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Film Review -Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil

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

Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil (PG)

Directed by: Joachim Ronning

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer

Three and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Angelina Jolie reprises her already iconic role as the icy, downtrodden fairy with a chip on her shoulder in an ambitious big budget sequel with a message or two.

Five years after the last film ended, Aurora (Elle Fanning) is leading a contented life after being crowned Queen of the Moors and overseeing the mischievous inhabitants while courting her boyfriend Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson).

When Prince Philip proposes, she immediately accepts but is met with instant disapproval from her fairy mother Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), who is still bitter about the way she has been treated by humans in the past.

With tensions raging, an attempt to bring Maleficent and Philip’s parents King John (Robert Lindsay) and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) together for a peaceful meeting ends in disaster, the fiery fairy forbids the nuptials.

When King John dies during the disastrous altercation, Maleficent is blamed and Queen Ingrith launches an attack, and her true intentions surface: she plans to spark a war between humans and fairies.

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Meanwhile, Maleficent discovers there are more fairies like her and they are just as dark on humans as she is.

There are some interesting, surface level themes going on in this sequel, with some harsh truths about the dark side of human behaviour not so subtly laid out, and Aurora and Philip’s desire to create a safe space for creatures of every kind a nice counter balance to the current climate created by Trump.

While it may sail over the heads of very young children, and adults may find the sledgehammer approach a bit much, this sequel aims higher than most.

The main draw-card here, though, is the face-off between cinematic ice-queens Jolie and Pfeiffer, who almost cause a blizzard in their first shared scene together in a showstopping family dinner sequence that is meticulously handled for maximum tension.

A distinct chill emanates through the cinema when these two come together.

Despite plenty of fast paced action and spectacle taking place later in the film with cute, sympathetic woodland creatures placed in peril to tug on the heartstrings, the battle sequences fail to match the level of tension achieved in the dinner sequence.

Had it done so, this could have led to a cracking finale. Instead, what we get is simply satisfactory.

Film Review – Hustlers

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

Hustlers (M)

Directed by: Lorene Scafaria

Starring: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez

Four and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Strap on those Stilettos for a wild ride of girl power and rags to riches and back again for a gaggle of determined, tough nut strippers who get revenge on their Wall Street clients who leave them high and dry after the financial crisis.

In 2007, struggling stripper Dorothy (Constance Wu) commutes into New York City every night for long hours of grinding on drunk, sleazy clients for minimal cash (her boss takes a considerable cut of her tips) just to get by and financially assist her grandmother (Wai Ching Ho).

Dorothy is taken under the wing of experienced stripper and new bestie Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), who teaches her tricks of the trade, impressive pole dancing moves and helps her build her client base of wealthy Wall Street men to increase her cash flow.

While riding a wave of financial stability and newfound sisterhood, the Wall Street crisis of 2008 hits, sending everyone into a state of financial woe.

Bitter about the Wall Street clients that helped cause the crash – the same ones that would spend up big in the strip club but are now sparse – Ramona hatches a plan with Dorothy to get them back and at the same time a sizable share of their money.

Hustlers

Inspired by a New York Magazine article, Hustlers is a sterling example of the importance of female storytellers. Writer/director Lorene Scafaria establishes the sleazy club environment without exploiting the bodies of her female cast, creates characters who are not catty, jealous or competitive, and is non-judgmental when their morality becomes questionable.

What an absolute fist pumping joy to watch a story about women who lift each other up with unconditional support without a hidden agenda, but still maintain drama, conflict and an edginess. This is by no means a Disney story.

Any other (male created) version of this story would have had an older insecure stripper threatened by the young newcomer. But not this version; J.Lo’s mumma bear literally takes the newcomer under her big warm furry coat, no questions asked.

As the matriarch of the stripper family, Lopez commands the screen with such impressive and undeniable swagger (years of music videos must have been a great training ground for this demeanor), both when swimming in expensive and elaborate furs but also when in her skimpy but tasteful work costumes.

Her confidence and strut is something to marvel.

It is a display of unwavering confidence and conviction that we have not seen her convey in such a long time (dare I say since Out of Sight way back in 1998?) and rivals that of Sharon Stone’s commanding performance in Basic Instinct (albeit with much more clothes).

Wu’s more innocent, Bambi-like Dorothy is a stark contrast to Lopez’s Ramona, but her performance is equally praise worthy as she tackles a role with more layers, vulnerability and arc and pulls it off beautifully.

To top it all off, this film is just gorgeous to look at; the costumes and colours pop and the dance sequences, while only a handful, are thrillingly choreographed (when J. Lo claps her heels on the stage floor during her routine – WOW!).

