Film Review – Late Night

Posted in Uncategorized on August 15, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

Late Night (M)

Directed by: Nisha Ganatra

Starring: Mindy Kaling, Emma Thompson

Four stars

Review by Julian Wright 

The unlikely pairing of TV funny woman Mindy Kaling and Oscar winning writer/actor Emma Thompson proves to be something we never thought we would get, but something we need.

Trailblazing comedian Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) has enjoyed decades of success, including years on her own late night talk show – but ratings have been consistently dipping for years.

When her boss threatens to replace her if ratings don’t pick up, Katherine is forced to shake things up among her team of white, male writers. Her first step is a diversity hire.

Enter Indian-American woman and chemical plant worker Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling), who has zero writing experience, but raw talent, ambition and a dream to work for her comedic hero.

The odd-couple clashing between the fish-out-of-water newbie Molly and snooty British comedy veteran Katherine provides many of the laughs, but Kaling’s script is about far more than simply sit-com moments.

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Her take on workplace diversity and the way women and minorities are treated in the office and in society is a current, vital point of view that is not being explored in cinema at the moment otherwise.

Giving her script even further weight, Kaling has fleshed out Katherine’s character far beyond what you may expect from what appears on the surface to be a lightweight comedy. But the well-rounded character allows Thompson something to flourish in and she delivers a terrific performance.

It is just a shame that Kaling doesn’t give her own character as many dimensions (she often speaks of a dowdy, embarrassing home-life that we never actually get to see). Two equally strong female characters would have made this absolutely pop.

Not exactly a 100 per cent original piece, there are echos of Morning Glory and even The Devil Wears Prada here, but Late Night surprises with some great banter, food for thought and POV that we hardly see in cinema.

 

Film Review – Midsommar

Posted in Uncategorized on August 15, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

Midsommar (R) 

Director: Ari Aster

Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor

Four and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright 

Prepare to be emotionally tormented yet again by writer/director Ari Aster.

Aster popped out of nowhere and caught us off guard with his nerve-shredding horror film Hereditary, about grief, loss and culty creeps (and a sensational performance by Toni Collette).

His second film Midsommar is another trip down the path of intense horror.

While dealing with a recent devastating family tragedy, the emotionally raw Dani (Florence Pugh) tags along with her dropkick boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his mates to a remote spot in Sweden for a festival.

When they arrive, the traditional events that the villagers act out as part of the festivities turn out to be tough to be increasingly tough to stomach and Dani senses that something sinister is at play.

It is best to keep details to a minimum because the best way to experience Midsummar, much like Hereditary, is to strap in for the ride and be surprised (and horrified) by the dark places that Aster takes us.

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Now, it is understandable that some people may not want to spend 2.5 hours in state of depression and emotional exhaustion along with Aster’s characters – he tends to throw us in the deep end from the get go so that we are immediately on edge.

There is no relaxing in an Aster film; even when these characters reach their sunny, idyllic destination, the sense of dread is still heavy.

The jumping off point in both of Aster’s films are very similar; characters experiencing horrendous tragedies that we are not sure they could even recover from, but his exploration of grief is effective.

While Hereditary was drenched in gloomy cinematography to add to its creepy atmosphere, Midsommar plays out mostly on beautifully sunny daylight. Aster’s ability to create the same terrifying atmosphere is uncanny.

Midsommar will make you gasp and squirm, and you will likely emerge at the end feeling more stressed than ever before. That is quite a cinematic achievement.

Film Review: Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

Posted in Uncategorized on August 2, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (M)

Directed by: David Leitch

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby

Three and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

There is not a whole lot of originality at the multiplex these days, what with reboots, remakes, sequels and prequels dominating, but here is a new one: a film franchise “presenting” its own spin off.

Though, that’s where the originality abruptly ends.

With rev-head outlaw Dominic Torreto (Vin Diesel) and his “family” of car savvy crew from The Fast and the Furious series taking the back seat, we get an all new adventure with peripheral odd couple Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham), who appeared in later installments.

But with more banter and less car-themed action, Hobbs & Shaw prove to be a nice breather from the Torreto crew’s antics.

Still burnt over their last encounter, federal agent Luke Hobbs and former assassin Deckard Shaw reluctantly team up to retrieve a deadly virus that can wipe out millions of people in moments.

The catch is, they must retrieve it from Shaw’s MI6 agent sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), who injected it into herself for safe keeping from Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), who has enhanced physical capabilities and wants the virus for his own evil use.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

The beauty of the Fast & Furious films is that it started out as a low-key (by today’s standards) action drama about street racing and has gradually escalated to completely absurd scenarios and impossible stunts – much to the joy of audiences.

