (Jigsaw) handbook of morality murders. Except Kramer has been dead a while.

While struggling with the strained relationship with his father former police chief Marcus, whose shadow he lives in, Det. Banks must catch the killer before all his corrupt cop colleagues are slaughtered.

The addition of the two leads is enough to peak ones curiosity about the ninth entry in the Saw films. Wait, is it technically even a Saw sequel? Is this a reboot? Or simply a marketing ploy to trick us into spending money on torture porn, a horror sub-genre whose moment was cut short in favour of haunted houses, creepy dolls and conjurings?

If hammy acting is the requisite for making it a Saw film, then it certainly is one; that and the traps are the most recognisable things from the series.

Regardless, the experience of seeing a straight faced Rock analysing mutilated bodies is certainly something we haven’t seen before, and the gritty and grimy Se7en inspired police procedural aesthetic offers a slightly different tack for this series.

The traps are still inventive, the gore nauseatingly graphic and the plot twisty enough for this to be a minor stomach churning distraction, though this is hardly the series resuscitation the makers probably hoped for – despite the surprising cast.

Film Review – Fatale

Posted in Uncategorized on May 17, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

Fatale (MA)

Directed by: Deon Taylor

Starring: Hilary Swank, Michael Ealy, Mike Colter

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

While her dramatic roles have been highly lauded to the point of being awarded the coveted gold statue, Hilary Swank’s attempts at thrillers have had the opposite effect.

Despite sinking her teeth into a role that she has not previously played – a sexy detective with a sinister side – this Fatal Attraction wannabe ranks alongside her other less than stellar thriller efforts The Reaping and The Resident.

Successful marketing executive Derrick Taylor (Michael Ealy) has built his business from the ground up and enjoys a life of luxury in a swish mansion perched on the Hollywood hills with his wife Tracey (Damaris Lewis).

With marital problems brewing, Derrick spends a weekend in Vegas with his mates and has a one night stand with Val Quinlan (Hilary Swank).

Back home, when Derrick and Tracie are the targets of a violent home invasion, guess who is the detective assigned to the case? Now that Val knows the truth about Derrick (his real name and marital status), she turns full bunny boiler and makes his life hell.

Comparisons to the granddaddy of psycho jilted lovers Fatal Attraction are inevitable; in fact this follows the formula so closely there could be a lawsuit.

What Fatale does, however, is give the villainous Val more screen time, backstory and motivation for her actions – though her actions eventually become so incredibly convoluted and reliant on coincidence that it loses any touch with reality (which was already strained).

It also raises the stakes for the likable but morally questionable Derrick, and yet in doing so, somehow fails to make this any more scary, unsettling or nerve-wracking for the viewer. Instead, it just makes this film feel like it stretches much further than its reasonable 102-minute running time.

It is great to see Swank be able to enjoy a level of diversity in her career, though perhaps she could benefit from being a little more careful about her choices.

Film Review – Land

Posted in Uncategorized on April 28, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

Land (M)

Directed by: Robin Wright

Starring: Robin Wright, Demian Bichir, Kim Dickens

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

The spectacle filled monster smack-down Godzilla vs. Kong recently got bums back in cinemas seats, but now we are presented with Robin Wright against the elements in this tale of woman vs. nature; a thoughtful, beautifully shot story of grief, living off the grid and isolation.

Edee (Robin Wright) gives up her city dwelling lifestyle, buys an isolated, rundown cabin in the Wyoming wilderness, ditches her mobile phone and heads out to her new home with a handful of belongings and a few boxes of tinned food.

When she asks her real estate agent to take her vehicle, it seems that Edee is not intent on returning to her old city lifestyle.

She is not running away from anything or anyone, nor is she on the lam; instead, Edee has experienced something so emotionally traumatising that she wants to cut herself off from civilisation – even if it means dying alone out there in the wilderness.

For her first feature film project as director, Wright has taken on some meaty, character driven material scripted by Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam – a story that delves into the grieving process of a modern, middle-aged woman. Sure, Edee’s process may seem a little extreme at first, but it is a version that we have not seen.

