Archive for the Uncategorized Category

Film Review – Venom

Posted in Uncategorized on October 5, 2018 by Reel Review Roundup

Venom (M)

Directed by: Ruben Fleischer

Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed

Three stars

Review by Julian Wright

Some film-goers may get a sense of deja vu with the release this week of Venom but it is not an anomaly for two similarly themed films to be come out within the same calendar year.

It happened as far back as Dr. Stranglove and Fail-Safe in 1964 and as recently as Churchill and Darkest Hour last year with Antz/A Bug’s Life (1998) and The Prestige/The Illusionist (2006) just some of the examples in between.

This year we got Logan Marshall-Green animatedly flinging himself around Leigh Whannell’s clever low budget sci-fi Upgrade – which remains the better “man’s body controlled by another entity” film, but Sony’s comic book based Venom is a decent crack at it.

When bio-engineering corporation Life Foundation’s space prob exploring habitable planets in space returns with four symbiotic lifeforms, CEO Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) begins experimenting on humans – namely homeless ones.

Investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) starts sniffing around and when he attempts to expose Carlton’s work, his fiance and Life Foundation employee Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) is fired, she dumps Eddie and he immediately loses his job.

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Six months later, down and out Eddie is approached by scientist with Dr Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate) who feels icky about the experiment’s death toll and she takes him to the lab where he is infected and eventually controlled by one of the symbiots – the sneering and human head-eating Venom.

Not without elements that allow it to be a fun trip, the anti-hero character and darker tone is a nice shift from the now far too familiar and predictably digestible Avengers movies, however, there is plenty that sits awkwardly in Venom.

Much like Nicole Kidman’s ventures into big budget film territory, the immensely talented Williams gives it a fair go, but seems out of place – perhaps struggling with material that resembles real life in almost no way at all.

Additionally, even though Venom is supposed to look like a grimy blob of shiny, oily goo, the special effects that bring it to life are poorly designed and some of the transitions look  unpolished.

It skips along at a brisk pace, with a couple of nice action sequences and a sense of humour, but the final climax is a night-time set, dimly lit mess of melding humans and symbiots tussling around with a couple of shots comically bordering on orgy-esque.

Any exploration of the internal battle and relationship between Eddie and his parasite remains comfortably at surface level – in true superhero style of late.

Watch the trailer here.

Film Review – Night School

Posted in Uncategorized on September 28, 2018 by Reel Review Roundup

Night School (M)

Directed by: Malcolm D. Lee

Starring: Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish

Three stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Pint sized funny man Kevin Hart goes back to school in a funnier and far less nerve grating comedy than the similar Billy Madison.

Life is going pretty well for high school drop-out and barbecue salesman Teddy Walker (Kevin Hart): his boss just announced the business will eventually go to him and his girlfriend just accepted his marriage proposal.

However, his elaborate proposal after hours in the store ends with the building exploding, leaving him out of a job and very few prospects without his high school graduation certificate.

Teddy, along with several other quirky characters, enrolls in night school to get their GED, with no-nonsense teacher Carrie (Tiffany Haddish) between them and a passing grade.

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This super broad comedy is simply a showcase for the banter between Hart and Haddish, and depending on how much you enjoy their style of comedy will depend upon how much you get out of this film.

There are some laugh out loud moments, though with a bloated running time of almost two hours, there are long stretches without decent laughs; sharing screen time among so many classmates is one reason for the length, and yet they offer fewer genuine laughs than the two leads combined.

What sets this comedy apart is its tackling of learning disabilities. Teddy discovers, with Carrie’s help, that he has dyslexia and dyscalculia and works to overcome it and get his degree, offering more inspiration than what you might have expected from a Kevin Hart film.

Haddish is notably lower key than in her breakout role of Dina in Girls Trip last year (who can forget the grapefruit scene?), playing the mostly straight role to Hart’s over the top whiny and hustling Teddy, but her presence is a nice balance.

While Night School could have greatly benefited from tighter editing (how a back-to-school romp was allowed to run this long is a mystery), it is a breezy night out or a night in with Netflix kind of film.

Film Review – Smallfoot

Posted in Uncategorized on September 28, 2018 by Reel Review Roundup

Smallfoot (G)

Directed by: Karey Kirkpatrick, Jason Reisig

Starring: Channing Tatum, Zandaya, Danny DeVito

Three and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

 

There are many life lessons and themes for the ankle-biters to digest these school holidays with Smallfoot.

With a little inspiration from Pixar, the story gives a cute twist to the legend of the Yeti, in which the creatures are actually real and the humans are the mythical beings whose existence has not been proven.

Pulling back the curtain on life as a Yeti (what do they get up to when people are not looking – along the lines of the toys in Toy Story, the monsters in Monsters Inc. etc), we get to see a village of the furry folks go about their daily routine high on a Himalayan mountain above the clouds.

Everyone has a role in the village and a strict routine must be adhered to to maintain harmony (their heritage and rules etched in rocks), but when Migo (Channing Tatum) encounters a human, a pilot who has crash landed, he begins to question everything he has been taught by his elders.

