Film Review – Honest Thief

Posted in Uncategorized on October 22, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

Honest Thief (M)

Directed by: Mark Williams

Starring: Liam Neeson, Kate Walsh, Jai Courtney

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Skilled bank robber Tom (Liam Neeson) has been strategically hitting banks across the country, collecting millions of dollars and eluding the authorities for years.

When Tom meets psychology graduate student Annie (Kate Walsh) and falls in love instantly, he decides to come clean.

He wants to turn himself in to the FBI and give them the stolen cash in exchange for a lighter prison sentence so he can still maintain a relationship with Annie.

However, when Agent Nivens (Jai Courtney) and Agent Hall (Anthony Ramos) follow up, they decide to take the cash and brush Tom off as another fake confession – but things turn deadly

It is impressive that at this stage in his career and pushing 70 years old that Neeson is still in high demand for these action roles; and let’s face it, by this point he could do them in his sleep.

Honest Thief offers Neeson another likable family man caught up in deadly situation scenario, but this one takes a lower octane approach than the Taken series and far less bells and whistles.

It sets up an interesting story and character arc and spends more time on the romantic relationship than you might expect, but the relaxed pacing drains it of a sense of urgency at times.

It was the style over substance approach to Neeson’s silly actioners The Commuter, Unknown and Non-Stop and their tendencies to lean into their B-grade qualities that made them so thoroughly enjoyable, something that the Honest Thief might have benefited from.

Regardless, Neeson still has plenty of watchability and the thinly drawn characters are solidly performed by his supporting cast in this serviceable big screen offering.

Film Review – Baby Done

Posted in Uncategorized on October 21, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

Baby Done (M)

Directed by: Curtis Vowell

Starring: Rose Matafeo, Matthew Lewis

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Life is fairly cruisy for 20-something Zoe (Rose Matafeo): she’s got a secure job that she loves and has a loving, long-term boyfriend Tim (Matthew Lewis).

When Zoe discovers she is several months into an unplanned pregnancy, Tim is thrilled with the news and is happy to settle down like so many of their coupled friends, but Zoe hits panic mode.

Having a baby will spell the end of flexibility and spontaneity and she realises that she hasn’t lived her life to the fullest yet so she proceeds to rush through a checklist of adventures before her due date.

Zoe’s determination to qualify for and compete in a tree climbing competition overseas causes the greatest rift between the otherwise perfect couple.

Baby Done is a charming, relatable and often hilarious comedy/drama with a touch of farce about coming to terms with change and how people handle life altering events differently.

The two leads Matafeo and Lewis just ooze likability and appeal and their chemistry with each other is among the most enjoyable you will find on the big screen; they are such delightful company to spend about 90 minutes with and you care about their journey and what happens to them.

While Baby Done keeps its characters, their predicament and actions mostly grounded in reality, there are a couple of heightened moments for comedic effect, but suggesting an arborist’s job is adventurous is its biggest leap.

Film Review – Irresistible

Posted in Uncategorized on October 16, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

Irresistible (M)

Directed by: Jon Stewart

Starring: Steve Carell, Rose Byrne, Chris Cooper

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Former The Daily Show writer and host Jon Stewart takes aim at small towns, American politics and election campaigns in his second feature film, the political satire Irresistible.

After the results of the US 2016 election, Democratic Party strategist Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) is defeated and desperate.

When he sees the viral video of farmer and retired Marine Colonel Jack Hastings’ (Chris Cooper) progressive speech supporting undocumented immigrants in his hometown of Deerlaken, Wisconsin, Gary sees a golden opportunity.

Gary heads there to convince Jack to run for the mayoral election as a Democrat; Gary’s plan is to finally get the edge over the Republican state in the next Presidential election.

However, Republican strategist Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne) gets wind of Gary’s plan and heads there herself and the mayoral campaign heats up.

Jon Stewart turns his eye to some fairly obvious targets – the relentless strategists, their sneaky spin on facts and small minded, small town folks. His satire is spot on but his claws are dulled, playing it fairly safe with humour set to appeal to the masses and doing his best to not offend those he aims at.

That is not to say that Irresistible isn’t at times extremely funny, particularly with Carell and Byrne in top notch form as the political nemeses, going to sneakier and sleazier lengths to one-up each other for the most votes. The two are a terrific match.