Film Review – The King

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

The King (MA)

Directed by: David Michod

Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Robert Pattinson

Three and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

With their political views clashing, tyrannical and war-happy King Henry IV (Ben Mendelsohn) and his oldest son, and heir to the English throne Prince Hal (Timothee Chalamet), have become estranged.

Peacekeeper Hal has turned his back on his royal life to live a modest existence of booze and no responsibility among the people, but when his father dies, the Prince is reluctantly crowned King Henry V.

Thrust into a world he does not wish to be in, he attempts to rule without war and violence while still keeping everyone’s respect and loyalty, but finds himself unknowingly manipulated into a battle with France, something he wanted to avoid, to claim land.

With a slow, but deliberately paced approach, co-writer/director David Michod’s (who adapted William Shakespeare’s Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 and Henry V with Joel Edgerton) understated storytelling technique allows this to unfold delicately and it often feels like we are watching a play shot in widescreen.

In fact, Michod’s style is so low-key that it could test audience’s patience; those with short attention spans watching this on Netflix on a Saturday night may not last 20 minutes, but it would be in their best interest to stick with it.

The King

The first half is a gradual build, for sure, as it develops its characters, their relationships and dynamics and establishes the groundwork for later twists that are to come, but when the pieces start coming together, it is compelling viewing.

The centerpiece battle sequence is strikingly filmed. A brutal reminder that for all the talking about war and tactic cannot prepare for its realities – a weight that Hal must carry on his shoulders.

Chalamet is the highlight of this handsome production; he is perfect as the reluctant King. The talented 20-something embodies the lazy, unimposing peacekeeping type (his slight frame makes him look like a tween), but then rises to the occasion and utterly convinces as a King who needs to inspire an army of men to charge into battle.

He is matched late in the story by Robert Pattinson in a smaller and flashier role as The Dauphin of France; his campy performance bringing some levity to this super serious historical drama.

 

The King screens in WA exclusively at The Backlot on October 11, 12, 13 and 16 before launching on Netflix on November 1.

For times and tickets, click HERE.

Film Review – Gemini Man

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

Gemini Man (M)

Directed by: Ang Lee

Starring: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Two stars

Review by: Julian Wright

When highly skilled 51-year-old government assassin Henry Brogan (Will Smith) calls it quits to live a quiet life away from guns after a close call with a civilian, he immediately finds himself the target an assassin as equally deadly.

Turns out, and this is no spoiler because all you have to do is look at the poster, that this person is his own, younger clone Junior, that he did not know existed.

Henry finds himself on the run and globetrotting in order to stay alive and find answers.

He is joined by Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who simply had the misfortune of being put on duty to keep an eye on Henry in his recent retirement, and his resourceful mate Baron (Benedict Wong), because they need someone to fly them to various exotic locations around the world.

Gemini Man is quite the curious misfire.

The cast and crew are working with a script that has been floating around since 1997, about the time when cloning was a hot topic, and it shows.

More than 20 years later and Gemini Man adds nothing new in the way of insights or takes on cloning ethics and the motivations for cloning in the film are simplistic and obvious.

Had the technology allowed for what is achieved here in 1997, this may have been fresh and quite a rush back then.

GEMINI MAN

Highly acclaimed director Ang Lee has chosen pathos over violence before in his action genre choices (much to the surprise of comic book fans with 2003’s Hulk), but there are merely shades of themes here that seem attractive for him to explore.

Considering this is a two-hour film and not a lot of action, one might expect a meatier story. Instead we get several static scenes of our leads sitting around in alfresco settings.

Even more curious is the way it is presented: 3D+, which is shown at a higher frame rate that does, admittedly, make the image and action sharper and clearer. And with the 3D aspect added, almost impossible to not try to dodge the oncoming traffic during the sensational motorbike chase between the two Smiths.

Additionally, the wizardry that brings Junior to life is almost flawless. There is the occasional brief moment of facial movement that doesn’t quite seem right, but technology has come a long way since The Rock was dreadfully recreated in The Scorpion King (2002).

However, in trying to make everything look as close to what the human eye sees, stunning European locations look like studio sets and almost everything else look like CGI.

Perhaps it just takes some time for our eyes to adjust.

Film Review – Bangla

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

Bangla (M)

Directed by: Phaim Bhuiyan

Starring: Phaim Bhuiyan, Carlotta Antonelli

Three and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Born in Italy to parents from Bangladesh, 22-year-old Phaim (Phaim Bhuiyan) has always been caught between two worlds, with his traditional Muslim parents making sure he behaves according to the boundaries of their religion and cultural heritage.