While upping the absurdity, these films keep one thing in mind: make it fun. Who cares that these action sequences defy logic and physics? Switch off, chug a soda and have a blast.

Hobbs & Shaw fits right into the series so perfectly, that you hardly miss the Torretos wax lyrical about family every five minutes (also much part of the series’ cheesy charm). At one point “The Rock” prevents a chopper from flying off with brawn alone.

The amusing verbal jabs between the two leads allow for many comical moments, as well as a couple of surprising and random cameos that have been successfully kept under wraps.

A nice touch is taking this globe-trotting series to Samoa (a nod to Johnson’s heritage, very likely at his insistence) to add a multicultural flavour to the climactic sequences.

We are not done with the Fast & Furious series – a couple more are already in the works – but it may have some competition with its own spin-off that it has “presented” with its winning formula.

Film Review – The Lion King

Posted in Uncategorized on July 17, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

The Lion King (PG)

Directed by: Jon Favreau

Starring: Donald Glover, Beyonce, Seth Rogen

Three stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Have you ever thought to yourself “Gee, I wonder what the beloved The Lion King would look like if real animals recited the dialogue.”? Don’t worry, the good folk at Disney have got your back and have delivered the next best thing.

It is the latest achievement in film making technology – eye popping photo-realism. Disney can do many things, but clearly it can’t make wild lions recite Shakespeare adaptations so they have recreated some of our favourite characters for another trip to the animal kingdom.

As we all know already with this Hamlet inspired tale, lion cub Simba is born into African wildlife royalty to parents Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) making him the next in line to be king, knocking his bitter uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) out of the running.

Scar kills Mufasa, convinces Simba to run away and never return, then takes his place as the king, forms an alliance with the Hyenas and puts the kingdom in danger.

With the exception of a couple of additional sequences (which essentially just pad out the running time), including one heavily featuring a big ol’ photo-realistic giraffe turd, (what a way to showcase this incredible technology!), The Lion King 2019 is basically a copy and paste job of the 1994 script, and a visual replication as well.

Scenes carry out virtually word for word and shot for shot, only this time with realistic looking animals and a different voice cast.

The realism of the animals and their surrounds are uncannily spot on; a credit to the team behind the technology, however Favreau’s dedication to realism is flawed – the animals faces to not emote.

In the recreation of one of the original’s most iconic and heartbreaking scenes, Simba is heard to be sobbing in the aftermath of a nightmarish event, yet his face is rock solid and not a single tear drop evident.

Such a disconnect between the emotional voice work and what we see on the screen is often a distraction and proof that technology can only do so much.

lionking

Additionally, the musical numbers, while the songs themselves still have an impact due to their catchy tunes and memorable lyrics, are a bore. Why? Again, because Favreau is going for realism here and real animals don’t dance (they do, however, talk and sing?). Instead, they just kind of trot around on screen without any rhythm or flair.

And yet, despite the emotionless faces, uneven voice acting (the Hyenas’ banter sinks like a lead balloon), I was strangely drawn into this CGI recreation.

Everything is so hypnotically detailed that it is hard to take your eyes off it, and the story still enthralling enough (Shakespeare was onto something) to keep you interested and it is a thrill to have a culturally diverse cast voice this version.

Billy Eichner as Timon and Seth Rogen as Pumbaa are a pure delight and a much needed jolt of fun and freshness to the film; they absolutely steal the film.

Could Disney have just remastered the original and re-released it in cinemas on a milestone anniversary instead of remaking it? Absolutely.

Could Disney have applied this groundbreaking photo-realism technology to an original story to give audiences something fresh? Sure.

Instead, we have The Lion King 2019, which now exists and will likely strike a nostalgic nerve for those that grew up on the original and for youngsters to discover and potentially fall in love with.

There are worse attempts at nostalgia bait that have become worldwide hits.

Film Review – Annabelle Comes Home

Posted in Uncategorized on June 27, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

Annabelle Comes Home (MA)

Directed by: Gary Dauberman

Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson 

Three stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Ever wonder what happened when paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren first brought haunted doll Annabelle home and locked her in a glass case in their basement?

It seemed to be a blind spot in The Conjuring extended universe that has covered pretty much every other misadventures of the perpetually smiling demon magnet. Well, now we can find out.

Unsurprisingly, as it turns out, it was more of the same haunting shenanigans.

In a moment of questionable parenting, Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) leave town for the night not long after acquiring Annabelle and leave their young daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) with babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman).

Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) pops over and despite all warnings against it, enters the forbidden locked basement that houses all the cursed, possessed and haunted items that the Warrens have collected for safe-keeping.

No prizes for guessing what happens next as the three young girls are trapped in the house overnight with myriad restless entities.

