Archive for the Uncategorized Category

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.

Film Review – Penguin Bloom

Posted in Uncategorized on January 21, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

Penguin Bloom (M)

Directed by: Glendyn Ivin

Starring: Naomi Watts, Andrew Lincoln, Rachel House

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

An unlikely relationship between human and wild bird make for a family friendly tear jerker in Penguin Bloom.

After a holiday accident leaves her paralysed from the chest down, outdoorsy and adventurous nurse Sam Bloom (Naomi Watts) struggles to adjust to a life confined to a wheelchair.

Now in a state of depression, Sam becomes emotionally distant from her family, staring at photos of herself surfing and the view from her house of the hills and lighthouse she used to hike to.

Her husband Cameron (Andrew Lincoln) struggles to run the household with their three young rambunctious sons including oldest Noah (Griffin-Murray Johnson), who feels responsible for his mother’s accident.

Just when things could not be any more difficult for the family, they take in an injured Magpie and name him Penguin that becomes part of the family and gives Sam a sense of hope in her new life.

Of course, the glaringly obvious parallels (bird with wings that can’t fly and woman with legs who can’t walk) cannot be completely avoided, however Penguin Bloom manages to keep them to a merciful minimum as it explores this unusual relationship, which is based on a true story.

Director Glendyn Ivin’s realisation of the story remains focused on character and performance which is an important step in making sure this doesn’t slide wildly into sentimental mush.

There are some powerful scenes impeccably performed that explore loss, grief, guilt and hopelessness that balance the cutesy shots of a flightless bird hopping around a domestic environment getting into mischief. It is the equivalent of cutting to a cute dog to make the audience go “nawww”.

Watts does most the of the heavy lifting in the acting department (and she is great), her character going through more emotional turmoil than everyone around her, but she is surrounded by a really good supporting cast. Jacki Weaver and Rachel House provide plenty of warmth just by being there, albeit it in underwritten supporting roles.

While the squawk of the Magpie is nowhere near as pleasing to the ears as its hijinks are to the eyes, Penguin is a lovely new addition to the memorable movie animal up there with Lassie and Babe.

Film Review – Supernova

Posted in Uncategorized on January 19, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

Supernova (M)

Directed by: Harry Macqueen

Starring: Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Grab a hanky because this film about facing mortality and letting go of loved ones is going to test the tear ducts.

Pianist Sam (Colin Firth) and author Tusker (Stanley Tucci) are road-tripping in their camper van throughout the English countryside visiting friends, family and scenic locations that have significance in their relationship.

But this is more than just a simple trip down memory lane and a chance for some R and R before Sam kicks off a career comeback concert – it is a chance for the couple to spend precious quality time together before Tusker’s dementia takes hold.

Right now it is mostly under control, with Tusker still able to keep up his witty banter with his partner, but simple daily tasks tend to be a struggle. Sam is willing to be Tusker’s carer, but he also must come to terms with a future in which Tusker does not know who he is.

This melancholic exploration of an illness and how it impacts not only the person who has it but their loved ones is a bittersweet tear jerker that manages to avoid syrupy sentimentality. Writer/director Harry Mcqueen has created a quiet, sensitively handled yet devastating film with characters that actually feel real.

Handing the lead roles to Firth and Tucci was a genius move. They have such a great, genuine chemistry that they look, sound and feel like they have been a couple for years. It is one of the best cinematic pairings in recent memory.

A visual bonus is the stunning locations captured with postcard perfection by Dick Pope. The scenery leaves as much a lasting impression as the terrifically understated performances by the two leads.

Film Review – Promising Young Woman

Posted in Uncategorized on January 19, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

Promising Young Woman (MA)

Directed by: Emerald Fennell

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Laverne Cox

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Exploring the domino effect of trauma, guilt and revenge, Promising Young Woman is a thoughtful, stylish, darkly comedic and, dare I say fun, take down of “good guys” in a post Me Too world.