But the quiet, almost nerdy hormone suppressed fellow has never felt the struggle quite as bad as now, when he meets Asia (Carlotta Antonelli), an outgoing punk-type that his family would never approve of.

They are total opposites, but the biggest hurdle is how Phaim will handle the “no sex before marriage” rule.

Bangla is based on writer/director Bhuiyan’s own experiences giving a genuine feeling to the observations and cultural differences his character juggles, but his script still follows rom-com formula rather closely.

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There are few surprises (if any) in the way of plotting, however, he has made a winning, crowd-pleasing film, which zips along at a brisk pace and is genuinely funny in parts.

Bhuiyan, his cast and their performances are nice to be in the company of for 90 minutes.

The highlight is the fresh perspective; I certainly haven’t seen a film told from such a unique point of view before and it is fun to watch these experiences through a new lens.

Bangla screens as part of the Lavazza Italian Film Festival from October 2 – 23.

Film Review – Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark

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

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (M)

Directed by: André Øvredal

Starring: Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush

Three and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Adult horror fans have been spoilt lately with nostalgia bait It and Pet Sematary, R-rated anxiety inducing Midsommar and doppelganger thrills Us but teen horror fans have been neglected.

Goosebumps was hardly the spine tingling experience they may have craved – steering more towards G-rated adventure than unsettling thrills – but Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark will ensure some lights will be left on overnight.

A group of small town teens in 1968 venture into an abandoned, dilapidated old haunted house (on Halloween night, of course) that once housed local legend Sarah Bellows.

In the basement, where Sarah is said to have been locked up, Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) finds a book of horror stories written in red (blood??) and takes it home with her – putting herself and her friends in danger from something otherworldly.

Tapping into the late night campfire tales theme, Scary Stories is a fun, creepy mix of Tales From The Crypt and Urban Legend that is aimed predominantly at pre-teens, who are seeking something to make them jump, but even horror aficionados can appreciate it.

scary

The mystery that sets the story in motion is intriguing, as the group of kids play Nancy Drew to solve it before they are targeted next, but what gives this story some weight is the stakes.

In this teen-friendly horror story, you can’t undo what is already done and friends that have perished can not be brought back.

While co-writer and producer Guillermo del Toro’s influence is evident, particularly in the creature designs, director Øvredal delivers some genuinely chilling sequences.

Another nice detail is the 1960s setting – proving that not everything has to be update or shifted to another decade that is deemed trendier to be more palatable (looking at you, IT).

This is one goosebumps inducing ride that would benefit from watching in the dark.

Film Review – The Goldfinch

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

The Goldfinch (M)

Directed by: John Crowley

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Nicole Kidman, Oakes Fegley

Two and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

The Goldfinch proves the complexities of a popular, Pulitzer Prize winning novel cannot always be successfully translated into an equally acclaimed film, despite a range of talent behind and in front of the camera.

Thirteen-year-old Theo Decker’s (Oakes Fegley) life is thrown into turmoil when his mother is killed in a bombing while the pair appreciate the arts one afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

While dealing with crippling grief and guilt, a devastating combo for such a young person, Theo is taken in by the Barbour’s, a wealthy Upper East Side family headed by the emotionally distant but sympathetic Mrs Barbour (Nicole Kidman).

From here we follow Theo’s life: his short time with the Barbour family where bonds are made, back with his deadbeat father Larry (Luke Wilson) who abandoned him at young age and is now drowning in debt, dabbling in drugs with new school mate Boris (Finn Wolfhard) and through to adulthood (as played by Ansel Elgort) where he works with antique dealer Hobie (Jeffrey Wright).

This plot rundown barely scratches the surface of this sprawling story (recounting every aspect would equate to novel length and slip into spoiler territory for those unfamiliar with the book), which constantly teases that everything will eventually come together and it is all heading somewhere profound. The only thing is that the destination hardly seems worth the journey.

goldfinch

The Goldfinch covers a lot of territory with its lead character going through the gamut of events, tragedies and emotions and myriad themes touched on but here, not explored deeply enough. Even at two and a half hours, it does not feel long enough to properly unpack everything that one can presume the novel covers.

And yet at two and a half hours, The Goldfinch feels like an eternity. One this is for sure – it is the most long winded way to explore art appreciation.

While it is admirable that director John Crowley (who brought us the exquisite Brooklyn adaptation not so long ago) has chosen to tell this story without sensationalising each dramatic moment, the way it is presented can best be described as dreary.

It is all very nice to look at with some handsome-looking scenes, and there are a handful of good performances (Sarah Paulson is the standout in far too few scenes as a trashy step-mum type), but it all has trouble cohering.

The book may have received a top honour, the film however, will not.