As Edee, Wright puts herself through the wringer, making living off the land look like a torturous experience. The scenery is spectacular, but it is not to be taken for granted.

Her interactions with other humans are few and far between, and kudos to the storytellers for not turning good Samaritan Miguel (Demian Bichir) into a schmaltzy love interest or romantic distraction for Edee, who retains her stance on remaining physically and emotionally isolated.

The final revelation on what actually motivates her, delivered towards the end in one of the final moments after being teased and hinted at throughout the film, is likely to get you teary eyed, leaving you with an emotionally satisfying conclusion to this heartfelt, human story.

Film Review – Voyagers

Posted in Uncategorized on April 8, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

Voyagers (M)

Directed by: Neil Burger

Starring: Tye Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp, Colin Farrell

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

A bunch of horny young adults run amok on a spaceship in this timely updated and relocated version of Lord of the Flies.

In 2063 as Earth becomes uninhabitable, a crew of 30 boys and girls are genetically engineered for the purpose of embarking on an 86-year, multi-generational deep space mission aboard the Humanitas to find an alternate planet to populate, chaperoned by father-figure Richard (Colin Farrell).

Everything runs smoothly with peace and order on board the ship, until several years into the journey when Christopher (Tye Sheridan) and Zac (Fionn Whitehead) discover the crew is being drugged to keep them docile and focused.

When they rebel, order descends into raunchy college movie territory chaos as they begin to experience an overwhelming surge of hormones, not all of whom have the capacity to control.

Zac gets violent, rapey and power hungry, splitting the crew down the middle with his outrageous propaganda, leaving Christoper and chief medical officer and target of Zac’s newfound urges Sela (Lily-Rose Depp) to fend for themselves.

The plot, characterisation and theme similarities between Voyagers and William Golding’s 1954 novel about marooned British boys that go feral without adult supervision are blatant – Voyagers writer, producer and director Neil Burger does little to camouflage them.

Transporting the story into the future with a high risk mission for the future of humanity does add a fresh high stakes take on the material and with recent world events, this comes as timely and potent food for thought about how grim human instincts and behaviour can be when not kept in check.

Burger’s atmospheric depiction of descent into chaos in this clinical and claustrophobic setting (those white, cold and character-free spaceship corridors are creepy) does manage to keep you on edge even when you can guess his next plot move, but once he starts spoon feeding the themes later down the track with on the nose dialogue, the film begins to lose some of its weight.

Film Review – Nobody

Posted in Uncategorized on April 8, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

Nobody (MA)

Directed by: Ilya Naishuller

Starring: Bob Odenkirk, Connie Nielsen, Christopher Lloyd

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

An average Joe Blow family man’s secret comes to light after a home invasion in the latest action comedy Nobody.

Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk) is your average suburban husband and father who has fallen into a rut of routine with his ordinary office job and emotionally distant family.

When two thugs break into his house, a repressed side of Hutch resurfaces: he is a trained but retired assassin. Hutch borrows his father’s (Christopher Lloyd) old FBI badge and gun and goes looking for the offenders.

But a violent and bloody confrontation on a bus with a group of rowdy harassers makes Hutch and his family the target of the Russian mob.

Nobody milks a lot of mileage from juxtaposing humdrum routine with visceral violence and gun play – the biggest gag is that all this bloodshed and body count is over a child’s kitty bracelet.

It is sharply scripted and neatly put together, save for an establishing montage early on of Hutch’s daily grind routine (wake up, go for a run, go to work, repeat) that gets several repeats too many.

Odenkirk, who concocted this story, is refreshing and perfect as the unlikely action star and on a pure enjoyment level, it is a thrill to see gun-toting octogenarian Christopher Lloyd shine.

However, without giving us much reason to invest on an emotional level (the strained relationship between Hutch and his wife Becca played by Connie Nielsen is fatally under-cooked), this doesn’t have the weight that similar franchise starter John Wick had.