Film Review – Where’d You Go, Bernadette

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

Where’d You Go, Bernadette (M)

Directed by: Richard Linlater

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

One could suspect that something may have been lost in translation in adapting Maria Semple’s novel, as the film slowly loses touch with reality as it’s lead character sets out to rediscover her creativity.

Bernadette (Cate Blanchett) is a celebrated architect who stepped away from her thriving career when she got married and had a family.

Years later she, her husband Elgie (Billy Crudup) and teenage daughter Bee (Emma Neslon) live in a dilapidated renovators dream house in the Seattle ‘burbs where the icy, busy housewife finds herself in constant dispute with neighbor and annoying PTA mum Audrey (Kristen Wiig).

But with Bernadett’s increasingly erratic behaviour, it becomes clear that she has become “lost”.

Exploring the importance of expressing one’s creativity and the consequences for one’s mental well-being when they no longer have a creative outlet is intriguing and makes for some juicy food for thought.

However, this adaptation seems to lose its way. It is about the mid-point in which Elgie calls in a shrink (Judy Greer) for an intervention that the film screeches to halt to explain Bernadette’s psychological state via a slew of exposition.

From there it takes a strange turn when Bernadette just up and leaves to Antarctica, and that’s not the strangest thing that happens in a coincidence filled final third that is difficult to be on board with as an audience member.

It is around these turns that one could there was a breakdown in the adaptation of the novel. This story grounded in reality slowly begins to lose touch with it.

Blanchett is a powerhouse of flustered energy, pitching her performance perfectly so that when all about Bernadette’s past is finally revealed, her behaviour all makes sense. If it weren’t for the film’s structural missteps, this would be one to go back and watch again immediately to marvel at the intricacies of Blanchett’s performance.

Film Review – The King Of Staten Island

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

The King Of Staten Island (MA)

Directed by: Judd Apatow

Starring: Pete Davidson, Marisa Tomei

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Having spent the last five years focusing on television and documentaries, writer/director Judd Apatow returns to the big screen with his signature lengthy dramedy about a complex and lovable loser.

Since his firefighter Dad died many years ago, 20-something bum Scott Carlin (Pete Davidson, giving a terrific performance) has had zero direction in life.

Still stuck in a state of grief, the jobless tattooed stoner still lives with his Mum Margie (Marisa Tomei) and spends his days and nights with his equally directionless mates, smoking weed and talking crap.

Scott does have one pie in the sky ambition: to open a tattoo parlour-slash- restaurant.

When Margie finally starts dating for the first time after 17 years, Scott’s life is shaken up and he is forced to wake up to himself, take on some adult responsibility and put his life on track.

Apatow enjoys exploring the journeys and arcs of characters that appear to have low-key, directionless lives, making his cinematic mark with a 40-year-old virgin and a stoner knocking up a one-night stand.

The King Of Staten Island has surface level similarities, but once again, Apatow finds pathos and nuance in his lovable loser and fresh dynamics with his supporting characters. While Scott may seems like a bit of a waste of space at first, his harmless demeanor and amusing banter with his mates makes him relatable.

Later, in true Apatow fashion, just when Scott thinks he has hit rock bottom, he finds another level of bottom before he can pull his life back together.

It is this structure that results in a generous 135 minute running time, but also allows the character and scenes to breathe, and for us to process and absorb Scott’s developments and growth as he does.

Film Review – Waves

Posted in Uncategorized on July 8, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

Waves (MA)

Directed by: Trey Edward Shults

Starring: Kelvin Harrison Jr, Taylor Russell

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Life is going well for Floridian high schooler Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr) until a painful arm injury threatens to end his wrestling career before it even begins.

Everything he has trained for, under the pressure of his well-meaning but overbearing father Ronald (Stirling K. Brown) who is a fan of the tough love method, and his future is suddenly jeopardised.

Tyler doesn’t have the appropriate tools to deal with the emotional turmoil of suddenly facing newly broken dreams and an uncertain future (his once loving relationship with his girlfriend also breaks down which just exacerbates the situation) and he begins to spiral on a path of self destruction, which results in an irrevocable tragedy, that he and his affluent family must deal with.

