Archive for the Uncategorized Category

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.

Film Review – The Dry

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

The Dry (M)

Directed by: Robert Connolly

Starring: Eric Bana, Genevieve O’Reilly, Keir O’Donnell

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Twenty years after he is basically run out of his rural home town as a teenager, Federal cop Aaron Falk (Eric Bana) returns for the funeral of his childhood mate Luke Hadler.

The circumstances around Luke’s death are disturbing – it appears he shot and killed his wife, child and then himself in a murder-suicide, likely driven to his actions from the stress of the relentless and ongoing drought that has plagued the farming community.

Falk begins to dig deeper with rookie local cop Greg Raco (Keir O’Donnell), suspicious that there could be more to the incident than everyone thinks. Falk’s presence causes friction with some of the thuggish locals but his investigation uncover another link to the death of a teenage girl 20 years ago, that Falk and Hadler may have been involved in somehow.

This deliberately paced, slow burn Australian mystery thriller is an immersive experience, enhanced by some terrific location filming and cinematography in the widescreen format that capture a real sense of rural community and space.

While the characters in the film seem vaguely sketched at best (the book may perhaps flesh them out further), this film still manages to pull you in with not just one mystery, but two and several red herrings and suspicious locals, revealing the puzzle pieces in expert fashion by director Robert Connolly.

A lot of effort has been put into the structure here with the events that surround the 20 year old mystery neatly woven into the present day story.

Bana does his best brooding as his character is carrying myriad secrets and keeping plenty of information to his chest – as our way into this story, he is a watchable and engaging presence.

The rewatchability may be incredibly low (once you know all the answers, there isn’t anything else left to discover) but while you are watching this for the first time, it is an enthralling and engaging experience that will have you guessing and second-guessing.

Film Review – The Witches

Posted in Uncategorized on December 9, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

The Witches (M)

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Jahzir Bruno

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

The classic 1983 Roald Dahl book The Witches gets dusted off for a second big-screen adaptation, this time with all the CGI money can buy.

In the 1960’s, a young boy (Jahzir Bruno) is sent to live with his Grandma (Octavia Spencer) after his parents are killed in a car crash.

While in his vulnerable state of grief and adjusting to his new life, the boy is approached by a witch (oh yeah, they exist and prey on small children, who they have a deep disdain for), so his Grandma packs up and they go on the run and hide out at a luxury hotel where her cousin works.

The hotel turns out to be the exact location a coven of witches led by the Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway) are holding their own little convention where they plan to turn all children into rodents.

The 1990 screen adaptation starring Angelica Huston is renowned for terrorising a generation of youngsters, but with Back to the Future’s Robert Zemeckis behind the lens this time, 2020’s youngsters are fairly safe, despite the M rating.

There seems to be a tonal push and pull going on throughout this film, with co-scriptwriter Guillermo del Toro’s (The Shape Of Water) darker sensibilities quite evident (the dark, somber opening and young hero in danger), but Zemeckis has a tendency to lean towards lighter fair.

There is a cartoon quality to it all, and not just due to the spirited performances; the heavy reliance on CGI from mice to costumes makes one wonder why this wasn’t just made in 3D animation instead.

As mentioned, the performances are terrific, with Spencer such a warm screen presence, Bruno showing impressive range for a newcomer and Hathaway relishing her opportunity to be over the top evil.

Their enthusiastic performances and the lively action scenes help make up for some iffy pacy (some sequences play out far too long in single locations) and tonal inconsistencies.

Film Review – Misbehaviour

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

Misbehaviour (M)

Directed by: Philippa Lowthorpe

Starring: Keira Knightley, Jessie Buckley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Greg Kinnear

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

It was one small step for a handful of women but one giant leap for woman-kind when a group of fed up feminists protested and picketed the televised 1970 Miss World competition, putting the women’s liberation movement firmly on the map.

When educated, divorced mother Sally Alexander (Keira Knightly) wants to go back to university, the only thing getting in the way of achieving her goal is a board of middle aged white men who question her life choices.

With a drive to secure herself “a seat at the (male dominated) table”, Sally joins a ragtag activist group lead by the scrappy but spirited Jo Robinson (Jessie Buckley), who resorts to the occasional minor illegal activity to get her feminist message across.