Stewart does have a couple of tricks up his sleeve with some expectation-defying twists that serve as pleasant surprises but are dropped so late in the game that they are left without room to explore further.

Timely, consistently amusing and well-performed, Irresistible is the kind of satire that takes jabs at its targets but with an apologetic tone.

Film Review – Dirt Music

Posted in Uncategorized on October 7, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

Dirt Music (M)

Directed by: Gregor Jordan

Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Garret Hedlund, David Wenham

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Beloved WA author Tim Winton’s novel gets the big screen treatment in the beautifully filmed but emotionally distant Dirt Music.

Free spirit Georgie (Kelly Macdonald) finds herself at 40 and in a loveless relationship with fisherman Jim (David Wenham) in a sleepy seaside town.

When she crosses paths with mysterious poacher Lu Fox (Garret Hedlund) and the two strike up a passionate affair, it sets off a chain of events that will either drive them apart or bring them closer together.

This book adaptation sumptuously filmed in some of Western Australia’s most beautifully stark locations is a slow-moving, moody piece that those looking for a heartwarming good time may want to catch another day.

The atmosphere is oppressive with every main character fighting inner torment as they deal with the grief over losing a loved one, or loved ones. It is a striking contrast with the jaw-droppingly gorgeous and scenic landscape.

And while there is nothing wrong with a film that wants to deal exclusively in moody atmospherics (this cynical David Fincher-loving reviewer often leans towards them), there is not enough groundwork laid for us to connect with these characters.

Keeping things vague, it is never digs deep enough as to why Georgie and Lu are drawn to each other. As their relationship finally dissolves, Georgie says to Jim “I can’t do unhappy” and yet chases after a deeply depressed and grieving man with suicidal tendencies.

It becomes as much a mystery of motivations as it is a love story between these two outsiders.

The cast is good with the two non-Australian leads doing their best with the always hard to nail Aussie accent, but the highlight really is the locations shot in the widescreen format.

Film Review – On The Rocks

Posted in Uncategorized on October 7, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

On The Rocks (M)

Directed by: Sofia Coppola

Starring: Rashida Jones, Bill Murray, Marlon Wayans

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Arthouse darling Sofia Coppola takes a broody marriage drama and spices it up with a father-daughter caper twist in her latest On The Rocks.

After their fairy-tale wedding, New York author and mum of two Laura (Rashida Jones) is plagued with suspicions that her workaholic husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is cheating on her with his attractive new staff member.

When Laura expresses her concerns to her charming and philandering father Felix (Bill Murray), he takes the news with glee and suggests they stalk Dean around New York and Mexico to catch him in the act.

On the scale of Lost In Translation to The Bling Ring, On The Rocks tends to lean slightly towards the Hollywood Hills heist side. Not enough resonant substance to cement itself as one Coppola’s most memorable or best, but also not completely devoid of moments of insight and charm.

While dealing with the potential of a broken marriage and the relationship between father and daughter, this film serves as a love letter to a side of New York that we never see on screen – it is peaceful, charming and almost feels like a small town or an unpopulated part of an Italian city.

Murray does what Murray does best and Coppola just lets him go, and yet the chemistry between him and Jones is what highlights this dramedy. The film as a whole may not be one of Coppola’s best but the two leads together are a joy to be in company with.

Jones herself proves her dramatic acting chops, her face long and her shoulders carrying the weight of her character’s deeply troubled thoughts. It is a side of her we have not yet seen and one that deserves more screen time.

A breezy time with enjoyable banter between a couple of charming leads, On The Rocks is more about providing giggles than digging deep into the relationships it sets up.

Film Review – Antebellum

Posted in Uncategorized on October 1, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

Antebellum (MA)

Directed by: Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz

Starring: Janelle Monae, Jenna Malone, Eric Lange

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Eden (Janelle Monae) is one of several slaves held captive and mistreated on a Louisiana plantation owned by the icy Elizabeth (Jenna Malone) and run by sadistic officers of the Confederate States Army.

Attempts to escape have been thwarted with unspeakable consequences for those who tried and failed, but with the arrival of a batch of new slaves (including a young pregnant woman), plans are underway for another attempt.