Despite once being on the path to a flourishing medical career, Cassandra (Carey Mulligan) is now a 30 year old loner who still lives with her folks and has a dead end job serving coffee.

But on weekends, she goes out to pubs and clubs, acts legless drunk until a “nice guy” escorts her to his house and tries some non-consensual moves on her non-responsive body. Then she strikes with her own form of revenge.

We eventually learn that a trauma from her past put her on this path and she will keep going until she exacts revenge on those who caused it.

While bathing her film in deliciously bright colours and an infectiously sugary pop soundtrack, writer/director Emerald Fennell makes some sharply pointed observations and comments about the lasting impacts of trauma caused by men. And how some women are complicit. This is some damning commentary and food for thought delivered with dark humour and wrapped up in eye candy.

Promising Young Woman bucks expectations at every turn – despite its own visually stylish aesthetic, this is based fairly firmly in reality, not a giddy blood spattered Kill Bill style revenge fantasy story. And the ending will leave you stunned into speechlessness.

Carey Mulligan is in top form as the sly, chameleon-like, revenge-seeking Cassandra, showing us one of her best performances to date. But she is surrounded by a stellar cast including Bo Burnham, Allison Brie, Laverne Cox and Adam Brody.

This is possibly the most fun you will have while dealing with such a serious topic as sexual assault.

Film Review – High Ground

Posted in Uncategorized on January 3, 2021 by Reel Review Roundup

High Ground (MA)

Directed by: Stephen Johnson

Starring: Simon Baker, Jacob Junior Nayinggul, Jack Thompson

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

A chapter of Australia’s shocking and bloody history is given the Western treatment in High Ground, a brutal, unflinching and important film about the relationship between First Nations and White colonists.

In 1919 in Arnhem Land, an operation by White policemen led by former World War I sniper Travis (Simon Baker) turns into a violent massacre of an Indigenous tribe. Young survivor Gutjuk is placed in the care of a local priest (Ryan Corr) and his sister Claire (Caren Pistorius), the massacre is covered up by the authorities and Travis, who is sympathetic to Indigenous people, turns his back on his superiors.

Twelve years later, tribe descendant Baywarra (Sean Mununggur) leads a group who seek vengeance on local white settlers, so Travis is brought back by his former police chief (Jack Thomspon) to intercede. He recruits a grown-up Gutjuk (Jacob Junior Nayinggul) to help track Baywarra, putting him in the middle of both sides of a potential war.

Australian films often take advantage of the stark beauty of the outback with the harsh desert reds and thick, uncompromising bush land, but High Ground offers some little seen lush greenery in the Northern Territory, putting this as one of the most jaw dropping gorgeous local films ever made.

But do not let the postcard beauty trick you into thinking that this will gloss over some of the most violent acts that White people have inflicted upon our Indigenous population, because it does not. In fact, it shows us the violence with such clarity that it has the ability to jolt and shock – as it should.

In fact it is the juxtaposition of such beauty with such savagery that makes this film so potent.

The opening massacre is horrific in its brutality and later, in a deliberately lengthy and nerve wracking scene of negotiation between Thompson and a tribal elder, encapsulates the tension between races created by White men. These scenes are so expertly edited and timed to create unease throughout the film, even when it seems to dip into a bit of a lull at times with its pacing.

High Ground is a must see so that we never become complacent about the treatment of Indigenous people and restrictions placed on their culture. It is tough viewing, but important.

Film Review – Monster Hunter

Posted in Uncategorized on December 27, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

Monster Hunter (M)

Directed by: Pail W. S. Anderson

Starring: Milla Jovovich, Tony Jaa

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Husband and wife team Paul W. S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich give the Resident Evil franchise a rest to tackle a new round of threats and by the looks, hopefully launch a new action packed franchise based on another video game.

While on a mission in a remote location, a military squadron led by US Army Ranger Captain Artemis (Milla Jovovich) is transported to another world that is over-run by a variety of species of monsters, none of which are friendly.

