Film Review – Dungeons & Dragons: Honour among thieves

Posted in Uncategorized on March 23, 2023 by Reel Review Roundup

Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves (M)

Directed by: John Francis Daley, Johnathan Goldstein

Starring: Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez,

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Never played the game? Doesn’t matter. Dungeons & Dragons does not discriminate.

When thief Edgin (Chris Pine) and his accomplice/best friend Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) are released from prison, they seek to regain custody of Edgin’s daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman), who has been in the care of Forge (Hugh Grant).

This all sounds fairly wholesome and straightforward, but there are quests, sidekicks, a shifting maze, creatures, magic, shape-shifting and even talking corpses.

It is all gleefully fantastical, with a charmingly goofy sense of humour that is far better than it deserves to be.

Kudos to Dale and Goldstein who have imbued their film with a sense of fun, not only for fans but cinema-goers in general.

There are some key sequences that are so hilarious and fresh that it has secured itself as one of the biggest pleasant surprises of the year.

The most impressive thing about D&D is that one suspects it is full of Easter Eggs for die-hard fans of the game, and yet those unfamiliar are still able to follow the story, enjoy the gags and be part of the fun.

Pine and Grant are lapping up the opportunity to let loose and have fun (Grant is on a roll with this and the recent Operation Fortune), while Rodriguez also gets to dabble in comedy.

While the competition so far is pretty grim, this is one of the better game-to-screen adaptations.

Film Review – Champions

Posted in Uncategorized on March 23, 2023 by Reel Review Roundup

Champions (M)

Directed by: Bobby Farrelly

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Kaitlin Olson, Cheech Marin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Bobby “There’s Something About Mary” Farrelly has come a long way from his bombastic, gross-out comedy days, but it is unclear if his new path is a wise one.

After a physical altercation with a colleague, bachelor and basketball coach Marcus (Woody Harrelson) is court ordered to to manage a team of young players with intellectual disabilities for 90 days.

We don’t even need to drop another line of the plot because we all know how this is going to turn out.

There are certainly no surprises, plot-wise, Champions coasts solely on the charm of its performers.

Harrelson is still a playful presence who bonds nicely with this cats mates, but it is Olson, as his love interest, and Madison Tevlin, as the only female on the team, who stand out as sassy, modern, independent women among men.

Going into this unaware that it is a remake of the Spanish film Campeones, there is already a heavy sense of deja vu about the proceedings.

While it is lovely to see people with intellectual disabilities portrayed in such a positive light, Farrelly is so afraid to offend or ruffle any feathers, that this “comedy” tends to forget to make any gags, making it one of his safest film to date.

Film Review – Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Posted in Uncategorized on March 23, 2023 by Reel Review Roundup

Shazam! Fury of the Gods (MA)

Directed by: David F. Sandberg

Starring: Zachery Levi, Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

A group of teens/foster siblings who can turn into their superhero alter egos battle vengeful Gods in this long and uninspired sequel to the hit DC film.

While dealing with the usual teenage awkward, angsty situations, Billy Batson (Asher Angel) aka Shazam tries to keep his superhero family on the same track, while concealing their identities from their parents.

They are suddenly faced with the daughters of Atlas, Hespera (Helen Mirren), Kalypso (Lucy Liu) and Anthea (Rachel Ziegler), who regain control of and mend a broken staff that holds vast powers.

A mighty, city leveling battle ensues between the two camps.

While the first Shazam was a fun, funny and cheeky addition to the seemingly endless superhero sub-genre (or is it its own genre now?), this follow up is a dreary, stale and overblown headache.

The cast playing the superheroes get to have some fun, but the films greatest sin is casting Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu as vengeful sister Gods, and having them deliver boring, one-note performances.

Liu hardly registers any inflections in her dialogue delivery, and Mirren is surprisingly wooden.

Heck, even the Fast and Furious let Mirren ham it up.

This film even has a dragon and it is still dull.

Film Review – Magic Mike’s Last Dance

Posted in Uncategorized on February 12, 2023 by Reel Review Roundup

Magic Mike’s Last Dance (MA)

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh

Starring: Channing Tatum, Salma Hayek

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Magic Mike is back, begrudgingly, for one last sexy dance across a stage for the entertainment of others.

Former stripper Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) is now 40 and bartender events after his furniture business went kaput during the pandemic.

On his latest job, he is approached by married but sexually frustrated rich woman Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek) for a tension relieving lap dance.