Joined by a group of outcast conspiracy theorists. including Meechee (Zendaya), Migo seeks to find the truth about the human and Yeti existence.

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What starts out as a fun, fluffy adventure for youngsters, with a couple of musical numbers to get toes tapping, eventually becomes quite complicated and complex.

Much detail is given about the Yeti village and how it operates, which is paid off later in the film when a twist is revealed, but the mechanics, logistics and reasons behind them may prove too complex to follow for the under fives.

The story plays out as a metaphor for overcoming racism and segregation, but once the themes and messages become quite apparent in the later stages of the film, with a lengthy monologue, it segues into some darker territory.

When it starts to hint at genocide, it may fly over many of the littlest heads in the audience.

Of course, these are relevant and topical themes to explore and they do give the adults something to ponder as the kids enjoy the slapstick and songs.

Watch the trailer here.

Film Review – A Simple Favour

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 19, 2018 by Reel Review Roundup

A Simple Favour (M)

Directed by: Paul Feig

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding

Four and a half stars

Review by Julian Wright

 

Anyone that has done a favour for a mate knows there is no such thing as a simple one – but Anna Kendrick finds out the hard way in A Simple Favour.

Sweet-as-pie single mum and vlogger Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) befriends rich PR manager and day drinker Emily Nelson (Blake Lively) during pick up time at their kids’ school.

They are polar opposites, but throughout the subsequent couple weeks, the two women hang out in Emily’s lavish home, drink, gossip, share secrets and quickly become best friends.

One day, Emily asks Stephanie to pick up her child from school because she has to work late – not an unusual ask, she has done it before, but this time Emily never comes to pick him up.

While Stephanie tries to track down her best friend, she discovers Emily harbored more secrets than she let on.

A Simple Favour is a genre defying throwback to erotic thriller potboilers from the 1990s (you know the ones, they offered some cheap thrills and usually served as a vehicle for a rising star actress) but elevated by its satirical edge that gives it a touch of class and wit.

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The twist is that this film heavily focuses on laughs over thrills and chills; it sets up an intriguing mystery, and you can never tell where it is heading, but all the while, making the audience laugh with one-liners, visual gags and self awareness.

It is a breathtaking handling of tonal shifts by director Paul Feig, who explores darker territory without losing his sense of humour and oozing style.

Feig is clearly having a ball here, playing with so many delicious details – the umbrella rolling across the frame in a storm like a tumbleweed when the two leads meet is gold.

Kendrick plays to type – goofy, awkward but super likeable, but Lively is against type as the mysterious ice-queen (though still equally likeable) and together they are a match made in fashion heaven, their costumes as jaw-droppingly classy as their performances.

Do yourself a huge favour and see one of the year’s nicest surprises A Simple Favour.

Watch the trailer here.

Film Review – Beast

Posted in Uncategorized on September 19, 2018 by Reel Review Roundup

Beast (M)

Directed by: Michael Pearce

Starring: Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Geraldine James

Four stars

Review by Julian Wright

 

Are we all just vicious, violent animals, but some of us are better at suppressing it than others?

Beast asks this thought provoking question as it explores the relationship between two people who have dark similarities.

Despite being a functioning adult in her mid-20s and working full time as a tour guide on her island home of Jersey in the English Channel, Moll (Jessie Buckley) still lives with her parents and under her mother Hilary’s (Geraldine James) heavy thumb.

The isolation of her low-key location and her mother’s strict rules makes Moll yearn for some adventure, so when her sister announces her engagement at Moll’s birthday party, the birthday girl bolts to a local pub.

Moll meets the unkempt and mysterious but charming Pascal (Johnny Flynn) when he saves her from a drunk, handsy bloke she met at the pub.

The two immediately strike up a passionate relationship, one that Hilary tries unsuccessfully to put a stop to.

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Meanwhile, young women are going missing on the island and the shady looking Pascal, who has a criminal record, shoots straight to the top of the suspect list.

Moll eventually divulges one secret from her past that suggests the two love birds have more in common than they first thought and their violent tendencies could be the tie that binds them as soul mates.

On a surface level, Beast unfolds slowly but deliberately as a tension filled whodunnit thriller, with a sense of dread that rivals the recent Hereditary, as Moll goes back and forth about whether her new boyfriend can be trusted.

But it delves into some fascinating territory about the violent tendencies in human nature – how far is too far when expressing anger, and is it ok when violence is used to right a wrong?

Buckley heads a top notch cast, her performance one of much depth as she balances the several facets of the character: sweet, rebellious, shy, secretive and a lot of the time, a liar, all while harboring a secret.

The clever script by director Michael Pearce wades into psychological territory many of us are hesitant to face head on about ourselves, too afraid to acknowledge our own temperament, adding fascinating levels to an already sturdy thriller.

Watch the trailer here.