After Eden is raped yet again by a Confederate General known only as Him (Eric Lange), she falls asleep and jolts awake as Veronica, a successful sociologist, author, wife and mother, who is preparing for another business trip.

Throughout her day, Veronica experiences subtly odd moments such as encountering people who look like those on the plantation and the usual racially based microaggressions black people encounter day to day.

Co-writers/co-directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz contrast the harsh treatment of black people during slavery with the way they are treated today, asking us to ponder how far things have really come and how much attitudes have really changed.

It also looks at the constant reminders around us of the horrific acts of the past and how they permeate through time and even leans into the suggestion that trauma can still be felt through several generations.

Antebellum is visually self-assured with its framing, imagery, and the terrific (seemingly) one-take opening tracking shot through the plantation. It also, working within the thriller/horror genre expectations, playfully drops visual hints throughout.

However, ultimately it all feels heavily Get Out inspired, and leads to a big M. Night Shyamalan “Gotchya!” twist, which when encapsulated in one single shot near the end, is enough to elicit a cringe.

The film also suffers from the same technique the recent Black Christmas remake was lambasted for – its viral woke Tweets and memes inspired dialogue is overwhelmingly clunky. It is so focused on appealing to a young internet user crowd, Veronica’s husband is saved as “Bae” in her phone.

Film Review – The Goddess Of Fortune

Posted in Uncategorized on September 24, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

The Goddess Of Fortune (M)

Directed by: Ferzan Ozpetek

Starring: Stefano Accorsi, Edoardo Leo, Jasmine Trinca

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

The open relationship between Arturo (Stefano Accorsi) and Alessandro (Edoardo Leo) has been an intimacy free zone for quite some time but it is finally creating tension between the pair.

Just as Arturo’s jealousy comes to the surface, the couple’s longtime friend Annamaria (Jasmine Trinca) asks them to look after her two young children while she spends time in the hospital.

The child-free couple’s lifestyle is upended as they welcome the new guests, tackle for the first time child rearing and adjust to new morning routines.

The situation puts an even greater strain on the relationship and it may not be the healthiest environment for the two youngsters, so they seek out their rich but estranged Grandmother to take over – but that could prove to be an even more toxic environment for the children.

True feelings are revealed and deep, dark secrets finally come to light that test the relationship and family dynamic.

This bittersweet Italian delight explores the idea of what makes a family – whether it is family we choose or family we are stuck with – with a fresh, queer lens.

It openly and frankly discusses open gay relationships, normalising it in a way that so few mainstream or queer films have done in the past, and yet for every progressive step forward, there is one slight step backwards.

The two male lead performances, while both solid and endearing, lack any queer characteristics. They are alarmingly straight presenting. If we weren’t constantly reminded that they are gay, there would be no way to pick it.

Regardless, The Goddess Of Fortune is a joyful and heartbreaking journey to go on as these two men learn more about themselves and each other.

The Goddess Of Fortune screens as part of the St Ali. Italian Film Festival 2020 which runs in Perth from October 1 – October 14.

For more information, click here.

Film Review – The High Note

Posted in Uncategorized on September 22, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

The High Note (M)

Directed by: Nisha Ganatra

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison Jr

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Aspiring music producer Maggie Sherwoode is paying her dues as the overworked assistant to singing superstar Grace Davis, who is successfully touring but hasn’t released new music in a decade.

Grace’s next career move is up in the air – her long-time manager Jack (Ice Cube) and record label executives urge her to settle with a cushy Las Vegas residency, but she wants to release a new album.

Meanwhile, Grace meets talented but unsigned musician David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr), fibs about her credentials to convince him to let her produce his first album and the two spark a relationship.

Dakota is reliably cute, Ellis Ross is commanding and June Diane Raphael almost steals it as Grace’s ditsy staffer Gail, but The High Note’s script is more interested in trotting out taking a rom-com tropes than exploring an under-told story.

This could have been a juicy, relevant and timely exploration of the plight of a relevant black middle aged music star who’s career and creativity is being stifled by younger white male studio executives.

The High Note merely hints at it with a heartbreaking monologue from Grace (sensationally delivered by Ellis Ross) where she lays it all out for Maggie, Cliff’s Notes style.

But instead of spending more time fleshing this out, we get a meet-cute between Maggie and David and a love story that is perfectly serviceable, but by far the least interesting avenue this film could have taken.