Despite clashing over tactics, they agree nothing will amplify their message more than the televised 1970 Miss World competition, which is set to draw 100 million viewers worldwide and is being hosted by womanising comedian Bob Hope, whose jokes lean to the sexist side.

Armed with a fresh new slogan and self-designed posters, the group plan to infiltrate and hijack the event in front of a worldwide audience.

Meanwhile, Black competitors Jennifer Hosten – Miss Grenada (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and last minute woman of colour inclusion for political purposes Pearl Jansen – Miss Africa South (Loreece Harrison) navigate the white world of pageantry.

Misbehaviour likes to play it safe; not quite cheeky enough, not challenging enough, the sexist behaviour not outrageous enough and the stakes not high enough – it is a very respectable, polite and digestible story about the women’s liberation movement.

To its credit, Misbehaviour wants to address all female points of view on this issue that is rife with interwoven political and social complexities and treat them as valid and with equality.

There are the Black contestants who endure the sexism to use the pageant as a career leg up, the blonde favourite to win who hates being treated like cattle, the scrappy feminist, the organised one with a young daughter to inspire, the older generation mother who enjoyed domestic life, the womaniser’s long suffering wife, and more – but it proves a lot for a 106 minute film.

We merely get snippets of motivation, character development and interactions, suggesting that perhaps a multiple episode arc in a limited series would have been more appropriate to allow each character to be explored deeper.

It even folds into the mix the privilege of the white protesters (and contestants), who are blissfully unaware that black women face more obstacles than they do. This isn’t brought to Sally’s attention until the climactic moments of the film when, in a distractingly contrived sequence, she finds herself face to face with surprise winner Miss Grenada.

Misbehaviour is dripping with goodwill and good intentions and covers a key part of the women’s liberation movement, it just leaves you wanting just that little bit more.

Film Review – Let Him Go

Posted in Uncategorized on November 25, 2020 by Reel Review Roundup

Let Him Go (MA)

Directed by: Thomas Bezucha

Starring: Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Lesley Manville

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Re-uniting Superman’s parents from the DC Universe, Let Him Go (based on the novel of the same name) has Diane Lane and Kevin Costner once again playing husband and wife, but this time facing a dangerous family to get their only grandchild back.

During the 1960s, sweet, quiet and wholesome middle aged couple George Blackledge (Kevin Costner) and Margret (Diane Lane) live on their Montana farm with their son James (Ryan Bruce), his wife Lorna (Kayli Carter) and their baby Jimmy.

After James is killed in a horse riding accident, Lorna re-marries, but this time to the abusive Donnie Weboy (Will Britain) and in the middle of the night, the family skips town without a word to George and Margaret.

Feeling a sense of loss all over again, Margaret becomes intent on bringing home their only grandchild and last link to their dead son, and after George begrudgingly agrees to go with her, they pack up their car and start searching.

What the Blackledges eventually discover and are not equipped to deal with, is that the Weboys are protective of their own and dangerously violent and matriarch Blanche (Lesley Manville) will not let any of her family out of her sight without a fight.

This mash-up of genres is a curious piece – there are flavours of western, family drama and revenge thriller with echoes of Animal Kingdom and Winter’s Bone permeating throughout, with two different distinct tones of slow burn drama and white knuckle tension that sit awkwardly side by side.

The tension comes in ebbs and flows and at times dissipates completely during stretches of this story and narrative detours (including a Native American and his horse) that have you fidgeting in your seat questioning where it is all heading and how long it is going to take to get to its destination.

And yet somehow I found myself strangely fascinated by it all and immersed in this world.

There are, however, three stand out key sequences in which the two families face each other that will have you teetering on the edge of your seat and gasping at some unexpected violent acts.

Lane and Costner are given far more material to work with than they did in the DC Universe and their delicate performances are terrific to watch, as is Melville’s villainous turn, which in juxtaposition, makes for some dynamic exchanges.

This is an interesting addition to writer/director Thomas Bezucha’s relatively short but eclectic filmography, which includes the Christmas family dramedy The Family Stone and teen identity mix-up fantasy Monte Carlo; it would fascinating to see what he comes up with next.