Film Review – Dumbo

Posted in Uncategorized on April 12, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

Dumbo (G)

Directed by: Tim Burton

Starring: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Eva Green

Two and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Disney brings its beloved tale of a flying elephant back to the big screen with a live action film, plenty of special effects and star power in front of and behind the camera.

In 1919, equestrian performer Holt Harrier (Colin Farrell) returns from the war to find the circus he works for financially struggling, his wife dead and their two children full of resentment.

With the horses sold off, Holt is left to look after the circus elephant, who births an offspring with oversized ears.

At first the newborn is deemed an unappealing freak of nature that will do the circus no favours, but it is soon discovered the baby elephant can fly.

Dumbo 2019 certainly looks great: the visual effects are amazing, it is a slick production and Dumbo is appropriately adorable. But visual effects that all the money can buy cannot conjure heart and soul, which this remake lacks.

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In creating a live version of its own property, Disney is uninterested in taking any risks, sticking to what is safe and likely to rack up the most box office receipts. There is a sense of simply playing up to nostalgia here.

As Tim Burton has delivered box office gold in recent years, it is clear why he was hired to direct, and yet he seems to be stifled creatively here.

His distinct signature style leans towards the dark, edgy and loopy (Batman, Beetlejuice), but Dumbo 2019 is so vanilla that it feels like it could have been made by any up and comer that is happy to work under creative restraints.

Every decision feels so incredibly safe that it is hard to imagine anyone becoming emotionally involved in the story or getting choked up like they would have during the original animated classic.

 

Film Review – Destroyer

Posted in Uncategorized on April 12, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

Destroyer (MA)

Directed by: Karyn Kusama

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany

Four and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Always one to take risks, choose projects outside the box and not repeat herself, chameleon Nicole Kidman shows yet another side of her acting talents with this gritty LA drama.

Haggard, worn, limping LA Detective Erin Bell arrives on the scene of a homicide and based on the evidence left on the body, she knows who is responsible, indicating that her checkered past is coming back to haunt her.

Several years ago, while undercover with her former partner Chris (Sebastian Stan), she became involved with a crime gang led by the volatile and dangerous Silas (Toby Kebbell) and a bank robbery that went horribly wrong.

Convinced that Silas has resurfaced after all these years, she makes her way through his acquaintances to track him down before he gets to her.

Meanwhile, Erin deals with her delinquent daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn) and while she was never much of a role model for the teenager, tries to put her on the straight and narrow before she gets too deeply involved with her shady and much older boyfriend.

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While Kidman’s talents are immense and diverse, her performance in Destroyer is completely unlike anything else she has committed to screen. She has the ability to tackle well-rounded and emotionally complex characters, and yet to this point has still retained a softness and delicacy.

Here, she is not only physically unrecognisable as the guilt ridden detective, her face worn by the harsh LA sun and lack of self care, but she is tough and hardened, her delicate demeanor completely eradicated as she limps and pistol whips her way through this investigation.

Kidman plays this character as carrying such heavy emotional weight that it almost drags her down physically – a downright incredible example of acting and character building that went criminally undervalued this year, save for a Golden Globe nomination.

Those behind the camera are also at the top of their game: director Karyn Kusama putting in her best work since her breakout film Girlfight and cinematographer Julie Kirkwood capturing the action and LA in an enthralling way.

This is not just simply a vehicle for Kidman’s astounding performance, but a tight script that, while it does cover some familiar procedural territory, is committed to character development and has a genuinely surprising twist at the end.

An all-round winner.

Film Review – Captain Marvel

Posted in Uncategorized on April 12, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

Captain Marvel (M)

Directed by: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn

3.5 stars

Review by: Julian Wright

The last Marvel Avenger gets her introduction, just in time for the ultimate showdown between Thanos, who is keen on world domination, and the remaining superheroes (catch Avengers: Infinity War for a recap).

On the planet of Hala, Starforce member Vers (Brie Larson) is in training to control her super powers while war wages against the alien shape-shifting Skrulls. Skulls leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) captures her to extract memories hidden deep in her mind that lead them to Earth.

Once she crash lands into a Blockbuster store in 1995, Vers teams up with S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) to discover her forgotten past and what information Talos was after.