Sparks fly, she sees an abundance of talent in him and draws him out of retirement to direct a new version of a stuffy old play at a London theatre she co-owns with her husband to give a female audience something they have never seen before.

Soderbergh spoils us early on with one of the steamiest choreographed, performed and filmed strip-teases put to film (between Tatum and Hayek), then keeps Tatum off the stage for the rest of the film.

Magic Mike’s Last Dance is all about the tease, so much so that one wonders if the pay off at the end is worth enduring it?

While this is an admirable and entertaining third chapter in the stunningly sexy series, putting a middle aged woman at the centre to explore her sexuality, creativity and urgency, there is a certain spark lacking as it bypasses any kind of backstory or camaraderie between the new dancers.

Getting to know the other dancers and their dynamics was part of the fun of the previous two, and made their dances just that touch more more titillating because we had an idea of who they are as people.

Magic Mike’s Last Dance does leave you wanting just a little bit more – or maybe that is Soderbergh’s plan?

Film Review – The Son

Posted in Uncategorized on February 12, 2023 by Reel Review Roundup

The Son (M)

Directed by: Florian Zeller

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, Zen McGrath

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Hugh Jackman digs deep in this emotional and dramatic character study, but can’t help but chuck in a small dance sequence.

Workaholic Peter (Hugh Jackman) is approached by his ex-wife Kate (Laura Dern) to help step in when she discovers their teenage son Nicholas (Zen McGrath) has not been to school in a month.

In addition to this, something is driving a wedge between mother and son – could it be normal teenage hormones creating behavioral changes, or something deeper?

Peter is happy to step up, and Nicholas even moves in with him, but this causes strain between Peter and his new wife Beth (Vanessa Kirby), who has just given birth to their own child.

The Son explores the difficulties and distance created between child and parent when that child is going through depression.

It delicately and brilliantly captures a young person’s inability to explain what they are feeling and why, and another person’s inability to relate – the scenes in which Peter and Nicholas cannot find a common ground or understanding of their own situation are heartbreaking.

On top of this, the film explores parental guilt: did the divorce cause this, was it not enough quality time spent together?

The cast is terrific, with Jackman delivering a rare fully fledged dramatic performance with a rounded character that he rarely has the opportunity to sink his teeth into.

If only it had re-thought the scene in which he dances like a daggy dad – a glaring reminder of this theatrical background which we have already seen displayed in Les Miserables and The Greatest Showman.

Film Review – Spoiler Alert

Posted in Uncategorized on February 12, 2023 by Reel Review Roundup

Spoiler Alert (M)

Directed by: Michael Showalter

Starring: Jim Parsons, Ben Aldridge, Sally Field

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Grab a box of tissues, because once Spoiler Alert, based on Michael Ausiello’s memoir titled Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies, gets past the rom-com cliches, it will have you bawling.

TV Guide journalist and Smurf nerd Michael Ausiello (Jim Parsons) is single a gay man living in New York during the early 2000s.

While out at club one weeknight, he meets dreamy jock Kit Cowan (Ben Aldridge) and the two opposites form an unlikely relationship.

We follow as Michael and Kit endure high and lows in their long-term relations, from moving in together, coming out to parents, fights, therapy and even living separately.

But it is when Kit’s health begins to decline that the two realise how much they meant to each other and how not everything lasts forever.

Spoiler Alert sets the scene with some heavy handed dialogue and scenarios early on, with almost every gay cliche crammed into the establishing sequences.

The overly familiar meet-cute could have easily been lifted from a number of any other “straight” rom-coms in the past 30 years.

What at first seems like simple sexuality flip, soon becomes an affecting love story that will have even the toughest film goers shedding a tear or two.

This mainly comes down the two leads actors, Parsons and Aldridge, who, despite being in rom-com fantasy land, ground the story with their natural performances and chemisty.

Parsons proves to have the endearing qualities and charisma to carry a feature film with his relatable presence.

Alluding to how this is going to all end in the title means this is less about the ending and more about the journey to get there – but it doesn’t make the final moments any less emotionally devastating.

Film Review – Knock at the Cabin

Posted in Uncategorized on February 4, 2023 by Reel Review Roundup

Knock at the Cabin (MA)

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

Starring: Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

The titan of twists, M. Night Shyamalan, ratchets up the tension with a terrifying “what would you do?” scenario in his latest offering.

While couple Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and their young adopted daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) are vacationing in an isolated cabin in the woods, they are approached by four strangers.

