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.

Film Review – Peter Rabbit 2

Posted in Uncategorized on March 25, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

Peter Rabbit 2 (G)

Directed by: Will Gluck

Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, James Corden

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Beatrix Potter’s mischievous Peter Rabbit is back for more big screen mayhem, just in time to get youngsters back in to Australian cinemas.

Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson) and Bea (Rose Byrne) are now happily married and living in their picturesque cottage in the English countryside, sharing the land and an elaborate veggie patch with Peter Rabbit (James Corden), his cousins and a variety of woodland creatures.

Bea’s adorably illustrated self-published book about her animal friends gains traction and the attention of big city publisher with the most British of names Nigel Basil-Jones (David Oyelowo), who sees room to expand the appeal of the characters by sending them to space and branding Peter Rabbit as the Bad Seed.

When Peter overhears this and believes this is how he is seen by others, he begins to act like it and falls in with the wrong crowd – a dodgy street group led by older rabbit Barnabus (Lennie James) who are planning an Ocean’s 11 style Farmer’s Market heist.

Peter Rabbit 2 dives deep into the theme of identity: how we are seen by others versus who we really are and, cleverly, whether or not modernising classics for younger audiences betrays its essence. Is it still the Peter Rabbit we all know and love if he is involved in an action packed car chase through the city?

Domhnall and Byrne are still a delightful duo (Byrne can do no wrong) with Oyelowo a terrific addition and director Will Gluck has a firm grasp on tone, with a zippy pace, heart comfortably on its sleeve and a touch of sass with a few winks and nods to the audience (several references are made to Peter’s irritating voice), catered for both children and adults.

I found myself chuckling consistently at the hijinks the characters, both animated and living, got themselves into during the film.

Often delayed due to Coronavirus, Peter Rabbit 2 possibly benefits from a bit more distance from the first, which in itself was a delightfully breezy Paddington-lite endeavor.

Film Review – Godzilla vs. Kong

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on March 25, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

Godzilla vs. Kong (M)

Directed by: Adam Wingard

Starring: Alexander Skarsgård , Rebecca Hall, Millie Bobby Brown

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Buckle up for the biggest and loudest cinematic biffo this year as two monster titans go head to head in one epic, CGI-fueled extravaganza of destruction and bonkers, nonsensical plot deveopments.

After the devastating, city flattening events of Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), life has gone back to normal, but before you can say “cinematic Monsterverse”, Godzilla rises from the ocean to attack tech company Apex Cybernetics’ seaside facility and the seemingly unprovoked act sends humans into a panic, convinced he is now a threat.

Concerned that a battle is brewing between Godzilla and Kong, now in an isolated facility being studied by Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), Geologist Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) gets the genius idea to take the giant gorilla to the mythic Hollow Earth in the centre of the planet to collect a supposed power source to help them battle the lizardy beast. Except they don’t even know if it exists, no one has ever been there, and they may never return.

Along for the life threatening, potentially one-way ticket ride is Dr. Andrews adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who has bonded with Kong and can communicate with him.

Meanwhile, Godzilla stan Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown, over-acting so as not to be overshadowed by the battling beasts – her reaction to a USB is hilariously baffling) teams with her comic relief buddy Josh (Julian Dennison) and former Apex employee slash conspiracy theorist podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) to find out what was at the facility that drew Godzilla out of his hibernation.

What they find is just a handful of bonkers plot developments that happens in this “everything including the kitchen sink” approach to blockbuster filmmaking.

Director Adam Wingard, who usually dabbles in horror, is clearly having a blast in large scale action mode concocting a battle to appease the masses – or at the very least, the demographic of dudes in their teens to 30s. Every swooping, spinning camera move around each fist blow has a flair to it – the titular showdowns certainly won’t disappoint.

Look, the overstuffed and yet miraculously tight script (this somehow clocks in a running time of under two hours) by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein doesn’t make a lick of sense (a telepathic monster skull?!) as it adds layers of left-field absurdities to keep the story going and justify the ongoing fisticuffs, but you are never bored and always surprised.

But will you remember a frame of it after the credits roll? Unlikely. Godzilla vs. Kong is all spectacle and in-the-moment entertainment with zero resonance. It certainly delivers what it promises, and a few extra goodies for good measure.

Film Review – Crisis

Posted in Uncategorized on March 16, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

Crisis (MA)

Directed by: Nicholas Jarecki

Starring: Gary Oldman, Armie Hammer, Evangeline Lilly

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Big pharma is corrupt, whistle-blowers take huge risks and put their lives on the line, and kids are being exploited by drug gangs are just some familiar but important messages that filmmaker Nicholas Jarecki wants to remind us of with Crisis.