Waves is sensitively and intelligently told by writer/director Trey Edward Shults in a linear fashion, but he has put a lot of thought into the structure, with the beginning and ending mirroring each other despite switching character focus at the mid-point.

This moody film opens with hope and promise (the camera spinning around Tyler’s busy life of training and good times with his girlfriend and mates) before building almost unbearable tension until the second act tragedy, then it shifts focus to his shy younger sister Emily (Taylor Russell) where it and eases back into a sense of hope as she and her parents put their lives back together.

Shults also uses aspect ratio changes throughout his film which acts as an additional indicator of the characters’ psyche at key moments in the story.

It is an emotional and affecting journey as we watch Tyler’s spiral helplessly from the comfort of the cinema. You just want to jump in and help him.

We see his talent and potential but he (and the audience) is all too aware that he could very well one day end up like the young black man surrounded by cops outside a shop that Tyler spots out the window as he cruises past.

Co-leads Harrison Jr and Russell are exceptional as they carry their respective halves of Waves. The pair tackle the heavy and complex material with such understanding and talent and are a pleasure to experience on screen.

Film Review – Edmond

Posted in Uncategorized on March 10, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

Edmond (M)

Directed by: Alexis Michalik

Starring: Thomas Soliveres, Olivier Gourmet, Mathilde Seigner

Four stars

Review by Julian Wright

Struggling but gifted poet Edmond Rostand (Thomas Soliveres), whose work has so far in the late 19th century gone largely unrecognised, is persuaded to pen the next hit play for stage legend Constant Coquelin (Olivier Gourmet) within three weeks.

Despite every step of the way indicating that this could be a career killing disaster for all involved, everyone on and behind the stage persists with the production.

Meanwhile, Edmond gets caught up in a love triangle with his actor friend Leo (Tom Leeb), a dreamy but inarticulate fellow, and costume designer Jeanne d’Alcie (Loucie Boujenah) – but the situation could be his greatest source of inspiration yet.

This fun, witty and fast paced comedy has many laugh out loud moments and memorable characters.

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It all starts with the clever script, that gives all the characters (and there are a few of them) their own motivations and moments to shine – and the terrific cast brings it all so splendidly to life.

All the pieces are beautifully juggled by director Alexis Michalik, making his feature film debut, and kept rollicking along at a brisk pace ensuring that there is never an opportunity to be bored.

Gags are terrifically set up and hilariously paid off with such speed and precision that if you blink, you may miss a couple.

Despite the surface appearance that this is simply a frothy French farce, there are some fascinating themes explored amid the fun, in particular how inspiration can come from the most unlikely places and the line between inspiration and love.

And the sumptuously designed sets and costumes are an added bonus.

 

Edmond screens as part of the 2020 Alliance Franciase French Film Festival. 

Film Review: The Invisible Man

Posted in Uncategorized on February 26, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

The Invisible Man (MA)

Directed by: Leigh Whannell

Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Harriet Dyer, Aldis Hodge

Four and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright
Saw co-creator Leigh Whannell has taken the tropes of two disparate sub-genres (domestic drama and sci-fi thriller), weaved them together and created one of the most intense, intriguing, smartly scripted re-imaginings of a classic story.

Having proven his scripting skills with the surprising and twisty Saw, then most recently his stylistic flair with a camera with his directorial effort Upgraded, Whannell has solidified himself as an exciting film maker to watch.

From the opening moments, Whannell puts us on edge with his updated version of The Invisible Man, as Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) slips from the grip of her controlling and abusive boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) in the middle of the night to escape from him and his fortress-like beach-side mansion.

Soon after, his lawyer Tom (Michael Dorman) informs her that Adrian has committed suicide and as per his will, she inherits $5 million on the condition that she does not commit a crime or deemed mentally unstable.

But Cecilia is not convinced Adrian is dead, with spooky things happening around her new home that indicate he has faked his own death, discovered a way of becoming invisible and is driving her batty with his new abilities.