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After getting off to a shaky, exposition heavy 20 minutes (you really want to pay particularly close attention here), Captain Marvel finds its rhythm and scoots along with a sense of fun and adventure and a nice 90s nostalgia kick.

Larson brings some girl power and sass to the Avenger universe, and her fun rapport with Jackson is certainly a highlight, not only of the film, but in the ongoing saga that has been unfolding for the past several years.

The twist in the familiar origin routine is a welcome addition (Captain Marvel already has her superpowers here, it is her past and identity she must discover), particularly this late in the game where so many origins have been set up beforehand.

Ultimately, the film does little other than set up a justification for Captain Marvel to swoop in and join the team in Avengers: End Game (out soon), but it is still a fun diversion and there is not much more you can ask for than that.

 

Film Review – The Grinch

Posted in Uncategorized on November 30, 2018 by Reel Review Roundup

The Grinch (G)

Directed by: Yarrow Cheney, Scott Mosier

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Seely, Rashida Jones

Three stars

Review by Julian Wright

Proving every week, and leaving us all in disbelieve, that Hollywood has not yet run out of things to remake, here is yet another story re-told.

Despite recent versions of popular property still fresh in our minds, the high rollers keep churning them out for a third, fourth and fifth version.

At least it has been almost 20 years since Jim Carrey donned the green make-up as the Christmas-time grump for Ron Howard in How The Grinch Stole Christmas; it was only eight years ago we saw Russell Crowe work on his aim as Robin Hood.

While the chirpy residents of Whoville prepare for the most wonderful time of the year – Christmas – The Grinch, perched up on his isolated mountain-top house, begins plotting to ruin it.

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Despite a compact run time, this is often times a plodding film. Assuming no one has ever seen any of the other versions previously made, it seems to take its sweet time setting up the Grinch’s plan.

Despite the mid-section lulls and activities on screen that mostly revolve around a group of cutely charactersised young children which would only appeal to the same age group, there is still some juice left.

Visually, it is a kaleidoscope of gorgeously rendered colours, making it one of the more dazzling animations to look at. And you simply can’t go past the perfectly timed message of unconditional happiness and love when the world right now is so bleak. It really is infectious.

With a final 20 minutes that would surely melt the heart of even the coldest grinch film-goer, this has the potential to be played on high rotation in family homes during the festive season.

Watch the trailer here.

Film Review – Robin Hood

Posted in Uncategorized on November 29, 2018 by Reel Review Roundup

Robin Hood (M)

Directed by: Otto Bathurst

Starring: Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn

Two stars

Review by Julian Wright

What could possibly be left to tell about the tale of Robin Hood, the vigilante sporting a bow and arrow who steals from the rich and gives to the poor?

Despite the potential for a fresh perspective with newcomer writers Ben Chandler and David James Kelly and director Otto Bathurst behind this one – the answer is still: not a lot.

Life is pretty great for the privileged Robin of Loxley (Taron Egerton), who comes form money and is swept up in a romance with the feisty Marion (Eve Hewson).

But Robin is suddenly drafted by order of the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) to fight in the war in the Middle East , a war funded by inflated tax which is putting a financial strain on the townspeople.

Robin goes, tasked with bow and arrow as his weapon, and when he tries to save a slave from a beheading, he is captured and everyone back home told he was a casualty of war.

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When Robin stealthily returns home, he is followed by the slave’s father Little John (Jamie Foxx) who proposes revenge on the Sheriff and the two steal back…well you know the rest.

This is Robin Hood for the Marvel Universe generation – aimed mainly at teenage boys with its intense war scenes, hyper-edited action sequences and ultimately, a teaser ending suggesting this tale is not over.

Mendolsohn delivers the most watchable performance as the villain out of a cast that acts for the nose bleed seats up in the rafters. No one is going for subtlety here. But Mendolsohn devours his role and seems to relish every moment it.

The only interesting aspect is the plot thread that explores the relationship between church and state, but is lost amidst a script that otherwise favors dreadful dialogue over anything else. And the script is not even dressed up with aesthetics – the film suffers from bad CGI and large-scale sequences that are almost incoherent in some of the dimmest lighting.