Three lives parallel and intersect during the opioid epidemic: recovering oxycodone addict Claire Reimann (Evangeline Lilly) investigates her teenage son’s mysterious death which leads her to a Fentanyl smuggling operation which has been infiltrated by undercover FBI agent Jake Kelly (Armie Hamer), who is under immense pressure to take down the leader called Mother (Guy Nadon).

Meanwhile, University Professor Dr. Tyrone Brower discovers the latest drug about to hit the market produced by a multi-billion dollar company that heavily funds his employer is three times as addictive as it is purported to be and risks all to go public.

If all the above sounds familiar, that’s because it is. There is a strong sense of deja vu and there isn’t much in the way of new information, creative plot points or original character arcs in Crisis’ story. In fact it often plays like a greatest hits throwback to 1990s dramas, though it does serve as a timely reminder of the horrors that go on surrounding drug manufacturing.

After all, it has been a hot minute since The Insider (1999) and Traffic (2000).

Despite a standard script that has its characters go through the motions, the cast makes the most of it. Oldman gives one of his most down to earth performances, and it is nice to finally see Lilly in a non Marvel and Hobbit venture for once.

Without any genuine surprises along the way, the main point of interest as it all unfolds is when and how these lives will intersect, or their stories will be resolved, and on that level, Crisis is satisfying.

Film Review – Judas And The Black Messiah

Posted in Uncategorized on March 4, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

Judas And The Black Messiah (MA)

Directed by: Shaka King

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

In the late 1960s, when directionless, small time Chicago criminal Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) is busted impersonating an FBI Agent in order to steal cars, he is given an ultimatum by Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons): infiltrate the local branch of the Black Panther Party as a spy for the FBI or go to prison.

Left without much choice, Bill joins the political party and feeds information to Agent Mitchell about strategies and Party Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), whose influence around town is increasing. His tactic is to form alliances with rival minority gangs for a stronger political presence – something FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) sees as a threat.

O’Neal soon finds himself in a moral dilemma, caught between his growing loyalty to a party and its leader with whom he begins to side with and Agent Mitchell, who is the only person that can ensure his freedom.

Based on a true story about a particular chapter of history rarely presented on film, Judas and the Black Messiah gives us just enough information and builds the right amount of dramatic tension to entertain, bring about awareness but also encourage us to seek out more facts.

The basic set-up is familiar (man caught dangerously between loyalties can even be seen in such popcorn fare as The Fast and the Furious – but hey, it works!), but this smartly scripted version of events sidesteps most tropes and cliches, which is one of its many strengths. Had possibly any scriptwriter other than Shaka King and Will Berson been responsible, the two men would have become Frodo and Sam-like BFFs in a cringey attempt to over-dramatise the betrayal.

The performances are solid, particularly Kaluuya’s electrifying speech giving scenes, however, there are times early on when O’Neal seems just a little bit too comfortable infiltrating the group, but that is simply a minor quibble. At times low-key in its dramatic arcs and others, gut-punchingly devastating, Judas and the Black Messiah is always a measured and engaging experience.

Film Review – The Little Things

Posted in Uncategorized on February 16, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

The Little Things (MA)

Directed by: John Lee Hancock

Starring: Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

After rising to prominence with tear jerking, crowd pleasing, awards baiting fare such as The Blind Side, Saving Mr Banks and The Founder, filmmaker John Lee Hancock tackles grittier material and explores the dark side of human nature in serial killer thriller The Little Things.

When former LA Detective Joe Deacon was unable to solve a grizzly double murder, he became obsessive, unhinged and his life spiraled. Five years later, in 1990, he has since been demoted and relocated as a county deputy sheriff and lives alone in isolated.

When Deacon goes back to his old stomping ground in the big city for a quick work related errand, he finds himself drawn into helping solve a new series of killings with his successor Jim Baxter (Rami Malek), who is leading the case.

There are frustratingly few solid clues to go on, but Deacon and Baxter begin to suspect the creepy looking and sounding Albert Sparma (Jared Leto) of the heinous crimes, but could they just be blinded by their shared obsession to solve the case?

Covering similar thematic ground to David Fincher’s Zodiac already puts The Little Things into a slightly lower league than its fellow thrillers. As the dead ends pile up and the two sleuths obsession and frustrations intensify, one cannot help but be reminded of Fincher’s masterpiece.

Hancock does stretch himself as a filmmaker by creating some moments of genuine suspense and tension, opting to draw out some sequences just that little bit longer than necessary to keep us on edge. However, his film tends to go on tangents and you often feel the same story could have been told and been as equally effective with a more economic running time.