With everyone around her concerned for her mental state, Cecilia must prove her theory, which becomes an increasingly difficult task when her theory sounds so crazy and Adrian systematically driving a wedge between her and her family and friends.

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Whannell’s commitment to suspense, tension building and a palpable sense of dread right from the get-go, puts him up there alongside horror greats John Carpenter and Stanley Kubrick.

And he doesn’t let up for a second. This is two hours of sweat-inducing, deeply unsettling thrills.

His intelligent script doesn’t waste a second with superfluous scenes or dialogue, most of the key scenes playing out in seemingly real time, the camera often lingering, forcing our eyes to every corner of the frame searching for proof of Adrian’s presence, to achieve maximum tension. But Whannell also commits to some shockingly brazen moments, jolting the audience at just the right moments.

In addition to the technical achievements, this is first and foremost a character driven story, with the science taking a backseat. Moss is gifted a multi-dimensional character that has a vast range, and she meets the challenge, putting her alongside recent breakout horror performances such as Toni Collette (Hereditary), Lupita Nyong’O (Us) and Florence Pugh (Midsommar).

But the scariest thing is how deeply layered Adrian’s actions, motivations and manipulations are. He is more than a controlling nutcase with a chip on his shoulder. His intricate plan is terrifyingly multi-layered, and for a character that is given so little screen time, his constant oppressive presence is astounding.

At times the relentless stalking and mental and emotional torture of Cecilia is difficult to endure, and yet it scarily successfully (perhaps among the most successful in recent attempts since the #MeToo era) taps into what survivors of abuse go through – it’s not just the physical bruises, but the psychological impacts that are felt deepest.

In fact, it is a timely reminder that sometimes what you can’t see can be the most terrifying. You can, however, see The Invisible Man and it is a film you will want to see more than once.

Film Review – Black Christmas

Posted in Uncategorized on December 13, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

Black Christmas (M)

Directed by: Sofia Takal

Starring: Imogen Poots, Cary Elwes, Lily Donoghue

Three and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

 

The classic, and often overlooked, original teen stalk and slash horror film Black Christmas (1974) gets a redux for a woke audience in the “Me Too” era after the disastrously messy 2006 remake.

It is just days until Christmas and the Hawthorne College campus population is thinning with most of the faculty and students leaving to be with their families for the holidays.

The timing seems perfect for a blood-thirsty stalker to start bumping off vulnerable sorority girls without anyone noticing their absence.

Except timid but intuitive and protective Riley (Imogen Poots) does notice; a couple of her BFF’s who were supposed to leave for vacation have not reached their destinations, and Riley becomes deeply suspicious and worried for their safety.

Is she being overly sensitive, or are the college frat boys playing a cruel prank as an act of revenge after Riley’s allegations that one of the jocks date raped her?

The authorities are no help with her newfound concern and are treating her with the same dismissive attitude they did when she made the rape allegations, so Riley and a handful of her remaining friends must band together and fight to survive.

Film Title: Black Christmas

This modern horror film makes no secret that it is for the “Me Too” era and Has Something To Say with a very potent Message.

At times the metaphors are forced (one character likens the sisterhood to ants – then later proceeds to spell out why) and the Me Too discourse overly obvious (“Did you just ‘not all men’ me?!”) – it certainly side-steps subtlety and could very well be dated much sooner than it should.

However, this “hot topic” is otherwise cleverly woven into the slasher setting, elevating familiar horror genre material and adding meat to the bones of a well-worn scenario.

This version looks at why it is always women in peril in these films, and in life, suggesting that toxic masculinity is consciously and deliberately passed down through generations of men who are trained to maintain dominance over women.

The set up also allows more depth for our “final girl” – Riley is not motivated by simply intuition or a gut feeling; she has experienced directly the violence men can do to women and has reason to be wary when her friends don’t answer their phone.