Was it worth re-telling Robin Hood for the umpteenth time? Hardly. Do not be hoodwinked.

Watch the trailer here.

Film Review – Venom

Posted in Uncategorized on October 5, 2018 by Reel Review Roundup

Venom (M)

Directed by: Ruben Fleischer

Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed

Three stars

Review by Julian Wright

Some film-goers may get a sense of deja vu with the release this week of Venom but it is not an anomaly for two similarly themed films to be come out within the same calendar year.

It happened as far back as Dr. Stranglove and Fail-Safe in 1964 and as recently as Churchill and Darkest Hour last year with Antz/A Bug’s Life (1998) and The Prestige/The Illusionist (2006) just some of the examples in between.

This year we got Logan Marshall-Green animatedly flinging himself around Leigh Whannell’s clever low budget sci-fi Upgrade – which remains the better “man’s body controlled by another entity” film, but Sony’s comic book based Venom is a decent crack at it.

When bio-engineering corporation Life Foundation’s space prob exploring habitable planets in space returns with four symbiotic lifeforms, CEO Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) begins experimenting on humans – namely homeless ones.

Investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) starts sniffing around and when he attempts to expose Carlton’s work, his fiance and Life Foundation employee Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) is fired, she dumps Eddie and he immediately loses his job.

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Six months later, down and out Eddie is approached by scientist with Dr Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate) who feels icky about the experiment’s death toll and she takes him to the lab where he is infected and eventually controlled by one of the symbiots – the sneering and human head-eating Venom.

Not without elements that allow it to be a fun trip, the anti-hero character and darker tone is a nice shift from the now far too familiar and predictably digestible Avengers movies, however, there is plenty that sits awkwardly in Venom.

Much like Nicole Kidman’s ventures into big budget film territory, the immensely talented Williams gives it a fair go, but seems out of place – perhaps struggling with material that resembles real life in almost no way at all.

Additionally, even though Venom is supposed to look like a grimy blob of shiny, oily goo, the special effects that bring it to life are poorly designed and some of the transitions look  unpolished.

It skips along at a brisk pace, with a couple of nice action sequences and a sense of humour, but the final climax is a night-time set, dimly lit mess of melding humans and symbiots tussling around with a couple of shots comically bordering on orgy-esque.

Any exploration of the internal battle and relationship between Eddie and his parasite remains comfortably at surface level – in true superhero style of late.

Watch the trailer here.

Film Review – Night School

Posted in Uncategorized on September 28, 2018 by Reel Review Roundup

Night School (M)

Directed by: Malcolm D. Lee

Starring: Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish

Three stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Pint sized funny man Kevin Hart goes back to school in a funnier and far less nerve grating comedy than the similar Billy Madison.

Life is going pretty well for high school drop-out and barbecue salesman Teddy Walker (Kevin Hart): his boss just announced the business will eventually go to him and his girlfriend just accepted his marriage proposal.

However, his elaborate proposal after hours in the store ends with the building exploding, leaving him out of a job and very few prospects without his high school graduation certificate.

Teddy, along with several other quirky characters, enrolls in night school to get their GED, with no-nonsense teacher Carrie (Tiffany Haddish) between them and a passing grade.

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This super broad comedy is simply a showcase for the banter between Hart and Haddish, and depending on how much you enjoy their style of comedy will depend upon how much you get out of this film.

There are some laugh out loud moments, though with a bloated running time of almost two hours, there are long stretches without decent laughs; sharing screen time among so many classmates is one reason for the length, and yet they offer fewer genuine laughs than the two leads combined.

What sets this comedy apart is its tackling of learning disabilities. Teddy discovers, with Carrie’s help, that he has dyslexia and dyscalculia and works to overcome it and get his degree, offering more inspiration than what you might have expected from a Kevin Hart film.

Haddish is notably lower key than in her breakout role of Dina in Girls Trip last year (who can forget the grapefruit scene?), playing the mostly straight role to Hart’s over the top whiny and hustling Teddy, but her presence is a nice balance.

While Night School could have greatly benefited from tighter editing (how a back-to-school romp was allowed to run this long is a mystery), it is a breezy night out or a night in with Netflix kind of film.