Hancock does score points for keeping this character driven driven rather than dwelling on the grizzly details to get under our skin. Though again, that could just be revealing more Zodiac inspiration.

Washington delivers haunted and emotionally weighed down and drained in his sleep (not necessarily a criticism – he does it often, but he does is well), but Malek is underwhelming in a performance that is initially stilted. You can aim for stoic, but you still have to hint at something going in under the placid surface.

Leto is appropriately creepy as the grimey low-life who toys with the detectives who underestimate him, but Hannibal Lecter he certainly is not. His greasy long hair, prosthetic nose, fake belly and piercing contacts are doing half the heavy lifting when it comes to characterisation.

Hovering somewhere in the middle between Copycat and The Snowman in the way of quality, The Little Things is serviceable hair-raiser that is good to chuck on when you have exhausted the rest of the A-listers in the thriller section of Netflix.

Film Review – Long Story Short

Posted in Uncategorized on February 11, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

Long Story Short (M)

Directed by: Josh Lawson

Starring: Rafe Spall, Zahra Newman, Noni Hazlehurst

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

We all have the benefit of hindsight after the fact, but Long Story Short suggests the idea of previewing your life in the future to allow you to avoid your mistakes. It’s a little bit of Groundhog Day mixed with Sliding Doors that offers a bit of fantasy and levity in Australian cinema at the moment.

Lifelong procrastinator Teddy (Rafe Spall) has a habit of putting off making concrete plans until a later date. After he encounters a mysterious stranger (Noni Hazlehurst) in a cemetery, he wakes up the morning after his wedding to Leanne (Zahra Newman), but it is a year in the future.

It is now their first anniversary, Leanne is pregnant and Teddy’s long hours at work and hesitance to take action is already showing an impact – they haven’t even had a honeymoon yet. Teddy is then thrust further and further into his future at annual intervals where he witnesses a life he hasn’t yet lived and his relationships deteriorate. He must figure out a way to go back to the present and keep his life on the right track.

Spall gives off frantic Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller energy as he bumbles his way through each time jump and remains mostly in a heightened state of confusion, but also keeps Teddy as likeable as possible despite his obvious flaws and the character always being one step behind everyone else. It takes him much longer to catch on to what is going on than the audience.

But despite Spall’s theatrics, I found myself drawn to Newman’s more subtle performance, who grounds the story with her effortless screen charisma and expressive features. She is reminiscent of Miranda Tapsell in Top End Wedding, who was just as radiant.

Josh Lawson’s second feature as writer/director has echoes of other “what if” movies, a built in repetitive structure and the twists are not as surprising as Lawson thinks with most of them alluded to earlier in the script with little subtlety. However, there is a warmth about this story and its characters that you can’t help but want to spent time with. And the timing is impeccable, offering light alternative to recent dramatic hits hits High Ground, The Dry and Penguin Bloom.

Long Story Short will give you a few laughs while encouraging you to reflect on your own behaviour and relationships and take action before it is too late.

Film Review – Dating Amber

Posted in Uncategorized on February 4, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

Dating Amber (M)

Directed by: David Freyne

Starring: Fionn O’Shea, Lola Petticrew, Sharon Horgan

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Dating Amber is an affectionate look at the special bond that develops between two closeted gay teenagers as they come to terms with their sexuality and place in the world.

In a country town in Ireland during the 1990s, Eddie (Fionn O’Shea) and Amber (Lola Petticrew) are discovering that they are not quite like their fellow schoolmates.

Amber fancies girls and wants to leave the conservative town to live in London, meanwhile Eddie is preparing for the Army to follow in his father’s footsteps, but the posters of muscled army men on his bedroom wall are not there for inspiration.

To avoid being bullied and labelled gay and lesbian by their sexed up heterosexual classmates, the two fake a relationship until school finishes, but the longer they carry on the charade, the more Amber begins to feel comfortable in her own skin and Eddie retreats even further from coming to terms with his own sexuality.

Dating Amber is a fun twist on the teen rom-com/coming of age genre that not only nails so many details and observations on teenage and high school life, but specifically experiences of closeted teenagers. It covers queer themes so rarely tackled for the teenage audience and this visibility is very welcome on the big screen.

Writer/director David Freyne has drawn from his own experiences and which injects the film with a sense of authenticity when it comes to the trials and tribulations of closeted teenagers. He has drawn a pair of loveable characters and O’Shaw and Petticrew bring them effortlessly to life.

Though plenty of Dating Amber rings true, it does tend to favour comedy over the drama, which sometimes results in opportunities missed to dig a little deeper into the psyche of these two appealing main characters. We get plenty of hilarious situations, scenarios and banter, but Dating Amber can sometimes come off as a surface level look at the gay teenager coming of age experience.