The twist, heavily suggested in the spoiler heavy trailer, is hokey, but an interesting metaphor for how toxic masculinity and the hunger for power is passed on through generations of men, and it also gives a deeper meaning to the title.

It is easy to nit-pick the occasional sledgehammer deliver of a Message via clunky dialogue, but Black Christmas’ biggest flaw is the lack of violence shown.

It is understood this was filmed to be a gory slasher, but edited down at the last minute to remove the blood and guts to reach a wider audience. However the impact of a film exploring the violence that men do to women is severely dulled when we don’t even see the physical impacts.

Not only that, the chills are drastically reduced – a shame when much effort has been made to create a suspenseful experience. there is just no pay-off.

For its faults and missteps, Black Christmas is thought provoking and takes a decent stab at tackling some really tough issues, and for the most part, does it in as realistic fashion as possible.

 

 

Film Review – The Addams Family

Posted in Uncategorized on December 3, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

The Addams Family (PG)

Directed by: Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz

Three and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

 

The kooky, spooky, ooky Addams family gets the origins treatment and a new adventure in an animated feature film with a top notch cast.

After being run out of town on their wedding night by picketing bigots, the wonderfully weird and delightfully dark Gomez (Oscar Isaac) and Morticia (Charlize Theron) retreat to a gloomy abandoned asylum and make it their humble abode.

Several years later, a cookie cutter housing estate develops at the bottom of the hill, which causes friction between the Addams’ and the new residents.

Meanwhile, overly bubbly reality star and resident Margaux Needler (Allison Janney) tries to get rid of the macabre family as her daughter Parker (Elsie Fisher) befriends Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz) and begins to take on gothic features.

addams

Having been absent from screens for a while now, it was fun to see the Addams Family resurrected, with the macabre humour always good for giggle for anyone who has a dark sense of humour.

The cast is terrific, with Isaac’s perfectly animated as Gomez and Moretz appropriately glum as Wednesday. It is only Theron as Morticia who confuses with a strange accent and inflections that don’t make much sense.

The pace occasionally dips between the amusing gags, both verbal and visual, which may cause younger ones to become restless.

This new story plays it safe and doesn’t do much in the way of bringing the family into a modern era, side-stepping political and social commentary, other than a message to be yourself.

A nice message, to be sure, but there might have been ab it more for the grown ups to sink their teeth into had it touched on more current topics.

Film Review – Knives Out

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

Knives Out (M)

Directed by: Rian Johnson

Starring: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas

Four and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Forget the old school candlestick and lead pipe in the stuffy old Library or Billiard Room, the familiar “whodunnit” gets a makeover in this witty murder/mystery while keeping fun nods to sleuthing traditions.

The morning after celebrating his 85th birthday with his entire family at his mansion, wealthy crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead by his devoted nurse Marta (Ana de Armas).

The suspect list is lengthy, with everyone in the eccentric family having a potential motive to bump off the patriarch and claim his riches.

Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is on the case, hired under mysterious circumstances, trying to put the clues together.

Blanc keeps a close eye on his suspects, including daughter and real estate mogul Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), son and company CEO Walt (Michael Shannon), spoiled and unemployed grandson Ransom (Chris Evans) and lifestyle guru daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette), to name a few, and witnesses the dysfunctions unfold.

Writer/director Rian Johnson assembles a quick witted, clever script that juggles numerous characters, twists and gags and orchestrates them all beautifully into a hugely entertaining yarn.

knives

He warmly acknowledges the traditional whodunnit tropes while giving it a fresh new take for a modern audience. His nods to board-game Clue and TV series Murder, She Wrote are icing on the cake.

Johnson’s appreciation for this genre shows and is infectious – he is having as much of a good time as his audience is.

The stellar cast – all of them work perfectly together – pull this off amazingly, each clearly defining their character (even the ones that get less screen time) and are on the same page as Johnson with the fun factor.

One minor hiccup is when Johnson introduces political undertones with sledgehammer delivery, his characters blurting out “woke” dialogue that just doesn’t feel as organic as everything else.

Johnson’s number one goal is to entertain, and that he does. You will be laughing, guessing and double guessing until the very end.