Leonard (Dave Batista), Redmond (Rupert Grint), Ardiane (Abby Quinn) and Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), armed with a range of seemingly home-made weapons, claim they are there to save the world from an apocalypse, by compelling the family to sacrifice one of their own.

Are they bigoted nutcases targeting a same-sex family, or are the couple blinded by years of mistreatment to trust they are genuine?

Shyamalan maintains a high level of tensions from the get-go with uncomfortable close-ups and a a nerve rattling, measured technique.

Character development of Eric and Andrew is only delivered via flashbacks in a clever story-telling choice that gradually reveals their resistance to comply – though, who in their position would?

While this ranks as one of Shyamalan’s better films (in a very uneven filmography), the final moments don’t deliver the dramatic punch that the tension-filled build-up promises, nor does it measure up to many of his other iconic wrap-ups.

But this is about the moral dilemma journey, and that alone is definitely satisfying.

Film Review – The Whale

Posted in Uncategorized on February 4, 2023 by Reel Review Roundup

The Whale (M)

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Starring: Brendan Fraser, Hong Chau, Sadie Sink

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Funny-man Brendan Fraser sinks his teeth into a devastatingly dramatic role in one of the greatest acting comebacks in years.

Morbidly obese English teacher Charlie (Brendan Fraser) is house-bound, alone, teaches classes via Zoom with his camera off and is on the verge of death.

His only friend and regular visitor is Liz (Hong Chau).

As Charlie’s deteriorating health indicates that he has merely days left to live, he tries to reconnect with his bitter teenage daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) and make amends with his ex-wife Mary (Samantha Morton).

This claustrophobic character study borders on depressing, but Fraser is such a pure and wonderful presence that he is able to radiate humanity through the layers of makeup and fat suit.

In one of his very rare dramatic roles, Fraser is able to emotionally wreck an unsuspecting audience

Try as he might with dramatic lighting (you almost need a torch to see anything on screen) and camera movement, director Darren Aronofsky cannot mask the fact that this is based on a play.

It is only in the final moments of a powerhouse climax that will have you sobbing uncontrollably that Aronofsky takes the dramatics a little too far and slips into melodrama.

Film Review – The Fabelmans

Posted in Uncategorized on February 4, 2023 by Reel Review Roundup

The Fabelmans (M)

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Gabriele LaBelle

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Directing legend Steven Spielberg finally tells his own life story – a bitter-sweet and heartbreaking story of love for film and parental betrayal.

Young Sammy discovers a love/obsession for film when his parents Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and Burt (Paul Dano) take him to the cinema.

Throughout the years, as the family acquire filming equipment, Sammy’s (Gabriel LaBelle) passion and skill grows as he films his family and friends.

But one day, while editing holiday footage, he uncovers a special relationship between his mum and family friend Benny (Seth Rogen), which brings his picture perfect world crashing down.

Told with precision and delicacy, The Fabelmans is a beautifully realised story about family, film and the power of the moving image.

Spielberg continues to cement himself as one of the best as he uses his camera imaginatively, yet subtly, to capture his impeccable cast, of which Dano and Williams are stand outs.

Film Review – Babylon

Posted in Uncategorized on February 4, 2023 by Reel Review Roundup

Babylon (MA)

Directed by: Damien Chazelle

Starring: Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

We delve had-first into a period of transition in Hollywood in the roaring 20’s, seen through the eyes of a couple of ambitious industry newbies and a bonafide big screen star.

In 1926, Mexican immigrant Manny (Diego Calva) crosses paths with undiscovered but self-declared star Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie), who is bursting with raw talent and intent on being the next silent film superstar, at a debaucherous Hollywood party.

Their friendship develops and deepens throughout the years, as Nellie’s star rises and falls, and Manny works his way up through the ranks to big-time producer.

Their careers develop during Hollywood’s transition from silent films to talkies, which comes with a raft of problems and possibilities.

Meanwhile, heartthrob actor Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) grapples with his own relevance and place in the industry.

Writer/director Damien Chazelle creates a hectic world of excess, from cocaine to character acting styles and personalities, that some may find overwhelming.

But this is one ride you want to strap in for.

There are career defining sequences for Chazelle – Nellie’s first time filming with sound is a masterclass of editing and comic timing, as it explores the technical nightmares that the new technology brought for cat and crew.

Robbie delivers a dynamic tour-de-force performance, maintaining a level of energy and enthusiasm that is almost exhausting to experience but deserves kudos.

This is a breathless, wild, manic and frantic three hour love letter to Hollywood, films and film making that stuns and impresses on every level.