Props where they’re due – there is a knockout twist towards the end that you won’t see coming and the songs are top class efforts (something you don’t often get in films about pop music).

Film Review – The Broken Hearts Gallery

Posted in Uncategorized on September 17, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

The Broken Hearts Gallery (M)

Directed by: Natalie Krinsky

Starring: Geraldine Viswanathan, Dacre Montgomery

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

After each relationship break-up, New York art gallery assistant Lucy Gulliver (Geraldine Viswanathan) keeps a memento of her ex, whether it be a tie, shoelace or trinket.

Her sassy best friends/room-mates Amanda (Molly Gordon) and Nadine (Phillipa Soo) call it hoarding, but Lucy insists its honouring the relationship.

After Lucy is dumped and has an emotional breakdown in front of important guests at a work event, she is fired and in her fragile state mistakes Nick’s (Dacre Montgomery) car for a ride share.

The two hit it off and become business partners – Nick’s opening a trendy new hotel that will feature a broken hearts gallery curated by Lucy – relationship mementos donated by broken hearted New Yorkers.

Lucy and Nick become inseparable and the gallery idea is a social media smash, but in true rom-com fashion, it is not an easy road to love or success.

Just when you think there are no more fresh rom-com ideas, The Broken Hearts Gallery breathes new life into the genre.

It ticks all the cliche boxes: fun and bubbly unlucky in love lead, handsome love interest, eccentric sidekick gal pals and a quirky idea. But this time, the quirky idea actually has a lot of resonance, relatability and pathos.

There are some genuinely lovely ideas swirling around in this story – that all items (no matter how small or junky) have a story, finding good and artistic merit in everything, hanging on to precious memories but also learning when to let go of painful ones.

Sure it leads to an almost two hour experience, which makes this feel a little long as it sticks to the riskless rom-com routine and has an occasionally sluggish pace, but it never feels forced and is a joy to experience.

The reveal of why Lucy began holding onto items from people in her life is such an affecting moment and shows this film is just as much about creating realistic and well-rounded characters as it is committing to rom-com tropes.

Writer/director Natalie Krinsky shows she has a firm grasp on the genre and how to keep it fresh with some seemingly Mindy Kaling inspired lead character dialogue and quips.

Throw in a fun and frisky cast and you have a heartwarming winner.

Film Review – Tenet

Posted in Uncategorized on August 23, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

Tenet (M)

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Starring: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

It is no wonder that so much pressure has been placed on Christopher Nolan’s summer tentpole film Tenet to single-handedly save the cinema industry during a pandemic – it is a film that requires multiple viewings.

Much like Nolan’s chronologically challenged Memento and multi-level dreamiverse Inception, just once is not enough to capture all the intricacies of Tenet. But be warned: if those other films gave you a headache, you are in for a splitting migraine this time.

A nameless Protagonist (John David Washington) discovers that technology invented in the future that causes items to reverse their trajectory, has somehow made its way to the present.

A startling discovery on its own, but he then must team up with a group, including new buddy Neil (Robert Pattinson) to try and stop Russian villain Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) from ending the world with this ability to move back and forth in time.

In order to get close to Andrei, Protagonist has to use his suffering wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), who is trapped in the abusive marriage.

If you want a spoiler-free review, you are in luck. Tenet is the kind of film that is almost impossible to spoil because, to be honest, it is hard to keep up with it. What has been mentioned is about all you will come away with the first time around.

A lot of things are said, time travel and movement theories expounded, but not a lot of time is allowed for it to sink in. We are even let off the hook early on when a woman in lab coat says “Don’t try to understand it”. What it does allow for is some startling action sequences in which some elements play out in reverse.

Having said that, Tenet is the most entertained I have been without knowing what is even going on half the time. Every 20 minutes you catch nuggets of information that gives you a general gist before cars suddenly start reversing on a freeway and you are back at square one again.

Sure the appropriate amount of spectacle is there – enough to please any movie starved cinema-goer, but it is the underwritten characters and lack of stakes that disappoint more than the confusion.

If you enjoy the mental gymnastics of Inception, Donnie Darko, Mulholland Drive and The Matrix trilogy, you will have a field day with Tenet. Expect to be trying make heads or tails out of it for hours after.