Film Review – Last Christmas

Posted in Uncategorized on November 10, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

Last Christmas (M)

Directed by: Peter Feig

Starring: Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Emma Thompson

Three and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Kate (Emilia Clarke) is a bit of a mess. She is in her mid-20’s, couch surfs, has no direction, lets all her friends down and has a prickly relationship with her family.

While (barely) working as an elf in a year ‘round Christmas store run by her sassy boss Santa (Michelle Yeoh), she meets the super charming, very put together, but a little mysterious Tom (Henry Golding).

They hang out a few times, there is a bit of banter and opposites begin to attract as the pair get romantically involved, but Tom has a secret straight out of a Nicholas Sparks novel.

Last Christmas follows the festive holiday season rom-com routine fairly closely, with a script co-written by Emma Thompson and with Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy helmer Paul Feig behind it, this is a fun, frothy, and briskly paced charmer.

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The irresistible cast elevates it, with Clarke an absolute charmer to rival Julia Roberts and Golding the handsome, sensitive eye-candy is her perfect match. But Yeoh and Emma Thompson (as Kate’s Yugoslavian mum) almost steal it from the central stars with their bright performances and terrific comedic timing.

The cheesy twist is treated like a ground-breaking shocker, but anyone paying close enough attention could probably pick it up fairly early on. The hints aren’t all that subtle.

Setting it all to George Michael’s music is a nice touch, but still a bit of a head scratching move. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it’s there and it’s fine.

Last Christmas is a worthy addition to the list of films that get dusted off once a year for another spin during the festive season.

Film Review – Doctor Sleep

Posted in Uncategorized on November 10, 2019 by Reel Review Roundup

Doctor Sleep (MA)

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran

Directed by: Mike Flanagan

Four and a half stars

Review by Julian Wright

Forty years after his terrifying experience at the Overlook Hotel, psychically gifted Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) is a vagrant alcoholic, getting into bar fights and having messy nights fairly frequently.

He has suppressed his abilities, having learnt at an early age how to lock up in his mind the malevolent spectres that continued to haunt him even after he and his mother Wendy (Alex Essoe) moved to Florida.

While finally turning over a new leaf, Danny is drawn into battle with a group of people, the True Knot lead by sexy, hippie styled Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), who prey and feed on the fear of people who share his gift (shining) – especially young kids.

When the group sets its psychic sights on particularly gifted Abra (Kyliegh Curran), who Danny has bonded with over their shared abilities, he must get back in touch with his shining and face his own demons while protecting his young friend.

Adapted from the belated Stephen King novel, directed and edited by Mike Flanagan (the 2010s answer to John Carpenter and Wes Craven with an impressive body of thrillers to his name) Doctor Sleep is a worthy follow up to classic The Shining.

Flanagan creates a follow-up that recreates the same atmosphere of dread as its predecessor and most importantly feels like it exists in the same universe, despite the time jump, new cast, characters and deeper exploration of the shining.

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Much of what we see (much action takes place in the minds of the gifted characters) must have been tricky to translate to the screen and could have devolved into hilarious hokeyness, but Flanagan handles the expanded concepts with confidence and visual restraint and precision.

He offers nods to Stanley Kubrick’s style in his work, with echoes of music and camera movement from The Shining, but Flanagan has entirely different material to bring to life, so it never feels like a cheap rip-off.

While he has already proven his skills in frightening audiences’ multiple times already, the multi-talented director tackles his meatiest film yet, balancing a range of themes while still tightening the screws.

This is a lengthy film at 2.5 hours, but Flanagan’s ability to sustain a sense of dread, unease and danger throughout, and building to a satisfying climax, is impressive.

It also incredibly well acted – McGregor terrific as usual and Ferguson flexes new acting muscles, but Curran is particularly strong as the confident, world-weary young kid who has seen some horrific things.

There is plenty of meat on the bones of this creepy exploration of addiction, responsibility, mortality and redemption. Doctor Sleep is a horror film you can really take a shine to.