ANNABELLE 3

Credit where it is due – Daniela is given a backstory and motivation to go into the locked basement, she isn’t just a silly teen in a rebellious mood, like so many of these types of films.

However, the attention to character motivation ends there.

If you have seen any of The Conjuring, Annabelle or even any of the Insidious films, there is not much here that you haven’t seen before.

Characters creep through a dark house for several minutes at time, with a failing torch until something leaps out at them. One thing that does set this entry aside is director Gary Dauberman’s patience in drawing out the jump scares.

There is a lot more build up here than its predecessors, and even though the pay-off isn’t always worth the wait, it is evident that he much less keen to jolt us than he is to get under our skin.

 

Film Review – Toy Story 4

Posted in Uncategorized on June 27, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

Toy Story 4 (G)

Directed by: Josh Cooley

Starring: Tom Hanks, Annie Potts, Tim Allen

Four stars

Review by: Julian Wright

After rounding out a beautifully realised couple of films with a surprisingly successful and heartwarming threequel (which made for a neat conclusion), Disney Pixar have taken the Toy Story series back out of storage.

It is a bit of a gamble – the more you toy with something good, the higher the chances that it can get banged up a bit. And would audiences be bored with these familiar characters like an eight-year-old would get with their old play-things?

Woody (Tom Hanks) Buzz (Tim Allen) and the gang are enjoying a new life with youngster Bonnie, after their owner Andy gifted them to her when he went to college

But when Bonnie comes home from kindergarten with an arts and crafts creation, Forky, made from some disposed items such as a spork, pipecleaners and a popstick, she has a new favourite.

Bonnie treasures her new, self-made toy more than the others, and Woody makes it his mission to keep Forky safe and within Bonnie’s loving reach at all times to ensure her happiness – despite Forky’s instinct to return to the trash where his parts came from.

During a family holiday road trip, Woody encounters antique toys in a small town with a sinister agenda and is reunited with Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who several years earlier, left out live out in the big wide world.

There is no denying the charm that these films and their characters have is still there – this series could go on for five more installments and just on that alone.

Even at part four, they have the ability to make you smile warmly and even shed a tear; we have become to connected to and attached to them throughout the years.

toy-story-4

Toy Story 4 is, like its predecessors, about more than just toys coming to life while we aren’t watching – this one tackles how to deal with change and learning to let go.

The heart and wit is still very much evident in this series, even at this point, however, it does struggle with balancing all the characters.

Having kept all the toys from the earlier films, adding Forky and new ones such as sideshow prizes and the creepy crew from the antique shot, Toy Story 4 has more characters than it knows what to do with.

Even Buzz is relegated to the backseat for most of the action.

And the animation is glorious, but just one tiny quibble: even though our heroes are essentially hand-me downs that have endured years of play with Andy, four films worth of hair raising adventures and now Bonnie – their appearance is surprisingly pristine.

Hardly a chip, dent, scuff or scratch can be seen! That’s not how my toys looked after years of playing with them in the backyard.

 

 

Film Review – Aladdin

Posted in Uncategorized on May 24, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

Aladdin (PG)

Directed by: Guy Ritchie

Starring: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott

Three and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

With pop culture currently riding the relentless wave of nostalgia, it comes as little surprise that Disney has released another live action remake of its own animation.

Just last month we saw Tim Burton’s version of Dumbo, and there are plenty more in the pipeline with other familiar titles being re-jigged and sequelised.

Aladdin has now been dusted off and given new life with its own live action version.

While living on the streets of desert kingdom Agrabah, poor Aladdin (Mena Massoud) meets Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) and the two immediately fall in love.

When Aladdin comes into contact with a precious lamp, he releases the Genie (Will Smith) and is given three wishes – one of which he uses to become a Prince so he can marry the Princess.

aladdin

Meanwhile, the shifty Jafar (Marwen Kenzari) will try any sneaky way to overthrow the Sultan and rule Agrabah himself.

The script has been tweaked and expanded to flesh out some characters, add new ones and more musical numbers to differentiate itself from the original. In fact, this one has an extra 40 minutes of action.

It is all a perfectly pleasant experience that doesn’t always hit the mark and seems to resemble the stage production more than the animated film.

Will Smith had huge shoes to fill after Robin Williams created such an iconic character with just his voice in 1992, but despite the assistance of big budget CGI, Smith fails to leave a lasting impression.

Known throughout his career for his cheek, sass, and big personality, Smith somehow feels restrained in a role that is designed to allow the actor to completely let loose. However, he and Massouri are charming to watch together as their on-screen relationship blossoms.

Is Aladdin 2019 memorable? Not particularly. But will you have a good time? Very likely with the kaleidoscope of colours, impressive sets and charming cast on display.