 

Film Review – The Merger

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on September 14, 2018 by Reel Review Roundup

The Merger (M)

Directed by: Mark Grentell

Starring: Damian Callinan, Kate Mulvany, John Howard

Four stars

Review by Julian Wright

 

It is almost an involuntary reaction these days to cringe at the thought of a new Australian comedy.

While we tend to delve into the deprived and nail the dark, edgy dramas with aplomb – Animal Kingdom, Hounds of Love etc – it is our sense of humour that is apparently hard to pin point and capture for the big screen.

For every Australian cinema culture defining film such as Muriel’s Wedding, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and The Castle there are a string of cringe-worthy forgettable attempts such as Spin Out, Goddess, UnIndian and Mental.

It seems since Crocodile Dundee put us on the map with its rampant outback clichés, which seemed to delight everyone around the world in the 1980s, we have been stuck in a rut, torn between what we want to show and what we think people want to see.

The Merger takes a risky leap for a comedy, telling a story that mixes one of the country’s most popular and iconic sports with one of its most complex and controversial social and political issues, with the aim to still make us laugh.

Times are tough in the small rural town of Bodgy Creek with an ongoing drought, the closure of the mill putting many locals out of a job and the footy club on the verge of folding.

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To keep the Roosters playing in the local competition rather than merge with another club, former AFL player Troy Carrington (Damian Callinan), now dubbed “Town Killer”, is brought in to coach the team and get the club back on track.

But Troy’s presence is not welcome by many of the locals – his protests led to the mill closure – and his idea to recruit local refugees onto the ragtag team of footy players proves very unpopular with the narrow-minded residents.

On the surface this appears to be yet another underdog story with a predictable outcome that wraps up with a cute bow at the end when everyone learns a valuable life lesson like in one of those cheesy after-school specials.

And, look, it certainly has those elements, but what gives this film depth and invigorates the tropes, is the political aspect.

There is a lot going on thematically in this film; it is about much more than just footy and racism as it explores the idea of community, diversity, acceptance and having and maintaining a cultural identity.

The Merger has an undeniable charm and a heart the size of a football oval, which makes this potentially preachy story accessible and worthy of The Castle status.

Watch the trailer here.

 

Worst Films of 2015

Posted in Uncategorized on December 30, 2015 by Reel Review Roundup

With the good comes the bad. While it has been a pleasure and joy to sit through the many great films on my “best of” list, there has been another side to the coin of film-going. The films in the following list either tried and failed miserably or appeared to not try at all. Despite society moving slowly towards acceptance and equality, it was disheartening to see films with such cavemen attitudes towards women such as 50 Shades of Grey and other races such as American Sniper.

Here’s hoping for a more enlightened 2016.

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1 – American Sniper: Deplorable, racist drama about an army sniper dubbed and American hero for his skills, yet his Middle Eastern counterpart (as equally skilled) is the evil bad guy. Modest “hero” never accepts the term, but this film doesn’t care and hails his as one anyway. Also: way too much flag waving.

2 – We Are Your Friends: Interesting idea: the life of a DJ and the skill involved in the job. However, this is boringly routine and predictable. Zac Efron’s charm cannot carry this dull film.

3 – The Gallows: Another found footage film with zero imagination or even motivation for its characters to keep filming. Low on character count, but they are all insufferable, annoying jerks that you want to see snatched up by the spooks in the gallows.

4 – Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension: This series goes from ludicrous to even more ludicrous. More ghosties spook another average family in a suburban mansion. The 3D is strictly for gimmick purposes, endless exposition is delivered gratingly and in the most ham-fisted, unnatural way. A chore to watch.

5 – 50 Shades of Grey: Anti-feminist, largely tame, insultingly bad would-be sizzling sexy film has characters that defy logic and basic decency. Based on the mega selling books, this maddeningly female unfriendly piece

6 – Run All Night: The kind of film that is so average in every department that you can barely remember anything about it months after seeing it. Liam Neeson continues his action hero schtick that he was great at in Taken, but needs to try something else.

7 – The Longest Ride: More of the same Nicholas Sparks weepiness. Don;t bring tissues, bring a book, or a deck of cards. Or just don’t bother.

8 – The Theory of Everything: A movie about a man with a brilliant mind and life that fails to go beneath the surface just makes for a deeply unsatisfying experience. You would get more insight from Stephen Hawking’s Wikipedia page than this film. Eddie Redmayne nails the physicality of the role, but is left zero substance.

9 – Seventh Son: An excellent cast (Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges and more) leave us wondering “What were they thinking?”by appearing in this hokey fantasy action film.

10 – Far From the Madding Crowd: 1800s female farmer rejects advancements from respectable, hard-working men, to fall for the guy who cuts her hair in a hilarious display of masculinity and grabs her crotch in a cringe-worthy scene. Literary classic given daytime soap opera treatment in this drawn-out, tiresome story that manages to turn a strong and interesting female character into an unrelatable mess.

 

Dishonourable mentions

StalkHer, Youth, The Wedding Ringer, Terminator Genisys, Macbeth, Entourage, Blinky Bill, The Intern, UnIndian, Aloha, By The Sea, Clouds of Sils Maria.