After her crew are wiped out in fairly quick succession, Artemis teams with a hunter (Tony Jaa), who has also been transported there from his own world, to battle the monsters and find their way back to their respective homes.

It is easy to dismiss this type of witless and senseless monster movie claptrap given how little plot there is – you could map it out all out on a finger nail and have room to spare – but if you know what you are in for and flick your brain to neutral, there is a chance you just may have some fun.

Short on plot but heavy on creatures, CGI and loud action, there is no mistaking Monster Hunter’s purpose for existing: to offer audiences a chance to enjoy a big, silly shoot ’em up that requires zero brain cells to comprehend. This is one instance where what you see is exactly what you get – it’s all in the title and on the poster.

The smartest thing this video game adaptation does do is pair up two characters from different worlds who do not speak the same language, ensuring that there is little dialogue for a large stretch of the story, giving director Anderson an opportunity to show rather than tell, and present a more interesting dynamic between heroes than this type of film usually deserves.

A lack of comes as a particular blessing after the first 15 minutes of the script has the military crew firing a million mind-numbing questions at each other about their situation, none of which, of course, have any answers to. “What happened to the desert?” is a doozy.

Jovovich is undeniably charismatic on the big-screen, whether she is swinging flaming swords through the air, hacking up monster limbs or in the lighter moments when she gives hunter his first taste of chocolate.

The movie making power couple’s hopes for a new franchise may be dashed though, this just simply doesn’t have the legs. We may see them come crawling back to the Resident Evil sooner than we thought.

Film Review – Wonder Woman 1984

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

Wonder Woman 1984 (M)

Directed by: Patty Jenkins

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

In the midst of the testosterone-fuelled, male driven superhero films from Marvel and DC, director Patty Jenkins smashed expectations with Wonder Woman’s first big screen solo outing in 2017 and with it brought a much needed and overdue fresh perspective.

Back to give us more gloriously feminist adventures, Jenkins and her co-scriptwriters jack up the plot and eases back on the action, before driving home a message that is very relevant in Covid-struck 2020.

It’s the thriving 80s: greed is good, consumerism is peaking and anything is possible. Diana (Gal Gadot) is now an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institute living a lonely life, still mourning Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) all these decades later, but catching thugs and saving children from danger as Wonder Woman.

When her work receives the ancient artifact Dreamstone, which grants wishes, TV celebrity and businessman Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) takes it and wishes to be the artifact, giving him the power to grant any wish to anyone he comes into contact with.

Meanwhile, Diana has unknowingly wished for the return of Steve and her goofy, overlooked colleague Barbara (Kristen Wiig), wishes to be as powerful as Diana. But when it is discovered that all this wish granting is leading to the downfall of society (world leaders wish for more power and nuclear weapons, natch and Maxwell does eventually turn Tr*mp-ish) and it can all be reversed by simply renouncing a wish, Barbara goes to lengths to protect Maxwell to keep her new powers.

And all this overstuffed plotting leads to the partial downfall of this otherwise thoroughly entertaining action film.

Establishing a distinct and freshly different tone to the gloomy WW1 set original, 1984 is bright, colouful, glossy and even a touch more cartoony. WW swings around on her lasso scooping up kids like she is Spider-Man and the cutaways to kids beaming faces is the cheese factor that gives us a new endearing quality.

The way Steve is brought back is clever and organic, offers a fun twist on WW finding herself in new surroundings like we saw in the first one (“This is London.” “It’s hideous.”) and offers an emotional arc for Diana and internal struggle that she must grapple with when she finds out each wish has a consequence.

But it all gets bogged down in a drawn out middle section with all the wishes and rules associated with how the Dreamstone works which slowly begins to dilute the “be careful what you wish for” message that 1984 is trying to get across.

Though, the team does bring it back on track with the final climactic speech that Wonder Woman makes which encapsulates all the film’s themes, which is a powerful gut punch moment that rivals the emotional high of the first one’s No Man’s Land sequence.